Throughout our lives, we unpack stuff. You go on a trip, you unpack some stuff at the destination so you can easily access things. You return home, you unpack your stuff, and settle back into your routine at home. You move, you pack all your stuff up, haul it to your new home, then unpack. It’s part of the cycle of life. It’s also part of what I’d call the practice of good mental health. A term I’ve learned over the past few years in relation to mental health is precisely this term: unpacking. However, in this context, it doesn’t relate to physical ‘stuff’, but rather the mental/emotional baggage we all carry around with us. An important part of the healing process is ‘unpacking’ (ie. acknowledging, processing, and constructively dealing with) the mental/emotional baggage.
My own ‘unpacking’…
No matter our background or history, we all carry mental ‘stuff’ around with us. Some more than others. For me, it’s been a lot of emotional baggage connected to Christian Science and what it’s done to me and my family, and what I’ve seen it do to others. Writing this blog has been a large part of my own ‘unpacking’–putting my story out there, getting it off my chest, ranting about it, and also the gratifying knowledge that my own story has helped others who’ve struggled with the same things I have. Part of my motivation to start writing this blog was the benefit I gained from reading someone else’s departure story (from Christian Science).
Another way I’ve ‘unpacked’ has been to spend time with family and old friends who’ve been at my side for many years, and experienced some of the same things I have, or who’ve been close observers of some of the stuff I’ve been through. The ability to talk out your stuff with someone who can give you that knowing nod can be an amazing release of bottled-up issues.
As I write this, I’ve just returned home from a long road-trip to spend Christmas with family in one city, and New Years with some new and old friends in another city, some of whom date back to my time in college. While most members of my family left Christian Science very early in their lives, they have a knowledge and understanding of it, and the ones I spent the holidays with were ringside for my Mom’s last days. My cousin and I often spend time talking about this, and often about the same things. I thought about this, and wondered why we seem to cover this ground repeatedly, and I realized that this ‘talking it out’ is part of our own ‘unpacking’ of our thoughts and feelings about people close to us who’ve suffered needlessly and died thanks to their misplaced reliance on Christian Science (my mother’s sister, my cousins’ mother, died in the early 1990s after a long bout with cancer that initially went untreated thanks to her initial reliance on Christian Science). Perhaps we’ll be having these conversations for many more years, I don’t know. As I see it, the unpacking will take as long as it needs to take.
The same holds true for my time with my college friends. We all attended Principia College, a college that only admits Christian Scientists, and we’ve all left Christian Science. Our individual reasons for leaving, experiences, and patterns of leaving differ, but the effects Christian Science has had on us are largely the same. In conversation, we often cover ground we’ve covered before, sometimes new ground; but, it’s all about unpacking. Sometimes, you do unpack the same items over and over again until you’ve processed them.
It’s important to ‘unpack’…
While it may seem like my friends, family, and I are going ’round and ’round on the hamster wheel and going nowhere, the opposite is actually true. Each time we air our stories, we’re doing the important work of unpacking, which is such an important component of healing. It’s how we process what we’ve seen and experienced, and the opportunity to do this among those who truly understand what we’ve been through is so important, and for us refugees from an obscure religion such as Christian Science is, it’s for many a rare opportunity. It’s probably some of the best therapy money can’t buy.
For anyone who is healing from trauma or any other mental health issues, I can’t understate the importance of seeking out help and support. Find a good therapist, find people you can talk to who understand, do whatever it takes to find the resources you need. Don’t sit there and bottle it up or deny it. If you do that, it will just fester like an infected wound, and only get worse.