Working my way from fundamentalism to freedom (without losing my mind)


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Women matter.

I was at a rock concert last week and a stranger felt me up. I froze for several seconds–couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move as those hands moved up and down my waist. Finally, I found the courage to elbow the person in the stomach. Then, I went to the bathroom and cried and ended up missing half of The Darkness singing “Love on the Rocks with No Ice.”

But a week later, I can still feel those hands. Every time I sit down to write. Every time I look in the mirror. Every time I have a positive thought about myself.

I can feel them, and I can hear them. They whisper, “You don’t matter. You’re just an object that I wanted to touch and so I did. You exist for my pleasure. You don’t matter.”

Then, I saw the new PETA ads. You know, the “My boyfriend went vegan and couldn’t control his own strength during sex so he bruised me and put me in a neck brace” ads.

And when I feel those hands, I also see the image of that woman walking down the road in her neck brace, as she gives the excuses that sounded a lot like what I heard coming out of my own mouth many times when I was in an abusive relationship. And I hear PETA whispering, “You don’t matter. Animals are people, but women are not. You don’t matter.”

And, do I even need to bring up Issa’s committee regarding the birth control mandate, at which no women were allowed to testify? It’s not even a whisper but a yell. “You don’t matter. Not when it comes to politics. Not when it comes to religion. Not even when it comes to your own health. You don’t matter.”

The world is telling us this every day, women. In the way it represents us, in the way it treats us, and in the way it speaks to us. The world is saying, “You don’t matter.”

Are we listening?

Do we believe it?

I know sometimes it’s difficult not to internalize the messages that we receive everyday.

We’re touched inappropriately or whistled at as we walk down the street, and we push aside feelings of discomfort and tell ourselves, “I’m overreacting. I can’t get upset–I mean, I should expect this going to a rock concert/the club/this part of town. I shouldn’t have worn this outfit. I must have done something to provoke this.”

And what we’re really telling ourselves is, “I don’t matter.”

We see a battered woman on television being used to sell products or ideas and we doubt those feelings of anger that rightly well up inside of us. We try to make excuses like, “It was a joke, right? Besides, the commercial wasn’t portraying abuse. The boyfriend just didn’t know his own strength. The company/organization was just trying to make a point.”

And what these doubts amount to is really, “Do I matter?”

Then, we see political policies that directly affect us women being discussed by men, and men only. We see religious decisions that directly affect the women of the church being made by men. And often, we don’t blink an eye because we’ve been told so often that we don’t matter, that we almost accept that it’s a man’s world.

Because the world is telling us we don’t matter.

It’s telling us everywhere we turn.

It’s yelling at us from cars as we walk down the streets. It’s hitting us over the head with these messages in movies and commercials and sitcoms. It’s preaching it at us from the pulpits and political campaigns.

But we don’t have to listen.


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So, what about the men?

1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by age 18.*

1 in 33 men will be experience completed or attempt rape in his lifetime.*

52% of gay men will experience coercion from a partner*

22% of male prison inmates will be raped during their incarceration**

Out of all the victims of murder by an intimate partner, about 1/4 are male.***

Even as victims, men who leave abusive female partners have a high risk of losing custody of their children.****

And, even though it is estimated that men make up 10% of all rape victims, they are the least likely to report sexual assault**

=====================================

These numbers don’t get mentioned very often, and this can leave male survivors feeling isolated and marginalized. Men suffer from rape and domestic abuse, just as women do.

But I rarely hear people talk about it.

This certainly isn’t to say that we should be putting less energy into ending violence toward women. But we need to remember that male survivors of abuse are also silenced by gender roles…

Roles which suggest men cannot be raped by women because men should always want sex.

Roles which suggest women cannot rape men because women don’t have their own sexuality.

Roles which expect men to be strong enough to “avoid being victimized.”

Roles which view women as weak and frail, and therefore incapable of committing domestic violence.

Roles which assume that even an abusive woman is, in nearly every circumstance, a better nurturer for children than a man

Roles which stubbornly view all men as potential abusers, and all women as potential victims.

Roles which completely ignore same-sex relationships.

When we cling tightly to these gender roles, men suffer. Legitimate problems are ignored. Roads toward improvement remain unpaved. Survivors either keep quiet in fear or they are silenced by outside ignorance.

Women, as we fight for equality, let’s not forget that our brothers are also being hurt by the strict gender roles that society has set up. And let’s do what we can to help!

–Let’s start including the above statistics in our discussions.

–Let’s be careful about making universal statements that enforce negative stereotypes (you know, “All men are jerks!” and the like).

–Let’s be careful about placing pressure on men to always be strong, to always be leaders, to always be protectors…never humans.

–In fact, let’s break the stereotype that says only men can be protectors. Let’s let the men in our lives know that we’ve got their backs!

–Let’s show the men in our lives how much we love them and value them.

And men, we hope you can find freedom. But until you do, just know that we’re here for you. We love you.

You’re not alone.

*http://www.rvap.org/_docs/pdf_documents/sexual%20assault%20statistics.pdf

**http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentViewer&DocumentID=32361

***http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_violence#Gender_aspects_of_abuse

****http://www.hawc.org/site/c.9hJJL0MDK8KWE/b.7883821/k.9798/Male_Survivors.htm


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Stop giving a damn!

This morning, I counted how many days it’s been since I last wrote something.

Six days.

Six long days where I was unable to write.

At first, I wondered if I’ve had writer’s block. But, no. I’ve had so many ideas for blog posts lately that my brain can hardly juggle them all. No, writer’s block isn’t the problem.

The problem is that I started giving a damn.

Like most people, I spent the majority of my life giving a damn what people thought about me. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted people to believe that I had social skills (however untrue that may be).

Then, right before my senior year of high school, I broke off an abusive relationship and sunk into a deep depression. I made stupid mistakes during this time in my life and that got people talking about me. My ex told his friends and family lies and secrets about me, which earned me a few enemies. Rumors spread that I was “loose,” which meant dirty looks from some folks, awkward personal questions from concerned others, and even blatant requests for sex from one person.

My reputation (which was mostly undeserved–I’m not really as badass as people thought I was) and my depression  knocked me down to rock bottom and when I got there, I figured I had two options: grab a shovel and start diggin’, or stop giving a damn.

I chose the latter.

Allie Brosh sums up this point in my life fairly well. You should read this, now: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html

Uninhabited by my fear of what others would think about me, I was able to share my stories. I was able to ask difficult questions. I was able to be honest about myself and who I was because I no longer had anything to lose.

And you know what happened?

My not-giving-a-damn about my reputation started helping people.

And my not-giving-a-damn about my reputation helped me find healing.

Eventually, in the spirit of not-giving-a-damn, I started this blog.

Lately, however, I’ve been taking steps to cure my depression and I’m on medicine that diminishes the symptoms. That’s a good thing, but now it’s tempting to start giving a damn again.

It’s tempting to worry more about my reputation than about helping others.

It’s tempting to think twice (or three times, or four…) before asking a controversial question.

It’s tempting to avoid my the publish button on my blog.

I’m thrilled to be getting the upper hand of my depression. I hate depression. I hate it so much that if it were a vegetable, I would hide it in my napkin and feed it to the dog when my parents weren’t looking.

But depression taught me something.

But I hope I never forget what it taught me–that sometimes, if you want to make a difference, you have to stop giving a damn about what people are going to think of you.

As one commenter has already pointed out, giving a damn isn’t always bad! So, tomorrow, I’m going to talk about how you should start giving a damn. Until then, what stories would you tell and what questions would you ask if you didn’t give a damn about your bad reputation?


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The subtle signs of relationship abuse

Image via Batteredhearts.com

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Are you aware of domestic violence?

Of course you know it exists. Turn on Lifetime for five minutes and you’ll figure that one out. But do we really understand what domestic violence looks like?

When you think of an abusive relationship, you may think of physical violence, bruises, and yelling. But the fact is, in most cases, by the time these obvious symptoms appear, the abuse has probably been going on for while.

The roots of domestic violence are harder to notice and harder to dig out and drag into the sunlight. But they’re dangerously powerful, twisted and complicated, and constantly growing deeper. They provide the obvious fruits of abuse with a solid foundation.

These roots aren’t completely ignored, but they’re often connected to the wrong tree. Instead of recognizing subtle signs of domestic abuse for what they are, our movies, magazines, and novels tend to romanticize some of them. Instead of connecting these dangerous roots to abuse, we connect them to romance.

So let’s grab some shovels and dig up some of these roots, shall we? Let’s

expose them for what they really are.

Here are a few subtle signs of an abusive relationship:

Your significant other controls who you spend your time with: This isn’t always as obvious as it sounds. It usually starts off sounding reasonable. Protective, even– “Please don’t hang out with that ex-girlfriend. She still wants you.” or “Stay away from that creepy guy who keeps hitting on you at work.”

But it progresses.

“I know she’s your best friend, but she’s not good to you. She’s just using you. Stay away from her.”

“Your parents don’t want us to be together because they don’t trust you.”

“You really shouldn’t hang out with your male friends. All men are perverts. I’m just trying to protect you.”

Soon, the abuser has isolated his/her victim, cut him/her off from any support or help. The victim feels like the abuser is the only person he/she can rely on.

Your significant other manipulates you sexually: I’m going to talk about two scenarios here. You’re probably familiar with the first one. You’ve probably heard about it in youth group, or seen it played out on several sitcoms.

It’s the story of an innocent female virgin who doesn’t want sex, and an over-bearing man who can’t control his sexual desires. The man says things like, “If you love me, you will.” or “I’ll cheat on you if you don’t.”

This scenario is loaded with assumptions about gender, so let’s expand it. Men, you can be manipulated by women in the same way. Don’t think that just because you’re a man you should welcome this kind of sexual manipulation.

Women, you don’t have to be an innocent virgin or lack a sex drive in order to have the right to say no to sex. Even if you want sex from this man, he has no right to pressure you like that.

This first situation isn’t just men being men. It isn’t just something women should watch out for. It’s not just a clichéd sitcom plot.

It’s sexual abuse.

Now, for scenario two. What if two people are having sex, with mutual consent? There are still signs of abuse that we need to watch out for, especially if other signs of abuse are present in a relationship.

For instance, does the man refuse to wear condoms or allow the woman to use birth control? Obviously, there could be religious reasons behind this that both partners adhere to, or both partners might be trying to start a family.

But abusers will do whatever it takes to keep their victims dependent on them, therefore male abusers will often try to impregnate female victims. So watch for other signs. And women, I don’t care if you’re married to a Catholic or you’re sleeping with a random guy you met at the bar– you have the right to safe sex.

–Your significant other refuses to give you privacy: Does your significant other ask to know your Facebook and email passwords? Does he/she demand that you share an email address, in order to keep you from the temptation of cheating? Does he/she constantly text you, asking where you are, and get upset if you don’t answer right away?

Your significant other stalks you: I had a friend in high school who was dating an emotionally abusive boy. They would get into fights, and she would ask him to leave her house. He would sit on the front porch for hours and hours, crying, begging for forgiveness, until she finally let him back in.

Several of our other friends would say things like, “Aww! How sweet!  That’s true love.”

No, people. That is stalking. It’s not cute. It’s not romantic. It’s abusive.

Your significant other threatens to commit suicide if you break up with him/don’t give him what he wants: Remember that scene in The Notebook where the male lead climbs up the Ferris wheel to ask the female lead on a date and he says he’ll jump off if she refuses?

Yeah.

Your significant other is physically rough: Physical abuse doesn’t have to be hitting and slapping. I once thought that, which is why I didn’t realize until months after my break up with my first boyfriend that I had been in a physically abusive relationship.

He would grab my arm so tightly if I tried to walk away from him that it’d leave hand print shaped bruises. But he’d claim that he just “didn’t know his own strength” and I’d dismiss it as an accident. He’d push me into walls. He’d tickle me until I would cry, and sometimes throw up. He’d shake me, and he’d pick me up and throw me over his shoulder.

But because my physical abuse didn’t look like the physical abuse on television, I assumed I was over-reacting.

I wasn’t. Physical abuse manifests itself in different ways. Your pain is real and your problem is legitimate.

Your significant other makes you feel worthless and undeserving of his/her love: This is perhaps the strongest and most dangerous root of relationship abuse. The abuser strips away his/her victim’s self-esteem, one insult at a time. Eventually, the victim truly believes that he/she is stupid, ugly, damaged goods…

It starts with light-hearted “jokes” here and there.

“Hah, you’re so stupid.”…”You dumb blonde!”…”Oh, quit bitching.”…”You know you’re my whore.”

When the victim complains about these insults, the abuser says, “Geez, can’t you take a joke?”

By the time the insults get worse, and the jokes become less and less funny– by the time the relationship is obviously verbally abusive in nature the victim has already been conditioned not to question.

The abuser will hold past mistakes over the victim’s head.

“I shouldn’t love you after what you did. You owe me.”

Or the abuser will treat the victim as a charity case.

“No one else would want you. You’re damaged goods. You’re lucky I’m so good to you.”

At this point, escape not only feels impossible for the victim, but it feels undesirable.

Your significant other dictates your personal appearance: An abuser lives in fear that his/her victim will realize the truth– that there are other fish in the sea, so why date a shark?

So the abuser will do his/her best to keep the victim from being noticed by other fish.

For me, it started with, “Stop wearing make-up. You look better without it,” or “Why are you wearing that? You don’t have to dress up like that.

You’re beautiful in sweat pants and baggy t-shirts.”

And it became my abuser throwing my purse out of a moving vehicle because he caught me taking mascara out of it. It became my abuser not letting me shave my legs or shower for days at a time.

Women, you are pretty without make-up. You are pretty in baggy sweat-pants. But don’t trust any guy who says you’re only pretty without make-up. Don’t trust any guy who doesn’t allow you to wear what you want to wear.

Your significant other makes you doubt your dreams: When you share your goals and dreams with your significant other, how does he/she respond? If it’s with a “I don’t think you could handle that,” or “No, I think you’d be better off doing ____, instead,” be careful.

Of course, your partner might just know you very well, and might be giving you loving, honest advice. But if your partner immediately shoots down your dreams, or actively stands in the way of them (for instance, a man using religion to tell a woman that she cannot go to college or get a job because her place is  in the home), this is a problem.

Unfortunately, these aren’t the only signs of abuse. I haven’t covered even all of the tricks that my abusive boyfriend used on me. But I feel like I needed to start this conversation. I hope you’ll continue it in the comments, or submit a guest post for Join the Chorus! Let’s not let these subtle symptoms of relationship abuse stay under ground any longer. Let’s let our voices be heard! 


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When the desire to marry becomes a god

A few days ago I talked about the “god of marriage” that lurks in the dorm halls of Christian colleges (you can read that post here). I talked about how marriage became an idol for me when I attended a Christian school, and I spoke of how I almost got married to a man that wasn’t right for me just to appease my new god.

If I would have married my last boyfriend, I probably would have been miserable. Please note that I don’t say that because I believe in “soul mates” or in finding “The One.” Marriage is ultimately about being the right person, and I believe that whoever you married becomes The One once you marry him/her. And I definitely don’t say that to knock my last boyfriend. He’s one of the nicest guys I know and he has a good heart.

But I had dreams and plans before the god of marriage came along, and because my last boyfriend and I were so different, I would have had to give up those dreams to be with him. I was ready to sacrifice those dreams to the god of marriage, and if I had done so, I believe I would have been miserable.

Now that we have broken up and moved on, I face a totally different scenario.

I have a different boyfriend now.

Ain't he cute?

It wasn’t too long into our relationship when things clicked in my brain, like when you suddenly understand a difficult math problem. So this is what it’s like to be a healthy relationship, to have a partner, to be going the same direction in life. It all makes sense now.

We both have similar goals in life: we want to do great things, we want to travel the world, and have adventures, and make differences.

But neither of us are too keen on doing it alone.

So there’s tension.

On one hand, we love each other. We want to get married, not because of sex or society or peer pressure. We want to get married because we’re partners.

But…

Sometimes I allow this normal, natural, and healthy desire to marry turn into the god that I used to worship.

I believe that marrying my boyfriend eventually would be a logical move on my part. However, we’re not ready to get married now. There are things that I need to accomplish while I’m single (college, learning to take care of myself like an adult, etc.) so that after marriage, I can continue working toward my goals. Marriage is neither the beginning nor the end of the plans that I have for my life.

Yet, sometimes that sneaky false god tries to convince me that it is. It’s always trying to convince me that marriage is THE goal. The “happy ever after.”

Sometimes I have to knock the idea of marriage off the pedestal and remind myself that there is more to life.

Also, I still have a tendency to believe marriage’s false promise to fix all of my problems. I have problems. You don’t survive sexual abuse and an abusive relationship without some baggage. I’m glad life isn’t an airport and I don’t have to pay fees for every extra bag because I’d be broke.

I’m constantly trying to lessen that load, though. I go to counseling. I work on stress management. I try to control my cognitive processes and I try to find healthy ways to deal with the pain.

But it’s hard. It’s really damn hard.

I want a quick fix. I want something that will make everything better.

And the god of marriage wants me to believe that marriage is that quick fix.

It says,

“When you’re married, sex won’t leave you feeling as confused and afraid.”

“When you’re married, your depression won’t be as crippling.”

“When you’re married, you’ll make good memories that will take the place of all the terrible ones.”

These are lies.

This is marriage trying to elevate itself above the true God. This is marriage saying, “cast your burdens on ME. MY yoke is easy and MY burden is light.”

Marriage worship is dangerous because it makes us feel like we are incomplete. It makes us forget that we are complete in Christ and convinces us that we need more. It makes us promises that it cannot keep.

And yet, marriage itself is still a wonderful thing. A beautiful thing and a picture (though certainly not the only, or even the greatest picture) of the love that Christ has for his church.

So there’s tension.

Have you ever experienced the tension between the natural desire to marry, and the temptation to “cast all your cares” upon the god of marriage? Share your story! 


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Thoughts and feelings

The following is an exchange between Sarah the Thinker and Sarah the Feeler. Feeler parts are in parenthesis because I often attempt to skip over them as though they don’t matter as much. (But they do)

I haven’t seen much of my abusive ex-boyfriend since we broke up. He didn’t stalk me or beg me to come back to him. He got over me faster than I got over him and he moved on and forgot I existed. So I shouldn’t be afraid of him.

(But I am)

I saw him for the first time since the big breakup about two years ago. He came to my cousin’s funeral. The two of them were friends, so I wasn’t surprised he showed up. I don’t think he saw me. Nothing happened.

(I went in the bathroom and cried until I almost threw up)

Then I didn’t see him again until this past summer. I’m friends with his sister and we were hanging out. She stopped by her mom’s house to get something and he was there, sitting on the couch. Polishing a gun.

People have guns, you know. No big deal. He’d never use it on a person. Especially not me. I’m sure he has no hard feelings.

(Except he threatened to kill you before)

Well, maybe he did threaten to kill me once when we were dating. I think he was joking though.

(I know he wasn’t)

He would never actually do something like that.

(He would)

So I’m not afraid. No big deal.

(I am terrified)

Anyways, I’m still friends with some people in his family, especially his sisters. Sometimes they tell me what he’s up to, as if I care.

(I care)

I hear he’s engaged, and that his fiance is a really nice girl.

(He doesn’t deserved to be loved by a really nice girl)

And they say that she’s tough enough to keep him in line.

(What does that say about me?)

(Was it my fault what happened because I wasn’t strong enough to handle him?)

Good for her.

(There are so many things I wish I could tell her…)

I’m glad he’s happy and I hope he has a good life.

(I hate that he’s happy and I hope he gets hit by an ice-cream truck)

(And I wished he still loved me. I don’t know why but god, I wish he still loved me)


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Thought zombies

I started writing a blog post yesterday and I didn’t actually finish it.

I published it anyway for some reason, and the result can be found here. I think I managed to put some semi-decent finishing touches on it and at least come to some sort of conclusion.

I think.

I didn’t actually proof-read it. I just hit the shiny, blue “publish” button and tried to forget. But I had really had a lot more to say.

Somewhere in the middle of writing, a tsunami of memories crashed over my brain and I just couldn’t write anymore. Couldn’t…function anymore. My brain had warped back to 2006 and wasn’t coming back. Maybe its DeLorean ran out of plutonium. I don’t know.

All I know is that, for the rest of the day, the “here and now” ceased to matter. My brain didn’t seem to care that Sarah Moon was an aspiring writer trying to establish a solid reputation. It didn’t seem to care that Sarah Moon was a senior in an intense college program. It just had her hit publish, put away the books, and curl up into a fetal position for several hours.

This actually happens often, even when I don’t write (in fact, usually writing about these difficult things helps me process these thoughts in more productive and positive ways. I’m not sure why yesterday was so different). Sometimes it lasts a few hours (I seem to be operating on a  functioning level now). Sometimes it can last for weeks. And I hate it.

I go to counseling. But it doesn’t seem to be working. It seems that every time I go I get a new stress management chart. And I feel that I’ve done a good job of following every chart. It helps a bit, only…well…

I feel like I’m in a zombie movie. And with stress management, I have the tools to kill off the individual thought zombies as they stagger into my brain. Possibly even in time to epic Queen music!

(Warning: language, zombie violence, and possibly unhealthy amounts of awesomeness)

 

But everyone knows that eventually the zombies break the windows and climb in by the hoards. That’s where stress management always falls short.

No, when the memories come flooding in, I don’t need stress management. I need a miracle. A deus ex machina. But my brain isn’t really a zombie movie. It exists in reality and no cheap Hollywood tricks can fix this.

The memories are so vivid.

So vivid.

And, as illogical as it may be, these memories inspire a very real and very present fear.

And fear is paralyzing.

I have more to say, but those pesky thought zombies are starting to creep in again. I think I need to put on some Queen and grab some pool sticks. So, if you’ll excuse me…. I’ll probably write more on this topic later. Thanks, readers, for all your support. Hope I haven’t been too negative lately! So, how do you folks deal with thought zombies? And more importantly, how do you folks deal with real zombies? 

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