Sexism and Homeschooling: Maya’s Story

CC image courtesy of PixabayAnimus Photograpy.

Trigger warning: Detailed descriptions of abuse.

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

I don’t even know how to begin to explain myself. Here I am sitting in the place I am forced by income and circumstance to live in (my parents’ home) outing myself to the world when it’s dangerous and precarious for me to do so in the real world. I can’t even use my real name online because I have been stalked and blackmailed by people who choose to support my ex-husband.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe we should start near the beginning.

I was raised Fundamental Southern Baptist. At age 7 I would go door to door with little comic books called “Chick Tracts” spreading the Word Of God to Unbelievers. I was convinced it was my direct heavenly duty to convert people, that I would end up before the great throne of judgment when I die and God would berate and belittle me if I failed in this calling.

By the time I was 12 I would sob in my pillow at night because I had never led anyone to salvation or through “the sinner’s prayer”.

I found no solace in my worship of God because God was to be feared. I was convinced it was proof I wasn’t really saved, and that when the rapture came I would be left behind. It didn’t matter that I was the peacemaker in my family trying to keep my sisters out of trouble any time they saw the cracks in the system. It didn’t matter that I was an A student and had several crown pins in my Patch the Pirate sailor’s hat denoting my dedication and obedience, I failed in my life’s mission before I even hit puberty.

At 13: someone sexually abused my best friend. I was floundering, because I had no idea how to help. I urged them to confess to the parents, so the grownups could help. This was the worst advice I have ever given and it still haunts me.The adults were completely out of their depth too, and relied on the Pastor to fix it all. He had no formal education or resources to assist, and took it upon himself to send my best friend through Gay Conversion Therapy behind the parents’ backs. The atrocities my bestie lived through still feel like they are my fault.

I will forever carry the internal scars for damning their life.

At 16: The doctors declared me infertile. I was raised to believe the highest honor and calling for a woman was to raise children. It was the only thing I ever wanted from life. I took this as further proof that God was not with me. I remained active in the youth group, church nursery and kitchen staff duties. I was a model of obedience and feminine beauty through sacrifices.

The other kids teased me behind the grown ups’ backs that I was just trying to be perfect so the Pastor’s son would like me. They saw the truth even though I denied it. I secretly thought if J wanted me then it was proof I was exactly who I needed to be. We were in a fishbowl, and to be worthy of J’s attention meant I was the Perfect Christian Girl. It didn’t matter if I didn’t love him romantically, it was just a way to grade myself.

At 17: I was dying because my immune system had turned on itself.

It was the first time I ever considered killing myself. My prayers bounced off the rafters of the house. God didn’t care about me or any of my efforts. I didn’t see God protecting his children: I saw cover ups, deceit and an endless empty desert of a life ahead of me. I spent the majority of my time in bed, sick and suicidal. I still worked hard to project confidence and happiness in the face of these “trials”. I don’t know if anyone actually saw what was going on in my head and heart. I knew I couldn’t survive life at Pensacola Christian College, my new best friend had sent me weekly letters of her struggles there. She was a public school kid, but so much smarter than me and I just knew I would fail.

My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college just for me to get an “MRS.” degree, and my senior year of school was being fudged by our cover school so I could squeak through because the grownups thought I wasn’t going to live very much longer anyway. They saw me graduating as a spiritual act of mercy.

At 18: I recommitted my life to God.

That was a huge deal. I decided I was going to believe harder and obey better, and sacrifice until I was purified. If I followed all the steps I would be rewarded. It was promised. My health began to improve with doctor intervention and a new healthy diet. I graduated my homeschooling education. Apparently everything was working with my sacrificing, because my first bestie was “doing better”, my college bestie was surviving, and a suitor had entered my world. He was approved of by my father. I began courting the man, and thought he was handpicked by God just for me. All the signs were there and he seemed to genuinely love me!

While chaperoned by his sister I roamed his house he had bought. It felt like home to me. All the dishes were exactly where I would put them, and I could see myself living there. He was my “soul mate”. He worked on his church’s sound and recording team to broadcast the Word of God to the world. He was friends with all the young people the church held up as examples to follow. He had a good job, and a well known family. He had attended Word of Life Bible Institute, and in high school went to ATI conferences. He had an active ministry and I had the high honor of carrying his equipment and assisting him as he wired S. Truett Cathy and other well respected leaders for sound at events at the local Southern Baptist college.

I was so sure that we were going to light the world on fire for Christ.

That we were destined for greatness. We would be world changers. It would be okay that I had never led anyone personally to the lord, because I was made to assist a great man. His light would shine, and his shadow would be my protection.

At 19: I married him. He confessed privately to me the day before we married that he had sexually touched his sister over her clothes when he was a teenager. I asked him if he followed the keys to forgiveness as laid out by Bill Gothard, and he said he had. I asked if he had anything else to confess, and he said no. I asked if she had forgiven him and if he ever touched anyone else that way, to which he said she had and he didn’t.

I sobbed and told him I forgave him.

This led to heavy petting. I felt helpless, and confused that I had sexual response feelings despite not being on board with what was happening. I had been saving myself for marriage, so sheltered and completely innocent. I had never kissed anyone. I had no sex ed. His advances told me that it was too late to retreat. This was just…a forgivable little thing. God would forgive me for allowing the kisses and groping because I was marrying this man in less than 10 hours. No one had to know.

I’m still haunted by this. The anxiety and disgust have woken me up in the middle of the night so I can vomit countless times. I see it now much more clearly – he preyed on her, and then moved on to me.

At 20: I thought everyone dealt with this sort of thing, that’s why they always warned about “when the honeymoon is over”.

He stopped touching me in a sexual way again after the week of our honeymoon. I knew at a core level he married me from obligation. He wanted to have sex with someone and I was there. He wanted a place to vent his twisted frustrations, so I was there. It made perfect sense. I was there to keep him from giving in to his non-godly desires. I was there to cover up his dark places. I was there to be his “helpmeet”. He constantly told his mother what a failure I was, so she sent me Debi Pearl’s books with highlighted sections to help me improve in my God Given Duties.

Over the next nine years the abuses got worse. He started to manhandle me in front of others, so I would behave in a certain way. We no longer went to church, because the church had withdrawn him from the service team and taken away my kindergartners sunday school class because I had medically diagnosed depression. Obviously his house wasn’t “in order” so he had no further privileges in the church. This made things so much worse for me at home.

It was my fault he was disgraced.

Any failing of his became my failing. There were screaming matches. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times he urged me to kill myself. I knew he cheated on me, the evidence was always there when it was with women. One woman he worked with told me explicitly how she had had her way with him in the break room after work. Another girl threw a brick through his car window when he quit with her.

I became a shell. The more I cut off of my self the more I thought I would control the chaos I lived with. He borrowed money from friends and stole money from me – I had to be resourceful and creative to hide it and pay people back. I worked two jobs in addition to all the 1950’s ideals I was expected to live up to. It was never enough. I was just waiting for him to actually hit me or leave bruises. I was raised to believe only that was abuse.

Again I tried to kill myself. A friend forced me to vomit and the pills came up.

By year 10 of our marriage I had conceived.

When I lost the pregnancy, I was sobbing in the shower with blood everywhere. I was clawing at my skin because I couldn’t stop my body rejecting the new life. I remember him ripping back the curtain and telling me I deserved to lose the child, and that it was a blessing because I was cursed. That no child deserved me as a mother, because I was a failure at being a human being. He spit on me and left me in the shower, shivering, bleeding and alone.

Shortly after that, I learned he had an active account on Ashley Madison and it stated he was game for a good time with any gender.

One week after the miscarriage he pinned me to the wall.

He told me he knew I was going to leave him because I no longer slept under the covers with him. He said I would fall on my ass and come crawling back to him, and when I did he would laugh and turn me away. He frightened me so badly I fell to the ground when he let me go. He told me to clean up the floor and myself, because he couldn’t stand to look at me. I remember scooping up the breakfast into the plate, trying hard not to cry audibly. I used lysol wipes to clean it up and I was terrified he would punish me for not using the mop, but he had taken away my walker and I couldn’t really stand up. I took refuge in the bathroom and ran water for a bath, the sobs had overtaken me by then. I heard the door to our apartment slam, and he was gone. He frequently left on wednesdays to smoke and play card games, but he left earlier than normal. I expected him back at any minute.

I cleaned our apartment top to bottom, hoping to appease him. My atheist friend in Alaska set up a call between me and the local domestic violence center. She convinced me to give staying there one night’s chance, because I had an active suicide plan. I knew if I left my treasured belongings he would never give them to my sisters, so I called my parents to come get the things and my service dog. I thought inwardly if the night’s stay at the shelter changed my mind I would have my own clothes at my disposal.

Through the help of the shelter I learned what abuse is defined as.

I filed a Protection From Abuse order because he was stalking me and still using threatening language. We had a messy divorce. I am still forced through circumstance to live in my parents’ basement. In spite of this I’m learning that I am not cursed, nor a burden. That I am left with scars, but scars don’t inflict pain, they are proof you’ve lived. I will never allow him to hurt or use me again.

I will never allow the Fundamental Southern Baptist religion to control my life again.

I am not cursed. My disabilities are not proof that God has cursed me, or that I am of Satan. My disabilities are proof that I’ve got broken DNA and that’s all.

I will not allow Fundamentalism, Bill Gothard, the preacher, my childhood or my ex-husband to control me or ruin what’s left of my life.

I deserve better than what I was given and better than what I accepted. You do too. If you’re reading this and you’re inside the box still, know you can leave. It’s dangerous and scary, but there are people waiting in the wings to help you.

The world is beautiful.

You are beautiful, and they have no right to crush you.

I am now a Catholic. I vote for the Democratic party. I have friends that are Wiccan/Pagan/Atheist/Agnostic/Muslim/Christian/Jewish. I have friends who are LGBTQIA. I belong with these people. They are the ones that want to make the world a kinder place. They’re the people who turn love into a weapon that defends the weak against others that seek to diminish or deny basic human rights.

I am what I was raised to despise, and I believe God wants it that way. I finally sleep peacefully almost every night. I forge my own future, it’s not predestined or decided for me. I’m an apostate, and yet God hasn’t struck me dead. In fact, I think God and I have an actual understanding now. It’s not my job to win souls, or lead strangers through a rote prayer. It’s my job to be a good person.

Leaving Before You are Ready: AJ’s Story

Editorial note: Shade Ardent blogs at I am Phoenix. This story is reprinted with permission.

How easy is it to leave a cult? For me personally, the answer is “not very.”

I pay close attention to the stories of those who have left a religious cult. I admit I am a little envious of the females who made their escape from their family’s cult by marrying a man who whisked them away from it all. I wish I had that ticket available back then. It wasn’t available to me because I was terrified of men. I was especially afraid of Christian men because of the religious Christian monster my father was. And I was also scared of the so called secular, worldly men because linking up with them meant my life would be cursed with demons attacking me, and my family would cut me off. Also, there was that unspoken threat circulating in the underground Christin dating advice columns and pastor’s sermons where the non Christian man is guaranteed to cheat on you and leave you. If he doesn’t first rob a bank, then become a mass murderer. Because, gasp, that’s what people do who don’t fear God.

So I knew from  a young age that my escape was not going to be through a man. There would be no prince on a stallion. My sisters didn’t escape with the help of a man or marriage, either. They were about as gun shy of men as I was.

So how did we get out? Well, we couldn’t just leave. It seems so easy, right? Just walk out of the door.

But if we moved out of the house, God would allow Satan to attack us, destroying our physical health, mental health, finances, future career, and future relationships and marriage.

That would happen if we left the house without our father’s permission. The only way he would give us permission to leave was if we married a good Christian man he approved of. A man who our father would transfer us to, so we could be under that man’s authority. We wouldn’t be safe unless we were under a Christian man’s authority. Also, if we left unwed to an approved man, our father said he wouldn’t be able to pray a hedge of protection around us. He said his prayer alone wouldn’t be enough to keep Satan from destroying us while we were out in the world.

There was no safe way to leave. Going into a courtship with a man approved by my father was far too frightening a concept for us sisters to want to entertain. We saw how our Christian father abused our mother, and we weren’t going to be tricked into an exit from our father’s home just to relive it again with a patriarchal man that he chose. No, that was far too great a risk.

And we couldn’t just walk out the door and move into our own apartments. With all those threats and judgments from God? No, doing so would be equivalent to admitting you had a death wish. I would never have thought to leave on my own. Unless I really hated myself and wanted my life as I knew it to end.

It was easier for my brothers to leave.

They were Patriarchs in the making, and were far better equipped than women to make it out alone in the world without risking God’s wrath. My older brother got out after he graduated from college, accepted a good job, and had the financial where with all to go. Incidentally, he timed his departure so that he got married right when he left my parents’ house, but he could have left with or without getting married if he wanted to. My brothers were privileged simply because of their gender. They didn’t have nearly as much oppression or nearly as many rules as my sisters did.

So, this is how my older sisters escaped. My father hadn’t made any matches for them, and they were waiting and getting old. My father did approve of a courtship for my oldest sister L with a Christian man who worked with my father. My sister L did not find him in any way attractive and declined him. That I know of, she didn’t get courtship offers after that. So when L was about 25, my second oldest sister Thalia (aged 24) staged an intervention and secretly got an apartment out of town, where she all but dragged my mild mannered, easy going oldest sister along to. They left quickly and secretly, before my father found out. L didn’t want to go initially, but with Thalia pushing and planning, they made a hasty departure. There was a big blow up when they left, much threatening and cursing of their futures.

All manner of ill will was wished on them, Bible verses were hurled, their characters questioned.

They were called harlots who were practicing the sin of rebellion, which was likened to witchcraft. At this point, my sisters were so naïve and innocent about matters of life, that calling them harlots was just silly. Their harlotry consisted of wearing gel in their hair instead of leaving it natural. That, and going to a university where… non Christian men sullied my sisters simply by walking past them on campus. As if. My younger sister and I were given threatening sermonettes on the dangers of following their wicked footsteps.

When I was about 24, my 21 year old sister Christy staged an intervention. She secretly put a security down on an apartment out of town and rented a U-Haul. The same day, she broke the plans to me and told me I had a few hours to decide if I wanted out or not. She told me I had to make up my mind quickly. Back then I didn’t even know we were living in a cult. I had no outside worldly experience to compare my life to. My 18 year old brother was going along with us. At the last minute I said, “OK.” But I was dragging my feet. I was scared and not ready to go.

I had just graduated college, and had my bachelors degree in elementary education and my teaching certificate. I was too scared to go on interviews, so I lived on a substitute teacher’s salary. This wasn’t enough to pay the rent, even splitting it three ways. My younger sister had just graduated as well and had her bachelors degree and was hired as a nurse days before she even got her diploma. She was strong in her decision to go. I wasn’t as confident.

As an aside, it is quite a shocker that we had gone to college at all. But my sisters and I had discussed how we didn’t want to end up like our mother, uneducated except for a high school diploma, trapped and abused by our father. Since we didn’t trust any man to get us out or have our backs, our ticket was an education, career and independent single gal living.

If it wasn’t for my older sister Thalia paving the way and helping each of us work out the FAFSA and various scholarships and loans, we wouldn’t have had the know how or balls to go against my father and try to extend our education.

All of my siblings and I took part and sometime full time jobs and went to college around our work schedules. I certainly would never had gone to college without Thalia’s example and encouragement. My parents would not help financially based on moral grounds, and kept trying to discourage us from going. According to my father, college was evil and worldly, and all of us had better be prepared to reap the consequences of going through demonic attack as punishment from God for disobeying and going. My siblings laughed this off, but I was terrified. I woke up every day and fell asleep each night worrying when my judgment would hit.

So I entered the real world with reluctance and fear. I had a secret boyfriend at the time, and was able to see him much more often, which was nice.

But I’ll be honest with you. If my younger sister hadn’t staged that intervention, I wouldn’t have left. If I hadn’t gone with my younger sister and brother, I would have been the only one left at home other than my parents and trust me, I was incredibly uncomfortable with that. So I went with my siblings, even though everything inside me was screaming that I wasn’t ready. Home was bad, yes, but it was all I knew. And even more importantly, I knew what would happen if I left as a single female, unmarried to a man who could protect me from the evils of the world. I knew I would be slaughtered. According to cult rules, God would punish me by sending demons to destroy my physical health, career, finances, relationships, happiness and mental health.  

Again, my siblings laughed all of this off. I wish I could have had their thick skin and sensibilities. For some reason, I was terrified of the consequences and they weren’t. However, I think that had to do with the fact that I took spiritual matters far more seriously than my siblings did. And the main reason for that, although I didn’t recognize it at the time, was because I sensed how much my father hated and shunned me, and wanted to do everything possible to get his approval. Since religion was his life, I figured that my following his spiritual rules to the T would be an excellent way to gain his approval. Sadly, though, the more I tried, the more he pushed me away.

But I didn’t let myself see that. I just kept trying all the more to be spiritual. I got baptized, taught Sunday School, tithed, fasted for weeks on carrots, cornflakes and water, wore hideously modest prairie dresses and culottes, went to Bible College, went on a mission trip overseas, wanted to become a missionary, didn’t look sideways at men, read my Bible and prayed regularly. Meanwhile, my sisters left the house in modest attire and changed into tight jeans and tanks in their car, dated wild men, read romance novels, said “Shut up” and “Oh my God,” looked at magazines in the grocery store checkout, pierced their ears and wore clip-ons over top to hide the holes from my father, bought bathing suits and went to the beach (covert trips, of course). Most of my siblings were dancing on the edge of hell, and were just laughing all the way.

My siblings would occasionally talk about how horrible it was growing up.

They would whisper that we had grown up in a cult, and that our father was a sociopath.

They worried he would work himself up into some massive Biblical dither one day, shoot our mother, shoot himself, and then that would be the end of them. We used to check in our mom to make sure she was OK after most of us left. Our father kept loaded rifles on his bedroom wall, and often fell into unpredictable tirades of anger where he got violent. So my siblings worried. I was in a religious stupor myself back then, and told my siblings he was innocent, that he would never hurt our mom, and they were just being dramatic. Again, I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what we grew up in, as I had no experience in a world other than the family home and cult. Yes, I did go to college full time and worked, but I was too afraid of people to talk to them, so it’s like I was just a ghost passing through. I studied, took tests, drove, came, and left without communicating with other people, so it was like I actually wasn’t even doing these things or really in the world. I was technically, slightly “in the world” but without human interaction out there, it pretty much doesn’t qualify as being out.

Even after the intervention, when we moved out, I was in the world but very hesitant to break out of the mold and drop my normal customs and habits. It took quite a long time.

Fast forward a decade. I was living in extreme stress every day worrying about God’s judgment for every little thing I did. And trust me, after ten years, I had started being worldly. It’s like I had one foot back in the cult, since I believed 100% everything I was taught back then. And I had one foot in the world, living the life of a heathen while wracking up punishment and guilt left and right.

That’s the danger of leaving before you are ready. That was the danger in my leaving my family and the cult before I was ready. That was the downside to accepting the intervention my sister staged when I was scared to go. That was the danger of leaving the cult physically, without first leaving mentally and emotionally.

That was the danger of living in the word without shedding the cult mentality. I gave myself permission to try to live a “normal” life like normal people did, but I couldn’t get rid of all the nagging cult fears and threats of punishment for trying to be normal.

Maybe I would have been safer never leaving the cult in the first place. Maybe I would have been safer at home with my parents in the cult, safe from God’s judgment because I was carefully obeying all rules?

Maybe that would have been safer than living a double standard, free on the outside but still in bondage to the cult fears inside?

I can’t even begin to explore what would have happened if I had stayed in my parents’ house instead of leaving with my siblings during the intervention. I think it would have been an incredibly dark experience. I do know that once I started living on my own, I began to experience happiness. I did forget the horrors of the cult. I think I can honestly say that I was happy on my own. Especially when I was geographically far away from my family. I certainly didn’t have any flashbacks, anxiety or any physical manifestations of PTSD for at least a decade. I was pretty much oblivious and happy go lucky. I was always on the move though, never sat still or rested. Never stayed in any one location too long, or with anyone too long. I was antsy. I didn’t ever want to get trapped by any person or situation. I was always running, always busy. I didn’t stop to reflect or look inside. I just thrived on looking outside of myself, and shut my emotions and feelings up tightly. I was my five senses exploring the world, and nothing else.

I do recognize the danger of living in the duality I was immersed in for the decade of time I was out free in the world, living it up, but terrified on the inside.

Like I mentioned, I always felt fear and threats lurking over my shoulder, poised and ready to get me for the huge amount of sins I was piling up every day. I was just waiting for all hell to break loose. I was just waiting for my punishment to begin. Biting my nails hoping that maybe I could squeak by for another day, another month, maybe even another year before disaster hit me.

And then it hit. I was 33 and a half. The PTSD knocked me blindside, and everything fell apart. My health fell apart, even though I struggled for a year to keep myself together. I had to eventually give up my teaching career. Well, I put in for a year’s leave of absence, but my health wouldn’t allow me to go back after that year was up. I had to give up my apartment, my boyfriend left me, acquaintances disappeared, and I didn’t really have friends… the only thing I had left was my family. I had literally forgotten how strange and cruel they were. Time has a way of clouding those things over. So I crawled home, happy to have a family to go stay with.

I was naive. Too trusting. Too gullible. I give too much credit ahead of time. I actually thought I would go home to open arms. They were closed. But I didn’t find that out right away. It was a very slow process of me finding this out.

When I went home, I was so ashamed of my life of sin, that I…. wait for it, wait for it, oh, darn it. Yes, you guessed it. I weep to share this sad revelation.

I went back into the cult.

There. I said it. I double dipped.

Oh, horrors!

That’s what happen when you leave before you are ready. The chances of falling back into the fold are just that much higher.

And I felt so guilty. I fell into it headlong.

To the point that I was back in the Bible, back in the land of religious fear, eating up all the devotionals that said illness was punishment from God, that illness was a gift from God, that I was supposed to praise God for the beautiful gift of character edification that came in the form of illness. I ate it all up.

I even let waver my fiercely held promise that I would protect myself by never getting married to a man. I let myself believe for the first time that perhaps a Christian man would be safe after all. Because what had I ever really known about being safe, right? Here I thought I would the safest out on my own in the world far away from my family, far away from religion, and without a man. I really thought that was my safest bet. But here that plan didn’t pan out. Being alone out in the world unmarried, living a non-Christian life only ended up with me getting PTSD, ME/CFS and severe adrenal burnout.

So I had to re-evaluate my perception of what “safe” really looked like. I had been broken. I had to try a new route. God was a fierce punisher, and the single life alone in the world without Him and a man who served Him was a dangerous life after all. I had learned the hard way that it would be safest after all to do the Christian thing, the right thing, and get married to a good Christian man.

If I did this, perhaps God would ease up his punishment on me and perhaps He would even let me regain my health!

So I over-rode my fear of Christian men and married one. I introduced him to my family (oh horrors!) and I introduced him to Christianity and the cult. I thought I was doing the “right” thing. I was getting back on track. The backslidden AJ rallies and returns to her Christian roots, praise God Almighty, and all God’s people say, Amen.

Right. I married K. He actually wasn’t a Christian when I initially met him. It was I who led him to the Lord. Out of compulsion and duty, not out of a desire. I didn’t trust a Cristian any farther than I could throw one, but at the same time I feared what would happen to myself and him if we didn’t punch our tickets and do our bare minimum as Christians. I felt safer around K knowing that he was brand new to the faith and hadn’t been brainwashed by any sub cults or extremist thinking. He was a good man, and kind, when I met him. I imagined it could stay that way. I figured that as long as I was there to guide the ship and help shape the direction of his newly forming beliefs, he would remain the kind and jolly fellow he always was.

I was wrong.

As soon as K put on the coat of Christianity, he became a monster.

A living and breathing certified, Bible thumping, Christian monster. And that’s when my eyes opened and I didn’t want to go on living or breathing any more. The life vest of Christianity that I had reached for in my hour of need was now no longer a life vest, it was a pile of rocks that drug me to the bottom of the lake and wouldn’t let me up for air. I endured it for a couple years, until one day I woke up and realized that I want nothing more to do with being a Christian.

It’s been about two years now that I’ve left Christianity. I’m still digging myself out of the pit and separating from my family and a few situations and people still involved in the cult. I’m happier now, and K is happier.

On looking back, a part of me thinks that if I had stayed in the cult at my parents house instead of leaving during the intervention, I would have not only obeyed the cult rules, but I would have felt safer, I wouldn’t have feared severe punishment from God every waking minute of my life for years on end, and I wouldn’t have fallen apart with severe PTSD. I could possibly have avoided my health falling apart. Just think!

From this perspective, I wish I would have stayed at the homestead after graduating college and lived a safe life where I could just breath. It is too difficult balancing one world with another, with one foot in one world and one foot in the next. But at the same time, if I had stayed on the homestead in my parents under cult rules, I may have just shriveled up and died inside. Or I may have reached some kind of internal conflict that forced me to examine my beliefs and wake up. After which I would have solidly renounced the cult and made a clean break by leaving the belief system 100% and physically removing myself far from the cult and my family.

A solid, clean break is the ticket. The best way to leave involves breaking away emotionally and intellectually, as well as physically and geographically.

I still do admire those folks who were able to know firmly what they wanted the first time they left, the folks who didn’t have to come back for round two to relive the nightmare. I admire some of my siblings who weren’t so entrapped and who left more easily than I did. But every one’s journey is different.

I double dipped, but that’s OK. The first time only my body left. The second time, my body, heart and mind broke away. I had to experience the horror twice to know what I wanted and didn’t want. I know now. And I’m finally free.

No Longer Wanted: Natalie’s Story

My parents meant well. They wanted the best for me. They were excited to find the perfect formula to raise a perfect daughter.

And somewhere along the line they stopped wanting the best for me and started needing me to be what they decided was best.

And when I wasn’t that picture they no longer wanted me. That’s the best way I can describe it.

I think like many people raised in the world of homeschoolers, I’ve had the gut feeling that it’d be inappropriate to share my story. Our 11th commandment was to never speak ill of our family or lifestyle. There was always a push to hide what we were doing and never cast any negative light on the angelic conditions of homeschoolers and our perfect families. I’ve only told a few people what happened with our relationship.


 

When I was five we moved to acreage in the middle of nowhere. We listened to programs that told us music with a beat was scientifically proven to kill your brain cells. We didn’t have cable because all the shows would make us worldly. We stocked up for Y2K. We supported groups like HSLDA that told us the evil government would take away our children if we didn’t fight with them by paying membership fees. We obsessively absorbed the wisdom of the Pearl’s.

My experiences with the outside world were limited to church activities and the library, but even this was enough to make me question if my parents were really raising me correctly. My parents couldn’t keep up with all the books that I read. I’d borrow big piles and hide the ones that wouldn’t pass inspection in the middle.

My parents told me that people who didn’t homeschool their kids didn’t really love them. That people who dated didn’t value their future spouse and would get divorced.

Purity and gender roles were everything.

My mother obviously wouldn’t work outside the home, even when my dad lost his job multiple times and money was tight. Respect was the most important thing to my dad. We were all to submit to him without question, to the point that we couldn’t ask something that ended with a question mark. We had to direct conversation as respectful statements that he could choose to respond to if he wanted.

My mom couldn’t explain anything past simple math and my dad would get frustrated at me when I didn’t immediately understand it. I faked the majority of my math work past 2nd grade. Science was a similar story. My parents made it clear that I only needed it because the state required I learn it. It wasn’t vital for a woman’s education. What was vital was understanding that my goal in life was to be a wife and mother. I needed to sew, cook, clean, and learn to be the best wife and mother. All of my life was focused on that aim and that meant everything was focused on getting married.

I’m still sorting my education into the facts and what was just an elaborate attempt to shape my worldview. The “mistakes” that my parents made were probably the only way my brain developed in the shape that it did. They regret letting me have part time jobs, taking classes with other Christian homeschoolers, and not monitoring me close enough. My friends were all very intellectual. They pushed me to excel when my parents didn’t necessarily care. I started to question their mandates. I didn’t want to solely be a stay at home daughter. I wanted to figure out what I believed for myself. I wanted to understand my father’s beliefs. He wouldn’t explain them to me. He said my questions were disrespectful and I should just accept that he knew what was best. My role was to serve his family until I got married and then I would serve my husband’s family.

I wanted to go on a mission’s trip after I graduated. They grudgingly agreed, assuming I wouldn’t be able to raise the funds. I worked all summer and then my brother told them that it wasn’t appropriate to let me leave their guidance. They postponed my trip for 6 months. They canceled it again. Then my dad borrowed $2000 from my account without asking. When I sheepishly mentioned it he said he needed it to pay bills for our family and was offended I had brought it up. Months later I saw that he had paid it back. Eventually I convinced them that I should go on a mission’s trip for 3 months with our church. My reasoning was that I should serve others some before I got married.

College wasn’t ever a choice for me.

Going into debt was sinful. My parents couldn’t afford to send me even if they approved of the choice. I knew I wasn’t educated enough in math and science to get a scholarship.

My sister had the perfect long distance courtship. They only wrote letters for months. They didn’t hold hands till they were engaged. They didn’t kiss till they were married. My dad gave an hour long sermon at her wedding and he cried from happiness. She was everything they wanted in a daughter. Since it all worked out so well for them, my parents insisted that it was the perfect method. When I didn’t act like her I was a disappointment. They had been (untrained) marriage counselors for years. They’d insist on telling me all the intimate details of people’s marriages. Sometimes they were my friend’s parents. When I didn’t want to hear it I was disrespectful. When I didn’t want to read another book about submission I was rebellious. When I didn’t want to watch another marriage DVD series I was selfish and disobedient. All the scenarios ended with the wife realizing that if she just respected her husband more he would love her and things would be fine.

When I got tired of my life only being focused on marriage, I asked them if I could focus more on pursuing God.

They told me the only way I could pursue God was to pursue marriage.

Single people were selfish. Pursuing independence was sinful. Living outside the protection of my spiritual authority was unthinkable. My dad told me whatever I was doing, I should think of what he would want me to do and then do that. If I didn’t I was sinning against him and God.

When I got back from my missions trip I wanted to move out and for some reason they complied. A couple months later it was a different story. I had a full time job, and I wanted to buy a car. It was a battle. I wanted to pay for my own car insurance, and they finally lost it. They gave me an ultimatum: quit my job, move back home, stop pursuing my selfish independent lifestyle and I could remain their daughter. They couldn’t bear to see me living in sin any longer.

My father told me that God would always forgive him if he strayed, but he was a human so he couldn’t promise that he would always forgive me and take me back.

I couldn’t agree to their terms. They told me the choices I was making would make me a horrible wife and would ruin my marriage and children. My dad wouldn’t bless my marriage. My mom started crying and told me that she shouldn’t have had such high expectations for me. Maybe if she had lower expectations for me this wouldn’t be so hard. I was 18 and on my own. A couple months later I tried to reconcile with them, and my dad clarified that we didn’t have a relationship unless I could come back to the biblical model. I couldn’t.

Six months later my dad shared that he still felt the same however cutting off relationship meant he was giving us responsibility for me and he couldn’t do that as he was still responsible for all my sinful choices. He said he was sorry if I was hurt by the things he said, but they were true. He said we needed to have a relationship again so he could show me how to be better.

It’s been a couple years since then. Things are still rocky between us. It took me over a year to come out of the depression that our broken relationship caused. I was suicidal and cried continuously.

They were my entire world.

The hardest part is that I was close to my family. I didn’t think they were capable of disowning me. They were all I had ever known, and I was relatively happy with my brainwashed life. I didn’t know how to function without them. I had to learn to support myself on my own. I had to figure out who I was without my family. I had to deal with my parents turning my whole family against me.

Since then I’ve found out that members of my family helped and supported an elder that molested his adopted daughter for years. They protected him because he was the head of his household and knew best. Now when stories surface of incest and abuse I don’t question them.

Of course this happens, we were all taught to blindly obey.

I still have to fight the guilt when they say I ruined our relationship. I still hear that I should just be like my older sister and things would be better. I still hear that I’m not what they want. I still deal with them poisoning my relationships. Counseling and time helps. But it’s still complicated and it still hurts.

College Isn’t For Girls (And Other Lies My Parents Told Me)

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on December 4, 2015.

It occurred to me that while I’ve mentioned how my sex determined what I learned in school I haven’t really mentioned how that translated into college.

This is actually a little complicated because my parents waffled quite a bit before settling on their decision. When we first started homeschooling my mother’s plan (with no input from me) was for me to go to the local vocational school and double major in cosmetology and culinary arts. Neither of these were things I was interested in and actively tried to make that known, not that anyone cared.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my family it’s that my preferences don’t matter unless they line up with exactly what they want from me, their idea of who I should be trumps the truth of my existence every time – but that’s besides the point.

This was solidly the plan until I was about 8 or so (give or take because the concept of time is a blur). I think part of what they learned in the cult (or maybe it was the one ATI seminar they went to) was that it’s not appropriate for women to go to college. Some people think this but still send their daughters to college to get, I kid you not, an M.R.S. degree. The thought being, college will turn women into evil feminists who aren’t submissive and tell them things that are directly contrary to god’s plan (get married, have babies, homeschool)!

This goes right along with courtship, staying under the father’s head/umbrella/authority until married, and using the in-between highschool and marriage time to learn how to take care of your family. I’m not entirely sure where they got all this, but they did. Anyway, at some point they came to me and said that I wouldn’t be doing college, because god said it’s not good for girls to go to college – and college isn’t going to prepare you to be a helpmeet and mother anyway. This didn’t bother me because my cosmetology and culinary arts future looked bleak to my very young self who was neither into adding more cooking into their life or painting other people’s nails.

I think my family was surprised at how well I took it because they’d been building it up in their head. But anyway. College was out of the question for several years and I kept living my life free of the worry of having to cook and do makeup for college.

Then I discovered politics, speech and debate, and Patrick Henry College.

I wanted more than anything in the world to go to PHC, and since it was a homeschool college and very much daughters-under-their-father’s-authority operating school…I probably wouldn’t have to worry about turning into an evil feminist.

Whether or not I could go to PHC seemed like it changed by the day, but I was several years out so I figured they’d come around.

They almost did – after they decided to break Alex and I up (because courtship = parents control all the things) they encouraged me to apply to PHC, sort of as a bribe – like the money and car they offered. I jumped at the opportunity to go to the college I dreamed of and get out of my parents house. I filled out the application and went through all the steps, got my pastor to write a letter of recommendation and all I needed to do was have my parents sign the waiver.

They refused.

They said they changed their mind, they couldn’t support it, they didn’t want to be responsible for me financially (and my living at home not allowed or able to get a job was what? or right, indentured servitude), and most importantly, college isn’t for girls. I’m going to be a wife and mother after all, I don’t need any further education. My consumer math and ability to read, write, and recite their interpretation of scripture back to them was all I would need and college wasn’t going to help me be a better submissive wife.

And like that, it was over.

After we got married I started applying to a school that did distance learning and was marginally less conservative. It involved re-writing my transcript (which is still a mess) and being a private school hot for Dave Ramsey, financially it wasn’t feasible. I was accepted but it just didn’t happen. I was still trying to navigate what being a Wife looked like and panicking that having a summer job meant I would have an affair (because women in the workforce have affairs, that’s why they have to be keepers at home) – the lies my parents ingrained into me were still so very very strong.

This is why getting accepted to a community college and taking the catch-up/pre-college course is so huge to me.

I’m finally at a place where I can break that jar and decide what I want to do.

Image copyright 2014 Kierstyn King.
Image copyright 2014 Kierstyn King.

Regret Is Better Than Not Living

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Chris Chabot.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog, Love, Joy, Feminism. It was originally published on November 17, 2015.

Over and over and over again as a girl, I was taught that marrying through a parent-guided courtship would mean I wouldn’t have any regrets. My mom used to talk about her past relationships, before she met my dad, with a great deal of regret. She wished she hadn’t done things she did and dated the people she did. She regretted it, she would tell me, and she wanted to save me from having regrets of my own. And the magic relationship secret that would save a couple from having any regrets was simple—courtship.

Check out this paragraph from the Duggar’s 7 Rules of Courtship:

The Duggars ask their daughters and their beaus to set their own boundaries on the physical side, and to share those boundaries with them. In Jessa and Ben’s case, the couple decided to give each other hugs when they are greeting or saying goodbye, or posing for a picture. “But they have committed to waiting for the first kiss till marriage,” Jim Bob says. They will also wait until they are engaged before they hold hands. “We believe it’s best for them to save the physical part for marriage,” says Michelle. “That way there’s no regrets.”

But today, I’m noticing a bit of a pattern. Last month someone posted in a homeschool alumni group I’m in about regrets she had about her courtship, and I watched, fascinating, as one after another hopped on to share their own regrets. They wished they’d just kissed and had done with it, that they had been allowed genuine privacy, that they hadn’t waited until marriage to have sex. Yes really—I’ve spoken with scads of homeschool alumni who regret waiting until marriage to have sex. Even those who don’t regret that in particular often regret other facets of their courtship experience.

It turns out that saving sex for marriage does not mean you will have no regrets. It turns out that going through a courtship process doesn’t mean you will have no regrets. It turns out that there is no perfect formula for having no regrets.

My own courtship was incomplete, in a sense, because I jumped ship and refused to follow the rules halfway through. Still, the things I regret have nothing to do with the parts where I deviated from the courtship model and everything to do with the parts where I followed the courtship model. I regret that I didn’t date before meeting my husband. I regret that I made our relationship so serious so quickly. I regret that I was so afraid of physical contact for so long. I regret that I gave my husband a hard time about having previous girlfriends. I regret that I made such a huge deal out of everything.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely glad I married my husband. I simply wish our getting-to-know-you period had been less fraught. I wish we’d simply dated. I regret courting. And you know what? That’s something that wasn’t supposed to be able to happen. Still, I’m lucky. I know others who courted and went on to divorce. They explain that courtship made things too serious too fast, that courtship prevented them from actually getting to know each other by denying them privacy, etc. Courtship became a regret they had to figure out how to undo.

For some, the regret is parental control. This, from Melissa:

Actually I can’t think of a single benefit from the parental control and pressure we had throughout our relationship. Even after we were married, it took several years for us to truly “leave and cleave”. We had never been allowed to be our own persons, and old habits died very hard. We would consult our parents and make decisions (trivial or important) based on what they told us. Eventually we progressed to where we would make our own decisions and fret about how to tell our parents what we had decided. It took four years to get to the point that we made decisions and didn’t bother to tell them at all!

For others, the regret is the overthinking. This, from Hannah Ettinger:

I missed a lot of the joy in various “firsts” because I was so busy over-thinking everything and tense and afraid of doing the wrong thing. And that’s just silly. Dating is supposed to be about learning, not getting everything right the first time.

I love Hannah’s point about dating being about learning, rather than about getting everything right the first time, because it brings me to a problem I have with the entire conversation surrounding courtship—regret is not a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong, regret is an unpleasant emotion. Still, regret is how we learn.

Take parenting as an example. There are times when, as a parent, I make a mistake and regret it—but those experiences are learning experiences. I learn, over time, how to interact with my children in positive ways—how to best deescalate conflict with this one, how to best explain a change in plans with that one—but learning cannot take place without mistakes, and mistakes mean regret. Sure, I can read parenting books and child development manuals and try to get things right the first time, but my children are individuals and I am an individual and we have our own quirks. There is no failsafe way to parent without regretting something at some point.

Now yes, you say, but what about regret in big areas—areas you can’t just fix? That’s how my parents viewed premarital sex, or dating—these were regrets, they believed, that would damage your whole life. They weren’t just things you could learn from and move on. The trouble is that here, as I pointed out, regrets can go both ways. Some may regret having premarital sex, but others will regret not having premarital sex. The same is true in other areas—you may regret not buying that house you saw when it was on the market, but if you’d bought it you might have eventually come to regret buying it.

Regret is a part of life. If we spend our entire lives fleeing it, we’re not truly living. We shouldn’t center our approach to relationships around never regretting anything. There’s no failsafe way to do that, and focusing on it like a laser is stress inducing. Instead of centering decisions on avoiding regret, we would be better off focusing on healthy relationship skills, informed choices, and tools for recognizing and avoiding abusive partners and relationship patterns. And, too, we need to give our young people tools for handling regret.

Regret is better than not living to begin with.

Josh Duggar Blames Porn and Satan in Public Statement

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on August 20, 2015.

Josh Duggar has now released a public statement.

Statement from Josh Duggar:

I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife.

I am so ashamed of the double life that I have been living and am grieved for the hurt, pain and disgrace my sin has caused my wife and family, and most of all Jesus and all those who profess faith in Him.

I brought hurt and a reproach to my family, close friends and the fans of our show with my actions that happened when I was 14-15 years old, and now I have re-broken their trust.

The last few years, while publicly stating I was fighting against immorality in our country, in my heart I had allowed Satan to build a fortress that no one knew about.

As I am learning the hard way, we have the freedom to choose to our actions, but we do not get to choose our consequences. I deeply regret all hurt I have caused so many by being such a bad example.

I humbly ask for your forgiveness. Please pray for my precious wife Anna and our family during this time.

Josh Duggar

The idea that porn viewing leads to porn addiction which leads to cheating on one’s spouse is a common one in evangelical circles. It’s also false. But it’s very clearly an idea Josh is leaning on heavily. He’s positioned himself perfectly to travel the evangelical speaking circuit as anti-porn advocate with a powerful testimony.

Also, by putting the mention of his infidelity behind a double mention of porn, he made it easy to miss and effectively minimized it. I already had one person ask me whether the infidelity refers to the porn, not, you know, actual infidelity. Josh may not realize that most people don’t care that he watched porn. Seriously.

It’s the cheating on his wife thing that is an issue here.

Josh says he “allowed Satan to build a fortress.” What that means is that it was Satan who worked this evil in Josh’s life, and Josh’s only mistake was allowing it. This is most definitely a variant of “the devil made me do it.” It’s a way to shift responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate that Josh acknowledged that the consequences he is facing are deserved, that he stated that we have the freedom to choose our actions, and that he has admitted that he was a hypocrite. Still, I’m bothered by the way he blames both porn and Satan for what happened, and I can explain why.

First, notice what doesn’t appear in this statement: Any acknowledgment that any of Josh or his parents’ beliefs may be implicated in what happened. Now yes, lots of people cheat. But remember that Josh and his parents have portrayed their rigid beliefs about sex and relationship formation as the key to creating healthy, happy, sound marriages.

Courtship, not having sex until the altar, all of that is supposed to protect you from problems like this one. And it didn’t work.

There is nothing in Josh’s statement admitting that perhaps a highly chaperoned courtship and sexual abstinence before marriage isn’t so foolproof after all. Instead it’s all about porn and Satan. The problem, the statement suggests, is that Josh didn’t follow the rules closely enough, not that the rules themselves may be flawed.

I was raised in a home much like the Duggars’, but I am no longer religious, and my husband isn’t either. In the Duggars’ worldview, that means we have given ourselves over to Satan, because we are no longer protected from sin or temptation by the blood of Jesus. My husband and I began our relationship as a courtship, but switched to just dating when my parents’ started layering on restrictions. We had sex before the wedding. And you know what? We don’t subscribe to that whole no-porn business. And yet, somehow, neither of us has ever been anywhere near cheating.

The Duggars promote very specific sex and relationship rules, rules that are supposed to protect young adults from just this heartbreak. I’ve been saying for years that these rules are seriously flawed, and others who grew up in this environment have as well, but the Duggars have continued to promote courtship and abstinence as the foundation for sound marriages. Courtship and abstinence before marriage were supposed to give Josh and Anna the perfect relationship and a fairy tale marriage, but it didn’t. Josh’s infidelity ought to put a dent in their starry-eyed promotion of courtship, at the very least, but given the way this statement is phrased, I don’t see that happening.

The Duggar boys aren’t allowed smartphones for fear they’ll access porn. The Duggar children, including the adult children, are only allowed on the internet with someone else sitting by them watching them, to make sure they don’t access objectionable things like porn. It’s almost like they never stopped to ask themselves whether making such a huge deal about porn might backfire when their sons got out of the house and had control over their own internet.

When you obsess over sex, you shouldn’t be surprised when sex becomes an obsession.

But you know what?

I don’t think any of these questions will be asked, and I don’t think any of these conversations will be had, at least by the Duggars.

And that’s sad.

Living with Cognitive Dissonance: Sonia’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

My mom told me a while ago, “It seems impossible to live it [the Gothard/fundie lifestyle] in moderation, although that’s exactly what I was trying to do. I didn’t buy the whole program. Instead, I took from it that which I thought was useful and healthy. I rejected a lot, but maybe you don’t have any way of knowing that. There were many women who perceived me to be a great ‘compromiser’, and I mean that word in a very negative sense.” She was right. I didn’t have any way of knowing that. (This reminded me of other posts I’ve read such as “PICKING THINGS UP FROM THE CULTURE, HOMESCHOOL EDITION” and Libby Anne’s “THEN WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL US THAT, MOM?” from a couple of years back.) What I did know intellectually and intuitively ended up producing a considerable amount of cognitive dissonance,
fear, and anguish that has plagued me for years.

My parents didn’t understand that even if THEY didn’t wholeheartedly buy into the entire program, the fact that for the most part they would only let us spend our time around other families who DID buy into the entire program gave tacit approval to the entire program.

Oddly enough, my mom was the one to teach me to think critically, though I don’t think she really expected me to use that skill to the extent I did to think outside my little box. She told me two things when I was young that eventually led to my most significant “lightbulb moments.” First, she told me very clearly that she was educating me as well as my brother because I was smart and it wasn’t responsible to do otherwise on the off chance I had to support myself. (Incidentally, she also said she got a lot of flak for doing this.) Second, when I asked why I was allowed to wear jeans/pants when the other girls weren’t, all I can remember is getting a response to the effect of, “Well we aren’t THAT strict.”

So, after a few years when I started noticing things weren’t adding up, I asked more questions and assumed, logically, that if my parents could bend the rules and pick and choose where they saw fit, I could too as long as I had a logical, reasonable explanation for wanting to do so.

Lightbulb. Obviously, we all know this wasn’t true, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I was very confused. This is where I ran into trouble. Whenever I had ideas that ran contrary to “popular” belief and I brought up those issues, I always came armed with a list of very respectful but coherent reasons as to why there were major holes in what we heard at church. I simply could not understand how my parents, who made the logical decision to ignore two VERY big parts of the dogma, i.e. female education and modesty, did not see the other gaping holes. Most of the time, I felt like my concerns and opinions were brushed off and treated as a nuisance. My speaking out was attributed to youthful rebellion and I was not taken seriously.

One of the issues I kept bringing up because it made no sense was courtship (or arranged marriage as I like to refer to it). For years, I had closely watched all the happy smiles, wedding day first kisses, and subsequent babies that magically appeared nine months after the wedding. I followed the ins and outs of The Courtship Files at my church with rapt attention. I was curious to see what my future looked like. Something in my gut told me that there was something amiss, and I was quite vocal about it to my parents. These marriages seemed to materialize with next to no input from the XX-chromosomed party and after the wedding, all the new brides had this glassy-eyed, “totally blessed” look. Oh, and they would quote Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 and Ephesians 5 ad nauseam and have their members-only Bible studies for newly married couples.

Nonetheless, I really tried hard to buy into it despite the cognitive dissonance because I didn’t have a choice.

I really did try until I encountered a classic, “let’s abuse Hester Prynne” incident during church that resulted in lightbulbs going off all over the place.

This girl from our church had gone away to a conservative Christian college and ended up coming back pregnant. They made her stand up in church on a Sunday morning and apologize for her “sin” when she was probably five or six months pregnant. Even as young as I was (probably 8 or 9), I was acutely aware there was something very wrong about the whole thing. I do have to admit, much to my chagrin, that my first response was to hop on the stone-throwing train everyone around me was gleefully riding because that was the “right” response to “sin.” However, two lightbulbs blinked over my head as I sat there. First, a little voice in the back of my head gave me some advice regarding my own future self-preservation. It said, “You better never do anything this bad because you know that if you did, they would turn on you too in a second. And if you do anything like this, you better damn well keep it hidden.” Lightbulb. Second, I wondered why the pastor and elders standing behind this woman on the podium didn’t also have to apologize in front of the church for their sins too. Lightbulb. I remember feeling much more guarded after that point.

Back to the subject of my own future, the last serious conversation I remember having with my parents regarding courtship happened at bedtime one night sometime during my preteen years. Inevitably, conversations about this courtship thing had begun to take place more frequently. My parents explained, yet again, what courtship meant and what its implications were for my future. I presented every logical objection I could think of as I had done many times before. What if I go to a college in another state? (Remember the educating me thing? Yeah…that.) What if I never move back home after college? What if I meet “the one” before you do? What if I don’t tell you about him? What if “him” is a…HER??? How do you plan to police me that carefully?

To my parents’ credit in this instance, my objections were handled calmly and without anger. However, the conversation concluded with, “We will deal with it when it happens and at that point, you’ll understand how important courtship and this transfer of authority over you are.” I remember very clearly telling them, “I’m not doing it.” They calmly responded that I would feel differently later, and it’s ok that I don’t feel like that now. I responded flatly with, “No you don’t understand. My feelings about this aren’t going to change. I am not doing this.” I was resolute. My parents said that that was ok for now and bid me sweet dreams. What they really didn’t factor in was how deadly serious I was. It is difficult to overstate the degree to which I meant what I said. If my parents had continued on the oppressive courtship track later in my life, I guarantee I would have staged some sort of massive, storm-the-Bastille style revolt. If I had had to choose between courtship and losing any relationship I had with my parents (or God for that matter), I would have chosen the latter in a heartbeat.

After all, I wasn’t just a walking uterus.

I had a brain too.

Fortunately, I was never pushed to make this choice because my parents ended up divorcing. This set off by far the biggest lightbulb. Over the years, I had “appealed” to my parents time and time again and presented coherent, logical objections to a wide range of topics as a result of the many little lightbulbs that were periodically going off in my head. I don’t even remember most of these encounters, but I do remember having the feeling consistently that my parents didn’t really hear me or take me seriously. 

And since I didn’t have the agency to make my own choices regarding my own beliefs, I had to live with what was there.

However, with the divorce came the freedom to start to carve my own path and with that freedom, I had to start reexamining everything I’d ever been told. There were some physical abuse issues involved preceding the divorce which I was witness to. The elder board and pastor of our church said that my dad should move out of our home temporarily, pending biblical “counseling.” Once the church said that both my parents had been sufficiently “counseled,” my parents were instructed to “reconcile.” My mom refused. Such began an extremely tumultuous few years for all of us and the unraveling of the proverbial carpet for me.

I knew instinctively that my parents needed to go their separate ways and that this was the best outcome for all of us.

I simply didn’t understand all the theological discourse that said that people couldn’t divorce for any reason whatsoever, even in cases of abuse.

On the heels of that came the next logical question: if divorce wasn’t unequivocally wrong in every circumstance, as I had been told, what else wasn’t unequivocally wrong? Lightbulb. My entire world was turned on its head and I felt like I couldn’t trust anything I had ever been taught or thought I had known. This was very traumatic, and I spent most of the decade following and more trying to sort out what exactly I believed. I have wondered in the years since why my parents didn’t listen to me or why I felt like they didn’t.

I have wondered why my concerns, opinions, and expressions of distress were not interpreted as red flags or catalysts for change.

For years I felt like I didn’t have a voice and even now, I have a pathological, anxiety-attack-inducing fear of not being heard.

I am, however, very grateful for the lightbulb moments and the conversations they inspired. I hope I remember more of those moments as I grow older and I am grateful for the moments of mental clarity along the way I do remember that allowed me to navigate the twilight zone of my growing up years. Those moments of clarity kept me sane and kept me from being fully brainwashed. They kept my spirit alive to fight, and when I think back on them now they give me a sense of peace that I can find my way in the world, and I can trust what I know is right.

Warning Fairy Lights: Irina’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

There never was just one “aha” moment for me as a homeschooler. Maybe it had to do with how deep and how isolated my parents had us. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I was keeping my head down. Maybe it had to do with the fact I was looking for any way out that I’d just tuned out so much. Perhaps.

As a homeschooler, my parents used very conservative materials to school me for six grades.

The first light bulb moment I had was when I was not yet a homeschooler. Teachings from various conservative Christian authors were shared with my parents. Of course, I was very familiar with “Jack Chick”, and many of those “Chick Tracts” were substitutes for comic books when visiting my mom’s parents. We were introduced to teachings by authors such as William Schnoebelen and Caryl Matrisciana, and my mom started to read Frank Perretti novels. You can imagine what followed.

Two years prior to homeschooling, my parents outlawed Easter and Halloween.

We modified Christmas greatly. We did gifts on Christmas Eve, but we were to have “church” on Christmas Day. Easter now no longer had bunnies, eggs, chickens, ducks or anything related to the secular holiday. We no longer did special cakes and whatnot. We still did have ham for a good long time, which I never understood. We also went to sunrise services… it seemed wishy-washy. Halloween was totally verboten. No dressing up. No candy. No scary music and sound effects any longer. We started having “Fall Festivals”. It took a while, but I started questioning it entirely.

At another duty station, I happened upon BJU materials and thumbed through them at one of our pastor’s houses. I don’t remember what all was in it, but I remember recoiling, shaking my head, wrinkling my nose and asking if “this was what my parents planned on teaching us now that they pulled us from school.

My third light bulb moment had to do with the growing infiltration of Bill Gothard’s materials into our church.

It was seemingly small things here and there. The “Umbrella of Authority”, the forbidden music other than Hymns, whispers of people that said “anyone who listened to rock music is seriously backslidden…”, the introduction of some Character songs, Patch the Pirate and so on. We had a new dress code instituted at our church that required dresses or skirts for every female family member of those men in every position of leadership, even at home. My dad turned down a position of leadership due to this new legalism.

We moved twice, and I found myself ever more isolated. Our pastor, at the time, was homeschooling four children and had a fifth on the way. We visited often for various reasons, including the fact that my parents were serving in various offices at the church, at the time.

I started seeing homeschool curricula that taught that Dinosaurs and mankind lived together once upon a time.

This is how we got the mythology about dragons!

Some materials even went so far to say that the dinosaurs we know today in museums were just put together mish-mash by archaeologists because they have never found complete skeletons of some of these creatures. This is why some dinosaurs, such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex have impossibly teeny tiny arms and can do nothing with them.

I noticed that my homeschool material was swiftly changing in tenth grade. It went from generalized teachings to segregated “Girls do—” and “Boys do—” and that any mixing in between either set of the other sex’s jobs or enjoying any of those tasks was sinful and to be avoided. I complained again, of course, and my mom said to just answer the materials how they like and she’ll grade it appropriately.

We began attending homeschool youth meetings. and I was being exposed ever more to Vision Forum materials and teachings, Bill Gothard’s ATI/IBLP materials, CBMW (Counsel on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) … and I kept questioning everything everywhere.

I noticed more and more quiverfull families and that the oldest daughter or daughters were always missing meetings or outings with us because they were in charge of watching the babies or toddlers at home. I kept asking my mom and dad, “If it is so biblical to keep having so many children, why can you not take care of them on your own? Why is it that the teenage girls who should be going to college are being told to stay home and that they can’t go anywhere else, they have to stay at home until they get married?” There never was a satisfactory answer to that.

I felt like all my light-bulb moments were snowballing. I started experiencing anxiety, but like everything else, I had to shove it all deep down and follow along unquestioningly.

We moved again, began attending another Non-denominational church that had high influence by the ATI/IBLP, Vision Forum, CBMW and Family Integrated Church model. My dad somehow connected into that group and I balked. I shut down and then found a way out with the youth group. It worked out alright for a while, until I realized I’d never be accepted as a homeschooler, as there was a clique formed at that church. The main clique were the kids who attended the church school The second clique were those who went to local public schools and the third were the homeschool rejects who refused to go to the FIC services, like myself. The more I read the FIC model materials, the more I woke up to the sickness that was patriarchy which seemed to permeate every little bit of my life.

We had two shotgun weddings occur within our local homeschool group. This occurred not long after some parents found out that their courtship model failed with their darling daughters. The girls were found to be pregnant, and since they were extremely pro-life, the logical conclusion to them was that the girls needed to be married off. There would be no baby shower. The girls would be removed from their position of influence, no longer serve in any office in their church, and would apologize publicly to us girls that they let down. I was extremely angry at the injustice of it all.

I questioned a homeschool culture that would basically sell a girl to a boy who either raped her, or at least only had a short-lived fling and shackled her to him while shaming her, removing them both from school and forced them both to care for a child they neither planned nor had means to provide for.

Don’t get me wrong, I was staunchly anti-choice, but pro birth control. I did (and still do!) believe that mothers have a limit to what their health will allow and that parents need to be able to care for their children on their own or with their family, but that children should be children. Yes, they should pitch in and help out, but they definitely shouldn’t be treated like lesser sister wives and Cinderella.

We moved one more time. We attended three different churches, but it seemed like the homeschool umbrella group that was involved in all of them seemed to have a circle that was just like our previous group at my dad’s last duty station. We plugged into a girl’s bible study, which I now recognize as being highly influenced by Debi Pearl, Above Rubies, Vision Forum, Elisabeth Eliot and various affiliated authors. At this point, I shut down for a time.

I had moments where I tucked away information and just secretly questioned it, but for the most part, I was like a secret agent on a mission to not be found out.

My mom fell in love with books by Francine Rivers and teachings by Beth Moore. She began sharing them with me, and ever so quietly, I started research (a little here, a little there) on the internet asking questions about the model “biblical womanhood” in her books. I never could quite put my finger down on what it was that bothered me, but I kept questioning.

It wasn’t until after I had graduated that the big names in purity culture gained prominence and my youngest sister was falling in love with the teachings of Joshua Harris, Stasi and John Eldredge… She started to hand me the books and asked if I would give them a read.

I’ll preface this with this fact: I’m a bibliophile. I love books. I would never do harm to any book, or at least, I thought I never would, until I read those books. I’ve never thrown a book so hard or so far until I had those in my hands.

Every single fault of the relationship was laid at the feet of the woman for whatever squidgy reason. If sex happened before marriage… if the male was tempted…

It was like my brain broke after that. I wasn’t going to take it anymore. But, the cognitive dissonance was so very strong. Inside, I was screaming at it all and hated it. I knew it was wrong. It was upside down. The theology was poor, at best. On the outside, I was dressing more and more like a proper stay at home daughter. I was even trying to be submissive. It was KILLING ME.

I cried almost every single night.

I hated my life, but I had no way out.

I had co-workers who obviously wanted to help, but had no idea how to even reach into my world and give me some sort of scaffolding or support to crawl out.

I never let anyone in or close enough to know what I was living with. I’m sure I harmed some people by things I repeated and didn’t believe in, but felt forced to parrot. I am so very sorry for that.

After leaving, I was so stuck in the mentality I was raised in that I actually could not function very well in the real world.

This was compounded even more with the fact I had moved to a foreign country and was dealing with the very real effects of culture shock, learning a new language, new laws and a completely different political structure from the United States.

It took having my children to see how evil all of it was and how it all just snowballed downhill into one great big pile of irredeemable poo. Everything that has happened to me up until moving out were, themselves, that pivotal light-bulb moment that woke me up to the fact I needed to tear everything down to the foundation and begin building again.

It was not just one light, but a string of little fairy lights that kept blinking at me the entire time I was in the homeschooling movement.

I hope that all of the people I have met who were hammered down by these teachings have also found themselves to be free like I have. I may have had many starts and stops like Rapunzel in the latest Disney film, but thank God, I’m free at last.

How I Survived Homeschooling in Gothard’s Cult: Conclusion

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Norbert Posselt.

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Alexa Meyer’s blog Life of Grace and Peace. It was originally published on June 26, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

*****

In this seriesPart One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Conclusion

*****

Conclusion

Within a few weeks (April 1992) our family had sold what wasn’t necessary and moved to Oakbrook, IL (HQ). We weren’t expected. No one knew we were coming, and Bill was away at a conference our first week there. My parents and sister were put in a boy’s house, and I went back to the house I first stayed in, working in the kitchen again. It was a strange week, but it was about to get very harassed.

As soon as Bill came back my parents told him that we needed to be together. That took a few days to get settled, but we ended up living in a house off campus owned by the Institute, which, thankfully, also came with furniture.

Meanwhile, after his first day back, Bill tracked me down and told me he wanted me to work as his personal secretary. I said I didn’t have experience in that, but he pushed, telling me to consider it. The next day I wasn’t quick enough, and he cornered me again about working with him. Again I put him off saying I wasn’t sure that was a good thing to do, I would need to talk with my parents. I did tell my parents that he’d asked me and my responses. They didn’t really comment on it that I remember. At work I made sure to listen for his voice and look down hallways first, so I could avoid him. Unfortunately a couple of days later (Thur. I think it was) I rounded a corner and almost ran into him, literally. He escorted me back to his empty office and once again asked me to work with him. I said a point blank “No” this time. He asked me why not, so I answered, “You are a manipulator and I don’t want to work with you.” His answer – “I don’t think you know what that word means.”

He said much more, which I mostly tuned out – he had just proved my statement, what more needed to be said? – but I was surprised when he said he would have to let us go.

I waited until he was done and dismissed me, making sure to leave through his sister, Laura’s, office. As I passed her I told her I would never work for her brother. If looks could kill, I would’ve been dead. Laura disapproved of every female, though, so I didn’t take it personally. That night I told my parents what happened – again not much of a response.

When my dad went into work the next morning (Publications Dept. in the printing and binding area, which is where I shortly joined him), there was a pink slip on his desk. He went to Bill’s office demanding to know why. Bill said we weren’t a fit and we needed to leave as soon as possible. My dad told him we had nowhere to go and no money to do it with. Bill pressed harder and my dad told him that before he had been offered a job, he had received an offer to work in S. Korea teaching English. (My dad had been stationed in Korea for a little over a year with the Air Force from 1985-86.) So Bill said he’d pay for us to go there. My parents talked it over and told him we were going to stay and in a year we would move. (My mom was pregnant again, so I think she didn’t want to move right then.) When my parents confronted him about his timing in firing my dad, Bill said I misunderstood him and his intentions. So we stayed for a year to the day, leaving in April of 1993. (I recently told my dad about Bill sexually harassing me. His response: “That’s why young girls should be taught to go to their dads, tell the man to ask their dad, so things like that don’t happen.” So it was my fault. NOT!)

A month or so after all this happened, Mr. Jim Sammons came to our house to talk with me. Jim was on Gothard’s Board of Directors. He asked me if Bill had been inappropriate with me, and if so, how. I told him about the times of being alone with me, holding my hands, hugging me, asking too personal questions, tracking me down to ask me to work directly in his office; basically everything I could think of. I did tell him that Bill had never touched me in private places, that I wouldn’t have allowed him to.

Jim said that there were problems with girls in Bill’s office and that the Board was working on getting all the girls out.

I find it interesting that Jim quit not too long after this and the McKims later disappeared as well. (The McKims were a favored ATI family that set the bar high, much like the Duggars today.)

I had not been in touch with Chris since my family moved to HQ, until out of the blue one day in October he called asking for my dad. We talked for a bit, long enough for me to find out he wasn’t getting married after all. Yay! With my parents’ approval, we began to correspond (our letters were read by my parents) and talk over the phone (for only an hour a week). Before we left HQ we decided to get our families together. So after my parents and I left HQ in April, I met my future in-laws in July (Independence holiday, to be exact!), became engaged at the end of August (after I turned 18) and was married three months later in December, 1993. I’ve made it sound like it was a smooth process, but it was like a living hell, as my father fought not to lose control of me (even though he gave his “approval”). God proved Himself faithful to me by helping me to mentally hang on, providing me with a champion and the tools to overcome the beginnings of schizophrenia, the double-mindedness that the law/religion gives you and the terrible, long-lasting mental control that my father had exerted over me.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have been more forceful about it when talking with Mr. Sammons and unequivocally stated that it’s Gothard’s false teachings, especially the “authority” one, that were/are wrong and the foundation by which he and his family set out to systematically set up people for abuse, emotionally and physically, and to get to their pocketbooks.

These false teachings enable abusers, give them the power over their victim(s), their family and produce generations of mentally and emotionally (and in some cases physically) hurt, confused, bound people.

This whole scenario is, unfortunately, not new in the world, but it happened to me and thousands of other innocent people, and I know it can not only be stopped, but people’s minds, emotions, soul can be restored through the love, mercy, grace, peace, compassion, all of Jesus. My internal healing began as I listened to Him inside me, knowing that because my spirit is one with Him I can never be spiritually abused, that He came, not to judge the world, but to set it Free!

I appreciate you taking the time to read all of this. I wrote so much family background because I wanted to show how the teachings are wrong, and how they not only facilitate and cause abuse, but also twist even more the thinking of the abuser. My father walked a fine line with me, not quite physically going over it (molestation), but definitely going over it in the mind – I felt mentally, emotionally molested. My parents continued to pressure Chris and me to go to an IBLP seminar for a few years after being married. We, of course, would have nothing to do with it. Even though they didn’t continue in ATIA, they definitely kept up the teachings to their six children. I almost walked away from them entirely after seven months of marriage, when my dad proceeded to try to undermine my marriage by telling me that my husband wasn’t a good leader, wasn’t even a Christian (because he wouldn’t make us do devotions), we wouldn’t be blessed since we weren’t having children right away, etc. The only reason I kept in touch with them was for my siblings. I had to be there for them as they grew up, to help balance the craziness, hopefully.

I’ve recently had it pointed it out to me by a family who have been in ATI for the past 7 years, that her children are safe from abuse since her husband isn’t an abuser and she’s sure that things have changed since I was in it. Her response shows me that the cult atmosphere is still going strong and that parents are still not asking the right questions and finding the truth for themselves.

The way for this to stop is for the truth to be spread far and wide, and people to stop funding the cult that is IBLP/ATI – quit buying anything from the organization!

I was deeply saddened and surprised when I read everyone’s experiences, since I didn’t know that Gothard had been systematically abusing young ladies since the late 60’s. I recognized both Meg and Charlotte from my time at HQ. I remember seeing Charlotte working out on the grounds and being jealous, as I would rather have been outside. I wish with all my heart that I had known her so that I could have helped in some way (taken her to the police!)-that was the first time that I felt physically violent towards Bill, after reading her article. The only reason I’ve written now is with the hope that I may help someone, somewhere.

My patient, loving husband, as well as his parents and my best friend Stacy, have been my greatest help by unconditionally loving me, allowing me to explore myself, talk it all out, and come to know who I am in Jesus. Chris and I have walked this together, individually coming to a greater understanding of the Gospel of Grace & Peace, which allows us to flow as one. I’m thankful every day that he decided to fight for me! Jesus pulled us out of the quicksand of religion and we haven’t looked back, loving being able to teach our four children from the beginning of their life here that they are free in Him, that there’s nothing they can, or have to, do to be right with God. Jesus did it for all of us!

How I Survived Homeschooling in Gothard’s Cult: Part Four

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Norbert Posselt.

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Alexa Meyer’s blog Life of Grace and Peace. It was originally published on June 26, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

*****

In this seriesPart One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Conclusion

*****

Part Four

After the trip to Russia I was excited to finally go home. My first sister was soon to be born, and Thanksgiving was almost upon us. Once home I thought my HQ days were behind me. I told my parents and a few ATI parents we knew about some of my experiences (good and bad). When asked by these parents if I thought it a good idea for their daughters to go to HQ, I emphatically said NO. Between the silly rules and legalism, which have nothing to do with a relationship with Jesus, and the strange, uncomfortable manner of Bill, I thought it unsafe and not worth it. I again expressed my wonder at people following a man who had never left home, married or had children. As a parent now, I can see where my comments would seem arrogant and offensive, so it’s probably no wonder no one really listened to me. At the time I truly, genuinely wanted to know what all these parents saw in the program – I didn’t get it. My parents didn’t have much to say to all this, at least in front of me. I’ve often wondered what they said to these parents when I wasn’t around, since I saw no action or talk against Bill or the organization. I do know that the children (mostly around my age) of these parents started to treat me a little bit coldly after this.

Life seemed to move forward and settle back into what was normal for me – the almost daily “family time”, soul searching/self-analysis, guarding my heart and mind as well as my body from my dad.

In December of 1991 two important events happened for me. The first was meeting my future husband, Chris, who was in medical school and occasionally helping in the youth group at the time. When I first saw him across the church parking lot, my spirit leapt inside of me, literally stopping me in my tracks. My mind thought it strange but let it go for a while. The second event was my sister being born – what an adjustment for us all! But wonderful all the same. She was the first of six more living siblings over the next ten or so years. I think having a large family is wonderful when the parents are doing so because they just want and love to have a passel of kids. I think it sad and unnecessarily stressful on the parents when they do so because they think that God requires it of them. Any rule or law is now unnecessary because Jesus fulfilled the law and brought Grace and Peace to all men.

Fast forward to early March of 1992. I had spent a small amount of time with Chris when the youth group got together (and I was allowed to go), but he never paid any special attention to me or anyone else. He basically helped out when we had events and he could get off from his studies. I liked what I knew and saw of him but knew to keep it to myself. Evidently I was giving off signals since the youth pastor’s wife called me one day to tell me that Chris was engaged to marry someone, that she didn’t want me to get hurt. I thanked her for her warning, but I determined that I would ask him myself. So I called him to ask if it was true. (I had his number because I had recently injured my wrist working with my dad, and asked his help with it.) He said it was true, but that he was having doubts about it. We talked some more of it and other things, then we hung up. As soon as the phone hit the cradle, I heard an audible voice tell me that I was going to marry him. I looked around and saw that no one else was in the room – my mom and sister were taking a nap. “Well,” I said to God, “You’ll have to work it out, and I’ll have to be patient.” Later I told my mom, who took the news calmly. Then I did a stupid thing and told my dad. I guess I was too excited to keep quiet about it. My dad flipped out and forbade me to ever see, talk or have anything to do with Chris. He talked about Chris being untrustworthy, like a snake in the grass, stealing me away. I thought he was way over-reacting and treating me like I had been caught doing a bad thing, like sneaking out to see him and whatever else his imagination came up with. I had only ever seen Chris at church functions or with my family.

I later realized that my dad thinks everyone else thinks and reacts like he does. I understood early in life that doing things or being different from my parents was bad, almost akin to evil. Which was why I usually kept quiet and told my parents what they wanted to hear.

At sixteen and a half my facade/charade was beginning to crack – I was speaking out more often.

I was tired of being oppressed and treated like a sinful slave.

Unbeknownst to me, my dad quickly contacted Gothard about me. Next thing I know we’re heading up to HQ for a job interview. We were there for a couple of days, and I don’t remember much of it, only the last few hours before we left for home. Bill, my parents and I were all in his office. Bill looked at me very gravely and began to quietly berate me for breaking my vow to my parents in regards to courtship. I felt sick and confused, plus very betrayed by my parents. Bill proceeded to say untruths about a man he’d never met – Chris was wrong to have met with me in private (which never happened), to encourage a young girl to disobey her parents (which also never happened), he was a danger to me, etc. In conclusion, I was commanded to renounce Chris, renew my vow to courtship and commit myself to following my dad’s authority. My parents watched all this in approval – they never said a word – as I was made to prostrate myself by getting on my knees at the Couch and repeating all that blasphemy. I was left hurt, shaken, shattered, betrayed in my trust, love, respect, anything towards my father, and I could only wonder at the lies they had spread about Chris and me. My last shred of attachment to my dad broke that morning in Gothard’s office. And my dad wondered why I wouldn’t talk or look at him the rest of that long 12 hour day. But I was the dutiful daughter that they seemed to want.

At home my parents asked me what I thought about moving to HQ, so I told them one last time, “No, it didn’t seem right.”

I never understood why they ever bothered to ask me anything since they never heard a word I said.

They certainly never took the time to get to know me as myself and after I was married claimed that Chris had changed me. They have always failed to understand that Chris gave me the love and freedom to be myself.