Breaking Free: Escaping Religious Guilt

religion-blindReligion.

It’s become a bad word in my book.

Religion brings barriers between cultures, countries, individuals.

Religion.  Such a small word, with so much power. Power over the masses.

After moving to a sleepy little West GA town from Michigan, a friend of mine pointed out that she was constantly being asked “what church do you go to?”  That was new to her.  She said it felt like a requirement.  Ha!  It is true that in the South people are often greeted or met with the question of where they attend Sunday service.  Welcome to the Bible Belt….

Heaven help you if you don’t have an answer to that question.  Your poor children are going to hell.  Don’t you care? Oh, the looks you will get…Bless Your Heart…

The Bible Belt.  The Deep South.  Such oppression here.  Such division. Is that what religion brings?  Oppression?  Division?

Religion makes us quick to judge.  Why do we feel that is our right?  I am speaking to myself here…I have been quick to evaluate people based on STUPID STUFF!

Why do we feel like if people have differing beliefs than we do that they are bad?  Why do we feel the need for EVERYONE to believe the exact same way?  Why are we more concerned about people’s belief systems than their actual LIVES??

Believing the Lie.

Super closed-minded.  I spent more than half of my life thinking this way.  Well, being taught to think this way.  While under the guise of humility and concern, the lesson was still, “If they don’t live the way we do, they are WRONG.”

I believe now that regardless of what religion people “profess”.  The truth about a person’s character comes through their life, their actions, their thought processes, their response to the earth and all the other people in it!  Back then though, character was just an afterthought….religion is more important than anything else…duh Kristal…remember??

I honestly can’t believe I bought into the lie for so long.  Being raised in a family where church is the most important thing in one’s life will do that to you.

Am I “Bad”?

faith

As a child I was always drawn to nature, to animals, to astrology, to the supernatural, to the moon, to any and all kinds of weirdness.  My love for these things never went away, but I was forced to suppress them. Those things were BAD.  I was taught that it was BAD to question.  It was BAD to read too much (this will confuse your mind don’t you know?).  It was BAD to have interest in anything secular* (including but not limited to: music, movies, tv, cartoons, friends, books, etc.).  I couldn’t love God and these things at the same time…nope, just not possible.

(*Definition of secular for those non-religious folks out there: denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.)

Not only was I taught to believe those things were BAD.  I was also taught that I was BAD.  Yep, that’s right, BAD.  Little ol me…who only wanted to love on animals, look at the stars, be friends with everyone.  I was BAD.

Don’t get me wrong.  My parents never set out to make me think I was bad.  They just wanted to be sure I was pointed in the “right direction”.

Instead the direction I was pointed in was guilt.

I felt bad for being me.  I must be bad.

Later on, I would be told this was a feeling of conviction over my sins.  Ha! I now know, I was just feeling bad because I thought something was wrong with me for being different. For thinking for myself. For not wanting to be a sheep.

I loved what I loved, yet I was being told those things were BAD.  So I must be BAD right?

The people I defined as “good” were the people my parents told me were “good”.  This list of people was reserved for Jesus, preachers, deacons, evangelists, Sunday school teachers, elders and deacons in the church… (you get the picture)…

My little child eyes watched carefully the choices and paths these “good” people took.  There was good and bad represented by the people on my list, I know this now.  Back then though, I had to reevaluate what I thought was “good”, if these people were the definition.

I knew I didn’t want to be like these people.  Though, as I stated before, there were good and bad represented on my list.  I knew this was not me.  Soooo….

I grew to become quite the rebellious kid.  I already knew deep down that I was BAD.  The things I loved were BAD so I must be BAD.  I didn’t totally buy into what the church was selling, so I must be BAD.  My beliefs never lined up with the Pentecostal beliefs of my parents, so I must be BAD.  I had friends who were different than me, so that stuck me in the BAD category as well.

Since I knew I was BAD already, I ran with it.  I was always in trouble at home. I was depressed and broody.  I ran away more than once.  Religiosity was always close on my heels.

Religion taught me to feel guilty about living.  You can’t watch that, you can’t listen to that, you can’t read that, you can’t talk to them, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t…. Of course, I did all those things anyway…. then felt even more BAD. Maybe I should just throw in the towel?

Living the Lie.

As time pressed forward, I began to lose some of that guilt.  Sounds good right?  Not so much. Along with that guilt, I also lost myself.  I began looking at people through the lens of religion.  I began thinking that I had it all figured out.  Those poor sinners out there, geez, they should stop being so BAD!  They should be more like the people on my list.

The small town I lived in did nothing but reinforce this mentality.  Most folks there dress the same, talk the same, pull for the same two teams.  Different = BAD.

Sure I wanted EVERYONE to come to our church.  I wanted everyone to be GOOD.  I wanted everyone to be HAPPY. I also wanted EVERYONE to CONFORM!  In order to be good, or happy for that matter, you had to conform.  That was the rule.  You had to mindlessly follow everything that your fearless leaders told you.  From the words you spoke right down to the clothes you wore.

I wasted so much of my life judging others.  Imitating people I thought were “good”. Complaining about differences.  Labeling. Being closed-minded.

My guilt, though lessened, still remained.

Wake Up Wild Woman!

sleeping-women

Underneath the religious facade, lay the real Kristal.  The wild woman, the girl that loved nature, the astrologer, the dreamer, the lover of weirdos, she was still in there.  Knowing this, led to more guilt.

It didn’t happen all at once.  I can’t even tell you when I really began to break free, but I did.  The wild woman was tired of being suppressed.  She was trying to break out of her prison.

What?!?  Leaving religion behind?!  Let me just tell you that in my family, in the Bible belt, in a world of conformists, this is FROWNED UPON. I will also tell you that change is HARD!

Overcoming thought processes that I have had my entire life takes effort.  The prison walls were high and thick…but thankfully they are coming down.  Piece by piece.

As the conforms of this religious mind-set slowly fade, I am awakened more and more.

I now find comfort in my beliefs.  I no longer feel the need to judge or label someone based on their religious affiliation.  I am freeing myself daily from the negative prison of religious, unjustified guilt that had been a fixture for so long in this brain of mine.

This continues to be a process, but I am so thankful that now:

I am free to come to my own conclusions.  I am free to research and find my own truth.  I am free to accept myself and others for who they really are.  I am free to THINK.  I am free to ACT.  I am free to LIVE.

I am breaking FREE.

Never Alone

I’m rarely alone.  He is always close.  I woke up this morning, to find him lying between my husband and I (I think that Brent is beginning to resent him).  My Depression doesn’t care about Brent’s resentment.   Secretly, I think he likes it.  He loves to separate me from everyone.  My Depression wants me all for himself.

This morning he whispers into my ear, “Stay in bed.”  “Just sleep.”  “We will spend the day together.”

tired

I get up anyway.  I head to the shower and try, with no success, to rinse him down the drain.  Don’t laugh.  Sometimes that works.  Sometimes I can calm my mind.  I can focus on my breathing.  I can drown him in my morning shower.

No such luck this time.  Together we step out of the shower and dry off.  “Let’s have a good cry”, he says. In that very moment, I catch a glimpse of us in the mirror.  I look him in the eye.  No, I will not cry.  I have no reason to cry.  “Since when do you need a reason?”, he sneers.

I realize he is right and, reluctantly, give in.  Big ugly sobs.  Tears flowing freely.  I see us in the mirror again, a terrifying sight.  I cry harder now.

I slowly walk into my closet and close the door.  In the complete darkness of my tiny, safe place I bury my head in my hands and quietly sob.

I cry for what could have been.  I cry for what was.  I cry for what never will be.  I just cry.

I sit in here for what seems like hours, in reality it has only been minutes.  Depression does that to me.  He is known to bring on the physical exhaustion of tireless work, even when my body has been sedentary.

I hear rustling in the bedroom, Brent might be waking.  Time to pull it together.

I slowly open the closet door but remain in my safe place.  With the light now on, I dress for the day.  Depression stops me before I am able to step out.  He drapes himself over me like a cloak.  Only then, does he allow me to leave the closet.

The weight of him exhausts me.  Some days are better than others.  There are days when my Depression weighs 5,000lbs.  There are days when he makes my entire body ache.

Then there are sunny days…

Days when he stays behind.  Days when I am really free to be myself.  Days when I feel hopeful.

I live for those days.  They serve as a reminder that I AM NOT MY DEPRESSION. We’ve been together for such a long time that I sometimes forget. Over the years the lines have become blurry, I cannot tell where my Depression ends and I begin.  On scary occasions, I feel as if I don’t begin at all.

afraid

False alarm, Brent is still sleeping soundly.  With my Depression shrouding me completely, we head downstairs.

Depression and I curl up together on the couch and sip our coffee.  Covered by my favorite blanket, we sit silently.  I normally find peace in silence.  But my Depression taught me that suffering lives in there too.

As I continue to sit in silence, sunlight beams in from the window and hits my, now puffy, face.   My Depression doesn’t like the sun; he doesn’t like for me to connect to Mother Earth at all.  He says it makes him shrink.  He says I don’t need her.  He reminds me of all the years we have held each other close, all the experiences we have had together.

I don’t like these reminders.  I cry again.

I am tired of crying.  Today I want to be me.  I want to live.  Really live, not just go through the motions.

I make up my mind to do this.  I begin to focus on the heat of the sunshine on my face.  I focus on the sounds of nature coming from my own backyard.  I begin to bring awareness to my breath.

Depression gets restless, “Stop this nonsense”, he demands.  He bombards my mind with: to do lists, worries, dust bunnies, regrets and random thoughts.   I allow the thoughts to come.  Then I remember, I am going to live today.  I am going to be me today.  I am in charge, not him.  I let the thoughts float by like clouds in the sky.  I breath in.  I breath out.  I begin to count my breath.  Inhale, 1.  Exhale, 2. Inhale, 3.  Exhale, 4….

I start feeling lighter.  What? Lighter?  My Depression is lifting.

I have lulled the monster to sleep.  I continue with my meditation.  I continue to count my breath.  I continue to let my thoughts come and then pass.  I am not my Depression, I am not my thoughts.  I am me.

When I know he is really sleeping, I lift off what remains stuck to me.  I gently lay him down on the couch and cover him with our favorite blanket.  I stand up slowly, scared I will wake him, and turn to face the rest of my day.

I know he will wake soon and we will be reunited.  For now, I look back at him slumbering on the couch and smile.

Today I will live.  Today I will be me…. even if just for a little while.

Shhhhh…don’t wake the monster.

rumi