Wiseacre (ewin) wrote,

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Finding My Religion

I was on the phone with George last night, and I told him, "I rediscovered why I'm a Christian this week."

It's true. Not in any deep-feeling religious, emotional, or soulful sense, but through a purely logical process. As is suitable for an Ewin.

I keep coming back to two things in my life. The first thing is the way that my losses have affected me over the past year... all of these feelings of emptiness, impotent rage, fear, and despair. And the second thing is the attack in the street from last summer, and the effects of that... the way I felt more alive for several weeks after, more myself, the way things looked sharper and clearer for a little while.

And what occurs to me is that it's my own actions that hurt me the most, in any given situation.

Last summer, in the glow of that street light, as far as my powers extended -- considering that my arms and legs went limp on me -- I acted exactly as I would have chosen to. Now that was a matter of luck as much as anything, and if something like that happens to me again, who knows what I'll do? But after the initial shock had passed, and I did the requisite re-runs of my reactions in my head, everything there was exactly what I would have hoped from myself. This includes the fact that I still run in my neighborhood... even in the early morning, although with defensive equipment now.

I've never had an experience like that before, where an aggressive, negative response was so perfectly warranted. I was proud of myself. I felt so good about the whole thing. Now it's just something that happened, something that I use to caution myself that I can never be too careful. Something to remind myself that I am fortunate. But it's not something that haunts me, or troubles me.

Nothing I went through with my now ex-friendships ever put my life at risk. Why does it all haunt me so badly, for years in some cases? Why does it eat at me and keep me up late at night, why do I open my eyes to that awareness in the morning and wish I were someone else, what is it about these things that makes me not want to be alive?

The fact is, I've done things that I consider unacceptable. And it doesn't matter if other people tell me that it's okay.

These rules of mine, the things I feel are right or wrong, they really don't change all that much with time. They aren't excuses that I invent on the spur of the moment to be hard on myself, which seems to be what some people think. When I look at something I've done and say, "That was wrong," it's based on something that feels almost intrinsic. I don't remember when these ideas were formed. I'm not sure they were taught to me. At any rate, no amount of teaching seems to move them around very much. No teaching has ever convinced me that hurting someone else, if it is at all an avoidable thing, can be right. I've moved my positions around on sex, on love, on lifestyle, and on a great many other things which frankly just don't matter that much to me. But standards of integrity as regards making the lives of other people difficult... I push on those, and they stay exactly where they are.

If I've deliberately done something that makes my life easier, and causes another person pain, I have a lot of trouble with that. I have a lot to answer for. I've tried to restrict myself to those things which are unavoidable. I can't avoid breathing. I can't avoid withdrawing even when people need me, because I have to withdraw to remain functional, and because I know that the people who care about me want me to remain functional as well, so that they would encourage me to make the choice that leaves me as much strength as I can get by on. But I still don't feel completely right about it. I don't feel right about asking for things unless I'm at my wit's end, and sometimes not even then. I don't feel right about letting my fear get the better of me, and avoiding conflict that ought to be faced, although I do this quite a lot. I don't feel right about being impatient and obsessive and a great many other things I seemingly perpetually get wrong, and I especially feel horrible about them when someone else has been hurt by them. I'm not okay with this stuff.

I won't ever be completely modern in my thinking. I probaby won't ever be completely assertive, or self-actualized. There are plenty of words that will never completely apply to me. I have some inabilities. I can't hurt people and let it roll off of me. I may finally be at the point where this is just a part of me, and not something I have to keep trying to carve out of myself. I don't have an infinity of time, here. Some of my most stubborn traits, like my tendency to judge my own behavior harshly, are probably not going to move by much in this lifetime.

So I have this array of Things I've Done in the past year, many of which were inspired by bad advice (a lot of which I gave to myself, citing all those very modern ideas... let's face it, I want to be a strong, self-actualized, comfortable person along with the rest of those smiling faces in the self-help aisle), and some of which hurt people. Hurt which could have been avoided. "But it could only have been avoided if you were perfect!" you say. Let me say it again: It. Doesn't. Matter. If there was any chance I could have done the right thing, then I'm going to judge myself for not having done it. Period.

It matters that things were done to hurt me, too. It just doesn't matter as much as what I myself have done. I've spent a lifetime working toward a kind of moral goal, and at this point in my life, I think it can be stated as follows: "I am determined that your actions shall not determine mine." Your actions present me with choices, not commands. In some ways, I have used my choices badly.

ursulav said it best recently in her own lj, when she quoted the advice of a friend on a difficult situation, where she was deciding how to react to someone hurting her very badly. The advice was, "Do whatever will make you still like yourself afterward."

I haven't done that. I haven't taken care to make sure that everything I do was the act of a person I would respect.

In every sense of the word that matters to me personally, I have sinned. I keep coming back to these things, many of which other people would find terribly excusable, and saying, and thinking, and feeling, This is unacceptable behavior. It doesn't matter if it's a mistake. I can't forgive myself for it. I can't forgive myself. I keep running up that glass mountain and sliding right back down it again.

I've always been this way, since I was a kid. The idea of forgiving myself... I can't get my head around it. I'm in a very Haibane Renmei style loop; trapped in the same vicious cycle forever. I can't forgive myself, because I lost my moral authority when the sin was committed. It's inescapable.

I've spent a lot of time this week trying to think new thoughts. One thing can definitely be said about medication: every time I have a bad medication experience, it drives me, and pushes me, to find a way to help myself that does not involve medication. It's a little bit like stubbing my toe. It's jarring, it hurts, and it makes me angry, and then I redirect my route very promptly to keep THAT kind of thing from happening again.

Some of my new thoughts are about self-love. I love passionately and with great loyalty. My love for people doesn't float away on a whim. It sticks. And it forgives; it can forgive hugely. So I spent some serious time this week thinking, "It's not enough for me to like myself anymore. I've got to love myself." And I made some headway, too. It's going to have to be a work in progress.

I've also worked very hard at thinking of ways to deal with the past year... ways to get past things, ways to think, "That's really not so bad." And that's where I hit the glass mountain again. Once I get up a real head of steam... once I have my imaginary confrontation with the person who hurt me, trying to work this out in my head to a point where I can deal with it, the inevitable result is that the person in my head turns around and makes a valid accusation, "But you did this!" And I'm suddenly plunged into rage and defensiveness and insecurity... and then with some difficult courage, honesty, and some time (it helps to have these conversations by myself, to cut the humiliation a bit), I realize that I'm reacting that way because I agree with them. I did do that. I could have stopped. I could have chosen to do something else, and I didn't. And I feel myself slam up against this, and there is simply no way for me to change the least part of anything I have ever done that was wrong. It's there, forever. Nothing can erase it.

And I can not deal with that. I don't know how to describe how incredibly final this feeling is: being able to accept that I have done this and that it can not be changed, is as far away from me as the other side of the universe. It is utterly out of my reach. I can love myself forever, but the moment I am faced with something wrong that I have done, it doesn't matter. I am incongruous within myself; two people trying to inhabit the same space, or worse, myself and my opposite in the same location at the same time. The attempt to reconcile the two is enormously destructive.

So I get sick, or want to die. I'm undone. I cease to be able to function as the person of Erin. It's as profound as suddenly trying to tell myself that 2 + 2 = 5. I'll be able to fool myself for short intervals of time, or drug myself into acquiescence, but that's all temporary... I have to face the basic fact of my inability to exist as I am, sooner or later.

I thought about my suicidal thoughts, and how desperate they feel... how I have this incredible need to wipe myself out, sometimes, and start fresh.

So, being proactive and psychoanalytical as I am, I came up with something I thought would be new: why not do a sort of rite? Why not kill myself in effigy, in a way? Perhaps write up a list of traits that define Erin, destroy it, say I am killing myself, and say that I am a new Erin and that the new Erin has every right to exist? And I spent several minutes thinking of elaborate rituals I could enact to cause this to happen.

You'd be surprised how long it took me to remember the basic tenets of the religion I've followed since I was four.

It didn't hit me like a thunderclap or anything so emotionally dramatic. I didn't burst into tears or song. It hit me, instead, like a mild smack to the forehead, "You idiot. Christ already did exactly what you are thinking about, and He did it for real."

Since you have no alternative but to die for what you have done, I'll die in your place. You don't have to die, now. The price has been paid. I've added a one to the equation to make it equal. You are you. You are forgiven, without having to do it yourself.

All of that horribly divisive, destructive power, undone in a single moment.

It's not that I'm excused... I'm not. There is no excuse.

I am redeemed. There's a difference. The price had to be paid... so it was paid.

I don't believe that Jesus did this for me so that I could be in Heaven... at least, I don't believe that's the only reason. I believe that Jesus died for me so that He could enter the place where I have been for the last few weeks, take my hand, and pull me out of it and back into the living world. He can do that because He has gone deeper into the world of shame and punitive law than I will ever have to go, and He's come back from it to show me the way out. You want to put me in Hell? Don't torment me... just convince me that I am a creature of evil. It's honest-to-God, a living Hell for me.

I don't live exclusively for a world beyond death. I live because I truly believe that every good thing I will ever do in this world, matters. I live because I believe my God believed it matters, too. He believed it matters enough that He sent His only begotten son, not just to save my death, but my life as well. I can not value the good I do as a reason to exist without also realizing how dreadfully important the bad things I do are... and He knows that, too, and He gave me a way. "Give them to me."

I may continue to feel sad for the things that have happened. That's probably not going to go away any time soon. I may regret. It's bound to happen. I may spend some time wondering what on earth I'm supposed to do with my life.

But I can acknowledge the truth about the things that I have done, and look them in the eye, and not die.

Having written about it, it's wonderfully refreshing. And I may yet burst into tears, or into song. But for now I'm content that my mind, which is my place of strength and of safety and self-identification, is no longer burning, but instead is full of light. I'm just sitting back and gazing at it for awhile.

It's a mystery. I stand eternally accused, condemned, guilty, and sentenced. The miracle is not that I am free... there are plenty of ways to be free. The miracle is that I am free to be GOOD. No matter how many times I screw up, I remain free to try to be good. The paradox has been lifted off me.

And when I'm done looking at this, and when I've told all of you about it, I am to get up and live my life and love myself (keep trying to love myself, at any rate), because He paid the price with those things in mind.

I have traits, parts of myself that seem as hard-wired as the shape of my face, that have determined that I be a Christian. I see things one way, and it's very linear. I tend to paint myself into moral corners. I've always been this way, and I come from a long line of people who are the same way.

So this is not intended as an evangelism. As ironic as it seems, I believe God made me a Christian, and made me so that it was the only way I could ever function and blossom fully as a human being. But I'm not altogether certain that He intended a world full of nothing but people who believe a certain thing a certain way. And my uncertainty, and my appreciation of the immense beauty and truth of other ways of being, is sufficient to keep me from taking everyone else by the ear and saying, "You must believe as I do!"

Hell, I spend most of my time disagreeing with other Christians. I know better than to think the side of God I see is the only portion of salvation available in this world.

But if your soul was built of the same materials mine was, you might take comfort where I found it.

God doesn't tell me how hard I am on myself. He simply says, "Okay, let's assume all of those horrible things about you are true, and that they've all been taken care of. Now what are you going to do?"

Very sneaky, God. Very sneaky.
Tags: religion
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