Thanks Without the God (Or: This is Gonna Be a Hell of a Thanksgiving)

Thanksgiving week is drawing close, and if you’re like me, you’re awaiting this Thursday with a dry mouth and a very, very nervous laugh.

It’s going to be my first Thanksgiving after months lived away from a home I now see was toxic all along. It’ll be my first Thanksgiving where I can say I am choosing recovery. Where I’m backed by supportive and compassionate friends, a therapist I love. The firsts this Thanksgiving are enormous and incredible, even surreal.

College changed everything for me. I don’t even know how to describe it all without rambling on or getting emotional, so… I’ll do both. Reflecting on all the truly amazing privileges I’ve been given (read: no longer having to pretend I’m many people I’m not for my own safety), I don’t entirely believe it all. Here in college, I:

  • have dropped the straight Christian double-life that sapped the life from me for years,
  • go by ey/em pronouns and an androgynous name (Danni – based on my birth name, since tuition-paying parents can’t yet stomach Max),
  • have space and a great therapist to recover from emotional abuse/religion/binging/depression,
  • and best of all, I now have the energy to be as social, engaged, and vibrant as I always wanted to be. I can be myself. Breathtakingly. Simply. Finally.

THAT IS ALL I EVER DREAMED OF. These standards are high to me, but to a cis straight person who wasn’t raised in fundamentalism and emotional abuse, they’re probably basic human rights. I trucked through high school and a traumatic summer to, for the first time in my life, be myself: a non-binary non-believer better equipped to cope with the depression and binge eating that a double life only amplified.

And holy shit… I’m HERE. I’m here. I’m here. I can’t explain the surreal bliss that comes with just hanging in there for the sake of a future… and finally, suddenly, looking around and realizing that that future, the stuff you daydreamed about for years, is now your present.

* * * *

That said… I’m not home-free (pun intended) yet. Thanksgiving is approaching and while I have a shit-ton to be thankful for (I won’t even try to start listing), the pressure of returning to a home and church whose toxicity I now see very clearly is big.

Compounding the fear of retraumatization and the stress of resuming of double life is the elephant in the room: I used to love Thanksgiving. I used to spend it listing literally everything I could think of to be grateful to God for, from air to peppermint stick ice cream to parking lots. And clearly, that ability to find value in the world hasn’t left me.

But… how do I shift away from thanking God and praying fervently and tearfully over zer immense grace and mercy? After 18 years, is there a chance that indoctrination might overwhelm me when I’m back home and cause a breakdown? Who do I thank for all that I appreciate?

My brain has been wired to pay homage to someone. After hearing Something cannot come from nothing so many times, I instinctively return to the idea that someone’s responsible for everything. But I no longer trace it all back to God. To be thankful for the mashed potatoes in the dining hall, I don’t thank God for creating the culinary arts, ingredients, or cooks; I thank the cooks, those who grew and processed the ingredients, and whoever popularized mashed potatoes in the first place.

* * * *

My gratefulness will now be people- and society-focused: returning credit and praise to human beings instead of robbing them of their agency for the sake of God’s glorification. My approach, I think, will be to excise God from the equation.

How about you? How are you handling the upcoming Thanksgiving? What ways are you using to approach a new gratefulness, sans God?

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