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When Religion Hurts

I remember the evening quite clearly. I was around 5 or 6 years old, and I nervously approached the stairs of the stage and knelt down. I was there to repent, to accept Jesus into my heart, really I just wanted to avoid the fiery pits of hell. From my earliest memory I was told that I needed to pray and ask Jesus to forgive me of my sins so I wouldn't go to hell.

This was my introduction to Jesus and Christianity. What follows is a wild, and complicated story of my relationship with faith. I was raised in an evangelical home. I went to a Christian school and attended Bible study and church about 3-5 times a week.

As a young woman I was taught that it was my job to cover my body so I wouldn't tempt men to lust after me. I couldn't wear shirts with words across my chest, for fear men's eyes would be drawn to look at my boobs. Jeans with rivets on them were forbidden as well, as a man might look at my hips.

I was taught that if I had sex before marriage, I was, "a chewed up piece of bubble gum, or equivalent to trash." If I did happen to make this mistake, my future husband wouldn't want me because I wasn't "pure" because I hadn't saved myself for him. Being gay was one of the worst sins you could commit along, with abortion of course.

There was another incident when I was pulled aside by a teacher, and informed that my heart wasn't "pure enough" to enter worship. She knew that I had unconfessed sin in my life.

As a child I was inquisitive, and wanted deeper answers to everything. I pushed back on things I was taught, and this was absolutely frowned upon, so I learned to stay quiet and pretend I agreed with everything.

I witnessed and experienced violence as a child, and instead of being able to reach out for help, I was told to be quiet. Christians don't have those problems.

I learned from a very young age to not express myself, to internalize all of my feelings. I've struggled with mental health issues for as long as I can remember. We didn't seek help, because the answer to all of our issues was prayer.

Alcoholism and mental illness are not a result of my Christian upbringing. But, now that I'm in recovery, I've been doing the work of digging into my past, and trying to heal myself. I was brought up in a culture of shame, guilt and silence. I was raised to Being quiet and submissive was expected.

Since I've gotten sober, I've come back to my faith. I'm not exactly sure what that looks like. But, I do know as a result of recovery and AA I now have a God of my own understanding, and realize that faith is a life long journey of discovery and growth.

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