Growing up I often heard my peers use phrases like “goody two shoes”, “church girl”, and most commonly “scary” to describe me because I never did anything bad. I got laughed at and was told I didn’t sound right when I attempted to cuss. I didn’t drink underage. I didn’t smoke cigarettes. I never snuck out the house. I never ditched class. I could never bring myself to lie to my parents (which of course my siblings hated, because that meant I would inevitably snitch instead of covering for them if my parents questioned me about anything). The only loyalty I had was to honesty, because I knew lying was wrong. I wasn’t having sex and was ultimately saving myself for marriage, just like my mother did. Even to this very day I can say that I made it through my twenties without ever doing a single drug. You’re probably thinking right now that I must’ve grown up in church. Well, I did grow up in church, but surprisingly, I did none of that for any religious reason.
Ever since I was a young girl, all I ever wanted was the approval of my parents. It meant the world to me to have it and I simply wanted them to be proud of me. Not only was I the youngest of five siblings, but I was also the only girl. That automatically came with strict rules and a lot of sheltering and over-protection. Though I was a young woman with my fair share of mistakes to make, I didn’t want to let them down or give them any reason to be disappointed in me. I was supposed to be the one to have learned from my older siblings, but over time, what that did was create a tremendous amount of pressure over the years, and it didn’t stop there.
You can guess that I probably wasn’t the most popular kid in school and you’d be correct. I was teased a lot. Especially with the clothes I was subject to wearing because my mother hated for anything to remotely fit on me – or be in style for that matter! She was truly old-fashioned. I couldn’t pick who my friends were or do something as simple as go to a football game or a school dance.
I was good at most subjects, but struggled in mathematics. It took everything in me to tell my parents I was failing math and asked permission for after school tutoring. It instantly turned into the suspicion of it having something to do with a boy (like everything else) and ultimately resulting in this placebo pregnancy my mom’s been fearful of me having since my adolescence. I didn’t get the tutoring, then was put on punishment whenever my grades were low on my report card. The fact that I tried to get help before then went unnoticed as she swore I was fighting to see some boy after school. I was asked what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t do it and often compared to my brothers who were exceptional at math and science. It gave me the looming feeling of inadequacy and I never felt good enough.
The fact that I had a devout Christian upbringing only intensified everything. If you’ve ever seen the Adam Sandler movie The Waterboy you can imagine what life would be like for a person that was constantly taught that everything was demonic, worldly, secular and sinful.
I remember having to sneak and watch shows like Martin because I wasn’t allowed to watch two unmarried adults shacking up together. The only music that was allowed in our house was Gospel music. I still vividly remember being assessed head to toe before I left out for school or church and was badgered for wearing any shirt that didn’t fall past my hips because it meant my vagina (yes, vagina!) was out and people could look at it. It was even an issue to wear shorts or dresses that stopped at my knees, because we know all the men getting turned on looking at somebody’s ashy knees. [Eye roll] Certain colors even warranted comments I’ll never forget – most notably the color red. Clothing, nail polish, lip gloss…there was always a problem with it! Even open toe shoes were an issue because some men have foot fetishes, but I highly doubted anyone was looking at my size ten feet!
After being picked apart everyday, teased at school and then dealing with my own personal insecurities like the terrible acne problem I had, plus the weight gain that started to happen from being on the Depo-Provera shot (a form of birth control) though I wasn’t actually having sex, my self-esteem was incredibly low. I was functioning through depression. By the time I finished high school I’d contemplated suicide several times. I wasn’t allowed to go off to school (in fear that I would go wild) and ended up discreetly dropping all my classes at a local community college in attempt to preserve my GPA. I was failing all of them between work, depression and lack of any real self-confidence. I had no peace and I had no idea who I was because I was never allowed to experience anything or make a decision on my own. By the time I turned twenty-one I had secretly struggled with eating disorders. At twenty-two I’d lost my virginity looking for love and reassurance through my seemingly empowered facade, only to be heartbroken and collecting even more insecurities at the end of it.
No one really knew I was experiencing all of this. I kept a game face. I smiled. I made a point to uplift and encourage others because it felt so good and fulfilling to make sure no one felt about themselves the way I innately felt about me. I was always questioning why I wasn’t good enough and I will never forget the look on my mother’s face when she found out I was no longer a virgin. There was so much disappointment and disapproval behind her eyes, and it broke me a little more inside every time she’d ever given me that look. It took a special kind of backbone to tell her I’d also slept with women prior to being with a man. I was confused in my sexuality, and to be honest, though people would tell me I was pretty and beautiful, I never felt like I was. In fact I felt like I was nothing at all deep down inside. My whole life I’d been searching to find out who Debrinah was.
Halfway into twenty-two, after years of searching, I had my first intimate moment with God. All this time I’d been going to church, lifting my hands during worship, knowing where to clap and knew the perfect time to insert a “hallelujah” or a “glory” or a “thank you Jesus” and look deeply impacted, but I never knew God. I never had a relationship with Him.
All I’d done up unto that point was all to please people. Over the next several years God broke into my heart and forced me to deal with a lot of things that I kept hidden and harbored inside of it for so long. This led to a deliverance from the things that plagued me in the past and kept me in bondage. It led me to a place where I was able to forgive others. I was comfortable talking about things I was previously ashamed of and learned the overwhelming difference between ‘being religious’ and actually have a whole existing relationship with God. For the first time in my life I knew what it was to walk with confidence and to be at peace in my spirit, but there was still an area in my life God still hadn’t completely delivered me from, and it was the thing that developed when I was a very young girl – the need for approval.
I was on the right track. I stopped fornicating. I’d been completely celibate for four years now. The things I’d ventured into before that encounter with God back at twenty-two were non-existent in my life. I stopped drinking. I didn’t cuss, though I’d finally became really good at it. I had a pleasant attitude and treated people with respect. I wasn’t clubbing anymore. The provocative clothes I’d been dying to get my hands on after I moved out of my parents’ house were now a lot more modest, outside of church now as well as when I was there. My most proud change was that I stopped doing things for the approval of others and started to come into my personality – or so I thought!
The fact of the matter was, I was still dealing with this demonic spirit (yes it is a demonic spirit to be controlled by the opinions of others and not be able to operate apart from that) and God would soon allow it to surface to show I hadn’t completely given everything to Him yet. A lot of young adults would come to me for advice when it came to discipline and willpower. I had young girls who looked up to me. I even had people I grew up with and went to school with tell me how they were positively impacted by something I said. I’d befriended a lot of people who were involved in ministry. I was vocal about intentional living, aiming for righteousness and a lifestyle of celibacy outside of marriage. When you begin to shine light from the inward out, it’s subjects you to being underneath the radar of everyone who wants to see you fail as well as succeed.
Every single thing I did and said was under a microscope and I found myself more often than not getting stoned for reasons I couldn’t comprehend. I also didn’t realize the magnitude of division in Christianity, where the expectations of everything are unmatchable, as everyone had different ideas. I soon learned that no matter what I did, I would always be wrong to someone, and it was the negative things that tended to stick with me.
I had to carefully even think about what I said or shared on Facebook or Twitter because it was never right. If I shared some scriptures I was perceived as being preachy, forcing my beliefs down people’s throat, self-righteous, judgmental, act like I’m perfect, thinking I was better than someone else or not relatable. When I stopped doing that I was perceived to be too carnal, not influential enough, hiding my faith, backslidden, and not saved. I couldn’t win. I was not yet mature enough in my walk to realize I would never be able to please everyone, and I buckled under the pressures of both the fine toothed comb that was repeatedly going over me, as well as the expectations all those rooting for me were expecting me to live up to. I had once again gone into a depression.
I was still a young woman in her twenties who would make her fair share of mistakes, but at least I was trying. I didn’t claim one thing and do another. I didn’t substitute excuses for where my effort should have been. I prayed everyday. I fasted often (even if I had to pretend to coworkers I was on a diet). I woke up everyday with the intention to remember the word of God in my conversations, my attire, my decisions, my plans, my dating, and my thoughts. So why was I still wondering why I wasn’t good enough?
Befriending people in ministry also allowed me to see that not everyone had that same mentality – or heart rather. When they became comfortable enough with me, I discovered many people were still professional pretenders as adults like the kids who were dragged to church with their parents and told to stand up during prayer and raise their hands during worship.
I wasn’t sure if I was more disappointed or more so wondering why I was putting in all this effort to live in righteousness when I could be living it up and hiding my dirt like the rest of them. This confused me and it made me question the legitimacy of everyone. I even tried it myself but couldn’t live through the guilt of it. My conviction was still there. I couldn’t live through some front and still be able to live with myself.
Not only was I feeling terrible that I allowed myself to stray for a bit, I couldn’t forgive myself. After those few months, I stopped going to church completely because every time I tried to worship I felt it was unclean and not received. I felt like I didn’t belong there. I felt like I was a sinner. No one necessarily had to know about it, but I cared more about what God thought. Even worse, when I reached out and confided in people in ministry I thought could help me, I was met with an avalanche of people sharing their disappointment in me, looks of disapproval and even stopped hearing from many of them after that.
The same supporters who praised and talked me up to others, also seemed to be the ones who crucified my name the first time I messed up. They gossiped among themselves and judged me from afar. Barely anyone came to ask what was wrong or to encourage me.
Now I understood how it was easier for many believers to keep their personal battles quiet, because then they won’t have to deal with the rejection from others, nor the stones others are waiting to hurl when they’ve seen you fall so they can say you weren’t all you thought you were. It hurts and it’s a harsh reality, and a very lonely one. It feels like betrayal and I got a hard lesson in learning just how fickle people can be.
Gratefully, God pulled me out of that depression and over time I found it possible to forgive myself. What I possess now, that I didn’t possess before is a thick layer of skin and the reassurance that even when others turn away, write you off, or speak badly about you, God is still relentlessly pursuing you. He’s waiting to set you loose of all your bondage, and use you for His greater purpose which He created you for.
It was during this time God revealed to me all I experienced was what He was calling me to expose: Secret lives, depression, suicide, low self-esteem, rejection, religion and all it’s legalistic smokescreens to hide the non-existence of the presence of God in your life, confusion in identity, sexual impurity, the pressure from others, forgiving others, and most importantly being able to forgive yourself and walk in the fullness of your purpose.
I almost ran away from God altogether. I almost ran because of the unappealing condemnation of things that have nothing to do with having a real and intimate relationship with Him. I almost ran away when I thought I already had to be all put together to even enter a place of worship. I almost ran away when people in the church were talking about me being around their daughters when I was struggling with lesbianism. I almost ran when people told me I was wrong when I shared the things I had overcome, when I was judged for being honest instead of pretending, when I saw I was left hanging to dry when I didn’t necessarily meet their expectations, when I was criticized for being transparent when I was reaching out for help, or when I thought the people outside the church were more real than the ones in the pulpits. I almost ran, but I decided to let that inspire me to a deeper level of intimacy with God,
A higher level of exemplification.
A higher level of accountability.
A higher level of compassion.
A higher level of evangelism.
A higher level of teaching.
A higher level of patience.
A higher level of God.
A higher level of love.
Debrinah S. Dorsey,
Creator and Editor-