No, REALLY, I’m happy.


Yesterday, I wrote about how, for the first time in a long time, I really do feel happy.

And with this cat on my head, how could I not be?

And with this cat on my head, how could I not be?

Funny, though, how the happier I get the more people insist that I’m not happy at all. 

I get that a lot. “You’ve become so miserable and bitter.”…”Ever since you left church [read: the fundamentalist church] you’ve just been miserable.”…”Remember when you loved Jesus and church and you were so happy?”…”You’ve just become an angry feminist! Can’t you just enjoy your life?”

Last year at this time I might not have had an answer to those statements. I was miserable. When I first began questioning my faith and became a feminist, I had to go through an agonizing period of detox (something that I plan on writing about in more detail another time). Such words might have tempted me to go back.

But I didn’t go back. I pushed through to freedom.

So now when someone tries to tell me that I’m miserable, the only way I can respond is, “No, I’m not.”

But I get this now and then. Sometimes from people who haven’t seen me in years and don’t really know me well enough to make such a comment, but usually from people close to me who really should know better.

I’ve been pondering reasons why this could be and have come up with a few possibilities.

1. Maybe the mask I used to wear really was that good. Maybe, back in my fundamentalist days when you had to be “in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right happy all the time” in order to be a good Christian, I just did that good of a job pretending I did have the “joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (where?).”

I suppose it wouldn’t help to tell people that I cried on my bed every night asking God to save me over and over, just in case I didn’t do it “right,” because I was terrified of hell.

I guess it wouldn’t help to say that I was being abused by a Christian man and sexually harassed by a pastor’s son, but couldn’t tell anyone. That I had to stuff down all the hate I had toward those men, even after I escaped both situations, because I thought I had to “forgive them.”

I suppose it wouldn’t help to say that during my first two years of college (at a Christian school) I was addicted to self-injury.

People see what they want to see and remember what they want to remember. I had some happy moments “back then,” but “happy” wasn’t a word that would describe my everyday life.

2. Maybe some people equate my outspokenness against abuse as unhappiness. When I was a fundamentalist, it was a sign that you loved Jesus and were happy about what Jesus did for you (whatever that was) if you were loud and in-your-face about it. Every Facebook status had to be a Bible verse or some note of condemnation against the enemies of happiness (atheists, homosexuals, democrats, you know…).

Now, when I talk about the things that make me happy (feminism, Universalism, a belief in love and justice), or call out “enemies of happiness,” (abusers, misogynists, bigots), that’s equated with unhappiness.

I guess I can see that. My talking about the injustice that exists in the world doesn’t put a smile on my face, that’s for sure. But I’m happy, and I want everyone to be happy to. That’s hard when so much injustice exists. I could never truly find happiness until I started working against that injustice, calling it out, doing whatever small part I can to fight it.

3. Maybe I just can’t be happy (in their minds) because my happiness is too threatening. Growing up as a fundamentalist, I learned that anyone who was not a “Christian” (read: a personal-salvation-believing, KJV-only, Independent Fundamental Baptist) couldn’t sleep at night for fear of death and hell. I learned that everyone outside of the IFB church had a God-shaped hole in their heart that could never be filled until they trusted Jesus as their personal savior, burned their rock music, converted to Republicanism, and otherwise conformed to the IFB way of thinking.

We had to talk about those who left “the faith” as if they were miserable–like the prodigal son, friendless, starving, eating pig slop out of desperation. Even if they seemed happy, we had to imagine them crying into their pillow at night, or turning their hearts into stone.

We had to think like this, because if those “outside the faith” were truly, sustainably happy then our extremely exclusive religion fell apart. If other people could be happy, maybe we weren’t the only ones who were “right with God.” If other people could be happy, maybe other people could be “right with God.” Maybe other ways of living/seeing the world were viable.

That was just too much for me to accept, for years.

So, maybe those who deny my happiness have the same “house of cards” faith that I once did. Maybe my existence as a happy person is a threat to that.

Who knows? But the fact is, I’m happy. I may not convince everyone that this is true, but you know what? To hell with convincing people.

I’m happy. Others’ disbelief isn’t going to change that.


12 thoughts on “No, REALLY, I’m happy.

  1. I’ve heard this accusation made of early feminists (e.g., nineteenth century/suffragists)–“But they look so unhappy!”–as if that totally invalidates their discontents. There are so many problems with that sentiment of course. For one thing, few people at the time smiled for the camera. But even more, who would have been smiling sweetly about the infantilizing and dehumanizing situations they lived with?

    So, yeah, when I started my journey out of a very problematic church situation, I got that “You’re not happy anymore” drivel as if I had really taken a wrong turn. (This from someone who had criticized my church earlier, but started criticizing me the second I left it and started getting a clue about the fear, obligation, and guilt in the church/workplace/world in general.) No, when your world crashes down, only someone in denial would be “happy.” I’m slowly but surely (12 years later) learning that I have nothing to prove. I want to be happy, yes, but not if it costs me the ability to critically analyze power dynamics I encounter.

  2. I’m glad that you are happy. Silly as it is, it gives some small hope to this child who has never been happy or good.

  3. I often wonder if people like that are just really hardcore projecting. “I was happier when you were in fundamentalism! I was happier when you were quieter!” That’s certainly the feeling I get from most people. I wonder what it is about some kind of Christianity that allow people to feel like they have the right to comment on and dictate other people’s lives.

    But yes. You are happy. And so am I, even in this ocean of uncertainty. :)

    • Well, yeah, someone being happy without being a good little lamb is anathema to fundamentalism and to the value of what they’ve got going on.

      Especially given the cheap nature of restrictive faith where challenging it diminishes it, and having been of it and left it without being struck down or brought low or made into a miserable shadow of a person is definitely challenging it.

      And if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus then manipulating people through the church and making sure they never actually suspect it if you can even suspect it yourself, well, that’s about all you’ve got.

  4. I relate to this so much. I get asked by my parents why I’m “angry all the time” — because I speak out more than I used to. But I’m happier & more empowered. I’m sure they would argue that ‘sin’ makes you feel good or that it’s not ‘true happiness’ but that’s controlling fundamentalist bullshit. I’m happier because I’m more free. I think I started following your blog & twitter around this time last year, and I hope this doesn’t sound selfish, but it’s been amazing for me to watch your journey and it’s helped me so much.

  5. I think labeling someone as unhappy can also be an attempt to reassert control over them, on a personal level. That’s super frustrating, but it’s great that you’re happy!

  6. All of the above . . . although thankfully I don’t get the “you used to be so happy” b.s. anymore. I was told frequently that I was “glowing with peace and happiness” when I was in high school and college at BJU . . . while hurting myself and fighting not to kill myself on a fairly regular basis. Now I think I just scare people with how far I’ve gone from fundamentalism. They don’t question my happiness; they’re just waiting for that classic sermon-illustration catastrophe to hit my life so they can swoop in like good-intentioned vultures.

  7. Ahhhhh love this posts as a recovering fundamentalists. I was actually taught that those who aren’t Christian aren’t really happy.

  8. Your worrying about whether or not your being saved had ‘taken’ reminded me of my mom, a very, very lapsed fundamentalist-Southern-Baptist-turned-Catholic-turned-happy-atheist – she marvels now that she went up three times to be saved in church before she was six, because she also worried that she hadn’t done it right. What a terrible anxiety!

    Anyway, she’s pretty happy now, and I’ll take you at your word that you are too ;)

  9. I’m glad you’re happy. :) I know you’ve had a tough year, and even though we don’t always see eye to eye, I respect the crap out of you for all the darkness you’ve come out of! It’s not easy, when it’s surrounding you on all sides like that.

    I don’t think I realized that the men who hurt you were hard-core fundie Christians either. That’s not cool, and I know God wasn’t pleased with them for doing what they did. There’s nothing loving about brow-beating someone into submission!

    Folks, Christian or non-Christian alike, who act like everything’s all right when it absolutely isn’t drive me a little nuts. I understand that there’s a certain point where we have to manage in society and don’t exactly want the world to know our business (i. e., overly-friendly cashiers), but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to just smile ALL the time and pretend like nothing bad never happens!

    Jesus *certainly* wasn’t one to do that, so why the modern-day church insists on doing it is beyond me. I don’t know how faith in Him turned from an honest expression of faith, love, and trust into one of just pretending to get along for an hour and a half on Sundays.

    *hugs* I wish you the best of this year, Sarah! :D

  10. Yup, the happiness of the heterodox (or those suspected to be heterodox) is extremely threatening. I’m glad you’re happy! It’s definitely easier to be happy when you’re not so worried about hell or other people’s salvation.

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