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 >

What is Quiverfull?

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on February 18, 2012. It has been slightly modified for HA.

Quiverfull: The Basics

The Quiverfull movement takes its name from this verse:

Psalm 127:3-5 – Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

First is the idea that children are a blessing and always something to be welcomed. The more children a man has, the more blessed he is. Children should never been seen as a burden, but always welcomed with open arms.

Second is the whole arrow part. What do you do with arrows? You shoot them at your prey. The Quiverfull movement holds that these arrows, or children, are to be shot out into the world to win converts and make the world more Christian.

So, have many children because they are a blessing, and because you can shoot them out into the world to influence it for Christ. 

The Military Rhetoric

Now there’s quite a bit of military rhetoric involved here. Don’t let you throw that off. The whole “army for Christ” thing isn’t literal. The Quiverfull movement isn’t arming its children or sending them to jihad camps. It’s called a metaphor.

As an example, Prominent Christian homeschool leader and Quiverfull advocate Michael Farris likes to tell homeschool parents that they are the “Moses generation,” taking their children out of “Egypt” and training them up in “the wilderness,” and that their children will be the “Joshua generation,” who will go out and conquer the land of Canaan. (Or as he also phrases it, “retake America for Christ.”)

Now Farris doesn’t mean these children will retake America for Christ with guns and tanks. What he means is that they will retake it for Christ by winning converts and influencing the politics, law, education, and culture of our nation. And yes, there is dominionist influence at work here.

Ideological Uniformity

It should be obvious that implicit in all of this is the idea that Quiverfull children will share their parents’ beliefs, ideas, and values. After all, what good would it be to have arrows that go astray when you shoot them? Part of this metaphor is the idea that arrows are shaped carefully, whittled to the perfect size and balanced just so – and that parents are to do the same with children. If a child is raised properly, the Quiverfull movement holds, that child will become the ideological and lifestyle clone of his or her parents.

It should be obvious that this creates problems for children in Quiverfull families. It’s not just young people like me growing up in Quiverfull homes feeling stifled by the expectations of conformity who have noticed that there’s a problem. There are articles by Quiverfull leaders who talk about the problems of children “jumping ship” or children who “went wrong.” Of course, their solution is not to change their ideology, but to try different tactics to shape their children.

Birth Control

There’s one more thing to be mentioned, and that’s birth control. Hardcore Quiverfull families reject birth control entirely, believing that it subverts God’s plan for the family. They believe that if they follow God and go without birth control entirely, God will provide for them. God controls the womb, after all, and going without birth control allows God to choose a family’s size and timing.

But a family doesn’t have to go all the way and reject birth control to be influenced by Quiverfull ideas. There are lots of families who, influenced by these ideas, have much higher than average numbers of children and raise them to be “arrows shot out into the world” even as they use birth control to space the children out a little bit or to call it quits when they feel they can’t handle any more.

Conclusion

When I speak of the “Quiverfull movement” I really mean all of those who are influenced by Quiverfull ideas, not simply those who go all the way and reject birth control entirely. For me, the idea of raising children to be arrows shot into the world is a more important part of Quiverfull than is a complete rejection of birth control.

When people look at families like the Duggars, all they see is the “we don’t use birth control” and “we think every child is a blessing” part. Would that that were all. It’s the idea of raising up children to be a metaphorical army for Christ, miming their parents’ beliefs and lifestyle while winning converts and influencing America’s political and legal systems and its culture, that is more problematic.

Note: Remember that most Christians think this stuff is loony.

Ten Things That Are More Important to Teach Than Abstinence: Heidi Joy’s Thoughts

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Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.

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Here are ten things that are more important to teach than abstinence:

1. Anatomy:

It is absolutely necessary to teach children the names and basic functions of the parts of their bodies. This way they are empowered with knowledge and have the language necessary to not only to relate to their own body, but also to know when someone is crossing a boundary so that they can tell a trusted adult. When I was abused as a child, I didn’t have the knowledge necessary to tell an adult what was going on, allowing the instigator to continue the abuse. I know many adults who do not even know the basic functions, locations, and names of their own body parts.

2. Bodily autonomy:

When a person understands that they have ownership over their body and that they do not owe anyone access to it, this allows for healthy physical, relational, and sexual boundaries, as well as the freedom to do with one’s body as one wishes. A child with a healthy sense of bodily autonomy understands that they do not have the obligation to make physical contact with anyone, even a relative seeking physical affection and have the ability to say no.

3. Consent:

Consent is necessary for healthy sexual and physical contact. This should be a given, but unfortunately consent is rarely discussed or taught, both encouraging and supporting rape culture while denying personal autonomy and person-hood.

4. Sex Positivity:

Sex positivity is the basic affirmation of one’s personal sexual preferences and personality. It says that the way I am is a good thing, and allows one to celebrate their sexuality. (I believe this includes affirmation of asexual individuals and respect for their identity, as well as affirmation and support for survivors as they may face painful triggers and learn to heal.)

5. Personal choice and respect for other’s choices:

This is important, because it allows a person the freedom to make their own choices without shame or manipulation from others, as well as developing respect and acceptance for the fact that different people may have different experiences and make different choices than us.

6. Healthy Sexuality:

It’s important to develop the ability to experience one’s sexuality without fear, guilt, or shame. For those of us who grew up fundamentalist/conservative it can be hard to shake the shame and sex negativity we were taught.

7. Healthy relationships:

Relationships can be hard and messy. It’s necessary and healthy to learn about appropriate boundaries, personal space, choice, autonomy, and how to recognize manipulation or abuse.

8. Safe Sex:

If you are or will be sexually active, it’s important to be educated about sex, STI’s, and protection… even if you are monogamous or married!

9. Birth Control Options:

Birth control is everyone’s responsibility. There are now many different options and resources available and many of them are free! At the very least, the information is available for free and usually easy to access so there is no reason to be uninformed, or to keep your child uninformed. Even if they are not active now, they may want to be in the future and knowledge is healthy and confidence-building.

10. Having sex doesn’t make you a better or worse person!

Many of us grew up in a sort of “purity culture”, where sex was taught in terms of transactions and marriage. We were taught that virginity somehow made you a good/better person, and that anyone who had or desired to have sex was evil, dirty, worthless, or a slut. They also promised us perfect marriages and relationships if we just didn’t touch or kiss before we got married…and of course, we had to get married to have the sex to make the babies to have the perfect christian family to win the culture war! This is a false dichotomy, a fallacy of black-and-white ideals based in unhealthy patriarchal standards. Sex isn’t the ultimate sin or even “bad”. It can be a fulfilling, healthy thing… even outside of marriage relationships!

Note: If you are choosing to abstain from sex on your own terms without being shamed into doing (or not doing!) something that you don’t choose, that is fine. I think that for some people, chastity can be a healthy state. However, if one chooses to teach chastity, it must be in a way that respects personal choice, does not shame survivors of abuse, and teaches autonomy and healthy sexuality.

What Do a Sheikh and a Homeschool Leader Have in Common?

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on September 29, 2013.

Just how close is the homeschool fundamentalist version of Patriarchy to the Islamic version?

I think it’s pretty darn close.  Check this out.

Remember this from Christian Homeschool Leader and Pastor Kevin Swanson?

Kevin Swanson – Little Tiny Fetuses Embedded in the Womb

“I’m beginning to get some evidence from certain doctors and certain scientists that have done research on women’s wombs after they’ve gone through the surgery, and they’ve compared the wombs of women who were on the birth control pill to those who were not on the birth control pill. And they have found that with women who are on the birth control pill, there are these little tiny fetuses, these little babies, that are embedded into the womb. They’re just like dead babies. They’re on the inside of the womb. And these wombs of women who have been on the birth control pill effectively have become graveyards for lots and lots of little babies.”

Doesn’t it kind of sound like this?

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Driving affects ovaries and pelvis, Saudi sheikh warns women

Saudi women seeking to challenge a de facto ban on driving should realize that this could affect their ovaries and pelvises, Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Luhaydan, a judicial and psychological consultant to the Gulf Psychological Association, told Saudi news website sabq.org.

Driving “could have a reverse physiological impact. Physiological science and functional medicine studied this side [and found] that it automatically affects ovaries and rolls up the pelvis. This is why we find for women who continuously drive cars their children are born with clinical disorders of varying degrees,” Sheikh al-Luhaydan said.

Of course Twitter is having fun with this:

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If I do not respond quickly to comments between the hours of 8AM and 12PM, it is because I am out driving, rolling up my pelvis.  Please pray.

His Quiver Full of Them: Jeri Lofland’s Thoughts

His Quiver Full of Them: Jeri Lofland’s Thoughts

Jeri’s post was originally published on her blog Heresy in the Heartland. It is reprinted with her permission. Also by Jeri on HA: “Generational Observations” and “Of Isolation and Community.”

Decades ago, I cross-stitched a scripture motto for my parents from Psalm 127, the favorite psalm of large families.

“Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.”

The psalmist goes on to say: “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them…”

The term “quiverfull” is now used as both a noun and an adjective to describe a theology and lifestyle that glorifies human fertility while maintaining that God will provide the resources to raise as many children as he allows a couple to conceive. Contraception is held to be “playing God” and a violation of the command to be “Be fruitful and multiply”. The ideal Quiverfull couple are always open to “more blessings”, regardless of financial situation, health concerns, housing limitations, or needs of existing children.

I’m not certain when my parents decided that contraception was immoral. As a high schooler, Mom was an advocate of zero population growth and intended to adopt rather than bear children. A few years later, she graduated from a strict Catholic nursing school and married my dad. I was born a year later, my brother two years after that, and so on for the next 20 years.

Mail would arrive periodically from the Couple to Couple League and my parents had a couple of books by Catholic authors John & Sheila Copley explaining the practice of abstinence and/or breastfeeding as a means of birth control. Of course, even “natural family planning” (NFP) sounded too much like the evil “Planned Parenthood” so it was usually referred to as “child spacing”. Somewhere along the line my parents abandoned NFP (turns out it’s not all that effective at preventing pregnancy!) and the babies began to come even closer together.

Certainly Mom was influenced by Mary Pride’s 1985 book The Way Home, a story of the author’s journey from feminism to what she calls “reality”. Mary had just three young children when she wrote the book, in which she blasted away at contraception, lingerie, Marabel Morgan’s The Total Woman, and even Christian schools.

All forms of sex that shy away from marital fruitfulness are perverted. Masturbation, homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, prostitution, adultery, and even deliberate marital barrenness–all are perverted.”

“Since the word used for female is connected so strongly with the idea of nursing babies, whereas it has no connection at all with the idea of sexual activity, I believe that God is saying here that when women exchange their natural function of childbearing and motherliness for that which is ‘against nature’ [that is, trying to behave sexually like a man], the men tend to abandon the natural sexual use of the women and turn to homosexuality. When men stop seeing women as mothers, sex loses its sacredness. Sex becomes ‘recreational’, and therefore the drive begins to find new kicks.”    (Mary Pride, The Way Home, 1985)

(Pride’s position against family planning was more extreme than even the Catholic Couple-to-Couple League’s, prompting a correspondence between her and John Kippley, president of CCLI, and leading Pride to grudgingly endorse NFP in some situations in her sequel to The Way Home.)

Pride went on to birth six more babies and became a powerful force in the new homeschooling movement. My mom used to share The Way Home with all her friends and donated it to church libraries when she could. (When she encouraged me to read it, I was confused. Especially by the story about the lady wearing saran-wrap. Sexually naive young women raised in patriarchal, homeschooling isolation were definitely not Pride’s target audience.)

Mary Pride’s views fit rather well with the teachings of Bill Gothard–a middle-aged bachelor who handed out plenty of sexual and parenting advice at his seminars and encouraged couples to have surgeries to reverse previous vasectomies and tubal ligations. One of Gothard’s books informs us, “Labor in childbirth… was given to the woman for her spiritual benefit…” and points out that the God of the Old Testament “cursed several women by closing their wombs.” Attendees of Gothard’s conferences learned to associate infertility with God’s judgement. A full quiver, on the other hand, was a sign of God’s favor, a spiritual status symbol.

In 1990, a Nebraska couple published A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ. In this book, Rick and Jan Hess (homeschooling parents of ten) invite the reader to imagine a world where no one has ever had more than two or three siblings, effectively eliminating many historical figures. This exercise concludes with visualization of a future where enormous families are normal and God provides spacesuits for a missionary family moving their brood to evangelize a colony on the moon. My parents had this book, probably purchased at an IBLP seminar and still available on Gothard’s website.

Then there was Nancy Campbell’s occasional magazine for moms, Above Rubies. Nancy is a fierce promoter of anti-feminism from her compound in Tennessee. Her website includes multiple articles by women who felt guilt and regret over “the biggest mistake” of their life. After they repented, they went on to expand their families by four, five, six more babies. What mistake is reversed by more pregnancies? An abortion, perhaps? No, as it turns out, the biggest mistake of these women’s lives was a tubal ligation. Nancy also sells a book, A Change of Heart, encouraging couples to have surgeries to reverse both vasectomies and tubal ligations.

Vickie Farris, whose husband Mike is president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, homeschooled their ten children and lived to write a book about it. She encourages other women to reject birth control methods and embrace motherhood. Quiverfull women like Farris, and Michelle Duggar of “Nineteen Kids and Counting”, have built their lives on the mantra “God won’t give anyone more than they can handle”, sometimes phrased as “What God orders, he pays for”.

My parents were opponents of both birth control and sterilization. They even encouraged some of their friends to have reversal surgeries, resulting in many more babies. My mom had eleven children over 24 years, including ten [unassisted home]births. Pregnancy was not easy for her–she often referred to herself with the phrase from St. Paul, “a living sacrifice”. She spent most of my childhood breastfeeding, diapering, potty-training, and homeschooling on top of that. I understood that this was not culturally normal, but sought to convince myself that God was pleased with this self-sacrifice. I spent my teen years watching my mom’s body swell and deflate, and changing thousands of diapers.

In my twenties, as I waited for my turn to become a wife and mother, I quietly ticked off how many children I could have in years. I may have been ideologically persuaded that contraception was wrong, but I didn’t want to spend twenty years lactating either. When I got impatient for God to bring me a husband (no boyfriends on the horizon), I consoled myself by guessing how many fewer children I would bear in a shorter window of fertile sexual activity.

Fortunately, when I did get married, my husband and I quickly began to realize that many aspects of Quiverfull thought and practice were contradictory to our values. Not before taking NFP classes from a Catholic certified trainer, though. When we got pregnant anyway, we were told the method worked fine–we’d just had sex when [it turned out!] we were actually fertile. Well, what do you know?

I think my relationship with the Quiverfull movement finally ended a few years ago as I was perched on the end of an exam table in my doctor’s office. Looking up from my chart, she compassionately observed, “You’ve been raising kids for a long time,” and I burst into unexpected tears.

These days, stories of ex-Quiverfull moms and their “quivering daughters” are multiplying on the Internet like rabbits in the spring. The fruit of the movement has not turned out to be sweet; we deal with health problems, poverty, anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, cutting, sexual abuse, emotional incest, and divorce. (You can read far more than you want to know at the Homeschoolers Anonymous blog.)

In spite of these firsthand horror stories, Quiverfull continues to enjoy wide support in America and is gaining traction in other nations. Earlier this year, the BBC reported on the movement’s growth in the United Kingdom. You can listen to more, including scary-sounding clips from Nancy Campbell, here.

Meanwhile here in the States, Hobby Lobby and Catholic hospitals gnash their teeth over their employees’ rights to use birth control. Texan teenagers are taught that contraceptives don’t work. (The result? Texas has more than 10% of America’s teen births.) And TLC continues to profit from shows like “Nineteen Kids and Counting”, promoting Quiverfull ideology to some unsuspecting viewers.

The show should include a disclaimer: For your own safety, don’t try this at home.

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

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

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

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

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Part Six: Unashamed of Taking Evil Pills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

To be continued.