Reared in Religion
Recovery, this road to remission I’ve been traveling for so many years, is an extremely fascinating journey. Lately, as I’ve spent the past four months regularly attending the local Center for Spiritual Living on Sunday mornings, I’ve spent time intentionally reflecting upon the beliefs I was raised in—& the beliefs I nearly drowned in. Despite the flaws of my parent’s beliefs, I bought into it. At the end of the day, back then, I really had no choice: it was the way I was raised, taught, submersed in on all fronts—even threatened not to sway from or turn against. It was the only lens I knew how to interpret my life & experiences through. The message I took away by age fourteen from the religion I grew up in was that I was worse than a piece of trash & I could never be worth anything without dedicating my entire existence—mind, body, & soul, from my career to my relationships—to this God that was vindictive & jealous & cruel. A passage in Romans 7 of the Bible really stuck out to me during my high school years.
Romans 7:15, 17-20 (NLT) I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.
Instead, I do what I hate… So I am not the one doing wrong;
it is sin living in me that does it… And I know that nothing good lives in me,
that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.
I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.
But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong;
it is sin living in me that does it.
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right,
I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart.
But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind.
This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.
Oh, what a miserable person I am!
Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?
Its author, Paul, talks about being a helpless “slave to sin,” possessing zero control of himself. “There is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:23-24). Paul discusses his introspective observations regarding this lack of control: “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it; instead, I do what I hate… I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway… I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.” He talks about being confused, doubting himself, & not being in control of the actions he executes. He refers to a power within him that does evil without his consent: “I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it… The trouble is with me, for I am all too human…”
According to Paul’s beliefs, his nature is evil to the core (“nothing good lives in me”) & he is completely worthless & lost without the salvation that only Jesus Christ can offer. Paul continues to belittle himself, talking down on who he was at a fundamental level.
Similarities with Paul
I read this passage in high school & deeply connected with Paul’s struggle. Although my perspective is very different now, back then I concluded that the Bible was correct, that God’s law is perfect & that I am the problem because “I am all too human, a slave to sin… & I know that nothing good lives in me.”
I recognized chaos within me, this terrifying feeling that I was not in control of myself; this awful realization that I did & said & remembered things without meaning to, without intending to, without instructing my brain to do so. The “sin living in me” is a thick, black, all-consuming darkness. I identified its evil presence & how it controlled me at times without my consent. I recognized frighteningly dark thoughts slipping across the chalkboard of my brain—thoughts I did not think or concoct or give permission to enter my train of thought. I knew that I didn’t understand myself, just as Paul talks about in verse fifteen. I knew that something within me was doing harmful things without my full awareness. A dark, threatening force within me was sabotaging my life, poisoning my relationships, & destroying the overall effectiveness of my brain’s basic functions.
Interpretation During High School: Monika's Mind
Because I so fervently believed in the religion I was taught, my conclusions about my dark experiences were completely inaccurate, despite the acute accuracy of my internal observations. At the time, I had absolutely no understanding of mental disorders or about how traumatically overwhelming experiences can scar an undeveloped brain. Wanting to be like the great people of the Bible, I began putting myself down even more than I already did, criticizing my evil, sinful nature & my pathetic, weak, human self that held absolutely nothing good within it. I mocked my soul for being an eternal slave to sin, reminding myself of my incompetence & how my one & only hope lay with a man who lived a very long time ago & now lives in heaven with God, who is His Father, but also Himself… So confusing… I bought into the misconception. The packaging was appealing when looking through those lens of religion. It’s how I was taught & raised; it’s what I was submersed in on all fronts for most of my life; I was even threatened to not sway from or turn against it. I simply accepted that I was a pathetic, disgusting, worthless human being. “I’m so grateful I found truth!” I thought.
My Interpretation Ten Years Later: Kristin's Insight
A decade later, I am re-processing my experiences, re-analyzing the data of those experiences, & re-framing the conclusions I’ve drawn & the fashion in which I replay life’s tales within my mind’s eye. I lacked control, of my thoughts & feelings & sometimes even my actions. My tone of voice would take on a life of its own, projecting something very dark & even evil within me. This dark entity has now been identified as a part within my internal family system because of my dissociative identity. All the assaulting voices I’ve heard over the past ten years, all the times my brain convinced me of life’s worthless & of my inevitable demise, all the weeks I could barely rise from bed because this darkness sought to destroy me,—it’s not just “in my head” like people would suppose. Rather, it’s literally in my head: another identity, another persona, another state of consciousness that truly is a dark, demonic entity, yet it is a part of me even still.
“It is (darkness) living in me that does it… There is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a salve to the (darkness) that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by (darkness) & death?” (verses 23-24). Like Paul, I do have something dark & destructive living in me. Rather than sin, however, it is an alternate state of consciousness. I had no idea that was a legitimate thing until this year, but now it’s all starting to truly make sense for the first time in my entire life. I am slowly connecting the dots, piecing together the miraculous mystery of this puzzle I’ve been given, growing closer with each passing day to unraveling the riddle of my identity & to answering questions that have legitimately haunted me for the majority of my life. “I don’t really understand myself.” I relate to Paul, as this recognition has caused great distress for me this past decade. Now, however, I rise from the ashes, understanding myself like never before, ever growing in awareness of & compassion for myself. Some aspects of the biblical passage, however, are entirely untrue. I am grateful for the ability within myself to know what is true, & for that Truth’s ability to heal & provide a nurturing hope that saves my spirit from darkness on a regular basis. I know now that there truly is something good living within me—a light so bright, not even the darkness of my demon can snuff it out entirely. It may grow dim at times, even for months, but it will always, always come back, growing stronger & brighter than ever before.
I now know that I am not helpless, I am not a worthless human being, I am not controlled by sin or darkness.
I am Light.
I am whole.
I am powerful.
What lives within me is immense Beauty of the most pure assortment.
I do not need to cry out for help any longer. I have learned how to save myself.