Monday, November 24, 2014

Late bloomer

There are a number of life events that I have arrived at quite late in the game. The biggest life event has been marriage. And there are a few milestones in life I have avoided altogether, such as motherhood, even though most females my age have looked forward to and reached this milestone long ago.

Being a late bloomer hasn't been a problem for me. Probably because I'm so used to it.  It's like I've been dragging my feet in life as long as I can remember, and I don't know any other way to go about living. It's like I'm going as slow as possible and not dipping my toe into life on purpose.
 
Here's a hodge podge list of a few things I've done late, or skipped.
 
Kindergarten. I was too shy to go to kindergarten, so my mom homeschooled me. She told me I wasn't emotionally ready for school, anyway, and I figured that was fine by me if I got another year to play. So she homeschooled me. But she ended up being too busy nursing my younger sister, then pregnant with my younger brother, so she didn't get around to teaching me to read. So I repeated kindergarten with her a second year. Still didn't learn a blessed thing, but was put into first grade anyway... a couple years older than my peers. Thankfully, I was tiny when I was a kid, so they couldn't tell I was old.
 
Swimming. I think the learning gap has closed for me here. I tried to take lessons a few times, but just couldn't get the hang of floating. Hmm. Swimming was outlawed in childhood because bathing suits were immodest, and even a full set of clothing was immodest when wet.
 
Socializing. The critical development period for learning this skill closed up some time ago. Talking to people was "sinful" unless they were model Christians who wouldn't tarnish us. No model Christians were found, and we were beat with a rod for attempting conversation with any others, so I've eagerly skipped the acquisition of this lovely skill. I mean, who wants to get beat with a rod, right?
 
Making life decisions. That one is explored more below.
 
Reading. Because books other than the Bible, even devotionals in Christian book stores.... could be just the foothold the devil needs to work his way into your mind. So even holding a book felt evil. Walking into a Christian book store felt like the ultimate rebellion for me. The thing is, I used to love to read when I was a child, when books were generally innocent and weren't in danger of being confiscated. Once I hit about age 8 or so, books started being taken from me because they were too risqué, too ungodly. Once I worked hard to purchase a book I'd been drooling over. It was confiscated before I got to chapter two, but I saw literally nothing sinful in that book. What, was there some kind of pre-teen romance brewing in the next chapter?  I would never know. I was heartbroken then. And countless times afterwards, each time a book was taken. By the time I was in my late teens, I reached a point where I just gave up. The pain of having them taken from me was not worth the effort of trying to smuggle them.
 
That was when I started dumbing down my mind on purpose, being oblivious and airheaded, staying in my mind and not trying to reach out to explore and learn. I had been crushed one too many times trying to open up my small world through reading. So, reluctantly, I gave up on books. Completely. Since reading was deemed as more evil than holy, I would become the holiest airhead of them all. A head of mush, an obedient and naïve female, exactly what my father wanted. I was sick at heart but at least he would be pleased.
 
Turns out, he wasn't pleased, but I kept my mind closed, uninquisitive, and naïve anyway. For most of my life. I hate that I did this. I hate that today I can barely bring myself to buy a book. I hate that I feel like I'm still going to be punished by the Man Upstairs when I'm reading. I hate that I can't breath normally, in a relaxed fashion while reading. I hate that I adore the feeling of the heaviness of a good book in my hand, I melt in the luxury of getting lost between the pages, but I jump in guilt with a sudden startle reaction anytime I hear someone approaching on the steps, or banging a door like they just got home. Quick, hide the book under the cushion! Breath normal! Oh. Wait. It's OK. No one's going to yell at you.
 
What else did I give up, or achieve late in life?
 
My first kiss. It was at age 24, incidentally with my first boyfriend.
 
Going through a drive through. Age 24. Fast food was considered evil, and eating in general was something I also put off as much as possible for decades of my life. I was scared to eat. Still am quite often, but am getting better at it.
 
Marriage. It was at age 36, and I didn't want to get married at all. I was so afraid, and was dragging my feet.
 
Living. Doing things that make me happy. Finding out what makes me happy. Acquiring things. Letting myself go shopping or purchase things. Eating. Breathing in a relaxed way. Being silly. Joking. Going after what I want. Knowing what I want.
 
Why have I been afraid of so many normal things?

I've decided to sit down and figure out the reasons I'm so hesitant about... living a juicy, full, vibrant life. If I can figure out why, I can make changes and start living a fuller life. Right?

So far, I attribute the hesitancy and slowness to perhaps three factors.


1. As a child and young adult, I simply wasn't allowed to reach certain life milestones because they were considered worldly and evil. Instead of embracing life and being adventurous, I was taught to fear life and shut down in my safe little corner of the Christian life, being bland, safe and colorless. I was taught that females don't have the God given right to make lucid decisions, since females are emotional, and satan works through the emotions more than reason. So  whenever I had a choice to actually go and do something in life, I knew that Satan could sway me, being the emotional female I was, so I hesitated and then never actually chose to do anything but just sit there in fear.

Even after I was an adult and was free to make my own decisions, I still only dabbled in a few of the normal life processes that most people go through without a question. Much of life was still off bounds, too evil to participate in. The list of allowable activities were slim. Even normal things like gardening, singing, laughing, and eating were each a shade of taboo in certain circumstances.
 
2. My hesitancy to actively engage in life may have to do in small part to being shy in nature. I've always naturally been an introvert. But I think there's more to my hesitancy to actively engage in life than just introversion. I'm seeing now how the psychological trauma in my early childhood has caused me to be hyper cautious and fearful. I've always chosen by default the safest course of action without realizing it, and I've always sat in the dark and quiet corners watching but not contributing, always alert in case an authority figure tried to catch me doing or thinking something sinful.
 
3. I wanted nothing to do with marriage and children of my own because of what I experienced growing up. I was terrified of being bound in a marriage like my parents' abusive relationship. And since I wasn't going to have a life partner, I figured that I wouldn't have children either. I wasn't about to raise a child on my own. I had to nurture my career first and foremost, because my career had to be number one in my life. I had to devote most of my energy to supporting myself, since I didn't trust a man to support me. Rely on a man, and he might trap you. Better to be self reliant and safe.
 
More importantly, I wasn't about to trust any potential child of mine around any Christian man. I saw what Christian men did to children, and I would have rather died than repeat my mother's mistake in allowing a man to terrorize her children, helpless to intervene because he was a Christian, and because submissive Godly women don't question their men. No.
 
I used to have nightmares about what it would be like if I had a child, and he or she reached that dreaded "age of accountability." I played it out in my head. My loving husband (God, how I hate that word! Husband. It has too close of a connotation to the word "band." Like an iron band around me choking me into bondage and submission. Ughhh.) Where was I? Oh yes, I would always picture the future hubbie kneeling down and telling my child, "Now, you know you are a sinner, right? You must admit that you are a sinner if you want God to save you. You are a horrible, wretched sinner. You'll go to hell without God's intervention. Look, here's a picture of the devil, and hell. Pretty scary, huh? Do you want to go there? I thought not. Now let me lead you in the sinner's prayer."

Of course, I would hope the conversation would be a little more gentle and politically correct than that, but my first introduction to salvation as a child was this brutal. So what gaurentee did I have that my future man wouldn't be a Bible thumping, non gentle, non-diplomatic kind of guy? I had no gaurentee, as most Christians I spent time with back then did not care to soften their words. An activity such as softening your words was sinful. Liberal. No, a real Christian cut to the chase and called sin what it was, sin.
For now, I gots me a cat, instead.

I knew I could not in good conscious bring an innocent child into the world knowing that he or she would be destined to such a talk about sin and salvation. I simply could not do that. And for that very reason, I knew I could not ever bare children. The world was not a safe or friendly place, especially the Christian world. I would never purposely bring a child into an unsafe environment. Additionally, I knew that if I ever had a child, I would probably be married, and if I was married, it would definitely be to a Christian man. If he wasn't Christian, I would be cut off from family, and I didn't want that. My concern was that despite him being a Christian man, I had no gaurentee that he might abuse the child. What if that Christian man was like my father? Or abusive like my Christian brother in law who is in ministry but who physically abused his kids, my niece and nephew? I would never subject a child to this possibility. And so by default, I would never have a child. Or get married.
 
This is why I've lived the majority of my life as an independent female, jumping glibly every two years or so from one long term relationship to the next, keeping particularly away from men who leaned towards the 'm' word. Marriage. I knew from early on I had to have a successful career because I would be the only one who I could depend on in life. I would have no man. This is why I plowed through college and grad school and moved far away from my family and lived on my own. I got what I wanted. Complete independence, the ability to provide for myself, a career doing what I loved, stability, boyfriends whenever I wanted or didn't want, and no pressure to settle down and start a fa, fam, fami, Achoo! Family. I was allergic even to the word.
 
But now it's like I'm waking up and I see suddenly that most gals my age have kids who are teens, and I have no kids at all. Oh my gosh! Was I asleep at the wheel all these years? Why didn't I have kids? Suddenly, I remember all these reasons that I never brought into the light of day, except here in this blog. Yes. I know why.
 
She's not human, but she she's quirky, funny, social,
talkative, inquisitive, stubborn and high energy.
Got my hand's full!
Interestingly enough, it was after I went through an awakening of sorts and left Christianity that I started to want to have kids. Without the threat of hell and need for salvation, my child will never need "that talk." And I can teach him or her how beautiful and safe life really is. How the world isn't against her, and that there's nothing to fear. 
 
So, yeah! I would love to have kids now. But circumstances won't allow that currently. I want to have better health first.

I want to grab ahold of life and live more. I'm tired of being on the sidelines, too scared to try new things. It's like I'm afraid of life itself. I'm only tasting a little bit of it right now. I psyche myself out and don't let myself try new things. I don't let myself luxuriate. I live such a spartan, meager, quiet life. I used to be so adventurous, though, that first decade or so after I escaped from my family and moved far away from them. I want to get back to that state of being fearless. The more distance I put between my family and me, the better I feel.

Sometimes I just want to pack my bags and go. Someplace warm and sunny all year round. I want to start a whole new life that is completely free of any remembrance of my family. Trigger free.  I'm so done with this life. I want a new identity. A new name. A new childhood, a chance to live life over again in some other family. Or if I can't have that, I want to start my own family and get so busy and enjoy life so much that I won't have time to reflect on the past. Sometimes I wonder if all this spare time, not working, and staying at home alone in this big, empty house contributes to the flashbacks and ruminating. I am so ready to get busy again with life, so that I'm not haunted by the past.  I hate reliving memories from the past. They replay in my mind all day long, torturing me. I need to make myself busy so I'm not bogged down by them. I want a dog. I need a companion during the day to keep me company. I really want a dog.

A Dog
And Health
And a Job (which would be easy with restored health)
And Kids (again, easy-ish once I get my health back)
And a Car, (again, easy once I have the health to drive it, and the health to start my career again)
And Freedom to come and go (easy once I start to drive again)

I want to be done ruminating on the past. No more feet dragging. I want to dive back into life again.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Leaving before you are ready

How easy is it to leave a cult? For me personally, the answer is "not very."
 
I pay close attention to the stories of those who have left a religious cult. I admit I am a little envious of the females who made their escape from their family's cult by marrying a man who whisked them away from it all. I wish I had that ticket available back then. It wasn't available to me because I was terrified of men. I was especially afraid of Christian men because of the religious Christian monster my father was. And I was also scared of the so called secular, worldly men because linking up with them meant my life would be cursed with demons attacking me, and my family would cut me off. Also, there was that unspoken threat circulating in the underground Christin dating advice columns and pastor's sermons where the non Christian man is guaranteed to cheat on you and leave you. If he doesn't first rob a bank, then become a mass murderer. Because, gasp, that's what people do who don't fear God.
 
So I knew from  a young age that my escape was not going to be through a man. There would be no prince on a stallion. My sisters didn't escape with the help of a man or marriage, either. They were about as gun shy of men as I was.
 
So how did we get out? Well, we couldn't just leave. It seems so easy, right? Just walk out of the door. But if we moved out of the house, God would allow Satan to attack us, destroying our physical health, mental health, finances, future career, and future relationships and marriage.  That would happen if we left the house without our father's permission. The only way he would give us permission to leave was if we married a good Christian man he approved of. A man who our father would transfer us to, so we could be under that man's authority. We wouldn't be safe unless we were under a Christian man's authority. Also, if we left unwed to an approved man, our father said he wouldn't be able to pray a hedge of protection around us. He said his prayer alone wouldn't be enough to keep Satan from destroying us while we were out in the world.

There was no safe way to leave. Going into a courtship with a man approved by my father was far too frightening a concept for us sisters to want to entertain. We saw how our Christian father abused our mother, and we weren't going to be tricked into an exit from our father's home just to relive it again with a patriarchal man that he chose. No, that was far too great a risk.

And we couldn't just walk out the door and move into our own apartments. With all those threats and judgments from God? No, doing so would be equivalent to admitting you had a death wish. I would never have thought to leave on my own. Unless I really hated myself and wanted my life as I knew it to end.

It was easier for my brothers to leave. They were Patriarchs in the making, and were far better equipped than women to make it out alone in the world without risking God's wrath. My older brother got out after he graduated from college, accepted a good job, and had the financial where with all to go. Incidentally, he timed his departure so that he got married right when he left my parents' house, but he could have left with or without getting married if he wanted to. My brothers were privileged simply because of their gender. They didn't have nearly as much oppression or nearly as many rules as my sisters did. 
 
So, this is how my older sisters escaped. My father hadn't made any matches for them, and they were waiting and getting old. My father did approve of a courtship for my oldest sister L with a Christian man who worked with my father. My sister L did not find him in any way attractive and declined him. That I know of, she didn't get courtship offers after that. So when L was about 25, my second oldest sister Thalia (aged 24) staged an intervention and secretly got an apartment out of town, where she all but dragged my mild mannered, easy going oldest sister along to. They left quickly and secretly, before my father found out. L didn't want to go initially, but with Thalia pushing and planning, they made a hasty departure. There was a big blow up when they left, much threatening and cursing of their futures. All manner of ill will was wished on them, Bible verses were hurled, their characters questioned. They were called harlots who were practicing the sin of rebellion, which was likened to witchcraft. At this point, my sisters were so naïve and innocent about matters of life, that calling them harlots was just silly. Their harlotry consisted of wearing gel in their hair instead of leaving it natural. That, and going to a university where... non Christian men sullied my sisters simply by walking past them on campus. As if. My younger sister and I were given threatening sermonettes on the dangers of following their wicked footsteps.
 
When I was about 24, my 21 year old sister Christy staged an intervention. She secretly put a security down on an apartment out of town and rented a U-Haul. The same day, she broke the plans to me and told me I had a few hours to decide if I wanted out or not. She told me I had to make up my mind quickly. Back then I didn't even know we were living in a cult. I had no outside worldly experience to compare my life to. My 18 year old brother was going along with us. At the last minute I said, "OK." But I was dragging my feet. I was scared and not ready to go.
 
I had just graduated college, and had my bachelors degree in elementary education and my teaching certificate. I was too scared to go on interviews, so I lived on a substitute teacher's salary. This wasn't enough to pay the rent, even splitting it three ways. My younger sister had just graduated as well and had her bachelors degree and was hired as a nurse days before she even got her diploma. She was strong in her decision to go. I wasn't as confident.
 
As an aside, it is quite a shocker that we had gone to college at all. But my sisters and I had discussed how we didn't want to end up like our mother, uneducated except for a high school diploma, trapped and abused by our father. Since we didn't trust any man to get us out or have our backs, our ticket was an education, career and independent single gal living. If it wasn't for my older sister Thalia paving the way and helping each of us work out the FAFSA and various scholarships and loans, we wouldn't have had the know how or balls to go against my father and try to extend our education. All of my siblings and I took part and sometime full time jobs and went to college around our work schedules. I certainly would never had gone to college without Thalia's example and encouragement. My parents would not help financially based on moral grounds, and kept trying to discourage us from going. According to my father, college was evil and worldly, and all of us had better be prepared to reap the consequences of going through demonic attack as punishment from God for disobeying and going. My siblings laughed this off, but I was terrified. I woke up every day and fell asleep each night worrying when my judgment would hit.
 
So I entered the real world with reluctance and fear. I had a secret boyfriend at the time, and was able to see him much more often, which was nice.
 
But I'll be honest with you. If my younger sister hadn't staged that intervention, I wouldn't have left. If I hadn't gone with my younger sister and brother, I would have been the only one left at home other than my parents and trust me, I was incredibly uncomfortable with that. So I went with my siblings, even though everything inside me was screaming that I wasn't ready. Home was bad, yes, but it was all I knew. And even more importantly, I knew what would happen if I left as a single female, unmarried to a man who could protect me from the evils of the world. I knew I would be slaughtered. According to cult rules, God would punish me by sending demons to destroy my physical health, career, finances, relationships, happiness and mental health.  
 
Again, my siblings laughed all of this off. I wish I could have had their thick skin and sensibilities. For some reason, I was terrified of the consequences and they weren't. However, I think that had to do with the fact that I took spiritual matters far more seriously than my siblings did. And the main reason for that, although I didn't recognize it at the time, was because I sensed how much my father hated and shunned me, and wanted to do everything possible to get his approval. Since religion was his life, I figured that my following his spiritual rules to the T would be an excellent way to gain his approval. Sadly, though, the more I tried, the more he pushed me away.
 
But I didn't let myself see that. I just kept trying all the more to be spiritual. I got baptized, taught Sunday School, tithed, fasted for weeks on carrots, cornflakes and water, wore hideously modest prairie dresses and culottes, went to Bible College, went on a mission trip overseas, wanted to become a missionary, didn't look sideways at men, read my Bible and prayed regularly. Meanwhile, my sisters left the house in modest attire and changed into tight jeans and tanks in their car, dated wild men, read romance novels, said "Shut up" and "Oh my God," looked at magazines in the grocery store checkout, pierced their ears and wore clip-ons over top to hide the holes from my father, bought bathing suits and went to the beach (covert trips, of course). Most of my siblings were dancing on the edge of hell, and were just laughing all the way.
 
My siblings would occasionally talk about how horrible it was growing up. They would whisper that we had grown up in a cult, and that our father was a sociopath. They worried he would work himself up into some massive Biblical dither one day, shoot our mother, shoot himself, and then that would be the end of them. We used to check in our mom to make sure she was OK after most of us left. Our father kept loaded rifles on his bedroom wall, and often fell into unpredictable tirades of anger where he got violent. So my siblings worried. I was in a religious stupor myself back then, and told my siblings he was innocent, that he would never hurt our mom, and they were just being dramatic. Again, I didn't have the foggiest idea of what we grew up in, as I had no experience in a world other than the family home and cult. Yes, I did go to college full time and worked, but I was too afraid of people to talk to them, so it's like I was just a ghost passing through. I studied, took tests, drove, came, and left without communicating with other people, so it was like I actually wasn't even doing these things or really in the world. I was technically, slightly "in the world" but without human interaction out there, it pretty much doesn't qualify as being out.
 
Even after the intervention, when we moved out, I was in the world but very hesitant to break out of the mold and drop my normal customs and habits. It took quite a long time.
 
Fast forward a decade. I was living in extreme stress every day worrying about God's judgment for every little thing I did. And trust me, after ten years, I had started being worldly. It's like I had one foot back in the cult, since I believed 100% everything I was taught back then. And I had one foot in the world, living the life of a heathen while wracking up punishment and guilt left and right.
 
That's the danger of leaving before you are ready. That was the danger in my leaving my family and the cult before I was ready. That was the downside to accepting the intervention my sister staged when I was scared to go. That was the danger of leaving the cult physically, without first leaving mentally and emotionally.

That was the danger of living in the word without shedding the cult mentality. I gave myself permission to try to live a "normal" life like normal people did, but I couldn't get rid of all the nagging cult fears and threats of punishment for trying to be normal.
 
Maybe I would have been safer never leaving the cult in the first place. Maybe I would have been safer at home with my parents in the cult, safe from God's judgment because I was carefully obeying all rules?

Maybe that would have been safer than living a double standard, free on the outside but still in bondage to the cult fears inside?
 
I can't even begin to explore what would have happened if I had stayed in my parents' house instead of leaving with my siblings during the intervention. I think it would have been an incredibly dark experience. I do know that once I started living on my own, I began to experience happiness. I did forget the horrors of the cult. I think I can honestly say that I was happy on my own. Especially when I was geographically far away from my family. I certainly didn't have any flashbacks, anxiety or any physical manifestations of PTSD for at least a decade. I was pretty much oblivious and happy go lucky. I was always on the move though, never sat still or rested. Never stayed in any one location too long, or with anyone too long. I was antsy. I didn't ever want to get trapped by any person or situation. I was always running, always busy. I didn't stop to reflect or look inside. I just thrived on looking outside of myself, and shut my emotions and feelings up tightly. I was my five senses exploring the world, and nothing else.
 
I do recognize the danger of living in the duality I was immersed in for the decade of time I was out free in the world, living it up, but terrified on the inside. Like I mentioned, I always felt fear and threats lurking over my shoulder, poised and ready to get me for the huge amount of sins I was piling up every day. I was just waiting for all hell to break loose. I was just waiting for my punishment to begin. Biting my nails hoping that maybe I could squeak by for another day, another month, maybe even another year before disaster hit me.
 
And then it hit. I was 33 and a half. The PTSD knocked me blindside, and everything fell apart. My health fell apart, even though I struggled for a year to keep myself together. I had to eventually give up my teaching career. Well, I put in for a year's leave of absence, but my health wouldn't allow me to go back after that year was up. I had to give up my apartment, my boyfriend left me, acquaintances disappeared, and I didn't really have friends... the only thing I had left was my family. I had literally forgotten how strange and cruel they were. Time has a way of clouding those things over. So I crawled home, happy to have a family to go stay with.
 
I was naive. Too trusting. Too gullible. I give too much credit ahead of time. I actually thought I would go home to open arms. They were closed. But I didn't find that out right away. It was a very slow process of me finding this out.
 
When I went home, I was so ashamed of my life of sin, that I.... wait for it, wait for it, oh, darn it. Yes, you guessed it. I weep to share this sad revelation. I went back into the cult.
 
There. I said it. I double dipped.
 
Oh, horrors!
 
That's what happen when you leave before you are ready. The chances of falling back into the fold are just that much higher.


And I felt so guilty. I fell into it headlong.
 
To the point that I was back in the Bible, back in the land of religious fear, eating up all the devotionals that said illness was punishment from God, that illness was a gift from God, that I was supposed to praise God for the beautiful gift of character edification that came in the form of illness. I ate it all up.
 
I even let waver my fiercely held promise that I would protect myself by never getting married to a man. I let myself believe for the first time that perhaps a Christian man would be safe after all. Because what had I ever really known about being safe, right? Here I thought I would the safest out on my own in the world far away from my family, far away from religion, and without a man. I really thought that was my safest bet. But here that plan didn't pan out. Being alone out in the world unmarried, living a non-Christian life only ended up with me getting PTSD, ME/CFS and severe adrenal burnout.

So I had to re-evaluate my perception of what "safe" really looked like. I had been broken. I had to try a new route. God was a fierce punisher, and the single life alone in the world without Him and a man who served Him was a dangerous life after all. I had learned the hard way that it would be safest after all to do the Christian thing, the right thing, and get married to a good Christian man. If I did this, perhaps God would ease up his punishment on me and perhaps He would even let me regain my health!
 
So I over-rode my fear of Christian men and married one. I introduced him to my family (oh horrors!) and I introduced him to Christianity and the cult. I thought I was doing the "right" thing. I was getting back on track. The backslidden AJ rallies and returns to her Christian roots, praise God Almighty, and all God's people say, Amen.
 
Right. I married K. He actually wasn't a Christian when I initially met him. It was I who led him to the Lord. Out of compulsion and duty, not out of a desire. I didn't trust a Cristian any farther than I could throw one, but at the same time I feared what would happen to myself and him if we didn't punch our tickets and do our bare minimum as Christians. I felt safer around K knowing that he was brand new to the faith and hadn't been brainwashed by any sub cults or extremist thinking. He was a good man, and kind, when I met him. I imagined it could stay that way. I figured that as long as I was there to guide the ship and help shape the direction of his newly forming beliefs, he would remain the kind and jolly fellow he always was.

I was wrong. As soon as K put on the coat of Christianity, he became a monster. A living and breathing certified, Bible thumping, Christian monster. And that's when my eyes opened and I didn't want to go on living or breathing any more. The life vest of Christianity that I had reached for in my hour of need was now no longer a life vest, it was a pile of rocks that drug me to the bottom of the lake and wouldn't let me up for air. I endured it for a couple years, until one day I woke up and realized that I want nothing more to do with being a Christian.
 
It's been about two years now that I've left Christianity. I'm still digging myself out of the pit and separating from my family and a few situations and people still involved in the cult. I'm happier now, and K is happier.
 
On looking back, a part of me thinks that if I had stayed in the cult at my parents house instead of leaving during the intervention, I would have not only obeyed the cult rules, but I would have felt safer, I wouldn't have feared severe punishment from God every waking minute of my life for years on end, and I wouldn't have fallen apart with severe PTSD. I could possibly have avoided my health falling apart. Just think!

From this perspective, I wish I would have stayed at the homestead after graduating college and lived a safe life where I could just breath. It is too difficult balancing one world with another, with one foot in one world and one foot in the next. But at the same time, if I had stayed on the homestead in my parents under cult rules, I may have just shriveled up and died inside. Or I may have reached some kind of internal conflict that forced me to examine my beliefs and wake up. After which I would have solidly renounced the cult and made a clean break by leaving the belief system 100% and physically removing myself far from the cult and my family.
 
A solid, clean break is the ticket. The best way to leave involves breaking away emotionally and intellectually, as well as physically and geographically.
 
I still do admire those folks who were able to know firmly what they wanted the first time they left, the folks who didn't have to come back for round two to relive the nightmare. I admire some of my siblings who weren't so entrapped and who left more easily than I did. But every one's journey is different.
 
I double dipped, but that's OK. The first time only my body left. The second time, my body, heart and mind broke away. I had to experience the horror twice to know what I wanted and didn't want. I know now. And I'm finally free.
 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Momentous occurance

 Each time something big happens in my life, I have to record it in a paper bound journal with an actual pen. There's something about the touch of ink to paper that transfers an event into a reality. The occasion is then locked in time and real. And it's given a workout, re-lived from as many angles as you want during the writing and re-lived again each time you reread. I slipped out of the habit of journaling in a paper bound book since launching this blog, so this big event will be transcribed here.

So, this is what happened. Karl confronted my father over the phone  during the most recent conversation I had with him that I wrote about in my last post. I listened in over speakerphone while Karl laid into that man, hitting him with exactly the right questions. The ones I hadn't heard anyone dare to ask him before. It was amazing. Karl kept his voice calm and regulated, but he meant business. And he put my father right in his place.
 
This man has had it coming to him for a long time. I wish I could have video recorded the conversation, it was that good.
 
Here are the high points:
 
1. Karl asked my father straight out if he sexually abused me when I was little. My father said no. He said that it happened so long ago, and why hadn't I ever mentioned it before. Ummmm, fear? He said that my 35 page letter detailing what happened was "suspect," and that only demons could give a person so much information that it would fill up that many pages. He then said that I had no one on my side. He said that all my siblings and mother were in the house (not true) when the alleged events happened. Then he pouted, "Plus, I didn't do it." Said in a cocky, peevish, teenager like voice.

Karl told my father that he didn't care what my father said, that he knew my father was guilty. Point blank. That he believed me, and had my back.
 
2. Next, Karl told my father he knew something was wrong in the family the moment he stepped in the homestead door and met my family for the first time. Karl said he saw the lack of interaction between my father and his children. There was little to none. And there was none between him and I. The father figure tried to tell Karl that he didn't interact with me because I was bitter and difficult. Karl cut in and told the father figure that no, that wasn't the reason. It was because I was terrified of him.
 
3. Then Karl told my father that all he ever did was study the Scriptures, instead of paying attention to his own family. That he had no relationship with his family. That at each party or family event, the only thing my father did was sequester himself off in a corner and talk to the men about the meaning of the Scriptures. While the rest of the family was ignored. (That was how it always was growing up, not just at parties. There was no interaction with the father figure unless it was Biblical exhortation or Biblical reprimands.)
 
Karl asked the father figure who he would be without Christianity in his life. My father paused. Then he said. "I would be nothing. I would have no reason to live."

This is the way this man speaks. All or nothing.
 
Karl said, "But [father figure], you are wrong. Without Christianity, you have many things to live for. You have your family, and you have your work shop where you know how to create many inventive things with your tools and machines. You have a very full life outside of God and the Bible."
 
My father didn't agree and said so. He began preaching at Karl. Karl listened very patiently, but told my father that he (Karl) wasn't a Christian any longer, just as I wasn't either.
 
4. Karl then told my father he was a horrible example of a Christian because he wouldn't take in either of his daughters, me or Thalia when we were sick three years ago and had no where to go before Karl came to my rescue first, then Thalia's.  Karl told my father in no uncertain terms that he did my father's job by taking in Thalia for the last year. The father figure didn't have anything to say about Thalia. But he told Karl that he didn't want me to live in his house three years ago because I was bitter towards him, and always had been. Bitter. That is code for "angry that he abused me, but bottling it up, unable to speak up about it due to fear of punishment from him and God." Additionally, it wasn't just his version of "bittnerness" that caused me to shy away from him. It was extreme fear, terror of that man. Based on the way he treated me, and because he clearly warned me as a child that I wasn't safe around him. Although back then I didn't know exactly why I wasn't safe. I just lived with that mystery and chalked it up to just another one of the idiosyncrasies of living in that homestead with him.

Perhaps it was for the best my father refused to let me go home when I was sick a few years ago and had no where to go, before I met Karl. But my father wouldn't have abused me, at least, not sexully. The sexual abuse happened only when I was a child.

But still, regardless of how uncomfortable either party would have been, I was slowly dying back then, and they knew it. I had no other place to go. I cried for hours on the phone begging them to let me come home, but they refused.

Karl brought up an example of his own grandfather. Despite having no religious faith, this man took in over the course of his long life two of his adult sons, one when he lost his job, and one when he got divorced, as well as his daughter and her baby boy born out of wedlock. Karl's grandpa didn't abuse his children. He provided for them and took care of them like a decent human being. All without a religion or God telling him what to do.
 
And what was my dad's response? He brought up his own father, who didn't know the Lord for most of his life. Apparently this man (my grandfather) was a decent fellow with a calm, phlegmatic personality, but he was still a sinner in the eyes of God. And what drove this man to Christ? Well, my father said that my grandpa hit the end of his rope and cried out to God to save him when he was at his lowest point, when his daughter (my Aunt Shandy) started dating black men in the inner city and word got back to him. That, my friends, is what drove my grandfather to Christ. That was his low point. My grandfather went crying to the racist white Lord to save his daughter from men of another race. That was his rock bottom in life.
 
Oh Lord, rescue us from this sick comedy hour, I beg of you.
 
How utterly ashamed I am of this man and his sick beliefs. That he blatently shared with Karl. It's like, I know the man is sick and twisted, but hearing him so calmly share his perspective with Karl was like seeing it all with fresh eyes, and being horrified and embarrassed by it all over again.
 
This same Aunt Shandy is the aunt who is no longer with us. She was struggling with depression and some other mental health issues for a number of years. My father told her that depression and mental health issues are actually just signs that you have sin in your life and are the result of not taking responsibility in your life. He told her that depression and mental issues happen when you house demons in you. He warned us all to not go around her when she visited us, in case a demon jumped out and latched onto us. The night she came to our house and my father told her that her depression was simply a case of sin and demonic influence was the last night we saw her. My father was the last person she spoke to. They found her dead in the early hours of the morning the next day. She drove her car at high speed into a tree. She had left a note saying, "I'm glad this is my last day."
 
Would that she had never spoken to my father. Such ill advice to give to someone who is depressed. The man is sick, but people around him don't seem to see because he is adept at coating his words with Bible verses, as well as brainwashing the young and vulnerable.

5. My father then began to tattle-tale on me by telling Karl that earlier on in the conversation, I had started mouthing off and acting rebellious, raising my voice. This would have been the part of the conversation when I started calmly reminding my father in detail of the various lewd acts he performed to me and in front of me. My father quickly interrupted me and raised his voice, and in turn I raised my voice and interrupted him back, asking him why he always cut me off.  He owns the privilege of being rude, but my echoing back his rudeness is rebellion. So my father told Karl that I had never been like that before, and he wondered what had happened to me. I'm sure he was about to pull out the old, "I'm sure she's demon possessed, wouldn't you think, Karl?" but Karl jumped right in and cut him off.
 
Karl told my father that compared to his (Karl's) own sisters, I was quite the quiet and respectful person. He said that he was actually quite glad that I spoke up and raised my voice when I felt the need to, and that he trusted that if I was raising my voice, that I had every reason to do so.
 
Then Karl told my father that he (Karl) had several times been verbally abusive towards me, and that I had the balls to stand up and yell back. And that was what made him (Karl) finally wake up and realize just how awful he had been treating me for some time. Karl said that he was sorry he treated me that way, but was glad that I spoke up to him in a loud and forceful way and showed him exactly what he was doing, then and on other occasions. That he was proud of me for fearlessly standing up for myself when I felt I needed to.
 
And very proud of me for standing up to him, the father figure.
 
And that just about blew that man away. He didn't have much to say after that. He wanted to wrap the conversation up.
 
Women standing up to men is a huge no-no in his patriarchal mind. And a man encouraging a woman to stand up to him is utterly earth shaking to the father figure.
 
My father knew he didn't have a supporter in Karl anymore after that. And I was over on the other side of the room saying "Yes! YES! YES!" because Karl stood up for me.
 
6. Karl made my father promise to read the letter I sent to him, and to write and let us know he read it afterwards. My father promised. (Note: it was an empty promise; he never wrote back to say he read it, and he ignored my email asking if he did read it after all.)
 
The conversation ended with my father asking, "Now, may I say 'God bless you'?" And Karl amiably said "sure." I mean, why not, right? The man has no other language to end a conversation. And that was that.
 
I can not express in words what a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders after hearing that conversation between my father and Karl. For the first time in my life, someone has my back in regards to a situation where I most needed backup but never experienced it, until that moment. My mother, my siblings, other relatives, church members, neighbors... no one has stood up for me against him before. After that confrontation, I felt like I finally had an ally at my side, and a formidable one at that. Karl being male makes the conversation more valid than if it had been simply another female taking my side. I am not going at it alone anymore. It's almost like Karl is retroactively protecting me against this monster, despite the protection being only verbal and occurring over 30 years after the harm was done.
 
No matter. Right then at that moment, I felt protected from that monster for the first time ever, and I actually was able to breath. And smile. And even laugh. The dynamic between Karl and I changed after that. Karl has my back, and he's proud of me.

A fork in the tracks has been reached. Karl is generally such a friendly, easy going kind of person. He used to be in good with the family, and things were congenial and tight knit. It took him longer to want to exit the family dynamic than it took me. Karl used to not understand the depth of religious mire my family was lost in, and he never saw before the need to speak up or stand up for me. Now a point has been reached where he not only understands the gravity of the situation, but he backs me up. And my family sees now that Karl isn't going to be their pawn any more. We are split from them, and it feels great.
 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Summer ebbs into fall

I haven't written for quite some time. The summer has been a blur. In between flashbacks, much crying and many solitary walks, I've been pretty much out of it. It feels like I'm not in reality much of the time anymore, because reality is painful. I feel detached, like I'm floating somewhere outside of my body. Looking at myself from some point other than inside of my body, cheering myself on, encouraging myself, telling myself as often as I can remember things like, "I'm brave! I'm strong! I'm truth! I can do this! I'm amazing!"
 
I cheer myself on, but I'm outside of my body trying to comfort myself like a mother would a child. I practice having compassion and pride for myself. I practice what it would feel like to be my future self who is outside of the storm and is healthy and strong. She regularly comes to cheer me on and tell me how proud she is of me. I had a friend tell me recently to pretend to be in the eye of the storm. Everything is whirling all chaotic around me, but I am centered and balanced in the center, just calmly observing. I'm safe.
 
Yes, safe. Sometimes, well, often times, I go sit in my bed with my favorite blanket up over my head and hyperventilate, then after an hour or so, I feel grounded and safe, and then I come out again. Sometimes I spend the whole day on the couch with the same blanket around me in a kind of nest, and that feels safe.
 
I had a therapist who was coming to my house each week to do a trauma release therapy called EMDR with me. I was quite psyched at first when I got ahold of her because I didn't know she did house calls. She mentioned to me over the phone before we ever met, "I get the sense that your world is very small and you feel trapped." And I started crying all of a sudden because it was true at that point in time, and I didn't know how she knew I didn't drive and didn't get out much. She didn't even know about the agoraphobia, but she guessed.
 
And after that she told me she would gladly come to me as she understood agoraphobia and wanted to help. How serendipitous!
 
We had three sessions that went pretty well. But then she went on vacation for a week, and we had a new roof and siding put on our house, so I had to cancel a few times. Then I had to cancel an hour ahead of time due to a migraine and other physical issues.
 
I told her that I didn't have therapy because I had to cancel last minute due to unpredictable health issues too many times to maintain steady therapy. So this lovely therapist came up with an agreement where she would call a few hours before a set time every Wednesday to check if my health was well enough to hold the session, and she would continue to do that weekly.
 
However, when I called to cancel, she told me, "Look, I can't help you unless you let me. You keep pushing help away at the moment you need it most. I will discontinue our sessions until you are ready to let others help you."
 
And I started crying... again. But, she wasn't a good fit after all. She didn't get that it was a physical issue, not fear of therapy, that had me cancel that day. She didn't understand that when a person is sick, they don't want to be around.... anyone. She believed it was all anxiety based, and that if I tried a little harder, I could miraculously make the illness go away. Well, let's all be Tinkerbells and Peter Pans and let's live in a magical world where we make illness go away instantly with the sheer power of our thoughts. Ready, little magicians? If you believe in magic, then clap your hands!
 
As if.
 
I do believe in manifestation, the Law of Attraction, that thoughts become things, that we create our own realities with our thoughts. But I'm not at a point where I can instantly make physical symptoms disappear with the snap of my fingers.
 
So I'm out of therapy. For now.
 
My therapist asked me a few times if I had any supports such as medications to help me through the processing and healing process. I told her no, I didn't. I didn't have the option to take psych meds for the last five years because my body hyper reacted to them. Now, however, I believe my system has calmed down and is able to tolerate more. I actually took a medication for migraines the other month, and not only did I not react, but the medication actually helped. I guessed this would be the case as I've been able to tolerate and get benefit from many supplements and foods slowly over the past two years that in the past had caused adverse reactions. I know my body is able to deal with stress far better than it ever could in the past, so the resting, hibernating and nourishing over the past several years is paying off.
 
Remember last spring when I wrote about facing the biggest fear in my life? I had just crossed paths with a beautiful spirit, Hillary Rain. She asked me to fill in the blanks to a few pieces of poetic phrases, such as "I am brave because I _______."  So I filled in the blank with the first thing that popped into my mind. I am brave because I sit with my emotions.
 
I could have said any number of brave things I've done, or wanted to do. I've been a free wheeler, a dare devil, despite my seemingly calm and passive outward appearance. Going out on a limb, challenging myself with the seemingly impossible, going after and doing what others wouldn't have dared. Don't believe appearances, guys. The wild ones are quite often the ones with the innocent face and almost child like demeanor. Watch out!
 
But last spring, the bravest thing for me to do.... I knew in my gut, but had never voiced it... was to simply sit with myself.
 
Oh how difficult! I remember the post I wrote in April, I remember the chair I sat on, I remember the endlessly long spring and summer days that stretched one into the other, overlapping endlessly, wave after wave, day after day. A blurry haze now. I remember the slant of sun stretching across the patio day after day, zoning out in that lawn chair. I remember the cacophony of thoughts scrambling for attention, and my intention every day to just simply clear my mind and just... BE.
 
Being in tune with myself. Naming my emotions, and being OK sitting with them. Often it was, "I'm angry! I'm angry because...." or "I'm enraged! I'm enraged because...." or "I'm so frustrated and antsy! I'm frustrated because..." and then, all over again, "I'm mad! I'm mad because....."
 
It was healthy to release all of that. I've bottled up way too much for far too long, and even if no one was there to hear me, I heard, and I was OK with acknowledging these emotions. For once in my life. Just getting them out there and being OK with it.
 
Sometimes I would tell myself, "I'm peaceful."
 
Sometimes  I really was able to just sit with no thoughts. Hearing the crickets squeaking their quirky, raspy chant, feeling the sun on my skin calming me, breathing, feeling the rise and fall of my breathing. Feeling the ground under my feet, feeling the chair underneath supporting me, feeling the hair brushing across my face, smelling the husky burning of some one's pile of wood burning. Hearing the crunch of gravel as a neighbor pulls out of his driveway, hearing the rise and fall of bird song in the air, heavy and slow as the heat grew, feeling a bead of sweat dribbling down my left arm. Smelling the sweet hay like smell of cut grass toasting in the sun, hearing the scrape of my chair as I push it back into the slanting rectangle of shade behind me. Maybe it was heat delirium, or maybe it was mindfulness. Maybe it was even meditation!
 
That whole summer was about just being in tune with myself. And doing nothing. But that. No visitors, no other human interaction except with K, and the occasional hello chat with a neighbor while getting the mail. No trips out except to the doc and once to a horse farm to visit and possibly sponsor a horse. And once my family came on Mother's Day. I wrote about that.
 
It was the day after that when I had that phone conversation with my little sister, and she said those trigger words, and "it" all came back. For the first time in my life, I was ready to hear, and if I hadn't been ready, I wouldn't have had the courage and openness to comprehend or be triggered by those trigger words. God knows what else she has said to me over the years that I may have completely overlooked or not understood. Looking back, it must have been all the practice I've been doing over the last year, and especially this spring and summer, sticking my toes tentatively into the waters of 'being in tune with myself and facing things."
 
I was ready. And I heard. And I was strong enough to handle it. I was finally ready to put the puzzle pieces together. Thinking back now, I realize that many of my suppressed memories weren't even repressed. Much of it I do clearly remember and always did, it's just that I remembered it from an innocent child's perspective of "Dad did ____ and as a kid, I always trust Dad, and because it was no big deal, on the same level as him driving us somewhere in a car, or eating dinner with us, there was no need to particularly go back and examine or be traumatized about it, because it just simply was."
 
I also had the memory of fear from my mother and father scaring me into forgetting/not bringing into the light of day what happened, so I never went back in time to put my innocent, childhood impression of what happened into the context of an adult's understanding of what happened. The memory stayed encapsulated as an innocent child's view. I never gave myself permission to go back and look at it with the understanding and horror as an adult would look at it. It was incredible fear that caused me to never go back there and revisit what happened. It was fear that froze that memory into a place too terrible to ever go back and acknowledge from an adult's perspective.
 
I literally was unable to even go there. For all I knew, it was locked away forever. Fear will do that. Religious fear, fear of your father, fear of your father who is the voice of God, fear of hell, fear of the devil, fear of your father going to jail, fear of your father isolating himself from you forever. Fear.
 
Fear.
 
And that's what I vowed I would face this spring and summer. And that's what I did.
 
I feel incredibly lighter now. But still entangled and smothered, somewhat.
 
So I made a list on a post it card, entitled it "Going from Victim to Overcomer" and put it on the refrigerator. I listed about 10-12 actual things I'm going to do to speak up about this, face my abuser, and tell the truth about what happened. I recently checked off everything on the list and then added two more additional things I can do.
 
I made sure no one in my family has contact with me on social media. I know the f.f (father figure... he doesn't deserve a title warmer than that) snoops through my mom's Face book profile and looks at the pictures that family members post. I've felt his eyes staring at me in a dirty way far too many times, and I'm not talking about just when I was a child. He stared creepily at me, my sisters, and my shapely cousins when we were teens and adults. I still don't see how my family members don't catch on, but he "is" God, so. You don't question God. He will punish you severely for any questioning. My family is primarily comprised of sheeple who don't question.
 
One of the biggest things on my list was actually speaking to my father, confronting him, and confirming that he read the 35 page letter I wrote him listing in detail everything he did to me. My memories are detailed down to even phrases that he and my mom used, down to the exact nuance and expression, down to exactly how their voice raised or fell. It's like it's burned in my memory. For example, the way my mom said, "But did he touch you?" She emphasized "touch" and kept saying it again and again to me after she walked in on him and then had a private confrontation with him and me in their bedroom when I was five.
 
I remember the tape marks with X's marked on them that he placed on his bedroom floor to line up his desk chair with. It was marked exactly, so that when his chair lined up with the X's, it was in a safe position and someone who came in his bedroom door couldn't see his lap. The filing cabinet would have hid his lap. If his chair wasn't on those X's, someone at his bedroom door looking in could see too much. He was a perfectionist, and spent much time sending me to the door to see what I could and couldn't see of his lap based on where his chair was. It was very tiring to me as a young child. This is just an example of a small fraction of what I remember.
 
I know that if he read my letter and knew that I remember all of this, he would confess. I know he would. He already tried once to confess when I was in fourth grade, but back then, I didn't know what sex was, and I wasn't able to put in context what he did. And he was too subtle to go into detail. He told me he did horrible things to me when I was young, and that he felt guilty and thought about it every day. He wanted to confess and get it off his chest.
 
That was the year he wanted to put us into ATI and home school us. He had been following Bill Gothard for years before this, but he really got into it that year and was all about asking forgiveness from those he offended.
 
So I know that he will break when he reads my letter and knows that I remember it all in fine detail.
 
Which is why my mother has made it more difficult to get to him than getting through to the Pope. I wrote about my persistent attempts to call the homestead over the summer. How my mom blocked my emails for over a month, then blocked my calls. When the f.f. finally did answer the phone, he basically cursed me in the name of God for "sowing seed of discord among the brethren," (ummmm... what?) then my mom grabbed the phone, screamed at me, cursed me further in the name of God, warned me not to call ever again, then hung up.
 
I called again. And again. I needed to know if the f.f. read the letter. Finally, he actually answered. But this time he played all sweet and calm, and I was thrown for a loop. He said that he hadn't read the letter. That my mother thought it was full of pornography and that my memories were from demons. That he trusted my mother's judgement about not reading it. I told him in a wavering voice that I wanted him to read it. I also told him that I didn't like it that he frightened me and made me terrified of him ever since I was five. I told him that I was still terrified of him even now. Which is true. He seemed like he wanted to cry. He kept saying he was sorry for that. But he told me he couldn't apologize for whatever was in that letter because mom wouldn't let him read it. As if. He's a grown man. Excuse after excuse.
 
I let it go for another month or two. Then I decided I had to try again. I was sick to my stomach and shaking like a leaf. I was pumping myself up, saying, "I'm brave. I'm strong. I can do this! I'm honest. I'm courageous. I can do this!"
 
I called. The phone rang, then "click." They had lifted the receiver and put it right back down so it wouldn't ring. I called again. Same thing happened. I called again. He picked up.
 
We went round and round about how he couldn't read the letter. Then he said he was going to send me a letter, and that it wouldn't be "all bad," only partly.
 
So then the gate of sarcasm broke loose and all the waters rushed out. The anger and disgust at him suddenly came out. No more fear.
 
I use a sickeningly sweet, dramatic voice, "Oh, I'm so sorry! Karl is not going to let me read your letter. If you send it by email, he's going to block your account. I'll never see it. And if you send it by mail, Karl is going to rip it up, then burn it. If you send it by certified mail where I have to sign for it, Karl will sign my name, then rip it up and burn it. I'm so sorry. I will never get it."
 
He stays silent. He doesn't get it.
 
I tell him, "Karl is going to do exactly what mom did to the letter meant for you. He will OBSTRUCT it's delivery. Period."
 
Silence.
 
"You promise to read my letter, I'll read yours."
 
So later when he's talking to Karl, he tells Karl that he promises to read the letter, if we send it one more time to him. He tells us that he promises he will unblock our email addresses. And that he promises to tell us he has read it after he does so.
 
Turns out, he lied. Later that night he sent us an email saying he unblocked us. I sent the email. I sent another saying "did you read it?"
 
No response.
 
It's been a month now. He hasn't tried to send any letter to me, either.  
 
Their true colors came out during that call.
 
My mother told me that I am now officially cut off from the family. She started laughing and told me to not expect a birthday card or call on my birthday, which was about a week away at that time. She told me she didn't want me there for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any holiday after that. She didn't want me calling or writing or trying to get in contact with her any more.
 
Then she stirs up this sorrowful, syrupy, melodramatic and judgmental tone, "AJ." Long pause for effect. "Don't you wonder why T moved out?"
 
I said, "What? She moved out because she has a job and just got herself an apartment."
 
Then my mother said, "AJ." Long pause. "Don't you wonder why L doesn't want to visit you anymore?"
 
This is a side of my mother I've never seen before. She went from laughing during the part where she told me I wasn't wanted at the family home anymore, to judgemental and sorrowful, to angry, to deadly calm. She is going unhinged. All I felt afterwards was sorrow for her. I wasn't even able to engage back and call her out on her rudeness. It would have felt like pinching a yapping dog that is being fierce because it is hurt and has a broken leg. I know she's hurting. It doesn't excuse her, but I don't have any desire to fight her back or bring her down.
 
I did worry that my sisters actually had abandoned me as well for a few weeks. I haven't recently talked to Louisa but she called me a few months ago to see if I was doing OK. She told me she knew I was going through a stressful time, and wanted to make sure I was all right. We had a lovely conversation. L told me that she wasn't taking sides.  
 
Then yesterday, Thalia came over with her daughter Gloria and some friends, and we celebrated G's birthday. I made Gloria cupcakes and a homemade card and we went for a walk on a local trail around here. After spending so much extended time by myself for long stretches of time, it's so nice to converse with.... people! T was full of laughter and didn't seem like she hated me like my mom was trying to insinuate.
 
Then I called my younger sister Christy on her birthday a few days ago. Yes, we have a lot of November birthdays in my family. We're a bunch of Scorpios.  Christy and I were chatting away. I know she's always been on my side. C mentioned out of the blue that mom had sent her a birthday card in the mail. And called her. C told me she was shocked because my mom apparently has never called her on the phone in her adult life, and also has never sent her a birthday card. Apparently, I must have been a bit of a favorite and C wasn't. But. C apparently is my mom's favorite now. We both joked about this. About the craziness of the whole situation.
 
Even if my sisters turned against me for telling the truth, I would have told the truth anyway. Thankfully, they don't seem phased by my speaking up, and don't seem to have anything against me. Why would they? My mom was just using a scare tactic trying to create division between us where there is none. It is a sore point with her that her own sisters have kept a distance from her. Her sisters resent that the ff won't let her socialize with them, and I know she's been hurt by that. Apparently, her sisters are a "bad influence" and "give her ideas." My mom understands deeply the pain of being kept from her own family for righteousness' sake. So a sibling split is just what she wants for me.
 
I see right through her. I see her ache, her pain, her life of entrapment. She is lashing out and doesn't even know why. She thinks I'm the enemy, but she is living with the enemy and acting like he is God, her Savior. I can't work up any anger towards her. Only a wish that I could set her free.
 
But only she can do that.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Waking up to hidden abuse in the Christian faith

 

A year and six months ago, I officially chose to no longer identify as a Christian. It was the summer of 2012. Since then, many well meaning people have goaded me, guilted me, and mistakenly told me I was confusing all of Christianity for the abusive religious cult I grew up in. They told me it was ok to reject the cult I grew up in, but that I shouldn't reject all of Christianity as well.

Well, guess what. I reject it all.  I reject the teachings of the abusive, patriarchal Christian cult I grew up in. And I reject mainstream, evangelical Christianity today. In my opinion, it is imbued with toxic, demeaning beliefs. I wrote about this toxicity here and here.

It's been difficult for me to put into words just exactly what it is that just doesn't sit right with me in regards to Christianity. I'm in that fuzzy place where I'm still separating from what I'm shaking off, and am gaining clearer perspective as I go along. Which is why, when I recently read Vickie Garrison's article on abuses hidden in mainstream evangelical Christianity, I immediately knew I was going to feature it here on the blog. Vyckie has brilliantly and concisely summed up what I believe in regards to the subtle abusive burrs lurking in the seemingly benign Christian faith.

Vyckie's article "How Playing Good Christian Housewife Almost Killed Me" can be found at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nolongerquivering/2014/09/vyckie-garrison-how-playing-good-christian-wife-almost-killed-me/#disqus_thread

Vyckie Garrison was once a minor celebrity in the Quiverfull Movement, made famous by TV’s Duggar family. As a devout, Bible-believing Christian and the mother of seven homeschooled children, Garrison spent 16 years, with her husband, publishing a newspaper for families on a similar path. Today, via a website called No Longer Quivering, she publishes resources for women leaving the movement. Recently she  addressed American Atheists about her experience. This article is an abridged version of her remarks.
 
Our Christian sect encouraged a mindset in which dad was supreme patriarch. It led to extreme emotional abuse.
 
Whenever I talk about my escape from the Quiverfull movement, Christians immediately dismiss my experience by saying, “Your problem was not with Jesus or Christianity. Your problem was that you were following an extreme, legalistic cult. Let me tell you about my personal relationship with Jesus.” It can be extremely frustrating. I was in a close, personal relationship with Jesus for over 25 years. But rather than telling you about the beginning of my relationship with this man, I am going to spare you the long story and skip straight to the break up.
 
The end of my life as a "Bride of Christ" came after a visit to Bright Horizons, which is the local domestic violence shelter in my hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska. I went there for help in filing a restraining order against my husband, whose emotional and mental abuse against me and my children had escalated to the point that I was in the midst of a complete mental and physical breakdown. He had taken 6 of our 7 children to a town three hours from our home and was preventing me from having any contact with them unless I agreed to his terms for our "reconciliation."
 
At the women's shelter, I was given a form to complete ... I wrote three pages describing the situation in our home, and after reading what I had written, the crisis volunteer said to me, "The judge will not grant you a protection order unless you actually accuse your husband of abuse."
 
I told her that I didn’t really think my husband was “technically” abusive, and in fact, I had no doubt that he truly loved me and the kids. He always put us first … he basically centered his entire life around us! We were a good Christian family. The Bible commands husbands to “love your wives as Christ loved the church.” That’s the sort of godly man I was married to: a true patriarch who ruled his home according to God’s principles for marriage and family.
 
We had studied the Bible carefully, and knew so much about “Biblical Family Values,” that we felt qualified to teach others via our “Pro-life, Pro-family” Christian newspaper, The Nebraska Family Times. In 2003, we were named “Nebraska Family of the Year” by the Nebraska Family Council … and this was in recognition of our work to help get DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) passed in Nebraska. That’s not something that I’m at all proud of these days, but at the time, being named “Family of the Year” was enough to convince me that we were on the right track so far as marriage and family goes. I had become somewhat of a leader in what is now called “the Quiverfull movement” - Christian fundamentalist families who are dedicated to actually living out the biblical model for marriage and family in their daily lives.
 
Probably the most recognizable and influential Quiverfull family in America is reality TV’s Duggar Family of “Way Too Many and Counting” fame. But unlike fundamentalist Mormons who tend to congregate in just a few places in Utah, Arizona, Texas, etc., you will find Quiverfull families in nearly all types of churches in every community. This is because Quiverfull is not a denomination, with a creed to sign and a church to join. And it’s not technically a cult in the strict sense of having one central leader … instead, Quiverfull is a mindset (a very powerful head trip) in which each family becomes a cult unto itself with Daddy enshrined as the supreme Patriarch.



Based on a literalist interpretation of Psalm 127, Quiverfull families eschew all forms of birth control. They have a high regard for the patriarchal family structure found in the Old Testament which emphasizes hierarchy, authority, and strict gender roles for men, women, boys, and girls.
 
The reason you can find Quiverfull families in nearly every type of Christian congregation is because Quiverfull beliefs are not actually a radical departure from traditional Christian teachings regarding marriage and family. It is my contention that Quiverfull IS regular Christianity writ large ... lived out to its logical conclusion.
 
As Quiverull believers, my husband and I proudly embraced the ideal of biblical headship and submission. We believed, as the Bible teaches, that it is the man who is ultimately responsible for the spiritual well-being of his wife and children, and who must one day stand before his Maker and give an account. My husband understood this, and he took it very seriously … which is why he tried SO hard to be a loving, godly patriarch.
 
“So,” the woman at the domestic violence shelter asked me, “if he’s such a great, loving husband and father, what are you doing here? Why do you need a protection order?”
 
I tried to explain that, for some reason, despite how hard we were both trying to live according to Christian principles, our home had become an oppressive, miserable place in which none of us were happy, and it felt like we were all losing our minds. The problem was, everything I knew about relationships had been so completely redefined by Christian teachings that I did not have the language to name the abuse.



So I went to therapy. One of the first things Deb, my counselor, showed me was a "Power and Control Wheel" which is a tool for helping abuse victims identify ways in which they are being manipulated, exploited, mistreated and enslaved.
 
As Deb went over each aspect of the Power & Control wheel, I began to realize that, yes, of course, all of these elements were present in my marriage … it’s just that we had different names for these things … we had chapter and verse to teach us that power and control is actually good and godly. We called it “Agape Love” - it’s the kind of love which God has for His creation …this was the relationship we were supposed to use as our model between husband and wife.



For instance: the signs of emotional abuse include put downs, shaming, and guilt-tripping. Well, this is something my husband would never do … there really was no need since I was already fully aware of my inherently sinful nature, my “desperately wicked heart,” … He didn’t need to remind me that even my very best efforts were like filthy rags in comparison to God’s holiness.
 
Plus, I knew that as a woman, I was particularly susceptible to deception by Satan. How many times, when we were discussing an important decision, had my husband said to me, “What you are suggesting SOUNDS reasonable, but how do I know that Satan isn’t using you to deceive me?”
 
Well, according to the Bible, it was very likely that Satan WAS using me “And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through child-bearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Timothy 2:14-15… As a good Christian woman, the last thing I wanted was to be accused of having a “Jezebel Spirit”!! Jezebel is the bossy, bold and dominating woman, who ‘wears the pants’ in the family, and in the Bible account, things ended badly for her: “’Throw her down’Jehu said. So they threw her down and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.” (2 Kings 9:33)



Intimidation creates fear … but how can fear be a bad thing when, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom?” Was I afraid of my husband? Not in a physical sense, but I was always hesitant to contradict or “disrespect” him because God had placed him in authority over me, and God-given authorities can be considered “umbrellas of protection.”
 
Patriarchy is God’s umbrella of protection. By honoring and submitting to their husbands, wives receive the privileges of their spiritual protection. If a wife resists her husband’s instructions, she forfeits her place under his protection - not just for herself, but for also for her children.



My husband didn’t intentionally isolate me and the children … it just kind of happened as a logical progression of our decision to live radically for Jesus. First, I dropped out of college and quit my job in order to be a “keeper at home” as the Bible commands. Then we cut out all meaningful associations with unbelievers, and most of our extended family who didn’t share our dedication to righteous living.
 
We taught our kids at home to protect them from the evil influence of godless humanism which we believed was the religion taught in the “government schools.” We eventually got to the point where we were so "biblical" that we felt the local Independent Fundamental Baptist church in our town was too liberal, too compromising ... so we began homechurching with a couple of "like-minded" families who also were leaving their family planning up to God and homeschooling their many children.



Minimizing, denying, and blaming … this one was obvious to me, because IN LIGHT OF ETERNITY, whatever suffering or adversity I might encounter as a result of our commitment to live according to biblical principles were merely “light and momentary afflictions.” Sure there were times when submitting to my husband’s decisions was a hassle, and yes, the pregnancies nearly killed me every time, BUT … who was I to complain, considering everything that Jesus had done for me? If I thought “almost” dying was bad, just imagine how horrible it was for Jesus, who actually died!! Motherhood was my mission field. Missionaries often risk their lives in order to spread the Gospel. And just like the missionaries, if I died in childbirth, in Heaven, I would wear a Martyr’s Crown.



Using children” didn’t really ring true to me. Everyone knows “Jesus love the little children” and the whole reason we were knocking ourselves out to follow the biblical model for marriage and family was in order to create a safe, loving home for our children, so no … I told Deb, “Using children? I don’t think that one really applies.”
 
… oh, except the part where using any form of birth control was tantamount to playing God, so I was kept perpetually pregnant or nursing, or both for more than 11 years. That verse in Psalm 127 says, “Blessed is the MAN who has his quiver full of them” … and it goes on to say,”he shall not be ashamed, but will speak with the enemies in the gates.” We were taught that in Bible times, the city gate was the place where male leaders made decisions regarding local government.
 
So this was about political domination. The whole point of having a quiver full of babies is to ... out-populate the “enemy,” … that would be all of you; and to shoot those many arrows “straight into the heart of the enemy.” And by that, we meant that our children would grow up to be leaders in all the major institutions of our society. This was our plan for taking back America for God. So the children were like arrows (which is the ammunition) in God’s holy war. So, yeah … “using children” … definitely put a great big checkmark by that one.
 
Oh … and for those who are curious, but too polite to ask what it is like for these Quiverfull wives who are breeding like rabbits, I have a little story for you. A guy bunny meets a lady bunny in the field, and he says to her, “This won’t take long, did it?” (My kids hate it when I tell that joke. They say that it’s TMI.)



I wouldn’t say that my husband used male privilege to control and dominate me and the kids. Male privilege was his rightful position. As Paul says in the book of 1 Corinthians, “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. And man was not created for woman, but woman for man.
Biblical marriage is supposed to be a living portrait of the relationship between Jesus and the church, the “Bride of Christ.” Jesus has all power, all authority which is given to him by HIS Father (the same way power and authority are given by God to earthly fathers).
 
… So even though I’d heard that “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” I couldn’t believe that God-ordained authority could be abused because “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for a friend.” Jesus had that perfect love … He was a “servant-leader” …. and husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, right?
 
We believed that while men were “privileged” with greater authority, they also were burdened with ultimate responsibility … so a woman’s absolute dependence was really more of a hardship for the man than for the ones over whom he held God-ordained dominion.



Economic abuse? Well sure, money was always tight, but hey, finances were no picnic for my husband either, and besides, we had these promises ...
 
My God will supply all my needs,” and “I have never seen a righteous man forsaken or his children begging for bread” … It was really just a matter of trust, plus careful money management.



God always provided for us financially … like the time He led me to deliver my 5th baby at home with just a midwife …. never mind that homebirth was insanely risky considering the health issues which led to my first four babies being delivered by c-section … the baby and I both survived … and we saved a ton of money.
 
What could possibly make more sense than God’s financial plan?



Coercion and threats … “No,” I told Deb, “he never threatened me.” I *willinging* went along with all the harsh demands of the Quiverfull lifestyle, and in many instances, I was the one who pushed patriarchy and headship ON HIM. Why would I do that?
 
Because I believed our family had an ENEMY who was determined to steal, kill, and destroy our souls, and the souls of our children, for all eternity! Our only protection from spiritual disaster, was within that one little secret spot of safety which Corrie ten Boom called, “The Hiding Place.” “The Hiding Place” isn’t any physical location … instead, it is a very specific, very narrow position ... directly in the center of God’s will. There, and only there, we could safely trust in God’s protection.
 
He never had to raise his voice to keep me and the children in our place. And when he did raise his voice, well that was “speaking the truth in love.” When he constantly criticized and complained about all the ways in which the children and I failed to live up to God’s perfect standards, he was “hating the sin, but loving the sinner.” He didn’t have to brandish a weapon in order to control our every action, indeed even our thoughts and feelings. All he had to do was fulfill his God-appointed role of Patriarch; to love us as Christ loves the church.
 
After going through all the points on the Power and Control wheel, I was ready to admit that, yes, I was in an abusive relationship. I told my counselor, “I want out!”
 
Deb said me, “You have to protect yourself and your children! You need to divorce this man!”
 
She was talking about my husband, and I was thinking, “Well, yeah ... him, too.”
 
I did file for divorce and rescue myself and my kids from the tyranny of patriarchy. But for me, the primary break up was with Jesus. You see, being in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a set up for dysfunctional game-playing and crazy-making head trips. According to Christianity, Jesus subjected himself to torture and death, so that we could have the “free gift” of eternal life … and by “free,” he means, it’s only going to cost you everything you have and everything you are.
 
When the very definition of perfect love is sacrificing your children and martyring yourself, there is no place for emotionally healthy concepts like boundaries, consent, equality, and mutuality. I could not say that my husband’s patriarchal behavior was abusive so long as I was committed to a relationship with “The Big Guy” who exemplifies the abusive bully, and who commands his followers to imitate His very warped and twisted idea of “love.”
 
I started a blog, No Longer Quivering, as a way to process my Quiverfull life and try to understand how I’d come to embrace such a fanatical lifestyle. The response was surprisingly phenomenal and over time, NLQ has grown to into something like a movement of women escaping and healing from spiritual abuse. There are now dozens of former fundamentalist women (and a few men) who are sharing their stories, and many of the kids who were raised in these homes have started their own blogs, including Libby Anne, who runs the amazing, Love, Joy, Feminism site on Patheos. Getting out is extremely hard. Leaving an abusive relationship is challenge enough, and when you have half a dozen or more kids, no marketable job skills … BUT, Quiverfull women are already used to doing the impossible, so when it comes to rescuing themselves and their children, “extremely hard” feels like a relief!
 
[Editor’s note: Vyckie doesn’t say so, but in contrast to publishing resources for Quiverfull families, publishing for women in recovery doesn’t pay. Some of the women at No Longer Quivering recently launched a fundraiser to keep Vyckie from losing her house.]
 
Some Quiverfull kids are making the break, too. Growing up in a Quiverfull home means being raised by a narcissistic father and having a mother with a huge martyr complex. The kids are treated as property to be hoarded. They are isolated, coerced and manipulated, abused and deprived socially and educationally. As surrogate moms, the older daughters bear the brunt of the work: cleaning, cooking … even homeschooling and disciplining their younger siblings when the Quiverfull mothers become too worn down and burned out from perpetual pregnancy and trying to keep up with this unsustainable lifestyle.
 
When they finally encounter the “real world,” these kids are pissed. They feel ripped off … and rightfully so. The backlash is awesome to witness as they’ve channeled their anger into activism and begun to fight back with their own websites such as Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. All of these sites are linked at No Longer Quivering and I encourage you to check them out.
 
 
Note: Credit for the original Power and Control Wheel goes to Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs in Duluth, MN.