Religion and Internalized Homophobia

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Listen here: Aberrant Behavior Podcast: 3. Religion and Internalized Homophobia

Hi everyone! I started a podcast called Aberrant Behavior and I’m so excited to facilitate conversation around societal norms and mores I’ve shed on my journey towards self-discovery.

In this episode, I delve into my long and complex relationship with religion and why I had to let it go if I was ever to love myself deeply. I have nothing against religion as a whole because I recognize it’s role in providing comfort and hope to many people as it did for me. Plus, faith and belief is a deeply personal thing that I don’t really think I have room to comment on another person’s faith walk. My mental health required that I let go of that journey and embark on a personal spiritual journey of self-discovery, self-love and self-acceptance. Psychotherapy and other modalities proved to be more effective in helping me eliminate the internalized homophobia I had.

I loved religion a lot, with my entire heart. Yes, I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, and I remained one until I was 28. One reason was fear of losing my family and friends if I left. If you know anything about Jehovah’s witnesses, you’d know that there is legitimacy to this fear. But also, because bible scriptures answered many of the questions I had about life. Questions like, why are we here, what happens to us when we die, where are our dead loved ones and why are there kids in the world who go to bed hungry. It gave me a deep sense of assurance that this is not all there is to life. I still have a lot of those questions and without religion, there’s no assured answers to assuage my fears and concerns and that’s okay.

It was hard coming to terms with being uncertain. Without biblical answers to all my questions, I had to face myself. More accurately, I had to begin an exploration of what *I* thought about these issues but also day-to-day stuff. Like, is there really anything wrong with sex before marriage? Is there anything wrong with homosexuality? Can I be friends with people from all walks of life instead of just people who shared the same belief as I did. Is the man really the head of the family? What if there’s no man? What if the man has no head for leadership? Etc. Many of you may not have dealt with not knowing your own personal views of these things, but I did.

I had an identity crisis essentially when I had been in therapy for a year. It was painful work to temporarily (or permanently) to set aside religion in favor of self-help. Self-help was heavily condemned in my church. There’s a scripture in James that says that the human heart is deceptive and should definitely not be trusted. So yeah, learning from the works of other humans with deceptive hearts was not the smart thing to do. I still don’t think the intension behind this message was malicious. What I think is that getting people to completely distrust their instincts is harmful intent or not. At the very least, it proved harmful to me.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with religion. It gives hope, comfort and a sense of belonging. What I think is that religion would be so much better if people were encouraged and told that their instincts are worthwhile. That we’re not inherently flawed. That it’s beneficial to engage in a personal journey in parallel with a religious one. I wish churches and pastors did not discourage members from seeking mental health care. This is especially my wish within the black community. A community with so much generational and personal trauma coupled with the intense racism they face.

While religion is still on pause for me, I wish that when I was still religious; I had also sought to embark on a personal spiritual journey. I may not be religious anymore, but I’m the most spiritual I’ve ever been. I may not pray, but I meditate often. I may not go to a building to worship, but I visit with my journal often. I love all people. I believe that love is love. My intuition is all I ever need to call on. My ancestors are ever present to guide me because they live within me.

Things are changing, people are coming into an awareness of limitations inherent in religion. Church goers are also seeking therapy, they journal while going to church. They meditate and pray and I’m here for this evolution. But as things change, things remain the same. The homophobia persists, the demonization of self-help and mental health care persists. The hate of homosexuals continues.

I’m hoping that anyone who listens to me today and is religious realizes that the world is changing and that the acceptance of all people is the way forward. And that we are incredibly and wonderfully made and that we are not broken. I had a close friend tell me they couldn’t come to my wedding because I was marrying a woman. May you not be that friend.

Resources:

Find a therapist in your area: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us?tr=Hdr_Brand

Low-cost therapy for black women: https://therapyforblackgirls.com/

Low cost remote and in person therapy: https://openpathcollective.org/

Until next time, be well.

xoc.

No one can do the work for you

The woman you see in this picture is a woman who has fought to overcome so many adversities. My DNA and upbringing left me with a lot to contend with: anger, violence, alcoholism, abandonment and a deep lack of self love. For the last 5 years, I’ve worked deeply to tackle many of those things – successfully I might add – with the help of a therapist.

He helped me understand where my patterns came from and that while I’ve never dealt with any drug or substance abuse myself, living with one or two alcoholics has a lasting impact. He helped me learn how to deal with emotions that often felt so overwhelming and out of my control. How to react calmly when rage is all I ever felt coursing through my veins every time I felt cast aside and unloved. He has been invaluable to my life.

But, while he helped me understand patterns, he ultimately wouldn’t do the actual *work* for me. The work on growing to love myself, the work of re-parenting myself and knowing that even with physical and emotional abandonment, I was loveable. That those things weren’t a reflection of me but rather of parents who were parenting from a wounded place. That work would be mine and mine alone. Not my therapists’, not my ex husband’s, not my soon to be ex wife’s, not friends’, not acquaintances’, nobody’s but mine alone.

Honestly, it took being treated in a way that my rational brain recognized as unacceptable even when all my emotional brain wanted to do was cry and bemoan the unfairness of it all. It was that constant crying about how unfair it all was that kept me in situations where I wasn’t being honored and shown love and consideration and kindness. They couldn’t because of their own issues sure. But more than that, they couldn’t because I wasn’t being any of those things to myself. I was self harming, threatening suicide even when I wasn’t actively suicidal (which I have been in the past), crying about everything and was just about that “woe-is-me” life.

I had to wake up to the next level of my healing journey. And that started the day I walked out on a marriage that was just a year old and a woman I thought was my forever love. I thank the universe/God/Goddess/Spirit for bringing this opportunity to heal my way. I don’t quite appreciate the method but without this level of pain; I don’t think I would have had the ability to tackle my healing. That’s because it is hard work to tackle your ego. Learning it, it’s patterns, it’s attempts to protect you like it learned to do from infancy.

Re-parenting yourself is hard work. Unlearning decades of socialized and conditioned behavior and thought patterns is hard. Diversifying from long-held beliefs about who you are as a person as implanted in you by your earliest caregivers is hard shit. It takes showing up for yourself every single day. Day in and day out. Therapy is just once a week and is a stellar place to start and perhaps even stay for a long while but eventually, you’d need to do daily work on your own to level up in your growth process. This work doesn’t ever stop. This is life and living. The work is life and for life.

@the.holistic.psychologist has been paramount in this next level of growth for me. Check her out on IG and YouTube because she has immensely beneficial content on how to do work of healing yourself on a daily basis. She talks about a lot of the concepts I mention in this post about self, ego, reparenting, wounded inner child and more.

Ultimately, my desire through this transition in my life is to come to a place of being at peace from deep within. Love of self that is not interested in external validations. Learn how to implement boundaries in my life as well as to respect other peoples boundaries. Boundaries is a topic for another day because honey, it is so so hard to learn how to implement boundaries when you’ve always associated your best qualities to the fact that you’re an over giver. Who am I when I begin to say NO?! Where’s the generous, loving Christabel then? That is after all a quality that I’ve always loved about myself. Through the self harm and violent outbursts and bullshit…I was always the loving generous Christabel. Separating from that identity is going to be…interesting to say the least. But, I must.

Let’s chat again soon!

XO, Christabel.

Lessons in the storms of life – in the NOW

Recently, having had certain aspects of who I am come up, I’ve looked at some reasons I am the way I am. Growing up a Jehovah’s Witness, sometimes, it’s easy to point out all the things wrong with it. It wasn’t just a matter of going to church on Sundays; it was a complete lifestyle.

For starters, we went to the Kingdom Hall a minimum of two days a week. Add to that the days we met up to go preaching from house to house, and we found ourselves at the Kingdom Hall up to 4 days a week. I’ve written before about how being a witness and being in the “truth” meant not associating with “worldly people” beyond what was necessary.

This meant, no birthday parties, no listening to most music because they glorified the things in the world. No films that were ratedabove PG 13, and even then, you needed. Another thing we didn’t take part in was the political and social issues of the day. Being no part of the world meant advocating for God’s Kingdom to solve mankind’s problems. If you wanted an end to racial, social and economic injustices, then advocate even harder for God’s kingdom to come.

I’ve always felt somewhat “behind” in life. Not hip to most pop culture references, politically and socially ambivalent. I’ve been working overtime to remedy that in recent years with surprising realizations about my passion regarding social, economic and racial issues and there’s been growing pains.

Growing up with a certain set of values have irrevocably shaped who I am today. Many of what I’d consider my positive traits are because of those values. My journey in self-discovery has shown me that while there may always be a certain wish that I grew up differently with access to more options and exposure, there is always some good to be foundin who we are right now.

Forgiveness comes easy to me and I am very grateful for that. I attribute it to the scripture at 1 Corinthians 6:7 that asks us to let ourselves be wrongedrather than pursue a lawsuit against a fellow member of the congregation. There is something to be saidabout needing to stand up for yourself and all that, but the sentiment behind the scripture is to let things go if we can especially when it involves someone we love remembering that we are all flawed and will make mistakes.

Another quality inseparable from who I am is the ability to be content no matter what. The scripture says keep a simple eye because when the eye is simple, the whole body is simple. Being taught to keep a simple eye may have meant a lack of ambition but more than anything else, it has meant being satisfied with my current situation even while seeking ways to make more money or whatever else. Finding joy in the simple pleasures, accepting that the future and certain things in the present are beyond our abilities and out of our control.

These lessons apply in all situations because we can only accomplish anything in the NOW. Eckhart Tolle talks about this in The Power of Now extensively. Being able to accept that any decision we will ever make will only ever happen in the NOW helps us let go of things outside our control. This comes easier to me than most things so here I am passing it on as a reminder especially if it’s something hard for you to remember and/or practice.

Be it weight loss, overcoming trauma, dealing with anxiety or depression, working to live with the truth that the now is all we will ever have, will pay great dividends. Another scripture that comes to mind regarding that is at Luke 12:26, 26 where Jesus asks his disciples “Who of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his life span? If, therefore, you cannot do such a small thing, why be anxious about the remaining things?”

While I may no longer identify as a Christian (or anything right now), there are many lessons to be learnedfrom growing up as one. It is a good reminder for me to remember and honor where I come from even if I’m still healing from the damage that arose from it.

With love,

Christabel

do you need to be healthy

Most of the arguments I come across online regarding whether we should diet revolves around health is a thing that should be aspiredto. If it is, what is the best way to achieve it.

My take on the whole thing is that while health is a good thing, it is not a measure of someone’s respectability. Nor is it a measure of our worth. We are not automatically more worthy of love just because we are “healthier.” We therefore should judge no one based on their health status.

I think as a registered nurse, I can objectively comment on what health is and what it isn’t. If I’m talking health with a patient, I’m discussing particular lab results, imaging results and symptoms. We diagnose diseasesthis way. Sometimes, we can make predictions based on those results to determine if a person will recover or not. You can also tell if a condition is acute, chronic or terminal.

Health is therefore definitely a thing. One can be healthy or unhealthy. But here’s the thing, you CANNOT tell someone’s healthby looking at them (and frankly neither should we attempt to), not even health professionals can. So, if your doctor or health provider looks at you and tells you you must lose weight to be healthy (without running other tests that show a direct correlation), it is time to get a new provider.

The question then is, if we cannot tell how healthy or unhealthy a person is basedon how slim or fat they are, why do we correlate being slim with being healthier? Because it is this assumption that has people judging fat people for how “unhealthy” they must be. It is also this assumption that leads to the internalized fat phobia that has most people jumping from diet to diet in the guise of getting healthier.

Most of my patients who have various chronic health conditions are average weight. Besides what I see in my practice, study after study has shown that the harm to our health results more from Yo-Yo dieting that most people engage in in their quest to be skinnier. Isn’t that something? Trying to be skinnier by constantly being on a diet makes you sicker and not being fat.

Sure, being fat may make it harder to engage in exercise and for some people, may lead to certain health conditions or at least exacerbate it. Does it then mean that if you are fat AND unhealthy, you must become healthier to be worth of respect from others? Absolutely not! No one owes us health. Not a single person.

We must all make choices based on our unique circumstances.  Sometimes, those reasons are mental health conditions, socioeconomic status, race, inner city residence with lakeshores of access to food markets, medical condition such as PCOS and the list goes on and on. I believe in providing education and access to mental health care, grocery stores etc. within communities that are predominantly black and non-white. After we provide the education, we must leave the individual alone to determine for themselves what best fits their life.

And that for me will always be what it boils down to. Provide equal opportunities across the board and allow people to make a self-determination as far as they can. It is incredibly fatphobic, ableist and privileged to do anything other than that.

XO,

Christabel.

Consistency – an optimal but elusive path

img_3838You know, as someone who has written extensively about consistency and even developed a PDF on consistency, I’ve only been to the gym three times in the last three months. What is the problem then? To know what to do yet not do it when we’re in the throes of hardship. What’s that about?

I can’t say that I’ve found the answer for myself because I know that working out and managing my diet would have aided my mood immensely while going through the hard time I went through in the last 6 months. After all, all that I asked of myself was show up just 3 days a week, workout for 45mins to an hour and call it quits. I know that this is a sustainable practice yet I wasn’t able to do even that.Read more“Consistency – an optimal but elusive path”

abolish the fitness industry

Is that the goal? Is that what we’re going for with the “counting your macros is not healthy” and the “accept your body the way it is, do not lose weight” and the ever popular “if you’re trying to lose weight, you are still under the thumb of the diet industry.” While a lot of the articles you’ll see with this theme of self love and acceptance are written by people with good intentions, they often feel disingenuous.

Let’s start from the beginning shall we and look at the factors that may have someone conclude that counting macros with the aim to lose weight is not healthy. Their introduction to macro counting was probably because of having jumped from diet to diet all their lives and having a desire to approach things in a healthier way. They were probably then introduced to macro counting at their cross-fit box or power-lifting gym. WOW! I can eat anything I want and still lose weight as long as I stay within these numbers?! I can ditch the unhealthy disordered eating behaviors I’ve had all my life?! What an amazing concept. So, they jump in headlong.

Read more“abolish the fitness industry”

don’t touch my hair

In Ghana, where I grew up, school age girls were expected to have a hair cut with hair no longer than an inch or so. The only ones exempt were the one or two mixed girls in the school. This meant that during our senior year, all of us girls would start growing out our little ‘fros (but we’d tie them down overnight so as not to alert the teachers that it was longer than the 1 inch maximum allowed) in preparation for graduation because that’s when the magic happens! Many of us get to relax our hair for the first time! We get to have straight hair that swang in the wind.

So, as expected, I graduated and dove head first into the world of relaxers and braids and wigs and weaves and every iteration of it. It wasn’t until 2008, in the midst of the new natural hair movement that was sweeping the US did I stop to investigate what my hair as it grew out of my scalp looked like. I promptly did the “big chop” as it’s known. I.e., I cut off all my relaxed hair and went back to less than an inch of hair. I embarked on a journey of discovering curls I hadn’t known existed in my 23 years of life.

Read more“don’t touch my hair”

why you need to ditch your “goal weight” today!

Unless you have a sport, health condition or otherwise for which you need to maintain a certain weight, having a “goal weight” is a recipe for disaster.

First, what is “weight” as it pertains to your body? In the most simplistic of definitions, it is the sum of your mass. So, when you add up the amount of water, fat, muscles, poop etc., you get your weight. This number fluctuates minute to minute, day to day based on so many factors not within our control. Did you sleep enough, did you poop, are you on your period, are you stressed, do you have hormonal issues? These are just a few things that impact how much you weigh.

Read more“why you need to ditch your “goal weight” today!”

next time, make sure your phone is working

“Next time, make sure your phone is working before you page me.” This is what a doctor said after I had just apologized to her (unprompted) that the phone wasn’t working but that the outgoing nurse had paged her to that phone.

That she felt the need to chastise me still speaks to just a fraction of the verbal and emotional abuse nurses get from doctors regularly. Nurses take it with grace and move on but I couldn’t do it this time. After she said what she said, I said to her “I’m not sure how I could have ensured that seeing as it is that I came in to work and I had no way of knowing the phone they paged youto wasn’t working.”

Read more“next time, make sure your phone is working”

health education is a must – this nurse’s perspective

Baby Nurse Christabel circa 2012

My work as a nurse is fulfilling, but it’s also often saddening. The sadder parts for me is the realization of my limitations. I have a hard time accepting those limitations because often; I feel that it is all unfair. Disease and death are the two most difficult things for me to accept as the inevitable part of our human existence. It has become even more difficult since I do not actively have a belief system I subscribe to. When I was a Jehovah’s witness, the promises in the bible about a day when there will be no more sickness and death were my favorite ones:

Revelation 21:4: “…he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”

The above scripture and many like it brought me such comfort. I could always refer to them when I felt the crushing hopelessness of the human condition overcome me. While being empathetic is a good quality to have as a nurse, it has to be tempered by acceptance of our limitations as caregivers and healers. I can only do so much. We can only do so much. And the acceptance of those limitations is even more imperative when we’re dealing with incurable, chronic, progressively degenerative or congenital diseases. I rarely see miraculous recoveries rather, disease progression is usually predictable.Read more“health education is a must – this nurse’s perspective”