Sunday, June 17, 2012

Long Way Home

Recently, D'Ma wrote a post on looking for community now that she is no longer part of her former church. The loss of community following deconversion seems to be the most painful part of the experience. I've been thinking about this a great deal lately as I attempt to enter a new congregation and assimilate. I have found small reasons to be hopeful that I will find a place there, though there are moments I feel it may be a matter of time before the discomfort of the poor fit grows too large to ignore. I often ask myself "Why?" Why am I going, week after week? I don't always answer myself. However, a week ago, I became more aware of my motivations during a workshop I attended where I learned a new form of therapy. The therapy is called EMDR and involves helping people process memories and the beliefs related to them, particularly those of a traumatic nature. There's some free association involved, which can take on a dream-like quality at times. The participants of the workshop practiced the therapy on each other. (That way we can mess each other up instead of our clients :) I chose to process a memory that was not traumatic, though it still pained me. It was related to my dad so I didn't anticipate addressing my faith crisis at all. However, during EMDR I was hit with the realization that I am partially holding onto Christianity as a way to hold on to my dad, who died 5 years ago. By maintaining the faith he passed on to me, I continue to have a sense of connection to him, despite his death. Community and connections mean so very much, don't they? Death isn't always strong enough to dissolve them. During the EMDR, I also experienced some vivid imagery that I thought I'd describe to you. It felt very much like dreaming. Feel free to draw your own conclusions about it and share how it might relate to your own experiences.   

I found myself standing by several pools of water, intended as baptistries. My family stood nearby. I told them, "I have to go now." I walked away from the pools of water, toward a road. Abruptly, the scenery changed from a warm, green land to a frozen wasteland, as I approached the road. I stood at the beginning of the road and looked out at the snow covered land in front of me. My husband stood by the edge of the road, which I was relieved to see. I also saw dark silhouettes of people framing the road. I even saw my family slowly walking over towards us. I looked back and saw the sun shining over the pools of water. I said, "I wish the sun could come over here." Someone behind me said, "The sun can't come over here." Then I felt a warm fur coat being draped over me. I was told, "you can be kept warm with this." I still wanted the sun shining over us, but I turned and we all walked away from the water. I asked, "Is there any green here?" I wanted to see some grass, but I could only see snow. I remember being amused that some  penguins waddled across our path. Dagoods spoke up and said, "Why don't we all go skiing?" (Just like him to suggest an athletic activity). We all skied, though I finally said, "I'm still cold." Someone suggested we go drink hot chocolate, which we did. Afterwards, I remarked that I still wanted to see some green. Doug B told me that he could take me to see some green but it was far away. I told him I wanted to go, despite the trip being long. He told me to climb aboard his bus and we drove off into the distance. And during the drive, I could hear the Steven Curtis Chapman song "Long Way Home" playing.

I've been reflecting on this imagery ever since and spoken about it to one of my therapist friends. Several things have come to mind. Losing the light and warmth radiating from it is the challenge I am facing. As I considered what could be the source of the light, the scene in the Bible of Jesus being baptized came to mind. As he emerges from the water, a dove descends from the sky and a voice from heaven says, "This is my son, in whom I am well pleased, listen to Him." Both God and my dad came to mind at that point. In being baptized, I believed both my dad and God were pleased with me. I could be saved and accepted by God, which of course, was pleasing to my dad. In fact, he is the one who baptized me. By rejecting the tenets of my religion, which includes baptism, I am rejecting what gave me the Well Pleasing status, a thought that does leave me cold. It means not being good enough, not being saved, not being part of a community that continues to reinforce my Well Pleasing status,  providing me with feelings of warmth, acceptance, and being right. As a child, I was taught that being baptized was the path to salvation, essential for avoiding hell and being right with God. I was obsessed with being right, being perfect. I even worried about my baptism being performed exactly right to avoid being sent to hell. I never, ever felt certain about it. That insecurity about being saved was brought about by my own anxiety which tormented me throughout most of my Christian life. The idea of turning my back on my baptism? The thought literally leaves me cold. I even had to grab a blanket while I write this.

Another thought that struck me about this imagery concerns its similarity to The Hero's Journey* as written about by Joseph Campbell. The Hero's Journey is a common myth found in many cultures which describes how the hero handles the adventure and challenges she must face in completing some type of quest, and the ways taking on the quest transform her. The first step of the journey is called the Call to Adventure. That's where my imagery takes place. When I decided I couldn't stay at the pools of water, I could no longer remain there in the light. I had to strike out on the cold, unfamiliar path before me. My adventure involves finding the "green place" again. A place of warmth, acceptance, feeling right, feeling saved. Of course, part of what makes this an adventure is not knowing exactly where this place is, how to get there, or what could possibly create a green place in the midst of the frozen tundra surrounding me. I suspect is has something to do with leaving behind my obsession with seeking approval and working so relentlessly at being perfect, right, and saved. I suspect it has to do with self acceptance, standing on my own two feet, and being willing to risk rejection and loss of community and status.  Am I willing to walk across the frozen, dead ground, to the green space far off in the distance, without the familiar warmth of acceptance? Some of the encouraging imagery in my call to adventure was that I wasn't entirely alone on my journey. I did have family and friends accompanying me. And those of you who read this blog were there, giving me comfort in knowing I'm not alone in my grand adventure. However, ultimately, the adventure is a lonely one in that I must be the one to choose to leave behind the familiar and set off in unfamiliar territory, making decisions that no one else can make for me. This was reflected in the imagery of me boarding the bus alone. Here, I entered new steps in the hero's journey. Once the call to adventure has been accepted, then supernatural aid is given to the hero, which Doug B provided by offering the bus. Once this has been conferred, the hero comes to the next step, The Crossing of the Threshold, where she must leave behind everything known to set out on her quest. This is what occurred when I entered the bus alone and drove off toward the green space. If Joseph Campbell is right, there's much more adventure to be had (and blogged about).

*Here is a graphic depicting the stages of The Hero's Journey:

File:Heroesjourney.svg

27 comments:

  1. Excellent post very insightful enjoyed reading this .

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  2. Stunning post. Great insight. Loved hearing about your experience with EMDR.

    In a conversation with my dad, who knows I no longer consider myself a Christian, he too admitted that he thought Christianity was man-made but the thing, that one thing that kept him tethered to it was the faith of his parents. Loyalty means more to him than truth. You could just tell that the idea of abandoning the faith of his parents felt to him like a betrayal.

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  3. Very interesting. And I can also relate to hanging on to the idea of Christianity for the same reason. I can't honestly say I believe in salvation and the Son of God anymore, but I don't want people to know largely because I feel like I'd be disrespecting my mother's memory. I remember when I took my second swim in the baptismal pool. The pastor and his wife from my childhood church were there, the church where my mother had been baptized after my dad died and I had been baptized the first time. The pastor's wife walked up to me after church and said, "Your mother would be so proud of you." It's hard when you feel like you're letting down a ghost.

    Maybe if she were here I'd be able to tell her myself. Or maybe I'd never have started questioning. Who knows?

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  4. Thanks for sharing this.

    Your mention of the Hero's Journey reminded me of something... this is a bit tangential so please bear with me. I studied the Hero's Journey in high school- I had as a teacher, someone who I think is one of the best teachers on the planet. Anyway, it was my senior year, and she had written a letter to each person in our class, and then written a personal comment on the end of the letter. The letter said that what she hoped for us is that we would be the hero in our own story, and not to let some other person be that in our lives. And truthfully, I think that all the questioning and the answers we find contribute to our "becoming the hero of our own stories."

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  5. EMDR sounds pretty interesting. That's quite the vision you had!

    I've been reflecting a bit lately on just how different, how undefined, the course is after you leave the faith; probably due to D'Ma's and Lorena's recent posts. It really is an unknown, and the same paths are not suited for everyone, for sure. Yet we are all out on the journey together, in a way. It reminds me of a song lyric (Wherever I May Roam): "By myself, but not alone."

    I think you will find your way along, whatever works for you, but that little patch of green probably will not be the end of your searching. As Campbell has got it sketched, it's a cycle. To me, it's not so much the Hero's Journey as it is the Hero's Life, which has several journeys in it. I try to enjoy the thrill of discovery in the midst of uncertainty, and find a little cozy corner here and there to warm myself by the fire along the way. :-)

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  6. As it happens, I love to ski.

    Interesting how adapt humans are at masking our own motivations. And letting yourself go allowed you to associate certain feelings and connections you did not realize before.

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  7. Zoe,
    Thankfully deeply engrained values aren't easy to ignore. However, this learning comes at a price, as you point out with your dad. It's hard when two values come into conflict. There's not always an easy answer.

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  8. D'Ma,
    I ask myself the same question you asked. If dad were here, would he be the person in the family I would talk to or would I have never have had the nerve to explore this faith crisis if he were still living? I really don't know.

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  9. TWF,
    So I don't get a nice, neat happy ending after all? I laughed when I read your comment, because I thought, well, of course, he's right! But I don't have to like it! :)

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  10. ISTOO,
    What a terrific teacher. I'm jealous that you learned about the Hero's Journey in high school. Makes me unimpressed with my education. You know, your teacher's admonition is spot on. I feel like I've been too afraid to be the "hero" in my own journey.

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  11. DagoodS,
    I'm certainly not surprised that you love to ski! Yes, I've really been taken aback by the connections I've been making. It certainly heightens my awareness of the complex psychological factors involved when people change worldviews, deconvert, etc. Even when people believe they are conducting purely intellectual discussion online, there are so many internal factors impacting the way they conceptualize, relate, express themselves, hold on to and seek out ways of understanding themselves, others and even sacred texts. No wonder conversations aren't as easy as
    person a "1+1=2"
    person b "Well, you know, you're right."

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  12. This was so deep and so beautiful that I wanted to wait until I got home from to read it again and think about it so more before I commented. When it comes my time to die if I can look back over my life and have real reason to believe that I made a difference here and there with people who came to know me, then I will feel my life has been well spent. At least I try to make myself a worthy traveling companion.

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  13. Doug B,
    You most definitely are a worthy traveling companion.

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  14. The emdr sounds helpful. I tried going to a counselor, and the sessions involved mostly me talking about my background. I actually found it to create more anxiety. I wonder if it worthwhile to seek something like what you described. If I had to take a guess, I feel I am holding onto Christianity b/c it has been such a foundational principle in my life...directing various life and ethical choices

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  15. Like a Child,
    It's good to hear from you. I hope you are adjusting well to life with 3 little ones. I think it would be worth it to try emdr. It helps with processing traumatic events, whether big T or small t traumas. Certainly many of your church experiences as of late have been highly upsetting to you. It wouldn't surprise me at all if processing those experiences helps lead to understanding and greater peace about your current situation. I like that the process of emdr feels less disturbing than traditional talk therapy, when highly emotionally charged topics are involved.

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  16. I like that the emdr seems more treatment/goal oriented...whereas with the talk therapy feels so awkward to me b/c of the business nature of counseling (i.e. chatting with someone

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  17. I am having some trouble posting And editing

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  18. If I may share a bit about talk therapy. I found it produced anxiety as well. The thing is, I think a part of us feels crazy when we actually give voice to what we are silently thinking. We sort of are our own counsellor and we analyze ourselves while also analyzing what the counsellor is analyzing. :-)

    One of my counsellors mentioned one day that it was difficult to know just how much talk was safe and how much was too much because he had to then send me on my way home after much anxiety had been dug up. It is a delicate situation. There's a part of me that can't stand hearing my own voice and I'm sure I sound pathetic and a little voice inside me says 'Oh good grief Zoe grow up and get over it already.'

    When we uncover the hidden stuff, it is scary and it does produce anxiety. All I can say is go easy on yourself and take breaks from time to time if you decide to continue with talk therapy.

    My one counsellor (a psychiatrist) knew nothing about EDMR but I've been considering going to a psychologist in Michigan for some EDMR. I'd prefer someone on this side of the border so I'm not in such a hurry to avail myself of her services just yet. Crossing the border is a pain and talk about anxiety.

    DoOrDoNot, will you be incorporating EDMR into your own practice?

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  19. Zoe,
    It really is a hard balancing act in therapy knowing how much anxiety a client can handle and how valuable it is to bring up past issues. Even if I don't help someone I certainly don't want to make them worse!

    So many of my clients have made comments about how they feel like they are whining or they say that they should get over it or don't have it as bad as other people. However, they really aren't whining. The ones who worry about these things are generally the ones I'm sitting back admiring for their ability to handle so much. I'm sure that's true of you. You probably don't realize how much your counselor actually appreciates you for what you have overcome.

    I have already begun using EMDR in my practice. I've started on my kid clients. They have all responded well. With simple phobias, it has only taken 1 or 2 sessions. For those with abuse issues, it is taking longer. I've been very encouraged by what I have seen. I'll be incorporating it with adults as needed. If you pursue it, I'll be interested in knowing what your experience with EMDR is like.

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  20. I can imagine a heavy burden for therapists DoOrDoNot.

    It may be, as in my case, we feel/believe/sense that we are whining or need to get over it because those were the messages we heard somewhere along our journey. It is shocking when a therapist tells you that they admire you because that message doesn't line up with past messages.

    I have done some reading on EDMR and actually used a tapping technique on myself prior to going in to see a surgeon to tell him I wasn't going to have the surgery. I used it to keep me grounded and to keep me from panic. Who knows if it worked but I faced him and he was very rude and I kept my cool and stood my ground. In the end he told me I was doing the right thing but never once apologized for his rude display. It reminded me of the Zoe I use to know. Go Zoe! :-)

    I'm hoping more therapists incorporate EDMR in their practice. If anything it's at least one more option available to help those who need it. Maybe it won't work for everyone but will be suitable for someone.

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  21. You really are honest and open! Thanks for that. Havng 'lost my faith' in seminary when I was confronted with lots of information which did not fit into my pious young adult mind I endured that journey into darkness. I guess leaving the ministry was also an experience of disappointing my parents and so many friends. There was shame and confusion. What is one to do? For some time I wandered that post-church world and made my own way. Keeping busy with work and friends seemed fulfilling and I didn't worry near so much about sinning. Sort of pleasant. Like you I realized there were lots of psychological motivations which kept me 'locked-in' the church.
    In time, however, I came to realize there were also lots of psychological motivations which led me away. Turns out all of my choices in life had hidden motivations. And I also found the world view of unbelief was as full of holes as the world of belief. And I ended up wandering back into it. I really understand the questions about Jesus. I also know the first response and the largest response to Jesus has been unbelief and rejection. I get that there are lots of holes in the faith. I also know many believers can be obnoxous, obtuse and inconsistent. Keep digging and doing the work. It is possible that there are other explanations for your feelings and motivations, some of which are more ontological than existential.

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  22. Jeff, thanks for commenting. What do you mean by ontological explanations for motivations and feelings? There are certainly motivations for everything many of which are hidden. I can tell you that I am not motivated to avoid reliGion or belief or God. However I can tell you that the concept of eternal torture and the belief that salvation has anything to do with something beyond anyone's control to achieve is repugnant to me and inconsistent with belief in a benevolent God.

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  23. Just checked back in and wanted to respond.
    I guess I am saying that there is (ontological)'Reality' too. We can see subconscious motivations (not wanting to disappoint my parents)exist. Some people say, "well I guess that is why I believe." I am saying that if God exists, my worries about my parents, one way or the other, are not relevant. And my desire not to disappoint them does not mean there is/is not a God. Any more than my desire that the White Sox win the pennant makes them more successful.
    I get your concerns about eternal life/punishment. Probably my childhood theological training was very different from you. Sadly, we react to our own upbringing. Cannot avoid it. I am reminded of a book I read in college, "The God I Don't Believe In." Can't recall the content, but the point was, is my faith crisis about a false image of God or do I not believe.
    I also think contemporary church talk about mystery has been pretty shoddy. WE have too many answers and are too cocksure when we talk about God. Ideas of mysticism, holiness, mystery are lost under hyper-rationalism and the assorted "This Is the Way It Is" versions of Christianity. I probably add more to the problems than solutions, so perhaps I have no right to criticize!

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  24. Both your post and everyones' responses are rather encouraging to me, travelling a similar path. I've been an occasional lurker for ages on many of your blogs as I try to sort out my changing faith and now non-faith, and I take heart from knowing that I'm not alone.
    Also, my high school used the hero's journey heavily in the curriculum, and I loved it. It's really helped me think about things in a different light.
    It's interesting to hear about your experience with EMDR, as I will be getting my first session of it next week as part of some prenatal counseling. I'm keen to try something other than talk therapy, which seems to make things worse for a while afterward.

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  25. Sarah,
    I appreciate hearing from you. I sometimes wonder who out there might be reading. I hope you find EMDR helpful. I've begun EMDR therapy myself and hope to write about it soon. It's very emotional, but can reach places that are often difficult to reach through traditional talk therapy. It sounds like you're expecting, so congratulations to you.

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