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THINKING ABOUT: Religious Trauma made me, Me

The blog is back, bitches.


I haven’t really been in the head space for blogging lately- and for that, I do apologize. Transitioning between life chapters is weird, and getting into a new routine can really take it out of ya ya know?


If you weren’t aware, Adam and I moved to Florida’s Emerald Coast back in December. Since then I’ve been hustling, and in APRIL I transitioned into a full-time position at a small art gallery just a hop, skip and a bridge jump from our condo. I’ve really been enjoying it, all the things I’m learning and the connections I’m making. Plus, I’m starting to make actual friends, which is beyond exciting. I’m really enjoying our new home, and all of the new experiences I am getting here. A really celebratory and exciting phase of life!!!


So, I’ve been busy. But, amongst all of that, I’ve Been Thinking about some pretty important ideas, if I do say so myself.


One of those ideas is connected to how I grew up, raised in a Southern Baptist Church, with parents who gratefully didn’t fully agree with all the doctrines and raised me to think outside of the box and for myself. Now they’re often shocked at how outspoken I am and how I refuse to just follow. LOL you two literally did this to yourselves. ANYWAY


That’s why two of our most recent guests on the pod have been speaking about “Church hurt”, religious trauma, misinterpretations of the Bible, the version of Jesus we see in the Bible and the version of Jesus people like to fixate on. These topics are important for anybody, I believe, whether you’re a person of faith or not. It’s important to understand the many facets of a belief system, the many reasons why a person might or might not adhere to it, and the ways it might affect your life (whether it’s the “correct” interpretation or not).


That’s also why I’ve been working on a series on patreon where I discuss some ideas, pulled from research I’ve done and books I’m reading on Christianity and some varying perspectives. That’s what we’re all about here, right? Different perspectives, challenging ourselves and growing in how we think. These video-episodes have been fascinating to research and put together and I’m loving telling the story to you guys on there, so if you’re not a member already go check out everything that’s available.


I’m not trying to sales pitch you though!!! I promise. Sorrrrrrrry got distracted.


What I came here today for actually tell you about is why I feel so strongly about religious trauma- and the ways it affected me that I didn’t even realize until I began deconstructing myself (aka examining my beliefs and questioning my beliefs).


For me, deconstruction came in the form of questioning the things I had been taught. Why had I been taught and told to believe this way? Why, in my male dominated, 99.9% white church, had I been led to believe this?


Don’t get me wrong- when the kids from the community asked my Sunday School teacher mother and aunt if it’s true that it’s a sin for Black people to marry white people- they told them absolutely NO, that is not a sin and you can marry who you want. Bless them for that. But I still got scolded once as a teenager for telling them Jesus was brown skinned. Not because my mother thought Jesus was white- she’s smarter than that lol. But because she didn’t want to confuse these children for whom racism was so ingrained in their raising that if they had gone home and mentioned that to their family, they wouldn’t have been sent back to church with us. And it wasn’t truly even for their “salvation” that momma was worried in that moment- it was for their physical well being on this earthly plane, because if those children weren’t regularly at church, we couldn’t feed them, we couldn’t give them the love and attention most of them lacked at home, and we couldn’t keep an eye on them to make sure they weren’t being hurt.


Isn’t that fucking sad?


So anyway, for that reason and with all of that in mind, I’ve delivered two of the most recent episodes of I’ve Been Thinking- episodes where we discuss religious traumas, dangerous misconceptions and incorrect ideas that are taught as fact within the “church”. I had some hard cries after those episodes; I realized some things that I thought were all me, were in fact religious trauma. I realized some things that I shouldn’t have had to worry about as a kid were put on me and on my peers, and I realized that the discussions and ideas of death have become… more than they need to be. Different than they need to be.


I look back now, as a 26 year old woman who has been diagnosed with anxiety and is medicated- I realize how much of these big feelings I had as a child were anxiety caused by my religious upbringing. I understand that the dizziness, shortness of breath and stinging pangs I felt during the last verse of Amazing Grace- "when we've been there ten-thousand years, bright shining as the Sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun"- I realize now that those were panic attacks every time I heard that verse, and I was being triggered by the concept of "eternity".


My Southern Baptist upbringing never really...addressed the concept of eternity. My mother did her best to comfort me and explain it to me as I had regular panic attacks at night- triggered by my fear of dying in my sleep and my inability to fathom death and eternity. Karen Lee really did do everything she could to help me short of therapy and medication- and frankly, this was rural Southeastern Kentucky in the early 2000s- therapy wasn't available. It was not something that was readily available for us. I do not fault my parents at ALL for how they taught me to deal with this or how hard of a time I had with these ideas that were being instilled in me with the best intentions.


And these ideas were being taught with the best intentions, but with a lack of historical context from the church's perspective (my father and my obsession with the History Channel kept me supplied with that though) and an inability to really provide someone with a naturally critical mind the tools to fathom eternity- I was at a real disadvantage, and frankly the experience of organized religion was damaging my mental health.


You'll hear, in one of those episodes, about a loving Christian mother who tried to scare her daughter into blind faith by pretending to be "raptured". That story was shocking to me, but it also reminded me of the days my sophomore year of university, where I would lie in my dorm bed on my sorority hall in relative darkness, covered with blankets and staring at the window at an incoming thunder storm. With every thunder strike I was convinced the sky would open and that two things would happen- I would be swept into dreaded eternity, this thing that I cannot fathom and which still brings me some upset, or I would be left behind, because in spite of my efforts somehow I had not been enough.


This was every thunderstorm. For at least a year. I was so desperately terrified of anything that made me think that the world would end, or that MY world would end, and that something wildly unknown would occur. I still struggle with the entire concept, don't get me wrong. I'm a work in progress. But back then, before I realized that I was allowed to have anxiety and depression, that I was allowed to ask for help- I was clinging to every single moment of feeling alive for fear that if I stopped I would descend into nothingness.


I'm still sad for that version of Alanna, that I didn't understand what I was experiencing and I didn't know how to ask for help. I'm sad that I was scared to admit that I was scared, and I'm sad that we're so often told that fear and doubt are unnatural and unfaithful; that questions mean we believe less. It's ok to be scared, it's ok to fear or doubt and it's ok to ask questions- without them, you will never progress in whatever form of faith you carry with you.


If I had not started asking questions, I never would've realized the "Christianity" I was taught is so often not about Jesus Christ at all- but is about the institution of the church, and having faithful followers who spread that institutionalism.


My journey, the journey I am on right now, as I find my spirituality and learn to reconcile a strong belief in Christ and the “Christian” Creator with multiple versions of Themselves- that journey was spurred by my traumas, and for that I am thankful. I am also thankful that I was given opportunities to openly learn other rituals, to learn about the earth and her spirits and other deities, and that now I can combine them all in ways that feel right and empowering. In ways that make my spirit sing.


And I'm even grateful for those afternoon anxiety attacks as thunder rolled over Forrer Hall in 2014, because I would not have become the person I am today without them.


HOWEVER. I do want to be clear- religious trauma is not fun, and it is not something I wish on others. Just because the fire that I was thrust into turned me into a gemstone- it could reduce someone else to ashes. And that's why I want to speak up about my experiences with this and share other perspectives regarding it- because it's not healthy, but also it's not uncommon.


I want people to know that they're not alone in these feelings, and they're ok and they can bring them to a better place. Sometimes you find your place within that faith anyway, and sometimes you find your place outside of it. Trauma is not necessary to becoming the best versions of ourselves, though, and we should really do our best to make this world softer and gentler for those who come after us- to make living and loving easier is a beautiful legacy to leave behind, don't you think?


I’m grateful that, though it’s confusing and sometimes it’s lonely, I’m slowly understanding the version of myself that I’m meant to be, and I’m being led through feeling the universe- one strand at a time. This is part of who I'm meant to be.

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