Personal reflections · Psychology and mental illness · Recovery · Religion and Spirituality

Letters of Self-Compassion: Heaven

Image: a golden sunset, with sun behind fluffy clouds.

2015 was so full of transformations. I worked three different jobs, and my relationships were in a constant state of flux. It seemed like I was constantly losing friends while precariously trying to make new ones. At the beginning of the year I found myself sick of trying, as I had desperately all my life, to be a “good Christian.” I stopped fighting to preserve my heart and virginity for marriage, and explored sexual adventures of all kinds. The truth is I was running, running so fast to get away from everything I’d grown up with.

Early that year, I wrote about fifty blog posts and had them scheduled to post while I was away. I was working at a summer camp where we didn’t get our cell phones except on specific days off. The series of posts I want to address today is the one that went up at the end of July 2015. I called it “Losing Grip on Eternity,” and it was about the Christian concept of heaven, the afterlife for the saved. In it, I wrote about how I’d stopped believing in both heaven and hell. Still, I was clinging to some fundamentals. I still believed in Jesus and his return and was referencing the bible even though I’d learned more about its origins.  

The second person I want to address is my wild and angry young adult self:

You deserved to find people who cared about you, young Artemis. Instead, predators saw an opportunity in your naivety. It wasn’t your fault. It was never your fault.

Image: a person sits on a concrete floor in an empty room with brick walls, knees pulled up to their chest and arms folded. Their head rests on their folded arms, concealing their face. They are wearing a beanie hat, a black long-sleeved shirt, and jeans. Their feet remain bare.

You were right to question everything you were taught. I know now that you weren’t taught much at all – you were indoctrinated into being a loyal Christian, and a patriotic American. You wanted answers, and you dug for decades, coming up empty every time. Christianity offers a lot of different topics to dig into, and you were disappointed every time you researched the history of a concept. Sin, heaven, hell, miracles, even love – perhaps especially love, because of how your parents made it the family brand – all these created more questions.

It’s okay to feel frustrated and like nobody is listening to you. You are right to ask about what doesn’t make sense, and to reject what insults your conscience.

Your existential dread was planted there because you took it seriously. You took it more seriously than they did. They were surprised at how serious and literal you were. That’s just because you’re neurodivergent, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. You see the world differently.

When you wrote about heaven, you were still peeling away the layers. When you looked closely at life on this planet, hell seemed more real than heaven after all. It was here. You wanted to die, you wanted escape, you felt cursed by your own existence.

Your whole being, even those crushingly gigantic feelings, deserves to be held in compassion. I see you as a young adult, Artemis, writing desperately. Hoping someone would understand. You are encouraging other people to trust their own instincts, too. That is a success! You are succeeding, even as it feels like you’re dealing with so much betrayal and grief.

You will find someone who wants to know you for who you are. Not the person you’re trying so hard to be, but who you are. You will find equal footing with a partner who struggles with their humanity, too.

Heaven and hell do not exist as totally separate places. They are two aspects of the same experience. Living as a human is difficult and miraculous; heavenly and hellish. Often both at the same time, and often whole helpings of each in a single day.

I hold you in compassion, young Artemis.

Image: under a clear blue sky, a hand holds a single blue flower. The hand has nails painted black and a simple ring on the middle finger.