Writing, particularly here on this platform because of the community and support I’ve received from all of you, has helped me heal in many aspects of my life. Writing has gotten me through breakups and job loss, deaths, and family issues. It introduced me to my two best writer friends, and we started an online publication together.
But the biggest reward I’ve received through writing about my life online is the healing in my relationship with my parents. Something I couldn’t have imagined happening has happened — my parents and I are in a beautiful, happy, and loving place. We’ve settled ourselves into a family dynamic where we can discuss education, religion, our different beliefs, and our past in a healthy way; no arguments, no name-calling, no tears.
If you’ve been following me from the beginning, you’ll understand how monumental this progress is for me.
Growing up, my parents were the strictest Catholics and put religion before anything else. They were catechism teachers, part of the church choir, members of the church bible study group, and they led the neighborhood kid's bible study. I was an altar server, a singer in the choir, a teacher’s aide in the catechism classes, and so many others.
When I left the church and moved away for college, my relationship with my family fell apart. Unfortunately, our differences kept us apart well into my adult years.
Five years ago, I couldn’t visit my parent’s home for more than a day without the three of us getting into a heated argument about Catholicism and the trauma I’ve endured because of the church. We couldn’t discuss my lifestyle or relationship without me leaving their home in tears, vowing never to come back.
Five years ago, I couldn’t call my parents to celebrate my successes or ask for help when I was feeling down. I couldn’t expect them to show pride in my writing accomplishments, like the first time I got published in a magazine. They didn’t equate my master’s degree in psychology with success — they simply saw my education as years I spent away from them and the church, unmarried and childless. Religion was the only thing that mattered in their eyes.
And now, things have changed for the better. I feel very lucky that our relationship has healed and I attribute a lot of that change to my writing journey here on this platform, and to every single one of you who has ever read, commented, or shared one of my articles.
My traumatic experience with religion and my toxic relationship with my family was why I started writing online.
My first online piece was called, "I'll Never Meet the Expectations of My Religious Parents." Almost two years later, it’s still getting views. Every day. Most of the views are external, and the article itself hasn’t made more than $70 in its lifetime, but money was not my motivation in writing this piece.
I wrote it because I was begging for help and as a writer, I did what came naturally. I wrote about how I wanted to feel loved and accepted by my parents but feared that that day would never come. And I felt weak and ashamed that I was 25 years old, begging for my mom and dad to love me.
My article didn’t get a lot of comments — which when you consider the very sensitive and personal subject, I understand why people don’t divulge their family issues on the public comment section of a stranger’s piece.
However, I get emails about this article almost every day. Emails from people I’ve never met, sharing 2,000–4,000 word confessionals about their own experiences with religion and how their parents have disowned them because they are not followers of Christ, because they’re part of the LGBTQ community, or because they don’t agree with their parent’s religious views. These people ask for my help, my advice, my book/website recommendations so they can move forward with their lives.
When I was still estranged from my parents, I didn’t know how to deal with the realization that many people had gone through what I had, and many were still going through it.
It broke my heart — and it still did when I read an email just this morning from someone who found my article online — to see how many organized religions claim to promote unconditional love but do a stellar job of disconnecting parents from their children because many parishioners are taught that their church should come first above all things, even their families. In my experience, the Catholic church was an organization that, on the surface, taught morality, love, and spiritual clarity, but really indoctrinated their followers through fear and that infamous “Catholic guilt.”
What are the things that took me from point A to point B — from feeling devastating and crippling disapproval from my parents to having a healthy relationship with them?
- Writing about my experiences online.
- Journaling openly and honestly about my feelings towards my parents.
- Therapy (and lots of it).
- Reading about parents who grow up in cults and organized religion and the dangerous ideologies that stem from these organizations.
- Understanding that it isn’t just religion that caused this division in my family. My parents and I have a cultural, generational, educational, and religious gap that exists and will continue to be a challenge for us for the rest of our lives.
- Taking steps (learned from my therapist) to slowly break down the walls that were separating my parents and me from having a healthy relationship.
- And ultimately, the realization that above all things, my mission on this exhaustive journey was simply to be loved. My goal was not for my parents to suddenly become interested and engaged in every step of my career, not for them to see the world through my eyes, not for my parents to welcome my challenging ideologies in their home. All I wanted was to be loved, despite our differences.
And after several years of hard work, I have reached a place where I feel loved in my family and in my relationship with my parents. This is huge.
If you are going through something similar, keep in mind that this process takes time and patience. It also required therapy and self-reflection. It took research and countless hours of reading and watching documentaries about religion and what it’s capable of doing to families. It took failed attempts. It took forgiveness I didn’t know I could give.
This process also required me to accept that my parents were not the only ones negatively affecting this relationship. I had a responsibility to be self-aware and admit that blaming my parents for everything that went wrong between us was an immature and unfair way of handling our issues. I had contributed too.
While writing about my healing journey the whole way, I reached that place I’d only dreamed of.
Now, I visit my parents regularly and stay in their house for weeks at a time. And when I leave, I leave counting the days until I can see them again. Because I realize how blessed I am to have my mom and dad alive and healthy — parents who, despite our differences, have welcomed me into their home, offered me a place to stay, and realized that I am their daughter, no matter what I believe or don’t believe in. My faith (or lack of it) is not more important than family, and I disapprove of any organization that states otherwise. That ideology is how vulnerable people lose their families, their children, their spouses. I’m lucky to have gotten to a better place.
And for that reason, I’ve stopped sharing my personal life on this platform. It’s not because I don’t like to speak with you all or I don’t like to talk about my experiences anymore — it’s because I’ve reached that pinnacle of happiness and love within my relationship with my religious parents and for now, I’d like to keep that between us because it’s something I cherish so very much.
My final advice.
Whether you have just a handful of followers on this platform or thousands of loyal readers, don’t ever underestimate the impact your presence in this writing community could have on others. No matter what topic you’re writing about — if you’re sharing yourself or leaving comments, you have the ability to make a difference. I still get emails about an article that is two years old, and it means the world to me that not only do I feel seen through my writing, but I feel less alone through this never-ending healing journey. So, thank you.
Please know that although you may not see me on this platform often, my inbox is always open if anyone wants to talk, vent, or just ask for help. I am not a licensed professional in the realm of trauma from religious recovery, but I have gone through the pain myself and I try my best to offer advice or support to those who write to me. (I do not reply to anyone who discloses they are a minor, and I think the reason behind that is obvious. But my articles are here for reading and hopefully, my writing can help anyone who may feel lost.)
And to the people who email me their own stories of religious conflict and estrangement with their family, I’m so sorry that you’re familiar with this pain. Thank you for taking the time (and courage) to write to me. I will continue to reply to the emails I receive for as long as I can.
© Jessica Lovejoy 2020. All Rights Reserved.
A few resources about recovering from religion and rejecting parents that have helped me:
- Website: http://www.formercatholic.com/
- Book: Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents
- Book: It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle
- Book: Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology