Spirituality of all kinds can be beautiful and beneficial, including religion, but did you know there is a special kind of trauma created by the effects of being in or leaving a high demand, highly controlling religion? It’s called Religious Trauma Syndrome (RST). The term was coined in 2011 by psychologist Marlene Winell Ph.D.
Religious Trauma Syndrome and Highly Controlling Religions
Religious Trauma Syndrome is defined as a set of symptoms, ranging in severity, experienced by those who have participated in or left behind authoritarian, dogmatic, and controlling religious groups and belief systems. Symptoms include cognitive, affective, functional, and social/cultural issues as well as developmental delays. To learn more click here:
Click below to read Marlene Winell's game-changing book about Religious Trauma Syndrome. The book discusses the intense damage controlling religions can have on a person's life, and offers help with navigating the difficulties of deprogramming and coming into your own power.
A religion that creates RST is a faith system that exerts undue influence over a person’s day to day life. Law Enforcement agencies use The BITE model to measure how much control a religion or institution has over a person's behavior, access to information, thoughts and emotions. To explore the BITE model to understand in more detail what a high demand religion might look like click here:
Faith Shifting and Spiritual Growth
Highly controlling religions do not teach the fact that faith shifting is a natural, normal part of human development. Faith shifting is when a person either loses or completely reframes their faith. It is a process of coming to spiritual maturity. Kathy Escobar wrote a great book about faith shifting and spiritual maturation where she literally maps out the process of a faith shift. Her book is more geared to people shifting from reasonably low-control faiths who want to still believe, but who need to believe in a new way, and less about highly dogmatic religions and religious trauma, but the process is often very similar. For many of us who grew up in highly controlling faiths that taught that the only reason people faith shift is their desire to sin, being deceived by satan, being offended by church leaders and so on, it can feel like a revelation to realize that a faith shift is just a normal, measurable process of self-discovery, healing and spiritual maturation. To learn more about the faith shifting process, click here:
Another great resource to learn about natural spiritual development and faith shifts comes from psychologist and theologian James W. Fowler. He wrote a Stages of Faith model talking about the stages of natural spiritual development. This model has its detractors, but for many faith shifters and those healing from high demand religion, it can be quite validating to recognize that what they are going through is actually growth, even if they are treated like sinners and threatened with hellfire. To see a nutshell diagram of the six stages of faith click here:
There are many wonderful Memoirs about people's faith shifting experiences. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey From Christian Tradition to Sacred Feminine
by Sue Monk Kidd
The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkenss
by Karen Armstrong
Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith
by Barbara Brown Taylor
Terrible Seeing and the Sludge Wave
Many of us who find ourselves with Religious Trauma Syndrome and faith shifting from a high demand religion can feel terrified because we were taught that faith shifting was being deceived and led astray by the devil, but that messaging we received was spiritual abuse. A faith shift is something that happens like a light switching on when we didn't know it had been dark. It's not a choice. It is just something that happens inside of us. Abusive messaging about people experiencing faith shifts have been so deeply engrained in our minds, we can gaslight ourselves into wondering if we really are being bad even if we can't help what's going on inside of us. We were gaslit to distrust our intuition, intellect, emotions and natural growth processes with phrases like "doubt your doubts," and fear based dogmas that say you can never be happy outside of the institution. Most likely we didn’t ask for a faith shift. Most likely it is one of the most painful, difficult experience of a person's life. It can feel like being in an earthquake, but on a soul level. It can feel scary and confusing, and tumble our worlds to the ground. While we are experiencing those difficult feelings, we get vilified by our loved ones and our faith community for that growth, making it that much harder. I call that antagonistic behavior towards faith shifters The Sludge Wave because it can feel like a wave of negative energy, hate, and disapproval. Spiritual abuse is really the essence of what it is, and it can feel shocking when The Sludge Wave comes at you from those you thought loved and supported you, and from those in authority and the institution you committed your life to. Click here to read more about spiritual abuse:
Once you begin to faith shift, you often start the process of terrible seeing. It's like the blinders you didn't know you had suddenly fall off your eyes and you see for the first time. It can be painful and powerful to see what you couldn't before, and to see how you have been kept in the dark. Often there follows a thirst for information, an unquenchable drive to dive into knowledge that was previously forbidden, like church history, scientific studies, other ways of experiencing spirituality in the world or even your own intuition. It can be fascinating, exhilarating and painful to begin to see the world in a totally new light as you deprogram.
Here is a letter in the form of a short book to the Mormon Church Education System. Because that is the church that gave me my Religious Trauma Syndrome, most of my examples will come from that church, but RST is not limited to any specific faith or institution. Any religion that exerts a high degree of control can cause RST. This letter is an example of someone who has started the terrible seeing. I am also using this letter as an example of spiritual abuse because a healthy faith living in integrity would take his words, own up to their behaviors and the truths he asserts, make changes, and become stronger and healthier as a result, the same as healthy people when called out on wrongful behavior.The Mormon church behaved as a controlling high demand religion and as abusers do by denouncing the letter, punishing the author Jeremy Runnells with excommunication, and creating a department in the church that specializes in whitewashing and scrubbing out less than savory truths about the church's history and current behaviors on the internet. Integrity is honesty, openness, and growth. Abuse is punishment, control and secrets.
Often one of the antidotes to abuse is not letting an institution silence you any longer. It is not always possible to speak up because so many lose homes, families, livelihoods, support and so many things because members of controlling faiths are trained to withhold from and punish faith shifters. If a person is in a safe-enough position to speak up and reach out, there are support groups in-person and online, and social media hashtags to help people who are in the process of healing out of controlling religion. Sometimes these places where ex-religious people heal can be where they can express all those things that weren't allowed in their faith like being irreverent, funny, angry and salty, so you might want to buckle up for some of these. Those that have never faith shifted from a controlling religion might never understand how healing it can be to say the word "fuck" at the top of your lungs, or show your shoulders in public, or denounce a once holy-to-them book that has now lost it's power, or to call out church leaders on their abusive behaviors. Sometimes irreverence is the ultimate personal power flex. Click here to see the ex-mormon hashtag on TikTok:
There are also places to tell your story and read other's stories so you know you aren't alone. Latter-Day Survivors is a website and podcast where people tell their survivor stories of freeing themselves from abuses. It is important to many who are healing from RST and who are faith shifting to be able to tell their stories and to be able to hear other's stories so they know they aren't alone. Click here to visit the site:
Grief and Healing
Grief is a normal part of faith shifting and healing from Religious Trauma Syndrome. That means you will most likely experience a lot of big feelings. In controlling faiths there is often a value judgement placed on feelings. For example “positive” feelings like happiness are considered better than “negative” ones like anger. The truth is all feelings are valid and tell us truths. It is right to feel angry when you find out you have been lied to, controlled, manipulated and betrayed. Just like when you lose a loved one, losing your faith can be very much like a death and requires time to grieve and process the up and down feelings. All the emotions need to be heard and honored. There are so many losses when someone loses their faith: community, certainty, answers, future plans, goals, beliefs, family, friendships, the realization of all the normal development stages you were robbed of etc. It can take days or weeks or months or years to process the grief. It’s your process and will be unique to you. Click below for an overview about navigating the grief process.
When you faith shift from a highly controlling religion and have Religious Trauma Syndrome, the healing process is similar to healing from an abusive relationship. Abuse, be it in a relationship or a faith is about control and disempowerment. Its goal is to disconnect you from your inner authority and require you to listen from the outside in, instead of from the inside out, and to get you to believe that disconnection is love and happiness. Controlling religions use the same tactics as narcissist abusers. They use gaslighting to make you distrust your own instincts, intellect and feelings. They use fear mongering to keep you afraid of the world outside of the faith or eternal punishment to control you to stay in their power. They use manipulation and exploitation like requiring you pay tithing to have the full blessings of the faith, or threaten you with losing your family forever if you stray from the program. They discredit and vilify those that have freed themselves. They exhibit poor boundaries like in the case of the Mormon church requiring children to report on sexual matters alone in an office with an untrained clergy person, having to report what underwear you wear to your clergy person, and to be taught to try and actively convert others to the religion. They also engage in spinning, hiding or outright lying about their behavior while blaming the faith shifter to deflect from their own issues. Healing is about freedom and personal empowerment. It is about the deeply individual journey of autonomy, self-knowledge, exploration, expansion, and living on your own terms starting from an internal place of alignment and integrity. It is also very common that if you find yourself in a highly controlling religion, the abuse didn't start there. It is often a symptom of earlier abuses in your life. Perhaps you had an addicted or narcissistic parent, or other traumatic early childhood experience that groomed you for abuse. Often when someone has Religious Trauma Syndrome or is faith shifting from a high demand religion, dysfunctions from other areas of a person's life can start to be exposed to be processed and healed. Click below for information about healing from abuse:
Many who faith shift go through a period of anguish about what they did when they were in the religion. Maybe you served a mission and taught misogynist, racist, or homophobic concepts to others, or tried to get people to think that there was only one all the way true faith in this world and it’s not the one they were living. Maybe you judged when you should have loved. Maybe you didn’t hear those that needed to be heard. Perhaps you dispensed platitudes instead of empathy to those who were hurting. Maybe you condemned faith shifters or tried to get them to return to the fold rather than hear them and respect their boundaries and their unique path. It’s what we were trained to do 100%. You were probably doing what you thought was right and what you thought was acting out of love.
It hurts when you begin to wake and realize the abuses in your faith system, but even more painful when you realize the abuses you yourself perpetrated as a result of being in that faith without realizing it. Nearly all of us who were members of a highly controlling religion have deep regrets about our behaviors we had no idea were harmful when we were in the faith. It takes time and healing to come to terms with this part of the process. It requires facing what you’ve done and making amends where you can, learning to forgive yourself, and to commit to continue to grow and do better as you know better. Click here for tips on how to forgive yourself:
What About Those Still in the Controlling Faith?
For those who find themselves with RST and faith shifting, one of the most painful and confusing parts of the process is watching loved ones staying in highly controlling faiths. Often there is an instinct to want to share with loved ones what you have learned and seen and experienced once the blinders started to fall off your eyes. I often get people asking me how they can wake up their families. The truth is, you can't. Being inside a highly controlling religion is one reality, being outside of it is another. A faith shift is not contagious. You can't make someone see. Furthermore, it is not your job to make them see. It is your job to let them be where they are, while you are where you are. We are all in different places in the journey of life. You can't force people to see what they are unable or unwilling to see. It is your job to love yourself and honor your journey, and to love those in your life and honor their journey. That doesn't mean putting up with abuse or disrespect, but it does mean that we can only get people to see so far, and after that it is not possible. Plato's allegory of the Cave illustrates why this is. No matter where we are in our lives, we are all in caves of one kind or another, and we just have to allow people to be where they are, and allow ourselves to be where we are. Click below to see a video representation of the allegory.
What's On the Other Side?
What's on the other side of a faith shift? You are. The next part of your life is about embracing your delicious, beautiful, messy humanness. There is no perfection. There is no one-size-fits-all way to happiness. There is no universal Truth with a capital T. The real prophet, guru, apostle, and authority was you all the time. There is no checklist for winning at life. We are all winging it, and that is glorious because it removes the us/them mentality of controlling religion, and opens us up to one giant "we." We are all in this crazy world together. Once you have freed yourself and stepped through the valley of healing, you get to step into the task of deciding what happiness is for you. For me personally, happiness is the freedom to feel all my feelings, to make all my choices, to make my art, to live on my own terms, to have a lot of freedom of my time and energy, to love who I love, to have deep connections and a lot of interesting life experience, and to live as aligned and authentically as I am able. For other faith shifters and RST survivors, happiness may be finding a new faith home and feeling the joy of a new community that is healthier for them. For others it might be the freedom to thow out all spirituality that doesn't serve them in favor of more scientific thought and reason. For others it might be the freedom to marry or not marry, to be a parent or not be a parent, and live according to what they want rather than what they have been told is right. There are billions of people on this planet so there are billions of definitions of what a happy life looks like.
Unlike what we were taught in the faith that the way to happiness is a single straight and narrow path that requires a tight grip on the safety of the gospel so you don't fall and perish in the pits of hell, it turns out the way to happiness is actually broad and expansive and full of myriad possibilities for you to explore and enjoy. Yeah, life is hard and complex and uncertain, but it's also beautiful and varied and full of wonderment. From here on out, it's about setting up the life you want in the way you want so you can live fully and freely and be happy in the here and now, whatever that will mean to you. Click here for a detailed step-by-step process to help you discover what makes you happy:
Faith shifting and healing from Religious Trauma Syndrome is a courageous undertaking. There are those that will call you a sinner for traversing that journey, and tell you that wickedness never was happiness, but if leaving what is hurting you and keeping you from yourself and your authentic, aligned life is wickedness, then wickedness is most definitely happiness. I hope we all find the courage to be wicked. Click here to read my faith shift RST story:
My Faith Shift
I was a member of the Mormon church for forty years. My parents were converts to the faith. It changed their lives and gave them the purpose, meaning and direction they had been looking for. They had me six weeks before and we took the train from Kentucky where we lived to Salt Lake City which was the closest temple at the time to be sealed. Growing up my Mormon ward was like an extended family in that they embraced us all and gave us community. I grew up equating the church with that love and community and safety. I would sing children’s song I was taught in church about Jesus loving me and how happy we will be when the world ends and he comes again, and how the only way to be happy is to stay in the church and follow the prophets because the world outside the church is dark and confusing and full of wickedness, and it was a blessing that I had The Truth so I would be spared those hard things. I believed it all. As a teenager I began to question the church. It seemed illogical that I happened to be born into the one and only all the way true church in the entire scope of the planet and human existence. The idea of one true church didn't make sense to me with how many billions of people there were and how varied were their cultures and ancestral traditions and ways of thought. I wanted to learn about other faiths and ways of thinking so I could know for myself if this was the truth. I learn by exploring. It is still my process. I wanted to do what the first Mormon prophet Joseph Smith did and find out for myself if the church was true rather than just trusting what others told me. I wanted to go to other churches like he did, and read like he did, and pray like he did, and figure it out. I was shocked to find out that the adults in my life were furious and threatened by this desire and I was punished for expressing it. I thought I was the problem. Eventually I talked my parents into letting me go to other churches. They said I could as long as I went to all my Mormon things first. My days consisted of going to Mormon seminary at 6am every weekday, then going to school, then going to work, then going to Mormon evening activities at least once a week, then going to three hours of church on Sundays, then going to another hour of church in a different smaller ward where I taught those Mormon songs to children. There was no time to deeply explore what I wanted to explore or to even go to other churches. My Mormon obligations took up all my time and energy, so read a few religious texts from other faiths when I found the time, but that was about all I was able to do. I wanted to be good and do what was right, but I was starting to realize that I am a bohemian kind of person, and an artist, and even maybe mystical, and that wasn’t what I was supposed to be. It started to go badly for me because people who I thought loved me started treating me like I was being rebellious by being myself. I found it confusing because to me empowerment was learning who we are and living authentically, and it was the most important thing to me. I thought people would be happy I was learning who I was and wanting to live that way. They were not happy. I was not Mormon-ing right even though I was keeping the Mormon commandments and living the Mormon life. I started being unsure if I was a good person or a bad person, or if I was rebelling or not. It looked like rebellion and people called it that, but to me, it felt like learning and experience so I could grow. I started thinking maybe they were right and I was bad and unworthy by nature. If being myself meant I was an artsy, mystical girl, it meant that being myself was being a bad, so I just had to keep being bad because there was nothing I could that would make me a different person.
I graduated and went to Mormon college in Idaho. There I got more indoctrinated, so when I came home, I was too Mormon for my non-Mormon friends and too unconventional for my Mormon ones. I started to feel torn and stretched and alone because I didn't fit in any of the worlds I was a part of. It felt like I didn't know what to think or how to feel and that everything was all upside down. By the time I was married in the Mormon temple and my first baby arrived when I was 22, my question about the church being true or not still hadn't been answered, and I was still on the fence I got on when I was 15 deciding if I should go all in or not, even though I had kept all the mormon commandments and lived the life the whole time. I decided to just commit to the church all the way for the sake of my child and my marriage in case it was The Truth. I wanted to give my baby the best life possible, and if that was The Truth, even if I wasn’t totally sure of it, and even if it meant sacrificing myself and who I was, I would do that for my baby and my husband. The indoctrination was complete. I fell out of love with myself and in love with the church.
I stayed in it for nearly twenty more years, turning to it for comfort as I navigated my rocky marriage, and the many hardships of life. I tried to hide the fact that I was an artistic, mystical, unconventional person because being a person like me wasn’t allowed. I figured if Jesus gave his life for us, it was my duty to give my life for The Truth of the gospel, so I did that. I obliterated myself and the life I should have been living for the Lord. I thought I was happy because I had The Truth, and even though people outside the church seem to have it good because they could do all the things I was passionate about, I was taught that theirs was a false happiness unlike the real happiness I had of having The Truth.
There were a few things that started making me uncomfortable like the church’s racist policies and undertones. The Book of Mormon is literally a book about being righteous makes you white and being wicked makes your skin dark. They have since taken out some of the explicit racist phrasings, but left in the subtext, because it is what the book is about. Also, the church’s treatment of LGBTQI+ people always bothered me. It was something I struggled deeply to accept as soon as they started doubling down publicly on their homophobic doctrines and policies in the mid 1990s. I figured that Jesus must know more than I do because it seems to me that love is a good thing and people should love who they love. I figured I was too worldly and tried to not feel that way, but it didn’t work, I still felt that way. We were supposed to hang a church-created document in our homes that said that God didn't support same sex marriage and that we believe in strict traditional gender roles. I tried, but I just didn't feel good about it. I figured it was a failing with me. I was also bothered by the fact that there has never been a woman Mormon prophet or apostle or area seventy or presiding bishop or stake president or bishop or branch president or any position or real power in the history of the church, and at the time, the male programs got significantly more money than the female ones. In general conference there were always significantly more men’s voices and representation, and no woman had ever received the priesthood since the first prophet Joseph gave it to women in the early 1800s, but it was taken from women and black people by Brigham young when he took power a few years later. Women couldn’t and still at the time of writing this can’t hold the priesthood or hold positions of power except in supportive roles over women and children, and they have to rely on men for authority and the power of God in their own lives. The church justifies it by saying that women are more spiritual than men and can have babies, so men need something, too. I didn’t recognize that as misogyny or see how internalized that was in the women of the church so we could keep ourselves disempowered until the last year I was in the church. I started to realize how messed up that was, but I didn’t know what to do about those thoughts and feelings. I secretly talked about my concerns with other Mormon women and joined some groups where we could discuss it, but I was afraid that if I joined those groups I would become the worst of all sinners, an apostate. I unjoined them to save my soul because I was afraid of myself and my own power as I began to heal.
On June 11, 2014, I was at my writing desk when I opened up a New York Times article about the church starting excommunication proceedings against two people that were speaking up for loving LGBTQI people and for hearing women's voices in the church and in the priesthood. I suddenly realized that the church doesn’t want me. I knew reading the article that excommunicating them was also a personal message and a threat that if I keep healing, it would be an excommunication of me, too. I realized suddenly like being struck by a lightning bolt that the church on the high up levels is a narcissist organization and people like me were being scapegoated and targeted and that members couldn't see it at all like the Emperor's New Clothes. I had sacrificed my whole life and being for that church, and it was saying not only did it not see or appreciate what I had given, but it was throwing me away like a piece of garbage. My whole world collapsed right there, and I was inconsolable.
I couldn't go to church the next week because I was too shaken. I had nightmares all night long every night, and when I thought about the church, which was all the time, I would start shaking uncontrollably. I couldn't stop crying and seemed to be in a state of shock where I could think of nothing else but the church's actions.
The next week I got on my church clothes and went with my family. I was already crying as I walked through the church doors. As soon as we entered the chapel, a member of the bishopric stopped me and asked me to do Girls Camp for the fifth summer in a row on short notice. That meant pulling off a week long summer camp for all the teenage girls for no pay. Generally we started planning in February because it was so much work. It took everything out of me to do that calling even though I loved the girls. Every year I had to do it, I would have to miss vacation with my husband and kids and was not in great health until autumn. I missed the last four or five years of vacations with my kids while they were still kids because of camp. When he asked me, I felt the shock wash over me again. I said I would do it because I felt frozen, and it was the only thing I could say. Then I sat down with my family in our pew and tried to hold it together. I made it mostly through sacrament meeting, but I had to leave early and go cry in the classroom where I was a Sunday school teacher for the 12 and 13 year olds. I pulled it together when it was time for our class. I tried to pretend I was totally fine and cheerful to be there. I did love the kids, so I tried to focus on that. The lesson that was assigned for me to each that day was about the priesthood. I started teaching it, but then one of the girls in the class said, "My mom said that women all over the world are being tempted by Satan to ask for the priesthood."
I suddenly realized I could either tell her that her mom was full of it, or I could lie to her and tell her that it I believe her mom is correct and teach her something that I don't believe at all. I stopped the lesson and we colored and visited for the rest of class. As soon as it was over, I walked out the back door of the church so I could avoid as many people as possible. I remember the way my shoes echoed on the concrete of the courtyard. It was the last time I ever walked out of a Mormon church building as a believing member.
I went home and fell apart. My husband told me to not take the camp job because I was going through something and wasn't up for it. He was right. I didn't know what a faith shift was or what was happening to me, but it was all encompassing. I decided also to take three months off church. It was the first time I had ever taken time off church. First of all, I was too traumatized to go back. I knew if I walked in a church, I would have a visceral reaction and would be sick and have to run out of the building. Second of all, I realized I had been living religion in an unhealthy way and I wanted to connect to myself and get healthy and see how I felt about the church after that time. As soon as I started my time off, though, I couldn’t help seeing, and what I saw was dysfunction in the institution and the dysfunction it created in me. It was a necessary horror to see all the ways I had given up my personal power.
The first Sunday I took off church my family and my best friend's family went to the Arts Festival downtown. It felt like a revelation that people did stuff like this on Sunday like it was Saturday take two. I have never realized that Sunday could feel like a weekend day same as Saturday. We had so much fun and it felt great to be out in the sun with all the art and good food and good music and good company.
I remember looking at the women walking around in tank tops and shorts sipping wine. I wished I could wear tank tops and shorts and see what wine tasted like. But I assumed I would go back to church so I would never know what that was like, but that moment I so wished I was a woman like that who just owned her humanness and belonged in the world, even if the world was wicked.
It was energy work, friends, therapy, sometimes meds and lots and lots of long walks with loved ones to talk it out that got me through those first years of deprogramming. I had to realize that every aspect of my being had been affected by that religion and needed to be faced, addressed, acknowledged and healed. It was an intense, long process, but a very empowering one. I had to learn how to be an adult, how to do simple things like order coffee or a cocktail, and how to dress myself without the Mormon dress codes, how to buy my own underwear, how to hear my kids in a new way, how to see my life in a new context, how to interact with others with boundaries and in healthy ways, how to open up my sexuality and realize that I am queer, how to not judge everyone through a religious filter and how to trust my intuition think for myself, and much more. The deprogramming, dismantling and healing process was daily, hourly, and minute by minute and often felt like there was no end in sight. Eight years out, I still have bits and pieces here and there to clear and heal from it, but it is nowhere near the intense process it was in those first two years.
A year after my faith shift started, I knew I was never going back to that church. I went to the Arts Festival by myself. I wore a tank top and shorts and got a glass of wine. I listened to music and enjoyed my drink while the sun went down and the moon went up. I felt almost euphoric that I was no longer some set-apart saint, but now a full member of the human race.
Now I am a single woman living a life that is completely forbidden by the church because much of who I am and what I do was against the rules. Energy work is forbidden. Card reading is forbidden. Adult relations outside of marriage is forbidden. Anything but hetero-appearing relationships are forbidden. Dressing for the southern summer where I live is forbidden. Treating Sunday like a second weekend day like going out shopping or to the movies etc, is forbidden. Swearing is forbidden. Supporting my kids who are queer and gender queer is forbidden. Believing that I should have control and autonomy over my body as a woman is forbidden. Not wanting to be married is forbidden. Hell, having my morning coffee while I write this is forbidden. I do ALL of those forbidden things and many more, and I do it all unapologetically. I want to live a life that instead of “being good” by keeping the arbitrary rules, I get to “be good” by loving and fully supporting myself and others in being true to ourselves and living authentically. For me to be good I have to be, according to my upbringing, wicked. I had to do the huge work of facing every aspect of my life that had to be deprogrammed so I could live authentically and be beautifully, compassionately wicked.
I no longer have firm answers or beliefs. What is Truth? I don’t know. It doesn't matter to me. What is God? I don’t know. It doesn't matter to me. What is Right? I suppose that is different for each person on the face of the earth and that ever was. I traded answers and certainty for self-respect, autonomy and a more authentic life path for myself. I am still learning and growing and changing and expanding. This will be a lifelong journey for me on one level or another. It is worth the struggle and pain. I no longer sacrifice myself for some set of rules and the promise of happiness after I die. I live for my life for the now, and do not make a sacrifice of myself, but honor my life by protecting myself from anything that requires self-obliteration. Because of my own healing and empowerment experience, Religious Trauma Syndrome is one of my favorite things I get to help people with. It is a joy to watch people wake up, heal and become their own authorities. Where will my journey end up years from now? Who knows, but this is where I am now, wicked and grateful.