Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Seven: Lana Hobbs the Brave

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Seven: Lana Hobbs the Brave

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool. Part Seven of this series was originally published on June 19, 2013.

Part Seven: Lana Hobbs the Brave

This is the final part of my story. For the introduction and the list of all previous posts -and any recap posts I might do – see here. 

Trigger Warning for descriptions of suicidal thoughts.

After Christmas 2012, which was more stressful than usual due to having left the Church and not knowing what I believed or what was trustworthy, I was a bit blue.

In early January 2013, mild post holiday blues turned into a full-scale serious depression with severe pain, emotional darkness, suicidal thoughts, and on occasion the inability to get out of bed. No will to eat, read, or tell any friends I was depressed. Due to the changes in my beliefs and my depression, I wasn’t even sure I had friends. Frequently, getting out of bed and getting dressed was all I accomplished. I moved to the couch or floor and lay by my children while they played.

Sometimes instead of a deep sadness or an apathetic depression I experienced a raging, drive-the-plane-into-the-ground, furious depression. I sometimes would read short blog posts or play quick games on my phone, when I had furious depression, to distract myself from it.

For months, I felt nothing but depression and self loathing, with tiny blips of less-sad that i struggled to feel and pass off as happiness, mostly for Luke’s sake and our children’s sake.
I stayed as strong as i could during the day and after the boys went to bed I broke down (you can imagine what this did to our sex life. Basically obliterated it. Making me feel even guiltier.)

I was also dealing with leaving the faith and coming to terms with some things my parents had taught me – I was trying to salvage my faith while getting rid of the self-righteousness and legalism. Trying to thresh out beliefs while your brain wants to kill you is plain hard.

And the suicidal thoughts – they were just there; the wish to not-live was almost constant. I wanted to cut myself so bad, but I was afraid of being caught, especially by my children. I banged my head against the wall in a twisted (but sensible, at the time) attempt to feel better about myself, to punish myself for being a miserable, depressed person.

Gone – or pushed aside – were my beliefs that ‘this isn’t my fault’. To Luke’s frustration, all my progress seemed lost in the fog. The self doubt and hatred from my college days all came back, but now I had the words to combat that. It was a battle; a near-constant battle between self hatred and the wish to die and acknowledgment of illness and the wish to really live.

At one point, I decided to get help, but I shook and gagged when I held the phone to make the call. Luke called the place we had decided on, and they weren’t taking new patients without referrals. There were a couple other places to call, but we didn’t. It is hard to find mental health care around here and I was still fighting — ‘yes i need it, no i refuse it won’t help but it might but i don’t need it I’mabadperson!’

One night, I decided to kill myself. I purposely tried to stay awake until Luke slept. He noticed and asked why. I decided to tell him so he wouldn’t be unpleasantly surprised at finding my dead body. I considered myself a very thoughtful person. I can’t remember my plan (some things I don’t want to remember, I hardly like to remember this) but I had one. I felt as happy as I had felt in a long time.

(Wow this is hard to write. It all made so much sense at the time, you see. This depression-mind feels so far away, although not as far as this somewhat healthier brain felt then.)

I literally couldn’t remember what it felt like to be healthy or happy, or what my personality was like when everything didn’t make me sad or panicky. So I was ready to end it.

When I announced my plan, Luke was… mad. As mad as I had ever seen him. I tried to explain that we would all be much happier if I were dead. It was the ultimate solution. My depressed self finds that Luke rarely understands my brilliant depressed logic. He was angry. He yelled , ‘This cannot be happening!’ He hit the wall beside the bed with both fists. I have never seen him so angry, but I wasn’t really scared, I was mostly sad for him, that he didn’t realize how brilliant my plan was and how happy he could be. He assured me it was a stupid plan and he wouldn’t be happy and our boys would not be better off without me.

I didn’t want to die. i just didn’t want to ruin everyone’s lives by being alive and being a terrible depressed mom, and I was tired of fighting. I was tired of trying and feeling like I was failing at life. Tired of being miserable. And just tired. Always so tired.

But Luke didn’t care about that. He furiously challenged my logic, but more than that he reminded me of promises I had made to never kill myself. Something in his anger reached through the superficial happiness of my final decision. I held him to my chest, whispered ‘shhhh’ and I angrily and sadly remade the promise. ‘I won’t, Love. I won’t kill myself. I’ll stay here for you. Why are you doing this to me? You’re a jerk. But I’ll stay. I promise. shhhh. it’s okay. You’re mean. But I promise.”

I was pissed off, but I was not going to die.

The next weekday (I think it was a weekend at the time, days are fuzzy when you are depressed), he made a call and made an appointment for an initial evaluation. The appointment was scheduled for Friday, that week.

I was nervous. It was at an inpatient mental health hospital, with lots of locked doors and old faded carpets. We waited forever, and when I went in, I was by myself and frightened, but the man who did my evaluation did his best to put me at ease. I cried while answering questions – they should keep tissues in there.

The evaluator recommended considering medication and therapy and told me I’d be getting a call to make an appointment for each.

That was the beginning of the official journey to seek help, although my journey to mental health really began 4 ½ years before that when I finally allowed myself to think I might have a problem beyond just not being good enough.

During this depression, while I was hunting for the truth and what to believe, and how to heal, I was slowly coming to realize I really had issues and I really could get help. When I was in bed but could concentrate, I read a lot of stories of people – women especially – who had grown up in fundamentalist circles and left. They were often scarred, and some of them have mental illnesses. They got therapy, they talked to friends, they took meds, they admitted that they were not mentally healthy and that praying it away wouldn’t help.

Whether they were blogging about therapy or just about leaving fundamentalism, these strong women helped me realize i could get help, and they helped me occasionally see a glimmer of hope through the fog. SarahSamanthaLibby AnneSarah, and Shadowspring were all helpful.

I was mentally ill, I had been mistreated and misled in the name of Jesus, but I could get help. Maybe, someday, I could be healthy.

We made appointments, I had to wait 8 weeks because mental health care is apparently hard to come by where we live and everyone is booked, and then I finally got to see a therapist and a nurse practioner, both funny, good listeners, and Christians, and both saying I present as bipolar. My med-lady, C, had heard the pharmacopeia/witchcraft argument before (I brought it up as making me hesitant to take medicines, to partially explain how long it took to get help), and flourished her pen like a witch’s wand when writing my prescription.

If I ever feel like a terrible person when I take my medicines, I picture C flourishing her pen to write out an order for my magic potion, and I laugh, and I take my medicine with gratitude that I am getting help for my brain’s struggles.

I’m learning things in therapy, and I’m taking meds every day and we’ll work on dosages but I think the mood stabilizers started helping right within a week. I have stabilizers, anti-depressants, and something to take for anxiety when i need it.

I have a new self-help tool that is all about changing my thinking. So now I have decided to view it not as fighting my brain or hating on my brain, but as working with my brain and my body, with therapy, meds, and a lot of thought-changing, to become a healthy individual.

I’m still pretty messed up. I still deal with depression and hypomania. I still struggle with the stigma and other unhealthy ideas from my fundamentalist upbringing. I will always be bipolar, and I might always have to fight against the negative self-beliefs in my brain since childhood. But I will learn to handle them better.

I have always been brave and strong, and I think that some day, it will show up for everyone to see.

In the meantime, I know it. I am bipolar. I am depressed but I am getting help. I am strong. I will raise my children and I will live my life.

I am Lana Hobbs the Brave.

*****

End of series.

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Six: Unashamed of Taking Evil Pills

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Six: Unashamed of Taking Evil Pills

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool. Part Six of this series was originally published on June 17, 2013.

*****

In this series: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven.

*****

Part Six: Unashamed of Taking Evil Pills

This is the next part in my story of over coming shame and stigma from my fundamentalist christian upbringing, and finally being willing to take medication and get therapy for bipolar disorder – which hadn’t been diagnosed at the time. For the introduction and list of all previous posts, see here. The following section doesn’t deal with depression, but with another problem that required a solution which many people I knew would have been opposed to, and therefore wound up being closely linked to my later decision to take anti-depressants and mood stabilizers.

In spring 2012, I began having worse health problems than usual. They seemed to be, ahem, lady problems. I’ll not be very explicit, but it is actually an important part of my story.

I had severe pain and dizziness during different points in my cycle, and irregular periods. After a several months of suffering, with days at a time that I was so dizzy and cramping so badly that I was practically immobile, I made the connection with the pain and my cycles, and then finally made an appointment with an ob-gyn.

I had some blood tests done, but nothing came back irregular.

My ob-gyn wasn’t sure what to do besides prescribe birth control pills. They would stop me from ovulating and supress my natural hormones. She figured it would give me relief and perhaps when I went off them, my cycles would be better able to regulate themselves.

One problem: I was taught that birth control pills are a sin, because they are abortifacient. Still, I wanted to be physically healthy to take care of my family.

I was in a pickle. So I turned to Google. I spent hours online looking for answers. I hoped to either find another way of dealing with my problems, or else find that certain pills were less risky, but my research actually led me to believe that evangelicals have generally blown the ‘abortifacient’ thing WAY out of proportion.

After much reading and emotional wrestling, I decided pills weren’t abortion, and that it wasn’t my job to make sure that my womb was constantly ready for children I didn’t plan to conceive, at the expense of caring for the children I already have (and my husband and myself). My pain and dizziness was putting me out of commission about ten days each month at that point.

I took the pill. For about a month, it made my emotions crazy. The hormones were nuts. Then it began to help with the pain and the hormones screwing up my brain gradually quieted down. I wasn’t really better, but I was better than I had been and on the road to improvement. I was told to give it three months and during month two, I began to feel hopeful.

I had a friend over during the time that the crazy symptoms of starting birth control were abating. We talked about my health a little, and I told her I was getting better compared to the first month, and I was hopeful this would really help my strange health problems.

Sometime shortly after, I had a rather emotional weekend involving a bit of family stuff.

We got to church late that Sunday. I was tense already. The sermon was about stress. The pastor repeated over and over the things that make people stressed. (I think the point was we should trust God?) At one point he shared an anecdote about how ‘stressed’ people in Walmart are when their kids pitch a fit, but that’s all because they never taught the kid to behave by spanking it like God said. That really made me angry. I was nauseous from being so angry at the judgemental attitudes Christians often have towards other’s parenting, when they have no clue what is going on with the family. (We don’t spank, by the way. Non-spanking is frowned on at our old church.)

Plus the word stress, over and over, made me feel even more stressed.

After the service, I was surrounded by a horde of women telling me they had prayed for us earlier in the service; my friend had shared a prayer request and they were all so glad I was doing so much better, praise God!

I was bewildered and felt betrayed by a trusted friend sharing about me to the whole church without permission.  Besides, I wasn’t really ‘better’ and if I were, what would all these women who were praising God say, if they knew the pills so many of them called evil, abortifacient, and ‘not pro-life’ were what were starting to help me feel better. Prayer had done nothing, the pills that were off limits for so long due to my religious beliefs had done something (and by the time the three months were up, they had helped immensely! I still take them).

I felt like all these people were flocking around me to praise God, without really caring about the state of my mind, body, or heart. They just wanted to hear a testimony.

There, with the stress, the frustration at church, and the knowledge my solution was a villified little pill, I had a panic attack in the middle of all those women. I retreated as soon as I could and hugged my knees to my chest in a dark room, while taking deep breaths.

Then I stood, gathered myself, and walked out the door with dignity, nodding goodbyes to everyone.

I sat in the car with a smile on my face. Luke caught up with me with the kids.

‘Well, dear’, I told him, ‘this is my last time at church. I’m done and I am very happy with my decision. You go wherever you want for church, but I am deciding to be my own person, and I am done until I am ready to go back.’

I’ve been to my in-law’s church a few times since (have I mentioned Luke is a PK?), for special occasions, but most of those have triggered panic attacks.

I need more time, and I may never go back to any church.

The evil pills helped me more than the prayers. Despite what I had believed about medical professionals being money-grabbers, the doctors cared more about me really getting better than most of the people seemed to. I realized if I wanted to get healthy I would have to embrace the medical discoveries, because prayer, herbs and trying to have a perfect attitude and a perfect diet were not solving my problems.

My last time in church was early fall 2012. The birth control pills helped me feel healthier, and taking pills I had once thought were wrong to take made me more open to both doctors and possibly taking medications for mental illness some day.

I was doing better than I had in awhile, and i felt lighter from leaving a church where people seemed to judge anyone making different choices. By this point i had tasted ‘grace’ – or understanding of differences – in a few friends and my mother in law and in books like Grace based Parenting, and I thought the church should have more of that. I’ve found a lot more kindness and love outside the Church than inside it.

I continued to have my usual mood swings, but nothing I couldn’t cope with. But then came winter.

*****

To be continued.

Our Bodies, Our Selves: The Other Other Side of Modesty

Our Bodies, Our Selves: The Other Other Side of Modesty

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Last week Brett Harris wrote about “the other side of modesty.” For so long, the conservative Christian conversation about modesty and purity has appeared disturbingly and humorously lopsided. Modesty teachers exhort young women to dress in certain ways so as to not lead young men to lust, and young men are exhorted to help preserve young women’s “emotional purity.” By constructing a purely fictional binary, where men are sexual and women are emotional, modesty and purity teachings have flourished.

Then Brett came along and threw a small wrench into the binary modesty machine, saying,

If I’ve learned anything from the original Modesty Survey it’s that these discussions can be dangerous. For one thing, talking about modesty and lust in the same article can imply that immodesty causes lust, which is a destructive lie.

I commend Brett for this because it is a start. To make any causal relationship between a woman’s outfit and a man’s actions is flat-out dangerous and destructive — end of story. But I also believe that the binary modesty machine, that he just threw a wrench into, is a machine that his own hands helped construct. Brett, and his brother Alex, authored the Modesty Survey themselves 6 years ago in 2007. They were seventeen at the time, and they hoped to do something good for other young men and women, but what they did caused significant harm.

When Brett wrote his latest article for The Rebelution, he began (I hope) the process of owning that harm. Brett said,

By our silence we send the message that modesty is a female issue and lust is a male issue.

There are lots of things I don’t agree with in modesty and purity culture. There are probably lots of things I don’t agree with Brett about. But we do agree on this — that, by their silence, they did indeed miscommunicate.

This miscommunication has caused real damage. It has created so much pain for young women, so much confusion for young men, and perpetuates some of the most ugly and destructive myths that empower rape culture to thrive today.

Admitting there is a problem is the first step.

What the solution is, well, that’s where Brett and I immediately begin to disagree.

Brett’s solution is well-summarized by the following paragraph of his:

The only difference between me and the immodest girls on campus was that I had a male shape and they had a female shape. So what was going on? I felt fit and confident in my body and wanted to show it off. This is exactly what my sisters in Christ have been carefully instructed not to do. So was I doing something wrong? If I’m going to be consistent, yes I was.

Honestly, I admire intellectual consistency. So in a sense I admire that Brett is willing to immediately begin the process of applying the same standards he has long applied to women to himself.

But, really?

This paragraph of his feels unnatural because I believe it supports a completely different solution than his: realize there is absolutely nothing wrong with “feeling fit and confident in one’s body and wanting to show it off.”

Why should Brett feel guilty about working out, taking care of his body, and then being so joyful about his body that he wants to share that joy with others? He put in some hard work. He did hard things (sorry, I had to say that). Be proud of who you are and what you look like. Rejoice in that. Live your life.

If you spent years creating the Sistine Chapel, I’m pretty sure you’d want to share your artwork with the world. I don’t see any difference between human art and the human body. In fact, the similarities are striking, in my opinion. Whether you are Christian or atheist, or whatever you are, you must grant that the human body is a work of art.

What modesty and purity culture has refused to consider, what Brett cannot quite embrace, is the idea that being happy or proud about the beauty of your body, and intentionally accentuating that beauty, is totally ok.

Do you know how insecure some women can be about their bodies? Have you ever thought about the overwhelming and debilitating insecurities that plague them when bikini season rolls around? Even if purity culture was not doubling their guilt with fear tactics about men and lust and hell and salvation, women would have an abundance of worries. Am I too fat? Can you see my cellulite? Why can’t my tummy look like that celebrity? Does my bikini bottom cover the freckles on my ass?

We are so obsessed with how big or small a bikini top can be that we forget that, for so many women, they just want to enjoy their own damn bodies, thank you very much. That woman that wears a bikini, or goes to a nightclub in a mini skirt? It is thoroughly possible that she wore that just to look cute. Not to tempt guys, or get laid. Maybe she just wants to feel good about herself, to feel beautiful. **

Sorry to break it you, but: It’s not all about men, y’all.

And whether you are male or female: there is nothing wrong with being proud of your body.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to show off the body that you have.

If you keep in my mind that we live in a world that is polarized between the extremes of commercialized sexuality, slut-shaming, body-shaming, and purity culture, I think you can see that a healthy acceptance of our bodies is so desperately needed. Our bodies are our selves, in such a fundamental and core way. We do not need more people telling us to hide our bodies, to be afraid of them, or to be ashamed of them. If you are so afraid of human sexuality that you resort to one of those tactics, you are doing something very wrong.

We do not need to hide our bodies. We need to show them.

The solution to our culture’s commercialized sexuality isn’t looking the other way at the mall when you pass Victoria’s Secret. The solution to commercialized sexuality is grounding it in the reality of what bodies actually look like: celebrating our bodies how they truly appear. Celebrating the stretch marks of pregnancy. Accepting the scars of our youth. Embracing our birth marks and our moles, our fat rolls and our baldness.

This is just who we are.

We do not need to be afraid of our bodies. We need to learn to be brave.

We have one shot at this body thing, people. One shot. I do not care whether you are an atheist or a Christian or a Buddhist — you still end up with the same basic principle. Be grateful for life. Be grateful that you are here. Be grateful for the skin and bones and blood and hair that surrounds who you are and makes you you.

Both commercialized sexuality and purity culture create the same problems, the problems of anorexia, bullimia, body-shaming, fat-shaming, and so forth. It really shouldn’t be that controversial, either, to make the triangular connection between commercialized sexuality, purity culture and rape culture. The similarities are striking. Instead of being so afraid of our bodies that we end up mirroring the opposite side of commercializing bodies, we need to re-center ourselves.

We do not need to be ashamed of our bodies. We need to celebrate them.

That woman flaunting her breasts in a low-cut shirt, the one you think should feel ashamed? Maybe her mother died of breast cancer. Have you ever thought of that? Maybe her decision to look good, show cleavage, and be proud of her breasts has absolutely nothing to do with you because you are a man — maybe, in fact, she has no idea you exist, so you thinking her showing her breasts has anything to do with you is just ridiculous and self-centered. Maybe she loves her breasts, because her mom had big breasts, too. And her mom died last year, on this very day. And that woman is celebrating that she is still alive, still has beautiful breasts, because everyday she misses her mother and wishes she was still here with her.

Did you ever think about that?

I never did. Then one day, during Breast Cancer Awareness Week, I heard a friend say what breasts meant to her as a woman. It had nothing to do with men or lust or sexuality. It had everything to do with accepting her body, accepting that cancer ran in her family, and — as she put it — “enjoying the body that God gave me while I still have time.”

And you know what? Even if some woman is just proud of her breasts because her breasts look awesome, more power to her. Your body is yours, and her body is hers. ***

I am sick and tired of how neurotic we make both men and women feel over this issue.

Our bodies are our selves.

Let us love them and love each other.

*****

*****

Notes:

** A different topic that is extraordinarily relevant, but would be tangential from the central message here of loving your body, is how even our standards of beauty are male-centric. I mention a few examples throughout this post — bikinis, mini skirts, and low-cut blouses — and the fact is, those are often the standards for beauty that our society sets. An equally important aspect of fighting both the commercialization of sexuality as well as purity culture is to empower women to dress how they define beautiful, cute, or sexy, rather than dressing how men define those things. A woman can feel just as beautiful, cute, or sexy in a sun dress or a pantsuit as she would in a cocktail dress. Yet society is going to dictate which outfit to wear, thus warping our standards of beauty. In a very real sense, then, both the commercialization of sexuality and purity culture end up at the same place: telling women what they can or cannot wear, what is or is not beautiful, and all according to male standards. Society needs to learn to give that power to women — giving them the autonomy and freedom over their bodies that is rightfully theirs.

But that is a topic for a different post.

*** Part of owning your body, by the way, is to take ownership of what you do, feel, and think, and not passing any semblance of responsibility of that onto another person or person’s body. But again, that is also a topic for a different post.

Enough Already with the Modesty and Purity Hype

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on June 27, 2013.

The other day my 18-yr old daughter posted this picture on my Facebook with the comment, “What I tell you every time”:

modesty

It cracked me up. But what was interesting to me was noticing the large amount of Facebook friends, also former homeschool kids, who were clicking the “like” button. It was as if they were saying, “Yea, what she said!” I loved some of the exchange in the comments.

Our good friend who acts like our adopted son, who opens our front door without knocking, and raids our fridge commented:

Was he a beautiful black man like myself?

His comment got a few likes. I laughed. My 23-yr old son replied:

Yet when guys do that it’s looked down upon…sinful…creeper status…et cetera. Oh the irony.

Ouch! I think he’s right. There does seem to be a distinction that it’s semi-okay for girls to look at guys, but not the other way around.

Several years ago in 2007, there was a modesty survey put out by homeschoolers, Brett and Alex Harris (Brett and Alex’s dad is Gregg Harris’ son, homeschooling pioneer and ther older brother is Pastor Josh Harris, of Covenant Life Church in MD).

Here’s an excerpt from the survey page:

The Modesty Survey is an exciting, anonymous discussion between Christian guys and girls who care about modesty. Hundreds of Christian girls contributed to the 148-question survey and over 1,600 Christian guys submitted 150,000+ answers, including 25,000 text responses, over a 20-day period in January 2007. For more information, click here.

It has been endorsed by Shaunti Feldhahn (best-selling author of For Women Only), Nancy Leigh DeMoss (author,Revive Our Hearts radio host), Albert Mohler (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Shannon Ethridge (best-selling author ofEvery Woman’s Battle series), and C.J. Mahaney (Sovereign Grace Ministries).

TheRebelution.com is the home of Alex and Brett Harris and online headquarters for the Rebelution, defined as “a teenage rebellion against low expectations.”

This survey started out in homeschool circles and quickly spread throughout young teens and adults in Christendom all over the internet, denominations, states, and even the world. I believe the modesty survey was well-intentioned, but the results have not been all positive. Instead, we have discovered a host of other issues that lie beneath the church’s sometimes over-emphasis on modesty and purity.

In the aftermath of the modesty survey, some young men policed the clothing of their female friends and graded the way she dressed by a modesty scale in their head. The way she dressed became a distraction, interfering with relationships. Young ladies were told that they might cause a man to stumble by the way she dressed and this created a lot of pain for young ladies who were burdened with a responsibility they really had no business carrying. And then we had the issue of what to do with young ladies who had curvy figures and no matter what clothes were worn, the curves could not be hidden. Some young ladies resorted to changing eating habits which led to eating disorders to lose weight in order to minimize those curves. Didn’t God create those beautiful curves? Wow, this modesty thing was now crossing the lines into intentionally altering one’s appearance because of not passing a “modesty” scale.

I don’t want to get into all of the problems that came out of this survey because it is very easy to do a Google search and you could spend days reading blog articles and sometimes hundreds of comments on particular popular articles. I really was hoping that after 6 years and hundreds of articles that this subject would die down.

Wouldn’t you know it, the same authors of the infamous modesty survey at the Rebelution blog just last week published a new article: The Other Side of Modesty, this time dealing with guys and how they dress. Really? Do we need to go there? I suppose maybe the young ladies might appreciate a little pushback or balance from their sisters in Christ, but come on. Can we be done with this already?

At our former church, there was almost an obsession on modesty and the topic of sexual immorality came up quite a bit. This was a common verse we heard and probably most of us have it memorized just because we heard it so often:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

I think sometimes we confuse looking with lusting. And that is important to note.

I have a funny story from several years ago. Now, this is “my” version because my young adult kids have a slightly different version. But until they have their own blogs, you get to read my version.

My daughter, Hannah, was probably around 19 yrs old or so and driving with her learner’s permit, so I was in the passenger seat, and my other daughter who was around 12 years old was in the back seat. A police officer pulled us over because of a burned out brake light. Let me be straight up. The police officer was a fine-looking human specimen and while my kids were used to hearing from the pulpit about how evil and lustful our eyes are, after the police officer went back to his patrol car, I said aloud to my daughters that I wouldn’t mind being pulled over again by that officer. If I remember correctly, there was a pause and then some surprised laughter coming from the girls. Their mother, a married woman said that? They were not expecting that comment from me and frankly, I don’t know if I was expecting that comment to slip out, either. Oh well, it came out loud and clear.

Did I cross the line? Some might think so. I don’t agree. You see, there seems to be a fuzzy line that brings confusion and can start to border on legalism, if not into full-fledge legalism. We were created in God’s image. God saw that what He created was good. At that moment, when I noticed that cop, and acknowledged what God had created was good and called it as such, some people have a problem with that because they think of verses like this:

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28

Was I looking at this guy with lust? No! He was just nice looking guy. Don’t you think everyone from teens all the way through adulthood know when we are looking at someone with lust? Everybody knows what that feels like — you know – – those feelings we get in our body, the places our mind goes. It’s a no-brainer. My brain did none of those things when I looked at that fine specimen.

I have read of men being physically attracted to women dressed in full Muslim attire with burqa and head coverings. Isn’t that something? We need to realize that women and men, no matter how they dress, will be eye candy for someone. We’ve got two issues going on and I think if we look at these two issues in a non-legalistic way, we can find some helpful guidelines.

• Looking is not the same as lusting. It’s okay to appreciate God’s creation. The key is to do it without lusting. We all know when we have crossed that line. It does not take a rocket scientist to tell us those signs that are happening in our body. If you happened to cross that line, acknowledge it, ask God to forgive you, and move on knowing that His grace is sufficient for you and me.

• Dress modestly. I think most of us can figure out what that means and I also think that as we mature in Christ, the boundary lines may change from time to time. We all know when we are dressing with the intent to attract the opposite sex and we all know what it’s like to dress when we are going to see grandma and grandpa. This is pretty simple. We can figure this out.

As a homeschooling mom of 20+ years, I fell into the modesty/purity hype and created all sorts of rules for my kids. I regret that it had negative consequences in my family. I’ve stopped obsessing about hemlines, etc. When I stopped obsessing about my boys walking past Victoria’s Secret at the mall and turning the television channel when we saw a young lady wearing a bikini on television, amazingly, my children stopped obsessing.

So, in conclusion, I hope we can learn to treat one another with love and grace on this topic… and appreciate God’s creation

The Big Swimsuit Question: A Roundup of Posts and Thoughts

bikini

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’s blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on May 30, 2013.

It’s summer time. Time for the big swimsuit question.

As a woman who used to swim in athletic shirts and an athletic top to ensure proper modesty, i know what the modesty teachings are. However, I don’t agree with them anymore.

I feel that modesty culture demeans and harms both men and women, promotes unhealthy thoughts, and operates based on stereotypes and misunderstandings.

I’m posting links to some posts on the subject, along with highlights, and my thoughts will follow.

There’s been this post about modesty and The Bikini Question making the rounds, and it feels very rape culturey. Defeating the Dragons explains how it promotes rape culture, as well as how futile it is for a women to try to dress in a way that certain men won’t objectify her.

But, this article, like every other article I’ve read on modesty, emphasizes that it a woman’s obligation to help protect men from our bodies. It’s our duty to make sure that we make it possible for men to forget that we’re a woman– which is, frankly, impossible. I don’t care how loose your clothes are– if you have T&A, there’s no getting rid of it, there’s no hiding it.

emily joy allison talks modesty and purity culture in her new post about How To Be a Lady:

LET’S GO AHEAD AND TIE A WOMAN’S CHARACTER DIRECTLY TO HER CLOTHING WHY DON’T WE. Yeah. That seems like a good idea. Also let’s shame women who’ve been disrespected or mistreated by men by making them think it must have been their fault somehow for wearing the “wrong” clothes and attracting the “wrong” kind of men. And to top it all off let’s pretend like Christian men do (and should) actually treat women better who “appropriately cover themselves.”

Another good post about the problems for both men and women inherent in modesty teachings: “Modesty, Body Policing, and Rape Culture: Connecting the Dots.” 

Shaney Irene has this post about Why The Modesty Survey was a Bad Idea (for the record, Shaney, I forgive you.  i’m thankful that you are writing against it now.)

In offering a platform to over 1600 guys, many of whom shouldn’t have been given it, we lent legitimacy to some very dangerous ideas.

Many guys admitted to losing respect for girls who didn’t live up to their ideas of modesty, feeling “disgusted” or “angered” by these same girls, and even going so far as to say, “…she loses her right to ask guys to stop looking at her like something to be had…you are asking to have guys stare at you.” The word “cause” in relation to guys’ lust also made a frequent appearance.

and now for my thoughts:

I feel like the biggest problem with the modesty culture is the confusion between lust and attraction. i never once have heard anyone make a distinction. It’s as though it’s a sin for a man to notice a woman is attractive.

Look, people. i’m visual. And the dude who plays Thor is attractive. I noticed. That’s not cheating on my husband. that’s not me wanting to rape the actor. That’s just me, noticing a very attractive guy is attractive. I’ve seen men that were so attractive, it makes me blush. For real. It doesn’t mean i’m lusting. I am not fantasizing. I wouldn’t ‘do’ anything with him.

But there’s nothing wrong with me or the guy, if i notice he’s attractive. If I start having sexual fantasies, that’d be objectifying and mentally unhealthy.

Here’s a big secret: women can be visual, too. I’m more visually oriented than Luke. And there are a lot of guys objectively more attractive (and by that I mean, with really ripped abs) than him. it’s okay. i still find him breathtakingly handsome and i love him more than anybody. He’s the only dude i intend to ever [expletive deleted] with. But I’m gonna notice Batman’s biceps. And it is okay. And anything beyond that is my responsibility to deal with.

The flipside of that is, if a guy sees me in a bikini and notices i’m attractive, or more likely, notices i am very curvy, there is nothing wrong with that. I am very curvy. No suit is gonna hide that.
If he ogles me – and I have been ogled while dressed modestly before and my young and frightened response was to dress rather more frumpily and blame it on my ‘accidental immodesty’ – that is all on him. It’s not my job to try my hardest to dress in such a way that people will treat me with respect; and as noted in many of the blogs above, it does not work; oglers are pretty much oglers. As far as keeping a man from sinning – him noticing I am a woman isn’t going to ‘make’ him sin.

And if a woman judges me as a slut because i’m a curvy woman in a bikini, that’s all on her too.

So much for my opinions on modesty culture in general, now for the chocolate cake analogy in the post, which many people think is wonderful. I found it a problematic analogy. It made me angry that a woman enjoying herself at the beach – happening to bare a midriff rather than not (perhaps because she can’t find a well fitting one piece or tankini, perhaps because she likes how she looks, who knows) is considered the same as following a dieter around with something tempting.

I am a person, dressing for me. It would be more like if i ate a cake at a cafe and you walked up and shoved your face into it and ate it all up, and blamed me for you stealing it, because i should be tempting you with my cake in public.

Unless I am deliberately and provocatively and obviously flirting with someone, he has no reason to think my clothing is an invitation to him. (and even then he still wouldn’t have any right to touch me without a clear verbal invitation or permission).

I am planning to go to the lake this summer, and i will be wearing my bikini. partially in protest, but mostly because it’s flattering, comfortable, stays in place better than any suit i have, and will allow my body to get some sun, and there’s really no reason for me not to, if i’m comfortable in it.

Dianna Anderson is joining the bikini club too. (For the record, i have another suit i’ll be wearing when we go to the in-laws to swim, out of courtesy to their beliefs and because i would be the only one in a bikini, and i’m not comfortable with that.)

Other posts about modesty:

• Sarah over the Moon wrote a post about modesty today too, responding to another post about modesty from a bit of a different angle than the first, but the points about the problems and inequity of translating clothing into ‘messages’ still stand. worth a read

• Here’s a post from one of my favorite bloggers, Libby Anne, about the problematic chocolate cake analogy, focusing on chocolate cake’s inability to consent, and the lack of clarity as to what the anologue to eating the cake is: attraction? Lust? Rape?

• Bookworm Beauty, “The Only Thing My Double D’s Ever Got Me Was Kicked Out of Church”

• Adipose Rex, “Women Aren’t Cake, Part 2: The Cake Is a Lie”

• Suzannah Paul, “On Objectification (Or: How People Aren’t Objects No Matter What They Wear)”

Comment section: am I missing any good posts in my links? did you read the bikini article? do you have a cute new swimsuit you’re excited to wear? i got a polka dotted tankini for everydays, and a black bikini, with full cups and gathers in the fabric, for the lake.

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Five: Fighting the Shame

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Five: Fighting the Shame

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool. Part Five of this series was originally published on June 14, 2013.

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In this series: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven.

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Part Five: Fighting the Shame

(This is the next part of my story of how i went from doubting mental illness is real to getting help. For the intro and full post list, updated as parts are added, click here.)

Our firstborn, Aiden, was born in october 2009. Life continued with general ‘sickness’ and many emotional ups and downs, some obviously caused by life, and some seeming random.

While pregnant with Aiden, I discovered I had low blood sugar issues. I expected that after recovering from birth, a good diet would solve all my problems. But while eating more protein helped a little with daily mood and energy shifts, I found a perfect diet as elusive as a perfect attitude for solving ‘my sickness’.

When Aiden was six months old, I got pregnant again (we were into the ‘quiverfull’ movement at the time so didn’t want to sin by ‘limiting our blessings’.)

I had a relatively uneventful pregnancy and a safe home birth in a birthing pool. Kieron was born in the last hour of February, 2011.

With Aiden, I had needed an emergency induction and the birth took awhile to recover from, with Kieron I recovered quickly.

In the following weeks, I was energetic and exhilarated. I could have been hypomanic but I think I was just really happy, surprisingly bubbly. I was confident, I already knew how to breastfeed and take care of a baby, I was a pretty good mom.

The new-baby-high slowly faded into a new routine of pleasant, tiring life.

Then in the summer, depression hit again. This time, I knew it was depression – when I would allow myself to admit it.

I wanted help this time. Or I almost did.

But Luke had lost his job and was working a paper route, and my only insurance was through my dad.

And even with thoughts of getting help, I hated to ask for it. Even if it was real depression, I thought I should be able to manage it myself. Besides, there is something about depression that makes a person help resistant. I’m not sure why but depressed people frequently don’t want to go get any help.

I admitted to my mother in law that I was depressed and she told me a story: she had once suffered from post partum depression. It interrupted her whole life. She wasn’t sleeping. She wasn’t really sane. She finally realized she needed help; she took pills for awhile; she went back to normal. Her moral was, despite what people say, sometimes you need medication and you take it thankfully.

I was still against medication, but this helped me get up the nerve to look for somewhere to make an appointment, and to find insurance information.

So in a slightly clearer moment, I decided I would try to get help. but first, I had to call my dad for insurance details, and he didn’t provide many. Instead, I somehow ended up mentioning I thought I was bipolar and needed meds, and despite my intention to just get the insurance details, I found myself defending my belief that I was bipolar. I told him about depression, hypomania, suicidal thoughts I tried to talk about since childhood and never could, the words spilled out now that I believed someone was listening.

Dad was confident I couldn’t be bipolar (a coworker’s ex was really bipolar so he knows about BPD), and he suggested that I was just immature, had trouble dealing with some things from my childhood because mom was so difficult (i think that was the word he used), and that although suicide was evil to think about it is fairly normal. He suggested Christian Counseling to help me forgive. He didn’t think I’d be able to afford psychiatry even with insurance, and was hurt that I had only discussed this with him because of insurance. Of course, the fact that he might try to talk me out of it was exactly why I didn’t want to discuss it with him.

He also said that I shouldn’t go to a diagnosing therapist and say I thought I was bipolar, because they would automatically diagnose me and I would be stuck with the stigma my whole life and he indicated I’d have to tell people i was diagnosed.*

My mom was seriously depressed at the time and my dad told me if I ever did get diagnosed bipolar, to not tell my mother because… something about how it would make her feel really bad. It didn’t make much sense to me as he had already made clear that they wouldn’t believe it if I were diagnosed, so I wondered what difference it would make.

When the conversation ended, my head was spinning. Was I really so immature it looked like bipolar? Suicidal thoughts aren’t a sign of mental illness but are ‘normal’? Was the real reason I couldn’t get out of the fog because i was lazy, unforgiving, and selfish? Should I want to avoid a diagnosis? Would my entire family hate me? They would, at any rate, not believe a diagnosis. I felt that my Dad thought I was just neurotic, not trying hard enough to be healthy, and wanting to be ‘special’ instead of dealing with my emotional issues. (btw, therapy DOES involve dealing with emotional issues).

I felt at this point like I probably shouldn’t be so selfish as to want to spend our very limited resources on counseling. I was back to thinking it might be wrong of me to have ever thought I might have a mental illness. Selfish, lazy Lana, wanting to be special by getting diagnosed bipolar but really just a bad person.

Doubting whether I should even try to get help at this point, and not wanting to, I talked to luke, and he said that even with a sliding rule fee at a local nonprofit mental health clinic, we couldn’t afford anything at all. We never called. (I should have at least tried, perhaps it would have been free for people as broke as us, but the conversation with my dad renewed my self doubts and it didn’t take much to shut down my little will to get help after that.)

But I was still in the middle of a severe active depression (I’ve heard it described as driving a plane into the ground instead of it just falling, sometimes I call it ‘furious depression’), and needed help.

I had a toddler and a baby and was fighting to be present for them.

I read all the books the library had about coping with bipolar disorder. I had Luke read the most helpful books so he could help me help myself.

I couldn’t focus on what I was reading all the time, but I slogged through the information and took notes and applied what I could manage.

It helped some, I learned about a few coping mechanisms – mostly writing truth to myself, arguing with my negative self, and trying to stay as active as I could with depressive pain.

I knew I was doing my at-the-time best to fight for sanity, and I had to slowly write my own story, choose what words I would accept to myself. I had to cut myself off emotionally from my parents’ view of me as unloving, immature, and lazy, because I didn’t feel, deep down, that it was really me. Luke insisted it wasn’t.

I had to accept other words for myself – hardworking but depressed. Struggling. Strong but needing help. Probably bipolar, or having something that mimics it closely. I felt trapped in my mind but at least now I was arguing to myself that this wasn’t my fault.

By the time Luke had a new job with health insurance and enough money to pay the electric bill on time, I was out of the big foggy depression.

My mother in law was – I realized recently – a little disappointed that I didn’t get help then. She had done her best to let me know it was okay and had even recommended someone to call. But she didn’t know about everything else; my parents, how incredibly broke we were, how deep the stigma ran in my soul.

Still, she didn’t push; she’s good at that. At that point, anything resembling pushing me to get help, would have been harmful, as I was doing the best I could, both emotionally and financially.  The steps I did take, at the time, were huge. (If you can’t get help, relax and do what you can. Books aren’t the same as meds and therapy but they can give you some help!)

Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed much about how I coped with that depression. It was a very difficult few months for me, but I grew a lot emotionally; I became more of my own person, and I learned a lot about how my brain works.

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*I panicked a bit when he made these claims, then I did some research and logical thinking. For one, there are specific criteria for diagnosis and the doctors are trained. They don’t diagnose just everyone. For another, if I ever got a job, I wouldn’t have to disclose bipolar disorder unless I needed accomodation. And if I needed accomodation, it wouldn’t be because I was diagnosed bipolar, but because I am bipolar. The people saying bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, etcetera aren’t real or are so rare you aren’t likely to know anyone with it, or that try to dissuade you from treatment are probably not well educated on the subject of mental illness.

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To be continued.

The Bikini and The Chocolate Cake: Samantha Field’s Thoughts

The Bikini and The Chocolate Cake: Samantha Field’s Thoughts

Samantha Field blogs at Defeating the Dragons, and she was recently featured in a Christianity Today story entitled, “Finding Faith After Spiritual Indoctrination.” This piece was originally published on her own blog, and is reprinted with her permission. Also by Samantha on HA: “We Had To Be So Much More Amazing”“The Supposed Myth of Teenaged Adolescence”, and “(Not) An Open Letter To The Pearls.”

[trigger warning for rape culture]

I feel that we need to sit down with a cup of coffee or tea and just chat about something. If you move in the same circles I do, you’ve probably heard about this post from Made in his Image. There’s a lot of good things being said about how destructive the modesty culture can be, so I’m not going to rehash a lot of that here. I wanted to shine some light on the biggest problem with this specific post.

I got sunburned on my ass a few weeks ago, when nothing else on me got sunburned at all. We were only at the beach for an hour, and I ended up having to spread aloe vera all over my butt for a week and sit down funny for a few days. Why did I only get sunburned on my bottom?

Because it’s the only part of me that’s never, ever, seen the light of day.

I grew up in Northwest Florida– the part of Florida known as the Emerald Coast. It is a stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful beach. We rarely ever went– only when family came to visit, usually, and those visits were sparse– because it was considered ungodly to go the beach. And if we went, I wore a t-shirt and culottes. My mother made swim-culotes out of a really light, swimsuit-type material.

Even in college, when I’d left a lot of those childhood beliefs behind, I couldn’t bring myself to wear a swimsuit to the beach. I bought an amazingly cute tankini– I still think it’s cute, even today– and it generously covered my badonk-adonk, but I still felt incredibly nervous wearing it. I ended up wearing cute-off shorts on top of it when I went to the beach with some friends, and faked being asleep when I overheard them making fun of me for that choice.

Yup. “Modesty” is a sacrifice. It’s a sacrifice I made for most of my life, and paid for my standards with humiliation and embarrassment.

But, when I went to the beach with my husband a few weeks ago, I wore a bikini for the first time. It wasn’t “skimpy,” not that it matters, and I was able to take off my cover-up without shame, without the sharp knife in my gut telling me that I was dressing as the “strange woman” from Proverbs. It was a victory for me– a small triumph over the shame and oppression I’d known for over half my life.

That’s the only thing the modesty culture does.

It doesn’t stop men from ogling us– not even Christian men. I’ve gotten cat calls, jeers, shouts, obscene gestures, propositions, and whistles all while “modestly” dressed. I’m talking full-blown “modesty.” High-necked t-shirts, a-line and loose knee-length skirts. Sometimes I looked cute, sometimes I looked dumpy. It doesn’t matter. How I’ve been dressed has never made a difference whatsoever in how men have treated me. I was raped while wearing a knee-length skirt and a long-sleeved, loose and flowing top that covered my collar bone. Modesty has never, in my experience, stopped a man from doing whatever he wanted to do with my body– whether it was physically manhandle it, goosing me or grabbing my vagina through my skirt in the middle of chapel, or simply objectify it.

Let me say it again: men could not give a flying f*** how a woman is dressed. She’s a woman. She has boobs and a vagina, and that makes her public property in a world where I’ve been screamed at, cursed at, for refusing to even acknowledge a cat call from a car.

When I started dressing however I wanted, modesty be damned– when I started wearing shorts and tank tops, for example, none of that sort of behavior increased. It stayed exactly the same.

But, this article, like every other article I’ve read on modesty, emphasizes that it a woman’s obligation to help protect men from our bodies. It’s our duty to make sure that we make it possible for men to forget that we’re a woman– which is, frankly, impossible. I don’t care how loose your clothes are– if you have T&A, there’s no getting rid of it, there’s no hiding it.

So what happens?

We have articles where the author has to stubbornly insist that she’s not “insecure about her body,” and clarify that she is “independent in her swimwear choices.”

We have articles where the author compares women to an ooey-gooey chocolate cake.

And let’s look at that for a second. Rachel has this to say about her metaphor:

Now, let’s pretend that someone picked up that chocolate cake and followed us around all the time, 24/7. We can never get away from the chocolate, it’s always right there, tempting us and even smelling all ooey gooey and chocolate-y. Most of us, myself included, would find it easy to break down and eat the cake. And we would probably continue to break down and eat cake, because it would always be there. Our exercise goals would be long gone in no time.

I’m going to try to be fair here: Rachel was probably, in her head, only referencing masculine lust here. When she wrote out this dandy little metaphor, she was probably only thinking that “breaking down” didn’t mean anything besides a man thinking less-than-platonic thoughts about the woman in the bikini.

However, regardless of what I’m positive were the best of intentions, Rachel has just contributed to rape culture.

Because, in this metaphor where a woman is a chocolate cake, the woman has no choice. A woman, plain and simple, just is a chocolate cake, and the fact is that, as a woman, there’s nothing she can do to change that.* She doesn’t have a say in the matter. She’s a woman. She’s ooey-gooey and smells like heaven, and so she gets eaten. No one asks her if that would be ok. No one asks her if that’s what she wants.

Because she’s a cake.

She exists to be eaten.

*I would like to point out that gender and sexuality are a sliding scale– I’m not trying to exclude transgender people, just dealing with the essentialist and gender binary nature of the article.

What Do Presents, Chocolate Bars, Roses, Chewing Gum, and Packing Tape Have in Common?

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on June 6, 2013.

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Question: What do presents, chocolate bars, roses, chewing gum, and packing tape have in common?

Answer: Nobody wants them when they’re used.

Presents, chocolate bars, roses, chewing gum, and packing tape have all been used by abstinence educators and various Christian leaders and teachers to illustrate to young people how having sex before marriage will ruin them and leave them disgusting and unwanted. Those who grew up in the purity culture probably knew the answer to the question asked in the title before even opening this post.

I was reminded of this when reader Laura left this comment on my blog:

I had to go through the True Love Waits program. The “activity” I remember the most was a wrapped present. I held the package and stood at the front of the room. Then, the youth leaders lined up the guys and each of them tore off some of the paper. Then I had to read some paragraph about how virginity is like a gift – no one wants a present that was “meant for them” to have already been opened by someone else.

Because of that one activity, I never told anyone I was raped at 15 until years later. I can’t even imagine the rest of the damage that was done to the other girls in the group.

Laura’s comment reminded me of Samantha’s post from several months back. In her case, the teachings she received about purity led her to stay in an abusive relationship long after she should have left—because she believed that, having given up her virginity, she was ruined for anyone else. Here is why Laura’s comment reminded me of Samantha’s post:

When I was fourteen, I went to a month-long summer camp at the college I would later attend. Like most Christian summer camps, this one involved going to a chapel service twice a day. Most of the time they were fun, lighthearted– until one evening they split up the girls and the boys. Great, I remember thinking, because I knew exactly what was coming. Segregation can only mean one thing– they were going to talk about sex. I sighed when they made the announcement. Again? I thought wearily.

That evening, when the camp counselors had shooed all the men and boys out of the building, the speaker got up to the podium. She didn’t even beat around the bush, but launched right into her object lesson. Holding up a king-size Snickers bar, she asked if anyone in the audience wanted it. It’s a room full of girls– who doesn’t want chocolate? A hundred hands shot up. She picked a girl close to the front that wouldn’t have to climb over too many people and brought her up to the stage. Very slowly, she unwrapped the Snickers bar, splitting the package like a banana peel. She handed it to the young woman, and asked her, very clearly, to lick the chocolate bar all over. Just lick it.

Giggling, the young lady started licking the chocolate bar, making a little bit of a show of it. At fourteen, I had no idea what a blow job was, so I missed the connection that had a lot of girls in the room snorting and hooting. The young lady finished and handed it back to the speaker. As she was sitting down, the speaker very carefully wrapped the package around the candy bar, making it look like the unopened package as possible.

Then she asked if anyone else in the room wanted a go.

No one raised her hand.

And Samantha gives a second example, too:

My sophomore year in college, another speaker shared a similar object lesson– ironically, in the exact same room, also filled exclusively with women. She got up to the podium carrying a single rose bud. At this point I was more familiar with sexual imagery, and I knew that the rose had frequently been treated as a symbol for the vagina in literature and poetry– so, again, I knew what was coming.

This speaker asked us to pass the rose around the room, and encouraged us to enjoy touching it. “Caress the petals,” she told us. “Feel the velvet.” By the time the rose came to me, it was destroyed. Most of the petals were gone, the ones that were still feebly clinging to the stem were bruised and torn. The leaves were missing, and someone had ripped away the thorns, leaving gash marks down the side.

This reminds me too of something teen kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart said, explaining one reason she stayed with her captor and didn’t try to run sooner.

Rescued kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart said Wednesday she understands why some human trafficking victims don’t run.

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”

Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

And finally, Ariel Levy has reminisced similarly:

To illustrate his not terribly complex point, Worley called a stocky young man from the audience onto the stage and then pulled out a length of clear packing tape.

“This is Miss Tape. She looks pretty good, right? She’s tall, right? She’s … what else is she?” Worley raised his eyebrows at us encouragingly.

“Thin!” someone shouted out.

“Right! She’s thin,” he said, and wiggled the piece of tape so it undulated in the air. “And she has nice curves!” Worley winked. “So they have sex.”

To illustrate the act of coitus, Worley wrapped the piece of tape around the volunteer’s arm. After a few more minutes of make believe, we came to the inevitable bump in the road when Worley said the volunteer had decided to move on to other chicks. Worley ripped the piece of tape off his arm.

“Ouch,” said the volunteer.

“How does she look now?” Worley asked, holding  the crumpled Miss Tape up for inspection.

I fought back the urge to yell, “like a dirty whore?”

Presents, chocolate bars, roses, chewing gum, packing tape—these sorts of metaphors abound in circles where what I call “purity culture” is strongest, and each one is used to illustrate how having sex before marriage will ruin you, rendering you dirty and potentially even unable to bond or form real relationships for the rest of your life. In the effort to keep young people from having sex before saying marriage vows, Christian leaders, pastors, and parents resort to threatening their youth, doing their utmost to scare them out of having sex and slut-shaming like crazy in the process.

In case you were wondering, no, this isn’t healthy, and the result of these teachings has been a generation of Christian youth with warped and toxic ideas about sex, dating, and even their own bodies. And in the process, these very teachings have led young women like Laura, Samantha, and Elizabeth to leave their rapes unreported, remain in abusive relationships, and stay with their abductors. This is not okay. 

How about you? What similar metaphors have you encountered, and how have they affected your life?

A Courtship Story

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on November 28, 2012.

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Note from Julie Anne:

Over the past couple months, I’ve been sharing bits and pieces of the homeschooling movement as it ties in with abuse in churches.  I’ve connected a number of times with Chryssie Rose who reads here and is also a blogger and asked if she could share her courtship story here and she graciously accepted my request. I encourage you to take some time to read some of Chryssie’s articles on her blog, Beautiful Disarray.  She is one of the bloggers who was raised in the homeschooling movement I have been referring to.  We will be seeing a growing number of bloggers lilke Chryssie Rose, you can be sure.  As these young adults are detaching (escaping might be an apt word, too, it certainly was for my daughter) from their childhood families, they are thinking back through their lives and questioning what they went through.  Most young adults go through this process – it is normal.  But what is not normal is the amount of residual scars from this upbringing.  That is why I want to continue to give these young adults a platform on my blog because this lifestyle of excessive parental control continues in many churches right now.  

It is important in this story that you understand Chryssie’s family background as it is key to her story.  Chryssie lived in a patriarchal home and was the eldest of 9 children.  Her father moved around quite a bit because of his job, but in each place in which the family lived, they attended churches influenced by the homeschooling movement:  full-quiver, patriarchycourtship, and modesty and purity teachings.  Chryssie’s family eventually ended up at a Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) church in Maryland.  SGM churches have a high concentration of homeschool families, so Chyrssie’s family fit comfortably there.  From what I’ve heard, SGM may not preach full-quiver lifestyle from the pulpit, but Chyrssie’s family would surely find other like-minded full-quiver families there.  Courtship, not dating is the expectation at SGM churches.

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My family had just started going to a new church, and even though I knew a good number of people already, I hadn’t met any guys that I really liked.  A friend of my mom’s jokingly told me that I would find the guy I married at this new church.  I was adamant I wouldn’t. I honestly had had several different crushes, but I had this expectation, as probably most girls in my situation, that a guy would come to my dad and ask to court me. Then my dad would say yes, and we would walk out a relationship like the ones in all of the courtship books – a sweet, pretty, maybe slightly tear-inducing, love story.

It couldn’t have been further from the reality of what my relationship with my husband ended up looking like.

When I met the guy who became my husband, I really didn’t expect anything to come out of it. It was in October, over 4 years ago, and even though I felt like God told me to keep an eye on this guy, he wasn’t really attractive to me.  I couldn’t marry someone I wasn’t attractive too. I hadn’t expected to be in any sort of relationship right out of high school, nor did I expect to be in any sort of relationship any time soon.  My dad used to joke that he wouldn’t let me get married until I was 30. I knew he was joking, but I also knew he meant it too. I wasn’t going to get married unless it was on his time, and his time alone. I really didn’t know what my parents had in mind when it came to relationships for their children. I never had a conversation with my parents about what it would look like for me when I got into a relationship. Being the oldest, my parents had never had to think about that sort of thing, ever.

A mutual friend introduced this guy to me, and I thought this could be a good friend. I’ll call him Daniel.  A few weeks after first meeting, I started getting to know Daniel. He was funny, very quirky, had very different interests than a lot of other guys I knew, and yet, I liked it. I was having to deal with a lot of stress from my family’s situations (you can read more about that on my blog).  It was really good to just have a friend I could talk to and not have to talk about my family’s stuff. He began guessing, though, about different things, and I soon realized that I could trust Daniel, and yeah, I kind of liked him now.

During the first 6 months of our friendship, things escalated quickly. It became clear to me that this guy was worth keeping around, and I definitely liked him. I was about 99.9% positive that he liked me too. Up to this point, we were just friends, and our parents weren’t involved at all. We were graduating from high school, and he had told me several times that he wasn’t going to be in any sort of relationship until he was done with college. That was what his mom wanted him to do, and it seemed like “wisdom” to do so. I didn’t argue with him, but it made it harder when I finally admitted to a close friend that I really, really liked him.

Conflict with Parents

It was about that 6-month mark when his parents realized that we were talking a lot and becoming very close friends. My mom, I think, was aware of my friendship with him, but I sincerely doubt my dad was aware, especially due to his reaction to the events that transpired next.

Daniel’s parents decided to step in and intervene, and tell him that he needed to cut off all communication with me. He didn’t agree with his parents, but did it anyway. He pulled me aside at church the next day and tearfully told me we couldn’t talk anymore. No emails, texts, chatting, or talking in person and in groups. I was heartbroken, but I knew that this wasn’t the end.

I went home, in tears, and told my mom what happened. She didn’t say anything, but when I told my dad, he gave me an awkward side hug and told me that if my heart was hurting, I did something wrong. I knew right then and there, I wasn’t going to get any support or understanding from my dad in this.  We asked both of our parents multiple times to get everyone together so we could come up with guidelines for a friendship, so we could at least be friends. They refused, but did meet at his parent’s home a few times, but each time, came away from the meeting with a very different view on what was supposed to go on. My dad was determined that we wouldn’t be allowed to talk at all. He even told me that there was no need for us to talk and to stop asking if we could. Throughout the entire separation, our feelings for each grew instead of diminishing. We kept asking for the parents to let us talk and to come up with guidelines for us. And they continued to refuse. I got chewed out by my dad if I was even seen around Daniel at church. I went through those months like a ghost. I felt nothing, and it felt like half of my heart had been torn out of me. Yeah, I know that’s cliche, but I’m serious, I felt nothing.

We finally had had it about 6 months after we had been told to stop talking. I called Daniel up one day and asked him bluntly what he felt for me. He immediately told me that he loved me and was 100% sure he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. That was a breath of fresh air to my ears. We decided that we were going to take things into our own hands because our parents continued to not believe that they needed to do anything and that everything between us was over. We spent about a week coming up with a list of guidelines that we felt our parents would be quite okay with. We even had a couple, who became mentors for us, look it over and help us put it together. We decided that we would then bring it to the parents that coming Sunday, after Daniel officially asked my dad to court me.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mom or dad that mad at me after Daniel left my family’s house that Sunday. Both of my parents were raging mad and wanted to know how I could be so disrespectful and dishonoring of them. I still, to this day, do not understand quite what I did wrong.  Once again, after our parents calm down, there was no agreement made about us getting to talk. We never got to show our parents our relationship guidelines, and we were treated with much condemnation for having “disrespected and dishonored” our parents. My dad felt very disrespected by Daniel and couldn’t believe he had the gall to come and ask my dad to court me.

We seriously thought that our parents at least would be willing to listen to us. I honestly didn’t expect my dad would be so courteous to Daniel’s face, but then stab him in the back when he wasn’t around to defend himself. My dad’s poor opinion of him was shocking to me, and I couldn’t believe that my dad would be so condescending. Over the next few months we suffered through wanting to talk, knowing we really loved each other, and sneaking moments alone at church, or passing each other thumb drives with songs, letters, or just class schedules on them so I knew what he was up to with school.

In total, Daniel asked my dad 4 times to court me. Every time, going above and beyond, to get my dad’s approval, and yet, my dad would twist Daniel’s words, never give him a clear answer to any of Daniel’s questions, and my dad would brush me off anytime I tried to sit down and ask why we couldn’t be in a relationship.  My dad kept telling me that I was making an idol out of this relationship, and I was lusting after Daniel. My mom backed my dad up and neither of my parents seemed to believe that God could speak to me or that I could possibly even love this guy.

A year and a few months after first having met Daniel, we got the pastors involved, and both of us tried to communicate with our pastor the difficulties we were having with our parents not hearing us out. The pastor kept telling us to just keep working on our individual parental relationships and that was all we could do. Being members at a church that strongly supported Joshua Harris’ courtship books, we didn’t have any say in how our relationship was supposed to happen. It was “wisdom” to let our parents rule our lives.

Over the course of that year, we met with pastors, we met with pastors and our parents, individually, and met with each other trying to figure out how to help our parents hear us and listen to our hearts. We spent hours on the phone talking with our mentors.

Year 2

Around the 2nd year of trying to get our relationship off the ground, Daniel decided to take my dad out to a nice restaurant and ask him one last time to court me. One of the recurring concerns my dad had was that we would never be able to get married because we couldn’t support ourselves financially. I actually had a really good job, and Daniel and I had no problem with the fact that I would be providing most of the income. But my dad, even though my mom had paid for him to get through college, didn’t believe that a woman should be the main supporter in the family. I even pointed out that that is exactly what my mom had done, but he told me that I couldn’t take what other people had done and use that as a guideline for myself. So for this last meeting, Daniel and I had come up with a very reasonable budget, and we had had several people look it over for us to make sure we weren’t missing anything substantial. My dad, once again, in a very roundabout way, said no. His reasons were that because Daniel didn’t have a very high paying job, didn’t own a house, wasn’t financially stable, and hadn’t graduated college yet, he would never be allowed to marry me.

See, my dad has this idea that the only kind of man who is going to be allowed to marry any of his daughters, is the kind of man who has everything, and is well into his 30s.   And the fact that this young, college-attending poor guy was willing to bow down to the great and mighty dad was revolting to my dad. How dare he ask when the budget Daniel gave him was so insufficient. I asked my dad why he didn’t believe our budget was good, and the only thing he said was wrong with it was we didn’t have enough money put aside for car repairs. That was it!

We finally had had it, and in July secretly got engaged. I even got a gorgeous ring and everything. We kept it a secret for about a week, telling only our mentors. We then decided to tell our parents together. Meaning, he told his parents at the same time I told mine so that neither sets of parents would hear it from each other, but directly from us. Oh, and the clincher is, we were going to tell them that we were going to be getting married in 30 days.  We finally told them;  I told my parents at home, Daniel called his parents from work.  My dad said, no, you’re not engaged, and I argued with him for a few minutes before just leaving it. I said we were engaged and that was that. Then got up and walked away. Daniel’s parents blew up at him and he had siblings calling him, sobbing to him over the phone, asking why he could be so disrespectful of his parents. I ended up going to meet him at his work because he started losing it.

By this point, we were sick of trying to hide our feelings and actually started going out on actual dates. The first real date we had was about 2 years after we had first met.  After we announced our engagement to the parents, our pastors contacted us and wanted to meet with us. In that meeting they told us that respecting and honoring our parents looked like us calling off the engagement. We told them that we didn’t have any problem calling off the getting married in 30 days thing, but nope, we were putting our foot down with the engagement, and we were still engaged. The pastors let it go, but the parents didn’t. They kept accusing us of not listening to God because the pastors had told us to break the engagement and we said no. We have no regrets about getting engaged or putting our foot down with letting our parents guilt-trip us into doing what they want. We knew that the instance we gave in, everything we were working hard to stand by would crumble, and we would not be allowed to see each other again. We were dubbed, unofficially, the bad kids in the singles ministry at church, and rarely did anyone want to know what was going on because in their minds, we were disobeying God because we were “disobeying” our parents and not listening to the pastors.

Year 3

Another year went by, and we were still not married, but we were together for everything. Because of my job, I wasn’t home much, and then because of Daniel, I was home even less than I would be if he wasn’t around. My mom kept telling me that dad wasn’t happy that I wasn’t helping her out with my 8 siblings, or helping make dinner or clean the house. I told her there was no way possible that I could do all that. I was gone from 8:30 in the morning till 7 at night, and only got two days free a month. I wanted nothing to do with home life, especially since my dad and I weren’t on speaking terms…again, and mom and I weren’t exactly on the best of terms either.  Another half a year went by and we were yet again trying to pick a third wedding date.  We finally managed to get both sets of parents and sit down all together to talk.  After 3 years of dealing with all of the crap, we finally got to sit down with the parents. But, it was honestly too late for us. We were so done with the way they were dealing with us, we wanted out.  Daniel’s dad tried to encourage my dad to rectify his and my relationship, but I knew my dad had no intention of doing so.

Let me say something about my in-laws. They are great parents, and really, if my dad had been open with them about his issues with internet porn addictions and how he deals with my family, I don’t believe that Daniel’s parents would have been so easily manipulated by my dad. They weren’t really involved in the whole relationship process since it was their son asking me out, not a guy asking one of their daughters out. Also, Daniel did not grow up in a legalistic, patriarchal home. His family is surprisingly normal. By the time this group meeting came about, his parents had been filled in completely of my family’s issues and were suddenly 100% for Daniel and I getting married. They finally understand and realized all of the crap we had had to put up with from my dad.  They were very sorry for the part they had unknowingly played in making things more difficult for us. Those are the kind of parents I really hope and pray Daniel and I can be some day.

Less than a week after this meeting, my dad and I got together for a coffee date. He told me that prior month he had been seriously considering kicking me out. When asked why, he told me that he was very frustrated that I wasn’t helping my mom out around the house. I told him that I couldn’t. I had a job and I had an obligation to that job to be prompt with my hours and those hours didn’t allow for me to be at home. He didn’t seem to hear me. Two weeks later, he told me that I had two weeks to move out.  He was tired of dealing with me, and didn’t have time to deal with me anymore.  He also told me that I was a bad influence on my siblings and he wanted me gone.

The Wedding and Conclusion 

Three months after that, we got married, with my mom’s support and Daniel’s parents support. Oh, and guess what –  the pastors supported us too. We have now been married for a year and a half, and life has been amazing, and we have been doing amazingly well financially even with Daniel still being in school.

I look back over our story and see so many things we will never do with our children. The first, and biggest thing would be that we will never force them to obey us at all costs. We want to be there for our children and sincerely listen to them when they are trying to work through tough relationships. We also know that no relationship is the same, and it is our goal to treat our children’s relationships as such. We want to get down to our children’s level, and we both know that because of what we’ve been through, that gives us so much more understanding that we can give to our children. The way my dad treated Daniel and me through our whole pre-marriage relationship is something I never want to see repeated.

I never want to question my child’s faith or that they can hear from God. The fact that my dad tried his ultimate best to make me believe that I was being lustful and idolatrous when I sincerely believed I wasn’t has made a huge impact on my faith. It took a long time for me to get over questioning my salvation because of how my dad treated me. It seemed that everything my dad did and said was for his own glory and his own control over me. I talked with my mom later and asked her if how my dad responded had anything to do with him feeling jilted because I hadn’t asked permission to like this guy. She told me it probably had a lot to do with that. My dad craved control and when I denied him the reigns of my relationship with Daniel, he lost it. To this day, I do not talk with my dad and I don’t anticipate resorting any sort of relationship with him until he changes.

And that, is a summary of my husband’s and my relationship. Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you all!

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Four: Shame Meets Truth

Mental Health — From Shame to Seeking Help, Part Four: Shame Meets Truth

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog, Lana Hobbs the Brave. Lana describes herself as “an aspiring writer and a former religious fundamentalist” who currently identifies as “post-Christian.” She was homeschooled in junior high and highschool. Part Four of this series was originally published on June 12, 2013.

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In this series: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven.

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Part Four: Shame Meets Truth

This is the next part in a series about my journey from doubting mental illness exists, to finally getting help. For introduction and post list, see here. And if Dr. R ever reads this, I would just like to say, ‘thanks’. Thanks for writing honestly about a mental illness that still has a heavy stigma on it. You changed my life, and gave me a shot at happiness.

Luke and I married in May 2008. Luke worked during the summer but neither of us took classes. We had a beautiful summer in our little apartment on campus. I was pretty happy, homemaking for two in an apartment was much less stressful than big-sistering for a crowd. Cooking was a delight because Luke was sure to eat everything and love most of it.

I still felt sick frequently and had periods of intense mental fogginess and confusion I now recognize as being caused by depression, but my life was pretty easy during the summer.

I planned a Spanish class to teach for homeschoolers during the fall and prepped for that. I cooked and cleaned and kissed Luke passionately when he came home. He came home for lunch every day and I loved it. On rough days, i just slept extra and took a long bath to relieve achy muscles, no pressure from Luke to get anything done.

Then came school, and concentration was not optional any more. I was soon deep into my junior year.

Then the fog came back hard. The emotional stress was less, without all the courtship stuff going on, but the mental fog and exhaustion were worse than ever. I now recognize those as trademarks of deep depression, but at the time it was just more ‘sickness’. I felt guilty for ever marrying and tying Luke to a sick woman; I sat at the computer in intense pain with a blank mind; I slept a lot. I felt, again, like the world, and especially the people I loved, would be better off if I were dead. Only now, with Luke, i could talk about it. He disagreed.

I didn’t understand why my brain wasn’t working like normal. I felt foggy and frustrated and like a complete failure.

And then one day, a breakthrough. A teacher, Dr. R, had us workshop a paper she had written. It was about bipolar disorder – her bipolar disorder. I squeezed back my initial, automatic reaction of ‘mental illness is rare if it’s real at all’ and read it.

And… while I could put all my struggles aside as me not being a good enough Christian, I couldn’t do the same for another person. She wrote about her struggles, her diagnosis, her management of her life after diagnosis. She wrote with honesty, seriousness, and hope about bipolar disorder. I thought that bipolar was something that got people locked into mental hospitals. But the truth, from people who experienced and knew about mental illness and bipolar disorder, was slowly opening my mind. I read more about it afterwards, searching on google when no one was looking because I was embarrassed. What i read felt so familiar to me; except I had never had a severe manic episode. (in later years,I discovered bipolar 2 and cried. It felt so familiar).

While not all of her experiences with bipolar fit me, the depression as she described it, the mood swings, the not feeling right inside your own head, the times of high energy and grandiose thought – i could identify with all of that, and i believed about her what i never believed about myself, that mental illness was real, and treatable – not something requiring shame and more prayer.

And I thought the thought I never allowed myself before: maybe I have a real mental illness. And I hated myself for daring to think that I wasn’t just a horrible excuse for a Christian. The shame of my uncontrollable feelings was huge, but I thought I was supposed to feel it; the shame would spur me on to Godliness. The idea my problems weren’t my fault had no room in my mind. But Luke, he latched on to it. He believed about me what I never let myself believe; that I was really a kind, good, hardworking and loving person with problems I couldn’t control. He took those words ‘mental illness’ and he used them like a balm.

“I know you’re frustrated you can’t manage this, but we’re pretty sure you have a mental illness like bipolar. So it’s okay, just rest.”

Sometimes I welcomed his words, but more often the old response came out. For years.

Sometimes, ridiculous as it is to say them while taking medications, I still say it: “no, I don’t, I’m just a bad person!”

I quit school that semester. I wish i’d gotten help then, maybe I’d have salvaged my school year. But for then, it was right to limit my stress. Luke was afraid the stress of school was slowly killing me, and I just didn’t know how to continue, so against my parents advice, I withdrew from most of my classes, thereby losing my scholarship and therefore ending my college career (though someday I might return, I had no intention of returning at the time because we were so immersed in patriarchal culture at the time that educating me, a woman, wasn’t really worth the money. Until I quit, I’d been paid to go to college because of my scholarships, but spending money on my education was unthinkable.)

In February 2009, I got pregnant.

Pregnancy was tough, both physically and emotionally.

I remember an email that made me very angry. Not irritated, which I knew it merited, but furious. I-want-to-punch-through-a-wall FURIOUS. I was shaking with rage. I had never been so furious in my life before – with so little provocation – and I was frightened of myself even while feeling the fury. For weeks my sleep was bad and I kept getting angry at little things.

Luke didn’t tell me to get over my anger, although he was sad to see me so upset and confused about it. He just let me feel it, uncondemned. I didn’t want to feel it, but I had no choice.

It was a very unhappy, unproductive hypomania.

I still regularly hated myself for depression and for daring to think I was clinically depressed instead of just incredibly sinful, but there was something about this anger, the fact i’d seldom felt the same level of anger before, that made me feel okay about saying “This isn’t my fault. I can’t control this.”

All I could do was make sure I did no harm, and that was enough. There was a little secret in my mind, slowly growing until I could believe it more often and the secret was this:

“Mental illness is real. You are not a bad person. You are a person with a mental illness”.

It started very small, with that confusing anger and the word ‘bipolar’, but first of all with Doctor R’s story, her truth. And eventually it would become my truth and set me free.

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To be continued.