I Was The Original CFC Fuck-Up: R.L. Stollar’s Story

I Was The Original CFC Fuck-Up: R.L. Stollar’s Story

R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator, served as a Communicators for Christ conference instructor for three years, from 1998-2000. He wrote a book on intermediate debate theory, Beyond Baby Steps, that was published and sold by CFC. He created CFC’s very first website, too, and freely admits that, in retrospect, he sucked at HTML. 

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“Bottle it up, and the bottle goes crack.”

~Craig Minowa, “The Exploding People”

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I have a confession to make.

R.L. Stollar’s staff picture from his 2000 conference tour with Communicators for Christ.
R.L. Stollar’s staff picture from his 2000 conference tour with Communicators for Christ.

I did not want to write a single post for this week.

I have spent over a decade carefully bottling up all my distress and rage, putting those bottles into reinforced cardboard boxes marked “Fragile,” and hiding those boxes in the deepest, darkest basements in my mind so I would never have to think about or feel them again.

This week hurts. It hurts a lot.

Honestly, I forgot just how much it would hurt. As I forced myself to slowly pull those boxes from my mental basement, unwrap the newspapers guarding the bottles, and uncork them and watch certain moments from my life flash before my eyes — I realized why I never wanted to remember those moments ever again. I had to re-live things I had literally blocked from my mind. My insomnia flared up. My appetite vanished. My heart rate accelerated. The blood of nervousness and self-doubt rushed to my head. I felt like that frazzled, insecure, and confused kid that I was, putting on an aura of self-confidence because the only confidence I had was the bit that forensics taught me to fake.

In a sense, I still am that kid. I don’t think I ever quite grew up. I think some important piece of my soul got lost on the side of a road during a CFC tour and maybe, someday, I will find it.

For this week, I had to feel those things that keep me wishing I could just re-live my life all over again. Wishing I could just have been a normal boy with a normal life.

Then there’s the persistent fact that, honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. All my experiences, even the painful ones, make me who I am. They instill in me a fire and a fierce determination to stand up for my friends and the people that I love. It is my pain and sorrow and tears that drive me. It is the pain and sorrow and tears of my friends that inspire me to keep pushing, to keep doing my best to make the world — and our homeschool world — a better place.

Because this world is a very sad place. And for me, the homeschool debate world was likewise. It was a place filled with people who became my best friends, a place filled with some of my most favorite memories — but it is also a place filled with loneliness and confusion and psychological beatdowns and overwhelming hypocrisy.

Preparing for this week, therefore, was difficult. It only became more so as I heard the stories of others — in particular, the stories of former CFC interns, some of which we are publishing. These stories made me sad, because I could relate to what they said on such a deep level. But they also gave me peace, because for one of the first times, HA has helped me feel not crazy. Because their stories made me realize that I was not the only fuck-up.

See, I was the original CFC fuck-up.

I am the reason why CFC changed the structure of its internship program. Because CFC was determined that another me would not happen again.

I had a unique experience because, other than the Moons’ own children, I was the only student instructor who toured for so many consecutive years. When I think back to my high school years, I don’t have many memories of my own family. Between being uprooted from California as my family moved to Oregon, flying around the country to tournaments, and spending months at a time with the Moons, my high school years feel homeless. Most of my high school angst is directed not towards my parents but the Moons. They became surrogate parents of sorts, my adopted family with whom I traveled — circus-like — across the many and divided states of America, like Christian minstrels carrying our music of golden oratory to the untrained masses.

But as time progressed, as month after month of touring and teaching went by, as the months became years and I finally couldn’t take it any longer, my spirit began to twitch. I began to lose my ability to just shrug everything off like it was nothing. It was not nothing. It was something and there was a reason why I hurt. And when I began to lose control over my external placidity, when my soul split from years of parents looking down on me in my youth while I taught their youth to not be looked down upon, I snapped.

It happened at the very last conference, in Hawaii, during my third and final year of touring. It happened over something completely inane, something about going to a movie with friends after the conference. But it happened. And it was one of the only two times in my entire life when I yelled. I yelled at Teresa and she yelled back. And we kept yelling. And at some point we stopped talking to each other at all. She sent Wendell after me, to be our messenger because we were done talking with one another. And I refused to talk to Wendell then, too. I refused to talk to him and he was my best friend for the last three years.

I am not proud of that. I am not proud of my anger. I am not proud of the hurt I caused either my teacher or my friend. But I couldn’t control my psyche any longer. I had a full-blown nervous breakdown. Following that night, I would descend into a major depression marked by self-injury and consistent suicidal thoughts that I continue to fight to this day.

I don’t think I can summon a cogent narrative of how I got to that point. But I can relay some interesting stories to lighten the mood. Like how the very first time I got wasted was on a CFC tour.

The beginning of that story is that I didn’t get wasted with fellow CFC interns (not that time, that is; CFC interns did not start getting wasted together until the third year). I got wasted with the children of homeschooling leaders from around the country.

The second year I taught with CFC (I was 15 at the time), which was the first year we officially “toured” around the country in the Moons’ motor home, we stopped at Regent University. HSLDA was holding their National Leadership Convention. This convention was an invite-only event for recognized leaders in the conservative Christian homeschooling world: the directors of all the state homeschool organizations, for example. CFC was tasked with teaching the leaders’ kids about speech and debate.

So, pretty much our job was to babysit the kids while the parents got inspired. During the day, we taught our peers. During the evening, while the parents mingled together like God’s chosen socialites, the kids roamed the university, unsupervised. One of those nights I was offered hard alcohol by the son of a national homeschool leader. I accepted. I was too scared to follow up the shots with a prescription-level painkiller, but I watched as he and his friends — the children of some of the other leaders — all took shots and popped various types of pills. They commiserated with each other, and found solace in their mutual disdain for each other’s parents: “____ cares more about the idea of homeschooling than homeschooling his own fucking kids.”

I could name names that would shock you, but that is not the point of this particular story. The point of this story is that, the higher you climb the power structures of the homeschooling world, the more they resemble the power structures in any other world.

I can tell you other stories, like what it was like living in a motor home for months on end. How traveling in a motor home with David Moon was like traveling with Jekyll and Hyde. One moment he was the lighthearted, lovable counterpart to Teresa’s professionalism. Then he’d snap and turn into a completely different person — red-faced, terrifying, and raging — and Teresa would silently turn the other way until his “episode” subsided.

I can you about the occasionally strange and otherworldly host homes we would stay at. Like the home where my CD player got confiscated by adults I had only meet two hours prior, because I was listening to Newsboys and “Newsboys have a rock beat and rock beats are Satan’s mating call.” Or the home where I couldn’t fall asleep until past midnight because the dad was rotating between yelling at and spanking his own kids for hours in the room right next to where I had to sleep. Or the one that still feels unreal, the house up on that hill in the middle of nowhere that had no kids and thus no one attending the local CFC conference — that house where the woman kept “accidentally” coming into the bathroom whenever I was showering, the same house where Playboy and Maxim magazines were “accidentally” left out in prominent display right where I was supposed to be sleeping.

I can tell you how I’d modify our teaching material to ensure that we did not offend our increasingly conservative audiences, as we traveled further and further into the Deep South. And after my small group spent hours creating some skit based on Veggie Tales, Teresa would make me break it to them that our time was wasted, because some parent thought Veggie Tales were Satanic. That after so many moments like this repeated over and over, week after week, I would begin to show obvious signs of strain. That I would withdraw completely from social interaction and disappear for hours. That no one ever bothered to make sure I was ok. No one, except Wendell, who one night sought me out and sat next to me silently as my body shook itself to sleep.

That was one month before the breakdown.

I can tell you how, in spite of everything I just said, I will be forever grateful to Teresa Moon for the gifts of speech and debate she gave me, and I love her very much.

I could tell you other things, too. I could write a book, really.

But right now I do not have the energy.

Right now, I am just trying to write this little bit without all my soul’s pieces falling apart again.  Right now I just want to say that I am not alone.

I am not alone. 

I am not the only fuck-up.

I have waited over a decade to say that, though I wish I didn’t have to. But at least when I say it now, I can say it loudly, because there are others saying it with me. So even as I fall apart while I put these words together, I have a newfound sense of peace.

We are not fuck-ups. We are survivors of a mad, mad world.

There is hope in that realization. There is healing through our shared pain.