Religious Indoctrination 20/20

I sprained my ankle in July 2018. I am in my late 30s and had never broken a bone or sprained an ankle and now my ankle went out from under me while walking in a park. It was not a mild sprain. It wasn’t bad enough to need surgery but it did mean I had to stay off it as much as possible. I had been on a trip when it happened. It was my left ankle, fortunately, which meant I was still able to drive home. At home, I spent most of my time in bed. I decided to start playing No Man’s Sky on the PS4 to pass the time.

I chose the option that prevented other players from joining my game. I wanted to be alone while I explored a virtual universe. This game provided a proxy version of the travel I’d once craved. I went from planet to planet to planet, taking screen shots of all the beautiful and strange things the game’s randomized generation had created. I played for hours because there were few expectations on me while I waited for my ankle to be able to properly carry my weight again.

Something unexpected occurred. The depression started to lift. My husband found out that part of his employee benefits included some free therapy visits, and I screwed up the courage to find a therapist and begin to get the help I so desperately needed.

I want to be happy.

This is the only life I’m guaranteed to get.

Years of my life were stolen from me by religious indoctrination. My sincere efforts to live up to the expectations placed on me by my former religion have wrecked me. I no longer believe the lie that giving up my happiness for marriage and motherhood was a noble sacrifice that would enrich my life and make me a better person. It’s not the ‘highest’ calling. It’s not a calling at all. It’s just a choice people make or a thing that happens.

I am a better person now, but I would have become that without marriage and motherhood. When I found information that was counter to what I’d been taught to believe, I would have analyzed the new information and changed my views. That’s just the person I am. That’s how my brain works.

I love my children. They’re neat people and I’m proud of them. They’re smart and funny and creative and loving.

I never should have been a mother.

I can’t continue to sacrifice the only life I get for unnecessary reasons. It’s one thing to give up your place in the lifeboat while the Titanic is sinking. It’s another thing to sacrifice your life and happiness when the circumstances ruining your happiness are things that can be changed, and changed without materially harming anyone else. My husband’s happiness matters, my children’s happiness matters.

My happiness matters, too.

During my last therapy session, after I outlined the changes I was instituting and requiring in my life and relationship going forward so I could survive, my therapist said the reason she hadn’t wanted to suggest a possible diagnosis for me was because from what I described, it sounded like the circumstances of my life could easily be the source of my symptoms. If those circumstances change, my stress should be reduced, my brain might be able to heal, and the symptoms might go away.

I haven’t fully processed that on an emotional level. I was so sure there was something permanently damaged in my brain. Maybe one of the types of bipolar disorder. It’s like thinking you have an allergy only to find out it’s the toxins in your environment that are causing the reaction. Get out of that environment, and you’ll no longer have the reaction. It’s still possible I’ll discover that my brain did break somewhere along the way. Changing circumstances might not fix the depression.

Changing my circumstances might fix the depression. I might be able to remember what it feels like to be happy because I might actually be able to feel happy again.

Obviously my experience wouldn’t be everyone’s experience. If a woman truly loved being married, being a mother, being domestic, and having her spouse take the dominant role in their relationship, she probably wouldn’t end up wrecked. If that’s the life that makes her happy, more power to her. But her life shouldn’t be the life I’m forced to live. People shouldn’t be told there is a template for how to live a happy life and then be forced to follow that template even as it becomes increasingly apparent that template is making them unhappy.

We shouldn’t denigrate and devalue happiness with the promise that suffering and sacrifice will lead to rewards, either in this life or the next. It’s heartlessly cruel.

I will never absolve conservative evangelical Christians and Christianity for what happened to me. I will probably feel some anger over it until the end of my life.

Oddly enough, though, I don’t have it in me to hate ‘religion.’ I’m aware that all of the problems within conservative evangelical Christianity have to do with a hierarchical power-based mindset in which some people deserve to be at the top and most people deserve to be at the bottom. That mindset exists with or without evangelical Christianity as a framework. Sometimes I still stumble into the sublime and transcendent beauty of someone else’s faith, though – and faith practiced with real love is a very different thing from what I experienced.

I’m content to be faithless, though. Not all questions have to be answered. Either there is an existence after death, or there is not. If there is not, I won’t be around to care. That doesn’t sound frightening, it sounds peaceful.

I want to focus on living, now.

One thought on “Religious Indoctrination 20/20

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s