Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Have you seen this?

Ricky Gervais tells us why he's an atheist.  I think it is worth a read. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sharing, maybe oversharing, and possibly triggering. Also long-winded.

My last post was vague.  This one won't be much more clear.  I've been learning a lot lately and I've gained a lot of insight.  But, I haven't remotely untangled it all yet and I don't feel that I have anything resembling a real grasp on things. If I did, I would share more in hopes that someone else might benefit.

Here is what I know: The messages I received in church and from friends and family who were also raised in the church and in Utah, with all of the cultural crap that includes, have affected me in profound ways.  But, I am not talking about the things that I think.  I never thought the things I was supposed to think.  I never believed the things I was supposed to believe.  I was born a skeptic and questioned, questioned, questioned the mythology and the dogma from early childhood.  So, I think pretty independently and rarely find myself thinking something like, for example, "abortion is murder" or "homosexuality is a sin" (these examples are things I NEVER think but I say rarely because I am sure I occasionally think things that might fit into the same category - absolute truths taught in church).

Rather, the profound and lasting effect the CofJCofLDS had on me was in shaping my behaviors, my interactions with others, my ability to be assertive, and, most importantly, my ability to set boundaries to protect my self (two words in this case).  As a result, I've developed some "self issues".  This isn't the same as self-esteem. I've got plenty of self-esteem.  I'm intelligent, kind, empathetic, ethical, strong, hard-working, diligent, ambitious, and dare I say, funny? I know I have significant resources within me.  But, the way I move through the world isn't consistent with that knowledge.  My behavior and communication are often interpreted by others as resulting from a self-esteem problem.  It's not.  The self issue I have is in knowing that I exist and that I am alive. I don't always know that. I feel empty, dead, non-existent.  I stop experiencing emotion although I am intellectually aware of how I should be feeling in a situation.  Feeling unsure about whether I exist (or whether I am the only person who exists and everyone else is a hollow shell) makes me feel like I am losing my mind.  Literally.  As though I am losing my intellect and grasp on reality.  I start to fear that these are early signs of schizophrenia or some other delusion disorder.  (They aren't in my case.)  I know it sounds weird.  Well, it sounds weird unless you've experienced it. 

I've been in a therapy group exploring these self issues.  It's been hard and scary.  I've picked out things that cause "Aha!" moments when I wonder if or how much the culture of mormonism, and personal deity belief more generally, caused these confusions/delusions.  The boundary issue and denial of the right to the private self are obvious culprits.  Also obvious is that we weren't taught to be assertive.  In fact, we were taught to be passive or passive-aggressive (especially the women?).  Assertiveness was portrayed as negative and even confrontational. But, assertiveness and aggressiveness are very different animals.  Unfortunately, I have a difficult time knowing the difference or seeing the lines between them, so I often attempt to be assertive (And why shouldn't I?  I'm intelligent and capable and deserving.) but overshoot and hit aggressive or undershoot and hit passive-aggressive or passive.  And, as a result, I don't get what I need at work or in relationships most of the time. I feel bullied.  Then I beat myself up because I know people can't meet my needs if I don't communicate them effectively, although sometimes they try. If I had to pick the one personality flaw that hinders me most,  it is this struggle to be assertive.

In the self group, we talk a lot about trauma.  This terrified me at first.  It seemed as though I was learning that having a self issue meant that I MUST have experienced some big trauma in my life. In many cases these traumas are related to abuse, witnessing violence or suicide, or near-death experiences. The doctor who runs the group mentioned that sometimes people block these things or that they may have happened before the age at which children form conscious memories.  I couldn't think of a trauma, which made me fear I had blocked it or had been abused as an infant. I wept for a few days. I considered asking my mom but feared it would scare or devastate her.  Then, I met individually with one of the group leaders who explained that trauma might not be so acute or obvious and I wasn't necessarily blocking anything but that maybe I was looking back to narrowly.  She isn't my regular therapist though and doesn't really know me so she had no ideas.  It had occurred to me that maybe my mother's cancer when I was a young child was my trauma.  It also occurred to me that the mental abuse of my religious upbringing, and subsequently leaving the church, has been a life-long trauma.  But, I didn't know and I felt like I was grasping as straws looking for a trauma that might have caused sense-of-self issues for me.  These ideas just seemed so trivial compared to the physical violence others have experienced.  Yesterday, I had an appointment with my regular therapist.  I was explaining this group and the theory behind it (still unpublished so unfamiliar to the psychological and psychiatric health community). She, unprompted, asked if I thought that my former religion could be my trauma.  It might not be the only trauma I've endured.  But, I KNOW that it was/is a traumatic experience and definitely the most formulative traumatic experience of my life.  It has caused me damage that might be irreparable.

That isn't so easy to accept or move past.  I can't imagine what positive I can ever find in that.  Therapy is long (maybe life-long), time-consuming, painful, expensive, and absolutely necessary. I'm not going to be able to sue the Church to cover the expenses or get closure. My brain is likely never going to function at the capacity it might have had I been raised without religion.  I am likely to be haunted by an existential crisis forever.  I will likely experience emptiness and numbness off and on for life.  All I can hope to do is learn how to recognize when I am drifting into, and snap myself out of that state more quickly and more effectively.  How can I possibly benefit from a lack of normal sense-of-self?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Still Shocked

I am learning more and more everyday about how much the CofJCofLDS totally FUCKED me up as a kid.  It still shocks me just how bad it was/is.  The number of ways I am a hot mess as a result of that upbringing is ever-growing. Will it ever stop?  Does anyone feel like they have figured out ALL of ways they are screwed up?  I don't think I can keep finding new reasons forever.  I'm already pretty bitter.