There was something that’s been sticking in my mind from my last entry, that slip about how the Fourth Commandment (“honor thy parents”) felt like a shackle. I made that comment before when I described the spiritual/religious abuse I suffered. I want to talk a little more about those spiritual shackles today, as I’m fairly convinced this is “the heart of the matter” I came upon yesterday (the 27th).
First things first: my doctor told me yesterday that when I lived under my parents’ roof, the Fourth Commandment meant that I owed my parents not only respect but obedience.
Feeling that chain tighten, I asked him if that meant as they meant it to mean (i.e. unquestioned obedience in all things, even abuse). He elaborated, saying that obedience didn’t extend to unhealthy/unholy direction. A priest I once listened give a talk on fatherhood and masculinity went a bit further; in that some abusers would use cherry picked verses from the Bible out of context to justify their abuse (as mine did), that one should actually do everything in his/her power to disobey whatever they’re trying. To allow abuse to continue, another said, is unloving to yourself and the abuser, who might very well be making the argument that it is the contrary that isn’t loving or Christian (like mine).
So, that’s what I’ve been told repeatedly by priests, doctors, and teachers when I brought up this problem. It’s not what I was told growing up in Catholic school, whose curriculum (understandably) assumed all of their students’ parents were the perfect image of parental health and virtue, that every direction they may give their children is in complete alignment with love and justice. This is what, again, made me feel God was in favor of all that was happening to me until those first feelings of my parents not being like other parents that started to creep in around high school (though I’m sad to say I didn’t let it sink in until I started talking to affirming people about it 6-7 years ago).
There are a number of chains that are linked to this one, or vice versa. For instance, another thing I struggle with a lot is God the Father as my father. The reasons, of course, are obvious; my experiences with some priests, father figures, and my own father would give anyone a hard time with the idea of “father”. My doctor commented yesterday that it’s extraordinary that I still love the Church, or trust my confessor, never hesitating to call him by his proper title, “Father” (to be fair, though, there are certainly priests I’d rather call “Reverend” or even just “mister”). It’s such a hard thing to understand, that God is going to protect me, take care of me, and love me (whatever any of that means).
There are so many girls out there, so many of them in my high school, who would pursue romantic/sexual relationships with (often much older) men to make up for the lack of “Father” in their lives. I did that in the platonic sense, making friends with and seeking advice/care from older men who I’d hoped would “adopt” me (and look how that went). Meanwhile, I’d always been drawn to the paternal figures in books, movies, TV shows, etc. to look up to while most other girls would look instead to the newest, hottest stud. Led to some mortifying misunderstandings and comments, let me tell you (damn you, oversexed culture). Even now, as I watch The Twelfth Doctor, the actor being only months older than my father*, a part of me is still wishing, still looking for an earthly father whose voice I can hear, eyes I can see. My confessor told me that this wish is a good thing, though I can’t see why; why is a wish that could never come true good?
A/N: In that first episode, “Deep Breath”, The Twelfth Doctor tells Clara that part of the reason he chose an older appearance was actually to establish a boundary for himself to her; he states that he’s an alien, over 2000 years old (and potentially older), and therefore “is not [her] boyfriend.” She protested that she never saw him that way, to which he replied, “I never said it was your mistake.” I thought that was so cool for, again, obvious reasons. It was decidedly fatherly thing for him to do, protecting her
and his kinda-sorta marriage, as my doctor would say, even from himself, his own feelings. The previous Doctors played by younger men would fall in love a lot and/or vice versa, often leading to sometimes heartbreaking “mistakes”. That’s all fine and good, for The Doctor to be young and fall in love, but I do like this. What’s more, he said that very calmly, rationally, in a way that was not unkind, or pushing any blame unfairly on her. Just another reason why he’s my favorite, I guess.
Sometimes, I’d even wish it was God the Father who took on human nature rather than God the Son. Aside from that making no sense, I realize, Jesus remarked in John’s gospel how seeing Him is seeing the Father, that seeing Him is seeing God. It’s not unlike when The Doctor lamented in his debut episode to Clara, “You can’t see me, can you?” When The Doctor “regenerates” (aka is replaced by another actor), he is still The Doctor, but his face, voice, fashion sense, and general demeanor all change, often leaving the present friend/companion (and newcomers to the show) confused. He’s still who he is at his core in spite of the differences, just as Jesus was/is, or really, all of us are as we walk on our own life journeys.
When I talk about fathers, I feel a need to talk about mothers, about siblings, about family. Mine is amorphous, no boundaries allowed, and no accountability for any abuse done. That’s how we children were groomed to be, how my parents decided was what a family should look like. Almost felt like a hive mentality, except I’m the drone that did everything wrong.
And here we finally come to “the heart of the matter”: my inability to reconcile the existence of any good in my parents and other abusers, and the truth of my abuse, thus my being in the right here in keeping them out of my life so I could live mine.
When I stay put long enough, that chain starts to rattle, to trap me in a very dark place where there’s those whispers telling me that I’m the bad one, the prodigal child. That shift of behavior (I still can’t believe my siblings didn’t notice that dramatic shift) from my parents acting so victimized by my leaving, conveniently forgetting that they’re the ones who demanded I leave in the first place, continuing the act to this day…it’s convincing. It rattles me. It fills me with all kinds of fears.
From both sides of the family (Southern American and Southeast Asian) is also that culture of a girl/woman not leaving her family’s roof until married, something many Catholic families have in common. It’s therefore unnatural, strange, for me to be on my own (hopefully completely so before long, with the chances of financial abuse in my future eliminated). Sometimes I even get the impression that it’s “unholy” – priests and the like would advise women to “forgive” their abusive husbands (and vice versa, of course; remember my mother), children to “forgive” their abusive parents…but then, I’d say this is largely an issue for me because of what I was taught “forgiveness” and “mercy” was, to allow any and all evils to happen to me, to “tolerate” them.
My doctor told me that to forgive is not to “be a doormat”. As I’ve already stated, and was further supported by those whose word holds more authority than mine in these matters, we should never allow anyone to do bad things to us, to themselves, or to each other. I have a hard time hearing this reality, and all those other realities, over that which chained me.
All victims/survivors of abuse tend to recoil at the very mention of “forgiveness”, most likely for the same reasons I do. Even if the ones who harmed us hadn’t done as mine did, used words like “forgiveness” to invalidate and break down boundaries, the world likes to tell us to “just forgive and forget already”. Our post-traumatic brains have been completely rewired in such a way that makes it next to impossible, sure; it’s not “in the past” because the part of the brain for time perception is damaged so memory becomes present fact.
Funnily enough, I’m thinking again of the Twelfth Doctor, as he, funnily enough, gave a very passionate speech on forgiveness (if more in the context of war, but it really does apply for abuse as well). He was urging this very angry young (alien) woman, Bonnie, to “break the cycle”, to stop her revolution against humankind. It’s not that I want revenge or war. I said almost these exact same words myself at one point, realizing how abused my parents were, and how they let that turn them into the abusive parents they were: “And do you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it? You hold it tight! ‘Til it burns your hand! And you say this: no one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will ever have to feel this pain. Not on my watch.” I got that far, sure. Compassion isn’t a difficult thing for me, nor is that instinct to prevent anyone else feeling the way I did, that I do. Yet, forgiveness seems to be too hard to do, and yet, that’s what my doctor has always, always said is the one thing that would cure me.
Compassion and forgiveness are maybe two of the most treasured virtues. Compassion comes easily for me, as I find a brother and sister in all those who suffer in just about any way. Forgiveness…why can’t this one be easier for me to understand, let alone practice? My parents, none of my abusers are completely evil, I know, but when I consider the good parts of who they are, I can’t, literally cannot, do so without thinking, “I guess that means I’m the evil one then. I’m the one in the wrong. I’m the one against God, unfaithful, and ungrateful. I should even go back and let them hurt me more; I’m the prodigal child.”
Is that why we humans like to demonize our enemies so much? Racial conflicts, hatred for police, Republican, Democrat, whatever…to the other side, no matter who it is, we are evil incarnate for whatever reason they want, or perhaps need, to feel justified in their own cause.
If this is how humans are, how do I overcome this…any of this? How can I reconcile something irreconcilable? Forgiveness does not mean the same thing as reconciliation; that needs both sides to cooperate, and while I’ve done my part (and then some), they refused, are actively continuing to refuse, demanding tolerance instead. Therefore, why am I being asked the impossible…but then, should I even allow myself to ask “why”? This is a trap I can’t find a way out of, a prison with no gate to open, in other words: hell. How do I get out of hell, unburden myself of these chains (or even the memory of these chains)?
I wish I knew.
Deep down, something whispers God to be my answer, but how do I ask Him? I don’t know what I should say. I’m scared. I’m scared of what answer He might give me. How can I make it less scary? God is love (but love is scary). I wish I asked my confessor about this…but then, he and my doctor both said that I’m already doing a good job. Is this just my impatience talking, feeling trapped, not wanting to wait around feeling trapped?
I hope I find out soon.