In 2010, the Organized Church gifted me with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), along with Dissociation, Hyperarousal, Clinical Depression, Emotional Detachment, and Severe Anxiety, which eventually led to a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, because tense muscles cause ubiquitous body pain, and several other physical health issues, because stress is a silent killer.
What transpired leading up to the diagnosis was a twenty-one-year attendance in a highly authoritarian church, triggered by an intensely traumatic event that created an internal cognitive dissonance. To put it simply, one moment I had a church family who was a daily part of my personal identity, the next moment I had no church family and my identity was lost, all because a pastor violated the moral of keeping his hands to himself. The years that followed didn’t proceed well for me, a former public speaker turned hermit, the woman who moved an hour away to a small urban community where nobody knew who she was. I began self-medicating with alcohol to attempt to ease the symptoms of CPTSD that now controlled my life. This behavior continued for the next five years until I reached a fork in the road, death or life, and decided to reach out to a non-religious therapist.
I personally recommend using a non-religious therapist for persons who are suffering from CPTSD or PTSD from any religious-related traumas, as they speak with you in terms of science instead of restoration to the faith; tangible facts about the brain’s functions instead of an unproven, intangible hope in the unseen. My non-religious therapist encouraged me to talk about what had occurred while offering a safe environment that was free of expectation and judgment. It was through these four years' worth of discussions that I began journaling my thoughts and researching the subject of religion, and I eventually published my experience as a Memoir in a book titled ‘Of Ashes and Embers - Exploring Self Awareness After Spiritual Trauma’. This was me taking my voice back, not only for myself but for all those who’ve suffered trauma at the hands of the Organized Church. ‘Of Ashes and Embers’ has been read in Germany, Poland, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States with five-star reviews. The book has also been broadcasted on podcasts in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. Because my main goal in writing this memoir was to help others with this experience, I listed the book to sell at Publisher’s Cost only, and those who have Amazon Kindle can read it for free.
I have traversed through so many stages of transformation to arrive where my perspectives are today, and I remain open-minded to continue growing into the ever-changing versions of me that exist after trauma. One of the first things I did on my quest for answers was research scripture. When that failed, I researched the history of religion and all it entails. I found religious history to be quite politically charged, and not being a political person, but understanding how politics has influenced cultural evolutions by use of fear tactics for centuries, I began to focus on the conditioned fears that were instilled within me throughout twenty-one years of church attendance, and after researching the historical timeline of ‘hell’ through 8th century B.C. ‘sheol’ (a shadowy silent pit where the souls of the dead linger), to 6th century B.C. ‘sheol’ (a temporary place where all the dead await a bodily resurrection), and ‘gehenna’ (a cursed place of fire and smoke), I began to notice similarities of the Greek Hades (where the spirits of the dead linger in an underground existence, ruled by the god of the dead) and Tartarus (where evildoers suffered gloomy imprisonment on an even deeper level). By the 4th century B.C., Greek King Alexander the Great conquered Judea, and elements of Greek culture began influencing Jewish religious thought. By 65-85 A.D., the Jewish believed in ‘Gehenna’ as the eternal fire of ‘hades’. I offer you this brief synopsis of 'hell' to encourage you to do your own further research, because once I discovered that ‘hell’ was and is just another culturally evolved fear tactic, any internal fears of not living up to a god standard were deserted, and my focus turned to neuroscience (the function of the human brain and nervous system), in an attempt to better understand what had occurred in my brain through trauma, and where I began to find my greatest relief from CPTSD. With the hope of reversing the symptoms of CPTSD, or at least lessening them, I also began learning Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and became certified as a Neuro-Linguistics Practitioner.
NLP is a psychological approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy between neurological processes (neuro), language (linguistic), and learned behavior patterns (programming) that can be changed through tools such as reframing, rapport building, mirroring, and modeling. Speaking for myself, ‘reframing’ has saved my life.
“Reframing is a powerful process that helps you to see, recognize, give voice to, and ultimately negotiate between your inner conflicting parts, in order to change unwanted habits and limiting beliefs.” Master NLP Practitioner Elena Mosaner
It is through the use of reframing that I was eventually able to view all of the
perspectives surrounding every event that created a CPTSD diagnosis, and instead of finger-blaming those who participated in my pain, as I’d done for so many years, I learned to consider all aspects of their behavior, which helped me to view them from a different perspective. The moment someone hurts us, all we feel is that hurt and we’re angry about it, we want justice for our pain. What we don’t realize is, that very thought/behavior process cloaks us in a victim mindset, and although we may very well be the victim of someone else’s thought/behavior process, continuing to wear that cloak isn’t bringing justice to our pain. Need we be reminded that stress kills? Instead, we hold onto it, and protect it, and wear it as if it’s a medal of honor.
As an example, I was able to consider the four hundred-plus church members whom I once considered family for twenty-one years, in my trauma experience, I lost them all on the word of a perpetrator. Instead of continuing my thought/behavior pattern of hurt, anger, and blame, I was able to place myself in their shoes by remembering a time when, I too, turned my back on someone based on this perpetrator’s word. I asked myself questions like, “why did I believe the perpetrator who said X”, and “did I ever experience the behavior of person A”? This helped me to perceive how the four hundred members had probably been conditioned to trust in this perpetrator’s word, just as I had been.
“But where’s the justice in that?” The justice in that is, I no longer bear the weight of hurt, anger, and blame toward the four hundred congregants because I understand that they had all been conditioned to trust in this man’s word. The lesson in that is, I cannot hold four hundred congregants accountable for behavior that I, too, have performed. This is just one of many scenarios I can personally offer on how reframing former thought/behavior patterns has assisted me in regaining my life. I’ve shed many colors off my victim cloak and have continued the use of this reframing tool, to this very day.
As for the gift of the Mental Health diagnoses I received from the Organized Church, I have found that on the other side of trauma comes wisdom, strength, self-identity, clarity, and balance. We only need to use the tools we are already equipped with to get us there. It doesn’t happen overnight and it does take a desire to live and a consistency of action. I personally began working toward a trauma-symptom-free life in 2018, and although I feel so much better than I did at that fork in the road, I am still processing through some of the symptoms, though they are not nearly as pronounced now as they were then. The best advice I can give to you is…
Please feel free to message me for a Q&A. I will write future blogs based on these questions.
Deanna L. Lawlis is a contributing writer for Integrative Inspirations. She is the Author of 'Of Ashes and Embers - Exploring Self Awareness After Spiritual Trauma' and is a Certified Neuro Linguistics Practitioner. Her new book 'Journey To the Center of Self - Reframing Conditioned Thought/Behavior Patterns' will be released later this year.