The other morning, I came across a tweet from a self-identified “theobrogian,” calling for ex-fundamentalist bloggers to “stop making a career out of bitterness.”
The first thing I thought was, who the hell is hiring people to be bitter? Is that a skill I can list on my resume? That would be my dream job!
My second thought was that this is hardly original. I’ve been called bitter more times than I can count. Even before I started a blog that focuses on calling out abuse in Christian church contexts, I was called bitter whenever I talked about surviving fundamentalism and abusive relationships.
What a word, huh?
I am called bitter whenever I talk about my past, whenever I call out spiritual abuse that I see happening in the present. I am called bitter whenever I talk about anything negative: injustice, abuse, oppression, bullying. Even when I talk about situations that I have personally “moved on” from, situations where I have forgiven those involved and more or less healed from the harm done, I am called bitter.
If you have spent any amount of time speaking truth to power, you probably know exactly how this feels.
I’m sure some people mean well when they throw the word “bitter” around, but even then, their efforts are misguided. The “You’re bitter” assumes a lot of things about pain, trauma, disorientation, and healing that simply aren’t realistic.
Life is not one simplistic story, with one conflict that neatly resolves by the end. We are constantly going through orientation, disorientation, and reorientation , on many different levels.
Healing is not a simple, chronological process. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and just because wounds heal doesn’t mean they won’t reopen again. Even healed wounds can cause chronic pain and complications that never go away.
You can’t just wake up one morning and decide to never be bitter again. In fact, I’m not convinced that a life completely absent of bitterness is something to strive for. We need to constantly deconstruct the harmful teachings we receive from the oppressive world around us. And denying and repressing pain isn’t always healthy.
Not that those who tell us to stop being bitter even want us to be healthy.
There are people in my life that I trust to tell me when I get to a point where my anger, my rage, my hatred cease to be productive and empowering, and begin to be destructive and self-devouring. These people don’t tell me “Stop being bitter!” These people ask me, “Hey, are you okay?”
The people who tell me “Stop being bitter” usually aren’t concerned with my well-being like my trusted friends are.
The people who tell me “Stop being bitter” usually want to control me.
They will call me bitter, like one might call another woman “crazy” or “slutty” or “too emotional.” They will call me bitter, whether I truly am or not, because it is a way to silence me and—if the silencing doesn’t work—to discredit me.
As you go through life, as you start to tell your story, as you start to speak against injustice, as you start to call out abusive power in the church, as you try to reach out to others who might share your pain, you will be called bitter.
There are people who want you quiet, and they want you non-threatening. Some even want you to be alone, afraid, and hurting.
They don’t want you to dig out past hurts so you can move beyond them, because when you are whole, you are a threat. They don’t want you to speak, because injustice feeds off of silence.
They want you quiet, because words bring people together.
Let them call you bitter.
Because according to them, bitter is speaking. Bitter is surviving. Bitter is joining together with others to work for change. Bitter is facing our fears and refusing to turn our heads when abuse and injustice are happening.
Bitter is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
 The idea of life as an ongoing process of orientation/disorientation/reorientation taken from Walter Brueggemann’s The Psalms and the Life of Faith, pg. 8