You can heal.
(continued from Religious Trauma and Addiction: Part I
Religious trauma impacts many. Most don’t realize it until they get into therapy for some reason such as mental health issues. It can present in many forms. I commonly see that with toxic shame– the feeling that one is inherently defective, wrong, sinful, bad, just for existing. These are areas that I explore, as a therapist, and commonly find as the source of their struggles.
If you were in a religion that ruled by fire and brimstone, silenced, shamed, or excommunicated for having a specific gender or sexual orientation, or gave support for child marriage- you likely have religious trauma. Warren Jeffs’s Latter-Day Saints cult took children and turned them into sexual abuse victims, in the name of God. Imagine having your son/daughter age 9-11, given to a strange man for sex, then calling it a relationship. That’s not marriage, that is child abuse.
There are 1000000001 ways that these beliefs can fuck with your head. It is the root cause of so many thought distortions. I identify these daily in others. If you are not part of our sect, you are a miscreant. If you drink coffee, you’ll burn in hell. Don’t disrespect your elders, even if they disrespect and abuse you. Men rule, women are born to serve. These beliefs treat the gay and homosexuals as subhuman abominations…Again, it all goes back to power and control.
Extremism in any form is dangerous. For addicts, it is deadly.
I’ve been affected at several points in my life by religiously extreme and abusive people. For some reason, I never took that personally. I understood them to be incredibly sick individuals- for these were the ones who masked themselves in the public spotlight as pillars of the community and beat their children or wives behind closed doors. My father was the first teach this educational course of Hypocrisy 101.
My mother burned our Cabbage Patch dolls because our denomination deemed them spawns of Satan. She tried to control the music I listened to as a teenager by trashing my NIN cd. I rebelled as a teenager and was immediately punished and shamed for it.
Other in-laws swear on their Bible I destroyed the family because I would not tolerate their insolent attacks because I insisted on working instead of being the dutiful, silent, stay-at-home wife, servicing my husband. Hubby’s doing great now. He’s survived 18 years of my independence, and we continue to make it work.
Again, these individuals do not represent the majority of the devoted. They were a spectacular sick percent that clung on to any glimpse of highness.
Sadly, they have created other targets as I removed myself and my family from all those situations for protection. You can’t command what you can’t control.
I’ve held the stance that individuals have the ability to make those decisions for themselves, and have never had the desire to change that. I don’t experience gratification by “converting” people. It’s generated from self, not outer experiences.
I’ve always wondered about this projection style of thinking. If I were so responsible for so many people’s terrible lives, why didn’t theirs improve when I left?
Again, these are the select special few that use religion as a tactic to further their control, not a reflection of religion in its entirety.
I remain the devil in some people’s lives, for speaking the truth and moving forward without their influence. And, that’s okay. If they need to do that in order to feel better about themselves, great. I want no part in it.
I see it for what it is. We all have the right to our own beliefs, but we certainly don’t have the right to enforce them on others.
Intimidating? Assertive? Aggressive? There always seems to be a projection from someone who struggles with healthy thinking. This directly reflects one’s own values, not mine.
I prefer to call it motivation.
It’s comical at this point. As an autistic, I naturally attract those better-thans. They’ve loomed over me like mosquitos, waiting for the vulnerability to get in that chance at draining another’s soul to reserve one’s own. And I absolutely adopted this same life view, early on. I didn’t realize it until I had to change it. This perspective is just one of many that are passed down through intergenerational trauma.
However futile, I found answers in transcending beyond playing those games. We don’t win the fight by shooting each other until we are dead. My parents are winning examples of how this perspective makes for a miserable life.
Those that retain this mindset until older age scares off all those beloved eventually, then wonder why there is no one left to befriend. It’s usually too late to mend those relationships once that level of damage is done, and they remain isolated from family members such as those children they bestowed great psychological harm.
I choose to not enter the battle and avoid those individuals like the plague. I boost others, no matter their gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, different ability, or whatever else might make people human. I give feedback to help those improve when they elicit my perspective. I don’t want to play the tit-for-tat, tear-down-others- game. I have better things to spend my time on.
Men suffer as greatly.
By no means is it just women or the marginalized. We have advanced much in our culture, but not fast. The man rules still govern, and this change has plummeted many into depression and anxiety. And, in the rebound, there is a minute call for old-style thinking patterns to “restore” these social norms, rather than put effort into changing perspectives and behaviors. Impaired thinking continues to drive people to behave horribly toward others, daily.
As a note: I always start my trauma sessions with the emphasis that healing does not involve blaming. In the case of caregivers- I hold the perspective that we do the best with what we were given. Most mean well, and unconsciously behave and think in the manner by which they were taught. It crosses the line when you set a boundary with those people and they:
- Ignore and persist.
- Amp up the attack.
- Begin the devalue, disparage, and shame cycle.
- Outright physical or psychological damage you for your boundaries and beliefs.
In addition, society was not aware of many mental-health related up to even 15-20 years ago. We still medicated the crap out of kids with ADHD rather than help solve their problems with support structures.
In the realm of spiritual trauma, there are many chances for wounding. On the journey to healing, we don’t blame those that participated in the malicious deeds in order to grow. Healing involves recognition of the harm, digging out all of the toxicity, processing that, filing it away into the appropriate feeling-memory reserves, and moving forward with the lesson learned, better boundaries, balance, and self-esteem. Thinking about and analyzing one’s trauma does not resolve the wound that continues to bleed over into your present-day life.
Support structures such as 12-Step groups are an essential component of one’s recovery from trauma or addiction. For several reasons aforementioned.
While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is certainly a large part of every therapy session, it’s not all-inclusive. Trauma, stored in the form of feelings, has no time. These horrible negative feeling states pop right back into your body soon as something triggers a memory of that event. Remember that time in school when you were humiliated in front of everyone? Or you were rebuffed by that person you had such a big crush on? Being ignored, excluded, and embarrassed are common trauma-feeling memories that people recall instantaneously with current triggers similar to wounds of the past. Maybe your spouse talked unfavorably about you, and it felt like that time in high school another kid gossiped?
Trauma is akin to being shot. A perpetrator shot you, and you have a bullet wound. There’s a bullet that the perpetrator certainly will not stick around and help you to get out. You begin to bleed all over the place, and maybe you put a bandaid on it- like an addiction or a maladaptive coping skill of any kind. Your bandaid holds the wound for a little while until it breaks and starts to add to the infection.
Then, you begin to bleed out all over again in your life. You will continue to have a bullet, festering, with a gigantic gaping bloody hole, in your body, leaking out all over the place, until you decide when it’s time to get help to treat it. Medically, you probably won’t be able to extract the bullet alone. Sure, some people can, but it’s not pretty. You will need help to go in there, work through the pain, extract the bullet, clean out the wound, patch it up, and allow your body to heal in its own time. You can’t force your body to heal faster. But, you can give it the conditions it needs in order to do so. Self-compassion, and healthy living like eating and exercising boost regeneration, connectivity, and security. You will heal, but it will take time.
Deep trauma work involves body-based treatment such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Somatic Experiencing (SE), and Polyvagal Theory informed interventions. There are numerous practitioners and ways out there this can be accomplished. But, you do need to be willing to go to and endure seeing these traumas. You can’t work around it. You must work through it, at a tolerable pace. It will never just go away like you’ve tried, probably for 40 years. Like a jack-in-the-box, it will pop right back up into your day soon as that trigger button is pushed. Surprise! Remember all that pain you shoved into compartments…
In the end, restoring a healthier self-identity is what makes survivors of abuse most successful.
To summarize, spirituality is a necessary component of a holistic recovery program- whether that be a healthy organized religion or belief in Father Time and Mother Nature. However you choose, go forward with the insight that healing is possible, and that you belong. You deserve unconditional love and support for being just the way you are.
- History.com. “Crusades.” A&E Television Networks, 7 July, 2021. Accessed January 31, 2023. https://www.history.com/topics/middle-ages/crusades#the-first-crusade-1096-1099
- Johnson, Daryl. “Religious Extremism and its Relationship to Violent Conflict” Southern Poverty Law Center. 9/25/2017. Accessed 2/1/23 at: splcenter.org/20170925/hate-god’s-name
- R., Judy. “A God of My Understanding.” April 2009. Grapefine. https://www.aagrapevine.org/magazine/2009/apr/god-my-understanding
- Schaeffer, K. “Alcoholics Anonymous: Original ‘Big Book’ Manuscript: 70-year-old manuscript revealed; shows Christian references toned down.” September 23, 2010. https://abcnews.go.com/US/alcoholics-anonymous-original-manuscript-bill-wilsons-big-book/story?id=11712226
- Smart Recovery. 2022: https://www.smartrecovery.org/
- Laudet AB, Morgen K, White WL. The Role of Social Supports, Spirituality, Religiousness, Life Meaning and Affiliation with 12-Step Fellowships in Quality of Life Satisfaction Among Individuals in Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Problems. Alcohol Treat Q. 2006;24(1-2):33-73. doi: 10.1300/J020v24n01_04. PMID: 16892161; PMCID: PMC1526775.
- Whetstone, B. Types of Trauma. Accessed 2/1/23 from: https://doctorbecky.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Types-of-Trauma.pdf