Why I Hate Non-Survivors Blogging about Sexual Abuse Scandals

I think this might be long enough at the moment, that I don’t feel like I’m capitalizing on any one event.

Sexual scandals are titillating. Especially Christian sex scandals.

We like Christian scandals because we like the idea of the pure, wholesome Christian face falling. We like the idea of being able to identify sexual abuse by a group – it’s done by the Catholic church, by the fundy Protestants, by big organizations – it’s a cycle that is separate from us, away from us. It makes it easier to talk about – look at those people over there, away from us, who got caught doing something wrong. And so blogs fill up with posts, especially ex-fundy and ex-Christian blogs, about every sex scandal.

I don’t care.

I don’t care about anyone’s opinion on any number of high profile sexual abuse or rape scandals. I don’t care, not even toward those that make a thousand posts talking about how they support the victim. Can you imagine having thousands of posts about you? Can you imagine having your traumatic moments talked about by every random stranger with a blog, can you imagine faceless, nameless people that can do nothing for you saying, “But I support you” given as their permission to consume your experiences? Would you want the whole world peering at very personal pain, even if it was just to say, “Wow, that’s really bad”?

I only care as far as knowing that during every scandal, I have to stay away from every blog I read, because every person who survived Christian culture, but isn’t a survivor of sexual abuse will be blogging about it, tens of blog posts about it, because it’s easy to talk about. It’s easy to say, “this is a thing that affects me because Christianity affects me” without every thinking about the survivor.

But they don’t actually have to deal with ethe nightmares, or the trauma, or the outcome of moillions of people voicing their opinions about your experiences. I have had to stop reading a number of blogs because I don’t trust their opinions about sexual abuse – even if they’re feminist opinions, even if they’re supposedly standing for the side of survivors – because I don’t want to it.

Here’s what I care about: it’s easy to say, “I support the victims of this high profile scandal.” But I’m looking for what’s going to happen when someone’s favorite pastor is accused. Or their friendly neighbor, or best friend? What about the victim is “wearing too much makeup” or has “short skirts.” What about when the victim isn’t as pure as the driven snow, the pinnacle of sweetness? Those are the situations that matter more. Those are the situations when the individuals that are supposedly the most supportive of survivors find their excuses.

Blogging about sex scandals does jack-all for the victims of them. In fact, it contributes to the problem. How many survivors fall silent when they realize that if they voice what happened to them, everyone will have an opinion about it? How many survivors want to keep silent because of the sheer numbers of people willing to examine their wounds, even if it’s to say, “I support you”?

If my experiences were suddenly public profile, that would kill my blog. I would pull it down, I wouldn’t talk anymore about what happened to me, because suddenly there would be swaths of people deciding to analyze what I went through, deciding that this makes good fodder for pulling in readership, deciding to analyze my experiences without regard for understanding I’m a person. Survivors have already had their personhood denied – we don’t need it from others claiming to support us. And that’s what it does – no one writing about sexual scandals is thinking, “Is this what the victims would want? Are my words actually helping them? Is this actually supporting them in any real way?”

And we all understand this for our own life. In other circumstances, how many would want their trauma put in the public spotlight? Would you feel supported if countless numbers on the internet were helping to perpetuate the public profile of your personal experiences?

So I don’t care. Write about sexual abuse as a societal-wide problem. Write about it as an issue – but don’t use real survivors issues to somehow make your point. Write about it when it won’t garner you attention it, write about it when it won’t make your readership feel comfortable that sexual abuse exists apart from them – belonging to that other, weird group. Write about it knowing that a non-survivor’s voice will always be trusted more than mine – after all, to many, I’m just the fucked up angry, bitter survivor who isn’t thinking about things rationally and clear-headed. Write about it with the understanding that we survivors are writing about it too – we grow up, we become adults, we have a voice and our voice should hold more weight than a non-survivor. Understand that we’re out here, we’re talking, and we don’t actually need you to speak for us.

I’m tired of sexual scandals. Actually support survivors. Support us for real. Don’t use us because we’re an interesting writing topic. Don’t use us because you think that Christian culture gives you a better insight to sexual abuse, by virtue of Christian culture.

Learning the Small Stuff

One of the ways my mother was good at keeping me dependent on her was by constantly undermining any skills I might gain. I wasn’t good enough to do just about anything, and any mistake on my part was a sign of that. And there was always a perfect way to do things: a perfect way to load the dishwasher, to do laundry, to fold clothes, a perfect way that I couldn’t get right. I felt constantly lost and terrified, waiting for someone to realize how inept I was at, well, everything.

One of my biggest terrors before getting away from my family? Laundry. How was I supposed to separate my clothes for different loads when I had so little? How was I supposed to do it the right way? What if I failed at Laundry 101? Somehow that would be the end of the world. I couldn’t escape from my abusive family, I didn’t know how to do laundry.

For other people, laundry probably doesn’t even register. It is just another chore on a list of mindless chores. But for me it was another confirmation of my mother’s frequent question, “What are you doing to do without me?” It was always the small things. She hemmed my clothes, sewed buttons back on, she even balanced my checkbook, and every small thing she did for me was a sign I would need her forever, and every small thing I did for her was a sign she couldn’t live without me, until I was certain that my leaving would kill the both of us.

I ran away from my family knowing little about how to be a person, and having no skills on how to take care of myself. And it’s been hard, it’s been harder than it ever should have been and there are times when I am overwhelmed with frustration and anger that I can get tripped up by small things, or that I didn’t know something that is second nature to so many others.

But what’s more frustrating is how little some of these things mattered. I throw all my laundry into one load, and I have not destroyed all my clothes. I make my own financial decisions and the world, despite my perpetual anxiety, has not come to an end. When a shirt of mine lost a button, I looked it up on the internet, and on my own, sewed it back on. There are still countless things that I should know how to do that I don’t – and yet, I can still survive without her.

Just recently I bought a typewriter, and got replacement ribbon for it. When it arrived yesterday, I realized that no, universal typewriter ribbon would not actually fit on my typewriter. And once again, with the help of the internet, and my girlfriend, I managed to unspool the ribbon, wind it back on my typewriter’s own spool, and thread it through all the intricate little spaces – and it was done right.

It’s a small thing – but every time I do these small things, I realize how far away I’ve gotten. I no longer live in an environment where my learning is considered futile, where not knowing a thing is a sign you can never know it. Where small things are a sign of my failure as a human being, as an adult.

So many of the barriers I thought stood in my way, restricting me from ever leaving, were in fact false fronts, constructed by my mother to make it seem like the skills she never taught me would mean I could never be too far away from her.

But the internet has been a better parent, a better teacher, a better family. And these little things are not life-and-death, they are not the difference between being a successful person and being forced to stay with an abusive family.

So how could I live without my mother? Hard. Harder than it ever should have been, because I should have easily been able to live without her. This is the difference between a healthy family and an abusive one – when people told me that I, as an adult, was absolutely allowed to just up and move out, I didn’t understand them. No, I couldn’t, she would die. I would die.

But I did it, and I don’t know what makes me angrier – that I survived, or that she did, and that both prove that it was a lie – she can live just fine without me. And I can live without her, and I can learn without her.

Abusive parents who tell you you can’t live without them are liars. I have learned far more away from my mother than I ever did with her. Including learning that it’s okay to learn. If you don’t know a skill, and you’re ashamed of your not-knowing, it’s okay. There are lots of us. It’s okay to be adults still figuring out stuff adults younger than you know. It’s okay to feel like the small stuff trips you up – it trips me up too. You know what my accomplishment of this past, say, year and a half has been? I consistently brush my teeth at least once a day. How’s that for doing adulthood? But it’s okay. I’m learning. We’re all learning. It shouldn’t be this hard. But it doesn’t say anything about us that it is.

An Update

The difficulty of being a survivor writer is that the very topic I’m writing about requires me to dig into my own wounds.

I am not a blogger in the way that blogging has come to mean, I cannot churn out posts quickly about any topic that my blog covers, because it is all personal, all of it requires an emotional cost.

I know I haven’t updated in months. The summertime always seems to be the hardest on my mental health, and this summer has been particularly difficult. My book and my blogging have sat untouched while I try to battle my brain. I’ve managed to do other writing, but something about writing for this blog or for my book has felt incredibly difficult, daunting, and draining.

People don’t have nice, neat narrative arcs. That was one of the reasons I started my blog: I couldn’t relate to this idea that one day I would be the healed survivor, tied up in a little bow, an inspirational feel-good piece for others. If that were the case, then my story would have ended with escaping my family, right? and it would be so easy to write that, to craft a telling of myself that ended on that bright note, the victim free from abuse.

But for most of us, that isn’t actually how it works. We don’t climb out of the abuse and then coast. There’s the PTSD, there’s the distrust, there’s learning things we should have been taught but weren’t because our family was too busy hurting us.

It’s taken me forever to write this one meager little post. And that’s because for all that my writing is personal, I try hard to still make myself sound strong and assured. But I am, more often than not, anything but. I’m tired. I’m anxious. I’m trying to figure out what exactly I need and how exactly to go about it, but while those things may seem simple, they’re not. They’re incredibly taxing for someone who doesn’t know how to take up space, someone whose self-worth is shot through and feeling like they don’t really deserve anything.

I’ve been trying not to let my lack of posting feed back into my mental health. But I have to admit, I am writing this because I feel guilty. I feel like I’m letting people down by not posting, that I’m not living up to some standard of “blogger” that more than likely only lives in my head. Writing, in many ways, is a veneer I put up to tell myself, “Look, I may be struggling with a lot of things, but I am still doing a thing, I am still writing” so everyday that I can’t do anything more than play some mindless app game or watch a tv show I don’t even like feels like a day of losing a sense that I am anybody, that I exist as a real person.

Rest is a part of health, too. And I tell myself that a lot, but its frustrating that illness equates to more rest, more days where living and breathing is all the work you can do. But they exist and I am getting through them. I am trying. That summarize all that I can really say about myself lately, I am trying.

The Standards You’re Held To

One thing that never made sense to me as a conservative Christian was that we held non-Christians to a standard that we didn’t hold ourselves. A Christian could do all kinds of things, and engage in all kinds of sins, but as long as they repented — and sometimes even if they didn’t — we had forgiveness, and compassion, and pastors and leaders to tell us how hypocritical or self-righteous we were to not forgive.

The rules didn’t apply if someone wasn’t saved. We could hate you, we could wish you dead, we could fantasize about the day you end up in hell and get what’s coming to you. That wasn’t always considered the best avenue, and we might very well still talk about loving those who persecute you, but we certainly didn’t have to offer any forgiveness or grace toward a non-Christian. We could talk about how we are just upholding truth and anyone who told us not to judge, well, we could tell them they didn’t understand scripture. We’re supposed to judge. Non-Christians, of course. If you didn’t judge non-Christians, if you didn’t hold them to our standards, it was excusing evil, it was letting Satan win.

And all of this circulates, of course, around whether you were one of our Christians. If you had beliefs we didn’t agree with and you sinned, this was a sign you were a false prophet or a false preacher, or you just weren’t really saved. We could easily dismiss you. If you were someone we respected, well then, all we had was forgiveness and grace and, after all, didn’t Jesus forgive all our sins?

It continued to baffle me that “excusing evil” was if, say, you didn’t tell a gay person they were going to hell, but excusing evil was NOT in giving a Christian a million chances no matter what they did.

And of course, this also had to do with how you sinned. Gay? Well, you’re probably not really a Christian, so you don’t get to be excused. Hurt a child? That’s not so bad, we can’t judge that. Have an abortion? God can forgive you if you really, really hate yourself for it, if you sob about how you murdered your child, and if you weren’t a Christian at the time. Rape someone? Well, we are all fallen.

And cynically, I’d say this was because we cared about our people and not the ones that were outside our circle. It’s human mostly — how many times are you more excusing of your friends behavior than a stranger? And for average run-of-the-mill mistakes, that’s not so bad. If my friend does something that bothers me, I can bring it up and forgive because I know they didn’t do it out of malice. I don’t know that about a stranger, so I’m harsher.

But for people who believe in absolute morals, we still gave into forgiveness-by-affiliation, and for much greater acts. In fact, it was easier to forgive really horrific acts of violence than it was to forgive rather benign behaviors. I was taught to identify a Christian by whether or not they swore, but whether or not they were abusive or hurt others? That was a little fuzzier. And that’s because our affiliation said that a Real True Christian would never say the world “fuck” but a Real True Christian — one who we were familiar with, who had the right kind of beliefs, whose church we attended or books we owned or who we were certain had every word inspired by the Holy Spirit — they really were a Real True Christian, no matter the scandal that came out about them.

It never made sense to me that we — who were supposed to know “The Truth” who had God’s morals that we were supposed to follow — we could fail on those. We could fail again and again, and as long as we said the right words, or had the right kind of power, or were the right kind of person that other Christians didn’t feel like they could condemn, then we could get forgiveness and grace poured out on us. But for those who didn’t have “the Truth” who had no reason to follow our moral code, those people we could judge for not living up to standards we excused in our ourselves and our people.

These two ideas — judgment and forgiveness, righteous anger and grace, truth and compassion, they exist within fundamentalist Christianity along side each other. We often associate fundamentalist Christianity as believing in a harsh, judgmental, wrathful God, but that God is entirely context-dependent. God is both merciful and wrathful — it’s just based on who someone is as to which scriptures are used to condemn the critics or support them, to side with the perpetrator or convict them. Whether the Bible is a sword or a covering depends on the power you have and by how much you’re already counted as a believer or not by fellow Christians.

Doctors Hate It, Scientists Reject It, and That Means It’s True

screenshotI grew up on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura Schlesinger, and other conservative media, and along with the messages from church and my mother, I understood U.S. society from the perspective that we Christians were being suppressed — and us being suppressed meant Truth was being suppressed. The media, literature, universities; every avenue for the expression of ideas was slanted toward the “liberals” and as such, the real facts were being kept away from the average person.

It was easy, then, for my mother to buy into a similar line of thought about medicine and homeopathy. The idea that the medical community was filled with people who simply created drugs for profit; created drugs so that people would be forever dependent on them, was right in line with this way of thinking. After all, doctors went to college, colleges are made up of liberals who are either brainwashed, or doing the brainwashing, to keep the Truth hidden, and to fill everyone’s heads with lies.

When I see these ads with phrases of “ truth your doctor doesn’t want you to know about” “doctors are furious about this one trick” etc., I know exactly what demographic those ads are aimed toward. I think about my mother, putting “Natural Cures They Don’t Want You to Know About” on hold at the library, soaking up every show the author was on, nodding along. Of course! It all makes sense! And since “natural” sounds so good, sounds so right, and of of course the FDA is all in one giant conspiracy with the medical community which is all lying liberals, of course this poor author’s Truth is being suppressed.

I think about my mother buying Mangosteen off infomercials because it claimed it had magical health benefits. I think about all the “natural” that my mother tried to foist onto me or my grandmother or even herself, certain that “medicine” was bad, but “natural cures” was just pure and wholesome, so of course it would work.

It’s so very simple. As long as you have something that sounds right, something that reconfirms for these type of people that what they already believe is so absolutely, scientifically, undeniably true, and on top of that, the big liberal intellectual types are trying to keep this knowledge away from them, then it sounds absolutely like the truth.

I was too old for it to have any real-world consequences on me, but when one of youth pastor’s children was diagnosed with Autism, my mother was quick to believe that it was the vaccines. I’m not even sure my mother heard it from anything but members of our church, but of course it made sense — vaccines are full of terrible, long-sounding chemicals, and putting something so unnatural in your body could never be good for you! My mother was one of those types that believed that everything was being over-diagnosed — and it was being over-diagnosed so doctors could drug you up. Of course doctors would be okay with poisonous vaccines, they <i>like</i> poisoning people. Why? For money! Because liberals! The motivations didn’t really matter as much as the confidence that this was happening: doctors were about chemicals and drugs and hurting your kids, and we were living in a world with the consequences of that.

And this framework is born out of a perspective that says that truth is both easy, innate, and yet inaccessible; brainwashed out of you. I didn’t learn that the difference between a scientist and a layperson was that the scientist studied their field. “Scientist” was like “doctor”– the terms were about evoking authority when there is none. All beliefs are held equal. Academia was about instilling false confidence in people to believe that they had learned anything. If an academic paper sounds like gobbledygook that’s because it is — because if it’s not accessible to a child, or even to a layperson, then we could simply say, “Ah, you went to college so it could make you think you’re smart, but I, layperson, read it, and I can tell it’s really all nonsense.”

And that’s where you get things like “well, natural means good. If science isn’t simply writing ‘natural = good,’ then they’re not to be trusted, because that’s common sense.” Because everyone’s perspective on any given topic is just as valid as anyone else’s. There isn’t such a thing as a person who has more knowledge on a topic then you — there’s only scientists figuring out what every person with an ounce of common sense already knew. You went to college? Probably to learn that water is wet, the sky is blue, and fruits and vegetables are good for you. Duh. You learned things are more complicated than that? You poor deceived soul. You wasted money so you could be taught the world isn’t as simple as we think it is, so you’ve been brainwashed out of your common sense.

Common sense was Truth and Truth lined up quite nicely with our own common sense. And so it became very easy to see the larger world around you — especially the academic, medical, and science communities, which often was in stark contrast to our own beliefs — as at best in error, at worst intentionally keeping the truth away from people.

When I checked out Michael Brown’s “A Queer Thing Happened to America” from the library, the only description of it found on the book was that publishers refused to publish it. And that is a far more powerful claim than it might seem, because to people like my mother, that claim means that the book is true. Why would publishers not want to publish something unless they knew that it was so true, or they were afraid of the liberal powers that control our society? “People hate the Truth” we’d say, and we’d mean that the more our beliefs angered others, or the more others’ pushed back with “that’s wrong!” the more right we were. That was our measure of Truth — if it got under your skin, we were saying something real.

Of course, that meant that the more dramatic and powerful someone’s claim of suppression was, the more we could believe that it was something true. That was part of it. Truth wouldn’t be Truth if the liberal, demonic, anti-Christ powers in this world didn’t hate it, and weren’t trying to destroy it. If “the world” hates us, then we’re doing something right.

As much as commercials for products include “4 out of 5 doctors recommend” as a way of instilling trust and validity, so do articles, books, and other products that claim the opposite. “Doctors hate this” is about appealing to my mother’s demographic, “publishers won’t publish this” or “I’m being censored” are all about instilling customer trust for a specific kind of customer. If doctors hate it, if scientists are suppressing it, if censors are trying to keep this knowledge away from you, then that’s all the more reason to buy it, consume it, read it, and believe it. And if these ideas sound simple, sound just enough like common sense, or confirm already held beliefs and distrust of scientific and medical thought, then they sound all the more like Truth.

When I see these ads, or articles, or products evoking this kind of rhetoric, all I can think about is how much I was taught to buy into it. How had I gone a different direction, had I stayed within the religious and conservative thought I was taught, I would have remained that demographic. I wonder at this moment how many new products my mother has bought, what new diet she might be on because its commercial claimed it worked too well and so “doctors hate it!” And I have no patience for this rhetoric anymore. I know what it’s selling, and I know very intimately what it costs.

The Perpetual Imminent Return of Christ

When I was a Christian, we waited in a perpetual, immediate return of Christ. And when I say immediate, I mean, now, right now, sometime in the very soon, foreseeable future, immediate.

My mother was a teenager during the Jesus movement, and she was the one that told me that the difference between then and now (with “now” being when I was a teenager, in the early ‘00s) was that everyone was looking for Jesus in the 1970s. Everyone was waiting for the return of Christ. But now no one was expecting him, and that was an even bigger sign that his return was imminent. Granted, I have no idea if there is any scripture you can even twist to make this sound like solid theology, but that’s not really the point. The point was that there were always signs around us. I watched A Thief in the Night when I was a child, and she had watched it probably not too long after it had come out; despite its age, it remained supposedly culturally significant, still a real portrayal of recent things to come.

Since I can remember, we’ve been talking about our Godless society. I grew up on stories about taking prayer out of school. I remember my mother keeping the television on some program celebrating the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, lamenting about their “celebration of death.” Everything was worse today that it had been in the past, and every day our society turned their back on the Lord. Sin surrounded us in this generation in a way it never had in previous ones.

But the conversation around “this generation” has been happening for decades. Does anyone remember when the moral crisis circulated around showing your midriff? That was the fashion when I was in junior high in the early ‘00s, and oh, the amount of moral panic I heard from my mother, from the pulpit, from the youth pastor trying instill in teenage girls how much they were causing others to lust. Crop tops and low-rise jeans. There was no hope for “this generation.”

Of course, eventually that fashion slowly faded out, as all fashions do, and I doubt most pastors talk about midriffs anymore. I’m assuming, based on Christian blogs and websites that I read, that the newest panic is over yoga pants.

When I was growing up “this generation” was often marked by when they “took prayer out of schools.” That was the line in the sand, the moment that we were on a one-way ride straight to corruption, when we veered off the path toward God and now everyday there is another glimmer of a sign that the Lord Jesus Christ is well on his way.

But that is now 50 years ago. Which granted, is not too long in the grand scheme of human existence, but it is a sizable chunk of time considering I was taught that Jesus’ return was any day now. 50 years is a long time if you’re spending everyday looking toward the sky, fairly confident that today could be that day.

I often read articles on websites such as charismanews and theblaze, and the current moral panic is over equal marriage. When equal marriage happens, God’s judgment will reign down upon America. Or, at the very least, it is yet another sign that we are so close to Jesus’ return.

So what will happen when equal marriage passes, when time passes, and nothing happens in response? Will there be a new moral panic? Probably, considering that fundamentalist Christianity is finally starting to notice trans people (and some even think that the gay agenda was hiding trans people until they devious pulled them out from behind a curtain just to further disintegrate our country’s moral fiber).

But how long will “any day now” be? In a 100 years, will there be a new nostalgia for an earlier time? Will people miss, say, the 2030s, back when this country had tradition and standards? Will there be new fashion trends and music and social behavior for Christians to lament about? Will Jesus’ return be imminent, will the signs be all around us, and will it be that this time the signs are real, this time the signs are more apparent, more extreme and readily noticeable, than at any other time in human history?

There is always the tension of changing generations, of new standards and perspectives, of culture in flux. And yet, none of this has caused the return of Jesus, or the fall of God’s judgment on our country. Why should this time be in different? How is this current moral crisis, this current fear of clothing, music, social and sexual behavior, somehow more extreme than what it was in the past? Because it’s not, not really. It is simply that every new tension feels like something bigger, something more sinister, another inch down the slippery slope to all-out chaos. But until we can quantify whether yoga pants are actually more morally decadent than bare midriffs or whether gay marriage is further down the slope than the “free love” of the 1960s, then I can’t imagine there is anything particularly significant about today’s moral issues than in the past. Instead, I imagine that it is rather fear that drives the proclamations of Christ’s immediate return, fear born out of a lack of power and influence to force an entire culture to align with fundamentalist Christian morals.

Survivor Living: The Nothing Days

When all the aspects of the PTSD — the anxiety, the hyper-vigilance, the flashbacks, the constant feeling that you are unsafe — all run their course, drain the adrenaline out of your body, it’s not a “calm after the storm” feeling. It’s more tipping over from exhaustion after carrying too much weight on your back.

What follows is nothing. I can’t write. I can’t think. And I’ll end up hating myself more — after all, everything I learned in college and everything I read says that a real writer can write uninspired, a real writer would turn on their computer and pick up their pen and write no matter what they’re feeling.

But it’s not being uninspired. It’s being nothing. It’s your whole brain feeling like static, like mush. My entire mental processes slow down.

I’ve been playing Sims lately — it’s what I do when I can’t think because it gives me a way to feel like I’m telling a story, I’m still doing something creative, that doesn’t require any mental work. And there’s a particular glitch that is way more realistic than intended — the glitch when you click to have your sim go do something, and they’re stuck. Their body freezes, even as the clock keeps going, even as other sims around them keep interacting.

I feel that way, when my brain burns out like this. Someone talks to me, and I hear them, and I look at them, and then I realize, after some time, that I haven’t responded. I think of a response, and then I can’t seem to pull it out of me. Words start skipping, trailing off, I’ve noticed so many words missing in this post already, and who knows what I didn’t catch. It can almost feel physical — like a pain in my head, like I am feeling the actual sensation of my brain glitching.

Feeling like nothing is hard. It’s unproductive. It’s uncreative. It’s boring. Time passes, and you can’t seem to move from the spot your sitting in. You’re exhausted, and yet you’re up until two o’clock in the morning because the act of brushing your teeth and going to bed feels impossibly hard. You have to break down your day into the smallest bite-size pieces or you’ll choke: 1) go to the bathroom 2) wash your hands 3) take a sip of water 4) and another 5) put the water glass down.

Everything that would seem almost mindless becomes a task. Hours stretch out before you and yet you can’t do anything but try and fill the time so you can get to bedtime and hope that tomorrow will feel better.

It’s taken everything in me to write this post, and I wrote it because this is all I can write right now. Because if I didn’t, the feeling that I am completely nothing, that I am worthless, that I do nothing in this world, would overwhelm me. The inside of my head feels like nothing. I feel like I’m pulling words out of my brain with a shovel, gouging them out painfully and slowly, every word hurts and every sentence I write feels broken, boring, and meaningless. Because there is so much fuzz in my head that I feel broken, boring, and meaningless.

The Nothing Days are soulless, and empty, and exhausting, and unavoidable. And they’re hard because I know there are writers around me who can churn out post after post, who can write day-after-day, who can schedule their writing and know that they can accomplish it all, and I end up seeing myself as failure. I don’t get to do that. I write a blog about survivor topics, I’m writing a bool about survivor topics, and I’m trying to live as a survivor, and there are days when it is impossible, when I can’t do anything but be that traumatized person. Everything I write costs me, and some days, some weeks even, I am in the red. And I know I shouldn’t compare myself, but it’s so easy, when you feel drained, and lifeless, to tell yourself that if you just worked harder, if you just weren’t so lazy, you would be writing.

But I can no more fight myself out of it then I could pick back up all that weight on my back after every muscle in my body is screaming from exhaustion. You have to lie there, you have to let it pass, you have to let your body restore itself. All the hard work your brain does trying to convince you that there are still threats around every corner, all the survivor training that is trying to prepare you, still, for violence and terror, is all it’s own hard fucking work. You don’t get much of a choice when the stress of it all wears your body down. You do what you can, you walk through the sand and and try not to despair too much overall the effort your expending just to take a few steps. That’s the hardest part about PTSD — the resignation, the times that you just have to tell yourself that there isn’t much else you can do but do the bare necessities, and hope that tomorrow feels better. That you’ll wake up and your feelings will be back, your words will be back, and you can do the small things without it costing you everything you have.

A Survivor’s “Mid-Life Crisis”

Now that I’ve escaped my abusive family, it’s a difficult transition — from living only to survive, from fantasizing about death as my only escape — into realizing I have time, and space, to be a person. And lately I’ve been finding it especially hard. I catch myself eyeing families that seem so comfortable with each other and wondering about what it could have been like to be in another family. It’s probably not a “good survivor” thing to admit, but sometimes I am overwhelmed by how many people are on this earth who didn’t have abusive families. And yet somehow, I was in this one. What would it be like if I could just go back, in a different family? How would life have been different in a non-abusive family? What kind of things would I already have accomplished if I had a supportive family?

When you are in an abusive environment, surviving is literally that — it is a singular focus. It is getting through one day and then the next and not being sure if you’re hoping you’ll make it or not. But once you’re out, well then, you finally start seeing all that you’ve missed. Only after the storm can you assess the damage.

But assessing the damage means looking back at how much of my life is just…gone. In that disassociated daze and the haze of pain, and the restricted nature of abusive families, I lost more of my life than I’ve lived so far.

The thing about a survivor midlife crisis is that it comes with trying to gain what we never had. We aren’t trying to reclaim our youth — we are trying to construct one. It’s not even just about the fun moments — about the carefree childhood that alluded us — but even about the pivotal developmental points.

I never got a teenage rebellion. I never got — until my adult years — the ability to question, examine, and come into my own about my beliefs, values, and ethics. I was only able to regurgitate my mother’s words. I never got a lot of developmental stages or gradual independence — these were things I had to figure out once I moved out.

Coming into your adulthood unprepared, then, feels like it’s own midlife crisis. You see your future stretching before you, and know that a solid chunk of it is going to be spent learning the hard way things that most people already know by now. You know that you’ve missed out on so many opportunities, you know that certain stages of life can never be fully reclaimed. You can do things now that you never could before, but it doesn’t feel the same. I went trick-or-treating for the first time as an adult, and all I could think was how much fun it would have been; I’d past the point that it could ever be enjoyable. And that seems small, but there are so many of those small instances. Because you were too crazy, or you weren’t allowed, or your parents controlled your every move, and so you have lost so much.

It’s hard not to think about death. It’s hard not to feel like it is one step away, like life is slipping from your fingers, when it feels like you have lost so much of your life already. And every setback — everyday that gets swallowed by flashbacks or that all-too-familiar disassociated haze feels like more and more life is being snatched from you.

My 28th birthday past recently and I spent part of the day at the cemetery. Lately, I find that that is a good place to calm the mortality panics and demystify death. Death no longer seems like a dark, dangerous entity when I’m staring at it face-to-face, when I can practically sense its presence. It just seems…there.

And I can recognize that 28 is young to have mortality panics. 28 is also young to have spent 25 years in an abusive family. I want time. I want so much time that I can never get back, and I want do-overs that I can never have because they will never mean the same thing that they would have.

I have to build myself out of the wreckage, I often say. And that means going through the hard part of recognizing that a solid chunk of my life I can never get back. Things are going to be hard — and they might be hard for the rest of my life, I don’t know. When you’re being abused, death seems like nothing but relief. It seems like you’re friend, something that’s going to rescue you from the pain and fear. But when you’ve escaped, it then seems like a threat — something that’s going to pounce any second, and snatch you away from your newfound freedom.

If a midlife crisis is about reassessing your life, then I think this is mine. And I would venture that that might be the case for other survivors too — that our moments of reflection, of reclamation of the past, of wanting to capture something you might never have had — come far earlier for us. We already know what we lost. We can already long for a youth we can’t get back. We often have had to start our childhoods, our teenage years, and our adult years all at the same time. And we’ve often had to contend and confront head-on death, suicidality, and mortality, throughout the entire course of our lives.

Unraveling the Bandages: When Conservative Christians Use Your Emotions Against You

Toward the tail end of my faith, I attempted to reconcile honesty with Christianity. I spent a couple weeks attending a church that talked about how it was “real life” — every week, there’d be a little video of someone talking about the sins they’d struggled with or the hardships they went through, and their journey.

There is this portion of conservative Christianity disgruntled with, well, conservative Christianity. Because we all are aware of the kind of false front it can create; the ways in which people who are hurt or traumatized or struggling with something paste a smile on their face and pretend it away. Every conservative Christian I knew heard and loved Casting Crowns Stained Glass Masquerade. “Are we happy plastic people / under shiny plastic steeples” we all understood these as profound, truthful lyrics about the state of American Christianity

The problem I still had though was that “hurting” became a Christian word. What I mean by that is, is that people still had to funnel their experiences within very specific jargon. Because you couldn’t say, “fuck, this sucks” or “I’m really fucked up” or “I’m crazy and depressed and I want to kill myself” you had to say things like “I’m going through a trial” you had to talk about your pain through a very specific kind of narrative. You could never say, “God isn’t doing a thing for me, and I’m mad at him because I don’t have a single way out,” because that level of hopelessness isn’t allowed of a Christian. Even when conservative Christians talked about “people are messy” and “wounds are messy” Christian honesty still meant that you had to wash your wounds up. Or when they talk about how they “love hurting people” they don’t mean the kind of people that they can’t wrench into specific narratives of Christian faith.

So part of exiting Christianity was exiting that way of thinking. It was saying, “Fuck, I’m not doing this anymore.” It was saying, “Scripture isn’t a bandaid you can put over a wound and expect that to be it.” It was understanding that the formulas: pray, trust, believe weren’t working. It was realizing that sometimes the very God Christians say is for everyone isn’t for you.

But when you pull of the bandages, it’s often the first time anyone around you has actually seen the depths of your wounds. No longer are you edging your pain with Christian hope, no longer are you framing your experiences with, “but I know the Lord will provide” or “praise God, because I know he’ll see me through”or making sure that you’re still smiling and inspirational or anything else that allows those around you to feel uplifted by your “struggle.”Often it becomes the first time you are being completely, utterly honest about what you’re feeling.

And so that becomes, then, the weapon that is welded against you. The weapon and the explanation. You didn’t leave the faith over anything real, you’re just angry and bitter. And on top of that — look at how much worse your life is without God! Now that we can see your wounds, we’re deciding that those are the wounds caused by your leaving the faith. After Christianity might be the first time you are able to say, “I need help” and now the response is, “You never needed that kind of help when you were a Christian! It’s because you rejected God!” You become an example for Christians everywhere just what rejecting their God does. You are their triumphant confirmation that their brand of Christianity works, because you’re expressing emotions that they’re not.

Because when you are trained constantly that certain aspects of emotions are not allowed — that you can’t show pain, or fear, or hopelessness, or that your pain, fear, and hopelessness must be expressed in a very specific way — it becomes very easy for others to class you by these negative emotions. Look at the people who abandon God — they’re hopeless, they’re angry, they’re wounded in a way that no True Christian would be — because no “True Christian” is allowed to express that kind of hopelessness and anger.

One of the reasons, I think, that conservative Christianity is perpetually starved for “authenticity” (the buzzword that was most popular when I was still a Christian) is because it’s still expected to mean very specific things. Your authentic emotions are still supposed to align with a very uplifting, inspirational Christian message, and most people, even Christians themselves, are quite aware that you can’t slap formulas onto individual people. Christian movie-style inspirational stories still have a saccharine taste to them that rings false, no matter how much it claims to address the “real issues.”

For me, and many other ex-Christians, no matter how much it looks like we are more unhappy, more angry, or hurt, or any other countless emotions that are supposed to prove that our lack of faith has made our life worse, that is so far from the case. It means now that we can freely express those emotions, it means that we no longer live feeling like we have to script the way we feel; if we have a rough day, we can have a rough day. And by living openly, and honestly in our emotions, it means that it’s far easier to not push the bad things down so far that they fester and become toxic. I think that may be why many of us start blogs like this — it’s the freedom to tell the whole world, when before we were taught that if we did feel negative emotions, we should make sure to talk about them with an “accountability partner.” It’s because my former pastor once had a facebook post about how, for the sake of everyone else, you should really only talk about your feelings with maybe a friend. Community comes first, and if you express that you’re unhappy, you’re not benefiting community. It’s because I thought as a Christian that I was doing something wrong by telling other people that I was a survivor — because that means I’m not “uplifting them.”So we talk. We talk for the first time, we write for the whole world because there’s no more moral imperative that we’re doing something wrong.

I was never happier when I was a Christian. Not allowing yourself to be anything but happy, “choosing joy,” doesn’t actually make you more content. It just means that no one — even including yourself — knows what you’re feeling. It just meant that my bandages were skin tone, so no one else had to acknowledge the infected wounds underneath.

Love Isn’t What Christian Culture Taught Me

When I was a teenager, the youth pastor at our church decided one Sunday to talk about relationships. About how all he wanted was a beautiful girl who loved the Lord. The conclusion of his story was that he gave over his desires to the Lord, but it worked out great in the end — look at the beautiful woman he married. Look, young men, how when you give over your will to the Lord, he will still let you marry a gorgeous wife you can feel good about.

The beauty standards of Christian culture are intense. Because it teaches “men are visual” there is this fine line you have to walk: don’t dress in a way that would cause men to “stumble” but, make sure that men find you visually appealing. After all, a man will one day marry you for your looks.

And beautiful, holy, righteous marriages are trophies within Christian culture. A woman has to fit every Christian beauty standards — she must look flawless and yet effortless, she must embody every understanding of what femininity is — smooth, clear, hairless skin, a brilliant white straight smile, she must be modest but attractive, sexual and yet sexless. These were the visual markers of a woman whose faith was reflected in her beauty, and surely someone like her would be praying everyday for the man that the Lord would bring into her life, and when he did, theirs would be the romance that would prove God offers good things to those who wait, that the true believers get the best things in life — the most epic romance, the most beautiful love story, Nicolas Sparks-worthy, a testimony that the whole world would jealously crave and seek God to have.

Here I was, a fucked up survivor, a non-binary teen even if I didn’t know it at the time, but I knew I failed. I wanted someone to love me but I knew I was dreaming of impossibilities; after all, God gave the love stories to those who were fully embracing their God-given gender, and I wasn’t. I failed on all counts of femininity, and with only the messages of conservative Christianity, I could only see them as something broken about me. I was too broken for anyone to love and I was deathly afraid that if I prayed for love, God’s will for my life would be a man who demanded sex no matter how how much it terrified me; God would grant me my wish only if it tore into all the wounds I had. And I knew he could do it; because God liked to test your boundaries, God like to know just how obedient to him you would be.

I remember in my teenage years and early twenties, I thought no one would love me because my breasts weren’t identical, because I had hair on my stomach, because of a thousand imperfections that I read as personal failures. I thought that the girls around me had already figured out secrets that I didn’t know; they were beautiful and flawless, their bodies weren’t wrong the way mine was.

You would think that a culture that focused on the God-given beauty of women would have better taught us what actual bodies are like. But I didn’t know that I was ever allowed to smell anything short of freshly-washed skin, I didn’t know that it wasn’t a sign of my own failures that I fell short of some ethereal goddess. I imagined a wedding night where my husband turned his face in disgust because just then he would realize that he’d gotten some fucked up human instead.

Now, obviously, I write this as a non-binary ex-Christian dating a wonderful woman. I am long on the other side of these beliefs and expectations. But I wish someone had told younger me that I didn’t have to fix myself up just so a Christian guy could have his answer for a “gorgeous wife” prayer. I don’t know if I could have listened, but I wish someone had told me that all the things that I thought would make someone unable to love me mattered so little. I wish someone had reassured younger me that you don’t have to be perfect to find love. That your boundaries still get to exist, that someone will come along and love you with your crooked teeth and your unshaved body, love you with your stretch marks and pick-scarred skin. Love the scent of your skin when you haven’t showered in three days. Someone will love you without demanding sex every time they want it. You can still be a fucked up survivor, you can still have a lot of wounds, and someone will love you. You can have weird quirks that you think are deal-breakers, when all they are are cultural expectations than have no bearing on an individual relationship. You can spend a week being sick with the stomach flu, and someone who loves you isn’t going to be astonished by the humanness of you.

So I write this for that person, and for any others that got these messages: you are enough. If you think there’s something wrong with your body because it’s not perfect, it’s not you. If you feel ashamed because you are certain you are not the “hot wife” some Christian guy is praying for, that doesn’t mean that you’re broken, it means that the expectations are. If you’re afraid that no one will ever love you because you can’t achieve arbitrary expectations of relationships, let me tell you right here that they are, in fact, arbitrary. I never wanted to get married, and so I’m not. And I still found love. I never thought I could sleep in the same bed with someone, so I don’t. And I still found love. I thought that being a survivor and needing someone to constantly check in with me when touching me would mean that I was too broken and too much effort for anyone to love. Except that my girlfriend finds no struggle in saying, “Is this okay?” constantly. I thought that all the things I needed to feel safe were too much and I needed to be better than who I am before anyone would care about me. That my only options would be to be in an abusive relationship or none at all, because who would want me? But it’s not true. I promise you, it’s not true. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of a love that is good and it doesn’t have to fit anything Christian culture said it should be. You can find a love that is good, a love that it safe. Most of all, I wish someone had told me that: love should be something that makes you, as you feel safe.