Silent tears streaming down so many different faces, sobbing souls so loudly suffering, faces so contorted by pain and shame rendered unrecognizable, uncontrollable violent shaking, vomit spewing from bodies when fear would not let them speak words, blood seeping through clothing from self-harm, disassociation happening right in front of my eyes, suicidal thoughts and intentions, these are just but some of the experiences I have been a sacred witness to in my work with humans over the past 20 Plus years. Humans coming to me with story after story after story of religious abuse and trauma. Humans attempting to make sense and peace out of an entire culture that produced such paralyzing shame and self-hatred- all in the name of God.
As a Jewish person, it’s taken me a very long time and a lot of listening and asking questions and doing my own research to even begin to absorb the ways in which religion, especially the fundamental and evangelical kind, can create all of the descriptions of fear and pain listed above. I have been on the receiving end, beginning as early as 3rd grade, of knowing what it feels like to be “other than” this type of Christianity- slapped in the face by a big 4th grade boy after my mom came to school to light the Menorah during Hanukkah, being told I was going to hell more times than I can count, being judged and shamed and questioned and proselytized to over and over and over ( many times in school by the school- ever heard of Separation of Church and State?) again. Watching my kids experience ( other than the physical ridiculousness- as far as I know…) all of the same stuff. All of that is a story for another time.
One of my numerous clients who was raised in this religious environment of shame and anxiety that produces a disembodied sense of self and humanity shared a podcast with me recently- Jamie Lee Finch on The Liturgists. And then, because I am a seeker, I found a different podcast called God is Grey hosted by Brenda Marie Davies, that further enlightened me on the depths of what so many of my clients speak about who are working through their struggles with religious abuse and trauma. Their struggles with their own humanity.
The Religious Trauma Institute is another resource that provides a wealth of knowledge and understanding- even though I have seen firsthand and have helped people through their traumatic religious experiences, it was always through a lens of my own, vastly different religion and relationship with the divine. Only recently am I able to begin understanding their struggles in a way that is more informed and using the same language- and as we know, words are powerful. So powerful that they can create such torment and fear and self-loathing when heard over and over and over from church leaders – the very same church leaders and youth group leaders who may be their offenders – offenders of sexual abuse. Offenders of emotional abuse.
The very same leaders who may be sending such strong messages of harsh judgment. The harshest and scariest kinds of judgement for being a human being. The same culture that promotes a sense of disembodiment from self. That appears to shame you for having your own intuition and thoughts and feelings.
I have cried in my office more times than imaginable with parents who basically send the message to their children that depression and anxiety and suicide is seemingly preferable than accepting that their children are gay, or have had sex, or are questioning these things, or questioning their own relationship with God, basically just humans – you know- being HUMAN. Using critical thinking skills. Being a sexual being- which is – you know- HUMAN.
As I am writing this, I am having to slow my own breathing and work through my own secondary trauma of seeing this firsthand multiple times and grieving with my dear clients. So much grieving and pain. Oceans and oceans of grief and pain.
I have had to work through my own rage to be emotionally available to hold space for all of the oceans of grief and pain that these humans have endured all in the name of God- or rather, their church.
I have been fortunate to see the reconstruction and the becoming and the embodiment of self that happens when the brave and scared and sad and lonely and traumatized humans begin their journeys of making peace with themselves and all of their very human parts and their personal relationships with the divine. When they give themselves permission to offer themselves compassion and acceptance.
I could write about this for hours.
That would not serve me well because I need to go sit quietly and breathe and allow these feelings of grief and rage to flow through me.
I encourage you to do your own research if you are interested or moved to do so.
May we all become who we are meant to be and already are and may we all know that we are worthy of love and acceptance and belonging- to ourselves and to each other.