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The long term reality of religious abuse

In my book (It’s Life Jim…) I cover the subject of mental health openly but fairly lightly.

Although these days I help many work through the debilitating trauma of religious abuse and it’s impact on LGBT people, I realise I haven’t actually shared much of my own struggles – only snippets really. I was wondering why I’ve avoided it, and I realise it’s because of the stigma. I’m afraid that it will invalidate me – that if I share too much, I will have no credibility in my work with Silent Gays and just be relegated to the rubbish heap of nutters!  But life is about facing our fears, so here is my day to day reality… (pull up a comfy chair, it’s going to be a long one)

The first layer of fear was from very young, realising I didn’t fit the expectations of family and society (although I couldn’t express it as that at the time). I was ADHD but it wasn’t a “thing” back in the 60s so I was constantly being judged for being a space case and a dreamer. I couldn’t focus for long on anything, always wanting something new and getting bored far to quick and most of the other classic “symptoms”.

The next layer was hitting puberty and finding that I had zero attraction to girls and it was the boys who would send my hormones on a rampage. But it was taboo to even talk about it. So I lived a conflicted dual life in my most formative years.

The next layer was the impact of religion, enforcing the stigma that anything outside of “normal” heterosexuality was living a dreadful sin. This drove me ever onwards to find a “solution”, get healed/cured/changed/whatever – anything but live in the excruciating pain of guilt and shame caused by the religious beliefs. This became the most damaging part of my life, as I pursued every imaginable way of becoming straight.

During all this time, through two marriages, numerous different church denominations, doctrines and theologies, and endless counselling, I fell deeper into depression and suicide ideation. But I couldn’t even let anyone know that either! I was already a “loser”, if not to those around me, most certainly in my own mind – I was a failure.

Finally, I embraced the “gay conversion therapy” practices of Living Waters for 15 years, clinging to the hope that this was going to finally change me and bring the freedom I was so desperate for. But of course, it didn’t. The depression became worse and I would become crippled with anxiety, but still I had to hide it and use every ounce of strength I had to live day by day. My marriage was an absolute sham, and my wife constantly shamed me. So often I felt like I would “explode” – what exactly that meant I’m not sure, but that was the feeling.

My wife died, and I collapsed. I had lost all my reference points, I didn’t know how to process what was happening and depression and anxiety left me needing “real” counselling (not Christian pseudo counselling) and medication. Thus began the slow climb out of the pit.

Here’s the reality though that so many of us who have been through something like this suffer. We “walk with a limp”. I don’t mean that in some nice wise sounding metaphor. I mean it as a limp with a bloody open wound that although it doesn’t stop us from getting involved in, and enjoying life, does mean we are always walking in the pain and effects of our injury. We do our best, and yes, it’s unbelievable better than what we lived through, but the wounds never seem to heal.

To put that into my daily practical affairs, here’s what my own “wound” is like.

I have ADHD, so my ability to focus is limited, unless I lock on to something that absolutely captivates me and then I can’t leave it. I am impulsive, get bored quickly, forget stuff, remember the wrong things at the wrong times, and all the classic ADHD stuff. But after the meltdown when Min died, these symptoms became heaps worse. I could pretty much work around them in the past, but now they are extreme. I have regular bouts of depression still, although not crippling like they used to be, and I’m sooo thankful for that! I get anxiety attacks too. At first they were pretty bad – things like freaking out in the supermarket and bursting into tears. But I still get them. I’ll start to get nervous and tense for no reason and keep thinking I’ve forgotten something really important.

I used to be pretty good with complex technical information and did well as a technical writer and instructional designer, but another aspect of my meltdown was that as the ADHD and anxiety had increased, I lost the ability to comprehend that sort of information any more. This has been a source of incredible frustration and sadness, especially as I was a bit of a wiz with electronic music and computers. I’m also a qualified trainer/facilitator but the thought of teaching IT or Health and Safety Systems (as I used to) sends me into a panic!

As a result, I couldn’t hold a job any more. I’m pretty much a liability, never knowing one day, or even one hour to the next, what my mental state will be. Pressure, expectations, deadlines etc cause my mind to go blank, which sets off anxiety because I can’t function, and become fearful that I’ll let people down. So I went on the sickness benefit (thank you New Zealand for your wonderful social welfare system – even if it does have it’s problems).

About a year ago I decided to try getting work again and coming off the benefit and the meds. It’s been one crazy year! I ended up doing security work, simply because its pretty chilled with low expectations, but there was constant pressure for long hours at crappy pay to cover the bills. 12 hour night shifts, brain numbing day shifts standing around, which for an ADHD person is living hell! I finally had to quit a couple of months ago because I could feel my brain falling back to the point of breakdown again.

This is my life – I never know from day to day how my mind will be. I’m really good at putting on a happy face, and I’m always the funny guy, but I’m broken. I’m happy, in fact life has never been better, but my wounds are deep and I simply can’t function in life as we are supposed to.

What happens is that the mind is deeply scared from having to adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms all its life. A life of shame and guilt creates patterns of thoughts and reactions that simply don’t suddenly leave, especially as you get older and the responses are so ingrained. Things that may appear “normal” life to others trigger me into confusion and anxiety. I can start the day with the best of intentions and find that suddenly my brain has totally lost the plot and I can’t complete a single thing I’ve planned.

I can however, communicate! I can write with passion about religion and being gay. I can talk to a crowd for hours about it! I can take people on roads of self discovery. I can run workshops and seminars, and feel incredible compassion and empathy for the broken like myself. But ask me to sort out technical stuff like my website, and accounts and running a proper organisation and I grind to a halt – despite the fact that in my past life I was very capable and even had small business management qualifications.

These days I’m trying to find part time work that I can actually handle, that pays enough to cover the bills while I try to build some online work to finance my passion of helping others.

Anyway, I’ve rambled somewhat, but only in the hope that I’ve created a picture of the ongoing effects of mental illness. I’m at peace in many ways with it all however, as long as I allow myself to roll with it. If it’s a “bad” day, I try to just chill out in the knowledge that tomorrow will be different. Not always easy of course when I’m often faced with daily simple tasks, but I’m getting there, despite the niggling shame that persists for not being “normal”. Things like mindfulness meditation have been the biggest help, as well as long walks on the beach.

That’s my “limp”. That’s my life. It’s a good life, but only if I let it be a good life in the full acceptance of my limitations, embracing all that I am right now, with all its mess and unpredictability. I love who I am now. I have no regrets. I don’t live in constant shame and guilt any more. I want to live, and live that life to its fullest, which is amazing considering most of my life was spent figuring out ways to kill myself and spiralling through chronic depression and fear.

Yep, this is me, warts and all!

Division in the ranks

The term “LGBT community” is an immensely broad brush stroke that tries to define all the variations of sexuality and gender humans experience. We are often obliged to add more subgroups into the term to embrace everyone) LGBTQIA etc. The list keeps growing as we all desire our own label to communicate exactly who we are to others.

This is a normal human reaction to life. We love labels!

But there’s a problem with labelling in regards to sexuality and gender. We are all, every single human on the planet, somewhere on the sliding scales of sexual identity/expression and gender identity/expression as well as physical gender attributes. There simply aren’t two people who experience exactly the same identifications and expression. The following chart explains the basic spectrum for all humans. While not perfect, it does give us the basic idea.

The significance of all this is obvious – labels are almost redundant and quite often, counterproductive, creating misunderstanding, rejection and division – despite our best intentions to find our own unique niche.

Ideally (and yes, I’m an idealist), we should all have the freedom to simply be who we are, whatever that looks like. Don’t get me wrong, we do need some way of identifying ourselves so that we can find friends and communities we can relate to. But there is a lot of bigotry and judgement that goes on, even (or especially?) by others who identify as being on the spectrum.

Drag queens, cross dressers and trans women often don’t see eye to eye. Butch lesbians and trans men get into spats. Asexuals feel left out. And of course, the attitudes towards the flamboyant feminine gays by masculine gay men can be disgusting. I even found a group that call themselves G0ys (that’s gay with a zero instead of an a). These guys identify with the idea that we are all on a spectrum of sexual attraction, but they actively denounce anyone who doesn’t fit their “look and behave like a straight male” paradigm and have extreme opinions about the evils of anal sex. Sadly, just another bunch of people who, while trying to create a broader acceptance for the male sexual continuum, have created deeper bigotry instead.

My dream is to slowly lose the LGBTIQwhatever label as we learn to accept our uniqueness. Let’s stop denigrating others because we don’t understand or they “aren’t like us”. There’s enough of this in all areas of life without it affecting those of us who have to battle for the right to simply be who we are.

I’m “gay”, I’m only attracted to men, I express myself as reasonably masculine but have some aspects of the feminine psyche that “soften” me (damn those jazz hands). But that doesn’t mean I want to be pinholed as a bear or whatever silly sub-label you want to dump on me.

I’m Jim.

I love and respect every human equally, and I accept that no two people are at exactly the same point on the spectrum of gender and sexuality. We are bigger than the stereotypes!

 

 

Apologetics

In a conversation that came out of my previous blog – Fatal Paradoxes – I casually stated that I knew all the correct theological and doctrinal answers to my own questions: that I had found the paradoxes of faith to be insurmountable and thus fatal. The other person asked if I could provide some examples of these doctrines that I used to be so confident about.

I quickly started looking through old notes and looked up some of the old books etc. What I found was rather scary in some ways!

You see, despite being a deep thinker and questioner all my life, I was also a bit gullible and easily followed those who sounded profound and wise, well at least in the context of christianity.

http://www.digitalfreethought.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/apologetics.jpg

 

My “go to” source for apologetics was C.S.Lewis. He was arguably the greatest apologist for the faith. He came from a rich academic heritage, was extremely well studied in religion and philosophy and very persuasive at presenting what seemed like irrefutable logic.

So as I was digging around to remind myself of all these “theological answers to the paradoxical questions of faith”, looking at Lewis and many other’s works, and thinking “where’s all the good stuff… you know, all the arguments that caused all my doubts to fade?”. I kept looking until I realised I had already found it. There actually wasn’t any profound and persuasive apologetics after all! Even the great Lewis (who I almost worshipped) was simply a product of the culture of his time, lacking in any real diverse understanding or depth from other cultures, and operating in a philosophical environment that reflected the limitations of scientific understanding of the time.

I scratched my head a little more thinking how arrogant I was for coming to that conclusion, and surely the basis for christian faith is more solid than this?!

But I realised that once you’ve “un-seen” the integrity of the faith, you can’t go back. Once the confirmations biases are revealed, the paradigms seen for what they are, the logical fallacies exposed, the role of psychology and science explored, the assumptions about the veracity of the bible and how it all hinged on that, then there really is no going back. The entire foundation of the christian belief system becomes at best, a fascinating adventure in Jewish history, or completely irrelevant, or at worst, an incredibly damaging belief system that was responsible for more hatred and bloodshed than any other. The truth is probably a mix of all these. And yet it persists – and many beautiful, genuine, loving people embrace it and bring life to others in the process.

But for me and countless others, there are far greater truths, and far greater questions that christianity fails miserably to answer, and the apologetics I thought were irrefutable are nothing more than opinions based on assumptions.

What strange and foolish creatures we are!

Fatal Paradoxes

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/0_zBYWparsA/0.jpgI used to ask a lot of questions. I was one of those kids!
This has been the bane and blessing of my life. As a result, the platitude that “God’s ways are higher than ours” or “who are we to question His thoughts” etc, left me absolutely stone cold.

Even though I tried my best for 40 years to reconcile all the contradictions in doctrine and, more importantly, in the bible itself (and I had all the correct theologies and doctrines, all biblically based), I finally had to admit defeat and declare them irreconcilable – fatally flawed – logical fallacies… all leading to the complete dismantling of biblical theology and reasoning, although I still believe there are some gems of wisdom there, as with any “holy” writings.

This is a short summary of the most glaring issues (provided by a friend)…

So, God is the God of Love according to the Bible:

  • Love is patient – God gives up on us.
  • Love is kind – God drops us into a swirling fire pit of violent demons.
  • Love does not envy – God calls Himself a jealous God.
  • Love does not boast – God needs constant praise and adulation.
  • Love is not proud – God rejects our earnest inquiry and reminds us how lowly we are.
  • Love is not easily angered – God has wiped out most of humanity and many many people groups and individuals time and time again in His anger.
  • Love keeps no record of wrongs – God will make us answer for every single sin committed during our lifetimes.

Yes, I know how to “whitewash” or circumvent all these arguments with the best bible college answers, but to do so is to avoid the simplicity of the statements, thwarting any attempt to apply reason and/or logic to the issue.

The Inner War – 2

In this blog I present why Christianity is such a great religion and why it truly was my “salvation”.

In my previous blog I presented the premise that Christianity, and most other religions, claim that we are broken and in need of an external deity to “save” us.

This is a very sound premise when we observe the state of the world and humanity as we see it. We all behave in ways that are counter productive to ourselves and everyone/thing else. We constantly live in judgement of ourselves and every other word and deed of our fellow humans. And then we react out of that judgement.

This judgement can be destructive, but it can be helpful in practical ways. To judge a situation we may find ourselves in, in a healthy objective way, gives us the power to make decisions that benefit us all. But in saying that, we never have enough information to make truly objective and beneficial judgements, let alone the best responses to those judgements.

Deep down, we know this to be true. We know that our limited perspectives cause problems. They always have, no matter how hard we try.

Thus we assume that an external deity is the only solution. A deity who knows all, sees all, understands all, and can communicate this to us. This deity must be able to somehow provide the ability to make good judgements and empower us to respond  to those judgements with wisdom.

Perhaps then, the Christian solution of Jesus is the most elegant one humanity has embraced. It provides the external influence of a deity in a way that makes it very personal and empowering. We set the scene with the moshttps://2.bp.blogspot.com/-h5Bo960Ken4/UIGRKKPI4wI/AAAAAAAAA8M/csOFC-9a72E/s1600/word-and-spirit.jpgt powerful deity of all – Yahweh. He, through the Jews, presents the foundation of the all powerful, all knowing God. Then this God comes to us physically as a human, identifies with us in every way, embraces his humanity, recognises our deepest needs. This God then sends himself as a “spirit” to live in us, become “one” with us, in the greatest demonstration of love imaginable. This spirit repairs that which is broken and allows God to “live through us”.

As we embrace this Holy Spirit and surrender ourselves to it, we become more God-like. The oft quoted “more of Him and less of Me” is a proud declaration of our willingness to change for good, recognising the apparent brokenness that we can never escape by ourselves. As we “grow in faith and love” we build a personal relationship with the Spirit inside us, listening, worshipping, loving, obeying

This truly is one of the most empowering religions created, when properly understood. It can take the “least of us”, and give us life and love, hope and security. So basically, it works, and can work well.

So why am I no longer a Christian? Why would I walk away from something that gave me purpose and life and saved me from despair?

Partly it’s because I saw the dreadful hypocrisy in the church, partly because of the drastically conflicting doctrines within Christianity that have caused hatred and war, still to this day. Partly because there were questions it is unable to answer. One of most potent reasons was the ever raging “inner war”.

And then, there’s “The Word”…

The Inner War

Traditional Christianity (and most other religions) teach us that we are broken- fundamentally flawed and need to be fixed/saved/restored/born again…. https://tjc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Stephen_What-Must-I-Do-to-Be-Saved.jpg

They teach us that there’s a war going on inside and outside us for our souls/hearts/spirits. “We wrestle not with flesh and blood” is a common cliché we throw around. The devil is a real adversary. Our mind is deceptive and untrustworthy. We are easily deceived by “the world” or “the devil”. You know the story!

It is however, the wrong assumption, creating the wrong solution, and ultimately achieving nothing. In fact, it is worse than that. It creates a deep sense of worthlessness that only an external deity can resolve, causing an outflow of religious dogma that has divided us, created wars, hatred, bigotry, genocide, etc. In fact, this theology is the foundation for just about all that is wrong with the world!

Now that sounds like a rather audacious statement, and I know there are many wonderful loving people who embrace christian theology and endeavour to bring love to the world as best they can. But even these beautiful souls are shackled by the lie that they are worthless without an external deity who forgives and empowers them to do good.

I’ll be opening up this a lot more so take the time to think about it as rationally and objectively as you can. Feel free to make comments, just remember that they are moderated though, lol!

Meds

After Min died I had something of a breakdown and ended up on Escitalopram. Just the minimum dose, but it was all I needed. It lifted the dark heavy blanket of depression and eased the anxiety attacks. It made life bearable and gave me the freedom to move forward. "If you're happy and you know it, thank your meds" LMAO, Maxine!

Over the years I tried stopping or cutting down but it soon became evident that it was too soon. Over the last few months I began to reduce the dose again, just too see what would happen. I had a visit to the doc a couple of months ago and he asked how the side effects were going, although he didn’t know I had reduced the dose at this stage. I said they were fine and I’d never noticed anything significant… until he asked more specific question. Damn… I hadn’t realised that many small but annoying things were actually side effects.
Sooo anyway, I reduced and finally stopped them a few weeks back and the changes are very noticeable. Some areas are coming right faster than others (sex has never been better, lol) and so far, depression and anxiety are still at workable levels.

One of the interesting things is my emotional reactions. Before the meds, I used to become teary at the strangest things, especially things that expressed passionate emotion, but that faded on the meds. Now it’s returning, much to my annoyance but paradoxically, I’m also pleased. In the past I had worked through why this would happen and I think it was centred around having to repress so much all my life, and emotional triggers would crack open all the repressed stuff. As it faded I became less concerned as I thought I’d processed all that stuff and I was now “normal” (lol).

But it’s coming back, so here I am, looking at these teary moments with a new interest in what they mean, and how to process them and hopefully control them in a healthy way.

Just thought I’d share this, because meds are a hot topic these days and it’s good to share our experiences, especially with our emotional journeys.

Onward and upward 😉

5 Steps to recovery from spiritual abuse

This is a guest post by David Hayward (The Naked Pastor and The Lasting Supper)

Spiritual abuse is very real. No automatic alt text available.

1. Admit that it happened. What I find with many people who’ve experienced abuse is that they can’t believe that such a thing happened to them in the church. It is repugnant to them that an organization that boasts about grace and love can be so mean and hateful. They can’t comprehend or acknowledge that people who are in the people-helping business are actually in the people-hurting business. So, don’t minimize it by saying, “Oh, they didn’t mean to,” or, “They didn’t treat me very well,” or, “I was wounded”. You have to be able to say you were actually and really abused… that you were treated in such a way that it hurt you.

2. Recognize the symptoms. There are many symptoms of abuse, such as depression, withdrawal and isolation, low self-esteem, guilt and shame, not trusting others, nervousness and fear, emotional instability and crying, etc. Another aspect of this that I noticed when it has happened to me or notice in others is that their sense of God or the spiritual is damaged. The heavens are as brass. This is partially due to the fact that we may attribute divine power to those we trusted in the church.We might even acquire a strong distaste for anything spiritual, such as fast-forwarding spiritual music on our song lists. Also, the difficult question, “Where was God when this happened?” may arise. If we start trying to answer this question, there is no telling where we could end up. But we have to be open to the change this question invites.

3. Talk with someone. It is important to talk with someone who understands abuse, especially spiritual abuse. When one is spiritually abused, an interior fracture can take place which will manifest itself in different responses. Some simply change churches. Some leave the church. Some leave Christianity. Some leave their God and their faith. Most consistently, many people experience their spirituality “freezing”, slipping into an extended dormancy or an eternal hibernation. Like broken bones, talking with someone can help your fractured spirit set in a healthy manner. You might become a Buddhist or an atheist, but your spirit, your inner self, has healed properly so that your new spiritual life is authentic and not reactionary.

4. Write in a journal. A couple of weeks ago I recommended to someone that they begin writing in a journal. A week later we spoke and this person was amazed at how revealing it was. What this person discovered through journal writing was that there was a lot of anger coming out through their pen. This person wouldn’t have realized this without journaling. I’ve kept a journal all through my spiritual journey. It is an amazing tool which helps me understand myself and for processing all that happens to me. It is a very revelatory act. Journaling may help you acknowledge and admit the abuse, recognize the symptoms, and find hope for a way through the trauma. It usually helps your spiritual self heal faster and better.

5. Appreciate the process. Many people consider the process of recuperation and healing as a necessary but unpleasant passage to becoming whole again. In fact, this process is the wholeness. Healing is entirely possible, and the journey there is the healing process. This isn’t to say that you should stall in an endless cycle of the therapeutic process though. Did you know that doctors have their own doctors? Did you know that some regions require psychotherapists to employ their own therapists? These times of healing are rich with forgiveness, wisdom, compassion, self-awareness and confidence that would not be gleaned without it being appreciated.

 

Copyright © 2018 The Lasting Supper, All rights reserved.

 

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$18 including postage

Email me at itslifejim@outlook.com for details

 

What is God?

Religious people believe in God – Atheists don’t. Simple really – until we ask what we mean by “God”.

Here’s a little summary from Wikipedia. Have fun getting through that!

If you come from primarily Christian, Jewish or Islamic backgrounds, God is an all powerful being. He is “omni” everything and predominantly masculine, especially in Christian and Islamic beliefs. Other religions are a little more generous with their idea of God and many have a whole heap of them.

Then there are those who prescribe to a less humanised type of God, who see God as a power that exists in everything. Some see God as nothing more than the power of love. Others see God as consciousness. In fact there are so many definitions of God that when we say “I believe in God” we could really mean anything! Image result for my god is better than your god

Most traditional views, especially in the big 3, offer an anthropomorphic view of God as a single Deity who has complete control over everything. Others prefer something along the lines of Hinduism, where God’s are still anthropomorphic but there are millions of them, representing every aspect of life through metaphor and allegory.

I’ve found that when I talk to people as an “ex-Christian” they assume I no longer believe in God. They assume that there is only one type of God – their God. The same for all other major religions.

So when we enter into discussions, even outside of the traditional Christian/Abrahamic beliefs, we must remember that we all see a different God/gods. An atheist will scorn your belief in any god, but most assume you are talking about a type of Abrahamic God.

Many people who leave traditional religions recognise that there is the possibility of a power/force/whatever that is beyond our understanding. This relates to ideas such as:

  • We are all part of God
  • We are all gods
  • God is pure love
  • God is the innate consciousness of the universe
  • God is nature
  • And countless other variations on the theme

The thing is, no one is right OR wrong. We simply don’t know.

However! We owe it to ourselves, and the entire human race, to consider what our particular God is really good for.

Does our God:

  • Contribute to a better world, promoting peace, love and tolerance?
  • Teach us to accept others unconditionally?
  • Help us tend for the planet in all it’s beauty and bounty?
  • Give us real empathy for all people?
  • Fight for injustice and abuse without an agenda? and so on…

When I was a Christian I would have answered yes to all the above, but with the overall condition that Jesus must be at the centre of it all and you had to accept him as Lord and saviour. Only then could you truly love. I know many Christians (and Muslims and Jews etc) who genuinely don’t have an agenda, but the majority do. The genuinely loving ones hold a different foundational belief in the nature of God, often far more “mystical” – seeing the bible as metaphors, and doctrines as less important than inclusive love. This is also true of the other religions.

In summary, it comes down to what God have we created in our own minds? How have we shaped our beliefs to encompass something that includes all humanity in a way that brings unconditional love to all? We can’t simply say “there is no god”, because we don’t know. We can’t prove one way or the other. But we can look for beliefs that on the one hand, satisfy our need for love, acceptance and security, and on the other, are rational and not elitist/exclusive dogmatic systems.

If genuine, unbiased love is the “fruit” then go for it. Just don’t pretend that YOUR god is THE god.