The Sacred Parts Of My Soul Religious Trauma

The Sprinkling

I’ve heard some people are born with a silver spoon.

Not me. I got a WHOLE SILVER CUP, and with it came many things that filled up my life. Namely, belief systems that have influenced me until this day.

I’m 59 now. I received the cup when I was 15 days old. It happened at a Catholic Christening with my parents and all my siblings. It was a beautiful shiny cup with the letters D-E-B-B-I-E and the date 5-20-1962 inscribed across it. My parents took pictures to commemorate what I was completely and wholly unaware of.

A lifetime of generational religious ideologies being imprinted on me from birth.

I wore a long white dress decorated with embroidery which my grandmother painstakingly stitched together for this very special occasion. It must have represented something. Again, I was 15 days old so didn’t have a clue. The priest sprinkled some “holy water” on me and mumbled words I did not understand.

I grew up quickly in this large and very busy Catholic family. My older brothers and sisters went to Catholic schools and I remember having nuns and priests around. My favorite priest was my uncle. His name was Eugene, but everyone called him “Bud,” so I knew him as Uncle Bud. To me he was just my uncle, but to the vast majority of the world he was a Jesuit Priest with a large humanitarian mission, and to yet others, a member of a controversial religious order within the Catholic Church called, “The Society of Jesus”.

Nevertheless, this made our whole family “special”. It was never blatantly said out loud, but somehow was implied to my tender and impressionable young self. Having a Jesuit Priest in the family somehow meant we were taken care of and had privileges. Somewhere I got the idea that our family was passing right by “purgatory” and headed straight to heaven no matter what we did or whom we harmed in this life.

Catholic Priest Religious Trauma

The Confession

Once in a while on the weekends my Uncle Bud and his "special secretary" and "lifetime traveling companion", Jackie, came to stay and perform mass right in our home.

We passed vintage wine in a giant goblet around the living-room, and ate bread and received our blessings from the “family” priest. One afternoon my mother suggested I was old enough (maybe 8 at the time) to do my first confession, which took place in my parents bedroom alone with my Uncle Bud.

I vividly remember him sitting in his stark black robes and contrasting white collar. I loved him and I respected him. But again, I had no clue what was happening. No one had prepared me for this occasion and I found myself sitting smack dab in front of my uncle on my parents bed in total ignorance.

My uncle sensed my uneasiness and quickly said, “Debbie, how about you tell me your sins and then I will forgive you”. My brain began searching for an interpretation of his words and couldn’t find one. I sat in silence.

He again began, “Debbie, how about you tell me everything you did wrong this week?” Again, silence. After all, why would I do that?

Then he tried a third time, “Debbie, can you think of one time you told a lie, or hit your brother, or anything like that?” Still nothing. I honestly couldn’t think of one thing. I started to get nervous and fidgety.

Finally, he said, “Just o-n-e thing”. Remember, he was my favorite uncle and the last thing I wanted to do was disappoint him.

I was a pretty clever child I’m told, and it didn’t take too long before I sized up the whole situation. I then blurted out some words, reciting one transgression after another, in quick succession. Of course, all made up from my “overactive” imagination. My answers were quite creative and I was sure “my honesty” and “forthright spirit” would make me look good and be pleasing to him. Even if I was “lying”. I don’t know how believable it was because my uncle never said a thing about it, except, “I forgive you”. I had no idea at that time how that seemingly innocent encounter would affect my relationship with God, and concept of God, throughout my life.

Or how it would later become the “root cause” of many years of people pleasing and the need for acceptance, especially in religious circles.

This ideological, perfect picture of the “good” religious family was shattered when I was 12 and my parents divorced. The persecution my mother endured for not wanting to have more children (after the first 8), and not being allowed to use birth control, was unbearable; and she did the extremely forbidden deed, at that time, of divorcing my father and ending the occupation of Catholicism in our home forever. My father took it with him, along with his very bitter spirit. Those who stayed behind (my mother and some of my siblings) were now flung smack dab into the middle of 1970’s “worldliness” in all its glory.

The religious dogma that had hung over my life since birth suddenly disappeared.

Poof! Gone.

Life In The World - Religious Trauma

Life In The World

The next years were a wild blur of public school, marching band, friends, parties, lots of personal freedoms, and taking up my mother’s responsibility which she inadvertently handed over to me while she “really lived” the life she never had before.

I mostly stayed out of trouble and got good grades and top recommendations for college… until I didn’t. I’ll never forget how shocked, surprised, and disappointed my mother was when at 18 I announced I was getting married to a boy I hardly knew, in August, and the baby was coming in February.

Now, on my own, a wife and a mother, making my own decisions, trying to figure out my own values, I was introduced to “religion” again. My close friend and I started having discussions about God and soon after began “church hopping” on Sundays.

Seventh Day Adventists

Our first stop was a Lutheran Church, then a Catholic Church, then one Sunday at a Baptist Church. We even did a study with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

We both had a desire for God and for His ways but wanted to make sure we weren’t going to be duped. We thought a little “playing the field” with different churches would give us our yearned for answers.

Honestly though, it only muddled up the waters, and I found myself with many confusing ideas and questions and no “real” answers to be found. That is, until, I was invited to a Bible Study (another pivotal moment in my life) with some young adults in a lovely home.

They called themselves, Seventh-Day Adventists.

My New Life After Religious Trauma

A New Start

After months of study, a full-on evangelistic series, Sabbath adventures in Cradle Roll, a baby dedication, and a baptism of my own (this time by immersion), I thought I had all my answers, finally.

My desire to serve God had reached full capacity.

My life was different. I was different.

I was ready to give up everything for the ONE who gave up all for me. I desired to serve God fully and to serve those around me.

Religious bliss at last!

I now realized I had been, well… flawed.

My previous beliefs… flawed.

My values… flawed.

My character… flawed.

My systems of operation… yep… flawed.

But RIGHT NOW nothing mattered but that I had found my Savior and His people. There was just so much peace. So much excitement. So much relief. So much hope for the future.

Sorrows Ahead Religious Trauma

Sorrows Ahead

At this point, I had no idea how my life would unfold over the next 40 years.

The love, the joy, the family, the amazing opportunities, the mountaintop experiences, and the exposure to learning so many new things and ways. This would be only slightly dimmed by the contrasting life experiences splattered in between.

The hardships, the severe losses, the suffering, the disappointments, and the betrayals. Some came from within. Some from without. But they indeed came. Mostly without warning. One after another, weaving their way across my life.

Changing me. Molding me. Preparing me. All of my life experiences seemed to make me stronger. They built my endurance, fortified my experience, strengthened my faith, and prepared me for the next steps and chapters ahead.

UNTIL, at the age of 50, I received a massive blow. Completely unexpected, I was to suffer the greatest sorrow of all, and it almost took my life, my hope, my joy, even my faith, away forever. All the sorrows I had suffered up until now didn’t compare, or prepare me, for the excruciating pain and shock I would be forced to endure.

I did not realize until much later the reason for this was because these sorrows touched the most sacred parts of my soul. The parts of our being that all “religious trauma” touches.

I personally believe that “religious trauma” is near, or at the top of the list, with the most severe trauma we can experience as human beings.

Whether we experience it early in life, or as adults. Whether it’s an extreme experience, or a subtle one lurking in the background with no real definition. Whether it’s recognized and acknowledged, or not.

I’ll explain why later, along with more of my personal story of surviving more years of “religious trauma” to come. I’ll also share the path I took to recover and heal without losing my connection to God, and then finish up with an allegory I wrote called, “THE TALE OF TWO BELIEVERS“, which may represent YOU right now, if not entirely, possibly a close match.

But for now, let’s move on to unravel what “religious trauma”
really is and what must take place to heal from it.