I pursued my faith like a hungry animal. I pursued it like my life depended on it. I thought it did.
I don’t like to be mediocre at anything. In college, my rabid quest to deconstruct my faith led to the belief that if I really wanted to understand the texts, I needed historical context. I should learn ancient Greek… Aramaic? I should study the book of Revelation. This was important, I shouldn’t be lazy about it. I was taught that sharing my faith would save others from eternal pain and suffering, but I didn’t want to start proselytizing without knowing what the hell I was talking about.
As a teenager, in the earliest stages of intellectual awakening, I realized I owed it to myself to have a spiritual and cerebral understanding of this stuff I had been baptized into at the age of four. Through my earnest quest to discover the foundations of my Christianity, my faith started to unravel. For a year I was angry, confused, and stagnant. What was happening to me? I got a new job, made a new friend, and on a random Saturday in her car, finally blurted out the words, “I’m not a Christian.”. Suddenly the foundation of my life, the meaning and purpose of my humanity, the moral compass that guided my every action, and the focus of my lifelong goals evaporated in one honest instant. It had meant so much to me and I had pursued it so genuinely that I could not deny the truth I had come to. I cried. I grieved the loss of my former self. But I was done.
Contrary to the assumptions of my still faithful friends, I didn’t do this because I wanted to get away with drinking, drugs, sex, or anything else on the “forbidden” list. I know plenty of people who claim Christianity, go to church every Sunday, and persistently engage in all of those things, without even acknowledging the incongruity of it all. To me, backing away from faith didn’t even feel like a choice anymore; not if I was going to retain any integrity. Once I finally said the words out loud, it just felt like admitting the truth. And the truth hurt. Emotionally, I wanted to keep Christianity close, but I knew it was impossible without taking a step back and trying to see the forest for the trees. I told God I hoped that he felt the mind he made me was worth using, and that if I was honestly seeking, and he was who he said he was, I would eventually find him. I went to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and pushed a prayer inside. All it said was, “show yourself to me”. It was the most honest thing I could think of.
I haven’t seen him yet. A finite person, I’ll admit that doesn’t mean he/she/it/they/me isn’t out there, but in the six years since I left the faith I realized that I haven’t made as many changes as I thought. I wasn’t ready to leap into enormous lifestyle changes without some thoughtful consideration, so in lieu of building a new value system, I’ve been stuck relating, (and maybe just reacting) to things the same way I always did. Even though I no longer believed in the veracity of the Bible, I still had no other reference point for morality, self image, or my choices. It is a miracle I survived my engagement and came out on the other side unmarried while still in this place. It is damn near crippling in terms of humility to admit that I am a 27 year old woman who hardly knows herself, and barely likes herself, but at least it’s a place to start.
After this mega revelation, I find myself pausing all the time, trying to build a perspective, re-align my thoughts. How am I responding? It is based on years of “religious” crap not even in the Bible? Is it derived from knee-jerk reactions infused into my brain long before I was capable of critical thinking? With every step, I’m forced to re-evaluate myself as an adult.
That is, if I want to be honest.
Being myself is fucking exhausting.
What has taken the longest to unlearn is that unconditional love is not love without boundaries. It is a dog that yanks a leash, dragging along behind it my doubt that I am a good person to begin with. That I come forth from a place of inherent failure. That I need to give more, love more… no, not just love more, but be ok with loving “better” that the person who might or might not love me. That is what Christ would want. Cheek turning, and the like. I am still learning that what I thought was the only was to love was an ugly little enabling game, with my heart stepping in for the role of piñata. I could see this in other people, but not in myself, because my self esteem was so tragically low I did not feel worthy of anything better than the friends who stole from me, abused my kindness, and broke my heart.
One could argue that that’s not what Jesus meant, but one can always argue things about a guy who’s been dead for a few thousand years. For me, it’s not really relevant at the moment. For me, what’s relevant is that turning the other cheek when slapped might encourage that person to go around slapping people to get what they want. That if I finally stand up, grip their wrist and tell them no, that stupid dog might learn to stop peeing on the rug.
My therapist has a field day with this shit.
What’s funny, I tell her, is that I always “knew” this stuff. But I couldn’t see how it played out in my own life. So entrenched was I in the belief that I was bad, shameful even, that I truly felt I was doing the right things. Only when I started to learn how to have some value in myself, inherently, free of all other constraints, was I able to stop compensating for something I never was in the first place. Unworthy.
There is a boy who wants me to love him. I do, but not in the way he loves me. It hurts, and he understands the right buttons to push.
“I will love you.” He says, “Forever.” He says. “I’ll work my fingers to the bone to have you, tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
I say to therapist, “I know I can do better than co-dependent. I don’t feel it, but I know it.”
I say to therapist, “I have wasted my youth trying to love men I couldn’t make myself love. I have finally established that my wants and needs are ok to have, and not everyone can meet them. I am ready for a healthy exchange.”
I say to therapist, “He isn’t respecting my boundaries. He doesn’t care how much he’s hurting me. He thinks he knows better than I do about what’s good for me and what my future holds.”
“Then why do you keep answering him?”
She always asks questions that suck. This is why I like her so much. She is fucking fearless.
I start to tear up, and then I admit it, “It’s my biggest fear” and I’m crying, “That no one can ever love me. That I will never, ever be enough.”
I grab a tissue, cough, pull at my hair, and then look at her.
“But I’ve figured something out.”
“And that is?”
“That if I can learn to like myself, I don’t need someone else to like me that ridiculous, unhealthy, codependent amount to feel secure. If I’m healthy then I can accept healthy.”
She praises me, something I’m still not used to. She tells me that I have emotional intelligence, and I’m unwilling to accept the backwash of the world as “just the way things are”. I want to evolve.
“You’re a pioneer.” She says.
“But I’m afraid of change,” I tell her. “I look terrible in coonskin caps.”
“It’s okay,” She tells me.
And incredibly, I am starting to believe her.