The Lessons of a Dive Bar

I learned a lot in that year of working in that dive bar. I learned about dive bar music. Lynard Skynard and Stevie Ray Vaughn. To this day if any of that music plays anywhere near me I have a memory smell of cigarettes and stale beer.

I also learned about barflies, and I don’t mean the kind that comes out of unclean beer taps, but the kind that shows up at 11am and order “whatever is on special and a lot of it”. They don’t talk much until about the third round when suddenly they have gone from looking like death warmed over to telling jokes and stories of what happened at the bar the night before. As an 18-year-old, I never realized that I was looking at my future where I would be happiest sitting in “my stool” at my favorite bar telling stories about how I got my son drunk on his 21st birthday in this bar because it is “my bar”.

Now, I am 42 years old, that son is dead and my faith in God is pretty shaky, to say the least. I spend a lot of my time looking back on my life now to see where I could have changed the direction that would change where I am now. Where could I change the direction of my life so that Anthony didn’t end up dead by his own hand in my house that I walked around in for hours as his life slipped out of his body? Who am I? Where did I go wrong? How can I fix it? What is the purpose of my life?

For eight years that I have been Catholic, I have tried to be “good” which took me back to an insecure 17-year-old version of myself. I didn’t talk to people outside of Catholic circles and when I was outside of that circle, I felt this responsibility to be a representative of my religion. I thought that there was this mold of how to be Catholic and while I broke some of that mold, I knew exactly how far I could go and still advance in the “job” of it all. I am using all these quotations because the truth is that all of that imaging that most of us Catholic bloggers work so hard at is fake. And that goes for all of the PR work you see behind anything, even Catholic PR. Mine was. I was fake for the sake of being good. And I was good for the sake of getting paid in speaking or writing.

I realized a couple of weeks ago is that I no longer want that life. I want my faith to be the source of my life, not the source of my income. Nothing good comes from that. I end up trying to make myself into someone that I am not. I don’t enjoy the things that make my heart happy because I feel guilty for it. I think everyone who is not Catholic is my enemy. I don’t get to go to a damn drag race and talk about it, I have to keep it secret because if “anyone found out” bla bla bla. And so many Catholic writers/speaker live that way too. Who they are in public is really about who they GET to be without losing jobs. It is like being in jail. And I am breaking out. I am not trying to call anyone out for whatever they feel called to do. I just know that it is not how I was built to be.

Last Saturday I walked into my favorite dive bar. I talked shit with barflies, took a real barfly out of a man’s drink with my finger and told him to stop being a bitch baby when he complained about germs. I cussed, smoked newports and accepted shots from strangers not knowing what I was shooting. I laughed, I cried, I missed my son and I honored his memory with strangers. And that is when I learned the biggest lesson of all, my entire life I have begun healing in a dive bar while smoking and drinking with strangers who teach me more about who I am than any other group of people in the world because there is nobody wiser than a barfly.

It is exactly where I needed to be. Nowhere feels more like home to me than that place. Everyone keeps saying they are praying for me to have peace, but what that translates to me as is they are praying for me to stop being sad and want me to go back to being their version of strong which is using cliches about Jesus taking away my pain, but the reality is that He has not taken it. I live with it every day.  Inside my favorite bar, I do not have to pretend that I don’t. I don’t have to be strong. I don’t have to be anything. That is healing. That is real peace.

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Inadaquecy, Changes and Life

My entire life I have felt like I am not good enough. It is probably rooted in the fact that nothing I did was ever good enough for my mother because she was a control freak. Her need to control things came from living a life of chaos and her life of chaos was rooted in my grandmother’s traumas. So there it is, trauma passed down and then passed down some more. Trauma that nobody talks about because it will make the family look bad. So there is that too: Image.

When I got old enough to understand my dad had left my mom knowing she was pregnant with me and left anyway to never return I began to believe that I was not worth staying for. There it was, the ugly truth I began to believe, I was not important to anyone.

I spent my entire childhood being bullied by other kids for not having the right kind of clothes, the right personality, the right sense of humor or whatever it was that they all considered being the “right way” to be. I was an only child so I didn’t even have siblings to have my back. I would lie on this painter’s scaffold that I had created into a “tree house” looking up at the stars and wondering why God would love me if nobody else did. My lifelong struggle with jealousy and envy began on that scaffold to the soundtrack of Bon Jovi, Belinda Carlisle and the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing.

When I became an adult, I friended some of those girls who made my life miserable because I still had this need for them to like me. I never expressed to them what they had done to me and how it had impacted my life. I didn’t have the guts to say “you hurt me” because I somehow still believe that I am not good enough and the problem is with me, not with how they acted towards me.

When I became Catholic I was seriously naive to the issues in the Church. I knew about the sex abuse scandal but from where I stood, it seemed to be something that was very important to everyone around me to end and to make reparation for. The priests that were in my parish were amazing priests who all sought to be holy and who helped me build a relationship with God and they loved me and my family. I thought all priests were like this and the opinion that priests were horrible was a lie “liberals” told to make the Church look bad. I believed that the Catholic Church was a safe place to be and that every Catholic’s goal was to live in relationship with Jesus Christ. I thought “the world” was worried about image and the Church was only worried about serving God in the people He created. But mostly, I believed that by virtue of my baptism and the story of my conversion, I was finally good enough.

I started blogging to tell my story. The story of changing my life when I encountered Jesus in the Catholic Church. The story of a lost girl coming home to Truth and Redemption. I got caught up in all the culture wars and dreamt of becoming a published author and a popular speaker. I saw person after person convert, tell their story and then do just that. People who converted after me would get their story published and then get hired for speaking jobs. I just assumed that I would too.

My story was not like theirs. For one thing, I am Hispanic. If you look at the shelves and shelves of conversion stories, you will see that there are not very many written by someone who is not white. Secondly, I was not from the suburbs. My story is one of someone coming from poverty, being raised by a single mother, I was sexually abused as a child, married a man I only knew for two weeks, had a late miscarriage, and had three kids in three years while my ex-husband started his drug addiction which led to a lot of domestic violence situations. That isn’t even including the teen pregnancy and the life of dating gang members after my divorce. It is not a boring story of someone who just felt “meh” about life and then found Jesus. When I began going to classes to get my Sacraments, I had NO PLANS on actually becoming Catholic. Like, at all. None. Yet, in nine months I was in love with Jesus and my life was flipped upside down.

Every single Catholic publisher that I have sent my book proposal to has rejected it.

I am going to tell you a little of my truth here. When Oprah was at some award show and talked about “your truth” and everyone went ballistic, I knew what she was talking about. Because no matter who you are, you know things that other people have no clue about. You know things as one way while they are portrayed to the world another way. Whatever that is. You work for a company that says their mission is X and you know that in meetings they think that X is the stupidest shit ever but that their customers/followers/or whoever they are “selling” think that X is the greatest thing ever so they act like they also believe that. Well, YOUR truth is that you know the bullshit that goes on behind the scenes.

Here is some of my truth when it comes to being Catholic.

There are two sides of Catholicism. For lack of better terms, I am going to say the “right” and the “left”. In order to be a part of the “right”, you have to be Republican, which means some kind of respect for Trump and all that comes with that, be totally against abortion and gay marriage with no nuance or room for common ground with anyone on the other side of these issues. In order to be on the “left”, you have to think that the Church is the patriarchy and just wants to control women and you have to want to burn effigies of Trump plus you have to think that women should be priests because power is everything and women don’t have it.  I don’t know why, but Trump being elected as president has made these two sides of Catholics even more enemies than ever it also made everyone insane. And if you do not choose a side, you are pushed aside. At the beginning, you would just get shit flung at you by both sides but now it is different. Now, you don’t get paid to write and you get no traffic unless you have declared a side and declared it loudly and you are a voice that riles up your side. And it is with every issue. Guns, school shootings, abortion, gay marriage, Pride parades, immigration, the end of life care for children on the other side of the ocean and on and on. Every single issue is now put in that lens of “right” or “left” and you are either an enemy of one of those sides or you are boring and might as well not even be a Catholic writer.

I have no respect at all for Trump or his policies. I do not make a secret about that at all and I have paid for that opinion. I am just as concerned for the unborn as I am for immigrant children. I am in awe and in love with the male priesthood, but I also know that the men who wear collars are human beings and have flaws, sometimes serious ones which need to be talked about and condemned. I don’t think that means women should be priests. I am against abortion but think women who make that choice do so for reasons that we can fix in our culture and we can do so side by side with people who support abortion. I understand that Sacramental Marriage is just that: a Sacrament, but I don’t think every American has to believe that and live by that belief. I have gay friends and not only would I bake them a cake, I would share that cake with the rest of our friends at their wedding. I have paid for every single one of these opinions.

Basically, I don’t fit in either box of left or right leaning Catholic. And anytime that I begin to go down the rabbit hole of culture wars, I lose my ever loving mind. It is like a tornado that I get caught up in. I am naturally a fighter so I take up a sword and just fight and fight until I am so lost and so far from anything that resembles who I am and I usually end up sacrificing a lot of my friendships and part of myself. This is mostly because I am not healed and I want to fit in and feel worthy of someone’s praise because of my lifelong wounds. I cannot do it. It’s a simple as that, I can not enlist in any single culture war for the sake of my own sanity. That means neither “side” can use me or my story to try and rile up their own side and prove how evil the other side is.

I know being objectified when I see it because I have been objectified most of my life, so when I sense that happening I usually put the brakes on it and that is when I get dropped like a hot potato because I am no longer useful. Which leaves me feeling alone, abandoned and like I am not good enough. In my life, that is square one.

I am finding myself there again for a lot of reasons. People who support my writing privately fail to do so publicly, I am not getting published or paid for any of my writing, I can’t get anything at all going (not even a charity in the memory of Anthony to help other families who lose someone to suicide in practical ways) and I am so heartbroken at the fact that my Church cares about image as much as the Kardashians, which has been proven to me time and time again in the last few years.

Before Anthony’s suicide, I knew what I wanted to do with my life and I knew what the purpose of it was. I wanted to go around and tell everyone what God had done in my life. I had 100% faith that God was going to take care of me and my family’s needs.

Right now, on June 27th, 2018, I do not even know if God is real. And if He is real then I am so damn mad that He has allowed this shitshow that is my life to happen, starting with my father abandoning me, a man raping me when I was five, losing two children in horrific ways and ending with the only man to take care of me dying in front of my eyes. I see other people complain about having to maintain their pools or “downsize” by buying a new house and I really want to just blow things up because if ONLY that was my problem in life instead of this crapfest that is my life which involves watering my son’s grave pretending that I still have something of him to care for.

I am not going to Mass anymore and I really don’t know if I ever will go again. I understand that believing in God does not relieve suffering in this life, I know this rationally and I understand the theology of it all but it still makes no sense on the ground. I don’t understand why someone eating something from a tree means that it is ok that my son hangs himself in my garage. What kind of God thinks that is a good plan? Or the plan that all of this heartbreak I am in is somehow going to bring some good in the world? Fuck that, I want my son back. He didn’t deserve to die alone in the garage thinking that his life didn’t matter. And the saddest and most depressing part is that he was kind of right. All kinds of people who wailed and sobbed at his funeral are now happily moving on with their lives. It is easy for them to ignore or forget that he even existed. Because people suck. And it makes me mad. It’s a horrible cycle and I do not have a clue on how to break it.

With all of this said, I am taking down all my Catholic social media. I need time to gather myself, to figure out what I believe without the influence of starry-eyed Catholics who get paid to say that God is so good and seeing new moms with no clue of what heartbreak can be waiting ahead in life even if their 6-month-old chooses a book about Jesus off the shelf. If God is real then He and I have some shit to work out and I can’t do it while also trying to prove that I am good enough for people who are fake AF. It’s that simple.

I don’t know what I will be writing publicly if I write at all. I have no idea what I am going to be doing. But I do know that I need a break. I need a break from all the PR and obsession with image and the culture wars. So I am walking away. Who knows what the future holds for me, but I can tell you that I need to stop trying to get the approval of people and pretending that X is the best thing ever just because that is protocol. Being Catholic hasn’t been the best thing ever. That is the honest truth. Catholics are just as fucked up as everyone else. That might not be anything that is said out loud and in public, but it is true and for all of you new Catholic bloggers, may the odds be ever in your favor. But I am out. If I stay Catholic and I keep writing, I will not be writing in the Catholic bubble.

The end.

Being Lost in the Fog

As I sit in my favorite coffee shop in my little suburb outside of Austin on the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua, I am thinking about my life and everything I’ve been through and every blessing God has bestowed on my life.

Last week was difficult. There were two high profile suicides in the news. Everyone was talking about suicide, suicide prevention and reaching out to one another.

I got several texts and messages from people asking how I was doing and a few of those people asked if I would like to meet for lunch or coffee. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t. I wanted to stay at home and stare out the window as I ached for Anthony to walk in the front door even though I know that is not going to happen. But I said yes because these people are my favorite people and seeing them makes me happy.

One of them is my mentor Tammy. We disagree on everything political, that’s not an exaggeration either, we literally don’t agree on one single political issue. But we love each other. Not only does she love me, but she listens to me when I talk, she cares about my story. Whatever that story is right now. She has the best advice but it doesn’t come out as advice, it’s more of encouragement that you can use practically. I always leave her company feeling confident in myself and hopeful that things can and will be ok.

When I think about having people like Tammy in my life I can see how desperate God is to let me know I am loved. How He loves me and wants the best for me and the best is what He has created me for if only I pay attention to Him telling me which way to go.

Grief has made me deaf to His voice. I see Him all around me, I sense His prodding for me to do this or that. For instance, He has been prodding me to go to confession for two weeks now and today He has been insisting I go to Adoration. I know it is Him because the desire to encounter Him in those two things come from Him. He always moves first. But in my grief, I can’t really hear Him. I know it is Him and I know what I should do, but I just don’t do it.

This is a lot like depression when people you love “reach out” to you. It is how I felt when people reached out to me and asked me to lunch and coffee. I know they love me, I know they want to see me and I know they want to help. But the weight of grief, stress, constant crisis management at home and business all make me so tired that saying “yes” to those invites is not easy. Even when I know they will make me feel better.

As I think about how great seeing my mentor was, I realize that now I need to say “Yes” to God’s invite to go see Him.

What better day than the Feast of St. Anthony. The saint I named my son after and the Patron Saint of lost things. Boy do I feel lost in this fog of grief and heartache.

Please pray for me.