Trigger warning: abortion
“I don’t get mad,” I said.
“Oh yes you do, your entire body tenses up. You look like you’re ready to attack.”
But the thing is, I do get mad. I feel rageful. I get defensive. Religion and the thought of God makes me feel like an attack is imminent. It’s just there, lurking around a corner, down a dark alley, waiting to jump out and destroy me.
I was raised in one of those non-practicing-unless-it’s-Easter-or-Christmas-Catholic households. God wasn’t something we talked about or prayed to ever. Occasionally he was used as an answer to some question that no one wanted to or could explain, like where does thunder come from, or what makes the flowers grow. He was also used to keep you on the right side of shit. Be good, listen to your parents, don’t steal, or God is gonna punish you.
We went to church when it was required of us: Easter, Christmas, a random Sunday when we would jump on the God bandwagon and go. We carried out the ridiculous charade of making our sacraments. Baptism, confession, communion, confirmation. With those sacraments came the unbearable religion classes. We were forced to go, every Monday night, from 6:30-9, and listen to some woman, who, for whatever reason, decided this is how she wanted to spend her Monday night.
Never once in all the years that I went was I met with a person who seemed genuinely happy to be there or joyful about God or religion in any way. They seemed put out, inconvenienced, and annoyed. We had these workbooks; they were awful. They contained Jesus-inspired word searches where you spent an hour looking for words like guilt, sin, sacrament, commandments or baby Jesus. Occasionally we would be forced to read out loud. Stories about arks and animals, floods and famines, deaths of brothers, murder and condemnation of women. During these classes and the sermons we sat through, I started to see a pattern. There was no love being taught here, no acceptance, no forgiveness. There was only fear and shame and guilt. Be good or God will punish you. The punishments always seemed to be surrounded by fire and pain. I was paying attention. I was listening. I was a child, a sponge that soaked it all up. I took it all in.
I wanted to believe that there was a good damn reason I was being made to constantly feel like I was a rotten asshole for living and learning and making mistakes. But the lesson never came. Just the reprimanding and scolding. Don’t do this, don’t do that. And always remember, if you do any of those things, you’re certainly going down. God punishes, he strikes. I started to associate God with hate.
That couldn’t be what they were planning, was it? To keep us in line? To make us compliant? Yet here I was, hating back. I’m a rebel by nature — or maybe it’s by nurture — but you know what I mean. So naturally I rebelled against God and anything that I was taught he stood for. I scoffed at the idea of being subjected to that type of divine criticism ever again. But it was always there, just under the surface. Sometimes it was the first thing that popped into my head when I was doing something wrong.
“I am definitely going to hell.”
This was a recurring thought for the better part of my adolescence and early adult life. I was always waiting for the punishment. Waiting for the wrath.
Then when I was 18, the unthinkable happened. I got pregnant. It was a nightmare of Biblical proportions. Unemployed, barely in a relationship with the father, living with my parents who, at the time, were losing their house to the bank. Not a great scenario for child rearing. I had a choice to make.
It seems like it should have been an easy one, but it felt complicated. Even though I felt hatred towards all things religious, I was still hung up on that fear and guilt. Fear of everlasting pain and suffering and the guilt of choosing my own life over the life of the unborn. I was young; maybe it was my not yet fully developed prefrontal cortex, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. The guilt was heavy. It crushed me every waking second of every single day. I had no clarity. I couldn’t see past this one decision. It was consuming me.
I ultimately decided that an abortion was the right thing for me to do. I went down to the clinic and had it taken care of. I felt numb. I felt tired. I felt drained. Emotionally, I was destroyed. I truly believed that the guilt I felt would crack open the earth and it would swallow me up. I was alone, I could only rely on my own thoughts. They were cruel. I thought I was dying. I carried that weight around with me for what felt like forever. It was a hole inside me. The hole was guilt and dread and death and suffering. It was a Jesus word search. It sat there. It made it hard to breathe. I started doing drugs and drinking heavily. I was filling the hole but I was still empty. It dulled my senses enough that I could rest and not obsess. I was so tired. So, so tired.
A few months later, by a series of unfortunate events, I ended up at a 24-hour, Christian teen lock in. This was in the early ’90s. I have no idea if people still do these or not, so let me break it down a bit for you. A bunch of us teens met at the church, it was a youth group thing, there was some praying, and I believe a priest threw some holy water on us as we embarked on our “mission.” We all got on an old school bus with our sleeping bags and pillows and they drove us to a college campus in Pennsylvania. They hustled us off the bus and into this enormous gym where dozens of other youth groups were embarking on their own “missions.”
The idea was to pray and socialize with other like-minded teens. We ate pizza and stayed in our little clusters, no mingling, no socializing. We talked about anything and everything but Jesus. Just when I started to think this next 24 hours wasn’t going to be so bad, the lectures and sermons started.
At first they seemed innocent enough. The first speaker was a young minister who wanted to devote his life to God and his word. He sounded sincere, like there was genuine love in his heart. Love for God, and religion. Love for the institution that was allowing him to fulfill his life’s mission of preaching the word of God. He asked us to pray with him and everyone obliged. I sat there, in awe of the crowd and their willingness to follow. I felt nothing, but I was hopeful.
The next speaker was a priest. He was old, and he had one of those faces that looked like it was silently, secretly judging you. I’m actually not sure if that’s what he looked like, or if it’s because I remember so vividly what he said next that makes my brain see him that way. I guess I’ll never know for sure. The first sentence out of his mouth was, “Tonight, I want to tell you about the sin of abortion.”
My skin turned white hot. I thought I heard the earth crack and I was prepared for what came next. I was finally getting what I deserved. I was going to be swallowed up. But I had to keep my secret, I couldn’t give away my truth. So I swallowed it. I sat there and took it. I drank in all the ways he described my sin. He was judgmental and cruel and disgusting. With every word he said, my anger grew. Not only for him, but for the God and the religion that he was hiding behind. He was their mouthpiece. God was making him say these terrible things to me.
In my head he was only speaking to me. None of these other God-fearing teens could have ever had an abortion. Only me. Of course, I know now, that just statistically speaking, I couldn’t have possibly been the only person in the room that had had an abortion. But at that moment, I was completely alone. I felt totally isolated. Guilty of sin. Damned for all eternity.
He finally stopped his vitriol long enough for me to catch my breath and steady my hands. I shut down; that was the last “sermon” I heard that night, even though they droned on for hours. I refused to listen to anyone else who wanted anything to do with any organization that was willing to isolate and hurt with their words and judgements. I had never felt that pain and condemnation before and I don’t think I have ever fully recovered from it.
That was a little less than 30 years ago. I no longer feel guilt about the decision I made. That decision meant that I was choosing myself. I am forever grateful that I chose me. I am very important to many people, but mostly I’m important to myself.
I have tried to find religion again. More than once. Mostly out of some guilt placed on me by friends and family because, of course, I have to believe in something. I have come back to the church, I’ve listened to sermons, I’ve read stories from the Bible, I have sung songs on high. I feel nothing.
I feel no connection to a higher power. I identify as an agnostic because I don’t know what’s what. I have no idea if Jesus and God and heaven and hell are real. Neither does anyone else. I have no time for blind faith in something as intangible as God. It always felt pretty self-righteous to think we know shit about what divine light guides us through this life. The amount of arrogance it takes to truly believe that what you believe is the right and only thing to believe is astonishing to me.
I will admit, I envy people who do believe with the strength of a thousand suns. I wish I could just say, “Well, it’s in God’s hands now.” In my world everything is in my hands. There is no mysterious force that will come and magically change my circumstances. There is only me. I am the magical force that controls my destiny.
A lifetime of being told about the sin and the guilt and the suffering takes a toll on someone’s mental state. I have religious fatigue, or PTSD. So when someone brings up their religion or tells me I should pray about a problem my knee jerk reaction is anger. I get instantly heated.
I won’t be praying anytime soon. I won’t let religion creep back into my life. My life is full. There is no room for backhanded, abusive words that hide behind love. I have peace. It does not come from God or Heaven. It is a faith in the universe and its vastness. It’s a faith in the idea that we are small and our time here is fleeting. We should not regret or feel guilt. We should love pure and true and often.