Resentment Was My North Star

How my spirituality shifted through bullying, depression, and coming out

Brittaney Harden
Nov 4, 2019 · 7 min read
Photo: hiramtom/E+/Getty Images

Resentment was once my North Star. I used it as an excuse to be hard on myself. I believed myself to be a victim, a loser, and a slacker. Everything was happening to me, and if you asked me, God had forgotten my address. Still, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have faith. I have always had faith to some degree. Just the misaligned variety.

When I was a baby girl, my aunt who was raising me at the time would put me down on my knees and make me repeat my bedtime prayer. It’s funny how those little moments, like that prayer time, are with me to this day. She’d tell me to repeat after her: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.” Without hesitation, I innocently repeated after her. As a kid I had no idea why I wanted a man to take my soul if I did not wake. It just seemed important.

On Sundays, my aunt would put me into my Sunday’s finest. She would take me to the town’s church and parade me around with pride. She was not able to have a little girl of her own. I often wondered if she was making up for what she had missed by giving me the life she would have provided to her own.

But it wasn’t all nice. My aunt was a cooking woman. I had gone from living in the projects of Atlanta, Georgia to small-town home living. We ate the most succulent and rich meals. I quickly began to gain weight. I was in the second grade, but I looked like I might have been a fifth grader. The other kids called me fat. They looked at me in disgust and refused to sit next to me on the bus. Up until that point I had not known what a body was. I began to feel myself slouch during my time on the bus. I would breathe a bit shallower, careful not to take up too much space or draw too much attention to myself. My cousin began to call me Bertha when he would see me.

Eventually, my aunt started to compare me to my skinnier cousins who had light skin and longer hair. Why can’t you be like Michelle, she would say. Why don’t you behave like Tiffany? I had no words for the confusion and discomfort that came as a byproduct of being a fat girl in a world that did not embrace fat. I was taught to hate myself.

My only respite was right before it was time to come inside to wash up before bed. My aunt would allow me to lay outside on my trampoline. In those moments of solace, I could feel God. I felt the presence of higher energy there more than I had at Sunday service or in those moments of prayer before bed. Everything just was. The stars that spanned across the night sky glistening back at me with hopes of a brighter future. The sound of crickets in the forest, and lightning bugs lingering just above my face. I knew God was there, and I was sure my life was blessed. There I took up infinite space. I inhaled the night air, feeling as if I belonged in the fabric of time and space. I felt worthy. I was sure.

When I was nine years old, my uncle died. I remember waiting for my turn on the merry-go-round and going through school that day as if it were a normal day. Once I arrived from school, my aunt informed me that he had passed. My uncle had been the first man to show me what it meant to be loved by a man. I remember him as a hard worker who took care of his family. When he died, my aunt took his home and turned it into a party house. Dinner around the table was replaced by lavish parties filled with liquor, old-school jams and inattentive adults. I narrowly avoided being molested a few times due to my aunt’s lack of supervision.

When I turned ten, I went back to my own mom. I didn’t know her at all, but she quickly became my favorite person on the planet. I worshiped her. In my eyes, my mom was determined, creative, and resilient. We went through our challenges, but I believed that with Mom I could get through anything. My mom raised me to believe that I could be blessed through a dog. “You’ll just be standing on the street and a dog will walk up and drop $100 at your feet,” she’d say. She told me that God loved me and had a grand plan for my life. She didn’t force church on me. She didn’t force anything on me really. But deep down I knew that she was hoping I’d be somebody.

Mom didn’t know it, but she was teaching me about magic. That’s what God was to me. I would watch my Disney movies and see how the princess was always rescued just in the nick of time. In my mind, God was the prince coming to save me from any antagonist that stood in my way.

By age 15, I watched Mama lose her magic. I didn’t know it then, but there is something called the weight of the world that takes the magic out of black women like Mama. It comes to place duty, obligation, and single parenthood at their feet. An article from Single Mother Guide states that according to the United States Census Bureau, of 11 million single parent homes in 2018, 80 percent were black mothers. My mother was no exception. I would watch my mom cry and pray and wail to God. No longer was I getting on my knees to offer my soul to a God in the heavens. We were praying from crisis to crisis as we got by, moment to moment.

Then my mom met a man, but this didn’t improve anything. I felt forgotten and our team of two turned into me being isolated with food as I watched my mom make poor choices out of love. Deep down I resented Mom. I blamed her for my problems, and I refused to acknowledge the God who had gotten us into this mess. Resentment was my North Star.

I began to eat in excess, drink alcohol, and smoke weed to numb the pain. More than 300 pounds, four failed attempts at English 101 in college, and a bad break-up later, I decided to give God a chance. I began to go to church with my peers from college. I clung to the identities of young women who seemed to have it more together than me. When I prayed, I would pray for God to take me away from my life. I would pray to be anyone but myself. I didn’t see myself as special, worthy, or enough.

I began to think of Mom when I came out as gay in college. She was the first person to accept me for who I was. She said that “God didn’t make mistakes.” When I had my first bipolar episode my junior year, Mom told me to “not worry about it; we’ve all been through it.” Mom made me feel accepted. Eventually I went into a 12-Step recovery program to find God—a spiritual program with suggestions not demands. For a while I forgot about my time with Mom. Long gone were the days of worrying about how I would eat or if the rent would be paid and we’d have shelter, but I carried that pain with me.

In recovery, I learned that God could be whatever I needed it to be if it worked for me. Though the road has not been linear, I have come to have a relationship rather than a servantship with God. When we are at odds, it is because I have chosen to pull away. Those are the moments when I lose track of my new North Star. Most times that looks like living with my Mom and attempting to figure out the next steps in my life at age 32. But when I am still, I get clear visions of what I know to be true. Whether knowing God means lying atop a trampoline on a starlight night or working the 12 steps of a recovery program, God is with me. Always and in all ways. It is then that I trust that God has granted me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (others), the courage to change the things I can (myself), and the wisdom to know the difference. That’s where God lives for me.

With my new North Star, the glass of life is sweet and overflowing. I have begun to realize that my story is just that. A story. I am beginning to let go of my old history so that I can embrace new modes of living. I understand that holding on to resentment won’t allow me to live my own life. It is like drinking poison and hoping the other people get sick.

As I mature in adulthood, I have learned that as people in any given moment we are all doing the best we can. I am unlearning resentment and learning to love. I believe that love is the highest expression of existence, and when I emote love, I emote God.

With love as my North Star I have every confidence that I will find my way to a better story, a better life, and a better relationship to the God that lives in us all.

The Salve

The Salve is a progressive Christian lifestyle publication…

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