I have a confession to make, and in the spirit of confessional tradition, it's not cute.
As I've worked through the detritus of my time in Fundamentalism, I've slogged through a million tiny emotions. I've slammed up against the brick wall of reality, marveled in awe at community and hope, wept tears of powerful grief. These little feelings drip over me in unpredictable cadence, and add or subtract parts of me as they seep into my cells or evaporate into nothingness.
But one emotion seems to never leave. It lingers, hanging out over my shoulder, gripping my skin with iron claws and breathing hotly on my neck. It changes the color of my words and shifts the pitch of my voice. I carry it around all day every day, unable to set it down for more than a few minutes at a time. With every story I hear and every one I tell, it grows stronger, more prominent.
It's a claustrophobic, terrible thing to be so deeply angry.
For many of us, anger is what saved us. Anger is what finally gave us the push to escape, and to look for more. Anger wasn't just a reaction - it was a coping mechanism that freed us when no other emotion could, and it became a safety blanket. I can't help feeling sometimes that as long as I'm angry, I'm okay. Anger feels like life.
I believe that, for the most part, my anger is justified, and so is the anger of others in the Exvangelical community. We've been wounded so deeply that no matter how far from those places and people we run, we discover new injuries all the time. We feel like Something Else. Not typical, but still devastatingly human, stumbling through the world as half-formed, reactionary creatures. We were used, lied to, manipulated, and, like any escape from abuse, our departure includes attempts to sort what is real from what is not, what is a threat from what is not, and what is safe from what is just more of the same. Of course we're angry. We deserved better.
But that's not even the worst part of my confession.
The truth is that, on my worst days, when I encounter those who perpetuate the same lies and harm I faced, want to hurt them back. When I'm on Twitter and a version of my abuser appears, hidden behind a tiny icon and throwing the same barbs I've been fending off for years, I want to lash out. I want to troll and mock and make them feel pain.
I know they may not realize what they're doing. I know prominent leaders in Evangelical (or even post-Evangelical) circles who belittle our struggles, who refuse to hear us, who still ignore and invalidate the queer community, who discard and mock egalitarianism are sometimes just bind to the violence they are perpetuating. Not all of them are ignorant, but some simply don't know.
I see others in the Exvangelical community go off sometimes, reaching their breaking points and engaging with the same fire they feel being thrown toward them. I can't blame them for it. I feel the rage too. My heart breaks every time I see it happen because I understand it so intimately. Wounded animals bite.
Civil Discourse is a privilege reserved for those who will never feel the real-life effects of their thought experiments. The rest of us are fighting for our lives. Anger can help us do that. It keeps us on our feet and moving. It pulls us out of the dark and gives us something to work with. But when it's served its purpose, I find I can't easily set it back down again.
I know there's a line between feeling this anger and using it to inflict more harm, but finding the boundary is easier said than done. All I know for sure is that I can't live the life my instincts want for me. I can't heal myself by hurting others. I can't make someone understand the harm they are inflicting by screaming at them. And I can't survive a life of trying.
As we move into a new phase of storytelling here at Fundamentally Free, we're opening the submission box for those of you who have learned (or are exploring) what it means to channel anger, pain, grief, deconstruction, and loneliness into art. This week, we'll begin publishing poetry written by artists who know they can't survive with a heart full of repressed emotion.
We don't have to drown in what was done to us. We don't have to exist in the echoes of our hurt. Join us in turning the anger - the overwhelm, the sadness, the defeat - into something else. Let's live, instead. It's the very least we can do for ourselves.