It’s a complicated part of my life

I’m a cradle Catholic. 

I don’t remember not going to the same church that I attend now in Brooklyn, NY. My siblings and I were baptized in a trifecta that represented where my family is from, me in the Dominican Republic with my mom’s siblings, my sister in Puerto Rico with my dad’s siblings, and my brother here in NYC with people from both sides. There are photos of us wailing as someone pours water over our heads. I did like our outfits though. 

And I attended a religious service this weekend. Like I do most weekends

And I feel guilty. Not because I’ve hurt people in my community, but because I feel like it’s failing people. And sometimes I’m angry at my priest, and at the congregants, and at the homily and at the self righteous people in my mother’s rosary group who judge girls in crop tops but gossip about each other after mass. 

I feel guilty because, I feel that as a parishioner, I should try harder to call for more change, but I’m afraid to. I’m afraid that no one will listen and that no one will understand where I’m coming from. I’m afraid to tell them that I have been assaulted. 

I feel guilty because as an assault survivor, I think the church should try harder to oust abusers, protect survivors and take a hard look at itself and the culture that has allowed abuse to happen. I think all religions should do that. 

I feel guilty because I feel like the community has given me a lot, but I’m still so critical of it. I love my church so much, that I want it to be better. I want the community to be better. We need to be better

I’m often upset during homilies at church. A few months ago the priest said that he thought people who deal with depression haven’t found God yet. I want to tell him about my therapy appointments, about the specialists I’ve been to. I feel like they were put in my life for a reason. I want to explain that sometimes mental health is a combination of genetics, your environment, and key events that have happened in your life. 

I want to explain that sometimes your brain just does what it wants to do, even if that means derailing school and work and my social life. I want to tell him about the physical symptoms that come with feeling depressed and anxious, like a migraine last summer that stuck around for a week, or the obsessive thoughts. 

“Last spring all I could think about was the Brooklyn Bridge. I tried everything I could to make it stop, I wasn’t sleeping,” I want to tell him. “The only thing that made it go away was therapy.”

He told a teenager that her panic attacks would go away if she put her faith in God. I pulled her aside and told her to find a therapist. 

The community at my church has given me a lot. More than they know. I won a writing contest and was paid over $100 for an essay about people watching at church. I described how as some of my non religious classmates spent spring break at a beach or hanging out with family and friends, I walked the streets of Brooklyn as part of a procession lead by dollar store wig Jesus on Good Friday. 

I painted a scene about one woman in particular who wore only white during the spring and summer, and only brown in winter and fall. My essay also showed how close I felt to my community and why I liked being a part of that perfectly imperfect group of humans who were just trying to figure it out. 

I also wrote post for HelloGiggles about how the youth group I went to perpetuated rape culture, and how so many of the things I learned there stopped me from getting help after I was assaulted in my late teens. They taught me guilt. They taught me shame. The group mostly taught me that if I didn’t “act accordingly” or “dress decently” then an assault was bound to happen. Teenage girls were taught not to “tempt” adult men who are supposed to know better. 

When I was assaulted, it was so cold outside. I wore two pairs of pants. I had on three pairs of socks. I layered on a sweater that made me look like a lumpy potato. It’s years later and I’m paying for therapy out of pocket. I also haven’t stepped foot into a youth group in years and I don’t plan on doing so again.  

Writing that was a balance between giving churches credit about some of the great work their youth groups have done, but also trying to give those groups some constructive criticism. To this day, I do feel like most group leaders mean well. And so many of the ones I’ve met are warm and charismatic. They care so much about the kids and teens they help and give up all their free time to do so. 

But the structure has to change

I’ll probably go to another service this weekend. Because I do almost every weekend. And because I’m part of a community, even if I feel strange about my place there. I don’t know how to deal with those feelings yet. But I’d like to eventually, but I’d like the church to deal with itself first. 

Angely Mercado is a freelancer and editor based in NYC. She writes about news, Latinidad, women empowerment & freelancing. Her work has been featured in Lenny Letter, NPR, Brooklyn Based, HelloGiggles and more.
Angely Mercado is a freelancer and editor based in NYC. She writes about news, Latinidad, women empowerment & freelancing. Her work has been featured in Lenny Letter, NPR, Brooklyn Based, HelloGiggles and more.

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