Suicide Prevention Month and the Dark Chasm

Last year, after the death of Anthony Bourdain I wrote a note on Facebook (Yea, I know – who does that? Hell – who blogs anymore?) about suicide and my relationship with my own brain. Since it’s September again and everyone’s talking about suicide all the time – I wanna talk about it. Specifically, I wanna talk about what suicidal ideation looks like when you are in the middle of it – then I want to address what I see as the ineffective campaign that is Suicide Prevention Month.

Trigger warning. I’m going to very descriptively explain to you what depression and suicidal ideation feels like TO ME. I am an expert on how this disease and everything that goes along with it affects me. The purpose of this post isn’t to ask for help; it’s to bring attention to my lived experience in the hopes that something recognizable that can help you understand yours better. This discussion will be very dark. If you have not struggled with your mental health, I ask that you reflect on that gratefully, because living the way I describe can be absolute hell.

Very important: Do not call me or text me about this post in order to check in on my mental state. If you do I will block you and your number. You may email or leave a comment. I am currently FINE!

The Dark Chasm

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel it. A Pit – my Dark Chasm. It sits right in the center of my chest where my sternum and my belly meet. It feels like a torn membrane of flesh with meat, teeth and all of the stressors of my life and the lives of those I take on. If you’ve seen Stranger Things – if I were to imagine what it looks like, it would look like the gate between this world and the Upside Down (the one Eleven closes at the end of the 1st season).

Copyright 2019 Netflix – Eleven closing the Gate to the Upside Down.

This dark chasm sits there and gently tears at me all day most days. When I’m suicidal it feels like I could reach in and pull out my organs because it’s ripped so wide and so deep. As I can’t recall a time in my life where it was not present, it’s always been the barometer I use to understand the state of my mental illness. Stress alone simply makes it feel present more, thinking too much about god or some other traumatic subject will widen the chasm more and more. The nature of depression is such that thought processes become a rather unending spiral and linking events and failures to personal flaws, which lead to self-hatred.

The sensation in the Chasm is real and physically painful. It grows as my thoughts spiral out of control. By the time I’ve broken down and allowed myself to cry I feel like I’m being ripped apart by my arms.

This past Sunday the chasm ripped open.

Suicidal Ideation Is a Bad Man

Depressed people often go through stages of depression. Ebbs and flows, ups and downs. There are months on end when life seems perfectly fine, the Dark Chasm is small and seems to be healing up – other times, times like now – it’s large and roaring with fire and brimstone.

I’ve often viewed suicidal thoughts and depression as this second man inside me. The Bad Man in my brain has one goal: He wants me to die, now.

Generally speaking, the Bad Man is very quiet. Sadness, however, is like a megaphone for him. Stress provides him with a microphone and speakers at the concert hall of my mind.

He tells me that I have more than I deserve.

He tells me that I’m going to lose everything I’ve worked for in my business because of <All the reasons why I’m literally quite close to that go here>.

He tells me that people only care about me because they can take from me knowing that I’ll freely give. (This is the one I have the most evidence for in my life.)

He tells me people don’t care about my time, message me and text me at all hours of the night for their menial computer problems because I am only useful to someone if I’m giving them free advice at 8PM on a Sunday after 7 straight 100 hour weeks.

He tells me that people will only care if I die because they won’t be able to take more of my expertise, time, and energy – since that’s the only value I have in this world.

He tells me my funeral will be empty, but my cell phone will be going off in the incinerator so that someone can ask me one last question – I won’t mind right?

He tells me not to be honest about these things because everyone will stop using my business if I do.

He tells me that in an ideal world I can put a gun to the roof of my mouth and in a hot instant, I get to be done.

He shows me what that looks like. He shows me places that I should go to take my life.

He points to a tree down the highway just sturdy enough to break my neck if I hit it hard enough and fast enough. If I need a better method or anything.

He knows how many of my prescriptions to take, how much vodka to take them with – to make sure that it’s a sleepy goodbye.

He makes me tongue the roof of my mouth to remind me of that option.

Should it be the temple though?

These thoughts, the voice of the Bad Man, become increasingly louder. When they get too loud the voice I call my own is unable to overcome it, all my reason and my rationale – my love for myself and the love I feel from the people in my life are invisible and silenced.

This is the internal war that the people you love who have killed themselves have waged, and lost – all the while smiling and keeping up appearances. Taking selfies, making love, smiling for family photographs, being the funniest person in the room. I have talked people out of their own suicide and provided the necessary support to prevent it while simultaneously battling all the desires and urges that would put me in the same position on more occasions than I can count.

Suicide Prevention Month Ain’t

September is the month that we’re inundated with social media posts reminding us that “Someone is listening” and to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline – so they don’t have to be the one listening.

Maybe the Hotline is helpful, I don’t know – but I can tell you from the perspective of someone who sees that number posted with great frequency that if I’m looking at my phone or computer and desire to call that hotline, I’ll use Google. I find it as useful as “thoughts and prayers” every time a busload of children are mowed down during their school day.

I don’t need to think about suicide more just because you incorrectly believe that social media is the place where I’ll come to the conclusion that I want to live. The news cycle, generally, makes me want to kill myself if I think about it too much – If I’m suicidal I need to avoid Facebook or just look at memes.

If you want or need to memorialize a friend or family member on social media who has died by suicide – do that in a way that honors them and begs honest discussion from the people around you. The last few years I’ve seen a lot of that. I find that memorializing someone you love with very honest conversation about this thing reminds me of the impact, and that I would not be forgotten.

Empty platitudes about my mental health do not help me and they don’t help anyone else. Learn how to listen, learn how to actively help people who are at the end of their rope feel just enough love to hold on for a bit longer. Never – unless you have already made an agreement with this person – call the police or any authorities to involve themselves. Many of us cannot afford a hospital visit and it’ll just compound this problem when we get the bill.

If you are in a mental state that makes you capable of helping someone, help. If you aren’t – get away or you’ll likely make this worse. If you aren’t sure, you should start having conversations with the people in your life who are at risk, if you are at risk yourself I find that a good way to start that conversation is with a little honesty about your own experiences. Much like many of you are reading this and thinking, “Shit. That’s me.” The ability to recognize your own struggle in the life of another person gives us the opportunity to learn and help one another.

Care wholly and love actively. If you fail in these most essential steps, you should ignore Suicide Awareness Month entirely. It is not a hotline number, or a half-assed Facebook message that is most likely to make the difference for us. Being cared about with every fiber of another person’s being, and being loved in ways that are demonstrable are the best tools we have in silencing the voices of our Bad Men.

I’ve been glued to my computer watching the live stream of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference on A Way Forward which was intended to clarify and deal with the question of LGBTQ ordination, marriage, and acceptance within the worlds 3rd largest Christian denomination. Over these last 3 days, I’ve been unable to stop watching, tweeting, and crying about the proceedings as I consider the impact they will have on LGBTQ people around the world and in communities like mine.

While I don’t believe that the Methodist church is in any way special, many do – and in communities like mine, small, rural, traditionally minded – it is often seen as a safer alternative with a more open minded approach to human sexuality than the Southern Baptist Church. That being the case, the LGBT community has a tradition and a home in the United Methodist Church – a home that, assuming the Traditional Plan is ratified – becomes hostile to them according to the letter of the law.

What is the Traditional Plan

The Traditional Plan essentially leaves the language which forbids practicing homosexuals from entering the ministry and furthermore establishes a body to enforce those rules. While it is surely more complex than I’m making it, the church is more or less doubling down on it’s older stances to ensure that they neither ordain nor provide sacraments (marriage services, for example) to “practicing” homosexuals. One plan, the Simple Plan, removed that language entirely – while another allowed for each individual church to decide on it’s own how it would proceed. Those plans did not move on to plenary session – though they were discussed and fought for heavily during the plenary.

Africa and Russia

The United Methodist Church, unlike many mainline protestant denominations, has global representation and their governing body works much like parliament – representatives from smaller conferences are brought in to the general conference in order to vote on these matters rather than having their rules handed down to them by a governing body without their input.

That sounds well and good, but this time the African and Russian delegation has been more prominent. Note, if you will, that many countries in Africa outlaw homosexuality like Russia. Why? Africa’s Methodist church has been growing and its delegation is working with the intent of keeping LGBT clergy out of its church. Russian delegates are working with much the same mindset. The likelihood of the Traditional plan passing in the North American delegates, were they alone counted, is very low – and the African delegates are using their status as 30% of the delegation to control the session. One pro LGBT delegate informed the delegation that the rumors of collusion and bribery had been making their rounds at the conference, and should be investigated. I guess we’ll see how that goes.

Country Church, City Church

Larger cities will always contain within them outliers of Christianity which uphold values of inclusion and grace. Smaller towns in the Deep South are not so inclined, unfortunately. However, it remains true that sometimes people who are gay are also Christians – and sometimes people who are Christians are also gay. Sometimes those people are born in communities like mine where there is little positive visibility of LGBT people and no declarative safe space for them to worship without fear of being accosted on the subject of their sexuality. In larger cities it may be easy to find an Episcopal congregation or a Unitarian Universalist congregation that fits your needs, here – you’ve got an hour + drive for that sort of sanctuary and fellowship.

My hope was that the United Methodist Church could seize this opportunity and become that safety for LGBT believers in communities that look like mine as there are Methodist churches in nearly every small town.

LGBT Christians need a spiritual home – and I believe that they’ll build it in the aftermath of the schism soon to come to Methodism, but the United Methodist Church isn’t that place and I’m afraid it has lost the opportunity to become it.

My thoughts are with you and I grieve with those of you hurt by your church.

The cost of Salvation

I’ve mentioned many times before that I live in a very small community. A community I love and spend a great deal of my time challenging and attempting to improve in as many ways as I can. That’s a job I believe we all should attempt to do in our communities – that’s how we shape them to reflect our ideals as opposed to the ideals of those to whom we are opposed. I’m opposed to the ideals of a lot of the people in my community.  Most recently the ideals we’ve been discussing on social media and elsewhere have to do with the cost of salvation and a t-shirt.

The shirt in question is an atrocity of terrible design. It contains within it four different fonts, colors that clash, a desecrated flag, a cross implemented into a flag, and a Native American’s head unironically imprisoned behind the stripes (probably not intentional, but duly noted here).  It’s painful to look at.

The problems with the shirt only begin with terrible design though. See – this shirt was to be sold, on compulsory conditions, by the high school cheer-leading team.  A team which contains atheist members and members from other religions. A team which contains black members and members from other ethnic backgrounds – who – presumably support the NFL players’ protest.  Some adult decided that it was her job to put both her religion and her political stances into a t-shirt design and use that to make money for herself and as a fundraiser to the cheerleaders. 

The shirt; blatantly racist, divisive, political, and pro-christian has no place in our schools. 

Thankfully one of the School Board members (who is a Christian) got wind of it and put a stop to it – and now that board member is being torn to pieces on the public platform by the same Christians who are ordering these things by the handful. The price for salvation and patriotism is only $14, add a dollar for xxl or larger.

What’s the big deal?

Our town has become incensed over this decision. The school board member has been relentlessly berated, called a Muslim (due to her race and last name) and people are calling for her replacement on the board despite her many years of service and her status as the only teacher currently on the board.  I’ve long held that American Christians are intent on being persecuted in the places where it least exists, in this instance the very act of protecting them from lawsuits and ensuring that other students don’t feel isolated is is offensive to their stastes. 

When a group is so accustomed to special rights and privileges, equality feels like oppression.

A selection of some of the comments – with some of the super offensive ones left out.

Responding to Hate

My usual fashion for responding to Christians who, in my best estimation, fail to do what Christians should be doing, is to act like I’m their pastor.  The difference, however, is that unlike their pastor I’m not beholden to them for money. My bills aren’t paid by these people and my lifestyle doesn’t depend on their happiness with my message.  I am, as I’ve mentioned in the past, still trying to do the work that I believe I should within the Church – except from the outside. I use the Bible as I best understand it, sound doctrine as I best understand it, and love to try to convince them of their error. I try to teach Christians about what Jesus would do. I don’t know what else I should do with 18 years of diligent study of the Bible, Biblical history, and the people of the region under my belt but that – and I think that better Christians will actually result in a better world.

Much of the difficulty that Christians are currently experiencing with this shirt is around the word “Pride”. They believe that it behooves them to be both proud of their faith and proud of their country.  While I’m not going to get into patriotism here (or why Jesus and patriotism don’t mix because boy…that’s a subject), the idea of being proud of one’s salvation or one’s faith is asinine to me. Salvation – the receiving of Grace, is an effortless activity. (thus far this has been a Facebook conversation only, unlike most of my activities)

And so I made it into a discussion point:

You are welcome to comment, but keep it respectful – please.

As you will see if you follow that post to it’s comments – the idea that one isn’t supposed to be prideful is a difficult one to swallow. I can provide Christians with scripture to back up my reasoning, and none the less – it’s difficult for them. There’s an idea embedded within the current iteration of this faith that humility is the enemy of this faith rather than a central tenet – that one must boast about the greatness of one’s belief, how willing one is to wear the bright red cross on one’s sleeve (in the presence of like-minded individuals, of course). There is, however, no overwhelming willingness to study it’s tenets or scriptures or learn it’s history.

The Cost of Salvation

There was a point fairly early in Christian history when the cost of salvation changed from  Jesus’ very life to something that the individual must do.  Many blame Paul’s focus on personal holiness and depravity in his epistles. I tend to agree that it left a lot of room for misinterpreting and misdirecting the initial message of the synoptic gospels.  Many Christians will quote the scriptures in that, “salvation is thru Grace alone by faith alone.” Rarely is that followed by consistent belief in that scripture. I think were they to actually believe this verse there would be far less pride in salvation and in the Christian faith and far more simple awe at the receipt of Grace.

That is, in fact, the cost of salvation – nothing at all. The scripture is really clear about it. If the Bible is true at all there is no reason to fight and argue about a T-shirt. No reason to give your attention to perceived persecution or worse, to treat others like your enemy because they’ve done something you disagree with. If the Bible is true salvation is complete, total, unending, and done. In the words of Jesus, finished.

That too is difficult to swallow. 

A God capable of saving the entirety of us all in one fell swoop without so much as our acknowledgement of it.

It’s preferred, it seems, that God require something of us – and that’s just not in the pages of the New Testament. Folks want to say a prayer that makes them saved on such and such a date, wear the right t-shirt, and show their asses on social media when things don’t go their way.  That’s not the heart of this faith.

It’s easy to wear a T-shirt with a cross on it. It’s really hard to wake up every morning and bear your cross, as you were commanded.

The hard thing isn’t being saved in the Christian story. The hard thing is being a Christian.  I’m not seeing a lot of Christians in Dodge County right now.

Update:  The Dodge County News has posted an article on this – and I was quoted in it.

Twice in the last week I’ve been private messaged about the recent Clovergender hoax by people who believed the meme to be evidence of a societal acceptance of pedophilia and child predators. This hoax, perpetrated by 4-chan, is one I find to be particularly cruel – as it uses as the subject of it’s humor the victim-hood of children, and equates homosexuality with pedophilia.  Those who messaged me were surprised to find out that it was indeed a hoax and best I could tell they were glad it wasn’t an actual thing – those who I directly interacted with on public posts? They ignored me pointing out that this was a hoax intended to stir up raw emotion and for many of us – trauma.  One of my partners and I ended up having a drunken conversation about this – which led me down a rabbit hole of sorts about societies treatment of pedophiles from the perspective of a victim, about grace for pedophiles.

If you haven’t already, I would suggest you read my account of sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of a child predator.

 

Two Camps

 

Since being a victim I have long wondered what made the pedophile tick, I’ve been trying to understand where the compulsion or disorder toward pedophilia comes from – and I don’t believe there is any one answer, but I do know that – among pedophiles there are two major groups (and lots of people who are everywhere in between these two):

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Jeremy Smith - child predator

Trigger warning: contains sexually explicit material concerning a child predator and child molestation. This may be very difficult for some to read. This was originally posted on Removing The Fig Leaf June 21, 2016.

I started writing this post in 2013. I never could quite finish it. However, about a week ago I was with a group of other business people and community leaders taking a tour of our local county jail, and I saw my abuser there. Apparently he had been picked up for tampering with his tracking device.

People make fun of the word “triggered.” It means, to many, “I’m being overly sensitive and I want the world censored for me,” but I was standing in the control tower of the jail, and I saw his face and I was immediately flooded with memories that I’ve tried to pretend weren’t there for years. I immediately said it out loud to the person standing next to me, “That man molested me 20 years ago,” and she just stared at me not sure what to say. I don’t know why I had to say it outloud, but I did. I felt sick the rest of the day.

Last November (2012) I found out that a man had been released back into my community who had, 15 years prior, molested between 15-20 boys. I was one of them.

Before I continue this, I think it’s important to know that I’m not writing this to promote myself or ask for sympathy. What happened to me did cause some confusion during a tumultuous time in my life, but I’ve worked through most of those things and am quite comfortable discussing them. The point of this post is to give parents some tools to help them identify child predators and protect their children, as well as to ease discussion of a topic that is treated as taboo.

I’m not certain of the exact number of victims he left in his wake, but between 15 and 20 young boys at his karate school had been singled out to do things ranging from touching to more sinister acts. These acts were recorded on camera for his later enjoyment, and he was only caught and found guilty when his wife discovered the cassettes containing the abuse. I was not one of the boys on camera who told his parents about it. Every boy was silent while this abuse occurred – it took a chink in the predator’s armor to catch him. The victims themselves will rarely make it known unless the parents ask direct questions.

My abuser focused on young boys who had no father figure in their lives, or who had unreliable ones. He attempted to become friends with his victims and took them to movies or to his house to watch wrestling or MMA pay-per-view without parental supervision. He knew that the mothers of these children, like my own, would be glad that someone had taken an interest in their child when the father had failed to do so. They would be unlikely to suspect that the reason he wanted to spend time with us had nothing to do with our benefit.

 

The Grooming Process

 

Grooming is the process of establishing a rapport and friendship with a child and their parents in order to lower their inhibitions and ease the predator’s access to them. Child molesters are almost never fly-by-night predators. They generally insert themselves into the lives of their victims long before making them victims. More often than not, the predator is a family member or person close to the family. They don’t go into bathrooms dressed as women and rape kids they’ve never met. That’s not reality.

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nashville-statement

If you are a longtime reader of this blog, then you know that I’ve long believed that the Christian church in it’s many forms was on the way out. It’s death throws being sung by the disgruntled generations which cannot stomach theological ideas that are misaligned with their Jerry Falwell inspired version of the American Christian Gospel.  If you don’t know what I mean by that, then you are the subject of this post. The Nashville Statement, which you can read here is a cementing of the trend toward obscurity. Perhaps, and I hope this is true, it will be replaced with a better church.

The Nashville Statement is in no way new. We’ve been watching mainline protestant denominations vote on and endorse similar statements and doctrines for ages. Somehow, this statement feels different because it crosses the borders of denominations – it’s original signers include pastors and ministers from across the board. It sends what seems to be a unified message to the world and to those who are LGBT and specifically calls out Transgender people with the notion that, “you are wrong about what you think you are, and we have all the answers.” It manages to say, to the most marginalized and endangered people in our country and our world that they don’t have a safe haven, even with Jesus.

The Nashville Statement says to the LGBT community that, while the church in all it’s denominational strife and confusion – in all that disagreement, the one thing they can agree on is you. That you are a problem.

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losing my religion

For just over 10 years now I’ve been an atheist, an ex-Christian. After losing my religion I starting sharing the story of that journey, my difficulties with the church, and many of your stories as well. I’ve been talking privately with dozens of people ever since the first time I wrote down my story, and I’ve been touched by what it’s meant to you – and what your stories have meant to me.

During the first few years after I left the faith, I found myself driven toward kicking against the church with as much vigor as I could. I needed to see it’s defeat and I needed it to be done at my hands. I felt like everything leading up to my awakening had been a giant deception, and that was true – people, adult people – had lied to me in order to control me. They used their influence to teach me that my beliefs about god were determining factors in my eternity. I eventually modeled their behavior. I did the same thing to others. I also became as self deprecating as they were, as I learned to hate all the parts of myself that couldn’t meet the standards set forth by my benevolent but jealous god.

Eventually my vigor waned. I became more concerned about social justice; LGBT rights, the lives of black and brown people, the treachery of warmongering and death in countries inhabited by people poorer than anyone reading this can fathom, and the importance of separating church from state. It became clear to me that what was important was not my insistence on godlessness and controversy, but instead on humanity and the philosophical ideology of humanism and what reaching it’s ends would look like for underprivileged people. I thought – and maintain, that the church will destroy itself with no help from me. It will implode by the force of the immense anger and hate machine that churns inside it.

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Yesterday I found out that my father died.

All I feel is a mixture of numbness, a relief, and a very quiet sadness about what a pitiful life his was.

I don’t have any fond memories of him. I’m trying to be fair to his memory, but – my life with him was limited by the fact that he was mostly an absentee who made violent interludes into my life at his own convenience. He was an alcoholic, he was violent, he was racist, and he dedicated more of his life to finding his next stash of narcotics than to providing for those who would have depended on him had they ever been foolish enough to do so. I’m bitter at him for so much and I feel myself processing this odd grief for his life and death that I’m not properly certain how to define. I hate him, but I pity too that his life was influenced and molded by his own father who was a special sort of terror in his own right.

Writing this is – well it’s going to be shittier than my normal shit. My childhood is a dark canvas with few distinct but very vivid memories interspersed throughout. There are bits that I wonder if they aren’t fabrications of my younger mind – I wouldn’t know. The fear I had of my father made him seem like a monster to me, I wouldn’t be surprised if my imagination painted his actions more egregious than they were – I don’t know. What I don’t remember is, I believe, a result of dissociation.

(This post is not for everyone. This is a trigger warning for violence)

Recounting fuzzy memories

My mother married my father twice, she met him at her workplace and had a brief affair with him, left her then husband and then had me.  Sometime after that they divorced, she remarried again, and then divorced that husband 9 months later and married my father again. It was always confusing to me to keep up with her marriages, but the important bit is that theirs was born of an affair and was frequented by affairs.  She had two children from the previous marriage and he had one.  None involved have left uninjured from his presence, but their stories aren’t mine to tell.

Polaroids

Age: Don’t recall 8-10ish?

I found the polaroids mom used to prove that she was beaten by him. They were hidden in her little cedar keepsake box. She kept a little purse of collectible coins in there, and I liked to sneak in and look at those when she was at work. She used it as evidence to the Sheriff’s.  Best as I can recall, this has something to do with one of his stints in the county jail.

Wal-Mart

Age: 3-5ish?

My sister was frequently required to drive my dad around when he was drunk, well before she had a license.

One night she was driving him to go get a bottle of something and I was sitting in his lap.  (she would have been about 13-15)

She recalls this story much better than I.

She ran into the local Walmart, she told him she needed to make a phone call or…something.

She called the police on him and had him arrested that night so that we could have a peaceful night at home.

I’m not sure what for, but…probably for some beating or something.

I remember being scared and confused and crying.

I remember thinking, as I grew older, that I had never seen bravery like that in anyone in my life.

Renovation

Age: 9mo-1 year

My sister tells the story of one beating my mother received that resulted in the entire living room wall falling in on my bed as she protected me.

I bought the same house I grew up in, the same house this event occurred in.

It’s the only wall made of sheetrock in our home.

There are a few scars left on these walls from him.

Screwdriver

Age: prior to my birth

He always beat women, aside from the many times he had fights with his brother – beating women was what he did. He got drunk, he beat women.

I don’t know the situation around this – but at some point before I was born or just after he was beating his own sister, punching her in the face and kicking her – brutally. (I’ve seen these pictures of her pre-op and…i don’t know how he wasn’t charged with attempted murder)

My cousin, who would have been 3-4 years old at the time had to jump on him and stab him repeatedly with a screwdriver to make it stop, to save his own mother’s life.

He’s been a terror.

To every life he’s ever touched.

Seen and not heard

He believed that children were to be seen and not heard. He was his father.

He believed that never should you coddle a crying baby or child. You let them cry, if they cry too long you hit them.

I’ve been told that I was made to stop crying a number of times. I don’t know.

I do remember hearing all my life, “if you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about”

Those who know me, know how little control I have over my tears.

He got so angry at my tears.

Accidents

Age: 6 or 7

I was playing with a toy car in the living room – he was playing too. This was during a relatively calm period.

He asked me to give him the car, so I threw it at him – but I threw it too hard, and it hit him in the lip.

I saw the look on his face, but I don’t remember what happened after.

The letter B

Age: 8/9

In the third grade I received my first B on a report card.

I just want to acknowledge here that living in a violent home is hell on one’s ability to function in a learning environment.

I was riding the bus to my grandmother’s that day. His mom’s. He was living there or had remarried or something – so this is after the second divorce I guess?

On that bus ride, her’s was the very last stop. The ride was over an hour and half.

I stared at that B and played in my head how I’d talk him out of beating me for an hour and a half.

He beat me angrily. He beat me again for crying. He used a belt and he didn’t seem to ever stop.

He didn’t even let me get inside. He met me outside, he walked me around the side of my grandmother’s trailer…and he just wailed.

Escape

Children have a tendency to overhear bits of conversations that adults have and fill in the missing pieces with their best understanding. I think I did a lot of that as a child.  One of the recurring themes of my childhood was that of escape.  My aunt and uncle on my mother’s side lived in  Rome, GA and later in Cedar Bluff, AL – and during the frequent events in which my mom and I needed to escape him that’s where we would go.

For some reason one of the associations I had with my father was with a bar in Macon, GA called Whiskey River – I don’t know if maybe he went there at times and came back home ready to fight, or if maybe it was just the word whiskey that scared me, but I recall being terrified as we passed that place on the way to escape to my Aunt’s.

In 91 or 92 we moved to Rome for a short time while mom tried to start her life over. We couldn’t sell our house so we had to move back.

Hank

I used to be afraid of Hank Williams, Jr – because he looked (to me, my mother disagrees) just like my dad.

For some reason Whiskey River and Hank Williams, Jr had an association together when I was a kid? I dunno – that’s probably stupid. I was really young.

Rehab

He went to a lot of rehab, to the best treatment center ohio.

The most successful stint was in my pre or early teen years – it was a Christian based organization (similar to Teen Challenge) which he attended for about a month before becoming the President’s right hand man. He was terribly charming when he was sober. I have few memories of him being charming, but I do remember how people just – liked him, trusted him even….

He had either been married for a few years prior to going into this, or got married shortly after to wife #4 (I count mom twice)

He stayed sober for 4-5 years. I visited he and his wife every other weekend.

Pills

(intentionally obfuscating some facts here)

In order to cover up some crimes that occurred, I recall watching him destroy thousands and thousands (4-5 gallon zip lock bags full) of narcotics at a family member’s home of wife #4. (this was prior to rehab – which I think was court ordered) He burned them in a 50 gallon barrel.

I never understood why he was at the pharmacists so much, but he was apparently distributing a lot of pills and had always had a knack for them himself.

Car Door

Age: 12ish

Wife #4 was nearly killed when he got drunk one night (prior to rehab) and repeatedly slammed her head in the car door.

WHY THE FUCK IS IT REQUIRED THAT A VICTIM PRESS CHARGES AGAINST A CRIMINAL ACTOR.

He served no time for that.

Relapse

After rehab he became a …kinda normal person. Families perplex me, I don’t understand normalcy. I realized this when I met my wife and experienced hers.

You have to remember that this man had been abusing his body with so much alcohol and narcotics his entire life (one time he tested with a BAC of .38 if I recall correctly – while still awake, I think he was even driving!) that he had created for himself a pretty serious dependency. He was always a hair’s breadth away from relapse.

He always had a misogynistic view of the world, even though he never brought any real income into the families he had (which seems to be the backbone of a lot of misogyny – breadwinning and providing security?) At least he wasn’t hitting anyone.

One day we went fishing at the river near his apartment (Section 9 housing) and a friend of his came along too. His friend packed a cooler of beer and a few draft beer chosen from the ReviewBrewery.com.

He resisted most of the day, but a few hours in, he made me hand him a beer.

That turned into about 30.

I didn’t see him again for about 2 years and another wife.

I don’t remember a lot about wife #5 other than maybe she wasn’t actually married to him because #4 never finalized the divorce…and she was a Jehovah’s Witness and he didn’t tolerate that very well.

Senior Year

I didn’t see or hear from him except once or twice from 15-18. (this is my best estimation of those ages).

One day I came home from school, I was getting ready to graduate and trying to figure out what to do with my life – I got off the bus (we couldn’t afford a car for me, so I used the bus), and he was sitting in my living room.

MY living room. In MY home. The place that I now felt safe.

He was talking with my mother.

He moved in that day. They were getting back together and I just needed to deal with it.

This didn’t last long, a few months. It was tense. He wasn’t drinking, he was just surfing through his previous wives to find which of them would give him a home to live in as he owned nothing and had earned nothing his entire life. He was charming when he was sober, but – I guess not charming enough to stay forever.  He eventually moved in with wife #1 after he left our house.

He immediately positioned himself as the runner of the household though. He didn’t pay any of the bills of course, he didn’t contribute to anything.

I resisted his orders, I told him no. I told him he had no right to tell me what to do.  Eventually he left. I don’t know why, I’m glad he did.

I never have felt like I could trust my mother since then. We were close prior to that.

Fragility

About 8 years ago I got a call from wife #1, whom he was living with. He’s drinking again, he’s doing pills again. He’s on enough xanax to sleep a horse.

He wants to get clean but they don’t have the resources to do it.

He’s a goddamned mess when I make my way over there.

I acquire power of attorney over him over the next couple of weeks and I submit him to an inpatient treatment facility housed in a local nursing home (less than a mile from my house)

I inform him that, under no circumstances, will he be given another opportunity to clean up using my emotional labor and energy.

This is my policy on any addict in my life.

I don’t do it twice. I can’t.

He lasts in there for two weeks – he calls me and tells me the nurses are poisoning him.

I tell him he’s full of shit,  because he is.

he begs me to remove him from the facility.

I do.

I have not spoken to him since.

– – –

Occasionally I have received calls from some hospital or nursing home, or more recently, hospice unit – to ask me something. I tell them not to bother me.
I tell them I don’t care.
I tell them.

I tell them to let him die.

They tell me it won’t be long.

One time they tell me, “He’s escaped the hospital and is walking home – it’s an hour and a half away by car”
I say, “well…let him walk”

11 months ago I sign the papers to have him cremated because “any day now.”
Never underestimate the ability of shit to stick to the bottom of your shoe.

I hate him for making me feel this way about another person.

Hate isn’t natural for me. I’m not cold.

But I’ve forced myself to not feel anything about him until now.

Odd Grief

I’m stuck here, feeling bitter and angry about a childhood I hardly remember because I know a few things about my life could be different if he’d been different. I think he could have been too, or he could have just – not procreated.

A good father in my life could have helped me avoid a child predator when I was 10.

A good father in my life could have helped me avoid the pitfalls of a fundamentalist faith, which I retreated to in order to replace him.

A good father in my life could have provided a stable income for me, safety and comfort for my mother – so she could have worked normal hours  (rather than, at times, 3 jobs). I may have been able to go to college.

I’m less angry about who he was than who he could have been, and what a waste he was.

And yet, I know that this Saturday there will be people who he nearly killed years ago talking fondly about him.

and I’m angry about those lies they’ll tell.

and I’m so goddamned angry at these tears.

Today is Easter Sunday, and outside my window I can hear birds singing through the occasional rush of cars leaving the church just down the road from my house.  In the church this was always one of those most important services of the year – I don’t know how true the statistics were, but the asses in seats always seemed to confirm that the Big Three services were Mothers Day, Easter, and whatever service your particular church had for Christmas. The Big Three because on these three days, moms and families would be more able to convince their adult children to go to church with them – and in the churches I attended, when you had a captive audience of people whose salvation was questionable you had all the reasons necessary for pushing the Gospel.

Easter always seemed to be the most obvious time for this sort of thing, but I’ve seen hellfire and brimstone preaching done in Mother’s Day services too. Some churches would have the sort of messages that would simply pull at your heartstrings and tell a story of sin and sacrifice – while others would focus on the dangers of hell.  I’ve never seen anyone pass up the opportunity to sell to the unbelieving or unchurched on these days, and if I did in my small town I think there’d be a pastor looking for work that coming Monday. Parents want their kids saved, especially older parents who are afraid they’ll miss out on the opportunity to see to it that their adult children are given the guarantee of an afterlife that isn’t full of torment – and so these opportunities are unapologetically taken.

That’s what Easter Sunday looks like in my experience; well dressed people, uncomfortable and present by coercion as relatives look on hopeful that something the preacher says will hit them in the gut just right to get them to the alter.

Good news?

By definition, the word gospel means “good news”. It’s meant to convey that Jesus himself was good news to all the world (or for your Calvinist buddies – to the Elect) by providing them with salvation by means of his sacrificial death on the cross at Calvary. The goodness in it is that all of your sin and inadequacy to meet the standard of the Law is covered by a single sacrifice of one perfect man.

Somehow, looking back, that doesn’t sound all that good to me anymore.

The prima facie belief required for the gospel to be true is actually pretty horrific. That belief is that all of mankind is wretched, from the smallest child to the kindest adult, and deserving of punishment as their creator sees fit seems like a headline from the world’s angriest newspaper. Furthermore, that you are so wondrously wretched that a perfect man must die in your place to make up for it is a horror unto itself.

Christianity posits that we are sinners. Inescapably.

This message is entirely unavoidable, so far as I can tell, within Christian tautology.

And I think you should reject it, because I think it’s a lie.  You have no basis for pushing the gospel if nothing is being cured by it.

Something better

I read somewhere that, as an adult, you should try to be the person you needed but didn’t have available to you when you were younger. If you are 20 today, be who you needed for someone else at the age of 16 – so on, so forth.

When I was 16, I desperately needed someone to tell me that I wasn’t a sinner. I desperately needed to feel adequate and worthy of my own life.  Somehow I never experienced anyone like that in my life, but I know the sort of value they would have had for me. I do try, and I’ve had the opportunity to fulfil that role a few times in my life. Nothing – ever – has been more fulfilling than loving people who believed themselves to be broken enough to tell them otherwise.

So – a new gospel:

You aren’t a sinner. Nothing about you is so broken that it required the death of a perfect man to fix. Nothing about you is so broken that it makes you less worthy of good things, but if you continue to believe that you aren’t worthy of good things – you may miss the opportunity to pursue them. Pursue good things for yourself.  Treat yourself with kindness, treat others with kindness. Do not tolerate those who refuse to do the same. We only have an instant on this planet, try to make it the best instant you can. You don’t need to be saved – you are just fine the way you are.

I think that’s good news.

Often times, when Christians leave their faith they’ll find themselves swapping realities with their loved ones. There seems to be a common phenomena of spouses and parents becoming hyper-religious as their family members become non-believers. This leads to a great deal of difficulty in conversing between the two parties.

I turned 31 two weeks ago, a fairly uneventful age with little fanfare and celebration. I didn’t actually do anything that I wanted to (I went with my wife to a thing she wanted to do…a thing that turned out to be not fun).  The day after I received a card in the mail from my mother, who – during her last visit, became very upset about the fairly recent opening up of my marriage (A topic I’ve been meaning to talk about for some time, but just don’t know where to start).

The card looked normal from the outside, your standard  birthday greeting from mother to son.  My mom has always been prone to writing little notes in cards she sends , underlining words in the text for emphasis. This was the largest note she’s ever written.

The content of the note was not particularly offensive as pleading for one’s soul can go, but she was pleading for my soul.  I hate that.

I do empathize with her fear for my eternity. I believed the same thing about her that she now believes about me, so it’s not as if I can go around pretending like I don’t know that it’s incredibly difficult for her to consider the idea that I may be destined for the fires of Hell.

My mother was a nominal Christian, at best, during my youth. I won’t bother going into all the details of her own hedonism, but it disturbed me when I was growing up as a person of great faith to bear witness to all of the things that confirmed to me that she was going to suffer at the end of her life.  It was torturous for me to consider that, and she often reminds me of the fact that I so frequently prayed for her or poured out a bottle of vodka after she came home from a night of partying.  On one hand, I was a judgmental prick – on the other, I was scared shitless for her. I often dreamed that she had died in a car accident on her way home from a bar some Friday night and didn’t have the opportunity to “make things right” with her creator.

My mother and I swapped realities. It seems as if the moment I left my faith behind, she decided that it was time for her to pick it up.  No amount of my own pleading made any difference to her, but my apostasy seems to have forced her to face all of the fears I was trying to divorce myself from.  Suddenly my soul was in jeopardy, which seems to have brought her face to face with the status of own.

I know that she blames her own hedonism on my departure from the fold, and I know that she also blames her mistakes in raising me – which don’t seem to be any more numerous than many parents. There’s always a reason to be found for why someone would turn away, except for the truth: I don’t, I can’t believe the gospel. That reason is avoided like the plague and has been since our first conversation on the subject.

It makes me miserable that my mother feels presumably the same fear that I did for her. I don’t think anyone should have to endure that and I mark this fear as one of the major failings of the Christian faith. If I must fear for the souls of everyone around me, then the cruelty of this faith’s god is doled out in double proportions as all of those souls will be tortured for eternity while believers must be tortured during this lifetime as they labor over the fate of those they love.

She would say, of course, that she isn’t worried – she knows by some invisible comfort that I’ll make a triumphant return to the fold. This is the most common statement made about me, prophesied by many as if they’ve been given access to a newsletter that I forgot to renew my subscription to. Statements like, “he’ll do powerful things for the gospel one day,” or “when he comes back, he’ll change the world.” What they fail to acknowledge is that I’m far more tolerable by Christians today as an atheist than I would be or ever was as a Christian.

I believe that there is something inherently radical about the gospel and the story of Jesus – even if I find that the story itself is a narrative I simply cannot believe, it’s a powerful one that the church has long failed to grasp.  The church is not a vehicle for radicalism today, but is instead an angry child that feels left out at the playground due to Western societies’ tendency toward tolerance – a rally that should have been led by the church via radical and piercing grace and love toward those which our society has long rejected.

I’m not sure I know how to fix the way my mother views me, or how any other people in my community may view me. To be honest, most people take the time to hear my positions and recognize that I’m where I am theologically outside of my own will. Additionally, I’m fairly certain that it’s not my job to try and fix this – instead it seems like I’ve done all I can to explain my positions and ensure that I present myself in a way that makes me approachable.

Ultimately I don’t really care about being understood. I don’t care if people “get it”, but I do care that other people are harmed emotionally by what I do or don’t believe.  It’s a vile thing that any faith might cause a mother to lose sleep over the fate of her son.