top of page

The Unraveling by Helen Joy George

Have you ever been paralyzed with the decision to leave a marriage that your entire foundational upbringing had prepared you to stay in?


Have you thought, "I will not make it through this"?


This book of poems explores a codependent woman growing up in cultish, evangelicalism. She explores how her childhood allowed her to disassociate from a young age. She gets married at 19 to her first boyfriend and stays in an emotionally abusive marriage for almost 2 decades. Helen Joy experienced extreme depression, self harm, and suicidal ideation as she stays in the marriage like a "good Christian wife" should. Following a suicide attempt she finally leaves the marriage and embarks on a healing journey as she unravels decades of pain, including pain from her church. The poems and photo portraits are grief stricken and yet hopeful.


Poems cover a variety of subjects including: purity culture, IBLP and Bill Gothard cult teachings, emotional abuse, mental health, stepping away from organized religion, therapy, body love, finding worth, and finding love.

Think you're not a poem person? This book tackles heavy topics in a digestible manner. Poems are various lengths, don't rhyme, and vary between endearing and hilarious.

Don't want to read something depressing? This has a steady upswing and a beautiful feeling of spring to it.


If you want an insider take on the grief of divorce and the growing pains of leaving what feels comfortable, this book is for you.

Screen Shot 2024-04-24 at 4.09.18 PM.png

"Painfully Hopeful"

Self-Care Tags:





Special Considerations Before Reading:

On page depictions of subjects

mentioned in summary

Why I love it: 

This collection of poems feel like a precious offering for anyone who has been hurt by a love they were told was good and holy, whether by another person or a religious institution. Helen Joy writes with such raw vulnerability about the anguish, loneliness, and despair that this kind of violence can inflict on us, especially when it comes at the hands of parents, lovers, and people of faith. She doesn't shy away from the intensity of psychic pain she endured that caused her to feel suicidal for almost two decades as complex trauma eroded her mental health. Yet, even in her heart wrenching recollections, she weaves hope, joy, beauty, wonder, peace, healing, and reconnection throughout this book while clinging to her Christian faith as a source of strength and refuge, separating her Creator from what she has experienced at the hands of His creation.

How I see the book and/or the stories in it to support self care:​​

  • The presence of nature as a healer is woven throughout the entirety of this book, so much so that the wild world becomes a secondary character in Helen Joy's story.  The way dirt, trees, rocks, flowers, sky, rivers, mountains, and roots help her reconnect with herself and act as a balm for her aching heart reminds us of how much power the other-than-human-world offers us when we choose to commune with it. Whether we have access to an abundance of natural beauty or feel we have to intentionally go seek out traces of it in more urban settings, green and blue spaces have an ability to soothe many of our souls in ways few other things can.​

  • Grief is depicted in all its complexity within these pages, a tangible weight you can feel as you read how Helen Joy navigated the effects of the trauma she endured at the hands of so many loved ones. In many of her poems, she incorporated the act of ritual as a way to recognize her mourning and honor the depth of her experiences, which can be an incredibly powerful way to create meaning from pain. In “Funeral” she asks for a wake rather than a divorce. In “Soft” she creates that experience for herself, scattering ashes of love letters after her marriage was ended by the court. In “Driftwood” she says goodbye to, and intentionally leaves behind, a token that had given her hope for her marriage for almost two decades. In “Climb” (two poems share a title, the first on page 64 and the second on page 143) she made a weekly hike up an “impossible mountain” near her house which forged a new path for her to strengthen herself to do hard things. Creating rituals can feel intimidating if it’s not something you have previously experienced being empowered to do for yourself, so if you are looking for a place to start, Day Schildkret’s books “Hello, Goodbye” and “Morning Altars” are wonderful places to start along with “Everyday Spiritual Practice.” 

  • For many of us who have been hurt by organized religion, yet still hold our personal spirituality as a vital part of our identity, wrestling with these seemingly conflicting experiences can be incredibly painful, confusing, and overwhelming. While there are countless ways that someone can decide to respond to this dissonance, one we don’t always see well represented is when someone has openly challenged the institution they came from and still finds their healing within the core of what they have always known to be true about their faith. Helen Joy shows us what it can look like when we lean on our own relationship with the Divine, whatever or whoever that might be, and allow ourselves individually to connect with that power and spirit, rather than rely on outside influences to tell us what is true, right, pure, and holy. This is not to say that spiritual community is not immensely valuable to many of us, but rather when we feel an internal conflict within our spiritual worldview, we must know our own voice and learn to trust it (and the One who gave it to us) before we accept what others tell us we “should” believe about that conflict. While many of her poems speak to this, “Church” does so in a very uncomfortably accurate way that leaves the reader empowered in their ability to seek communion with their higher power, on their terms, in their own way.

  • We are shown in these pages how the journey to finding our freedom, when we are living in a state of emotional captivity, is rarely a linear one. There are epiphanies and doubts, startling insights and deep fears, boundaries firmly set and ground lost, clarity of purpose and crippling uncertainty, hopeful joy and defeating despair. No two stories of healing and change are the same, though what is common for most of us is that traveling the path is a hard won victory. I often use the visual of a spiral staircase with my clients when we are talking about progress because it can seem like we keep revisiting the same pain points and barriers time and time again, which can feel immensely frustrating for them. However, as we fight for the lives we want to live, we don’t always realize that our vantage point has been subtly shifting overtime, that we have taken more steps up that staircase of change then we realized. We may be looking out over the same vista of hardships, but being able to see them from a new angle allows us to approach them differently and bring with us the pearls of wisdom from our newly lived experiences to inform us as we continue the work of creating the lives we aspire to live.

Drinking poison 


I tried everything- 

Every therapy, every podcast, book, and sermon. 

I took supplements, tried diets, climbed mountains And none of it worked. 

One day I realized it wasn’t because those things are not healing- 

 It’s because I continued to drink poison while doing them. 

Because as soon as I left and stopped drinking poison every day 

Healing came easily.

*Poem shared in it's entirety, with author permission*

Screen Shot 2024-03-16 at 2.48.27 PM.png
Screen Shot 2024-03-16 at 2.53.34 PM.png
Screen Shot 2024-03-16 at 2.50.05 PM.png

Where you can find it (besides your local independent bookstore)

Audiobook app that credits the local indie bookstore of your choice with purchases

Local library app that you can connect your card information to for audio and e-books (availability varieties based on branch and network)

Book Club app that lets you purchase e-books for interactive read-a-longs


Screen Shot 2024-03-17 at 8.48.19 AM.png

E-book download available through amazon

Screen Shot 2024-03-16 at 2.46.15 PM.png

Amazon subscription where select titles are available to borrow for free

Screen Shot 2024-03-16 at 2.49.34 PM.png

Audiobook app through Amazon

** Disclosure: I was given a free promotional copy of the audible by the author in exchange for an audible review.

Including "The Unraveling" in Stories for Self-Care was not part of the exchange and I have since purchased my own copy of the book at cost.**

bottom of page