12. The Corner

I pursued my faith like a hungry animal. I pursued it like my life depended on it. I thought it did.

I don’t like to be mediocre at anything. In college, my rabid quest to deconstruct my faith led to the belief that if I really wanted to understand the texts, I needed historical context. Perhaps I should learn ancient Greek…Aramaic? This was important, I shouldn’t be lazy about it. I wanted to know who canonized the Bible. I wanted to understand the visions of the book of Revelation. This wasn’t about pretension.  So earnest I’m sure I was quite annoying, I felt I had no choice but to make time for the most important questions.  I felt a religious requirement to preach salvation to the world around me. I was taught this would save others from eternal pain and suffering, but I didn’t want to start proselytizing without knowing what the hell I was talking about.

As a teenager, in the earliest stages of intellectual awakening, I realized I owed it to myself to have a spiritual and cerebral understanding of this stuff that I had been baptized into at the age of four. Through my earnest quest to discover the foundations of my Christianity, my faith started to unravel. For a year I was angry, confused, and stagnant. What was happening to me? I got a new job, met a new friend, and on a random Saturday in her car while talking about our beliefs I blurted out for the first time, “I’m not a Christian”. Suddenly the foundation of my life, the meaning and purpose of my humanity, the moral compass that guided my every action, and the focus of my lifelong goals evaporated in one honest instant. It had meant so much to me and I had pursued it so genuinely that I could not deny the truth I had come to. I cried. I grieved the loss of my former self. But I was done.

Contrary to what my still-faithful friends believed, I didn’t do this because I wanted to get away with drinking, drugs, or sex. I know plenty of people who call themselves Christian, go to church every Sunday, and actively, persistently engage in that stuff with little to no signs of remorse – or even acknowledgement of the incongruity of it all. To me, it didn’t even feel like a choice anymore, not if I was going to retain any integrity.  Once I finally said it outloud, it just felt like admitting the truth. And the truth hurt.  Emotionally, I wanted keep Christianity close, but I knew it was impossible without taking a step back and trying to see the forest for the trees. I told God I hoped that he felt the mind he made me was worth using, and that if I was honestly seeking, and he was who he said he was, I would eventually find him. I went to the wailing wall in Jerusalem and pushed a prayer inside. All it said was “show yourself to me”. It was the most honest thing I could think of.

I haven’t seen him yet. A finite person, I’ll admit that doesn’t mean he/she/it/they/me isn’t out there, but in the 6 years since I left the faith I realized that I haven’t made as many changes as I thought. I wasn’t ready to leap into enormous lifestyle changes without some thoughtful consideration, so in lieu of building a new value system, I’ve been stuck relating (reacting?) to things the same way I always did. Even though I no longer believed in the veracity of the Bible, I still had no other reference point for morality, self image, or my choices. It is a miracle I survived my engagement and came out on the other side unmarried while still in this place. It is damn near crippling in terms of humility to admit that I am a 28 year old woman who hardly knows herself, and barely likes herself, but it’s at least a place to start.

After this mega revelation, I find myself pausing all the time, trying to build a perspective, re-align my thoughts. How am I responding? It is based on years of “religious” crap not even in the Bible? Is it derived from knee-jerk reactions infused into my brain long before I was capable of critical thinking? With every step, I’m forced to re-evaluate myself as an adult.

That is, if I want to be honest.

Being myself is fucking exhausting.

What has taken the longest to unlearn is that unconditional love is not love without boundaries. It is a dog that yanks a leash dragging along behind it my doubt that I am a good person to begin with. That I come forth from a place of inherent failure. That I need to give more, and love more… no, not just love more, but be ok with loving “better” than the person who might or might not love me. That this is what Christ would want. Cheek turning, and the like. I am still learning that what I thought was the only way to love has this ugly name: Enabling. I could see it in other people, but not myself, because my self esteem was so tragically low I did not feel worthy of anything better than the friends who stole from me, abused my kindness, and broke my heart.

One could argue that that‘s not what Jesus meant. But one can always argue things about a guy who’s been dead for a few thousand years. For me, it’s not really relevant at the moment. For me, what’s relevant is that turning the other cheek when slapped might encourage that person to go around slapping people to get what they want. That maybe if I say “Hey! Quit freaking slapping people” and stand my ground, that stupid dog might learn to stop peeing on the rug.

My therapist has a field day with this shit.

What’s funny, I tell her, is that I always “knew” this stuff. But I didn’t realize how it was being practiced in my own life. So unbelievably entrenched was I in the belief that I was bad, shameful even, that I truly felt I was doing the right things. Only when I started to learn to have some value in myself, inherently, free of all other constraints, was I able to stop compensating for something I never was in the first place. Unworthy.

There is a boy who wants me to love him. I do, but not in the way he loves me. It hurts. And he understands the buttons to push. “I will love you” he says “forever” he says “I will work my fingers to the bone, tell me what it is and I‘ll do it”

I say to therapist, “I know I can do better than co-dependent. I don’t feel it, but I know it”

I say to therapist, “ I have wasted my youth trying to love men I couldn’t make myself love. I have finally established that my wants and needs are ok to have, and not everyone can meet them. I am ready for a healthy exchange.”

I say to therapist, “ He isn’t respecting my boundaries. He doesn’t seem to care how much this is hurting me. He thinks he knows better than I do about what’s good for me and what my future holds”

“Then WHY do you keep answering him”

She always asks questions that suck. This is why I like her so much. She is fucking fearless.

I start to tear up, and then I admit it. “It’s my biggest fear”. I’m crying. I’m crying and this sucks. “That no one will ever love me. That I will never, ever be enough.”

I grab a tissue, cough, pull at my hair, and then look at her.

“But I’ve figured something out”

She prompts me, “And that is?”

“That if I can learn to like myself, I don’t need someone else to like me that insanely ridiculous, unhealthy, co-dependant amount to feel secure. If I’m healthy then I can accept healthy.”

It’s a freaking revelation.

She praises me, something I’m still not used to. She tells me I have emotional intelligence, and I’m unwilling to accept the backwash of the world as “just the way things are”. I want to evolve.

“You’re a pioneer” She says.

“But I’m afraid of change,” I tell her. “I look terrible in coonskin caps.”

“It’s okay” she tells me

And incredibly, I am starting to believe her.

11. Stupid shit.

Sometimes I say really stupid shit, like today, I wrote to a friend :

“How are you? I am willing everything to be ok from here. I know I likely don’t have those kind of powers, but I’m using this situation to hone said powers to every plausible extreme. Hopefully at the end of it, we’ll both realize that you’re doing fantastically and I’m a little psychic.”

Some days I feel like everyone’s relationship to me is based on whether they think the stupid shit I say is funny. Then after that, it’s based on if they know my brother, because his stupid shit is funnier than my stupid shit. Then after that, it’s based on my boobs. Because my boobs are fantastic.

I hope some people just like me.