Submitted Date 08/27/2019

I was raised in a conservative Christian family. Every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening we were taken to church. The services would last about 3 hours but on more than one occasion they would go on longer. On top of that, my mom or dad would often have "Bible studies" at the house where we would be required to sit quietly and listen to them read the Bible. We were home schooled and used textbooks that taught a christian point-of-view on every subject there was.

My sisters and I were taught to dress modestly. Modesty to our church/family meant skirts and dresses. Shorts were not allowed unless they were long and baggy (i.e. men's basketball shorts). If a dress/skirt went above the knees, it was said to be immodest and thus sinful. I was not allowed to wear tank tops or two piece bathing suits. My bathing suit not only had to be a one piece, but I was also required to wear shorts with it.

The responsibility of modesty was more or less fully placed on the women. And if a man looked at us in lust, it was our fault. Never mind that many of us wore long loose clothing.

Hugging men that were not family was frowned upon (even the oh-so-holy side hug). Not only was sex before marriage condemned as a sin, but it was more than frowned upon if you held hands or kissed your significant other before that blessed wedding day. I remember when my dad first found out that I had kissed someone. He told me that I was now blemished.

The outward part of Christianity was forced upon me as soon as I began to understand the human language. But, the most harmful part of it all was the doctrines we were led to believe. We were taught that God is love, but He will not hesitate to send you to hell if you say a cuss word. Any sin, no matter how small it may be, is enough to have you cast into the pits of hell for eternity. Week after week, this doctrine was forced into my head and heart. God is someone that must be feared. And even though he loves everyone, if you mess up just once and don't ask for forgiveness, He will not hesitate to send you to hell forever.

The Pastor of the church would stand at the pulpit for hours and talk about God being just and righteous. He would talk about Jesus dying and being raised for us. But he would also talk about hell. I felt more fear being preached from that pulpit than love. And that stuck with me for all my years.

I was in constant guilt when I was young. Even though I "accepted Christ into my heart", I struggled with "sin". It became an obsession for me and I battled it in the forms of OCD, depression, self-harm, and anxiety. I felt that I could not live the perfect life that God required of me, and I was in constant fear of hell.

As I became an adult, I tried to flee that life and live more for myself. Still, that fear haunted me. It would be a back and forth struggle of feeling guilty, repenting, trying to live for God, but then slipping back into my "sinful" ways. This battle has raged in me for my whole life. No matter what I did, I could not live the life that the Bible says I must live.

Finally, after 24 years, I gave up. I gave up religion and completely ignored it. I didn't go to church, I didn't read the Bible, and I lived in "sin" and tried to enjoy who I was. I loved, gave without asking in return, and I did my best to not be a horrible person.

Instead of religion, I stepped into spirituality. I wanted to see if there was something else than what I was brainwashed into believing my whole life. I had to know if there were other things out there. I'd heard and read so many stories of people experiencing otherworldly creatures and the such, and I had a desperate need in me to experience those things for myself. This is a journey I am still on.

But the thing that messes with my head and heart the most is that I am still affected by the teachings of when I was young. That church and its teachings have wormed their way into my head and I can't seem to shake it. I try to run from it by filling my days with endless YouTube videos, Facebook, and the like. Whenever I go traveling, the weight of those teachings lifts off my shoulders until I am back at home. It makes me want to run forever because I don't know how to face the reality of it. And my reality of it is not necessarily that it's true, but that I don't know what the truth is. I don't know what is real, and I think that is what scares me. I hate the religion that I was taught and I do not want to believe in it. But what terrifies me the most? I am scared that it may be the truth and I won't know until it's too late.

I'm not scared of death. I'm scared of what I was taught comes after death. And it haunts me almost every day.

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