In referring to Dracula, Nina Auerbach says: “His empathy with children of the night rather than with humans released a dimension of fear: the fear, not of death and the dead, but of being alive.” ~ Nina Auerbach, “Our Vampires, Ourselves” p. 94.
I know what it is like to fear being alive more than I fear dying. It is not a good place to be, and I’m thankful that I’m still alive and I want to be alive.
One of the things that the fundamentalist church told me when I was a teenager was that anything that I went through this side of an eternal literal hell, no matter how severe the trauma, was a blessing and more than I deserved. This was preached from the pulpit and repeated to me when the pastor found out that I was depressed.
Obedience was huge in all the churches I was part of growing up. The idea was that if I did exactly what God had commanded of me, then I would be happy. Not only would I be happy but I would be so happy that people would want the joy that I have and would ask me about how they could be that happy, and when they found out they would be getting in the line to get saved so they could be that happy too. My journals are full of self-loathing because I was unable to convert enough people to fundamentalist Christianity and the church said that their blood would be on my hands if I was too afraid to speak up about my faith. There was shame for every little tiny mistake I made.
Obedience to parents was also meant to be immediate and I was never allowed to question them if things didn’t make sense. They were the God-given authority in my life, and I was to submit to them immediately. This immediate obedience required doing it with a tender heart and sweet attitude. I was told that obedience with a bad attitude about it was disobedience and it was punished as such. There was no winning. Even if I did what I was told immediately, if they even thought I had a “stinking rotten attitude” as they called it, I would be punished. I didn’t realize until after my divorce that this kind of attitude made people like me far more susceptible to intimate partner violence.
My journals I kept as a teenager show the struggle to obey God while wanting to do what other teenagers were allowed to do. “Who am I leading astray? Who may never get saved because of my bad testimony? Are my “pleasures” and worldly amusements really worth all this? What answer will I give God on judgment day?” (journal entry from 30 July 2002). This was my greatest fear. I was not good enough. I was striving to be good enough, but I never made it. I loved my pleasures and worldly amusements too much. These pleasures and worldly amusements that made me such a terrible person were things like wanting to dress like a normal teenager and listen to good music. But I was the bad person with the CD’s of forbidden music such as ABBA and Elvis hidden under my mattress. I mean, ABBA was my sinful pleasure. ABBA made me wicked. God would need to chasten me because I loved ABBA more than I loved God.
My relationship with God was strictly about obedience and never love. In her book Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands, Jennifer Grace Bird says that people: “worship a God they literally fear and find a way to also love this God, because they believe that God could do the same thing again today. As any mental health professional will tell you, the combination of fearing but feeling compelled to love someone else is foundational to an abusive relationship. (59). Although my relationship with the God that I thought I knew was abusive, this was the only way that I knew God at the time.
When I was 17, I made a connection that made sense to me. I took the shame of my sexual assaults and sexual harassment, telling myself how impure and used I was, and how I had been violated and was dirty. I wasn’t pure and I wasn’t innocent. I did make a mention of it being stolen from me, but it was also something that defined me. I was dirty and impure, and I had obviously done something to deserve what happened to me. Anyway, I told myself that what those guys did to me is what I did to Jesus. So not only did I have the guilt of being impure and dirty, but I had the guilt of doing that to Jesus because Jesus was crucified for my sin specifically. I violated Jesus personally. This is how I guilted myself into living a life of obedience, a huge part of which was denying my sexuality so I would not be an abomination to God.
Auerbach, Nina. Our Vampires, Ourselves. 1995: The University of Chicago Press.
Bird, Jennifer Grace. Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands. 2015: Westminster John Knox Press.