New Beginnings: Where it all Began (Part 1)

I'm going to go against the grain and talk about something a little different this week. I launched Erica Exposed as a platform in which I could be open and honest with not only the public, but myself as well. There are certainly aspects of my life that I do not often highlight on social media. My spirituality is one of those areas, but today, I'm going to take you there. Trust me, you're in for a bumpy and controversial ride. NOTE: After writing and re-writing this post for the past week (there was so much to say), I have decided to split it up into parts. This is Part 1 of 3 of my spiritual and health journey - make sure to keep your eyes peeled this week for parts 2 and 3! 

The Past
As an only child growing up in a small town and conventionally-Christian home, it's safe to say that I was a little sheltered. My extended family were more involved in the religious community than my parents (at the time), although this has changed now. I too tried to stay involved in the religious community, because being from a small town meant that it was major source of my available entertainment. Now, I'm not going to sit here and pretend that I religiously upheld every "Christian value" but I did believe, and that is the grounds for this story.

As I got older and started observing the intolerance in the community, I lost sight of faith. I observed deeply rooted and socially constructed bigotry in the forms of: harassment, abuse, snide comments, politically (and morally) incorrect "jokes", among many others. As a teenager, I really wasn't sure how I should respond to this blatant intolerance, but I knew that I had no interest contributing to it. I withdrew all of my faith in faith for almost 10 years because I felt that others were trying to force religion and bigotry down my throat, in addition to some associated familial tension. Note: If you know me, you are aware that I hate being pressured/told what to do. So, I have no interest in pushing my beliefs on anyone, but am happy to share my story with you - if you care to read along!

It is my modest opinion that some people (I'm speaking from personal experience) use Christianity as a crutch, rather than as a way to enlightenment and salvation. It can be used to justify actions and conceal their intolerance by upholding "mighty" values that they either a) don't actually believe in the first place and/or b) do so just because The Bible/Pastor/Sermon tells them to. I'm not cool with that... not in the slightest. Time and time again, I (not the instigator) have been the one made to feel uncomfortable, insignificant and wrong for standing up for advocating for those who have been and continue to be oppressed. Any form of "joking", "teasing" and my favourite, "I don't really mean it" or "I'm not actually [racist/homophobic/sexist/etc.]" statements attached to your intolerance is harmful, as is remaining silent about this painful process. I can't stress this enough..There is NO back-peddling away from this. You are accountable for your actions/thoughts/comments, whether ill-intentioned or not.

Important Takeaway
It is 100% okay to believe (or not) in whatever you see fit. You have the ability to make choices, and unless you are using your religion and your privilege to hurt and/or oppress others, you should be free to do whatever you please! No one has the right to criticize or berate me for my lack of connection or interest in religion, just as I don't have the right to judge anyone for the opposite. As Canadians, we have the right to choose our religion (or lack thereof) and cannot be discriminated against based on this. I am subtly trying to draw attention to the recent media/societal misrepresentation certain religions; some are painted in the light, while others are being grossly targeted and stereotyped. 

I am an educated adult who has the right to make decisions for myself. With that being said, my actual exit and transition away from Christianity was not particularly upsetting or dramatic in any way. It was very much my choice, especially because I am an autonomous individual with needs, desires and dreams.  I casually closed this chapter in my life and never looked back (after revisiting religion for a brief stint in high school). 

Present Day
In my recent years, I have identified as Agnostic, meaning that I do not either believe or disbelieve that there is/are a God(s). I suppose what it meant though, was that I had left with nothing to believe in and that was scary. I searched for a greater meaning that I couldn't find until I was confronted with pain, fear and trauma that I could no longer run from. 

Due to the...interesting...nature of my religious journey, when I felt the need to reconnect I decided that it needed to be on my own terms. I searched for a spiritual philosophy that embraces acceptance, love, kindness, healing and wellness, while fostering resiliency, hope, faith and generosity. I found religions such as: Taoism, Buddhism and even Wiccan, but never really identified with them (I'm a bit too materialistic for their liking). I then realized that I could be spiritual, but not religious, and that I could make my "own" hybrid religion by taking the favoured components of different religions and amalgamating them. Now, I don't necessarily believe in someone, but I believe in something.

I would say that I started on a spiritual journey in 2007 - when my parents divorced. However, it wasn't until I met my friend Jessica that I began to take it seriously. In 2014, I sustained a fall that changed my life forever. I was feeling really discouraged about my situation and I was struggling to stay afloat while living with chronic pain. Then, Jess introduced me to positivity. That night, I fired up Netflix and watched The Secret and in the following weeks, I read the book.

After being introduced to The Law of Attraction and Power of Positivity, I figured that I had nothing to lose and only the potential to gain by adapting this mindset. I find that there is significant weight in the "power of positivity" as a psychological/philosophical phenomenon (linkage to metaphysics and traits, such as, resiliency). The boom of "good vibes" or "positive vibes" merchandise surfacing in the past few years alone, shows just how popular it is to have faith. Staying positive helps to build a positive self-fulfilling prophecy, rather than a negative one (i.e. this will always happen to me.. I will never find love, etc.). However, I know from personal experience that this is so much easier said than done.
"Why choose to be sad, when you can be happy instead?" If I had a dime for every time I heard this, I would be probably be rich... but yet, unhappy. I was the most pessimistic person in my friend group, even though I identified myself as a realist. My life motto used to be:
"Just expect that things will go wrong, so when they do, you're not disappointed". 
Now, I'd much rather use something along the lines of:
"Prepare yourself for the potential outcomes, including the good, bad and those in between. Hope for the best, and brace yourself for the worst. However, maintain faith and trust that everything will work out in the way that it was meant to."

Now brace yourself for the weird stuff. Are you still here? Kudos to you! Over the years, I have casually become interested in different realms of the spiritual/occult world. As bizarre as it is, I have always felt that I was special. Even when I was a kid, I ridiculously used to think that the moon was visible and "followed me" because of it (LOL). I have also always been extremely intuitive and on several occasions, have been able to successfully predict what was to happen next in certain situations (i.e. now that book is going to fall off the table... and it would). I also have deja vu more often than you'd imagine (last week Allie and I had it in the exact same place, where neither of us had been to before). I hadn't really thought much of these experiences until I began linking them all together, realizing that I'm really into the supernatural. 
I have also been drawn to astrology, zodiac and horoscopes since I was a little kid. I guess you could say that I read horoscopes as religiously as one would read The Bible. Astrology is probably my favourite occult phenomenon because I have seen it manifest itself. I am no longer much of a daily horoscope reader, but rather agree with almost all facets of who I am based on my natal chart and planetary alignment. I sort of adapt my actions based on my deeply rooted personality traits and inherent desires/needs. Most popular culture information is based on Sun signs (your Zodiac - mine is Scorpio) and it occasionally factors in your Moon sign (I am a Gemini). Sun signs a your essence, while Moon Signs are symbolic of your emotions and mood. There is a whole slew of information to uncover about your other "Houses" aka: planetary alignment, which can be found by completing a Natal/Birth Chart. Your natal/birth chart is available online (see here) - all you need is your DOB (and time) and birth location. So simple (and fun)!

When my injury took a turn for the worst this year, I knew that it was necessary to revisit and make time for my spirituality once again. I am now more connected to my body, spirit and energies than ever before (more on this, Sunday). I now have strongly rooted faith in the holistic practice of energy healing and crystal therapy (there is tons of evidence-based research about this on the Internet). I practice this weekly with my own therapist, and use the lessons discovered to drive my faith even further. I feel rejuvenated, confident and limitless after most sessions. Certainly, there are still moments when I am feeling drained or lost. I use my faith in the process to ground myself and remember that these negative feelings/experiences are humbling, and a driving force of change. You wouldn't know what light was, if it wasn't for the darkness. 
Intersection with my Career (Social Work)
Western Medicine is just truly lacking something that "we" just can't put our fingers on... but what if we could put our fingers on it? I know that it might be the obvious answer, but I think there's something to be said for the value of hope and faith. I will never forget what I saw adorn my supervisor's office door on my first day of (final) placement. That is when it all clicked for me. It read, "Restoring Hope - The Power of Social Work".  I remembered thinking to myself, "Oh. Yes, of course we do this".  If someone ever asked me what a social worker does, I would respond with "restore hope" - but in order to do this, we need to believe that it can be restored in the first place.

As a social worker, I use my faith and engagement as a form of self-care and as a way to practice self-love, self-compassion and build self-esteem. The obvious theme here is that I'm working on helping and nurturing myself. At this time, I am not using any of these strategies/modalities within my practice as I am not qualified to do so. That being said, I am still able to use the equilibrium I achieve through energy healing (and talk therapy) to inform my practice, and as a platform to help others. Having hope, faith and something to believe in has been one of the only things that has kept me fighting as of late.
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Thank you SO much for reading this lengthy, but important post. On Sunday, I will finally be sharing my health journey, talking about my Spinal Cord Injury and recounting the last 6 months of my life. Please, please come back on Sunday (and tell your friends)! I would love to hear your comments about your faith and spirituality journey, whether it be religious or not. Comment and let me know how your journey came to be, what your favourite part is, or what keeps you going!