I'm assuming that it has been obvious to probably everyone who has been familiar with me as an active church member since 2009 that I've been curiously absent from Services since May of 2014. What follows was originally a letter that I wrote to a friend attempting to explain my absence, which I only realized afterward was actually just me, trying to get a better look at my own evil black bones. Morbid fascination I guess, but I also feel like I need to know my enemy.
And also to anybody else who is curious, I suppose, since I am putting it here, after all. Used to be that I'd cringe at the thought of putting all this schlock on display, but now I don't give a crap. It's something to do when I'm bored, and only a few people I can think of will actually slog through all of it anyway.
What follows is 'me in a nutshell', I suppose. I've always been extremely shy, from the very beginning of my memories. In other words, I've always been this way. What that actually MEANS is, I was born with a bubble around me, manifested as fearful dissociation, not based on fear but resulting in fear, which has served to effectively separate me and keep me disconnected from other people. It's either that, or the bubble developed as I developed cognizance, which was about twenty months after I was born. I've always referred to it as a bubble. The Bubble.
My first memory of this fearful separation and exclusion from other human beings was around two years of age, and feeling compelled to hide my feet under the bed or under the couch when company came over. I couldn't stand to have my feet exposed. Isn't that weird? The prospect was terrifying, and I have no idea why that was the case.
Another defining instance was when I was four years old. I was caught by the bus driver, eating a Kit Kat. He put me on the spot and made me choose between eating it or throwing it away, making it clear to me that eating it would be a shameful, repugnant thing to do, while throwing it away would satisfy the terrible, From On High judgment of the authority figure. I remember throwing away the Kit Kat into the trash bin at the front of the bus, filled with shame and self-loathing and the feeling that I was the only person in the world who could have ever done anything so horrible.
Those are the earliest incidents that I can remember of being aware of myself as an unnatural outcast among my own kind, and also of the impenetrable bubble which has served to keep me isolated and alone for the entirety of my life. It's a scourge is what it is, this fact of separation. It's the pure scourge. The pristine scourge... it's the Mama Scourge of all the myriad little scourgelings of my existence, and I've never known anything different. Which, I think, makes it decidedly odd that it should be so painful, since isolation is basically the default state of normality for me.
As I grew older, this feeling of existing in a bubble of isolation grew into a debilitating problem which has kept me from forming practically any type of relationship with anyone who I perceived as being better, more well adjusted, more popular, better looking, smarter, more successful, more confident; more NORMAL than myself. The only relationships I'm allowed to form are very tenuous ones, and only with people who have displayed obvious flaws, such as a lack of confidence and/or ambition, not being very popular, an attitude of rebellion and/or a proclivity for getting into trouble, coming from a broken home, introversion, shyness... you know. People who I can identify with.
The funny thing is, if one of these tentative friends ever shows signs of developing in a positive manner, then my ability to feel comfortable around them and to relate to them vanishes. They instantly become strangers to me. This has always been the normal progression of my relationships with people, and it's always been a constant source of distress and anguish for me. I've had, simply, a miserable life for my entire life because I was born with a cancerous, defective self image, a flawed perception of people, and a devastating inferiority complex. The defining moment or event which put me in this place is a complete mystery to me. Why? There's no reason why I should have come out 'undone'. It ain't natural for an otherwise normal human being to start out just completely fracked from the get-go, is it? That makes no sense! It's just the truth, though. I know that sounds self pitying, but doesn't self pity require somewhere to lay the blame? Where's the blame?
So, as soon as I discovered them, I turned to 'substances' to force a change upon my perceptions, which allowed me to assume a false personality compatible with those perceptions, which in turn allowed me to seem more normal to others, and to feel more normal to myself. I never wanted to get high for the simple sake of being high. That was never, ever my motivation for using drugs or drinking. It was, and always has been, my suit of armour which comes loaded with the behavioral software that I feel I've been cheated out of. Which, by the way, everyone else just seems to have naturally.
I'm a unique, uncreated Frankenstein of a human being. Different, different, different! Flawed! Just me. I was the only one cheated, out of seven billion people! Although I realize that's an untruth, I truly believed it for the first twenty or so years of my life, and I suppose it's hard to unbelieve a thing once it's beloved, because I still belive it... but the brain believes what it belives, just like the eye beloves what it sees.
I feel zero amount of anything in common with anyone at church. I feel like a glaring, flawed, inferior fuck-up of an outcast among all of the normal husbands and wives with children and careers, and houses and mortgages and car payments, and normal ways of dressing, and normal haircuts and normal ways of banter. Social interaction at church is a completely, and I mean a COMPLETELY alien thing to me. It's a practical impossibility. My self image and low opinion of myself, compared to anyone at church, absolutely forbid me from partaking in any meaningful social action or developing ANY type of meaningful relationship with ANY parishioner. They are always and forever outside of my bubble. I feel extreme distress and anxiety when confronted with any situation at church beyond those dictated by the rules of Service This isn't to say that I don't find Church valuable or fulfilling. I do so, very much. The Orthodox Church, means everything to me.
I met Leah as a coworker back in August of 2008, and after a few months of working the same shift together, we became friends. It was through her that I learned about the Orthodox Church Hearing her talk about church excited something in me, because I've always wanted to believe in God. I grew up as a Methodist kid, and some of the only good memories of my childhood are church memories. So when Leah and I began seeing each other in January of 2008, she invited me to a vigil service, and I went. It didn't take long for me to discover that the Orthodox Church was DIFFERENT. More subtle, more serious, more accepting, more mysterious... more real. I remember thinking at the time, that if there ever was a real Christian Church, and of there really is a God, then this church has to be the real deal - the authentic experience. It was crazy weird. Nobody told me that or convinced me of it. I just knew it.
That wasn't all, either. During that first introductory period to the Orthodox Church, when Leah and I were a new thing, was the first time in my life that I'd had any inkling of hope whatsoever of breaking the bubble; of ever overcoming the fear and isolation and inferiority, and the feeling of just not belonging to, or among, normal people. For a while there, I actually thought that I might be able to be one of those normal people. It was the first time I've ever felt that way, and it was brand new, and it was exhilarating, and I thought that things would keep getting better. I was very optimistic then.
But then when things ended between Leah and myself, all of that newfound confidence disintegrated like a house of cards. It just shattered. I came away from that relationship in a worse place than I was before I went into it. I was even more broken than I had been, but I continued to persist for another four years.
Then, three years ago, my best friend Jerral killed himself. Now, I know that it wasn't my fault. It wasn't my fault that he killed himself, but in my mind, I will always feel responsible, because I could have prevented it. He and I had a falling-out back on Christmas Eve of 1999 and I never tried to make up with him, although I wasn't angry with him at all. I was just lazy about it, and I always thought that there would be time to get together with him again and make up and be the friends that we always had been. He was like a brother to me. He was family. I loved him. I loved him, but I never, ever tried to reach out to him after the falling-out we had.
Thirteen years, three months and five days after that happened, Jerral killed himself. I knew during all of that time that he'd been in anguish, and that he was so sorry for the part that he'd played in our separation, and that he tortured himself incessantly because of it. I knew that he struggled with his own demons, such as child abuse and alcoholism and drugs and rejection by his own family, but I never cared enough to try to heal the breach between us. If I had just reached out to make contact with him just one time, just once, I know for a fact - I know it, I know it - I know it that he wouldn't have killed himself. We would have had a connection again. We would have been talking, I would have known the anguish he was going through which led him to commit suicide, and I could have done something to help him. But I didn't, and he's dead now. And I hate myself for that, hate hate hate myself so much, and I'll never forgive myself. In my mind I have just as much responsibility for his death as he does.
I don't know if anyone from church is reading this and was at church that Sunday when I had a nervous breakdown in front of the whole congregation while I was reading the Epistles, but that happened soon after Jerral's suicide, when it had begun to feel like my life was coming apart in earnest. It's also part of the reason why I stopped coming to church (both the breakdown and the dysfunction which stems from anxiety and guilt). A lot of it feels like self-punishment; like I don't deserve to be there anymore.
After Jerral died, I started to think more and more about another friend of mine who had killed himself, twenty-three years ago. His name was Jim Bob and we were friends, but I'd only known him for several months before he died. I've always felt some responsibility for his death, but because we aren't as close friends as Jerral I were, I'd never felt any real long-term, debilitating guilt.
What happened was this. On the night that Jim Bob killed himself, he had wanted me to help him string and tune a new guitar which he'd just bought. He'd come up to me and asked me to help him string it, and man, he was so excited about it! I had better things to do right then though, like playing pool, so I blew him off. And he blew his brains out an hour later. At his funeral, Jim Bob's brother approached me in tears and embraced me, and what he said to me through his heart wrenching sobs was, "My brother was always talking about you, Ash."
I remember hearing that, and how it was like a hydraulic press crushing my heart, but I'd forgotten about it. Now I remember. I remember the putrid guilt and vile self loathing that I'd felt, as I realized the hard truth... that if I had just taken a few of my measly, precious moments to help Jim Bob tune his frikin' guitar, he wouldn't have killed himself an hour later, because I'd have been with him, and we likely would have been having a good ole time with that guitar. If I would have just cared enough, and not been a selfish prick. And now I remember.
There's something else I remember now. Another close friend, who I talked into getting an abortion back in 2001. Of course I feel responsibility for that death now, too. What else is new? I talked her into doing it. She wasn't sure, and her boyfriend wanted to keep it, but for some reason that I can't even remember now, I really thought it was important that she should get an abortion. I don't remember the reason but I remember arguing her into it, and now that baby would have been fifteen years old and alive, with hopes and dreams and love and fun. But I slammed the hammer of hubris, distilled from my evil black bones, right down on that tiny life with self-righteous pride, and I presented a successful argument for its obliteration.
These are things that I know I should forgive myself for, and which I've confessed to Father Justin, but they are with me now, every moment of every day, and they will always be with me, and they will always torture me. I don't know if I'll ever be able to move past the stark reality of those mortal sins. I will always feel responsibility for those deaths. There's no changing that, ever.
Now you probably know way too much about me; more than you ever wanted to, likely... but that's basically it. That's all the stuff. All of that is, in essence, why I started going to church, and why I don't go to church anymore, and it's also why it's so hard for me to start again, even though I wish that I would. I didn't stop going to church because I wanted to, I stopped because... because I fell off, I guess. Or jumped during one of my somnanbulistications. I dunno... but now it feels like I can't run fast enough to get back on.
I know that's wrong thinking, I know it. I know it, and I know that I need to fight against it, but I don't know the moves. I don't know. It's a combination of being lazy, and hating myself, and feeling like I don't deserve anything good... but mostly it's feeling incapable, and just unable. And sick in the head.
Aight, that's it. There's quite a bit more, actually, but I'm just gonna call it here.