“Mad Survivor, Bad Survivor”: Why I’m a Grinch This Christmas and Not Fucking Sorry About It

I was 17 and writing “GOD IS A STRAIGHT WHITE MAN AND HE IS KILLING US” too big in my notebook as the sermon droned on. I was 17 and giving the finger too openly to the cross hanging on the church wall. I was 17 and choking myself too obviously as everyone around me started singing the next hymn.

I was 17 and my friend was telling me to respect the church despite my trauma while the trauma was transpiring.

I am 18 and I have alternated between nearly forgiving and nearly hating her over a dozen times since.

I’m ex-Baptist and angry as fuck about it

I was born and raised Baptist, and if you know me, you know that gentle and forgiving and subtle do NOT describe my approach to talking/blogging/tweeting/shouting about it.

I have not forgiven. I have not come to terms. I am fucking pissed. I’m pissed that I was taught I owed a man in the sky my everything. That in middle school, my mom had me poke holes in a water balloon and told me that’s what having sex would do to me. That growing up I thought gay was a sin, and then finally the day came when I thought I was a sin.

But what makes me even more pissed is the fact that as I’m writing this, I’m saying rein it in. Pare it down. Gear this so it applies to more than just you. That I’ve edited/reedited the above paragraph for hours, denying myself the right to grab all the fucking skeletons the church crammed in my closet and hurl them onto the bedroom floor where everyone can see their inexcusable filth. That I’m choosing to package my anger even now, because rage? It isn’t readable.

Be a good little survivor now

I am angry. I post too much about Religious Trauma Syndrome on Facebook. I overshare online and ramble in person and I beat that damn horse bloody. I don’t keep the disgust out my voice when I talk about Christianity. I avoid every openly identified Christian I can and make faces when I can’t. During random angry spells, I snap and mince and stonewall. I’m not friendly when I do it. I’m not succinct. I’m not digestible. I’m mad and bitter and resentful and I don’t give a fuck who knows.

According to some people, I’m not surviving right. I should forgive my ex-church family, because they meant well. I should suck it up and make peace with Christianity, because it’s not fair to associate your trauma with ALL Christians. I should stop being rude to people at church. I should be a Good Survivor, like Tumblr user kielbasanova brilliantly laid out:

“The Good Survivor will never use the term “victim.” Victims are weak, survivors are strong. The Good Survivor must always be strong. 

The Good Survivor won’t lash out at you without warning. The Good Survivor has no anger, no rage, no bitterness to display.

The Good Survivor will learn to forgive and move on with their lives.

The cult of survivorship

According to The Good Survivor, it’s okay that I’m angry now because I’m 5 months out of my abusive situation and into recovery. It’s not okay that I be angry 5 years from now, or 15, or 50. It’s not okay if I never forgive. It’s not okay to call myself a victim, ’cause victims are weak, they had things happen to them, they suffered passivelySurvivors are strong, they make things happen, they actively leave the suffering in the dust.

Feministing’s Dana Bolger beautifully delineates how people who’ve been through abuse/trauma/disorders are expected to jettison their rage and distrust and despair and apathy if they want their suffering to be respected by others.

The idea of the victim-survivor transformation is linear, and directional. You’re a victim until one day, you “speak up,” you report, you go to therapy, and poof! you blossom into a survivor. You “put it all behind you,” and then there’s no turning back.

The cult of compulsory survivorship ignores the cyclic nature of healing. The good days. The bad days. Healing is nonlinear, messy, disruptive, and unpredictable.

There’s a timeline to all this. When I realized that what happened to me was fucked up, I got my Victim Card. When I officially decide to engage the emotional (and financial – meds, therapy, the time I spent unemployed because I couldn’t function; and physical – the potential anxiety, stress, and eating habits I took on) demands of “recovery,” I cash in Victim for Survivor. And when I forgive the perpetrators for forcing me through all this? Well, I’m a Full-Blown Recovered. Bully for me.

No. I am a victim just as much as I am a survivor, and there are plenty of people out there who feel the same way (check out the comments if you need examples.) Damage was perpetrated against me. I’m creating an identity apart from that damage. Both can happen simultaneously.

The Christian cult of survivorship

Dr. Marlene Winell, coiner and champion of Religious Trauma Syndrome (a form of C-PTSD developed by some people who leave fundamentalist religions) broaches how the Good Survivor mentality gets real fucked up when the holidays roll around. Even if religion hurt you, you’re gonna smile your way through the holidays because we’re all supposed to be happy, and even if you can’t do that, you’re sure as hell not gonna cry.

The Good Survivor narrative goes on steroids when you toss fundamentalism in the bowl and mix well. I can speak to the Christian side of things, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

See, when you’ve got an utterly perfect, good God up there who saved you from yourself and forgives you for hundreds of misdeeds a day despite your selfishness and weakness? There’s no way you can’t forgive someone who’s hurt you, even if they abused, raped, or traumatized you. It would be unthinkably arrogant and ungrateful to stay bitter, to not “move on” (code for: forgive and shut up, not necessarily in that order.) It’s a neat little way to:

1. Pressure the victim/survivor/survictim? out of speaking about what the suffering imposed on them and calling the perpetrating people, ideology, or system to task for it.

2. Enable the perpetrators to keep hurting the wronged parties, or at least keep them from leaving.

3. Reassure other believers that their religion is innocent or absolved of any wrongdoing, and therefore, still the Only Right Thing to Believe In.

Yeah, fuck that

I am uninterested in “accepting” what happened to me. I reject the idea that I must forgive to live a full life. Anyone who tells me that an integral part of recovery is stopping my blogging and tweeting and advocating can Amazon Prime themselves to hell. As for this Christmas? I’m probably gonna be “moody,” because I’m gonna have to keep pretending that this religion didn’t take and take from me until one day I found myself standing on thin air, naked, cold, and utterly lost.

It is not my job to inspire people with my story of how so much was denied me, of what I was indoctrinated with, and why I chose despite it all to forgive and love. That’s great, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the only way to be a good survivor or a good person. I do not owe the people, church, or religion who hurt me any forgiveness. It is possible to keep making noise and being angry, and rebuild my life and identity, at the same time. They do not have to be mutually exclusive.

So if the mood calls for it, I might glower as I sip my tea. I’m not gonna smile wide for the camera if I’m not feeling it. And I refuse to welcome in those who hurt me – and yes, those who simply remind me of that which hurt me – as if it’s necessary for me to live a full, happy, free life.

Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/Yule/Kwanzaa.

Or not.

Up to you.

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