Changing, Dot By Dot
I would say everyone writing for this blog and many of the people reading it have recently been through or are going through massive life upheavals. Deconstruction, ostracization, conversion, reconstruction. We experience these deep and heavy things all while we go about our days, working, taking care of our children or partners, meeting with friends for coffee, going to school, shopping for groceries. We carry the burden of the changes we’re going through, sometimes getting through a moment of transition without even realizing we’ve come through it.
If you’re like me, you have a few standout moments. The divorce. The death of a loved one. The job termination. The difficult conversation. Something that clearly marks a transition and gives you an event to talk about. For the last year, pretty much every conversation for me has brought up my divorce and job change. That might seem inappropriate or strange to some, but I’ve always found that being vulnerable and open about these things works for me, so I keep at it. Using those specific events helps me put language to the transitions I’m going through, so I lean on them a lot.
But when I look back over the last year and the way so much of my ideology in life has changed, it obviously rarely, if ever, comes down to one moment. It’s a series of moments and encounters that opens a person’s mind and helps them to change. Most people don’t change their stance on divorce, homophobia, racism, fundamentalism, etc. overnight and without a fight.
One of my favorite tattoos is on my left wrist. It starts right where my hand meets my wrist as a black sleeve, and as it travels up my arm, it fades and breaks apart into a gradient of dots a few inches up. I got it a few years ago because I was constantly gaslighting myself into believing I was worthless, broken, and incapable of being good. All I wanted at that point in my life was to believe that I could change and somehow become a good person, but that seemed like an impossible task. So in a moment of rare strength and confidence, I put together this tattoo idea in my mind. It represented the fact that I could change, and it also reminded me that that change would never happen all at once, but little by little, dot by dot. Now it’s my favorite tattoo to explain the meaning of, and it’s still a great reminder for me, even though I don’t spend nearly as much time beating myself up as I used to.
I have actually stopped to marvel lately at how my brain is moving from one opinion to the next, and it encourages me because my mind has been changing in a positive direction since before I even knew I was trying to change it. My theology, even though it was already more inclusive than that of the conservative churches I had previously been a part of, has been becoming even more inclusive all the time. It gives me hope that people I would consider close-minded truly can experience change over time and under the right circumstances.
I want to share an example of how my mind has been changing dot by dot because I have found beauty in noticing these changes. However, I do just want to say quickly that I am admitting some previously held bigoted thought patterns, and I hope that readers will not feel judged but will read how those thoughts have been confronted and shifted.
After being punished by the church for my divorce, I felt that I could identify with the LGBTQIA+ community in the sense that I was doing what was right for me and my wellbeing and they were rejecting me because I wasn’t conforming to what they perceived as right. But even as that situation helped me to be more open-minded about people who have been criticized and condemned by their communities, I would still feel that conservative gut-reaction twinge if I saw openly affirming Christians speaking about how God loves and affirms them online. I wasn’t trying to hold on to my judgmental mindset, but the ingrained assumptions were still clinging to me a bit, and it took effort and love and grace for myself to relearn how to see people.
Recently, I’ve realized that as I’m scrolling through twitter and I see queer people who love God and are open and honest about it, I get so excited to realize my brain has finally normalized this kind of love and happiness that I’m seeing and that there’s no more prick of uncertainty in celebrating with amazing people the things that they’re excited about in life. It took a little bit of time, but it gives me hope that we can relearn our gut reactions and continuously become more loving and accepting people.
I think about how my thoughts have changed in regards to sex, how my experience with sex in marriage was so backwards and painful, and how I’ve had to do a lot of mental work in the last year to not see sex as inherently shameful and wrong. Years of conforming to purity culture keeps that little voice in the back of my head active when I first think about extramarital sex, polyamory, queerness, and other things that shouldn’t even have a stigma attached to them. But the more I consider the plethora of possible attractions and experiences, both sexual and platonic, it seems crazy to me that anyone would claim that there is one black and white way to be in relationship with others. It’s no one’s business and there is not this deep need to categorize and qualify everything the way we’ve been taught in the evangelical church.
In the church I spent a decade in, there was a hyper-focus on culture. Speak this way, look this way, act this way. There are parts of it I understand and can make space for, but a lot of it was taken to an extreme that put the organization above the individual, no matter what the intention. That mob mentality was consuming. I was in it for 11 years, known for being someone who was “sold out” and touted as an example of how to thrive in that environment. Now, when I look back, I have to laugh at myself for ever thinking I was thriving there. I was merely consuming what I was given and parroting what sounded right. I had very few thoughts of my own, and I wasn’t taught to trust or know myself, only to know the rules.
I could not make myself leave that environment in the end. I was fired from my job and forced to come to terms with leaving. I look back and am grateful for that, grateful that I was pushed out of an unhealthy situation so that I could pursue myself again. Leaving the mob was terrifying. I didn’t feel like I knew how to be out in the world, deciding things for myself, and trusting my own ability to thrive outside of the bubble I had been in since I was 19.
It was difficult, but I know every day that this is where I belong. And that right now, as a single, exvangelical, happy person living my best and most random life, I can look back, not just at a few big moments, but at every teeny tiny moment in between, and know that I’ve been building this good life for a long time. I love marking *the* moments, the ones you need to remember, good and bad. But I also love knowing that those big moments don’t happen without all the little ones where your brain and heart were changing and becoming better and you weren’t even aware of it.