Fears and Fading Realities

I was running through a maze. Something was chasing me, coming after me; I was trying to get away. It was going to kill me. Then suddenly, music broke into the darkness and the fear, and something, something that seemed to have a heavenly presence, came, and I knew I was safe.

That dream has never left me. Faded with time, but never gone. I still recall the terror, the maze, the relief of being saved. That dream oddly reflected my own perception of my mental state during my teenage years and early adulthood.

After losing my sight, my mental suffering only deepened. I remember standing at the window on a frosty March day, staring out at a snow-clad landscape. The trees were stripped, dark skeletons. Nothing but snow and skeletons to look at, and I could not even see those very well.

Perhaps because I knew that the physical reality in front of me was different than the way I perceived it, I began to question reality in general. How did I know that this reality I experienced was not just a dream, like other dreams, from which I would wake up some day? I was troubled by the thought. That question marks the beginning of my years long obsession with the nature of reality. I was not even ten years old.

I began to be incessantly haunted by troubling thoughts, many of which centered on spiritual matters. I was raised in a highly spiritual environment, where fear of Hell and sin and the coming Tribulation tortured my sensitive mind and conscience.

I began to doubt my own salvation. How could I know with certainty that I believed in God and what He had done to save me? How did I know that I really had accepted His love and forgiveness? What was faith, anyway?

My religious obsessions crept in slowly but surely. First, I began to have strange thoughts about God. I remember being terrified because I could not rid myself of the “blasphemous” thought that God was fat. I remember crying to my mother because I could not keep my eyes closed throughout an entire, torturously long bedtime prayer. I remember lying awake desperately trying to recall every name on my prayer list.

The circles of obsession twisted and deepened as I grew older. My struggle to understand the nature of faith was intensified by the Pentecostal church in which I was raised. Despite the fact that no one would have openly espoused such a view in my home church, I managed to absorb the idea that if I just had enough faith, I would be healed of my blindness. Over and over, I walked to the altar at the front of the church. Over and over, I trusted and believed. Over and over, my eyes opened after the anointing and the prayer to see the same blurred surroundings as before. I heard the pastor commending me for my persistence and faith. The next week, I would feel compelled to repeat the ritual.

My mother listened to my tears and terror night after night. Although I could not openly admit my trouble, I was deeply shaken by my lack of healing. If I could not have enough faith to get my sight healed, how could I have enough faith to be saved from punishment in Hell? My child’s heart broke and trembled and hardened to shut out the anguish I felt.

As I entered my teenage years, my obsessions and compulsions only grew worse. I prayed hundreds of prayers of salvation. My parents alternately held my hands as they prayed with me and lost their patience with my seeming inability to get saved and know that I was saved.

I was not only frightened by my supposed lack of salvation. I was continually paralyzed by terror of the dark spiritual forces. I could not even read the stories of demon possession in the Bible or hear Satan mentioned in a service without feeling overwhelming fear. I began to be troubled by thoughts of demons, of allowing them into myself and giving myself over to their power. I struggled desperately, but, despite my frantic attempts, I felt that I had “given in” over and over again. Would I no longer be mistress of my own soul?

A brief explanation of OCD may be helpful at this point. Commonly, those suffering from OCD will obsess about the things they fear most. Thus, a gentle, loving soul will be plagued with visions of themselves plunging a knife into their spouse or children. These thoughts do not reflect an actual desire on their part to commit this action. On the contrary, these thoughts display their worst fears and aversions—the things they would be least likely to do.

My concerns with my salvation and with allowing myself to become demon possessed had power over me because they played on my own fears and aversions. In reading, it may help you to understand that I am actually a very trusting and conscientious person with no intention of getting involved with dark spiritual forces or anything of the sort. My obsessions with these matters actually reveal areas of my heart where I am least inclined to make harmful choices.

Out of curiosity, what were your religious experiences growing up, and how do you feel these experiences have affected you? While I have been sharing some of the ways that my spiritual heritage aggravated my OCD, I believe that these experiences don’t always have to be negative. So, please share. What were some of your learned religious fears? What was your experience like if you come from a nonreligious background? Were your experiences positive or negative? Join in the conversation.

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9 responses to “Fears and Fading Realities”

  1. Daniel Silver says :

    Growing up I questioned my salvation a lot and prayed the salvation prayer several times. My biggest fear was actually heaven though, I know that sounds weird and I was more afraid of hell but to me heaven sounding like a really boring place. I thought that it would be an eternal church service and I hated the church services I was going to, so for me doing that for eternity would have been horrible.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences Sarah, I think it’s great for people to have a place to share their stories and find out they’re not alone.

    • thepathwaymaker says :

      Thank you:) I can identify with your fear of Heaven, too. For me, I was just generally afraid of the concept of eternity. It really blew my mind, and I wasn’t sure that existing forever wasn’t scary in itself, regardless of where you ended up.

      • skinnyhobbit says :

        I never thought I would read other people talking about the fear of eternity.

        I was terrified of dying, heaven and hell…eternity. I am still afraid of eternal nothingness.

        You are very very brave, Sarah.
        A sibling of mine has been prayed over for “demonic possession” and I had a less serious but similar experience. It must have been really scary.

        I sincerely hope you will fulfill your goal of being a clinical psychologist. I am sure you are an empathetic and compassionate young woman.

        All the best in rebuilding your life!

  2. thefiskingfeminist says :

    I remember that fear, that if you didn’t have the faith to move mountains or even be healed of something, then you couldn’t possibly have the faith to believe in Jesus and be saved. I too was terrified of demons and things beyond my control. Thank you for telling your story.

    • thepathwaymaker says :

      It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who came to that conclusion about faith:) I think it’s really tragic that little children, who are the most trusting of people, can be so misled, even when their teachers may have the best of intentions. I think it shows how careful religious leaders have to be when communicating their ideas.

  3. thepathwaymaker says :

    Thank you for your encouragement. I totally understand that fear of eternity. That fear was especially vivid to me as a young child. Something about time has helped to dull the concept of eternal existence for me.

    I’m incredibly sorry that you and your sibling had those terrible experiences. That kind of treatment is inexcusable and truly petrifying to its victims. It’s hard to fight for your own sanity in the face of that sort of abuse.

    Thank you for sharing. It’s comforting to realize that I’m not the only person who’s been through that kind of thing.

  4. ElenaLee says :

    Thank you for describing these things, pathwaymaker. I especially appreciate your explanation of OCD fears being things the person LEAST wants to do. I grew up in a very devout protestant Christian home–attending charismatic churches until I turned 9 (after that we attended non-charismatic churches.) And, like you, I was terrified of demons–only I was mostly afraid of “casting them” into others. I couldn’t seem to help having those thoughts, though. It’s comforting to have them described as you do, and confirms my inner conviction (despite others’ views) that my struggle was rooted in fear–not some perverse desire to test limits. In my early teens I suffered an intense bout of fearing I would “blaspheme the Holy Spirit” by thinking things that would make certain totally benign actions blasphemous. I consider that the worst time of my life, though it only lasted a few months, I think.

    My parents never took me for any kind of counseling or psychiatric evaluation, but they were often reassuring, seldom angry (and never angry at me for the struggles mentioned above), and never abusive. They taught me to differentiate between my obsessive thoughts and what was really true, emphasizing the need to “think right.” This carried with it a certain amount of frustration and guilt–because sometimes one simply CANNOT think right–but it also was reassuring to know it was okay just to dismiss certain thoughts as meaningless bothers.

    My home and religious education weren’t perfect, of course, but though my fears were religious in nature, my general sense of God was that He could provide reliable stability and protection. I am a Christian today, still learning to distinguished between my fears and God’s voice which, unlike my fears, speaks to me in tones of love. I am also learning the value of counseling and psychiatry, and that everything isn’t always spiritual.

    Thank you for sharing your story, pathway maker, and providing a space for others to enter the discussion. I’ve never shared publicly about these struggles before. It’s really nice to feel some of the shame and fear associated with those memories dissipating through finding out decent people have faced similar things 🙂

    • The Pathway Maker says :

      Elena, thank you so much for talking about your thoughts and experiences. I actually struggled with some of the exact same kinds of thoughts as you. I was afraid for years of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and that fear still clings to the recesses of my mind. I am facing those kinds of fears one by one, as I encounter their effects on my life. I also struggled with the fear of casting demons into people. As I said in the post, these thoughts, both for me and for you, are the results of our brains acting up, not the expressions of our true selves.

      I found your comment really encouraging, as well. You’re right, it’s great to find others that share your same struggles and thoughts. I think that this normalizes our experiences, which helps us to evaluate those experiences less fearfully. I always feel better when I realize that what I’m going through is actually reasonably common for other people.

      I’m so glad you’re feeling less shame and guilt about your thoughts. I am still learning how to accept my struggles with OCD without shame. I think it’s wonderful that you’re getting to experience that emotional freedom, as well. So often, I was taught to be ashamed if I couldn’t do something just right, and this shame has carried over into every area of my life. I’m just now learning that I don’t even have to overcome OCD perfectly to be able to hold my head up in life. My value is not in the perfection of my performance, but in who I am. I hope you can genuinely enjoy your process of healing; I know that it can be tough, but it’s one of the most rewarding and happy experiences I’ve ever had.

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