Category Archives: Family Issues

No Regrets?

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I wrote at the end of my last entry that I “have no regrets” about moving away from Christianity, and I realize that that isn’t totally true. I don’t actually feel like I’ve made the wrong choice, but there are some unfortunate things that have come into my life from making this choice.

#1: Isolation

I’ll be the first to say that the sense of alienation is probably mainly caused by me. My family and Christians in my life who know about my situation haven’t tried to push me away, but I’ve found myself feeling somewhat distant from them. The most typical reactions from my Christian friends who’ve found out about my doubts, is to offer to pray for me or just to imply that this is simply something that I’m “going through” and I will come out on the other side with renewed faith and a better relationship with God. There is no denying that there is a certain dismissiveness- and in some cases condescension- in these statements, but I understand that they do not at all come from a place of malice or judgement.

Anyway, despite everyone being relatively welcoming- and as supportive as they can be- I’ve chosen not to attend any more Christian groups and to limit my attendance at Sunday service. This has been really hard, because church has always been a safe, comfortable environment for me to socialize with people. I’ve tried looking into other groups but I haven’t been able to make a lot of progress with my search so far. Trying to find a new social circle to be involved with is really hard, especially for me as a relatively introverted person who has a lot of anxiety about driving to new places.

#2: Self-doubt/anxiety

Even as a I grow more comfortable in my “state of disbelief”, there are still moments when I wonder if I’m really wrong. I wonder if there’s a loving, all-powerful Creator-God of heaven whose kind embrace I am withholding myself from, or if alternatively, there is an omnipotent tyrant in the sky whose wrath I am inciting by my actions. Often the benevolent and fearful God are described as being one and the same, and at any rate, I feel that I must be displeasing Him. In doing so, I am also displeasing his followers- and that includes close members of my family.

At best I feel like a disappointment- at worst I feel that I may be in peril of “gaining the whole world and losing my soul” as Jesus was said to have said. I have to often remind myself that the idea of being cast into a burning lake of fire for eternity on the basis of mere belief or disbelief, is frankly absurd. If there is an afterlife, surely, our lives would be judged on the basis of our actions, and even if our actions were truly reprehensible they could not merit eternal punishment.

In some religions, being a truly horrible person just means that at some point your soul would be destroyed and you would no longer be reincarnated. Even though this is also a permanent punishment, the one punished does not in effect suffer for all eternity- they simply cease to be. That may be frightening as well, but, in the end, it’s all speculation. No one really knows what happens to us after this life- and that means that any number of things could be true, or none of them. Basing my entire life on any one assumption by itself sounds a lot like putting my eggs into one basket.

That being said, even though I’ve reasoned this all out quite neatly, hearing sermons about “losing this life” or even just offhand comments from Christians about hell and eternity can trigger all sorts of low-key nervous feelings in me. Sometimes, even without hearing these statements, the feelings can be triggered indirectly by random flashbacks to messages that have been drilled into my head for years. Even after separating oneself from the religion, one can still feel lingering feelings of guilt, shame, or “wrongness” that don’t seem to have any specific point of origin.

#3: Feeling lost

I used to pray a lot for strength and guidance, and sometimes, I still do. Now, though, I don’t have a very specific idea of who I’m praying to, and what it all means. In the past, praying to God for help with something also meant “putting it in His hands” which meant willfully choosing not to worry or be concerned with it. It meant quoting scriptures that detailed his “promises”, “meditating on the word” and choosing to praise, worship, and trust Him for the desired result. There was a certain element of “spiritual warfare” which included praying together with other people, and speaking out against any thoughts of doubt that might enter my mind.

If that sounds like a lot of work, in some cases it was. The draw of it all was that I felt that someone was listening- I felt that a Higher power was going to intervene on my behalf. Sometimes I felt literally refreshed and felt a sense of inner peace when praying. Even though I would still experience indecision, I used to believe that God was going to “work everything together for good.”

Now, I still believe in a higher power, but I believe that his/her/its role in human life is somewhat limited. I feel that I can seek guidance from this Force, but in the end a lot of the forward motion in my life is left up to me. This is both empowering and sobering. I now believe that I can’t just pray for things to be better, but I have to be the change that I want to see in the world. I believe that the Divine works through frail human lives to bring about good on this earth. I don’t believe that God has any sort of physical form, but rather is the life-giving force that exists in all of us. So in that sense, he/she/it isn’t really a “person” that we can implore to do this or that.

Another thing I now believe is in my own insignificance. I am not better or more deserving than anyone in this world, and being extremely devout isn’t going to stop bad things from happening to me. I also don’t believe that good or bad events are being orchestrated by some Divine Being. God was silent during the massacres in Sudan and Rwanda, the Holocaust, and havoc that occurred from the “Holy Wars” of the medieval times. There were- and are- times when peoples’ faith/religious convictions implored them to help others. Many Christians helped to hide Jews, but on the other hand, after it was over, the Catholic church was hiding Nazis and aiding in their escape. Religion is neither good nor bad, but good or bad people alike use it to justify their actions. What does that really say about it all?

It’s easy to get lost in this world. It’s easy for me to wonder if anything I do in life really matters. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the possibility that this life really is the only one that we have- that there’s no do-overs, that there’s no heaven for the righteous, no hell for the sinners, that we all simply get put in the ground and then we’re either remembered or forgotten. When I think about it like that, I have to ask myself if I’m really living the life that I want to live. It’s easy to wonder- “what are they going to say about me after I’ve died?” What legacy am I going to leave?

Not having any idea about any of it, or any romantic paradigm in which to frame things, is really hard. This is my reality, though, and I have to face it. So yes, there have been some regrets- but there’s no turning back now. I feel like I’ve seen a glimpse at the truth, and I don’t want fairy tales anymore. I’ve had some incredible good fortune in my life, and as great as it would be to think that that was due to my personally assigned guardian angel, I don’t know if I can tell myself that I’m that special.

I’m not special. I’m just me.

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The Past

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

My mom asked me what I do with all of my free time before work now that I’m not in class, and I rattled off a list of [legitimate] things, like running errands and meeting with my caseworker. I wasn’t being dishonest, but the truth is that I do spend an awful lot of my “free time” that isn’t occupied by other things here on Tumblr. 76% of the time I don’t find anything particularly thought-provoking, but on occasion I do find something that has me wanting to think- and I spend a lot of time just thinking about things.

I’ve written about my childhood on here frequently, and it is to be remembered that even the worst of childhoods has some happy moments in it. In a couple of my posts I held a really optimistic, sunny view of things- reminiscing to times of playing outside with my younger brothers. I can also remember how I would read stories to my younger sisters. Also, my youngest sister would just sit on my bed when I was lying around and we’d talk about things, like anime and just silly stuff.

There’s never only one side to things. Actually, because of life experience and being able to see life outside the religious lens, I think that I’ve actually broadened my perspective quite a bit. I no longer have to be self-deprecating when I attempt to cite the ways that being raised hyperreligiously has damaged me. I no longer have to be angry and sad and not really understand why. I no longer have to be at the mercy of a mental illness that created so much distance between me and my loved ones; my mental illness was always there, even in the happy times- and if I “surrendered to God” it was supposed to cure it- but now it no longer has the hold on me that it used to.

At the same time, I can look at the past with more than just contempt. I could just go ahead and say, “If I didn’t go through X I wouldn’t be the person that I am today” but I think that’s just a way of sugar-coating tragedy. It’s true that I wouldn’t be the person I am today- I might be a person with more self-confidence, stronger friendships, and healthier relationships (you never know). I can embrace the past objectively and in a healthy way, without “painting it black” or “sugar-coating” it. It wasn’t all bad, but it wasn’t “great” either and that’s perfectly all right.

I think there’s a saying, “I may not be where I wanna be, but I’m right where I’m supposed to be” and I think I can just apply that saying here- even though it might spawn its own set of questions as to whether or not “fate”, “destiny”, “synchronicities”, or “serendipity” are actually valid parts of our experience of life on earth. The idea that I’m “supposed” to be at a certain place or “supposed” to do a certain thing, that I have a “calling” and all of that can be equal parts romantic and equal parts horrifying, depending on whether or not we’ve “missed out on our calling” or not.

For now, I think I will go with the idealistic notion that my past and current suffering are part of a grander purpose- the betterment of myself and others. I will do this without pretending that God, the Fates, or some other force “simply knows best” and is directing my life accordingly. I am starting to believe that I have more freedom and agency in how my life turns out than I could’ve believed possible before- taking into consideration time, chance, “luck” and privilege, of course.

I now believe that I am in control of me- that it’s up to me how to view the past and how best to apply that knowledge to how I live my life. The past doesn’t have to control me, even though it’s undeniably a part of who I am.

It really is possible to rise above your circumstances. I’m doing it every day.

Guilt

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I think I’ve addressed guilt in a lot of my articles, here, going deep into its roots in gender inequality and religion (with the two roots sometimes intersecting). If you feel that you are inherently sinful, but bought and “saved” from the fires of hell by the bloody death of your Savior, you may feel obligated to do everything you can to pay Him back for His worthy sacrifice. When you fail to achieve perfection- as you inevitably must- you may be wracked with guilt and continue to feel “dirty” no matter how much you try to cleanse your soul with repentance.

Your level of guilt is likely to be higher if you’re a woman- and higher still if you’re a Fundamentally religious woman. Fundamentalist adherents of the world’s three main religions encourage guilt in women in many ways- these are just a few.

Fundamental Christianity: The woman is the “weaker vessel” and must “submit to the authority of the man.” She must be chaste and reverent  (“She who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives”). She must keep her head covered, be silent in the church, and “not exert authority over a man.” It is her duty to “bear children and guide the house”.

Fundamental Islam: It takes the testimony of two women to equal that of a single man. Women are to cover their hair and bodies as not to prove as a temptation for their male counterparts. A woman can inherit only a fraction from a dead relative of what her male siblings/relatives can inherit. Fathers and brothers are mandated with “maintaining the purity” of their daughters/sisters.

Orthodox Judaism: Women who are on their periods are considered “unclean” and have to be housed in separate housing during the “days of their impurity.” Women are also considered as “unclean” following childbirth, and the length of time that they remain unclean is longer if they give birth to a female child than it is for if they give birth to a male child.

Of course, teachings of the world’s three great religions are harsh towards men in many ways as well (think male circumcision), but it’s easy to see how women might feel “less than” as a result of some of the teaching of the more “orthodox” brands of the three main religions. It is also noteworthy that even in areas where people do not adhere to these strict interpretations of the teaching, the effects of these beliefs being held so long still trickle down into modern society.

1) Women are still invalidated/“defeminized” if they cannot- or choose not to- give birth to children

2) Women are taught to marry before a certain age or “be an old maid” or
“spinster” whereas men are taught to pursue their careers and social development

3) The natural process of women’s menstruation is still thought by many to be “disgusting”

4) If a woman is strong-willed she’s considered “bossy” or a “man-eater/hater” whereas men who are strong-willed are seen as “confident” and “commanding”

5) Terms like “feminazi” are still used against women who stand up for gender equality

6) You can be an “old cat lady” but there’s no equivalent term for men

7) We have “purity balls” for daughters and fathers, with no corresponding event for parents and their sons

8) Women are still held responsible if they are sexually assaulted by someone i.e., What were you wearing? Had you been drinking? Did you really tell them no? Is this your partner? Did you lead them on?

9) Promiscuous women are “sluts”, promiscuous men are “players”

I really could go on and on with this list, but I think I’ve made my point. So really, on top of being saddled on with the religious guilt of being a “sinner” I am also saddled with the cultural guilt of being a “woman.”

So when I feel guilty about overeating, oversleeping, overworking, or underworking, some of it has to do with what I have or haven’t done- but more of it has to do with what I am. A huge part of it is thinking that if I make myself feel bad about not doing something, that I can go ahead and not do the thing- as long as I keep on feeling bad. It’s about a fear of letting go- a fear of speaking up and saying “I’m tired, not now” or “I would rather work on something else” or “I would rather not go tonight”. I’ve become so accustomed to being told how I should live, who I should be, and what I should do that I have forgotten there is a key operative word here-

No.

No, I don’t want to. No, I don’t have time. No, and I won’t feel guilty.

I used to think that guilt was a good motivator for doing things. Like, if I could make myself feel just bad enough, I would be able to fit into the mold of what other people wanted me to be. I could finally do something for my dad for once, and have him be impressed and happy with me. I could finally “pay him back” for not living life according to his desires and principles, if I could just compromise with this one thing.

The problem is that it’s never just one thing- if it’s not one thing, it’s another.

Like, right now I’m doing a job for him, and he’s given me neither a time limit or a deadline, but him supporting me financially in order for me to live in the apartment is contingent on this one thing. I had been working on the project faithfully, then I had to take another month off due to summer classes getting really intense. I’ve reached a snag in my working on the project though- for the life of me I cannot figure out how to fix this one issue.

So I started to get frustrated. I started to think about how his financial assistance had helped- the money which is probably so little to him- and made such a difference for me- and previous projects that he had financed and that I had been unable to complete. I started to think about how I had much more time now, and i should be able to figure out this one problem.

I started to feel guilty.

So I had to take some time off, to think and really pray about it. To come to the realization that it wasn’t about the project- I could do it, even if it would take more time- but rather that I was holding myself to some ridiculous standard, a standard that my dad didn’t even hold me to- and a standard I certainly didn’t hold him up to.

Even if he was going to complain about all the times he’d funded me and I’d failed, I would never bring up all the times that he didn’t fund me- when I did what my heart was calling for- and I succeeded. This wasn’t about me failing or not failing. My dad even admitted that really the project was for me, that I would need the skills from this project to succeed when I inevitably failed at my music career. So essentially, this whole project is based on the assumption that I am going to fail at what I’m really passionate about doing. Is there any wonder that my heart isn’t totally in it?

So yes, I feel guilty. Though the more I look at things, the more I see that guilt is counterproductive to motivation. After it’s robbed you of your joy and peace of mind, it also stops you from doing the very thing that you think would bring that joy back- and that’s move you closer towards your goals. Guilt is an emotion that sweeps the rug out from under you, and then blames you for falling.

I may fall, but I’m definitely rising up again. I won’t be ashamed of being tired, I won’t be ashamed for putting something off, I won’t be ashamed for “not being good enough.” The fact that I want to do well and am with all my power working towards that makes me good enough.

I won’t ever allow guilt to permanently derail me from reaching my destiny.

That being said, I don’t think my guilt issues can really be dealt with by logic alone- or even adding to that encouragement from friends. I was able to deal with a lot of my issues in therapy but had to discontinue when I phased up into a different mental health program at the clinic. I think I am prepared to seek out a therapist again- I’m pretty sure there is someone who is covered by my health care.

Better Boundaries

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I’m feeling a lot more refreshed after returning from my long holiday weekend. I had a great time visiting with my brother, my brother’s wife and their little baby.

I did end up visiting my parents, but I chose to just stay a few hours instead of staying the night. I felt mixed feelings because my younger brothers seemed to be really disappointed that I was leaving so soon. That being said, I knew that I had to do what was right for me.

My dad didn’t really say anything that was overly bothersome. It’s just that every time I talk about having a good time with my nephew my dad will say, “See how much of a blessing children are” and make all sorts of not-so-subtle allusions to why I should have one- and not even just have one, but to actually give birth rather than even adopt or anything like that. I realize though that that’s a lot more about him and my mom wanting to have another grandchild than any sort of genuine concern about me ending up childless and alone.

My dad just said, “I’m just saying that if God decides to give you one, don’t say no” and I said, “Of course I wouldn’t say no” because it isn’t like I would ever have an abortion (but thank God for contraceptives).

Anyway, it wasn’t so much anything about what he said. In fact, I was very surprised and satisfied with how little his comments managed to get under my skin. I was pretty much able to say to myself, “This isn’t about me, this is about him” but I also chose not to stay overnight. I would’ve liked to spend more time with my mom and my siblings, but beforehand I told them that I might not stay the whole day and left myself the opening to be able to return to my older brother’s house.  I’m realizing that these are part of my boundaries and I just need to continue setting limits for myself, without avoiding visiting all together. Family will always be family. I still want to have access to my mom and my siblings so I don’t want to just alienate myself entirely.

On the topic of having kids, though; Children do not exist merely to serve their parents. My dad’s argument for me to have a baby was to point out that my own mother didn’t regret me standing there helping her (I was helping her remove the husks from corn) and “she had to make so many sacrifices”. Really though- that point worked against him. My mom is an amazingly brave and strong woman, and I really don’t know if I’d be able to make the same sacrifices that she did- and I told my dad that. My mom chimed in that a popular newscaster came out and said that if she could’ve told her younger self anyone she would’ve “decided to have a baby at 25” (guess how old I am right now?).

That being said, having a child is a huge responsibility. Also, there are no guarantees that they’ll love you in the end, or take care of you when you’re old, or share in your interests, and yet it is your obligation to take care of them. You have to love them without expecting the same in return. So who’s to say even if I had a child, that they would be “taking care of me when I’m old”. In fact, there’s also a possibility that my child would be born with a disability and they would never be able to take care of me- even if they wanted to. My dad is making an assumption that my child would be born healthy- and then if my child wasn’t born healthy you can rest assured that he would blame it on something that my partner and I did.

All of that aside, after hearing of the terrible atrocities happening to children in foster care- including the government seizing money that was rightfully left to them by deceased relatives- I feel more strongly than ever a desire to be an foster parent and at some point adopt a child. I don’t know how/when the opportunity will be presented to me- but as my dad pointed out, if God offers me a child, I’m not turning that kid away. The fact that my dad mocks my aversion to childbirth and prioritizes the needs of hypothetical biological children over kids that are living and breathing right now speaks greatly of how much he is caught up in the ancient mindset. He’s a part of that culture that embraces “God’s” admonition to “multiply and fill the earth” as well as “women should bear children and guide the house” and forgets the verses that say, “children should not lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children”.

I’m not going to say that it’s wrong to have a child simply because you want a child- but I’m definitely going to have to say that it’s not wrong to not have a child simply because you do not want to have a child. This idea that it’s a woman’s “duty” to sacrifice her body as a vessel by which the hypothetical future geniuses and leaders of the world are to come into the world, while undermining the women who decided not to do this but do decide to give themselves over to philanthropy and social justice is frankly absurd. In fact, it’s not even necessary to insist that a woman choose one over the other. You’re not “weak” for wanting to be a more traditional mother, and you aren’t “superior” if you decide not to be. Biological motherhood is not the only way to epitomize being a woman.

I’m not going to apologize for my views in any way. My dad is not the one who would be carrying a baby in the womb for 9 months, so in my opinion he has very little right to dictate what I should decide to do with my body. At this point I have absolutely no desire to be pregnant or give birth to a child, though yes, if something were to happen and I would end up being pregnant I would embrace the moment and go ahead with it. I don’t dislike children, and I love my nephew very much but I am keenly aware of the fact that if I were to be too worn out after taking care of him I have the option to send him back with his parents. Parents don’t have that option. I am very proud of my brother and his wife for doing such a great job with my nephew, and again, I don’t know if I could do the same myself, and I’m proud of myself for being able to very calmly express this to my dad.

It’s not about convincing anyone, it’s about knowing what I want to do and being confident in my own judgment.

The Exile

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

In my last post, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?” I kind of further expanded on a topic I had touched on in an earlier post- “No Father but God”. In that earlier post I talked about three things- Father’s Day, my hyperreligious upbringing and the Orlando shooting- and whether Christians can denounce homosexuality as a sin and still say that they’re against things like what happened in Pulse. “No Father but God” ended a little abruptly, so in “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?” I isolated and discussed just that concept- the idea that you can consider homosexuality to be sinful, vote against LGBTQIA rights and still objectively “love” gay people (the floor is still open for comments on that).

Now I want to isolate and talk more about my hyperreligious upbringing and my tenuous relationship with my dad. I’ll dive right in.

My dad is very convinced that I’m a “prophetess to the nations” because of me supposedly accurately predicting something at 3 years old. Now this may sound like a very strange notion to some of you, but please not that in Evangelical/Pentecostal Christian circles titles like “prophet” and “apostle” are tossed about quite readily. My dad believes that I am going to be a “preach the word of God all over the world”. You could say that that is his vision for my life.

He has never supported the idea of me being educated in a traditional college. I was homeschooled for my entire life because he believed the public school system to be unsafe- but mostly because he considered it to just be totally immoral.

Our Bible studies that we had everyday were about the Bible, but also served as an opportunity for my dad to air his opinions on many subjects. He believed that the “educational system” was completely godless and evil, and that you did not need a college degree to succeed in life. He would cite stories of people like Bill Gates and the founder of Dell- who were both college dropouts- and go on and on about how college didn’t really teach you anything useful, just except to hate God. He would often quote a little-known scripture from Jesus in the New Testament,  “That which is highly esteemed of men is an abomination to God”. In his opinion, getting a college degree was all about the prestige and therefore evil.

I just say most of that to provide a backstory for why he was willing to pay upfront for me to go to cosmetology school- but doesn’t at all support my musical education at community college today (where by the way, I am not taught even one thing that’s at odds with my religious background).

I didn’t finish cosmetology school because I went into a manic episode (at the time I was diagnosed bipolar I with psychotic features) and just did all sorts of crazy things as a result. The manic episode resulted because I abruptly stopped taking my medication.

My mental illness and medicine compliance are another thing that my dad is in total denial about. He hasn’t taken medicine for anything in about thirty years, and whenever any of us were sick he just “prayed the prayer of faith” and, thankfully, we always recovered (a lot of children have died that way). He was actually diagnosed with bipolar I himself when he was in his twenties, but threw away his medicine after he was convinced by scripture that he was healed. I must say that although he’s had what I can consider some serious lapses in judgment, he’s remained mainly high-functioning since that time. He’s never been re-hospitalized and has always been able to hold down a job- including and especially a very well-paying tech job that he still has today.

So really my dad is a series of contradictions. On the one hand, he believes some things that are pretty wacky, but on the other hand he’s extremely intelligent. On the one hand, he seems isolating and anti-social, and on the other hand, he’s very extroverted and gregarious. He can be extremely generous, and on the other hand, very dismissive. Maybe in the end I can attribute his mercurial nature to mental illness, but honestly I don’t know what to think.

So let’s see what we have so far,

1) Dad hates the “educational system”

2) Dad is against medicine

Check and check. On those two topics, I’ve had my dad tell me, “It isn’t the will of God that any of my offspring graduate college” and also, “With you messing with medicine, you put yourself in danger of the lake of fire [hell]”.

When I was still in recovery residence, my dad nearly convinced me to let him buy me an apartment, as long as I “stayed away from [the people I used to live with]”. He also wanted me to leave school and stop taking my medication. I came this close to doing it- even throwing away my medicine and trying to believe I was healed- but when I went to the owner of the house and told her in tears that I was leaving she said, “Are you really sure this is from God?” and she pointed out that if it was really God telling me I wouldn’t look and feel so horrible.

Since then I have had my guard up at all times. My dad can be very persuasive- and not just because he’s my dad, but because he has a larger than life personality and tends to just dominate arguments.

Also, I’ve come to see that he uses giving and withholding of finances well as an attempt to obtain control. When I was to move into the apartment that I’m in right now, my dad had to notarize a letter saying that he was willing to pay X amount of dollars so that I would meet the income requirements. He wasn’t even going to help me at first, because I had rejected him on the offer that he made earlier, but he said that God said to give me a chance (more on that later).

Anyway, when I expressed some doubts about whether this was the apartment complex I really wanted to be in- my dad said that unless I moved into this place he wouldn’t help me. Note, that he never came to see any of the places I was moving into. He was basing all his decisions on what he had “heard” from God.

See, that’s another thing about my dad. He prays for hours at a time, and as a result believes that what he says bears the weight of God behind it. Of course, he does put some restrictions on that- he says that if he hears one thing, and I “hear” another, I should go with what I feel that God is telling me first. This would mean that the word I received from him was just “confirmation” (that’s another highly thrown around term in Evangelical/Pentecostal circles). “Confirmation” is when first God tells you something, and then you hear it from someone else as “evidence” that you “heard” correctly.

I am really so glad to be done with all of this “hearing” business. I definitely believe that if God is real that he/she/it speaks but it’s more like a sort of “inward witness” or “intuition”. Sometimes someone tells you something and it’s just not right, and other times you feel in your heart and spirit that it is, or in your “gut” and you’ve just got to go with what that inward feeling is telling you.

That’s why, even though it was very obvious that my dad was trying to exert more control in my life, I agreed to choose these apartments (and thus take his help in the form of the letter). Not because he felt they were right, but because I felt they were. I had had a strong feeling like I should move here- but granted, at least I had seen the place and knew that a relative of a co-worker lived here. (Also, it was closer within my budget.)

I’m very glad that things worked out, but I know I have to be careful because sometimes accepting help from my dad comes at a cost- and really, that’s a terrible thing to say about your own father. Right now the only “cost” is that I’ve agreed to do some small job for him, but he doesn’t have any say in whether I’m med compliant or whether I continue going to school. None of his assistance is contingent on that, otherwise I would’ve never taken his help.

In other words, as far as things with my dad go I have to have boundaries, or I’ll get swallowed up in his “vision” for me. With him being as he is, I think he knows that I have these boundaries, and he’s enacted boundaries of his own, which include not really speaking to me unless I visit. I guess, considering how negatively he’s influenced things in the past, I should consider that to be sweet relief. But it isn’t. It’s not a good thing to not even have your father call you and ask how you’re doing, or encourage you in any way.

Of course, he’s still helping out financially. He’s always done that. I feel like, though, that sometimes he can use that to his advantage. My mom has never done this, but my dad will often go, “I raised you, I changed your diapers” etc.. When he, my mom, and my brother’s helped me move into my apartment, he said “Where are all those people you know helping you move? In the end you can only depend on your family”. He ignores the fact that through my entire life he isolated me from other people- and really that’s an isolating statement that he made- and the fact that one of my friends from the recovery residence -did- help me to move in that very day.

I feel like my dad tries to make me feel guilty. Like when I sort of hesitantly brought up the fact that he doesn’t talk to me he basically said, “Well you don’t listen to me so what is there to talk about? Why should I put myself through that kind of pain?” I think that’s the main thing that I couldn’t put my finger on, but now I see. I guess I feel like he makes me feel like I exist to fulfill his dreams and his agendas. Like, he was very keen on me working for him in his business, and then quite excited about my working in Mary Kay because “this is something you can do when you’re married with children” but he has never ever taken into consideration things I want and need for myself. What if I don’t want to have biological kids? What if I want to be a mother and work a regular job? What if I never get married? What if I want to marry a woman?

That is why he was willing to pour money into Mary Kay, or cosmetology school, or me learning HTML or A+ or becoming a real estate agent. He thought those were good ideas. Also, whether he thinks that’s “God’s will” for me or not, it’s very apparent that his will is the one that’s being best served here.

I think that I literally just realized this in the course of writing this- my dad has never actually supported even one of my dreams. He has been ever-minimalizing, saying things like “Opinions- opinions? Who are you? The only opinion that matters is the one God has” as he proceeds to quote the Bible and use it as a gavel to establish that he is right. I’ve actually heard him say in Bible study, “You should always listen to me because you never know if it’s God talking or if it’s me talking”. I mean to be that level of narcissistic you have to be pretty deeply involved in your own head!

Of course, I won’t criticize my dad too much here, because he isn’t in a position to see this and defend himself. In the mean time, I am often filled with dread at the thought of seeing him, while simultaneously wishing he paid more attention to me. Somehow, he spins things around to make it seem like our broken relationship is my fault only and his withdrawal is only a passive result. That is a hallmark sign of an abuser- even though I hesitate to firmly affix that descriptor to my dad. The more I look back though- the minimalizing, the physical intimidation and aggression, the isolating tactics, etc.- the more I see that he really is abusive in many ways. To me, my mother, and my brothers and sisters.

Of course, no one could fault him as a provider. He made sure we had food to eat, were physically safe, etc. In many cases, however, the abuser can justify their actions just because they’re a good provider and that could be what’s happening in this case. There’s no doubt that he always “took care of us” but there’s also no doubt that we had very little rights or say in anything. Our hobbies were all dictated by him, down to him deciding if the family as a whole was going to go out to eat or play tennis or go for a walk. He let up later on, but for the longest time he was like “If we’re going, you’re all going”, and really that is one of the more benign evidences of his dictatorship. More was seen in him choosing to continue to homeschool me even though at high school I requested to go to public school. I had no say in almost anything in my life.

Of course now I’m “free” but sometimes I still feel like I’m 16, eyes just opened to the world and self just realizing how much it wanted to break free (and not being able to). I just have moments of panic where I sit here wondering if all of the sudden I’ll lose my rights again, or if I really do have the right to choose. I sometimes forget that now, no one is stopping me from going places I want to go, pursuing my education, dating, going on outings etc. It’s a very disconcerting feeling and I think it’s just the trauma talking.

So anyway, to make a long story short, I have limited my exposure to my dad. He’s not all bad- almost no one is- but I don’t want to be lectured for 3 hrs. I am so scared he’ll convince me to throw everything away. I just can’t deal with it anymore. That’s why I called this post “The Exile”. I have been exiled from my faith and in some ways exiled from my family. My mom, well-meaning and loving me even as much as she does, usually just takes my dad’s side. Of course I don’t fault her that, but I would hate to have my dad ganging up on me and then being tag-teamed. The thing is I know my mom loves me, I know she has my best interest at heart, but with my dad I’m just not so sure at all. I feel like he loves me when it’s convenient, whereas my mom loved me when it was very inconvenient so I know of course that she loves me still right now.

I think that’s all I can bear to write.

No Father But God: Hyperreligious Upbringing, the Orlando Shooting, and Picking Up the Pieces

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

As you all know, today is Father’s day. It is also one week since the shootings in Orlando. I didn’t expect to be talking about either Father’s Day or the Orlando shooting but the two are in some ways interrelated subjects for me.

I didn’t intentionally visit church on Father’s Day, even though my custom has been to attend church mainly on the holidays now, and I always have something to write about when I come home. As far as the sermon goes, however, there were less controversies for me to pick at than there usually are, and I actually quite enjoyed the service. I was moved to tears at the end when men gave their testimonies about how fellowship with God and people had changed their lives for the better.

Father’s Day hasn’t meant a lot to me, except this time around it’s made me quite aware of my father’s absence in my life. My father does not celebrate holidays- in response to  verses in Galatians that say that those who “regard days, months, times, and years” are in a kind of bondage. I guess that’s the same verse that the Jehovah’s Witnesses must use to support their rejection of holiday celebrations, but I’ve never been too sure.

Father’s Day has a unique “double rejection” for my dad, because of yet another Biblical passage- Matthew 23:9;

“And call no man your father upon the earth, for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”

So for all of my life, I have literally been unable to call my dad “Father” or “Dad” or “Daddy” and have instead called him by his last name. My dad has stated more than once that he doesn’t want anything to do with Father’s day, because he isn’t my father- God is.

Of course, that didn’t stop him from doing any of the things that a father would do, such as disciplining us or making decisions on our behalf. It didn’t stop him from quoting “children obey your parents” if he thought we’d be disobedient.

I also can’t neglect to mention that my childhood wasn’t all seriousness- my dad also did the “fun” or “nurturing” things too, cooking for us, taking care of us, taking us to the park, on vacations, etc. Regardless of whether he allowed himself to be a father in title didn’t stop him from being a father in deeds, and I think that matters so much more when it all comes down to it. I knew he was my father, I just knew that God was my father too and on a higher level of importance.

Now my ideas about my “heavenly Father” have definitely shifted, and in the mean time my relationship with my “earthly father” is on the rocks. To be honest, I find it incredibly distressing to be around him. Whenever I do communicate with him things are formal and strained. I know of course that in some way or another he does care about me very much- without his help I wouldn’t be living on my own right now- but on the other hand he doesn’t have any respect for my emotional needs and tends to minimize the things that I am interested in. His philosophy seems to be, “We can talk- when you see things my way” and really any conversation “we” have is dominated by him.

Honestly, one of the first things I did when I heard about the Orlando shooting was pictured my dad sitting in his seat passing judgment on those people, saying that God was responsible for their destruction. I guess there’s nothing really that shocking about any of that, when he thinks that God wields total and complete control over every event that happens on earth. So basically anyone who dies young like that has their own sin- or some familial sin- as the root cause of it. Honestly I am sickened when I think about that.

I wonder, why, though, that it matters to me so much. I’m reminded of a time shortly after the death of Heath Ledger, when my mom and I were watching the news and we saw how Westboro church was protesting at his funeral and the funerals of gay soldiers. I told my mom, “I think that’s highly inappropriate” and my dad came down to stand at the top of the stairs and demanded,

“Who said that?”

I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I said it.”

He said,

“Take that back right now!”

I said, “I will not.”

So my dad came until he was looking me straight in the face and said that he was going to hit me if I didn’t take it back. He said,

“I said several things that would be called inappropriate after about the death of [your brother]- take it back.” I stared him down for a minute. Finally, not wanting to test him any further, I said in disgust, “Fine, I take it back.”

I think I complained to my mom and she just told me,

“If he told you to take it back, you should’ve taken it back. You might not think it’s okay what they’re doing, but it’s not alright how the gay people are making a shrine out there (Heath Ledger’s hotel room).”

I remained in a sour mood for a while and then couldn’t concentrate on anything I was doing for hours.

A few days later after battling back and forth about it, I actually told my dad that I was sorry for disagreeing with him. He told me,

“I was trying to protect you. If you say things like that that displease God, you might be putting yourself in danger and I would be in danger too if I didn’t stop you.”

I just said, “Oh” but something felt off.

Well now I know what that “something” was. I was just being told from someone who was being abusive and intimidating that he was really doing a kind thing to protect me from the wrath of God. That’s a typical justification for abuse from angry, controlling men- they’re supposedly concerned with the greater good of the women they’re abusing, when really their main concern is about maintaining control and having their own way.

Anyway, back to the events of Orlando. You have some people- like my dad- who say that the gay people deserved what they got or were being punished. Then on the one hand you have so-called “religious hypocrites” who with one breath denounce the events in Orlando and in the other breath push for legislation that limits the rights of LGBTQIA people. Then finally you have the religious (and nonreligious) people who accept the LGBTQIA community, fight for their rights and continue their longstanding tradition of support for the community by denouncing acts of hate like the shooting in Orlando. I’m going to shift focus to the “middle” group we’re talking about here- the ones who are being denounced as “hypocrites”.

As a former Christian, I’m going to be the first to say that just because I feel that my religion does not condone a particular lifestyle, does not mean that I think that any human being deserves to be murdered in cold blood. The Bible as a whole teaches that homosexuality is a sin (and don’t forget, so does the Quaran). People that argue that “Well, Jesus didn’t condemn the adulteress” also fail to mention that he told her “sin no more.”

As for the “that was the old testament, Jesus brought the new covenant” then don’t forget that He said, “I did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it”. He was said to have kept every letter of the law perfectly.

Now, even with that being said, it’s important to note that Jesus taught absolutely nothing about homosexuality. All that we know about it we know from the books of Moses and the Pauline epistles. None of us is totally sure how Jesus would’ve handled the subject if he was approached with it. We also know that despite the Bible saying that Jesus was “without fault” He seemed to have circumvented one of the ten commandments- the one regarding “Remember the Sabbath day, keep it holy” almost dismissively saying “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”. He was a revolutionary in every sense of the word and enraged and puzzled the religious authorities of his time. I think he would’ve had that very same effect on the world religious leaders of the current time had he been born and lived in our modern century.

So I’m not saying that you can’t be a Christian if you support homosexuality, or you’re not a true Christian if you don’t. I think the issue is a lot more complicated and multi-faceted than that. I do feel however that putting aside my religious constraints has opened me up to being more accepting of LGBTQIA people and of myself as a bisexual female. I no longer concern myself with whether or not homosexuality is sinful. Instead I just ask,

1) Is this something we’re born with?

2) Is this something we can change?

3) Is this something we should change or treat as a mental illness?

My research has determined that, yes, it is something we’re born with, no, it’s not something we can change, and no, we should not attempt to alter it or treat it like a mental illnesss. That being said, sexuality is something you “discover” so it makes sense if it would seem to shift or change over time, or it would be expressed in different ways in different circumstances.

Most us agree that what happened in Orlando was a horrible thing, but most people have very opposing viewpoints on why it happened. Was Omar Mateen radicalized by ISIS over the internet? Was he conflicted about his own sexuality and therefore overly hostile to gay people? Was he simply a confused, deranged individual who suffered from some kind of mental illness?

I have my own theories, but I don’t feel any need to divulge them here. The bottom line is that most of us- regardless of religious orientation- are upset about what happened there. Young people had their lives snuffed out prematurely by a murderer who claimed allegiance to terrorism abroad- but never displayed any consistency in his accounts of who he was supposedly working for. Hezbollah and ISIS are enemies- he claimed them both. His wife- who had been on the receiving end of some of his violent outbursts- says that even she didn’t see this coming. People thought they saw him fraternizing at the Pulse before the shooting, but maybe he was really just scoping the place out in preparation for the attack?

We may never know the truth, which makes it that much harder for the families of the victims to experience closure. However, the only thing we can do now is look ahead to the future. I know that’s what I’m going to be doing.