All Sin is Equal: The Reasons Why I Hate Myself

It’s probably been fairly obvious that I struggled a lot throughout 2015. I know my posting has been erratic, and when I do write a post, it feels like I’m walking up a steep hill just to get the words out.

I have spent this past year hating myself. I have spent it thinking that I don’t deserve to write about the abuse, because I am too much of an awful person.

It’s a really easy thing for my mind to fixate on, because having grown up a Christian, believing in sin, knowing that you have been anything less than perfect is difficult to handle because it means that I have no right to write on this blog.

Let me explain: sin is the great equalizer. Sin is the name of things that can get you thrown out from the Christian community, and it is also the thing that can be leveraged against others to prove someone still belongs.

When you’re a survivor of sexual abuse, you learn very soon that there is nothing like sin to put you in your place.

Despite the habit of comparing being gay to being a child molester, rape and sexual abuse are still considered sins that are “slip-ups” when done by someone within a Christian community. A Christian who abused another Christian made a mistake, they gave into their sinful nature, just like we all do.

To be utterly considered a victim of rape or sexual abuse, you have to prove that you are above sin – you have to prove that you have spent your entire life doing everything absolutely perfectly. Or else there is sin to remind you that you are no better than the person who hurt you, and you have no right to judge.

When I was a Christian, we often talked about the way “the world” misused our scripture. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and “don’t judge lest you be judged” were phrases the world lodged at us, and yet, we always knew they were using it wrong. It was incomplete, it was out of context.

But, honestly, we did use those scriptures in exactly that way. For ourselves. When a fellow Christian slipped up, then it was “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and “who are you to judge them?”

And the existence of sin allows those questions to be asked. Because “all sin is equal” means that if another fellow Christian does something, your sin equalizes you to them. You cannot claim a moral high ground, and somehow, the inability to have a moral high ground means you lose your right to speak about what they’ve done.

So unless you can somehow prove that you have never done anything wrong, and can prove that your abuser is an absolute monster, survivors of sexual abuse within conservative Christianity often learn that there is not much separated them from their abusers: after all, you both sin.

The trick, of course, is that more often than not, your abuser is another Christian, and more often than not, the act of speaking about the abuse you suffered proves you are not free from sin.

When I told my mother about the sexual abuse at the hands of my brother, her concern was on my lack of forgiveness. I don’t think she even asked me if I had forgiven him, because that wasn’t the point: my talking about the abuse meant I hadn’t forgiven him and my lack of forgiveness was a sin.

They fucked you but you won’t forgive them for it so you see, you’re basically the same.

And it’s the “basically the same” the constant terror that I am too horrible to have a right to speak about the things they did to me. I am not allowed to forgive myself for, well, anything, because to do so means that I would have to forgive my abusers, because everything is equal.

If I hate them, I have to hate myself. If I’m angry at them, it means I have to be angry at myself. For my imperfections. For my mistakes. For the times I did something wrong. Because there is no small infraction that isn’t equal to the worst things a person could do.

It’s made it incredibly difficult to write about any of the abuse, because I feel like I don’t deserve to. We are so fixated on the concept of an “innocent” victim, but survivors of sexual abuse, often by virtue of having experienced sexual abuse, don’t get to live in the realm of “innocent.” When we start talking, when we want our abusers held accountable, we are seen as “tainted” – by the abuse, by our anger, hell, by the act of talking about it. And if all sin is equal, then we condemn ourselves by condemning them.

I am tired of hating myself, but it is the only way I feel like I am allowed to be hurt and angry over what happened to me. If I hold myself to the standard of perfection, then I am allowed to hold my family accountable for hurting me. If I hate myself then I have permission to speak, if I beat myself up for times I fuck up, then I can acknowledge their abuse.

But even with that, I feel wrong. Because sin is the great equalizer, the thing that abusive Christians can hold over you, the thing that allows other conservative Christians who don’t want to deal with the complicated aspects of abuse or violence the ability to say: we are all sinners, so who are you to judge?

I still remember the time my mother told me that she could not condemn abuse done in the name of Christ, because then others could condemn her. And I still have a long way to go to undo those messages, because I took it upon myself to do the opposite: I will condemn, and condemn, and condemn myself if that allows me to say my family wronged me.

When Abuse Makes the Future Seem Impossible

Earlier this week I woke up to snowfall. Snow isn’t that frequent here, and as someone born and raised in So-Cal, it’s still quite a novelty to me. I wanted to get out and get on the light rail here – what could be more fun that riding a train downtown while it’s snowing?

And yet, I didn’t want to go outside. It’s cold, I own nothing for snowy weather, my health hasn’t been the greatest lately. Going out into the snow wouldn’t have been the best decision.

But the idea of not going out seemed absolutely terrifying. Because I was certain if I didn’t get out and see the snow, I would never be alive again to see snow.

It’s an old feeling, one that ties into a running theme throughout my life: the sense that I don’t have a future, that I can’t live very long.

Abuse often cuts your ability to see a future for yourself. Conservative Christianity fills your head with ideas that the return of Christ is nigh, that tomorrow, or next week, Jesus will snatch you away from this world. Being a Christian meant I could not conceive of suicide, so instead it translated into a kind of certainty that I had promises and signs from God that my life was short. And when those promises were not fulfilled, then all I had left was feeling suicidal. All of this contributes to my inability to conceive of a future life for myself.

These feelings don’t simply go away, because they aren’t feelings, exactly – they are how you see yourself and how you interact with the world. I have to do things now because I won’t have tomorrow, or next week, or a year from now. It’s not even that I have an idea of what might happen to cut my future short — I no longer believe that I will die suddenly or that Jesus will come back — but I still can’t see how I will be alive.

The time period from Christmas to my birthday in February always makes this worse. When you’re a survivor of child abuse, you’ve lost a lot of time. Time to be a child, to be a teenager, to be an adult. And everyday that passes that you feel like you aren’t making up for it feels like you’re losing more time.

It can be hard to slow down. It can be hard to tell yourself that tomorrow will come, and you can do something then. It’s easy to have a rough day and believe that that counts massively as time wasted because you can’t conceive of having another day.

It used to be when the clock ticked to the new year, I was surprised I was still around. I was so convinced that part of my purpose for my life was that I wasn’t going to live very long, so when I made it through another year, I didn’t know how that was possible.

And yet I’ve made it another year. My teenage self never dreamed it.

But that is the lasting effects abuse, and of a Christian environment predicated on the perpetual, imminent return of Christ. We were all waiting for death, and if not for death, than the loss of our physical lives. We all understood time was short, and so it never seemed that strange, or disordered, or a sign of anything wrong, that I just accepted that I was to die young. Other Christian kids were called to be pastors or missionaries. I was called to not live very long.

It’s hard to explain the way that abuse steals your sense of a future. Part of it is that abusive parents often don’t give you a future. Mine didn’t. My future was…nothing. In fact, the way that my mother talked about me furthered my sense that I was going to die young. She didn’t conceive of me living long either, and I could use her “sense” as a way to bolster my own.

Abusive parents often don’t want you to have a future of your own. They want your future for themselves. You can’t dream the same way, you can’t imagine a life that belongs to you, one where you get to make decisions and be in control of yourself. So you can’t believe there’s a tomorrow.

And much of it is, when you’re being hurt, when you’re in pain, you can’t think about tomorrow, or the next day. And you certainly can’t think about it being free of pain. All there is is surviving the moment you’re in. All there is is trying to get through an afternoon, or through the night. And all of that sucks all your energy reserves so much that you aren’t actually capable of thinking that the future might arrive – that requires more health and strength than you have available to you.

And all of that means that I still don’t know how to think I have a future. I still can’t conceive of myself a year from now. Or even a month from now. If I don’t do something today, it feels like I will never get the chance, because I can’t think that I’ll be here for it. It makes the present feel impossibly hard to hold onto, to plan around, because I have to do everything, and I have to do it right now, because I don’t get a tomorrow.

It’s more than just a thought or a feeling. It’s how I was trained to see myself. It’s how I was taught to interact with the world. And that is another way the abuse leaves a lasting mark – it is so ingrained in me that even on days I feel good, and safe, and hopeful, I still can’t conceive that tomorrow will come.

The Jeremiah 29:11 Effect: The Messages Conservative Christian Teenagers Get

We’ve all heard the complaints of Millennials and “participation awards” – this idea that we all grew up being handed trophies just for trying and now are spoiled rotten, demanding more than we deserve, demanding something for nothing.

I find this particular rhetorical point fascinating because my mother made the same argument of my brothers’ generation, who, growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, are just too old to be counted as Millennials, and my mother also tried to claim that this was a phenomenon starting, conveniently, at her childhood in the ’60s.

But I mostly bring this up because these complaints are real to a certain extent, but not because of the bogeyman liberal trying to destroy our God-fearing nation. No, rather, the children and teenagers who got the message that they are special, that they matter more than others, are conservative Christian children.

Youth group at a Pentecostal church knew how to whip us into a frenzy of passion, purpose, and specialness. Sermons were about how we were the voice for this generation, how we were going to bring people back to the Lord. I am probably not first or last teenager who had Jeremiah 29:11 as their scripture, as a promise from God that their life would always find its way into some broader purpose.

On Wednesday nights, we would gather in our “cool” youth group room, folding chairs painted black, red, and gray; tv monitors instead of screen projects to show us lyrics to worship. Uturn, is, I believe, a denomination-wide name for the youth groups of foursquare churches, and I was a newbie U-turn-er when the denomination made the change. (A quick google search seems to confirm this, both in name, and shared logo). Uturn (always turning), a youtube search will find me countless videos of “the rules” of various foursquare youth groups, and ours had one too. We were hip, we were cool, we were “relevant” and that of course, made us special.

We were told that we personally had grand, spiritual purposes, that we were all the cusp of a huge spiritual transformation, fueled by us, the “next generation.” The teenage need for identity, purpose, and the beginning of exploration of deeper issues were all exploited on those Wednesdays and Sunday nights to tell us, yes we have an identity (in Jesus), yes we had a purpose (through God) , yes we had a magnificent, epic story for our lives. If we stuck with God we would go on spectacular adventures, we will transform the entire landscape of the world in very real ways, and do it all for the glory of God. God had hand-picked us for one thing or another, but we all had something. None of us were intended to live small, unheard of lives. By being true believers, we were more than that.

It’s something I think about sometimes because the further away I get from my Christian upbringing, the more I see that this supposed message for our generation extends further back. As I said, my brothers were ’80s children, and ’90s teenagers. And that meant that they were…

Jesus freaks.

I still remember when they managed to snag a sample tape of the dc Talk song, probably from when my mother worked at the Christian bookstore. I remember how excited they were, rocking out to “Jesus Freak,” playing air guitar. dc Talk. Audio Adrenaline. Newsboys. The Insyderz. Supertones.These are the bands of my brothers teenage years, the years when they were on fire for God, when they were the generation that was going to bring this nation back to the Lord.

I remember the “I am not of this world, I’m an alien” rhetoric of my brothers’ teenage years. They, too, set themselves apart from “the world”, they too were waiting for the end times, they too were something different, something special.

So was my mother’s generation. Southern California in the 1970s meant the Jesus movement. It meant looking for the anti-Christ, it meant Thief in the Night. My mother was one of those Baptist teenagers – bus ministry, two-day weekend church sermons, door-to-door evangelizing, evangelizing at the park, choir, the works. My mother became Pentecostal right at the same time TBN came into existence, and I have heard all her miracle stories, all her prayers, all of God’s orchestrated moments.

My mother had her own special calling, saying that God wanted her to be a missionary to Mexico. That was going to be her Christ-filled adventure. She never did it, obviously, but that was going to be her special story, because there are no average lives for a true believer.

I am sure, across a great many Christian churches in America, the generation of teenagers that exist right now are getting the message about how they are going to bring this world to its knees for Christ. They are going to have their epic tales, their miracles and hands of God in their life, and all of this is going to make a nation-wide impact. Their generation will bring change.

Except I can’t say that my youth group generation did much of anything. I can’t think of a single person who I grew up with in that church who went on to do the grand, wide-scale change we were told we were going to. That’s not to say that conservative Christianity had no effect on wider culture, but rather that we didn’t have the personal hand in any of this that we were told we would.

Our church environment was much like a Disney channel movie, the Christian version. In any given Disney channel movie, you have the kid or teenager with a boatload of untapped talent. A few opportunities here, a door opening there, and a talented kid now has fame and wealth, or at least recognition for their greater-than-average talent. And while we weren’t about seeking fame and wealth, we were about seeking some kind of wide-reaching impact. Something with a thud that would have our unmistakable mark with it. We may say we were doing this to honor God, in the name of God, only for God’s glory, we may mean all of it, but we still wanted it done through us, individually. We were still taught that our lives were going to be great on an individual recognized level.

I write all of this because I often think on how exhausting it was, to grow up in an environment that placed such a burden of specialness onto your shoulders. And it is especially exhausting because, unlike Disney movies, these weren’t intended as fantasy-laden candy stories, these were fed to us as if it was the irrefutable truth of our existence as children of God. If you don’t have an epic story of your specialness, you are not living up to the purpose God gave you.

But there is a kind of disillusionment that comes when you realize that this language, that these ideas are not unique to your time or place. We weren’t this super special up-and-coming generation that was going to be the first to bring this nation back to God. My brothers got it to, and I’m sure the generation just before them got it just like my mother did.

So many of us are now the adults fed on song and story that we were on the brink of radical, life-altering, nation-changing experiences. And so many of us simply became emotionally burnt-out, having lived too long in the frenzy of it all, but that’s all it was – frenetic, overwhelming feelings.

At the end of it all, we drank up our spiritual experiences like your average teenager drinks up a concert experience. All the flair, the lights, the emotional fervor; the only difference was at the end of ours, there was usually the quiet guitar and a moment for the pastor to pray, or speak one last profound bit of truth to the congregation in a whisper, finishing with an altar call.

This isn’t intended to sound bitter or cynical, because I think it’s a part of growing up to realize that life is mostly a private affair and your footprint on the world will be small, personal, and quiet. No less important, but quiet. The experience of a teenager of wanting to be widely regarded and important fades into wanting to reach others in small ways. But much of that growing up had to be done as an adult, after I left Christianity. And I would say it’s only been recently that I’ve begun to let go of the idea that I won’t be some huge name, I won’t make a nation-wide change – not through prayers, or actions, or writing.

Letting go of it is complicated. There’s relief, sure, knowing that you’re not failing some grand purpose because you’re life isn’t turning out like it’s “supposed” to. But there’s disappointment too, in realizing that much of what you believed made you special wasn’t really anything – a relationship with God didn’t really guarantee much of anything about your life.

What’s even stranger is, I never would have gotten to where I am if I had stayed in that mentality. Much of the specialness language meant waiting on God, and waiting on God meant chance encounters and signs and wonders — waiting for the day Jeremiah 29:11 would be fulfilled in your life.. It didn’t mean finding your own ways out. It didn’t mean putting your mental health before your relationship with God. And it didn’t mean rejecting God – and in turn rejecting that your life had a purpose from God – to figure out what you actually needed.

By much of the faith I grew up in, by all standards of conservative Christianity, I failed miserably. And yet, I can only think about current conservative Christian teenagers, and especially Pentecostal ones, and wonder if they too will one day feel exhausted, burned out, and terrified that they didn’t transform “the world.” If they too will realize that we all got this message – the teens of the ’00s, the ’90s, the ’80s, the ’70s, – probably even further back. I wonder how many lifetimes this will continue, teaching Christian children that they are all on the cusp of being the generation that will finally bring the world to the feet of God.

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.