1 day ago
Thursday, November 26, 2009
We now interrupt our previously scheduled post (the second part of my PTSD and Spiritual Crises series) to take a step back and ask, so what? So why do I care so much that I'm not spiritually well-defined, anyway? I mean, I know this is a symptom of PTSD, but is it really necessary to work through this religion stuff at all? Aren't flashbacks, say, much more of an issue?
Well, yes and no. As I said in the last post, it seems that all PTSD symptoms are related to the same prime causes, and therefore working on one is likely to help with another. And it may be impossible to ignore one utterly and expect some other issues to heal up just nice. So constructing a consistent and meaningful world view may assist with mitigating flashbacks, and vice versa.
But it's more than that, at least for me. I suffer from a form of 'scrupulosity'. This is a specific aspect of my OCDs that emerge in the realm of religious and spiritual thinking and rituals. I found a great description of it here, and excerpted the following (gender change is mine): "For certain individuals, religious beliefs become compulsive, joyless behaviors. The individual may constantly worry that she might say or do something blasphemous. She may fear that she has committed sin, forgotten it and then neglected to repent for the sin. She may spend long hours searching her mind to try to ferret out evidence of unconfessed sins. She is unable to feel forgiven. Specific obsessions and compulsions vary occurring to the individuals religion. An Orthodox Jew might worry that he did not perform a particular ritual correctly. He might obsess about this for hours. A Roman Catholic might go to confession several times a day. Another individual could believe that anything she does might be sinful. This individual might become so paralyzed with doubt, that he or she becomes afraid to do or say anything at all."
My issues are not that I tend to perform rituals; I don't have too many religiously compulsive behaviors. It is that I obsess about how I'm going to hell, and am constantly looking for the right set of 'rules' to follow so I don't have to worry about going to hell anymore. I'm not sure it is possible.
My religious background is pretty varied within different brands of Christianity. But the most lingering bad effects came from the time I was attending a fundamentalist church. These are dangerously seductive for those with OCDs since, on the surface, they seem to present a perfectly defined set of rules that anyone can follow and 'know' they are saved. But then, when church pulls you in deeper, you realize that instead they always leave you guessing. Wondering. Always needing to come back and check. You are constantly admonished to be vigilant against 'backsliding'. You must confess your sins to God constantly, and are only assured of being 'saved' until you commit the next sin. For this sect, thoughts can be sins, and we've already discussed the difficulties in telling yourself not to think about something. It became a nightmare of trying to meet a set of rules that never really did the trick. You were never quite good enough. (Been given the gift of tongues yet? No? Hmm ...) In addition to all of this confusion, you had to take responsibility for the souls of people around you. If you weren't actively trying to convert them, then you were sinning. If they died unconverted because you didn't talk to them, that was on your head.
In spite of having left this church behind years ago, damage has been done. I mentioned in my post on Trying to Make Sense of God, that I'd had a final 'break' with God over what I read in a book. I accepted that there was no way I could do everything necessary to be sure I was going to hell. And since the lack of knowing is unbearable, it is easier to say, 'screw you' and know you are going to hell. Strange, I know. But there you have it.
Knowing now that this confusion is fed by PTSD, I have some new hope. Maybe there really is a way to look at this situation more compassionately. More 'realistically' just like the way I look at all the rest of my OCDs. I've had success there. Maybe I can have some success creating a new view of the world where things 'make sense'. Where there is justice. Where there is a meaningful spirituality.
I don't know if I can, but as you see I have some motivation to try.
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