I wrote this December 3. I feel like I can’t write at the moment so I’m going through my draft posts and pulling out the ones I like. Here’s one that is just as relevant 6 weeks later.
After my chill night last night I woke up in terror of what today would bring. There are a lot of scary things I have to deal with today, and the rest of the week.
As I wrestled with my emotions this morning I tried to think of what I was supposed to do to stop feeling so bad. My therapist has been working with me using ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) for years now but my tools and techniques still don’t come to me easily.
I have thoughts and I have feelings. They are just thoughts and feelings and I don’t need to be fused to them. That may sound like psychobabble. I’ll try to explain. I don’t have to accept something as true just because I think or feel it. Not everything is a part of my identity. I can observe thoughts and feelings and decide what to do with them depending on what I personally value.
So as I was feeling afraid this morning I identified the specific thoughts that were going through my head that were causing me to feel afraid. I validated the thoughts and I watched my emotions responded to them. And then I shrugged and said, “Okay.”
“Yep, this is what I’m thinking and feeling.” What do I want to do about it? Am I going to identify with these as gospel truth and let them lead my actions? I could just by my default and still be able to kindly tell myself that I’d still have good intentions and be making the best of it. I realized I needed to think about what it is I really want and value.
What did I value in this situation this morning? My value was to treat myself and people around me with patience. I wanted to laugh at the darkness. Because of what I really wanted my fear turned into sadness. And because I was able to simply watch my emotions and not identify with them I found something of what I wanted in there.
I felt truly calm. And the people around me were affected by it. I am uncomfortable with the truth that my whole family depends on me for emotional stability. I can accept that this is not healthy and is draining me and I can figure out how to set boundaries and how to help my family help themselves.
But for now it is what it is. So any time I feel peaceful everything at home goes better. This morning because I was calm others were calm and the whole morning went well.
I was still watching myself feel fear and stress and when I stepped outside to take my son to school, and daughter to the psychiatrist, I felt chilled because it was really cold outside.
I started laughing because I remembered the Frozen song “Let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore…the cold doesn’t bother me anyway!” I swept my arms around dramatically like Elsa and sang my heart out. If you’ve ever met any middle school age kids you can imagine the look on their faces as I did this and it was hilarious.
And the rest of my day so far has been okay.
I want to go back to this struggle with my thoughts and feelings, which I’ve had since I was a teen. I think that this is the default of what happens in most people’s brains – if we didn’t struggle with ourselves we’d have no impulse control, at least we like to think so. The reality is most people are reactive anyway and this struggle is ineffective.
I was deeply depressed as a teen and it was during that impressionable period that I converted to evangelical Christianity. And over the course of the next 20 years I memorized massive amounts of scripture, whole chapters of the Bible, read the Bible from cover to cover at least twice. I had worship music in my head at all times. I read books by Christian authors. I shielded myself from anything I thought wouldn’t be in line with what I considered holy. I daily fed these thoughts into my brain to replace them with my own. Because my own were bad and destructive.
I wonder what would have happened if I just watched my thoughts without judgement and made up my own mind what was important to me? I believed that it was important for me to obey God and love the Savior. I believed there was no truth outside of that. So I was in continual submission and sacrifice of my mind.
In other words, I struggled, struggled, struggled, struggled, struggled. I don’t even like to use the word “struggle” anymore. Sometimes people will tell me that I got it wrong – that I was supposed to surrender everything to God and He would help me. But I did, every day until I just stopped believing, despite desperately trying to hold onto my faith. And when I stopped believing I started realizing what it is I actually value and that many of these things are not congruent with Christian teachings.
Because I set my own morality things are sometimes confusing. But they have never not been confusing. That’s what existing as a human is like. At least now I don’t have to judge myself and feel shame every day. I’m not sure if I’ve become a better person since I deconverted but I don’t think I’m a worse person and now I’m at least most definitely more “me.”
And I think that may possibly make the world better. I think we need to be kind and compassionate, loving, thoughtful and respectful. But beyond that I think it’s important for people to be themselves and quit making them struggle.