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

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

< Part Four

Part Five

A week later he started taking narcotics again.

In the following months I lost both my grandmother and the great aunt that had lived next door to us. One the day after the other’s funeral. My mother’s swings were escalating. She had a hard time keeping down jobs and holding onto money. She blamed all her problems on my father.

Shortly after the deaths, she divorced my father and gained full custody. (They had been threatening this every other day for the last 14 years.). Two days after, she kicked out my sisters who were 20 and 18 at the time. The 20 year old had travelled a lot with work-stay and had just been home a quarter to finish college. The 18 year old was working and in school and gave a majority of her paycheck to my mother. They weren’t given any notice. My sister and I had gotten an apartment together after I had separated from my husband and we invited them to move in with us until they could get on their feet.

Shortly after, my husband started spiraling down with his drug use. The men in our community group talked with him – but they did it from where they had come from and with love. They told him that they were scared he was going to kill himself or others driving as high as he was. They told him that they would pick him up and drive him home. They knew that he wasn’t ready to change and didn’t ask him too. They just told him they were here when he was ready and that he wasn’t alone. I felt at complete peace to give him up, my pastor told me something that has stuck in mind. He said “Know this isn’t yours to carry alone.” They weren’t pitying me, they weren’t trying to help me, they weren’t taking over my problem. Instead they were standing beside me and loving me.

My husband recently told me he was going to start selling. I know the road this will take. I have decided for the sake of my unborn daughter and me, that divorce is going to be the best choice and a way to protect ourselves. He has already stolen money from me and I have accepted that he still has a long way to go before he decides he wants to change. I’ve stopped trying to control and manipulate him. It’s pointless.

I can only change myself and what I allow in my life and I have accepted that.

For many years, I never knew who I was… just who I was supposed to be, who everyone around me needed me to be. My boundaries had been so trampled growing up – I had no idea I was allowed boundaries and limitations. I had become – still am- bitter and resentful. I still can’t forgive everyone.

I was told that forgiveness is closely related to acceptance and for me to forgive I have to accept what was done to me. For me to fully accept that, I have to accept that I wasn’t as powerless as I wanted to be. I couldn’t separate love from pity and didn’t even know what love was. I was supposed to love my mother but all I could do was pity her.

I couldn’t love God because I didn’t know what to pity in him. I couldn’t imagine God loving me because I just felt He did everything for me out of pity or condemnation.

Now I truly am learning who I am.

I am learning my limitations and boundaries. I am learning how to love without pity. I am learning how to trust people that love me. I am learning how to love God and that He loves me – not who I want me to be – but plain old me. I am learning to love myself.

The sinner’s prayer has long confused me – how can saying those magical words make you a Christian – who decided those words were the one they were going to use? But I think I’m starting to understand true Christianity and some of that prayer. I think when it says confess your sins –

He doesn’t really want you to confess your sins, he wants you to stop hiding and simply confess yourself.

I wrote this poem recently. It’s my confession of self…

 *****

Confession of Self 4/29

When she stops using,

The bitter bite of withdrawal sinks in.

Blood dripping from the gaping wounds

Her habit has left on her.

She tries to smile politely and courteously

So that no one discovers the secret she holds inside.

Another day hidden behind the mask of a perfect little girl

The fear of survival looms in threat of stopping

How will she be able to make it through the day without her addiction?

Her drug of choice gives her a dose of denial

So that she doesn’t have to feel reality.

So that she can ignore the fears, anxiety and horrors that await her in reality.

So that she doesn’t have to face the eyes staring back in the mirror in reality.

She fears letting the world down again if she stops using.

She’s never had enough strength to stop before.

She used to be strong – so beautiful – so full of life

And, here she is now, just a shell drowning in tears.

Suffocating in sorrows she’s too scared to feel.

She uses her body to feed her habit.

Abuses her body to fuel her habit.

She’s scared of the person that remains if she stops – the person she’s become.

The only way to support this habit is to sell her body.

To give up every piece of her in hopes that it is worth it.

That the high last longer this time

That she never comes down this time.

She’s died so many times before – what’s one more?

 

I am an addict.

Addicted to deceit,

Refusing to own who I am in the place of who I want to be.

Selling my life in hopes of keeping my soul

Buying an image that doesn’t require a God.

I am addicted to hiding myself – to wearing a mask.

I am addicted to selling myself to prevent being myself.

To prevent owning my depression, my downfalls, my numbness.

— The fact that I am but human

I am addicted to pity in the place of love

I am addicted to the misconception that I don’t need more than myself.

That my independence is my castle – my everything.

I am an addict.

 

I need more – I am worth more

I am loved and I can accept love

Your love isn’t a favor to be repaid at the cost of my soul.

Your love is what will allow me to buy myself

What will give me a soul

What will allow the wild, crazy, passionate life within to be loved and lived.

Your love is what will save me

Your strength will shelter my weakness

This isn’t pity – this is the opposite.

I’ve gained a soul, a self, a life.

 

Yes, I am an addict

But I am not alone.

I am truly loved,

I have gained a soul in owning myself,

And I can finally love the girl staring back from the mirror.

End of series.

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

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

< Part Three

Part Four

I wanted that image to haunt him as long as he lived.

He called the pain clinic and told them what had happened and then left with our only car and all of my personal information. I packed a suitcase and called my best friend to pick me up. I went and hid at her friend’s house for a couple of days. My husband was furious and started saying that he wanted me back and went out driving looking for me all night. He had stopped going to church shortly after we had gotten married, but I had kept them abreast of what had been going on.

On the third day that I was gone, knowing I had to work the next day, I called them up and asked if they could go with me while I went to pick up my work ID. I told him to leave my stuff outside the door. I remember shaking, trembling walking down that pathway to pick it up, afraid he was going to come out the door. My best friend’s mom, who had come with me, went and knocked on the door. He opened it up.

I could smell the cigarettes even from a distance. She came in and we talked and he said he was sorry for doing that but that I shouldn’t have done that. He added that he was going to stop narcotics. She seemed assured and left me there with him. I remember trembling again as she left.

The church only believed in divorce upon the grounds of physical abuse and adultery.

I had a long talk with the men in the church, I know my husband had dabbled in selling a couple of his pills, but had no idea if he was doing it then. They said if I knew for sure he was selling drugs that I not only was allowed to divorce him, but for my safety should. He started using again, and, although I had suspicions, I never could find any concrete proof. He started a new contract job at that point after he decreased his narcotic use, but after a couple of months started complaining about neck pain and got doctors to increase his prescription.

He soon lost his job and his car subsequently broke down. Right after he had gotten a job, I had found a good car at a great price with the help of one of the men at the church. It had a manual transmission which I knew how to drive but that my husband didn’t. My husband’s narcotic use started to spiral downward again after he lost this job.

At the same time, my 24-year-old best friend who was part of the only remaining family in the church, was offered an opportunity for a job raise, college funding, benefits, and a link to her dream job in the corporate office of a Christian company. Her father had had a brain injury when she was 14 years old and most of the girls worked to support the family at a minimum wage job since they were old enough to be hired (her mother stayed at home with the younger kids having more kids). The brother-in-law of her store owner had recently been placed in charge of another store and after being trained by her, wanted to bring her and some of the other managers with him. The caveat — it was in a different state. This manager’s wife was close with my best friend and became her mentor, but neither one had met her family closely. They were both strong in the Christian community, but because they hadn’t met them, my best friend’s parents saw this as her being deceitful.

They told her she was in sin because she wanted to move for a job without knowing of a 1 cor 14 church.

They told her she hadn’t been communicating with them and she hadn’t been open for the past couple of years and they questioned her faith. They would talk about the rebellion in church service without mentioning names. They told her if she couldn’t find a verse that spoke — told her to go — that she must respect her parent’s wishes. If she didn’t want to do that she could bring it up with the other two men at church.

She left anyways.

Her parents cut ties with her and told her siblings she was in rebellion and in sin. They told the kids they couldn’t be with her because of her sinfulness and were not allowed to talk to her. During this time, two of the other sisters left as well. I kept in contact with both her and her parents and still attended the church. Her mother had been like a mother to me, since mine had started swinging crazier and crazier. She had become my spiritual mentor.

I was so confused: my best friend was not doing anything rebellious and she still loved her family despite the circumstances. But here her parents were, talking about her like she was in sin and wasn’t a Christian for merely moving. Any feelings that didn’t agree with her parents were sin.

Her older sister put me in contact with her best friend who I was able to ask a lot of questions to. Every time before, anyone I had told about a 1 Cor church told me that I was wrong and I was wrong because it was cultural. This friend was the first one to gently walk aside me and give me the tools about how I had been told to interpret it. She never told me I was wrong, she merely told me why she didn’t believe that interpretation. She was patient with me as I reviewed what I had learned and researched and studied it and came to the same conclusion she had. I sat down in front of all the men in the church and told them why I didn’t believe that how they interpreted 1 Cor was the only way to practice a service. I told them that I couldn’t have fellowship with them if they were going to call people sinners based on the type of church they attended because the only commandment in that verse is to have an orderly service.

That was my last conversation with the church.

As everything I had learned about faith began to crumble apart, I didn’t know where to begin. I knew God existed. I am an artist and a nurse, both of those require sensitivity to feelings and intuition and faith. I found that if I had a feeling it was usually based in fact.

I had felt God, I had no doubt in my mind that he existed, I just didn’t know who He was anymore. I remembered something my mom had always told me : “Go from what you know to what you don’t know.” I knew God existed and I knew he was love. I decided to walk forward based on those two facts alone. I would use that as my ruler, my measuring tape, my tool to assess truth.

My new friend and her husband walked alongside me patiently, and for the first time, I began to understand love.

As I met more people from their church, I decided to give the church a try, even though I had read that they believed Calvinism. I told myself just because I went to one service didn’t mean I had to attend for the rest of my life. I could always leave if I disagreed. My church had always used the verse about being “of the same mind” to mean that they had to agree as a church on every little thing. But I learned at this new church that some aspects of Christianity are primary — for example, God is love, God died for us. Some are secondary, such as doctrine, or method of worship (protestant) and that we didn’t have to all agree on those secondary things to still be Christians together. I told them that I didn’t believe in Calvinism, and immediately flinched expecting the backlash I had always faced around the Calvinists my dad brought around, but it never happened.

Instead I heard, “Yeah, a lot of us don’t.”

It surprised me that they could love each other without having to agree on every little thing.

It surprised me to see the way the really cared about the community and would go out of the way to help someone in need no matter the religion and without trying to indoctrinate them. Yes, they witnessed to others, but they did it from love and not a need to increase their numbers or be a good Christian. These people were upfront with their struggles. One service they asked anyone who had ever been in jail to stand up, half of our church stood up. There was such a transparency to everyone’s life that attracted me. These weren’t “good Christians” these were real people who chose this life because it was what they truly wanted. I took me almost a year to start going to church regularly, but I am still in awe that the first one I went to was just the one I needed.

At the end of July last year, I told my husband he could stop taking drugs or I was leaving him. He stopped and even started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but he never really worked the steps. He even got a job — a good job. However, he told me toward the end of November that he was mad at me, that I had taken everything that made him happy away from him. I told him I was miserable too and if we were both so miserable why it might be better to just divorce.

After that he was really nice for a while.

Around this same time, I met the wife of one of the men who struggled with addiction at church. She was so refreshingly honest it was beautiful. She talked me into going to Nar-anon (Family support groups for people who are affected by the addiction of another). That is when I truly started learning about addiction and, more importantly, codependency and enabling.

Up until this point, I had viewed birth control as a sin and was taking no measures against getting pregnant.  The only reason I hadn’t gotten pregnant after three and a half years of marriage was that my husband didn’t want any and was taking precautions. In December I told him that I wanted to start birth control, he told me that he wanted a family and a baby and he didn’t want me to. Later that month, I started smelling cigarettes on his breath again and asked him if he was smoking. He denied it without blinking an eye. That lie, among 3 years of lies, was it.

I separated from him in January and found out I was pregnant on the same day.

Part Five >

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

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

< Part Two

Part Three

His mother didn’t like me, I had a free-spirit locked inside a 40 year old woman. Every now and then my free spirit would come out and I would do things that are a little crazy (like jump in a pool at a new years party with some of the other girls — and yes, we were clothed). All of my family were late bloomers and didn’t hit puberty until 16-18 but, once we did, we all ended up having the body of swimsuit models.

Being tall, small-boned, with D+-cups and a nice butt and legs, is the worst thing that can happen to a homeschool girl.

No matter what you wear, if the wind hits right, or if the shirts too baggy can make you “immodest.”

We were on a thrift store budget and most shorts and dresses that look good on other girls look like daisy dukes and mini-dresses on us. Anyways, his mother hated my clothes, she felt I dressed too provocatively (I mean a t-shirt and fingertip length or longer shorts, or dresses). I had a figure and she hated it. I also was passionate and intelligent. I was starting to gain a little independence and her family was huge into the umbrella concept. She ran the house and hated that her son liked me and would look down her nose at me every time she saw me.

I had never been alone with anyone, and one night when we were alone, we started kissing and before the night was over we were pretty much naked. I felt so bad and so guilty, even though we hadn’t physically had sex. I felt as if I had sinned so much that there was no going back and I had to marry him. Not soon after, I lost my virginity to him. He proposed shortly after, largely due to how much pressure I was placing on him. I had grown up believing my body was my husband’s and that I should never deny him sex if he wanted it.

When we are told that, sex is your gift for your husband and you are only worth your virginity. Once you lose it, you place all your future on that person. You feel as if you have to marry him or no other man will want you. But, we finally broke it off after he told me that he thought a women was supposed to do exactly what her authority figure said, even if there was a bible verse that contradicted it.

I went through a very severe bout of depression after that. I ended up telling my mother what had happened and my mother ate it up. She loved having her little baby back. Anytime I tried to gain any sort of independence she would always bring up how much sin I had gotten in on my own. I had lost any ability to feel by this time. I started trying to date again, I was so numb and wary then, it made life difficult. Unbeknownst to me, my mother signed me up for a Christian dating website and reached out to a couple of the men on their without my knowledge eventually gifting me the website as a “present.” I tried to date one of them, but I could sense that something wasn’t quite right with him and ended up breaking it off before I was invested at all.

After that, I just really didn’t care anymore.

I thought ‘if the “good, Christian boy” hadn’t treasured me at all, why don’t I find someone on the opposite end of the spectrum?’ I also started to reason that if guys were just after sex, I would just give my body away and anyone who stayed after that might be worth getting to know. For me, I had already given away my precious jewel, so what did I have to lose just letting everyone else have it? At least then, I didn’t have to spend the time, energy, and trust vetting them out. I had started MMA and absolutely loved it, but met one of the guys from there who had little ambition in his life, smoked/dealt weed all day long, was not attractive, and had no job. So I went home with him one night, I was so numb. I remember, I just couldn’t take it and it began to hurt because I wasn’t into it so I made him stop and went home crying. I snuck into the house and didn’t tell a soul for the longest time.

A couple of months after, I met a guy at work, he worked insurance and we had been put together one day. I talked back and forth with him and he had a good personality — it was easy to talk to him and he could make me laugh. Later that week he made me a flower out of a post-it note and a paperclip and asked me on a date. He had been the first guy to ask me on a date ever without me having to manipulate them into asking. I decided I had had enough with courting and trying to find the man I was going to marry and decided to just have fun. When he picked me up, his car had the faint smell of smoke in it and I wondered if he was a smoker. He took me ice-skating, then to dinner which he ordered for me and bought the most expensive item (my first filet), and then to his house for a movie. We lay down together and started kissing, but I left before anything else happened.

I wasn’t physically attracted to him, I just was desperate to feel something — anything.

He was fun. He didn’t ask about me and he didn’t condemn any of my choices. I could just be with him, without having to divulge anything. He didn’t pressure me for sex either.

Our next date I ended up staying the night and I was always the one who initiated, I wanted to see what would happen if he could have it anytime, how he would treat me once he had gotten “ what he wanted.” On our third date he told me that he wanted to marry me, and my heart started racing, I had never had to go slower than the guy in the relationship. He had told me he had been into drugs and alcohol as a kid but had been clean for several years.

I had finally found the good medium between a “good, Christian boy” and a bad-boy — a reformed bad boy.

He started coming to church and loved the attention from our one elder. He stopped smoking and started reading the Bible. We were still spending many nights together, but I just kept that our secret. My mother would grow suspicious, but I would talk her out of those saying that I had had to work that night — she heard what she wanted to and it wasn’t hard to convince her.

After three months of dating, we went to the justice of the peace and got married, alone. I was afraid that after much more time, the church was going to find something wrong with him and forbid my dating him. By this time, the church had dwindled down to one family and 2 men and me. One of them was a single father, the other was a father of a big family who had separated from the church. They were particularly hard on men and felt that if they showed anyone the “truth” any truth and they didn’t immediately convert, they were in sin.

I went ahead and got married so that I could be under the authority of someone who didn’t try to control me – someone I could manipulate. I had gotten rather good at underhanded and submissive manipulation. My great aunt had a finished basement, complete with kitchen, so we moved in there. After being interrupted a couple of times, we decided we had to move out. He had told me he wanted a bunch of kids before we were married, but, after I miscarried our first, he changed his mind.

They sent me home with some narcotic pain medicine for the miscarriage, but I didn’t like it and only took a couple. A couple of months later, I had a migraine headache and went looking for the medication, only to find out it was completely empty. My husband made an excuse about his neck hurting and that he had had to take. Before we were married, he had told me that he had had an addiction to this same medication in the past and I questioned him about it, but he told me that I had misheard him and that hadn’t been the case. Pretty soon, he was going to several different doctors about his back and neck pain until they finally started prescribing him narcotics. Over the next couple of years, they escalated the dose until he could barely keep his eyes open, but all he said is that it wasn’t enough.

I had grown up very sheltered — I hadn’t been around an addict or drunk before.

Unless they had a bottle in their hand, I had to be told when someone was drunk. I didn’t know what a bong was, I didn’t know what a pipe was. Nursing school and the internet had taught me what sex was and I used urban dictionary to pick look up references my friends or patients made.

Soon after the heavy narcotic use, my husband lost his job and one of our cars broke down. He stayed home all day, and wouldn’t let me use the car for anything (one that had been bought with my pre-marriage savings) he would drive me places, but he would fall asleep at the wheel while driving me to work and I would have to wake him up while we were driving. I would tell him to text me when he got home, so that I would know that he had made it home alive and that he hadn’t crashed into someone else.

I would discuss my fears with a nurse I worked with who was a former addict and one day he made a joke that you know how addicted someone is if you flush their medicine down the toilet. This was brilliant, I had wanted to take all his medicines for a while, but didn’t know where to hide them were he couldn’t find them. I thought that if I could just get him sober he would see what he had done and want to stop. I flushed half of his pills down the toilet and hid the rest of them in a tampon wrapper.

When he woke up, he flew into a rage.

He started yelling at me, throwing my stuff on the floor, taking all of my credit cards and IDs, he picked me up and threw me on the bed. He sat on top me yelling “You stupid bitch! Why would you do that?” He raised his hand as if to hit me and I looked into his eyes and told him that if he was “going to hit/kill me to go ahead.” I really thought I was facing my death and I didn’t want to leave earth without him seeing the defiance in my eyes.

I wanted that image to haunt him as long as he lived.

Part Four >

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 >

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

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

Part One

I grew up the oldest of nine children just barely inside the perimeter of Atlanta, GA. My earliest memory is my father coming in and telling my mother that Clinton had just won the presidency. My mother had been a teacher by profession before deciding to homeschool us. She had grown up in the middle of downtown Atlanta and had been bullied in school. She told us stories of spending most of her lunch break hiding in a bathroom stall and didn’t want us to have the same experience.

I remember sitting next to her and her teaching me to read and doing math with me. We didn’t have much money then, and she would get what school books she could second hand. For this reason, she helped me complete a 5th grade math book in the first grade and I was so proud of being able to tell my friends I was in 5th grade in math. Because there were so many children, she would give us assignments – 30 math problems at the end of the chapter, write this a paper on this subject, finish the assignment at the end of the grammar book, bible, and memorize this verse. Then we would go read the chapter, teach ourselves, and come back to her if we couldn’t figure something out on our own. We were supposed to finish by 12:30 if we wanted dessert after dinner, but if we finished before then, we were free to play. After we ate lunch, we would do an art or craft and music (everyone in my family plays at least one instrument). Once we completed a school book, we would go to the next grade.

I used to get so confused when anyone asked me what grade I was in. (Well, 6th grade in math, 4th grade in grammar, and 5th grade in writing!)

If we finished future days school work, she would give us a coupon for a “free day” in which we could redeem at any time and meant we didn’t have to complete any school on that day. We did school through the summer so we could afford to take more days off during the school year and my mom assigned each of us a day of the week called our “helper day” in which we would cook the meal of the day (mine was bread for the week and pizza for the day), complete a chore, and do our laundry with our assigned child if applicable. The day following our helper days was our “computer day” in which we could do Oregon Trail, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, type our verse, and play Math Blasters instead of school.

My mother felt it was important for us to be well rounded and would call local public and private schools to see if we could participate in some of their activities. For this reason, we would either do some kind of sport all of us could do with either local groups she found or with schools. My mom took us to a few homeschool groups, I’m not sure why we never joined – either they charged a fee we couldn’t afford or my mom thought the women there were too cliquey and judgmental (based on the home-school program they used).

At this point in time, my father was in the marine reserves and would frequently travel for both work and the marines. I remember him and my mother arguing occasionally, but they waited until we were asleep and kept it to themselves. We ended up moving outside the perimeter, and went to several churches that my mother never felt were the right fit.

One day, through the big-family-connection (that sixth sense big, homeschooling families have that allows them to instantly know if someone else is a big, homeschooling family when they meet in public), my mom met a family that was part of a 1 Cor 14 home church and immediately fell in love with this type of church. They believed in “letting God decide how many children you have” a.k.a. no birth control. They also believed there women should have long hair “as a covering” while praying, they believed that women should submit to men and that men should love their wives. They believed in church discipline for anyone in “rebellion” to God’s will, and that women should “keep silent” in church. They also believed strongly that a woman should not teach a man anything and I remember being told time and time again, that I had to phrase anything I said to a man in such a way that he couldn’t learn anything from what I said.

Shortly after he finished the reserves and began working from home, I remember quite vividly at the age of 12 after about a year and half at this house church, being sat down in the living room with the current 6 brothers and sisters (2 weren’t yet born) and being told by my dad that mom was in rebellion and that the church was bad and wrong because he had had a disagreement with them over doctrine. My dad had been a sergeant in the marines and was every bit the stereotype.

I remember everyone in that room crying after a couple of hours of him repeating this again and again. I learned that day what the doctrine of Calvinism was. My great-aunt who had become my mother’s mother lived next door at that time and I remember going next door and seeing my mother crying. She told us she wasn’t in rebellion, that she was supposed to be under God’s authority when anything her husband told her conflicted with God. She said that the church is supposed to be run in the way 1 Cor 14 describes (no pastor, all the men talk, no women speaking) and because that little paragraph ends with “ If anyone among you think that he is a prophet, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command” (v. 37), that going anywhere with a pastor would be a sin. We were told to stand up for our mother and go tell dad the truth.

For the next 9 years, we lived in a constant state of arguing. My dad would begin by dropping some remarks to my mother who would be all-too-happy to pick anything up and start an argument, which would lead to doctrine and a shouting match about our rebellion. The sister next to me and I would draw our father’s attention to us while the other one physically pushed my mother out the door to go cool down. She would go next door and fall apart crying and asking us if what she should do and if she should divorce our father. She would make hundreds of plans that fell apart by the next day and would ask anyone she could get a hold of to “help.” Every time we met someone new, within 5 minutes she would be talking about how abused she was at home and asking them to help.

My parents loved to get children on their side, because if they had a child, they could use them to hurt the other spouse.

The girls went with my mother and the boys went with my father. For a reward, my dad would take my brothers out for ice cream and movies and give them gifts to stay on his side and then taunt us asking if we were sure we didn’t want to come with him. I remember my dad having my brothers tape some of his rants on me – another debate on Calvinism – so that he could rewind it and play it to me in case I accidentally admitted to something that meant I believed in predestination and consequently his authority.

The NSA must have taken tips from my father. Nothing in our house was private.

There were key logs on all the computers, and he could watch the screen from his computer at any time. We found hidden cameras in the living room and, god-forbid you write something on paper. My mother used to journal in French before she met my dad and I remember my dad translating all her journals to use against her. If my dad found anything you had written in secret he would use it against my mother. Any failure on my part was a weapon against her. If she found anything, she would use it to guilt us and to help keep us on her side and taking care of her. I developed a secret code — a short-hand cipher — so that I could have thoughts that everyone couldn’t spy on and I only I could read.

It drove my parents crazy, but I survived.

Part Two >