Honorable mention — College essay contest: Danika Brousseau

Freethinking saved me, not God

By Danika Brousseau

I grew up in a devout Christian household in a one-stoplight town in New Hampshire. We would pray before starting our day, before every meal and before going to bed. We would attend church every Sunday, Wednesday and occasionally Fridays. I was taught, from even a young age, that whenever you date someone or have sex with them, you give them a piece of your heart that you can never get back. I should save my heart for the one I will marry. I never thought twice about it. Why should I? I was a child. I was expected to put religion above my own well-being, and I developed a tendency to be unable to share my feelings as a result.

I moved across the country to New Mexico in 2013. Moving marked the beginning of my journey questioning the religion I grew up with. If God loved me so much and I did everything he asked, why would he take me away from everything I ever knew? I developed major depression, intense social anxiety and struggled making friends. If God loved me, why did he make me “faulty” so that I couldn’t make new friends?

I struggled and grew bitter toward my family, toward God and toward the congregation. I was constantly told that God wouldn’t give me more than I could handle, but I was turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms and becoming someone I didn’t like. I obviously couldn’t handle what he was giving me. I felt so much shame over what I was feeling that I never told anyone until years later.

I used to question how people who believe in God and preach about loving your neighbor could be so judgmental? If God wanted the best for me, why did religion cause so much tension

in my family and within myself? After I was assaulted by my boyfriend, I couldn’t stop blaming myself and I’ve never been able to tell my parents out of fear of their reaction. The idea that I should be saving myself for that One Person was so drilled into my head as a prepubescent child, I still feel the effects of it.

However, I’ve slowly become aware enough to make my own decisions. I don’t think that being afraid of going to hell or being reincarnated into a bad life should be your only motivation to be good. I believe that no one should be blamed for another person’s sin. I believe that striving to bring kindness into a cruel world is often the best we can do. I may not be the Christian girl that my parents wanted me to be, but I still want to make the world a better place to live. Why isn’t that enough for others?

My experience with religion nearly killed me. The shame, confusion, and anger caused dramatic effects on my mental health. Distancing myself from the church I grew up in, educating myself on other religions and hearing other

Danika Brousseau

people’s stories of struggle have all helped me to regain some of myself. I no longer worry about what I wear or what will happen to me when I die.

Instead, I worry about how I can help humanity and the young people struggling to figure out who they are. I hope that this essay can provide some of the relief I felt. If you are in a similar headspace to how I used to be, you are certainly not alone. You are loved and you are worthy. Your past and what others say about you do not define you.

Danika, 20, is from Albuquerque, N.M, and attends the University of New Mexico, where she is majoring in history, anthropology and archaeology.  “I dream of completing a master’s degree in library sciences so that I may be able to spread the information I desperately needed as a child to other developing minds,” she writes.