Skip to main content

PTSD from Leaving Christianity

By Andy ~

I come from an extremely religious family. My dad is a lay pastor and my mom is a music director. I “got saved” when I was 13 and became more and more dedicated to the faith as time went on. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. I think it was mostly for my parents, because I was the “golden child” in a dysfunctional family, but nevertheless, I was a devoted Christian.

I joined the military when I was 18. I had a desire to preach to the unsaved Service Members who certainly lurked about every base throughout the world. My plan was going perfectly until I discovered the “true church” at my first duty assignment in England. It was the answer to all my dreams at the time—Christians who were actually dedicated to proselytizing. I served the church and god faithfully for about a year, then I started to feel so ashamed at my inability to stop “sinning.” To make a long story short, I ran from the church. When I finally slowed down, I realized that the “true church” I had joined was actually a cult, The International Church of Christ (iCoC). I started reading articles about the iCoC, which led to questioning my faith and eventually ascribing to atheism.

But leaving the church was very traumatic for me. There was a giant gaping hole in my sense of self—all I ever wanted to do was to serve god. And when god is not there, what I am here for? When it was time to get out of the military, I left it in an extremely depressed and anxious state. I became very afraid of dying, because the fear of hell was still stuck in my brain. I went on that way in civilian life for a while. Then September 11th happened, I joined back up, eventually deployed to Iraq, and have been either serving in or working for the Army ever since then.

Recently I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Interestingly enough, the PTSD stems mainly from my religious experiences and only partially from my time in Iraq. I would like to share what I go through every day with my PTSD symptoms, because hopefully my story can help someone else who has similar troubles. I really want to connect with people who experienced similar traumas to talk more--I don’t seem to find too many people that can identify with me in the Army. So here is what I go through every day:

I’m so sick of my symptoms today--anxiety, anger, panic, depression, hopelessness. Like death is around every corner. I was starting to feel positive earlier today, like there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but then I read more of John Loftus' How I Became an Atheist this evening. I need to read that book because avoiding the topic has gotten me nowhere, but every time I read it all the negative feelings start coming back, like I am headed towards hell.

I will try to dissect these feelings. On the one hand, I felt positive today. I’m starting to believe in myself and my own recovery. I feel more confident, like I really am worth something, which contrasts with the bible that tells me I am worthless without god.

On the other hand, I keep feeling like I’m slated for death. When I feel this way (every day, almost every hour of every day), it feels like death is coming soon. I’ve felt that way ever since I left the church in 1999. Almost 12 years ago now. Why bother to plan, hope, love or dream when there is no certainty that I’ll be here tomorrow or in the next few hours? It’s like god has it out for me. Death is waiting around every corner, in every train car. In every person behind my back. Intellectually, I know there’s no god, but emotionally, I feel that god is just waiting to punish me.

I AM NOT GOING TO LET THIS PTSD GET ME DOWN. I AM ONLY AS BROKE AS I ALLOW MYSELF TO BE. I’m so sick and tired of feeling this way. And I want to be cured. I’m done with it. I want to be filled with hope and love and dreams—a passion to pursue good things for myself and my fiancée in the future. A confidence that I will be able to obtain a job I’m happy with, a house to live in, and a stress-level that I can handle.

I AM NOT GOING TO LET THIS PTSD GET ME DOWN. I AM ONLY AS BROKE AS I ALLOW MYSELF TO BE. Just because I get afraid, anxious, nervous, and sick in certain situations, I am going to make the most of it and enjoy my day. I am only going to live once, and there are so many possibilities for happiness. I just need to keep finding those possibilities and grabbing a hold of them.

I want a happy life. I want it so badly. I get so jealous of people that seem to cruise through life. As if they were stronger than me, strong enough to put down the demon inside them, a demon like mine. They’ve dealt with the trauma and have moved on. I want to stare down my own demon and make him cower, turn and walk away from me. Because it doesn’t belong in me. I wasn’t designed to carry this load every day. It is too heavy. It is the sack of rocks full of bible verses that say, “Well, if you reject Jesus, then you are doomed. You will be doomed for the rest of your life and then you’ll go to hell. Consider your eternal suffering and repent.” I carry those hurtful but seemingly authoritative words like a sack of rocks around with me every day. It drives me insane. How is it that 12 years after leaving the iCoC, I am still not totally convinced that it’s wrong?

Does anybody out there feel the same way?