Things I Knew When I Was Young

Things I Knew When I Was Young

Things I knew when I was young
Some were true and some were wrong
– Gun Song by The Lumineers

TW: Religious Trauma, mental health, suicide, medication

This time last year, I was holding on for dear life. Everything that I knew had been ripped out from under my feet. 

It actually started way before that.  I graduated college in May of 2016, ya know, right before that huge presidential election. 

That shaped America in ways I don’t think people were expecting. But it also shaped me in a drastically different way. 

I know I’ve talked about it before, but my old religious environment looks more and more like a cult every day I go further from it. 

The early 2000s White Conservative Evangelicalism was based in fear, some called it “Satanic Panic”. Pokemon and Disney were trying to poison children. Play a record backwards and you heard a message from Satan himself. Add fear of government in there and then fear that was brought on by 9/11, and well, everything was just viewed from a lens of fear. There were so many things to be afraid of.  

I remember accidentally locking myself in the bathroom at my own house when I was about 7, screaming my head off because I thought the rapture was going to happen and I would be separated from my family. 
I was SEVEN. 

That fear also brought about rules.
About thoughts. 

Rules about every single aspect of life. And if you didn’t follow all the rules, you were scolded. Or worse, separated from community. Or even worse, condemned to hell. They tried to make the “straight and narrow” more narrow than it actually was with their walls and obstacles. But it was never their power do so, and it still isn’t.

The last five years have been walking away from this life. 

But last election year brought back every fear that was ever instilled in me. Though, It was slightly different this time around. 

I was afraid they were right. 

That after all the studying and listening and organizing. After all the soul searching and bible reading, to prove them wrong. Everything was falling into place exactly as the people that led life by control and fear said it would. 

I couldn’t take it. 

I had been isolated for nearly a year. All these people were claiming that going to church was more important than keeping people alive. People screaming that just being “saved” would keep you from COVID. While I knew the faithful were on ventilators. 

I could put every piece of the puzzle together to show how we got here. Every thought that led to beliefs. That this crazy way we undermined science about the beginning of the universe led to people not trusting science for medical care. How the same way that mental health is treated with “you just need more faith” led to churches with thousands of people gathering at super-spreader events. 

I knew that death was the consequence. 

That people were dying because of the way that this religion had been poisoned through the years. 

I weeped on the floor when a grandmother I knew died of COVID. 

I tried to be loud, to be a warning, and it just made me unheard. 

I was crying out, “WOLF”, and the town refused to turn around to see its big shiny teeth right behind them. 

I argued with “elders” to take care of people. 

All the people that had lately been ignored. 
Those susceptible to get COVID, 
refugees at the border, 
Black people shot in their own bed, 
unhoused neighbors, 
the “least of these” as they’re often all called. 

My whole life was built on being right out of fear.  And that we were right because Jesus was “on our side”. 

But it all came crashing down, slowly and then all at once. 

Came crashing down on a Tuesday when I told my therapist that story of seven year old me. And then all the other religious stories. Turns out that’s not normal. And it’s also not normal for my brain to hold on to it the way that it did for all these years. 

But trying to let go of everything you’ve ever known when the new foundation is so shaky, isn’t the most ideal situation. 

It was all just too much. And so we explored the idea of seeking inpatient treatment or going on medication. 

Both scared me, because my mom did both of those. And she still died by suicide. 

Waiting for the psych eval was the hardest part. It had to get rescheduled a couple times. 
Things were bad. 
I barely ate for weeks. It took me 3 hours one time to drink a 12oz protein shake. 
I cried a lot. By myself, on FaceTime, in the arms of my best friend.
I drove  and just screamed to music a lot. 
I tried to do art, to keep my hands busy. 
I tried to pray, but I had condemning verses turning in my head at all hours. 

I remember during a panic attack, I tried to call a friend and then didn’t answer. 
I just sat on my bed, holding my knees crying, trying to catch my breath. 
“Sleep on the Floor” by the Lumineers was playing. That Cleopatra album was on repeat most days. 
The line that kept getting stuck in my head was “Jesus Christ can’t save me tonight”.
The Jesus Christ of my culty childhood couldn’t save me. No one else could save me either. 

The only person that was going to get me through it was me. 

So I did. Every day was hard. 

I had days where I was reminded of really good things that kept me going. 

A small Christmas party with some of my closest friends. Who opened the door, squeezed me so tight and said “I’m glad you could make it”. Both of us knowing that she meant more than just making it to the party with my assigned party supply. 

A statue that my mom made. It was a black statue that reminded me of The Thinker. But it had been dinged up throughout the years. It had so many scratches, chips, and chunks missing. I colored every missing bit in with gold, like the Japanese tradition, Kintsugi. Repairing broken things with gold. 
It reminded me of myself. 

A man named Chris, who I somehow believe was a literal angel. I had to go for a walk one day. I probably hadn’t showered or properly eaten for a couple days. I decided to walk to the Catholic church and sit in the garden of Mary. I didn’t remember that it was Sunday or typical church hours when I left the house. I got there and the parking lot was full of cars, people worshipping by their cars while they had a Spanish service outside. Instead of leaving, I sat down in the parking lot and just listened. This man came up to me and asked if I needed prayer. I think I looked up at him with tears in my eyes and said “I think so”.  He spent the rest of the time just talking to me and listening. He asked me about my past and present. He said everything I needed to hear. He prayed for me, gave me a hug. I walked home believing in good things a little more than I did when I got up that morning. 

All of this was during Advent, the time of waiting on the Messiah. It felt appropriate, like I was just waiting for someone to save me from all of this. But each week, I still lit my candles and tried to focus on hope, peace, joy and love. In the midst of waiting for peace, I got my psych eval. She said words that  affirmed how I have existed.
I got a little blue pill. To maybe make peace a little bit closer than it was. 

I made it to Christmas. It felt like an eternity to get there. My family got me a weighted blanket, some positive affirmation bracelets, and a pink dinosaur sweatshirt that says “You’re doing a good job and your hair looks nice.”

It was the softest sweatshirt, was. It became my comfort sweater as a I pulled myself out of that hell. It has now been well loved that it looks probably about ten years older than it actually is. I’m wearing it now and listening to Cleopatra while writing this (and crying).

I made it to New Years. 

And then my 27th birthday. 

And then my 3 month mark on Zoloft 

And then my two year mark in therapy. 

And then a year later from the hardest December of my life with dino sweatshirt and The Lumineers still blaring. 

And this year? We didn’t renew my sleep anxiety meds, we made a plan for winter, and then made a plan to reduce my weekly therapy visits and go off Zoloft. 

There’s lots of things that I “knew” way back when that were wrong. I don’t hold on to a lot of those things anymore. 

Here’s what I still know though, love remains. 

And love gets you through. 

I am in awe of where I am from last year. I’ve written about plenty of the good things already for you. Those good things are going to keep coming. 

It’s good to see where we’ve come from. I hope you’re able to look back and be proud of yourself. 
You did what you needed to and you survived. And Now you get to be proud of you in the thriving too. Love remains still.