Giveaway! Share your own PTCS history and win a signed copy of “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” — and a $50 Amazon gift card

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post-traumatic-church-syndrome-9781501124037_lgIf you’ve ever been burned by organized religion, have I got a book for you.

In less than two weeks, Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome will hit bookstores. It’s a hilarious memoir of one woman’s experience growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home and living to tell the tale — but not without some scars. It’s funny and heartfelt, the kind of book that will make you want to laugh and cry and hug the author.

I should know; I edited it.

Reba Riley and I went through about six drafts of her book, back and forth for more than a year. That’s some serious commitment on the part of an author. (Note: In this case, she hired me, not her publisher: this was her quarter.)

In my work I have been privileged to work with many different kinds of authors, but Reba Riley is one of my absolute favorites for her plucky humor and utter determination to make this book the best it could be.

All that hard work and determination are paying off. Here are just a couple of the endorsements she’s gotten:

  • “If the ‘Pray’ in Eat, Pray, Love had a gutsy, wise, funny little sister who’d never been to India, it would be Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love)
  • “PTCS is a brilliant, emotional and audacious rampage through religious sensibility, an exploration I recommend without hesitation. Enjoy!” (Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack)
Reba and I with her new peacock puppet, a gift from my daughter. (You're going to have to read the book to understand the peacock thing.)

Reba and I with her new peacock puppet, a gift from my daughter. (You’re going to have to read the book to understand the peacock thing.)

Although the memoir won’t be releasing from Simon & Schuster until later this month, you have a chance to get a free copy right now, signed by the author and sent to your home (USA addresses only).

All you have to do to be entered to win is to leave a comment below describing one experience, remark, or event that happened to you that makes you a fellow recover-ee (is that a word?) in the Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome community.

It can be funny or serious (or both); just make sure it’s under the recommended character count that we’re using in RNS’s comment software, or the last part of it will be cut off, and that will only compound whatever trauma you have experienced, and we will all be sad for you.

Here’s how it works. I’ll be selecting five of the comments at random, and each of those five winners will receive a free copy of Reba’s book.

One of those winners will also receive a $50 Amazon gift card, and that will not be at random. Reba and I will read the five winning entries and decide which one of them affected us the most. So make us laugh or tug at our heartstrings. Tell us about the Mormon YW leader who said no one would ever want to marry you if you didn’t learn to bake, or the evangelical Sunday School who taught you that Jesus was coming back immediately, perhaps on Tuesday, and that you were going to be “left behind” because of that thing you smoked behind the building. Even though we all of course believed you when you said you didn’t inhale.

What Reba’s book has demonstrated is that there is power and healing in sharing these stories . . . and being able to laugh about them.

So tell yours. (By Monday at midnight EST.)

  • Josh

    When I was in high school my parents confiscated all of my non-Christian cassette tapes and told me I couldn’t play top 40 radio anymore. They made me go to youth group every Wednesday and church every Sunday even when we were on vacation. I still believe in God, but I’m raising my kids without all that guilt and fear.

  • alison

    My doctor says I have the worst PSTD he’s ever seen in someone who was NOT sexually abused as a child (I’m sure he meant to include soldiers, etc.) because that is exactly how I present. But all that happened is that I grew up in the church and tried to hard and went to YFC and youth conferences and Bible camp and Bible college and then Bible church. And, oh, I got ugly-the church doesn’t like girls who get ugly. So God must not love me. The thing that confirmed what I always suspected was when the pastor said in a 75-minute sermon based on the first word of the Lord’s prayer-“our”-that the biggest mistake Christians make is to believe that God loves them individually. Shortly thereafter he told me that some people are expendable to God for the greater good of the Body. Hint hint! I left and never returned and never recovered. I did find another Church but sometimes I still get up and walk out in the middle of a sermon because I can’t breathe. As an aside: It wasn’t my…

  • Charis

    My dad pastored a small, rural congregation There wasn’t a lot of money in the church budget, so after four years he asked for an extra week of vacation in lieu of a raise. This caused a major uproar, but was ultimately approved. Then, he went on vacation for two weeks the summer. When he came back, he discovered that a churchmember had written to the deacons saying God came to her in a dream saying dad was the entire problem with the church, and if dad left, God would be able to bless the church again,and it would grow. Four months later, he had already resigned and she still made a motion to vote to fire him at the church business meeting. (Ten years later, the church hasn’t grown or changed much at all)

  • alison

    … parents’ fault. That’s important to know.

  • alison

    Charis, I’m a PK too. I’m sorry this happened to you and your family.

  • Sherry Jackson

    After going through a traumatic divorce and having a medically fragile child plus another traumatized one and a brutal outcome, the local church I used to attend, who promised to help us with childcare, things around the house, et cet. . . . one dark night of the soul, the pastor called to see how I was doing and if I actually needed help with childcare, things around the house (um yes, that’s why they are called needs), I poured out my soul’s pain about not even wanting this life anymore, being afraid of my ex’s threats to kill me and take our children and my financial inability to make ends meet and the endless ness of this hand to mouth existence we’d been sentenced to…. the pastor literally chirped, “Ok! Keep thinking those positive thoughts!” I hung up and have never gone back to the church. The church’s youth pastor though keeps on trying to be friend me on Facebook and ask, “What happened?” after I explained to her what happened. Her response: “Oh, You’re…

  • Marci

    So many stories I could tell… I was a single mom in my 40s with two teen-age boys at home and an ex-husband about to be released from prison after serving a term for abusing our kids. I was scared and alone, needing support and community, so I shared my story with my pastor. Not long after that, during one of his sermons, the pastor said “A church can’t meet everyone’s needs so our focus is on young families with young children.” What I heard loud and clear was “If you aren’t a young family with young children, then you simply aren’t important to us and we aren’t going to expend any energy on you.” That was the last straw for me and I faded away. I’m not sure anyone noticed and they had made it clear I was already invisible.

  • Rachel

    In high school my Young Woman’s President told me that I shouldn’t go on a mission, because I was a girl, with the explanation that men were to go on missions and women were to get married. Then, in college, when I met with my bishop to Go on a mission, the first thing he asked me was if I was familiar with the quote by Gordon B. Hinckley saying approximately that. When I told him I was, he asked me (at least) five times if I had marriage prospects, and wouldn’t believe me when I explained that I didn’t.

  • Debra Huddleston

    At the age of 5, I remember listening to the sermon in my Southern Baptist Texas church and thinking “I don’t think so . . .”. But, I was taught that anyone who questioned would burn in hell, so I didn’t. I tolerated it until I was in junior high, then after Sunday School (couldn’t get out of that) I would walk through the sanctuary, wave to my parents who thought I was going to the back to sit with my friends, go out the back door and across the street to the Methodist church. Although, at that time, theologically similar, they did not preach hell fire and damnation. I never got caught. Then the Catholic kids joined us in public school and I was completely enamored with the Catholic religion. It was quiet, and holy, and I loved the statues my church made fun of. So, for the next four years, every Sunday morning, I went to 8 a.m. mass, Sunday school at the Baptist church, and worship service at the Methodist church. When I graduated, I quit going to church and found…

  • Debra Huddleston

    #PTCS At the age of 5, I remember listening to the sermon in my Southern Baptist Texas church and thinking “I don’t think so . . .”. But, I was taught that anyone who questioned would burn in hell, so I didn’t. I tolerated it until I was in junior high, then after Sunday School (couldn’t get out of that) I would walk through the sanctuary, wave to my parents who thought I was going to the back to sit with my friends, go out the back door and across the street to the Methodist church. Although, at that time, theologically similar, they did not preach hell fire and damnation. I never got caught. Then the Catholic kids joined us in public school and I was completely enamored with the Catholic religion. It was quiet, and holy, and I loved the statues my church made fun of. So, for the next four years, every Sunday morning, I went to 8 a.m. mass, Sunday school at the Baptist church, and worship service at the Methodist church. When I graduated, I quit going to church and…

  • carl

    i’d like a free book…

  • Sarah

    I knew my church had become a problem when I found myself hiding under my bed from a set of visiting teachers who didn’t take no for an answer—or me not answering the door, and who, after they had tried all the doors, were peering into my bedroom window to see if I was home. Saying no to my visiting teachers was my first attempt at setting church boundaries. It ended with me cowering behind my dust ruffle chanting to myself, “But you’re a damn grown up, Sarah.” It went downhill from there—yes, there is a downhill from that. Soon there were nightmares where our church leaders started holding monthly “fun” activities where they did mass excommunications. Or the dreams where they decided only blonde people go to heaven so they had mass hair-dye-ins. Or the ones that start with the church, then go into plane crashes that end with me battered and bruised emerging from the rubble, like I emerged that day from under my bed when I tried to set some boundaries with my visiting teachers.

  • a. ruth

    After years of membership in a very small evangelical reformed church, we decided to leave for a variety of spiritual and theological reasons. We loved the people in the community and wanted to make our exit a peaceful one, not wanting to severe relationships. Instead of being met with the grace and peace we’d hoped for, however, we were met with the polar opposite. We were told that we had too many personal problems that would never be solved if we left the Church (it was never said what these specific problems were). We were told that our happiness in life depended upon our faithfulness to the Church. Our closest friends were suddenly telling us out of the blue that our 1 year old son was awful and “out of control” (yeah, our kid wasn’t that great at sitting quietly through the 2 hour worship service. Whose kid is?) and that my husband was an awful husband and father. They verbally attacked us for a period of weeks over our decision to leave in order to guilt-trip us into…

  • a. ruth

    We were made aware that, should we ever decide to return to the Church, we would not be welcomed back by them. It was incredibly hard to hear these words from people I had considered friends, but at the same time, hearing this from them only made us want out more. And we’ve felt so liberated since leaving. Because my husband’s family still attended the church after our exit (and they were putting the pressure on for us to return, just to visit), we visited the Church about 6 months ago. We were not welcomed by others in the Church and, after the worship service, my husband was literally cornered by our former friends and told again what an awful job he was doing as a husband and father, and how our son was still “out of control”. I felt as though this church ripped my heart right out of me and I nearly lost my faith as a result of it. I’m so thankful to be out of that place and that my children won’t be growing up thinking that a church like that is normal.

  • Carolyn Martin

    My Bible Study group was going to read the books of the Apocrypha. I had a copy of the NRSV but wanted to find more modern language translation like the Message or the Twible. I stopped by the local Christian bookstore to see what they had available. When I asked for the Apocrypha, the young lady in charge of the Bible department actually stepped away from me like I had cooties and said in a horrified voice, “Oh that’s only in the Catholic Bible: that’s not even Christian!!” Rendered uncharacteristically speechless, I was unable to explain to her that the Catholic religion was in fact Christian, nor to retort that since Martin Luther took the time to translate the Apocrypha in its entirety it’s probably legit reading for Protestants. Dazed and confused, I retreated to my car and later found a Common English Bible version at a more gracious and friendly used book store.

  • Patricia West

    In brief: I pleaded with Stake Presidency to please believe me, “… High Priest Bishopric Second Counselor forged my signature on power of attorney documents … fraud … (when I found out …) he assaulted me, snuck up behind me … pinned me to the table (I am handicapped, mobility limitations) with his body, forcibly grabbing my right arm, as he pinned me, bruised me … I had his finger prints in bruises … hurt me on purpose …. please help me … Stake Presidency told me: “We believe you, just the Church isn’t going to do anything to George, he is a man called of God and does so much for the Church”.
    I was literally ordered by the matriarch of my Ward to “respect the Priesthood”; don’t do anything, keep quite. It took me too long to finally get out of battered woman syndrome, i.e. Battered Mormon Syndrome. PTSD compounded; I have discovered more and more … telling (mormonbrief.wordpress.com) is moving towards catharsis. “PTCS” is “spot on”!

  • Sherry R. Jackson

    @ Marci–I am so sorry. Hugs. I went through something similar.

  • Donna Norbet

    As freshmen in high school we snuck up to the chapel during a youth night in the gym, and played spin the bottle near the altar. Although we lived in fear for a while, we were never caught. Three years later I was introduced to my future husband’s family, as “a member of Signal Hill Lutheran Church”.
    Little did they know about our meeting in the sanctuary that night!

  • Nancy

    I wish that I had something funny and witty to write here, but growing up Mormon, I learned that I was profoundly unworthy (despite trying and *succeeding* to follow all of the rules). I am still Mormon, but I’m in my 30s and trying to work through the shame to feel God’s love more consistently in my life.

  • Bitherwack

    My traumatic experience was a bit after being only blocks away from the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system. The millennialistic death cult, Aum Shinri-kyo’s guru Asahara was on the news minimizing the deaths he had caused by saying how he was only helping the victims speedily to their reward.
    Not many weeks later, this same excuse was used by a Sister W. in our sunday school lesson on Nephi killing Laban… that Nephi was only helping to speed Laban to his reward.

  • The trauma that ignited my quest into unfamiliar religious territory was having my Presbyterian pastor tell me that our three-year-old son was either possessed or crazy. Our son, Christian Haupt, had an uncanny obsession with baseball since the time he could walk, despite being born into a family with no affinity for the sport. At the age of two, Christian began telling us that he was a “tall baseball player” in a previous life and by the age of four he was dubbed a baseball prodigy by the international media https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggxoDsecHiY. The first few times Christian said, “I was a tall baseball player,” his father and I corrected his grammar and said, “Yes. Someday, you will be a tall baseball player,” even though we knew the odds were slim. Our nearly three-year-old son finally managed to get my attention when he stomped his foot and screamed at the top of his lungs, “I WAS a tall baseball player – tall like Daddy!” Trust me when I say these are not words you…

  • Barbara Moore

    I was a high school student who belonged to the Methodist church but was attending a tent revival service with my parents from the Brethren church. I don’t know why we were talking with the preacher afterwards. Maybe they were trying to save my soul like one of my sisters was. The preacher looked at me and said, “You seem like a nice girl. It is too bad you are going to Hell” Neither of my parents spoke out for me. I think I fit your syndrome.

  • DD

    I was spending the summer at my parents’ house working and earning money to return to college in the fall. I was a single returned missionary in my twenties. One day, I received a call from the Sunday School president. He asked me to substitute for one of the youth classes for the coming Sunday. I told him that I was happy to teach a Sunday School class. Then, he told me the reason a substitute was needed. There was going to be a special Gospel Doctrine lesson and all “adults” needed to be able to attend. I was very happy to return to school a few weeks later.

  • Anonymous

    My wife was controlling and abusive. My step-son was also. My wife rejected all complaints, saying I wasn’t normal. I talked to church leaders and wasn’t believed. I was pushed to visit a church therapist to work thing out with my step-son. The counselor believed my wife. She later screamed at me that I wasn’t normal. The bishop praised her and called her to be Relief Society President. We both worked, I was going to school, we had younger children, I had migraines and he knew we had marriage problems! I objected, but gave in. My wife treated me worse and refused to share blame. I left two years later, but was in the same ward. A new bishop kept her as Relief Society President, but told me he had to fight to keep me in my calling because I had abandoned my family and wasn’t supporting them like I should (not true). Ward members blamed me. God and church now cause me fear. The bishop found out and said over the pulpit “Fear and faith cannot exist together.” I attend another unit.

  • Hi all, and thanks for entering the #PTCS book giveaway. Our five book winners, chosen this morning from a hat, were:

    DD
    Alison
    Barbara Moore
    Sherry Jackson, and
    Patricia West

    Aaaaaand of these, our grand prize gift card winner was . . . .
    ALISON!

    I am going to need the mailing addresses of all 5 winners (shoot me an email at flunkingsainthood at gmail dot com). Thanks again, everyone . . . and may your #PTCS be healed with time and laughter.

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  • Charles

    In my mid-teens my parents divorced. Shortly thereafter my mother came out as homosexual. I told her I felt that she had chosen sin over her family, and she replied that I needed to try and see things from her side a little. I stormed away without finishing the argument. I walked to the bishop’s house, and found myself knocking on his door. Seeing the tears in my eyes, he stopped making dinner for his 5 kids and took me on a drive. I asked if my mother was going to go hell. He said she would, but reminded me that there was still time for her to repent and rejoin the faith. That was 20 years ago, I have since seen things from my mother’s side a little, and no longer worry about the state of her soul, but this story captures everything I feel about my faith. My bishop dropped everything to comfort me in a moment of need, in the same moment he was willing to condemn another to hell for homosexuality. All that I admire and despise in a religion I can’t leave, and can’t…

  • Annie

    Jana, I just finished this book yesterday. I loved it so much that I sent copies to 3 of my friends. I have to say that since my faith crisis hit about 2 years ago, this had been BY FAR the most helpful thing I’ve read. Absolutely loved it.

  • Tj

    My whole life’s post traumatic. THe latest bit was this summer I got thrown over 35 ft out of a vehicle… 5 broken ribs, 3 broken bones in my back, broken shoulder blade, collapsed lung and the worst of all is the tube that I woke up to in my d*ck ! . ! Maybe not the worst but I also was bleeding in my brain for 2 days. 8/ thank you God for having my back ! It was my best friend of 6 yrs that yanked the car off the road after I grabbed him cause he punched his fiancé in the face . . . I had to learn how to do so many things different like walking or putting my shoes on and put my life on pause… I won’t be a victim I would do everything the same in a heartbeat and will be mentally and physically better for it.. The whole experience from accident to injury than recovery where I’m at now is a total mind rubics cube . . U get one side looking good and u forgot about the other 5 sides . Thanks for readin my story