This weekend my husband spoke at a marriage retreat. I swear speaking ideas to a crowd is his lifeblood. Me? I’d rather do a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g. else in the world, but he is so damn good at it. He’s known he was going to do this since some time last fall. I finally decided I was going about a week ago.
Before I decided, I set some stipulations: 1) I don’t have to decide until the last minute if I don’t want to. 2) I can change my mind at any time, even up to the point of pulling away 3) I don’t have to go to the sessions if I don’t want to.
I know it’s hard for people to understand why I would even consider going in the first place. It’s certainly hard for me to understand why I would put myself in harm’s way. I’m still very much working out my own spirituality, but sometimes, I miss experiencing it with people. I miss being excited about the potential of discovery that only happens in when ideas are shared. I don’t want what we used to have, but I don’t want to walk away from spirituality either.
Even though I had a big ball of anxiety in my stomach the first night, I was excited to hear Craig speak again. I am the reason he was pulled from the platform at our previous church. Apparently, if you can’t control your woman, you don’t get to do what you love, even if it’s to the detriment of the organization. In my head, I know this is some messed up bullshit, but in my feelings, I still wrestle with those emotional wounds.
Nervous or not, it was ok. I was doing ok until the question was asked, Can you imagine if there were feminists in the room listening to this right now? I know. I know it’s shocking except to me it isn’t. I am intimately acquainted with the ideology and language of church and believe me, Feminist might cause more raised eyebrows in a sanctuary than the actual F word ever will.
And there I was, the feminist in the room. The odd one out, again.
I started to go into a shame spiral just as I have for years when I realize I am the one who is wrong, broken, who doesn’t belong. And then I thought, NO! Nope. No. I don’t have to buy that steaming load anymore. Yes, this is hurtful, but it isn’t personal. Yes, it is generally exclusive, but it isn’t personally directed. And I don’t have to stay and be a target if I don’t want to.
So I didn’t.
And while I am desperately disappointed that I didn’t get to see my husband do what he does so very well, I took myself on a morning adventure. I meditated on the water. I watched all the water birds whose names I remember, and some I hadn’t met yet. I walked where Spanish moss trailed through my hair and stood with my eyes closed and face upturned to the sun. I breathed and laughed and petted random dogs and was fully my feminist, feminine self.
I didn’t go to another session the whole weekend, and I had a marvelous time. And I met delightful people who I don’t see eye to eye with theologically, and it’s ok because I don’t have to. I can know people and not agree with them. I can work with people without being a victim of conflicting worldviews. I can walk away if I no longer feel safe.
Maybe that all seems like practical common sense to you. It probably is to most people. But when you’ve been the subject of spiritual abuse and a controlling personality, you lose sight of these basic concepts. I experienced learned helplessness for so long it manifested as general anxiety and unpredictable panic attacks. I was not ok, and I could not escape.
This weekend I practiced a skill that I hadn’t felt free to practice before. I left a room where I felt unsafe without feeling shame about it. And I found ways to feel safe again without being less myself for it. If that’s the only spiritual stride I make in 2019, then I’ve already conquered ten thousand inner demons.
I’ll keep being the feminist in the room, thank you. I’ve had enough of pretending to be anything less than who I am.