Cookies Cutters and The Power of Secrecy: Esperanza
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Esperanza” is a pseudonym.
Trigger warning: self-injury.
I was so grateful when I saw that HA was doing a series on self harm. Because it is something that I feel is so prevalent within the homeschooling subcultures, yet, is the one thing that everyone is still afraid to speak up about, because it is “that” problem. In my opinion, self harm is not merely restricted to cutting, or injuring one’s self, but can also include eating disorders. With over two million cases reported in the United States alone, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychological disorder, and is something that the homeschool community simply cannot afford to ignore any longer.
Before my mid teens, I had never even known of someone that had an eating disorder, or self harmed. I certainly never thought that I would ever in a million years be “that girl.”
Growing up, I was the perfect little ATI daughter. I wore the jumpers and culottes, wouldn’t even look a boy in the eye, and constantly bent over backwards to protect my family’s good image so as not to tarnish their ministry. I rarely did anything wrong, and that is why it came as such a shock to me when I realized I was actually pretty darn good at lying. I lied about the scars, the sudden weight loss, the passing out. I only remember ever telling one lie before this in my life, and so it surprised me when this life filled with lies just came so naturally.
I still remember the day I stopped eating. It was a very simple decision, and one that oddly enough gave me courage. I was at an extremely broken place. The only person who offered me protection had left my life, and life was about to become even worse than it had been. Nothing was mine, everything was being taken from me, and I felt trapped in this massive cycle of manipulation, threats, loss, and depression. I could not see that there was any way out. I’d never been told that this way we lived, the things that were happening were wrong. How could they be, when I’d been shown Bible verses that “proved” otherwise? My head was so twisted around that I couldn’t tell up from down, right from wrong. The only thing I knew for sure was that no one could make me eat. That was the one tiny part of my life that I could control, and as long as no one knew my secret, I could keep at least a little control over my own life.
The dangerous thing about the homeschooling culture like the one I was raised in, is that no one expects their daughter or son, brother or sister, friend, to cut their body, or to stop eating. And in these type of cultures, because of the secrecy and lack of education on the issue, it can very easily become a dangerous situation very fast. These types of behaviors are a reaction to what is happening in one’s life, or a release of some type of pain. As we all know by this point in our lives, we certainly didn’t grow up learning how to properly talk about and process the difficult things in our lives, and homeschoolers, in my opinion, are even more likely to engage in these types of harmful behaviors. Being homeschooled leaves you feeling very isolated, with no way to reach out, and certainly not as much access to help as those in a traditional school environment.
In my case, I kept lying, every single day. It helped that I was actually working outside the home at the time, and so very often I only ate one tiny meal a day when I got home. When I eventually found freedom for myself and left, and finally had a chance to just stop and be in a peaceful place, all of the emotions of the past 21 years came rushing at me like a tsunami, and I had such a hard time dealing with it, that my eating disorders suddenly became ten times worse. Suddenly I wasn’t eating for days on end, and it was getting harder and harder to lie to the people around me. But suddenly I was meeting people that were actually caring and noticing and saying that I was too valuable to be hurting myself this way. However, the problem with eating disorders, and harmful behaviors, is that while they most often start as a way for you to control your life, before you even realize it, they suddenly control you. Once I was out, and had a chance to begin to really process and heal, I no longer wanted to starve myself. However, this cycle of self harm had become an instinctual reaction to the pain and issues I was facing during this healing process had completely overtaken me. Once I realized that the only power this thing had was in the secrecy, I opened up to the people closest to me, that loved me, and cared, and it was as if immediately, the massive hold this disorder had over me was gone.
And that is the problem with eating disorders, and self injury in the homeschool world. All of our families are supposed to be picture perfect. Cookie cutter families who never have any problems. So many families I knew growing up acted as if this life were a competition, to see who’s family they could beat in the godliness Olympics. I know that growing up as the daughter of a preacher, there was an enormous amount of pressure placed on me to be perfect. So, when I would see little cuts or burns on my friend’s arms, when I would notice a friend who wouldn’t eat anything in front of anyone, my heart hurt for them because I knew. I knew that we shared this unspoken burden. One we could never reach out for help from because that would mean breaking that perfect little family picture into a million pieces.
These days things are a lot better. There was a time last year where I thought that this thing, this pain that took itself out on my body was never going to go away. That I could never beat it. While honestly, there are still bad days where food is not my friend, and there are sometimes new scars on my arm, but the battle is getting easier to fight.There are still days where my father’s nasty comments about my weight echo in my head and I hate my body all over again. But the days when I remember all the people that love me for me, just as I am, who tell me daily that I am valuable and have worth are far more. The ability to just be me, to have struggles and to be broken is strangely enough the most freeing feeling in the world. The need to be perfect is finally gone, and I can rest in each day, just taking one step at a time, doing the best I can possibly do that day.