How I Will Redeem My Past: Elisheba’s Thoughts

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Charlotte Astrid.

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

I am understanding why it’s so hard for me to deal with my body, why I’m so hard on myself.

I’ve been on a diet or been strongly encouraged to be on one or felt like I should be on one since I was 12 or 13. I was a little heavy but I was also a kid. Being told that men are visually stimulated and wouldn’t want to marry if you if you were overweight or that you won’t get the best guy, when you are 14 is crushing. Especially when you are raised to believe that marriage is the best, most honorable career a women can have and that everything else is second best.

Now that I am in my 20s, looking back I believe that those 2 messages are two of the most damaging things you could instill in a teenage girl, 1) you are only valuable if are slender and meet society’s “standard” of attractiveness. Don’t teenage girls have enough struggles with that thinking? Why would you reinforce that? 2) Marriage (living your life in complete submission to someone else) is the only way that you will feel fulfilled and be happy. Anything else is society deceiving you into thinking that you are happy. You become one of those poor, blinded, confused women. Again, how is this a good healthy, thing to tell anyone, let alone a teenage girl? She is not and will not be a complete person or her life will not be complete person until she find a man that she can totally lose herself in.

Isn’t that exactly the opposite of the message that we want to send?

As a young teenage girl, I heard these things. I believed them. I also believed that I was messed up because I wanted to have a career before I got married, if I got married (and that was a big if). I also believed I wasn’t attractive because of my weight and that I was ruining my future everyday I didn’t diet, everyday I didn’t lose a pound.

The past year, I’ve been trying to change my thinking patterns. I am not messed up or broken, because I want a career. I deserve to feel pretty and attractive even though I am the heaviest I have ever been (thank you birth control and stress).

It is not an easy change. I’m not anywhere close to being done. I still feel guilty sometimes that I’m not dieting. I count calories in my head all the time. I think I about throwing up anytime I think I ate too much. Sometimes I do. I still believe that an attractive, good guy won’t glance my way twice and if they do, they must be a perv or really desperate, because, I would never be someone’s first choice.

Even now, when I feel pretty good about how I look, it’s such a fragile, delicate, feeling that is so easily crushed. Some people in my life (who I dearly love) still can only see the flaws, if a neckline is slightly low, if my hair isn’t a color they think is good, if something isn’t totally flattering. Some days it makes me cry, some days I couldn’t care less what they think.

If I ever have daughters or young girls in my life, I will make sure they know that they are worth so much more than something to pretty to look at and to be married off so that they can lose themselves in oblivion. I will make sure they know they can do anything and be anything if they work hard and are dedicated. They will know that people do care about more than just looks and that each person is beautiful in their own incredible way.

This is how I will redeem my past and my childhood, by providing hope for the future generation. 

I Was You Once

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 1.55.16 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on August 17, 2011.

You…the girl with the waist-length hair, long denim skirt, and downcast eyes. Trying on old clothes in a thrift store because new clothes are too “worldly” and “immodest”.

I was you once.

You…beautiful girl, hiding behind your walls; walls built to keep the evil world and influences out. Baggy, ugly clothes to hide your shape. Ashamed of the looks cast your way. I was you once.

You…standing there as your mom tells you that this dress or that skirt is unacceptable because it shows your budding womanly form which must be hidden at all costs because of it’s danger. Blushing at the critique of your body, casting longing, furtive glances at the other girls your age in the next dressing room having the time of their lives trying on cute, stylish clothing. Wishing you could be them, just for a little while, just to know what it’s like to feel normal. I was you once.

You…feeling like a freak show everywhere you go. Being ashamed of your feelings because you’re supposed to be a freak show…a “pecular people”. Different from “The World”. More pleasing to God then the rest of them. Not foolish like those girls in the next dressing room. I was you once.

You…telling yourself that the way you dress is more godly, more pure, that you’re better than other girls who dress like the world. Trying to convince yourself that you know better than they and God loves you more for dressing unattractively. Trying to stuff the pain that comes from being ashamed of your beauty and the evil it causes the poor men around you. Trying to tell yourself that this is your lot in life. Trying not to look longingly at the pretty things that you can never wear. Trying not to wonder what it would be like to feel cute for a change. Using pride as a wall to protect your hurting heart. And feeling guilty for it all. I was you once.

You…ashamed of your beauty, afraid of your shapliness, afraid of loosing your purity and taking some man’s purity because you didn’t dress modestly enough to keep him from noticing you. I was you once.

You…crying to God “why didn’t you make me a man?!” because you hate being a woman and having to hide and look ridiculous. Longing for the freedom to dress without wondering if a guy is going to lust after you and if it’ll be your fault or not. I was you once.

Anger, fear, shame, guilt, pride, helplessness, hopelessness, insecurity, and confusion, all hidden behind a shapless, ugly jumper and a heart shut off to keep from hurting. I know. I felt it once too.

You…do you know that you’re beautiful and that God made you that way?

Has anyone told you that being a woman is a wonderful thing, not something to be hidden or ashamed of?

Do you know that God loves you for who you are, not for what you wear? Do you know that’s it’s OK to be pleased with being beautiful? That’s it’s OK to want to be attractive and desirable? Do you know that you are not responsible for the purity of the male race? That is a burden far too heavy for any woman to bear. I long to take your hand and tell you these things. But I am just a stranger in a thrift store.

You…I look into your eyes for the brief moment they meet mine, and I see so much pain. I hurt with you, the little girl inside that wants to be beautiful, noticed, and desired. The little girl that’s been told all these things are evil and your heart is wicked for wanting them. The woman that feels ugly and thinks God wants it that way. And my heart breaks all over again.

You…God hears the cries of your heart. He wants to tell you you’re beautiful, that He made you that way, that He’s so very fond of you. That bondage to men’s rules was never His idea. That nothing you wear or don’t wear can make Him love you more or love you less. That, even if you are stuck in that bondage not of your own making for a time, your heart can be free from the lies that put you there.

Beautiful you. I was you once. Sometimes I still am. Because broken hearts can be hidden by both ugly and pretty clothes. And lies once embraced can be hard to let go of. So for just one moment in time, that moment you allow your heart to show through your eyes as you gaze at me, the stranger in the thrift store, let my smile tell you that you’re beautiful. And that I understand.

I pray you get a glimpe of God’s grace and His love for you in the eyes of a broken-hearted stranger.

Homeschooling and Mental Illness: By Sara Tinous

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 4.18.02 PM

Homeschooling and Mental Illness: By Sara Tinous

HA note: Sara Tinous blogs at Sementifera. She “was a child of fundamentalist parents who home-schooled her and my sibilings.” The theme of her blog, Sementifera, is taken “from the fire pines that respond to forest fires by releasing their seeds… They are sementifera – they are carrying seeds that will grow in spite of their destructive environment.” This post was originally published on October 12, 2013 and is reprinted with her permission.

Isolation was the constant experience of my ten years of homeschooling. A lot of this had to do with the fact that the adult presence in my daily life, my mom, was unpredictably angry, sad, or completely unavailable, and as time went on she increasingly avoided social situations.

It didn’t help that no one was good enough to be our friends.

After being pulled out of the fourth grade for a job change and move, my dad decided that my mom should homeschool us against her will. We suddenly spent most of our time at home and basically left the house once a week to go to church. A little non-denominational church that confirmed my parents in their belief that people outside of their own flavor of church weren’t really christians, including anyone who used the public school.

My dad’s growing attention to the writings of Douglas Wilson and my mom’s anxiety lead my parents to also isolate us from dangerous influences like the kids who went to our own church’s youth group, awana, and my own cousins. Repeatedly they would try to make friends with other families, but then essentially discard them as unworthy.

My mom couldn’t handle suddenly having us home with her all the time, and began to spend her time in other rooms away from us.

When she was feeling ok, she left us alone while she cleaned and talked on the phone. When she was not feeling ok, she left us alone while she cried, filled notebooks with cryptic spiritualized laments modeled on the Psalms, or pounded on the piano without acknowledging us if we tried to talk to her. She would throw a fit if we wanted to leave the house. My sister and I stopped asking to go anywhere, my brother started sneaking out at night.

I spent a lot of my time alone in my room trying to avoid anything that might set her off. We all felt guiltily relieved when another sibling was attracting the negative attention.

Homeschooling went mostly unsupervised, enforced only by our lack of freedom to do anything else. We were given screened books to read, many of them inappropriately difficult, but went for weeks without having a real conversation with anyone. I completely lost myself in books and gained a huge vocabulary, but could barely follow the rhythm of a basic conversation.

My little brother went for years without direct instruction, and then my parents straight up told him he was stupid because he didn’t spontaneously educate himself. That still just kills me.

As things got worse, we stopped going to even the occasional homeschool gym days and coop classes. Anything could trigger angry words that only stopped when we were in tears. The constant message we got from her was that we were in the way, we were a burden, we should do everything we could to avoid having feelings and needs.

When I was the first kid to hit puberty, the very existence of my body became a personal affront. My mother’s illness crescendoed around this time, her personal body image issues projected onto us daily. Our medical care was neglected, only the most egregious oversights like broken bones and dental emergencies were noticed by other church families and taken care of. I punished my blemished skin compulsively. Food was an area of contention, just like everything else.

My sister started making herself throw up in secret.

Growing up in this environment was a catalyst for my own anxiety and depression. I went from being an incessantly chatty queen bee elementary school kid who knew everyone at my school to someone who only ocassionaly saw one of three or four girls my age and who was afraid to use a telephone to talk to a librarian. I started to zone out so completely while reading that I didn’t hear people talking to me, and began sleeping as a safe pastime.

My voice shrank to something nearly inaudible. I started talking to myself to keep myself company and replaying my few conversations with others in my head over and over. I embarrassed the whole family, including my siblings, by constantly crying “without reason,” sometimes at church.

They didn’t know the half of it. For years, every night I wept alone in my bed at night, silently.

Mom explicitly said that “sadness” was a sign of spiritual disorder, a “heart issue.” That phrase was her favorite way to threaten and punish me (and herself) for feelings that tarnished the family’s public image.

When I was 12 or 13, I remember steeling myself to leave my room and interact with my mom, and having an epiphany. I suddenly knew at that moment that I had not done anything wrong to cause her to be angry, even that her mood existed without being caused by any immediate person or event. I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe mental illness, but I knew it wasn’t my fault. Remembering this moment makes me sad for all the time lost before that realization, for the child who felt that I was to blame for what was happening to me.

As an adult I see now the pressures that my mom was under, how trapped she must have felt. She lost all her friends and freedom in one move, and must have felt powerless to actually change her situation. She religiously believed that my dad had the right to make unilateral decisions, that what should change about her situation was her own feelings, so she waged battle with her feelings every day. Intellectually, I understand and want to forgive….

But for now this is all I can do:

Say that these things really happened to me, and it was not ok.

Say that these things are still happening to other kids, and it is not ok.