Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Unpacking the Backpack"

I went again today to the Unitarian church that I visited last week. Instead of just merely going to the 11:00 morning service like I did the last time, I got on the road early (the town it's in is about 10 miles/20-25 minutes from me), and went to their early morning classes, which they refer to as "religious education" instead of Sunday School, I had to repeatedly keep myself from calling it Sunday School out of old habit.

At least now, I can find the church easily, and I made it up there in record time. The town it's in is an old river bluff town on the Mississippi River, and the church is in a historic district there, the area has been settled since the time of the Civil War.

Supposedly the limestone that makes up the exterior of the church came from a prison for Confederate POW's. The church is only 4 blocks (and a highway) away from the Mississippi, yet it's probably about 60-70 feet above the rive.

I've been told there's a street level entrance somewhere coming in, but I haven't found it yet, and because the area is so hilly (it reminds me of the topography of San Franscisco), I end up walking up a 2 sets of a long series of steps leading into the front door

When I started at this church, I thought it would attend just for the sense of community, and to have somewhere to go on Sunday mornings, since it seemed so strange not to have somewhere to attend on Sunday after nearly 25 years of going to church.

It seems like I'm getting more than I planned from it. The minister today had a sermon on "unpacking the backpack". He did a demonstration in front of the church of a full backpack, stuffed with supplies for a trip. He said he had made it his custom when traveling to only bring a backpack, no other luggage, he can't stand hauling around a lot of luggage (and taking the risk of the airlines losing it).

He will start with a backpack, prepare a month or more in advance, and then about a week before the trip, he'll try it on. After he tries it on, he usually decides to get rid of a few non-essential items to lighten the pack, because otherwise, it would be about 50 pounds.

 He then tossed a few items to the side, "don't need a third pair of shoes", etc, and zipped up the backpack, and strapped it on. A few non-essential items taken out, and it's down to a bearable size and weight again, maybe 35 pounds or so, which is better. Simple is best.

He said we often need to do this in our personal lives as well. He used this somewhat corny illustration to get into his next phase of the sermon. He had volunteers pass around markers and pieces of paper, write down what's weighing you down in your life emotionally, and pass it forward. If you want the note read, don't fold it or only fold it once. If you don't want it read before the congregation, fold it more than once or crumple it up.

After he had read the notes that were intended to be read before the congregation, he would toss them into a flaming chalice, and they would burn, as a symbol of destroying the worries, the emotions that were written down, a symbolism of letting it go.

Some of the notes were rather painful to listen to be read out loud. For some reason, I didn't want to pass mine forward, but I had wrote down that I need to let go of the pain from my past, and forgive.

I know I can't ever let my mom and dad back into my life again, I can't do it, it's not safe, and they won't change, there's no going back. Letting myself go back will either result in a bogus confession, and them acting nice enough for me to let my guard down, then abusing me again, or they will double down on the abuse and control tactics to "punish" me. Even if I wanted to go back to speaking with them again (which I don't), I couldn't.

I've had enough, and I can't understand why some people that know the situation, like Jason, my former Sunday School teacher, and "Cathy", the neighbor that has been helping me take care of "Happy Horse", have asked me if I have contacted them since The Confrontation, or if I'm going to. No, I'm not going back to those days, maybe in several years, I might, but even that's questionable. I need to start my life over again, I need to heal, I need to "unpack the backpack", if you will. I can't do that if they are in my life to any extent.

In the spirit of moving forward, I had asked the minister after the service if he did counseling, or had experience with doing counseling with people. He said his counseling training in seminary wasn't that extensive, he has done counseling before, he said his normal practice was to do several sessions of counseling with a person, then pass them on to some of the ministers he knows with more extensive experience, or secular counselors. He gave me his card, and told me to e-mail him, if I wanted to set up an appointment.

I told him the basics about my background, and about The Confrontation, when I told him about my writing for Homeschoolers Anonymous, and I was shocked to learn that he had actually heard of the site, and had read it before. He said some families in the congregation were secular/liberal homeschoolers, and he keeps up with what is going on in the world of homeschooling.

I don't know what it will be like from here, but I'm hoping that I can begin counseling, and begin to heal, I need to get through the pain of what I have been through, unload it, learn ways to cope, and to start over. I need to find healing, and get the best revenge against those who have abused me in my life: living a happy, well adjusted life in spite of them and what they done.

Enough of me ranting about my past, do you need to "unpack the backpack"? Is there anything you need to vent, either publicly, or privately?

If so, leave a comment here (if you feel it necessary, the anonymous comment option is available on this blog), or e-mail me at If you're on Twitter, find me there, and send me a direct message, and we can talk.


  1. Best wishes in unloading a very heavy backpack in 2014. You've successfully taken two important steps -- living openly as yourself and excising your parents from your life -- which will allow healing to begin.

  2. I am cheering you on Sheldon. Great to hear of you finding a church where you feel comfortable. Also love reading about your desire to find healing. Before I retired I would often do a bit of pastoral counseling before I referred to a counselor. That would usually help me to know who might be a good fit.

  3. Sounds like an excellent way to get into therapy. My best experience with therapy was with a therapist who was matched for me by a short term therapist who knew the longer-term therapists in the area. Beats pulling a name out of a phone book!

    1. Yes, at least he has experience with these people, and knows their track record.

  4. For what its worth, I'd suggest that you consider finding a secular counselor with credentials (e.g., a Licensed Professional Counselor). Most will have far more training and experience than the typical clergy member will have received, and there is some quality control in the form of their license. I'm sure there are some great pastoral counselors, but their training tends to be fairly different and probably less appealing for most atheists/agnostics. Just a thought.

    1. He says he does know some secular counselors, as well as religious ones.

  5. Every once in a while a friend of mine will ask me if I ever think about contacting my parents. Nope. One of the best decisions I ever made. Keep up the good work.

  6. Hey Sheldon...I may end up seeing you at that UU church...I knew the instant you described it that it was the church in the town that I have considered visiting. I have been wanting to attend but can't travel in winter due to health reasons. I have "come out" of the fundie closet for two years now and have lost many friends and even a spouse over it. You are really taking some big steps lately and I applaud your courage.

    1. I think I have seen you around on Facebook, you sound familiar....

      Call up the church, I'm sure they could arrange some sort of transport for you to get there, have someone pick you up etc. Believe me, it's worth it.

    2. I'm glad that you finally stepped out of that toxic world, and my condolences for what you have been through, especially the divorce. I am so glad that I didn't take my fundie mother's advice about pushing me to get married young (and that I learned better while I'm still young).

      I probably would have ended up divorced, or at least with a highly strained marriage.


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