Category Archives: Self-Help

Focuses on self-improvement and boosting self-esteem

Something Out There

I seem to have encountered a tree root that has tripped me up on my journey on the Road to Atheism. Maybe that is not the most eloquent or accurate way of describing it. I am, partly due to an emotional personal experience, questioning some of the certainty with which I have expressed disbelief in hidden agency. Hidden agency is a way of describing the invisible forces that some people believe are behind a variety of real-life (sometimes unexplained) phenomena. Gods, ghosts, spirits, synchronicities, and “spiritual laws” or karma are all examples of hidden agency.

You do not have to tell me that personal anecdotes cannot on their own prove or disprove the existence of God. If I believe that there is a loving deity intervening in my life for the better, I must also accept the times when this being does not intervene in others’ lives in the same way. Confronting the question of how or why gods/hidden forces intervene in the world is, to me, a key part of theology. One of the main reasons that I reject the Christian God, is because He is almost universally thought to be omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, while at the same time being completely devoted to love. I look at the world around me and cannot conclude that a god who commands absolute power, but won’t wield it to end unspeakable human suffering, can also be all-loving. I believe given the world climate, these two aspects are incompatible.

I know, however, that there are some branches of Christianity that have proposed the idea that maybe God is not all-powerful. The Christianity that I was raised in was Evangelical Christianity, and such a notion is considered heretical within that faith and in several other Christian denominations as well. For me, though, it is key to my understanding of God. If God is not an all-powerful, overruling deity, but rather a benevolent force that influences situations for good, it would explain why some bad things still seem to happen. God wouldn’t be able to supernaturally alter those circumstances, but would be confined to working through humans, with our finite abilities and resources. This places the larger responsibility on human shoulders, with God existing as a kind of counselor or support for those who choose to do good.

This does raise the question, though, “If we’re doing it all ourselves anyway, why do we need God?” If God is not all-powerful, how can he/she/it assist us in our time of need? What is the point of prayer? I believe prayer could help someone align themselves with the divine will, which in my understanding would always be devoted to the good of humanity. Prayer would not be for a god to change things using his/her/its divine power, but rather for god to change us. We would be the ambassadors of a life-giving force of love in the world.

These are not ideas that I have not presented earlier in previous writings. I have always wanted to cling to the “baggage of theism.” I have always wanted to believe that there was “something out there.” Despite knowing that there is no concrete proof of the existence of hidden agency, something inside of me wants to believe. I feel something drawing me to a better understanding of the divine, and I feel that that force is my god.

I have found myself re-reading a lot of Iyanla Vanzant’s teachings in “The Value in the Valley” and continuing to identify with them despite my current knowledge. She talks about the importance of listening to “spirit” but she does not attempt to give a clear definition of what spirit is. It becomes a little messy when she starts talking about spiritual laws like the “law of compensation”, which seem to me to be another version of the law of attraction.

I have expressed concern about the law of attraction in the past, in that it seems to open the door for blaming the victims of abuse or violent circumstances by implying that they somehow did something abstract to “attract” these circumstances into their lives. It is true that sometimes when we have self-esteem problems, we tend to surround ourselves with people who reinforce our low opinion of ourselves. We need to be careful, though, that in pointing this out we don’t make people feel like their victimization is their own fault, or that they deserve to be victimized. Additionally, bad actors regularly fail to get what they “deserve”, so the idea that you get from the world only what you put into it is faulty. It also reinforces the idea for me that there isn’t an all-powerful sky deity enforcing judgment on the earth.

Despite this, I know the internal state of our hearts and minds can have profound impacts on our physical and emotional well-being. Confidence is an important part of success, to a point. If prayer or meditation helps you to feel more calm and confident about how you move through the world, I feel that it is worth the time and effort. Maybe having perfect theology doesn’t matter as much as what you do with it.

Meanwhile, I am making plans to attend a Unitarian church this weekend. I feel that many of my beliefs are in line with their theology. The thought of attending had crossed my mind before, but I had always hesitated, because they got a bad rap from some of the other denominations for not being “real” Christians. I also thought, why cling to Christianity if it is nominal only? I wanted to be rid of the shadow that religion had cast over my life. Now, I see that it is almost impossible to full extricate myself from it. This could turn out to be yet another disappointment, and I may ultimately end up rejecting a belief in god altogether, but I feel that I need to give myself the opportunity to believe.


On Being Present

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I briefly mentioned the book “Presence” by Amy Cuddy in my last blog post. I know that in that one I focused on the fact that I felt bad for “needing” to read a book like this to feel better about myself, but that wasn’t fair because it overlooked all of the great insights in the book. I learned a lot, and actually enjoyed it so much that I finished it off in less than a week.

In the notes that I wrote after I was finished, I summarized presence as “bringing your authentic self to a a situation”. In the first chapter Cuddy describes the struggles she endured after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car accident, and how afterwards her difficulty with learning undermined her self-confidence. She talks about the times when she was so afraid about presenting her research that she clammed up and wasn’t able to express herself effectively. That is because, she said, that negative emotions like fear and anxiety cause us to become inward focused- we are not longer able to “be present” and really be focused on the ideas or message that we are trying to convey. Instead, we become hyper-focused on our own nervousness and sense of discomfort.

She also shares about how important authenticity is to people who are hiring other people or negotiating various business deals. People who are making decisions on whether to invest in a particular project stated that it was important for them to feel as though the person presenting the project really believed in what they were putting forth. In other words, they needed to show genuine enthusiasm for the idea. They also didn’t like to see people who seemed to be “trying too hard” or were pushy or aggressive. Interestingly enough, they said they didn’t mind if the person was a little nervous because “they’re doing something big, something that matters to them” so it makes sense if they feel a little nervous.

Throughout the rest of the book, Amy Cuddy expresses how we can reclaim our personal power and “bring your boldest self to your biggest challenges”. We can do things like practicing yoga and “power posing”, which is scientifically proven to increase testosterone (the hormone associated with greater risk taking and initiative) and decrease cortisol (the “stress hormone”). Even doing simple things like sitting up straighter and using more open, relaxed posture can increase our sense of confidence and feelings of being grounded. We can also use imagery techniques like picturing ourselves flying or just imagining ourselves performing difficult tasks with pride and enthusiasm before we go out and actually do them.

With this year coming to a close, it is common for people to be considering what kinds of “New Years’ Resolutions” that they will be making. Miss Cuddy explains why this doesn’t actually work too well for us. The goals we set are too lofty and ambitious. For example if we plan to “exercise three days a week” and we aren’t able to fully meet this goal (we only go once or twice) it tends to lead to us abandoning the goal altogether. She says that instead- and she uses herself with running as an example- that we should give ourselves small “nudges”. We should say, “Today, I’ll eat healthy” or “I’ll stretch for 15 minutes”. Those incremental changes can in the end lead to big results, without us feeling like we have resolutions hanging over our heads like a threat.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve been reading the book and trying to implement some of the principles, I’ve been experiencing less depression and more confidence. There’s a chapter in there that’s titled “I Don’t Deserve to Be Here” that goes over “imposter syndrome”. It explains how people in all sorts of careers and fields often have a pervasive feeling that they are “fake”, or that their positions in life have more to do with “luck” than with their own talents. These feelings of “being an imposter” tend to increase- rather than decrease- with every new achievement. I can definitely relate to having these feelings. Even though objectively I’m doing well in school and I’m handling my life well, the sense of “wrongness” persists. I find myself asking myself “what now?” every time that I achieve something good. The better the grade, the more I think that the teacher may have given it to me in error. Knowing that other people are struggling with these emotions- and that they have nothing to do with objective reality- I can reject these feelings and instead begin to celebrate my accomplishments. I can tell myself, “Actually, you do deserve to be here.

Achievement Exhaustion

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I’m going to be reviewing some of the ideas that I explored in my blog post entitled “Just Do It” in which I discussed why raw grit and determination alone aren’t always enough to push you to success. I actually started thinking more about this concept after watching some motivational/inspirational videos on Youtube (I’ve been watching these videos on and off for about a month now).

These videos usually encourage you to look deeper within yourself for the inspiration to push yourself forward. They talk about things such as examining your motives, eliminating time wasters and distractions, crafting clear goals, utilizing systems of reward and punishment, and tracking your progress. I can’t deny that all of this is really good advice, but there’s just one little problem- and that is that sometimes despite doing all the “right” things you just can’t seem to stay on the track that you’ve set for yourself.

For me, the problem is that I used to just be tired. I’m not talking about ordinary levels of exhaustion that can be cured by a good meal and a nice nap. I’m talking about bone-tired, skeleton-stiff, brain-clouding migraine levels of fatigue that won’t go away no matter how much rest you seem to get. Like in another post I quoted the lyrics “Wake Up Exhausted” and that’s exactly what happens- you “just woke up like this.”

This can be a sign of a number of things, but the main message is this- you’re probably doing way too much. The threat of burnout is very real in a number of fields and you have to make sure you are setting appropriate priorities, instead of just trying to do everything all at once.

Let’s say, though, that you aren’t experiencing that type of fatigue, but your whole life is sticking to a strict schedule, always making lists, constantly tracking your goals, staying on a particular diet, etc., and maybe you’re just bored. You may be making progress, but there is absolutely no variation or spontaneity in your routine. You have to make room for play in your life. It seems like an oversimplified suggestion, but you have to remember to actually have fun.

I think this actually goes double for people who are working, studying, or just generally doing this thing called life and dealing with a mental illness. Remembering to take time for yourself doesn’t mean that you’re losing sight of your purpose and your intent. Iyanla Vanzant actually pointed out in her book, entitled, “The Value in the Valley” that your purpose is bigger than just the individual goals that you might set for yourself. There is no specific prescribed method for success. There is still work involved, but you should be able to progress naturally- you should allow your passion to lead you. If some of that is fizzling out, you might want to re-examine what’s going on with you.

When I first decided to drop out of my theory class, I felt so torn. I felt like I was taking the “easy way out”. I believed that I owed it to myself to push myself to the absolute limits of my endurance, and I thought that being under constant pressure was somehow beneficial to my growth as a student and musician. It turns out, that the opposite may be true. Of course, I need to work hard, but having some free tme again has unlocked some of the creativity that was quick disappearing from my work. Another bonus is that I don’t feel achy, fatigued, and “cloudy” all the time. I actually feel like I’m an active participator in my life again.

So everything has its place. A relentless pursuit of achievement may seem good on the surface, but it isn’t always helpful to have tunnel vision. Sure, be focused, be mindful, but remember that there’s “more to life than chasing out every temporary high”. If you see life as just a staircase that you are constantly climbing you might not be aware of the bigger picture. Spend time with your friends, participate in hobbies that you enjoy, and know that you’re valuable as a human being- regardless of what achievements you have unlocked.

Talking a Good Game

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I know that when it comes to writing about spiritual growth on here, I “talk a good talk”. “Walking the walk”, however, is actually the bigger component to actual growth and that’s something that I really struggle with.

To this day, when things don’t seem to be going exactly as I’ve planned them, my default reaction is to panic. When things become difficult, my first impulse is to doubt myself and wonder if I’m really qualified to be doing whatever it is that I’m doing. I also tend to have a stronger impression that things in general are going to culminate in the worst possible outcome for me, instead of considering the possibility of them improving or ending favorably.

I think at the root of this behavior, is the false belief that if I picture the worst possible scenarios that it helps me to prepare for these imaginary disasters. I sometimes tell myself that I’m “just being realistic” and that this is actually the best way to approach things. I know that it isn’t true- I’m just giving into pessimistic attitudes that do not serve me. Also, these attitudes do not line up with the evidence that I’ve been presented with. Most of the times, what I’ve feared has never come to pass. So then, what is the point of being afraid?

I still think that the fear gives me power somehow. I believe that if I flinch before receiving the blows that I expect life to rain on me, that I’m somehow able to make them hurt less. When the blows don’t come, I am left with all of the bodily tension and stress of anticipating and preparing for them. This reaction also becomes an ingrained habit that makes it difficult for me to relax even when I am not being threatened.

I told my friend that I think I know what is the root of this desperate need for “control.” My theory is that it comes from living in a very restrictive household as a child. I had little control over my life’s circumstances, so my reaction has been to try to maintain strict control of my life in other ways. Of course, the idea of “control” is an illusion. We are ultimately responsible for how we handle the things that happen to us in life, but there is so much that happens in life that we do not have any influence over. We can choose to be a careful driver, but we don’t have control over a sudden rainstorm that may pass over and causes the truck in front of us to slide out of its lane and hit us. The best thing we can do is just to make sure we are wearing our seatbelts.

“Wearing your seatbelt” does not amount to living life terrified of accidents or misfortune. It’s more like a mental attitude of choosing to just be prepared for bad things that could happen without constantly dwelling on them. After all, how often do you consciously put on your seatbelt with the thought “I could get thrown out of the car today if I’m hit and I don’t wear this”? Some of us only wears seatbelts because the law says to. Most of us, though, just know that it’s safer, so we put it on out of habit. We’re not ruminating on all the grim possibilities. That’s how I eventually want to feel about preparedness in life; I want to come to a balanced state of mind where I am prepared but I am not afraid.

Obviously it isn’t possible to live a life totally free from fear. As I mentioned in another post, fear can be an important warning sign that something is not right with a certain situation. It is crucial in alerting you to danger. The fear that’s harmful for me personally- and I think for lots of other people as well- is the feeling of suspense or being “on edge” that can easily become a part of daily life. This is also probably a good description of certain clinical anxiety disorders (if you think you might need medicine or therapy to help with your anxiety you should definitely try to find a way to get that help).

In summary, I just want to be able to “practice what I preach” on here a little bit more. I wrote a lot about “The Value in the Valley” and I know that a lot of the principles in the book are at work in my life. Purpose and intent are guiding my actions. I am trying to follow the inward voice of my conscience a little better. I think it’s still the courage that I have trouble with- I have trouble maintaining the belief that everything is going to turn out just the way it’s supposed to, and that even if it isn’t the way that I would’ve chosen, that it’s ultimately for my benefit. My trust in the “process of life” is low.

I want to change that.

Purpose and Intent

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I wrote a post a few days ago about Iyanla Vanzant’s book, entitled, “The Value in the Valley: A Black Women’s Guide Through Life’s Dilemmas”. I gave a few examples about the types of valleys and the underlying principles discussed in the book. I wrote about how Iyanla emphasized introspection, self-examination, and prayer/meditation. She also taught the respect of the so-called “universal laws” like “the law of cause and effect” or “the law of attraction”. I went over the valleys only briefly, but there’s one that I would like to focus on right now- the “valley of purpose and intent”.

In the chapter on this valley, Iyanla says that purpose and intent should guide all that we do. She describes our purpose as being something we are divinely ordained to do and have a natural propensity for and liking to. When our purpose is clear, we are at peace. Intent describes how we intend to fulfill that purpose- it’s the positive energy that we put forth into the universe to show that we are indeed being serious. Our intent- or intention– could be described as our drive and focus to do the things that lead us toward the ultimate goal and meaning of our lives.

Being in alignment with our purpose does not guarantee that our lives will be free of challenges. As Iyanla put it, the world doesn’t stop spinning so that we can go ahead and pursue our dreams. We have to be extremely intentional in everything that we do and make sure that we give priority to the things that are contributing to our purpose and to set aside the petty things that hold us back. She says that setting goals is a good thing, but that we have to be aware that the goals we set are often made from our very limited perspectives. She emphasized being more open- to just focus on our purpose, and have our minds be intent on moving towards it. Slowly opportunities will open up for us- opportunities that we may have missed if we hadn’t been paying attention.

Reading this chapter helped me to remember the importance of knowing what I really want out of life and consciously pursuing that thing. I know I want to write, and I know I want to compose and perform music, so I’ve prioritized my musical education above everything else. The rewards have been very apparent. Gradually I’ve gotten better grades, faced fears, and increased my knowledge and comfort with the subjects I’ve been studying. I’ve been able to handle a steadily increasing course load and I will soon be able to graduate. I’ve definitely had to make sacrifices- mostly financial ones- but also I’ve had to chase my dreams against the wishes of my father (I think that’s been pretty huge).

My purpose and intent haven’t just worked out with school, either- it’s worked out other aspects of my life, such as changing jobs and moving out on my own. I intended to do those things, but the how and the when I hadn’t figured out yet. It’s funny though, how you do really get the things you want even if you have to be pushed by outside forces to finally make your move. That was Iyanla’s emphasis when she wrote about “the valley of courage”- that life has a way of forcing you to face the very things that you fear the most.

Another valley that I identified with was “the valley of understanding”. You would think that such a valley would be about gaining understanding in an intellectual or academic sense, but it is actually about trusting the “knowing” and intuition that you already have inside. One of Iyanla’s frequently repeated sayings in that chapter was “you know when you know”. We all have a sense when we first meet a person whether they’re trustworthy or not, but we often dismiss those feelings, only to discover later that we should have trusted our first sense. (“Trust your first thought”) We all know when we’re starting a job we’re going to hate, and even after we’ve gritted our teeth through it for a while we know when it’s time to leave. Do we leave? Often times not. We know when a relationship is failing, when we’ve outgrown our city or neighborhood, or when our conscience is afflicting us because we’re biting our tongues when we should really speak. We know these things, but when we don’t act on them, we’re being disobedient.

Even when we do have the understanding, we aren’t going to be able to move until we are ready. That’s something that I’ve observed about myself, too, when I’ve reviewed my life. I have constantly moved through seasons of action and inaction. Sometimes I have been too eager, and made a horrible, destructive mess out of things (while still managing to accomplish nothing as far as personal progress). I’ve hesitated when I should’ve moved forward, but when my time to dawdle was up, life moved me forward whether I was “ready” or not. I could either keep hedging or move with it (I chose to move with it). Other times I’ve been in sync with the flow of life, but I’ve still had periods where things just stayed the same for a long time. That was life’s way of testing me, to see if I could continue to be faithful to what I was doing and have the patience required to fulfill the task at hand.

I’m sure I’ve quoted this before, but there’s a quote from the movie (500) Days of Summer. The narrator says, “Most days do not have any impact on the course of a life.” I have found this to be true. That being said, each day we’re either walking in our purpose or outside of it. Those days add up into weeks, months, and years, and before we know it we’re either looking back at our life in regret or we are looking back with a sense of fulfillment.

So in summary: be courageous, have faith, trust your instincts, and be true to yourself. Don’t let anyone silence your voice. Don’t let anyone undermine your authority or undervalue the gifts you bring into life. Live on purpose and act with intention. Don’t stand down for anyone, and when life seems overwhelming, take a deep breath and keep on going. You have everything you need to face this life and triumph, so don’t turn away.

Run your race to its completion, and claim your crown!

The Value In the Valley

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This blog post title comes from a book that I recently read by Iyanla Vanzant, titled “The Value in the Valley: A Black Woman’s Guide Through Life’s Dilemmas”. Even though she targets black women in the title, I think Iyanla could be speaking to any woman who is feeling burdened down by the problems of this world. After all, women of all races can be afflicted with the guilt that they’ve come to association with their gender, the oppression of “the patriarchy” and a constant craving for outside approval and validation.

Iyanla starts the book out with a solid introduction, and then quickly moved unto outlining the states of being she would be discussing through a chapter she titled “Anatomy of the Valley”. Here she gives a brief overview of each of the valleys. They all have different names like “The Valley of Light”, the “Valley of Courage” or “The Valley of Love”, for examples. She said that it was possible to be in multiple valleys, and that you will intuitively be able to identify which valley you’re in.

In fact, relying on your inward “intuition” is something that Ms. Vanzant emphasizes in her book. She talks about the importance of relying on your Higher self or your God self, which she also describes as a guiding force simply called “spirit.” She will tell you that spirit knows all that you need to know, that the answers are inside- to stop thinking so intellectually and to intuit and know through the feelings in your heart. She warns that if your gut tells you something is off, and you disobey it, you are bound to reap the consequences. If you are confused about which inward feelings you are receiving, then you should stop and pray and ask for guidance.

To whom or to what you’re praying to is a little vague. Before each chapter where she discusses a specific valley in detail, Iyanla has a few paragraphs of what she called “Meditations with the Mother” in which she addresses the reader from the perspective of a divine Mother speaking to her daughters. She gently chastises and admonitions them to return to Her, to trust in Her love, and to know that She and “Father” created them in Love and for a purpose. With Iyanla’s yoruba background, it’s appropriate to assume that by the Father she means the Creator-God of the faith- but she doesn’t mention Him, or any other gods and goddesses by name in the book. I think that she sought to make her religious expression as inclusive as possible.

Another thing that Iyanla discusses, which I have a little bit of trouble with, are certain “spiritual laws.” She quotes the Biblical expression, “What you sow, you reap”. She often suggests that if someone is having trouble in a particular area of her life, that she examine how she might’ve misbehaved in the past. For example, if she has financial trouble, or people borrow from her and don’t repay, then she should look back and see if she borrowed from anyone and neglected to pay back. Or she should see if maybe by negative thoughts and words- like constantly talking about being broke or worrying about how to make ends meet- that she is encouraging the “spirit of lack” to take root in her life.

This ties in pretty strongly to what I’ve talked about with regards to “hidden agency” in previous blog posts. I think that seeing what our part is in a problem or situation is very important, and choosing to stop contributing to something in a way that causes negative results is crucial. I think the problem enters in when we believe that some unseen power- be that “the universe” or “God” or “the law of cause and effect” is arranging things to suit people who are “good” and doling out punishments to those who are “bad”.

To her credit, Iyanla did admit that the “universal laws” don’t always seem to be exactly tit for tat. Being a thief doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will rob you- but maybe you’ll lose something important in another area of your life. Also, she “Doing the right thing for the wrong reason” is still wrong and has its own consequences. She also argued that the Universal laws cannot be manipulated. You might try to be positive, try to talk a good talk, but if your heart and spirit don’t believe it the Universe will take note.

So my problem is this idea that all of these forces outside your control are all “holding you accountable” in one way or another. I feel that believing this may lead to paranoia and self-blame. Also, it may just be plain old untruth and superstition.

That being said, I think her emphasis on introspection, getting still and meditating, positive purpose and intent, and even prayer are all very valuable. Also, with regards to prayer, she was the first person I heard that said just saying things out loud to yourself may be a good thing to do as well- and it’s something I practice.

i think though, with the way I discovered this book, you’d think that I’d have a little more faith in unseen forces than I do. When I saw it I was at work, and I knew that I just had to take it home with me. I can’t describe how I knew- I just knew. It’s that kind of intuition that Iyanla praises in her book- but we can’t really prove that it’s a divine or spiritual thing. It may one day be explainable through science. For now though- spiritual or not- what I experienced was valid. I did indeed enjoy the book. I read through the whole thing in three days and excitedly shared insights with my friend. Its message of peace, of having faith in yourself, and in looking inward were invaluable to me at that time.

I’ve been focusing a lot on spiritual things lately in my effort to manage my depression. The current theme that’s I’m discovering is that life is a series of rhythms. I started thinking more deeply about it after watching a Youtuber named Brandon Gilbert. Birth and death, hunger and satisfaction, day and night, the changing seasons- all are a testament to the rhythmic nature of life. Like Solomon said, there is a time to all things- a time to mourn, and a time to laugh, a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. Change is the nature of life. Stagnant water is usually not life-supporting- unless you’re breeding mold or mosquitoes.

There is value in the valley, and there are things to be learned from the heights of joy and peace to the depths of despair. There is a  lesson to be learned in every situation- it’s not so much about outward success as it is about inward spiritual growth. It’s not about how much I have, but it’s about how much light, life, and love am I willing to receive. Do I think that I am worthy of these things, or do I doubt my value as a person?

Back to the “change” bit. Accepting the changeability of life releases me from being overly concerned with outward outcomes. This doesn’t mean that I never strive to improve my position in society, my financial status, etc. It just means that if something happens that trips me up, I rise up and dust myself off, because “that’s life.” A favorite saying of a friend of mine is “this too shall pass.” That includes good things as well as bad.

The Apostle Paul wrote,

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” -1 Corinthians 13:12

Everything is revealed in time. For now, all we have to do is wait, be at peace, and do the next right thing until the answers come to us.

The Praying Deist?

Previously published on my Tumblr page,

I’ve made it pretty clear in the past that I’ve been having a really hard time with things, with my depression creeping up. Also things are going to be a little bit tight for me financially for the next several weeks, so it’s very important that I do certain things to get everything in order.

I’m being forced to take some time off of my job, because I have too many hours for the year. I requested for my boss to concentrate that time around when I’ll be resuming classes (end of August, early September) and she agreed to my request. So thankfully I won’t have to work for the first week of school and that gives me some time to get acclimated to my school schedule. The bad part is that it will make my paycheck take a big hit, but luckily around that time I should be receiving some financial aid.

When I was driving home today, for some reason, I thought about how I used to just sit in my car and pray before work. I felt so overwhelmed, everything seemed so big to me- and it wasn’t because of depression. I truly didn’t feel equal to the task of any job that I was first starting. Those times were so refreshing and so intimate for me, but when I thought of praying for current events, I deliberately quelled the impulse. After all, what use was prayer to a person like me, who believed more or less that God gave life to the world but may have left us on our own? Or even if he/she/it didn’t, that maybe They were concerned with bigger problems- or that maybe They expected me to look inward for the answer to my difficulties- inward to the gift They’d already given me? So I just gripped the steering wheel and said, “I got this”.

Somehow, though, that wasn’t very satisfying. So as I was sitting here, facing what I have to face in the weeks to come, and feeling very insecure about it, I decided to go look up a post that I’d written a long time ago about praying as “an unbeliever.” It was called “I believe…”.

The truth is, that despite my changed beliefs, I still feel the presence of my God when I pray. I can’t explain it- maybe it shows that my relationship with the Divine had nothing to do with religion. Maybe in a way I believe that God transcends religion.

Here is an excerpt of what I wrote;

I know, I’ve mentioned before that “recovering from religion” didn’t have to mean a total loss of faith but I think I was just trying to say it just to make myself believe it. Now, it’s real to me. I’m not a Christian anymore. I don’t believe in a seven day creation, partings of the Red Sea, an Israeli Exodus from Egypt, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the Resurrection, the Final Judgment or the Second Coming but I sure as heck do believe in a god. I believe that some Benevolent Force has intervened in my life for the better. I believe that Something gave me strength when I had totally given up. I also believe that this “something” isn’t going to let me down.

So where did I go about forgetting that even though I’m not a Christian anymore, that I’m still “allowed” to pray? (I think that was actually a separate entry, but I can’t find it) Where did I go about forgetting that my faith in “something” can still be firm and unshakeable? Of course, feelings are subjective, but our perception of the world is all that we really have. If I choose to believe that a Benevolent Force is guiding me and giving me strength, then why can’t that be as valid as other peoples’ highly subjective beliefs?

I know I did just write about not being sure if I could trust in the idea of hidden agency anymore, but that’s not a completely exclusive idea. I’m willing to accept that if there is hidden agency, that we have no way of actually verifying it with any of the methods that we now have at our disposal. So the idea of the existence of hidden agency can be viewed skeptically, but not totally ruled out- until we can gain more evidence. With that in mind, it’s important for me to realize that my beliefs will continue to change as I learn more and as I continue to grow as a person. It could be true that I have not reached my final destination as far as faith and religion is concerned.

For now, though, I’m going to keep praying. I’m going to keep “talking to the ceiling” whenever I’m in a crisis. It may be a sign of weakness or denial, and I may just be doing it because I’m used to doing so. I do remember, however, several times when things were horrible and I didn’t pray, because I just wanted to die and for my pain to end that way. Fortunately, I’m not at that point anymore- I still have a lot of hope.

If this is what it takes to keep going, then so be it.

“Just Do It”

Previously published on my Tumblr page,

I’ve been thinking a lot about a specific concept with regards to the idea that when it comes to changing aspects of our lives, that we should “just do it.” I usually find myself thinking about this when there’s some news story about someone overcoming struggles through what seems to be raw grit and determination. I think of the man who walked miles to Wal-Mart every time he wanted a meal and lost like 500 lbs; or, the man who walked 3000 miles across the country and lost like 300 lbs. and gained a new perspective on life. I think of people- like Taraji P. Henson- who’ve moved to new places with barely any money so that they could pursue their dreams.

These are inspiring stories, and they usually get me to thinking “Could I really do something like that?” I look at some of my habits- eating habits, spending habits, etc.- and I am well aware that there are things that I would like to change. Ideally I would lose weight, save money for travel, exercise more, explore new hobbies and talents, and so on. When I look at my life, I ask myself “What’s stopping me?”

In a way, it’s fortunate that I turned this criticism inward, because before I did it was very easy to just look at other people and say “Well why don’t they just do x, y, and z and work towards changing their lives?” and then when I look at my own life I see that I could ask myself the same kinds of questions.

The truth is, that I don’t exist in someone else’s reality- I don’t live their Truth. It’s possible to be so beaten down by life, or just by the chemicals being imbalanced in our brains, that forward motion seems like it is almost impossible. Even though it’s true that every big goal- like losing weight can be broken down into a series of smaller goals- daily exercise, dietary changes- it can be incredibly difficult to stay on track.

When it comes to money-related goals, poverty is very consuming and cyclical. You can put away small amounts of money in savings and gradually build it up- but it isn’t uncommon for one small emergency to wipe you out and force you to start from scratch. If you don’t have money to pay your bills, you are punished with yet more bills in the form of late fees and overdraft charges. If you borrow money to cover your costs, you then have to worry about paying back interest.

I think if it was easy for people to “just do it” then they would- but for a lot of us it isn’t that easy. Sometimes it’s mainly fear that is holding us back, and other times it’s circumstances that are outside of our control.

When it comes to change being facilitated in my life, I’ve noticed that there are usually two catalysts- outside circumstances and inward motivation. For a lot of the bigger changes that occurred in my life I have needed an outside push. The first of those came when my dad moved me out of his home into the recovery residence. I needed the change of circumstances, but I wouldn’t have been able to make it out on my own. I was stuck. The second came when I needed to move out of the recovery residence into my own apartment- I had really stayed longer than I needed to and I wasn’t exactly “in recovery” but if I hadn’t been given a deadline I might still be there today.

Looking back, though, there have been times when inward motivation- the kind of “just do it”ness has been influential in moving me forward. I used this when I started going to college. I applied for financial aid right after I turned 24, and starting going to classes with almost no encouragement from anyone else (while waiting for financial aid I had to pay for classes out of pocket). I was in developmental courses for about a year (and I also had to take a summer of computer literacy) and then moved on to my music courses. I slowly stacked more and more on my schedule. I’ll be taking 11-13 credit hrs in the Fall.

In a book I like to read called “Boundaries” (by Dr. Henry Cloud), he reminds us that boundaries are not built in a vacuum. This includes the boundaries that we make with ourselves. The truth is that even though we may be able to get through on grit and determination alone, a lot of the times that isn’t the case. I’ve needed people in my life to challenge me- even people that were only appearing in my life for that very limited space of time. They’ve come in the form of parents, teachers, and even the head of the recovery residence. Different caseworkers and therapists have also been important for me in reaching my goals.

If I’m not able to be the person that I want to be, it may be that I require a little bit of assistance. There’s nothing weak or shameful about needing help. Sometimes it is as simple as just breaking down big goals into smaller ones, listing out what I need to do, gritting my teeth and doing it. I may have to do things by myself if there are only a few- or not any- people rooting for me. Other times I will have the help and support of other people and it will be the missing link for me in attaining success. Either way it will require a lot of hard work and I’ll have to dig deep for the strength I need.

I haven’t reached all my goals yet, but I won’t give up. I’m also aware that once I reach the goals that I have, there will just be new goals to take the place of the old ones. So in that sense, I’ll never ever “arrive” at any place- I’ll just keep moving.

The Past

Previously published on my Tumblr page,

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.

Recovering From Hyperreligiosity

Previously published on my Tumblr page,

It’s been years since I’ve been more or less “free” from the hyperreligious environment that I was raised in, but the residual effects of having been raised in that environment are a part of me still. Also, even if my childhood hadn’t been as abusive and isolating as it had been, I would still face an internal- and probably external, as well- struggle now that I no longer consider myself a part of the religion of my childhood.

Here are some of the things that I’ve experienced since leaving the religion.

#1: A sense of isolation/separateness from other people

This was unfortunately a big part of my life growing up as well (when I still considered myself to be a Christian). I was homeschooled, and while homeschooling does not have to be isolating at all, it was extremely so in my case- and I think it was/is even worst for my younger siblings.

My dad would often tell us that we were “set apart” by God, that sanctification met “separateness”. He would say that Abraham was called out by God to leave his family and kin, and so we were called out as well. He said that if God saved eight people in the day of Noah, that we were not too few to be set apart and saved.

I only saw this in hindsight- but he would often try to undermine my friendships, and my mom’s friendships/relationships with her family. If I acted out, he would say “You’re spending too much time around X”. He told me that he once unplugged the phone when my mom was on the phone with her sister- because he felt like “they were talking too long” and acted like he was the victim because she told him off for it.

People that grew up in healthier religious families often don’t understand my distrust, and feelings that my dad ran a cult. They’re like “your dad loves you” and I know, of course he loves me, but that doesn’t excuse or justify the things that he’s done in the name of love (including threatening physical violence). So now even though I do still feel close to the Christian religion in some ways, I often feel like when I go to church or religious groups that I can’t totally identify or fit in anymore, and the old feeling of otherness and separateness creeps in again.

2#: Confusion and Indecision

Since my whole worth used to be wrapped into what I believed about God- and I no longer espouse those beliefs anymore- there is an underlying uncertainty about everything that I do (I recently reblogged a post about this). Sometimes I would just feel really insecure and unsure of myself and have no idea why (investigation revealed that these were old feelings of guilt left partially by the old religion).

Now that I’ve left the Christian faith, those old ideas about “belonging to God” and “offering yourself as a living sacrifice” have been abandoned, but it is easy for me to forget that I actually have a right to say no to things, that I have a right to decline something if it makes me feel uncomfortable, etc. Some of it just isn’t the religion- it’s from the way I was raised in general. My dad commanded absolute authority as the God-appointed “head of the household”, and whatever he “heard” from God was to be followed without question.

Now I know that other people don’t get to decide what’s right for me- I do and I am perfectly qualified.

3#: Feeling Unqualified/Unworthy

This is very much related to the feelings of #2. A lot of the “confusion and indecision” comes from feeling like I am not “qualified” or “worthy” of making my own decisions- especially since I am a woman. Biblically speaking, a woman is supposed to submit firstly to her father (if she is unmarried) and later to the man she was going to marry. I can’t count how many times my dad would suggest a course of action for me because it would “work well when you’re married with children”.

He already had my future mapped out- with little to no input from me. To this day, any time I talk about things that I want to do, my dad will always correct me and tell me “if GOD wants this thing for you, don’t turn it down” or “it makes me sad that you talk about what YOU want but you don’t include GOD” and on and on.

Really, God has absolutely nothing to do with it- because this is coming from the man who said, “You all better be careful to listen to me, because you never know when I’m talking and when God is the one talking through me” and going on about his “righteous anger” and all that crap.

Honestly, I am so sick of it. I’m sick of the fact that I’m the one who has to be in recovery for this- that I’m the one who does so much work, who is always so accommodating, who is always concerned about stepping on toes or making other people feel uncomfortable that I’ve lived in a fog for years, struggling to wrestle my very life from the grasp of “fate” and “destiny” and “what you’re supposed to do” and “what God wants for you” and “what the Bible says.”

This was supposed to end like all my other blog posts- neat, logical, looking at all the angles but I think it’s time that I let myself be angry for what happened to me, for what is happening to my siblings, that I no longer confuse “intentions” with “reality” because-

You judge yourself by your intentions. They judge you by your actions. -Unknown

It doesn’t actually matter whether it was intended to be harmful or not- they did hurt me, and if I let them, they would still be ruining my life today.

Syrup is still syrup in a sippy cup. -Melanie Martinez “Sippy Cup”