I Was Trained to Torture Myself: Grace’s Story, Part Two
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Grace” is a pseudonym
I’m finding that my story is more about my parents, and their relationship with each other, which is now falling apart, than it is about homeschooling or religion. Everything I learned about the world was from them. That knowledge motivates me to be a better parent to my babies.
I am trying to make my life more organized and manageable, and ask for help when I need it. I had been really good about not isolating myself and shutting down, but I did shut down last week and it got bad fast. I found myself staring at [my husband’s] rifle thinking it was an easy way out.
Usually I recognize the depression symptoms before that point and catch myself.
I hope that sharing this might help you to not feel so alone, because I bet you can identify in some way.
I’m going to talk about the depression and anxiety with which I struggle. This is going to be mostly about my life now, maybe not so much about when I was younger.
I have felt a tangible darkness in my life almost as far back as I can remember. And I think the anxiety started more around my teens. When I was younger depression took the form of guilt, and not measuring up. I remember learning about God in the earliest stage of my life. At 5 years old I felt the weight of my sin like a burden (remember Pilgrim’s Progress? Did your family have that book?) and gave my life to Jesus because I felt the need to be forgiven.
When I think about it now, it is amazing that I have continued to follow God, because that first conversion was very much out of a fear (afraid, not respect) of God and his wrath because of what my parents taught me. I have always been extremely sensitive, caring, and aware of others’ feelings, whether in general or their feelings towards me. I believe it is a gift, but it also has its challenges.
So here I was, 5 years old, feeling the need to be saved from myself because I believed that I was very evil. I’m not sure when the voices started, but I did hear voices as a child. I’m not talking about negative self-talk, which did happen later in life. I’m not talking about a still small voice that is supposed to be God. I heard narration in my head of what I was doing. My mind was tortured.
I believe it stemmed from witnessing and experiencing the violence my father dished out. I was “disciplined” by being spanked with a wooden paddle, which was bigger than my dad’s hand, and his hands aren’t small.
I learned later that he made the paddle himself. It sickens me to think about it.
I really do forgive my parents for the things they did, because I think they were doing the best they knew how, and even when my dad got a little nuts and hit us or threw us around, which was totally wrong, you simply cannot live a healthy life without forgiveness.
So as a result of being abused, which to me was not as hard to deal with as the trauma of watching my dad hurt my siblings or my mom, and seeing what I saw, I think my child-brain dissociated, and the part that distanced itself decided it was safer to tell the story so that perhaps there would be a happy ending.
This is all speculation.
Another theory about this is that I wanted to be able to blame myself for my father’s outbursts, because if it was something I had done wrong, I had control over that, I could fix that.
So I became a perfectionist and a control freak.
Anxiety has been a part of my life in a big way since I was 12. I walked in on my dad looking at a picture of a naked woman on the computer. I confronted him about it, and he said he didn’t want Mom to know. I waited until he fell asleep on the couch, and with my heart pounding out of my chest, snuck out of the house, over the backyard fence, and slept in my neighbor’s backyard until 5 am when my friend’s mom woke up. Then I scared her half to death by knocking on the window. She invited me in, and let me sleep on their couch until morning.
My dad came over, looking for me, and then took me out to breakfast. We talked about other things, and he finally said that he had told mom about what happened.
The thing was, it took me years, more than a decade, to realize the damage done by witnessing that one event. The anxiety and anorexia started at the same time. I became afraid of gaining weight, because in my young mind, that was the only thing I could see that was wrong with my mom, that she was slightly overweight, and not happy about it. I somehow equated my dad mentally cheating with my mom’s so-called imperfection.
My mom even remembers that all through my teens, I was never hungry. I didn’t even become aware of my eating disorder until I was in my 20s and didn’t gain enough weight with my pregnancies, and lost weight after I gave birth. At one point I was 111 pounds, and I’m just over 5’6′.
Counseling, years of counseling, has brought up all these issues, and I have been able to work through many of them and continue growing and maturing. There is much pain in my heart, but pain is what helps people grow.
So back to my story.
I was anxious, fearful, and never hungry. I was afraid, no, convinced, that a man would leave me, whether emotionally, sexually, or just plain get up and walk out the door, if I was fat. The thing is, my mom has never been obese. I never thought she was overweight. My mother is beautiful. Her eyes and smile are radiant. And she’s curvy, in a good way. I never saw anything wrong with her. But she was unhappy about her weight, and I picked up on that. So I thought it must be really easy to gain weight. I thought maybe I wouldn’t even know when I was fat. So I didn’t eat very much.
When I did eat a lot, I felt guilty, like I was doing something wrong. I’m not even talking eating a lot. To me, a lot is like what normal people consider a regular portion of food. This fear of being left eventually drove me to losing my virginity before I was really ready for it, to practically manipulating my ex-husband to marry me after we slept together for the first time, before we were married.
A lot of these situations were also exacerbated by my fear and religious zeal. I was so worried about trying to obey God so that I wouldn’t be in trouble, I tried to fix any mistake, and would many times mentally beat myself up because I had made what I considered the wrong decision, whether I had the information to be able to make a better decision or not.
I was mean. I was harsh. I hated myself, and hated on myself.
Negative self-talk was a way of life. Sometimes I joke about this being from the “Catholic” side of the family, because of the idea of penance, or atoning for your own sins. But Jesus… the whole reason he died was supposed to be to save us from these sins we’re trying to make up for.
My eyes are tearing up as I write this. So much wasted time spent trying to make things right that were already covered by God’s grace. Imperfection. God loves it. He loves us. It took me so long to know this, to experience this.
I had heard it many times but it meant nothing because my parents modeled self-hatred. I think this is the core of what tortures many of us: our parents’ modeling of behaviors.
It would be impossible had I not already been sharing it all along, in bits and pieces, with friends, and hurting people who needed to hear it. I so appreciate the opportunity to reach people on a broader scale. Connection is the heart of existence, I think.
There are plenty of times when I want to just have it out with people, but experience (being the scapegoat, especially having my dad yell at me, which I still have nightmares about on a regular basis) has taught me that:
1. Nobody likes being yelled at, and
2. The people who have made the biggest impact on my life are the ones who always assume the best of people.
I want to be like the latter, because it will have a positive and comforting impact on the people around me, and shows the love of Jesus. I will, however, attack religious zealots with great fervor. See Jesus v. Animal Sellers at Temple.
More about depression and anxiety. From January until April, my depression is hardcore. I had a miscarriage in late March, another in early April (different years), right after my grandfather died.
When I was 11 I was molested (in January), and again in April.
My sister was sexually assaulted in April when she was young, and was hospitalized as a result.
February is my birthday, Valentine’s Day, and the anniversary of my ex and my marriage. January was when I left my ex, and also when he took the kids from me and wouldn’t give them back.
One year I tried to commit suicide in April.
March I was served with divorce papers.
April he had his first supervised visitation and I started smoking.
The list goes on… These are definitely not in chronological order. But you get the idea. So, left unchecked, my auto-pilot goes into self-destruct mode during those months. It’s not too bad the first couple months of the year, and I can get through it alright, but once the end of March rolls around, I am a dead woman walking. It’s a struggle to do anything productive. The rest of the year, the depression is much more easily manageable.
This hasn’t always been the case. It’s taken years of counseling to even realize I had depression.
I could describe some of the symptoms, but my parents had always called it laziness. I thought I was just stupid, lazy, a bad person, and not good at life. Even though it’s clear that mental illness runs in my family, ex. depression, anxiety, possible bi-polar, and a distant relative was institutionalized when I was a kid. I know relatives who have eating disorders, paranoia, OCD, and aggressive tendencies. But almost none have been evaluated or diagnosed. I think it’s more about the stigma, and not enough information being out there about these illnesses, than refusal of treatment.
I think there is a correlation between mental illness and homeschooling. Not that homeschooling creates or affects mental illness, but that those who suffer from mental illness tend towards the option of homeschooling their children. When people with social disorders who have a hard time getting along with others are deciding on school options for their children, they may have the idea that their child may suffer from the same anxiety when around other children that they did when they were kids. I think unfortunately they may only think about this subconsciously, and not think about it as possibly a challenge to be overcome, but rather something to be avoided.
So we see a lot of socially awkward parents, isolating their children, homeschooling them, and the children may or may not be socially awkward, and whether this is a genetic disorder that is passed on, or simply something the children learn from their parents is something else to figure out.
I think another sad reality of people who choose homeschooling is that some use it as a way to hide abuse in their home. They are already paranoid about the authorities, especially in homeschooling-hostile states, and don’t realize how damaging, illegal, and cyclic abuse is. They also seem to believe they are above the law.
It really is like a separate religion.
And then when you have crazy cult leaders like Bill Gothard and make your children wear jean jumpers to the floor and dear God no shorts or tank tops!
It just makes the whole bunch look like nutcases.
So don’t drink the koolaid. Homeschooling is not evil, as I used to say, and neither is communism, and in a perfect world, they would work.
But this world is imperfect.
To be continued.