Saturday, November 12, 2016

I Break My Mom's Heart Every Day

I was raised in a Lutheran family. ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) Lutheran, to be exact. Looking back, our church was somewhat progressive, but when comparing it to other churches in my very rural South Dakota upbringing in the early 80's, that's a pretty low threshold. But they didn't kick you out for being gay or force you to apologize to the congregation if you were pregnant at your own wedding like other churches in the area, so I'm going to go ahead and call them progressive. 

I was also raised by a mom who subscribes to an extreme form of honesty. It's not that she doesn't have a filter, because she absolutely does and would throw herself into a fire before she would make anyone feel uncomfortable or offended. But she simply cannot lie. So when we were growing up, we always knew that Santa Claus and the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy were all bullshit, because my mom refused to lie to her children, even then. 

This same super-honest mom is also a very strong Christian. Her love for Christ is bright and unapologetic.  My mom is resilient and strong, and when she attributes her faith to getting her through difficult times like the sudden death of my father, I believe her. 

Like many Christians, it isn't enough that she have her own faith and that it help with her own life. It's also important to her that everyone else finds faith in the ELCA Lutheran Christ to help with their lives, too. 

Now I'm guessing here, but I attribute her passion of recruitment to three elements of motivation:

1. As a Christian, she believes it's her duty. She believes it is her duty to spread the gospel and therefore save people's souls because that's what God commands. 

2. If her friends and family aren't saved, they won't go to heaven and she'll never see them again after death. Pretty big motivator here, I'd say. She believes that heaven is a place reserved for people who have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior and Jesus as the son of God (sorry, Jews, you're out.). 

3. She feels the need to spread the word about her faith because it gives her a feeling of righteousness because she knows a truth that you don't, neener neener neener. There's a sense of (false) pride that comes with believing you're more enlightened than your neighbor. I think most people have experienced this feeling, myself included.

Now, I've struggled with the church and religion all my life, even as a kid. There was a stark contradiction to all of this. At home, my mom told me Santa Claus wasn't real because of course, one man can't possibly fly through the air with magic reindeer and deliver presents to everyone in the world, duh. Oh, but guess what, this guy in biblical times built a giant boat all by himself and managed to put two of each animal in existence onto this boat and after he rounded up all the lions and giraffes and penguins and otters and elephants and snakes and bears and scorpions and deer......they all lived in harmony and didn't kill each other and apparently all had litter boxes and plenty to eat while God flooded the earth. (I live with four cats and a dog and my life is chaos. This story is bullshit.)

But see, my mom is an honesty extremist. So if this was what she was teaching me, it was true....right?

Much to everyone's chagrin, I started asking questions, and didn't stop. How did Noah get all those animals? How did he build a boat so big by himself? How did he have enough food for everyone? How come it takes a hundred people to plan and build a simple boat today, but one guy was able to plan and build a boat the size of Texas?

Answers would vary between "well it was a miracle from God" or "maybe it didn't really happen that way exactly and it's just a fable from God meant to teach us something." In other words, "we don't know, quit asking hard questions."

But my questions became more persistent. If there are so many other religions, how do we know ours is the right one? Will people from other religions go to heaven too, even if they don't believe in our God? How do we know our God is the right one if they believe in different Gods? On and on. Beaten down, my mom sighed, "Oh honey, you're too young to be asking these questions."

I thought she was too old to not have the answers.

Thirty-something years later, I still don't have those answers and neither does she (or anybody else, for that matter). But she's forged ahead in her faith, steadfast and true, without a moment's doubt or hesitation. And it has worked for her. She's incredibly resilient and she handles tragedy and hardship with grace and strength. I was in awe of her composure after my dad's death, even though she was clearly in tremendous pain. 

She doesn't need all her questions answered. Her faith works for her. I see it. 

I, as you've probably guessed, have taken a different path. 

For me, the game was over when I realized that no one could tell me anything: if God exists, if there's a heaven or a hell, what happens after we die, are souls a real thing, etc. Once that lightbulb went off over my head, I was through listening to anyone who claimed to know  (and not simply believe in) these things, because they were, intentionally or unintentionally, lying. 

But I soon discovered it was nearly impossible to have a rational conversation about these things, because people would grasp at cliche straws as soon as they were getting uncomfortable or backed into a corner:

"I know it's true because I've experienced/seen it."

"I know it's true because God has a plan."

"I know it's true because it's the word of God." 

These are dismissive arguments that are infuriating because you can't possibly argue with them. How can you argue the existence of dinosaurs with someone who believes that dinosaurs didn't exist and God only put dinosaur bones here on Earth as a test of our faith? It's the equivalent of arguing with someone who will only reply with "I know you are, but what am I?" You are going to lose the argument not because you're wrong, but because the other person refuses to play the game.


I cried hard, choking sobs on the morning of November 9. I was genuinely scared, overwhelmed, and hopeless. I cried and scrolled online all day long, looking to see how my friends were dealing with their grief, looking for signs of hope and words of comfort with my broken heart. 

Some friends lashed out. Some were overcome with grief. Others condemned people for sinking to the same level as internet trolls and insisted we must find a way to start listening to each other.

But I feel like I have been listening. And I also feel like I've been heard. But I don't understand how we can continue a conversation when we can't even agree on simple, fundamental facts.

I'm trying to figure out how I can have a conversation with someone who insists that 2+2=5 because God says so. They will not acknowledge that 2+2=4, no matter what, and they are willing to die for that belief. No matter how long I listen and try to understand, in the end 2+2=4 because fact trumps faith. But in their mind, no matter now long they listen or try to understand, 2+2=5 because faith trumps fact. 

On November 9, I knew that we were going to live in a country with a government that makes decisions based on their fundamental belief that 2+2=5, no matter who gets hurt or discriminated against, because 2+2=5 is gospel. 

And I cried. I cried because I knew my friends were going to suffer because of their color, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. I cried because I was overwhelmed with hopelessness at the feeling my childhood bullies had all been elected to run my country and bigotry had been vindicated. All my proclamations that "it does get better" felt hollow and far away. 

As I come through the fog and grief, my questions change from "why" and "how" to "what now?" My instinct is to gravitate toward the idea that we need to learn, listen, and understand each other. (What can I say, I'm a bleeding heart liberal who strives for peace. Sue me.) But I am truly confused as to how to do that. 

In the organization I work for, we have recently pulled support from some offices that haven't been performing well and don't seem to have much hope of performing well in the future. People are understandably hurt and angry, as they have put blood, sweat, and tears into trying to get these markets to succeed. 

One market in particular is pushing back quite a bit. They insist that they raise much more money than some of the larger, neighboring markets. When we showed them in black and white that this is not true, that they actually only raise 25% of their neighboring markets, they refused to believe it. There it was, in black and white - irrefutable numbers. But they looked at the numbers and said nope, they don't believe it. Dismissed. 

We said "2+2=4" and proved it. They said "2+2=5 and nothing you say or show will convince us any different." Everyone went home angry and both sides have been hostile to each other ever since. 

How do we work through this? How? When someone justifies a vote for Trump by insisting 2+2=5, what do you say? What do you say that inspires growth? What do you say that inspires love and understanding? These are not rhetorical questions.

I break my mom's heart every day because I am no longer a Christian (see #2 above). I believe in God, but my God believes that 2+2=4, loves Muslims, marches in Pride parades, protests with Black Lives Matter and believes I can rule a country even though I have a vagina. That no longer seems to agree with what many Christians envision their God to be, so I don't feel like I belong in their churches anymore.

I hate that I break my mom's heart. I mean, what's worse than seeing your mom sad, knowing you're the cause of the sadness? Nothing. Nothing is more gut-wrenching and awful. I wish more than anything I could reassure her of my faith in the God she believes in to make her happy. But I can't. 

Because my mom taught me not to lie. And 2+2=4. And that's the truth. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I'll Tell You What' Up, Doc.

So I'm in therapy.

Ugh, therapy. I dread it as though it's an hour-long family reunion. All I can think of are the screaming kids, the awkward conversations with elders who couldn't hear your conversation with a bullhorn, the marshmallow and canned fruit "salad," and my uncle putting on a three-hour slide show of his world travels. Once I get there it isn't that bad of course (with the exception of the slideshow), but the anxiety I get leading up to it is enough to put in therapy. 

Actually, it is enough to put me in therapy. Because anxiety is my issue.

I remember my first anxiety attack. I don't remember how old I was, but I think around eight years old. It was the morning after a friend slept over at my house and we were playing before it was time to take her home. I went upstairs to get a toy or something, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I needed her to get out of my house. Now. Right now. Getoutgetoutgetoutgetthefuckout. 

Why? No idea. We hadn't had a fight, I wasn't sick, the house wasn't on fire.... there was no reason I can think of, to this day, why that happened. But after that, it happened over and over again, for several years. This was the eighties and you didn't get help for your kids unless they were burning down buildings. Hiding and denying mental illness was always preferable to getting treatment back then. (In my parents' defense, though, access to child psychology was assuredly lacking in rural South Dakota in the 80's.) 

I was talking to my sister the other day. My niece has started showing the same symptoms I had, and at the same age. We talked about her behavior, and it all sounded very, very familiar. My sister asked me what did I think she should do, since I had gone through this myself. I asked her if she was anti-meds? She said no. I asked if she was afraid of detrimental effects if my niece went into therapy? She said no. 

"Then why aren't you taking advantage of every tool in the toolbox to see if one will help?" I asked. 

A light bulb went off in her head and she said, "You're right! Why am I not doing this? I just hoped it might be a phase...."

phase |fāz|

• a stage in a person's psychological development, especially a period of temporary unhappiness or difficulty during adolescence or a particular stage during childhood.

I dislike the word "phase." It's the word we desperately cling to when a loved one's behavior becomes worrisome in order to buy us time in the land of Denial. It prevents us from taking action and allows us to laugh off troublesome behavior to our friends as we roll our eyes and say knowingly, "I'm sure it's just a phase." 

But it's hard with kids because they do go through phases, sometimes it seems like a dozen in a single afternoon. And you don't want to throw your five-year-old daughter into transgender therapy and hormone treatments if one afternoon she says she'd like to have a penis. It's a delicate dance between staying out of denial and yet not overreacting. 

Anxiety is rarely a phase, though, as I've experienced in my life. I've found many ways to deal with it in my thirty-seven years, both healthy and unhealthy: drinking, exercise, sleeping too much, drinking, procrastinating, eating well, eating terribly, and more drinking. Basically, I led a life wrought with poor decisions and destructive behavior with just enough brief periods of progress and personal growth to get me through to my thirties. 

Once in my thirties, though, I got serious about my health and turned everything around, which has worked out very well. Until recently.

For quite a while, my dissatisfaction with my job had me slowly slipping backward into Anxiety World, but my promotion in March suddenly made my regression go from a gentle slope downward to hanging onto a creaky little branch over the side of a cliff. 

Suddenly it was hard to get to sleep at night. I have no appetite and rarely have a bite of food before 9pm. I pace. I can't make simple decisions. I don't exercise. Getting out of bed in the morning is the worst. I avoid leaving the house. 

And what did I tell myself these last few months? THAT IT WAS A PHASE. That as soon as I got into the swing of things with this new job, I wouldn't be as anxious and I'd once again find my healthy routine and everything would be sunshine and unicorns. 

What can I say? I'm a slow learner. 

A few weeks ago, it was a perfectly sunny, lovely Sunday morning, my favorite time of the week. As we were making plans for the day, my husband and I had a disagreement. It was a little disagreement over something trivial, but it didn't matter - I was a frayed rope that had been pulled taught for so long, it took almost nothing for me to go over the edge and rage over the tiniest little thing. And I did. 

Later, my defeated husband said, "You know, we were having a great morning. It's a beautiful day. Why did you have to make such a big deal out of this and ruin it?"

He was right. And that's when a light bulb went on over my head as I thought back to my conversation with my sister. I wasn't taking my own advice. Sure, the job situation might be a phase, but I've known all my adult life that my anxiety is not. I'd lost my grip on it and it was starting to affect not only me, but my family. I wasn't using the tools in my own toolbox. 

The next day, I stopped making excuses and made an appointment with a therapist. I long ago let go of the social stigma that comes with being treated or medicated for mental illness. Once I got older and realized how fucked up everyone is - and I mean everyone - a little anxiety and alcoholism no longer seemed like such shameful secrets. I once heard someone say they were terrified of having their family find out they were in A.A., but for some reason they weren't terrified of their family seeing them once again falling down drunk on a Tuesday morning. My situation wasn't dissimilar: Having anxiety isn't what should make me ashamed. But ruining a beautiful Sunday morning with my husband because I refuse to take responsibility for my anxiety, though? That's shameful. 

So I'm going to try to dig myself out of this hole. And my first step is to get on the couch. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016


When I was in my early twenties, either I really did enjoy spontaneity, or I was so insistent that I enjoyed it that I forced it with an enthusiastic smile. I'm not really sure which it was, but at any rate I lived my life with a lot of unpredictability and I don't remember a lot of fear involved. I made changes all the time and to varying degrees; Whether it was a last-minute night on the town or I decided to rent a U-Haul and move to a different city or apartment, I never seemed to sit still long enough to get too comfortable or to reflect on what was really going on.

But there are a lot of elements that usually come with your twenties that nurtures one's tendency to be spontaneous. Most of the jobs you have in your twenties are disposable and friends seem to come easily no matter where you move. Often children and spouses aren't in the picture. Funds are limited, but where there's a will, there's a way. And in my twenties, I willed myself all over the place with little thought, no plans, and that seemed to suit me fine.

My mistake was thinking that because that's how it had always been, that's how it was always going to be. If I like to fly by the seat of my pants at 23, I will like to at 37, right? I was so married to this part of my identity that I held onto it long after it was clear that I wanted more than my impulsive lifestyle was going to yield. But routine and predictability seemed so lame, so boring, so old.

But I wasn't 23 anymore, and my body couldn't keep up with unpredictable me anymore. So I grudgingly began to identify with the woman who wanted routine and the safety and comfort it provides.

But now that I've been my lame, boring, old self for several years now, I've swung too far in the other direction, and not only do I shun spontaneity, but I dread any change, period.

So when, in the last six months, I went from being an special events assistant to being a regional operations manger for twenty-six freakin' sites from coast to coast in my organization, there wasn't just anxiety. There was full-on, nauseous, white-hot panic.

Because of my terror, one would think that I was just offered this leaps-and-bounds promotion out of the blue and that's why I panicked. Oh, no. I did this to myself. I researched the job, I fired up the ol' resume (after asking a bunch of twenty-year-olds what their resumes looked like. Who knows how the kids are doing it these days. Are they still even called resumes?) and drafted a cover letter after making my best friend read and re-read it until her eyes bled. I contacted old references and had a heart-to-heart with my boss, who I love and love to worth with. So you would think with all this effort, this promotion would be something I really wanted, right?

In my years of sobriety, I have learned that I can often control my anxiety by focusing only on the present. So I told my husband, "I'm not going to think about it. I'm going to apply, but I'm not going to think about the what-ifs. No what-if-I-get-an-interview. No what-if-I-don't-get-it-and-this-was-all-for-nothing. No what-if-I-actually-get-the-job. None of it." And I did. I let it go.

The problem with this strategy, though, is that when I did get the call and they offered me the job, I was totally, utterly unprepared. And so my first thought was crystal clear: "WHAT have I DONE."

All the reasons (and there were many) that I wanted the job went out the window. All I could foresee, and all I could feel, was the dread that comes with major change. Everyone around me, including my husband, was ecstatic and saying all the right things. "You are PERFECT for this position!" "You finally get to work from home like you've always wanted!" "You are going to LOVE this role, I know it!" "You are going to be so happy!" And they were right. I knew they were right. But fear penetrates reason and common sense, and it's hard to talk yourself down from that ledge once you're on it.

Of course, I accepted the offer, but with very little eloquence because I was concentrating on not peeing my pants. It's been about a week and a half since then and in that time, the wheels of change have been in motion. I'm training a new person to take over my old position. I've ordered new furniture for my home office. I've signed contracts, ordered new tech gear, and even made my first travel plans to Texas to help manage one of the events there.

So I'm putting one shaky foot in front of the other and trying to embrace it, because I know old routines will give way to new routines. I know that this change is good. I know I have a lot of support and my friends and colleagues are confident in my ability.

And whenever my self-doubt and fears start to creep up, I remind myself that my new office is going to look something like this.

Pretty soon now you're gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
--David Bowie

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Adulting in a House

Sorry for the long silence. I've been busy. My husband turned 40, we bought a house, I bought my first car, and we moved to the suburbs. 

All in the same week.

I've never lived in a suburb in my life. That isn't to say I've lived in a bustling urban area, either, since I grew up on a working farm. But I did move to the city to experience the city, so I resisted moving to a suburb as long as I possibly could, until I admitted we needed a lot more room for our zoo of animals and there was no way we could afford the space we needed in the city.

So here we are. 

I go back and forth from being amazingly contented with suburban life to longing for the days when I was walking up four flights of stairs to get to my one-bedroom apartment with the subway rumbling and hari krishnas singing outside my apartment. It's not that I wish to be living the single life again - my husband is the best thing in my life - but this house-living thing is SO different from what my life looked like in my twenties. 

I lived a block from Wrigley Field in Chicago for years, which is ironic considering how much I loathe professional sports. People look like they want to hit me when I tell them that despite my close proximity, I never once set foot inside that stadium. Nothing about that place appealed to me. Then why did I live there, you ask? Because it was just steps away from Boys Town (the gay district), and that DID appeal to me. It was always awake, alive, bustling, and happy. And for the most part, so was I. 

The ugly truth that I don't want to admit to anyone, especially to myself, is that I don't have the energy to live that life anymore. Staying out until four in the morning every weekend was the norm back then. Now, just the thought makes me want to take a nap. 

But then there're the changes in financial priorities, too. In my twenties, I spent my money on concerts, and lots of them. I spent my money on drinks, and lots of them. Now, I'm spending that money on things that had zero importance to me back then: car insurance, a dishwasher, a garage, a yard. Part of that is depressing, but so is the thought of sweating balls on a hot summer day while I stoop over a sink of scalding water to scour yet another baked-on lasagna. 

It's all change, and it's all positive since it's all progress toward building the life that I want. It's just....sometimes I can't believe this is the life that I want. It's so different than what I ever wanted. 

But I do. I want it. 

My new key to suburban life.