Interview with L.
In this interview with L. we talk about her experiences growing up in her tight-knit Christian faith community, issues relating to growing up as a LGBTQ+ youth, and talk about why she thinks young people are self-injuring now more than ever before.
Amy: How would you describe your religious/spiritual upbringing (including the beliefs and practices of your family)?
L: Growing up my family was really involved in church. The friends we had from there were our best friends and really our entire lives were lived out within this community. My parents were very influential in the formation of my faith and also in the faith of my siblings.
A: Thank you. In what ways have various people shaped your religious/spiritual identity whether positively or negatively?
L: My mother has been the most influential person in my life faith-wise. She was always there for me when I was bullied through adolescence and into high school. She taught me how to go to God with my pain and she was always there to talk to me when things were really hard.
The kind of church that I grew up in was very close-minded and looking back, harmful towards my faith development. I felt very torn about who I was inside as a person who was trying to understand her bisexuality and the complexities that are associated with who is ok and not ok to love according to the people in positions of religious power in my life. I also struggled with issues related to gender expression as I liked to wear what was typically defined as more masculine clothing. I really wanted to be in a position of leadership within the faith community, but sadly they didn't see women as capable of being leaders at all (and they still don't). I felt that I had to hide who I truly was in order to not be "found out" by the very conservative male pastors and other members of the faith community.
A: I'm sorry to hear that. What would have happened if you were found out?
L: I would not have been welcome anymore, pretty much blacklisted by that community.
A: You shared about your spiritual upbringing. How would you describe your personal religion/spirituality currently?
L: Due to having done a lot of work in therapy regarding self-acceptance, forgiveness, and exploring who God is to me now and what kind of relationship is possible with God, I am at a much better place spiritually than I was even a few years ago. My partner has also been very helpful in coming alongside me and showing me love and wrapping their arms around me when I need a hug. Sometimes this is how I experience God the most: in the arms of my loving partner.
A: How would you have described God when you were an adolescent? How would you describe God now?
L: When I was younger I felt that God was always present with me and helped me when times were really tough. God was my advocate and friend. I didn't understand though why God didn't intervene and help me many times when I was going through traumatic experiences such a being physically bullied by many kids at my school.
Now, I see God as loving, kind, patient, and also kind of mysterious. Growing up there was such a focus on having all of the right answers about God and seeing God as all powerful. Now I am more comfortable saying I don't know or understand a lot of things and that's ok. Now that I am a little older, I feel that God isn't some judging old white guy waiting to smite me when I break the rules. Instead, God is mysterious, compassionate and present with us in both the light and the darkness.
A: Thank you for sharing. Now that we have talked about your spirituality we are going to talk about self-injury and its impact on your life when you were young. Please describe the patterns of self-injury that you have seen in your life. When did it begin and what method(s) did you use?
L: I was about 12 or 13 when I started. I would run my knuckles and the backs of my arms along the bricks of the fireplace in my house until they bled. I would also pick at my scabs to interfere with healing.
A: What do you think was your primary purpose for using self-injurious behaviours?
L: I was really messed up inside from being bullied. I felt really ashamed and like I wanted to hide from everyone. Hurting myself helped me when those emotions would come up, and it calmed me down and made the emotions stop making me go crazy.
A: How do you think that your religion/spirituality affected your self-injurious behaviours and vice-versa?
L: It's complicated. I knew that God could help me, but I didn't know how to get that to happen. When I was at church I felt I had to wear a mask that everything was fine all the time and to be strong and always happy because that's what good Christians did. When I met a friend who also self-injured when I was about 16 or 17, I finally had someone to talk to who understood what I was going through. That friend was very helpful in being there for me and listening to my pain. We kind of both supported each other and over time stopped self-injuring.
A: Do you have any thoughts on why more kids are self-injuring now than ever before?
L: I think it's because we as a society don't know how to talk to each other anymore. We have so much technology to connect us but not as much genuine community. I recently watched the movie Eighth Grade which is all about this really lonely young girl who is trying so hard to be friends with people but the kind of world we have created for kids puts up so many barriers to genuine connection. Anyway, it's a good movie to watch to think about how we are all living right now.
A: Is there anything else you want to share about your spirituality or about self-injury?
L: I think that's all...
A: Thank you so much for talking with me.
L: You are very welcome!