October is my month of talking about Spiritual Healing. This is part of my Year of Healing, in which I tackle different topics of healing each month. During October, I will introduce you to the topics of unhealthy spirituality, spiritual abuse and what it can look like, and recovering from spiritual trauma using blog posts, poems, and a podcast.
5 years ago on October 30th, my Kindred Spirit and best friend of over 10 years died inside a Christian community that became an unhealthy, destructive, abusive cult.
While some of the evidence suggests murder, the conclusion that the majority of investigators came to was that she might have committed suicide under extreme emotional and spiritual abuse. Some that knew her adamantly refuse to think of suicide and still believe she was murdered. There are still legit mysteries and questions surrounding her “suicide” that may never be solved.
I will not go into all of the complications and issues surrounding the questions that still linger over what really happened or didn’t happen. If my dear friend did ultimately commit suicide, I believe wholeheartedly that she was pushed beyond herself and driven to suicide by her abusive husband (the cult leader) and was not taken care of in any real way be the community that surrounded her when she began to give signs of true mental agony and distress. She was actively being psychologically tortured by her then husband as well as in the process of being shunned by her surrounding community for “failing” him.
In short, she was in a spiritually abusive environment. A cult. She died inside a profoundly twisted, abusive, selfish, broken “marriage” that lacked any true empathy or love—and in a community who just LOVED to shout God’s/Jesus’ name self-righteously as loud as they could over all the demeaning, abusive, unhealthy actions they where all involved in at the time.
And it was the most earth-shattering, heart-breaking, soul-searching thing I—and everyone who knew her and truly loved her—have ever had to walk through. In short, it utterly changed us. It broke us. It pushed us to the very edge of grief and darkness.
For so many of us—who had believed so wholeheartedly in the unquestioning goodness of religion and that Christianity/Christians was always a safe place—it shocked us into realizing that just because something is labeled good by default doesn’t mean it is at all. Our preconceived spiritual notions were destroyed, our foundations tilted, and we all had to build something back up from the rubble of what we once thought was just automatically good, true, and safe.
Having had many conversations with people who were directly involved in this over the years, it’s been interesting to see how all of us coped with it in different ways. We have all come to different conclusions. We have all walked different paths. Some don’t really believe in a Christian God anymore, while some still regularly attend church. But it’s safe to say that all of us who loved her have questioned why this happened, and none of us are the same.
Ultimately, I can only really talk about myself and my own journey—which I’ve been doing on this blog ever since my Kindred Spirit died. I have long since forgiven the perpetrators of this absolutely tragic, heart-wrenching darkness. But there is still grief on many days. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything is completely better, and I believe I’ll be dealing with the ramifications of what happened to my dearest friend for the rest of my life and the deep wounding it caused me within my heart, body, and soul.
In short: this experience was spiritual trauma at its deepest, darkest core.
I’ve mentioned the concept of trauma on my blog before during this Year of Healing, and one thing I truly wanted to touch upon in the month of October is the concept of spiritual trauma.
Trauma is anything hard that happens to a human being that deeply affects them in negative, emotionally painful ways that leave them truly damaged—mentally, emotionally, and physically. Trauma is hard to pin down because it can be so different from one person to another. It can literally be anything—from getting in a car accident to watching someone you love die to that time your kindergarten teacher made you stand up in front of the whole class and everyone laughed at you.
It’s very, very complicated and unique for every single person on the planet. But trauma affects all of us to some extent, and deep trauma can have real implications on how we cope or don’t cope, how we heal or don’t heal. Recognizing those traumatic events in our lives is absolutely important to moving forward and resolving that trauma so that we don’t perpetuate a cycle of trauma by hurting others and ourselves in abusive or self destructive patterns down the line.
And spiritual trauma can be a whole gamut of damaging, abusive scenarios that can truly trigger mental, emotional, and physical stress inside a person that can break them or even destroy them.
And this makes sense. Think about it: If GOD/religion/spirituality are one of the most important things that human beings rely on to figure out life, make decisions, know what’s right, etc., etc.—then spirituality can be one of the most life-giving OR damaging things that has ever been introduced into the lives of human beings. It can be a place of refuge and love and healing OR a place of judgment and control and toxicity. It can literally end in death, as my friend’s story shows us.
When an abusive person or unhealthy, toxic community uses GOD as their excuse for pain, control, manipulation, deceit, etc., etc.—then it can be so much more damaging on a person’s psyche—because now they associate GOD with truly abusive, negative things. It can wound a person’s spirit in deeper ways than anything else, because now their own connection with a safe, loving God or spiritual community has been severed or damaged due to the ways people have acted in God’s name. And when one doesn’t feel truly safe, then anything can happen.
(And I want to be clear that spiritual abuse does not just happen in extreme cults. It happens in everyday, seemingly normal religious/spiritual situations all of the time.)
The bottom line is this:
Spiritual Trauma is a real thing, it’s happening all around us, and it can be the most damaging kind of trauma for someone—but it’s probably the least talked about kind of trauma ever. It’s something that has only started to really get talked about over the past 10-20 years, but it’s a growing topic in circles everywhere.
Spirituality can be the worse thing or the best thing that can ever happen to a person. So why is it so all over the place? Why can it be so good or so horribly bad?
This is why I thought it was important to talk about it a bit on my blog this month. While I am NO expert or counselor or anything, I do have a lot of thoughts and practical tools to give you from my own journey of healing (which is FAR from over) so that if you ever have questions or come across damaging spiritual scenarios, you are more equipped to discern what is unhealthy or toxic.
For this month of Spiritual Healing, I will be sharing some poems, resources, and maybe even a podcast about what it means to recognize spiritual toxicity and heal from spiritually traumatic communities and people.
And I will do all of this in remembrance of the dear, dear friend of mine who lost her life inside spiritual abuse. I will always love her. No amount of time will ever change that truth.
Ah, my friend. How I miss you still.
Photo in social media by © Tomasz Zajda Adobe Stock