One of the very first entries in my journal said: “I’m a dirty, rotten, filthy sinner, and I don’t deserve God’s love.” The phrase “dirty, rotten, filthy, sinner” was something my father often said, especially in discipline or spiritual conversations. I also recorded many suicidal thoughts in my journal that year, and that continued all throughout my teenage years. By December of 1999, I was writing things like “just knowing how horrible I am, and how useless is a start.”
I was ashamed of my very life. I can’t remember the expanse of my sins as a fourteen year old, and they weren’t anything serious, but I was still ashamed because I wasn’t modest enough, I wasn’t pure enough, I didn’t talk about the right things, I was proud of my accomplishments and pride was a sin so I needed to be “humbled” and God was out to get me. I wanted to fix my hair a certain way which was vanity, also a sin. These were apparently very serious violations against a holy God.
The pastor would preach about how each individual in the congregation was responsible for nailing Jesus to that cross, that if I was the only person to ever live, Jesus would still have had to die as a sacrifice for my pride and my vanity and wanting to wear something even remotely fashionable.
“Many of us were taught that if you do not fit inside the circle of the church’s behavioral codes, God is not pleased with you, so we whittled ourselves down to a shape that could fit those teachings, or we denied those parts of ourselves entirely,” says Nadia Bolz-Weber in her book Shameless (p. 4). I strived so hard to do what I was told. It was reinforced over and over that if I truly loved God, I would obey. Questions were not allowed. It was a case of comply or be punished. Doubts had to be pushed deep inside my soul, and never entertained because I was supposed to trust God completely, and if God said it in God’s word then it was literal truth.
I was often told that I was a rebel at heart, that I was a dirty, rotten, filthy sinner, that I deserved God’s wrath. I was never good enough and I never would be because I never quite fit in, either with my family or with the church. I remember desperately trying to gain an interest in cricket because the rest of my family was interested in cricket. I knew absolutely nothing about cricket, I couldn’t understand why my family was so enthralled with the games, and why they shouted at the TV when things were either going well or not going well. I’ve never been a professional sports fan. I read my mom’s cricket magazines that came in the mail once a month, I hung posters of cricket players who I didn’t know and didn’t care to know, on my bedroom walls, so I could pretend to be interested in cricket long enough to actually become interested in cricket. It was often pointed out to me by my family that I just did not fit in because I did not like the same things that they liked. It wasn’t for lack of trying or lack of pretending or lack of trying to deny who I was.
I was ashamed that I was different, I was ashamed of my doubts and questions and fears because those things were not tolerated. As I will talk about later, when I was about thirteen, I began cutting myself in some sadistic way to atone for my sins. To punish myself so that God would not have to do it and that God would accept my sacrifice and love me, and because I was deeply ashamed that I was such an evil person. The doctrine of “original sin” was of utmost importance to the cult because without it, the entire cult would fall apart. As my father reminded me of often, I was a dirty, rotten, filthy sinner at birth. I was told repeatedly that I had inherited a “sin nature” the moment I was conceived. I am honestly not sure about my theology surrounding sin, I’m still trying to work it out, but the concept of God is love is now my starting point and I work from there.
My philosophy shifted a little after I left home, which I left as soon as it was possible because I have this habit of running away from things. I figured that if people were going to talk shit about me and claim that I had done bad things and that I was going to be in trouble anyway, that I sure as hell was going to have fun doing it, although I lived this strange double life, because I still wanted to be “right with God” which meant being submissive to the cult leaders.
So basically, I was just bad. I was born bad. I was supposed to be ashamed of the figurative nakedness of my sin. Sure, I had done things wrong like everyone else, but I actually behaved better than most other kids, because I was ashamed and beaten into submission. What I never realized until right after my 34th birthday was that God did not want me to live in shame, that God wanted me to live in the knowledge of God’s love. Nadia Bolz-Weber describes this perfectly:
“Shame has an origin, and it is not God. When Adam and Eve tried to avoid God, God said, ‘where are you?’ And they said, ‘we were naked and tried to hide from you because we were afraid.’ God then said to them, ‘who told you you were naked?’
Who told them they were naked? My money is on the snake. For some reason God allows us to live in a world where alternatives to God’s voice exist, and those alternatives to God’s voice are where shame originates.” (2019, p. 135).
The priest who really reinforced this whole idea of God loving me often told me that the voices I was hearing were not of God because God is love and the voices that I was listening to were unloving and full of shame. She would tell me that every time I talked badly about myself. She told me that I was listening to lies and needed to start listening to truth.
Veronica Hollinger, in an essay titled Fantasies of Absence: The Postmodern Vampire, writes: “This deconstruction of boundaries helps to explain why the vampire is a monster-of-choice these days, since it is itself an inherently deconstructive figure: it is the monster that used to be human; it is the undead that used to be alive; it is the monster that looks like us. For this reason, the figure of the vampire always has the potential to jeopardize conventional distinctions between human and monster, between life and death, between ourselves and the other. We look into the mirror it provides and we see a version of ourselves. Or, more accurately, keeping in mind the orthodoxy that vampires cast no mirror reflections, we look into the mirror and see nothing but ourselves.” (1997, p. 201).
Bolz-Weber, Nadia. Shameless: A Sexual Reformation. 2019: Convergent.
Hollinger, Veronica. “Fantasies of Absence: The Postmodern Vampire” Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture. 1997: The University of Pennsylvania Press.