Monday, February 25, 2013

The Magical Third Strand

When I got married two and a half years ago, I had a lot of pre-conceived opinions. I knew marriage wasn’t going to be easy, but I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were going to make it. My confidence came from the belief that my fiancĂ© and I had a special secret weapon against the trials of marriage: we had God. God was the third strand that would keep our marriage together, no matter what. I believed that my marriage was inherently stronger than those of non-believers. After all, God gave us superior insight and patience. God had gifted us with stronger and more powerful feelings of commitment. God had promised us that our cord of three strands would not be easily broken. I knew that my marriage was better than your marriage because God was supernaturally holding us together.

Imagine my surprise when I faced reality for the first time. We had been married for about 6 months. I was deep in post-patriarchy depression and I cried myself to sleep almost every night. My husband and I prayed together every day, but still I could see the toll my struggles were taking our marriage. I didn’t know how to feel better, and he didn’t know how to help me. I often thought of how much better off he would be without me. As I began facing my childhood for the first time, I developed a visceral reaction to anything that felt restrictive to me. I remember the exact moment when I first realized the magnitude of my “till death do us part” commitment.

I was sitting on my bed in our tiny apartment folding clothes. I started to think about the rest of my life. I was 19, and already the biggest decisions of my life were behind me. I would be folding these same socks and underwear every week for the rest. Of. My. Life.  I suddenly felt trapped, claustrophobic in my own life. I had committed to this marriage before God, and now I couldn’t leave. Ever. My chest constricted and my breath came faster. “I can’t do this.” I thought. “I can’t do this.”  

I imagined packing my things and leaving right then. My heart swelled with hope at the idea of being truly free for the first time in my life. Those thoughts terrified me, and in that moment I felt betrayed by God. “You promised that I wouldn’t have to feel this way!” I prayed through the tears. “You promised you would hold us together!” I felt cold and naked as I realized that there was no supernatural power keeping me here in this apartment with this man. There was no safety net protecting our marriage. There was nothing but our own desires, and I didn’t even know what I wanted.

What first felt like betrayal, turned out to be the most freeing realization of my married life. I examined my heart and gave myself permission to think about what I wanted. I gave myself permission to pursue the things that made me happy. I made a lot of changes in my life, like going back to school and moving to a new state. The biggest breakthrough of all was realizing that I wanted to be with my spouse. He makes me laugh, his personality compliments mine. He believes in me even when I don’t believe in myself. He does not “complete me,” but I cannot imagine my life without him. The life that I have is the life that I want.

The love we have for each other, and the commitment we made to each other is stronger and more profound than it has ever been. Many people question the strength and validity of our marriage because we are “unequally yoked” or too egalitarian. I used to do the same thing. The idea of stepping into a lifelong commitment is substantially less terrifying when you think you have a supernatural shield around you and your spouse. But how much more beautiful is a wedding where two flawed humans commit to one another, fully aware of the challenges they will face? How much more powerful is a marriage where two people stay together because they want to?

There is no magical third strand holding my marriage together, it’s just us. We promised each other that no matter what happens, we will never stop working on our marriage. We promised that no matter how our feelings change, we will never give up on our love. I mean it, and know that he does too. And that’s good enough for me.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Self Hatred and the Morning Person

I got up this morning at the usual time and rushed through my weekday morning routine. I’ve been doing the same thing every day for the last 3 years: shower, hair, makeup, clothes, and shoes, fly out the door just in time to make it to the office by 8. 
Getting ready in the morning has always been like a nightmare for me, ever since I was a kid. I’ve always hated my body, and squeezing into clothes makes me self conscious. Staring myself in the face without makeup makes me uncomfortable. Putting on my hand-me-down jewelry that isn’t quite fashionable embarrasses me. Leaving the house with all these insecurities makes me anxious and nervous. Maybe it’s the anticipation that makes me wake up nauseas and sore every morning, feeling like I’ve caught the flue overnight. Depression hits me the hardest in the morning.
Up until recently, if you asked me if I’m a “morning person” I would always say NO. Mornings are awful. Mornings mean facing overwhelming self-hatred. Mornings mean another long day of adversity. Waking up means the disappointment of knowing that I’m still alive. I’d rather just stay buried under the blankets where no one will know I exist.
There are a number of factors that led to my self-hatred. The Patriarchal society I grew up in demonized a woman’s body and sexuality while simultaneously glorifying the concept of the sweet, childlike virgin bride that I knew I would never emulate. I was never encouraged to express my emotions, so all my confusing feelings stayed trapped inside me. Being bisexual (and being taught that such things were abominable) also caused me to vilify a woman’s body in general. It was easier to hate it than admit to forbidden attraction. When paired with depression and lack of education, my natural bodily development became a waking nightmare. The hatred I had for myself and my body was not just a passing teenage phase; it was a devastating condition that colored my entire world in a muddy shade of black.
 For most of my life I sincerely believed that I was stupid, worthless, ugly, lazy, gluttonous, and sloppy. Self hatred is painful, debilitating, and dangerous. Lucky for me, I have people in my life who understand that. I am here today, I am healthy today, because my Hunnie, my sister, and a few close friends chose to take my struggles seriously. They insisted again and again that the opinions I had of myself were false.  They were there for me day or night to talk me though my anxiety.  It took countless long talks and years of hard work to get me to the place I am today. 
This is actually me wearing my fave brown dress pants

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point this last year the heavy fog of depression, anxiety, and self hatred started to dissipate. It wasn’t until this morning that I realized how far I have come. I found myself singing in the shower at 6:00am (sorry neighbor). I winked at myself in the mirror while rubbing product into my super short hair. I put on my favorite checkered socks and walked around the house in my underwear without cringing every time I passed a mirror. And when my grey dress pants were too small to button, I switched to the bigger brown pair and it didn’t even bother me. Really.
This is ME we’re talking about here. The same girl who, at 8 years old, covered her whole body with washcloths in the bathtub because she didn’t want to have to see how “fat” she was. The same girl who refused to look in the mirror for much of her teenage life.. The same girl who stopped eating because a friend mentioned that she had a “little pooch.” And there I was this morning, smiling at my curves and meaning it. I just thought “welp, guess I’m not a size 8 after all.” Those grey pants were milestone for me.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who’s hurting. You don’t have to say much. Simply tell them the truth:
You are beautiful.
                                 You are smart.
                                                           You are strong.
                                                                                         You can be anything you want to be.
And don’t stop saying it until they start to believe.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Imaginary Friend

I sometimes hear my non-religious friends making jokes about Christians and mocking them for their “imaginary friend,” god. The implication is that Christians are foolish, weak, or childish for their beliefs.
I do not call myself a Christian. The idea of a Deity that human beings can understand seems impossible to me. But my spouse is a Christian, many of my close friends are Christians. To them, faith means the security of knowing they are loved and accepted by someone, even when their lives and their hearts are in chaos. Their faith isn't about politics or perfection, it's about purpose and inner peace.

Everybody needs to be loved.
So why should we mock somebody who chooses to believe that they are unconditionally and eternally loved by a higher power?
I am lucky enough to have a loving and supportive spouse, family, and community, but that doesn’t make it okay for me to ridicule those who choose to seek out love and support from a god and a church.
We live in a world full of questions; let’s not mock each other’s answers.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Through The Eyes of the Privileged

Like most Americans, I spent Sunday night watching the NFL Super Bowl. I was not surprised by the blatant and gratuitous sexism (and occasional racism) in the infamous Super Bowl commercials. I was expecting to see some breasts selling Budweiser and some pole dancing to advertise a show. Women were exploited, marginalized, and objectified in almost every commercial, just as I expected. Sexism is alive and well. I joined many others on twitter by calling out the sexism with the Miss Representation tag of #NotBuyingIt. We used social media to call on companies to end their sexist campaigns and stop perpetuating the obvious issue.
I honestly don’t know why I was so surprised by what happened next.
I was attacked. My inboxes and my cell phone lit up with snarky, sarcastic, and downright hateful messages. All of them were from middle class, white, cisgendered, heterosexual males. “You’re a hypocrite for not calling out the commercials that make men look dumb!”
“Women have more privileges than men, feminism is just reverse sexism!”
“Why are you always complaining about women having it rough? You can do whatever you want in America if you just work hard enough!”
“What, no comment about the taco bell commercial making old people look bad?” “Everybody’s life is rough, you people need get over it!”
I could go on.
I have gone from disbelief, to fury, to bewilderment. Maybe I’ve been out of the Fundie bubble for too long, but are there really still this many people who don’t believe that sexism and racism exist? I mean there are FACTS out there, people. 37% of African American children and 34% of Hispanic children live below the poverty limit, compared to 12% of white children. Women are still making only 75% of what a man makes in the same job. Despite major growth in minority college enrollment, Hispanic and African American highschool seniors are still significantly less likely to be able to attend college than their white peers. The list goes on and on. You do not have to look far to see the glaringly obvious inequalities in our society. And yet so many people choose willful ignorance.
As a cisgendered, white woman married to a man, I am well aware of my privilege. Because I happened to fall in love with a man, I was able to get married without any problem. This allowed me to get enough financial aid to attend college.  Unemployment statistics, evidence of workplace racism, and stories like this one would suggest that my skin color made me more likely to be hired. I am also less likely to be the target of hate crimes than say, a trans woman or an African American teenager. I know this. I do everything I can to educate myself on the difficulties faced by my fellow human beings, and I stand up against inequalities wherever I see them with passion and empathy.
This is why I don’t understand the garbage in my inbox. Are all of these guys just completely uneducated on the issues of racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc? Do I need to lend them a few biographies written by someone in a minority demographic? Did they fall asleep in history class and miss the parts where we wouldn’t let women vote? Where we trafficked in human flesh for over 50 years after the civil war? Where we displaced, raped, and murdered thousands of Native Americans? 
 Are they sincerely ignorant like I and my fellow former-fundies used to be? Or are these guys so high on their cloud of privilege that they can’t see destructive inequalities and discrimination that define the reality of so many millions of people?