PTFD. Post Traumatic Faith Disorder. I don’t know if it’s a real thing or not.
But I know it’s a real thing for me. I suffer from it. I suffer through it. Every day.
And in no way am I trying to compare myself to those individuals who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those who have served our country or survived a violent crime or a natural disaster. No way whatsoever. The fear they suffered… the fear they still suffer… the demons triggered… the hell they went through… I ache for them.
I know mine is no where near the same.
But I do have extreme fear and irrational anger and horrific flashbacks. And I live in the South. In the Bible Belt. Where faith is everywhere and gets tossed around like holy confetti.
And for a person like me… it’s terrifying.
PTFD. I hate it. I hate that I can’t walk into a sanctuary without feeling a visceral ache in my solar plexus. You think I’m kidding. I’m not. I took the boys to cotillion this summer in the basement of a church and I fought back demons the entire orientation.
I hate that if somebody sends me a text asking me what they can specifically put on their prayer list for me this week my pulse surges and I kind of want to vomit.
I hate that if a friend writes a bible study, I can’t read it. I want to. I really, really do. I’ll read anything else. But not that. I can’t. I feel too exposed. Too vulnerable. Too likely to have my scars crack open and flood my brain with darkness.
When folks invite me to church, I know they’re being kind. I know they’re being genuine. I believe they are true believers. I believe they aren’t trying to control me. Or convert me. (Maybe.)
I know these things. But it doesn’t make it any easier for me to stomach. I still feel queasy and manipulated. It comes from early and aggressive brainwashing. And it has ruined me for life.
I’m a believer. I am. But I am not a believer in organized religion. It won’t get its talons in me ever again. I’ve been eviscerated once. It won’t happen again. I’ve seen the corruption of power. Or the power of corruption. I don’t know which I believe it was… or is. But I believe it’s not for me.
It was rammed down my throat and up my innards until I was raw and wracked and ruined for all eternity.
There’s a John Donne poem, “Batter my Heart, Three-Person’d God” that I first encountered in college. It’s all about being ravished by God — being bent and broken and overthrown completely by the Holy Trinity. And that’s all well and good.
But when you’ve been overthrown and ravished by unholy persons of God, bent and broken and burned by an unholy tribe of them, then that’s another thing entirely.
Now I’ve entered church sanctuaries in the years since my escape. Of my own free will. But I have to be the one who initiates it. Who opens myself up to the possibility. But I taste fear and shame every time. And I never last long.
I read a book a few years back… A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. It is an incredibly dense and discerning book about (among other things) a man who was sexually abused in the most brutal and blasphemous ways as a child — and then again as a young adult. Anyone he loved and trusted in his youth raped and assaulted him. His body and brain were bludgeoned by something meant to be so sweet and sacred.
From there on out, he could never have sex again. He tried. He found love. He loved deeply. Profoundly. But he couldn’t have sex. The trauma was too deep. Too damaging.
I can relate. But in terms of organized religion. A church building. A sanctuary (oh, the irony is not lost on this English major), I just can’t do it.
I know Love. I know Christ. But that building… that congregation… that coming together as one.
Nope. Not for me.
So if you’re one of my good friends, my dearly beloved and oh-so-very-dear friends — I love and treasure and value you so very, very much. I do. So please understand if I don’t respond to your prayer request request or I don’t read your parable or I don’t… well, I just don’t.
Even though I really, really, really, REALLY want to be able to — please don’t take it personally. Please.
It’s Post Traumatic Faith Disorder. It’s self-preservation. And it’s the devil.