hard to say: I believe

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I am angry. A response I recognize as my immediate protective reaction when I encounter something scary, difficult, painful, or disturbingly true. This case may involve all four.

You see, I am reluctantly reading Brian D. McLaren’s profoundly infuriating book: Finding Faith. Not because I am actually searching for faith or spirituality or God, but simply because my Christian therapist told me I may find it interesting; he has earned my trust.

That’s how they get you! Shut up, anger, I’ve got this covered.

Closed mindedness irritates me. When one must consciously filter the information they are exposed to in order to maintain the walls of their fragile belief system, refusing to consider or even listen to an opposing opinion (a voluntary tunnel-vision manner of existing) my hackles rise.

In an attempt to uphold my ideal of open mindedness, I agreed to read this book. At the most this is going to help me understand my family better, I reassured myself as I began to turn the pages. Within these pages, my entire belief system (the belief in nothing) quickly began to crumble.

Atheism has offered me many things. The comfort of not being alone in my opposition of religion. The satisfaction of transferring the hurt I felt back onto those who had hurt me. An identity to latch on to when I was filled with uncertainty and confusion. But it appears now as an obstacle. One I can no longer deny and one I must abandon if I wish to move forward.

I can’t honestly call myself an atheist because I can’t confidently say I do not believe in God. (It only took Part 1 to strip me of my cozy label by the way.) If I am honest with myself, there is no possible way I could be made so increasingly angry by something I have no belief in.

So with apprehensive faith in… I don’t know what, and the uneasy feeling of walking around with an open wound on my face, I will continue reading this goddamn book.

Perhaps all of this time it hasn’t been that I don’t believed in God, it’s been that I fucking hate Him. I suppose that’s a start.

-EC

hard to say: I’ll go first

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I am currently living and interacting peacefully with my Christian parents. I spend quality time with my Christian siblings and their Christian spouses; my Christian sister is my best friend. When I put my niece to bed, I say a prayer with her because she is being raised Christian. I go to my weekly appointment with my Christian chiropractor and then I hang around the office to chat with my lovely Christian friends who work there. I go to my new job, where I happily work on behalf of a Christian organization. And to top it off, I pop in to see my Christian therapist to discuss all of my atheist troubles.

How the fuck did this happen?

I remember a time, not too long ago, when I could not be in the presence of a Christian for long without saying something intentionally offensive and rude. A time where I picked fights with Christianity for sport. Now many of my favourite people are Christian. Hilarious!

Growing up in a family and community whose fundamental beliefs did not match mine was not easy. It feels as if I have been fighting for personal acceptance my whole life. All I ever wanted, all I ever asked for, was to be accepted for exactly all that I was. I didn’t want people trying to change me or praying for me to be different. I just wanted to be allowed to be me – whatever the fuck that meant.

This frustrated me. Who am I kidding, this really pissed me off. I became angry and aggressive. I actively expressed my anger toward the Christians to anyone who would listen, and many who wouldn’t. I really am a good person, they just don’t accept me! Wherever I went, without being asked, I would explain myself. I was always explaining myself; it was getting repetitive and dull. Nobody wanted to hear my opinion anymore, yet I was persistently and adamantly expressing it.

If everybody had already heard my opinion and had long stopped giving a shit what I had to say, why was I still explaining myself? Who was I really trying to convince?

An annoying truth I have learned after years in therapy is that much of what I say in anger, especially in repetition, is actually the reverse. So all those years of repeating how much I hate the Christians were untrue. I love them very much. So much that I could be deeply hurt and disappointed by them. All that preaching about how they didn’t accept me and I wasn’t good enough for them was inaccurate. In actuality I was the one who didn’t accept me; I didn’t believe myself good enough.

The acceptance I was after – the acceptance I truly needed – had to first come from within. Once I accepted exactly all that I am – whatever the fuck that means – I didn’t need to fight anymore. What point is there in fighting when I am happy and secure in myself. Consequently, once I accepted myself first, I inadvertently began to accept others.

I truly love the Christians in my life. Not despite this or that, but for all of it. I love everything that makes them exactly who they are. Once the cloud of anger lifted I was able to appreciate what wonderful people they are and all the good they have to offer.

Do the Christians accept me now, exactly as I am? A Godless, churchless, premarital-sexed, potty-mouthed, progressive-thinking sinner. I don’t know… maybe. But that’s not the point. The point, after having said all of this, is that it doesn’t matter. Because I do.

-EC

hard to say: I want more

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I look like garbage, on paper. I am a single, unemployed 30-year old occasional blogger, living in her parents’ basement, and driving her parents’ car. Love me! It’s not shocking that online dating didn’t go well. Men with profiles saying “I have a stable job, a nice car and a big house; I really have my life together!” just couldn’t relate to me at all. I deleted my account and vowed to avoid this smorgasbord of fuckery. As most vows I’ve made to myself go, I broke this one too.

In a moment of loneliness, watching bad Saturday-night TV movies by myself on the couch, I signed back up. Pajama-clad legs bouncing in anticipation, I answered the mandatory questionnaire and began late-night perusing a database of weirdoes. Then morning came and I remembered I am a wonderful person, not a shitty profile. I wiped the residue of shallow, unsatisfying banter from my tired face and deleted my account, again.

“What was it about the loneliness, that night, that made you run away from it?” asked my therapist after my confession. Oh, fuck you, dude. Sometimes I really hate (read: admire) that asshole (read: genius). He is just the worst (read: best ever in the world).

Here’s the thing: being unemployed doesn’t bother me; I know I’ll find a job. Cars do not impress me in the slightest; I can get around without one. I can handle living with my parents; I know it isn’t permanent. But I’m supposed to be in love by now!

For years I pursued the “really having your life together” checklist: job, car, house. I graduated college with honours, I found a good job, I got a nice car, and I had my own place. So why was I so deeply unhappy? Running away to Australia did not fix things. Ooh, maybe I’ll get a better job, a nicer car, a massive house! I came home after a year, more lost than ever.

“I just want to be in love!” I shouted in my therapist’s office one day. Finally, my fundamental truth. I would gladly sacrifice a job, a car, and a house. I want more.

“Good, then do it!” he shouted back. No, don’t do that thing where you say something so simple and obvious it makes complete sense. “I want you to be in love. I want you to fall completely and madly in love, with yourself.” God dammit.

When I returned from Australia, the last place in the world I wanted to be was at my parents’ house. The home where anger lived. Thankfully I had no other option. Uncomfortable as it was, I was exactly where I needed to be. In that discomfort I gained acceptance, I learned forgiveness, and I let go of my anger. Back home is where I finally found myself.

So yes, I fucking hate being single. It is the farthest thing from what I want. It is the last place in the world I want to be. Yet it might just be exactly where I need to be right now. Perhaps in the discomfort of loneliness, I will find love.

-EC

hard to say: I do care

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They’re idiots. They don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t give a shit what they think; they’re just jealous. I don’t need them; I don’t need anybody. I didn’t even want that. They were just holding me back. I’m better off alone. I’m fine on my own. I’m tough; nothing can break me. I prefer solitude anyway. I don’t even care.

God it was exhausting to be so full of shit. Disappointment, rejection, betrayal, failure: it didn’t matter how tough I acted, it hurt and I cared.

I could get angry and seek revenge, I could deny ever wanting my failed efforts, I could pretend that a breakup or a falling-out was my idea, and I could retreat into my own protective bubble of self-pity, settling for the easy and the safe. But it never soothed the hurt and it couldn’t stop me from caring, a lot. Perhaps never more so than when I was outright saying I didn’t.

Not caring doesn’t look like that. If I genuinely don’t care about something, it doesn’t make me feel happy or angry or sad or passionate. It doesn’t make me feel at all. And I can hardly be compelled to say or do anything about it. When I truly don’t care, I am indifferent.

Sometimes it’s healthy not to care. I am learning not to care about things I have no control over or things that have nothing to do with me.

Example: if somebody thinks ill of me, somebody who hasn’t taken the time to get to know me, there is nothing I can do about it. I suppose I could try to convince them otherwise, but it is likely their feelings have little to do with me. Blind judgment really does say more about the judge than the judged.

But when something hurts me, I do care. I am real and I feel things. I am human and I am breakable.

The difference is I no longer need anger or denial. My ego is not so fragile that I must attack first to save face. I don’t need to lie – to myself or to anybody else – and I don’t need to act tough. I don’t need to push people away or to isolate myself.

Yes, I need people. Kind, compassionate, and trustworthy people. Not to minimize or make light of difficult situations, and not to try fixing things for me, but to simply love and stand beside me while I figure shit out.

I am strong enough to look at myself and my world with honest eyes. However heavy life gets, I can bear it. Yes, I do care, and I can handle it.

-EC

hard to say: I was wrong

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It was the summer of 2008. After spending hours making myself up, I hit the club with a group of girls, dressed to kill. I spent the evening in a drunken stupor, stumbling around telling people they were ugly.

I was wrong.

In 2012 I met a perfectly kind girl at a friend’s wedding. I quickly decided she was a dirty slut based on how she looked. I then proceeded to talk badly about her to my male friends.

I was wrong.

I was 13 years old – somewhere between trying to be a good Christian for my parents and the angry rebel I would soon become – and although the context is now lost to me, I distinctly remember yelling at an innocent party, “Homosexuality is a sin!”

I was wrong.

In highschool, a friend came to me in confidence and told me she thought she might be gay. I immediately turned around and told a group of nearby gossips.

I was wrong.

I used to tell my mother she was stupid, frequently. It didn’t matter how tiny the mistake, I was on top of it. After years of this, she has come to believe it to be true. I watch her beat herself up for dropping something or stubbing her toe, and I am overcome with regret.

I was wrong.

I have lied, I have cheated, I have prejudged, I have discriminated, I have hurt people, I have used people, and I have torn people down in order to make myself feel bigger.

I was wrong.

With every ounce of my being, I believed that I was stupid, I was ugly, I was worthless, and I was unlovable. And I told myself so every day.

I was wrong.

The kindest thing I have done for myself (and continue to do) is to allow myself the freedom to change my mind. Admitting you are wrong is grueling. Just thinking about it can be enough to paralyze you with fear. I resisted with everything I had. Thankfully, I lost that war.

What I discovered instead is that saying the unspeakable – I was wrong – is liberating. It freed me of my shame and opened the door for growth. Changing my mind ultimately changed my heart. But what I find most interesting, when looking back on just a few of my disgraces, is how much hate I was spreading. Not because I actually hated any of these people, but rather because I hated myself.

To the many people I have hurt in my life: I am sorry. I was wrong.

-EC

pause

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If you’re anything like me, you refuse to pay for television. Especially since it has become so easy to stream all of your favourite shows online for free.

As an avid streamer I can tell you that there is nothing worse than a slow download. The screen stops at the peak of excitement, leaving your favourite characters frozen in unattractive poses, and the worst word in the English language flashes before your eyes: buffering.

“This is bullshit!” I yell to nobody in particular.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can exit off of that page and search for a site that might be moving at an acceptable pace. Or, if you’re able to drum up some patience, you can simply press pause and walk away from the computer.

Tidy up the house, go out and run some errands, do a little exercise (HA!), accomplish something useful, and let the video finish loading before you sit back down and enjoy your program without interruptions.

For many years my life was buffering. I tried to do what I was supposed to: I went to school, I worked, I moved out, I traveled, I had friends, I had boyfriends, I had fun. But whenever I thought I was doing well, everything would stop. Frozen in some unattractive pose, I would come crashing down.

Anxiety, depression, insomnia, low self-esteem, health problems, heartache, anger… buffering.

A couple of years ago I finally broke. I had been trying for too long and I had been unsuccessful and unhappy. So I put my life on pause. I came home, I swallowed my pride, and I asked for help.

For a long time I felt as if I would never pull myself out of this hole; all I saw was darkness. Then something magical happened. My niece was born. And as I held this beautiful new life in my arms, I found my motivation, I saw the light.

They say that it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down as long as you get back up again. Well for me, I needed to lie down in the mud and really feel the pain before I could get up and brush myself off.

For the moment I am still on pause (with my eyes crossed and my mouth wide open no doubt) but I am working hard to build a life that will make me happy. It has taken a lot of time, it has taken a lot of patience, but I know that someday soon I will be ready to play.

-EC

the ritual

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Five years ago, at a very different stage in my life, I was sitting in a local watering hole with two close girlfriends. We three had gathered in support of our mutual relationship failures. Sitting in that booth were the dumped, the cheated on, and the unrequited.

Hours later, after much sulking and even more drinking, a ritual was birthed. Without judgment we listed the names of everyone we had given ourselves to, whether physically or emotionally and regardless of significance or brevity. A description was sometimes required in lieu of a name.

Recounting our disappointments, losses, and regrets of the past was a sobering experience. Then, with love and acceptance, we went out to the patio, lit the list on fire, and watched as the past dissolved into nothingness.

There was a scary moment when the wind blew the flame toward us that sent us running back into the bar in a fit of laughter. The laughter continued for the rest of the night, carrying with it a sense of healing and friendship.

As a devout non-believer, I have often balked at the complicated rituals performed by religious organizations. The sit-stand-kneel-pray-sing-repeat of the Catholics. The hands-in-the-air speak-in-tongues slain-in-the-spirit of Evangelical Christians. The five daily prayers of the Islamic. The chants and sacrifices of the Hindu. The resting and fasting of the Jewish. Plus millions more that I am not privy to.

But rituals are not limited to worship alone. Both inside and out of religious communities there are rituals for birth, death, puberty, graduation, marriage, accomplishment, etc. A ritual can be any sequence of events, often used in repetition, which serve to symbolize a beginning, an end, a transition, a rite of passage, a celebration, or any personalized event in your life.

It may sound silly but that long routine of brushing, washing, exfoliating, and moisturizing that you do before bed is a ritual.

Many athletes invent rituals to help themselves get in the mindset needed to focus or perform on a competitive level.

Whenever I am feeling sick or sad, I eat a shit ton of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Certainly that is a ritual, despite the negative effects it has on my health and weight.

Humans are highly emotional beings and rituals can be helpful tools of control. When faced with uncertain situations especially, they can be an excellent way to deal with difficult feelings. Or as my therapist explained it to me, “A ritual can be a good place to put the feelings that you are struggling with.”

These days, I struggle to deal with anger that began nearly 20 years ago. An anger that has stinted my personal growth and impacted my ability to trust and interact with people.

It is disturbingly easy to hold on to anger. In fact I’d really like to. For me anger means safety from hurt and safety from the unknown. But as comforting as my anger has been, it has been equally poisonous.

And so it has been advised that I complete the impossible task of letting go in the same manner that three young women once dealt with broken hearts; by creating my own ritual that acknowledges my anger and then releases it, allowing fire to burn it until there is nothing left.