I was three sessions deep into my counseling appointments, each time thinking I would come out cured and never needing help again, only to find myself in a bigger mess than when I came in. I started therapy in the hopes that it would help lift my overwhelming burden, that I was not being authentic, but instead I was compartmentalizing my identity depending on my surroundings and who I was with. Life demanded too much from me, I was not free to be myself. Not only that, but I needed help figuring out a relationship I was in, if it was okay for me to stay or not. Granted nothing was overtly wrong, in fact everything was great. He was everything I wanted and more, but I was weighed down by the concern that I wasn’t allowed to be with him, because we didn’t have commonality in one particular area, our religious beliefs. You would think someone could figure this out themselves, but I felt I was being pulled in two different directions- stay with him and be happy (but disappoint people and god), or leave and be sad (but make others proud for doing what they approve of).
By session four I realized that my hope for being cured was going to take a little longer, for my burden of feeling like I have to be a people pleaser in order to be good and lovable ran deeper than just an insecurity; but rather was formed through many years of harmful indoctrination and strong involvement with my religious beliefs and high-demand spiritual community.
My therapist was concerned about the specific language I used, highlighting my lack of independent decisions and critical thinking skills. She very gently and cautiously explained to me that the words I was using, and the behavior I was displaying was very similar, if not, identical to someone who had been brainwashed.
After explaining her observations, she looked at me with compassion and said: “I want to be very mindful when I say this, but I think you have been brainwashed.”
I’m not sure what a normal reaction is from someone who’s therapist just delivered this insight, but I felt relieved. It was like I finally had an answer to my deepest internal conflict; the things that felt problematic but I couldn’t say, the turmoil I felt for failing to live the life that was demanded of me, the pressure to make everything count, and being taught to look up to spiritual leaders and mentors that could and should tell me what to do and how to operate.
With a blank stare on my face, I took a deep breath and with a huge sigh I said, “Oh. Ok. Yeah, I think you’re right.”
My therapist then proceeded to ask me if I have ever heard the term “being gaslighted” before, and I had not. She brought up some examples from my own life of how I may have been gaslighted by people whom I looked up to as spiritual leaders and christian mentors.
I left that session with a whole new knowledge about myself and my life like I never had before. It’s like it all made sense why I had been struggling for so long. Everything just clicked. It made so much sense why I had a pervasive sense of anxiety of making a mistake and not trusting myself to make healthy choices for my life.
And just like that, I was cured!!!… I was not cured. I was in the deep trenches of dismantling things to undo a lifetime of religious programming.
What finally felt like a crack in the case, also came with gearing up to do the hardest work of my life. It came with a lot of tears, many moments of grief, a lot of learning about myself and deciphering my beliefs and values, from those imposed by the evangelical Christian world. This required understanding that my intuition is safe and reliable. I also needed to practice self-compassion, after years of self-judgment rooted in the dogma of not being worthy of love because I was a helpless sinner who needed someone to die for me.
And from then on, my counseling sessions revolved around religious recovery and spiritual abuse.
Like a loose thread from a sweater, the unraveling began. I was challenged to let go of who I thought I was supposed to be; the good Christian girl who does everything right, the believer who was obedient and submissive to the church and its teachings, and embrace who I really am. It was a desperate desire to live the life I wanted, and not the one I’m “supposed” to live by religious standards. However, this “unraveling” wasn’t just about living a life despite people’s approval; it was accompanied with challenging what “truth” is, where the Bible may have flaws, and who god is and what he is about. I believe that is what we now call “deconstructing.” A popular word that has made its debut in the last year and is now considered a movement. Be that as it may, I was unaware of “deconstructing” at the time, I first heard the word randomly used in an Instagram post about a year later.
Through my personal journey of unraveling my faith and having an awakening to live a life that is authentically mine, my soul was craving to go deeper into helping others who may have found themselves in similar situations of spiritual abuse from high demand religion, and faith transitions.
I am now a certified Life Coach and Spiritual Life Coach specializing in religious recovery and spiritual abuse. My hope and desire for this new endeavor is to assist individuals who are deconstructing and unpacking the effects of indoctrination while giving space and guidance to process negative experiences within church culture. It is my aim to help people move forward and have a strong core sense of self, welcome back their intuition, open doors to living a life that honors their values and beliefs, and thrive in their own spiritual life.
I am not someone who claims to have all the answers after leaving a religious affiliation, but, if there is one thing I could be certain of- it’s that it is so important to have a support system when going through a faith crisis or religious recovery. When going through something like this it can be incredibly lonely, confusing, depressing, difficult, and for some people- unsafe. It is so important to me to embody a safe relational environment to discuss harmful spiritual experiences, while working in the stages of grief and loss of leaving a religious environment.
What excites me about this new career is there is no agenda, dogma, doctrine, faith affiliation, persuasion or biased inclination of how an individual should act or believe. The only desired outcome from personal development in religious recovery coaching is a greater sense of identity, peace to move forward, and a connection with life again.
Going to therapy and enduring my own recovery was the hardest season of my life, but the best journey to being more aligned with my authentic self. As someone on the other side of recovery, (though I will always work through things, because that stuff runs deep) it really excites me to present an opportunity to be a part of someone else’s healing journey.
If anything in this snippet of my story resonated with you, and you would like to know more about my coaching services, please message me!
I will continue to write about my experiences and discoveries on this page if you would like to follow along. Maybe my story will capture you on your journey as many of the stories that I have heard did with me. But, I do believe there are people out there who are questioning, hurting, who feel stuck and I am intrigued by the idea that by sharing my experiences I could potentially help someone feel related to and understood.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and a HUGE thank you to those who have known about my new endeavor and cheered me on and believed in me. You’ll never know how much that means to me.
Cheers to starting new things and beginning again.
Until next time,
Your Religious Recovery coach.