Exvangelical Meditation: “What is Normality Mean to You?” A Poem about Deconstruction and PTSD

Earlier this year, a poet friend of mine and I had a conversation about returning to normalcy after the chaos of 2020 and beyond. It stirred some speculations on what “normality” looks like and how it is defined. I was in therapy at the time for work-related PTSD, which I was processing both in its own context and in the context of my life-long struggle with religious trauma. Having spent much of the year in the throes of a deep depression due not only to our many global crises but also some personal struggles, I answered the question in the form of a poem that I wanted to share with you as today’s meditation. I wrote it as an attempt to feel empowered by my own journey, despite the struggles I faced; I hope that sharing it with you now will inspire you in similar ways as you explore this question for yourself: What does normality mean to you? As you think about this question, remember that the answer is subjective to your own journey and not anyone else’s. Also remember: It is okay to not be okay. 

I love you. Remember to be kind to yourself and others today; you are worthy of love just the way you are. 

“What does normality mean to you?”

It’s a question I’ve been pondering since my first real day of salvation,when I realized I was exhausted with believing in Something that I was pretty sure wasn’t true. That just didn’t make any sense anymore. That had brought me nothing but shame and guilt and doubt and confusion, and nothing worth believing would ever offer such a swirl of perpetual pain. God, I was tired of the numbness of the narrow path. 

I can’t imagine it is a gesture of “normality”to bury a Bible in the back yard, a bottle of bourbon in hand that I’d bought just for the occassion. The Alaskan ground was frozen,and I’d bought a shovel just for the occasion too. It was a well-worn, teenage study Bible—a gift from a Sunday school teacher. I watched its pages grow soggy, and it felt good as the snow and the ice and the Juneau rain embraced it all at once; before I poured the gasoline on top, bought just for the occasion, lit the match or five, and watched those wet pages coil — failing to fight off the flames before I buried it all into a smoldering mound that I pissed on when I was done.

And when the lightning that I’d tempted didn’t come down from heaven to strike me dead, I knew I’d never regret that little funeral. After that brush with the Lake of Fire,the word “normality” loses much of its meaning. 

Still—I miss mornings where I don’t wake up in shakes expecting the day to go horribly wrong, for the perfectly logical reason that so many days have gone wrong. The lingering feeling of not being safe,and the fear of certainty that I may never feel safe again. Because now I finally have an idea of what it truly feels liketo be unsafe — not the shame or the guilt or the doubt of an invention, but to simply peer into the eyes of another and see the uncanny valley staring back at me. 

I wonder if this is what Joshua felt like, the morning before Jericho. If Noah felt this way when the rain began to fall. If Enoch felt this shudder before he walked into Heaven. I think about that worthless book that I burnt when I look into the mirror and see PTSD staring back at me,and I think to myself, Did lighting strike after all?Has normality mumbled its meaning in the end?

Goddamn, I say. Goddamn. 

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