Just finished reading Amen, Amen, Amen by Abby Sher and I am a little disturbed with how much I related to it. Everyone always jokes about me being OCD, but I’m not OCD! I just have tendencies.
When she explained her childhood obsession of having vivid images of accidents and ambulances, I remembered doing the same thing. I used to be scared to death to let my parents go out because I was certain they would die. I have no idea why I was so certain. I would sit in the middle of the room crying about how I knew they were going to die and they wouldn’t know what to do with me. I had horrible visions that were I freakishly detailed and realistic and I earnestly believed that I was somehow linked to all of the horrors in the world. I prayed constantly to keep God happy, which is what attracted me to Sher’s book – the title resonated with me.I also played counting games with myself – if I just do this so many times, all will be well.
I never cut myself, but I imagine had someone mentioned it to me, I would have tried it. Anything to detensify the intensity that was in my head. In high school, my fingers were constantly moving, either pretend typing what I or someone else said, or playing the notes of a song I had in my head on a pretend flute on my arm. I thought I had stopped this habit but my daughter brought it to my attention just the other day. I was reading a book and my daughter asked me what I was doing with my fingers. I was typing out the words. I don’t notice I’m doing it so have no idea how often I do this in front of people without realizing it.
When my son was first born, I had detailed visions of kidnappers walking through the window and snatching him from his crib. So he slept with us, where I knew he was safe. I was constantly checking the stove to make sure it was off. Sometimes, we’d be on the road and I’d make my husband drive back home to make sure it was off, even when it probably hadn’t been used that day. Everything in my home, on my computer, in my files, in my drawers had to be perfectly organized and orderly because I linked disorder to impending doom. Certain patterns would drive me absolutely insane because they weren’t appropriately balanced or because I’d get lost in them and not be able to break free.
After reading Sher’s book, I wonder how much this sort of obsession has to do with being taught that we can somehow manipulate God through our prayers and behavior? We are taught that God is in control, but at the same time, we are taught how to control God through flattery and plea bargaining and are told this is prayer. Of course, children are often taught this form of a prayer because it is an effective way to get kids to obey their parents and other authority figures. I remember being appalled when I was helping out in a preschool Sunday School class and a little girl had brought in new crayons. A little boy wanted to use them but the little girl refused to share. The Sunday School teacher demanded that she share saying, “God doesn’t like it when you don’t share.” I was horrified, but that was how I was raised, too. God doesn’t like it when you lie. God doesn’t like it when you have sex before marriage. God doesn’t like it when you talk back to your parents. I think Sher is right – when we are young, we think of our parents as God’s right hand “man” and so confuse what it is God doesn’t like with what it is our parents don’t like – especially when our parents reinforce it by saying God doesn’t like what it is they don’t like.
For years, when anything bad happened, I somehow thought it was my fault. I was the oldest growing up so was often in charge of my younger siblings. When they got into trouble, my mother frequently blamed me for their behavior. She would blame me for her own behavior, too. It was my fault that she knocked over a lamp. It was my fault that she ran the stop sign. It was my fault that she couldn’t control her emotions. I am very careful not to pass the same blame game onto my children, but sometimes I catch myself doing it and I feel horrible. (I’d really like to be able to blame my teenage son for my high blood pressure!)
There have been times when I can’t get to sleep because I’m convinced I am the most horrible mother on the face of the earth. I blame myself for every sadness, hurt or pain my kids experience. I blame myself when they fall down or get bad grades. I blame myself when they are heartbroken because a love interest has fallen through. My husband has caught me sobbing in the middle of the night bashing myself in the worst way for not being the mother I should be. Sometimes he just holds me, rocks me back and forth, and says, “Shhh, It’s OK. Shhh. It’s OK.” He has always maintained that I am the best mother his kids could possibly have and that I see myself so much differently than the rest of the world does. He and the kids think I am an amazing mother. But it doesn’t help to tell me this when I’m in the throes of feeling like I’m the worst mother. The non-judgmental, “It’s OK” works much better.
Over the years, I’ve been slowly but surely letting go of my belief in a personal God. The more I’ve given it up, the more my obssessions and self-bashings have calmed down. I still feel a personal connection to God. I just no longer think of God as anything even remotely personal. Not even in the New Age sense. I know God exists. I just don’t think my ideas or anyone elses ideas about God are real. They are ideas. Not God. Even saying “God is Love” is a judgmental idea that is potentially dangerous for me. Thinking of God as “The Ground of Being” without any emotional value attached whatsoever works best for me. God IS. No need to fill in a blank after “IS”.
Obviously, I appreciated the book because it was honest and courageous. Had it been a little shorter, I would have appreciated it even more. In reviews, people claim that they can’t relate to Sher and that she was narcissistic, manipulative and uncaring. I think her ability to express her relationships in a non-flattering way toward herself shows she cares immensely about others even if she’s not always able to express it appropriately. Nowhere did I feel like she was writing this to put others down. It was simply about understanding herself, her relationships, and her disease to the best of her ability. It’s always easy to judge – especially when someone lays themselves bare as did Abby Sher in Amen, Amen, Amen.