I just found out I never actually left the church, and this makes me angry.
“I’ve done this before. Several times. And here I am again.” Therapy is the actual worst, by the way. I have never felt this routinely devastated in my life. I basically just cry now. That’s my whole existence.
Today we’re talking about social justice burnout and paralysis. Specifically, Why I Believe Everything Everyone Says Is Wrong With Me and My Corrupt Motivations For Caring. “How do I keep cycling back here? I have determined, in the past, when a voice of condemnation was not meant for me, and I left. ” I am shamelessly begging her to give me credit for how badass I used to be. Nothing like this mess of a human she sees here today.
“I used to sit in church every week and every pastor– and I sat under so many pastors– every pastor would shout at us:
Why are you even here? Do you pray? Do you read your Bible? Do you even want to be here or do you just come to look good to your neighbors? Invest more. Mean it more. Work harder.
For years I sat there, confused and ashamed, trying to try more. But finally I said ENOUGH. I do pray every fucking day. I spend every spare minute volunteering. I run a ministry. I’m a virgin who doesn’t drink or smoke or date and I’m housing three needy kids at any given moment. You can’t mean this more than I mean it. You can’t spend more energy than I’m spending. This is my everything. And you’re shouting at me to be more sincere. This sermon isn’t for me. I can’t listen to this any more.
So I left. I haven’t sat through another sermon since. I can’t keep sitting there hearing that I am not who I know I am. But here I am again, believing every voice that shouts at me that I should care more than I do.” My eyes fill with tears, surprise surprise. I breath through them.
My therapist leans in. “This sounds like what you were hearing from your dad as well: you can never be good enough, or quick enough, or anticipate enough.”
Deep breath. “Oh definitely. God, the only fights we ever had were when I had done everything he asked and shit still hit the fan. So unfair. If you want me to do all these things, and I do them, I should be okay. I should be good. I shouldn’t still not be enough.”
“I hear that you did everything you could to live up to the expectations of these voices in your life. And when that didn’t work, you left. But I don’t hear from that what you actually believe to be true.”
Fuck. I’m not going to like this, am I?
“I mean, I hear that you were promised, ‘do these things and you will be “good,”‘ but then you were never seen as good enough. And you’re still trying for that– to be good enough to be seen as good. But what do you believe to be good? What is enough to you? ”
A very expensive moment of silence, the heaviest silence I’ve ever born, fills the room.
“Tell me what you’re feeling.”
“I… I never left, did I?” My voice is sharp and loud. I decide she can handle it.
“I quit, because I realized that the game was rigged, but I never left. I thought I was pushing back against the expectations, but I was actively fulfilling every single one. I was just fed up of the uselessness of it. I felt defeated, but I didn’t feel… I mean, I didn’t even consider leaving just so I could be healthier, or so I could find out what I value. I just opted out because I couldn’t win–”
I stop dead in horrified silence. She sits still, waiting.
“If doing everything my dad asked had brought peace, would I ever have left? Would I still be in relationship with my abuser if he had said, ‘Good job’? Did I really only leave because of the futility, not because of the twisted world he created?”
Guess what else I just found out: I never left my dad either. Awesome.
My session ends and I exit with a snarky comment tossed over my shoulder. Her final question echoes in my mind as I walk over to Starbucks to meet up with T.
What do you want? What are you hoping for from your efforts?
“How was it?” T asks. It’s an invitation: He’s a therapy veteran himself, and we’re weeks into him holding me while I sob every Thursday at about 4:07.
“It was terrible. I have to pee.” And I huff off. I lock the bathroom door and stare at the mirror.
What do you want?
I lose my breath as a sob echoes around me, collapse against the wall and slide down next to the toilet. I cover my mouth with both hands so my sobs are muffled, squeeze my eyes closed and cry louder and louder in my head:
I WANT EVERYONE TO STOP SHOUTING AT ME!
I WANT EVERYONE TO STOP SHOUTING THAT I’M NOT ENOUGH!
JUST STOP SHOUTING AT ME!
I JUST WANT TO LEAVE!
I FUCKING WANT OUT!