starting over

from a morning walk on the beach
I’ve been composing a fairy-tale for my Stories page about my relationship with the Church and with God. It involved a very vast kingdom, God’s Kingdom, inhabited by many princes and princesses the King adopted into His court and family. One princess, after experiencing a lot of cruelty by others in His Kingdom, wanted to leave. She’s stopped by the Crown Prince, the King’s only son by blood, holding her abandoned crown with a sad bewilderment. It brought her to tears, but she still told him why she left it, why she wanted to leave: the crown hurt her.

Even though I already composed another fairy-tale, I wanted to this one to be the first one I posted. But I didn’t know how the story should end. Should she leave? Should she stay? What would the Crown Prince have to say or do to convince her to stay? I knew how people would probably want it to end…but didn’t know if that’s how I wanted it to end.

Meanwhile, I’d finally finished going back through all my old posts, sorting out which ones I wanted to share, which ones I wanted to keep to myself, etc. It felt like time travel, meeting with my past self. She, even though she’d attempted suicide and self-harmed, had more hope than I do. There was a calm about her that I don’t have most of the time. If she saw me, I don’t know if she would recognize herself, and not in a good way.

I notice how she always spoke well of her friendship with her confessor, the one person she seemed to always hold as the best proof that humans can be good, that Catholics and priests can be good. What she didn’t say was that there were times, like with the guy friend she liked and most others in her life, that he had also said things that caused her harm and confusion. Maybe it was because, every time, he put it to rights. He was sorry, and tried not to misspeak again. He was human in his imperfection, and yet had the humanity to mend the hurt he (accidentally) caused. Like her guy friend, like the few friends she still kept.

As it happens, I had a very long talk with my confessor last night, long after the moon was high in the sky. He told me a lot of things I didn’t understand about God, about humans, about forgiveness, etc. I liked a lot of what he said…but couldn’t understand. It sounded so foreign, like he was speaking another language. Yet, back then, in those old posts, I seemed to understand it better than I do now.

I figured I should sleep on it, exhausted from the day and from crying. Now that it’s morning, the thing that stayed with me the most was how he gave me a very different perspective on forgiveness than the one I learned in abuse, and the one I learned from the not-so-good Catholics in my life. He said that forgiveness is saying, “This hurt and shame is not mine; I’m not going to let it control me anymore. I’m not going to let this be my identity.” He told me of a moment of forgiveness in his life, describing it as a very peaceful moment.

For whatever reason, it brought back to mind that post I made comparing the Devil’s temptations to an abuser’s grooming. It’s popular for Christians to give the Devil names like The Destroyer, The Dragon, The Accuser. I called him The Abuser in that article. Seems like the best name for him from how he and his lot acts.

Remembering that article, remembering my abusers, and thinking about my confessor, I realized something:

I was looking at God, the Church, and humanity from the perspective of abuse.

My abusers constantly attacked anyone I reached out to, attacking their character as well as mine for looking up to them. Like I shared, I was often accused of sexual or romantic deviance with these people, whether it’s younger friends online or older spiritual directors. This is a jealous behavior of abusers, particularly in enmeshed families and abusive relationships, that puts the very shaming title of cheater on the victim for seeking help. It isolates us, and teaches us that to look for love outside this abusive “love” is to be unfaithful.

Remembering this made me remember how I kept my priest friend a very guarded secret for this very reason. He’s of a “dateable” age, and yes, is handsome. I didn’t even want to think of what they (or really, any other gossipmonger out there) would say and accuse me of for thinking so well of him. It wouldn’t even matter that he is very solidly in the “Brother” category in my mind, or that we clearly act like siblings; they see two young people together and jump to that same, frankly shallow, conclusion.

When I was getting all those accusations about my old spiritual director, I felt so much shame…more than I can really express (though I obviously tried in those last few entries). It felt like the shame I felt when my abusers would put all that responsibility on me, how I dressed, how I conducted myself, when that other abuser would come over nights. I would sometimes feel tempted to think the very worst of him (my spiritual director) as a means to protect myself before my (displaced) loyalty would tell me to smooth it over for sake of what he meant to me then: a loving father. Now that I have all this hatred for him, those others, my abusers, and yes, God, I felt safe.

But I remember how I felt, when he first became my spiritual director. He responded to an email I sent, revealing that I was struggling with memories of abuse and was currently being abused, with a very earnest request for me to come see him. I remember how I thought, “Wow. This person is very different from what I’ve known my whole life, and in a good way.” I was reminded of that feeling last night for my priest friend.

It’s so obvious now why God became a stranger to me. Abuse is an antonym of Love, and therefore an antonym of God’s true nature. He’s everything my abusers, those not-so-good friends, and this shame I’ve identified with as “me”, are not.

When I realized all this, I opened the drawer of all the Catholic things I’d stowed away from my apartment, and put the little crucifix and holy water fount back where they belonged. And I said a prayer: I told God how I don’t know Him, but that I recognize now that He’s not an abuser. I told Him that I’d like to try again, to get to know the real Him.

I didn’t want to cry, but ended up shedding a few tears (like I am now). My confessor did encourage me to “pray in a way I haven’t before, cry in a way I haven’t before,” so I guess it’s okay. I couldn’t help but laugh. He probably was laughing, too.

The moment brings up another memory, of when, on one summer trip to the beach, I snuck out of the house we rented to go for a walk. One word I have to describe it is “gentle” (or better yet, “yasashii” the Japanese word used for both “gentle” and “kind”); there was a soft haze on the ocean as the morning sun was just waking up, the waves brushing the sand. I was the only one on the beach at that hour. It was a very special, intimate moment with nature.

On this healing journey, I fall down so often. I tumble back down to the same dark places, believing the same dark things those awful things taught me. Then, something brings me back. I’m given reason to hope again.

I’m not sure if I believe in things like happy endings, family, marriage, friendship, the Church, etc…but I think I can give believing in starting over another try.

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