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Sometimes You’ve Got to Leave in Order to Breathe! A Toxic Church Experience & Reclaiming Body Trust

From my earliest memory, I always loved God and going to church. I loved the experience of getting dressed, wearing our Sunday-Best clothes, and going to a place where we would learn, sing, fellowship, eat & worship in community. 

Whenever folx got dressed up, they also got sprayed up with their favorite perfumes and colognes. It seemed that only a few church members would wear their scents modestly, and even though I liked mildly scented perfumes, strong scents gave me migraines.

I first became scent sensitive when I was 10 years old, living in foster care. My aunt sold Avon and my bedroom was where she stored her products, including lots of bottles with strong fragrances.

I learned in that home (and from being sexually abused years before), that it wasn’t safe for me to express how I felt, especially when I was sick (which was often), because doing so usually resulted in me getting in trouble. So I only told my godsister & close friend.

[ Fast forward 25 years—> ]

From the age of 15, I attended and diligently served in ministry for over 20 years when our church was forced to move, due to rising gentrification, via eminent domain. 

Shortly after we moved into the new church building, my reactions to fragrance gradually became more pronounced, to the point of me gagging & running outside to keep from vomiting. This happened whenever I got close to really fragrant folks, and sometimes just upon entering the building.

I had no idea that my breathing was under attack.

Mama called fragrance, ‘smell-goods’ and most folx wore theirs layered with scented soaps, body sprays, lotions and after-shave. 

For some, that was on top of unsuccessfully masked cigarette smoke, by smokers dousing themselves with fragrance right after smoking & before entering church. 

Breathing became such a problem for me, I started asking my brothers & sisters in Christ, to please not wear so much fragrance. I even proposed that they consider coming to church fragrance free, which wasn't well received.

Most members thought my request was ridiculous and would not comply, even after witnessing my severe reactions. Some even got offended and angry at me because my sickness had become an inconvenience for them. 

Interestingly, they still urged me to faithfully show up, to serve them & Jesus with my many talents. They affirmed that they were believing God for my healing. They were willing to pray, but unwilling to accommodate me. This was a hard pill to swallow since church was my primary affinity space. 

Church leaders told me that my sickness would be healed if I believed God. Yet, I believed–and still wasn’t healed. That thing had become a thorn in my flesh!

Some leaders & members stated that my sickness was only in my head. [But isn't my head also in my body?] Spiritual leaders, including my husband (since we were both brain washed in so many ways back then), encouraged me to “stay faithful to God through my service in the church”.  So I did. Ignoring my body's screaming request for air & it's basic need to breathe. I hadn't learned yet to trust my body.

My sickness becames so intense, folx avoided getting close to me, still unwilling to reduce or eliminate their fragrance, a few hours on Sundays. I felt so alone & isolated & usually ended up leaving to sit in my car. Eventually, I started going to the knit shop around the corner, knitting in a space where I could breathe until church let out.  

Years later, I was referred to an allergy/asthma specialist who tried various treatments on me. Then on one visit she said, "Angela, at this point, you need to listen to your body. There must be something toxic inside that building."

I knew that she was right & wrote a letter to the pastor that I was leaving that church (where I was married, raised my kids & had served for over 30 years), so that I could breathe. My pastor rebuked me, not supporting my decision, and though my husband said he supported me, he remained at that church for some time after I left, by myself. Trusting my body was not a popular decision.

My new church, filled with folx who didn't know me, accommodated me right away! They annouced to their members to please not wear fragrance, just so I could breathe.

A few years following my exodus, men in hazmat suits had to clean-up many pounds of toxic waste inside the church where my family and I spent more time than most. 

My sensitive body was right and could mos' definitely be trusted.


Leaving that church, which also held many good memories, was the beginning of me 'Reclaiming Body Trust' & my Liberation Journey.

To support my writing & vision of Intersectional Healing & Body Trust, for myself & those I serve, please consider donating to me via...

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Thank You For Reading!

Instagram: @AngelaBraxtonJohnson and @AbundantFatness

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