I am a survivor of religious brainwashing and amplified abuse due to religious influences in my childhood household.
I was trained from an early age that life was a constant battle between the divine and my imperfect flesh. I was regularly made aware that there would come a day when I might wake up and find everyone I loved gone; vanished from the very face of the Earth. If this happened, then I was obviously a failure in God's eyes and had to face the Tribulation period. I would have to willingly be executed in His glorious name if I wanted to make the final roll call.
I was spanked. I was whipped. I was beaten. I was degraded. My faith scoffed at. I was molested, and I was eventually abandoned. All by the time I was sixteen years of age.
This type of constant conflict and abuse requires focused recovery. There isn't a self help book out there which will make me feel safe when I wake up every night at midnight, momentarily hallucinating the sound of heavy footsteps approaching with an imaginary belt in hand to beat me. Weekly counseling sessions will not begin to put a dent in my reflexive urges to hide what my plans are for my future because I worry about being laughed at, being told I am a joke, that I am not ever going to be good enough. And there isn't a pill in a bottle anywhere that will eliminate deep seated anger at the irrational fear of everyone I love being taken from me. A fear that has been pounded into my mind since I would comprehend basic language and emotion.
No, religious recovery is difficult, and at times, torturous. Professional help is never a bad idea, but seeking that out has its challenges. How easy is it to find a doctor that is even willing to acknowledge the abusive cycle of religious doctrine? It is quite the task. That is why I never fail to offer large online forum information of other religious survivors, in hopes who ever is looking for help, shelter, and understanding, will find a few people to be with them through the process of deconversion.
But what about once one has gotten to the stage where a love interest comes along? A desire to expose oneself into the world of another? Couldn't atheism be the tie that binds a couple together? A liaison between two individuals, much like religion does. I am not so sure about that notion lately. There is only one definition for atheism, but like any simple concept, it is applied in many different ways, even in romantic relationships. Some atheists are extremely vitriolic against organized belief. A constant barrage of intense anger filled discussion can wear on a person's good mood after awhile. Then again, the more gentler atheists seem to be humanistic in practice, while others just don't care at all anymore and have no interest in discussing the subject of non belief.
For myself, recent dating experiences have been interesting ones. Most I've had meet ups with are recovering from one religious belief or another. Well, except for one gentleman I've been around the past three months or so. And as our time together has continued, where I am constantly impressed with how much we share in common, I realized the other day there is a pretty large elephant in the room that could make or break our romantic relationship, though I doubt our friendship.
To the short of it, he never experienced indoctrination. In fact, the whole notion of being fearful of demons, having night terrors about a rapture, losing family over lack of belief, or just being a recovering ex Christian, are completely foreign concepts to him. He really cannot wrap his head around such psychological damage being caused by belief. And with a lack of comprehension comes a shortcoming in the amount of empathy to be given to the victim's plight.
This is the first time I have met someone who had no real first hand experience with religious indoctrination, and the resulting psychological damage that can be caused by it. When I recounted to him my father's suicidal phase after Jesus didn't return in 1988, he was at a loss, unable to appreciate the level of disappointment on my Dad's part. It isn't that this fellow I am seeing isn't empathetic to the suffering of others, he just doesn't appreciate the depth of damage that has been wrought against former believers, including myself.
If you've never been a part of the Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammed fan club, how could you know?
You are always just a casual observer, watching a weirdly fascinating obsession with ritualistic fantasy. Because you are never participating, you never quite figure out if people truly believe what they are worshiping. And, if you live in a country that only associates positive events with organized religion, then what? You never see the rotting trail of abuse, deceit, and paranoid escapism. In his case, he is not from the U.S., but Europe. A very secular country in Europe.
This inexperience on the part of my new found beau is also making me lose confidence in myself and the ability to not scare him off. Not only do I worry about the inevitable occurrence of a night terror during an overnight visit, but what about a trigger event like a street preacher announcing the end of times getting me upset to tears? Additionally, I worry about the fact that I might be too socially active in helping to dismantle religious influence in American culture. I am very big on educating the youth about appropriate time and place for belief. I won't sit by and allow the continued abusive programming of young children to happen anymore. It has to be stopped. Even if one child at a time.
Yes, an activist girlfriend, one who lampoons cause after cause that you hardly can relate to, can make for a difficult time. I haven't worn down his tolerance of religious discussion.....yet. I still think our being together is a truly wonderful thing, and it has reminded me just how insidiously quiet American culture is with the dishonest portrayal of religious faith and the side effects it has had on our country. This is something he does seem to acknowledge. Being from out of the U.S., he never sees any major news discussions about how unhealthy it is to program our kids with preset guidelines from the Bronze Age on how we are supposed to behave and think. You can watch two hour long documentaries on the horrible results of Islamic radicalization, but nothing on Christianity.
On top of all these musings, I admitted to myself that I am incredibly jealous of his irreligious upbringing. All his exposures to church were simply perfunctory in nature to appease an old relative, and his parents never made it mandatory. To have such freedom! To be raised without the constraints of dogma governing every aspect of your being. Thinking on it makes me want to cry in frustration sometimes. Luckily, my own children are being raised much the same as this man I've met, and knowing they have the open expanses of free thought to explore possibility after possibility as they see fit is a huge boon against my struggle with melancholy.
Knowing I managed to bring mentally repressing dogma to a grinding halt in my children's lives is so rewarding. I would pay with my life if I could guarantee everyone else in the world could have the same, and this type of thinking will probably cost me a truly inspiring lover, but certainly not a friend. Fathoming not wanting to live anymore is yet another aspect of recovery that he will never be able to identify with, as my children will not either, and that is truly a huge relief in my heart of hearts.
I know that as far as recovery goes, I'm only a little over a decade in now. I didn't really start dealing with all the abuse I was subjected to until I was thirty years old. The reality is that I will never regain what I have lost over the years. Forgiving and moving on are two very different beasts to deal with. While moving on isn't as difficult for me as it used to be, forgiving is an in the moment process that keeps being repeated over and over. Every time I face the gaping chunks stolen from my innocence, I am having to acknowledge that those chunks are gone forever. There is no restitution for what is gone, and I have to decide in the moment I am faced yet again with what is lost how I want to process the pain.
Dating someone who doesn't have a similar background, or at least hasn't even been exposed to this type of damage will have a hard time dealing with that aspect of who I am. Especially with the fact I tend to embrace the depression anymore, and also try to be creative within its gut wrenching waters instead of drowning in sorrow. Irreligious or not, it's a tough thing to watch a friend go through. Though, experience has taught me that the irreligious person will likely not offer empty platitudes and consoling prayers which are insulting beyond words.
Here I am, damaged and dating, and hoping I've reached a state of being that which is tolerable enough to find the right person to call mate at some point in my life.