The Evil of Ignorance and Cowardice

11102878_1568402683440561_5291121050511670223_nTorment is just…inescapable torture.  

Suppose a person has a generally good life, but encounters a few traumatic experiences along the way.  Depending on the extent of the damage, the person could develop some emotional problems or symptoms of post-traumatic stress.  Now, compare this understanding to someone who grows up in a traumatic environment every day of their lives.  Try to imagine the effects of that inescapable environment on the development of a child’s emotional and psychological make-up.  When pain or abuse is set as the standard of operation from the beginning, the child can have no other understanding of the world.  And that child is going to grow up and enter adulthood, unless someone or something has stepped in to fix it, with deformations of mind and emotions wholly different than a child who developed in a healthier environment.  Imagine how strange and, in a way painful, good experiences would feel to someone who only knows how to receive pain and feel the pain from bad ones.  Imagine what their mind, outlook, and emotions might be towards other people and the world when the people meant to love and protect them only used and abused them.  It’s hard to imagine, but try…

As adults, we can leave abusive friendships or relationships.  But as children, we are entirely dependent upon them.  I was born into a family that enjoyed inflicting psychological and emotional pain.  Because the abusers were my parents and family members, I paradoxically had to rely on my tormentors for my own life and well-being.  Instinctively, I knew I was supposed to love them and everything in me needed their love, but such love was never real.  It was always a trick, a bargaining chip, or a carrot held ever before my eyes but never within my grasp.  Love was always a game or means of control.  Everything I knew to be true about life, my identity, and my place in the world was taught to me by people who took pleasure in inflicting pain and then watching me writhe in it.  This was my “normal.”

In my home, the only feelings that mattered were the ones felt by my parents.  (And my brother’s, since he was a guy and guys were basically worshipped).  Generally though, children in my family’s mind were considered useless annoyances, except for how they could serve adults but even so, males were valued higher than females.  Women in my family were considered dirty, worthless, wastes of space unless they were bending over backwards to serve the males, who were doted on hand and foot until they reeked from self-serving arrogance, repeating the abusive cycle to all further women in their life.  Anyways, as you can imagine, as both a child and a female I was just double-shit-out-of-luck.

From day one of my existence, I wasn’t allowed to show feelings.  (Nor was I allowed to admit to having them, which was about the same as showing them).  I wasn’t allowed to show or admit to a personhood at all, but the most important part of that was feelings.  To paint a picture of the expectation of my home, I was born to be a robot who did as I was told, no matter how badly it hurt or how wrong it was.  And I was to always smile and be happy about it.  No…matter…what.

Those were the rules.  Simple, right?  My parents thought so.  But if, for any reason, I didn’t follow the rules with exact precision then the emotional consequences were swift and severe.  If I ever showed or even hinted at having a thought, feeling, opinion, or idea of my own, it was either ignored, criticized, or outright attacked.  One of those responses would be given in succession until I apologized for being so stupid, broke down crying from humiliation, or went completely numb from the sheer pain and confusion.  The goal was to get me to apologize for such an offense and return to my robotic status, no…matter…what.  Anything that caused me any type of suffering was either ignored or justified as being “right” and I was just being unreasonable and “too sensitive”.  If I showed pain at all, I would be lectured for it being my fault.   There were no other options.   These tactics worked well, which is why they were used so often.

I was a highly empathic kid.  I was ultra sensitive to mine and other’s feelings, a people pleaser, and a perfectionist.  My parents used all those qualities in the most perverted ways until the only definition of “love” I knew included emotional torment and pain.  I internalized all those messages and thought that this pain equalled love.  Only once did I persist in a belief beyond their usual attacks and it was the most violent I’ve ever seen them.

My sensitivity and emotional nature was a double-edged sword for my parents.  It allowed them to endlessly manipulate me, but it also sometimes frustrated them because I never understood why everyone else in the family was allowed to have thoughts, feelings, opinions, and beliefs that were all important and valid, but I was the only one who got crucified for having a single one.  I had an older brother who was never wrong.  He tormented me and my parents looked the other way, or they’d tell me it was my fault and that I was “just too sensitive”.  Then ignoring, criticizing, shaming, or all three until I stopped have feelings all together.  I would cry and then be punished further for showing pain.  I got in trouble for having my own ideas, laughing too loudly, or crying too much.  Except for sometimes, my parents would enjoy my crying and egg it on.  My father especially.  He found no end of humor to my pain.  He’d laugh and laugh until I just went blank and numb.  When that happened, his source of amusement was gone so he’d suddenly have no more use for me.  He’d lecture me and then be done with me.

The one time in my life I felt so strongly convicted about the wrongness of a family matter that I persevered in standing up for something (and it wasn’t even myself.  It was someone else who was being abused in my family) beyond these three reactions.  That is when my father resorted to physical violence.  First, he threatened me that I had better keep quiet.  Then when I persisted, he grabbed me by the shoulders, shook me, threw me on the couch, and then blocked the doorway so I couldn’t leave while he screamed more threats and shame at me.  Because I was small and he was very large, I was able to squeeze out of the doorway, but I was so panicked at his physical assault that I was crying aloud and repeating “don’t touch me, don’t touch me” over and over and over again.  When my grandparents and brother woke up, my father instantly turned on his charm (like only a good narcissist can do) and pretended to have absolutely “no idea what she’s going on about, she just went crazy.”  I had called my aunt and uncle and asked them to come get me and let me stay at their house that night.  In response, my grandmother stole all my belongings and held them captive and locked the doors.  When my aunt and uncle arrived, she told them to leave (I was being held back so I couldn’t leave the house).  But as they were driving away, I was able to wriggle free.  I had to leave all my belongings behind but I was able to run out of the door and jump into their van before they got out of the driveway.

Later on, my brother (who was not present for any of the events with my father) scolded me and told me that none of it happened.  He told me and the rest of the family that I had made it all up.  Because my brother is regarded as “perfect,” everyone believed him, including my mother who was in another state at the time.  My mother’s own next words to me were, “I wash my hands of this, do not ever speak of it again.”  Though this was the only time I remember being physically assaulted by a family member, these were the mental games I lived with from the time I was born.  I remember being raped by my first boyfriend and when I told my dad, my dad’s response was, “well?  What did you do to deserve that?” and then it was never mentioned again.  I told my brother and not even looking at me, he said, “huh…”, and then went on with what he was doing.  This is what my normal was.  My standard.  This is what I was worth.  I was told this is “love.”  I had nobody telling me different, so I had no standard of comparison.  Love hurt, and that’s all I’ve ever known.

Growing up, I never knew what to expect or how to avoid being in trouble simply for being a human being.  I remember wishing I wasn’t alive and wishing I could die from a very, very young age.  I was hated and unwanted by my own family and had no other concept of being.  I was in so much emotional pain that I developed an eating disorder when I was 16 and nearly died of it when I was 20.  At no time during those four years did anyone in my family intervene.  In fact, my own father tried to convince me that I didn’t need treatment.  I was 80 pounds, my hair was falling out, I was losing my eye sight and cognitive functions, and his exact words were, “why would you shoot a bazooka when all you need is a handgun?  I’m sure a little bit of therapy will be just fine.”  If I had listened to him, I would have died ten years ago.

I don’t remember a single time in my childhood or adult life where I was not living in excruciating…mind numbing…emotional pain.  Neither do I remember a time in which I wasn’t forced to completely ignore that fact and pretend to be happy.  My entire life and survival for the first 26 years depended on my ability to fake all of my emotions.  I had to do it for so long, I’ve lost the ability to be in touch with painful emotions at all.  They exist, they’re just disconnected.  Emotional dissociation..or something like that.  I can recount horror stories from my life with zero emotional affect, as though I’m a news reporter reporting someone else’s pain.  To me, it’s just a story.  It’s just facts.  My emotions about them have been buried for so long, I don’t know how to feel them anymore.

What I do have feelings about, though, are the people who actively refuse to acknowledge abuse of any kind, especially emotional, when it is presented to them.  And I’m learning a few things as I walk this road of self-discovery.  I’m learning that what is too horrific and scary for most people to even allow themselves to acknowledge… has been my own “normal” reality for 31 years.  As I recount experiences that are very painful (like sexual abuse, gross manipulation, lies, betrayals, physical abuse, etc) and people literally refuse to acknowledge it…you can only imagine how painful and infuriating that is.  It’s like being a child brought up in a war zone for 31 years who is then suddenly flown to a far away place full of people who are so sheltered and spoiled they all just decided in their heads that war doesn’t even exist.  Can you imagine how insane that kid would become?  That kid would be begging to be returned to the war zone after a week.  War may be scary as hell and painful, yeah, but at least people aren’t delusional.  Even a war zone is preferable to living in brainless, mindless, la-la land where everyone is so doped up on their indulgences they don’t even live in or experience reality.

Truth is, I have more disdain for those people than I will ever have for my abusers.  And I don’t mean the people who just didn’t realize bad things were happening but are still concerned about it.  I mean the people who choose not to look at it because they couldn’t possibly be inconvenienced by it.  9 times out of 10, my abusers were abused themselves.  Their own minds and hearts were twisted at a young age and corrupted by the exact same evil and sin they committed against me.  Their pain was probably ignored the same way mine was and they were forced to act out in ways they didn’t even understand.  Though I would never excuse or condone their actions and I hold them all personally accountable, at least there is grounds for understanding it.  But the people who are so privileged, so sheltered, so blind, so insufferably arrogant that they “see” but yet refuse to even engage other’s sufferings simply because they don’t care.  I can’t even be around those people.  I can’t tolerate or listen to their incessant, whiny, selfish drivel when their idea of “suffering” is simply not getting their self-centered way all the time.  It’s like listening to a room full of insolent 3 year-olds, except they’re adults and should know better.  Those are the people I avoid even more than the abusive ones.

It’s a rare soul indeed who, whatever their experience, can both listen to and engage another’s pain in a real and compassionate way.  It’s a rare soul indeed who will listen to and believe a victim’s story, or take action to help.  And sometimes that’s just listening, believing, reflecting, responding, and supporting.  It’s checking in and being a very real presence or helping in whatever ways are possible.  It’s a rare soul indeed who will step out of their own fantasies and assist those who are suffering, struggling, and hurting.  For me, those souls have been so few and far between.  (And are mostly in the form of four-legged animals).

All I really know is that there aren’t many out there.  And unless you are one, I cannot believe you are a Christian.  Because God has called us…all of us, painful pasts or not, to be the oasis of safety, love, and acknowledgement to those who are hurting and suffering in unimaginable ways.  The suffering is real.  The pain is real.  The evil and sickness and all it’s effects are real.  The war is real and you can’t turn a blind eye – ignoring it, disregarding it, excusing yourselves out of it, blaming the victims for it, or wasting your lives in front of damn computer or tv screens.  You don’t get to pretend you didn’t know, because you do.  You’re just ignoring it.  And chosen ignorance is just as evil.  Not wanting to see so we don’t have to feel bad or step out of our precious comfort zones.  But God will hold us responsible for that, too.  We will not escape account for the evil we heard about, knew about, or even saw first-hand and yet said nothing – did nothing -about.

As Edmund Burke said, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”







The Red Pill

“To study psychological trauma is to come face to face both with human vulnerability in the natural world and the capacity for evil in human nature.  To study psychological trauma means bearing witness to horrible events.  When the events are natural disasters or acts of God, those who bear witness sympathize readily.  But when the events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator.  It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict.  The bystander is forced to take sides.  It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator.  All the perpetrator asks is that the person stand by and do nothing…the victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain.  The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.” – Dr. Judith Lewis Herman

She’s right.  It’s true.  And if I hadn’t been on the victim side of this coin as many times as I have in my life, I would probably be right in line with the bystanders who successfully pretend it isn’t real.  The problem with suffering yourself is that it opens your eyes wide to the suffering happening all around you.  And once your eyes are open, you really can’t close them again.  It’s kind of like waking up from the Matrix.  You take the red pill and you go deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole.  The more you see, the more you experience, the more you suffer.  And you can’t go back and take the blue pill.  You can’t reverse the domino effect.  You can’t forget.

Suffering is a difficult subject to address, especially when you throw God into the mix and then try to figure out how it all makes sense.  Believe me when I say I don’t feel qualified to speak to the subject, especially not the God part of it.  I always believed that cursing at God and accusing him of being a horrible, malicious bully was wrong, but in the last few months I’ve made up for lost time. It’s been awhile since he’s gotten anything but rage, accusation, or the cold shoulder from me so needless to say, I probably shouldn’t try and give advice on God right now.

I don’t know a lot, but I know a couple things. I know that suffering is real and that everyone experiences it to different degrees.   I also know that denying or ignoring it are both really bad ideas.  For me, though, suffering has not just been a “season” in my life that I’ve just had to buckle down and endure until it was over.  In order for that to be true, I would’ve needed to experience something other than suffering to compare it to.  Suffering and extreme emotional pain is the very environment into which I was born and the only thing I understood of people and the world until I was 20 years old, which was when I felt a feeling of love for the first time in my life.  It was brief.  Very brief.  But though momentary, I’ll never forget the feeling.  Extreme emotional and psychological pain was set as my “normal” and was internalized as such by the time I was a young girl.

I’m only now able to see my life as being so painful.  At the time, it was just life and I probably would have found it strange not to feel the pain.  Although I was recently diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after a recent trauma, there is no doubt that I have suffered with it for much longer than that.  I remember having flashbacks, extreme emotional responses to triggers, panic attacks, etc. since I was young.  Growing up in the family I did forced me to cope with life and chronic emotional pain in some really unhealthy ways.  One of those ways was an eating disorder that almost claimed my life at the age of 20.  I was also diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  I remember dissociating in a severe way after my parents got divorced and having no connection to my emotional or internal state at all.  I remember day dreaming about different ways to end my life because those were the only thoughts that brought relief from the endless emotional torture.  Even though in-patient and out-patient treatment brought physical life back to my body, I remember being forced to endure further trauma without the coping mechanism I had developed, pushing me even further into dissociation and a nearly complete level of emotional numbing.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  And to make it worse, I didn’t even know until recently what was actually happening to me.  At least now I have a name.  Something solid that can be studied and understood…explained.  Before, I was just acting out without a clue.

“War and victims is something the community wants to forget.  A veil of oblivion is drawn over everything painful and unpleasant.  We find the two sides face to face.  On one side the victims who perhaps wish to forget but cannot.  And on the other, all those with strong, often unconscious, motives who very intensely wish to forget and succeed in doing so.” – Dr. Judith Lewis Herman

Perhaps worse than the trauma, the abuse, and all the resulting effects, is the complete lack of acknowledgement from others.  I’ve had people ignore, deny, and dismiss my experiences just about as much as I’ve had the experiences themselves.  You wouldn’t expect a perpetrator to acknowledge the pain or abuse they inflict, but I think most people would expect others to.  Friends, family (given they aren’t the perpetrators), pastors, community…someone.  But I never had any of that.  Family and friends were usually the perpetrators.  I wasn’t allowed to show pain without incurring more of it, and strangers didn’t know the difference.  Ever since I was a little girl, all of the pain I have experienced has been internalized, shoved down, and locked deep inside my body and mind.  It comes out, but in ways people don’t understand and can’t recognize.  I have body aches, muscle aches, headaches, anxiety so high I can’t concentrate on or remember anything, I dissociate a lot, I isolate, I hide, and I run.  Or I fight.  If I can’t hide or feel trapped, I just start fighting and nobody understands why.  Sometimes they disappear but usually they just reign down insults, accusations, and shame on me…pushing me further and further into myself.

Sometimes I try to explain it but it doesn’t make sense to most people.  It’s only ever made sense to the people who have experienced similar things themselves, but there aren’t many of those.  The one hour a week of therapy I get is the only time in my life I don’t feel crazy.  It’s the only time I get to be honest and have someone treat me like I’m a normal human being.  It’s the only time I see or feel compassion from someone else.  The rest of life is just desolate, dark, despairing, and painful beyond all imagination.  It’s full of expectations I couldn’t meet on my best of days, and rejection.  So…much…rejection.  Some days I’m able to flip the switch and make myself go numb.  Other days, I lack the strength and the pain comes seeping into everything I do and say.

I don’t understand why God has made me suffer so much.  I don’t understand why he never gave me support or help to deal with it in better ways.  I can’t pretend to know why he’s sat back and watched as I disintegrate into a shadow of a person without ever stepping in, showing up, or making good on any of those lofty promises you read about in the Bible.  I can’t pretend that I still believe he’s good…not after I’ve spent years begging for help and healing and never getting any more than a turned back.  I can’t pretend like I know anything about anything any more.  But I do know that even though my body and my mind feel like they’re wasting away to death and destruction, my eyes are more open than they’ve ever been.  I see and feel not just mine, but other’s pain in ways I never did or could before.  I see the delusions and denials of the world more than ever before.  And I feel a rage towards it all that I’ve never had before.   If anything is for sure, it’s that I swallowed the red pill, and there’s no turning back.

To The Christian

writing-with-pen1This post is addressing an issue that both concerns and frustrates me deeply each time I encounter it.  Unfortunately, I seem to encounter it a lot.  It’s an issue that lies within the context of years worth of experience that continues to wreak havoc and destruction.  Which, again, I encounter far more often than I’d like.  It has to do with beliefs held by those who call themselves Christians and yet they have no idea what that actually means.  They were fed a lie, they believed it, and now they live it to their own (and other’s) destruction.  They’re the ones who claim all the benefits of God’s goodness while ignoring all the costs and all their own responsibilities within it.  To me, they are the ones who missed the proverbial boat and, in effect, lead people away from it as well.  These people are everywhere both inside and outside of the church and I just keep meeting them.  It’s concerning, but also maddening.  So I decided to write them a letter.  I apologize if it seems a bit abrupt or disjointed, I’m not really one for pleasantries when there are more important issues at hand.  Anyways…


To Whom It May Concern:

If your understanding and acceptance of God’s grace has led you into spiritual laziness; meaning, it’s effectual outcome is that you do not look at, deal with, fight, or overcome your sin because you actually think it doesn’t matter and that you’re off the hook, then let me just suggest to you that what you accepted was not, in fact, grace.  Let me suggest that to you that you heard a word, twisted it to suit your sinful, selfish, and lazy flesh, and are now using it as an excuse to live in denial even more than you did before.  Might I submit that that does not, in fact, count as “being saved” or however you would say it.  Let me suggest the possibility that you are not one of God’s favored children – a benefit you love to claim.  If the Bible is true, and I believe it is, then you are precisely the ones that God prefers to spit out of his mouth.

Let me expound.  ACTUAL grace is the thing that gives you the ability to see your sin and the strength to fight it.  It causes humility, not total arrogance and laziness.  It is what lifts you…us…out of our denial, puts the sword into our hands, and empowers us to fight.  It gives us the strength to work, both internally and externally, and to put our hand to the plow….NOT to sit back and live worthless lives wallowing in apathy or denial about our sickness.  Grace is what allows us to even see our filth in the first place when, without it, we live in so much clouded delusion we actually think we’re decent people who don’t really need to fight, either for our own soul or for other’s.  You have lists of reasons, excuses really, in your heads for why you’re “good”, or at least “better” than so-in-so.  Grace is the very thing that lifts that veil of utter denial and allows us to see ourselves for the sick, selfish, lazy, lying, manipulative, angry, vindictive, greedy, proud, scheming, arrogant, hopelessly damned souls we really are.  (And we are all at least one of those).  Grace, once we have seen the sick and disappointing reality, is what then comes to us and allows us to face those realities.  Not to ignore or excuse them.  I think C.S. Lewis speaks well to this when he says,

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”

If you suffer with pride, which keeps you from seeing your sin, or sloth, which keeps you from doing anything about it, then grace is the thing that both opens your eyes and motivates your heart to fight against those things.  It means you will fight towards humility and action.  But if you suffer with pride or sloth (or heaven forbid, both) and your response to grace is, “YAY!  Now I have a reason not to care OR fight because, well, God did all the work and gave me a free pass!” and then you go onto live your entire life in your sickness without another thought….might I suggest that you…missed…the…entire…boat.

Grace is what empowers us for the spiritual, emotional, and psychological battles against that which takes us and others away from God.  It inspires us to fight for ourselves and others while the Holy Spirit is what gives us the gifts to do so in our own unique way.  Knowing that we are not strong to fight them alone, Grace is what causes humility in the knowledge that we are weak and helpless.  If you say you’re a Christian and yet you are growing in arrogance, laziness, pride, or a general apathy towards sin…then I think you need to double-check which team you’re on.  Because grace sure as heck isn’t a free pass to waste our lives in selfish denial of what we are doing both to ourselves and to others.  If that is the effect of grace on your life, let me just suggest to you that you may have missed the entire point of….everything.  And if that’s the case, we need to get you back to square one so you can honestly analyze who and what you are, as well as what you need.  Because grace never said, “your sin doesn’t matter anymore, so go ahead and carry on doing nothing without guilt.”  It says, “You’re guilty and need to change.  I can help with that.”

The truth about grace is that it gives us the power to repent.  And repentance takes strength, work, and power that is beyond just our human capacity.  Our human capacity is to sit back and think we aren’t accountable for anything.  But Jesus preached repentance. And repentance is work.  Repentance is hard. Repentance feels bad and people who worship their feelings will never do it aside from grace.  Repentance is a daily fight that you aren’t even addressing while you sit back thinking God isn’t holding you accountable anymore.  And no, contrary to one popular Christian belief, praying one prayer when you are 6 years old and repeating a set of words is not repentance unless that prayer is a reality in your life everyday thereafter.  If you just checked it off your list and think that’s all you do, that’s cheating.  Because unless you’re doing what Jesus said to do (to repent) then you’re just trying to cheat the system.  You’re calling yourself a soldier just because you played one in a damn video game. Meanwhile, in reality, you’ve never even been to bootcamp!!  You’re not fooling anyone, except those who are looking for a good excuse as well.  And Jesus has a lot to say about that.

Being a Christian is hard.  Being a Christian is a fight.  Being a Christian is humbling.  Being a Christian will give you more enemies than you want.  Being a Christian will set you apart, make you different, and change you completely. It will bring you a lot of backlash from people who aren’t Christians and it will make you terribly unpopular.  If you worship your comfort and your goal is to be liked, I don’t suggest Christianity as your religion of choice. It will kill you and all your lazy desire…but it will strengthen your spirit and bring you close to God.  Christianity involves daily repentance….every day…for the rest of your life.  And most of the time it feels like absolute death – because it is.  It is death to the flesh, which takes a lifetime.  It isn’t a set of words or beliefs that you check off your list and are then finished, ready to give your life over to spiritual pride, laziness and apathy.  It’s daily death to those things, which will continue until the day you actually die.

That is what it means to be a Christian, to have grace.  And if you honestly believe that you don’t have to (or worse, shouldn’t have to) work or fight or see your sin, then you’ve missed the whole idea.  You need to start over.  Jesus said to count the cost of following him before deciding to do so.  So if you aren’t willing to work hard, sacrifice everything, and fight in real battles as a real soldier, then don’t sign up.  But you don’t get it both ways.  If you don’t sign up, you don’t get Jesus, or grace.  You don’t get to have your cake and eat it too.  So think about it and decide.  You can repent and change, and grace will show up to help you on that journey.  Or you can keep your lies and deceptions, comforts, and excuses.  The only option unavailable to you, if you wish to call yourself a Christian, is to have both.