Episode 63: Lauren Tyree
Raised by strict Evangelical parents who struggled to put food on the table, Lauren’s story is about what happens when dogmatic parents push their child scholastically (Vassar), but that critical thinking leads to the questioning of her belief and ultimately to becoming an atheist. She also talks about the politics of skin color within the African American community and the struggle of protecting a father’s image as a community leader when his actions didn’t match his words. Lauren is a freelance writer and artist living in Los Angeles. She can found @Vadarama on Twitter.
Paul: Welcome to episode 63 with my guest Lauren Tyree. I’m Paul Gilmartin. This is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, an hour of honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically diagnosed conditions to everyday compulsive negative thinking. Feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection, inadequacy, and that vague sinking feeling that the world is passing us by. You give us an hour, we’ll give you a hot ladle of awkward and icky. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental counseling. It’s not like the doctor’s office, it’s more like a waiting room that hopefully doesn’t suck.
The website for this show is mentalpod.com. All kinds of stuff there: forum, you can take a survey, you can see how other people respond to different surveys. There are three different ones you can take or browse people’s responses. You can buy a t-shirt, you can support the show financially. There’s all different stuff there, so please go check it out. Oh, and you can read blogs by me, guest blogs by other people, and you can sign up for the newsletter. We’ve had about 650 people sign up for the newsletter so far, and that makes me very, very happy. So thank you guys for stepping up and helping build this cool community of people we’ve got going.
What do I want to talk about? The transcripts are going great! I want to thank Jennifer who is spearheading that. We’ve had about eight people already step forward and offer to help transcribe past episodes. I will let you know when those start going up if you care to read those, you’ll be able to. We are still looking for a date to have Burt, the soldier, come tape an episode with us. We have not forgotten about that. We’re just waiting for him to get a window in his schedule to come do that.
I want to give a shout out and wish a speedy recovery to one of our transcribers, Angela. Just went through some surgery. By the time she hears this, she will probably be recuperating so lots of love sent your way, Angela.
I have been thinking about putting some feelers out to any interns that might want to help with this show. If you are a college student and you are interested in helping with this show, shoot me an email if you live in the Southern California area. Actually, there might even be stuff that you could do if you are savvy with audio that you could do to help with the show because there’s … as I mentioned on an earlier episode, I’m looking to put together a bunch of audio clips to put montages together in the future. So shoot me an e-mail, mentalpod at gmail dot com.
Let’s kick it off with a couple of e-mails. Today’s episode is gonna be on the slightly longer side, dare I say. I always feel al little apologetic about that because my fear is I’m going to start making the episodes too long and people are going to stop listening, so it just helps me to say my fears out loud.
This is actually an email that I got from a guy named Robert, and he writes “Mr. Gilmartin –“ which always makes me laugh, I’m almost 50 years old, I still don’t feel like ‘Mr. Gilmartin.’ “Hearing your recent realizations concerning your mother over the past few podcasts made me think back to my late mother, and I feel the need to draw a line between action and intention in the world of mother-son boundaries. While molestation is clearly wrong, always and forever, I want to argue that some of the gray area experiences like your own are wrong because the parent persisted in spite of the child’s discomfort, not because they are objectively wrong. Specifically, my mother was a trained nurse, and on two occasions when I had infections in the ‘underwear area’ at ages 12 and 19, I was incredibly grateful to have my mother clean them out rather than have to go to a disinterested, overworked hospital worker. She was professional, not at all squeamish, and, most importantly, respectful of my boundaries. I felt completely safe. I am saying this because I am worried that listeners will take the wrong lessons away from your discussions of your childhood experiences. I think back to what would have happened if I hadn’t been able to show my mom the red swelling that predicted my hernia at age 11. It would not have ended well, because my father was the ‘tough it out’ school of medicine. But she would never have checked without my complete permission and I think that’s the most disturbing part of the childhood experiences you’ve bravely discussed. Permission seems to have been somewhat absent.”
I think that is an excellent point, Robert, and thank you for writing that, and thank you for mentioning that. And I think that little spidey sense that kids have sometimes that something is wrong, that there’s an ulterior motive going on is usually pretty dead on, because I don’t think kids make that kind of stuff up. The other point that I would like to make is what allowed me to finally be able to see things in the light that I have is I looked at the pattern as a whole. I could never look – well let’s just put it this way – I could rarely look at a single instance and feel that my relationship with my mother was abusive. Maybe one or two here. But when I looked at the pattern as a whole, that’s when it really, really dawned on me. And I think that’s part of what makes it so difficult for us sometimes to see how we really feel about a parent or to see if there really is abuse, it’s because there’s all kinds of good stuff mixed in between there. Life is fucking confusing and contradictory. So just thank you for that.
I would like to now read – I like how I’m announcing it like it’s the beginning of the fucking Olympics. I would now like to put on my white gloves and read an e-mail, actually a survey response from a guy who calls himself ‘Dichotomous Prime.” Smarty Pants, I’ll tell you that much. I know what Prime means, no idea what Dichotomous means. Well, I know what dichotomy means. Let’s see, he’s male. He’s straight. He’s in his 20’s. Environment he was raised in was a little dysfunctional. He’s never been the victim of sexual abuse. Deepest, darkest thoughts, he writes that “I give myself more credit than I’m worth, that I’m fooling myself with trying my best and all this personal development bullshit. That I should just quit school while I’m ahead and be grateful for my minimum wage job because to think I’ll accomplish or create anything of actual worth with my life is just me fooling myself. I should do that everyday in monotony until my heart gives out and I die and then the world goes back to being how it was and it’s like I never even existed because regardless of how hard I try or what I try, that’s how it will end up anyways.” I totally relate to that feeling.
Sexual fantasies, “Big duality here,” he writes. “Sometimes, I fantasize about that perfect warm synchronicity with someone whom I love. Just wanting to feel that ultimate empathy from making love. Other times I want to just totally let loose to objectify and be objectified by someone. Brutal, fast, violent sex. Biting, scratching, pain. I want to be looked at like meat, just for selfish fulfillment of someone else’s physical need and not feel guilty for doing the same to them, but when it’s done, I want to be held. I want to be loved. I want to be told I make someone happy, that I’m special. Kissing, cuddling, falling asleep in someone’s arms. I want the beauty and the beast.” Dude, I think that is totally super, super healthy. To feel that and to be in touch with that. And I should tell you, I’m not a therapist, but I was almost on Evening at the Improv. Sorry to keep bringing that almost credit up, but it’s very impressive.
Would you ever share this with a partner? He writes, “I’d be too afraid that my fantasy isn’t kinky enough. Being considered boring or vanilla sexually would crush me. Exponentially more than being considered a freak. At least freaks are exciting and intriguing in some way.” That’s interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard too many of those where people feel that their sexual proclivities are too boring or that they feel shame, I should say, that their sexual fantasies are too boring. Deepest, darkest secrets, he writes, “I stayed with my most recent ex-girlfriend who was bipolar despite wanting to break up with her only because she had connections to a summer job I wanted that I wouldn’t be able to get without her. When I was a kid, I pulled the wings and legs off of insects and watched them suffer because it made me feel powerful. I’d fantasize about being a supervillain and vaporizing cities full of people for the same reason.”
Did these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings toward yourself? He writes, “I feel hatred toward myself seemingly being a walking contradiction. I care about others. I hold myself to a high standard in my work. I help people when they need it. But I also procrastinate. I sometimes don’t try my best. When it comes down to the wire and it’s me versus them, I’ll sacrifice someone else’s well being and dreams to further my own goals in a second. I want to love and be loved but also fantasize about having power over people and holding their lives in my hand. I’m afraid that I’m a monster, or even worse, that I’m a lie.” I don’t think you’re a monster at all. You sound like a human being to me. That’s what makes life sometimes so beautiful and painful and all that other shit. In fact, I think my friend Greg Behrendt best sums it up by saying this…
Paul: I’m here with Lauren Tyree who I met through the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Most of the guests I’ve had here on the show, there’s some tangential relationship to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, but we met through Kulap Vilaysack. We really only spoke once –
Paul: For about five minutes –
Lauren: One time.
Paul: And then you shot me an e-mail –
Lauren: Months later.
Paul: Yeah, about a week ago, and I was just intrigued by the stuff that you talked about and I thought you’d be an interesting guest, and so we met and had coffee, and I was just kind of intrigued with what you’ve got going on and where you come from, and so I’m glad you’ve agreed to –
Lauren: Of course, thank you.
Paul: Come be a guest –
Lauren: Thank you for having me. I am really excited. It’s funny, in the email that I wrote, I tried not to talk about myself too much. I was like, how do I kind of write this and show gratitude without going into my story, so I liked that you kind of picked up on what I had to say, I guess, about myself. Yeah, so thank you. You wrote back immediately, almost, really quickly.
Paul: Well, I got nothing going on.
Paul: Unemployment will make you very –
Lauren: I know how that goes.
Paul: Very punctual.
Paul: Plus, I just, I get so much out of e-mails from listeners. I know it sounds cheesy but like those moments when, as I was telling you before we started rolling, at night is when if I’m going through something like loneliness or emptiness or self-doubt or whatever, that’s when it gets the most intense and that also happens to be when I return e-mails or I get e-mails and so it’s like a hug through the Internet sometimes –
Paul: When somebody e-mails me and tells me what the podcast means to them and especially if they have some part of their story that I can relate to, it just kind of reminds me that I’m not alone, so I was very happy to meet you and have you come be a guest.
Lauren: Happy to meet you.
Paul: So tell the listener about yourself.
Lauren: Oh wow, what a question. Um, [laughs], I was born in Philadelphia in 1985. I was born in North Central Philadelphia, which is the, uh, probably one of the more rough neighborhoods on the north side of Philly. We lived closed to Temple University and it was my father, my mom … I ended up having a little brother when I was two and a half, so I spent my first nine years there. I ended up moving around a lot. My father is in non-profit work, so we moved to a small town in Georgia when I was nine and went to Minnesota after that. Then I went to college and grad school and I’m in LA now, [laughs] through a kind of like long, circuitous route, I’ve found my way here unintentionally, and I’m enjoying it so far. I’m a writer, and I like to write poetry. I do journalism and kind of discovering what I want to do for the rest of my life now.
Paul: What Lauren is not telling you is that she’s a smartypants. She went to Vassar, and I’m assuming you went on a scholarship because you were telling me that your family was very poor. Your father was a minister, and it was –
Lauren: Well, right, he was working, he was always in ministry work, and he does call himself a minister now, I guess, but yeah but we were always I don’t want to say very poor, but yeah we were very poor. So for Vassar, I got a lot of need-based scholarship and I still owe them money, a whole lot of loans and yeah, so, they didn’t offer kind of merit-based scholarships, so I got a lot of yeah, got a lot of help going there. It was pretty pricey, like forty-give grand a year, something like that, so.
Lauren: Yeah. And it goes up every year, of course.
Lauren: It’s kind of obscene I think.
Paul: I get so many e-mails from listeners that are college grads that are struggling to find a job that is, they are overqualified for.
Lauren: Right, exactly, yeah, and I’ve gone through a lot of that. But it’s nothing new. My mom went to Duke, and Duke has kind of need-blind admissions, where you can get accepted and you have no idea how much money you’re going to need. She went back in the 70’s and they admitted her, and she I think went to college with $17 to her name.
Lauren: I don’t think she owed them much money after leaving. Yeah, it was pretty, pretty lucky. [laughs]
Paul: So, the thing that intrigued me about your story was you were raised in a evangelical household.
Paul: And you, one of the things that you said to me in your e-mail is that you are now an atheist –
Paul: And the arc of how you got to where you are … you and I actually had a great discussion over coffee about what defines an atheist and what defines a believer because we disagree a little bit about the semantics of what God is –
Paul: And what atheism is, and actually, I think you and I are really kind of on the same page –
Lauren: Oh, I would agree, for sure.
Paul: In terms of what we believe, but we just kind of call ourselves different things, I suppose. But tell me what your childhood was like. Is it, I’m debating whether or not to mention that you’re African-American because I don’t know if that –
Lauren: I am. [laughs]
Paul: If that figures into this story or not.
Lauren: I think it does.
Lauren: I think it definitely does. I mean, I lived in a primarily black neighborhood growing up, from birth to at least age nine … yeah, age nine is when we moved. But my neighborhood was black. There was a smattering of white people [laughs]. We went to church with Mennonites actually, but it was a very diverse church and very free with the worship and my father would wear jeans to church when I was a kid and everyone else was dressed really nice, and I would always ask him why he dressed that way, and he said it was for other people to feel comfortable coming in off the streets, they had nothing to wear. I guess it was probably because he only had jeans too. But yeah we went to a Mennonite church in a black inner city neighborhood and a lot of the people there were trying to reach out into the neighborhood, and my parents were working with Habitat for Humanity, and my father was and my mom was staying at home and taking care of me and my little brother. We would take the bus and walk around. But yeah, in school, even from the beginning, I had trouble in school because my parents were both educated, I think we stood out a little bit, I don’t want to, I almost don’t want to put it that way, but my mom really did put a premium on education, and even before going into kindergarten she had taught me how to read, so I kind of went in as a know it all and really obnoxious. Yeah and there was a lot of, kind of conflict, also because I’m a little bit, I’m a light-skinned black person, and that was a little bit of an issue growing up too. The kids, if they don’t know how to categorize you into clean kind of categories, you can be made fun of for different reasons, so I remember in middle school being called the “wetback” and stuff [laughs], and I would be like I’m not even Mexican or, like you know, wrong slur!
Paul: Right. Can you talk about that a little bit? I had a friend that I used to work with back in Chicago and she was a light-skinned black and I remember she took me to a soul food restaurant on the South Side of Chicago, right around the Robert Taylor Homes, which is a seriously, seriously… they’ve been since torn down… but super poor, really hard neighborhood.
Paul: And I was shocked when she told me that she gets nervous going there because she’s a light-skinned black, and I had, that was the first time that I had ever heard of there being a prejudice among blacks about skin color. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Lauren: Well, I don’t want to make it seem like, color is really prejudice against… when I think of colorism, I think of prejudice against darker skinned people, even within minority communities, so I don’t want to make it seem like oh light skinned people have a really hard time, you know? And I wouldn’t even categorize myself as such. It’s just that kids will find any reason to kind of create division and gang up on each other. And I was awkward in so many other ways. There were a million different ways in which I wasn’t fitting in. So I think that was just like a really easy thing to point out. So especially if I were acting like a smartypants too, I mean on the first day of kindergarten, I stood up and told the teacher that I didn’t need to be there because I already watched PBS and knew everything.
Lauren: So she made me stand up in front of the class and write on the blackboard everything that I knew, or, you know.
Paul: Was anybody impressed by that?
Lauren: No! I think people just knew right away to hate me and [laughs] I think she was really amused and thought it was really funny, but yeah so I think part of it was just my fault of kind of separating myself and they found something to pick on and that was always an issue.
Paul: Yeah, kids are always looking for a jugular.
Lauren: Mm-hmm. Yeah, and if you’re not fitting in easily, they want to tell you why or you know, give you something to agonize over, so that was just my thing especially in elementary and middle school. Middle school was different because we were living in a very, very small town in Georgia, which I like to say is stuck 50 years in the past. They never got the memo. There were still people using the word “colored.”
Paul: Miss Daisy?
Lauren: Yeah [laughs], it was very much like that sort of environment, so it was to be expected there. But, you know. Yeah. It was that way in Philadelphia too.
Paul: The place that you lived in Georgia, was it mixed?
Lauren: It was, it was very divided. There was a black side of town. There was a white side of town. My father moved us there because he was requested by the founder of Habitat for Humanity to move close to the headquarters and work there, so we actually moved into the white area, I think it was a block that no black family had lived on before, according to what my father told us, and he was very ambitious about living in a big house on that block and the property values were so low, it was such a small town, so I definitely got flack in school for not living among the black people.
Lauren: And then there were like a few mixed kids, people didn’t really know what to do with them, so they would kind of lump me into that category, and I would always have to insist on my blackness, [laughs] in like a defensive move.
Paul: How do you do that? Do you like, sit in a wicker chair, with your fist pumped?
Lauren: [laughs] No, it’s kind of like, ‘No, for real guys, both my parents are black, they’re really black, both of them!’ You know, I always, the conundrum was that, I don’t know if conundrum was the right word, my friends were always the punk, skateboarding white kids, and they were the misfits, and there were a few in the school who reached out to me and I got along with them and because we hated school and hated everything else, we hung out together, and so I got flack for hanging out with the white kids. But I just gravitated toward whoever was nice to me and whoever let me play with them. We had a good time, we would go out to movies, we had a dollar-fifty theater, they raised the price from ninety-nine cents. So we got to go like 3 or 4 times every weekend to the movies. And I would have my little white male friends that I would hold hands with and we would get flack for that, but we didn’t care.
Paul: Aw, really?
Lauren: Because they were so liberal and they were skater punks and they had skateboards that said like, ‘F the police’ on them.
Paul: Like what would people say to you that had a problem with you holding hands?
Lauren: They mostly would just stare or it wasn’t … I feel like I’m making it sound a whole lot worse than it was, but I was in my pre-teen years, and it made such a huge impact on me, and I was already so insecure and unsure of myself that everything seemed really amplified, but I remember almost intentionally we thought of ourselves as so political –
Lauren: That I remember [laughs] doing it like this intentional political act holding my friend’s hand –
Paul: That’s awesome.
Lauren: Walking down the street, or yeah just hanging out like punk kids, you know, and we would get into trouble and you know.
Paul: Yeah, because you have a sense of what that bad part of the southern white tradition –
Paul: Is, even as a ten year old, you know what pushes people’s buttons.
Lauren: Right, and my friends were the ones with like, liberal parents, who they might have been doing ministry work too, but they were on the very liberal side of it and wanted to be helping the community and they were very aware of the racial disparity so yeah, we thought we were little freedom fighters.
Paul: So what was your relationship with your parents like growing up? Your dad, it sounds like he was a pretty busy guy.
Lauren: He worked hard and he was really, now that I’m older, I see what it was. He was just really overwhelmed. Very stressed out about money all the time. But to the kid, it just felt like mom and dad are fighting every night, all the time, always fighting, I don’t see them kiss each other, I didn’t really see any affection at all. And for me, my dad was just this angry guy and I had to walk on eggshells, and my mom was someone that I ran to for comfort.
Paul: And would people tell you how wonderful your dad was because he was this minister?
Lauren: Oh yeah! Yeah!
Paul: And what would you think to yourself? Not that your dad didn’t have wonderful qualities but –
Lauren: That was the central problem of my childhood, I think, was that we had this image of our family out there. It was kind of like our family name meant something because of the work my father was doing in the community. But his anger and outbursts at home were such a huge secret that it was almost like a double consciousness of like [laughs] at home you’re aware of this huge thing but you can’t share it with anyone … you can’t kind of be transparent about it because out in the community, my father’s a great guy and he’s helping everyone, which he was.
Paul: Sure, and then if they know this part of him, I wonder if a part of you doesn’t feel like then what little money we have, even that will be gone.
Lauren: Right, there was always a threat of … in Georgia it was much less so, I feel like we had a higher standard of living there, but eventually he decided to quit and go his own route and start a non-profit, and that was extremely financially stressful and unviable so there’s always that threat of like not having anywhere to live or so just was added levels of stress.
Paul: What were your father’s outbursts like, like what form would they take? Do you remember any specifics?
Lauren: It was, they manifested as like just blind fits of narcissistic rage … is what I like to think of it as.
Paul: Verbal? Physical?
Lauren: Verbal. I’ve been shaken. I remember being shaken a couple times pretty violently, but I was never hit.
Paul: Were you stirred?
Lauren: Stirred? [laughs] Yeah. I was, yeah both.
Paul: Some of the classier fathers both shake their child and stir them.
Lauren: Right. I requested that when I was feeling a little fancy. No, I remember the thing about me is I was such a rebellious kid, I felt like I could always fight back a little bit, so I remember us having back and forths. And I remember just really loud arguments, stomping around, and I would be crying, and he would be yelling. And there was no rationality in it, there was no stopping to think or pausing, we would get spanked right away. We just didn’t have … we never had a sit down and had a rational discussion about any conflict that we had. It was just immediately, like, base emotions, loud yelling, just very infantile, and I look back now and I realize what that was, but it’s just really … it was hard to go through at the time.
Paul: What do you realize that it was?
Lauren: Well, my dad was just under a lot of pressure. Both of his parents died pretty suddenly when he was 17, and I feel like he never healed from that. He never progressed from that psychological age almost. So there’s no way he could have known better at the time. I think he was doing the best he could, but if your kid isn’t listening to you or you just want them to do what you want them to do, and you don’t know how to correct it and all you know is to express your emotion in the moment, you don’t really know what effect that has, especially as a male because he’s really tall, he’s six foot four, he was very imposing as a figure but he did not see himself objectively, so to have a man rampaging around the house and kind of yelling … to him, he didn’t have an objective view of that, so my brother and I were kind of … and my mom were kind of traumatized, on a regular basis.
Paul: And an adult male’s voice is so deep and loud to a child.
Lauren: Exactly, yeah.
Paul: And six foot four on top of that, my God, that must have just been terrifying.
Lauren: And that’s like the male figure in your life that you’re turning to for affection and comfort and if the most you can do is just keep him calm, I’m sure there were parts, there were times when I’m sure we were joking around and he was laughing or I don’t remember a whole lot of joy in our household, or laughter, but I do know there must have been great times, but what I remember is just the periods of walking on eggshells and hoping we didn’t say the wrong thing to set him off. And I sucked my thumb until age 9 or 10. Which I didn’t realize until much later that that isn’t really too common unless you’re a little bit emotionally disturbed probably.
Lauren: I had a lot of self-comforting measures.
Paul: I’m amazed at your levels of self-awareness, because we were talking earlier that you’ve never been to therapy.
Paul: But you want to, once you get the money.
Lauren: I really, really want to go to therapy [laughs]. Yeah, but I also think that it is possible if you don’t have access to it for some reason, I feel like it, I don’t want to tell people to not seek therapy when they’re able to, I just … for me, it hasn’t been a possibility yet, and I feel like what I’ve done is do whatever I can to learn about myself and go through my past and I’ve read self help books. [laughs] Well maybe one or two. And I’ve read a lot of –
Paul: They’re John Grisham self-help books though.
Lauren: Yeah, totally.
Paul: They tell you what legal route to take to make yourself better.
Lauren: Yeah [laughs]. No, I read a book called Leaving the Fold by Dr. Winell, I think her name is Marlene Winell, and she wrote about leaving a fundamentalist lifestyle and that helped me so much emotionally, but yeah and I’m a psychology junkie and I like to diagnose people around me, and I like to figure out what is wrong and why things don’t work and diagnose everything so I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking on my own.
Paul: Yeah. Getting back to the thing about therapy, the episode that when we had Dr. Zucker on the show, one of the things she said was, there is almost every town or city of a decent size has some form of low-cost therapy.
Paul: If you just seek it out. Google ‘low fee therapy’ and then the name of your town or city and see what comes up and I’ve been looking for a new therapist so one of the things that I thought I should do is try that route so I googled ‘low fee therapy’ in my neighborhood, and I’ve got an appointment later today so –
Paul: I’m gonna get to see what it’s really like to go see the place that I’m going to, the first visit is free. And it’s a sliding scale, with the lowest end being $20 a visit.
Lauren: Very cool.
Paul: So I pray that it goes well because I would hate to have given this advice that ‘there’s therapy out there for you!’ and then be like, ‘Oh my God that person was a complete idiot.‘
Lauren: That’s completely not legit at all.
Paul: I have to say, they were almost immediate in returning my phone call and matching me up with somebody. I gave them a little brief, they did like some intake questions, and then they match you up with somebody that they think will be good for you, so –
Paul: But judging by the sound of this person’s voice they sound like they’re going to be good. The whole reason that I mention all of that is to say that this, so far, so good. I don’t think it’s a lie that there is good, low-fee therapy out there. So is that something?
Lauren: I mean, I certainly hope so, and that’s something I would like to look into. Part of me, I think beyond the financial issue and all of that, a little part of me also feels, and this is gonna be really ironic given what we’re doing right now, but also feels like I don’t know if I could sit there for an hour a week and talk about myself. I know that that’s their job to sit there and listen [laughs] and that that’s like a service that would be available to me for a reason, but I don’t know. There’s just something about it that is a little bit easier for me on my own to read and think and I know that they tell you, you know, you really do need an objective figure –
Paul: It’s like looking at the back of your head.
Lauren: Right! The way I do things might not make sense entirely but to me it just feels a little safer and what I’m trying to do now is break out of my comfort zone.
Paul: What feels safer?
Lauren: It feels safer to be out on my own, yeah. And to be trying to figure stuff out, I feel like I take a lot of pride in being able to troubleshoot and I don’t know, I think I need to open up, I’m broadening my horizons now, even doing this today is a huge leap for me. I’m definitely able to put myself out there in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to a year ago. So I think it’s something I should definitely look into.
Paul: I would say about that fear that it’s going to be tough to talk about yourself for an hour. If you are matched with the right therapist, they have a way of gently –
Paul: Leading you in ways that are organic that it naturally comes out, you’re, there are very few moments with all the therapy that I’ve been to where I was sitting on the couch and felt like, you know, what happens next? You know, what do I do next? 90% of the time it would be like, ‘Oh shit, our time’s up, we were just getting going.’
Lauren: Wow. Wow. That’s great.
Paul: Yeah, so, I think there’s a good chance that you’re going to find that to be the case and anybody out there that’s thinking about getting therapy, don’t judge it before you try it. And once you find a therapist that you’re comfortable with, it’s just, it’s like draining a water bed –
Lauren: I bet.
Paul: It’s like once it gets going man, it just comes pouring out. While it may be painful sometimes, it feels so good, and you will ask yourself, ‘Why did I ever consider holding all of this in? Why? Why would I have done that?’ So I would just put that out there and I don’t think it means you have to stop doing the self-help stuff. I think that stuff’s great as well. But let’s talk about the pressure of being a kid in an evangelical home.
Lauren: Well –
Paul: Like what was your image of God?
Lauren: My image of God, and this is probably true for a lot of people who believe in interpersonal God, my image of God was based on my image of my father. So God to me was an authoritarian figure. He was very prone to anger and it was all about penance and I remember being told when I was a very small child, one of my earliest memories, I feel like I picture it in a preschool environment, maybe I was in a Sunday school, but I remember knowing for sure that I was gonna go to hell. That I was born kind of depraved and I couldn’t help myself in any way. So I was doomed to hell by default, unless I asked Jesus into my heart, so I remember every night just saying the prayer over and over and over and everything I did felt like a grave sin. And God to me was definitely someone to run to and apologize to every, every opportunity I got, I was praying for forgiveness.
Paul: What… go ahead.
Lauren: Yeah, so I think it was just probably, my father as a spiritual entity in the sky, you know God still had the long white beard in my head.
Paul: Was God a light-skinned black?
Lauren: [laughs] No, not until later. I started thinking of Jesus as a brown guy, which I’m sure he was if he lived at all. I’m sure he was ethnic. [laughs]
Paul: If he was in the desert for 40 days, I’m sure he at least had a nice base tan.
Lauren: Had a little tan going.
Paul: So God, your image of God was never one of a comforting God who loved you exactly as you are.
Lauren: No, no! And that wasn’t really possible, nobody had done that.
Paul: That makes me so sad.
Lauren: I mean, that’s what so many, it really was not uncommon at all. I feel like what other choice would you have as a child if your only male authority figure in your life is kind of emotionally abusive on some level, why wouldn’t your God be that way to you?
Paul: I suppose so.
Lauren: Your God, your Father God, that’s your Father, so you, that’s your only concept of father.
Paul: And, and there’s quite a bit of stuff quoted from the Bible, especially the Old Testament, that is full of wrath –
Lauren: Oh completely. Yeah.
Paul: And judgment. And you’re inherently bad. So it’s almost like water running downhill that that’s the conclusion you’re gonna draw.
Lauren: Right, it is. It’s wrath and anger and when you think about it, it’s kind of absurd because God is supposed to be all-knowing so how could a God react in anger and wrath to anything? But we do kind of give these personal gods our human emotions and that was the only way I could conceive of him. And sometimes I would turn him into what I needed. Like Jesus was more my friend that I could go to and play with [laughs] or, I remember at night if I couldn’t fall asleep just talking to him like I would talk to a friend. But Father God was someone that Jesus and I kind of had to hide from if we wanted to not be bothered. Or made to feel guilty.
Paul: Jesus and God love to play good cop, bad cop.
Lauren: [laughs] Yeah they’ve got their thing going for sure. And the Holy Spirit is the wild card. It’s the one that can be whatever he wanted to be.
Paul: That’s the Huggie Bear.
Lauren: Yeah that’s the one that like, the Holy Spirit tells you what, whatever you’re feeling at the moment, that’s the Holy Spirit.
Paul: What was your relationship with your mom like?
Lauren: My mom and I were always really close, and she and I are so similar in a lot of ways so she and I were really, really close, and I felt like I could talk to her about most things, and she’s pretty much irreverent and not a whole lot like my dad, so I felt like I ran to her a whole lot, and I would actually climb into her bed. Well into adulthood, when I would go home and visit my mom and dad, I would ask, ‘Can I sleep with Mom?’ So she and I were super close to each other and she, I sometimes felt betrayed by her if I had a nasty kind of altercation with my father and she took his side because I definitely felt like she should be defending me all of the time, and we had a kind of a girl bond, and my dad would get in the way of it, so it was a little bit, the dynamics were a little bit off.
Paul: Do you feel like, well let me ask you, why do you think he, she took his side, because she didn’t want to go up against him? And –
Lauren: Well, they were supposed to be a united front and when you have a Christian couple too and the wife is kind of subservient?
Lauren: Yeah, I don’t want to think of my mom that way, but that is what she has been her whole life to him, well you know, since they met, so I feel like her taking his side wasn’t really her choice, it was just something that she had to do. They had to be a united front. They didn’t want me running back and forth between them and getting a yes from one and a no from another, [laughs] or –
Paul: Which I’m told is healthy –
Lauren: Right, it should be –
Paul: That a parent should have a unified message –
Lauren: Right, except when you have, except when that message is abusive, or –
Paul: Why you gotta nitpick?
Lauren: [laughs] Don’t nitpick there. Yeah, unless you’re, I remember one time being called a very mean name by my father in a fit of rage –
Paul: Can you say what the name was?
Lauren: Well, he called, he said, and I want to get the words right. He said I was ‘acting like a bitch’ because I didn’t clean my room. And I remember him shaking me. Just, it was a momentary just complete lapse in judgment. I’m sure he’d had a horrible day. And I remember that being the one time that my mom, we went to him together and she stood up for me and said, ‘That word is something … it just reminds me of like a pimp were throwing his hooker on the bed and calling her that.’ Like she just thought it was such a horrible thing to say. So I remember that being one time. But it took days for her to you know, come around on it, because I was crying about it, I was really upset. You know, smaller versions of that altercation would happen a lot, where –
Paul: I would imagine it would also hurt more coming from a guy who’s a minister because you know how far outside the bounds of what he knows is appropriate –
Paul: Language wise –
Lauren: Right. And I remember, just if he were around the house, like muttering about something, and I would hear him swearing to himself, I thought that was such a scandalous thing. I would always think in my head, ‘Aw man, I wish, I wish people would hear this right now, it’s so crazy.’ You know, I thought it was so outrageous to even think of a swear word because we were told whatever’s on your heart is who you are and if something comes out of your heart and it’s wretched, you know, it gives an indication of who you are and you’re not really Christian and all of that. But magically, all of the rules don’t really apply to your parents. [laughs] You’re told things that your parents don’t really abide by.
Paul: Do you feel like the relationship with your mom was healthy or was there also kind of a … I don’t know if sick is too strong of a word, but a kind of co-dependent?
Lauren: Yeah, there’ s a little bit of that and a little bit of what I am now realizing is emotional incest, just like what I mentioned before, we would share the bed sometimes and just be up for hours talking, and some of it was me unloading about school or whatever I was going through –
Paul: Which sounds healthy to me –
Lauren: Yeah that was great. But she would talk about my father or talk about –
Paul: That sounds not healthy.
Lauren: Right. [laughs] Sometimes it would jump really quick to something not healthy. But at the time it was just normal, like oh we were sharing. And if I were really upset about my father I could talk to her about it. And we would kind of talk in almost like hush tones. And I’m sure my dad knew we were talking about him, and he probably wasn’t happy about it but there was nothing he, he wasn’t like a monster. He wasn’t trying to divide and conquer or anything, so we talked a lot and she gave me I think probably too much information sometimes that I didn’t know what to do with.
Paul: To me, the part of that that is harmful to kids is then you begin to place your parents’ needs ahead of your own because you’re worried about, you think oh well my mom’s in this fragile state now, so I can’t really approach her with this, or I can’t approach her with that –
Paul: And you begin to almost like, parent each other –
Paul: Which, on a certain level if there’s no intimacy in your family, on a certain level it feels good because you’re being intimate with somebody, there’s somebody there –
Lauren: Right, exactly, and then you’re starving for it.
Paul: You’re starving for it, but it’s so the wrong type of intimacy.
Lauren: And you don’t know, but how can you know it as a kid? You can’t do anything to stop it, it just keeps going. The thing about my mom is she’s really, really strong. She’s just like a really strong person and I didn’t, I’ve personally seen her cry maybe a handful of times and usually in church, so I didn’t, it wasn’t like she was walking around the house just moping and wailing, she was always trying to be strong for us, for my brother, for me and my brother, so I’d only really hear her cry when my parents thought we were asleep and they would be arguing and he would make her cry. And I would kind of replay that in my head. So if I ever felt like I didn’t want to get in her way or didn’t want to upset her it was because I heard things that I shouldn’t have heard or I knew about things that I shouldn’t have known about, but for the most part, she tried to shield us from that because she wanted us to have a normal childhood. I think I was pretty spoiled.
Paul: I’m gonna be obnoxious here for a second. You called your mom ‘strong,’ and I think sometimes we confuse people who emotionally shut down with being ‘strong.’
Paul: Since I’ve started asking for help, I’ve realized that people that know when to go for help and ask for it are strong. People that run from their fear and their feelings are, I wouldn’t say weak, but that’s not strength. And while I certainly don’t know your mom, she strikes me from what you’ve told me as somebody who chose to shut down and avoid getting in touch with what she was feeling inside because she had to have been feeling, dying for intimacy because your dad was this closed-off guy.
Lauren: Well, right but she couldn’t, remember she had no way of being very self-aware, and still doesn’t because she’s still caught up in the dogma. So to her, she was just doing her duty and if she had to be martyr in her marriage, that was just her duty as a Christian wife, and so to her, I call it ‘strong’ because I think she withstood a lot that other human beings would have been a lot more vulnerable or expressive with their emotion, and I think that’s a probably healthier way of dealing with it maybe. But for her, she’s just always kept in mind that my brother and I were children and she wanted to shield us and make us feel like we’re in a normal family and she did so much. She worked overtime to create this environment that didn’t eventually, didn’t ultimately work, it didn’t work, but she tried really hard, and I just see her strength through the years of trying to support us while putting up with what she was putting up with.
Lauren: So yeah. But I agree that it’s like a sort of weakness that she probably isn’t really allowed to acknowledge except to God. And then even then she has to blame herself for not having enough faith.
Paul: Right. She definitely sounds resilient.
Lauren: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that might be the word.
Paul: And, there’s another word that I’m trying to think of but –
Lauren: Callous. [Laughs]
Paul: [Laughs] No, no, no, but somebody who can withstand a lot.
Lauren: Right, yeah, mm-hmm.
Paul: So at what point did, so you went to Vassar, you got your degree, and then you, what was the next phase of your life? And am I skipping over any seminal moments from childhood that you wanted to touch on? Or teenage years?
Lauren: You know what, I’m sure yeah, there was so much that happened, a lot of it is a blur, but I do remember, I remember little things, I remember –
Paul: Can you share those?
Lauren: I mean, I kind of, I feel like I have a lot of guilt about giving my mom trouble because I was pretty rebellious from birth and I always had guilt about making things worse maybe at home. [Laughs] Because of things that I would do, I felt like I was the problem. When I was a two year old, and from age two, maybe to age 5 … I don’t even know what, but I would shoplift all the time, I would just steal whatever I could.
Paul: That’s pretty young for getting into that.
Lauren: Yeah! I didn’t know what I was doing. I just thought, ‘I want the stuffed monkey from the store,’ and I would take it home, and my mom and I would have to walk the mile and a half back to the store to return it.
Paul: I’ve been there.
Paul: That’s the longest walk, oh my God.
Lauren: It was horrible, and you know, when you get there, you have to tell the store owner what you did.
Paul: Oh God, that’s awful.
Lauren: So I feel like I didn’t have a conscience or something, there was something up. I would even take from people’s houses. My mom would have to check my pockets before we would leave a dinner party or something.
Paul: Don’t you think that’s like a little kid that doesn’t feel like they have any control?
Lauren: Yeah, that’s what it is, and I’ve always had control issues from childhood. But yeah, Americus is this crazy, Americus, Georgia, where I went to middle school. You know, it’s all, all a bit, you know I can’t go back, I have so many moments I wish I could go back and do differently, but I was addicted to TV too. I got to watch TV. That was the one thing we got license with. I got to… I would take pictures of the TV with my disposable cameras and my mom would get really angry.
Paul: Why would you take pictures of the TV?
Lauren: I just wanted to remember, Paul. [laughs] I wanted to remember Lamb Chop, you know, Lamb Chop’s Play Along, all my little shows. I wanted collections of screen shots of the television, so I could relive the moments of … I was very entertained by anything outside of my experience.
Paul: You must have felt like you lived in a bubble.
Lauren: Yeah, definitely, and it was an ideological bubble. It wasn’t… because we were out among people in our community, and yeah, it was overwhelmingly Christian, especially in Georgia, but we had the anger thing going on in my house, which was different. We had a lot of stuff that we had to kind of keep secret, so for me, watching TV and watching movies was a whole other world that I could kind of disappear into. But yeah, eventually I grew up, I played clarinet in middle school. I was a huge dork. People made fun of me. People thought I was a lesbian. I never liked to do my hair. I never liked to wear dresses, so I had a horrible time, other than the kids I hung out with. So yeah, eventually –
Paul: And were you interested in boys?
Lauren: Uh, yeah, I would have little crushes, but I never, I never had like a strong desire to be with anyone. I never wanted a boyfriend… I didn’t know what you would do with them. I remember in high school… in the ninth grade, I had a boyfriend who was a junior, and that lasted for like five months. He was a little too romantic and poetic for me, and I wasn’t ready for mushy stuff. [Laughs] That was a little awkward relationships, and he turned out to be bisexual. People had been making fun of us the whole time we were dating, and I had no idea. I was very clueless in that area and a super late bloomer. Even at Vassar, I did not date at all really. I had no interest in any of the boys there, any of the young men. That wasn’t really an option for me because I was abstinent, celibate, I was very, um –
Paul: Because you were still evangelical at that point.
Lauren: Yeah, yeah I was in the Christian fellowship. I decided to hang around the Christian kids.
Paul: Did you not have sexual thoughts? Or would the sexual thoughts come up and you would just kind of push them out of your mind?
Lauren: I really don’t think that I had them at a normal rate. I don’t think that I had sexual thoughts like other healthy functioning people had them. To me, it was just something that was not really to be thought about until you were married so it was a whole world that was closed off to me and I anticipated being married one day, and I thought, ‘Oh sex must be really fun. Not for me right now, not in my world, not in my wheelhouse. Nothing to do with it now, but one day when I have a husband, he’ll teach me what to do. We’ll teach each other.’ So it was something I pushed off and never thought about it.
Paul: Really? That just amazes me that … I could understand like until your hormones start kicking in but that just amazes me that you can –
Lauren: I never… and I was so detached from my body. I was always in my head. I was always daydreaming, fantasizing. I actually would have, from childhood, I would have detailed fantasies of having a husband, and I would think, maybe for hours, I would pray before bed, and then I would fantasize for hours about having a husband, but it was always him coming home and me cooking dinner and us watching TV together. Or us going out to the movies together, and I would fantasize in detail the dialogue. I would write the dialogue in my head. I would picture it happening. But never would I think of sex. I didn’t even know… I knew what it was. [Laughs] I knew how it worked, but –
Paul: Right, right. Would you picture non-sexual affection?
Lauren: Yeah, I would. I would picture being kissed sometimes, but even then it felt a little bit too taboo to think about for too long because it’s like a slippery slope, and you didn’t want to turn yourself on –
Paul: Oh my God.
Lauren: Or anything –
Paul: Oh my God.
Lauren: You didn’t want to get… [laughs]. I remember my… This is really funny. My introduction to Vassar… I remember one of the first things that happened at Vassar. My roommate was… and I really wish I could still be in her life today and apologize for what I was like, but I remember my roommate and I just being so opposite of each other. One of the first things that she participated in was like a “masturbat-a-thon,” which is like an event sponsored by one of the clubs on campus, and the thing was you had to masturbate as much as you could. And you competed against other people. And to me, that idea of a girl doing that was so outrageous that I just couldn’t… that was the height of depravity to me. I couldn’t even imagine it. So yeah, I fully intended to – [Laughs]
Paul: So you had never done that?
Lauren: No! No, no, no. I fully –
Paul: Have you ever masturbated?
Lauren: Oh, by now?
Lauren: Yeah, of course! [laughs]
Paul: Okay. Well, how old were you when you first… how old were you?
Lauren: I was like eighteen. I was like… oh when I… Oh, I don’t even remember.
Paul: The first time you did it.
Lauren: Oh, I don’t even remember the first time. No, I don’t remember at all. But it was after going to college for the first time.
Paul: Do you remember what you thought or felt the first time you did it? Were you just wracked with guilt?
Lauren: Oh definitely. Oh yes. Because I was … I’ve only been a non-believer for a year, and so yeah, before then, if I would ever do it, it was a huge, immediately you had to stop, regroup, apologize to God, kind of push down the shame, and pretend like you’ll never do it again.
Paul: That makes me so sad.
Lauren: [Laughs]. I feel like it’s so common. So many people deal with that. There’s a lot of unnecessary shame. It’s just… but I was detached. I didn’t feel comfortable with my body. I felt awkward. I always… another thing is I always had allergies, like very hypersensitive child. Very irritable in every possible way. Emotionally, physically, like, I just… it was so much safer for me to be in my head. So to touch my body or have anything to do with my body was kind of dirty and you’re kind of taught that your body is filth and it’s just an empty filthy thing. At the same time, it’s a temple that God should be able to reside in. So you have this thing going on where you’re like, ‘I hate my body. I loathe my body. I loathe my own flesh.’ It was something to be beaten into submission. But God was supposed to dwell there and make it all better, so you would kind of hollow yourself out and just replace it with thoughts and Jesus, yeah. With God.
Paul: So many of the concepts of organized religion are so counterintuitive to … or the messages are so mixed… it’s like no wonder you’re just walking around in this state of constant shame and self-loathing –
Lauren: Yeah, there’s nothing else… you don’t have time to do anything else. Especially for me, I don’t want to speak for other people, but for me, I’m so analytical and I think I over think, I don’t do anything without thinking, so for me, there’s no time to do anything other than walk around with cognitive dissonance and try to reconcile everything with scripture. I definitely drank in college. I partied. I didn’t try drugs a whole lot, but I drank. I danced. I had a good time. But that, to me, was like, that kind of sinning to me was a little more… I could more easily negotiate that than the sexual thing because we were always taught, like, sex is the only thing where you’re sinning against your own body. It’s like against yourself.
Paul: If it’s done right.
Paul: Was there drinking in your house growing up?
Lauren: No. No, no, no. My father had had alcoholism run through his side of the family so he… when I was going off to college, he was like, ‘Be careful with alcohol.’ By then, he was getting a little more laid back, and he was just like, ‘If somebody offers you brandy or cognac, you sip it really slowly, don’t chug it.’ You know, he was telling me how to drink each thing, so that I wouldn’t become out of control. He was really afraid that the gene would get me.
Lauren: And my mom can’t have a glass of wine without falling down and passing out, so she never drank.
Paul: So it sounds like maybe his drug was work.
Lauren: Yeah, yeah. And stress. [laughs] And the Bible. Like reading the Bible was a coping mechanism, and he would have us do that as a chore, so there was really no vices in the house.
Paul: Now I hope anybody that’s listening to this does not feel that we are bagging on all organized religion. I hope they can recognize that there is a… there are some… I have heard of… talked to friends who belong to churches that are very spiritual, very positive, very… the God that they preach about is not punishing… it’s a comforting, loving you exactly as you are God. They don’t judge other people. They’re not homophobic. I think they tend to be in the minority of churches.
Lauren: Yeah, yeah they do. I am of the opinion now that anything a church does community wise, support wise, I feel like you can find that. You should be able to find that in the secular setting. For me, I feel like the religion thing, the dogma, even if it’s like a nice warm and fuzzy dogma, to me it just doesn’t seem necessary or helpful. I understand the spiritual benefits, and I’m getting into my… broadening my understanding of spirituality now, but it has nothing to do with superstitious kind of aspect of it.
Paul: Yeah, and I think we’re on the same page –
Paul: With that one. The tradition parts of organized religion I have no use or interest in.
Paul: It’s always bored me. The reaching out to other people and trying to be of service, that part I love. Whether it be organized religion or an atheist just volunteering at a food bank.
Lauren: Right, and there’s more and more of that cropping up now. The atheist community is realizing that the churches kind of have a monopoly on community and volunteerism and outreach and secular humanists don’t want to be out of the equation. We want to kind of show that compassion is not … religionists don’t hold a monopoly over compassion. So there’s a lot to get involved in. I kind of wish people could gather and do things on the basis of their common interests and common goals.
Paul: Yeah. When you and I were discussing the semantics of what is atheism, in my mind, there are very few true atheists in terms of my definition of the word, because to me an atheist is somebody who does not believe that human beings are connected and that we do not benefit from helping each other. That, to me, is an atheist. Anybody who gets a warm feeling by helping somebody else, to me that is not an atheist. That’s somebody that believes in the interconnectedness and believes in love. That’s God to me.
Lauren: That to me, is so sad to hear. And atheists definitely have that reputation. But I do want to clear up that the only qualification to be an atheist is that you lack a belief in God or gods. And positive atheism refers to you believe that there’s no God but outside of that, there’s no real defining characteristics.
Paul: Then where would I fall if I believe in a God that is not a conscious entity but is a universal law like gravity, where I believe like love –
Lauren: It would depend on how you define God, you can call anything God. You can say that there’s an energy and that’s God. You can say that it’s all scientific and molecular and happens on a chemical level. Sorry, I don’t know anything about science, because I didn’t really make it a priority growing up. I wasn’t really educated a whole lot in that area, but I do know that scientifically, there’s enough evidence that we are connected, and I don’t think you need to call that God. You can if you want, but I don’t think that has anything to do with like a supernatural entity in the sky –
Paul: But I guess what I’m asking is would you then consider me –
Lauren: I would call you an atheist, yeah, of course.
Paul: Huh, okay. Alright. I’m just curious.
Lauren: Anyone who doesn’t believe in a personal God. Buddhists are atheists. They don’t talk about there being a God. It’s not something they’re concerned with in their belief system.
Paul: So let’s get… let’s fast forward to the point where you began to question your belief and what did that look like and how did that unfold?
Lauren: I always questioned my belief in little, tiny ways. I was just under the assumption that it was objectively true and right, and there’s nothing I could do to change it. But I remember the first, real nagging of, ‘This could be something other than what it appears.’ I was maybe, gosh, 13, 12 or 13. And I remember going to our big, mega church in Minneapolis, and we went to a church where people spoke in tongues and got slain in the spirit and fell out if they got their, you know… it wasn’t crazy like that all the time, but there were kind of outbursts of Holy Spirit, and I remember one time, they had people lined up in the front to receive the Holy Spirit, which you have hands laid on you and you start speaking in tongues. And I really wanted that, and I had been told by my father that you aren’t really, really saved and really in God’s good graces unless you can speak in tongues. So it was something I felt like I had to do, and I remember going up to have it done, and being brought into … for some reason, I was brought into a little room, like an overflow room. And I heard people around me, as they were being touched, kind of babbling. And I knew the sound of people speaking in tongues, so I kind of knew what it sounded like, and I saw it happening. The guy who was the minister kept getting closer and closer and closer to me. And I was so nervous about him touching me and wondering if it would happen that when he touched me, I kind of forced it. I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel a surge of power or anything like I thought I would. That I would feel later, I did feel that later. But I couldn’t … couldn’t think of what to do other than fake it. So I started kind of babbling, I don’t know if I can still do it today, but I knew how to mimic the people around me. I’d always been a good mimic. And I just said something, and he was like, ‘Yeah, she’s got it!’ He was so happy I had the power and I had the Holy Spirit, and he moved on. And I felt so abandoned and so, like, left alone. I was like, ‘Wait, he couldn’t tell that that was gibberish!’ [Laughs] There has to be a difference between my gibberish that I thought of on the spot and what actual speaking in tongues is. So then, I felt, I felt a little bit like, ‘Okay, maybe… ‘. Maybe I didn’t question the whole religion then, but I knew that there were people in it who maybe weren’t legit or weren’t completely doing it the right way. Maybe I still thought there was a right way to do it.
Paul: What a valuable piece of information for a 12 or 13 year old seriously to –
Lauren: To have a secret language with God?
Paul: No, to understand that people in positions in authority are fallible.
Lauren: Are sometimes not right? [Laughs]
Lauren: That was completely – that too, was a complete revelation to me. Because I… you know, you’re always told. That’s another mistake with parenting your children a hyperreligous way. Those children are usually taught that adults, the parents, the ministers, they can’t be wrong.
Paul: And your instincts are wrong. Which is so damaging.
Lauren: Because they have a direct line to God. They’re hearing from God and all you can do is just sit and hope for some crumbs and guidance and if you do it wrong, it’s your fault.
Paul: And then you go home and they’re mean to you.
Lauren: Yeah! [Laughs]
Paul: So fast forward, then, to when… your break with evangelical. Evangelism I guess.
Lauren: Yeah, evangelicalism. [Laughs]
Paul: That’s a huge word in Scrabble. That’s like 400 points.
Lauren: Oh, God, yeah. You know, I went from at Vassar, I felt like it was so hyper-liberal. I had a good time drinking with my friends. I had a great time partying but I wanted to be around other Christians. I really… so I went to a Christian, evangelical graduate school in Virginia Beach. And anyone who knows what that is, will know what that is. But I went there and I really wanted to be immersed in a Christian environment. I’ve had little doubts here and there, but I didn’t allow myself to really think about it.
Paul: The college, can I say what the college was? It’s Pat Robertson’s college.
Lauren: Yeah, mm-hmm. And he is the head of it, and still is. Yeah, so it was pretty… it was a lot. I will say this about the school. It was a whole lot more liberal and open and normal than I ever would have anticipated. I kind of anticipated a more conservative atmosphere.
Paul: That surprises me.
Lauren: Most people there are conservative, but it isn’t like Bob Jones University or [Laughs].
Paul: Oh really?
Lauren: No, it’s not like… there’s no dress code, really. I’m sure there is, but people weren’t really held to any sort of standard that was impossible, so I found… I immediately found people were kind of misfits like me and liked alternative music or liked R-rated movies, and we would hang out and we would go to bars and drink. So I think there, I started seeing that that school was just a microcosm. It wasn’t… even though everyone there was evangelical for the most part, the people there weren’t any different from people everywhere. They had the gossip. There was a lot of gossip going around all the time. Conflict, jealousy. People just having human emotions. Struggling with issues that I’d struggled with and everyone else struggles with. And I kind of thought, you know, maybe these people don’t have the ultimate answer in life. Maybe they don’t have the golden ticket or they don’t know what they’re doing entirely so I shouldn’t bank on this as being the world view. It doesn’t really seem to be adding a whole lot to my life. You know, certainly people had a lot of… they were kind of superficially happy and friendly. But I kind of see through that really quickly. I’ve always had a negative disposition and always looked on the dark side of everything and always irritable and allergic and you know, something wrong. And I had Crohn’s disease, actually, which I forgot to mention –
Paul: Oh, that’s terrible.
Lauren: In undergrad for much of undergrad I weighed like 104 pounds at 5’7”. I just was very, very sick. So I started to heal senior year, junior, senior year of college. And I wanted to be around, kind of vital, Christian, happy people, but I realized we’re all just human. We’re all sick in some way. And that was like little seeds of doubt were planted. I saw a lot of like hypocrisy. Nothing outrageous, but I just saw normal kids trying to live out this impossible world view and reconcile it.
Paul: Would Pat Robinson ever lecture on how to judge in a creepy whisper?
Lauren: [Laughs] He would give… I remember going to his backyard for barbecue my first year there, as like an introductory thing he would have students over. And I remember him giving a speech, he would talk about the liberals as like, you know, the evangelicals, we were the Christians, and everybody else were the liberals. And he would say, luckily we’re procreating quicker than they are. And he made jokes about it being kind of culture war. So… [laughs], there was a little bit of that. I wouldn’t call him a judgmental guy. He is… he’s pretty judgmental. To me, it just seemed normal. He’s just Pat. And people were very reverent and spoke about him in hushed tones in a very reverent way.
Paul: Yeah. I’ve just heard him say so many hateful things that –
Lauren: Oh yeah.
Paul: That my tolerance for –
Lauren: Which you don’t have perspective on if you agree with him. You know, you don’t… because I remember in undergrad having a few gay friends who would ask me to my face, ‘Are you okay with gay marriage?’ And I would say, ‘No.’ I would have to tell the truth of what I thought at the time. And I was super pro-life and very concerned with like, I’d call myself a feminist and I’ve done for years, but I was very concerned with like moral decay, so at the time, those comments didn’t sound too outrageous to me.
Paul: And for anybody who is listening who is a conservative, we’re… I know we’re veering into political territory that I want to be careful to try to avoid because one of the things I want this show to be is definitely inclusive, whether people are liberal or conservative. And I know a lot of conservatives that are wonderful, compassionate people.
Lauren: Right, and so do I. I have a lot of friends who are still… still would identify that way. I just want to make clear that like to conservatives, to evangelicals, a lot of the time, I can only speak from my perspective again, but what might sound hateful to the outside world, it’s just almost kind of normal… I don’t know. It’s like not anything crazy or unreasonable.
Paul: Alright, so how did this break then come about? What… do you remember the moment?
Lauren: Eventually… I do remember the moment. I moved to L.A. because I joined the Jesuit volunteer corps. I wanted a year of volunteer experience with liberal Christians after grad school. I ended up staying in L.A. I had a lot of doubts. I met a lot of people outside of my bubble. I met so many people from different walks of life that didn’t… they weren’t Christian. Their lives seemed fine. [Laughs] I remember talking with my mom over the phone a lot about it, and I remember going …. I got involved with the church in Hollywood, a very small church of just great people. I got involved, I got really involved. I started going to Bible study group and was kind of adopted into the church family, and I loved it for a few months. And then I remember one day kind of taking my Bible into my room. I’d been reading my Bible every day because I thought after years of doubting and going back and forth and wondering, I really should be reading my Bible as much as I can. I should be as connected to God as I can. And I remember that afternoon, sitting on my bed and opening my Bible and being prepared to enter into prayer, and I thought just in a moment, in an instant, it occurred to me that me reading the Bible and drumming up the Holy Spirit might be a coping mechanism and nothing more. I thought, ‘How is this different from somebody doing a drug everyday?’ [Laughs] Or, whatever their thing is to get through life, I’m just doing another thing. And our preacher was all about the Holy Spirit should be in dwelling, it should be the in dwelling. It should be in you every day, you just have to acknowledge it and drum it up. And I thought, if this were really real, there shouldn’t be all this pomp and circumstance. I shouldn’t have to go into the zone every day and feel like I’m doing it for the first time. It just felt like I was kind of denying it on some level, denying the fact that I just had a coping mechanism, and I went to my laptop right away and I typed in like ‘Bible errors’ because I was like if I can just make sure that the Bible is the inerrant word of God then I’ll know that I’m doing the right thing. But if I can find one legitimate mistake or something to object to… and not just on a subjective, like opinion based thing, but I wanted to find something… I wanted to find information that I hadn’t really let myself look for before.
Paul: Well, what about the part where they say the world is 4000 years old? Wouldn’t that be the first one?
Lauren: [Laughs] Well, the Bible doesn’t actually say that.
Paul: Oh, it doesn’t.
Lauren: Well, the creation story, and Noah, and the flood and all of that. I kind of was maybe willing to accept that it was metaphorical, but I kind of also thought that like, ‘Why would God speak to us in metaphor knowing how many people would misinterpret it later?’
Lauren: What God would do that and let people argue about it over centuries?’
Paul: The survey that I have on the website, ‘If you could say anything to God, what would you say?’
Lauren: Uh, huh.
Paul: I would say, what you just said is what probably 80% of people say –
Paul: Is why… if you exist, why do you continue to let people say… spew hate in your name?
Lauren: Why? – Yeah. Why the confusion? Why the division?
Paul: Why the vagueness?
Lauren: Why are there so many denominations of Christians arguing over trifling matters and little disagreements? I looked up… I immediately of course found an immense amount of… I just found so much information online about the Bible and how it was put together, and I found the verses about, in the Old Testament, like telling one tribe to conquer another to take the virgins and slay the nursing babies, like all this stuff that I had –
Paul: All the good, fun stuff.
Lauren: Yeah! The fun stuff that they cleverly omit in Sunday stuff, I kind of exposed myself to that and thought, ‘Okay, maybe, an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God did not personally write this through people.’ And I knew that God spoke to people at that time. When I was like 12, I remember hearing the voice of God in my bed. I remember praying and just hearing it and feeling it. I heard an audible voice. I was very convinced that he was still there… that was starting to completely dismantle, knowing that maybe he wouldn’t let a document go out there that would be attributed to him that’s rife with errors. Just mathematical errors, like every error you can imagine. There’s some form of it in the Bible, and God wouldn’t allow that. That was just what I thought. It was my first kind of break from it, and almost overnight, I lost my faith in God in general and realized it just didn’t make sense and there was no need for it and if I had a healthy way of living my life and just figuring stuff out, I wouldn’t really need that. But it was kind of a process.
Paul: And how did your parents react?
Lauren: I’ve changed so much over the past year, that I think my mom was really encouraged by what I’m going through, but at the same time she can’t really celebrate how it’s happening with me. They still are kind of praying that I find my way back into the fold. They follow that scripture, you know, if you raise a child up the way he should go, he will not depart from you or whatever it says, basically like raise your kid a believer and they’ll come back if they stray. Or the teachings you raise your child with, they won’t forget, they’ll come back to it. So I think they’re still holding out hope. They haven’t flipped out or gotten super upset. They’re just… my dad is… my mom tells me he’s really saddened by it. But he’s still… he sees what I’m doing in life in general and will congratulate me and be happy for me, but they want me to be a believer.
Paul: That’s good that they can at least see that you need to differentiate yourself and find your own path.
Lauren: Yeah. And I think my mom started realizing the codependency too between us so she’s happy that I’m breaking away at all and blooming. Late bloomer and I’m kind of coming out of my shell and trying new things and living life and not being afraid of it. Another thing about evangelicalism is the way that I interpreted it and the way that I lived it was that I was always anticipating the apocalypse so it was almost like you don’t plan your life, you don’t plan anything for long term –
Paul: Doom is always around the corner.
Lauren: Yeah, anything could happen. Going out… there’s still a lot of fear in my family. Fear of the government. Every helicopter that comer around is a drone and they’re collecting information and they’re after you. Or there’s an oppressive force above you, above your head and you just have to… you just have to be prepared at all times.
Paul: There is that… it’s called Wall Street.
Lauren: [Laughs] There is. Exactly, yeah. This misplaced fear and blame. I had no, no kind of sense of reality at all, objective reality. It was just so foreign to me that just for my family to see me living life and diving in now is so strange and wonderful that I’m sure they’re proud of that.
Paul: I’m reminded of a passage I read in this book that I’m reading right now which is called Understanding the Borderline Mother. A listener gave it to me. And one of the things that I think Christine Lawson, Christine Ann Lawson, I think is the author of it, and it’s a fascinating book, and one of the things that she talks about in there, is she says there are four basic things that every child needs from their parent. They need to be held. They need to have safe protective arms wrapped around them. They need to be mirrored. They need to be soothed. And they need to be given some control.
Paul: And when those needs aren’t met, that’s the beginning of dysfunction and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Lauren: Right. And I mean, it makes sense. You kind of raise children with no foundation, no sense of self, no grounding. If there’s no control over anything, you don’t trust your own thoughts. Another danger of dogma. In particular, yeah, that’s what I went through. That was a reason, over and above the parenting stuff was just what we were taught was not to trust yourself and don’t come up with an original opinion. You have to square it with the Bible. So anything you think is not really worth pursuing, unless you can get approval.
Paul: Yeah, I have a lot of problems with that.
Paul: Do you feel like doing a fear off?
Lauren: Of course! Yeah. I do.
Paul: You want to start?
Lauren: Um, sure. Let me see, a good fear. I fear that I’ll die of some treatable illness some day before I have time to get a check up or am able to.
Paul: I fear any progress I made emotionally is going to be lost because of my addictions. I think I might have done that one already.
Lauren: I fear that I will never really connect with my family on a deep level.
Paul: I’m afraid that I’m meant to be alone because I’m too selfish.
Lauren: I’m afraid that I’ll always struggle financially.
Paul: I’m afraid I’m pushing myself too hard when I play hockey and I’m damaging my body.
Lauren: [Laughs] I fear that true love and life long monogamy is a fantasy.
Paul: I’m afraid I’m incapable of discipline.
Lauren: Oh, that’s a good one. I have that one too. I’m afraid that my own self-validation will never be enough. I’ll always need acceptance from other people.
Paul: I’m afraid if I’m ever in a nursing home, I will give female nurses the creeps.
Lauren: [Laughs]. I’m afraid that I’ll always be profoundly misunderstood and alienate people unintentionally.
Paul: I’m afraid Ill never be able to stay on top of what social media I should be doing to help grow the show.
Lauren: Good one.
Paul: That’s a pretty real fear!
Lauren: Yeah. [Laughs] I have social media related fears as well. I think everyone does. I’m afraid that I’ll never be as creative as I really want to be.
Paul: I’m afraid a woman from my past who I objectified thinks this show is a joke and I’m a fraud.
Lauren: I’m afraid that I’ll give birth to a severely disabled child and feel like I don’t know what to do or feel responsible.
Paul: I’m afraid my new therapist will suck.
Lauren: Oh gosh. I’m afraid of being raped or attacked.
Paul: I’m afraid my new therapist will gossip about me.
Lauren: I’m afraid of never finding my true calling and doing the wrong thing for a living for the rest of my life.
Paul: I’m afraid my love of life is slowly leaving and will eventually disappear.
Lauren: I’m afraid that suicidal thoughts will one day come back and be unbearable.
Paul: I’m afraid of being trapped at the boring end of a table while the other end has an amazing time.
Lauren: Wow, that’s a great one. I’m afraid of being ridiculed behind my back and never knowing it.
Paul: I’m afraid a close friend will take their life and I will realize what I could have done but it will be too late.
Paul: Are you out?
Paul: Oh I am too!
Lauren: I’ve been out for like five but I kept going.
Lauren: Like ad libbing.
Paul: Nice! Nice.
Lauren: I mean I’m sure I have way more but those are the ones I can conjure up.
Paul: Well let’s jump right into the love off then.
Paul: I will start. I love that the NHL Channel uses lots of non-white guy analysts and they’re all great and it makes me feel that the world is becoming more understanding.
Lauren: I love watching documentaries in bed and eating popcorn.
Paul: I love hearing a teenage girl talk about hockey with passion and insight.
Lauren: I love not having to put clothes on if I can help it.
Paul: I love reading a survey that opens my mind. A survey respondent that opens my mind.
Lauren: I love wearing earplugs when I’m writing.
Paul: I love grilled cheese and tomato soup on a rainy day.
Lauren: I love opening up a new blueberry fat free Greek yogurt.
Paul: I love that the LA Kings are probably going to be in the Stanley Cup.
Lauren: [Laughs] I love listening to aggressive gangster rap music to bolster my mood and increase my swagger.
Paul: I love the feeling after cleaning the kitchen.
Lauren I love Woody Allen.
Paul: I love getting an email from a listener who understands my feelings, and I can feel their compassion and affection, or they, mine.
Lauren: I love having nowhere to go and no e-mails to catch up on.
Paul: I love making the Onion AV club weekly best of list.
Lauren: I love that movie Daddy Day Care with Eddie Murphy.
Paul: I love having a quote from the show in the AV Club column.
Lauren: I love getting new books for my Kindle.
Paul: I love seeing someone quote the podcast on tumblr.
Lauren: I love daydreaming about international travel and hoping I get to travel one day.
Paul: I love falling asleep after an orgasm.
Lauren: [Laughs]. I love falling asleep in general.
Paul: I love scoring a huge number on Words with Friends.
Lauren: Ooo. I’m out.
Paul: Are you?
Lauren: Yeah, but I love a lot of things. Um –
Paul: I’ll end with this one then. I love taking a bite of dessert that’s so good I feel it in my entire body.
Lauren: Ooo. that’s great. I wish I were more of a desert fan.
Paul: Well Lauren, thank you so much for being a guest, and I’m glad you contacted me. And –
Lauren: I’m glad too.
Paul: Yeah, I wish you luck in your search for a therapist. I think you’re going to enjoy it.
Lauren: Thank you so much. I’m very, very honored that you allowed me this chance to sit and talk with you. I love your show. Very therapeutic.
Paul: Well, this is never going to air but you’re welcome.
Lauren: [Laughs] I was hoping it wouldn’t so that works out.
Paul: I look forward to putting it up. Thank you.
Paul: Many thanks to Lauren for a great, open and vulnerable interview. I want to thank a couple of people. We’ve still got a e-mail that we’re gonna take it out on, so if you just hang in there for a couple of more messages that I have for you guys.
I want to thank the guys that help keep the spammers out of the forum. I want to thank, I believe I thanked the transcribers already. Thank my wife Carla for her feedback on this show. All you guys for supporting the show. If you should choose to support the show, there’s a couple of different ways you can do it. You can go to the website which is mentalpod [dot] com. you can support us financially by making a PayPal donation on the little link we have. You can do a one time donation or you can sign up to do a monthly donation, and some people have started signing up for that, and that really makes me happy. So I really appreciate those of you who have started doing that. You can also shop at Amazon through our link there on our homepage, and Amazon gives us a couple nickels. It doesn’t cost you anything. You can also support us by buying a t-shirt. It doesn’t cost you anything. You can also support us non-financially by going to iTunes and giving us a good rating. That brings more people to the show, boosts our ranking, and gets me closer to my dream of being able to do this full-time.
Alright, I’m going to take it out with an e-mail that I got from a woman who calls herself P.C.V., which you will understand as I read it. It stands for “Peace Corps Volunteer.” She writes, “Hello Paul. I am 23 and currently serving in Eastern Europe in the Peace Corps. I started dating a boy and fell in love for the first time five months before I started my service. We tried to make things work, but he unexpectedly broke up with me about two months into my service. This was a year ago. We’ve tried to remain friends and preserve something so we may date in the future, but this recently got derailed when I told him I was thinking of coming home due to a likely stress-induced health problem I was having. He replied that he didn’t see me romantically in his future anymore and that he had started seeing someone else. So in many ways, I was dumped twice. Isolated in my village and completely heart-broken, I have tried to heal my heart and mind, but it has been the hardest thing I have ever done, and I am not sure how much better I am doing than I was a year ago, especially with these recent developments. I lack the kind of support, comfort, and counseling that can help someone in my situation, and I worry about the effect this may have on my mind, body, and heart. Doing the Peace Corps was my dream, but it has largely been eclipped by losing the person for whom I had such a deep, kind love. Sometimes I feel betrayed and angry but generally I feel a mix of sadness and deep tenderness for what we have. So where you come in, besides the fact that you have sympathetic ear and heart is that I was having a really hard time taking the bus here, a phenomenon, we volunteers call “emo bus moments.” I have to take the bus often, and our roads are terrible. Even short trips can take forever. I have essentially lost all my music to this breakup, with too many bands and songs immediately making me feel physically sick. Serves me right for falling in love with a music critic.”
I wrote her back, and I’ll just read you what I wrote to her. “P.C.V., you sound like a very, caring, sensitive person. Boy, do I relate to those feelings. There are still songs from 1976 that bring me back to the feelings of being dumped in the 7th grade by Loretta Wilchon, like a dozen of them. I obviously don’t want to be back together with her, but music is such a strong trigger. When I was 22, I broke up with a beautiful, sensitive, emotionally available woman, because I was too emotionally immature to handle her loving me and the responsibility of loving her back, plus I didn’t love myself and I couldn’t respect any woman who would. It felt clingy. I resented them subconsciously. I thought they were dumb, because couldn’t they see what a piece of shit I was? Many men in their 20’s and beyond are not equipped to receive unconditional love, and it’s very likely that this is why he broke up with you. So the good news is that you are now available should that man come along who is comfortable being loved. Of course, it will take time, so be good to yourself. Love yourself. Do some nice things for yourself. I’ imagine a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers have trouble stopping the giving and just taking care of themselves because they’re so used to being worried about everybody around them. Well this is a time to take care of yourself, so sending big hugs to you.”
And big hugs to anybody out there is struggling right now, that feels stuck. Been getting a lot of e-mails from those of you that have taken the plunge and going to therapy, getting help, doing whatever it takes to get out of that rut. And that makes me very happy. Just remember there is hope. You don’t have to be stuck. You’re not alone. Thanks for listening.