Podcast: Interview with Heather Morgan!
Disability theologian, pastor, advocate, and coach
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Welcome to God is My Special Interest: The Podcast, Episode 2!
Today Danielle talks with Heather Morgan—disabled theologian, pastor, and advocate—about her experience in a high-control religious environment and practical ways people can start reconnecting with their bodies and emotions in healthy, healing ways.
Here is the information on atypical autism Heather mentions near the beginning of our chat.
Her values process is mentioned in Devon Price’s book, Unmasking Autism.
Heather currently is not accepting one-on-one clients, but she is hosting another training for folks interested in her values work. Find more information (and register!) for the October training here. (Krispin, my husband, recently took this training and highly recommends it!)
You can follow her Twitter: here (disability focus) and here (faith focus) and on her website as well: https://poweredbylove.ca/
I am able to pay a modest stipend to folks like Heather to share their expertise with us. I couldn’t do this without the support of our paid subscribers! Thank you so much to everyone who is making this kind of content and community possible.
This post/podcast is available to everyone, so if you enjoyed it, please share it!
You can listen to the podcast in substack, or if you prefer here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:
Danielle: [00:00:00] Okay, welcome to the second episode of God Is My Special Interest: The podcast. I'm DL Mayfield, the host, and the author of this community. And I'm so excited today for a second episode. I'm talking to Heather Morgan. I know Heather mostly through Twitter, and Heather, you've been really awesome.
And you have reached out to me consistently, because unlike most people who I don't think relate to a lot of my tweets, which are just me, you know, screaming into the void, you intrinsically understand the place of pain that some of my stuff is coming from. And you have a background that is in some ways similar to me and other people in this community. So, before I get too into that, I want to say, thanks for reaching out to me on Twitter, that meant so much, and the work you're doing is so incredible. Would you be able to just tell people a little bit about yourself, [00:01:00] your background, who you are, and the work you're doing?
Heather: Oh, in like three minutes, right. Or something like that. So, I'm Heather Morgan. I am almost 43, goodness. That's next week. And I grew up in an Open Brethren congregation in Ontario, in Canada. And that means that like 98% of the women wore their mantillas in the first service, but not in the second because somehow God had disappeared between the two.
I'm not quite sure how that works. But I was a missionary kid with parents who worked here in Canada for my whole life. So that's a fun, wild world, and I was baptized at seven. And spent the rest of my childhood every single Sunday from the week after I was [00:02:00] baptized thinking I'm supposed to preach, I'm supposed to preach.
I'm supposed to get up and say something. I'm a woman. I'm not allowed to say something, I'm not even allowed to get up and ask, stand up and ask them to sing hymn number 366 in the green hymn book. Like it's not allowed. Actually it's 66 in the green hymn book. That's the one I always wanted to sing.
And it'll be really interesting to see if anybody knows what that one is. That was the hymn of celebration or something. But yeah, always felt this call to preaching, to teaching, but was in a very, very complementarian environment where that was not allowed. So, okay. We'll just sort of shove that to the side, except that what you're not allowed to do in the church, you're allowed to do outside of the church. You're allowed to do in para church organizations and on the mission field. And so, as a high school student, I helped to take our Christian fellowship from nine students to like [00:03:00] 50 students. In the course of a year, we had 20 students showing up for prayer every single morning in our high school for two years, the last two years of my high school experience. And I was discipling students who took over in leadership positions and went on to do leadership positions in Christian organizations elsewhere. I went over to Belgium the summer I turned 17, and I met a guy who we started talking theology and started deconstructing the very appalling Bible studies that we were supposed to do for the mission group.
And we didn't want to stop talking. And so, we kept talking and eventually we decided we didn't want to stop talking even at the end of the day or, you know, when he had to go back to England, and I had to go back to Canada. So, [00:04:00] year after we met, we got engaged and two years later we got married and a year after that, because birth control doesn't always work, there was a baby. And two years after that, there was another baby. Only this one didn't live. He lived for three weeks. And that began the deconstruction journey for me in earnest.
Heather: My baby didn't live and the church was crap in response. And now what do I do? Sort of thing. But it wasn't just that it, it wasn't that isolated incident.
It was also, you know, we both had gone to Bible school. We both had gone off to university. We had skills and we had abilities and we kept being told, no, you can't use these in the church, even outside of preaching. And we were like, yeah, but I'm not okay with waiting until I'm 40 to be allowed to do something for [00:05:00] Jesus.
Like I'm not okay with that. And at the same time, as I was doing that deconstruction work, I started working as the first support director for the Trisomy 18 foundation, which is basically being a pastor for a whole bunch of people who are losing their babies and know that they will be.
After a few years of that, I started working as a doula. I thought, I'll calm everything down. I need babies to stop dying. I need things to stop being high risk. I arrived in a new community in Ontario as a freshly graduated doula. And all the other doulas found out about my background, and I ended up doing more doula work with high risk moms.
I did a four and a half year stint at a pregnancy resource center here in the city. And I was the client services director and helped them develop a [00:06:00] doula program. Even at the same time as I was like, I may not agree with all of your ideas about how strongly we should push a certain agenda, that may not be my position anymore, but I still felt like there were so many women coming through that place, genuinely wanted to keep their babies, but did not have the skills or the resources or the supports to do it. And it felt really important to me to minister to those women and to give them something tangible and something practical and something real. And we saw very real results in terms of pregnancy outcomes and birth outcomes, and even like intervention by child protective services and that kind of thing, all of the outcomes improved on every level.
And so that was really exciting. And then [00:07:00] through all of that, I was parenting kids that were really complicated. Um, I don't really share the details of my kids' lives, but I think it's, it's important to say that my kids have a lot of medical complexity and there was a lot of mental health issues and that it was absolutely exhausting. And I was incredibly overwhelmed, and my partner is also autistic and we didn't have a diagnosis for him, and I am autistic, and I didn't know that about myself. I'm self-diagnosed, atypically, autistic, and the context of all of that, along with ongoing church trauma through all of those years, it had just built up and built up and built up until I was at a point where I had suicidal ideations almost every day and I was not okay.
And I finally, because of the work I [00:08:00] was doing at the center, trying to understand trauma in the clients I was working with because I wanted to do something to make a difference, I started realizing that I had a lot of trauma.
Heather: And then I tried to figure out how to cope with that. And I went down a lot of rabbit holes and I met with a lot of therapists who actually just added trauma, which was, you know, not helpful because nobody really understood the role that my religious upbringing had on the way that I was living today.
There was this idea that because I had left all of those spaces, that those spaces were no longer traumatizing me.
But the reality was that the messages that had been laid down over the years over and over and over and over and over again were still [00:09:00] operating like old code in my brain. And they were still causing all of these contradictions between how I wanted to live and how I thought I was supposed to live. And that constant grind of the contradictions, the constant grind of expectations that were locking me up emotionally was utterly exhausting me. And I would say looking back, that was the biggest, hardest thing about what was going on in our lives. If I hadn't been carrying all of that, then no amount of autism and mental health issues and physical health issues and hospital visits and ER visits and anything else, no amount of any of that would've been nearly as [00:10:00] bad. If I hadn't been coping with, trying to cope, failing to cope with all of those messages from my upbringing.
Danielle: Oh, my gosh, that just kind of knocked me on my butt. Just you saying that, it's very validating to hear that, honestly, for me, because I'm just now recognizing, I think I've had the same experience. I have an amazing therapist, but I've had really poor experiences in the past, which is why I never really pursued it.
And I only pursued it when I had to, when I had like severe postpartum depression. And it didn't help what they told me to do, but now I have a therapist who's autistic and who comes from a Christian background and to have somebody get it is so amazing. Okay. You shared so much in your story.
Heather: And I didn't even share all of it.
Danielle: Oh, I know. I know you didn’t, and you could have kept going for forever. But I just want to just really quick say a few things. One is you talked about being [00:11:00] atypical autistic, and we'll link something in the show notes where you have something about that on your website.
Heather: A list of atypical autism traits. There's about 40 traits across different categories listed on that. And I'm just self-diagnosed, it's very rare to be able to get an actual diagnosis for atypical autism, but it's very helpful to be like, oh, that explains a whole lot. So I have made sure that's on my website so people can find it and have that same experience for themselves.
If it's helpful.
Danielle: Yeah, cause I have not even seen that list. So I'll be curious to look at that after we finish talking. Another quick thing is that I'm someone who has experienced, you know, birth trauma myself with both of my kids. I almost died, and it's very overwhelming, and all that stuff. And I'm just kind of the same thing with [00:12:00] religious trauma.
I'm like, does being autistic just make it impact you more? Because I kept being like, when am I going to get over it? Almost dying in childbirth. When am I ever going to get over there? And actually I do feel like I'm getting there, but my oldest child's birthday is next Tuesday, and I've had this thought like, should I go to the hospital?
You know, where I had my child three weeks early and almost died. And you know, I was 26 years old, just thought I was invincible, you know, thought it would be the easiest thing in the world. Didn't really think I could ever die. And then being on death’s door and then being told you have this tiny baby to take care of now.
So anyways, I was thinking about that as you're also talking about how much church trauma impacted you. [00:13:00] I guess my first question would be, do you think that kind of church trauma impacts neurodivergent people differently?
Heather: So, oh my goodness. There's so many things I could pick up on what you just talked about, even before you asked the question. So, I'm actually working on a proposal for a chapter on a book about pregnancy and theology. And I was asked to talk about birth trauma. So, I have so many thoughts right now down all of these lines, I'm working on my master's at the moment.
I'm hoping to keep going from there. So, oh my goodness. So many thoughts. Two thoughts to start with the birth trauma. One is that in my experience as a high risk doula, a number of my clients were autistic and a number of my clients were undiagnosed autistic.
Heather: And I had already been like, I don't know, there's [00:14:00] something a little different about this lady, but not in a bad way, just a little bit different.
And then seeing them in labor, especially first-time labors for autistic women, autistic uterus holders of all shapes, sizes and genders, are almost always traumatic. First birth. They don't always end up in a death scare, but the emotional trauma, the physiological trauma of the experience of birth is not something that the majority of autistic uterus holders are prepared for.
Heather: The resulting trauma of that, that trauma could be primarily avoided if we [00:15:00] adjusted the way that we talked about those things, like, oh my goodness, that would be five more podcast episodes right there.
But in terms of the religious trauma, yeah, I do actually think that we are more susceptible to the trauma because of a few reasons. One is because the level of us that is very literal. The part of us that is very much like, the authority said that it's like this. And so this is the way that it is, this is the rule.
The part of us that is craving a rule system, a social rule system, so that we could know what the rules are, so that we could keep them, so that everybody would be happy with us, is just trying to soak in unquestionably what it's being told. [00:16:00] That's true across all of the levels of the religious experience.
That's true in terms of like, what is truth. That's true in terms of the whole purity culture world. That's true in terms of, you know, so many layers of how should we act socially? How should we engage with other people? Who should we allow ourselves to talk to about all of those things? I think we are primed either to reject all of it or to grab hold of it and take it in unquestionably.
Danielle: Okay. I'm glad you said that because I think a question I have, and I know a lot of other people have, is like, obviously there's so many sort of stereotypes around autism out there. But I think one that is even in more [00:17:00]progressive spaces, it's like autistic people are more likely to be atheists.
They're more likely to reject religion because religion's not logical. And so I think there's this interesting tension of like, it's not logical, but it's like a set way to live, to be a human. And that's so attractive to people. When I was thinking about when you were just talking, it's like for people socialized as female, our religious trauma is super connected too, like, we knew it was bad news for us.
Like you already mentioned, you knew, I can't preach. I can't do this. And so the level of mental gymnastics we had to force ourselves into to say, and so I think even for men, they were like, this is good for me, you know, I get to do everything. And so they don't have even that same layer, but that's not true.
There's so many gender nonconforming people.
Heather: Well, and also, I think one of the things we have done a humongous disservice to our [00:18:00] men over is assuming that complementarianism only hurts women. It does not.
Danielle: That's true.
Heather: I know so many men who have been harmed by it, not just hurt, but harmed, traumatized by what it tells them they have to be and what it tells them they have to do and what it expects out of them.
And it's not overt in the same way. And there will be people who are upset at me for saying this, but I have spent a lot of time thinking about it and talked to a lot of people over the years about it. I see the ways that men are harmed deeply by this. I am now a pastor. I am now a preacher. I have this little church plant that I get to be a part of, which I absolutely love. And it's full of people in [00:19:00] the margins and it's full of people who are deconstructing faith. And I actually have a few guys at our church who come out of the same church tradition I did. And even the ones who have not yet been able to articulate the ways in which that church tradition harmed them, I see the harm. So yes, I think we are all harmed by that.
Danielle: I think that's such an important point, and I'm really glad you said that. I keep going back to how you described it as sort of like these gears grinding against each other.
Danielle: Internally for you. And just thinking like there's going to be layers for people socialized as men, people socialize as female in, in how those gears work.
But I think why I wanted to talk to you this month, because we're talking about high control religious environments and what that can do to you and the trauma of that. And this thing that [00:20:00] keeps popping up for me is like, for people like myself, who I was similar to you, growing up extremely religious, buying all into it, because first of all, that's how I got love for my parents. And secondly, that's how I had identity. And so that's a pretty intense combo right there. And now just being like, I don't have a good sense of self and it's so embarrassing. It's so embarrassing because I would never have thought that about myself.
I've always been a very intense, earnest young woman. That's how people would always describe me, you know, like on mission for God, tweeting intense things, you know.
Danielle: People assume I know who I am, but it's like, everything was about God's mission, you know? And it's never enough.
It's never enough in my community. So I'm like, how do we learn? If you're a metaphor, like the gear is grinding against each other, how do we [00:21:00] learn to get in touch with like, what's actually coming from us? It's a real question I have. And again, it's so embarrassing to be 38 years old and be like, how do I get a sense of self?
Like, you seem like a pretty good person to ask that question to.
Heather: So that is the perfect question to ask. And actually, the point where you cut me off of my story of myself is the perfect place to start getting into that.
Danielle: Full circle.
Heather: We can pretend we planned it, we planned it like this people, we planned it. So, that point of crisis drove me to start to really try to figure out what the truth was about who I was and why I was responding the way I thought I was. And there were these, [00:22:00] in good Christian fashion, there were these two verses that were at the heart of this drive. The first was, there's no longer any fear in love because perfect love casts out fear. And I was like, whoa, fuck. I am full of fear all the time. Everything I do is rooted in fear. I did this, I decided I was going to try to give up fear for lent.
Danielle: Oh, oh, I know so many people who've done that every year, and they all have anxiety disorders. I'm like, well, have fun.
Heather: Yeah. Well, but what it did was it, it made me conscious of just how much of my life I was living in fear. And I knew I wanted to be able to be loving. I knew I wanted to be able to be caring for my family. I knew I wanted to be able to love my community and I didn't realize how badly I was doing at it until I tried this.
And you know, sometimes, [00:23:00] sometimes the point of lent is not to succeed, but to fail and to realize just how, how far from what God wanted for us, we've ended up. And then the second verse was, you will know the truth and the truth will set you. I was like, well, I am not free. I am not free. And I am full of fear.
And what in the heck is going on and what do we do? And so I started grappling with where, where do we start? How do I figure out what the truth is? How do I figure out who I am? And then how do I figure out why I'm so far away from that? How do I get back to it? So those were the questions I was asking.
Danielle: Okay. Can [00:24:00] I ask a quick question? Because as someone with religious trauma, I hear those verses, right? And literally, like some of them are in VeggieTales episodes. Like some of them are, and it's like, the hard thing about those verses is like these authority figures in my life told me what the truth was, and it was never about me, never once.
So I'm assuming that's what you're saying. Right? All we could, I don't know if you, how you would even say it, but like the only truth we could know is really what's going on inside, because I'm still like, oh no. Oh no. There's like a true truth that I have to find. Like I go to low mode.
Heather: So there is a branch, there's a methodology, which is a big word for like a way of examining things, um, in philosophy called phenomenology. Great big word. But what it really means is that instead of rooting knowledge in [00:25:00] something esoteric, something out there, some authority figures, some philosophical mantra, some whatever else, it is a way of rooting how we think about the world and what we determine in experience. And I did not know the word phenomenology six years ago when I was developing this, but I'm using it in my master's thesis. And I'm like, oh, that's the word? That's the word for the thing that I did. And I love to find the words for the things that I did.
Six years later is a little late, but you know, if we get there, but it's this idea that what if, what if these were testable in my own life? What if these ideas were true and really where it came from? I decided because of where I was at with my deconstruction and [00:26:00] reconstruction journey, I got to the point where I was like, I need some experiential proof of these things.
If I am going to keep on believing things, I can't just take things as read. I now need to test every single thing. So we're going to start with these two. Here's the task. We're going to start with these two. And I think it's interesting, because I think I was able to do that in my late thirties, because when my son died, I had done that with, um, Matthew 5:4, which says, “blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”
And I had been reading in Matthew the week that he got his, we got his diagnosis prenatally, um, of Tri 18. And he and I read the first half of that verse. Blessed are those who mourn. Then I [00:27:00] slammed my Bible shut and I was like, nope, nope. There's no blessing in this. I am not interested in blessing.
I will pick up my Bible again when you prove that there's blessing. And that started an 11-month standoff, which was perfectly fine. God has big shoulders and God does not mind. And 11 months later, I was sitting with a good family friend who had made some space for me to talk about our infant loss.
And she was a family physician, as well as having had multiple miscarriages herself. We had talked for several weeks at that point. And she said, you know, I wonder whether you would let me pray for you. I know you're mad at God, but I wonder whether you would let me pray for you. And I said, yeah, I guess. I was 23 years old. Like I had buried my baby. I was not impressed with God at that point. I said, yeah, I guess. And I had this experience [00:28:00] that felt tangible, that felt visual. That I can still remember like clear as day. A feeling that God had picked me up and put him, put me on God's shoulder.
I was just like rocking me and pat me, like a parent would a completely devastated toddler. And I had this experience of God's comfort. That was overwhelming. And so I had learned at 23 that, that God was big enough for me to wrestle with and demand that I could experience what scripture said would happen. It was only in that moment that I remembered the second half of the verse, because I hadn't gotten as far as reading the second half of the verse, when I slam my Bible shut, it says blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. [00:29:00] And so I had. This first taste of an experience of unraveling God's truth for myself in my own life, real and tangibly.
And so in my late thirties, when I came back to, okay, God, like I am ready to throw these Bibles across the room. I'm ready to leave the church, ready to never have anything else to do with this. I have wrestled with this now for like 15 years. I'm not like, how long do you want me to wrestle before I just give up?
Like, this is ridiculous. I was like, okay, these two verses, these are promises you're making, great. I want to see them in my own life. I need to know this. I need to experience this. And if I can't, this system does not have anything left for me. And that's fine. I will walk away, no harm, no foul, but it's time to move on, you know? [00:30:00] but I committed to wrestling with them. And as I wrestled with them, I developed a way of finding my own self. And I developed a way of separating and unzipping my own self from the religious messaging of my childhood and my adolescence. And as I did that, I was able to experience my own truth in each of those things, I had this experience of freedom and it just kept growing bigger and bigger and bigger.
And I am not the person I was when I started that process.
Heather: Ask anyone who [00:31:00] knows me, they will tell you that I am a very, very different person. I am not a perfect person. I still get scared sometimes, but I get scared sometimes for a moment for an hour. And I react in my fear, and you know, it'd be nice if I didn't, but you know, it's a moment.
And then it passes, and everything I'm doing now in my life, pastoring a church full of misfits doing my master's degree in disability theology, living as a very disabled woman, with very disabled, young adult children and a very disabled husband, none of that would be possible if it wasn't for the fact that I had found that freedom.
Danielle: Wow. And so you're, you're almost saying [00:32:00] like, because I know people can take different paths, but you were sort of like, I'm going to use this, like these verses, right, and turned them on their head almost, and force God to prove. And I think that's a really powerful way of developing autonomy. I wonder though, if not everyone can do the same thing, because even as you were talking, I started crying because I was like, I remember with my second birth, I thought I had, you know, I knew I'd be high risk going into it because I had help syndrome the first time. So they were like, you have a good chance of developing that again or just preeclampsia.
And so I was heavily monitored. I delivered my son a month early instead of two months. So that was great. Another sort of C-section that I didn't plan on, but then they sent me home after three days and a home health nurse came to check on my baby, took my blood pressure was like, you have to go the emergency room [00:33:00] right this second.
And I was like, no, no, no, no, no. I prayed, God, help me. I have a healthy baby. I'm at home. No, but then I did. And then I was in the hospital trying not to have a stroke for a week.
Danielle: And I just felt so alone. And my whole life, I had been told, like, God's with you, like in these dark moments, you will feel the presence or you'll feel that comforting.
And I am still dealing with, how alone I felt that whole time and how God did not show up in that way for me there. But I've had other experiences that I would like definitely describe as supernatural and very counterintuitive to like my religious upbringing. So, it's fascinating. I can see points in my life where that did happen and points where it didn't, but it's so freeing to be like, yeah, that's on God.
That's not on me.
Heather: Yeah. Yeah. And, I think that's what I would say. Like, like, you've [00:34:00] asked me about very particular incidents in my life, and those are incidents where there was comfort and where God did feel, it did feel like God had shown up.
Danielle: I love it, it made me cry. I love that story.
Heather: But I could tell you so many other stories where I didn't feel like that at all.
And those intervening years between that first story I told about God's comfort and the second story I told about developing this material did not feel like God was present at all.
Heather: For over a decade of trying and praying and trying and praying and getting slammed by church after church, after church.
And like, I don't want anybody listening to this to be like, oh, well, that's not fair. She got that. And I did, like so many years [00:35:00] where, where I could barely have a conversation with my parents, where my marriage should have really should have ended in divorce.
I don't know how many years of that time, you know, it was not healthy. It was toxic. There was so many nights I cried myself to sleep. Where are you? God, why won't you listen? Why isn't it good enough? What do I have to do so many, so many years? So I don't want anybody to take from this. Oh, she just had like this wonderful, amazing experience.
That's not the case, but after all of those years there was this gift. And because of this gift for me, it has turned into a gift for many other people [00:36:00] that also had religious trauma that also had birth trauma that also had children born, who were very disabled because of the birth trauma that also had, and also had, and also had, and, and they have also had the experience of finding their own truth and being set free.
And some of them are still interested in being connected to the church and some of them aren't, and that's irrelevant.
Danielle: Yeah. Oh, thank you for saying that. I agree.
Heather: Please be clear. I, because of the audience that you told me you had, I wanted to be honest about like, this is, this was the story. This is where it actually came from. But like I used this, this tool with people who have no interest in anything religious, that’s irrelevant, it [00:37:00] works. And I think that that actually has become one of my litmus tests for what I am willing to preach for what I am willing to teach as a pastor. And as a theologian is, does this work well enough outside of a Christian structure?
Danielle: Mm, that's amazing. And that kind of gets to what I've been researching, you know, with like high control religious groups, like so much of that is like, you just have this shared insider language nobody else understands, where the elite people who get it, blah, blah, blah. And so I think what you just said is honestly such a helpful tool for people who are like, is this tool Christian adjacent or not?
Danielle: If it'll make sense as far as even just like how to be a human, how to be in touch with yourself, how to develop autonomy. Like that is helpful for anyone, anyone.
Heather: Yeah. And if you [00:38:00] can't talk about it outside of religious language, you don't understand it, or it's not true. That's one of my litmus tests.
Heather: Like I don't use a lot of religious jargon when I preach even, it is not necessary either. I understand it deeply enough that I can talk about it in regular words that regular people can understand whether they've ever set foot in the door of a church or not, or I don't understand it and I shouldn't be talking about it. So all those big words, like, what do they really mean? And then we talk about them in regular language. So like my best example is the word sanctification, which gets used a lot in religious circles. Especially in the circle that my current denomination is. And sanctification is a really big word that nobody actually knows what it means, but we [00:39:00] talk, we don't use that word.
We talk about becoming the people Jesus would be if Jesus were us.
Danielle: Interesting. If Jesus were us is a really different way of looking at it because sometimes, like I've started to be like, oh no, me trying to be like, Jesus has not been great for my mental health.
Heather: No, we're not first century Jews living in Palestine.
Danielle: I really like Jesus, but trying to be Jesus has been kind of bad for me personally.
Heather: But what if we could become the person Jesus would be If Jesus were us?
Danielle: Wow, okay!
Heather: The woman Jesus would be, if Jesus were me, is a woman who lives in 21st century, Canada and does life from a wheelchair and has a neurodivergent brain and has experienced a whole different set of experiences has a whole different family structure has a [00:40:00] whole different religious community.
What does it look like to strip Christianity down to the point where we can figure out what it means to be the person Jesus would be if Jesus were us? That's a whole different ballgame.
Danielle: Okay. Can I ask a quick question? I, you know, we can't keep talking forever, even though I want to. So I want to get to, if you have any sort of practical things for people who are just on this journey, discovering autonomy, because that is sort of tripping me up a little bit. How do we learn to get in touch with ourselves when we still have these questions of how would Jesus be me?
Because to me that is a, a stumbling block to use another Christian term in pursuing autonomy is like, okay, now I have to think I have to be how Jesus would be if Jesus would be blah, blah, blah. So I'm just being honest about my own religious trauma and how it comes into this.
Heather: So, so the thing is we can't become the person Jesus would be if Jesus were us, unless we know who us is.
Danielle: There we go.
Heather: Okay. And the challenge when we have grown up in these environments, autistically or not, [00:41:00] is that we were told not to know who we were. Who we were, was not important.
And so that is so far down on our mental radar that we don't have any easy intellectual connection to it. But we have bodies. One of my big things as a crip theologian, somebody who studies theology through the lens of the lived experience of disabilities, is that we have in Western theology, separated ourselves from our bodies.
Heather: And this is a problem because we are told to love God with our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength. And we can't love God with our strength if we are disconnected from our bodies. And the idea is that these four things are meant to be integrated. And I think if you [00:42:00] think of it like a Venn diagram with four interwoven circles, the center of all four of those circles living together is where we are most able to love God from.
But we've distanced ourselves from our bodies. We've said, nope, your bodies are not. Our bodies are hella important. So we have to go back to our bodies. If we are going to find out who ourselves are, because ourselves are made out of the cells of our bodies. And the way that we do that is, when I'm coaching people using this technique, I start by asking them to come up with five stories, five moments when they felt fully alive, five moments in time where their bodies and their minds and their hearts and their spirits felt like if all of life could feel like [00:43:00] this, it would be amazing. And then I get people to tell me those stories and I make sure that those stories come from at least five different elements of life. I don't want five great stories from one family vacation when you were 12, it's not going to cut it. Want one story from there. I want one story from when you were in school, I want one story from your current family.
I want one story from a work experience. I want one story from a, you know, doing a hobby or some other experience, right? I want to gather stories from lots of elements of your life, but then I get you to tell those stories. And I ask questions in ways that help people to embody the experience.
Again, to settle back down into the memories that their bodies hold and out of that we find the threads of your values. We find the threads of [00:44:00] who you were foundationally made to be. What that does, we create a list of values, of four to six values that are rooted in your own embodied experience.
Nobody tells you what they are. I never ever, ever say, DL, your values are, no, you say it.
Heather: I just give you the coaching to get you to that point. And then once you figure that out, you then use the work that we've done to create definitions that are, that are for you. So if your value is for example, you have a value of connection.
I'm going to, you know, lots of people have value somewhere around the connection or community or something like that, that frequently shows up that does not mean you actually have it. I [00:45:00] am not telling you, you have it just to be clear, but let's pretend, in a pretend world that you have a value of connection.
We don't then go to the dictionary and look up the value of connection at, at the word connection and use that dictionary definition. We use work we've done from your embodied experience to define what connection means for you. So again, we're going back to your experience. We're going back to that phenomenology, um, that that tells that says truth is rooted in experience. And you are pulling that out of your own experience, and you are then able to tell yourself, oh, this, and then you can check it against your own embodied experience. When I say, this is what my value is, and this is what it's defined as, how does my body feel? How does my body respond to [00:46:00] that? My body becomes my check system.
Heather: And once we've done that, we can then use those values and those definitions to create, to create a dialogue partner with the messages that we live with. So all of the times in our life, when we trigger, when we react, we melt down all of those times, the thesis behind this is that all of those times are times at which our values are in contradiction with a message. And so we use those moments, whatever the moment happens to be this week that somebody wants to work on, to unearth what the message is, because it's not conscious. It’s subconscious, almost always. Where did it come from when it was the first time you felt this? Where, what, who said it? How did they say it? We [00:47:00] find the words whenever possible, the exact words that were said and the exact person in moment, the first time we heard it.
And then we analyze that we react to that with our values. So each value gets a chance to say, what do you think of this message? And usually they go, I hate it. It's awful. But they each get a chance to react to the message and then having each reacted to the message. We've created like a hole where, okay, this message is dumb and stupid and is getting us into a lot of trouble.
We'd like to get rid of it, but it's not enough to just get rid of it. It's providing operating code to the computer. That is our brain. So if you just take it out, either the brain will search for a new external message, or it will just shut down when those situations happen. Because it has no new definition.
Danielle: Mmm. Mm-hmm mm-hmm.
Heather: Instead, what we need is a new message. And so we use the values to say, okay, in this situation, what would a DL who was living fully into her values do in this situation? That's different than what the messages said. And then having asked each of the values what they think, then the values collectively offer a new one, two sentence message.
And what I have found is that in that process, simply going through that process without ever having to grit your teeth and try harder and make a pact to do better next time, and anything else, the trigger, the existence of the message simply falls away. And there is freedom because when we find the truth of who we were uniquely created to be, and how we were uniquely created to [00:49:00] live, we are set free.
Danielle: Oh, my gosh. I feel like the way you just explained that was so beautiful and also like evidence based and succinct. I'm just like, kind of in awe of how you just walked us through that because, one thing I was thinking about is it wasn't until my therapist was like, why are you so sure that you're neurotypical, right, that caused me to be like, wait, am I not neurotypical? You know, and this just happened last fall. And, and now that I know I'm neuro divergent, I can say I actually can be in touch with my body a lot better, but it's been really difficult because when I'm in touch with my body, and what my body's telling me is my body has been in rebellion for a really long time against my internal code.
So it's like [00:50:00] a double edged sword. Like I'm so happy to be more in touch with my body. But I think about what I would've said, even, eight-nine months ago about what some of my top five moments, and now I would look back at some of those and be like, I was so anxious and I was so alone, but I, in my head, I thought I'm doing the right thing.
You know, I'm doing the right thing. So it's just going to be a lot of work for people like me who have been so disconnected because I don't want to know. I don't want to be aware of how depressed and anxious I am. I don't want to, it's much better for everyone in my life, honestly, if I keep pretending I'm fine.
And I know that. And so it's like, oh, that's how I live my life.
Heather: So there's, there's two things I want to say to that. The first is that, this is a lengthy process. This is a like two year plus process for a lot of people who begin on this journey. This has not happened overnight. [00:51:00] And second of all, because it's entirely driven by the client, by the person sitting there. It is a process that allows people to decide which things they want to deal with. And when.
Danielle: I love it.
Heather: But in almost every experience that I have had, the people around those people have said that it's better now than it was before. And so that idea that, you know, I don't want to deal with this because you know, it's better.
If, for my family, if I don't deal with this actually is not as true as we want it to be.
Danielle: That's so helpful. That's so helpful. That's honestly really helpful to hear because that's probably just another thing my brain tells me. Okay, [00:52:00] so you do this coaching work like this is part of the work you do, right. And people can find you, you want to say your website real quick?
Heather: So, I will say the website it's poweredbylove.ca. I am currently not able to take clients because I am full and I will be full for the foreseeable future because news of this technique got out in a book earlier this year called Unmasking by Dr. Devon Price.
Danielle: I can't believe that, that is like serious cred, man.
Heather: Yeah. It's a serious crowd.
I was very excited. And the only thing I will say is he asked me like how I would like my name referenced in the book and I thought he meant like in the bibliography or the acknowledgements or something and didn't realize how much he was going to say from the interview I did with him. And so he is got like my full name in. [00:53:00] And it's like, oh, that's not what I meant. But apart from that, no, it's some serious credit because he's, he's got like all of what I just told you is in that book.
Danielle: Okay. I have not read beyond, I think the first two chapters, maybe.
Heather: You'll have to keep reading. So it's, it's all in there. But that kind of made me realize that it wasn't just a few of my, you know, friends and acquaintances and people who had heard about me through random people that needed this, that this was like, wow, there's a lot of interest. And so what I've done is I've started doing training sessions for coaches and therapists.
So I've done one for coaches and therapists who are thinking about things through the lens of autism and neurodivergence. And I am hoping to do another one for that group in a couple of months. But I think [00:54:00] there's also value in kind of focusing on doing a few for folks who are specifically thinking about high religious control kind of spaces and people recovering from that.
Because the thing is when you're doing the sessions, when I do the training, what I do in the training is I actually take the coaches and therapists through that first process, the values process, and through the first time of doing a message uncover and recovery process. And so when everyone in the room is coming from a similar background, it makes it easier for them to be able to coach each other well, because they know the right questions to ask, and there's less that you have to like preemptively explain about yourself, because you can just be like, okay, everybody in this room gets the basics and now we're going to go.[00:55:00]
So I have purposely separated out the trainings, but yeah, I am currently not able to take new coaching clients, but hoping that I might get some interest from some folks who would be, who would like to do the coaching training, so that they can be listed on my website as folks who are qualified to do this material and focused on one of those two backgrounds.
Danielle: That's so, okay. That's so helpful because it's a hard thing for all of us, right? When we're trying to pursue health is finding, neurodiverse, affirming therapists, life coaches, all of that. And I can see how a traditional life coach is not going to work well for a lot of us, especially when we have this religious trauma background or like a high control religious background.
So you and I are going to chat and put it on our, what do we want to call it? Vision board? That [00:56:00] maybe we could do a session specifically for like people who are part of this God is my special interests group at some point we could, we could maybe talk about that. You have a bunch of us here.
Heather: I would, I would love to do that. I would absolutely love to do that.
Danielle: We can talk about that.
Heather: That would be perfect. Because I think, you know, the feedback I got from the first training session was like beyond anything I could have hoped for. I had people telling me that like, for some with autism being able to access any of their emotions, is just not an option for them.
It's something called alexithymia. And, I had people telling me that they'd like worked with other therapists for more than a year, trying to find a way to access. How were they feeling? What did they, what were their emotions saying about things? And in the space of those two days of training, they [00:57:00] were able to access emotions.
They've never had access to before. Like, there is both a very long trajectory of work that comes with this, but there is also like an almost immediate switch that starts to get flipped for people as they engage in the process. And even by the end of the first day, cause we just do the values based process the first day.
Determining values. I had people come back the next day going, I had no idea that that's who I am and I already feel so much. I wasn't expecting this to give me something. I thought this was for my clients, but I already feel so much freer and lighter. And I hadn't even told them that that was the objective.
Like it was, it just works because people are able to access something about themselves through their bodies that they cannot any other way.
Danielle: It's so encouraging as I'm [00:58:00] just, like you said, just starting this journey of trying to develop autonomy. And the values part is really hopeful, you know, because for a lot of us, when we're deconstructing these really rigid worldviews, that helped take away anxiety in some ways, but, you know, gave it to us at others.
It's like, man, what do we, what do we have to like if I'm not living on mission for God, Like in the same way I thought of myself, what do I have? So I think value is just such a beautiful, hopeful way of looking at it. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. I know this is gonna be so helpful for so many people, and I'll just tell people, like, I'm going to interview Heather again in the future.
Don't worry. Because there's lots. We didn't get to talk to you about, so I'm like this will be an ongoing relationship. I think, I think we're your people over here,
Heather: I love that. I love that. I've been looking for more of my people, so I will look forward to that entirely.
Danielle: Yeah. So make sure you guys check out Heather's website poweredbylove.ca. Um, I also follow Heather on Twitter. I think your Twitter is, is it rev Heather?
Heather: I have two Twitter handles because I’m not smart about Twitter, but anyways, I have poweredbylove2. I think it is. I'll check with and, and send it to you for the notes. Which is my Twitter handle where I talk about disability stuff. And I talk about things without any religious connection.
And then my other one, which is rev Heather, it's H_R_Morgan. Um, and that's where I talk more about religious stuff.
Danielle: Yeah. That's I think I only follow your religious one now. You know it makes sense why you're like I'm Reverend, Heather, this is my religious profile. I get it.
Heather: Well, and the Reverend Heather is actually, it's a bit of a big deal [01:00:00] and that's another podcast. There's a, there's a whole story. There's a whole long story there. So that's another podcast and we can, we can talk about that then I'm going to just leave you hanging. There's a very good reason for it.
Danielle: I love it.
Heather: It's not how I refer to myself anywhere else, but I do refer to it myself that way on my Twitter handle. And you can ask me why someday. Yeah.
Danielle: There we go. Okay. Well, thank you so much, Heather.
Heather: And you.