Opinion: How I survived a nightmare childhood

Opinion: How I survived a nightmare childhood - Health - News

Carrie Sheffield: Overcoming Despair Through Faith and Healing

In the era of escalating despair, scientific research indicates that faith in God plays a significant role in healing and recovery. I can attest to this from personal experience.

Growing Up Amidst Violence and Mental Illness

Born into a family of seven biological siblings, I was raised by a violent, mentally ill father who claimed to be an offshoot Mormon cult leader with a prophetic destiny. He believed Satan had reassigned lesser demons to torment our family, leading us to live a transient existence, constantly evading authorities by moving from place to place. Our homes ranged from motorhomes and tents to mobile homes and sheds.

A Dysfunctional Family Life

Our unconventional and itinerant lifestyle involved parking our motorhome at truck stops and Walmart parking lots while performing classical music on the streets and distributing religious pamphlets. I attended 17 public schools and homeschooled amidst poverty and welfare. Two of my brothers developed schizophrenia, with one sexually assaulting me and the other accusing me of attempting to seduce him.

Leaving Home and Struggling with Trauma

Eventually, I decided I had enough and wanted to leave. My father declared, “In the name of Jesus,” that I would be raped and murdered if I did. Once I departed, he claimed I was no longer his daughter, labeling me satanic and a threat to my siblings since I was the first to leave but fifth in birth order.

Legal Estrangement and Surviving Against the Odds

Declared legally estranged from my parents to secure Pell Grants for college, I managed to scrape by with scholarships, janitorial work, and jobs at Taco Bell and Subway. After numerous unexpected turns, including a full tuition scholarship to Harvard for a master’s degree, a successful media career, and financial analysis work at Goldman Sachs and Moody’s Investors Service, I became a Protestant Christian in December 2017, having spent nearly 12 years as a bitter agnostic.

The Transformative Power of Faith in Healing Mental Health

Before embracing a healthier, balanced view of faith and religious practice, I visited hospitals nine times for depression, fibromyalgia, suicidal ideation, and PTSD. Sadly, three of my siblings attempted suicide, and I struggled with severe anxiety before finding forgiveness for my father’s abuse through faith.

Understanding the Difference Between Religious Abuse and Faith in God

The critical distinction between human religious abuse and a healthy relationship with God is essential. Blaming God for man-made abuse is like blaming Beethoven for a bad concert – the fault lies with the musicians, not the composer.

My Journey to Faith and Healing

I have described the longer path that led me to my conversion in a Christianity Today article, but the condensed version is that it occurred when I had tried everything else. I prioritized career, relationships, travel, work, and other things as my ultimate sources of meaning but found they all fell short.

The Mental Health Crisis in America

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 50,000 Americans took their lives in 2022, the highest number ever recorded and the highest suicide rate since 1941. Loneliness is pervasive, with mental health crises particularly affecting adolescents, especially teen girls.

The Connection Between Faith and Mental Health

Faith and mental health can intersect to promote healing. Harvard University research found that individuals who attend weekly religious services were 68% less likely to die from “deaths of despair” – suicide, drug overdose, or alcohol poisoning – than those who did not. Similarly, a National Bureau of Economic Research study discovered that states with decreased religious participation correlated with increased deaths of despair.

The Power of Faith in Healing and Recovery

Faith-based healing can be a potent force in overcoming mental health challenges. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston University, and the National Bureau of Economic Research indicates that faith is a positive factor in addiction prevention or recovery and a risk in fewer than 2% of studies. Understanding this connection between faith and mental health has been life-changing for me.

The Neuroplasticity of the Brain and Redeeming Traumas

Learning about neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways that underlie thought patterns, has been inspiring. Renowned Christian psychiatrist Dr. Curt Thompson explores the neuroplasticity of the brain in his book “Anatomy of the Soul,” revealing how spiritual practices can positively impact our brains. With conscious effort, patients can rewrite their subconscious thought patterns.

The Hope for a Faith-Fueled Recovery

Since embracing faith in my mental health treatment, I have experienced improved stability and a sense of peace. During this period of growing mental health crises, I believe the reason Gen Z is experiencing a faith revival is because they are intuitively drawn to the spiritual force that transcends broken human institutions like governments and corporations. Religion may be imperfect, but at its best, it connects us with God.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues, please call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 to connect with a trained counselor or visit the 988 Lifeline Website.