Boundary Crossing: Learning to Claim My Personhood, Power, and Free Will After Evangelical Christianity

Quite a few months ago, I made a post about how profoundly and insidiously Christianity had indoctrinated me to believe that I was created to live on the sidelines, to feel chronically undeserving, to make myself small, to die to self. Christianity took my personhood away from me.

I said that when I came back, I’d have some ideas on how to take charge in my own life and see myself as just as worthy as everyone else. It took a while, but I’ve got ’em!

In the last few months, I’ve learned so much, changed so much, and claimed so much more power in my life. Shit’s wild! And a lot of it, believe it or not, started with astrology! That is a story for another time (there is a whole series of posts that could be made about how much astrology has helped me see myself, realize shit, and heal.) Star teachers.

Story short, I had this HUGE HUGE HUGE realization about boundaries. And you know what? It turns out they have a LOT of damn power over me. But all of my freedom, all of my joy, all of my healing, has ALL COME from crossing those boundaries. And so I chose to start pushing myself every day to cross more and more boundaries. That’s how I’ve started learning to take charge in my life, to go from an outsider to a life liver, to claim my full worth and power as a person just like you.

To me, anything involving me reaching beyond my own self and interacting with other people was crossing a boundary. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t party, don’t dance in public, don’t shout hi from far away, don’t talk to that person in line, don’t ask if your friend wants to hang, don’t eat in front of others, don’t ask for more, don’t ask if they can plug in your computer, don’t blow your nose, don’t raise your hand, don’t be a burden. These were all things I found so hard to do, on top of speaking, which situational mutism already made so difficult.

Not only this, but in the smallest ways, I acted as if I had no free will. No power to change the world around me. When I got sick, I used to never take medicine. When something was bothering me, I didn’t realize I could literally just move the chair. My entire mentality was shaped by the idea that I couldn’t let my presence be known and I couldn’t change my own life, only let my life happen to me.

And when I asked myself where these boundaries come from and why they had so much power over me, I saw a whole constellation of perpetrators. My church, and my social experiences due to situational mutism, taught me that I should not interact with other humans. Show the world I exist. Move and be seen. Take up space. Own myself.

  • I grew up in a church that taught me to be “in the world but not of it.” Maybe that’s why I felt so alone and distant even in crowded rooms… the idea that I don’t belong here, that I’m not actually “one of you.”
  • Francis Chan’s Crazy Love taught me that I am minor, a prop, an extra in the movie of my own life (because it was all about God, and I needed to die to myself.) I wasn’t used to the idea that I had agency in my life.
  • Situational mutism cut me off from connecting with other humans because I physically couldn’t speak, which reinforced my feeling that I didn’t belong and wasn’t truly a part of social life, and made social boundaries way harder to cross.

But the biggest factor was that I believed, deep in my heart, that other people did not want to talk to me, to feel my presence, to hear my thoughts. That interacting with them was a burden. That they thought I was boring. That I deeply wasn’t worth their time.

When you grow up being taught that you exist to serve God, that you should die to yourself and pray for who you are to be broken and remade, that you’re an extra in your life because it’s God’s world and you are nothing…

how do you unlearn it all? How do you start living better?

I realized that night just how much I had let invisible boundaries between myself and others cut me off from so much human connection. From life itself! But I also realized that in the past 6 months since I had come out, been cut off, and seen my very soul transformed day after day, so many people had shown me they REALLY wanted to know me, to spend time with me, to hear me. 

After I cut off last March, I wrote that I was “Finally. Unbelievably. Terrifyingly. Thrillingly. Free. It feels like the tenderest most beautiful sentence I have in me, an iridescent thing, full of shock and grace, thrill and terror.”

And I understood for the first time that ALL of the freedom I have found in the past 6 months has been because I crossed boundaries that Christianity set for me. I made more secular friends and learned to set up hang outs, I had sex, I drank (and got alcohol poisoning), I got propositioned, I went on dates, I joined Tinder, I smoked, I went to a friend’s birthday party and drank and danced in public without a thought for the first time in my life, I walked into a tattoo shop (and ultimately got a sick ass tattoo)…

Crossing boundaries is liberation. It is life. It is joyfully laying claim to who I rightfully am. To all the possibilities that may be and that I may be. Crossing boundaries is saying, YES, you are worth it to me, you are iridescent and exciting and dimensional and worth it, you this experience, you this friendship, you this human being. It is jumping in to the pool of life, peeling off from the sidelines and finally becoming part of everything. It is a release of all I never allowed myself to be, all I was never allowed to be, and saying, I see you. I acknowledge you. I forgive you. I embrace you, in all you are. It is deep life, life up to the earlobes, life dripping down your chin, life settling warm and circular in your belly. It is saying yes to yourself.

So how did I put crossing boundaries into practice?

First, I decided to every day do something I would never have done before. This was hard, but having the last 6 months of boundary crossing behind me — safe, thrilling, life changing — kept me on it. I decided to have myself purposefully cross boundaries now. And some were so small! For example, I called out a friend’s name when I saw him walking further up on the hill — something situational mutism had always prevented me from doing. And I’m not gonna lie, I got a shot of adrenaline just from doing it. Another time, I decided to say yes to going to a concert on a first date with a girl I liked. This was in a way less scarier than speaking, but very new.

Every time I did something I never would have done before, I showed myself it was safe to do it, and I became a new person for that new experience. I was changing how I was experiencing life. While it may sound small, I’ve been noticing in very real ways that it’s easier for me to start conversations and to just say whatever is on my mind. It’s been one month! That much recovery. 

Second, I realized that sometimes you don’t wait for the right time, you make now the right time. I had just watched a movie in class that struck home how important it is to follow your convictions with action, otherwise it’s just words. And suddenly I realized, I don’t want to be — I CAN’T be — the kind of person who isn’t deeply authentic anymore. I HAVE to live my own truth because at the end of the day I am accountable to love and fulfill me, and that is by being authentic. I CAN’T allow myself to not do what I want to do and feel I should and can do. 

So, I decided that I would start going by the name Maxwell (Max) in real life. I had been dreaming of this for YEARS, but my parents threatened to cut off tuition when I tried. Now that I am financially self-sufficient, nothing was holding me back other than waiting for the right feeling. But fuck that. I was just gonna do it. It’s been scary, a little awkward, and hard — but I decided, sometimes you gotta change your own life. It’s no one else. It’s gotta be you. At the end of my life, do I want to say I had courage, or I allowed fear to keep me from being a free spirit? This is my life. I’ll live it.

At the same time, I decided to call my first politician about something political. I’d been wanting to and feeling I should do this since Trump got elected, but fear of phone calls and lack of knowledge always stopped me. And finally, I decided to call the pastor at the church back home. I’d been wanting to do this for a long time: confront the church with how they’d hurt me, and start a conversation about how their teachings affected people. I’d been waiting for a right time too. But I wanted no more waiting. Even though I had no idea what I’d say or where this would go, I knew my soul wanted this, it actually felt there was no other way events could transpire.

So I did all of these things. The call with the politician was awkward with long pauses and my heart was beating a million a minute. Starting to transition my name has been awkward and hard too, believe me. And I did end up telling my story to the pastor, and it was hard and monumental, and the deacons heard it too but turned down my request to speak to the youth group. But I did it.

Third, I kept reminding myself that I had power over my own world and showed myself love by pushing myself to act like others valued me. 

I used to get up and plug my own computer in because I felt I couldn’t burden my friend who was sitting right next the outlet to do it. Same with getting napkins, shutting off the light, just so many trivial little things. And I only realized this wasn’t “normal” because my friends would point it out, a little offended or confused.

I learned to make a joke out of it: “oh yeah. Free will. It exists. Free will who? Never met him,” I’d quip to myself. And I’ve accepted that acknowledging and learning to use my own power (from taking medicine to making a phone call to asking a simple question) is a journey I advance every day.

I’ve also pushed myself to believe that others value my presence and my words. I’m not too much, I am wanted. I even reached out to make a new friend this month, which is revolutionary for me! 

LONG long post, but I have so much to share about this part of my life and I’m sure I’ll be back for more. If you have any thoughts or advice you wanna share, pipe up! Maybe I just rambled this whole time, or this situation is very specific to me, but I’m hoping that someone out there can relate to something in here. I’d love to hear it!

6 thoughts on “Boundary Crossing: Learning to Claim My Personhood, Power, and Free Will After Evangelical Christianity

  1. I can definitely relate, and wow, can I just say that you are such a brave person to be making all of these huge changes? Congrats on living large and living free. I’m glad to hear that so much has improved in your life over these past months.

    I mostly can relate because when I first left my cult, I was terrified of everything: strangers, classmates, phone calls, authority figures, talking to people, making people angry or upset with me, making eye contact (still a problem for me tbh), admitting that I wasn’t straight, etc. etc. So most people just got the impression that I was skittish and always uncomfortable unless I was safely in my room and glued to a book or the internet. It took years and tons of prodding from my ex-cult family and friends to get me out of there, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that a ton of that work had to come from me saying, “Well, I AM terrified, I may always be terrified, but I’m not going to let that stop me.”

    And now I’m completely different. People who remember me while I was still in the cult don’t really recognize me that well or at least do a double-take (and that’s not just because of my haircut). But in general, they can see that I’m a lot happier and more open, and that tends to make the cult-believers stop and think for a bit.

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    1. YES CINNIA!!! I live to hear stories like this. So proud of you — I know the strength and pain (and angst) it takes to get there but you did it! That’s kickass.

      Isn’t it crazy how many basic things are off limits in religious environments like ours? I’m definitely still guarded and come off guarded (you saying you came off skittish reminded me of this) because of my former life circumstances, but I’m working through it too. “I AM terrified, I may always be terrified, but I’m not gonna let that stop me.” Ain’t that powerful though?!

      For me it’s, “I am terrified, but it’s only through doing what scares me and crossing those boundaries that I grow and live, and all I wanna do now is really live.”

      Cheers to us living.

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  2. Max, I have just found your posts and I’m excited to read all of them. I’ve only read 3 so far, but what I’m reading resonates deep within me.
    I was 35 when I finally dragged myself out from under Christianity. And now I’m 44. And it’s been a constant journey of self-discovery and molding my thoughts and attitudes and actions to fit what I now believe.
    I’ve read LOT, and watched LOTS of videos to help me on this journey, but every once in a while, something new strikes me, and you have done that!
    Your discussion about boundaries, about not wanting to holler “hi!” from across a room, not wanting to ask someone to get you a napkin, not wanting to be a bother or be noticed too much, thinking you are probably boring. These are things I still struggle with. And I love your idea of pushing one small little boundary every day. I’m gonna start trying that!
    Anyway, I love your writing style, I find myself devouring your words and thoughts, because you do have a lot of valuable stuff to add to this big conversation. And I can’t wait to keep reading your posts! I’m sure you’ll be hearing more from me 🙂

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    1. Teresa! SO heartwarming to read this ❤ I am so excited to hear that my story resonates with other people out there. Wow, that is such a long journey, but one I hope was so worth it.

      It's also crazy to hear from someone who struggles with "boundaries" the way I do, because I had thought it was a more niche thing… solidarity 🙂 Please let me know how trying to face one little fear a day goes!

      I can't wait to hear what you have to say about what I've shared and add to this bigger conversation too. Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

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