“I went to the doctor” Madeleine’s Story

By Madeleine, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

When I finally decided to leave Christian Science after thirty years, what I knew for sure was that if I no longer believed that it healed, then it was my responsibility to take care of my body and see a doctor; I couldn’t just sit on the fence and not believe anymore but also not take care of my body.

For many, many years I had been convinced that there was something wrong with my heart. I was very scared about my symptoms of shortness of breath, dizzy spells and what felt like heart palpitations. Of course I had prayed and gotten help from a practitioner, and I would feel better (which I thought was a healing) and then the symptoms would return. This had gone on for years.

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“The people here are so nice.”

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

When my mother went into what turned out to be a diabetic coma I called 911, even though she made me promise never to call a doctor or take her to a hospital. The nurse there said her blood sugar was 800, the highest that had ever registered on her meter, and I asked, “Is that good?” The nurse looked at me oddly, told me that my mother was a diabetic, and asked me what planet I had been living on—and I realized how lacking my education had been. I was fifty years old then, and have been catching up ever since.

The first thing my mother said when she woke up in intensive care was, “The people here are so nice.” Then I said, since she had always told me she would die of fright just going over the threshold of a hospital, “Mom, you’re okay with this, right? You were dying and I didn’t want to lose you.” And she said, “It’s okay. This is a ‘suffer it to be so now’ situation. I’m not going to beat myself up because I didn’t have enough understanding. I’ll continue to study.”

And so she did—while testing her blood sugar six times a day and taking insulin on a sliding scale three times a day. She regularly kept her host of doctors appointments and even had a cornea transplant and a cataract removed to improve her eyesight, which she had mostly lost due to diabetes. I think she was okay with the doctor because she didn’t make the decision herself. In her mind she could blame it on me, and because she loved me so, and I could never do wrong, and she trusted me, she was fine.

What I learned from it was, when your parents get old, sometimes you have to jump in and make the hard choices. My mother was eighty-three. She didn’t want to do the thinking anymore. So I did it. The folks in the emergency room told me she would have died within the hour, but my call to 911 extended her life six years. That experience was one of the keystones on my way out of Christian Science.

Christian Science Is Not Comfort

By Ashley, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

I was a third generation Christian Scientist. I was all-believing and never could imagine not being a devout student. I served as Second Reader, substitute First Reader, was a Sunday School teacher, lecture committee Chair, secretary for the Board meetings, and more.

My profound challenge came at around the age of thirty. If it had been physical in nature, I have no doubt that I would have ridden it out with Christian Science treatment only, no matter what the consequences. But it wasn’t anything with physical symptoms. It was severe depression and anxiety to a level of anguish that I cannot describe. When the pain is physical, there’s only so far that can go, it has a lid on it at some point. When the anguish is mental there is no top-out level. There is no ‘thus far and no farther’ point. The suffering seemed to expand to wordless brand-new depths with each day. This mental anguish, on and on with no relief, I could not endure indefinitely. Thus began my halting and very gradual realization and wake-up call away from Christian Science.

Ten years later and after lots of help, intervention and treatments from medical psychiatry, I am able to live as a member of society again. My first big realization about Christian Science after entering the world of psychiatry and therapeutic care was how extremely cruel its basic tenets are, such as: no matter to what extent one may be suffering, one can only blame oneself. And, if you would just ‘get your thoughts right’ then you would stop suffering. Christian Science teaches that suffering is self-imposed and basically that ‘it’s your own fault,’ when you really take it down to the bottom line. The absolute opposite of ‘comfort’, though it calls itself ‘The Comforter’.

Christian Science is not comfort, it is something that is disturbingly austere, remote and unfeeling. It must be unfeeling in order to maintain the unreality of human suffering. Christian Science is among the coldest, most inhumane, compassionless, unhealthy approaches to life that has ever been foisted upon humanity. It took me much time and suffering to be able to distill that fact out and separate it from the teachings of my whole life. I hope I still have much progress to make, because I know Christian Science did damage that I will be working for the rest of my life to undo.

The Church of the Pancake & other paths away from Christian Science

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science Group about religious choices after Christian Science.

I had the pleasure of attending an atheist church on Sunday. I was dying of curiosity, so I went. It turned out to be really fun, interesting, and full of normal people, not cult-y weirdos as I’d feared. It’s called ‘Sunday Assembly’. Here was the highlight for me. I think it will resonate with this ex-Christian Scientist group. One of the speakers was a former Mormon, and he told this story: having recently left the LDS church, one morning he couldn’t start his truck. Immediately his well-trained brain starts its usual convoluted path: “Why is this happening? What did I do to make this happen? What is God trying to show me with this? What lesson am I meant to learn from this?” etc etc etc. And then he realized all he really had to do was call a mechanic!

-Hilary


It has taken me a long time to get where I am, and that is someone who prays twice a day but also went to the Mayo Clinic for surgery a few years ago, with the support of my formerly Christian Scientist family. My cousin is the son of a dead Christian Science practitioner and is now in the Episcopal Clergy. He believes in both.

– Katie J.


Churches are great. I love the history, community, music, preaching. I love the work that they can get done serving the poor and creating community. So I have loads of respect for that. But I haven’t joined any. They all come with uncomfortable baggage I don’t feel like dealing with at the end of the day.

I want more than anything to be reunited with loved ones after death, and for there to be some kind of greater justice for all of the suffering in the world. My volunteer work with asylum seekers makes me wish this so deeply sometimes. But to me, God seems unlikely. The fact that I can’t comprehend the size of the universe is more likely an expression of my limited perspective than proof of a deity.

– Jenny


When I began to go to the Episcopal church I was amazed at the tolerance within the congregation. I asked the priest if the church would have problems with a former Christian Scientist within its ranks, because most people there regard Christian Science as a cult. He said he didn’t think so, that my views would just add a richness to the discussion. Later I realized that eighty percent of the churchgoers were from other Christian religions—Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. No one looks down on anyone. They all just support each other and don’t judge whether one is ‘good Episcopalian’ or not. They expect people not to be perfect, hence they cut them some slack.

The priest told me that the general attitude of the religion is that followers probably should do the elements of the faith like confession and communion and that that many will do them but that no body must do anything. It seemed to me more of a cafeteria than an all-or-nothing approach, and at present that suits me better. Do I understand all the theology? Nope. Do I worry about it? Nope. I enjoy the community, the general caring of the people toward each other, and the tremendous outreach they have in the community. There seems to be something for everybody at the church. So I guess I’m feeling my way. Attending has been an eye opener.

– Anonymous

I can just sit here and think it all better

By Heidi, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

 

I just spent eleven days alone in the remotest parts of Big Bend National Park on a research project, and in my down time, I was reading ‘Fingerprints of God’ because while I am agnostic, I think there’s an awful lot of coincidence out there. It has been an interesting read.

I am really struggling at the moment. Prayer used to be a quiet, normal thing, a few conversations a day in my head, where I neatly tucked my fears and doubts and then went on to face the world with confidence. I really can’t quite talk to my husband about Christian Science. He doesn’t understand what it’s like to be raised in Christian Science; he was raised Baptist. So while he has ditched religion entirely, and he can pick apart a sermon with the best of them, it’s MY religion that he doesn’t know, but is picking at.

On top of a 200 foot mesa, with little more than a day pack, water, park radio (incoming stuff heard, outgoing calls apparently not going through) and a little GPS spot unit to save my ass in case of emergency, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh, cry, pray, curse, be comforted, or just say f*ck it and let park staff come find me. I am in over my head, I am surviving and learning, but I no longer have the convenient Christian Science ‘logic’ to compartmentalize my otherwise rational fears. ‘Chemicalization of thought,’ my ass.

Right now, I have a massive sinus infection which is going untreated other than cough syrup and a decongestant. I hope to change that tomorrow. I live in a place with zero cell service, so calling from home is out. I need to drive three miles to get a signal to call to make appointments. Bottom line, no wonder Christian Science is appealing: I don’t have to lift a finger, a phone, call a doctor or pharmacist. I can just sit here and think it all better. And if you trick yourself successfully, you’ll do it again next time. Odd epiphany, that.

A friend of mine pointed out that in lieu of prayer, I procrastinate. And then he pointed out that it is essentially the same thing: waiting for something, anything—’the right thing’—to happen. I was very upset by the conversation.

I don’t want to keep praying about something when a simple trip to the doctor will give things context. I don’t want to dismiss my own life’s experiences as unreal because this is the only life that I have. I am not willing to suffer years of discomfort because I was simply too afraid to go ask a professional whose life’s goal is to understand the human body. I’m done with fear. I’m OK with calculated risk. I will not endorse guilt due to circumstances outside of anyone’s control. We should each live our own lives according to our consciences and leave everyone else the hell out of it. Thus, I am never stepping foot into a Christian Science church ever again. It is a soulless, cold religion. A few gems of insight are not worth the whole package.

A Reflection of Perfection

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

 

I was raised in Christian Science in Canada. We were a rare species! I was a fourth generation Christian Scientist. I recalled this morning, after 38 years, a Sunday school lesson when I was about four years old. In the lesson, the very old teacher explained to me that I was like the reflection from a diamond ring— a reflection of perfection, but not actually there. I feel like I understand the source of a lot of grief over the years now. What a thing to say to a preschooler.

The root cause of many of my problems is the brainwashing I received as a child, and that’s something that I have to remind myself of constantly. I was lucky that I never had to face any serious illnesses as a child. Consequently, I don’t think I really understood radical reliance, although I guess that is what it was. As an adult, it just increasingly became clear to me that I couldn’t measure up to the impossible standards set by the religion. Then I did get sick, and that was the end of it for me. But I think the legacy of constant failure in Christian Science was the thing that hurt me the most as a child. It continues to haunt me as an adult because I often feel that I’m not trying hard enough, not working hard enough–just not enough.

As I was thinking about leaving the religion, I had been living with undiagnosed adult onset asthma for about a year. I was blue for that entire year—I couldn’t make it up a flight of stairs. Yet, I kept praying–waiting for my ‘thought to clear.’ My first puff of a rescue inhaler convinced me to leave Christian Science. The little blue inhaler that allowed me to function was a revelation, as was the fact that the doctor I saw was so matter-of-fact about it. It was the first time in my life that someone had acknowledged an ailment, and did not expect me to feel like I had brought it on myself for some unknown infraction.

The guilt that Christian Science requires children to live with is soul-destroying. Even without the physical effects, this guilt and fear becomes so often the defining feature of the person raised in Christian Science. And how to fight these things remains elusive to me. After a pretty trying week at work a couple of weeks ago, I told several people that I’d ‘given myself a migraine.’ I couldn’t just accept that it had been a particularly horrible week and that I was tired and stressed. Somehow, it had to be my own fault.

I’ve had many therapists over the years—my least favorite was the therapist who told me to wear an elastic band and just snap myself with it every time I felt bad about myself. I asked her if I could stop when the bone started to show. But the one I have now—wow. She just gets it. Christian Science is so weird that I think she has been intrigued and considers me a special challenge. She was the first person to make it clear to me that Christian Science and I weren’t the same thing. Also, she thinks Mary Baker Eddy was psychotic, and that consequently Christian Science attempts to replicate psychotic boundary-less thinking. But it has taken me a while to find someone like this.

I would encourage anyone who is comfortable with the process to talk to a therapist about Christian Science–and to keep looking until you find one who is willing and able to do the work to help you. A dispassionate listener who can see the damage, and help you to see it too, is unbelievably important; as is the understanding that the psychological mind games of Christian Science are, for many people, a form of religious abuse.

I’m a recovering Christian Scientist: Lilly’s Thoughts

By Lilly, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor. Lilly is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.

I’m a recovering Christian Scientist. There are many layers to shed, and I am thankful it is finally taking place, but sometimes it is so easy to slip back to my C.S. way of thinking, which includes lots of guilt, fear, denial and shame.

Christian Science taught me to keep every problem, every negative thought or feeling or sickness, quiet and hidden. This has resulted in years of hidden shame, guilt and a bad case of perfectionism mixed with high anxiety. So I’m ready to move on and finally enter reality.

Having kids has definitely been a huge wake-up call for me. I want them to feel safe and listened to when they have fears or pain. I never, ever want them to feel ashamed for feeling a certain way. I’m so glad that they have a chance at deciding early on what they want to believe.

Reshaping My Distorted Image of Doctors

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

 

I went to the doctor for the first time when I was fourteen years old. Months of caring for my mother as she succumbed to untreated breast cancer forged the courage my sister and I needed to break away from our parents’ radical reliance on Christian Science for healing and venture into the world of modern medicine. This was a huge step for us. We had never been to a doctor’s office for any childhood illness or injury.

My mother meticulously sheltered us from learning anything about medicine or even the basics of how our bodies functioned, in an attempt to protect us from sickness. This left a void of information that was replaced with fear of the unknown. I had no basis for evaluating whether a symptom I was experiencing was a life threatening problem or nothing to be concerned about.

The stories that had been told by my family and Sunday School teachers about Christian Scientists that had gone to the doctor were dismissive at best. Those Christian Scientists had been too fearful to address their problems with prayer. Going to the doctor was equitable to irrational behavior. There was always the old story that was paraded out about some family member who had gone to the doctor and taken medicine that had made them even more ill.

I imagine my sister and I looked out of place in the cheery, well lit waiting room of the doctor’s office on that first visit. Two wide-eyed, terrified children, sitting alone, clinging to our parental permission slips like we were headed to an execution. My mother had recently died and I was frightened that the doctor would find that I too had some terminal illness.

Beyond the fear, though, I felt profoundly determined. We had overcome so many barriers just for this wellness exam. The choice to go to a doctor was not only challenging due to the lack exposure to medicine, but also the generational lack of information on how to navigate health insurance and medical offices. We started from square one with learning the basics: that there are different types of doctors and only some doctors are in your insurance network. As children going to the doctor alone, we needed permission slips to receive any type of medical help. My sister and I drafted the permission slips the night before our appointment, and we felt fortunate that our father was willing to sign them.

The friendly receptionist gave us several long forms to fill out about our medical history. Most of it I had to leave blank. I had no medical history and neither did most of my family members. The doctor we saw was wonderful. She had a warm personality and seemed to recognize we were frightened. She did not make a fuss over the lack of medical history. Instead, she empathetically acknowledged that it must be very scary for us to visit the doctors for the first time. We received our vaccines and a clean bill of health.

This experience was the beginning of reshaping my distorted image of doctors. I found more guidance and comfort in that one visit than in every phone call I had ever made to a Christian Science practitioner. Over the years I have found, to my surprise, that the vast majority of my primary care doctors have not made me feel awkward about my non-traditional past. The biggest issue I still struggle with is remembering to reach out to my doctors for guidance on health problems. My childhood conditioned me to trivialize my injuries and illnesses and to cope without medical help. It’s hard to remember that I no longer need to suffer in silence.

 

I Had Prostate Cancer

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

 

I was ailing. My son noticed and insisted I have a physical. A PSA blood test indicated I had prostate cancer. I was out of Christian Science at this time, but not running to doctors. My son insisted they call him with the results.

We went for a conference, and radiation was recommended. At the time of the conference, my hands were shaking and I was falling often. I went to radiation for nine weeks, five days a week, and that cleared it up beautifully. I had a Christian Scientist friend with similar symptoms at the same time. He had a practitioner working and went to a Christian Science nursing facility, sat around reading, and died shortly after.

As we often heard on Wednesday, “I am extremely grateful for….” But in this case, I am so grateful that my son got me to the doctor!

I maintained appearances in order to please my parents

By Tessa, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor. Tessa is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.

 

I stayed with Christian Science out of family loyalty and guilt for decades, eventually living a dual life—the one I lived in front of my parents and the one I lived when I was apart. I lived that double life out of fear and a superstitious belief that maybe Christian Scientists were right all along and if I stopped believing in it I would be cursed. But most of all, I maintained appearances in order to please my parents. There were a bunch of us kids, and I always felt that being a Christian Scientist was a requirement for being approved of and loved. I had a nagging feeling that I was loved less because I wasn’t a good Christian Scientist.

I “came out” in bits and pieces over the years, but the incident in which I truly showed them that I was not a part of their religion was at the ripe age of 42 when I invited them for Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house. I asked my boyfriend to bring wine and instead of either not drinking in front of my parents or sneaking drinks in the kitchen, I offered them ginger ale and then loudly asked my boyfriend to pour me a glass of red. It seems like an insignificant thing, and most people I know would never understand what it took for me to do it. It took a lot of courage. It felt fantastic enjoying wine with my meal without guilt. I felt like a weight was lifted off of me.

I once wrote an article for the local paper after a major brewery swooped in to buy our local cottage brewery. I wanted to show the difference between a local brew and one from a large corporate-run company and interviewed people in the community, including a brewer. I got everyone to take a taste test. My mother, always a fan of my writing, read the article and said, “oh, but you didn’t taste the beers of course!” She said it like it was fact, even though in the article I included my thoughts on the taste of both beers. Denial was ever present.

For all the problems I had with my parent’s beliefs, they were right there for me when I went into premature labour at 23 weeks gestation. They visited me in the hospital and did not bat an eye at the IV drip or the nurses or doctors. They were kind and accepting of my needs for the medical world. When my son was born a week later, 24 weeks and 520 grams, they came to visit him, donned gowns, scrubbed up, and sat by his incubator. Sure, they prayed in their CS way, but they also accepted my beliefs, including giving my son his inhaler treatments when they babysat him.