When it comes to 99.999% of things, I am a pretty liberal person. Taxes, immigration, women’s rights, voting reform, you name it… Except, maybe, when it comes to gun ownership. In that one respect, I am probably best labeled a “moderate liberal.” I am all for heavy regulation and proper, responsible gun ownership. Bring on the background checks!
I really like target practice. I like learning about guns, about how to shoot properly, and I love the absolutely intense focus it requires. I go with my uncle Curt, and often my cousin, Mark, and it’s great.
I was 14 when I first went to the range with my uncle. He has incredible patience when teaching, and like any good gun owner, safety is the biggest concern. There was never a question about that. My maternal side has a fiercely strong sense of caring for and protecting one another, an attitude I thought was common until I met so many people from families who weren’t like mine.
My family is very concerned for my safety at work. I am, too. My store has been robbed at gunpoint before, and four times a week, I’m there alone at night for as much as nine hours. The summer means a lot more traffic, and the risk level rises along with it.
One night a few weeks ago, I was in the back of the L-shaped stock room when I turned around at the sound of a man’s voice. I was pinned between shelves of motor oil and Icee cups, staring at a stranger who was a little bit bigger than I am. He had reddish hair, not unlike my uncle, but was missing most of his teeth, causing him to slur his words a bit while he angrily ranted into his cell phone. Most of you know that I have a mild case of PTSD, and in that moment, my anxiety was immense. My heart screamed in my ears. I couldn’t move. I tried to tell myself to not jump to the worst, but in that moment, I could have peed myself. Once I remembered how to talk, I found out that he was part of an outside maintenance crew that was supposed to strip and wax the floors that night and no one had told me in advance.
But what if that hadn’t been the case? He wasn’t too much bigger than I am, and I weigh more than my appearance indicates, so I would have had at least a shred of a chance. I am stronger than my flabby batwinged arms suggest because there is muscle under there – I really wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of one of my punches. But what if? What if it wasn’t a fair fight? My chances of escape were slim to none. There are no cameras there and I didn’t have my phone on me. I shook it off and told myself that I was overreacting because of my PTSD.
But then I argue with myself: the store has been robbed before… Women are more frequently victims… There is a reason that my instincts tell me to wear baggier clothes, not do my hair and makeup, turn off the radio when I’m there alone, and always look over my shoulder.
Yesterday, my uncle offered to help me get the proper equipment, training, and license for a concealed carry. It’s legal in Illinois, and when it was legalized, I hated the idea. I didn’t see how it was helpful. I hate the idea of people walking around all day with guns strapped to them like this is the Gaza Strip. I have never, by any stretch of the imagination, considered myself a “gun enthusiast.”
“You have to decide before you ever start the process if you are willing to defend yourself if you need to,” he said. He isn’t really trying to push me into it. He knows that he and I differ on guns and gun ownership. He wants me to think about it and let him know.
I am thinking about it, and I end up going in circles around two points: I am, in most cases, a pacifist, but in cases of very immediate, individual threat (like someone pointing a gun at me), I have no real problem with self defense. Now, it takes that level of threat for me to feel there is justification – random road rage or furious argument is not going to do it.
I hate that my job puts me in such a vulnerable situation.
Since it has always been a matter of family time and a paper target hobby, I’ve never seen any conflict between gun practice and my faith. Considering the possibility of using a gun in actual, real life self defense is something else. Jesus was the ultimate pacifist. I can’t ignore that. At the same time, there are tons of scriptural examples of people defending themselves. I am not entirely convinced that God would damn me if I had to defend myself. Could I? Would I?
A very big, very human part of me says yes. I don’t want to die, or end up with a bullet through some vital organ. It sounds silly, but if it was for a better reason than $300 from the gas station till, dying would sound more appealing. “Oh Cindy, she was killed when she took a bullet that would have killed this baby who grew up to cure cancer” is one thing, but “oh Cindy, she was killed for $217 and 14 cartons of cigarettes” is entirely different.
I know people in many countries work jobs like mine and don’t have concealed carry, but their chances of encountering a criminal with a gun are much lower.
I’m not saying I’m going to do it. I’m not saying I won’t. I’m just saying that the lines get much hazier when the circumstances change.
I hate living in a world where this is something I even have to consider.
I’ve written about my greatgrandmother, Nanny, before. She is my biggest hero, the one soulmate of everyone in my family, the one lynch pin in the universe.
She is 107 1/2. In some ways, she is eternal. Her age is impressive, but steady: she has always been simply “very old” to me. I know she is aging. There are at least seven times a day that I am reminded that time is limited. One of my deepest fears is that she will be gone before I have done anything to make her proud. I mean, after the outstanding life she has led, how does this fool get to claim her?
Today, my mother told me that Nanny has asked me to write her life story.
I cannot help but accept the offer, but holy buckets I am terrified, humbled, honored, and otherwise inadequate. I recently told a friend that I had occasionally thought about writing some kind of book, but that I wouldn’t know where to start. I am not at all the kind of person who is bursting with stories to tell.
Except for her stories. She is a wonderful storyteller, and I have memorized her greatest hits, and have told them myself. I know there are thousands more I haven’t heard. To hear those stories, the ones she hasn’t told anyone, leaves me speechless.
I’m going to do it. In a million lifetimes, I couldn’t say no.
But oh my God, I’m not sure if I’m worthy of it.
Today, I disagreed with someone on the internet, which is not at all revolutionary or uncommon. It was a round about disagreement in which a friend quoted someone saying something I found dangerously false. I said so, and fairly bluntly. The response I received was that because my friend knows (or believes me to be) bitter because I am no longer an officer, he will disregard my comments. I told him that I wasn’t speaking from a place of bitterness, and that my opinion would have been the same months or years ago, and that the only difference is that now, I cannot be punished for disagreeing with someone in leadership. Without explanation, he proceeded to delete my comments altogether.
I’m hurt. I feel a little betrayed by it. He is (was?) a friend. Doesn’t he know, after all these years, that speaking up doesn’t come easily, and that believing that I have a voice worth hearing is something I struggle with every day? To delete my comments, to act as if they have no value, is just about as hurtful as can be. For years, I lived in fear of saying the wrong thing. I still do. I am terrified of it.
I only act mildly brave in hopes of someday actually being brave.
Every Sunday, I read a blog called PostSecret, an art project that features anonymous secrets sent on postcards to the blogger. I’ve sent a few, but they have never been published, and sometimes, I find my own secrets submitted by others who share them. It builds empathy and sometimes lessens the solitude.
Because I’m too tired to censor myself right now, and because I am not going to let this be another reason to crawl back into my hole, I’m just going to say some of the scary things that I am too afraid to say. They are not at all directed at the same person or people, or even to anyone in particular. I just need to say them.
You’re an idiot. Because as smart as you are, you’re missing out. Why can’t you see that? It’s not hard. Take a chance. I’m the safest bet you’ll ever make.
I’m an idiot. Because as smart as I am, I am stuck. And all the good advice in the world hasn’t unstuck me yet. It’s like Gravity. I’m the oldest cliché in the book.
You saved me. In a million ways, you saved me. I don’t have words to explain it or express how grateful I am. The words don’t exist, and it would be too damn awkward to try anyways. But in my darkest time, you held the pieces of me together.
I am afraid. I’m afraid of never having the life I want, the life that almost everyone else has, at least in some part. Every day is another attempt to get there but feels another step farther away from the goal. I’m not looking for a magic fix, or for anything to come without effort, but I know what I want, and it doesn’t seem like I’m getting there any time soon, if ever.
You know that one kiss? The one in the kitchen, after we’d had those few days where we didn’t know what was going on? That was the one that scared me, and the second was the one that made me feel like everything was alright, and I think that is the one that scared you. I wonder what would have happened if… if… if… but I deleted your number.
When you don’t take care of yourself, it feels like you don’t care about me. It feels like you are saying it’s not important for you to be around for any part of the rest of my life. Please start caring. Please.
Alright. That’s as brave as I can be… It doesn’t look like much. It likely doesn’t make sense to anyone but me. But I said them. And that will do for now.
My family does not do quiet well. I blame my father, though it’s not quite his fault. See, he’s a very big man, standing 6’9″, so his lungs and vocal chords are bigger, which means his natural speaking voice is much louder than average. My siblings and I inherited that volume (even if I didn’t get much height), and we have natural “outdoor voices.” As if that isn’t enough, throw in a few years of choir training and I have never, ever needed a microphone. I’ve never been afraid of public speaking, either.
Yesterday, I was in a rough place. I took a long shower. I cussed. I cried. I messaged a friend who has been here before, having resigned ministry a few years ago herself. I sat on my bed with a towel on my head and did the only thing I could think of: I wrote. I wanted to write about how unfair it was, how angry I am sometimes, how justice doesn’t seem to be winning. Instead, I wrote what was harder.
I wrote some of the things I cannot utter out loud to my little brother and his wife, who are about to enter into full time ministry. He may be more than a foot taller than me, but I am still the big sister who is terrified that her little brother will experience some of the same hurts. So I wrote, thinking not only of my stories, but those of other officers. Though I want all of the cadets to have fewer troubles than I did, my deepest concern is for them. I needed to tell them, but when I need it the most, sometimes that “outdoor voice” shrinks and I have to write it instead. I feared sounding foolish, or arrogant, or jumbled. If I wrote it, I supposed, I could feel that I had said what needed to be said, even if they never saw it. It was just some words on my little blog, after all. I didn’t even tell then that I wrote it.
I just wrote it. And shared it like the rest of them. And my friend shared it. And another one did.
And then my meek little cop-out got shared again and again. Then, someone in the UK shared it and suddenly I got almost 400 hits in about an hour and a half. Considering few of my posts have come close to that EVER, that’s a lot for me. In a little over a day, nearly 1000 hits from Iowa to the Isle of Man to Egypt. It has been read by people on four continents so far. Not sure of how it ended up like that, I asked a group of friends if they had seen it somewhere. A few had, and I peeked at what had been said.
They were agreeing with me. They thought it was bold but not offensive. They liked my writing.
Suddenly, I had a big voice again, whether I meant to or not. And I was a little less afraid of it, but only slightly. I have reread that blog fifty times if I’ve read it once, half-panicked that I sound stupid in it. When I started my blog, I didn’t think it would have much consequence. Big-picture, it doesn’t, but it does have quite a bit of consequence for me. The last twenty-four hours have restored a little bit of the voice I lost when I stopped preaching. They have reminded me that the words I have can be big. That my thoughts have a little bit of substance to them.
I’m not saying that I’m going to start writing presidential speeches any time soon, but maybe –maybe- my voice doesn’t have to be so small.
Brandon was trying to point out a guy who was behind me, just off the corner of the lit up dance floor. He spun me once, twice, and then whoosh, I had spun maybe half a dozen times, as fast as my feet could go. My pink skirt flared out and I’m sure more of my thighs were visible than have been in years. My eyes were shut tightly after the first spin and finally my glittery shoes found a place on the floor again, my arms flung around his neck as I laughed and tried to find a steadiness again. The strobe lights made his face look like a stop motion picture while he laughed.
And we kept dancing. One of my oldest and closest friends, he doesn’t care that I can’t dance. I mean really can’t dance.
I’ve mentioned a few (hundred) times that I feel weird about my body, having shrunk quite a lot in the last eighteen months. I’ve always been clumsy and uncoordinated, covered in bruises and Band-Aids and more than a few Ace bandages. It’s little surprise that I haven’t exactly spent a lifetime on the dance floor. I am uncertain, anxious, and almost unbearably self conscious about dancing in public.
Last night was a friend’s birthday party. We had dinner at the best pizza place in the world and then headed to the gay bar that he and his friends have gone to for years. While I know that gay bars aren’t exactly intended to host us straight people, no one has seemed to mind me tagging along. For a straight woman with anxiety, it is easier to be somewhere where I feel like I can totally be myself without worrying about impressing anyone. These friends are as unashamedly themselves as it comes, and they beg me to be as honest, too. There is no room for bullshit with them.
Admittedly, it takes me a drink or two before I let Brandon drag me onto the dance floor. The other guys we go with don’t dance, it seems, so it’s me and Brandon. While I think I can tally my lifetime of dancing hours on my fingers and toes, he has spent decades working on mastering how his body moves. A state-winning athlete as a kid, and then years dancing and in the gym and… Yeah, it’s safe to say that he doesn’t look like the fool I am on my two left feet.
He dances with me anyways. And I’m slowly getting to where I am not as terrified to go dance. I mean, I still am pretty awkward. I am still convinced that everyone else is judging me cruelly when I dance. I fear knowing how many people see my fat jiggle and the sweat start to collect at the roots of my hair, and how pink my cheeks get. I tense up and am certain that everyone else is wondering why on earth my hands are on his hips or his arms on my shoulders, given the fact that it’s a gay bar and we aren’t the most likely of couples on the floor.
There were a couple times last night when anxiety peaked and I thought, “Oh man, I have to stop. Someone find me a corner and a beer,” but then the song would change and he would be excited to keep dancing to the next one. Or I would check myself and remember that most people were ignoring me as much as I was ignoring them. Or, at least once, I thought “screw it, I’m having fun, even if I look like I’m seizing.”
Altogether, it was a really fun night. A few birthday shots, a few beers, a few kisses, a ton of laughter. It was precisely what I needed after a long and miserable week at work. It was another mark of progress, too, since there was a time when no amount of alcohol, or smiles from Brandon, or any promise of fame or fortune could have gotten me to dance.
I did dance, though, and had fun doing it. I was brave, in my own way. And if anyone was hating or judging, they can shove it up their heinies.
I’ve been happy lately and it’s weirding me out. Seriously.
For more than thirty years, I’ve been told that I’m too serious, that I look perpetually bored/angry/sad (a.k.a. “bitchy resting face”). I’m told that I don’t have/show enough emotion. I’m pretty Spock-like, in that it isn’t that I don’t feel emotions, but it’s that they are intense and the way I handle them is to control them. For a long time, as long as I can remember, the prevailing emotions were anxiety, fear, loneliness, frustration – almost always unpleasant ones, in one way or another. I am a cynic, and I’m usually good at it.
You would think that becoming jobless, car-less, and technically homeless right before the holidays would make those things worse, but what I realized months ago is that the source of much of that trouble was the mismatch between me and my old denomination/work. In walking away from that, as scary as the rest of it might be, I walked away from those miseries and towards a lighter life.
This week, I start a new job. An unglamorous job that is nowhere near my field, but in a town with an astronomical unemployment rate, it’s a full time job that is willing to pay me 20% more than they usually pay someone in this position. That’s a decent start, I think, while I keep my eyes and ears open for something better.
What’s really different for me, though, is that this is the first time in years that I am going to work to live, instead of live to work. That is really liberating. Another thing that is really great is that it is second shift, four days a week, and then first shift on Sundays, which means that during the week, I will have the same hours as CJ and I won’t miss family things on Sunday afternoons. One of my days off, Monday, is the same as CJ’s and the other is Saturday, which means I’ll be able to go to my niece and nephew’s games. The only sucky thing about the schedule is that first shift on Sunday means missing church, but they said they can try to work something out so I can have an occasional Sunday off.
I have a new church I love. I am close to most of my family. I have tremendous friends who are so kind and supportive. I’ve had two months of God providing for me in ways I didn’t expect. My anxiety level is almost zero compared to what it was two months ago. I have a boyfriend who seems to be an exceptionally good fit. I have a new job that is in some ways better than I’d expected. I have a place to live that might be a little drafty, but I also have a space heater and blankets galore. I have the best parents in the universe, even if they watch way too many episodes of NCIS. I have a dog that is my best friend some days, always willing to listen and forgive me for my bad moments.
And all of this is weirding me out.
I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not afraid. I don’t know how to think about myself when I’m not beating myself up. Some days or hours have still been rough, but not like they used to be. I am nowhere near where I want to be, but at the same time, I am not so miserable about where I am. I am smiling a lot more – I think – at least on the inside – and this less Spock-like expression just feels weird. A good weird, but I still feel like I don’t quite know what to do with it. If I’m honest, sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t be happy, that I haven’t done anything to earn it, or that it’s all going to fall apart just as soon as I settle into it.
I’ve realized that I kind of don’t know how to be happy. This new homeostasis is more pleasant, but like all transitions, it’s also a little exhausting. New ways of thinking, new habits, new bits and pieces of life coming together, combining into some weary days sometimes. It’s in those weary moments that I struggle the most, when I’m tempted to revert back into my cynicism and dwell on the things that AREN’T making me happy. Usually, I can catch myself before I’m too far down that rabbit hole, or I have enough good sense to let Melissa and Brandon remind me that it’s going to be OK.
Learning how to be happy is an unexpected task, but one that is long overdue. Sometimes, I’m in such a good mood that I kind of annoy myself because I feel like all those perky people who used to annoy me. As tiring as it may be, I’m going to try to keep this up. It’s bound to make for a much more pleasant Cindy for everyone involved. I may even find that I like the newer, more pleasant me.
In the words of my therapist, my “brain doesn’t run on jet fuel, it runs on rocket fuel,” by which he mean my brain runs hotter and faster than average. It can be a good thing, like when I catch on quickly in school, but it can also be a bad thing, particularly when my super fast brain tangos with my anxiety disorder. Anxiety is perpetually asking what could go wrong? and my hyperthinking brain comes up with answers at warp speed. This is why I sometimes refer to myself as Super Anxiety Girl: able to jump to the worst possible conclusion at any time!
Just a couple of posts ago, I wrote about how horribly online dating has been going, and the responses from my friends were either a. It has been just as awful for me, or b. It worked for me, so keep trying! Figuring I had nothing to lose, I kept at it.
There was a profile I’d noticed a few times, but he had made the first contact. At first, the interactions seemed stunted and awkward, but I kept talking to him, and eventually, we fell into some good conversation. CJ asked me out just after publishing that post, and I said yes. A lunch date wasn’t too much commitment, I figured, and so despite all my previous online dates going terribly, I shaved my legs, consulted my bff about which skirt to wear, and carefully decided on Yves Saint Laurent Glossy Lip Stain in Vintage Rouge. My hopes were admittedly not sky high, having been let down before.
The food was so-so, but holy crap, we clicked. What was supposed to be lunch turned into 3.5 hours and only ended because I had to go pick up my mother. We giggled. Our knees kinda sorta touched under the table. He sweetly asked permission to kiss me before he did, and the kiss wasn’t bad at all. I smiled the whole way home. I hadn’t been gone from the restaurant for 20 minutes when he texted and asked if I wanted to hang out that evening. I said yes, and when he texted me his address, it turned out he lives four blocks from me. We ended up watching Harry Potter and Comedy Central and talking until 3:40 AM.
The next few days, we texted, hung out after he got off of work, and it is weird how well we both seemed to fit together. He’s 35, has a reliable job, owns his home, has a stable, normal family who lives in town, is kind, funny, sweet, a good kisser, and doesn’t seem to mind holding my hand. We kind of fell into each other and I wish I could explain it better than saying “we just make sense,” but that’s honestly how I feel. Somewhere along the way,very early on, we decided we weren’t going to see anyone else, and a bit after that, we decided that it suited us to use the boyfriend/girlfriend labels.
In a few weeks, I went from hardly talking to him to feeling like I’ve known him for forever. One night last week, I had to drive from northern Illinois to Detroit and back in one marathon drive. Twelve hours on the road, not counting the hour and a half I spent stopping for gas and delivering the packages to the Chrysler plant. I was happy when he called me after he got off work, but I never imagined he would stay up literally all night to talk to me while I was on the road. At times, we didn’t even talk, we just were there, silent, miles apart, but still together.
All these things are wonderful, right? Right.
Except that this relationship is different than all of my previous relationships. It’s less complicated, more intense, faster, deeper, scarier than any other relationship I’ve had. And that’s where Super Anxiety Girl swoops in.
On Monday, CJ and I spent the day in Chicago, my favorite place at my favorite time of year. He traipsed around Macy’s, Millennium Park, and the Magnificent Mile with me, in the rain, no less! When we got back to his place that evening, we talked and watched TV, and in the midst of the conversation, we ended up in a weird place. I’ve fallen a bit farther than he has. Not that he hasn’t fallen for me at all, but he’s more cautious. I told him that I didn’t expect us to be in exactly the same place, and that’s the truth. I told him we can slow down and take things easier. It had seemed so easy for both of us to fall into the relationship, but we responded a bit differently.
I left his place and almost cried while I drove home. The next day, I barely heard from him. The day after that, Christmas Eve, I didn’t know what to think. Were we over? Had it ended that quickly? What had I done to screw it up? Was he lying when he said that he liked being with me/that it was unexpectedly “right” with me/that I was beautiful, smart, and vibrant? Did I misread every kiss/every hour of handholding/every “thinking of you” text he sent me? Was I too much of myself too quickly, and that turned him off? When he talked about going to a Bulls game or a theater show sometime, was he just blowing hot air? But more than anything: What is so very wrong with me that makes me so undatable and undesirable? A million questions a minute, each worse than the preceding question, and it didn’t stop for nearly two days.
Looking back on that conversation now, I see that it wasn’t as catastrophic as I felt it was at the time. Truthfully, it was going too fast for both of us. Slowing down is a good thing. But slowing down doesn’t mean ending. Being in slightly different places doesn’t mean not being together. I have come down from the proverbial ledge on that one, but it was a tough few days of questions without talking much to him. However, we’ve texted since then, and we’re good.
We were originally going to see each other Christmas night, but he rescheduled for tonight. Then, tonight’s date was rescheduled for tomorrow because he works at the airport and there are flight delays. It has been an epic feat of cognitive behavioral skills to keep myself from over thinking the reschedules. I know that flights are delayed, and that means he has to stay. It’s not that he doesn’t want to see me.
It has all happened really quickly, and it has been really intense. It scares me. It’s nothing like my previous relationships, yet I’m terrified that history will repeat itself. In the past, whenever I hit a rough moment in a relationship, the guy bailed. I wasn’t ready for someone who would stick around through it. As smart as I am when it comes to many things, relationships are where I feel like I hardly know my head from an acorn squash. The cues that everyone else seems to pick up on fly right over my head, and all my intuition is useless.
Dating CJ has been so much fun, and endlessly exciting, even if it’s hell on my nerves. I’m honestly glad he said something about needing it to slow down because I didn’t realize then that I needed the same thing. I hope that this lasts for a while, because I really like him. It is completely new territory for me, but oh sweet mercy, I hope it works.
About a year and a half ago, I started a sort of new phase in life, though I didn’t really intend to. All I was trying to do is recover from the darkest season I’ve ever experienced. I adopted some new disciplines and tried to unlearn years of unhealthy habits. Some friendships ended and new ones started. I started losing weight, and right now, I’m about ten sizes smaller than I was a year ago.
Now, it seems like the decision to resign and start a totally new chapter was inevitable; the person I was becoming was increasingly incongruous with the role I played and the denomination I was in.
It’s hard to say, though, whether it has been a journey of invention or of discovery. On one hand, the new habits and ways of thinking make me feel like I am creating a Cindy that didn’t exist before, but then again, it also feels like this “new” Cindy is someone who has always been there but was afraid to exist. I always had opinions, I just kept them hidden for fear of punishment for disagreeing with people higher on the ladder. I always thought of myself as a good friend to others, but I didn’t have enough confidence to think that people would actually want to be friends with me.
I’m sure it’s some mixture of invention and discovery.
As I fill out all of these applications, send in resumes, talk to recruiters, and go on interviews, I am being asked questions I am not sure how to answer: What am I looking for? What do I require from an employer? Where do I see my career in X years? Good grief, I don’t know… Change was inevitable, but going from a construct in which all these questions are invalid to having to answer them over and over is a bigger shift than I thought it would be.
It’s a shift that is really from one extreme to the other. A year ago, the expected, socialized response to questions about my own career path was to assume that leadership would make the best decisions for me, and the highest measure of success was the extent of obedience and my willingness to invest myself entirely in the role and location in which they placed me. I could provide some kind of feedback, but ultimately, I, like others within the organization, were moved like chess pieces, and sometimes, it seems like some were sacrificed (or at least endangered) in the interest of protecting the king. The underlying response to people indicating that they had a particular view of how they wanted their career to progress was that the individual was prideful.
And now, here I am, having decided to make such a huge change in the interest of my own health and sanity, and I’m stunned by such basic questions as “what do I want?” How do I undo years of thinking that answers to that question are prideful and therefore wrong?
I know how the old Cindy would have responded. I kind of have an idea of how the present Cindy wants to respond. I’m just struggling with feeling like it’s OK to be so “selfish” or “prideful.” I have a hard time imagining what life will be like in a year – a year ago, I certainly didn’t think I’d be where I am today.
It’s uncertain and weird and scary, this process of inventing/discovering myself, and I’m sure I’m making mistakes along the way, but it’s where I am, for the moment anyways, and I’m starting to be less anxious in letting things unfold.
A week ago, while packing up the house as fast as I could, an old choir song popped in my head. If I remember correctly, it’s a South African anthem that is little more than a few lines sung over and over:
Freedom is coming: oh yes I know!
I was hurrying to leave an unhealthy situation, and it was like I was inches away from exiting the dark tunnel I had been in for years.
I knew leaving was the best decision for me. My health and safety depended upon it. Despite not being as perfectly timed as I would have liked, I couldn’t wait any longer. I needed out.
For the last week, I’ve been happier than I have been in probably a decade. Well, maybe “happy” isn’t the right descriptor. “Lighter” might be better. “Freer” is certainly true.
I haven’t been afraid for a week. That is EPIC for me. I haven’t had to take my anxiety meds for a week.
When I told my youngest nephew, who’s almost 6, that I don’t live far away anymore, he gasped and squealed. My oldest nephew, 17, gave me one really long hug Friday night AND a second one on Saturday. My middle nephew hugged me while at his middle school with his friends and then later paused his Xbox game and made his friend wait while he hugged me goodbye. Oh my gosh, friends! Wanting to be there for them and wanting them to know I love them are a few of the reasons I left, but these boys were there for me and let me know they love me. I haven’t seen my niece yet, but I’ve already heard about how happy she is, too.
The second day I was here, I got on the scale in my parents’ bathroom, and it said I’d lost 20 pounds overnight. Clearly I hadn’t, but I feel lighter without the weight of the world on me.
My family has noticed, too. I have had a few moments when I snapped too harshly at them when I was overly tired, but even with those moments, they have seen a happier me than they have in a long time. When my mother mentioned it Friday night, I told her that there was great freedom and joy in knowing that the people I feared, the ones who had intimidated me for years, couldn’t take anything away from me anymore.
I commented to a friend tonight that I almost feel like I “should” be more upset than I am. I have moments that are harder than others, but generally, I’m doing pretty well.
I was very worried that I would lose people when I left, but if anything, I’ve become more certain that I’ve kept the right group of people around me. The same people who loved me several weeks ago are the ones who are still cheering me on today. They are magnificent.
This week is more job hunting and hoping for a call back from the place at which I interviewed on Friday. I tried out a new church today and loved it, so I get to look forward to going back next week. I still haven’t really unpacked everything, so that’s on the agenda as well. Nothing earth-shatteringly new, except for this little bitty thing that is still new to me:
In the past, I have been very careful to try to avoid identifying my denomination. I avoided it out of fear. Fear that you would assume that I’m a homophobe or conservative weirdo. Fear that you would think that I am speaking on behalf of The Salvation Army. But mostly, I feared punishment from my leaders.
I have feared punishment from my leaders for seven years, the entire duration of my pre-seminary/seminary/professional ministry years. I’ve feared it because the main motivation tactic used is “don’t screw up or you’re a goner.”
That’s a pretty scary umbrella to live under because I’m someone who screws up a lot.
I’m too opinionated. I’m too liberal. Even the filtered version of me is not for the faint of heart. I’m not impressed by or intimidated by rank or title. I challenge people without meaning to.
And so for seven years, I’ve been intermittently punished for the strangest things. While in training (seminary), I commented that I missed college, so I was reprimanded for 40 minutes about how my comment was disparaging to the instructors and my peers. I was written up because my kitchen smelled like fruit (I had a fruit bowl and an orange scented plug-in air freshener). I wrote a blog post about being anxious and my blog was then sent to territorial headquarters (which is several levels of leadership above me) “for review.”
It seemed like I never knew when I was going to be blindsided.
I know I made my share of mistakes. When I had my first congregation, it was nothing short of an abusive hell. Had it not been for a few people who held onto me, that ministry would have killed me. Literally. I begged for help, but it came two years too late. As things fell apart at work, something had to give. Looking back, The Salvation Army isn’t used to dealing with situations as bad as that one was, so it wasn’t prepared to help me while I floundered and tried to figure it out. None of us seemed to know what to do. I was thankfully moved out of that location when the third year of moves were announced.
But not before I was assured that everyone in leadership thought I was a terrible person. Not before it was made abundantly clear that I was incredibly disliked by most of the other officers/ministers. I kind of knew that already, but to have it spelled out for me was something else.
I feared saying where I ministered because The Salvation Army, as an organization (not to be confused with everyone who comprises it), is primarily concerned with its reputation and image, and if I said something they thought might damage that, they wouldn’t hesitate to react. So we are told by leadership and our peers to shut up. To never, ever, under any circumstances, criticize anything at all related to The Salvation Army. It’s the old attitude of keeping your dirty laundry in the cupboard instead of cleaning it out, no matter how badly it stinks the place up.
I feared punishment for living out my faith. I’ve never been a conservative, but the older I get the more I believe in full LGBTQ inclusion in the church (meaning they should have the same access to membership, ministry, etc. as a straight person) and marriage equality in both civil and religious marriage. These are not just political or social opinions – they are rooted in Christ’s command to love others. The Salvation Army is officially against both of these beliefs, so much so that we have received written “guidelines” that are nothing short of thinly veiled threats for the minority of us who are more liberal. My gay and lesbian friends cannot be fully participating members of The Salvation Army if they are in a same-sex relationship. They cannot be married in a Salvation Army wedding. Any participation in a same-sex wedding on my part is grounds for termination, meaning if I choose to be a part of Brandon’s wedding party, or say a prayer during the wedding, or help tie ribbons on reception favors, I could be terminated. What a crock of shit.
PLEASE, PLEASE KNOW THAT NOT ALL OFFICERS AND MEMBERS OF THE SALVATION ARMY ARE HORRIBLE – THAT’S NOT WHAT I’M SAYING. There are still plenty of good people doing good things in their community through The Salvation Army. I’m saying that the organization that I believed in has failed me. I’ve watched as it failed so many of the good people within its ranks. I’ve seen it destroy people.
Writing this, and the resignation that will follow, means that I will become gossip fodder again. I’ve been in The Salvation Army since I was born, and I know what gets said of those who leave. I will be accused of breaking a covenant with God. I will be accused of having been too sinful. I will probably be “unfriended” both on Facebook and in real life by some. There will be an awful lot of people who will read this and think I’m just bitter and angry and disregard my experience. There will be people who will blame my decision to leave on a great spiritual failure. One friend who left four years ago warned me that I will be essentially disowned. That’s bleak.
But it’s not worse than what I’ve been living, and after seven years, I cannot in good faith say I want 34 more years of it. I can’t survive 34 more years. One former officer said to me tonight that he left when he realized that he spent most of his energy in internal fights instead of joining with other officers to fight against the things we’re supposed to battle (poverty, war, hatred, etc.). I did not sign up for 37 years of fighting like this.
I feel weak for not being able to keep fighting to change the things that are broken.
I feel like I’ve let a lot of good people down, some whom I couldn’t face right now for fear of seeing the disappointment in their faces.
The fear I have right now is that some people I love won’t love me anymore.
So as of 2:18 a.m., October 16, 2014, I’m done being an officer. My resignation won’t be submitted until I have ironed out a place to live, work, and recover, but I’m taking my the shreds of my heart back. The Salvation Army did not hold up their end of the bargain, so as of today, I’m moving on.
THE REALITY: Tonight, I submitted my resignation. I don’t have all the details ironed out yet, but it’s just too hard to try to find work in a town three hours away when I cannot travel for interviews. So I am going to move there in hopes that either A. something comes from the few interviews I have lined up, or B. I find something else really quickly. Tomorrow, my sister and mother will come and help me pack up and move.
I have told a handful of people that I’ve resigned, including my parents, best friends, and sessionmates (seminary cohorts). They have all been overwhelmingly wonderful. I didn’t shed a tear while writing my resignation, but I have cried over and over because of their kindness and support. One of them said she hopes I can love the SA again. I told her the truth: I don’t hate the SA, I am disappointed and hurt by some people within the SA, and unfortunately for me, those people hold a lot of power.
I am scared. Nervous. Bruised.
But also freed. Hopeful. And thanks to my PGs, admins, and AoHs, LOVED.