Monday, September 29, 2008

When Your Belief Systems Don't Believe In You

Since my diagnosis I have been having a spiritual crisis. At first I was too angry with God (or the gods, whichever you prefer) to go to church or even talk to him. I know that may not be rational, but that is where I was. I tried to go to church because I thought maybe if I went I would have an epiphany and get over my issues with God. It didn't work. While there I fidgeted, doodled on the cards where you write your name and such on, and thought about all the other things I could be doing and what a waste of hair products and makeup it was for me to go there and think about how soon I could leave. So I gave up on church until I could go for the right reasons. Yesterday Princess said that we needed to start going to church again and I tried to explain to her why I don't go. I feel it is worse to go and not want to be there than to skip it altogether -- whether that is the right answer or not I can't say. I'll let you know after I leave this world, if I can. I even stopped going on Easter and Christmas, to my little sister's horror. She is a C & E church goer and thinks it is sacrilegious to not go on those 2 holidays. I think I would rather stay home and trim my nose hairs than go, so it is better for me to stay home. I felt like my belief systems no longer believed in me and didn't know where to turn for comfort. I was so angry at God and so ashamed for being angry at God, that I didn't feel worthy of approaching him in any way. My aunt, who is deeply religious/spiritual, told me that I may have gotten away from God but he hasn't left me -- a comforting thought, but I still have deep doubts about it.

I was raised in a non-denominational church that we went to every week unless you were on your deathbed and even then my mom would wheel us in regardless of how sick we were. I was first taken to church at 3 weeks of age and attended every week until I was 18. The only way we ever missed church was if you were so ill you puked out your stomach, pooped out your innards, or if your Aunt Flo was so horrible the cramps incapacitated you, and even then it was a crap shoot -- if my mom thought you were still able to make it through, you went. Being raised non-denominational I don't understand the trappings of a lot of religions. We didn't have any certain things that we always did, or rituals or different saints. My husband was raised Catholic and his mom is such a strict Catholic that even though she has been married to a drunk bastard for over 40 years of hell (as she says) she still won't leave him because that would be a sin: marriage is forever. When my husband and I were planning our wedding, she told me I couldn't wear white because I couldn't fool God. I told her that I wasn't trying to fool God because he had been with me over the years and knows I'm not a virgin. She didn't want my husband to marry me because:

1. My parents are divorced. Because I had a say in all that. Why it is held against the children is beyond me. My parents didn't ask us our opinion of what they should do in their marriage. My dad didn't consult us when he walked out on us. She (my ex mother-in-law) felt that my ex husband should have married his ex girlfriend because she "came from a good family," ie her parents are still together. Never mind that her father was unfaithful to her mother for almost the whole duration of their marriage, that is irrelevant. The important thing is that they are still married; not what the marriage is.

2. I'm not Catholic. (Cue the sound of a shrill woman's voice shrieking EEEEEEK!) Time to pray to the patron saint of making heretics see the error of their ways! She can't comprehend that somebody could not be Catholic and still function. She was forever foisting blessed figurines on me and whenever something would happen she would tell me which saint I should pray to. I let my husband keep the figurines because they mean nothing to me and I really didn't want them. She had all these different effigies of saints for different things that she would give to us for different situations; they remind me of baseball cards and I refer to them as "Jesus coasters" because that is what they look like. My ex, who is about as interested in going to church as I am in having a sex change, couldn't fully shake his Catholic upbringing and put a lot of the different coasters in the cars to protect us when driving. I have to admit that I love the idea of a saint for everything and being married to a Catholic has given me more ammunition than I would have thought possible. Whenever something goes wrong for him I ask him if he had his Jesus coaster on him or if he prayed to the patron saint of ______? Reading about the lives of the saints is one of my favorite subjects, it being fascinating stuff. I have nothing against any religion as long as you are not hurting anyone else and it makes you try to better yourself; so if Jesus coasters and saints trading cards make you feel better and try to be a better person, more power to you.

3. My "boy" haircut. This has been a bone of contention for her since she first saw me, and if I had a dollar for every time I have heard about my boy's haircut, I wouldn't have to fight the SSA anymore. No matter what the subject is, she can always work it back around to my boy's haircut. "Well, I thought it would be a problem because you don't like to eat meat and you have a boy's haircut." "It reminds me of the first time I saw you! We went to where you worked and he said, 'There she is' and I was surprised by your boy's haircut." "Its amazing you guys worked out, he never dated anyone with a boy's haircut before." "All his other girlfriends didn't have boy's haircuts; who knew he liked that?" "Thanks for the birthday meal! I'm glad you took me out with your boy's haircut." And so on. For the record, my ex liked my short hair and didn't want me to grow it out -- even an inch -- and I never thought much of it until my ex mother-in-law became obsessed with it.

So where does all this leave me? Disillusioned and still struggling to find a belief system that believes in me. Even after 3.5 years of knowing I have MS, I still get so angry some days that I am not fit to talk to anyone, especially if it requires worship and thanks giving. I try to be thankful for the things in my life because I truly am thankful for a lot of things, but sometimes this anger overwhelms me and I lose sight of the good. In the stages of grief, isn't anger pretty low on the list? Like one of the earlier stages? That makes me wonder how long one should be stuck in one stage, but I refuse to force it. If anger is where I am, so be it. Acceptance, if one can ever truly accept something that is always changing and rarely for the better, is a pipe dream for me. Honestly, I am not sure I will ever get there and I'm not sure I really care. I don't want to become complacent about this. I would rather not be what people expect when they see someone handicapped -- a benign, accepting, not-quite-a-person type being. Maybe I am projecting my own feelings on others. I feel like I get treated that way, but maybe I am being overly sensitive on this. Regardless of which one it is, I intend to continue on this path life gave me, being with my feelings and looking for a belief system that believes in me.


Anonymous said...

You write that you have been having a spiritual crisis....I think you are on your way to solving that crisis.

Why? Because you already went through the anger part with God, made efforts to go to church (God never said He REQUIRED that - it is a man-made law) and now you are in the questioning phase and actively looking for solutions/resolves.

Attending church should be a personal decision - not someone else's decision FOR you. Studies have shown that young people who have been FORCED into certain religious rites, often turn away from them as adults. I am one. I have turned away from Catholic religion and their rites, but I still maintain I am a Christian.

People with MS often bond with God more after diagnosis than before, and believe it or not, they don't just convert to a religion or a religious practice because of diagnosis.

Many of us get damn mad at God and stay that way for a long long time. It is only after we experience life with MS, acceptance and rejection, epiphanies and failures, that either we decide to turn to God or not. Surprisingly, many do not.

Having been raised a Catholic, and now not a practicing one, I have attended many other denominations of churches, and although it may not come as much of a surprise to anyone, it did to me because I have been a Christian since I was six years old (and not the Catholic kind of Christian either).

It took me awhile to know that God did not desert me - I deserted Him because I was mad. God is inside of me - not inside of any of these "buildings."

I have always said I will not blog on religion, but your post hit a nerve with me (as I am sure was its purpose!)

My take on my children's questions about churchgoing - if they want to go, I drop them at the church door of their choice and come back and pick them up after the service. I usually knew someone who attended and matched them up with my child. I have had alot of foster children in my married life and dang if everyone of them attended a different church. So dropping them at the door was nothing new in our house.

Consequently I ended up with two sons who are very spiritual but not churchgoers. They believe in God and talk to Him all through their day about everything. Every so often, they get an urge to "try out" a new church they heard of - and they go - usually with friends who told them about it. As soon as they hear something they consider against their beliefs, they hit the road.

I have attended many non-denominational churches in my years, and if a pastor or speaker tries to push something down my throat (by constant repetition), I am gone. If they harp on money, I am gone. If they harp on one subject from the Bible and it becomes their central focus for months, I am gone.

So you can see you are not much different than other folks. The fact that you even still believe that there is a God is a positive.

It takes time to work out of differences with God. But I know our God to be patient and He will always be there waiting for you with open arms.

Take care,

PS - hate that preachy sound; I didn't mean anything hurtful by it.

Jen said...

Anne rocks!

I haven't been to church regularly since I was 14. I was raised Catholic, and when I did my confirmation, we stopped going. My dad and my husband both went to Catholic school, and now neither attends church. I would consider going to church with my mother, but I still wrestle with the idea that if you don't accept Jesus Christ as your savior, you're going to hell. My mom doesn't wholly believe this; she just takes comfort in going to church and believing in Jesus. But I just can't commit to a Christian religion because there are so many other older faiths (far East)where Jesus isn't even part of the picture. I like to think of Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Moses, and any other spiritual leaders as companions, working together to bring enlightenment. Maybe they are sitting somewhere playing 7 card stud. No one leader is greater than the other. No one is going to hell because they don't believe in a certain god.

I believe in a higher power---God,if you will---- that is for everyone. No exclusions. And I don't believe sitting in church and repeating the same gospel each week works for me. I'd like to think a higher force would be more honored by daily good deeds and helping others as a true commitment to faith.

Diane J Standiford said...

I am not one of those: "Now I am sick and God save me." people. My feelins about religion is same as ot has always been. 18 years post MS DX, I have neve been angry about MS and me, or AIDS or any other bad event, these are not in our control. I lead a good life. I do good. In that I am good with "God". Do I curse when MS attacks me? Sure, sometimes. But I know that an angry life is a miserable way to spend the short time we have with "life." I am NOT that disabled/sick/weakened person YOU don't want to be. I'm saying, you can have both. MS is now as much me as my hair on my head and I don't hate that, WHY? A waste of my hate/anger---so much more to dislike---look at our politics! Our health care system! You will have a stronger, more focused anger, once you stop being angry at what you can't change---so much you CAN change. You go! Believe in yourself first, the rest will come. said...

So I'm pretty stoked at the prospect of your being able to blog from beyond the grave. Not that I'm wanting you to die anytime soon, but if you do I'll still be expecting regular posts!

Denial - Anger- Depression - Acceptance. That is the grief cycle but a lot of people are not aware that's it's a CYCLE. You can expect to go round and round through it a few times. Hopefully some day you'll stop at acceptance, but if not, anger can keep you frisky for a long time!

Denver Refashionista said...

I hear ya sister. On bad days I still ask, why me? Why do I deserve this? I am a good person who has lived a healthy life and always put others first but here I am. I move between anger, denial and grief. There are days where I accept but I'm not ready to accept losing my job, my home and my marriage even if that is what the future holds. Frankly, I'm a little pissed!


Hmmm...seems you are getting a lot of advice here.

I can't "go all God on ya" or talk religion, except in historical and sociological terms (used to study religions *religiously*. LOL). What I CAN say is this: I believe in YOU and I know *goodness* (not to be confused with Godness) when I see it.

Here's looking at you, kid.

Linda D. in Seattle

Anonymous said...

Katy, I don't know if you remember me, Jennifer King (now Boylan). Friend of Melanie's from highschool. Anyway, my mom battled MS for many years and passed away this past spring. Who knows, maybe something of her dealings can be of help to you. I will tell you that the blog you wrote on spirital issues you are facing was very dear to my hear.

Mom's saying was "I am waiting for my miracle" "It will come whether here or heaven, It will come". I really think her faith in God is what helped her to get through.

Church is a great place if used in the right fashion. If you are building relationships with other christians, living, learning, sharing, helping, praying, crying with or for each other, etc, that it where the Church comes into play. The important part is that you are building YOUR persoanl relationship with Him. And that takes time. There is music and books, cd's and radio talk shows. If you are feeling forced to go to church, then likely you ought to approach some other avenues at first. I would just SO encourage you to give up on Him. You will have lots of feelings, thoughts questions...that is ok. Just don't give up. It is just too important.

Anonymous said...

Correct the ending to : NOT give up on HIM.