banner image

Thoughts on Easter, Holidays, and Grief From A Therapist Who Left High Control Religion

Yesterday was March 31, 2024- Easter Sunday. 

It’s been some years since I left a high control religion (HCR) and began deconstructing the evangelical christian belief system I was raised in. Even still, I can remember the excitement of Easter growing up. 

It was a BIG deal. My mom would go all out on holidays, something I still appreciate about her and how I was raised. This meant that not only did me and my siblings have an epic easter egg hunt, we also had an easter basket hunt as well as fancy new easter outfits and a whole big meal. 

As a child, I adored the anticipation of any holiday. Knowing it was coming and what my family would do to celebrate was the best feeling in the world.  I felt connected to something bigger than myself through a large church community, my family felt so bonded in these traditions, and belonging to a faith where I was the “chosen” one gave me meaning and purpose.  

As I started reckoning with the judgment, fear, and shame the HCR created in my life, I wanted to get as far away from the beliefs I was taught about Easter Sunday. I felt confident in not celebrating the holiday given all the harm it is connected to in my life. I still do. 

Even with that confidence, there was a deep sadness and pain on these holidays. 

Often grief is only brought up when there has been a death. As a trauma therapist, I’ve learned that grief is the emotional response to loss. It can show up in the loss of an old life, the loss of what you didn’t get to have in life, the loss of even something you don’t believe anymore. It can present as sadness, anger, numbness, denial, overworking, avoidance, depression, fear, and more. 

Therapist Dr. Laura Anderson speaks on this in her book “When Religion Hurts”. She names the various ways grief shows up when someone has left a high control religion. She states that the most common grief of having left is no longer having that community- that sense of belonging. 

In my healing work, I’ve discovered that those traditions and the sadness of no longer celebrating them are certainly tied to that loss of belonging. Even though the HCR is not something I want to belong to, there’s still grief. 

I’ve also learned in my therapy work, the biological instinct of attachment is real. It’s as real as hunger or thirst. So leaving attachment relationships- relationships that are connected to our sense of safety and belonging in the world- is painful and can even cause trauma.  

So even though the choice to leave is what was healthiest for me, there has been a deep pain of no longer having the attachment relationship of god and the church in the same way anymore

It makes a lot of sense then that holidays bring up these losses. In the same way, holidays often bring up the death of a loved one. It really is no different.  

As I’ve had the privilege to do my own healing work around my religious trauma, a lifelong process, grief has transformed as well. Learning how to grieve has allowed this shift. Here are a few thoughts on making space for grief both from my lived experience and what I know from my years of supporting people processing trauma, grief and loss. 

  1. Start with validation. 

For losses that are less concrete and specific- like these losses I mentioned- it can be harder to validate. But it’s so real there’s even a name for it- ambiguous grief. So remind yourself this is real and valid to feel any type of grief.

  1. Make space for the feelings. 

There’s truth to the phrase- we have to feel it to heal it. So know it’s there for a good reason- it’s helping you heal. Try for just 1 minute focusing on the feeling or body sensation. If that feels okay, up it to 2 minutes and so on. Making space to feel whatever feeling is attached to grief allows you to move through it. 

  1. Check on what you need. 

Ask yourself if the grief is needing anything particular from you. For example, because much of the grief I was experiencing at holidays was attached to a loss of belonging- I focus on being with people and doing activities where I feel a sense of belonging. A feeling of being connected to something bigger than just me. I’ll finish my story on that note below :).  

So I’ve learned over the years to validate the grief, make space for the feelings, and check on what I need- which often is a sense of belonging and meaning- especially on holidays. 

So yesterday, I took myself to dance class.  

Dance class is where I feel at home in my body. I feel empowered by the other dancers. Their courage to embrace and express themselves through movement inspires me. The class connects me to music, another loss from leaving the church. 

As the class gathered, I thought the instructor would start with her usual opening- say hello, get everyone hype, and encourage us to listen to our bodies. I was surprised to hear that instead she started by naming that it was Easter. “Huh” I thought. 

Then she said that there’s no better way to celebrate than by dancing. She chuckled and said “Jesus is here with us after all.” She then gestured to the woman dressed up as Jesus, who I had not noticed yet and is objectively a hilarious choice for a booty popping dance class. Then she said “Or atleast that’s what I told my mom so she’d get off my back about not going to church.”

I felt such camaraderie and relief. This vibrant person that supports me in connecting to my body is also someone who has survived leaving HCR. The wave of belonging and safety washed over me. That this in fact was the perfect place for me to be on Easter. 

A place where I belong, can be myself, and feel empowered in my body. 

** I hope hearing a bit of a personal story with some therapy thoughts thrown in there, helps you feel a little less alone in the world, especially if you’re someone who has adverse religious experiences or religious trauma. 

I am passionate about supporting people process those experiences to find what’s right for them- not what’s right for me or for anybody else. What’s right for them. 

If you are interested in connecting with me, click the button under Get Started for a complimentary 20 minute phone consultation.