...Then there's a different kind of anger — the kind that surfaces in response to feeling hurt, the kind that wants to hurt back, and badly. I don't mean with superficial cuts. I mean with utter obliteration. The kind that wants to destroy another person's worth and value simply because you can. What has been troubling for me is just how often this kind of anger shows up in my thoughts and in my imagination, and how I've felt God challenging me to "get curious."
LETTING GO GIVES US FREEDOM, AND FREEDOM IS THE ONLY CONDITION FOR HAPPINESS. IF, IN OUR HEART, WE STILL CLING TO ANYTHING - ANGER, ANXIETY, OR POSSESSIONS - WE CANNOT BE FREE. ― THÍCH NHẤT HẠNH
"What would happen if you strangled God?" Bob asked me. I sat there as a variety of expressions came across my face, several of which caused Bob to chuckle. Then, I had what may be one of my nerdiest epiphanies ever.
When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved — Mark 13:11-13
I've been plagiarizing my prayers for a while now, taking a little from here, a little from there. I purchased Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I found the knotted-twine Anglican rosary given to me by my in-laws and found a series of prayers to accompany them. My friend Abe loaned me his copy of Book of Hours by Thomas Merton. At first I felt bad about this, but then I realized something...
Having completed my first silent retreat, I know I will go again. I know not to try to do it for as long of a time period, and I know to plan ahead for spiritual direction while I'm there (or wherever else I end up going). I know that while it's a fruitful time, it's not restful, not for someone as contemplative or emotionally engaged as I am. I know it will mostly likely bring forth more questions than answers, a reality I expected. And I know that I'll come out of it better, drained but ready to be strengthened by my return to the real world away from the bells and the silence.
I'm not sure if I'll ever really be able to let go of the pain I feel most days. Yes, I experience joy and happiness. Yes, these things bring me fulfillment. But depression, whether in label or in manifestations, truly does make me feel alive. It reminds me that I can't live on my own. I need God, my faith, my friends and family, and even the total stranger to live. My depression is a gateway to connection. I've tried hiding it, putting on the face, but doing so only leads to superficial relationships. When I'm honest, when I'm vulnerable and not simply transparent, then my connection to the world and to those around me is strengthened.
Sitting in silence,Righteous rage rises. Scared of the tempest inside me... My pride is in check. At least, so I think... Maybe I should check again.
Prophetic... I'm told. Honest and vulnerable. Credible to say the least. It's not what I wanted. Please take back this burden, I beg as my head starts to spin.
I was just listening For the voice of my Papa Telling me where I should go. Who should I be And where did she want me. If I'd known this, I would've said no...
But I didn't, did I? No. Instead of running, I stood my ground, not caving. I spoke truth out of darkness and wholeness out of pieces. And now my nice, neat little box has morphed into chaos. My peace is now jumbled with anger rising to the surface. For once, it's not anger with myself.
It's a weird feeling for me. Wholeness merged with momentum. Normally it comes quietly, coupled with stillness. This time, the fires are stoked. Something is coming, something is growing. Deep in my stomach, knots form, untangle, reform, untangle. Fingers twitching, legs restless. Heart racing, palms sweaty, heart heavy but solid.
It's time now, I think To let holy fire rain Down on the injustice I see. It's not me who's fighting. I was just telling truths That were there but still shrouded in silence.
The answers aren't clear And the questions keep coming. All I do is just try to hold on. Please forgive me... I'm broken Like the rest of the world. Fighting hard to find some sense of rest.
But this flame burns within me, Getting hotter and stronger. Just enough to turn steel into sword. I must buckle down hard, Stay surrounded by love, Finding rest in th'embrace of Her Word.
I ask now for you patience As we journey this new road Moving slow so as not to get lost. Papa's kindom is coming And I want to be there To see hearts strangely warmed all across.
So apparently Monday has become my regular blogging day, probably because my blog has become a place to personally process my therapy sessions. While I'm not sure whether or not Blake would approve, being the kind of person who sees his own story best in the stories of others, I'll probably keep this habit up... at least until school resumes in September.
Needless to say, this past week has been hell. For a gay recovering-Baptist-turned-United-Methodist like me, the onslaught of the Great Poultry War (as I like to call it) mixed with some other personal happenings that I'll leave out made for an incredibly emotionally broken week. As someone caught in the tension between the Christian community and the gay community, this week ended with my feeling as if I'd been beaten to a bloody pulp.
Blake remarked that this summer has been an incredibly hard one for me. One would think that last summer would have been worse due to losing Nanny. However, last summer, rather than let myself feel the pain of my loss at its onset, I dove into outlining Wesley's sermons and consequently suppressed much of the pain that one often feels in the early stages of grieving. This year, my only weekly responsibility has been working on Tuesday and Friday mornings. With this much unstructured time (which several friends have criticized me for), it's not surprising that my emotions have been running rampant. As painful and exhausting as this has been, I've needed it.
Back to the chicken battles... my biggest challenge has not been whether or not to support my local CFA whose owner is a supporter of LGBT rights. It's not been about being angry with or hating Dan Cathy and the larger CFA company for their financial support of anti-marriage-equality groups, ex-gay organizations, reparative therapy techniques, deportation of queer people, and criminalization of homosexuality. It's not even been about the "Christians" lined up in droves to "support Chick-Fil-A's right to free speech." It's been about the underlying message that these realities represent.
People are right. Dan Cathy and those who share his beliefs have a civil right to speak their minds and use their money as they wish. People are also right in saying that those of us who disagree with him can speak our minds and refuse to give CFA and other like-minded companies/organizations our money. Again, this isn't what bothers me most.
When I see herds of people from across the country lined up to buy a chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and sweet tea, I don't visually hear the Gospel. Instead I hear this subtle voice filled with fear and anger saying, "God does not love you. God did not make you this way. You are not God's child, God's beloved. You are not loved. You are not valued. You have no worth. You, at your core, are something gone horribly and terribly wrong. You are weak. You are a stain on the surface of this world, and it would be better off if you did not exist. You call yourself a Christian... that's ridiculous. You don't know Christ. In fact, you disgust him along with the rest of us. Go. Leave. Disappear. Die."
That is what I hear, and while I'm usually able to hold my own and stand firm in my beliefs and wrestled-with conclusions about my worth, value, and orientation, the events of this past week ripped me to shreds. This is the curse of dealing with chronic depression and being an empathic gay follower of Christ. I not only felt the pain of my own past, but I felt fear and concern for all those who may have heard the same message without having the strength or awareness to recognize the lies and deception present. How many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people heard what I heard, felt what I felt, yet do not have the love and support in their lives to keep going? How many of them want to give up? How many of them truly believe that God hates them and will never accept them? It scares me to my core.
One image in particular really bothered me. I did a Google image search for Chick-Fil-A appreciation day and one of the first pictures to appear was of a school bus filled with what appeared to be middle and high school students smiling widely while holding their CFA bags and cups...
I couldn't help but fear that one or more of them was like I was when I was that age: scared, hurt, filled with self-loathing, unable to be true to themselves. I imagined one of them getting on that bus with their friends from their church youth group, having never told a soul their secret, but instead partaking in an event that devalued and diminished their self-worth like nothing before.
As much as I want to proclaim the mantra of "It gets better," it's times like these where I barely have the energy to hold onto the message for myself, much less put it out there for others. In the midst of all my struggles, revisited shame and guilt, seeing people I know reaffirm their disapproval not just of who I love but of who I am, I've also felt an outpouring of love from my partner, several of my friends, classmates, church members, and family. They've offered encouragement, affirmation, strength, and most important, their very presence. I am oh so tired right now, but despite the voices in my head telling me otherwise, I know, I know that I am loved for the fullness of who I am. I am doing everything I can to hold onto this truth.
Blake said once again this morning something that he's said on several occasions when I've been a place like I am right now; he reminded me that I've made it this far and that I have within me more love, strength, courage, and faith than he's ever seen before—enough to keep me going today, tomorrow, and the day after that... one day at a time. I'm glad I have him and others in my life who allow me to see myself through their eyes. I'm glad I have my memory of Nanny and her love for me. Mostly, I'm glad for the other voice in my head telling me, "You are my child, my beloved. I love you more than you could ever imagine, and you will be okay. Just hold on a little while longer. I'm not letting go... ever."
It's no secret that I see a therapist on a regular basis. At the urging of a friend back in 2007, I started working with Blake. As one would expect, after seeing a shrink for that long, we've gone progressively deeper into some of my underlying issues. For a long time, I've been resistant to one topic in particular: my physical health. Now that my wedding, honeymoon, and first year of grieving over Nanny have passed, Blake has started pushing me on this important part of my overall well-being. Today was our first day, and it wasn't pretty. First, some back-story... Towards the end of high school and the beginning of college, because of depression and issues with my body image, I started struggling with bulimia. Although my practice of the eating disorder was short-lived, it had lasting effects on me ranging from dental issues to hair loss. Even to this day, in those moments where I detest what I see in the mirror, I'm tempted to act out. These days, at 40 pounds over what culture, websites, and doctors say would be an ideal weight for someone my height, people tend to not believe me when I share my past. Truth is, I don't look like someone who's ever dealt with an eating disorder... appearances can be deceiving.
After a former relationship ended back in 2008, I became obsessed. Having never been a fan of strength training, I got a gym membership for the sole sake of killing myself on the elliptical. Three to four days a week, an hour a day, wearing sweats, a hoody, and a winter cap on my head. I made it down to my "ideal weight," and then suddenly, I stopped. I don't really know what happened, but the desire to continue my routine had dissipated.
A few days before my trip to NY with Frankie ended, we were in Times Square making a Starbucks run. Sitting outside the door on the concrete was a woman whom I will not soon forget. Her face gaunt, her frame emaciated, her skin hanging from her bones, she was the public service announcement epitome of someone who deals with anorexia. Truth is I don't know her story, much less her name. I don't know if her struggle is with an eating disorder or some other illness. What I do know is that I felt a connection to her, albeit brief and superficial. In seeing her, I felt a level of fear rise within me. Cue my session with Blake.
So, why am I so resistant to being proactive about my physical health and quitting smoking? I think I'm scared of going too far again. I'm worried about disappointing people. I'm hostile to the idea of having something as simple as a vice taken away from me. I'm concerned that in the end, I'll still feel like I'm not enough. I'm horrified that I'll become something else that I might hate. I'm angry that I always seem to have one battle after another that needs fought.
I'm not making any decisions today. I'm not jumping to any rash conclusions. And while I'm sure that this might be an excessively vulnerable topic for some people, I still believe that there is power in voicing our fears, in opening up to others in the face of personal struggles, especially those struggles that would otherwise force us into seclusion or isolation. There's something that happens when we start believing that we're not alone.
Let go of the guilt, the shame, the remorse, the anger, the rage, the pain, the feeling of being betrayed, the wondering what life could have been life, the fantasy of what I wish I was. It's been harder than usual lately to look at myself in the mirror. When I do, rarely do I find something I am glad of. Rather, I find something about which to be critical, judgmental, harsh, regretful. Little things like being practically bald, having oversized pores, a furrowed brow, slightly chipped teeth, even though frequently I am complimented on my smile and the way my eyes light up. I don't see it, though. Not in the present. Sometimes, when looking at pictures, I catch a glimpse of it. But in the here and now, it's invisible to me. I was talking with B. on Monday. Friday, I'd had a severe depressive episode, one where I broke out in tears spontaneously with no warning and no idea of cause. One where images of a razor to my wrist and a gun to my head run through my mind almost ceaselessly, seamlessly. One where my resting heart rate jumps way above normal and my hands start shaking, forcing me into either a crouching or fetal position. And there I was not having a clue of the origin. When we sat down to talk about it, we went back to the discussion of why I'd had some other depression/anxiety symptoms show up recently. I've been regressing... and in case you couldn't figure it out, B. is my therapist, who is extremely psychodynamic in nature, which works since I do have "mommy" issues.
I've been angry. I wish my mom would have started showing some of this affection that's appeared as of late earlier in life. I wish I didn't have to wait until I was almost thirty for her to start caring, start loving, start affirming me. Unfortunately, as F. and I talked about after my session with B., when I'm angry, I don't direct it outwards at the appropriate target. I direct it inwards, taking on personal fault for that which has gone awry. I find a way to think of myself as being to blame for the mishaps. Being so uncomfortable with anger toward others, I'd rather take on the burden alone. That's comfortable for me.
I'll never be able to go back and stop Mom's car accident from happening, or from having her die in it. I'll never be able to go back and pick a different instrument to play, or choose a sport to take interest in. To come out earlier and find the strength to be proud and have courage rather than living into the right-wing Evangelical lie of the ex-gay ministry. To stay at home in Terre Haute, go to ISU, and come out of college with significantly less debt and a different circle of friends. To tell my younger self never to open a credit card, never dye his hair, and never start smoking. I'll never be able to go back and be less promiscuous, less self-conscious, less isolated.
The life I have now I have for a reason. My experiences, my pains, my heartaches, my joys and laughters, my physical flaws, my likes and dislikes. My past and my present. My debt. My family. Each of these is a different piece which makes up the sum of my whole. Each of them is to be honored and cherished. Without them, a void would exist. I have to learn to love me, and to see my graces, my gifts, and my fruit, as Wesley would ask. I have to keep my feet on the ground, along with the rest of me... especially my head, as it would rather be in the clouds. And one of these days, I will, effortlessly. I will gaze in the silver-backed glass and see a man of whom I am proud and who I love. I will see a man with talent, strength, courage, and tenacity. Someone who chooses to live life despite how hard it can be, who tries to be thankful for how good it is, and who takes that gratitude and turns it into a way of helping those whose lives are harder, whose self-love is lesser, and whose trials are more exhausting. I will live up to my name - who is like God.