Frowning Upside Down

I am still bothered by the incident I posted about yesterday.

One of the biggest reasons I avoid confrontation is because it haunts me for so long. There’s that phrase thin skinned. I am the epitome of thin skinned but not in the way it’s usually meant. I can take criticism and insults and have been through a surprising amount of shit in my life and I can handle it all.

The reason I don’t handle confrontation and the backdraft of confrontation is because I’m too nice. Not on purpose. I’m just built this way.

I’m quick to get over my anger. I’m quick to forgive others. I can’t hold grudges. (except for extreme and rare circumstances) .

So what I’m left with after a confrontation like I had the other day is forgiveness and understanding for the other person. And shame, frustration, embarrassment and derision for myself.

I could have done better. I could have avoided the argument. I didn’t have to escalate or react and having done so was childish and immature. The other persons behavior is justifiable based on any number of excuses that my empathetic nature can come up with. My behavior, because I have a front row view and absolute knowledge of my thoughts and actions, is inexcusable.

I can forgive everyone but myself.

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My freedom from religion

I was raised Mormon.  My father was raised Mormon. His family had been pioneers that came over from Ireland and made the trek to Utah. My mother was raised pseudo Baptist before converting to Mormon not long after she met my dad.

This essay is not about how I left Mormonism or why it’s a terrible religion. This is about how I left religion because it was terrible for me. I try very hard to refrain from judging others for their religious beliefs. It’s not my place to judge what someone else needs for their mental and spiritual well-being. This is simply my experience.

I grew up believing in the things my parents taught me. Jesus was our savior. God was our father. He created us in his own image. We needed to live our lives so that we were worthy to return to him. We would live in heaven and my family would be together forever after we died.

For myself, I didn’t really care about most of this stuff. I think I’m not a “why are we here” questioning kind of person. Maybe because I grew up thinking I already knew the answers. Maybe it’s just the way I was born.

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with depression and suicidal ideation. Some might think that those don’t have anything to do with religion but I disagree.

For me, shame was a very effective deterrent that kept me in line. Disappointing my family was a constant fear. Guilt after having done something wrong was almost unbearable. The strive for perfection and the failure of achieving it was a significant burden on my already fragile mental health.

I was not only a terrible person, I was evil as well.

As a teenager,  I began to acknowledge a discrepancy between my own personal beliefs and the standard beliefs of the church.

I didn’t understand the shame associated with sexuality. I felt that shame. I really felt it, but I didn’t know why I needed to when sexuality is such a natural and important part of our humanity.

I didn’t buy into the church’s stance on homosexuality. I’ve always been a firm believer that sexual preference is not a choice. I also think one of the most important things you can do in this life is to be true to yourself. So the ability to be openly gay (lgbtq+) should not only be acceptable but expected and respected.

There were also a lot of gender discrepancies in the structure and beliefs of the church that didn’t fit with my Feminist sensibilities.

I felt strongly that there was absolutely no reason to force the expectations of my religion onto other people. So I’ve always been pro-choice.

I also always felt to some degree that we were all worshipping the same god, just in different religious languages. I was unusually open minded but I kept it to myself.

By the time I graduated high school, I’d started to figure these things out about myself. I didn’t need the answers that religion provides to so many people. So I rebelled a little. Got a tattoo. Smoke, drank, messed around with boys. I played with the idea of leaving the church but decided that faking it would just be easier than disappointing my family. So I’d go along with the life that was expected of me. I avoided asking myself questions like “Do I really believe in God” because it didn’t matter. I was going to whether it was true or not.

I was in crisis at 24. I was married to a good religious man (a story for another time). But I was lost and alone. I left church in the middle of the service because I had an appointment at home with my bath tub and a butcher knife.

Living this false life was killing me and I was stuck at an impasse. If I believed and left the church I was guilty of the worst apostasy, worthy of a special place in hell. If I stayed in the church I would continue to die a little every day trying to be something I wasn’t.  If I killed myself, I would go to hell but it wouldn’t be so bad. I’d be forgiven and go to heaven eventually.

Killing myself seemed to be the best option. When that attempt failed, I was put on suicide watch and wasn’t alone for 2 weeks.

At this point, I decided that I needed to leave the church. I also left my husband. I distanced myself from my religious family. And I drowned myself in all of the things I wasn’t supposed to do (again, that’s another story).

I never had any moments in the 24 years of religious life that ever made me question if my parents were right after all and there really was a God. Every moment of “feeling the spirit” has been replicated through unholy mediums at other times in my life. The feeling I got while singing holy hymns in the temple is the same feeling I get listening to Gerard Way singing the high notes driving my car with the wind in my hair. The feeling I got sitting with my family at church is the same I get sitting at dinner with my family on holidays when we don’t fight. I found nothing special in any of my religious experiences.

I’ve always said that inside, I have a filing cabinet full of manila folders, each holding various opinions and beliefs. It took years to go through all of those envelopes, analyze what was already there, study in myself what it was that I believed and re-enter the folder back into the system. Sometimes still,  I open my mouth and spout an opinion from an outdated folder that hasn’t come up in the last decade.

I remember the moment I stopped believing in god. I was sitting at my computer at work, inputting data into an excel spreadsheet and im-ing with a new friend I’d made. They asked me if I believed in an after-life. I took several minutes to think about that. To reexamine my after-life file. Then there was one single second of clarity.

I wrote “No”. All of the bullshit, all of the pressure, all of the fear and anxiety and need for perfection, and the worry of “eternal life” lifted right off my body. The idea of complete and total blackness after death, that after this life there is nothingness was the most life altering and liberating thought I’ve ever had. I felt free for the first time in my life.

That one thought led to logical conclusions. If no after-life then no god. If no god then no religion. If no religion then no shame, no guilt, no hate, no pressure. No religion = Freedom.

It changed my whole life, my whole world, my whole perspective.

I’ve had 10 years to reanalyze and edit the contents of my filing cabinet. At times, I’ve claimed agnosticism but for the most part I’ve settled on atheist. I seek and find the answers to my questions inside myself.

If there’s anything else that I believe, it’s that there is a flow to the universe that we don’t understand. That is bigger than what humanity can understand. If people want to call that flow a God, that is their truth. I think it’s more like physics.

But of everything I believe, there is one thing that stands above all the others. Every single person has a basic human right to religious beliefs as they see fit. But that’s where it ends. Religious beliefs extend no further than your own skin. It can not be forced on anyone else. Universal decisions can not be made based on faith.

The world can not be held hostage due to religious beliefs (any of them).

The fact that it is, makes me so incredibly disappointed in humanity. I don’t think we’ll know world peace until we know freedom from religion.

Stepping in

This morning I was dropping my daughter off at school. As I was watching her little back pack bobbing up and down while she ran across the grass (one of my happy moments), I saw out of the corner of my eye, a little boy on his knees next to an adult. I thought “Poor kid, must have fallen down.” But he didn’t get up. The adult started pulling on him and managed to get him up for a few feet before he limp noodled again and was back on the ground. At this point I felt bad for the adult. My attention went back to my daughter, just disappearing around the side of the school. When I looked back at the boy and his adult I saw that they were yanking him by his arm, trying to drag him into the school. I was shocked and appalled. While I was sitting there shocked and appalled, the adult thumped the boy on the back twice and started yanking again.

I said out loud to myself, “Am I really just going to sit here?” So I didn’t. I got out of the car, pulled my 3 year old son out of his car seat and went to help. By the time I got there, the boy was running back to the car and the adult was gone. I followed the boy to the car and saw him get in safely. I went to look for the adult. When I found her, I discovered that she was his 70 something grandmother and she was sobbing. She didn’t know what to do. She had gone to find the teacher and she didn’t know where he’d gone. The boy was saying he was too tired and nothing she did could get him into the school. She wasn’t strong enough to pick him up and take him into the office. I vaguely patted her on the back and said it would be okay. I told her he was in the car and we went to check on him.

He was huddled in the back seat shaking. His kindergarten teacher came out and there were a lot of minutes spent trying to cajole him out of the car.When it didn’t work, I went to the office to try to find the social worker. But they were in a class, the sub hadn’t shown up and the principal wasn’t in yet. Back at the car, we all tried to talk the boy out of the car. I tried, the grandma tried, the teacher tried and eventually a “behavior specialist”? from the school tried. He wouldn’t budge. When I talked to him, I asked him if he was tired, sad or scared. He said, “I’m tired! I can never fall asleep!” My heart broke for him. I learned he was switching houses every other week and I knew that could make for a lack of routine. Eventually, the grandmother pulled him out of the car. There was nothing else I could do, so I put my very cold 3 year old back in our car and watched as the behavior specialist pulled him (less forcefully than the grandmother) into the school to talk in her office.  I cried as I drove home.

I am not sure what I should feel. Heart break for the kid, frustration for his obstinance, empathy for the grandmother, consternation for her behavior, anger at the school for not being prepared for this kind of situation, proud of myself for trying to help, ashamed that I didn’t try sooner, and curious if my actions were more interfering than helpful.

I’ve never been in this sort of situation before. A very serious situation where someone needed my help. My sense of kindness and duty is very often at war with my very strong concern for propriety and staying in my lane. Where is the line between when I should get involved versus when I should just let it go. Who’s job is it to let me know where that line is? In any given situation, would a person be appreciative of my help or annoyed that I butt in.

These are questions I’ve asked myself for a very long time. I’ve always wondered what I would do if I saw someone being hurt or mistreated in front of me. I am glad that I didn’t just sit there, no matter how long it took me to get off my butt. I feel like I passed the test of character, maybe not with flying colors but passed none the less. I am still devastated at the position this poor sad and tired boy, and the frustrated, upset and helpless grandmother were put in this morning.

Now, I know that I will not always be a bystander. That I can be moved to help. I’m glad that I’ve learned this lesson and I hope and will strive to be quicker to step in next time.