So raise your glass if you are wrong in all the right ways

When you start to think for yourself again after trying to conform yourself to various Christian doctrines for nearly a decade, it can be a confusing process. It’s similar to smashing a building and then sifting through the rubble to see what still remains.

I told most people at my old evangelical church who asked that my reason for leaving centered around my support for LGBT rights. While there were many reasons, that was definitely at the top of the list. It simply didn’t make sense to me that the LGBT people I knew and loved for years were all doomed and destined for hell, just because of whom they loved. It didn’t even make sense according to my own concept of God, who loved people as they were.

Support for LGBT rights was not acceptable at my church – either the Catholic church or the evangelical one – so I quietly distanced myself from the activism I once held. I never became fully convinced that it was bad to be gay, but over the years, I started to wonder if maybe the church’s view could be more correct than mine. After all, they had their interpretation of the Bible to back them up (even if I thought their interpretation was weak) — all I had were my own personal opinions, which I was told were the wrong ones. At the very least, maybe it was “unnatural” to be gay. But I never felt strongly enough in agreement with the church to change my voting accordingly or to speak out against LGBT rights.

After finally extricating myself from all churches, I returned to my previous degree of full acceptance of LGBT rights. I got a couple shirts with pro-LGBT sentiments, which I wore to express my support of my LGBT loved ones. I thought I was being a great ally. The story I told myself and my former church acquaintances about my departure was that my decision was all about my support for the LGBT people I loved.

But I still felt that there was more to it than that, and I only recently figured out what it was: it’s actually about rejecting what the church would say about the real me.

I am bisexual myself, even though I’ve been married to a man for almost 24 years. Being bisexual was once a very big part of my identity, even though I was and am in a monogamous relationship. My husband knew about that aspect of me before we got married, and many of my closest friends knew as well. It wasn’t anything I ever told my family nor was it the kind of thing I shouted from the rooftops, but it also wasn’t something I thought I should be ashamed of.

It was like any other preference. Like “this is what I like, but it’s not a big deal.” I am equally likely to be sexually attracted to women as to men. But being married, I’m not going to act on any of those attractions, so therefore it’s mostly irrelevant.

But then I came to realize that over the years in church–especially the years I spent in the evangelical church–I had come to view this fact about myself as something sinful and shameful. I tried very hard to block out even noticing when someone else of any gender was attractive.

When you come to view yourself as inherently flawed and sinful, just because of something you desire — even if you never intend to act on it — it’s like putting yourself in a cage. You can’t possibly like yourself if you think there’s one part of you that’s so unacceptable you must never think of it again.

One of two things happens when you try to completely block something out: either you become obsessed with it or you become a self-loathing mess. (Or both.) There have been numerous high-profile cases of famously anti-gay preachers or politicians who get busted having gay sex on the DL: those are the ones who become obsessed with the aspect of themselves they try to block out.

I was the second case. I became so focused on my lack of acceptance of being bisexual that I came to completely hate myself. I grew ashamed of who I was. Considering that I was first attracted to other girls in elementary school, I’m pretty damn certain about who I am. It’s not anything that’s likely to change. And it wasn’t a source of anguish until I started going to church. I internalized those anti-LGBT messages really deeply and aimed them all at myself.

There’s a great deal of freedom in finally letting yourself be who you really are. So I’m attracted to both men and women: so what? But simply choosing to stop pretending otherwise is incredibly liberating and that provided the greatest relief when I left church.

I’m faithful to my husband and intend to stay that way, so I think that should be the only true measure of my morality.  In realizing that the gay rights issue was ultimately my reason for leaving church, the person to whom I was granting unconditional acceptance was actually myself.

I’m your biggest fan, I hope you know I am. But do you think you could somehow slow down?

There’s nothing to convince you that you suck as a parent like having teenagers. And the thing is that my teenagers have been really good kids so far. No drug addiction, no time in juvie, no pregnancies (yet, at least), no runaways. They’re all good kids by every measure.

But I’m not going to lie: it’s hard to lose that absolute admiration they have for you when they’re little. It’s not as easy to make them happy as it was when you could read them a story or make costumes for their favorite stuffed animals.

It was particularly hard for me when it got to the point that I realized I couldn’t share about their lives anymore. When I realized that maybe I shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place.

When I realized that they saw my flaws as clearly as I did.

I’m glad I recorded the cute things my kids said and the interesting perspectives they shared on things when they were little, because now I have a permanent record of it. But the growth of other people’s kids always seems to pass more slowly, in the way that I often think my sister’s kids are much younger than they actually are. And now I find that some people who enjoyed my tales of my kids’ younger years want more of those cute stories and don’t realize that time has already ended. Am I still interesting if I’m not talking about the interesting things my kids do?

There are a lot fewer of those cute stories now, and I don’t have permission to share most of them. My kids have grown into independent people with minds of their own. And I guess it’s hard for me to understand sometimes that they always were independent people with minds of their own. That’s a mistake I regret. They still say interesting and insightful things all the time, possibly even more than they did when they were little. But now it has to stay just between us.

For that reason, it was a very intentional choice not to become a “mommy blogger” when my kids were little. I had a lot of people encouraging me to do so. It was one thing to share their cute stories with my friends on Facebook, something else entirely to put it out there where anyone could find it. It felt like too much pressure put on both me and them to make their lives the material for my work. And I always had enough doubt in what I was doing that I feared making them into subject matter could tragically backfire, in the way it often has for other kids who grew up in the public eye.

I went through a long phase of really doubting myself as a parent, especially after we moved down here. After all, it was all my idea. I believed it would be best for them, but talk about a lot of pressure. And at first, there were a lot of signs that it was not in fact better for them. My middle child got hit by a car just a couple months after moving here and broke several bones. My oldest, well, his story is his own to tell, but let’s just say that his adjustment didn’t go well and he held a lot of resentment against me.

But time heals most things, albeit slowly, especially with teenagers. The most heartbreaking thing was probably when my middle son, always the one closest to me, went through a phase of not wanting to talk to anyone, including me. He came out of it and now we regularly have good conversations. He comes out of his room to hug me and say a personal goodbye when I’m leaving the house, where once he would not have.

My oldest is clearly an adult at 20 years old, with a job and bills of his own. He takes pride in trying to contribute to the household and doesn’t keep score. Sometimes I still see flashes of his old anger at me and it pierces me. But I also see his deep concern for me and desire to help me, particularly when my MS is at its worst.

My youngest is the one who makes me feel like I’m finally getting things right. I talk with him the most openly about personal stuff in his life, some of which occasionally makes me cringe (but I answer it anyway.) Today I took him his uniform for JROTC and I said I wouldn’t embarrass him by asking for a hug in public, so I just reached out for a handshake…and then he pulled me in for a hug anyway.

Some of these positive changes just occurred with time. Some are because I also changed in ways that they needed. I’ve never wanted to be one of those people who believed I didn’t have to change anything because I could do no wrong.

The challenge now for me is not playing the comparison game. I have friends whose kids are getting into prestigious universities, getting scholarships, winning awards for all types of amazing accomplishments. My kids have always been brilliant, testing way above their age level, and that could have theoretically been them making the same achievements.

But I didn’t nurture it. I didn’t know how, both because of my struggles with depression and because I couldn’t overcome the same challenges myself. I regret that and wonder if I failed them.

Yet at the same time, I increasingly try to walk that line of telling them they are capable of doing anything (and I will support them in anything they do, even my youngest’s interest in ROTC, which may or may not ever result in military enlistment, even though I am historically pretty anti-military.) But I also tell them about other paths they can take, realistically what struggles they may face if they skip college, and that I will love them in whatever they choose.

I don’t want to be that parent who tells them that college is the only way to go. I tell them that their college experience can be more successful than mine was if they do things I could not, like take internships and are willing and able to move for jobs. But growing up is hard enough without feeling like your parents have decided your path for you–especially if it’s one you don’t particularly want to pursue.

I truly enjoy my kids for the people they are. I want them to feel validated and supported, while also trying to teach them some life skills that may help them. I want them to pursue independence but not feel pushed into it prematurely.

And for the first time, I’ve finally started to feel like I’m coming out on the other side of the worst of the teen years. I still can’t afford to give them all the material things they deserve. But I hope that in time, they’ll recognize the things I did well and forgive the things I didn’t.

Raising teenagers: it definitely gets harder, but if you’re lucky, then it starts to get easier again. I’m finally feeling like the latter might be true.

I know you’ve seen this before and now enough is too much

For those playing along at home, I have resumed the former habit of my original Conflict Girl blog by using a song lyric for every post title. Carry on.

So everything old is new again. I have multiple topics for multiple posts which all tie in to this one central theme, but have you noticed how it seems like there’s a nostalgia reboot lately? Not just of questionable fashion trends like the return of overalls (why??? Does anyone over 120 pounds look good in them?) but also in the news, in the world, in entertainment.

I have a million interesting things to comment on right now, from a new impending war in Syria to a renewed war on the poor, but it would all be too much to put into one post. Long story short, I’ve lived long enough to know what we’re in for with a Republican president and many of my predictions are already beginning to come true.

Ah, the good old days. They’re back. This is what it means to “make America great again.”

But the flip side of the return of dark days means that there’s also a bunch of new interesting music and other entertainment that remakes the past. (Can Sassy magazine please come back?) Much of that entertainment is more honest about what life is really like for the classes struggling to get by.

There’s the “Roseanne” reboot, which I’m scared to watch because I loved the original so much and most of the reviews have not been good. And though I caught on a bit late in the game, I started watching the “One Day at a Time” reboot on Netflix. Aside from having a Gloria Estefan remake of the original theme song that makes me want to hit “skip intro” even faster than the annoying “Gilmore Girls” theme song, the One Day at a Time reboot is smart, topical, and realistic. And it’s also really funny.

Finally, someone is addressing class and political issues in a relevant yet very funny way again. Have we seen such a thing since the original “Roseanne”? One Day at a Time is certainly a much more realistic portrayal of single motherhood than what was shown on Gilmore Girls, for example. As much as I enjoyed the snappy dialogue on Gilmore Girls, the incredible degree of privilege the characters had and refused to acknowledge always bugged me (and much more so upon recently rewatching it again.)

Class issues are returning to the forefront again. And yes, I am dismayed by the path Trump is taking and I can also acknowledge many awful things Democrats have done. I am not naive enough to believe that the issues we face are a political party issue. They’re ultimately a class issue, and we are a nation of increasingly poorer people led by increasingly wealthier people.

But I am hopeful that as Trump further fucks things up for the regular people, we’ll get much less of the tone-deaf and unrealistic “Real Housewives” and Kardashian bullshit on the air.

I want to see reality reflected on TV again–especially on comedies, because sometimes the only thing you can do when the world’s going to shit is to laugh at it. Between the upper-class lifestyles presented on TV as something for us to aspire to and the “let’s take 50 photos until we get one good shot and then use a ton of filters” self-as-brand aspect of Instagram and Snapchat, I’m getting pretty tired of so much fakeness.

You know who’s probably not going to be the next reality TV star, living a life of luxury? You. And me. When meticulously-edited footage is presented as “reality” and random kids with YouTube accounts are making millions just by making videos of themselves, it starts to seem like this is attainable for everyone.

But there are thousands of people who want this kind of stardom who have a YouTube channel with less than 100 subscribers. The fact is that most people don’t have what it takes to be famous. If that’s what you’re exposing yourself to all day, sooner or later you start to wonder why you’re not famous because it all looks so easy. You measure your happiness and success by “likes” and followers instead of by things you already have.

Everything in our culture seems geared toward some type of unrealistic aspiration, presented instead as “inspiration.” I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to grow and become better versions of ourselves. But just as fashion magazines had a notoriously negative effect on female self-esteem, the trend of “fitspo” (fitness+inspiration) also makes us feel bad about ourselves. It’s all about chasing a lifestyle or self-image that we think is so much more worthy than the one we actually have.

I’m not saying we should be oversharing and putting all our worst struggles on social media; there’s no need to air our dirty laundry or endlessly whine. But at the same time, when everything you see is intentionally curated to present everyone as beautiful and wealthy, traveling to exotic locations and shopping shopping shopping, it starts to make you wonder if you’re the only one worried about how you’re going to pay all your bills this month. Or if you’re the only one playing the shell game of paying the most important ones first and hoping it all works out for the rest.

Does everyone else have their shit together except you? Are you the only one not seeing astronomical wage growth and constantly trading up to a better and more fabulous lifestyle every year? Of course not. But it can seem like it if you expose yourself to a very unrealistic version of reality, day in and day out, and think your life should be the same.

Why make yourself miserable by standing on the other side of the glass, peering into a magnificent party you were never going to be invited to anyway?

Sometimes entertainment needs to be an escape. I get that; it’s one of the main functions of art and media. But escape to another world can be through historical fiction or superheroes or made-up worlds of science fiction. Or it can just be in the form of music that transports you emotionally to a different state of mind.

Entertainment that’s always about a life more fabulous than yours can’t help but remind you about how short your life falls in comparison. It’s a recipe for depression and studies have found a link between heavy social media use in particular to depression.

Depression, suicide and anxiety have risen 18 percent since 2005. There are many causes for this so it would be facetious to point the finger at any one thing. But there’s no question to me that the disparity between the economic realities we face (which transcend which political party’s in office) and the envy provoked by fake connection and false presentation of self on social media and aspirational entertainment is a major contributing factor.

The point of seeing more realistic media is to know that you’re not alone. There are way more of us in the struggling classes than there are of the people with the flashy wealth and the carefree lives of leisure. But finding our entertainment in watching the opulent displays of wealth makes us miss what is good in our own lives, whether it’s the humor in our everyday interactions or the way we come together with the ones we love to help each other.

There is so much good in my life, in our lives, even if we’re not rich. Even if we’re not healthy and the future is uncertain. Don’t ignore the good by focusing on a class you’ll probably never be in. Because when the upper classes make us envy them, it keeps us all distracted from trying to address the real inequalities. If we see them as better than us, we vote for people who represent their own interests instead of ours, whether at the polls or with our pocketbooks. We lose sight of the power we could have if only we weren’t so distracted.

Quickest girl in the frying pan

I tried to kill the Conflict Girl. She was limping along, a shadow of what she once was, so I finally put her out of her misery in a satisfying blast of dynamite a couple years ago.

To carry the cheesy metaphor even further, the ashes of the Conflict Girl turned into a ghost who has haunted me ever since.

Before I decided to destroy her, I had grown tired of the reminders that she wasn’t what she once was. I grew weary of defending her against other petty people who, like me, were unhappy with how their lives had turned out. I wasn’t strong enough to ignore the haters — one hater in particular — with my middle fingers flying high. I was just. so. tired. Everything felt like too much effort. It was all too hard.

Besides, I was trying to turn over a new leaf. I wanted to be a Christian Little Mary Sunshine, a completely sanitized and whitewashed version of myself that bore virtually no resemblance to the real me. But I had deemed the real me unacceptable, once and for all. Church and religion and Jesus were supposed to make me feel like I finally had unconditional love but it actually had the complete opposite effect. I don’t think I have ever hated myself more or believed myself less worthy just to exist.

In setting the Conflict Girl ablaze, it wasn’t a mercy killing, it was an expression of deep hatred for all I had ever been. Hadn’t I gotten boring over the years anyway? How well had my real views ever really served me, anyway? After all, I was depressed, diagnosed with a chronic and incurable disease, and almost nothing in my life had turned out the way I wanted. I didn’t live up to my potential. My illness had destroyed my once-formidable intellect. Maybe I was once interesting, but not anymore. Adios and good riddance, bitch.

In making my new start as a bland and generic Christian girl who never had any mean thoughts, I was trying to bury the real me in a deep grave. I never wanted to see her again. She deserved to have an incurable disease. She was a snarky and negative bitch who was far too neurotic to be likable. Why the hell couldn’t she just cheer up, when her life was so perfectly adequate? Her problem was that she just needed an attitude adjustment.

I needed an attitude adjustment. And if I couldn’t figure out how to do it, then I should just shut up. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything. I took that to heart, made it a code to live by.

The truth is that I have never been that person to just shut up, even though I don’t think the real me was ever really that horrible. I have always had a side of me that was introspective and thoughtful, that never truly wished anyone ill will. That’s still true. Namaste, y’all.

But the truth is that a lot of my thoughts are just not very nice. I’m sarcastic and obnoxious. I’m unable to stop noticing stupidity and my God, there’s just so much of it.

I want the world to be a better place but fighting (or even being aware of) my own and others’ micro-aggressions is just way too exhausting for me. As the saying goes, not my circus, not my monkeys. I’ll support other people who fight against micro-aggressions and apologize for the unintentional ones I make, but I have different battles I’m fighting instead.

My perspective is inherently colored by who I am and what I’ve experienced. In many ways, I’m different now than I was when I was writing down my unfiltered thoughts. But I’ve also realized that I’m not going to survive if I keep censoring myself. I hope that when I take off those shackles I’ve been wearing voluntarily, that I’ll regain the ability I once had to write well.

At one time, I truly felt that I wrote well. I don’t feel that way about myself anymore, even though it’s how I make my living.

I want nothing more than to get that part of myself back, that natural self-expression and connection to my true self. It felt so much better. So I’m resurrecting the Conflict Girl, bad attitude and occasionally salty language and outrage over politics and all. She deserves to have a voice again. But she still looks like a child’s doll salvaged from a fire, ripped apart and pulled from the wreckage. It may not be pretty to watch her learn how to become her old self again, if it’s even possible.

But she deserves a chance to try to come back to the world. She was the only honest voice I had.