That’s what we mean when we say Heaven. No mansions, no rivers of diamonds, or fluffy clouds or angel wings. You are loved. And you aren’t alone. That is God. That is Heaven. Erin Green, Midnight Mass

Ever since I was a little girl, horror movies have given me a strange sense of safety. Netflix’s newest show Midnight Mass is currently at the top of my favorites list.

Watching horror movies has always been an opportunity for me to face the darkness. In these movies, evil and my worst fears are cast on the screen and usually resolved by the end of the film, unless it’s Jason, Freddy, or Michael Myers, who never really end!

Midnight Mass exceeded my expectations for facing the darkness, but it also provided many opportunities to see the light of hope. In the film, Erin Greene is a teacher who has lost a child. In a conversation with her childhood friend Riley Flynn, Erin talks about what she believes life after death is like.

That’s what we mean when we say Heaven. No mansions, no rivers of diamonds, or fluffy clouds or angel wings. You are loved. And you aren’t alone. That is God. That is Heaven. Erin Green, Midnight Mass

She goes on to describe Heaven being home. For some reason, Erin’s words touched a place in me that hadn’t been reached in a long time. Midnight Mass, up until this scene, had taken me on the familiar journey of searching for hope in a church, only to discover that I had actually drunk toxic Kool-aid.

Being a survivor of religious abuse, there were a lot of scenes in the film that brought up memories of being in church. It was difficult to sit through the sermons and old hymns being sung, but in this case I am glad I did.

Mike Flanagan, the writer of the film, says not only was it written for our entertainment, but is an honest depiction of his own struggle with addiction, life and death. These themes are clear throughout the film, and hit home with me.

Since watching the film, I haven’t been able to get the conversation Erin and Riley had out of my mind. The comfort of hearing the word home compared with Heaven continues to bring comfort to my soul. But it has also brought up a lot of grief that I needed to process.

For the past couple of nights, I have been dreaming of people from the church. In one dream, I saw the face of one of the people who I cared about in ways I will never understand fully. I had such a connection with her, that being in her presence felt like home to me. Being an adopted child who grew up with childhood trauma and abuse in the family who adopted me, I struggled with healthy attachments. I had no idea how much my heart longed for these attachments when I attended the church where I was abused. One of the most comforting things about church for me, was the constant reminders that we were all a part of the same family. For the first time in life, I felt like I belonged somewhere. Having experienced abuse in this environment, has made it extremely difficult to trust others since that time. It is even more difficult to trust myself, after having believed wholeheartedly that the church was my family and my home.

The faces of those who I believed were my family at that church will never leave my mind or heart. I wish I could understand how something that I needed so badly could turn out to be so toxic. I still remember how good it felt to hug others in the church. The sense of belonging I felt. I remember sitting by the church window and thinking this was my first real home. One of the most difficult struggles survivors of abuse face is separating the good emotions we once felt with our abuser from the horrific abuse. How can someone who made me feel so good about myself, crush my heart and soul and leave me feeling like an absolute failure?

Midnight Mass helps me to understand that most of us are on a journey looking for the same thing. Relief from our pain. Some of us find it in addiction. Some in denial. Some in justification. Some in abusing others. Some of us come to the realization that we have chosen the wrong things. In our honest conversations with ourselves, God, and each other, we are able to experience real relief. This is what writing is for me, an honest conversation with myself in an effort to find relief.

The beauty of the faces of my friends in my dreams remind me that connection with others was once possible. Understanding that they just happened to be part of the same toxic system, is a crucial part of helping me learn how to trust myself and others again. These former friends had been looking for the same things as me. We found connection through our longings for relief way more than we did the toxicity in the church. As a survivor of trauma in a religious environment, my constant battle is not catastrophizing and in assuming that every religious environment will turn out to be toxic, or that every connection will result in more hurt. Coming out from behind the walls I have built to protect myself, involve really small steps with much compassion towards myself.

If you are a survivor of religious trauma, I want you to know that small steps are OK. You don’t need to be better than what you are today. You have been through so much. It’s a miracle you have survived. If you have any faith left, it’s an even bigger miracle. Be kind to yourself.

Sometimes when I am hurting, I imagine what it was like to be a child who more than anything else just wanted a home where she was safe and loved. I sit with her through her tears. I honor every emotion that she feels. I hug her and let her know that it is OK to feel this way. She can trust herself. She is not alone. She is safe. Love is her home.

It’s your home, too.

“…There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live…” John 14:1-4 MSG

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