Fucking LEAVE

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!

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Pie

“Have I ever told you about our cherry trees?” My voice startles T from his first moment of sleep. He squeezes me close reflexively.

“I don’t think so?”

“Right up the hill from our house– the house that burned– we had two cherry trees and a mulberry tree. The mulberry tree was half splayed over the chicken coop, so every year for a little while the chickens ate like kings, and the area around the door was a mess of smooshed fruit that was nasty to walk on. They were white mulberries. Or purple.

One of our cherry trees had big, sweet cherries, but the tree was really small and didn’t produce much.

Our other tree was big, and it grew pie cherries that were small and tart. I hated them. But Saturn liked them. I think that’s why we called it her tree. Well, also she was the only one allowed to pick from the ladder, since she was so much older than me.

Every year when the cherries were ripe we would take milk jugs, cut them open to make buckets, lace our belts through the jug’s handle and go pick cherries. I loved it. It was so exciting and rewarding. And then we’d make cherry pies. Cherry pies were my dad’s favorite– he always asked for cherry pie for his birthday; he didn’t really like cake.”

I realize I used past tense to talk about my father again. I pause to take a breath, and T squeezes me tighter.

“I like your cherry trees.”

I smile in the darkness. “One year we made cherry cordial. Can you do that without alcohol?”

“I’m not sure.”

“We made cherry juice at least. I think we borrowed a juicer? I remember there being a stovetop involved, and a spout. I’m not sure. But we made cherry juice, put it on the tinted jars, with a rubber stopper you kind of fold on? Then we dolled it out in ‘juice glasses,’ 3 or 4 oz servings. Rationing it, you know? But that was okay: it’s rich stuff.”

“Sure.”

“Once– wait. This is a happy story if I stop now. Should I stop now?”

“Either way. It’s your story.”

“I’ll stop.”

I nestle in and close my eyes. Cherry pies and chickens and frozen buckets of water in the winter. Bunny rabbits and horned worms and welcoming smiles when I burst through the shop door.

Tonight I dream of a childhood in Eden.