Growing up in the church weighs heavily on everyone who goes through it.
There’s no innocence of youth, you grow up knowing the stakes, and the stakes are as big and scary and eternal as they get. You read things at six about how it’s better to cut your hand off than sin and you’re expected to know that it’s metaphor, or it’s not, but you aren’t actually supposed to toss and turn at night feeling like a shitty christian because you know you’ve sinned so far and don’t have the courage to grab a cleaver. From the very beginning, you are acutely aware of the gravity of how massively you fall short.
When I was 13 or so, I started having sexual feelings. This was soul crushing because before then I’d generally been able to follow all the rules the bible gave. Murder never really crossed my mind and it was easy enough not to tell lies. But I knew I wasn’t supposed to touch myself or have feelings about people. I knew that was a thing boys did, but I was a girl, I should be stronger. Every time I caved, I’d wind up in the fetal position in my shower because that was the only place I had complete privacy to cry as hard as the situation warranted.
It’s probably easier for people who don’t have questioning personalities. If I was going to be a Christian, I was going to be the best one, I didn’t want to be one of those lukewarm people that god spits out of his mouth. This is, incidentally, the quickest way to make yourself crazy because a christian can never be good “enough” or “not lukewarm” enough. It is a lifetime of going at a pace just above your ability on a treadmill that doesn’t stop.
I tried to do good, but I could never be good enough. I tried to have faith, but it was faith never completely free of doubt. By the time I was 19 my sanity was cracking in the way that is usually reserved for actual psychos or people undergoing Chinese water torture.
One day I went to a party (sin) and had a drink (sin) with the intention of drinking too much (sin).
It was a glass of Bacardi Limon with a small amount of Coke mixed in. I’d never had more than a sip or two of alcohol, so it didn’t take long before I was gone. I’ve been drunk many times since that day, so looking back I have to describe it as being high rather than being drunk. I went into an upstairs bathroom with a friend and we poured Herbal Essences shampoo all over our bodies because the smell was intoxicating. I felt beautiful and earthy for being able to embrace a physical pleasure like the smell of shampoo.
I fell down the stairs and didn’t pick myself up. I laid supine, head facing god, and I thought about how good I felt. I can’t remember feeling good, let alone that good. There was just this buzzy pleasure floating around my body.
I realized that part of what I was feeling was accepted. While I was busy sinning, I had stopped judging–the people at the party and myself. I had had fun–me!
That was the first time I let myself go, completely, and I was rewarded with this amazing feeling of peacefulness and self-acceptance. Here I was making a wrong decision, here I was failing, and the world didn’t end.
It wasn’t the alcohol, it was the knowledge that I could fail.
When you fail you have to rely on other people (including deities) to be gracious and forgiving. You admit that there are two people in the relationship, that it doesn’t all fall on your efforts. When you fail so enormously, you realize that you go through life thinking you are Atlas, carrying the world on your shoulders. You aren’t, the world can hold itself up on it’s own, you don’t have to be a martyr about it.