Notes From a Homeschooler: Michelle Hill’s Story, Part Two


HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Michelle Hill’s blog Notes From A Homeschooler. It was originally published on January 20, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part One

My Homeschooling Story

I often wonder how homeschooling has shaped me, and who I would be if I didn’t have such an unusual upbringing. My roommate, Natasha, and I are very similar, almost creepy similar, and we’ve often wondered if this was due to us both being home-schooled in a very similar fashion. So in today’s post, I’ll go over my homeschool experience. In a later post, I will break it down and examine how I think it has shaped me. As a disclaimer, I would like to note that every family’s and every individual’s experience is unique and should be considered as that. My experience is unique to me, though you may have noticed homeschoolers, or even yourself, have had some similar experiences.

In my previous post I described the origins my family beginning homeschooling and why my mother had continued to teach us at home. I think that my parents had a different reason for each of their children. My older brother, Mark, was taken out of public school in fifth grade. Like many boys, he was extremely intelligent, but didn’t feel the need to apply himself. He also was falling into the wrong crowd and my mother was worried that he would end up in some sort of trouble.

So she took him out of school to take him away from the negative influences that are so prominent in today’s school system.

Her hopes were that she could get Mark to apply himself to his studies and eventually into a collage of some sort. It ended up well for Mark. He is now 24, has graduated from a tech school with a degree in Heavy-Diesel Mechanics. After a few job switches, he has now found a work place he enjoys where he is the shop foreman for a large trucking company.

My experience was a little bit different from Mark’s. I was taken out of school because I was failing English and writing. My mother was worried that if I stayed in school, I would fall even farther behind than I already was. As a side note, I would like to say that I am now an avid reader, like many homeschoolers, and place well ahead of my peers when it comes to reading comprehension (

Mark’s and my elementary days were dotted with school, playing outside together (we live in the country on 50 acres), and riding on the school bus that my mom drove every school morning and afternoon. I don’t remember much of the school work we did. My mother said I had hated spelling so much that I would cry after every test, so she stopped teaching me spelling. I know that my favorite subject was reading and I would spend hours in my room reading my favorite books at the time, Little House on the Prairie. My parents said I used to talk about her like she was one of my friends. Once a week, we would go to a local co-op of homeschoolers and take extracurricular classes, such as home ec. (Keepers of the Home), art, science experiments, and chess. That was our main form of socialization besides spending time with the other kids who rode on the bus my mom drove.

There was this type of social isolation that comes with homeschooling in a small town.

The town we lived in had one private school for elementary through middle school, and one public school for preschool through high school. My family was the only family in the town who homeschooled, and my parents’ decision to homeschool was frowned upon. One of our neighbors who lived a mile away was a retired school teacher. She would tell my mother that she was worried about our socialization and how we would function after we got out of high school. The point I’m trying to make is that living in a small town and home-schooling in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE felt more than a little isolating.

Middle school followed the same pattern of elementary school. The difference was that my mother no longer worked for the school and drove the bus, and now my little brother, Jason, had joined us in homeschooling. There was a brief span in 6th grade that I was convinced I would like to go to public school. So my mother enrolled me in the fall and I attended for two months. It was different for me than other school kids because my father was always complaining about the public school; how we wasted time switching from class to class; how they gave us busy work….

He had a very negative view of the school system which affected the way I felt about attending public school.

I would also come home from school to find out all the cool stuff my family was doing without me while I was gone. So when the opportunity came up for me to join a Christian homeschool basketball team, I took it. It was my excuse for giving up on the public school idea.

During 6th grade, I was on the basketball team and had twice a week early morning practices that took an hour to drive to. My brother was also on the boy’s basketball team, so his practices were after mine. I could say that I enjoyed being on the team, but I didn’t really. I enjoyed socializing with the other girls and families, but basketball was not my thing. Not to mention that we only won one game in the entire season. So it wasn’t a surprise to anyone that I didn’t return to basketball the next year.

During 7th and 8th grade, Mark stayed on the basketball team, so we continued the early morning practices twice a week. The founder of the team had also created a separate co-op that had weekly classes taught by certified instructors. We joined the co-op and I spent hours there after my one class, sign language. It was a big day for us because we would drive an hour away to go into the city for co-op classes, basketball practice, Elizabeth’s therapy, and the public library.

Then for the rest of the week, we mostly stayed at home only to emerge to make a trip into town for groceries.

I didn’t go to friends’ houses often because all of my friends lived in the city and it was a big ordeal to have to drive two hours there and back. If I did go, it was normally for an overnight sleepover.

For me, high school was full of turmoil. During my sophomore year, my mother had to pick up a part time job at a group home for residents with intellectual and physical disabilities. My mom started out working weekends, Friday 5pm – Sunday 5pm, and would be away for the entire weekend. Being the oldest daughter, it was up to me to cook dinner for the family because we always ate together at the family dinner table. I also had to make sure the house didn’t fall apart and become a disaster zone. I would spend my weekends washing dishes, mopping, and cleaning the bathroom. My father is not much of the parenting type, so I had to make sure that Elizabeth was taken care of, got baths, and had her teeth brushed before bed. During Winter break of my junior year, my mom’s work was short staffed and had asked her to work during the week in another house. She worked Sunday – Friday, 5pm – 9 am. However, she had already signed up for her weekends, so she also had to work the entire weekend too. For three weeks, I ran the house. I helped make the meal plans, cooked dinners, cleaned, and took care of my younger brother and sister. I didn’t go out very much because there would be nobody to watch Jason who was 10, and Elizabeth who was 5. It was a lonely time for me.

Looking back, I think I had become depressed, but didn’t know that there was a label for what I felt.

I had my times of restricting food, now I know it was because I craved control. I also had a two month time period when I felt so sad, lonely, and forgotten, that I would self-injure myself. It was not a happy time for me.

On top of this was my dad’s wild scheme that we could raise organic, free range chickens and sale the eggs to Whole Foods. Honestly, I try to block out the memories of having to feed and take care over a thousand birds using only manual (unpaid) labor. Not to mention cleaning the eggs every single night which would take hours and hours. I had no free time to visit friends because I had to run house and help with all those God Damn chickens. If you can’t tell, yes, I am very bitter about this, and never want to see another live chicken. Thankfully, after over a year of the chickens, my dad sold them and reduced the number to a more reasonable amount of twenty chickens for Jason to take care of.

Senior year was when I was my happiest during high-school. I had a part time job working at the same place as my mom, only in the money-raising greenhouse portion of it. I worked 4 days a week for roughly 5 – 8 hours a day. Then I would come home and do homework for my online dual credit college classes. I also attended a once a week co-op to learn Chemistry and Spanish. During my second semester as a senior, I took remedial math classes at the local junior college because I had huge holes in my math education. I had failed the placement test for math classes, and needed to get my score up before I would be attending any four year college. (I am glad to say that my math is now average and I can keep up with my peers at college.) For the first time, I had also had an actual boyfriend who I had met at my weekly classes.

I think senior year is the most socialization I ever had.

I had a part time job, dual credit classes, weekly home-school class, and a boyfriend who I could go on dates with. I thought things couldn’t get any better than that.


When Siblings Become Swords: Trista’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Søren Niedziella. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Søren Niedziella. Image links to source.

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Trista” is a pseudonym.

I grew up in patriarchy. The seeds of powerlessness and fear were sown in me from my earliest years. Having a voice or power in my family was not easy, in fact, it was a constant struggle. However, this system and hierarchy created and maintained by my parents allowed the rivalry and teasing typical of siblings to grow into unhealthy imbalances of power.

There was a distinct hierarchy in my family. Masculinity and age determined your respect within the family unit. My position as a girl and the youngest member of 7 children meant I was the lowest of the low. My position was to toe the family line, get along and agree with those who were ‘above’ me.

There was one sibling I did get along with very well. She (Anne) was two years my senior, and we were joined at the hip since I can remember. In many ways she faced the same trials I did, however, her sweet and caring demeanor made her a more naturally lovable person.

I was told that I should ‘submissively endure suffering as Christ did.’

I was regularly told I was inept, stupid, crazy and extreme. When I was mercilessly teased or abused to the point of tears, my mother would reprimand me for not loving my brothers. She told me stories of how much she desired brothers. It “shocked” her that I could not “endure a little teasing.” She would have traded most anything to have brothers. Teasing was normal and I was “weak,” “like a little girl” to be offended by the rudeness of my siblings.

On several occasions my mother told me the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, saying he loved his enemies and died for Christ. She asked me how he could be so holy and I was complaining about teasing? “Isn’t that silly?”

Minor errors or failures on my part were magnified and viewed as my identity. Once, one of my sisters, roughly 10 years my senior, told me, “You are inept, and incompetent. I know a five year old who knows how to use a key. No wonder mom and dad don’t let you do anything.” This rant was delivered after I accidentally broke her key to the house by turning it the wrong direction in the keyhole. At the time, I was 13 years old I was already insecure. The verbal attacks against my character only made me more angry, hurt and hateful towards myself and those around me.

As a girl it was my duty to ‘support the men’

Although an imbalance of power existed between me and all of my siblings, this imbalance was larger when the sibling was male. As a child I was expected to serve my older brothers without question. If they requested something I was ‘unloving’ if I did not do as I was told. Anne and I were often required to make food for them, clean up after them and in other ways serve them. When they were in college, we were required to make food for guests they had come over and prepare for parties that they were hosting.

My brothers were also heavily involved in sports. My sister and I were told, “You need to support and love your brothers.” When we begged to be involved in activities, sports or anything social, we were told that such things would conflict with our brothers and we “need to love your brothers. Why do you not want to support them?”

Under the patriarchy, it was clear girls did not matter. Our development, desires and needs were entirely subservient to males, because men act, while women are acted upon.

These things caused more anger in my heart. I hated being told I was useless, what I wanted didn’t matter. I would cry out in anger to God, “Why did you make me a woman?? I can’t do anything because I’m a girl and girls are useless.”

I felt a need to punish myself for being crazy

As a child I did not know how to cope with the feelings of helplessness, uselessness, hate and anger. I turned to self-harm at the age of 12 as a means of coping with how horrible I felt about my identity. Being homeschooled posed problems to self-harm. I was constantly watched, and my parents openly mocked the idea of therapy and mental health. They portrayed mental illness as a weakness, something attention seeking individuals contrived to gain pity.

I would find creative ways of hurting myself. I would chew my nails and fingers until they bled. Often my fingers would be raw from excessive chewing and peeling layers of skin off. I would scratch myself, especially my stomach, until I bled. I would ‘cut myself while shaving,’ craving the release I felt when my legs bled. Hiding in my closet I would bang my hands against a pole until they became swollen. One time I even purposefully beat my head against a wall in an effort to give myself a head injury.

I craved affection. I wanted to experience love.

I sincerely believed no one in my family cared about me. Part of the self-harm narrative was an effort on my behalf to gain the love of my family. In my mind I would rationalize, “If I am hurt very badly they won’t be mean to you. They would want to help you, right? See, they really do love you. You need to try harder to really hurt yourself.”

Often I would ponder dark thoughts, sure no one would notice if I were dead. I thought perhaps people would be happy to have the ‘crazy’ girl gone. I wanted to die, but was not sure how. It was something I constantly thought about. I would day dream of being murdered, mutilated and beaten to death. These imaginations served as a mental outlet for my pain.

I was careful not to display my pain to others. Instead, I developed a dual identity. I hated my siblings, but I desperately craved their affection. They were the only people on the planet I interacted with. If they did not love me, I believed myself beyond the love of anyone. In my world, friends were not allowed. Thus, if my own family did not love me, who on God’s green earth would ever see anything lovable in me?

On the outside, I was confident, defiant, strongly defending myself, rebelling in any way I could, actively antagonizing others in an attempt to exact revenge. This was the way my anger reacted.

Other times, my desire for affection would win and I would berate myself and say, I matter and I’m going to earn their respect. When my efforts failed I would oscillate back to hating my siblings and the pain they caused in my life.

Today, I am in my early twenties, a senior in college and headed towards a successful career. Yet when I am around my siblings, I feel like that hopeless, unloved child again. I never felt loved by my siblings. It is hard to feel love from people who hurt me so badly for so long. I still acutely feel the pain inflicted from childhood. It is impossible to negate years of being dismissed as a silly, crazy little girl.

The patriarchy damages its victims in many ways. In my case, it removed the joy of having those I call family.

I Am Learning To Love Myself: Mara’s Story, Part Two

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Mara” is a pseudonym.

< Part One

Part Two

My mother probably has both undiagnosed bipolar and borderline, but her symptoms then were not as bad as they have gotten to be. She also is extremely intelligent and manipulative. Unless you know her, it’s very hard to see.

Appearance was huge in the church. They harped on gluttony as a major sin. Almost all of the girls in my family growing up were rail thin. My sister, who we later found out had a food allergy and intolerances, was not overweight by any means but just slightly heavier than all of us. My mother, who had been slightly overweight growing up, saw this as one of her greatest disappointments — a visible sin for all the church to see. She would get my sister up early in the morning to run on the treadmill, watch and restrict her diet, and spank her if she didn’t lose weight. My best friend, who also went through the loss of one of her closest friends and was big-boned but not overweight, would also be harped on her by her family for what they saw as sin.

The year before puberty — when fluctuating hormones cause bloating — was the worse for all of the girls at church. We would be sat down by parents and told that they were afraid we were gaining weight and that we needed to exercise more and watch our diet so that we weren’t sinning.

Almost all the girls in my family or in my best friend’s family have struggled with anorexia or bulimia at some point in time.

My mother would tell my sister that no one would want to be around her if she was fat and that people wouldn’t find her attractive. My sister became very reclusive — hiding in her rooms behind books or playing with animals, not people. When in public she would almost look down on others before they had a chance to tell her anything my mother said they would. My sister also hated all the ditzy little girls her age who played stupid to get attention, she hated attention and could not understand why they would want to attract it.

When I was 16, my best friend’s older sister (who I was close with) invited me to a birthday party she was having and didn’t invite my little sister. My mom believed in almost complete inclusivity and anytime our friends came over, we had to allow anyone who wanted to be with us in the room all the way down to the babies.

My mom took this exclusion personally and took all her anger at the other family out on me. She would get mad at me if I saw my best friend without taking my sister, even though my sister didn’t really want to go. She would tell me how I was in sin for not confronting my friend and her family for excluding my sister and then tell me I couldn’t tell anyone in the church about it because it might “embarrass” my sister. I was told that if I had a problem with her I could get “help” from my great-aunt who got offended and hurt for my mother if I said anything assertive or had any problem with my mother. After two or three years of this, I finally caved and told my best friend’s mom who ended up becoming a second mother to me. My mother left the church at this time and I kept going alone because my best friend went to this church. I didn’t have any other friends (as children we were told to tell people about 1 Cor 14 church and, if they didn’t immediately convert, it was sin to be spending time with them).

During this period of time, I started struggling with depression.

To deal with my father I had to turn off all emotion and feelings or he would sense it and use it against me. I couldn’t ever talk to him in any way unless I was challenging his actions toward my mom or my mom would become hurt and guilt us. My mother would become offended if I had any personal feelings and preferred me as her emotional caretaker than as her daughter. The church taught us that any negative feelings were a sin and it was our job to “take them captive.” Depression was viewed as a sin and medication the epitome of not trusting God – that it stemmed from some unknown root of bitterness that we were supposed to work out.

My mother’s swings became worse and worse and I started seeking an escape from that house. I was taught in church that we are under our family’s authority and if there wasn’t a bible verse contradicting what they were telling us to do, than we were supposed to do it. My mother didn’t want me to leave, so I felt chained down.

One thing that I am glad about is that all the fighting led my mother to both hate men and fantasize about them. She believed all of her girls needed to have a stable career as soon as possible so that they didn’t have to rely on men. She also believed that the school system repeated the last 2 years of high-school in college. So, when I was 15, I CLEP 5 college classes and, when I was 16 began prerequisites for nursing school. I finished at the age of 21 with a BSN in nursing and to this day, at the age of 26, I have had 8 years of hospital experience, 6 as an ER/ICU nurse. I am a hard worker and I can have a steady, self-supporting job anywhere I want at any time.

I met a boy through one of the extracurricular activities and we became close. He was a good, homeschooled, Christian boy who was very outspoken. He didn’t live in the area and, therefore, didn’t go to my church he just went to a regular church. He was very opinionated on what sin was and what it wasn’t and, after church, his whole family would stand around and talk about how the other members in the church were hypocrites and in sin. I had saved all of myself, first kiss and everything. We began “courting” or hanging out with each other’s family. But one thing led to another and he leaned in and kissed me one night despite my trying to wiggle free. I was 21 at the time and felt so guilty for kissing him, for tempting him and not staying strong enough, for being alone with him.

I didn’t tell anyone because I knew it would be my fault and I wouldn’t be allowed with him again.

Part Three >

From Hell to Heroin to Here: Jezebel’s Story


HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Jezebel” is a pseudonym.

Trigger warnings: child sexual abuse, self-injury.

I’m not really sure how to describe my childhood.  Blacks and whites don’t really exist in my world, so it’s difficult to say that it was ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  I feel like we put labels like that on things to simplify them.

Unfortunately, nothing is simple.

My earliest memories are very fragmented – my memory isn’t that great to begin with, and PTSD combined with years of drug abuse have further eroded the recesses of my mind.  I remember starting first grade.  My parents decided to send me to a ‘cottage school’ where I would go to school two days a week and be homeschooled the other three.  I knew my friends from the neighborhood went to something called ‘public school,’ but from what I overheard my parents talking about, I was pretty sure that public school was bad.  That didn’t make sense to me, because my friends were really nice and their parents seemed nice too.  I was curious about public school, but at such a young age, I didn’t pay too much attention to the differences between myself and the other kids.

Around this same time (when I was seven) my father started to molest me.  To this day, I don’t talk about it too much.

At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening to me.  No one ever taught me about sexual abuse or inappropriate touching, so I thought that what was happening to me was normal.  I hated what was going on, but I understood that it was very important for me to pretend that everything was okay.  From a very young age, I understood the importance of not making waves and protecting my family’s reputation.

As I was growing up, the only sex education I received was from my time with my father.  My mom never talked about sex with me, and since I was homeschooled, I was never given formal sex-ed.  In one sense, I was insanely naïve about sex, but at the same time, I was receiving a sex-education from my father that would prove to be incredibly damaging to my psyche.  The messages he gave me were that I was powerless, worthless, and valuable only as a pleasure receptacle.  It was all very confusing for me.

As young girls, my friends and I used to talk about how we wanted our weddings to be.  We would all daydream about what type of guy we wanted to marry and what type of dress we wanted to wear.  Me, my sister, and our two best friends were planning a quadruple wedding.

When I found out that a father/daughter dance was a part of a traditional wedding, I remember deciding that I didn’t want to get married anymore.  I was willing to do anything to avoid spending time around my father.  The idea of having to dance with him made me sick to my stomach.

My parents continued to homeschool me and my three siblings.  We stopped going to the cottage school and started going to a homeschool co-op (it was pretty much the same thing, just less organized.)  I don’t remember too much from this time period.  I know that I wasn’t particularly happy and that I found solace in drawing.  I was off in my own little world much of the time, and I had quite a few pets that were my best friends.  I didn’t have a lot of friends, and the few I had I didn’t really like; most of the time I preferred to be alone and draw with my dog.

The abuse from my father continued until I was eleven.  I can’t tell you how many people have asked me why he stopped.  Don’t fucking ask me – go ask that pervert.  Maybe he’ll tell you.  I can only assume that I was getting too old for him or that he found someone else he liked better.  I didn’t ask questions about why he stopped, I was just thankful that he did.

I remember the time period after the abuse stopped a lot better than I remember my childhood.  My parents were still together.  I can’t begin to convey how terrible this was for me.  On Sunday’s my family would attend church together (by this time we had started to attend a home church because traditional church was too secular) and my dad would get up and lead worship.  I hated him so much and I didn’t understand why nobody else saw him the way I did.  Everybody I knew acted like he was such a great person – after all, he had a great job, he let my mom be a stay-at-home homeschool mom, and to all appearances he was a loving father.  My mom never noticed him abusing me, but I don’t blame her for this.  I can only attribute it to her own dysfunctional upbringing and the years of emotional abuse she endured with my father.

Even then, as a young teenager, I didn’t have the words to describe what had happened to me.  At thirteen I knew very little about sex, and I knew even less about how to express myself.  I was full of inner turmoil and hurt, and I had no outlet for it.  This is when I found out about cutting.  I was reading a magazine article about Angelina Jolie and the article said that she used to cut herself.  This was the first exposure I had to the concept of cutting and I decided to try it right away.  I got a safety pin and started to scratch my skin.  I couldn’t draw blood with my safety pin, but I liked the pain it caused me.  For the first time in a long time, I felt some release.

Around this same time, I realized that I could achieve a similar level of catharsis through not eating.  I wasn’t entirely aware that what I was doing was considered to be an eating disorder – I just knew that I really enjoyed how it felt when I would starve myself.  I came up with crazy diet plans and arbitrary numbers of how many calories I was allowed to eat in a day.  Occasionally, I would screw up and binge.  I felt horrible about my binges, so I would cut myself to try and feel better.  Somewhere along the lines I figured out that I could make myself vomit.  From that point on, I would starve myself for days, binge, and then make myself throw up.

This sort of behavior went on for quite a few years.  Of course, during this time I did my best to hide my eating disorder and cutting.  To outward appearances, I tried my best to look happy, well adjusted, intelligent, and well educated.  I simply wanted to be perfect.  I was part of a very insular community, so it was fairly easy to hide the symptoms of my problems – after all, everyone was sheltered to the point that they couldn’t recognize the symptoms of emotional disturbances.

In my early teen years, I started participating in competitive speech and debate.  My mom signed me up for NCFCA tournaments, and public speaking and debate took over my life.  I still kept up with my other school work, but the vast majority of my time was spent designing visual aids for expository speeches, researching debate resolutions, and practicing speeches.  I had very little life outside of NCFCA – as has been said by others, the closest thing I had to a graduating class were the people I competed at tournaments with.

During my teen years, I wasn’t allowed to date.  Despite the parental prohibition on relationships, I started talking to a boy I met through NCFCA.  He became my first boyfriend, and he was the first person I felt I could really confide in.  At fifteen, I was looking to him to save me.  I told him things I had never told anyone – I told him about my self-harm problems and my eating disorder.  We commiserated over our teenage angst and unhappy upbringings.  I was never able to trust him enough to talk to him about the abuse I suffered as a child, but this relationship helped me to begin to open up to people.

Of course, the relationship ended badly and dramatically (as most teenaged relationships do.)  Still, the simple experience of being able to confide in someone was profound.  Shortly after this breakup, I was researching something online, and I stumbled across an article on child abuse.  The article talked about sexual abuse and molestation.  For the first time in my life I had words to describe what had happened to me.  Prior to this time, I had heard people talk about molestation, but I always thought that if what happened wasn’t actual rape, that it didn’t constitute abuse.  No one had ever taught me otherwise.

I came unhinged when I read about what molestation actually was.  All the evil I had experienced as a child finally had a name.  Not only that, I felt justified in feeling that the abuse I suffered was wrong.  I spent that whole night crying, cutting, and throwing up.

The next day, I called my best friend.  I told her that when I was little my father had sexually abused me.  It was the first time in my life I had told someone the truth about my childhood.  I was sixteen years old.  My friend told me that she already knew – she could tell by the way I acted and talked about my family.  She knew I was miserable at home, but she didn’t know how to help me.  She was only a teenager herself.

Having the words to describe my experiences made me feel better about myself, but it didn’t help my immediate situation.  I still lived at home with my parents and my siblings and I didn’t feel safe enough to tell anyone about the abuse.  To make myself feel better, I started self-medicating with prescription pain pills and alcohol.  I started to get drunk off alcohol I stole from my parent’s liquor cabinet and I would get high off of Lortab’s and Percocet’s I found in our medicine cabinet.  My weight continued to fluctuate and my arms were still crisscrossed with cuts.  Because I was fairly isolated, few people took notice of my behavior.

My mom and I started to drift further and further apart – we would fight over the silliest things.  I wanted to listen to secular music, and she preferred that I listen to opera and classical.  I was a political libertarian and she was a staunch republican.  I thought that morality had little place in art, and she believed that the books I read needed to have strict moral messages.  We fought a lot.

On one particular day, mom and I had argued over the Harry Potter books (what homeschool child hasn’t been through a conflict involving these books?)  I ran upstairs to my room in tears.  I wasn’t really depressed about having differing opinions with my mom about Harry Potter – it was simply the metaphorical straw that broke the camel’s back.  The weight of all the secrets I was keeping came crashing down on me and I couldn’t deal with it anymore.  I felt like I had no way out, that my adolescence would never end.  So I did the only thing I could think of – I swallowed a bottle of pills and prayed that it would kill me.

My sister called an ambulance when she came upstairs and found me – I was inconsolable as I told her that I had just swallowed a bottle of pills and I wanted to die.  The ambulance came and carted me off to a mental hospital where I stayed for two weeks.

Ironically, the mental hospital was the only place where I came close to being in a public school.  Because I was in the adolescent ward, we had to attend school while at the hospital.  When I went to science class, I raised my hand and challenged the teacher on her teachings about evolution (that was what I had been taught to do in all my worldview and debate classes.)  I’m pretty sure that the staff took this as further evidence of my mental problems.

After I was released from the hospital, I went through a very rough period.  I finally told my mom about what my father had done to me.  It was an experience that I can only describe as horrific.  My mother believed me, and she had me write a letter to our church elders asking them for help.  I wrote a detailed letter and told these men what my father had done to me.  The church elders responded to my mother and said that both she and I were lying and that we weren’t welcome at that church anymore.  To this day, my father still attends that church and is a very active member.

Amidst all this madness, I attempted to finish my senior year of high school.  It was chaos.  My mom and I cobbled together a transcript that was substantiated by my debate experience, my love of classic British literature, and little else.  I was very intelligent, but no one ever really made me complete my math or science homework.  I would tell my mom that I did my math or science homework, and for the most part, my word was enough assurance that I was getting a well-rounded education.

When I went to take the SAT I hadn’t studied (literally, I think I cracked the study book one time) and I was hungover.  I did very well on the English and reading portion, and I bombed on the math portion.  At this point, I didn’t particularly care about school though, and my home life was so hectic that my mom didn’t have time to care either – she was in the process of dealing with a hellish divorce.

During my senior year I was so busy going to therapy and psych appointments that I never got around to applying to colleges.  Growing up, I had always wanted to go to college, but in the midst of the wreckage of my parent’s divorce, nobody really had time to help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life or where to apply for school.  I got more and more depressed and I started drinking and abusing pain pills even more heavily.

After high school graduation, I was simply drifting through life.  I worked a dead-end restaurant job and spent all my spare time at bars (I had a fake ID that I had stolen from someone.)  The only friends I had were people I knew from work – very few of my NCFCA friends kept in contact with me and I felt a bit ostracized.  Alcohol and pills fixed these feelings though, so I continued to self-medicate.

Eventually I applied to the local community college.  I went there for a semester, and I enjoyed it.  At the time though I was working fulltime at the restaurant, working weekends at a haunted house, and trying to keep up with a fulltime school schedule.  I ran myself ragged – my health started to deteriorate and I ended up in the hospital with meningitis.  I would also periodically have to go to the doctor because I got severe kidney infections.  One day as I was leaving to go to work, I simply collapsed in the garage – my body was wearing out.

While I was going to community college I couldn’t stop drinking.  I would routinely show up to class drunk or high out of my mind.  Alcohol was the only thing that helped me feel less stressed.  After one semester of college, I dropped out.

After dropping out of school my life became a bit of a blur.  I continued to drink myself into a stupor every night because I was severely depressed.  After a while, I got fired from my restaurant job because I routinely came to work drunk.  Within a few weeks of getting fired, I tried coke for the first time and I loved it.  I started routinely doing hard drugs.  My drug use culminated in an addiction to heroin.

To support my drug habit, I started working at a strip club.  I worked as a stripper and a prostitute for several years before I got arrested for trafficking heroin.  My life was a wreck and I had nowhere to go, so I went to rehab.  I had tried going to rehab several times before, so I wasn’t sure that it would work for me, but I was out of options.  I ended up in a year-long program, and it saved my life.

When I was shooting up heroin and stripping, I didn’t care about my life.  I would overdose or get beat up and it didn’t matter to me.  I felt like I was a fuckup and that my life wasn’t worth living.  In rehab I did the hard work of processing everything that had happened with my family, and as awful as it was, I’m a more whole person for all that.

It’s ironic – while I was in rehab, I was processing with a counselor and I told her about how I was brought up – conservative Christian homeschooler.  She was shocked.  She said that my story completely reframed how she thought about homeschooling.  She had always assumed that homeschooling was a good way to safeguard against having your kids become radically screwed up.  I guess I disproved that idea.

Since graduating rehab (most of the kids I competed in NCFCA with graduated college this year – I graduated rehab – ironic, right?) I’ve done my best to live life sober.  I attend 12 step meetings and a big part of my recovery is letting go of my resentments.  I’m still working on letting go of some resentment I have about my upbringing, but I’m slowly coming to terms with it.  In no way do I blame my choices on the way I was raised; I accept complete responsibility for my actions over the last few years.  Still, as people we are the sum of our experiences, and homeschooling was a huge part of my experience.  My upbringing shaped me into who I am today.

I can’t say that I liked the process of getting here, but today my life is good; I have a good job, I’m clean and sober, I’m not incarcerated, and I have people that love me when I don’t love myself.

It’s been hell to get here, but it is what it is and I’m okay with that today.

Sometimes I Am Afraid Of Myself: Lana Hobbs

Sometimes I Am Afraid Of Myself: Lana Hobbs

Trigger warning: self-injury.

Standing in the kitchen.

I need to make dinner.

I grab a knife, stare at my reflection in the blade.

Oddly entranced,

I put the cold metal to my skin,

what am I doing?

I pull away in shock.

I am bipolar, but don’t know it yet,

with a lifetime of pain and self hatred

To deal with on my own – my brain is confusing.

I could never be good enough, godly enough

To gain my parents approval,

But earning a spanking was too easy, I didn’t have to try.

Now I punish myself

for things not my fault.

I hit my wrists against the counter, hit my head on the wall. What is happening?

I thought I had stopped doing this.

I don’t understand my mind,

But I know I deserve this pain.

Know? No. No, I don’t.

I put the knife back into the block.

Sink to the floor.

I text my husband ‘bring pizza’.

To The Daughters of Sceva: R.L. Stollar

To The Daughters of Sceva: R.L. Stollar

Note from Ryan: I wrote this almost ten years ago. In 2004 I dedicated this poem to my friends, and I re-dedicate it to them now — and to all the other brave individuals who have shared their stories this week.


Somewhere I went blind in the conversation —

somewhere between the epidermis

and the angels —

somewhere my stomach lost its way

amidst the tangles of a prayer and an

agony, an anger, and all I hate.

Here is a scar; there, the bruise.

This is the air we breathe.

But the images burn deeper than the words:

I took all the precious porcelain perfections,

pictured the angels skating across their smooth, body-washed shells,

saw the angels’ traces, the less-porcelain pained faces,

the ethereal ballet,

the euphoria of one salt water ocean masked by another,

the liquid rose smiling at the black heart processional

projected to all as a cherry blossom joy.

I know not how many angels can dance

atop a pin, nor less do I know

how many have danced upon you —

what red slippers they wore, or

if they performed Swan Lake and the shell was the swan,

or if you ask for encores,

or if the show sells out — and how often.

Yet I know this night hurt.

I know the heavens broke loose with a shout,

and archangels, legions with blessed wings,

trumpets of the spirit (the spirit is the sword),

they descended tonight upon my red tremors,

they did a pirouette and I have lost breath and

appetite, and I feel silence, clammy as death itself,

I have a need for Tylenol, and let me effuse:

Can I not cast out angels

nor summon the demons at my command?

Can I not have arms of such love

so as to encircle the universe?

Finding A Reason To Wake Up: Warbler

Finding A Reason To Wake Up: Warbler

Trigger warning: self-injury and self-sexual abuse.

Family Background

I know my older brother cut himself.  Sometimes he was just overly rough in whatever he was doing and got hurt that way.  I remember him sitting on the other corner of the table as my dad made us study Koine Greek together.  He glared at my father with hate-filled eyes and used his one set of fingernails to scrape up and down the inside of the other arm.  He got spanked about 3 times as much as we girls did.  He was “strong-willed” and didn’t seem to care how much they hurt him.  He boasted that he was never hurt and that they could/would have to try harder.  He was always “the rebel” and was the first one to defy our parent’s authority.

The eldest sister was “perfect” and I didn’t think she did anything like that until her ‘courtship’ went up in flames and daddy grounded her and threatened severe repercussions for ever touching the computer or getting online ever again.  I was in the other room listening to all of this, hiding.  She found me late and we sat there mutely staring at each other.  She said she was going to run away and she had a plan.  I was scared and I didn’t want her to get caught and punished worse, because that is what daddy always threatened.  But I looked deeply into her eyes; and I knew that if she did not get away, one of us would find her dead in her bedroom the next day.

I was a “chicken” in the fullest sense of the word.  I never had the courage to actually cut my own skin.  But I would exacerbate any wound or scab by picking at it fiercely and not letting them completely heal.  I would pick at the corners of my fingernails until I pulled off skin down the the cuticles that would bleed and ache for a week.  I would allow myself to get burned when I was cooking and wish the pain would keep going.  I developed a very high pain tolerance as I refused to care for bruises or cuts and attempted to “be tough” about them.

I had an active imagination and I would imagine myself doing things.  I hated being in the kitchen with the knives because I was never sure when imagination would lead to reality and I would “snap.”  Sometimes I wanted to snap.  Other times my primal instincts kicked in and I fought myself for life.  Because I saw myself as worthless and ugly and bad.

An Active Imagination

I hurt myself specifically from the time I was 10 until I was 17 or 18.  I know for a fact that homeschooling made this a problem because had I been taught more, I would not have used this to hurt myself.  A sex-ed class would have taught me much sooner that what I was doing was damaging.

I hurt myself sexually.  I would imagine some scenario where I was being forcibly raped or forced into being a sex-slave.  I would ball up a towel or a sheet and I would lay on top of it until I rubbed my skin raw (and sometimes rub it off).  I did not know much of anything about human sexuality, or why it hurt so much, but I would walk around in pain every step I took for a couple days and then do it again the next week.  I did not even know that it was “masturbating” or what that word meant until I was 14, and at that time, I was told only that it was a sin. I stopped for a couple of months because of fear, but having no other outlet, I began hurting myself again semi-regularly.  I was able to hide it even though I shared a room for most of my life.  I didn’t get any other information about sex until I was at least 16.  When I first understood the workings of sex, I was grossed out and immediately shut off the conversation.

It took me over a year to realize that what I was doing was actually sexual and bad for me physically. By that time I had an outlet for myself in a homeschooled social circle, a pet to care for, and an outdoor hobby (gardening) that gave me exercise, sunshine, and something to love and invest myself into.  I was incredibly depressed most of my teenage years and I know that was a big reason for my self-abuse.

Another reason, I believe, was because when I had a crush on a young man (he was 12, I was 9) my parents squelched it quickly and shamed me for it.  Instead of helping me develop my relationship skills and experience, I was made emotionally stilted.  My next male-interest wasn’t for another 11 years, but it fell apart due to my relationship-immaturity and inability to ‘learn’ years of relationship-growth-experiences/consequences in two years.   It caused a lot of pain and I think it was because I would have been a very different person if I had a larger social group.  I am the girl that has crushes on everybody.  Had I been able to express those and have them dealt with in a reasonable manner (not told to save everything for courtship, or when I was “ready” to be a wife and mother) I could learn what men were interested in me for me, what crushes were stupid and should have bad consequences, and what it took to make relationships work.

Homeschooling meant that my parents controlled my outward actions around men with fierce looks, codes of conduct, chaperones, and stringent rules.  So my emotions turned inward in a bad way.  I would imagine violent scenarios and hurt myself personally.  I could hide it from them because sexuality was never again discussed.  Homeschooling kept me away from my peers, leaving me with the romantic-relationship-IQ of a toddler.

When it comes to relationships with authorities; I am co-dependent and I feel the need to hide any part of me I think they will censure.  It was not healthy and it is something I still struggle with, personally.

Advice For Others Who Struggle

Find a healthy outlet.  Depression kills.

Go jogging, or plant a morning glory, grow an herb garden and start making tea, or adopt a pet, or volunteer at a shelter, or buy a junk car and find parts at a junk yard to get it running, or restore a painting.

Or climb Mount Everest.

Find something that you love and that you can pour your energy and emotions into: a place to give.

When you find a reason to get up every morning, you will not want pain any more.  I remember taking a shower and screaming into the gushing water, because that was the only place they couldn’t hear me.

It eats you up inside and I know you want to be free.      

Advice To Parents

Dear Parents:  Your kid is struggling.  Don’t say this isnt your kid.  I know they are.

This is not 1% who have a few problems, it is the 99% who hide it.

Your kid is struggling because you have set up a shame-based system of right and wrong.  If you ask them, they will deny it because they don’t trust you and they don’t want to be shamed even more. They know their failings more personally than you have ever had occasion to point out and they have internalized it.

You know that one issue that never seems to go away?  It’s a sign that something rotten is eating away at their heart.

The bad news (no, the first part wasn’t the bad news): you cannot really do anything about it at this point. Your child does not trust you; your words and actions and rules and teaching and religious views are largely the reason that this behavior began and has been happening.

You cannot stop it until after you prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are changing. And that will take a lot of time, more time than it will take for them to grow up and move away.  So I suggest that you do major damage control by being as brutally honest about your failings first.  Don’t expect anything from them except to try to live with you as you learn to listen.  Get books and read them and ask your child for help.  And if they actually tell you something: do everything they say.  Don’t argue, don’t talk back, don’t tell them that you never taught that.  Take what they say and live it.

Maybe after a couple years they will start trusting you enough to share their lives with you. When you demand your child give you her heart, she will give you the one you want to see.  Her real heart will be hidden as far away as it takes to stay alive.  


I have this one quotation saved in my email drafts with the title “Raising Children”:

“The only hope you should have is that they will gladly share their own adult journey with you.”

Hard Bones, Electric Wire: April

Hard Bones, Electric Wire: April

Trigger warning: graphic description of self-injury.

These bones are too hard.

I can’t break them.

I can’t feel my heart all the way behind them.

If I scratched off my skin,

I could hold these little blue veins in my wrists.

I can see them already.

Oh, God, I’m shaking thinking about it.

Why are they visible?

So vulnerable.

So tempting.

I could feel my heart in them.

I could know it was beating.

I could pull them out –

disconnect them like electric wire.

I could hold them like slippery blue worms pulsing between my fingers.

Then I could cut them open –

clean like the end of a hose.

I could watch the blood wash the floor or feed the dirt.

I could see myself fade in the pool.

No more chaos.

No more noise.

I could be deflated and flat.


Finally still.

I wouldn’t be me anymore.

It’s what everyone wants anyway.

My Body Took My Soul’s Pain: Bailey

My Body Took My Soul’s Pain: Bailey

Follow Bailey on Twitter or read what she calls her “weird blog,” which is “half about finding truth, half about television, and half about arachnophobia. (It’s mostly not about math.)”

Trigger warning: self-injury.

The Triggers

It started small when I was small—still in the single digits, probably. Huddled in my room after facing my parents’ wrath, I would curl up in a corner and scratch hateful messages into my legs. “Stupid,” I would write, and “bad.”

It hurt, sure, but I felt less guilt over my stupidness and less shame over my badness after I’d punished myself. “You’re not stupid or bad anymore,” I would reassure myself afterwards. “It’s over now.”

When the hell of adolescence struck, I was overwhelmed constantly. Take a sensitive nature, put it in a volatile home situation, and add the chaos of hormones, and it just seemed impossible to find any emotional or mental balance. I felt stupid and bad all the time—not just when mom and dad yelled. (Although I didn’t know it at the time, it was the first of many periods of clinical depression.)

Most of the time, my parents were really quite loving. But they were also strict. For instance, they required immediate, unquestioning, cheerful obedience. But what if I had a deep sadness or a burning question?! I could never comply to their satisfaction, and they said that meant rebellion. I didn’t feel rebellious, and yet I couldn’t stop rebelling! I deserved their yelling. Clearly, I was just a failure at the pursuit of piety. And that was the worst imaginable failure. Failing my parents meant failing God, so their displeasure represented his. 

Shame characterized the core of my being. My parents said they loved me unconditionally, but it seemed like their love stopped whenever I displeased them. If they didn’t restore their love, then I had to do something drastic to restore order. If I was bad, I deserved a punishment; if I received a punishment, then I would be absolved—on some grand karmic level, if not in my parent’s eyes. After the punishment, I could feel like I deserved love, even if I didn’t receive it. I had paid the price to absolve my sin, so the weight of my sin felt lifted.

Obviously, I misunderstood God and his grace. I also read my parents unfairly; they still loved me, they just didn’t show it in a way that I understood. They’d been conditioned by the homeschool culture to show displeasure towards any failure-to-be-holy. Otherwise, they’d be letting my sins slide, and then they’d be bad parents who were letting their child’s soul go to hell!

They loved me, so they didn’t want me to go to hell. They believed—because they had been told—that it was their spiritual responsibility to mold me, which meant insisting on a narrow definition of behavior. Unfortunately, that sometimes played out as refusing to show grace toward human imperfections. To a kid, that means conditional love. And that means shame, guilt, self-doubt, and fear.

Even apart from my parents, life wasn’t a walk in the park. Being a teenager just plain sucks. But I never fought back against any of these forces. I internalized everything until I was so full of bad emotions—general anguish, hatred toward myself, and anger toward the world—that I felt insane. 

I was desperate to release those feelings, but it had to be private; I didn’t want to get in any more trouble, and I didn’t want to be like my parents, who took their emotions out on me and my siblings. So I did what seemed, at the time, like a great idea. I focused on myself, to protect everyone around me. I punished myself to release my guilt. In my mind, I was even defending myself from my parents: “This is what you’re doing to my soul,” I whispered. “So, fine, I’ll do it to my body. If I deserve it, I’ll take it.”

Self-injury transferred my soul’s pain to my body, and I found the physical pain infinitely more bearable. It distracted me from the terror of the moment, a change that allowed the possibility of quietness and peace. I assured myself that sensations existed other than mental torment. I craved the endorphins.

And I wore long sleeves and pants, claiming chronic coldness even in hot summers.

The Transition

Everything worsened in college. My parents panicked about letting me grow up and hence became stricter, angrier, louder. Now that I saw the whole world, I wanted to find my own place in it, which meant leaving behind their careful plans. I think this frightened them, which angered them, which frightened me, which angered me. They divided our phone calls between friendly chats and harsh condemnations.

I was furious with them, and I didn’t want to be like them. I knew, on some level, that they loved me and wanted the best for me, even if they didn’t know how to give it to me. I knew they were scared and worried, and their feelings of terror and rage had to go somewhere. (That was a situation I deeply understood.) They chose their target: me. Perhaps in a warped domestic version of Stockholm syndrome, I chose the same target. Me.

Eventually, people found out, which was the thing I least wanted. I was sent to a therapist, which was the thing I most needed. I was surrounded by loving friends and wise counselors, fortunately, and they worked hard to help me. I’m eternally grateful.

But I fought with my therapist, arguing that my coping mechanism didn’t hurt anyone else and didn’t cause permanent damage. Why was my choice irrational and unhealthy, but it’s fine for parents to crush their children’s souls?  Plus, what the hell should I do instead? 

I ranted and raged because I felt hopeless. Of course I knew that hurting myself was a foolish thing to do, and ultimately unhelpful, but it was all I knew. It didn’t even matter whether I wanted to get better, wanted to give it up; I simply couldn’t. What would take its place? Terror? Insanity? A homicidal rampage? It was the only way I could control my frantic world.

I acted angry, but I secretly longed for an escape, for any other coping method that might actually work. I just didn’t believe, for a long time, that one existed.

Of course, there wasn’t a magic solution or a silver bullet. Truly changing yourself takes time. Slowly, I let go of my twisted habit—not because I solved the riddle, but because I built a support system and began accepting myself. As I matured, I focused on the things I loved, instead of my parents’ criticisms. I let myself explore my own ideas and believe my own beliefs; I gave myself freedom to be uncertain, to be open-minded, to be a work in progress. I married a man who liked me exactly as I was, and I let the strong, stable truth of his love overcome my self-doubt. I allowed myself to think I might be worthwhile. I let myself be both happy and flawed.

Most of all, I realized that I’m not powerless. I self-injured because I thought it was my only option; I couldn’t control anything in the world except my own body. I still can’t control most things, but I can be a force for good. When you are loved, then you have a radical power to affect the lives of those who love you. You can turn inward, focusing on your own misery, or you can turn to others for both solace and purpose. Even if you’re not strong, you always have the power to help others.

The Truth

I still think about cutting almost every day, but it’s different. Before, no one knew, and no one saw, and I felt better afterwards. Back then, in the worst-case scenario, my parents would have found out; that would have been (well, was) terrifying for me, but it was also terrible for them, which met some tiny sense of justice.

But if I hurt myself now, my husband would find the marks, and he doesn’t deserve it. I would feel guilty for making him sad—and “more guilt” was never the goal. It would also hinder our fantastic sex life, because I’d be afraid to get naked. (At the beginning of our marriage, before I figured out these things, I would sometimes go a month without taking my shirt off. That’s not a great way to celebrate newlywed bliss.)

And most of all, there’s darling Madeleine. Of course having a kid changes your lifestyle, but it’s also a game-changer for the soul. My entire heart aches to protect her from pain. I treat her with respect, and I glory in my power to build up her self-esteem, but my control ends there. Life hurts, at times, and the world is cruel. And poor Maddie is just as sensitive as her mother. Even if I never yell at her, she will face trials, and she will struggle to respond.

When I first got pregnant, I pledged that I would be a kind mother—at any cost. I know I would experience frustration, fatigue, and helplessness, as all mothers do, but I would not take it out on Madeleine. Yes, I actually planned to deal with these things through self-injury. Better hurt me than hurt her, I figured. She would never see, and she’d never know.

But I’m realizing, as Madeleine grows older, that I missed the real issue. It’s not what I successfully hide from her; it’s what I fail to show her. Things like modeling healthy coping mechanisms. Like responding to life’s challenges with flexibility and strength. Like acknowledging the stress and insanity of life, and admitting it hurts like hell and that’s ok, and then proving that it doesn’t have to beat you.

She should never feel that gut-wrenching sense that she can never make it, never satisfy, never be good enough. As a kid, I always felt on edge, knowing every moment that I was forgetting something, ruining something, or failing something. I think most women feel like this for most of their lives. But I want the opposite for Madeleine; I want her to know that she’s imperfect, to feel at peace with that knowledge, and to know that she’s valuable anyway.

But I can’t raise her in an environment of peace while letting myself live in an environment of anxiety.

Hiding my bad coping strategies isn’t enough. I need to find, test, practice, and then pass on some equally realistic but tremendously smarter strategies. If Madeleine sees me facing pressure and responding purposefully—with healthy methods and, ultimately, with grace—then maybe she’ll never feel so desperate. Maybe, as she observes my strength of soul and develops her own, she’ll decide that she can handle anything.

And if I can empower others like that, then I’m definitely not powerless. Definitely not stupid. Definitely not bad.

Ashamed Of My Own Skin: Lily

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Lily” is a pseudonym.

Trigger warning: this post contains references to eating disorders and self-harm.

“You may not wear that.”

This phrase, and others like it, made up a large part of the soundtrack of my journey into womanhood.  Modesty, and all of the accompanying clothing restrictions, were part of the homeschool community of “keeping our daughters pure until marriage.”

As young girls, my sister and I were told that dressing modestly was important, in order to not be a stumbling block to men.  I remember hearing modesty talks and going to modesty “Fashion Shows” as young as 10 or 11.  Before my body even began to develop into that of a woman, I was told it needed to be covered up.   Why? To protect the eyes, minds, and hearts, of men.

Of course, I was only in middle school, and my sheltered self didn’t understand the idea of sexual attraction.  I was skinny and developed relatively late, and so the legs, chest, and shoulders that I kept covered were those of a child.   Before I even developed womanly curves, then – I learned to be ashamed of my own skin.

I have long, thick, dark brown hair, and my aunts and other extended family women will joke about the blessing and the curse this thick dark hair is for all of us – because it grows everywhere.  Face, chest, sideburns, arms, legs, stomach, eyebrows.  As I turned 11, 12, 13, 14, even – I grew more and more self conscious of my hairy legs and dark upper lip.  I would timidly ask my mom how to take care of it, embarassed by my own body.

“You’re still a little girl. That would look awful if you plucked your eyebrows.  You would look so bad.”

Athletics became unbearable – not just because of the long, knee-length shorts that stuck out from the crowd – but because of the dark, thick hair on my legs.  “It’s time to pluck the stache!” joked one of my girl friends at a homeschool co-op gathering – not knowing my shame and embarassment that came from not being allowed to.

Makeup, shaving, and tweezing would have made me look too adult-like, said my mom.  Looking too adult-like was an aspect of immodesty.  Immodesty was a stumbling block to men, and I should be ashamed of myself for the way that I was leading boys on.   My mother once told me that the fact that my hair smelled good was a valid reason for other homeschool mothers (of boys) to be angry at me: after all, I was a stumbling block to their children.

I stopped eating, quit athletics, and ran alone in my neighborhood.  My 96 lbs at 5’4″ at age 14 dropped down to close to 80.  The dark hair on my body grew finer and more plentiful, and my breasts stayed almost completely undeveloped.  I hid food every chance I could, and threw myself into school and more homeschool co-ops and extracurriculars so that I would be able to skip meals and say I had already eaten.  My nose started bleeding about twice daily, and I bruised easily – even from small bumps, I developed large bruises that stayed for weeks.

Feeling embarassed and ashamed of my body was now a regular part of my life, and self-abuse became a way to deal with those feelings.  I started cutting my upper legs – a place that I knew would always be hidden away from the world, thanks to modesty restrictions.   My parents explicitly didn’t believe in privacy for teenagers, and I began to cut myself more and more because it was the one thing that I could keep secret.   Although I was allowed no control of my own body, the secret scars I left underneath my modest clothing was something that I could control.

When I confided in a male friend about my self-injury, my parents immediately found out thanks to heavily monitored spyware on my computer.  At this point, I weighed in the mid-80s and look and acted incredibly depressed and unhealthy, but my parents saw my issues as rebellion against their authority that should be broken instead of mental and emotional issues that needed to be treated seriously.  They loved me dearly, but refused to admit that self-injury and anorexia were “real” disorders.  The few times that I went to the doctor during this period, they strongly reccomended my parents allow me to attend sessions with a medical therapist – but they refused, as they saw no potential benefits from a medical professional hearing about my “rebellion”.

I was 14.  My mother started coming into my room immediately when she saw me leave the shower and make me take my towel off so that she could check my naked body for scars.  If I was in public with her and wearing shorts, she would pull the fabric of the shorts back on my thighs to see if I had cuts on my legs, or pull the waistband of my shorts down to check my hips.

I started showering less, wearing clothing that was harder to remove, and cutting myself in even more “private” places.  As it got less convenient for her to check my fully naked body, and more time passed since she had found cuts, she stopped remembering to check – but it was much, much longer until I stopped cutting.

As for my weight, she mostly dealt with it by telling me how awful I looked.  “You’re sickly,” she told me.

As I went through high school, I got better, mostly from interacting with parts of the homeschool community that simply didn’t know about my self-harm.  I played music with a successful band and worked hard for leadership in academics, and eventually graduated and was able to cut financial ties, and subsequently a lot of the manipulation in my life.

I have three points from this story.

First of all: If you are struggling with self-injury, an eating disorder, or anything else: get help.  Get medical, professional, help.   One of the resources that children in the public education system have is private, personal access to guidance counselors who are trained to recognize problems like this and point children in a direction where they can get help.  In a homeschool situation, well-meaning parents are not always able to understand or recognize the mental/emotional issues behind things like self-injury.   When there are no other adults present who are able to help a child/young teenager and parents have ultimate authority, it can be hard to find help sometimes.

Get help though – any way you possibly can.  One thing that I learned after graduating high school was that my mental issues almost always should be discussed with a medical professional, as well-meaning church elders who I talked to would almost inevitably point me back to my parents.  Self-injury is not something that can always just be “fixed” by praying to quiet your “rebellion”.  It is real, and as a human being, you deserve real help.  Don’t be afraid to seek it out. 

Secondly: To anyone who is struggling – it gets better. Someday, you will be on your own, with access to clothing and makeup/skin care stores that you can purchase from, free from guilt.  Someday, you will have friends who never would have known that you had a dark unibrow.  Someday, the way you look will be your choice, and you won’t have to be ashamed anymore.  It gets better.  I know what it feels like to be shamed into not being beautiful.   I know what it feels like to be told that your simple desire for hygiene and feminine attractiveness is slutty, sexual, and wrong.

It’s not wrong.  Wearing a v-neck is not wrong.  Wearing makeup is not wrong.  Plucking your eyebrows or waxing your upper lip is not wrong.  It is not wrong for you to want those things, and it is wrong for them to make you feel ashamed of wanting those things.  You shouldn’t have to lash out at your own body because you are ashamed of wanting those things.

Finally:  I am an undergraduate education major, and I teach young students and teenagers in the public schools on a regular basis – and, let me tell you, conservative, non-distracting clothing is not what the homeschool community or the Modesty Survey or Josh Harris or anyone says it is.  If you want to dress conservatively and not be distracting, dress professionally.  Wear those heels and dark jeans and a sweater.  Wear dress slacks and a button-down shirt, and guess what?  It’s okay if it’s form-fitting! It’s okay if it makes you look attractive!  It’s okay if you’re wearing lipstick!  After multiple years in the real world interacting with real people, I am finally beginning to realize that conservative and “modest” clothing is not what we were told it is, and it can bring about real, serious, body-image emotional and physical harm to girls who have never learned to love their own bodies. 

I hope that one day I teach my future daughter(s), who will most likely also have dark hair all over, small breasts, and a great smile,  how to dress in a way that makes them feel attractive.  I hope they feel confident enough around me to ask me for makeup or shaving or clothes advice, and I hope that I am able to help them learn how to dress attractively and appropriately for all situations.

Maybe, just maybe, they will grow up a little bit more comfortable in their own skin.