Posts Tagged ‘Catholicism’

ham_with_cider_glaze_leadWhenever I need a quick pick-me-up, I head over to http://www.dogshaming.com to look at the humorous pictures of dogs caught in shameful situations. Being a dog owner myself, I can relate to a lot of the pictures. Nothing says “I’m a beagle, I had to do it” better than a picture of one in a near coma from having eaten an entire ham — while the evidence is still on the dinner table, in the background. I’ve been there. I just wasn’t able to catch Lilly in the act. She’s sneaky that way.

But, fortunately for dogs, their short-attention spans and the apparent lack of a guilty conscience keeps them from feeling shame for any longer than, say, the time it takes them to lift their hanging heads and look at you with liquid pools of love as if to say “I wuvs you, mommy. You wuvs me too?” I fall for this every time.

However, with humans, shame comes with a much heftier price — which can last long after the shameful incident has occurred. And that’s what this post is about.

teenage-pregnancy

When I was nineteen, I got pregnant. I was unmarried, a freshman in college, and completely terrified. I had been raised in the Catholic church, so I was expected to be the “perfect little Catholic girl” and remain virginal until my wedding day. I was also never given the “big talk” by my mom, because her generation of mothers “didn’t talk about sex”. At least not to me anyways.

Needless to say, the boy I lost my virginity to was the same boy who helped me get pregnant. So much for remaining abstinent. It’s also important to add here that, unlike some of my older siblings, I never went to Catholic school as a kid. Unlike Catholic school sex education (which, by the way is woefully inadequate and borders on ridiculous — I know, I had to teach it), I did get the full course of ‘This is where babies come from and here’s how not to let that happen to you.” I wasn’t completely in the dark about sex. I just grew up hearing “Abstinence and natural planning is the only acceptable practice for Catholics. Birth control is WRONG.” over and over again.

When I officially found out I was pregnant, I knew three things right away: 1) abortion was out of the question, 2) I am not prepared financially or emotionally to raise this child and 3) the child deserves a stable home with a mother and a father, and that wasn’t something I could give him. (it was a boy). Looking back on that moment in the doctor’s office, I still stand by my thoughts.

However, despite knowing that I handled my mistake the best way I could at the time, I have recently come to realize how horribly mishandled I was during this time by my parents–more so by my mom than my dad. I cannot blame my mom for what she did and how she treated me – she was only going on the doctrine of the Catholic church and  how it feels about birth control (absolutely NOT), abortion (eternal damnation if you so much as even think about it) and pre-marital sex (yet another sin so evil *insert eye roll and heavy sarcasm here* if any teacher in any diocese is caught having it they will immediately lose their job).

shame_by_bbastos-d33xu55My mom was horrified of the shame I had brought on to her, the family and, most importantly it seemed, the Catholic church. I felt like the “spiritually soiled girl,” destined for eternal damnation. I was certain I could never get married wearing the white dress, or take communion without confession first (another thing she wanted me to do), and all the other forms of penance and emotional flogging I had to do in order to get back in “God’s good graces.”

In an effort to keep the family safe from my obvious disgrace, I was sent off to live with a woman I didn’t know until the baby was born and I could home again and resume my life as an “unblemished, pure Catholic girl.” I, however, had to continue on with my life as if I had no worries or stressors on me. Instead of much-needed counseling, I was told to continue to “lead as normal a life as possible.”

I enrolled at a community college, bought a cheap gold band to wear as a wedding ring for my non-existent husband who was in active duty in the Marines (part of the series of lies I had to tell everyone so as not to blow the cover off my family’s shame). Lie upon lie was told to friends of the family: she went to live in California, to live with her big brother and attend college out there because it’s free– was the mega lie my mom told her teacher friends.

The guilt and shame were poured on thick. My mom  laid the ultimate guilt trip on me when she insisted I not tell my older sisters I was pregnant — because, according to her Catholic point of view–my non-Catholic sisters would just judge and berate me and call me horribly irresponsible. The irony is startling.

Incidentally, I never did tell either of them until about two years ago — thirty plus years after this all happened. And, unlike what I had been told and feared would happen, neither one of them cast a single stone of judgment in my direction. In fact, both admitted they were saddened to hear that I “couldn’t come to them freely” with this news. They were angry at my mom, though, for letting her Catholicism plant false ideas into my head. Again, that good ol’ Catholic guilt was at work.

Once the baby was born and adopted out, I was told “Okay, that’s over. Time to move on with your life. We’ll never speak of this again. Promise?” Sadly, after all of this trauma and what can only be called “emotional abuse,” I agreed.

silenxcing-child

It took ten years before I could even talk about the incident to anyone. I was afraid of being shamed and judged all over again. It took the death of both of my parents to allow myself the opportunity to grieve over the loss. It is taking the help of a great therapist to help me recognize and process the enormous, near-crippling shame I have been feeling since that day in the doctor’s office almost thirty-one years ago. It will take courage, strength and confidence to forgive myself for allowing it to happen in the first place. That’s the hardest part.

Now for the “lesson learned” in all of this. And I hope this message reaches as many religious folks as possible who have found themselves on the precipice of their child’s poor choice(s).

Never, ever shame your child for their mistakes.

Yes, you can tell them you are disappointed, angry, upset, or whatever adjective seems to fit your mood. But, how  you treat them after you share your feelings can and will have lifelong effects. Kick them out because they’re gay and it goes against your religion? Devastating. Kick them out because she got pregnant and it goes against your religion? Devastating. Telling them they are destined for hell because they made a single, poor choice that doesn’t align with your beliefs? ABSOLUTELY, 100% DEVASTATING.

It has taken me thirty-one years to deal with the emotional abuse that has permeated my life and has caused many problems for me. I feel if my situation had been handled without the religious judgment and condemnation but instead with more love, patience and compassion, I would be even better than I am today.

If you wish to shame someone, then try shaming a dog. They don’t seem to care enough about your opinion to suffer any permanent effects.

Child_Shame1

 

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cognitivedissonance

My latest favorite word phrase is “Cognitive Dissonance.” This is the internal, cerebral struggle that occurs when behavior and belief do not align with one another. For me, that misalignment came from the years-long struggle I had between believing in god versus scientific evidence to the contrary.

I was baptized into the Catholic church as a baby. Every week, my mom would bundle as many of us up as she could and we’d trudge off to church, where I was constantly being told not to misbehave or wiggle so much otherwise “god would be angry”.  And after each mass, I would ask my mom to grade my behavior for god, to see if I was that “good little girl” he demanded I be.

priest_abuse

Thus began the cognitive dissonance in my head: always be good, be humble, be quiet, be sweet OR you will make god unhappy. This was the power religion held over me.

As I grew into my early twenties, and actually broke free of my parents’ house, I stopped going to church. I didn’t exactly stop believing, I just had better things to do on a Sunday. I was also starting to re-evaluate my belief system — which wasn’t aligning with my thirst for scientific knowledge and understanding. The chasm was widening as I begun to question, but not dismiss, my beliefs.

Years passed by, and I wasn’t really part of the church any longer, but still willing to believe in god. However, the internal struggle was still growing and slowly affecting who I was presenting to the world. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but religion was turning me into a judgmental “How DARE they do THAT?” kind of person. More and more this dissonance began to eat away at my psyche.

When I went into teaching, I went into it full throttle – determined to be the best, most honorable, integrity-filled teacher I could be. I was determined never to let any student feel bad about himself (or herself); and I would allow him or her to question everything that I said or taught – because that IS the true definition of education.

To accept as truth the words of an adult or authority figure without being allowed to question the validity of that content isn’t education, it is indoctrination.

That was clearly delineated and taught to me when I was in teaching school, and I made sure never to forget the difference.

I ended up teaching at a religious school, comically enough, and that’s where my cognitive dissonance grew to a thunderous roar. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, because I didn’t have to teach religion for the first three years there. However, in the back of my mind and heart, I was growing increasingly uncomfortable being in that position. It seemed like any time I tried to teach a scientific principle, it was met with “But I thought god created the…?” I wasn’t able to answer the students’ very good, very honest questions, because there was no real answer to them. The dissonance I was experiencing came from not being able to do my job as a teacher (which is to cause kids to question) and having to keep from speaking out against the ridiculousness of the religion being taught in that school.

Three years into my position, it was mandated that I teach religion, too. Imagine this conundrum: in the morning I taught about the parting of the sea, in the afternoon I taught earth science — specifically rock formations and water cycles. I was now in a full-blown, cognitive dissonance meltdown – how can I handle teaching both subjects when one completely exposes the other for the fraudulent claims it makes?

The truth is, I couldn’t handle it. It began weighing heavily on my mind and the stress was getting to me. Add a couple of personal family tragedies, a total lack of support from so-called “Christians”, and this is a recipe for disaster. I really did emotionally implode.

After I left (was kicked out, I won’t sugarcoat it here), I began to research and learn more about Catholicism. Article after article talked about thousands of children who have been abused, raped and/or sold out from under their own mothers. Priests who were raping children then using the fear of punishment from god if the children spoke out were being protected by the church instead of being thrown in jail, where they belonged. Some Archbishops went so far as to insinuate that the children — the victims – led the priests on and actually asked to be molested. What a sick, twisted individual one must be to blame the victim instead of the perpetrator. Especially a perpetrator who has taken a vow of chastity and protect and guide his “flock”. There isn’t a word strong enough to explain how vile and despicable these crimes against children are.

Unpaid, forced labor in laundries in the basements of churches led by Catholic nuns. Mass migraMagdalene_Laundries_BNtions of unwanted, un-escorted poor, Catholic children taken from the UK to Australia–without their parents’ knowledge or permission. Hundreds of dead, newly born babies buried in unmarked graves on convent grounds – or shoved into septic tanks — as if their lives never even mattered. All committed by the very people who were demanding others “act Christ-like and do good works.”

Horror story after horror story – none of which I ever heard  the church denounce, discuss or even inform its parishioners. And what has been disseminated to the world has been met by Catholic parishioners with nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders and silence. I have asked several Catholics for their thoughts on all this, and nobody is willing to talk about it. They continue, however, to attend church and give money each week. Perhaps they are secretly being told to donate to help pay legal costs for the defense funds of their pedophile priests.

Now that I am fully aware of what has been allowed to happen and go primarily unpunished for decades in the Catholic church, I have denounced not only my faith, but religion in general and the existence of god in particular. There certainly cannot be an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful god if he continues to allow such evilness from his own employees. And the “free will” excuse doesn’t apply here, either. Priests wear dog collars because they consider god their master. They don’t get a “get out of jail because of  free will card” either.

It’s interesting…I just now noticed my cognitive dissonance has disappeared.

clergyabuse


Platitudes“God has a plan for you…”

“When God closes a door, he opens a window”

“It was God’s will…”

“Don’t be sad, he (she) is with God now…”

I have always cringed when someone spoke any of the above phrases to me. I haven’t been able to figure out why until recently when I had to grit my teeth and, with clenched jaws, hear them spoken again and again coming from people who were too happy to witness my world start to crumble down around me. They just didn’t sound authentic to  me. And honestly, all these smarmy phrases did was just make me angrier and more depressed.

The above phrases are known as platitudes. According to Merriam, one of the definitions of platitude is “a banal, stale remark.” And this definition fits perfectly here. Every one of the smarmy, schmaltzy, syrupy sweet sayings about God and his particular role in my life feels like an ice pick to the brain. While I understand and accept that people tend not to know what to say in uncomfortable situations, I also feel that remarks such as those only add fuel to the fire. God has a plan for me? So then I should just sit back and wait until that plan reveals itself? I don’t call that God’s plan, I call that being lazy.

I’ve learned a lot about myself lately, too. And the one thing that I keep coming back to is: it was believing in God and his “plans” that have made me feel like absolute shit about myself. Being brought up in an organized religion didn’t improve the quality of my life – here I am at 50, unemployed and certainly not ready to retire to a life of luxury and leisure. And the biblical scripture that discusses suffering on earth: “For your rewards will be great in Heaven” certainly doesn’t help to pay off my student loans now, does it?

childabuseReligious doctrine also ruined my ability to think for myself and make my own conscious decisions. I wasn’t taught to question the existence of God, I was taught that there is no question – He exists, and if “you don’t do what he says, you’re going to end up in Hell, where you belong, because he doesn’t want you with him in paradise.”  The use of God’s existence to invoke proper behavior out of children is just another form of emotional invalidation and abuse.

If one were to consider the thousands of orphaned and poor Irish Catholic children who were sent to the industrial (read: church run) schools in Ireland who were repeatedly sexually, physically and emotionally abused, one would quickly figure out that the abuse was meted out by religious people who would spew outdated biblical scripture and warped religious doctrine at them in an effort to get little Johnny or Janey to understand that “I must abuse you, repeatedly, because God wants you to know you are always to be under the control of adults who are bigger, scarier and holier than you are.”  What a sick, perverted line of thinking to use on a young, developing mind. All in the name of religion.

I believe it is a safe bet to say that all religions come with their own set of smarmy sayings and platitudes created to help the speaker feel less uncomfortable around the person who is suffering from whatever trauma has occurred in their lives. I know talking about job loss, divorce, and death can be awkward. But, for those of us who choose not to believe that there is a magical sky fairy looking over us, and manipulating us like puppets on a string, those platitudes come across as empty, hollow and, at times, highly offensive.

Perhaps the best thing to say when put into an uncomfortable position is, “I’m sorry to hear this. I hope things get better for you soon,” then just let the person talk, if they need to talk. That’s all I wanted from those around me. That was really all I needed to hear.

Platitudes, schmatitudes.

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denialbirdearthI just finished reading the book First Person Plural, an autobiography written by Cameron West, Ph.D. It is about his life and struggle with coming to accept his Dissociative Identity Disorder. Personally, I prefer to call it by its old term: multiple personality disorder.

I am fascinated by how the brain works. More fascinating to me is the way the brain deals with trauma, worry, stress, and lastly, denial. I chose the title of this post because of the metaphor I read in the book: denial comes to me in the metaphorical form of a gardener’s rake. It is used to push and pull the memories, thoughts, opinions, and feelings floating around in our head deep into our minds, so we can bury them — sometimes forever.

Denial occurs across a broad spectrum of issues: Addiction, Abuse, Behavior, Relationships. It can be wielded as a way to survive or continue existing as part of the status quo. But the problem with denial’s rake is that, eventually it becomes a useless tool because all the dirt underneath rises again to the surface. This can occur in a sudden earthquake of enlightenment, or slowly resurface like silty layers of earth, weathered away by a constant tide of destructive, self-defeating patterns.

tilth-rakeI used my rake over and over again, across a series of decades, to bury my feelings and reject my true self. My denial was planted and fertilized over the years through a plentiful supply of Catholic doctrine. I was told to act a certain way, believe a certain way and move through life a certain way. What wasn’t planted in me was the self-confidence to make my own decisions, my own choices, and forgive myself for the mistakes I’ve made along the way.

Now that the earth inside my brain has shifted, and new, fresh layers of consciousness are rising to the surface, I feel like I am finally moving out from under the power of denial’s rake.  I am tilling my own soil and removing all polluted  traces that came from living a life according to others, who lived their lives based on outdated religious doctrine and beliefs.

I can already begin to see the shoots of new flowers rising slowly to the surface, waiting to burst through and bloom into a field of colorful wildflowers ready to dance and sway in the breeze; unfettered by the rake of denial that held me in its grip for so long. And, I am becoming the butterfly that joins them in the dance.

butterfly on wildflowers