Two Years Sober

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”

Two years ago today I woke up and told myself, as I did every morning, “Today I won’t drink, today I’ll be sober, today I can make it through”. I was 9 days sober and shaking from withdrawals. I hadn’t slept the night before and didn’t expect I’d sleep tonight or for several more weeks for that matter. This wasn’t the first time I’d quit, I already knew what lay ahead. My pillow was stained with sweat and my head was throbbing. I grabbed the bottle of ibuprofen next to my bed and knocked back 4 using my flavored propel water to wash them down. The room was spinning slightly when I stood up but it wasn’t spinning as bad as it usually did.

After years of drinking every day, I had grown accustomed to waking up with a hangover and beginning the morning ritual of making myself functional. Three-four ibuprofen for the instant headache, two chewable tums or pepto tablets for the stomach ache, followed by a shower to clear my eyes and mind. On the way to work down a 16oz bottle of electrolyte infused water to rehydrate my thirst quenched body and then turn into Cumberland Farms or Dunkin Donuts for my first caffeine boost of the day. Usually by the time I pulled into the parking lot at work the nausea had settled and a quick spritz of axe body spray along with a few tictacs to cover up any lingering smells of alcohol had me ready to go. It was quite an ordeal but I didn’t realize that at the time. In fact I once bragged about my daily routine to my therapist who quickly pointed out that if I was putting in that much work to function then I might have a problem. I fired her the following week.

But today I didn’t need pepto or the tic tacs and my mind was much clearer than it had been in months. Over a week sober and I was starting to feel better physically. However the craving was strong and screaming in the back of my mind. I could almost taste bourbon whiskey on my tongue and quickly reached for a piece of candy because something sweet always seemed to take the edge off a little. I’d never been a smoker but I could finally see the appeal. I was crawling out of my skin and just trying to get through the first half of the day until I could make it to the noontime meeting.

AA was never a program I had been interested in attending. First, it was for real drunks and I was just a kid with a problem. Except I wasn’t a kid, I was 27, and my problem was wrecking my life. And second the program talked about god and some days reminded me of church and I was over them both. Unfortunately I couldn’t seem to get sober on my own and the other programs and resources I had used hadn’t helped either. Finally I walked into a meeting and decided to just listen. I’d gone every day for the last 6 days and today would be my 7th day of AA, 9th day of sobriety and I was going absolutely insane. “Just make it until noon, 4 more hours” I whispered to myself as I opened the store I managed and began the work day.

“Hey! Why won’t this guy take my coupon?! Sir… I mean Miss, are you the manager?” An angry customer was looking at me as I walked towards the register. His face a mass of rage and confusion as he struggled to make sure he had been correct to change his “sir” to “Miss”. My short hair, flat chest and neutral clothing threw people off all the time. “How can I help you sir?” I asked as I drew near the front. “I gotta coupon here for 5 bucks off and your employee won’t let me use it!” The man seemed to be in his late 60’s with graying hair and thick glasses that slid slightly down his nose. “May I see the coupon?” I said as I felt my patience already leaving me. He thrust the coupon in my face and since I already knew exactly what the problem was I quickly turned the paper back around so he could read the writing. “This coupon is only for Saturday’s Sir, we have $5 off $25 every Saturday. Unfortunately today is Sunday.” Large bold lettering in the center of the slip read Saturday Only but the gentleman stared at the coupling for several long moments as if willing it to change the day to Sunday. “Hmmmp!” he finally grumped and threw some money on the counter. “All these tricks and fine print, I don’t know why I even bother” continuing to mumble to no one he gathered his items and stalked out of the store. I rolled my eyes at the cashier before checking my phone for the time, 11:45. “Alright I’m running out for lunch, let Tammy know I’m gone ok?” Glenn, the young man who’d just had the pleasure of dealing with our grumpy customer, nodded and bid me a good lunch as I hurried out of the building.

My destination was just down the road and I pulled in with ten minutes to spare. I was a bit confused that there were only a few cars in the parking lot, but then I’d noticed that alcoholics didn’t tend to arrive until 5 minutes before the meeting. And those were the early birds. Still I could feel a knot forming in my stomach as I approached the door and saw the lights off and no movement inside. “The meetings over!” a voice called out to me and I caught sight of two men standing next to a truck talking. “How is it over?” I asked feeling annoyance and panic rise in my voice “it starts at noon!” “Not on Sundays” the taller man replied and I could see he kept his voice cool and calm even while my agitation grew. “On Sundays we hold the meeting at 10. But come back tomorrow and we’ll be here, I promise”. I didn’t need a meeting tomorrow. I needed something today. Tears stung my eyes and I held a cry of anger tight in my throat as I spun away and practically ran to my car.

The moment I opened the door the cry escaped and tears streamed down my face as I broke down completely. “I can’t do this! I can’t do this! Why would they change the time?! Don’t they know new people won’t be aware of the time change!” I was so angry and distraught as I drowned in my self pity. Suddenly the resentment and blame casting filled me once again and it was everyone else’s fault that I had a problem. Everybody else let me down, everybody else hurt me, everybody else deserved to watch me ruin my life because they did this to me. I had yet to learn the value of self responsibility and self honesty. If I had stopped in that moment I would have realized that these feelings were my own fears, my own lack of confidence, my own failings coming to light. But I didn’t take any ownership of my actions. Instead I drove home and quickly poured a drink.

As it always did, one drink became too many to count and the next morning I awoke passed out in my bed. I was wearing the same clothes from the day before and a cup I had apparently fallen asleep holding had spilled its contents all over my blankets. The room reeked of whiskey, or maybe it was just me. I stumbled up the stairs to our shower and sobbed as the water washed over my heaving shoulders. I was so tired and so broken and so hopeless. I remembered bits and pieces from the night before and upon leaving the bathroom I checked my phone to see that I had indeed called the suicide hotline several times the night before. I had to get help. Pulling on a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans I hurried to make the afternoon meeting. It was November 23, 2015. I sat in the meeting and shared my shattered heart with a room full of strangers. It was the beginning of true hope.

-H

I ran across a photo of you….

I use this blog for several purposes. One reason is to discuss atheism and secularism in our world today. I haven’t posted on this topic in a while and I apologize, I’ve been distracted by my second reason for this blog. The second reason is to tell my story of leaving a fundamentalist environment and use it to encourage others and create awareness for the abuse that abounds in these cultures. However the final reason I have this blog is much more personal and that is to use my writing as a therapy to deal with some of the loss and trauma I’ve faced along my journey. These posts, while published, are never advertised and I never direct anyone to read them. Honestly I’m surprised I publish them at all rather than saving them in my drafts which is much more like me. I guess putting them out there is part of the healing process. For the longest time I couldn’t even talk about my upbringing, and then labeling it for what it was became yet another obstacle to overcome. Today I can be candid about the abuse and experiences I both suffered and witnessed. I do a lot of work on myself and continue to get a little better each day. In fact most of the time, even when discussing the past, I am detached from those feelings and memories. But occasionally I do find myself caught off guard and shaken by emotions I had almost forgotten. Tonight I had one of those moments and this post will be an example of the third reason why I write. A brief but private insight into the process of letting go and moving on.

Tonight I saw a picture of you. I could say I stumbled across it in an old box of tucked away memories; but truthfully I hunted the picture down online after seeing your name tagged in a post. I didn’t expect the rush of feeling. The slightest moment of elation followed by incredible sadness and loss. A familiar face that once brought me such joy and peace and love. The memories of laughing uncontrollably over a stupid joke, or talking after a long day, or crying on your shoulder when my friend died all flooded and overwhelmed me so powerfully. The day that I asked you to understand that I was still the same person even though I was telling you I was gay and the blow to my chest when you said flat out “I’m sorry but I can’t understand, I’ll never understand.”

And it’s not necessarily your fault that I can’t trust people and haven’t had a deep friendship with anyone since leaving, but goddamn I wonder how much of an impact it had on me. You were one of many friends that fell along the way but your falling out hurt more than most. The walls are so high and so thick and the constant affirmation of others seems to do nothing to break them down. In the past I would drink to forget they were there, standing so formidable and seemingly impenetrable. And I have to admit I thought about it for a moment tonight, not wanting to trudge through the feelings I’ve had to relive in the last 2 years of sobriety. But I am not shrinking in shame and guilt anymore because while I have been wrong for many things, you were wrong to leave me. See what I’ve found in sobriety is the phrase “To thine own self be true” which consists of a lot of personal inventory and gut wrenching self honesty. But it also reminds me to stand firm in the truth of the little that I do know and today I KNOW that who I am is not wrong, or disgusting or sinful. I do know that I loved you and you were my friend and I would have wanted to be there for you if things were different.

Instead of running from my emotions or drowning them in liquor I am picking up the sledgehammer and wailing on this wall yet again. Believing that some day I will trust and love and give as freely as I once did. And believing that I will find those who are true to me for who I am and not an idea of what I should be. But most importantly, I’m going to leave my heart open for you, and hope that maybe when the brick and mortar are cleared away that perhaps I can find you on the other side. Until then my friend,

-H

One Day in October

I hurried into work trying to beat the clock as I cursed my beat up dark green, Chrysler Seabring for refusing to start. As I punched in I could feel my manager Angela’s cool grey eyes burning a hole in the back of my head. The Speedway gas station was buzzing with activity and a foul odor made me wonder who had burned the chili cheese Tornados, again. Maybe that’s why Angela was already so irate. Brushing past me my co-worker Judy gave me a sly grin that said, damn, she caught you. “You know start time is 5 minutes before shift, not 5 minutes after” Angela clipped. “I’m sorry, my car wouldn’t start-” she cut me off with a hand held up to my face. “I don’t need to hear another f#@$*&! car excuse.” She cursed shutting me up. I waited as she grabbed her purse and began to stalk out “Make sure you scrub down the coffee station, it’s disgusting. And someone throw out those Tornados!” With a final withering glance at Judy and I she marched out of the building. Judy laughed and turned to me “Thank god she’s gone. Working with that bitch is awful.” Smiling I opened my register, careful to avoid the mysterious goo that smudge the counter top, and took a quick mental inventory of what I would need to do on the overnight shift. My thoughts were interrupted as Judy pulled a cigarette and lighter from her pocket. “I’ve only gotta few more hours but ya mind if I step out for a smoke?” “No problem” I replied turning to begin working on the coffee station. 

When Judy came back in I caught a faint whiff of alcohol on her breath but said nothing. We all knew she preferred to add a little something extra to her coffee or soda when the boss wasn’t around, and honestly no one cared. This was a rundown Speedway in downtown Crown Point just off Main Street. A long string of bars trailed down the road into the town square and then around, lining it on all four sides. The gas station was popular by default as it was the only place other than the bars opened past 10 pm, and the employees here were mostly young kids and college students working a part time job for extra income. Judy was older though and I felt bad for her at times. She seemed lonely and I guessed her drinking may have contributed to her situation. But then who was I to judge; I had been at work for 15 minutes and could already feel the cravings coming on. This night better move fast I thought running my tongue over dry lips and fixing a soda to try to suppress the urge to ask Judy for a swig of her flask. 

We chatted back and forth for the next few hours between customers. My co-worker wasn’t especially talkative but she carried a conversation fairly well and I liked the company. When midnight rolled around she packed up her stuff and began heading out. “You gonna stop by and see me tomorrow?” Judy asked referring to her second job at the Lucky Mart right next to my apartment complex. “You working?” “Yeah, I got the morning shift. It’s not so bad though. He doesn’t open until 10 on Sundays and then I’m out by four. It’s boring as hell though”. I laughed, I could imagine. The Lucky Mart was your typical, locally owned, beat up convenience store in a low income neighborhood. Usually I’d run up there for a cheap snack when I had an extra dollar to spare. “I’ll probably stop by if I can’t sleep” I said “I don’t have to work the dollar store tomorrow so I was going to sleep through until my shift here tomorrow night” “yeah I get it.” She replied “Gotta get that sleep in when you can”. We laughed as we both understood the drain of working two jobs and trying to survive on minimum wage. “Well maybe I’ll see ya.” She waved goodbye and I headed over to help the customer standing at the counter. 

The minutes continued to tick by slowly and the hum of the radio played over the speakers as I wiped down the coffee station for the third time that night. Around one am Police Sergeant Wasserman came in with a new rookie in tow. The police were known to hang out at Speedway at night, drinking coffee and swapping stories while they waited for a call. But Sergeant Wasserman was one of my favorites and he would keep me company even if the other officers weren’t around. “What’s up Heather!” He said to me with a nod of acknowledgement as he headed straight for the coffee. “My favorite officer!” I exclaimed in enthusiasm mixed with sarcasm reaching behind me for a can of wintergreen grizzly tobacco. “You want a tub of chew tonight?” He paused for a moment, eyeing the can and debating my question before finally shaking his head in reluctance. “I can’t, the wife’s going to kill me if I don’t cut back on that stuff”. I gave him a grin that told him he was whipped and put the canister back in place. The rookie introduced himself and watched as Wasserman and I bantered back and forth. Some nights he’d be at the gas station for over an hour, but tonight was Saturday and the bars would begin to wind down soon. As if on cue a voice came over his radio ordering him downtown. “Gotta go bust some drunks. Be safe Heather!” 

As the drunks filtered in, some of my early morning regulars began showing up as well. I enjoyed getting to know these people; their stories, their quirks, their orders and guilty pleasures. For the most part I knew my regular customers orders by heart. As soon as they would pull in, I’d start grabbing cigarettes or a newspaper, or perhaps a danish, and for one young man, two 12 oz Red Bull’s. The customers appreciated this extra level of service and I appreciated the sense of connection it gave me to the community. I had missed this connection since leaving my church, really my world, just 4 months earlier. As I waved goodbye to another satisfied regular, a smile spread across my face and I began to hum and sweep the now silent store. The door chime brought my attention back to the front and the smile faded. It was Steve. 

Steve had been a regular when I first started working at Speedway and we soon struck up a friendship. When I came out as gay he was one of the few people with whom I could talk to about girls. And for him, I was someone he could vent to when he and his girlfriend weren’t getting along. About a month after leaving my church he’d invited me to go to a strip club. “It’ll be fun! Plus you can get a lap dance” he’d said a twinkle and a smile. Of course I’d never been to a strip club before and was a little nervous but my new friend seemed like just the right person to take me. He picked me up and we had a really good time. Steve paid for my entrance fee, then my first two drinks and even handed me a wad of one dollar bills he “needed to use up”. I felt uncomfortable that he was paying for everything. We were supposed to be friends and equals and I wanted to pay my own way. When the scantily clad server came back around I made sure to hand her a twenty for both our drinks. He was on his second for the evening and I was on my third but holding it well, or so I felt. Eventually we left and chatted cheerily the entire ride home finally pulling into my apartment complex. I prepared to hurry out of the car so he could head home but instead he parked the vehicle and turned the ignition off. “Can’t I come in and hang out for a bit?” He asked. It seemed like an odd request. Not only was it late at night but he had a girlfriend at home waiting and I couldn’t imagine how I would entertain him. But then I was still new to the outside world having only been exposed to my church and their culture my entire life. Perhaps this is what normal people did, yet still I was hesitant. “Honestly I’m just going to watch a little TV and go to bed” I’d said “plus won’t your girl be upset that you’re out so late?” He laughed off my concern “She’s already mad I’m sure. Just let me come in and watch some tv with you until I sober up a little.” I didn’t want him driving home drunk and reluctantly agreed. 

Now three months later I stood frozen, rooted in place. The knot in my stomach churned and grew with each breath and I kicked myself over and over again for being such a silly, foolish, naive girl to let him in my home. I actually had thought he simply wanted to relax and watch a movie. And my skin crawled in sheer terror and disgust as the memories of the rest of that evening played through my mind. He looked at me, not in surprise but yet slightly taken aback. Perhaps it was the anger radiating from me that caused him to silently duck down another aisle. I didn’t know what to do, I wished there was someone else in the store with the two of us and my eyes furtively shot to the empty parking lot outside. In vain I hoped that Wasserman would pull in to top off his coffee. Steve came to the front with a few items in his hand and I stared directly into his eyes. I had always been a person who’s anger could create such a defiance that at times my parents and church leaders were at a loss to know how to control me. In fact that same defiance had given me the strength to leave the church and now to stand before my abuser refusing to show the trembling little girl I felt inside. I quickly and silently rang in his items and waited for him to place the money on the counter rather than reaching out my hand towards him. But I paused when he spoke, “hey look, I know things seemed to get out of hand,” he began and the nausea in my head now became real in the back of my throat. Tears stung behind my eyes and it was through sheer force of will that I forbid them from falling or even slipping out of the corners. “I just want you to know that I was drunk and-” he was cut off by the door opening and I let out an audible sigh of relief when my friends Heather and Sarah stumbled through the entrance. They were both drunk and laughing but immediately headed to the counter. Steve’s face went white as it was apparent he didn’t intend for any other witnesses to hear his confession, or apology, or whatever the hell this was. He gave me a final look then scurried out of the gas station and I knew I’d never see him again. 

I said nothing to my two new friends, one (Sarah) who was now my roommate. They had come into my life just after the “incident”  and I still couldn’t process what had happened in my head let alone to relative strangers. In fact it would be several years before I would ever speak of Steve. But in this moment I was happy for the distraction and laughed as Heather, slightly more sober, attempted to keep Sarah from taking sips of an unknown customers abandoned soda. They stayed for a short period before Heather convinced Sarah to let her drive the other home. As they drove off I could see the sun begin to peak through the trees and hurried to start several pots of coffee before the morning rush. 

My shift finally ended at 6 am and I said a prayer of thanks when the engine of my car revved to life. Arriving home I promptly poured a drink then walked back to my room to change. Sarah’s bedroom door was wide open and she was passed out, ass up on the bed. I smiled as I reached in to close her door then quickly changed clothes in my room before heading out to the couch. My after work routine was to drink vodka and watch DVDs of Family Guy, and I sank down on the worn, orange sofa with a drink in hand ready to forget the past day. I wouldn’t think of Steve, or my church, or my family, or anything that mattered. That was in the past. After several drinks the episodes were beginning to blend and fade and the tv became nothing more than a glow in the darkened room. I stood to fill my glass again but fell back as the room spun and the nausea twisted my stomach.  After a few deep breaths I stood again and this time managed to stumble into the kitchen. I poured more vodka but stopped before adding the mixer. There was no way I’d get through another full glass, better to take this as a shot and head to bed. I knocked back the bitter and cheap Dimitris then staggered down the hall collapsing on my mattress on the floor. Habitually I slid my hand under the pillow wrapping my fingers around the ivory handle of my .22 pistsol. Then the room went dark

“Heather wake up! Heather!” I opened my eyes and groggily turned to see Sarah in my doorway. “What time is it?” I glanced at my alarm clock which read 5:15pm “Sarah I’m not working until 10 tonight!” “I know” she replied “But I had to tell you, Judys dead.” “What?” I exclaimed sitting up. “Judy? Speedway Judy? Our co worker?” Sarah nodded, “Yeah, she was robbed and shot 4 times at the Lucky Mart this afternoon.” I was stunned, trying to comprehend what was being told me. I couldn’t believe that someone I knew was murdered at the the convenience store that sat just at the end of the street. “Just wanted to let you know” Sarah said, turning to head out. As I lay back down my hand again slid to my gun and I cried. I cried because of Judys death, because my confrontation with Steve, because I missed my family, because I was alone in a crappy apartment in a crappy part of town trying to survive. Eventually it would get better, but not today and not anytime soon. 

– H

You can take my dignity but don’t take my Bible study

I hurried to my pew as the music started and the choir began to sing, church was starting. My brothers purposely stretched out their legs in front of them forcing me to climb over them in order to get to my seat. “Jerks!” I hissed as I finally tumbled onto the bench breathing heavily. The choir finished their opening number and the director turned to lead us all into a congregational song. I began to follow along mindlessly looking around to see which friends I could spot and then scanning the men on the platform to see who Pastor had selected to sit with him this week. It was a long row of men, some who had permanent seats, others who rotated in and out, and always one new guy nervously fidgeting and trying to look important. I couldn’t help but smile as this weeks new guy nearly knocked Brother Moffits Bible off the arm of chair. 

Pastor stood and greeted the crowd and I continued in my own thoughts until I felt my my mothers quick pinch. Startled I turned to her and she simply pointed to my skirt which had slid above my knee. I quickly tugged it down and could tell from her stern look that she didn’t approve and this skirt would need to be retired. I had expected as much anyway. I couldn’t wear it at college because of the strict dress code and had hoped I could get away with it for Sundays. I should have known better. The dress standards for women in my fundamentalist church were nothing with which to be toyed. A long list of immodest looks from pants on women, to writing across the chest, to slits higher than four inches were expected to be guarded against. It was our responsibility as women to keep the minds of our men pure. Any opposition to these rules was very simply not tolerated. 

I readjusted in my seat and tucked the skirt tightly underneath me so it wouldn’t ride up again. I then grabbed my bible and placed in on my lap to further hold things in place. I ran my fingers across the leather cover and fiddle with the worn edges. I loved this Bible. It was filled with years of my own notes and research. I read it every single day and trusted its messages implicitly. There were many things in my upbringing which I was beginning to question and I struggled with my place as a woman who was subservient to men. It wasn’t that I didn’t like men or respect them. It wasn’t even that I didn’t believe a man deserved to head the home. It was just that I often felt my opinions and thoughts didn’t matter simply because I was a woman. And I couldn’t understand that thinking since the Bible was filled with wise and courageous women from Abigail to Ruth to Esteher and Anna. But when my fears became too great and I began to feel suffocated my mother or female teachers would assure me that women had just as much place in this world as men, we only needed to accept our different roles. And if I accepted my role as the helpmeet to a man, then god would reward me with peace and prosperity. 

As I flipped through the pages of my treasured manuscript and read over so many highlighted parts, Pastor began his announcements. I didn’t pay much attention as he talked about this event and that person in the hospital and when he would be leaving for vacation. Then suddenly he stopped and said slowly “Now before we start the service I want to discuss one other matter and I need everyone’s attention”. I looked up, it was odd for him to get so serious during announcements. “I’ve had some reports,” he began “and they trouble me. Reports of some of you women holding Bible studies without a mans approval”. I froze, I hadn’t heard him right, he was going to explain. But he continued “The Bible makes it VERY clear that men are to be the teachers. We are able to understanding scripture in a way that women cannot and god speaks directly to us. So for a woman to conduct a Bible study without a mans authority guiding her is a recipe for disaster. I’m going to tell you women right now, stop it! You understand? If you want to have a Bible study that’s fine but you better have your husband, father or another one of gods men overseeing it.” 

I could feel the heat rising to my face and clutched the Bible tightly. How dare he tell me that I was not worthy or too stupid to study the Bible on my own. We had to answer to men for EVERYTHING else and our private studies were the one place where we could have something of our own. The one place where I and other women could feel connected directly to god and not through another individual. I was devastated and humiliated. My entire life as I jumped through the hoops of the dress code, and avoided playing sports, and took my home ec classes I hated, and tried my best to be a submissive and godly lady had all been because I thought I was valued. I thought I was more than an object to fulfill a man and make him look good. And at 21 I finally realized I was nothing. It seems like such a finite moment and I don’t know why that’s the moment that shifted my thinking. I don’t know why a simple admonishment about Bible studies is what finally stood out after 2 decades of open mysigony. Perhaps it was because it was so personal. I don’t know. But one year later I left and I’ve never looked back. 

-H

A Child’s Rights

I FINALLY got the chance to watch the A&E series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. It is such a well done docuseries and I would encourage everyone to check it out. For the past few months I’ve been extremely busy and I’ve also struggled with the direction I’d like to go with my blog. There are many informative atheist blogs that I have and will continue to reference from time to time. However, that is not the purpose of these writings. I believe that understanding cult thinking is essential to distinguishing religions. Because most would agree that there’s a big difference between say the local baptist church and Westboro Baptist Church. We see Mormons such as Mitt Romney, and while our opinions on the man may differ, it is unlikely that anyone is comparing him to Warren Jeffs. My point is that many church’s carry the same religious marker yet only some use that marker to create a cult or a cult like environment. 

So what is it that creates these cultish states, and more specifically what can be done about them? I believe that the very first place to start is the rights of a child. In the second season of Leah Remini’s Emmy nominated show (you’re welcome for the plug Leah) she begins to delve into how Scientology affected the children raised within its walls. The stories are heartbreaking, full of emotion, and in some cases absolutely horrendous. These children suffered dearly for their parents religious beliefs and that suffering plagues them to this day. What is even more depressing is the fact that countless children across our country and the world today continue to suffer atrocities in the name of religion. While I certainly want to touch on the sufferings of those in other nations at a later time, for now I am focused on America. 

Lack of education and medical help, physical abuse, homelessness, lockdown camps, child marriages, molestation and rape, malnunutrition, isolation, and more are currently what the children in these cult and fundamentalist environments face.   Children who never asked to be a part of these so called faiths and who find it incredibly difficult to leave behind the only thing they’ve ever known. Not only because of the emotional trauma of walking away from friends and family, but also the lack of resources as their disposal. Most of these children attend unaccredited schools run by their churches and find it difficult to secure a job once they leave or escape. Others who do have a high school diploma that’s acceptable still wrestle with adjusting to reality. From my own experience, simply realizing that the world was billions of years old was earth shattering. I grew up being taught, in my science classroom, that the world was 6,000 years old. The holes in my education were laughable in some ways and just sad in other ways. 

This is one reason why we see a slightly higher increase in addiction and suicide among former cult/fundamentalist* survivors. Facing the world as an adult for the first time is scary for anyone, but facing a world you never even knew existed is utterly terrifying. It is morally wrong to subject children to these kinds of conditions no matter what the parents may say. Children are human and therefore entitled to basic human rights and those rights should not be ignored when covered by the veil of religion. Our society would never tolerate a stranger beating a child with a wooden board. We would never allow a doctor to refuse medical treatment to a little one or a teacher in a public school to teach an outright lie. Yet for some reason, when it comes to religion, all of this is acceptable. 

I have begun to partner with a few friends and we are dedicated to exposing the truth of these cults so that everyone is forced to see what they’re trying to ignore. And for my part, I am specifically dedicated to fighting for the rights of children and to protecting them from religious abuse. I hope you as the reader will continue to follow along. 

-H

*I often refer to cults and fundamentalists differently because while I believe that while they overlap, there is still some distinction. However I do maintain that BOTH are dangerous and harmful to all their followers but especially children. 

Family Doesn’t Feel Like Family Anymore

I’ve shared part of my story before, I was raised in an extremist baptist church in Indiana. Half of my family still takes part in that brand of faith and our relationship is strained at best. There’s many things about me of which my family does not approve. They don’t like that I’m attracted to women, they are offended by my masculine persona, and they can’t stand that I’m an atheist. To be fair, there’s plenty about my family of which I do not like. I don’t like that they are zealots, I’m offended by their bigotry, and I can’t stand their denial of science and facts. These issues have continued to divide us over the years, creating a chasm that becomes more and more daunting to cross. 

Every time something’s happens in our country that is driven by hatred, bigotry or denial I cannot help but be reminded of my family. I feel guilty as if my ties to them link me to this kind of behavior and then I become resentful of these ties. Two events very recently have stirred up these emotions inside my heart and head. The banning of transgender individuals in the military and the Charlottesville Nazi Riot. Let me state quickly that my family memebers are not white supremacist and I am certain that they condemn such violence and blatant racism. However like many white, conservative Americans, they are in denial of their own racism and the affects of their actions on minorities. That is why they make no apologies for voting in a president of such low character and open bigotry. And as much as they silently support measures that hurt minority races, they very openly cheer on the discrimination of LGBT individuals. It’s frustrating, and I take it personal. I can’t seem to help myself. 

My family no longer feels like my family. Yet we have these amazing memories from my childhood that tear at me at different times, especially during the holidays or at a function with my fiancĂ©es family. These memories play over and over in my head so distant yet I’m present with them. And I wonder why I do this, why I hang onto people who have rejected me at my core and only want me because I remind them of their past. I guess there’s guilt about my mother. She and I were close when I was young and she’s still a woman I admire in many ways. And my siblings bring a smile to my face if anyone asks me about them. I love them, and yet I resent them so forcefully sometimes. 

My favorite movie is It’s A Wonderful Life. In it the main character, George Bailey, wishes he never existed. Not that he could die but that he simply never was. This best describes how I feel about my family some days. I don’t wish to cut them off and leave them, yet I often wish I had never existed in that family at all. As the saying goes though, you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family. So for now I’m the liberal, lesbian atheist stuck with an ultra conservative, baptist family. And how will I handle the mixed emotions that rack my brain? A day at a time, and hopefully in the same tolerance and love I want for myself. 

– H

The Resentment of God

Like most people I wear many hats and I tend to wear mine proudly. I’m an atheist, a lesbian, a liberal, a humanist and a history nerd. I’m also a recovering alcoholic. And since I put my entire life on display, my sobriety is just another topic I openly discuss. I tried a lot of different ways to get sober. A lot. Finally AA worked for me. I don’t speak for AA, no one does. I only speak for myself. And I also suggest that people use whatever program or avenue works for them. But since I mostly use AA, I talk about that in my recovery posts. 

This week has been interesting for me. I wrestle a lot with the way god is constantly shoved down our throat. And I hate the fact that when I say I’m an atheist, someone  always pulls me aside afterwards and explains that god will come if I ask. Lately I’ve felt this even more keenly. It’s definitely fostered a resentment and disenchantment with the program; and while I’ve had no thoughts of relapse, I have wondered how important it is to have a recovery group. Then the other day at a meeting I heard a man adamantly insist he does not believe in a god and then go on a bit of a tirade about the subject. Most people were visibly uncomfortable, but I was alive. I always identify with people but still often feel alone. In that moment though I felt that I had a real friend in AA. Not simply someone being patient so they could change me, but a person who recognized that I could be good and sober without a god. Sometimes I wonder. I must admit that despite the evidence of countless atheists who have stayed sober without a “god of their own understanding” I’ve wondered if my lack of faith will hinder me. In some ways I’m sure it does. A constant skeptical mind is often a hindrance and not an asset. 

But then in addition to being reminded that I’m not a lone, I was also reminded of the true loneliness of alcoholism and lack of a program. Another man shared his story a few days later. He had been sober for 4 years and the night of his fourth anniversary he picked up a drink. I realize non-alcoholics/addicts cannot understand this behavior. But every person in that meeting got it, trust me. For the last year and a half he’s struggled with getting sober again and as of today he had 12 days alcohol free. He tried many different methods to regain his sobriety  but finally went back to AA because that’s what had worked the first time. Again, whatever works for a person, do it. His story shook me though. He spoke of his resentment and how it drove him from AA and I thought of my own resentment. I cannot afford to go out again. My life was a living hell and I prayed that if there were a god, may he simply let me die. 

But there was no heavenly help for me. I had to do the work. I had to get up every day and go to a meeting. Many days I went twice, occasionally I went three times. I had to reach out and ask for help when I just wanted to isolate. I had to get into a meditation habit and a journaling habit. I had to be honest with myself and adress my character defects. And today I have to continue doing the work. I don’t have to do it alone though, I’ve chosen a method that gives me a support group. And though I don’t agree with everyone, and on some days want to walk out because of religious nonsense, the truth is I need to be sober. The truth is my life is shit without recovery. And the truth is this program works for me most days so why am I letting my personal feelings drive me away? I don’t have to believe in a god to be sober. And I don’t have to believe in a god to have a god centered program help me. Some would disagree. To each their own. This is the recovery that has worked for me and the only thing that’s worked so far. I tried rehab, spiritualism, therapy, online forums, books, family pressure and more. But a 12 step program with too much god and shitty coffee is what has worked for this proud atheist-alcoholic. 

If you’re struggling in AA as an atheist, I encourage you to remain strong and remember you can do this and it’s worth it. And I promise you’re not alone. And if you’re in recovery and believe in a god, I challenge you to allow others to have their own recovery and beliefs. Don’t tell them how they’re doing it wrong, none of us have the answers. We wear our hats and not only do they help define us but they allow others to recognize our differences. Most importantly they allow us to gain a wider perspective on life and that perspective is invaluable if we use it. Stay strong my friends. 

-H