Spiritual Skepticism

“Can I please schedule a time to speak with the chaplain?”

Clutching a book tightly to my chest, I looked down and away. They seemed to respond better when I did that.

The nurse scheduled the appointment.

I can’t remember all the meetings I had with the chaplains while I was there, but I do remember how they made me feel. In a place where I felt dehumanized, the chaplains gave me a reprieve.

It was my feeling that they perceived me as fully human.

My recent zoloft-induced manic episode and hospitalization illuminated my eyes to a few things. I don’t even know what I set out to say by writing this post. But there were parts of my recent experience that felt, for lack of a better word, profoundly spiritual.

Maybe the way my brain tried to process the trauma of my experience was by fitting it all into a spiritual narrative of sorts that made sense to me so I could cope.

See I had spent the last year or so, and even before my first breakdown, feeling incredibly powerless.

I had been diagnosed with social anxiety at around 18 years old. But since I left the hospital nearly a month ago, I haven’t experienced any social anxiety whatsoever.

Yes, I have this new diagnosis, bipolar (which now is up in the air with my healthcare providers), but something is different in me. Something has changed deeply within my being, my psyche.

The anxiety is gone.

I don’t know what happened, but maybe after what I went through (for example going manic and singing in my apartment’s parking lot at 5 AM) nothing just seems to trigger my anxiety around people anymore.

It’s like a switch went off somewhere in my head. Yes, mania is not healthy, but its manifestation seems to have released a lot of pent up anger and resentment at being told what to do.

The shame at the root of it, the shame for merely existing, is gone too.

I’ve tested it. With no issues, I’ve been able to strike up conversations with strangers at the grocery store. Some react the way I would have a couple months ago, unsure, nervous and/or curious as to why I would want to talk to them, but most have reacted warmly. I spent nearly half an hour talking to a new friend in the grocery store the other day and we exchanged numbers.

While I was in the hospital I reconnected with some of my Mormon roots as well. Inspired by some of the words of Ghandi and the fact that Mormons fast on the first Sunday of the month, I decided to fast on the first Sunday of July. The staff questioned me on it, and some patients and a staff member or two scoffed at my fast, but it felt right at the time.

I did feel a little rebellious toward the hospital when I fasted, but I also wanted to show the staff I was capable of self control.

I even made my own prayer before the fast and crafted it to a divine mother. It was the prayer I had always wanted to say but had never been allowed to say, first by my belief in Mormonism and then coincidentally by my lack of belief in Mormonism.

I’m realizing now that spirituality is way more fluid than we are taught or trained to believe. Spirituality is intensely personal, as it should be. (Thankfully other skeptics use the word as well.)

I have started exploring myths that catch my interest, and reconciling my spiritual upbringing with where I am now in my life.

After my release from the hospital, two sister missionaries from the LDS church knocked on my door. This is the church I was raised in, the church I left.

They talked with me for the next couple hours. I told them all about my history. I told them I was bisexual (and this was before I had come out publicly about it), I told them about my rape and hospitalization. We seemed to really connect.

Does this mean I’m going to rejoin the church? Absolutely not. I don’t believe in practically every truth claim of the church and I have a major problem with it’s patriarchal makeup.

In fact I found it a damn near shame that these sister missionaries would never be allowed to be priesthood/spiritual leaders of the faith because of their sex. One especially contained more empathy and wisdom in her pinky finger than did my BYU bishop.

But my experiences have helped heal me of my trauma associated with spiritual things in general. The spiritual abuse I experienced from poor leaders and an imperfect church growing up left deep scars, but I recognize that people can and do find peace in the Mormon faith, and that’s OK.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think the LDS church shouldn’t be held responsible for the horrid way the organization has treated the LGBT community, or that I didn’t talk to the sister missionaries about that. Of course I did, and they listened. They shared a message of healing from their scriptures and I shared a favorite poem of mine with them. If I could share this poem a thousand times over, I would:


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

I was bitter for a long time when it came to religion and spirituality. Because I had been hurt, deeply. Spiritual abuse is real and devastating. And I still see people hurt by people in power in these organizations. But there is a lot of good too. And that I see in the love people have for each other.

Because there is a lot of love in the world, and love heals. And too many people on the religious side and on the skeptic side resort to harsh and angry words towards each other, and I can no longer stomach it. It has started to make me ill.

I’ve also come to integrate the worst of my experiences into my current makeup as a person. I seemed to have healed from the worst parts of my traumatic past, and I feel incredibly stronger. I also have more peace in my heart.

Myths, stories, and narratives have been immensely empowering for me.


“In many of the ancient myths, a person who wanted to find happiness, love, or eternal life, had to first travel through the netherworld. Before being allowed to contemplate the splendors of heaven, Dante had to wander through the horrors of hell so he could understand what kept us from entering the pearly gates. The same is true of the more secular quest we are about to begin.”

– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

And that’s where I feel I am, still dealing with some of the burns and scars of the trials of my journey through the underworld, but I’m dusting myself off, and I feel like I’m coming out the other side.

I guess what I’m getting at is that it is possible to become a spiritual skeptic. The things that I find value in, the love I have for stories and those closest to me, that love can be the basis of my spirituality.

Myths don’t have to be real for me to take meaning out of them, and since this life is about creating our own meaning anyways, they’re a great place to start.


We forget you Queen Mab!

I have a lot of great people in my life. Supportive friends and family who were there for me when I was at my worst.

I love my therapist. I will continue to see her every week and will continue to process my trauma with EMDR and CBT therapy for a long time. I don’t want to give the impression from my last post that I’m not currently receiving treatment. I still am.

I’m just getting better and more autonomous with the help I’m receiving, so much so that soon my healthcare providers will no longer have me see the psych nurse at the outpatient clinic. When we receive the right kind of treatment using scientifically backed methods, we get better. And that’s the hope that I’d like to share with others.

I have been officially diagnosed with PTSD, major depression, and generalized anxiety. I know that this will be something I will have to work with for the rest of my life. And that’s ok. Mental illness is something that should be treated and talked about. I don’t feel ashamed to have this illness in the same way someone with cancer or heart disease shouldn’t feel ashamed to have their illnesses. If anyone feels ashamed of their illness, or overly defensive about what people might think of them for having said illness, that is something they should probably talk about with their therapist.

There are healthy coping mechanisms and healthy methods of therapy and treatment from the medical establishment that are (sadly) ignored or shunned. I’m a huge advocate for scientifically proven methods of treatment.

The abusive treatment I received from an unlicensed mental health practitioner in the BDSM community was not at all helpful and not backed by science. My husband has known me for 11 years now. He saw first-hand what happened to me.

Before last year, I had never had a psychotic break in my life. It was triggered when someone accessed repressed memories of my past trauma in a careless and arrogant way. I have always struggled with depression and anxiety, but not psychosis. Cause and effect. Not a difficult concept to understand. This person used hypnosis/BDSM on me and age-regression like therapy to access repressed trauma from my childhood and boom. Psychosis and hospitalization in a mental health unit.

“Many things can cause temporary psychosis. Environmental triggers, such as losing a loved one, are known to contribute, as may excessive stress,[2] or the interaction of strong social demands with a pre-existing vulnerability of self.[3]

Other causes that have been identified include lack of sleep, fever, brain damage, and even hypnosis.[4]””(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychotic_break)

The person who hurt me literally boasted after his “therapy” that he had basically done what a regular therapist would have taken years to do in accessing repressed memories. He also bragged that he could “start a cult” if he wanted to. This was witnessed by myself and my husband.

My current therapist, who I have been seeing for about 8 months now, and who I will continue to see, told me why what he did was dangerous. She told me that hypnotherapists have a lot of professional training and need to be held accountable for their practice with licensing standards.

She told me that traumatic childhood memories are repressed FOR A REASON:

To protect the brain.

Repressed trauma and old memories that could be difficult to process should never be just pulled from the subconscious mind to the conscious mind without a stable treatment plan already in place, and without the individual having developed coping mechanisms to address the traumas.

What happened to me was dangerous. My whole family was put at risk. I could choose to be bitter and angry about what happened. I lost a year of my life thanks to an induced mental breakdown. But I made it through, I choose life and living now.

I’d also like to mention that my current therapist is BDSM/kink friendly and sex positive. She explained to me how what happened in my case was not at all kosher. Being manipulated or bullied into a lifestyle is not ok. I had an interest in BDSM before I was abused, for sure. That’s what got me into the situation. But now I just associate it with trauma because that was the pretense for my abuse.

Calling someone a “worthless piece of shit” and then telling the person that they liked to be called a worthless piece of shit because of the way they were raised is abusive. Telling me that my husband needed to “stop being a pussy” and “get with the program” by being a full-time dom is abusive. Trying to forcibly indoctrinate me and my spouse with fake religious beliefs involving “chakras” and “energy” is abusive. Acting as a self appointed mental health guru and accessing repressed trauma via hypnosis and BDSM without a license or accountability is abusive and a con game.

I strongly recommend this article to people in the kink community. It addresses my concerns with nuance and level-headedness and it’s written by someone with a lot of experience in the community:

“Out of context, kink can look like abuse or domestic violence to the outsider, which it decidedly is not. But members of the kink community also aren’t very good at policing our own, and what I see happening again and again is victims of predators being swept under the rug, forced to leave communities that have become intolerable while the predators remain to prey upon the next batch of innocent newbies.”

This whole episode has been very hard for my family. We lost friends. My kids had a broken mom for a while. I have had to give the vague reason of “we had a disagreement” to my child when she wondered why we no longer visit certain people. Of course I would never tell her why, at least not now, because it’s inappropriate to emotionally dump on a child or encourage them to perform an armchair diagnosis on a person. Maybe someday we will have a long conversation about this as grown ups.

I have made mistakes. There are things I did and said when I was unstable that I wish I hadn’t. But my mental breakdown was literally caused by someone who exacerbated my mental illness with his “therapy.” That wasn’t my fault. And I know that. When it comes to this specific issue, I’m self aware, which means I can’t be gaslit by these folks anymore.

I’d also like to talk about my references to cults. Of course, I know that BDSM itself is not a cult. But it is very possible for cult-like dynamics to establish in kink “families.” People in cults don’t know they are in a cult. Otherwise they wouldn’t be in it! When I was a Mormon, I was terrified of apostates (people who’ve renounced belief in the church and its leaders). I thought they were dangerous and scary people who might hurt me and my family. How could they accuse church leaders of being abusive? How could they say that the system isn’t perfect?! There must be something wrong with them.

I don’t blame Mormons for that. I don’t blame fundamentalists for that either. Rigid belief systems are hard to challenge. Cognitive dissonance is scary. It’s much easier to just label people who leave as unstable or crazy or dangerous than to critically address why a person had to leave the group.

As a penultimate point, I’d like to talk about the KonMari method.  It has changed my life in so many positive ways. I’d strongly recommend this book to anyone looking to make their home into a zen clutter-free sanctuary. It basically advocates only keeping things which “spark joy.” I have applied that to my home and I’ve noticed this philosophy has started to creep into other areas of my life.

From now on, I refuse to read or seek out anything that I know will make me feel bad or hurt me (that’s the opposite of KonMari!). I talked with a friend about it today, and she made me laugh. She told me it’s human nature to poke something that hurts and say “Ouch! That hurt!” But it’s just smart and common sense to stop poking at it altogether when you realize no good will come from it.

And so I won’t “poke it” anymore. 🙂

Lastly, I’d like to end with a scene from Merlin. It’s one of my favorite scenes of all time. The mythology of the story here is that old gods fade out of existence when people forget them. And so Merlin defeats the evil faerie Queen Mab by turning his back on her at the end of the film and saying “We forget you Queen Mab!” I love the meaning here. It’s worth a watch! (Start at the 2 min 30 second mark.)

Best wishes, and farewell.