existential crisis

Death of friend, politics invading life, Buffy abusing Spike: Catchall

Dealing with several things all at once:

–1: The death of a dear friend of 30 years, the one in my College Memoirs whom I called “Pearl,” my confidante.  It happened two months ago.  But us college friends, the old roommies and InterVarsity people, the group who shared “Journal” e-mails until Facebook arose–we weren’t told.

One of us got re-married in mid-October.  I went to the wedding, disappointed to see that Pearl was not there.

She died later that week.

We last were on her page in September, when she posted about her child.

The Journal group found out around November 18, when somebody went to Pearl’s FB page and then posted what she discovered.

But that day, I was dealing with all sorts of headaches regarding publishing my books, and wasn’t on FB at all.  So I didn’t find out until a week ago Saturday, when I went to her FB to see what she was up to lately.

It took a moment to process the posts about her death, and once I did, I was just–stunned.  Heartbroken.

We were just coming off COVID quarantine when this happened.  (We’re all vaccinated, so COVID was just a bit of a cold that made the Hubby lose his sense of smell for a couple of weeks.)  I’d hoped to go back to church the following day, only to find this late Saturday night.  Instead, I was basically catatonic.

There was a day of deep grief.  Since then I’ve been hit with this intense midlife crisis, the sense of everyone getting older and older even though I could swear we were twenty just a couple of weeks ago, the sense of impending Death.  Same thing happened after my dad died in 2016; this and COVID have intensified it.  I’ll be fine during the day, then get hit with it in the middle of the night, or when I watch a 30-year-old TV show or look at a recent picture of someone from college.

And through it all I miss Pearl, who just isn’t there anymore.

And I wonder what happened.  The family was vague, just said she had health problems and died in her sleep.  I knew about the rheumatoid arthritis; she had that in college.  But all these years, she’d managed, she’d survived various health scares.  I wonder if it was COVID.  She was vaxxed, but there was the RA.  There are also the full ICU beds because of COVID anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers selfishly refusing to take the needs of their neighbors into account.  Did she die of COVID?  Did she die because she couldn’t get needed care because COVID is overwhelming health providers?  Did COVID take yet another friend/family member?  Or was it something else entirely?

Farewell, sweet Pearl….

 

–2: This part is a bit more lighthearted.  While I was away from church pre-vaccine, we somehow acquired a large group of converts.  They were attracted through studying the church intellectually–the same way I was.  But on Sunday I sat with them and discovered a strong sense of Convertitis and Orthodox Triumphalism.

It’s very familiar.  I suffered from it myself 15 years ago, and shared it with Richard, until I began to discover that people in my new church were human, too.

Until my priest said that River of Fire was too polemic and should focus on what’s good in Orthodoxy and not what’s bad in the other churches.

Until I heard somebody yelling at a parish General Assembly.

Until I saw that most people don’t follow the fast strictly, or care about the organ and pews, or even know a lot about their own theology that the converts find so attractive.

Until I began to see the drawbacks even in following the church that claims to be unchanged since the days of the Apostles.

We have our spats and flirting; we don’t just sit all coffee hour opining about the Filioque or hating on other churches.  You’re more likely to talk about gardening or kids or the next fundraiser.

Our new converts praised the church for being so welcoming, while I remember a time when people said the opposite.

My BFF and I are more likely to wear a Prussian uniform (him–this actually happened) or a Gothy top (me) than a prayer rope or a headscarf.

Part of staying Orthodox after the honeymoon period, is accepting that the people are not perfect.

Nowadays when I talk about problems in other churches, it focuses on harm being done by bad theology, or grifters, or abuse–things like that.  It’s about harm being done to the entire Christian body by certain attitudes.  I came to Orthodoxy not to be better than other people, but to stop worrying that nearly everyone alive was destined to end up in Hell.  I came to find a loving God.  I can recognize the good in other churches that are not Orthodox.  I can also recognize that various churches–including Orthodox–can be so obsessed with doctrinal purity that they don’t accept science or life experiences that prove some of their attitudes are wrong.

 

–3: I’m facing a writing club Christmas party today.  Normally I get into these biannual parties.  The conversation used to be interesting.  But lately, it seems like everyone who shows up is retired and I have nothing in common with them, so we sit and talk about very little of interest, if anything, before the food finally comes.  Well, there’s writing, but nobody talks about that, and half the people are spouses who don’t write.

We have liberal members, but we also have a bunch of people who are right-wing religious and/or Trumpers.  Our club party in July ended with a bunch of people getting into an argument about things like CRT, right-wing talking points being flung around, and me hearing a certain loved one’s disturbing attitudes on cultural issues.

I finally got up and walked out of the house.  I was shaken and upset for days, wondering if any of these relationships could survive.  I was finally able to put it out of my head and move on.

I don’t want a repeat of this.

Then last week, after a club meeting, somebody brought up a transgender issue and I became very uncomfortable.  Frickin’ politics ruining frickin’ EVERYTHING.  It makes you not want to leave the house, except even there it isn’t safe.

 

–4: Over the past several years, since we got Hulu, I’ve been rewatching Buffy and Angel, which I hadn’t seen since one pass of re-runs after they went off the air years ago.

Last night, I got to THAT EPISODE of Buffy.  I was so disturbed that I had to google and see if I was the only one to feel this way: Spike trying to rape Buffy was NOT AT ALL in his character.

Apparently that scene was one of the writers exorcising her own demons, because Joss wanted her to do so.  But it just wasn’t something that Spike would’ve done to Buffy.  Another thing that disturbed me was how Buffy had treated him for the past couple of seasons, especially during Season 6.  I guess the writers wanted us to hate Spike, but instead I was upset with Buffy for abusing Spike.  Spike was hardly a saint, doing his own abuse, but she’d punch him, she’d sleep with him and then say he disgusted her and she can’t love him, etc. etc.  Meanwhile, she’s letting her friends say bad things about him, too.

And yes, other people have indeed noticed this.  I found articles written by women complaining that Buffy had become an abuser.  For example: Defending Spike Part 1 and Kristen Smirnov’s Domestic Abuse and Gender Role Reversal in Season 6: My Letter to Mutant Enemy.

The writers were so intent on making us hate Spike, because he was an evil soulless thing, that they did this rape scene–

when the whole time they’d been showing us Spike on a redemption arc even without a soul.  We saw Buffy falling in love with him.  We sympathized with Spike because we saw that he was in love with Buffy and that it was turning him away from evil.

But after showing us this, the writers got mad at the viewers for seeing it clearly, and accused us of being the type to write love letters to serial killers.  It was gaslighting.  Them having Spike try to rape Buffy was like them abusing US now, along with Spike’s character.  They wanted us to think that Xander’s constant snipes at Spike were Xander seeing the situation properly.  They wanted us to agree that Buffy’s self-righteous abuse of Spike was how Good and Decent People™ behave.

While reading “Defending Spike” last night, I realized that Buffy treated Spike exactly the same as Shawn treated me back in college.  And there in black and white, I saw somebody else confirm that yes, this is extremely abusive behavior.  The writer saw it as abusive when a woman does it, and pointed out that a man doing it is clearly seen as an abuser.  And well, Shawn was male.  So hey.  That explains why I always sympathized with Spike here.

Abusers can so get into your head that for years afterward you wonder if you were the actual abuser.  Shawn and Phil (also in college) both did this to me, as did the so-called “friends” who abused me a decade ago, Richard and Tracy.  That’s part of the reason for my memoirs on both college and Richard/Tracy, to try to get into what really happened and sort it out.  It’s a lot of work and reflection.  And the conclusion is that I’m not the abuser at all.  But they can make you think you are, even 30 years later, even when intellectually you know that you were the victim.

And that’s my very-long catchall catchup post.

Repost: The long, dark night of my soul as I doubt God exists–because my spiritual mentor betrayed me

I wrote the following way back in 2011 as part of a story of narcissistic abuse.  It was on my old HTML website, though I don’t recall if the story was on- or offline at the time.  (I kept it hidden from the public for a long time as I worked on it.)  After I was put through long-term emotional abuse and mind-twisting by a narcissistic couple, I desperately needed to write it all down while I still remembered it, as a way to vent, make sense of it, and begin to heal.

The following was written a few months after my blog post Fighting the Darkness.  It’s a difficult time to revisit, but I have been assured that my blogging about this has value to others.  For example, most recently, from the blogger over at Jesus Without Baggage:

Nyssa, your post is heart-wrenching. I am so sorry for the pain you endured, but I know you are somewhat recovered from it. You said: “I was plunged into spiritual darkness and doubt.”  I really appreciate that you now do a great service to others in exposing and counseling regarding abuse from the narcissism you encountered….I hope more people check out your blog. —comment here

Comments like this help a lot on days when I wonder if I should just remove it all, if it’s just too embarrassing to admit that I’ve been manipulated by narcissists not just once, but several times in my life.  But then I’m reminded that others go through this as well and may need to read what I’ve written.

The following was written during the period of darkness, especially spiritual darkness caused by doubt.  Of course, atheists might say that’s just the way to enlightenment.  I still don’t know who’s right, since, despite all claims to the contrary, nobody really knows one way or the other.  Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night frightened that all that awaits me is oblivion.

But the experience that drove me into the darkness of 2011–that has, thank God, passed into the past.  It no longer burdens my thoughts, weighing down my heart with rage and grief.  I haven’t so much as seen these people on the street in a few years, even though they still live in my town.  Well, I see them in my blog stats.  I don’t see them at church, even though their church merged with mine, so I figure they must have found somewhere else, or stopped going.

But no, I don’t want to see them now, any more than I did back then.

Anyway, enough of the preamble.  Now for the repost:


From April 2011, The long, dark night of my soul as I doubt God exists–because my spiritual mentor betrayed me:

I have no interest whatsoever in reconciling with Tracy and don’t really care anymore what she thinks of me, because I consider her an abuser and a bully and the most horrid person I’ve ever known, and I believe she’s a false Christian.

As for Richard, this person I had dearly loved like a brother, respected, trusted and looked up to, this person I saw as a man of God, this person whom I saw as my spiritual mentor and guide, this person I supported emotionally through all his troubles while he lived with us, the person I told all my secrets to, has betrayed me and let me be verbally/emotionally torn apart like a wild animal.

Because of his connection to my spiritual journey, it’s been a struggle not to abandon all the things in Orthodoxy (or Christianity) that I associated in any way with Richard.

Because our friendship and his living here had seemed to be a direct and obvious answer to prayer, my faith in God has been damaged so much that I often doubt God even exists.

Because why would God answer my prayer with a curse, with an angel of light that turned out to be the devil?  The devil couldn’t have heard my prayer, because it was said to God by my mind, not by my mouth.

Two options rise up, both too frightening and repugnant to accept: that either

1) God did answer my prayer with a curse, or

2) God does not exist and it was all chance.

I keep hoping that one day a third option will make itself clear, but for now, I understand how even Mother Theresa could have gone through the dark night of the soul.

I knew the devil would try to get me out of Orthodoxy if I converted, as fellow converts speak of such things online, and he’d already been throwing various things at me, especially during Lenten periods.

But I had no idea he would do something like this that could sear me to my soul with a flaming sword, rip me away from the one whom I honored as the person who led me to the truth, damage me so much.

I had no idea that the person I honored as a man of God, had such crumbling feet of clay, would lead me to the truth and then be the means for shattering my faith.

I can only hope the following is true, taken from an earlier, more extensive version of the above Wikipedia link for “dark night of the soul“:

Rather than resulting in permanent devastation, the dark night is regarded by mystics and others as a blessing in disguise, whereby the individual is stripped (in the dark night of the senses) of the spiritual ecstasy associated with acts of virtue.

Although the individual may for a time seem to outwardly decline in his or her practices of virtue, in reality he becomes more virtuous, as she is being virtuous less for the spiritual rewards (ecstasies in the cases of the first night) obtained and more out of a true love for God.

It is this purgatory, a purgation of the soul, that brings purity and union with God.

From A Saint’s Dark Night by James Martin:

Even the most sophisticated believers sometimes believe that the saints enjoyed a stress-free spiritual life–suffering little personal doubt. For many saints this is accurate:

St. Francis de Sales, the 17th-century author of “An Introduction to the Devout Life,” said that he never went more than 15 minutes without being aware of God’s presence. Yet the opposite experience is so common it even has a name.

St. John of the Cross, the Spanish mystic, labeled it the “dark night,” the time when a person feels completely abandoned by God, and which can lead even ardent believers to doubt God’s existence.

During her final illness, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the 19th-century French Carmelite nun who is now widely revered as “The Little Flower,” faced a similar trial, which seemed to center on doubts about whether anything awaited her after death.

“If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into,” she said to the sisters in her convent.

But Mother Teresa’s “dark night” was of a different magnitude, lasting for decades. It is almost unparalleled in the lives of the saints.

 

Repost: Existential Crisis and Despair: Loss of God and Friendship

I posted this in 2012.  Full post here.  Some excerpts:

No, there are friendships which are like that and have nothing to do with sex, friendships which, when lost to death or breakup, are at least as soul-searing as any romantic loss.  And you have to go through a whole grieving process which could take years, depending on how meaningful it was to you, and how sudden the loss.

My own loss of such a friendship–and discovering that my friend’s character was not at all what I thought it was, that it could all have been an act by a narcissist, or ruined by a successful smear campaign–to be again devastated a year later when I discovered the horrible violence he is capable of–

It made me want to shake my fist at God.  It made me doubt God’s very existence.  I wanted to scream at God: “I prayed for a friend.  And THIS is what you brought me?  What are you playing at?  Do you even exist?”

I was plunged into spiritual darkness and doubt.  Not only did my own religion bring back constant reminders of my pain because the friend’s connection to it permeated every single thing about it from the mysteries to the theology–but my friend was gone.

But now I fear death instead, driving me to start getting all of my experiences, dreams, stories, pictures, all down on paper and shared with the world before that unknown day does finally come.  Then I will still “exist” even if the atheists are proved correct.

It can’t all be for nothing!  My consciousness–what will happen to “me”?  Will I suddenly feel it slip away and then–nothing?  Where will “I” go?  Just blackness as if I had never been?  Who will remember my dreams now?

During the third season of “Being Human”–the UK version, not the copycat American one–the roommates and best friends of Mitchell, the vampire, discover (in Wolf-Shaped Bullet, season 3) that he was the one who murdered a score of people on the subway.  This was such a heinous, disturbing crime that when Nina found out the truth (before anyone else), she threw up in horror.

When I saw that scene on August 20, 2011 (in The Longest Day, season 3), I knew how she felt, having found out about the child abuse charges against Richard on 7/1/11.

I identified with her again as she did what she must–gave the police an anonymous tip, which I had had to do to CPS in March 2011.  There are times when you just can’t let friendship keep you from doing what is right.

Read more here.

 

 

Just read something about being “truly Orthodox”….

A former Orthodox-convert-blogger, who was quite popular (and controversial) in Net Orthodoxy in his day, then became Catholic, is now becoming Orthodox again–and I discovered he lives near me.  And will be coming to my church.  😀

I’ve been checking out what traces are left on the Web of his old blog, to see what the controversy was in the old days.  I missed it somehow.  Either I encountered his blog many years ago and forgot about it, or he wasn’t mentioned on the Orthodox forum I spent time on, or it was during the time I dropped out from Internet Orthodoxy (after the Richard/Tracy crap soured me on Orthodoxy for a time).

I only found his newly-revived blog recently by accident, through another Orthodox blog’s post which included a link to one of his posts.  And discovered he lives very close.

Anyway, I found this comment by 123 on one of his old blog incarnations:

More practically, one hasn’t started becoming truly Orthodox until you’ve had your heart broken by the Church or someone in it, until you’ve found yourself at a a level pervasively well below what you strived for, and then you’ve stayed put for a few years.

That’s not something converts are prepared for, they aren’t prepared for the real heartbreak of conversion, of failure in the spiritual life (in oneself and others), they aren’t prepared for that ‘abandonment’ on the other side of the awe one experiences the first few years of Orthodoxy.

Yes, Orthodoxy is Pascha, joy, joy; but it’s also the Cross, it’s also pain, suffering, and all those things in the hymns and the lives of the saints we assume are far off, past, poetic hyperbole, or metaphorical.

No, Orthodoxy really the dumps, too. And then there’s also Pascha once a year. All that talk of struggle, the fact that clergy and monks are shown truly falling to their deaths from the top of the Divine Ladder, that’s really what the spiritual life is about.

It’s when you experience and know that that the converts starts shutting up, it’s then that people start assuming you’re foreign and were raised Orthodox (they assume you have an accent because you never speak, and you start looking world-weary like an Eastern European, or like someone going through the motions because it’s all you can muster, and you can’t stop doing even that because it’s simply what you are, even when you’re bad at it.)

And this gave me pause, because that’s where I’ve been for the past 4 and a half years.  Staying put in Orthodoxy even after discovering that my spiritual mentor and idol (Richard) had feet of clay, that he was an abusive narcissist and enabler of abuse.

He’s the one who broke my heart, and he (at least in name) was Orthodox.

And here I am, often going through the motions, wondering how much of it is true, yet still here.  Too stubborn to leave, even though it is common for converts to do so.  According to 123, that makes me “truly Orthodox.”

And I get to see someone who also has had my doubts and frustrations, leave and then return.

 

Jeff Dunn’s “Playing God with Tornadoes,” and trying to hold to faith when filled with doubt

I have written in Existential Crisis and Despair: Loss of God and Friendship and Trying to explain the wreck of my faith to a worried husband, how my faith has been sorely tested, unlike ever before, in the aftermath of the loss of my “best friend”-turned-Judas.

In Jeff Dunn’s Playing God with Tornadoes, I read:

In the BBC production of Shadowlands—the story of C.S. Lewis and his wife—Lewis (known as “Jack” to his friends) is coming out of the church where his wife’s funeral had just finished. The parish priest is walking with him and says,

“Faith, Jack. It is faith that sustains us in times like these.”

“No, Harry,” says Lewis. “This is all one big mess, and that is all there is to it.”

For the people in Moore, Monday’s tornado doesn’t come with a gift-wrapped explanation. It is one big mess, and that’s all there is to it.

That is about the only way to describe things that otherwise make no sense. We seek to understand things that are incomprehensible when we really need to trust our God. For people like Piper and Robertson to try and reduce God to an explanation that will fit in a sound bite or a tweet is idiocy.

My friend Vic is no theologian. But he knows the God of life and death, and knows that Jesus, the creator of all things including tornadoes, holds all in his hands. Vic didn’t go to find an explanation; he went to find someone who needed help.

This was written about the Moore tornado and other tremendous tragedies.  You can also apply it to emotionally devastating events in your life.

I haven’t read Job since college, when I read it after breakups as well as for class.  But the lesson is the same as in the above quote: Being betrayed by my spiritual mentor, discovering his violence (also here and here) and the criminal charges against him for choking his child, is one big mess.

I just don’t understand it, how this could happen as the response to my prayer for a friend.  But I’m told to trust God anyway…..

 

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