God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.
So I had to decide: was I supposed to drop this entire research project for the benefit of my health and well-being? Was my body agreeing with every person from my previous life who told me to just “shut up”? Or should I keep on? Where do I go from here?
Thus began a long, hard, gut-wrenching journey to look at my experience in leaving fundamentalism. As Steve Brown says, “kiss that demon on the lips.” Look at what happened square in the eye and see it for exactly what it was worth. Direct. Plain. Head on.
Because I hadn’t. Not yet. Not everything. And what was happening is that I’d try to completely forget it (everyone telling me to “drop it or you’ll get bitter” and the like), but it would pop up unexpectedly and be right in front of me. Like when I’m watching a silly sitcom at midnight! And I’d experience it all over again. It felt completely present even though it was (then) 2 years past.
Simply put, I couldn’t put that trauma into long-term memory.
Yes, I said “trauma.” All my readers who are straddling the fence between fundamentalism and a functional life are already fuming reading that. I know. It’s controversial. You are already constructing an argument about how what I endured was not traumatic. You’ve already googled a few sources.
Save it. I don’t need to hear it. I know what I know. I have a professional’s direct input on this issue, and you can keep that armchair “second-opinion” to yourself. . . . See how nicely I set that boundary? 😉
Historically, studying people’s reactions to trauma has centered around our soldiers. In WW1, we called it “shell shock.” In WW2, we called it “battle fatigue.” By Vietnam, we had the term we use now — post-traumatic stress disorder.
But technically the study didn’t begin with the battlefield. It started in the 19th-century parlor. Freud made a name for himself by studying victims of incest within the middle class. His initial work sounds remarkably contemporary and relevant today, but he chucked it all because the bourgeoisie didn’t like it (see three paragraphs up). It was too disruptive. So he ventured into other academic psychological territory for which we remember him now.
So the study of trauma started at home where it was ignored, but flourished at war where it could not be ignored. And scholars and psychologists brought it back to its beginnings in the 1980s and 90s — back to domestic abuse. Back to what was once called “hysteria.” Back to the most fundamental and primary of relationships. Back to the most vulnerable of victims.
When you read about trauma and recovery, most of the discussions center around war and domestic abuse. I have experienced neither of these. I have not fought on the battle field. And my parents provided my brother and me with what I consider a nearly ideal upbringing. Our home was a haven. A place where I was loved without condition, where I could be myself without hesitation. Where we laughed, hugged, disagreed, and thrived. And I think Grant and I have done our best to provide the same for our family.
Frankly, it was that unconditional love from my family that brought my experience in fundamentalism into such stark relief. I knew it was wrong. I knew it on a cellular level because I knew what right should feel like. I knew what love was.
Oh! There’s one other avenue of research in trauma studies in addition to the fighting in war or enduring domestic abuse:
Leaving a cult.