Thankfully, after I’d fled Biff, I had a variety of online friends through the gaming community who offered me shelter. I chose the friend’s place that was furthest on the map from Biff that still spoke English: Vancouver, Canada.
I have generally very fond memories of Canada. I was their token barbarian lass from Texas who loved barbecue, crowed about how awesome guns were, and advocated the death penalty. Everybody I knew there was an alcoholic, vegetarian, or musician, and sometimes all three. Every woman in particular I met had at one time been a stripper (I still don’t know exactly how that happened). But I couldn’t deny how goodhearted they all were to me. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get caught up in a conversation with total strangers. I went for coffee with a nice young man who worked at the consulate; I stared at the Quebeçois displays in front of the government offices and listened to their terribly polite requests (this was when they were really making a push for independence or something); I marveled at the sex and leather shops down on Granville Street, one of which would give customers 10% off if they only provided a photo of themselves wearing whatever they’d just purchased.
The guy I was living with now would eventually prove himself to be an out-and-out cad, but I foolishly thought that just because he looked like Biff’s polar opposite, that he was actually different. No, I’d just chosen the same slaver with a different face. He was just as controlling and just as cruel, but with the added bonus of substance abuse. It took me quite a while to realize just how bad this relationship was for me. And it took me even longer to lose the rest of my Christian programming so I could finally free myself.
Some stuff we reject out of hand immediately. Obviously, if you’ve been following this blog at all, you know I rejected the “pro-life” stance even before I formally deconverted. The idea that as a woman I was automatically a lesser human being, that I rejected very quickly as well. But there were more subtle and deeper, darker waters that I had not yet disturbed, murky and dank corners that I hadn’t yet exposed to sunlight.
In the years since I’ve been out of the church, I’ve run across many ex-Christians who still labor under some of those old assumptions without realizing it. For some of us, we may be out for years and yet still feel the burden of that programming. Anybody who really internalizes the gender-based and sexual demands Christianity makes of its members can especially suffer, and suffer significantly for some time, under those vicious lies, but not all the tapes are sexual or gender-based in nature. And boy howdy are they hard to identify, much less to erase.
Here are some of the mental tapes I had playing on constant loops in my head after I left Christianity:
“If I catch a partner using pornography, my relationship is in trouble.”
“Pornography is a direct competition to me and the real sex I offer.”
“My partner’s orgasm is more important than mine.”
“My partner’s feelings matter more than mine do. I must preserve his ego at all costs.”
“My partner’s free time is more valuable to him than mine is to me.”
“If I don’t have a cosmic purpose handed down to me from on high, then I have no purpose at all in life.”
“If two people love each other very much (post-Christianity; mid-Christianity it was “If two people love Jesus very much,” of course), that’s all they need to make a relationship work.”
“Dignity is the smallest and tiniest trifle one may sacrifice in the name of true love.”
“Mumble mumble Pascal’s Wager harrumble mumble what if it’s true?!?”
Some of these are quite pernicious and cruel, as you can see. I’m sure there were many more, but I can’t even remember them all now. Some of them I shed fairly quickly; others took years to fully divest myself of. I’ll be talking about some of them in the posts to come, but for now I’ll just name them so they’re floating out in the open in the clear air between us all.
I am ashamed to admit this, but here is how low these self-lies brought me, and here is how powerful these internal tapes can be. Here is how bad it got, and how troubled I was: One night a couple of weeks into my stay in Vancouver, I found my new partner’s porn stash while he was at work. As porn goes, nothing I saw was that bad–it couldn’t be, since Canada had some weird rules about what can and can’t be shown in their porn–but it was bad enough that it rocked my little illusion about just what kind of man I was now sleeping with. I was so hurt to see it. One of the issues was quite recent, maybe just purchased, and he had not told me about any of it. The little stack of magazines was hidden under some computer magazines in a cubbyhole in his computer room.
I was devastated. Porn! Porn was evil. Porn was competition. Porn meant he didn’t really love me. But did I question why I was hurt? Did I question my partner’s loyalty to me or his love for me? Did I even wonder if the mental tape was even true or accurate?
What I did instead was pick up the phone to try to call Biff in Texas.
I’m not even sure what I was planning to say if I reached him. After all his threats, all the fear he’d inspired in me, the terror I’d felt, the stalking he was already doing, I–like many abused women–reached out to the evil I knew rather than face the evils I did not yet know. He had told me that if I ran into any sort of trouble that I should call him immediately, and I didn’t think I had anybody else in the world I could call for help.
The phone rang and rang and rang. This was well before cell phones, so this was a land line at the barracks he’d had to move to after I’d left. Nobody answered. I tried again and the phone rang and rang and rang, and at that point I realized I was out of my motherfucking mind and I hung up feeling disgusted with myself, with searing-hot shame and poisonous green self-loathing crawling on my skin like bugs, and I huddled on the bed, hugged a pillow, and cried for a long time by myself.
I was alone, so alone.
Then I began to think about pornography. Why, exactly, was it so bad? What about it was a real threat to me? The guy was, after all, sleeping with me. He said he loved me. At this point he hadn’t done anything specifically bad to me or around me, and I didn’t actually yet realize the extent of his substance abuse. What, exactly, was so bad about him liking to look at porn?
I am so incredibly thankful to whatever guides this universe, if anything, that I did not reach Biff that day. I don’t even know what would have happened; my deconversion was firm, but my resolve about leaving my abusive marriage had briefly been shaken. For just a little while I felt like I’d made a huge and horrible mistake in leaving him. I got furious with myself after a while–had I seriously just tried to cry on the shoulder of a man who had threatened to carve me into pieces with a butcher knife?–oh no I di-int!–and I never wavered again. The incident got me started on my questioning of those old indoctrination points, though. I realized that I was ignorant and desperately in need of some alternate viewpoints, and thankfully I was living in the very beginning stages of the internet and had options that I wouldn’t have had just a few years previously.
Since porn was the thing that’d made me weaken even briefly, that’s the topic I took up first (I’m nothing if not methodical). I ended up joining Usenet groups that talked about sex and kinks and I began learning the things about sex that I’d never learned as a fundamentalist Christian. I met people who liked porn, who used porn and even produced and starred in porn, and they weren’t demons. They were just normal people for the most part. And of course every woman I met in Canada, no kidding, had been a stripper at one point, remember? And they were all uniformly healthy, sex-positive, intelligent, aware, competent women, all of them possessing generous and gentle spirits–hearts of gold, as the saying goes. I learned that even perfectly normal-seeming couples often visited “peeler bars,” as they called strip clubs there, as just part of their normal dating scene.
Probably the most shocking thing I learned was that I’d never actually had an orgasm. No, seriously, I hadn’t. I’d been married for five years and had been trumpeting how wonderful married life in Christianity (read: “sex”) was all that time to anybody who would listen, and had believed my husband was this amazing lover (if he did say so himself), but somehow I’d never actually ever had a real orgasm. But as dramatic a realization as this was, it was just a side note to the general trend of my education. I learned a lot about the porn-related indoctrination I’d accepted from my childhood, and began to shed all that programming.
The more I learned about porn, the more I realized that the question was more nuanced than the church had taught, that there were good and bad sides to porn, that there’s a healthy dialogue going on about it. Christianity had been wrong about prayer, about the reality of Jesus Christ, about a whole lot of things, and its teachings about porn were just another in a long line of its errors.
I’m not going to talk too much more about the man I lived with in Vancouver, who we’ll call “Dougie” for the purposes of this blog. A lot of crap went wrong there on both our parts, but at least he helped me get out of Biff’s clutches. He was not a Christian and never had been, but his mom, while incredibly generous, kind, and sweet, was a real New Age fanatic. Being around her and her friends really kept me out of the worst abuses of the New Age. I developed my lifelong fascination with alternative medicine debunks from this time.
It’s not just Christians who fall for scams and weirdness, and who get these mental tapes playing in their heads that just aren’t true and that lead them into all sorts of trouble. Lots of people lie to themselves for various reasons. It’s hard for us to even see how we’re doing it, much less put a stop to it. For a newly-minted apostate, these were heady years indeed that I was entering. We’re going to talk next about how the New Age made me realize just how insane Christianity was–starting with an incident at a pagan orgy that actually persuaded me to rejoin the Pentecostal Church after Biff’s “exorcism” and moving on up to an encounter with fruitarians (raw-fruit-only vegans) that made me realize just what had attracted me to Christianity in the first place. Stay tuned.
PS: I do realize that the song is “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.” 😉