Cancelled

I am scheduled for a mammogram later today.  I’ve spent about the last 2 hours debating with myself about whether I do or do not wish to reschedule that appointment.

I can make it.

But I don’t want to worry about it.

But I feel well enough.

No, I don’t feel well.

But I could push through it.

But my head hurts already, and I think I may be getting sick.

But maybe if I just wait a bit I will feel better.

Except I need to hop in the shower and wash off all of the lotions and deodorants and such from yesterday.

I don’t have the energy for that.

Right.  You don’t.

Okay, I will reschedule.

But it takes forever to get in again, and I have surgery coming up in a few weeks, and then I won’t be able to get out and do it.

 

This isn’t an event that has great significance.  I get a mammogram every year, and the past several years of having them done, plus multiple ultrasounds and an MRI, have left my doctors with some confidence that the abnormal mass in my left breast is not cancer.  So, it isn’t like I NEED to be there today.

But I feel like I am always cancelling things.

It is true.  It is really hard to know your boundaries with fibromyalgia.  My body used to tell me in real-time what it needed.  Now it can take hours, days, and even weeks for my body to express that I have overdone it, and that my muscles and joints and brain function are not going to cooperate with my plans for the day, or the week, or the rest of my life.

This disease cancels life.  Not just the annoying little appointments that we all feel like putting off, but the good and beautiful things too.  Time with friends, celebrating with family, going to events … they are all cancelled.

Recently I created a wish list on Amazon of things that I would love to have to make my life easier and to keep me functioning at a higher capacity. Even those needs had to be cancelled, because life throws curve balls and supports I usually depend on were removed, and my financial situation is dire. I’ve had to ask people to support my fundraiser instead and to offer money to pay the bills and keep me alive.

It isn’t really a bad thing to shift focus in that manner.  Obviously, I consider basic needs of tantamount importance, and I am more than grateful for anything and everything that is offered me.

But I feel like even my expectations for living have been cancelled.

And I mean living is the expectation, not that I expected to live with certain comforts.  I am afraid my life might be cancelled.

This is probably difficult for people to grasp.  And I don’t blame anyone for not understanding the depth of my suffering in this moment, or the challenges that I face, or the need that I experience.  I would not have been able to grasp any of that until the last few years happened, and disease became my life, in some sense.

And cancelling became the way I approach life.

I was watching a video of Brene Brown discussing trust the other day. I only got through half of it because I needed to get on the bus and get to yet another appointment (one I couldn’t easily reschedule).  But one of the key components of trust that she talks about in the video is reliability.  She posits that reliability is doing what you say “over and over and over”.

I am not reliable.

I say that I will do a thing, and then the thing is cancelled, or rescheduled, or abandoned because I cannot do it.  My body and my mind won’t let me do it, so it isn’t always my fault, or demonstrative of my personal character, that I cannot follow through on what I say I will do, but the fact remains—I cannot be reliable in the way Brene Brown suggests I must be to be trustworthy.

When I started to exhibit symptoms of fibromyalgia, I had no idea that I was exhibiting symptoms of fibromyalgia.  This is common.  It takes five to seven years on average for people with this disease to be properly diagnosed.  And because of that it is often difficult to even determine onset.  But when I look back several years, and when I talk with my daughter about our history together, I realize that I was already cancelling life as early as 2007.  She would ask to go to the pool, and I would say we can do that tomorrow.  But when tomorrow arrived I would claim that I didn’t feel well, or that I was too tired, and we wouldn’t swim.  She still resents me for cancelling all of those times.  She understands now that I was in the earliest stages of my illness at that time, and that I didn’t mean to be unreliable and to become someone whose word she could not trust, but she remembers the way that she felt let down all of those times, and all the excuses I made for not following through.  And that pains me, just as my physical body pains me—or maybe sometimes more.

I still cancel, and with much more frequency than I did in previous years.  My disease progressed as it went undiagnosed and untreated for those years.  It got worse when I moved to the Midwest from Arizona, and suddenly climate changes, lack of access to healthful organic foods, and less swimming were affecting my body without me being fully cognizant of the effects of these changes.  And by the time people were taking my pain and fatigue seriously, I was on the sofa for a year and a half.

I’ve fought my way back in many ways, and I spend far less time on the sofa at this point.  But the reason that I do much better at living with my illness is that I am better at setting boundaries and better and listening and anticipating my body’s reactions.  Even though it doesn’t tell me in real-time that it is suffering, I can plan more effectively to make certain that I don’t overwhelm myself.  Proactive scheduling, approaching life in terms of my own needs instead of the expectations of others, and being more aware of my illness and the ways it presents and affects me have helped me cancel less … in part because I try to do less.

But I still cancel.  Over and over and over, I cancel.

It is difficult not to apologize for cancelling.  It is difficult to accept it as a symptom of my illness and not as a mark of poor character.  It is hard to feel like I can be a good person, a good friend, a good partner, or a good mother when I cannot commit to things fully and cannot be reliable.

And I wish that there was some positive spin that I could add to the end of this post—some nugget of wisdom that brings us full circle and expresses the self-awareness and growth and determination that I so love to share.

There isn’t.

This is one thing I have not yet figured out.  I still don’t have a beautiful lesson from this experience. If there is a lesson at all, it might be that I am not defined by my symptoms, but that isn’t the way I feel.

Last night I was crying to my dad, as I was telling him about crying to my dear friend Luke the night before, and saying how upsetting it was to look back on my life, and to have knowledge of all the things I have overcome and all the ways I have survived, and to think now that my own body and the illness that plagues it is that which I am unable to overcome, and the thing I may not survive.  I know, in the logical sense, that my body is not killing me, but what I feel is that I won’t survive because of myself.

There isn’t a way to fight against yourself and win.

There may be a way to fight against your disease and win, but that is much easier when you are fighting a cancer, which you kill in order to save yourself, than it is when the thing that you are fighting is incorporated into your entire being.  My own synapses, my own cells, are hurting me.  I don’t have the luxury of separating out what harms me and what IS me.  They are one.

My disease becomes my life.  Hurting is my life.  Confusion is my life.  Cancelling is my life.

There isn’t a way around that fact.  There is only acceptance of that fact.  Or at least that is the way I currently view things.  And I would love to view them differently, but I don’t know how.

I might still go and have my mammogram today.  I might not.  But either way I will continue to struggle with myself over my boundaries and my unreliability and my inability to be as I wish I were—living without constantly thinking about breaking and ruining life.  Living without always considering dying.  Living without worrying that I won’t make it beyond this state, or that this is how it always will be.  Living without cancelling so much of my life.  Living with the constant challenge of seeking to accept life as it is while simultaneously wanting to improve upon my life.

I know it is a constant process, and I know that it will always be such, and I may never arrive at a destination in which I sit and feel like I have completely accepted myself and my way of being in the world.  And I think it is like that for everyone, the healthy and the sick alike.  But today, in this moment, all that seems to matter is that I have, once again, fought with myself over the desire to cancel and not cancel.

I suppose that is how I must approach this fight—moment by moment.  And I suppose that I will eventually start to recognize both the challenge of making it through an event and the cancelling of an event as good and helpful and right.  Because each time I power through, and each time I cancel to rest, I am making a decision to do the best that I can for myself.  And as long as I keep focusing on that—on what is best for my care and for my survival—I am likely choosing well.  Even if my choice makes me appear unreliable.

And, at the end of this post, I have made a decision.  I will reschedule my appointment and deal with the mammogram another day.  Today, my spirit, and my body, and my aching legs and head all need me to rest and to care for myself by cancelling.  Today, cancelling is care.  Today, cancelling is good.  And, at the very least, I can always claim that I am caring for myself over and over and over.

Some things never change

I’m sort of a change addict.  I rearrange things all the time.  From the files in my office to the paints in my studio to the furniture in the rooms to the items on my bedside table, I am always looking for another way to place things.  And I often like to pretend that it is for increased efficiency—and sometimes it accidentally brings about increased efficiency—but I think it is just that things need to be constantly in flux for me to feel comfortable.

This is actually the opposite of what makes most people comfortable.  Stability and stasis and knowing that you won’t bang your toes on a credenza that wasn’t there yesterday seem to be more comfortable for most.

I used to attribute my desire for change to boredom.  I just figured I was the kind of person who needed new scenery … and that is true in part.  Highly intelligent and creative people often need movement and change, and lots of us live in mess or chaos as a result.  We feel life more than just live it.  And, like anything that you see or feel each and every day, you become numb to things if they stay the same for too long.

Once my daughter’s teacher thought she would place a brightly colored sticky note to my daughter’s desk to remind her of something.  That sticky note had an effect for about a week and a half.  After that time, the note just became a part of my daughter’s normal desk environment.  It no longer screamed brightly to remember, but it sort of faded into the everyday.

For those of us who feel our way through life, everything fades into the everyday, and we need something new in order to feel stimulated and excited and motivated.

I am one of those people, so boredom is an apt way to describe much of my need for change.

But, over time, I discovered something else about the way I desire change.  It felt like an escape.  It felt like freedom.  It felt like a release from captivity.  And it still does.

I often describe my situation as “stuck”.  I can’t afford to move.  I can’t find decent housing with a voucher that is meant to safeguard the poor from not finding decent housing (another tale for another time, perhaps).  I can’t leave the state without throwing my disability case out the window after 16 months of fighting for my rights.  I can’t change the ways my body and mind react to particular stimuli.  I can’t end the pain that plagues my whole body.  I can’t stop seeing the doctors and therapists who already know and have seen the ways my disease affects me.  I can’t end the awareness of the past events that led to this point.  I feel trapped within my disability and within a particular way of living as a result.

And I want to escape once more.

I keep changing what I can.  The furniture, the nightstand contents, the filing system all move around.  But I’m still feeling stuck.

Last night, while I was attempting to catch up on the washing of dishes (a failed attempt, but a bit of progress at least), I was thinking about my relationship with my mom.  It wasn’t great, for most of my teen and adult years.  We didn’t understand one another very well, and communicating emotion wasn’t a strong point for her, and obeying without question wasn’t a strong point of mine.  We argued as a result.  But last night I was thinking more about how she must have felt when all I wanted to do was escape, and even though I don’t really think my mom floats around my kitchen in some non-corporeal form, I said aloud, “I’m sorry if it hurt you Mom, but I needed to try … I needed to try to be free.”

I hadn’t thought of what I did from age 18 to 28 as trying to be free before, at least not in any real and deep sense.  But I was trying to be free.  I didn’t want to be captive or kept.  And running from place to place and moving from man to man and snorting line after line felt like flying after years of living caged.  It wasn’t a crazy person living out her crazy.  It wasn’t a woman lost seeking a place to fit in.  It was freedom–finally freedom!  And all of those things in all of that time didn’t necessarily serve me well or bring me wholeness and good, but they weren’t necessarily meant to do that anyway.  They were just meant to be the opposite of captivity.

When my little dog gets free of the tethers that hold him, he runs like a motherfucking bat out of hell.  He doesn’t know where he is going, or why.  He doesn’t care.  He just runs, and runs, and runs, and runs.  And there isn’t any catching him.  You have to run past him (which, by the way, sucks for a good runner, so the few times I have had to do so I nearly died as a result) and then convince him that running in the other direction sounds fun, leading him back toward the house or car from which he escaped.  Freedom.  Flying.  Just going because you are finally allowed to go.

I spent 10 years of my life flying in glorious freedom.

And then, I went back to living as others expected or anticipated I would or should.  Because you can only run so far before you tire and need to turn around.  But I still miss the flying.  I still miss that freedom.

There are all sorts of expectations once more, and there is a lot of weight to the conditions of disability and poverty that I am struggling to carry, and there are rules and rules and rules about how you may or may not be when you are dependent on others (and very few of the rules or expectations are reasonable or intuitive or helpful).  And I start to feel trapped and stuck and without an exit plan.  It reminds me of being a child, and not being able to express that really bad shit was going on in my life, and not being old enough or aware enough to leave the situation to which I felt captive.  All the ways I tried to escape that captivity—throwing tantrums, threatening my abuser, trying to run away, becoming despondent, sleep walking, wetting the bed—went unrecognized or were blamed on other causes.

I don’t fault the people in my life who didn’t know those were attempts at escape.  It isn’t easy to understand when you haven’t been informed or educated about such things.  All you see is a bunch of crazy and inconvenient and inappropriate, and you don’t know how to fix it.  And even when I did get the attention of therapists or doctors, they were kinda shitty therapists or doctors, and they did more harm than good in most cases. I wasn’t properly diagnosed with C-PTSD until a year and a half ago, because I had a breakdown/freak out/panic in the right place and the right time, for a change.

The thing about this desire for freedom, however, is that it starts to morph into something new as I age and become more aware.  I still want to run away, but I want to run to a place that brings stability, a therapeutic environment, and release from the debt and dependence of poverty.  Being free looks more like stasis and stability than I like to admit at times.  And I think that I would still rearrange the furniture and the files and the art supplies and the books in this more stable version of freedom, but I don’t think that it would make me feel stuck or captive or without freedoms.  If I had a little house on the beach, just big enough for me and the dog, and the occasional visit from my dad or my daughter, and if I could swim every day and get a massage and take a walk along the water, and if I could write and create and sell my work, and if I could grow a few plants out in my tiny garden instead of on an apartment window sill, and if I could choose the life I want and not be forced into situations that I don’t want, I could feel free in one place, and not ever need to feel the need to flee or fight or struggle toward something else.

I started with a title that implied that things don’t change.  And many things don’t.  But many things do.  And it isn’t true that the more things change they more they stay the same, even if my freedom becomes a little cottage which I own and can settle into for years to come.  Because, while that seems like stasis, it is much different from anything I have experienced in all my years—it is something I choose, without influence and expectation and abuse and appropriate cultural expression and manipulation and guilt and force making me choose (which isn’t really choice at all).

Much has changed inside of me, and in the way I see myself, and in the ways I understand my history and my illness, and in the ways that I act and react because of new awareness, and in the way I treat myself as a result.  But much has not changed.

I still long to be free.

I still want to fly.

 

In the Mood

I can’t seem to stop listening to Rachmaninoff.  I’m just in that mood.  Or so I thought when I first turned my Spotify account in his direction a day or two ago.  But the more I listen, the more I wonder:  What mood is that exactly?  Because one thing I am noticing about his music is that it has a thousand moods, not just across the entirety of his compositions, but in one work there can be angry and playful and lilting and intensity and struggle and peace and fun and frustration…the list goes on.  There isn’t usually one space where your mind and heart remain while listening to this diverse and divine music.

I think, at present, I am drawn to the urgency and the drive of many of the pieces to which I have been listening.  Life feels like that lately—like there is more urgency.  Urgency for or toward what has yet to be determined, but I suspect that it may be tied to the death of my mother.

Life just seems like it needs to be lived, and I feel as though I might not be making enough of my moments.

The other possibility is that the angry parts of me are connecting with the angst-filled phrases of the movements Rachmaninoff has written.  It lets me feel anger, without acting upon anger.  It is easy to be angry, and easy to displace anger, but it isn’t very easy to cope with angry thoughts and feelings.  Of course, I know that anger is always a secondary emotion.  It isn’t actually anger that you experience, but hurt or fear or rejection or some other thing, which then comes out as anger.  And usually my anger is from hurt or abandonment or betrayal or fear.  Lately, I have been wanting to tell myself that frustration is what makes me angry. But frustration is not an emotion, per se.  You get frustrated, but you don’t really feel frustrated.  My frustration is a result of anger, which is the result of hurts and betrayals and fears that I don’t wish to acknowledge. This is not surprising.

Few of us want to acknowledge our hurts and fears.  Few of us want to be vulnerable in that manner.  Few of us want to accept what really goes on inside our heart and mind and spirit.

But in order to stop feeling that angst-filled frustrated feeling, I need to acknowledge that it comes from pain.  Lots and lots and lots of pain.

No one could know the depth of that pain, because not one single person has ever heard the entire story, or all the little stories pieced together into a lifetime, I suppose.  Not even my therapist of the past one and a half years has managed to root out all the moments and combine them into a reliable accounting of all of the pain that my body and mind and heart and spirit have suffered.  There are ways, however, to notice what ties those experiences together, and what struggles trigger the strongest reactions.  And this week, many of those triggers were set off, and I (like any good PTSD sufferer) went on high alert, and began to tie all of that pain together and swing it around like a sword, desperate for a  sensation of, or even the illusion of, safety.  And then, once the sword of hyper vigilance fails you, you shut down.

I am an expert at shutting down. My body and mind have found ways to disconnect that I stand in awe of, and my whole person is very capable of shutting out the world through isolation or through what I, for lack of a better term, might call “pretending”—the sense of being physically present without connecting in any real or meaningful way with your surroundings.  I can act like I care, or act like I don’t care, or both, depending on the situation.  I can adhere to social expectations without being the least bit engaged.

But Rachmaninoff makes you feel. He is turning me back on—giving me the ability to engage with something that resembles human connectivity and emotion, before I can connect with my actual emotion and engage meaningfully with actual humans.  He gives me a mood, when I cannot find one on my own.

Eventually, I connected with what I feel, and the reasons I turned off.  I was triggered by an idiot employee at a sandwich shop yelling angrily and calling out “HAM AND TURKEY” when I was distracted by an older man with a walker who dropped his change and didn’t notice that the employee now wanted to know whether lettuce was required to meet my sandwich’s completion.  He reduced me to my sandwich toppings when he treated them as though they were my name, which reminded me of the times I was called “woman” or “my old lady” or “bitch” or “dumb cunt” or “crack whore” or any number of marginalizing terms that refused to acknowledge my complex identity, but reduced me to an action or a gender or a role. That hurts.  Being marginalized always hurts.

I was triggered by the knowledge of the divide between rich and poor, and the continued struggle with accepting that my career has been ended by my illness, and that I may always be poor.  This trigger happened in the waiting area of the dentist’s office, when I was waiting to have my teeth cleaned for the first time in five years, since my state-managed insurance plan just began to pay for such services.  And, while I was thrilled to be able to have a dental exam and cleaning, I knew that the exam might result in the determination that I must lose my last molar on the lower right side, because this dental care came far too late, and it can be taken away again with a pen stroke–resulting in a face of gaps and gum recession that will make it impossible for me to pass as a person of means, or get a decent job, or be taken seriously by many.  I am poor.  I don’t want to look poor.  I want to continue to pass for someone who isn’t poor.  And it hurts that poverty is my situation.  And it hurts that I feel continually shamed and sometimes attacked and often trivialized or marginalized because of that poverty.  It hurts that poverty is considered downright criminal in the minds of many, including lots of my Facebook “friends” and those whom I once believed I could trust with my story.  And it hurts that I recognize all of this and that I know I am complicit in the shaming by desperately wanting to pass more than working harder to end the stigma and embrace myself, even if my self has no money and no teeth.  But that work is difficult, and the stigma I carry is already a heavy burden.

I was triggered by the feigned “concern” of others.  It is gaslighting that was truly happening, and not any sort of true concerned care for my wellbeing (unless you count the worry over my eternal soul not being allowed into heaven because I am evil and misguided as care … and I don’t).  In this particular case, a person misinterpreted and misrepresented the information in my previous post, and expressed that they didn’t sleep well and spent time in prayer and god apparently gave them a “devotion” in reply, which basically said that uneducated people know more than me about god…so I am evil and misguided (but apparently considered very educated, which is true and complementary). It would seem I am meant to be shamed by the person who mangled my ideas and misquoted my post and to recognize that my views are wrong, thereby causing concern for my soul.  This feigned concern and this gaslighting have been ever-present for me, starting with childhood sexual molestation, and making stops at domestic violence, victim blaming after sexual assault and rape, shame for pursuing education rather than work as a single parent, blame for the infidelity of a partner, and expressions that discount my sexual identity, before ending once again at the church and its deep concern over my soul (which has appeared many times along this journey).  I am not insane or misguided.  I need to tell myself this repeatedly in an attempt at self-compassion, because the idea that I don’t know what is right, but another does and will tell me how to be or act or think, was deeply engrained in my psyche after years and years of abuse.  When people I once counted as friends begin to use this very abusive tactic, I am deeply hurt.  We rarely consider moral, church-going ladies as abusers, but perhaps we should—they are often the worst offenders when it comes to gaslighting.  Gaslighting hurts.

So, yes, I am connecting with Rachmaninoff because I am working at getting back to feeling, and because the secondary anger comes out in his music, but so does the calm and peaceful, and the joyful and playful, and the anguish of the pain that is truly behind the way that I am feeling deep down, in a place with which I am still unable to fully connect.

It is difficult to connect with our brokenness.

It is difficult to acknowledge pain.  Our society tends to mask or cover or hide or control pain.  And it certainly doesn’t want to take ownership of the pain that is caused, personally or societally.  We have been taught that pain is owned by the one who suffers, and not the one who causes the suffering.  We refuse to admit or confess that we hurt others, either by our active oppression or by our passive inaction to correct situations that produce suffering.

However, if the first step to solution is recognition of the problem, we need to face that hurt head on, and look at the ways we are causing pain.  I often think this begins by accepting that we, ourselves, are wounded.  The most broken among my friends have become the strongest advocates for others.  My own passion for justice was borne from the injustice I felt as I journeyed through forty years of struggle and pain and abuse.  This isn’t uncommon.  This is the way to bettering ourselves and becoming a better society—this recognition of our own wounds fuels our desire to spare all others from similar wounding.

I think that this connection between my wounds and my areas of passion is key to how I have been struggling the past couple of days.  When someone begins to attack those areas about which I am passionate, they are, in a sense, also attacking my wounds.

I fight for the rights of women because my rights to choose what happened to my body and in my life were stripped from me.  I fight for reproductive rights because I suffered a lack of care and compassion when dealing with the loss of a pregnancy and a lack of care and compassion as a single parent, and also experienced the failures of birth control and unintended pregnancy.  I fight for LGBT+ rights because I know and love many who don’t conform to the standards and structures that the gender binary and the heteronormative patriarchy deem correct and good, and because it took many years for me to even consider my own sexuality, and even more to admit to people that I don’t fit that heteronormative mold.  I fight for the end of mass incarceration and for racial reconciliation because I love and live among black men and women who are being violently abused by not only our stereotypes and individual assessment of race, but by the laws of our country and the limits of our compassion to those who look and act and speak and live in ways identical to our own.  I fight for a limitation or prohibition of firearms because I see the bodies of boys and girls and men and women who needn’t have died and wouldn’t have died if it weren’t for ridiculous access to what nobody, outside of law enforcement or the military in most cases, should need. I fight for the homeless, because I spent years of my life as a homeless woman, and some as a homeless mother, and I ate from dumpsters and had sex with people just to sleep in a bed for a few safe hours and stole food and toiletries in order to survive, and nobody should ever have to live under those conditions, no matter what else they may have done or not done in life.

I fight for those who are experiencing what I have suffered (and in some cases still suffer).

Saying my fight for these causes is evil and misguided is saying that I am evil and misguided, because these are not just some nameless and faceless people whom you can criminalize and marginalize and oppress.  These people are me. And saying that these causes don’t matter, in essence, says that I also do not matter. (But apparently my soul does…just not the rest of me.)  That hurts.

So, today my goal is to allow emotion.  I intend to acknowledge these feelings, and to connect with these feelings or to let these feelings go, as I choose.

Because we cannot control what we feel, we can only choose how to react or interact with what we feel.

Mindfulness practice has taught me much about how to let the oppressive and hurtful things that others say and do affect me less, or sometimes not at all.  I’m learning, slowly and surely, how to leave behind what harms me, and to embrace what loves and holds and builds me.  I am the only constant, and even though everything around me changes, I can choose to remain as I am.  I am the mountain, as Jon Kabat-Zinn and my therapist are teaching me to remember.  So I choose whom I wish to be and to become.  Gaslighting church ladies, and poor public policy, and abusers and offenders of all sorts, and the money in my bank account (or the lack of, more truly) do not define me.  I define myself, so I am free to acknowledge the comments of others about who I am, or I can let them float away.  They need not hurt me anymore.

So, Rachmaninoff, thank you for all the feeling that you have offered me, and for the connections that you allow me to make.  Your thousand moods have reminded me that I only need to be in one mood, and that is one that I choose—no one else may choose it for me.  And I choose self-compassion and love and grace and peace and truth, as always.  I choose to embrace my poor, disabled, non-hetero, non-religious, highly educated, thick and sexy, fighting for equal/human rights continually and with passion self.  And I choose to embrace the person I am becoming as well, and know that I will continue to grow in grace and in truth and in love, because that is what I will accept and allow into my life.

I am now in a great mood. 🙂

In Jesus’ Shame

 

I grew up going to church.  Not just going, but religiously so…attending every single Sunday morning and Sunday night, unless terribly ill.  And I hated church, largely because I was forced to attend without my personal consent.  Any part of life you can’t consent to can be a struggle, especially for the naturally independent leader that lived deep inside of me, but when other really important decisions are also made without your consent (like the bodily choice of surgery or testing or sexual contact or any number of things that I struggled with over the course of my formative years) then being forced to go to church just becomes another area outside of your control that makes you feel diminished and marginalized.  So I hated it.

And at some point I got over that hatred of church because later in life I was given the choice to go, and I chose to attend and participate, not only in church but in the pursuit of multiple degrees in theology.  Church became my life, in many ways.  But the longer I stayed, the more I knew that I wasn’t really wanted there.  Inside my head the “if people knew” clause started to pop up over and over.  If people knew that I was an addict…   If people knew that I have sex on the regular…   If people knew about my molestation…  If people knew I was pro-choice…    If people knew I get food stamps…   If people knew my personal view of eschatology…  If people knew I don’t believe [insert some sort of popular religious belief here]….    If and if and if and if and on and on it went.

I started to feel like I had to hide myself from the church.  I started to feel the weight of shame, even while I wasn’t personally being shamed (because I was hiding my true belief and experience).  I began to know that I wasn’t welcomed “just as I am” in any church that I had ever attended.  I began to search for churches that would let me in, even if I were just me—as is and with no hiding and no apologies.  I have yet to find a church sans shame.  So I have yet to join a church again.

It has been a little over three years, I suppose, since I last attended church, and I have never been more free.

I was always taught—from Sunday school classes as a small child to my seminary training—that Jesus brought freedom. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last.  But the only time I was actually free to study and believe without shame was when I left the confines of religious communities and went out into the world.

Ah, the world.  That damnable expression of all that is evil and to be feared. Or so one would think, given the reactions of Christians in the United States. But the world, you see, is open in ways that the church had never been for me.  The church confined and constricted.  The world let me investigate and study and try and experience and discover in ways the church never would.

The world didn’t try to shame me as much or as often as the Christians tried to shame me.

Eventually, I came to the realization that the church isn’t usually practicing in Jesus’ name.  It is often practicing shame.

Sex is bad and you are bad for having it.  Poverty is bad and you must be doing bad things to land in that state.  Being gay is bad and you are messed up if you love people outside of the parameters that we express.  Rape is bad, so if you have been raped you must have done something wrong to deserve it.  Women’s butts are bad, so you mustn’t let them be out in the “open” with revealing yoga pants.  Being single is bad, because you are supposed to make babies.  Abortion is bad because you are supposed to make babies.  Birth control is bad because you are supposed to make babies.  You are bad if you don’t make all the babies all the time. Except if you have a baby and not a husband then you are bad.  Drugs are bad and if you are addicted you are bad.  Depression is bad, and if you are depressed you are not good at trusting in god.  Disability is bad, so you need to suck it up and get back to work or you are bad.  You are bad.  You are bad.  Christy, you are extremely fucking bad.

And then one day, I decided I am not bad.  Because every religious text I have ever encountered promises hope and renewal and the “becoming” of the person. The promise is that shame disappears, not becomes the defining characteristic of the church.  The promise is acceptance and love without conditions and grace and a forgiving spirit and a love of peace.  All of these things require that we kill all this rule-making and fear-inducing and humanity-stripping, damnable shame!

“I love you, but…” cannot be a part of our language or our thinking if we are going to be the love and grace and peace that every single religion I have ever encountered says we must or shall be.  “I will love you if…” cannot be a part of that language or thinking.  “I love you because…” is not a religiously accepting statement unless it is followed by “you exist”.

There is a passage in the Christian biblical text that I once had to translate in a seminary course.  I was shocked to read and to learn and to begin to hold the belief that “anyone who loves is of god”.  This transformed all for me, in the sense that love becomes the definitive aspect of what is right and good, and of who belongs to and with and in god.  So the impoverished woman who helps me up when I fall is of god, and the prostitute who always asks about my day and shows concern for me is of god, and the person to whom I am not married, but who shows me love and care both in and out of my bedroom, is of god, and my Atheist and Muslim and Jewish and Hindu and Buddhist and Pagan friends are all of god, because they all love fiercely and choose peace and show grace all of the time.

I am of god because I just reminded myself, during the interruption of my short time in which to write by a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door, that I need to show even those who interrupt my theological expressions or blog posts the grace and the love and the promise that is god.

And because of this discovery, I have moved away from the term “god”, for the most part.  I choose to use the term “the divine” or sometimes “the universe”, depending on the situation. (Because the word “god” carries so much weight for so many…and usually not in a positive way.)

Anyone who loves is of the divine.  Anyone who loves….without qualification, without exception, without condition, and without being shamed into compliance with the normative religious ideal of the day…is of the divine.

Shame is not discipleship.  Shame is not beneficial.  Shame is not helpful in any proven study regarding any desired behavior.  Shame is not love.  And love is god, and god is love, and those who love are of god.  So, if you insist on shaming others, you are not of god.

Love = divine.  Shame = not divine. (For those who would like this boiled down to its most basic expression.)

So, let’s all stop trying to shame others and call it something we do in Jesus’ name.

And let’s all recognize that trying to shame people like me, who have come to understand the will of the divine in this open and free and beautiful way, is a waste of precious time.  Maybe hug your grandkids or knit a scarf instead, or do something that expresses love and grace and equity and peace to those less fortunate than you (as Jesus also suggested), but without superiority and judgments and shame (which Jesus never suggested, and instead taught against).  Let’s spend less time assessing my yoga pants and sex and spend more time assessing ways to reduce violence against women and inequity in our justice system and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and the ways that our current support system isn’t supporting the people who need the most support.

I sometimes wonder what troubles we could eliminate if we put into Alzheimer’s research, or new mental health care facilities and programs, or access to fresh vegetables all the same energy I see being spent on demanding less yoga pants and decrying the (very legal) right to choose what happens inside a person’s own uterus. What if we cared about the 2,114 people who have been shot in Chicago (as of yesterday…today it will likely be higher) this year as much as we did about the shape of a buttock or the type of birth control a couple chooses or the number of meat packers who happen to have come from Mexico? What if we spent our energy on loving meat-packing Mexicans and loving couples and loving my buttocks?  How would that change the world?  (I do have a rather amazing ass, by the way.  It deserves much love.)

I would much rather express love than refrain from sex.  I would much rather choose peace than promote conflict.  I would much rather be the divine than shame the poor or the addict or the disabled or the person who has less understanding on a subject I may have studied extensively or any that may be deemed “less fortunate” (though when you begin to be love and grace and peace, your idea of “less” can be transformed in myriad ways).

So, I leave you with this question:  Do you speak in Jesus’ shame, or are you of the divine?