Religion and the Mental Health Field

I mentioned a week or so ago that I am still afraid of losing my job or not obtaining future employment due to living openly as an atheist. One commenter pointed out that the amount of discrimination and ridicule you receive often depends on your job and field. I completely agree so I wanted to write a little about my work.

My Job as a Peer Supporter

I’m a mental health peer supporter and I’ve worked, interned, or volunteered for five mental health organizations in the past fifteen years. Wow. I can’t believe it’s been fifteen years. I don’t feel old enough to have worked in anything for fifteen years.

(A certified peer supporter here in Ohio means you have a mental illness or addiction, have at least two years of solid recovery under your belt, and are willing to share your story and experience to help others. I have schizoaffective disorder and have been in recovery for many years. Despite having a serious mental illness I have been able to go to school, work, and have a family.) 

Anyway, everywhere I’ve worked I’ve experienced some pretty intimidating holy rollers in both staff and clients. It’s caused me to keep my mouth shut. I really feel religious discussions have no place at work but there’s a difference between choosing not to say anything and being afraid to say anything. I’ve always been afraid and whether I think it’s right or not the religious discussions are taking place.

At my current position, I facilitate art and writing groups for people in recovery (or at least I did before the pandemic). I fear the staff but I fear the clients more. So many of the clients that come to the arts center are very religious. If they found out that I’m not, would they lose their trust in me? 

I’ve always been an anxious person, but in the case of my job, I feel my fears are legitimate. 

Spirituality vs. Science in Recovery

It goes beyond me and my job. I’m currently working on a memoir about being an atheist with a mental illness and I know first hand that it can be hard to escape religion and spirituality in recovery. Take the Twelve Steps for example. Talk of a higher power is all over their literature and program, and it’s such a popular and visible program. It’s what first comes to mind when you think of alcoholism or other addictions.

I’ve felt pressure from supervisors, coworkers, clients, and even my own therapist. Mental health and spirituality often feel intertwined but maybe we could help more people if the mental health field was more inclusive of the secular community. 

I know my own recovery is powered by science (my awesome doctor and life-saving meds). If more people viewed recovery in that way I think the mental health field would be a lot better off.

 

Has anyone else witnessed this in the mental health field? I know living in a red state doesn’t help.

Finding a Therapist that isn’t Religious

I’ve heard good things about the Secular Therapy Project. I wish I would have known about it in the past. It might have saved me some confusion and heartache. Go to their website to find a secular, evidence-based mental health clinician in your area.

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

I will be speaking to Southeast Wisconsin Freethinkers on April 17th at 11am central and Minnesota Atheists on April 18th at 2pm central. I will be reading poetry from my recently released book, Free to Roam: Poems from a Heathen Mommy. More info coming soon!

Beautiful Country — Yes, I Do Miss Home Sometimes

I’m sharing another poem from my book, Free to Roam: Poems from a Heathen Mommy. 

Beautiful Country

I miss the nights
when lightning bugs speckled the endless horizon
and my eyes bathed in the indigo sky.

My favorite color has always been
newly sprouted winter wheat—
An affirmation of new beginnings.

I loved waking up after a snowstorm
blinding white
and alone in the silence of the barren landscape.

From the delicate irises of spring
to the golden blazes of September
every bug in Henry County fluttered its way into our little house.

Dark nights of thunder and wind
made my heart pound to pieces
and spark a fascination with the dangers of the heartland.

Growing up in the country
was a crimson struggle of wits and tears
but I will always cherish the beauty of my childhood home.

 

This poem is so very true. I often write about back home being conservative and a difficult place to grow up, but it is also a beautiful area where I had a lot of fun and great memories with my family and friends. I was happy to move to the city. However, there are things I will always miss. Through the good, bad, and ugly it will always be my home.

My poetry book gives an atheist perspective on being a Midwest Mom. It is for sale on my publisher’s site freethoughthouse.comBarnes & Noble, and Amazon. (Signed copies are available at freethoughthouse.com.)

How important is marriage?

How important is marriage?

I’m currently reading Sex & God by Darrel Ray EdD. Ray discusses the many disturbing and harmful ways religion affects sexuality, and while I’ve never been religious, I can see how it has affected my own views. 

I’m learning that while I’ve never really felt shame or guilt towards sex, I grew up with a strong desire to be in a traditional marriage. I didn’t think there were any other options.

I met my husband at 24 and we married when I was 27 and he was 32. I gave birth to our daughter at 33. 

My husband is amazing and I don’t regret anything, but when I think back, I was really pushing for a traditional marriage. It wasn’t as important to my husband.

Could we be better off in a different situation?

Marriage is very practical for us when it comes to money and insurance etc., but is it necessary for anything else? We love each other so what else matters?

My husband and I have a good sex life, but sometimes we have discussions about having sex with other people. We’re both open to it with rules of course. 

So there’s another question — how important is monogamy? I’m beginning to feel it’s a little unnatural. 

Sex & God really has me thinking about my own life and sexuality. I highly recommend this book.

What are your thoughts?

Karen Shragg Book Review

When was the last time you had your mind blown? No, I mean, really?

Mine was a couple months ago when I read Move Upstream: A Call to Solve Overpopulation. Okay, I’ll admit it — overpopulation isn’t a topic that would normally cross my mind as your everyday Midwest mom, but the statistics in this book are just absolutely staggering. It blew my mind and I kept asking, “Is this real?” To my disbelief it is. 

Thank you to the author, Karen Shragg, for bringing attention to this dire subject and showing that the solution to so many problems like homelessness, hunger, and saving the environment come from focusing on our growing population and not just consumption. Karen is bold and honest but still very optimistic.

This is a book from the same publisher that released my poetry book. They have some really interesting titles for the secular community and I have been buying their other books here and there. If I like them I write about them. 

Check out Move Upstream at freethoughthouse.com as well as all their other books. Karen also has a new book, Change Our Stories, Change Our World, which I am also a fan of. 

How does your atheism affect your kids?

Woohoo! First post on my new laptop!

My daughter starts kindergarten in the fall. I’m very excited for her but she’s growing up too fast! We have a lot of options here in Toledo and we haven’t decided what school to send her to yet.

This brings up one of my fears. New school means new friends. She goes to daycare right now but we don’t have much interaction with the other kids or parents. No play dates. I expect that will change as she starts school.

Maybe it won’t come up (hopefully) but how will my atheism affect my daughter? Will other kids and parents avoid her? On the flip side, what if she gets invited to church?

It’s kind of interesting — I say “oh my god” all the time. It’s just an expression and maybe a bad habit. Naturally my daughter repeated it at daycare and she got in trouble! Apparently saying “god” is like a bad word there. I wonder if this is going to come up at school.

I know I’ve brought this subject up before but I’m really interested in what you have to say now that my daughter’s first day of school is on the horizon.

(On a side note — I am going to cry so much on her first day. I tear up just thinking about it. It’s probably going to be embarrassing for everyone involved. I’m one emotional mommy!)

Family Secrets: A Writing Project Takes an Unexpected Turn

My great-grandma Florence was a vocal suffragist in our area. She made sure other women got to the polling location by taking them on horseback and providing childcare for their children at home. She had quite the operation and it is definitely a story that’s treasured in our family. It’s very inspiring. 

So of course, I wanted to write about it. I started brainstorming ideas for poems.

Then one evening I was in Barnes & Noble and I picked up a local history book. The book revealed that my family has had a lot of involvement with the Ku Klux Klan. I was shaking. I can’t say I was totally surprised — there have been random stories over the years but the truth was murky at best. But here it was plain as day in a published book on a shelf in Barnes & Noble. Five of my relatives were named as klansmen in the book.

It doesn’t seem right to write about an inspiring suffragist when the rest of the family is out doing horrible things. I can’t ignore it, so I’m going to write about all of it. 

This was an unexpected twist for a poetry book I just started and there’s so much more to this story. What I thought would be inspirational will now also be painful but it’s important to me to show the whole truth.

I will post updates as I continue working.

Have you seen conditions improve for atheists over time?

My life has consisted of a lot of closet-hiding even though I’m not from a religious family. I’m now more open than ever, but I don’t feel like I’m out of the woods yet as far as discrimination and ridicule go. My biggest fear today is losing my job or not getting future employment. However, I believe in my writing projects. Speaking out is the right thing to do so I’m willing to risk it. (Thankfully, my husband makes a lot more money than I do.) 

Have you seen conditions improve for atheists over time? I’ve seen conditions improve but I think it’s only because I’ve moved around. I wonder if life has changed at all back home in the country. 

I’ve been really impressed learning about atheist groups all across the country while I work at promoting my poetry book. Some have book clubs. Some have thrown out first pitches at baseball games! It’s incredible to see how well some of these communities are doing. I once thought my best chance to thrive would be to hide who I am, but they are showing me that that just isn’t true. 

What improvements have you seen? Have you lived in the same place for a while or have you moved around? What’s it been like?

Forbidden

Sharing another poem from Free to Roam: Poems from a Heathen Mommy.

 

Forbidden

I’m drowning in your choppy sea of innocence.
You’re ass-deep in constricting dogma.

If you got your chance,
what would you do to me?

Green eyes and icy fingertips stripping me naked,
a bite that burns with intention.

Would you pin me down out of years of frustration
or newfound emancipation? We’ll never know.

This secret fantasy only plays out in your head
because god is always watching.

Sweet dreams, farm boy.
I’m going home to wash your shame off my dress.

 

My poetry book gives an atheist perspective on being a Midwest Mom. It is for sale on my publisher’s site freethoughthouse.com, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.