Merry Christmas (season). I originally planned to write Christmas Day, but that didn’t end up happening. I feel I ought to, at the very least, write before the year is over.
I finally submitted my petition to change my name. I was told I’ll get a reply in about 3-4 weeks. I felt emotionally pretty cold while I was there, even though I fumbled about. Determination was probably my dominant feeling. It was the same feeling I had when I worked with the police, reporting all that sordid stuff, and enduring whatever revictimizing thing stood in my way. As far as I’m concerned, they failed me miserably; I did my best, and they didn’t (and according to articles such as this one, this is the norm). The least they could do is allow me a new name for myself.
With this, I am denying all ownership from my family. Every accomplishment, failing, joy, pain, etc. will belong to no one but myself…but this realization makes me less happy than I thought it would. It occurs to me that I have nothing to offer. The one thing the Church always said was the greatest good, the family, was the one thing I never had. Even my family with my parish feels shaky, unreliable. The only love I seem to have ever encountered always had a price in the end. In other words, it was always conditional.
My mind is still very much on the subject of Love, though more on all loves as opposed to just romantic love or eros. For the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve been thinking nonstop about all the people I thought loved me only to withdraw their love, whatever kind of love that is, when they deemed me too “intense”, too broken, or too needy. Even the ones who actually are sticking around, some of whom showed me quite a bit of love this Christmas; I always wonder just how much more of me they can take until they also turn and leave. I even wonder whether or not my friend has lost interest in me, and if he hasn’t, when the seemingly inevitable is going to happen.
The matter of one’s lovableness/worth is one of those universal questions. It’s something I think every human being ever created has wondered as it’s something all humans want when it comes down to it. In the Church, we believe in the sanctity of life, that each life is worthwhile as God brought him/her into existence with the mission of Love. This goes back and forth in other lines of thought (e.g. utilitarianism), but I think this is more or less agreed upon by most out there. That said…I actually think this belief, like other beliefs, is largely just believed on paper, and not really practiced in thought or action.
As a victim/survivor of abuse, I have a very low opinion of my own worth. It appears in just about every aspect of my life. Some (mostly those who stuck around, though others as well) would argue with me in my solid belief that I’m not an easy person to love. I’d even been thinking that the only reason people do seem to enjoy my presence is because I entertain them somehow, whether it be my singing voice, my sense of humor, or whatever. “If they knew me, the real me, no one would ever love me,” I’d think. They all act like they care, and maybe to some extent they do…but if my experiences have any founding, the moment I let them in, they’ll run in fear, maybe even disgust.
It’s how I feel…and yet there’s this very powerful need in me to be known by someone, to be loved. I’m always being tossed back and forth between these strong inclinations of what I know about human nature, and this human need for love. I’m so scared of it, and yet desire it more than just about anything.
My doctor recently sent a very long and clearly thought-out email in response to some of the dark feelings I’ve been struggling with, telling me that I’m suffering from the consequence of conditional love. God’s love is unconditional, and the place we’re supposed to encounter that sort of love with no strings attached, love for love’s sake, was the family. Obviously, I didn’t have that, and I have reason to believe less and less people are encountering that these days. As a result, I think, people are more afraid of love.
I recently had a powerful illustration of this very problem as I babysit a friend’s bunny for the week. There was a point when he wiggled out of my arms when I tried to put him back in his home after I let him play around in this little fenced space I made for him. I had to catch him before he went somewhere I couldn’t reach, where he could possibly chew through wires (a common bunny habit), and maybe electrocute himself. When I did, the poor thing started hyperventilating in my arms. I quickly put him in his home, and petted him gently when he was okay with me touching him again, apologizing for frightening him to badly. Soon…tears started spilling out of my eyes.
When I told my doctor this story, he said, “Now you know how God feels.” I already came to that conclusion myself shortly after I started crying, and hearing it from him only solidified this fact: I’m that scared little bunny when embraced by Love. Bunnies are prey animals, and so being caught usually meant a violent death; it’s written in their DNA. The impression I got of love my whole life from my abusers, my family, revictimizing relatives, and people I used to look to as friends out here physically and emotionally rewrote my whole person to react to love, even real Love, with that same instinctual fear.
There’s even a place in John’s gospel where Jesus, having made friends with this huge crowd of followers, turns around and challenges them. Many of them joined after the multiplication miracle of the bread and fish, and like the woman at the well thirsting for ever-quenching water, wanted to never be hungry. Like her, teaching her that He was that Living Water, He teaches them about the Eucharist, telling them that they had to eat His Body and drink His Blood.
Now, this is one of the hardest teachings in the Church. To be blunt, it sounds like cannibalism at best, and as there’s the added understanding that this is supposed to be the marital act He shares with His Bride, the Church (i.e. all Catholics in good standing, regardless of age or gender), it has other even less comfortable connotations. He doesn’t back down though, and doesn’t sugarcoat; He even repeated Himself. As a result, a lot of His followers turned around, and left. That was too intense, too intimate for them to stomach.*
A/N: Heck, even I still struggle with it, which makes me all the more grateful that those Eucharistic miracles, where the sensory illusion of bread/wine is lifted, are a rare occurrence; there’s a horrifying account of a man who experienced said miracle in his mouth, the seemingly harmless bread suddenly becoming a bleeding piece of human flesh on his tongue. All the same, I’ll admit that it’s a healing experience for the kinds of abuse I suffered; Jesus always, always waits for my full consent, and when I receive Him in communion, even just spiritual communion, He doesn’t reject me no matter how dirty and unlovable as I feel. Instead, I sometimes even feel a rush of reassurance fill my heart, the same sort that I get when someone expresses love to me in a way that manages past my defenses and confusion. And as a random fun-fact, scientists who examined these Eucharistic miracles and the Shroud of Turin determined that Jesus’ blood type (and thus Mary’s blood type) is AB! #themoreyouknow
Those crowds were entertained by Jesus. They got a dinner and a show, free of charge. Then, when Jesus shares this very intimate thing about Himself (which is to say, God), they leave. John writes that Jesus turns to ask His apostles if they wanted to leave, too. He doesn’t mention what kind of tone Jesus had, but if I had to guess, I’d imagine He said it with the same sort of dejection as I have when all those others left, often after breaking my heart. I can’t help but imagine a sigh come from Him even after St. Peter insisted that they won’t leave; “Have I not chosen you twelve? And yet one among you is a devil.” He was talking about Judas there, but I bet He also had the others in mind. Even bold Peter ditched Him during the Passion, leaving only St. John to stay with Him during His darkest moments.
I had the thought that maybe the only one capable of loving something like me would be God, whose love is always unconditional. If this wasn’t true, I wouldn’t exist. He wouldn’t have allowed me to be conceived otherwise. Mary is a close second, and the saints I admire. Meanwhile, my faith in human love here on earth is very limited.
…Reason tells me that I shouldn’t feed these fears.
It stands to reason that, as these fears result from abusive grooming and trauma, it’s what he calls “a conditioned response”. Conditional love conditioned me to think all love is conditional (and therefore, not true). Therefore, I probably should pay more attention to the real love that comes my way. I could’ve focused on how traumatic and stressful Christmas was for me as a girl, but then I would’ve missed out on the beauty and love I experienced at the Midnight Mass. I would’ve not recovered the memory of how that was the saving grace to all those Christmases growing up, as that was the one time I got to escape all that bad stuff in favor of beautiful music, readings, and general cheer.
It won’t be easy. I write these things, and I write them honestly. Regardless, I know my habits. I’d sooner go to what’s easy/instinctual for me than make the effort. But then…isn’t true love one of the only things worth fighting for in this world? Isn’t love the one thing that makes sense of everything we do? And heck…what if my doctor was right when he suggested that when I talked about the nonexistence of unconditional love for me in this world, I was actually talking about the nonexistence of unconditional love from my parents?
I never really was one for New Year’s resolutions, but if I had to pick one thing I wish were different in my life…it’d probably be this fear of love. It’s understandable I have this fear. As my confessor would say, it’s not going to go away overnight. I don’t care. I hate living like this, torn between wanting love and fearing it.