Wow, my titles are getting more depressing though I think my content is more hopeful. This post should not be an exception – I hope.
The more I’ve been thinking about dealing with the arrogance versus humility issue, the more it has pried open an issue which, ironically for me, has become somewhat tautological. Suppression.
I’m pretty sure that every person deals with this on a daily basis, but I’m also pretty sure that conservative Christians are masters of exacerbating it. In fact, I was heavily on my way to becoming a guru when it came to suppressing everything I felt and wanted. And here is how I have been setting myself free.
For the most part I’ve identified two major areas of suppression in my own life: physical and emotional. Intellectually I suppressed some things – like how I considered evolution to be beautiful and immediately thought it was the devil speaking to me. But for the most part, I did not feel like the intellectual side of my mind was hindered too much by the Christianity with which I grew up. And if my intellect was suppressed, I feel that I have sufficiently dealt with that. Many of you may notice the change in tone of my posts – that I used to be much more analytical. So that leaves me with physical and emotional suppression.
Physical suppression revealed itself most strongly in sexuality. I remember distinctly being terrified of my first sexual thoughts. In my early arrogant Christian days – at around the age of 9 – I remember looking up to the teenagers around me in disgust. Who are these apes, gallivanting about all stupid and shit? I won’t be like them. I’m a good Christian. I’ll never look at porn. I’ll never commit adultery. I will never have sex before marriage. I had not yet learned that only the arrogant say “I would never.”
Then puberty hit. Oh gosh was it steamy for me. Forgive the openness if it offends, but I would regularly have two wetdreams in one night and wake up still feeling frustrated. Touching myself was out of the question. Thinking about girls – while at first quite fun – eventually lead to so much guilt and repentance that I was ready to do just about anything short of castrating myself in order to eliminate the desire for sex. To give you an idea of how hard I worked at this, I went for a couple years during my teenage years where by employing certain ‘techniques’ I had been able to avoid sexual thoughts almost completely.
Elimination of desire: that was the goal. Now that I think back, the theology was that desires that went against God’s will were sin. However, I was introspective beyond most of my contemporaries during those middle school years and soon began to notice that I did not have a single thought that was not against God’s will. Either I was wanting something that I was not supposed to have, or getting angry at not getting something I thought God wanted me to have, or trying to throw thoughts out of my mind that I thought might be bad, or trying to suppress every ounce of curiosity that existed in my bones unless it was about getting closer to God. Heck, the only desire I constantly stroked was my desire to be like God and every ounce of pride I had in that desire. As such, I would go from feeling on top of the world to exhaustion rather regularly – especially as I would feel (and subsequently ignore) my sexual desires wax and wane with the passing tide of women.
I can see why some men want to be monks. In some ways that was the direction I was headed. But I could not be a monk and at the same time witness to people: I had to get out there. I could not waste away pursuing a growth in my relationship with God so – selfishly. So, like a fallen monk I tortured myself with human interaction that would never satisfy my desire to only need Jesus.
I was a fucked up mess. I rarely smiled, I rarely laughed, and I could only find fault in those around me. I only became happy whenever I felt like God was speaking to me or when others gave backhanded or open-ended compliments about my relationship with the Lord. Obviously if they praised me too much I would flip and become a self-deprecating mess, but I do remember those few occassions when the comments of others gave me just what I needed. That was so rare.
But the point of this is that I was suppressing dozens – if not hundreds – of little desires. For example, I wanted to play a computer game called One Must Fall, but maybe Jesus would not approve? “Dear Jesus, if I should not play One Must Fall show me by having me lose this next game.” Damn (in Christianese), I lost. Does Jesus not approve… if Jesus doesn’t approve why is this not bothering anyone else? I should follow Jesus, not others. I would stop playing. Moving ahead several years… I want a sports car, but sports cars are vain. Jesus does not want us to be vain and I probably only want one so that I can get attention from the ladies. Getting attention from the ladies is wrong unless Jesus leads them to you… all other attention is fake and is lustful. I am supposed to avoid lust, so all those desires must be wrong! But why the fuck did Jesus give me hormones that rage at age 13 and 14 if I am not supposed to do anything about them until I am married?
Ranting aside, I definitely took this suppression to an extreme. People have always told me I am intense, and it is true. In just about anything I try I either put all my weight into it or none. So when it came to suppressing my desires I feel like I put quite a damn bit of weight into it. I was not going to give up. In a way, I felt like an oil well spewing out under pressure and I was trying desperately to put a cap on it. For some reason it never occurred to me to funnel my passions out slowly. In my black and white mind, I was either going to stop the well from leaking completely or let it explode all over the ocean of my life – killing everything in its vicinity.
And the latter is what happened, and it ended up destroying so many friendships and relationships and left me feeling alone by my late teens. All my energy was put into setting God’s desires before my own and in the process I became an emotional raisin. And even then, God gave me nothing. I remember on many occasions going into my room alone – without anyone knowing – and just sitting and waiting for God’s presence. I would confess my sins, read my Bible, and just seek Him with every ounce in my being. Nothing. I remember the dry tears, crying desperately for God to listen – to do anything – to show me His presence. So I not only suppressed my every desire, but like a crack addict I found myself scraping the cigarette trays of spiritual gas stations looking for any signs of a smoldering fag to satisfy my endless craving for even the faintest of a smoke signal from God.
So anyway, I know now that I was digging my own emotional grave and since then it has been a slow and choppy – but steady – process of learning to listen to myself.
Here’s how I’m doing it.
First, I’m learning to dig through all the layers I had built on top of all my desires to keep myself from paying attention to them. This mostly involves an opposite pattern of thinking than I normally had been employing. For quite a bit of my life, most of my thought life has been a deep, digging process to resolve all the contradictions I saw between what I thought I should be and what I knew I was in order to eliminate desires that I found to be sinful. My new thought process is about finding those desires I suppressed and learning how to satisfy them in healthy ways. And most of this involves facing my deepest fears and desires, rather than ignoring them. This normally involves me spending a lot of time alone with myself, just thinking and talking to myself or writing out exactly what I want to think or what I actually do feel.
Coming from a Christian background this can be terrifying. For example, there have been points where I wanted to kill my dad. I once woke up early in the morning recently just fuming, incapable of relaxing my body into anything other than the deepest of hate. I knew I needed to face that… not act on it, but face it. That is how I really felt. That was what I, Josh, really felt. It was not some other foreign part of me that I was to suppress by focusing on something Jesuslike. No, it was what I really felt.
And that brings me to the second thing I’m learning to do: be honest with myself. That can be hard, especially when you feel like you have two completely conflicting desires at the same time – most of what I’ve felt my entire life. Last year whenever I was with a girl I inevitably reached a point where I was like “Fuck, I do not know what I want.” Now that I look back, what I was really saying was that I wanted two different things. I wanted true love – whatever that is – and I wanted to have tons of sex with lots of girls. I inevitably felt guilty about the latter and also always failed at the former. But recognizing this – and being able to say that both desires are my desires – is key. Then it is simply a matter of figuring out why I want both, facing the fact that both desires probably mix as well as oil and water and then being honest with myself about the situation and making up my mind.
See, for me at least, Christianity emphasized an internal war and exacerbated it. In fact, I remember preachers who almost taught that if you did not feel this internal conflict something was wrong! It is true that everyone faces desires for things they cannot have. This lust can be crippling and can make us act irrationally. It should be avoided at all costs. But that war should not be encouraged by building up a wall against one side of yourself (“I buffet my body to make it my slave”), it should be dispelled by internal diplomacy (“Hey Josh, why not learn how to attract women and just have fun and be safe and then some day settle down with one them? … or two of them?”).
Ultimately all of this has helped me realize that the most healthy person is the person who has learned to satisfy his or her own needs. A healthy person seeks out what he or she wants and pursues it with confident passion and gets satisfied. A healthy person learns to listen to his own desires – every one of them – and pays attention to them. A healthy person is willing to say “no, I need time to myself” or “self, you need time with others”. Growing up, in many ways, is like becoming your own parent. It is learning to listen to your own cries and taking healthy action to satisfy them.
I feel slightly silly at having only recently discovered this, but given my past I guess it’s what I should expect and I feel like I’m doing pretty well.
Once again, I hope this helps someone else who might be in a similar position. Feel free to unload. I keep doing it and it always makes me feel a lot better.
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