Despite our poverty, my mother made Christmas special in our childhood home in North Carolina. She would scour the local Wal-Mart and dollar stores to create magnolia-themed Christmas trees and perfectly wrapped, color-coordinated gifts. Because expensive decorations weren’t an option, she used her creativity to create holiday magic. My siblings and I would wake up at dawn, ready for action, making light work of opening the presents that had taken Mom weeks of effort to make a perfect Christmas morning for us. It was hilarious, beautiful chaos.
Leaving a Fundamentalist Religion
My journey as an adult leaving the Independent Fundamental Baptist world I grew up in has made childhood Christmas memories like these sometimes more difficult to bear. As I deconstructed my faith over many years, my deconversion has strained relationships with my family and added to the grief I experience around the holidays. Each time I’ve made another decision that’s out of step with my family’s beliefs—living with a partner, not going to an approved church, voting Democrat—the strain has worsened.
Fundamentalist families can only tolerate so much from their “rebellious,” faith-questioning children, so I spent years playing the accommodating role to protect their feelings. The first year I went home for Christmas, I promised myself I would be respectful and attend church with my parents. To do so, I had to push through the overwhelming feeling of nausea that hit me the moment we walked through those pristine, meticulously decorated church doors. I knew too well about the religious abuse, white supremacy, and spiritual manipulation that occurred there.
Trying to Keep Up the Christmas Magic
For several years I went into debt trying to keep up the Christmas magic, trying to show that despite our differences, I still wanted us to be a family that respected each other. I would spend entire visits helping my mom plan, cook, clean, wrap, and do anything she needed to show how much I cared in ways that I knew mattered to her.
During the weeks leading up to these Christmas visits, I’d be under immense stress that left me exhausted. It’s tough morphing into an acceptable version of yourself that’s far removed from the truth of who you know yourself to be. I’d desperately try to lose weight, so they wouldn’t have another reason to be disappointed in me. I’d pack meticulously so that nothing I wore, read, or listened to would cause tension. I’d tell myself to breathe through the anxiety that pressed in on my chest harder with every passing day.
After returning to my own home, it took many weeks to get back to myself again. At night, I could feel my body trying to decompress from the tension I’d put it through. Slowly my shoulders would ease away from my neck until I could fall asleep without tossing and turning for hours—or having nightmares about being trapped in Bible college, forced to stay until I graduated.
Rebuilding Your Life and Your Home
In addition to the 8 million Independent Fundamental Baptist church members in the USA, there are many more dogmatic religions to deconstruct, with many people like me attempting to soothe the wounds that come from years of being told you’re nothing at all without God.
Since starting my podcast in March 2023, I’ve interviewed nineteen guests (and counting) on Now I See: Eye Opening Stories from the Formerly Faithful. Each guest has had experiences like mine of church-condoned physical abuse and emotional and mental manipulation presented as God’s will. Many of them no longer have contact with their families; many others have delicate connections with them at best. All of them have experienced the unique pain that comes from leaving a high-control religious environment.
Fortunately, I get new emails every week from people sharing their stories of rebuilding their lives after deconstruction. During the holiday season, I’ve found the best solution that never fails to comfort and aid in healing is to build a home inside yourself. Fill that home with the love you get from your safest people—your chosen family—and adorn it with all your favorite things. Make the home inside you one that the childhood version of you wanted and needed, where every part of your authentic self is welcome and protected from the criticisms of your family or former faith.
The Best Part
The best part about this home is that it’s wherever you are. It’s your gift to yourself, a place where you can live—and thrive.