I read a phrase in some 12-step literature recently and it precisely captured the way I've been trying to live my life in the last few years: "We are working hard at being honest, not good." Honest, not good. Oh, yes THIS.
Growing up in a cult, we were ALL about being holy but NOT so much about being honest. (You know you have a problem with dishonesty when you're more concerned with looking holy vs. being holy). *Raises hand* *Fidgets uncomfortably*
Outward appearances, man. We had THAT whole deal down to a mother-bustin' science. And I mean that literally: mothers busted their butts (and their mental health) making their families look all holy. I should know. I pretty much lost my own sanity trying to live up to all the Standards of Godliness.
It was a destructive way to live. But it also felt so....addictive. Control: that's some powerful stuff, right? Having EVERYTHING all figured out. Being 110% certain about God and Christianity and how everyone ought to be living their lives. CONTROL. Control is as addictive as any drug. It's like believing you're in charge of when and how the wind blows.
Ironically, those who worked the hardest at being good ended up as the biggest hypocrites. I'm pointing the finger at myself, here.
Since leaving the cult eleven years ago, I've abandoned a lot of Be Ye Holy baggage. Meaning: I stopped trying to be good a long time ago. I took up drinking and swearing. I quit God--for about a week. I bounced around from church-to-church. I went to therapy and went to rehab. You know, THE USUAL.
It's been a long process of figuring out how to be a whole person.
It started by getting really honest with myself. Can I just say right now that being honest is WAY harder than trying to be good?
I mean, at some point I had to stop blaming the cult for every problem in my life. Note to self: taking responsibility for myself sucks. I would really prefer to sit on the couch eating cakes all day while God--that magical genie I've always imagined Him to be--fixes my problems.
But this is not how God works.
As I wrote in my book, Girl at The End of The World, I heard this story somewhere that when you ask God to move a mountain He says "OK!" And then He hands you a shovel. In other words, you gotta do the work.
The hopeful part in all of this is that I'm learning to do the work differently. Instead of TRYING to be good, I'm working hard at being honest.
When I practice daily, radical honesty--goodness naturally follows.
: : :
In the last two years I've been reading 12-step literature and attending 12-step meetings in the (desperate!) hope of rewiring my brain. It's become really clear to me that even though I left the cult, the cult didn't leave me.
I have issues.
Inside me there lives a hardline fundamentalist. I call her "Judge-y Pants." When Judge-y Pants comes out to play, she's..well, she's judge-y. She's harsh. She's critical. She's demanding.
Basically, she's a biatch with a huge KJV under her arm.
For one thing, Judge-y Pants is always in a state of panic. She runs around yelling about the world ending, cashing in 401ks, fleeing to the hills and don't forget the canned goods.
This is no way to live.
Point is, I got 99 problems and that biatch is one.
So, I go to therapy, pray every day and attend 12-step meetings to pin down my insane, chaotic, flighty brain. I've tried drinking and cussing and over-eating and Arguing On The Internet and well, NONE of that never gave me the long-term serenity I so desperately crave.
But I want long-term serenity. I'm tired of intensity and freak-outs and meltdowns.
I'm doing things differently these days.
I'm making daily to-do lists, and following a simplified schedule and cutting out anything that triggers my need for action! adrenaline! CHAOS!
Basically, I'm living like an 80 year old woman whose idea of fun is crocheting and watering her potted plants.
FYI: living like this? Being all calm and stuff? It's hard work. It feels completely ABNORMAL.
: : :
Growing up in a cult, you have this wonky sense of normalcy. Normal was frantic urgency. Normal was END OF THE WORLD-omg-we're-all-going-to-Hell intensity. I was always living on the edge.
I've heard this is similar to kids growing up with alcoholic parents or in deep poverty. You always have to hustle and be hyper-alert because you never know when The End will come. You're just running and panicking all the damn time.
Even after I left that environment, I didn't know how NOT to live like that. I didn't know HOW to live peacefully. Calm felt boring.
It's taken a lot of therapy, but eventually I've realized that I'm addicted to intensity. Even though I hated The Crazy, at least The Crazy was comfortable. I understood it. I knew what to expect. And even though I could see how living on this razor-sharp edge would eventually kill me, I preferred The Crazy.
This is how you know you have a problem: you keep returning to The Crazy even though you know it will kill you.
Hi, I'm Elizabeth and I'm addicted to chaos.
If you're looking for me, I'll be sitting by the pool crocheting.