Things haven’t gotten any easier in the last month. Every week feels like at least a decade, and I’ve been dealing with blow after blow, just trying to roll with the punches.
But I am exhausted. I tried to take a Quarancation last week but it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. A young, queer, badass organizer acquaintance of mine got caught in some gunfire in SF and didn’t survive, social media was particularly toxic, and I had two interviews (no luck). It’s been rough inside my brain lately.
I feel lost and at loss.
It’s hard to fight existential dread with hope when hope is hard to come by; and I keep failing in my attempts to reach some kind of financial stability. It feels easier to give up. To resign myself to the exhausting freelance hustle that I’ve been doing for the last 4 years instead of continually trying without success to get hired in a traditional job with hours and benefits and a fair wage. But I don’t want to continue this dance with the abyss. I want pay and benefits and reliable hours. I want to be able to provide for myself and my family, it devastates me that I can’t seem to hack it.
I feel like it’s a failing on my part that to even get to the point of an interview I have to work through decades of trauma and lies my parents told me about work and relationships and whether or not I am worth being paid for my time and energy.
When I interview and get rejected, even nicely, it feels like they were right: Maybe I am worthless and undeserving and unskilled Maybe I don’t deserve stability or self-sufficiency Maybe my lot in life is to suffer at the base of the hierarchy of needs for ever, because that’s all I was ever equipped to do – that’s what years of not being allowed to accept pay for labor, belittlement for external success & competence, and suffering the consequences of bad financial decisions at the hands of my parents has conditioned me for.
But I don’t want that to be true; I just don’t know how to make it untrue.
In these plague times, I and my partner(s) are high risk, so it’s not safe for me to get a job at a grocery store or coffee shop where I’d be interacting with the public at-large who somehow don’t seem to understand that the mask has to cover both nose AND mouth to be effective.
I’m just exhausted and sick with anxiety even though today, I’m financially okay. There’s no guarantee that will be true in a month or two. I’ve applied to work the census and be a contact tracer, and have heard nothing on either front. I know the answer is to continually apply and interview and send resumes to everything I see because maybe there’s a chance, but I am out of hope that a chance like that exists for me right now.
I know that depression is a lying liar who lies and I am competent and good at so many things from websites to grassroots movement building, I’m hard working and driven and self motivated, and yet. Everyone is happy to benefit from my labor and zeal but I can’t get hired to use or grow these skills and stay afloat.
I keep organizing because that’s how I move. It doesn’t pay but it’s something to do that can eventually improve the quality of life for myself and others. I keep doing the hustle because I need to survive. I somehow make an impact and impress people with my ability to get things done, but can’t consistently put bread on my table without help and after a while, that just gets to me.
It’s a trigger because it makes me feel like that the work I do is appreciated, but I am somehow not worth the monetary investment in sustaining myself or developing my skills. I know this is a lie because my patreon exists and I am eternally grateful for everyone who is able to continue supporting me there, as that has been the most reliable stream of income I’ve had since moving to the Bay and I wouldn’t be able to even survive without it (so thank you).
But sometimes life just hurts and lies feel like truth, and I’m feeling that a lot right now.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. — Matthew 5: 11-12 (KJV)
Or, in my parents translation:
You’ll know how good (#blessed) of a christian you are by how hard your life is: how much you’re being persecuted, and how many people are angry with you. If your life is full of suffering, that’s god showing his love to you. Take joy in that suffering because you will have the most treasures when you go to heaven.
In practical, lived experience terms, this looked like watching my parents choose homelessness because they believed god told them to pay a friend’s mortgage and they couldn’t do both. God got the credit for my grandparents saving us by pulling some strings for a place the day we had to move out.
This looked like being kicked out of churches every 2 years after leaving the cult because my parents would get in an argument about faith healing with the pastors and swiftly shown the door. This was proof that we were right and doing the right things.
This looked like watching my parents make financial decisions based on how much stress it caused them, which they interpreted as a sign from god that this was his way.
Heavenly treasure isn’t really a comfort to a child who instantly lost contact with every almost-new-friend they were making. It does nothing to quell the anxiety about how to keep track of 4 siblings on the streets. That promise felt more like a curse as I aged, but I was never able to see it that way because to do so was blasphemy and called my eternal salvation into question.
It’s not that it didn’t occur to my parents that maybe the choices they had were ways to provide for our family and live in relative security and comfort (which is also blessed by god!), they believed that was sacrilegious and we were called to suffer.
“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:” — 1 Peter 2:21 (KJV)
Because Jesus suffered for us, we are called to choose suffering; so we can be an example.
Add that to being raised inside extremegenderroles and taught (+ reinforced by experience) that it would be sinful for me to pursue a future that would make me happy, a future where I had autonomy and independence. Not only would that be sinful, but my life would be awful and my salvation rescinded, which makes for some really interesting results in adulthood.
By interesting I mean, the struggle is extremely real and it never had to be, but that was out of my control as a child and now I have to live with those consequences.
This is the crux of what I’ve been working on in therapy for the last 3.5 years now.
Between Spiritual Abuse and CPTSD, getting divorced, moving out on my own with no education or much in the way of job experience, life has been hard. Harder than it should be.
Magnitudes harder than it is for folks whose parents didn’t intentionally stunt their education to force them into a life of 1950s-meets-1800s in the 21st century after looking at their infant’s genitals and deciding that’s all they were good for.
I turn 29 this month and I feel like I’m suffocating from shame at my lack of education and abilities, and poverty; neither of which are my fault, but both of which I get to carry because of choices that unlike my parents, I did not get to make.
My parents chose to put me and my siblings at risk, they chose to keep basic life necessities out of reach, they chose to shame and guilt us for expressing needs and wants, they chose to punish and squelch any form of independence including employment, they chose to reinforce that my time and my energy is worth nothing by making me return payment to neighbors who wanted to hire me to watch their kids, they chose to spend 18 years of my life telling me that I am worthless and deserving of nothing.
And here I am at almost 30, working my ass off and making my chronic illness worse just to survive and yet constantly getting in my own way because the instant I make a decision that would better myself I panic. I internalized all of their choices because I had no exposure to anything else as a child, so clearly I was the one in the wrong.
Those lessons that my parents taught me? About how I need to follow in their exact footsteps, give to the point of harm, cast aside my dreams and stay at home to support other people? Even though I am extremely aware that they are all 100% lies, 100% abusive, and 100% meant to keep me in line with their plan that never ever included me? are still there.
They’re still powerful and strong and loud in my head every time I get rejected or ghosted on job applications. Reminding me that I wasn’t “meant” to do this. I wasn’t “meant” to be self sufficient, I was trained to be a helpmeet with no needs or wants.
I know better now, but those beliefs are still stuck to my core.
So it’s really devastating that when I do make choices to free myself (getting divorced, moving to CA, starting HRT, starting school, applying to jobs, doing the hustle), I spiral and fail because I haven’t yet learned the skills required to succeed. Unlike people who went to school and had jobs and income that was theirs to manage before being thrown into adulthood with debt and bills.
I am so good at what I do, and it’s so difficult to be able to survive well enough to do it. I’m trying to do all the right things, I go through the right motions – I apply to jobs, I write really good cover letters, I volunteer, I make friends, I was a year out from getting an AA! I have multiple income streams between patreon, and podcasting, and freelancing gigs. I work until I am exhausted and I am nowhere closer to being able to provide for myself let alone support others the way I desperately wish I could. *
*this also probably has to do with things I internalized as a child being taught about masculinity that I also need to hash out, but that’s a different topic for a different day.
Which is where the lies come back into play: that there must be something wrong with me or something I’m not doing, or maybe my parents were right all along, and maybe I am worthless and only meant for domestic duties because that was all I was ever allowed to be. I’ve been out for almost 11 years, and I have grown so much, but I’m still so far behind my peers. On bad days, I can’t help but wonder if that’s because I’m still wrong somehow, even though I know that’s a lie.
Every time I get close to “making it” something happens that strips it away. My politics aren’t pure enough, or my health plummets and ruins my ability to work and even function, or fascism intensifies….it’s a struggle to not see those coincidences as signs confirming my parents’ worldview.
When I get scared and triggered in the same way I did as a powerless child, I find myself defaulting back to those thought patterns…everything bad that happens to me is a punishment because I’m out of alignment with “gods will.” If I were in-line with “god’s will” then….these things would still happen (per my parents’ view) but I would be less scared about it?
The faith arguments really don’t hold up for more than 10 seconds after I start thinking about them, but that doesn’t make them go away and it doesn’t make them feel any less real.
That is the most insidious part about spiritual abuse: just because the faith has been left and the arguments don’t hold up against basic questions, doesn’t mean that the roots of these beliefs went away. Especially if this was instilled through the entirety of childhood.
Simply knowing a belief is wrong doesn’t magically vanish it. Which I find rude.
If there is one thing I’ve learned in the almost 11 years I’ve been deconstructing here it’s that all of these have to be fought, and it’s not a one-time thing, they come back. For me, fighting looks like this. Exposing these lies to daylight by writing about them candidly weakens their power. Something about seeing them outside of my head makes the beliefs easier to let go of.
Maybe it’s a professional mistake to be so open about this type of fighting, but silence hasn’t saved me (or payed rent) and if I were to guess, I’m not the only person facing this type of dementor.
Ever since my family became devout, they became regular tithers and givers. Before I go further, I should point out there is nothing wrong with giving as long as that giving isn’t negatively affecting your life (or that of your kids/family).
Which, I realized somewhat recently is the case with my own family. They started out giving 10% (the actual biblical definition of a tithe) all the time. Then, they realized that wasn’t enough, and “god told them” to give more and more and more until the last time I remember was them “tithing” 50-60% of their income and waffling with giving more, because their faith, at one point, wasn’t strong enough to give 70% because they had hungry mouths to feed.
When I was 10, my family chose to allow our house to be foreclosed on because “god told them” to pay another families’ mortgage, and when my parents couldn’t financially afford to pay both, they decided (knowing full-well the consequences) to stop paying their mortgage instead, trusting that “god would provide” a way to keep our house, or a new place for us to live. “god’s provision” happened at the hand of my grandparents who noticed the building next door was for rent and the landlords weren’t picky about having a family who’s house had just been foreclosed on (every other place my parents looked turned them down), renting from him. This happened the day we had to be out of our foreclosed-on house and we were looking at being homeless.
My parents refused to pay their mortgage and take care of their family because “god told them” to do that for someone else. Not to mention, at this time, we had another family living with us because my parents believed god brought them into our lives so this woman could get her children back from CPS.
Because my large family + this additional family who my parents payed to live with us, so she could homeschool her kids but still say she “had a job” were moving in to this house, my brother’s room was a closet, literally, he lived in a closet. My sister’s all roomed in a portion of the master suite my dad partitioned off from their room, and I shared a room with the other families’ eldest daughter, and the rest of her family had the separated off room/bathroom combination. At one point their cousin came to live with us too, and he slept on the floor outside my room, in the dining room.
My parents didn’t really mind the fact that this mother was taking as much advantage of me as my mother until I had a breakdown one day and they decided everyone should do chores and cooking, not just me. Eventually, my family had to ask the family they invited to live with us for free to leave, because the mother had started abusing pharmaceuticals again after regaining custody (which was part of the reason she lost custody of her kids initially).
At some point between these two events my parents did stop paying the other families’ mortgage, I think because they found out and asked them to stop (how they didn’t know, I don’t know, I was a kid, this was all foreign to me).
This whole time my parents have been tithing more and more – by the time we moved to GA to live in the house my grandparents bought for their retirement, my parents were tithing close to 50% of their income. After my dad found a job that payed significantly less than the one he had previously, they tithed 50-60% of their income, fully believing that “god would provide” and by refusing to acknowledge that my grandparents are the reason we had a house, food, and shoes that fit, “god” did provide.
There were multiple times, aside from being forced out of our house, that I was worried if we’d even be able to eat, and I remember my mom talking to my grandma, and at one point, there was a series of weeks where my grandparents paid for an Angel Food subscription for us because we couldn’t afford groceries.
At birthdays, and even in-between them my grandparents would buy us new shoes and clothes (which was always really nice because most of what we wore was hand-me-downs from pitying church folk, or old clothes of mine passed down to my sisters) because, really, we couldn’t afford a lot of that either – at least not at the rate that 8 kids grow. I think it was a relief to them when I stopped growing at 15, and had only grown an inch or two between then and age 12 (stunted at the I-can-still-technically-shop-in-the-kids-section size – I’ve since grown curves, so, yay?).
But you know what we could afford? buying and donating a shit ton of everything to the Crisis Pregnancy Center, throwing extravagant donation-only christmas parties, putting together lavish packages for the Shoebox/Samaritan’s Purse group, making a ton of cookies and buying presents for everyone in church (and only keeping the cookies that didn’t come out right for ourselves after slaving in the kitchen for a week), putting together care packages for nursing homes, buying presents and making gift baskets for the entire neighborhood, and since I’ve left: creating the most elaborate easter baskets for all of the church kids (but my siblings only get the $1 chocolate and whatever is cheap and on sale or left over).
My family gets the short end of the stick because they have to support 6 kids-at-home on 40-50% of whatever my dad makes. Everything else goes to churches, people (projects), and random “ministries”, in the name of “god”.
I remember having long devotions about tithing and how you have to tithe to be a good christian (also, the more you give the better christian you are), and how if you don’t tithe, your life will be horrible and “god won’t bless it”
I’d heard so often that if things aren’t done X way, then your life will be bad. Given my already hellish childhood, when I was a teenager I was actually scared of what would happen when I left home.
I was afraid that I would have to live my childhood all over again, on my own, but worse, because god would be after me, specifically. Part of the reason I didn’t want to get married for so long was because I couldn’t imagine having to go back and make all the decisions my parents made and live through that all over again.
When Alex and I were getting serious I tried to get him to promise me that we would always tithe. Because if we didn’t, I knew that there would be horrible consequences – because my family was “so blessed” and doing everything right, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if we didn’t.
I couldn’t imagine how dire the consequences of not tithing would be, after living my entire life in a house that was so other-centric it neglected their own children’s needs. I thought it would be a nightmare. I was just so so afraid of what would happen if I left home, if I didn’t tithe, if I didn’t live exactly the way my parents did, because I knew what that was like and I hoped that eventually it would get better – that they would get their 100 fold, and everything wouldn’t be so scary.
I was terrified at the thought of having to walk that path again, myself, starting from square one.
As an adult now, and learning how the world works…I was lied to so much, and so much fear was ingrained that was completely baseless. Never once have I had any cause to be legitimately worried about food (not to say that I haven’t, because an empty fridge is a huge trigger even if it just because we ate out all week instead of shopping), never once has my life been anywhere near as hellish and scary as it was in my childhood. “god” has not come after me like the mafia for “his money”, and I have a lot more satisfaction giving what I can to who I want, than giving more than is financially wise to whatever church I’m in that day.
My family could have, at any time, started paying their mortgage, or maybe cut-back on tithe for a month so we could eat. Instead, my family decided to bring financial crises upon themselves because they thought “god told them” and it made them better christians.