I walked into the church. It was my second time here, and I was bit unsure of myself. I don’t generally do well in new social situations, so I was slightly nervous. Okay, maybe a little more than slightly. However, I really liked the pastor last Sunday and wanted to hear him again. Besides, I don’t want to be a hermit and never go anywhere but work, home and the occasional visit to the grocery store. Which is exactly what I would do if I didn’t push myself to experience social situations that make me uncomfortable. I stood at the back and perused the room for an empty seat. The one I sat in last time was taken. “I can deal with this” I told myself. There were no aisle seats near the middle. I didn’t really want to sit on the side where it was kind of dark. Who knew that picking a seat could be so stressful?
A woman sitting to my side smiled at me, “Hi, are you new?” “Yes” I answered. She pointed to some empty seats in her row, “You can sit next to my friend if you want.” Grateful to have the decision made for me, I accepted her offer. After a while, a woman and her adult son sat down on the other side of me. The young man stared intently at me and took the seat next to me, still staring. He obviously had some sort of intellectual or mental disability. I smiled at him, then turned away pretending not to notice that he was still staring. But, I could feel the anxiety creeping up on me. When I was a teenager my mom insisted that I “babysit” a man across the street who was the son of her friend. He had been in an accident and was brain damaged, blind and disabled. All I had to do was keep an eye on him as he sat in his chair, and feed him. He wasn’t completely coherent, but he would ask me what my bra size was and if I wasn’t quick enough he would grab my arm when I went near him. He was incredibly strong and I was all of 90 pounds. I would have to tell him I was a double D to get him to let go. He would laugh and wildly pound on his tray and I’d move away. I hated being alone with him, but my mom insisted. I was told that I had to do the Christian thing and help out by watching him. It seems that my life has been one dutiful deed after another.
I came back to the present as the young man’s father came, moved his son away and then sat next to me. I turned to acknowledge him and he smiled sweetly at me. He seemed too nice to be true. I glanced at his wife. She didn’t look at me, but just looked straight ahead. I turned away from her husband and ignored them. I wondered what the couple was like at home. Was he still sweet when they were alone, or did he call her names? Did he treat her like an equal or did he make her feel worthless? I wonder things like that a lot lately. Looking at couples and wondering what’s behind the facade. I know all too well that people portray themselves one way in public and act altogether different in the privacy of their own home. I have many Facebook worthy pictures of me and my husband. Of us with my kids. Everyone’s smiling and happy. Just another idyllic family.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how things got so screwed up. How I so blindly have accepted things I’ve been told through the course of my life. How I have done things I’ve been told to do even thought they made me feel uncomfortable. I’d sooner not rock the boat and go along, rather than just say no. No, you can’t call me that. No, I won’t sign that. No, you can’t talk to me like that. No, I don’t want to have sex with you. I’d just suck it up and act like it didn’t bother me. After all, the bible says a couple can’t withhold sex from each other, right? So, I did what any considerate, conservative Christian wife would do. I’d acquiesce when he wanted to have sex. And I’d try to think of something else. I would try not to think of earlier that evening when he was Facebooking with other women, most all of them single. Of when he deliberately caught the eye of some other woman and made her feel sexually attractive, even though he was standing next to his wife. Of the many times he told me that I was a whore. Or the last time he told me I had nothing to offer. I’d just pray that it would be over quickly, which it usually was.
My biggest challenge right now is separating myth from reality. I have been so indoctrinated on so many things by so many people. Even people that I admired and looked up to. I’ve accepted ideology as truth to the point that someone else’s beliefs were a part of me. The truth is, I’m not even aware of the things that I should be questioning. I used to be so absolutely, without a doubt, 100% certain of what I believed. Now, not so much. My role in life as a women was clearly defined. I was to submit to my husband, even though everything inside me was screaming in silent defiance. If I questioned my role, I was questioning God. I’ve gone to church with hundreds of other women who believed the same thing. Because that’s what we were taught that God said. The reality is, God never told me that I could not defend myself against my abusive husband. Not even once. To admit this I had to come to grips with the fact that I had been systematically brainwashed by the male dominated conservative Christian community. I had blindly followed their lead, like a lamb led to the slaughter, blithely bounding towards certain death. Sounds dramatic you say? Well, I can tell you it doesn’t have anything to do with drama. And everything to do with my life.
Everyone is officially on notice that I’m taking my life back, effective immediately. You’ve shaped it, molded it and controlled it for far too long. Now, I’m taking the tattered remains and rebuilding it from scratch. It may not be perfect, but it will be mine. The life that God gave to me the day I was born is mine to do with what I choose. I’m choosing life over death, strength over frailty, power over weakness, boldness over submission. If you don’t like it, you’d better move over. Because I’m no longer going to politely smile and step aside when you stand in front of me with your big ole stop sign in the name of God. I’m coming through whether you like it or not.