The Secret to My Happiness

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the post-God side

In my journey, I’ve lived through high-stress major-life challenges, as many of us have.  Some learn to cope better with others, but like many, anxiety ramped up in my late twenties – now 30- and became the go-to reaction that I’ve been learning to navigate and combat in these last few years.

Some key tools for calming anxiety and finding happiness are: 1. Mindfulness (noticing the details around you, engaging your senses, and then appreciating them).  2. Self-awareness in difficult moments (What narrative is this pain or anxiety coming from?  What are you saying to yourself in those moments, what story are you living? Is that narrative based on past trauma or old relationships?  Think through and work through it).

But I’ve come to a breakthrough beyond those tools, or perhaps because of my practicing those tools, in discovering this very, very important truth:

Successes and victories are not found in numbers, but in that which brings the most love, joy, and peace.

Let’s talk numbers for a second.  They’re SO goddamn easy to calculate and compare, to use to measure yourself (and others), to notice when progress or specific achievement has been made.  Examples: GPA’s and test scores, Social Media friends/followers and likes, weight/ inches/ pant size, number of minutes spent in _____, cost of your car, square-footage of your home and/or yard, yearly salary, revenue, number of bags of tea sold 😉 (etc. etc. etc.).

But this is why they are SO dangerous: They’re so easy to use to measure yourself and others.  If numbers are that which you find your worth, you’ve completely missed the point.  WHY do we work so hard “on our numbers?”  Is it not to have greater love, joy, and peace?  In the end, isn’t that what really matters and the reason we do those things in the first place?  Of course, sacrificing joy or peace in the immediate in order to have more later makes sense.  It’s why I work so hard instead of just spending all of my days playing with my girls.  But.  BUT.  I ONLY work hard so that in the end, my joy, love, and peace have increased.   I must remember that.

Once I have a meter, a gauge, the numbers by which I pass or fail or judge others as passing or failing, I’ve entered into a dangerous realm.  One that exists on the wretched, weak pedestals of anxiety, unhappiness, and depression.

We are so desperate for someone to tell us we are okay.  We are worth it.  We are enough.  So desperate that our attention turns to the numbers, because they are an easy validation point.  But in looking for them to validate us, they will just as easily torture us.  Because numbers are infinite.  Why 6, not 7?  Why 1,200, not 1,400?  Numbers, by definition, never have an end point.  There will always be a number greater and lesser than what you have.

Until we let go of our obsession with defining ourselves by our numbers, we will never be happy.

What would the world look like if we sacrificed our numbers more often in order to have greater love, joy and peace, instead of gravitating to the addiction-like tendencies to do the opposite?

Happiness (for me) can only be found in the increasing of love, joy, and peace in my life, and that can be found at any time, at any place, regardless of any of the numbers by which the world (or myself) wants to measure me.

You are okay.  You are worth it.  You are enough.  Now, go spend some time believing that!

I may not believe in the spiritual, but I believe in the Holy

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the godless side / the post-God side

(Written while listening to this song if you want to listen too and get a little more in my head space).

After working yesterday close to the coast, I drove 15 minutes up to the most beautiful place on earth (IMO), Ecola State Park on the Oregon Coast..

Without my children, without my husband, without my phone, I could disengage undistractedly as I stood on the edge of eternity.  The brilliant sun, the roaring ocean.  It was everything I pictured heaven would be.  I walked barefoot in the reflective sand, like on streets of gold.  I lost myself, the beauty completely overwhelmed me.  My attempts at mindfulness in paying attention to every sound, every sight, every smell, every feel, were so great I couldn’t contain it.  I started to transcend in my mind and felt like I had escaped time and reality.  I desperately wanted to fall to my knees and worship.  But, in realizing there was no authority god figure to which I could attribute this majesty, I started to weep — because that meant something even more incredible: this beauty started and ended with ME– “for” (for lack of a better word) ME to enjoy, not to coerce me to praise another.

There is no other word for me to describe my experience than

HOLY.

From my experience as a Christian, religion wasn’t just a church experience, an ascription to beliefs or dogma, or a psychological torture about my behavior and identity.  It was also incredibly moving.  I lost myself in worshipping what I thought was my creator for HOURS.  Those worship experiences were beaming with beauty and meaning and ended with feeling like I was high for several hours after.

I was taken “past the outer courts and into the holy of holies” where the presence of God resided.  I spent my most precious moments there, and I felt a very similar feeling of overwhelming beauty, ecstasy, as I did yesterday.

And here I am again…. overwhelmed with beauty, finding meaning in my life not by a god but within myself.  Transcending reality into a state of consciousness in which I am so filled with joy and love my eyes cry, my muscles weaken, and my emotions explode.  Nobody walking by would know, but I wish there was a way we could join consciousnesses for a moment so you could feel what I felt.

Maybe you can…?

And now I’m realizing…. I don’t need Ecola State Park to feel this way.  I need only be present, focused, paying attention to the beauty that exists around me in each moment.  Because I think the potential to be overwhelmed with love, gratitude, and connectedness exists in every circumstance and is dependent only upon our state of mind (over which we have control) rather than our righteousness.

 

 

Perfect is Ugly.

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the godless side / the post-God side

God was perfect.  Jesus was perfect.  And the message, over and over again, was that I

am

not

perfect.

But in order to be worthy of heaven, worthy of standing in the presence of god, worthy of LOVE,…..we had to be.  Perfect.

Over and over, I learned that there were two ways of life — perfect, or not.  No in-between.  Pass or fail.

And how can we live that way?  Always worried, never enough.  Never perfect.

As you may have picked up from previous posts, anxiety and depression still plague me as an atheist, but contrary to the thought of the religious, they are not a result of my leaving faith, they are a result of my having been a part of it in the first place.

Though I have left faith, faith has yet to leave me.  Residual effects of belief in the atonement litter themselves over my emotional state and my psyche.

And breakthroughs happen, but we must be diligent in pursuing them.  Not let the anxieties win, but instead confront them, analyze them, dispel them and thus cast the demons of religion out of our lives, one by one.

And this one, this demon of perfection, is an ugly one.  A strong one.  The lie that:

“Something cannot be good unless it is perfect.”

Or phrased differently,

“I am not good unless I am perfect.”

And am I perfect? Hell to the no.  I never have been.  But instead of having the blood of a god I killed to rely on to make me perfect, I am left alone.  With the death of belief in me, so did the only help I had in being perfect.  But instead of denying the cross when I denied faith, I picked it back up again because I deep down I still believed *someone* needed to bear it.  Carrying the cross of perfection was the only was I could be good.

But fuck that.  Good is beautiful.  Imperfect is beautiful.  Good is enough.  Good is BETTER.  It is authentic.  It is real.  I am enough, I am beautiful, I am imperfect and that is GOOD.

Fuck the cross and the god who bore it for me and taught me I am nothing without it.

I stand against that lie in the name of TRUTH.  And I know that all that is true, and good, and beautiful stand along with me.

Music and the existential

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the post-God side

I don’t have the words for describing this feeling.   Metaphysical, existential even.  It’s like speaking a language when the experience exists outside communication.  But I’m going to try.

I’d like to believe that instilled within all of us is a detector for that which is especially captivating.   Moments and experiences that are so filled with love and beauty that it evokes unexplained emotions.

Some call the experience a spiritual one.   Actually, most people probably do.   I don’t, but I do find great meaning in it.   And maybe some people are more sensitive than others.  But for me, the emotions are powerful and paradigm shifting.

I was taken aback that these feelings not only remain after coming out of faith, but are even enhanced without it.  Muted not by blurry false truths or judgmental lenses, I am able to feel fully without guilt or imposed agenda.  I cry when my children grab my hand to dance with me.  I cry when I see them bouncing on my husband’s shoulders.    I cry when I hear them laughing and playing freely.   I am speechless when I see the sun shining through the leaves.  I sit in awe at the mist rising above the forest.  I started sobbing when I watched the eclipse over the ocean this past July.

But music.  Music……

Music has been a great avenue for me of detecting and practicing this intensity.   As a Christian, worshipping through music powerfully erupted this spiritual intensity.   But now, it’s effects are now longer bound by dogma or doctrine.

I compose music improvised at the piano and can sit for hours.   It sets me free.  But more than that, it sets the music free.

Michaelangelo said that he would see his sculptures already in the rock and he was just setting them free as he carved them.  This is how I feel about music.

I hear music all the time.  The song exists around me continually, like oxygen.  And the urge, a compulsion even, to set the music free through my playing is STRONG.  But, I’m a working mama to two children under the age of 4 and a business owner so I never have time to play as much as I like.

And then I hear songs like this (starting at 3:20).  And yesterday, this (or if you haven’t seen The Greatest Showman, watch this version instead so no spoiler).  And my reaction to this music is extreme gratitude.. Gratitude that someone has set the music free and the responsibility is not just on me.  I’m not capable to do what these musicians do, so my gratitude increases at their abilities.  And I cry at the beauty that I would be able to witness this music.

I used to believe that it was okay if I didn’t play as much as I needed, because in heaven I could play for all eternity.  Now — heaven is here.  And fellow musicians have enabled me to fall on the ground on my knees in tears because of the emotion their music evokes within me.

I realize this sounds crazy.  But it’s like the altar and throne still exist, but instead of worshipping god, I worship that which is beautiful.  And I am unable not to.

 

 

A practical look at anxiety and reprogramming your brain.

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leaving Christianity / the post-God side

I’m not sure how long anxiety has been a struggle in my life because so much of it required an awareness that I didn’t have prior to a couple years ago.  But the more I was aware of the symptoms, the more I realized how crippling it was in my life.

So, I’ve been seeing a therapist for a year and half now — a great therapist with over 30 years of experience and extensive schooling in an evidence-based, science-minded and brain-physiology perspective.

For my own benefit (and perhaps the benefit of others struggling with similar problems), I’m writing some of my thoughts of information I’ve gleaned from him and from my own experience.   Obviously I’m not a therapist, so take this all with a grain of salt.  But also, listen, because I know that this information has been life changing for me and you may find it very helpful for you too.

Anxiety comes from fear.  It is a biological adaptation in our brains as a means to avoid dangerous situations.  A survival mechanism we evolved that proved very beneficial.  Our ancestors that had it survived; those who didn’t were killed by the tigers (so to speak).  We got chased by a tiger, we developed a keenly refined sense of detecting when a tiger is near, the anxiety ramped up, and we searched for safety.  Salvation was in anxiety.

But this was back when eating, sleeping, sexing, and surviving were the four goals of humanity.  We’ve grown so much since then, so now anxiety sits and festers and grows like an out-of-control weed.

When a stressor in our life feels dangerous, an alarm goes off in our brain.   This alarm can imprint as trauma and/or anxiety (the two are related, both result from fear and survival).  The alarm goes off, and we feel a very strong sense to respond.  In fact, we can’t not respond.   Everyone’s response is different, and can range from overeating to OCD to “being controlling” to dissociating to a thousand other things.

But here’s the thing — that response is almost always subconscious, which means we aren’t consciously aware of it.  We just do it, without thinking, and usually without even having any idea it’s happening.  In fact, much of our lives actually consists of us responding to various anxieties, and all under the radar of our awareness.

So, back to the anxiety alarm.  It can be triggered by an infinite number of things depending on our life experience, but once the alarm is on, it can’t get shut off, it can only fade.  There is no off-switch in our brains– instead we must just ride the wave and let the fear fade with time.  So our goal then is to intervene in that process as early as possible to get to the fading phase as quickly as possible, eventually leading to literally reshaping the fear center in our brains that are primed with each anxiety pathway.

So, the only way to quiet the alarm is for our conscious mind to speak to our subconscious mind in the moment the alarm is going off.  It’s imperative that each part of that first sentence sink in.  Conscious mindsubconscious mind, and in the moment anxiety is highest.

Think of our brains like a computer.  Anxiety runs in the background like an application we installed when something made us afraid often years or decades ago.  But we can only shut that app down when it’s actually running.  So, pay attention to yourself and your triggers, notice when the app starts to run, and then pull it up on the desktop as an open window.  Once pulled up, then and only then can you shut the app down.

How do you pull it up? By noticing.  Notice when you’re feeling anxious, the thoughts that come in your mind, your emotions, or if you’re not tuned in enough for that, maybe even just the physical sensations you feel.  Bring the subconscious anxiety into your consciousness by becoming aware of when you feel it.

Then, how do you shut it down?  By thinking.  Engage your logical, conscious mind.  A great tool is to ask yourself the following questions:

Is there anything to be afraid of?  Is the threat real?  Are you actually in danger?

If not, then you’re okay.  The alarm fades.

If yes:  Ask yourself, can you handle it?  If yes, the alarm fades.

If you can’t handle it: Ask yourself, can you learn from it?  If yes, the alarm fades.

If you can’t learn from it: Just say to yourself, shit happens.  Life happens.  Shrug your shoulders.  We all go through it.  The alarm fades.

This series of questions have been very helpful for me in dealing with anxiety.  But, I also must create a more solid base from which I can build a stronger awareness where my logical, conscious mind is more active in my life.  And this is where the brainwashing from my last post comes in.

I must unwash my brain from Christianity and rewash it, so to speak.  I’ve learned how powerful those tools were in instilling falsities for me, so let’s use those same tools for healing truths.  Instead of spending daily time with god, I need to reteach my brain with daily time for my emotional and mental restructuring.  We do this through the same things I did as a Christian :  meditating, reading, thinking, journalling, self-analyzing and applying.  As often and repetitively as possible.

There is hope.

This is all very meaty, so more bites to chew on to come very soon as I continue to do my own self-brain-restructuring. 🙂

Lives ARE changed by Jesus. How?

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leaving Christianity / the Christian side

Patterns in our brain our formed when our conscious thoughts take root into our subconscious.  In other words, when we do, say, or think things intentionally that we are aware of often enough that they then become part of us when we aren’t readily aware of them.

How?  By spending intentional time in various activities that solidify thought patterns in our conscious mind that then create new brain pathways, and those pathways are solidified through repetition.   Once formed, these pathways lie on a subconscious level (just a fancy way of saying that which we aren’t readily aware of, like an app running on a computer but the window isn’t open on the desktop).  And at that point, they can turn into behavior patterns, unwanted or not.

Religion has got this DOWN.  Let’s start with the weekly, and often several-times-a-weekly, group “therapy” called church.  Joining in repetitive chanting with emotional music, group think is engaged, the conscious mind dissipates and these messages sink straight into the human psyche.  Then we sit with “open hearts” (our brains are primed) to listen to someone we deem has authority (so their credibility is assumed so our own critical thinking is diminished) speak about these lessons, “truths” that go straight from our conscious into our subconscious often without thinking.  Then the service ends with further solidification often in the form of an altar call or more chanting/worshipping.

But church isn’t enough.  We are taught, encouraged, and often guilted into “Daily Spending Time with God” in order to not just be a Sunday Christian.  I called it my “God Time.”   This consisted of time spent in prayer, scripture reading, scripture studying, scripture memorizing, song singing, internal analysis of the application of these lessons through journaling and prayer.  Textbook brainwashing.  Brainwashing doesn’t have to be negative, we can use it to our advantange (stay tuned for my next post tomorrow).  But for this post, I just want to explain how powerful it can be.  It’s no wonder that lives were changed in Christanity.   But, it wasn’t due to some supernatural miracle, nor was it in the name of Jesus.   It was in the name of science psychology and the phsyiology of the brain when immersing oneself with the same messages repetitively, trustingly, and in various ways– over and over again.

Religion almost ruined my marriage

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the godless side / the post-God side

When two people live together, conflict arises.  And I’m not talking about the harsh, difficult conflict that comes with arguing, I’m talking about a gentle conflict.  Just the collision of two people.  Preferences that are different.  Or desires about the behavior of another because of the way it affects the self.  This conflict comes up continually as our lives brush up with one another’s.

Shared space is almost synonymous with this kind of conflict.  One cannot share space without it.  In fact, let’s call it something other than conflict.  Because I can see me reading that word in a different frame of mind and not internalizing it in a healthy way.  Word images I’m thinking here: overlap, colliding, meshed, bumping against.  In music, a chord suspended and then resolved.  In tapestry making, threads twisted and then untangled.  The act of togetherness with another, two different beings that express their preferences, and all in vulnerability because such expression is an act of trust in the other to care.  To care not only about the other, but to care about choosing to set aside one’s carelessness in order to be more care-ful of the preferences of the other.

Relationship is defined by selflessness.  It cannot exist without it.  From the most basic, simple, and casual relationships to those formed within decades, all relationships require selflessness.  And all selflessness arises from gentle conflict.

For example, merely the act of listening is selfless.  Choosing to shut up so we can hear the expression of the other practices selflessness.  The most basic of relationships start with just a conversation, and that gentle conflict arises and falls with each word spoken by the other as the self closes her mouth and opens her ears.  Such rising and falling of expression vs selflessness continues dramatically and more pronounced as the relationship deepens.

Living with another person is a constant dance between self-expression and listening to the voice of the other.  Listening, and then choosing, always, to go with one’s preferences or to set those aside in order to appreciate and love the other.

This selflessness is where I get totally mixed up, triggered (very much so) by my past.  My marriage is my deepest relationship.  And as I have established, relationships are founded on selflessness.  But selflessness is my absolute trigger, thrusting me into dissociation and reliving trauma, mostly subconscious, so you can imagine the dysfunction that arises in my daily psyche as I struggle to normalize my life.

I have had a triune, a trinity even, of abusive power structures over my life during all of my formative years, from birth through 25.  An abusive parental structure, an abusive god, and abusive church leadership.  None of which I knew were abusive or abnormal at the time, and all of which created the MO by which I lived, functioned, and expected.

Abusive parents never lifted a finger to hurt me physically, but their complete emotional neglect coupled with total control of my life under neurotic, unrealistic expectations of perfection erased my entire sense of self.  My choices needed to please them, my expressions needed to be flawless, and my performance needed to honor them– and would only do so by perfection.

I was deeply shamed and humiliated for my mistakes.  My humanity.  My entire persona took on the role of  “Presentation of Perfection as told by Mother,” a complete self-denial in order to please Her.  This pleasing was never achieved, so the self-less-ness alongside flawlessness became the only goal to which I aspired from my earliest memories, and the one I knew I could never reach.  Shamed into compliance, I became completely disconnected from my own desires and emotions.  And I knew none of this for decades.  Instead, I thought it completely normal, formative, and that which my brain developed as the way life works.  I never even thought to question it.

The abusive god both modeled and demanded a perverted view of selflessness to me.  He was a sacrificial patriarch who killed himself/his son so that I could also spend my life killing myself (“dying to self,” the very opposite of self-actualization), all in the name of love.  So both the love that was expressed to me and the love that I was to express involved death.

I deserved death.  I basically killed god with my own sin and therefore deserved to be killed.  So the only way I could have real life was in self-denial.  Again, reject everything I want because my desires are always bad in order to be replaced by the will of an all-powerful man-god.  Be selfless or displease god.  Be selfless or be hell-bound.  Be selfless or be responsible for the damnation of others.

This same metaphor applied itself in my life in a very real way with an abusive relationship with a church leader.  Demanding I sacrifice myself, my preferences, my dreams, my daily choices, and my body for the well-being of this leader was textbook abuse.  All in the name of the love of god, so I was totally blind to it.  “Be Jesus, die to self in order to let the other live.”  This leader would engage in self-destructive behavior if I didn’t comply, and eventually resorted to a real threat of suicide, forcing me to fly across the country and abandon my entire sense of self for their salvation.

I was both the savior and the victim.  I was a prostitute, paid with the currency of reassurance that I wouldn’t crucify my leader with my selfishness.   Their last words to me were written in a letter, a message to me of forgiveness.  “I forgive you Teal, and so does God.”

This was several years ago.  I was in my early twenties.  I’m thirty now.  But as gentle collisions arise with my husband, dissociation still happens on a daily basis.  Upon the mention of any of his preferences that are different than my own, or anything I did that merits his frustration, I am thrust into subconscious trauma, displacing my husband with this trinity of horror in which all three abuses of power bestowed their love only if I complied into selflessness.

I see clearly right now.  It may not last, so I write these words in desperate attempt to convince my future self not to dissociate.  I don’t know how to define selflessness.  I don’t know how to define love.  The words are not there, because they are all stained with blood.  But I do know these images.  Suspended chord resolved, twisted threads untangled.

tied-up-1792237_1920

Proof god isn’t all-powerful

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the Christian side / the godless side

I was wrong.

God wasn’t the deepest source of the mountains of shit of dysfunction that have scarred over my psychological and emotional being, that have destroyed all examples of healthy relationships and healthy boundaries in my life.  There is one deeper.

My husband and I are starting from scratch in so many ways in our lives right now, and I always just assumed that the extreme, irrational emotions during our periodic fighting was the result of having both come from such dysfunctionally religiously fundamentally extreme backgrounds.

But something wasn’t quite fitting.

Something was happening in conflict.  Something that didn’t quite make sense.  It hasn’t made sense for 5 years since we’ve been married.

At the hint of any beginning of frustration on his end, I would change.  Immediately becoming defensive and sharp.  Like… IMMEDIATELY.  Can you imagine what resolving conflict looks like with someone that can’t handle it before it even begins?  

We had no idea that there was even an identifiable cause, let alone identifying the problem itself.  Not until this week.  We were talking through a fight we had had, trying to piece together what happened.  I told him I literally Could. Not. Hear. Him. if he raised his voice half a decibel.  I couldn’t hear.  And not only that, but when we were trying to go back, I couldn’t even remember what he had first said.  “All I said is that we should put the tape back when we were done with it,” he said.  Shocked, I replied, “You didn’t say that it was my fault the box wasn’t ready yet??”  No, he hadn’t even mentioned the box.  Not one word.  I had no memory of this.

My husband went to therapy with me this week and after explaining what happened during these fights and piecing together everything else my therapist knows from past sessions, he pinpointed what was going on.  “You are dissociating, triggered by even just the smallest hint of his frustration, and after which you are no longer really present during the conversation.  You are somewhere else.”  He explained that triggering comes from deep trauma and can be minutely set off.

What hadn’t made sense, until now, was the trauma.

There were three main problems of conflict in my life that I’ve been blaming for my deeper issues ever since I’ve started being aware of my emotional health.  Certainly not limited to this, but sort of a general context for processing:

  1. God: the effects of the evangelical Christianity in which I was raised from my earliest memories and for which I lived until 3 years ago.
  2. Abusive past relationship with a leader in my church (explained in this blog post if you want a refresher).
  3. The performance-based love from my parents.

Let’s talk about #3 for a second.  My understanding of the biggest failure from my parents was in their pressure for me to perform perfectly in all aspects of my life.  From needing straight A’s from the first test score in elementary school to needing to be valedictorian in both high school and college, to needing to be captain of the varsity tennis team, to needing to win first place in every competitive piano and dance competition I entered from when my fingers were long enough to play.  I needed to have enough friends, and a lot of them.  I needed to be popular.  And stylish.  And beautiful.  And skinny, my god, I was never skinny enough for my mother.  The body shaming and food shaming she put me through gave eating disorders a clear road in my life starting from when I was very young.

I was involved in extra-curriculars from as early as I can remember.  Seriously, that’s not an exaggeration.  I have a select few memories of an involved, active life as a 3-year-old.  And I was in kindergarten and I remember talking to my friend and saying that I couldn’t play after school any day that week because I had something going on each day.  By the time I was in junior high, I remember consistently getting 4 hours of sleep a night, never discouraged by my parents, so that I could perfect school projects and homework after getting home so late from practices, etc.

Anyway, “performance-based love” was the legacy my parents left me, and I had always left it at that.  I completely missed the “how.”

Then, this week, all of a sudden it dawned on me.  Trauma.

For most of my life, I’ve only been able to cry out of my right eye.  Still, to this day.  Why?

My mother and I spent a great deal of our relationship during my childhood in the car, because she was always driving me to my next event or practice.  And this is when she would release her wrath, and in a way from which I had no escape.  I was strapped into the passenger seat and couldn’t close my ears to her yelling at me, tearing me down, raising her voice and never stopping.  Trauma.  Her words were painful, incessant, penetrating, but I couldn’t let her see me cry so I turned my head and trained myself to only let the tears fall on the window side.  And in these moments, I remember visually creating an egg shell that protected me.  I visualized sinking into this shell and not letting her words affect me.  Much of my memory of what she said is lost now,  but the memory of the egg shell is vivid.  Dissociation.

It didn’t end there, though.  She yelled at me, all the time, unless we were in public or in front of other people.  There’s so much I don’t remember.  I know she woke me up early everyday before school because she had stayed up all night correcting my homework and made me redo it.  She would often erase what I did, even if correct, because my handwriting wasn’t perfect and made me rewrite it so my letters and numbers were straight and on the line.  These mornings, there was always a lot of yelling.  The how, the trauma.

I would often forget something important, like my bag of dance shoes before rehearsal or my book in my locker at school the night before a test.  Or even, god forbid, that I was supposed to ride with Casey’s mom to practice after school and accidentally took the bus home instead.  These moments, the names she would call me and her level of volume of anger and absolute disgust with me…. I can’t bring myself to think through the memories.  The trauma.

Her wrath and control escaped no part of my life.  Everything I did, I did for her, even if subconsciously.  I remember feeling utter shock when I was 13 and my mom asked me if I wanted to be in dance that year.  I had a choice!?!  But I didn’t even have enough empowerment to ask that question, even if just in my mind.  I did not know that word, “choice.”  I just had the emotion, that feeling — disbelief that I could CHOOSE ——-????….. was COMPLETELY new to me.

I’m still processing a lot of this.  The catalyst happened last night after stumbling across a youtube video of a young girl at a World of Dance competition.  (This is the video).  I was fine when I sat down, then as I watched her I felt myself begin to identify with her and I totally lost it and started sobbing.

Then the sobbing released a wave of thought about everything my mother took from me and did to me.  And then rage came.  the RAGE.  I was physically unable to contain it. Writhing, pacing, clinging to any surface in my living room to ground myself.  The tears, hot, hatred, hell.  How could I not know?!?!??!?!  How did I not see this for THREE DECADES?!?!

But, it seems so obvious now.  A young child has no concept of god.  God doesn’t exist in the earliest moments and memories of a baby into their first several years of life during the times they are most impressionable.  Who then has full control over a person’s most formative years?? Not god. 

Mother.

Who is the face a baby first sees, clings to?  A child looks to for comfort, reassurance, and identity?  Not god.

Mother.

So look, Christians, there is undeniably someone more powerful than your god for every human on this planet, past and present.  And her name is mother.

Depression for an a-theist

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the godless side

There is pressure, maybe we all feel it, to present a strength to the world.  That you are strong.  That either your life is so good it’s worth envying, or it’s so hard that we should all admire your strength within it.  That there is an inner force within oneself, a strong one, that knows things.  That figures them out.  That is the teacher and the student.  We applaud the successes or the authenticity in the challenges.

But what we never see is brokenness, period.  Just broken.  It’s not pretty, it’s not comfortable.  It’s like a dissonant chord, never resolving in the next measure.  Odd, unstable.  Like someone deformed.  We turn away.

But right now, I am deformed.  Dissonant.  Broken.  There is no inner strength to help me.  I feel lost and overwhelmed.  Depression ebbs and flows throughout different periods in my life.  And there has always been hope.  Right now, hope is so hard to find.  I love my children and my husband.  That’s all I have.  And I know that that’s enough, because it’s kept me alive and that love is my only source of joy.

I envy belief in god.  To know that through the pain, there is someone who’s got your back.  Who will give you a hope and a future.  Who will work everything out for your good.  Who can see the bigger picture and tell you— “It’s going to be worth it.”

In my worldview, there is no necessary happy ending; the ending is unknown.  Everything is uncertain.  And that uncertainty can be invigorating, but it also means these bleak, dark days have no sure upside.  I have to find it, create it, myself.  By myself.  So the failures are ever so poignant, there is no buffer.  I feel weak and exhausted, how am I supposed to create a hopeful future out of such weakness?

God could do it.  He pleasured himself on showing his strength in our weakest moments.  As perverted as that seems in logical moments, right now I wish I had that strength again.  The magic hand that dried my tears and told me everything was going to be okay.  That the instability is there for a purpose.  That I am here for a purpose.

But that voice doesn’t exist.  It is not here.

For the Christians reading this thinking, “Just reach out, he IS there!”  You must understand that just because you have an answer for pain doesn’t mean it is THE answer.

And pain is not a cause for belief.  Evidence is.  I’m not speaking stubbornly, I’m speaking honestly.  As much as I may desire for a belief in magic right now, I cannot make myself believe in something.  Belief is not a choice.

These 2 am lonely nights are as lonely as they feel.  There is no one listening.  No one to comfort me.  I am a source of comfort to my children, none to comfort me.

Life is so alone.

Religion costs me $75 per week + all my tears

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the godless side / the post-God side

My emotional and mental struggles were a bit too convoluted to solve on my own, so I started seeing a therapist several months ago.  I see him almost weekly because of the depths of entanglement within me.  His evidence-based approach is refreshing, as he uses science, physiology of the brain and brain chemistry, and research-based methods from years of experience and studies to give useful solutions.  There are reasons, there are answers, and there are tools to help solve them.

And you know what comes up Every. Single. Week?  “This comes from your strict religious upbringing that there is always a right and a wrong, a black and a white, that you are always either passing or failing.  There is always a person (god) to whom you must answer.  Nothing you ever do is just for yourself, you must always be selfless in serving another.”  –There are several themes mentioned there, but one remains:  Religion has completely messed me up.

This week, we talked about the following:

My constant need to be busy is a control mechanism I implement as a means to try to relieve my overarching anxiety in my life.  An anxiety that stems from the fact that my sense of self-worth is always, always in flux.  Why??? Because of Jesus.

I have to be constantly performing, everything I’m doing is seen as a pass/fail (usually ending up failing) because my ultimate worth IS NOT INHERENT, but is rather a result of my productivity.  Another reason I turn to productivity, always needing to fill every single moment of my day to be as busy as possible… because at the end of the day, if I wasn’t productive and intentional, I failed.

What’s interesting about this concept is that even as a Christian, I knew the upper layers of modern theology that contradicted this feeling.  Do you know how many times we got preached to (and even in deep, personal conversations with fellow Christians!) that we are enough, that God loves us no matter what, that his grace is sufficient, that nothing we could ever do would wipe away his love for us, etc.  One visual metaphor has still stuck with me:  My friend Melissa told me, “You know Teal, even if you just sat in a corn field for the rest of your life and did absolutely nothing, God would still love you?”

That imagery still moves me and actually brings tears to my eyes.  But not because I believe in god, but because it is a message that hadn’t really ever sunk in — my worth is inherent and unwavering.

So why the contradiction?  Was I just totally off-the-wall as a Christian, in the extremes of self-loathing while everyone else lived in this magical world of grace?  Was I an anomaly, and outlier?

I don’t think so.  I think that my story rang true with the vast majority, if not every, Christian, because it is a story that runs deep in the blood and theology of Christianity.   Why else do Christians fall on their knees at the altar, at the “feet of Christ” sobbing with sorrow for sin and then the joy of forgiveness they receive?  What the hell is with that sorrow?  And how is that joy only something that comes from something outside themselves (Jesus)?  It IS Christianity.

Grace and infallible worth came as a modern response to the self-depreciation that original sin and atonement brought.  There is no Christianity without the idea of original sin and atonement.  THAT is it’s founding principle.

The idea of grace is a superficial one and is an absolute contradiction.  “God loves you so much DESPITE your nasty sinful self that he sent his perfect son to be slaughtered FOR YOU.  So no, you don’t HAVE to do ANYTHING because he was already TORTURED and KILLED for you, so yeah, his blood is ON YOU.”  So much grace.  Thank you for slaughtering this innocent human to cover up all my horrible self.  I was born horrible.  And I will die horrible, without his blood.

THAT IS NOT SELF WORTH.  That is completely, COMPLETELY the opposite.  I am ONLY valuable because someone else was freaking SLAUGHTERED for me.  Otherwise I would burn in hell.  But thank GOD that I can sit in a cornfield now and be loved.  (WTH loved?????) while I have the image of a tortured human bleeding on me.  That makes me feel soooooo much better.

“You suck.  But god loves you in spite of or even because of (which is even more messed up) your suckiness.”

The worth of a Christian is not defined by his or herself.  It is ONLY defined through the sacrifice of another person.  I am not enough.  Not on my own.  Only with Jesus.  It. Is. The. Opposite. Of. Grace.

And now I’m spending $75 per week on a therapist to try to convince me I am worth it, just myself.   That I don’t have to be anxious 100% of the time and depressed 50% of the time.  That I can be happy and free, because I can sit in a cornfield and have worth.  Not because of anyone else.  Not for anyone else.  Just because.  And that is the HARDEST truth for me to believe.