I ain’t afraid to say it: I’ve been a hot mess for most of the week. But slowly, slowly I’m coming to an awareness of where to go from here.
Christianity didn’t teach me a goddamned thing about self-care or about recovering from huge losses. Oh, it preached and taught some stuff that wasn’t especially helpful to me. I had to learn real coping mechanisms from scratch. Here I want to outline a strategy that I hope will spark recovery for you as well–and make a real difference in the days ahead.
Self-Care (and Not So Much).
“Self-care” means to do stuff for yourself that helps you when you’re stressed or hurt. It can mean exercise, playing vidya, sleeping in, paying stricter attention to your diet or splurging on comfort food, whatever is going to help you get through an immediate crisis and get your ship back on an even keel.
And obviously, what works for one person won’t always work for another person. By and large, we know some self-care options that work for us personally, and we pick the ones that appeal most to us out of a list of ones that are known to be effective in the main.
Exercise, for example, is something that we know raises good chemicals in the brain. Getting enough rest can ensure that we’re not at hair-trigger odds with everyone around us. Playing with one’s kids or pets can certainly help us detox (I feel my stress levels markedly improving when I cuddle Bother, though she is way less enthused with this plan). Sometimes it’s nice to while away a few hours watching loud movies, or going out dancing, or taking a long walk under the stars at night.
We also know that some techniques that, while nice in the short term for some folks, are disastrous in the long term (like my mother’s pack of emergency cigarettes, which she utilized in times of great stress and at no other time), and that sometimes do-it-yourself self-care must give way to professional help.
The wacky part is, Christians do almost all of this stuff the same as the rest of us do. Their official party line is that first and foremost, they must “give it to Jesus,” by which lurid phrase they mean to talk to the ceiling for some unspecified period of time and wish their stress away. This works about as well as one would expect in a system that makes nothing but false supernatural claims–and it’s largely how I deconverted with a raging case of PTSD.
No matter how much I talked to the ceiling, I couldn’t “break through” to real peace.* It’s ironic, considering that one of the catchphrases beloved of the religion’s chirpier adherents is “Know Jesus, know peace; no Jesus, no peace,” and even back then I’d heard a variant of the phrase.
Sometimes in fundagelicalism the solution-set literally looks like this:
- Pray lots and lots and lots.
- “Give it to Jesus” (he’s been such a naughty boy).
- Get up off your knees and pretend nothing bad happened. (Hey–Jesus took it all, right? So there should be none left.)
- HOW DARE YOU STILL BE UPSET AND STRESSED?!?
- You terrible sinner!
- You need to pray more.
After talking to the ceiling, though, the problem (whatever it is!) and the resulting stress from that problem still exists and must be dealt with. So after their additional step of busy-work and now burdened with the additional stress of that step’s ineffectiveness, Christians proceed to the ones that actually work better to resolve the stress and fix the problem. Hopefully. Not always. I’ve noticed that actually addressing the problem doesn’t always come up in their list of things to do, especially when the problem is really big or relates to the essential injustice found in the fundagelical social system, and that often their informal version of self-help involves those disastrously-risky interventions that most of the rest of us understand aren’t actually helpful in the long term.
When I deconverted, consequently, I literally had to learn self-care techniques from scratch.
This week has certainly been a week where I’ve had self-care on my mind. Like a lot of people, I found this election to be bitterly disappointing. It’s no fun to realize just how many people in America absolutely, positively hate people who disagree with them. I’m not nearly as upset about my side losing the election as I am about the simple realization that the sheer rage and viciousness of fundagelicals has been shown in full for possibly the first time since the Civil Rights Act’s passing. (And, not ironically, for much the same reasons and for many of the same perceived provocations.)
But once we’re done drinking that bottle of wine, playing with the cats, playing the Sims and getting hit with the realization that why yes, our motivation bars are all in the red, and taking that starlit walk, we come back home and see that there is work to be done.
Roll Up Your Sleeves.
We are not helpless. Nor are we without resources.
When you’re feeling upset, devastated, and adrift, one of the most empowering and healing things you can do is to try to help fix the problem.
John Oliver Has Some Good Suggestions.
The celebrated comedian and commentator had some excellent things to say about this election and its aftermath. And I agree with his assessment. For eight years, we’ve indeed had a President who we could count on to deal fairly with all Americans and to keep our rights in mind. But that’s changing in January. The President who will be sitting at our helm for at least the next four years is not one who cares about anybody but himself and his cronies. (Gotta love his women’s healthcare plan: “Don’t be poor,” and of course his civil rights plan: “Don’t be nonwhite, female, or LGBTQ.”)
And gang, John Oliver is totally right about something else, too:
Sharing shit on Facebook and Twitter doesn’t actually do much besides get your friends as upset and angry as you are, if it doesn’t translate into action.
If you really want to make a difference, if you really want to improve things, then concrete action will be required.
If You Can, Open Your Pocketbook.
A whole lot of organizations already exist on the ground that fight exactly the kinds of rights violations that Donald Trump and his pals are going to try to enact. Here’s a partial list, from that Newsweek summation:
Planned Parenthood is one of the pre-eminent women’s rights organizations, and one that provides healthcare to literally millions of women who would otherwise lack access to services. And of course you can do what 20,000 of your fellow Americans have done, and donate to PP in honor of Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, who is himself one of the biggest threats to reproductive rights that our country could possibly have conjured up out of its muckiest swamp. That link will tell you Mike Pence’s address and information so you can make sure he gets news of the donation in his name.
The Center for Reproductive Rights focuses its energy on fighting anti-choice legislation. Recently their work helped Polish activists defeat a savagely draconian anti-abortion law. (Human Rights Watch tells it like it is: “The denial of a pregnant woman’s right to make an independent decision regarding abortion violates or poses a threat to a wide range of human rights.” So this issue affects all of us and may well be one of the most important fights ahead.)
The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention to LGBTQ youth, would appreciate whatever you can send. The simple truth is that LGBTQ kids are many times more likely than straight kids are to face discrimination and abuse from both their own families and their schools. They commit and consider suicide way more often than their straight peers. And anecdotal evidence is already indicating that in the wake of the election, bigots-for-Jesus are feeling way emboldened to abuse this vulnerable population.
Some others: The International Refugee Assistance Project, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which helps protect people of all races from the constant onslaught of race-baiting Republicans seeking nothing less than the repeal of the 14th Amendment, the Natural Resources Defense Council to help protect the environment against Republicans’ expected attacks on it, and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has a raft of multi-pronged efforts aimed at preserving the legal and civil rights of Latinos in America.
I personally would suggest, as well, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or AU, and the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU. These groups are important–and powerful–watchdogs protecting us from fundagelical overreach. Donald Trump’s victory gave TRUE CHRISTIANS™ a feeling of permission to be extra-grabby, and the lawyers working with these groups will need help to fight the inevitable court cases that will erupt as a result of that feeling of permission.
John Oliver has also suggested that we support legitimate journalism, and I agree that this is important. Support your local newspaper, subscribe to the NYT or WaPo, and give real news sites your clicks and views instead of propaganda sites.
There are of course lots of other groups out there fighting the good fight–so you do you, friend!
If You’re Dead Broke.
If you can’t spare a single ducat to these noble causes, and thanks to Republicans one can only imagine that many of us are indeed that kind of broke or heading that way, then guess what? You can do something that does not cost a single thing: you can get involved in a more direct way.
Obviously, your first job is to vote. Vote early, vote every time, vote vote vote. Register and don’t miss an opportunity. One of the single most heartbreaking–and demonstrably erroneous–ideas that even very otherwise-evolved-and-enlightened non-Christians can get lodged in their minds is that their vote doesn’t matter. It matters for a variety of reasons. Even when your side is certain to lose one election, your vote is a show of protest that the dominant party will not fail to recognize, and likely the voting will involve a lot more than just that one single office. Use your vote wisely; people have bled and died so you could have it, and it’s really one of the most potent powers you have at your disposal as an American citizen.
Attend town halls and other political meetings in your area. It’s a genuine shock to legislators when anybody shows up for these things. But you know who knows exactly how important it is to attend such functions? Fundagelicals. For years they’ve been teaching about the importance of this simple civic action. Here’s their very own writeup of how to find these meetings and what to do while you’re there. Enjoy their bonus fearmongering and blatant lying, as well as their acknowledgment that fake media sources like theirs “ARE the real media today.” The struggle is real, and if you let them dominate these meetings then legislators come away thinking that those folks are the face of their constituency–and that if they wish to stay in power that they must pander to them.
Call and write your congresscritters at all levels. Lena Dunham made an Instagram post about how she left “a quick v-mail for Paul Ryan. You can too! 202-225-3031.” But Paul Ryan isn’t beholden to anybody who isn’t part of his constituency back in Wisconsin. Her gesture is nice, but ultimately she can’t vote or not vote for him–so what on earth does he care about what she thinks? (Unless of course she is actually registered to vote in Wisconsin, in which case YOU GO GIRL!) If you really want to make a difference, call and write your own local and national-level representatives. Make the message short and succinct; choose one or two issues you want to concentrate on, or some upcoming legislation in particular, and make your point.
Demonstrate. Do it peacefully, but holy cow, demonstrations can have a huge effect on elected officials’ thinking. When someone’s so motivated to oppose something that they are willing to get up off their ass and go walk around in winter cold or summer heat just to protest, that’s something worth paying attention to. In my own state, a few years ago some old-white-dude fundagelicals got the bright idea of passing an unannounced lightning bill to outlaw abortion. Protesters had like one day to get out there to protest–and they did. Thousands of people showed up. And this attempt to negate women’s rights failed. Even the legislators who’d proposed it wilted away from it in the face of that kind of opposition–even their own wives took courage from these protests and lobbied against it. Currently, anti-Trump protests are still rippling through our nation in dozens of cities–and though it’s doubtful that they will successfully prevent Donald Trump’s taking office, their actions may shape legislators’ thinking in the months to come.
Visit your elected officials at their state office. If you live in or near a state capitol, this isn’t too hard to arrange. Call in advance for an appointment, dress nicely, have some printed documents you can leave afterward, bring friends if you can, and go walk into the tastefully-appointed office of the nice man or woman who will be personally helping to determine your future rights, financial and physical security, and liberties. This is a big freaking deal. Here’s some advice about how to do it (that link’s for museum advocacy specifically, but really, it works for our purposes too; a lot of these advocacy groups have similar advice pages). If you’re active already in your city, you may be able to find other groups already making these plans–and you can go with them. I did this in college and it helped a lot with the cause we were working with; we even ended up on the news, and our activism did a lot to persuade the elected officials voting for the matter later.
A Gentle Suggestion About Digital Contact.
Expressing your views to your officials via Facebook and Twitter, or emailing your critters, might feel satisfying but it’s not effective. These officials and their staffers are overwhelmed with digital notes, and it’s so easy to write one that they don’t take the contact as seriously as they do other types. When I was in college, before email was really a thing for anybody but STEM people, I did my share of political activism. We learned that an elected representative in our state considered a snail-mail letter worth, say, 50 constituents’ views, and a personal visit worth many hundreds of constituents. It’s hard to imagine that digital communications are worth very much, knowing that.
Last week a series of viral tweets took our consciousness by storm. Written by former Congressional staffer Emily Ellsworth, they outline an excellent strategy for how to engage with elected officials. I couldn’t put it better, so I’ll just quote her at length.
First, tweeting or writing on Facebook is largely ineffective. I never looked at those comments except to remove the harassing ones. Second, writing a letter to the district office (state) is better than sending an email or writing a letter to DC. But, the most effective thing is to actually call them on the phone. At their district (state) office. They have to talk to you there.
We repped half a million people, it was impossible to read and respond personally to all letters. Impossible. This was something in particular that I cared about as a staffer and worked very hard on, but the sheer volume of emails is overwhelming. So, we batched them with computer algorithms and sent out form letters based on topic and position. Regardless of method received. But, phone calls! That was a thing that shook up our office from time. One time, a radio host gave out our district office phone # on air. . . It was exhausting and you can bet my bosses heard about it. We had discussions because of that call to action.
If you want to talk to your rep, show up at town hall meetings. Get a huge group that they can’t ignore. Pack that place and ask questions. We held town halls consistently that fewer than 50 people showed up for. And it was always the same people. So, shake it up. . . If you run an advocacy group, invite local staffers to show up to your events. Let them talk to people you work with and set up meetings. . .
Use your resources the best way you can and get their attention. . . But, ultimately, no matter what you do, if you communicate with your member of congress at all, you are ahead of most people.
One can certainly argue with her point about electronic communication–and many have. Yes, yes, we’re a digital culture; yes, yes, officials should damned well be accountable for these sorts of contacts. And yes, yes, if that’s all you can do, well, at least it’s more than most people do.
But a lot of these officials are from way before my college days, and Donald Trump is most certainly not “draining the swamp” of the lot of them. If they don’t respect digital communication, then give them communication they damned well do understand and respect.
Self-Care Through Action.
I’ve outlined what I hope is a comprehensive plan. Do what you can, do as much as you can, and don’t stop. We need you. There are vulnerable people in our country already feeling the pinch of what a Trump presidency is going to mean. Even knowing the cyclical nature of politics, I can see that the next four years are looking gruesome already.
But active protesters and vigilant, engaged citizens may well have a serious impact on just how gruesome those years will be–and may overwhelm the deplorables who’ve gotten us to this point.
Look, gang, we will never make them not hate us. We will never be able to lessen their frenzy of rage and terror. They have been whipped up into that frenzy over decades, their system is so broken that they are incapable of correcting the misinformation that’s gotten them there. Only renunciation of their tribe will fix that problem, and there’s only so much we can do to help them feel safe enough to come to that place.
But we can outnumber them, we can drown out their rage and terror, and we can do our best to protect the vulnerable groups that they are already seeking to abuse–so that when the cycle swings back around to Democrats, we’ll be ready to move forward again and drag their dead weight kicking and screaming along behind us like we’ve been doing for the last eight years.
Too many people need us. We need to get ourselves taken care of, then stand back up and get back out there to help those who need it. This is what it means to be a citizen of Earth; this is what it means to be a good person.
This is what it means to not give up.
* Break through: Christianese term meaning to feel like something big got accomplished. I thought of it like “breaking through the ceiling,” like punching through the roof in a literal sense to reach Jesus so he could hear me. When you can’t break through, you feel like you’re just talking to the ceiling–like your words are just bouncing off back at you. It is hugely discouraging–especially when you’re praying in the first place because you’re having some serious emotional need. But on those very rare occasions when someone “breaks through,” they are overjoyed. They feel like finally, Jesus heard them loud and clear. And they do not ever want to think about just how random these experiences are, nor how completely unrelated they are to anything the prayer did at the time.