Before I even fully think through what I’m about to do, I grasp the edge of one of the pages and with a swift yank the tissue-paper page tears out with a satisfying rip. I’m holding a crumpled, torn page from my gray fake-leather bible in my hand. The page barely weighs a thing and yet the words on it feel as if they’re printed in the heaviest element in the universe.
I toted this particular bible around with me as I went to youth group camps, volunteered with the middle school group, and sat through countless messages on purity and modesty and “a woman’s place.” It was my companion as I strove to be “on fire” for God, to follow the modesty dress code (which was continually growing and changing by the day), and to invite my “non-Christian” friends to church because the fate of their eternal souls was my responsibility. It was there as I had nightmares about the End Times thanks to my church’s fixation with the Rapture and it was there as I wore my light gray hoodie — JESUS SAVIOR written in enormous lettering on the front — around town in order to be a “witness.” It was there as I swallowed more and more mouthfuls of salty, toxic messages about my identity and self-worth until I was beginning to drown.
Nearly every morning during my adolescent years I opened its pages, praying that God would show me wonderful things from his word (a paraphrase of a verse I was taught to pray). I even snuck it along on sleepovers the way children bring along a favorite teddy (I’d read a few chapters early in the morning before everyone else woke up). I even read the painfully boring books like Leviticus, the books like Judges that could rival Game of Thrones in gore and violence, and the confusing, scary books like Revelation. Each word, I was told, was “God breathed” — so I read them all, again and again.
I highlighted so many passages in my favorite gel pens, took so many notes in the margins that it was transformed into my spiritual diary. When I read it, I read not only the text but also all of the messages I heard, all of the articles and books I read, and all of the bible studies I went to. Even without the notes, I could hear the voices of so many people in my ears.
It was no longer a book that I read; it was a book that conjured up the dogma I’d been conditioned to believe without question.
Thanks to my Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome I haven’t even been able to look at it for a few years, so I’ve been storing it out of sight, behind a row of books on a rarely-used bookcase. But I’ve still known it was there. It’s still been there haunting me. As I held it, I just couldn’t take it anymore. And in a split-second I decided to rip a page out, hoping it might make me feel a little better. I’d planned on finding some meaningful way of disposing of it; maybe something therapeutically artistic or maybe something more somber like a funeral service for my old self, my old life, and this old book. But that rip was so satisfying, freeing, healing.
I immediately grasp the back cover of my small bible and rip it right off.
I wrench a handful of pages out of the New Testament, and then begin shredding them into little bite-sized bits until the highlighted portions of the text are shredded and the marginalia is unreadable.
Rip rip rip.
My jaw is set as I fragment the Holy Text, taring and shredding as fast as my hands are capable. This is a violent, sacrilegious assault on a holy book — the holy book. This is a declaration of my freedom.
Rip rip rip.
I never thought I’d want to destroy a book, but now I feel as if I won’t find peace until the job is done.
Rip rip rip.
Tearing. Ripping. Breaking. Destroying. The pages, thin as they are, fight back — leaving red, raw marks on my fingers. But I keep pulling the pages apart as if my sanity dependeds on it. And maybe it does.
Rip rip rip.
Shredding some of the pages brings Younger Kelsey — with a passionate love for Jesus and a desire to be everything a Good Christian Girl is — back to life. She didn’t know she was being hurt; I didn’t know I was being hurt. And I cry for her as the rip rip rip continues.
Some of the thin bits of texts, like ashes, cling lightly to my clothing and float onto the ground. Ashes of my old life.
Rip rip rip.
Finally, when there is nothing left but a pile of paper shreds, I stop.
The bible no longer exists. I forcefully ripped it out of the present tense and damned it to the past tense. It’s gone. I metaphorically and literally destroyed the lies I’d been taught about my self-worth, personhood, and value; the lies I’d been taught about the people outside our particular church building, the world, and even Christ.
I destroyed it, but not because I ripped it up. That book was destroyed the first time I’d graffitied religious cliches and self-loathing inspired theology on its pages. Today, I didn’t destroy it; I put it out of its misery.
It no longer exists.
As I survey the literary carnage that lays in a pile on the table, spilling onto the floor, I notice a few tears on my cheeks; I notice how much my ink-stained hands are beginning to ache. Sometimes you don’t noticed how much something is hurting you until it’s over.
The journey towards healing from religious trauma, just like anything else, is such a personal thing. What are some ways — sacrilegious or sacred or something else entirely — that you’ve found a little peace and healing in your own life?