Read This Disclaimer
Trigger Warning: Anxiety, depression, religious trauma, self-harm, possible other triggers depending on the person.
As I’ve been writing down thoughts over the last few weeks, preparing for the upcoming posts, I’m completely floored at how much is coming up. There is no way for me to include all the topics I want to hit without writing an entire book, so I’m going to dedicate an entire series just to religious trauma and then delve into one topic at a time. But first I want to finish the Anxiety Series.
This post will be a kind of general reflection on my absolute dedication to Christ, a walkthrough of how I grew up in the church, and how it affected me in relation to anxiety. If you want a more detailed look into my experiences with religious trauma, subscribe at the bottom of the page so you don’t miss out on any future posts where I will explore more!
Before I share my story, I just want to say that I do not blame anyone or any situation for the outcome of my life. I truly believe that we all have the capacity to change the way we perceive what has happened to us, heal and grow from any trauma if we choose.
My story is my perception of the things that I experienced. Some people who have gone through similar things may have come out of it with hardly a scratch to their emotional well-being. And others may still feel deeply wounded and affected by it.
Its Hard To Start This
Religious anxiety triggers are kind of complex and sensitive for me.
I’ve been wrestling with sharing this aspect of my anxiety for years because when it comes to religion, so many people brush off any possible negative effects that can be experienced as a result of being completely immersed in religion the way I was. Maybe this is because most people think of religion as simply believing in God, going to church and reading the Bible.
For some like me, it was much more than that.
I used to say, “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” to anyone who would poo-poo my lifestyle. Back then following Jesus was my absolute life. There wasn’t one single aspect of my existence that wasn’t completely saturated by my desire to be a total Jesus Freak. I was always on a desperate mission to get closer to God/Jesus...always wanting to learn more...always trying to understand the Bible the way it was “meant” to be understood.
To be super open and vulnerable, I’m a little bit scared to share all of this.
I have the voices of religious people from my past in my head, making light of my experiences...they are telling me that they're perfectly fine and they went through similar things so there is no reason why I should feel the way I feel.
Why am I sharing if I am scared?
Because I think my story is valuable, especially to those who are going through or have gone through things having to do with religion that have triggered emotional/mental issues. I want others to know they are not alone and there is nothing wrong with them. Maybe it will help someone leave an unhealthy situation, whether that be a church, a cult or some kind of religious group or way of being.
I wish I would have been bold enough to step away from religion way sooner than I did. I wish I would have known someone back then that would have given me the emotional support to follow what felt right to me instead of stuffing my true self down into such a deep place. I am still, after nearly a decade of uncovering, finding myself as if I am new to the earth.
I Mean No Harm
I really want to emphasize that this is only MY experience. I am certain there are people who find their involvement with religion very satisfying and fulfilling. They find great joy and safety and purpose in it. In no way am I suggesting that everyone should leave their church or their religious practice. Again, this is just my perspective on things that I went through.
Also, I am going to do my very best to be as vague as possible about organizations, churches, names and places in order to protect those who are not to blame for anything. Many people from my past I am still in contact with and I still have love for them and even good memories with them. It is NOT AT ALL my intention to bring any kind of negative attention their way.
Read This So You Understand
Many times, when I mention having bad experiences while I was in religion, people look at me oddly like they don’t understand. Sometimes they will even completely dismiss anything I am saying because they love Jesus and go to church and nothing traumatic has ever happened to them.
People like to think that only wacked out “cults” that force girls to marry older men induce trauma. But they forget about emotional manipulation, fear-mongering beliefs and bizarre practices that you don’t see at most Christian meetings and churches.
Most religious people who love Jesus go to church feeling warm, safe and good. They worship God with beautiful music, listen to the sermon, feel stirred to improve their life and find more connection with Jesus. They read the Bible and pray and never feel violated or witness odd things or take part in unusual behaviors.
Being “saved” and serving Jesus for them is good. Maybe even better than good. And that’s totally cool. For these people, I think it’s hard for them to understand that there are others like me who didn't feel that way much of the time.
Some things that I witnessed and was directly involved in were strange, traumatizing, and manipulative. Even though, at the time, I considered it completely normal. I thought that if other Christians weren’t doing these things, they weren’t serving the Lord deep enough...they didn’t know the Holy Spirit well at all. I really, truly believed that back then.
I Was Ready To Die
I don’t think many people realize how intense my level of commitment...how serious I was...the crazy amount of dedication I had...how faithful, zealous, my unquestioning devotion was. And this is probably why some believers in Christ do not understand where I am coming from.
I was ready to die for Jesus.
Not just figuratively and said as a passing statement. I had mentally prepared myself with various scenarios to be martyred for Christ. I imagined myself being tortured ruthlessly, my eyes getting gouged out of my head, my body being burned and mutilated and pulled apart...all to be ready for the moment when it might come down to that. Because I believed that denying Christ in ANY situation, even in the face of death, was a direct path to hell.
I was so dedicated to Jesus that I was hoping that someday I would have the great, heroic honor of being a martyr for him. It was the opinion of most of the people in church settings that I knew, that the ultimate sacrifice was to give your life for Christ. It was the epitome of loyalty. The best witness as a Christian that you could possibly give.
And I was ready for it.
Jesus Time At Work and Play
Being at work was no excuse to lay low or forget about Jesus. When I was working as a seamstress, I would bring my CD player and MP3 player to work and listen to sermons all day long while I pushed fabric through the machines. During lunch, I would bring up Jesus whenever I could insert him into the conversation.
At another job, during the offseason, while doing mundane tasks, I would do the same thing. Listening to message after message from the various teachers, prophets, evangelists and leaders in the Christian church.
Jesus was always on my mind...but so was hell. And saving people from it. Everyone at my jobs knew I was a Jesus Freak and I wouldn’t let an opportunity go to waste, especially when it had to do with someone’s salvation.
If I was grocery shopping, or just shopping for fun...going to amusement parks, to the beach...to literally anywhere...it was another chance to share Jesus with people that I believed were going to spend eternity burning in hell. Everywhere I went. Everything I did. It was about Jesus.
“It’s All About Jesus”
That was our mantra. Its what I lived by.
If I wasn’t doing it -- insert activity -- with Jesus, it was pointless. Meaningless. A waste of time.
Because we were so consumed by doing everything the Jesus way, a group of girlfriends, including my sister and I started a prayer group. We would meet together and pray, read the Bible and during months when it was warm enough to be outside, we would do “prayer walks”.
We would meet together at one spot and then walk the streets of our city, a new area each week and pray. We would pray words that came to our minds, out loud. And we would pray in “tongues” if we didn’t have words. We would cry and intercede for the people of our city that we believed were on their way to hell.
It was hard for me to go anywhere without wondering if someone that I was passing was going to hell...and their blood would be on my hands if I didn’t witness to them about Christ. It was common for me to go home feeling guilty for not reaching out to more people and cry myself to sleep at night because of it.
Jesus Time When Alone
My public display of Christ wasn’t the only important thing either. At home, away from church and from my peers and co-workers, I was still a Jesus Freak. It was rare when I missed a day reading the Bible or studying it. Praying and worshiping and being still in his presence were daily habits of mine.
These weren’t things I did just when I felt like it or when I had the time. I made time. On purpose. Either I would get up early in the morning to set aside time for Jesus, or stay up late, or use the drive time in my car going to work. Many times I would set aside days where I would do nothing else but pray, worship and read the Bible.
I would fast from food, movies/TV, reading books or anything else that I felt was taking away from my relationship with God. I would even give up entire months of time of writing (which is my biggest passion) in order to fully focus on deepening my relationship with Jesus.
Why Is All of That Important?
I feel like I have to explain what kind of person I was, the dedication I had, because I think a lot of people who didn’t know me then, just assume I was a nominal churchgoer (nothing wrong with that, just drawing some comparison for the sake of my story) and that is why Christianity didn’t “stick” so to speak.
I have heard people even say I didn’t find the right pastor, teacher, prophet or church and that maybe I really wasn’t a good enough Christian. Or maybe I never was one at all. And that’s hurtful. Telling someone “they never were”, is completely invalidating. When you say that, you are then taking the role of all-knowing and judging the intentions and honesty of another person’s experience. Which is not even possible to begin with.
I will never be able to convince everyone the truth of my reality, but at least for those who are open to understanding, the explanation is there for them.
***Now for a little back story.***
I was born into a family that believed in and worshipped Jesus. My parents both believed and dang near everyone on my mom’s side had been raised and carried on into adulthood with their belief in Jesus and the Bible.
Ever since I remember, I was going to church with my family. If it wasn’t with my parents, it was with my grandparents. We even attended church while on vacation at my grandparents’ cabin away from home.
For a while when I was very young, my parents were what we used to call “backslidden” Christians, so there wasn’t much church going during that time unless it was with extended family. Despite that, we all still believed.
Even though I had already believed in Jesus pretty much since I was born, at 8 years old I gave my heart to him and “got saved” in front of people at church. Again, at age 12 I said the sinner’s prayer with my dad while we sat on some metal bleachers at a baseball field about a block away from our house. He wanted to make double sure I wasn’t going to go to hell.
I have probably said the sinner’s prayer and given my heart to Jesus hundreds of times over the years when I was still a Christian.
I don’t even think hundreds is an exaggeration.
Every time there was an altar call for those who wanted to get “saved” I would either go up to the front or say the prayer again in my seat. Just to make sure. And every time I thought I had sinned...or even if I didn’t know if I had but maybe was blind to my sin, I confessed to God that I was a terrible sinner and then said the sinner’s prayer again.
Making sure I was saved and avoiding hell was just normal for me. It was something I did on the regular and many of the Christians I knew did it too. There was always a background fear that even though I had accepted Jesus into my heart, I might end up in hell for some unknown or deceptive sin that I wasn’t aware of.
As I mentioned, I pretty much went to church my whole life up until I decided not to when I was in my early 30’s. But going to church and being a complete Jesus Freak are two totally different things in the world that I grew up in. I would end up becoming an EXTREME Jesus Freak.
When I was about 11 or 12 my parents had rededicated their lives to Christ and as a family, we started searching for a church that we wanted to call home.
Eventually, we found a church that we ended up staying at for a number of years until we moved. It was at this first “home church” that my parents were very involved in and even became part of the leadership.
This meant getting to church early before services and leaving late. It also meant prayer before services and special meetings and even groups at home. It meant going to church on Sundays and Wednesdays every week without fail and attending all the other sporadic meetings too.
My sister went to kid’s church while I went to the youth group. I went to most of the youth group functions and camps. I was involved in prayer with them and even took a special course created by our youth pastor to deepen my walk with Jesus.
Our family of 4 was immersed in the world of Christianity. But more than that, our lives were consumed with becoming closer to God, having a deeper relationship with Jesus and giving ourselves completely to the Holy Spirit.
And Then We Moved
We moved into a log cabin in the middle of the woods when I was 16. For a while we didn’t have a church that we attended regularly as there was so much to do at the new property, getting settled in our small cabin and living so far from the nearest city. Even so, we had our own little “church” services as a family, reading the Bible, praying and worshipping together.
On top of that, we would watch recorded conferences had by many Christian leaders across the world, listen to those same leaders on CD’s and read their books.
Eventually, though we did find a church. It was there that I was able to use my songwriting and musical skills as a backup singer for the worship team and leading worship when the main worship leader was gone or just to switch things up sometimes.
Through this church we also got involved in more of the prophetic side of Christianity. Because of this, we attended many special meetings, events and conferences both at our church and outside our church, traveling between 30 and 90 miles in order to be at them. Once even flying out of state.
Without too much detail, because I’m saving that for a later post, my life as a Christian had sky-rocketed into some pretty bizarre areas that are not easily explained by just saying, “I was super crazy dedicated to Jesus.” I had many odd, unique and even nutty experiences that I assumed were completely normal at the time because the small group of people I was surrounded by said so. And they showed me in scripture. And important leaders modeled it.
At one point my family and I started up a young person’s group apart from our church on Saturday nights. I ended up being the worship leader for that. Timing is a little fuzzy looking back, but we all left the church we had been attending to focus on the Saturday night group. And then after my parents built a large building on their property, we started a church there. I was the worship leader again, my dad played guitar. Sometimes my sister or friends or mom would sing, play the drums, guitar or tambourine or whatever.
When I was around 31 years old, as a family and as a small church, we all started feeling like it was time for something different. Our beliefs had all slowly shifted in various ways, which is a whole other story. There came a time then after the birth of my son when we all decided that we needed to take a break from meeting weekly.
We took that break and never got together as a church again.
I went through at least 5 Exorcisms
During the span of about 10 years, from the time I was 15 onward, I personally went through at least 5 exorcisms. I say, at least, because those 5 times were clearly set with the intention of casting demons out of me at specific times and places. BUT - and this is a big one - there were countless other times where I was attending a meeting or conference and something as simple as getting prayed for would suddenly turn into a short demon casting session.
In front of people.
Sometimes lots of people.
Of the many things I experienced while being involved in religion - having my parents, my family, pastors, prophets and prophetesses and other leaders trying to cast demons out of me was probably the most humiliating and deeply traumatizing thing. Even though I thought it was necessary and normal then.
These exorcisms, which we called “casting out of demons” were the cause of much anxiety, paranoia, and fear. I was always afraid that another demon or evil spirit had entered me or was attacking me. I never knew if some kind of sin was opening the door for the devil.
Sadly, what I really needed was therapy from a licensed professional.
I was suffering from undiagnosed anxiety and depression and untreated alcohol addiction that my family, friends, pastors, leaders, and myself all believed was the result of me being demonically oppressed and attacked.
More on this in a later post.
I am a pansexual person. I don’t think that term was even around when I was a kid. But my first love note was to a girl in my 5th-grade class. I knew then I didn’t just like one gender, even though I wasn’t sure what all of it meant yet.
However, it was drilled into us that any kind of sexual preference/lifestyle other than a man with a woman and sex only after marriage was WRONG. Absolutely wrong and gross and evil and right from the belly of the devil.
From a very early age, I learned not to utter a single peep about the ways I was feeling because it would most certainly end up poorly for me. Certainly some leader would be casting homosexual demons out of me.
My sexuality is something that I was unable to express honestly until after I was married. Thankfully, I am married to the most accepting and encouraging man I have ever known.
I mentioned in my post about Anxiety and Bullying that I’d started self-harming when I was in grade school. That only grew worse the more deeply I got involved in religion and it didn’t end until I was 26 years old.
Because nothing that was suggested to me via religious leaders worked to help my anxiety and depression, I felt trapped and desperate.
I was using self-harm as a way to control something...because in religion I had no control. My parents, my religious leaders, those supposed demons inside me, and especially God all wanted to control what I did, how I acted, what I was thinking. I felt like I had zero control over my own life.
Except what I could do to my physical body.
Harming my body was also a way to punish myself. Despite my devotion to Jesus all through my teens and early adulthood I struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and got myself involved with dark magic. At the core of my being, I really, truly with all my might wanted to be holy and blameless and serve Jesus...but I just kept doing things I wasn’t supposed to do.
According to my religious circles, these were all highly demonic activities to be participating in and would most certainly be against God’s will. I knew God was already disappointed in me, which made me feel like a wretched piece of shit.
I was so very angry with myself for all the supposed terrible things I did and the thoughts I had. I literally hated myself. I would have committed suicide, but I was afraid I would end up in hell. As I was taught, suicide was a sin you couldn’t repent from because you’d be dead so it would land you in hell.
I could not escape Christianity, because if I did, I would be denying Christ. I could not escape life because if I did, I would end up in hell. There was no relief
And of course, the Bible told me that harming the physical body -- which was God’s temple -- was wrong too. There was no way out for me. Punishment brought more punishment.
THAT is living hell.
Three times as a teen I landed myself in a psychiatric ward in the hospital because of my emotional instability and addiction.
After the first time, it got me sent to a Christian rehab program away from home for a few months. Because of their complete lack of understanding of the human psyche, I was indoctrinated into more Biblical and not so Biblical teaching that did nothing to help my actual emotional/mental needs.
And so, because of their inability to “control” me, I was hauled off two more times to the psychiatric ward while I was in the program and was finally cut out of the program short and they told my parents my case was beyond their scope of expertise. In other words, they couldn’t handle me and didn’t want to deal with me any longer.
Alcoholism Equals Demons Too
Though I had experimented with household chemicals and over the counter drugs to get high and smoked a little weed here and there, what ended up hooking me was alcohol.
As a teen and in my early 20’s my alcohol abuse landed me in the ER a few times and eventually I was drinking at work, almost losing my job and finally attending AA in order to keep It.
Of course, there was repentance and pleading to God to help me get away from my addictions and darkness. There were more exorcisms and emphasis on getting closer to Jesus. None of it actually doing any good for any length of time.
Never Good Enough
Addiction, Self-harm, Witchcraft, Depression, Anxiety, Asthma, Allergies, Fatigue...all of these were believed to exist in me because of lack of faith and disobedience to God.
I was never good enough.
No matter how hard I tried, how bad I sought after Jesus, no matter how many times I confessed my sins or read the Bible or worshipped...I was never healed of anything physical or emotional. Everything just kept coming back. They told me it was my lack of faith. I just never found the freedom I wanted and it was all my fault.
I was always told -- in a roundabout way -- that I was to blame for the things I suffered.
And that meant that I wasn’t good enough. Even though I was told that Jesus took my sins away and that Father God looked at me through Jesus and couldn’t see my darkness, I still suffered. And I still wasn’t good enough.
That meant more self-inflicted punishment. More agony and desperation. Always on high alert for demons. Ever digging inside my mind for wrong thoughts and wrong actions to cleanse and do away with so I could heal.
Healing never came.
I was Afraid To Leave Home
I didn’t leave home until I was 27 when I married my husband.
I did honestly enjoy living with my parents in the solitude of the forest where it was quiet. We had always gotten along well and liked each other’s company. I didn’t have a huge desire to leave because I genuinely liked it and because it felt safe.
But that’s the thing.
It felt safe. Because I didn’t feel safe inside.
My sister had left home and gone out on her own at 19 while I remained afraid of doing the same thing. I had a job, I paid for my own vehicle and car insurance, my own health care, and personal necessities...I could have also found a cheap place to rent (I wish I would have had that experience).
I was too scared.
I was afraid of falling away from Jesus. I was afraid of making bad decisions that would lead to more demon manifestations. I was afraid that I would be deceived by the worldly people and slowly lose my faith in Christ and then ultimately die and go to hell filled with unholiness and sin.
My parents were like a safeguard for me. People to keep me in check. They were my accountability partners. I felt like if I ever strayed away from Jesus, they would tell me before I could recognize it on my own. Because I was taught that my heart is deceitfully wicked and that I can’t trust myself.
Out in the scary, dark world of ungodliness, I would be left unsupervised and out from under the protective umbrella of my parents’ home.
Finally, A Light
In my late 20’s when myself, my family and a small group of people started finding new, more loving, more accepting, and less judgmental teachings. It was a very slow process of learning about the original meanings of words in the Bible and looking at scripture from a different perspective that eventually led out of the church altogether.
Quitting church and Christianity was strange and emotional. People I knew started treating me differently too. They probably don’t even recognize that they do it, but our interactions are not the same. They are stiff and some of them judgmental towards me. They are still always right about their doctrine...and I am still wrong and playing with darkness.
I can understand where they are coming from.
There was a time when I remember seeing people I knew “fall away” from Jesus. I probably treated them and thought of them the same way that Christians now think of me. Sorry if you were one of those people. I hope I get a chance to apologize to you in person.
And it's very strange being on this side looking in from where I came.
Regrets or Not
There were some honestly good times, some true connection to that Great Source of Energy that some like to call God. I miss the time with others, the meals we shared, the conversations had...but I do not miss everything else that went with it.
I don’t miss dreading having to get up Sunday mornings and lead worship or prepare for Saturday nights and feeling pressured to continue to do something that I no longer wanted to do.
I do not miss the feeling of always wondering if I was doing the will of God, wondering if he was disappointed in me or if I was missing the “call” on my life.
There are still times when I struggle with unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns that are a direct result of my experiences in religion. I hate it. I’m healing and a lot has settled, but I know there is still so much to process because things keep coming up.
Certain things are still very triggering to me, like a handful of words or phrases...thinking about specific individuals or situations in my life...a huge one is music with specific chords or tones and especially worship music.
I Broke. Completely.
In 2012, everything came to a halt.
It was like running into a brick wall at full speed. Life totally dropped me. But looking back it was necessary because it caused me to really look at things and evaluate what was me and what I didn't need or want in my life anymore.
Early in the year, I’d had a few massive panic attacks but I think I brushed it off as just something that I would have to live with, something that was just part of me, because it had been there so long. And I still wasn’t sure what was wrong with me because my anxiety almost always presents with terrible physical symptoms so I assumed I had something terminal or at least something very wrong with my body.
Then something happened at the end of July.
I woke up one morning and was thrown into a very intense anxiety attack that wouldn’t go away. For days it wouldn’t relent. There would be little spurts when it would be less, but not gone.
I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. All I did was the bare minimum for my baby and myself to just survive the day. I cried so much. I lost weight. My mom even stayed with me on a few occasions just to help me with laundry and food and the daily stuff.
I could hardly walk. I couldn’t drive. Getting up or down the stairs was a huge task that left me completely lifeless and breathing heavily like I’d run a marathon. All of the life force within me was drained out and I had no idea how to get it back.
Exhaustion like numbness to the point where even brushing my teeth or putting on clothing took every ounce of focus and strength. Sometimes I would just sit and stare at nothing. Doing nothing. I would lay on the sofa or in bed and sleep just wouldn’t come. I would try to eat but it just felt pointless.
Every morning for months I woke up in a panic attack. I was nauseated all the time. Diarrhea every day. Dizziness. Rapid heart rate and heart palpitations. So many odd sensations...which I will get into in a post about symptoms.
There is no way for me to explain. It was a complete nervous breakdown. I felt completely out of control in my body and my mind...my body didn’t feel real...I didn’t feel real...nothing felt right...I wanted to die.
One night, at the height of it, my husband was sitting up with me in the middle of the night as I cried, trying to comfort me...I remember telling him that I wanted to go home. Home meant the other side. Whatever you want to call it...heaven, eternity, etc.
Everything was just too much.
It felt like all the years of anxiety were showing up in one moment, forcing me to confront it all and it was either face it or die.
There was a distinct moment where I felt barely conscious. A moment that felt like a choice. I could slip away into the black abyss and let go of my physical body so I could join the Oneness again...or I could choose to live and change my life.
What came to me were thoughts of my husband and son going on without me and it caused such an ache in my heart for them that I knew I couldn’t make the choice to leave.
So, I stayed.
I’m so fucking glad I stayed.
I was eventually diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, took medication for a very short time, saw a therapist for a short time, and wound up finding healing in my own ways. Ways that didn't involve exorcisms and repenting to God for every "sin" that I supposedly committed.
After years of suffering at the hands of well-meaning but misguided religious leaders, I got the help I so desperately needed and am at last living as the real me. The me that was always told that I just need to pray a little harder, a little longer...that I needed to dig to find hidden sin and confess those and I would be healed...that I might find freedom and healing at this next meeting or with this next teacher or prophet...
It was always that somehow, I just wasn't doing it right. Or enough. That my relationship with God wasn't as it should be. And that was why I remained stuck and unhealed. That God was testing me to see if I was dedicated to only him.
I have been told that the freedom and love I am experiencing now is of the devil. A tool used by him to deceive me. That I will never find true healing and freedom unless it is within the boundaries of God's kingdom.
How is it that I spent 30 years seeking Jesus, in desperate need of physical and emotional healing, praying and worshiping and getting hands laid on me, never to actually heal or be free...and then to find myself, my healing and my freedom outside the confines of a belief system?
Recovery and finding my way has been grueling. The sheer energy and determination it took for me to reset myself and start over was absolutely insane in the early days. And I still have bad times but they aren’t nearly what they were and they are generally short-lived. Working my way out of a panic attack is so much easier than it ever was and I have so many tools now to handle it.
I am now free to explore ANY method of healing that works for me. And that feels fucking amazing.
There Is So Much More To Tell
Well, I’m getting near the word count sweet-spot, according to Google analytics and psychology.
I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface which is why I am going to continue the Anxiety Series with posts about how I finally got help and diagnosed, how I manage anxiety now, my triggers, and helpful resources that I’ve stockpiled since being diagnosed.
Also, if you are interested in religious trauma, don’t forget to subscribe because when I am done with the anxiety series, I am going to move on to that.
I really hope this is helping some of you feel less alone. If not, maybe you are getting to know me better.
If you feel that this is important to get out into the world, please share it on whatever social media platform you are on.