Deconstructing Me: Healing From Religious Trauma

By Cody ClendenenJune 17, 2024

Growing up, I was taught that everything in the universe, and the universe itself, existed because of God. I was taught to believe that everything I have and everything I am, was because of him.

That didn’t leave a lot of space for me to explore the world or myself when that faith that I had held for my entire life was suddenly flipped on its head.

For as long as I can remember, the church and the community that came with it were my safe haven. I was homeschooled my entire childhood, so the church became the place I went to learn, to worship, to meet friends, to have fun, to laugh, and to grow. It was at the center of my world.

That was all true—until I decided to publicly share my identity as a queer person.

Let’s rewind a little bit. All through my adolescence, like many other queer individuals, I always felt different. Not different in a bad way, just… different. Once I realized what it was that made me different, my first thought was fear. Not fear of oppression or discrimination, not fear of what my friends or family would say, not even fear of what my church would say, but fear of what God was going to do to me. 

My faith taught me that being anything other than heterosexual and cisgender was a sin and would earn you a one-way ticket to hell. But this faith was now in complete contradiction of who I was as a person. I struggled with my sexuality for years, suffering in silence, alone and in the dark.

At 16, with the help of some amazing friends in my life, I finally had the confidence to come out and live authentically. This was met with a lot of hostility from the community I had spent my whole life building. Everything changed for me, and soon after, on my own accord, I decided to leave the church.

Removing myself from this space came with a lot of feelings. I didn’t think I was a bad person or a sinner. But was I? Were the things I was taught growing up really true? Was I going to hell for the simple act of loving another man? The truth is, that’s not for me to answer. It never was. It also wasn’t the question I was looking to answer anyway.

The answer I was looking for was to one simple question: Who am I?

For so long, a large part of my identity had revolved around the church. So who am I without that faith? Who am I without that community? Who I am if who I’ve been told I am, is not really me?

I have spent countless hours in therapy deconstructing the faith that was once such an ingrained part of my being. Not only deconstructing my faith and pulling apart what I believe about the world but also deconstructing myself. Who I am as a son, as a brother, as a friend, as a queer person, as a human.

To be honest, I still don’t know. And that’s OK. Who I am is a question that can be answered later. But here are the answers I have so far:

  • While validation from those around us can be so beneficial to our mental health, my value does not come from others. And neither does yours.
  • Deconstruction is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to relearn who you are when parts of your identity don’t make sense anymore. Be patient with yourself.
  • Not only can conflicting feelings coexist, they should. Taking the time to actually feel all of the emotions that arise through the healing process, while painful, will take you so far.
  • It’s OK to ask for help. You don’t have to do this alone. Even when it does not feel like it, there are always people out there who can understand what you’re going through and want to help.

The values and ideals that were impressed upon me as a kid no longer align with who I am now. And that’s OK. Part of life is growing and evolving, constantly discovering new facets of ourselves and the world around us. The past is already set in stone, but the future is a new story waiting to be written.

You are welcome here. All of you. Remember that—always. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected]

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Comments (1)

  1. Diana

    THANK YOU, Cody, for Sharing your truth here through this article. I had never heard the terms “Deconstructing Religion“ or “Deconstructing Faith”, but *immediately* they resonated with me as sometime in the past 10 years or more, I have questioned SO MUCH of the black and white teachings (of the Evangelical Bible believing) Faith I embraced without questions at age 16. I am still on this marathon, however, it has become much more lonely, as, now that I AM Asking the questions…. I “fit in” less and less in the very Community and with the very humans with whom I’d Always Thought/Expected/Found ACCEPTANCE. THANK YOU again, for sharing your experience and your wisdom on this ~~ I Appreciate YOU.

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