How to Become Disillusioned with Everything in Just a Few (Not) Easy Steps: Fidget’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

One would think that my lightbulb moment would have been when I realized I was bisexual, but that would be incorrect: I realized I was bi and then became the literal vision of sin in my own mind. I was valueless because I wasn’t straight, because I was a liar, because I hurt myself, because I was so vain that I had an eating disorder (that was genuinely how I viewed myself).

Despite secretly being trash in the eyes of the people that I looked up to, I still clung to the ideals I was taught and tried to box up all the wrongness in me and still be perfect.

Thusly, I didn’t really have one lightbulb moment; I had a steady brightening, punctuated by a few flashes of further clarity. It started perhaps with panties (I wrote about that already though), but it might well have started with anime (though, embarrassingly enough, that was kinda more of a sexual awakening than a political one), but the most light was shed by a few people in my life when I was a teenager.

The brightening was started by the youth pastor at the very ‘progressive’ church my family went to (progressive like they sang three hymns instead of six). The youth pastor, Mr. C, was a kind, intellectual man who really listened to people when they spoke, who made you feel real, and respected, and human. I was totally unused to anyone treating me the no-expectations way he and his wife treated me and totally unused to being part of a group that wanted me there. I was not popular in my youth group, since I was awkward, and other, and aggressively conservative, but even though none of the kids wanted me there, Mr. and Mrs. C certainly did. More than just my presence or attendance, they wanted my company, wanted my friendship, wanted a real relationship with me. It stuck with me so much as a young teen because every other man in my life– and every other authority figure for that matter– ultimately did not give one shit about me as an individual. Sure, my mom loved me, but when it came to opinions, if mine didn’t match hers, I received an eye roll and a question about the morality/biblical-ness of my idea (it’s incredibly difficult to admit that now that she is dead, but at the time it was painful and constant).

Co-op and Sunday School teachers thought I was clever when I parroted their ideas, but when I asked hard questions or even just asked about the purpose of certain rules, I was being a troublemaker, or disrespectful.

Mr. C didn’t condescend, didn’t shush, didn’t simplify or gloss over, and he didn’t herd us to conclusions in his sermons like I was used to. He was a pacifist (which was unheard of to me at the time) and a liberal (according to my father). He didn’t water down biblical ideas, and he didn’t buy into a James Dobson Gospel. In homeschool world I was a worker bee with no defining traits and no voice outside of the carefully scripted narrative of the leaders, but with Mr. and Mrs. C my voice was sought out and listened to, even when it faltered and even when I was confused or ‘disrespectful’. Over my six years as part of that youth group, I learned from Mr. C that God didn’t hate me because I was bisexual, that God didn’t hate me because I was a freak, that God didn’t hate me because I cut myself, and most importantly, that I ought to be listened to. As I learned from him, I started to pull away from the idea that the Only Truth™ came from conservative evangelical sources, I started relying more upon what made sense to believe and less upon what I had been told to believe. In the end, he and his wife were the first adults I came out to as a teenager, and the only adults I ever told about my cutting.

They cared about me for more than my obedience or loyalty, and that taste of realness set me searching for the truth they seemed to be borrowing from.

The next flash was provided by Tumblr– and the watered down version of feminism I found there. The flash culminated the night of Texas Senator Wendy Davis’ 2013 Filibuster of Senate Bill 5. As I watched the livestream something in my heart smoothed itself out at the sound of the multitude of people literally crying out for reproductive choice, and all my questions about abortion were made irrelevant. That sounds so stupid, but that’s exactly what happened. I was sure that these people, and Wendy Davis, were right, and that everything I had been taught about abortion (standard “it’s murder/the fetus cries/it’s the most violent medical procedure known to man/women are chattel literally put on the earth for breeding purposes” lies) had to be wrong. I started reading up on the issue, and soon I answered for myself all the questions I had on the subject.

Luckily for me, I had been prepared for this kind of self-education by several years of educational neglect, and so I didn’t even begin to doubt the new opinions I was forming.

The last two flashes were my best friend in high school and Emilie Autumn, a gothic industrial musical artist. Emilie Autumn sang about being objectified and fighting for her sexual agency and being treated like property and sexually mistreated (Thank God I’m Pretty, Marry Me, Mad Girl and Gothic Lolita, especially) all of which fed into the anti-patriarchy, fuck-the-rules-my-father-made, consensual-sex-positive attitude I was fostering, and gave me a soundtrack to ‘rebel’ to. My best friend was an outsider to homeschool (not even a Christian– oh the scandal), the first friend I chose without my parents’ permission (directly against my father’s will, in fact) and a boy my age who didn’t try to lure me into sex, despite being sexually attracted to me. He– like Mr. and Mrs. C– treated me like a person and actually listened when I spoke. He was the rock that my new normalcy built itself upon. Following that metaphor, the sandy foundation that my parents had piled their beliefs on began really and truly crumbling when I enrolled myself in public high school for my junior year, and with the help of a few more teachers who really listened to me, it had disintegrated entirely by the time I graduated.

Now as a liberal, feminist, goth, (mostly out of the closet) bisexual, agnostic college student I’m still blinded from time to time as new lights come on to show me other lies and agendas I was raised believing. I honestly don’t think that these lights will stop coming on for me, because this stuff tends to follow people, but that’s a good thing. My mom was wrong about a lot, but she did teach me one thing that means almost too much to bear at times: never stop trying to learn.

So here I am, trying to learn– and sometimes trying to unlearn.

When the Bible Wasn’t Enough: Sage Lynn’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

Content Warning: Suicidal Thoughts

“God is real,” I confidently asserted. “There’s indisputable proof, and his existence and saving us from hell is the only thing that makes life worth living.”

A girl about my own age countered, “God is a myth. Evolution is scientifically proven. God doesn’t exist.”

“Actually yes, he does. He created the world– science has disproven evolution over and over, but people don’t want to believe it. I believe in God’s sovereignty. I believe that he takes all the terrible moments of our lives and changes them into something beautiful, something worth having. Otherwise there’s no point in living.”

“I can find a purpose in living without God. No one really needs him. If you have to believe in a pretend deity to find meaning, then that’s not such a great way to see things,” she replied.

“Without God, nothing makes sense,” I replied. “People have been trying to find meaning without him for ages, and it just doesn’t work. He is the only one who can redeem the messes of our lives, the things we wish we hadn’t done and the things done to us. Without him, all the suffering in the world is meaningless, including ours.”

“You can believe that, but God doesn’t actually exist and life does have meaning without him,” the girl stated.

Thinking of this exchange makes me cringe. I am sick to my stomach, want to throw up and shove the memory of it far out of my head. But it’s important to me to remember. I was eighteen at the time, suicidal, depressed, starving myself to death, in the hospital because I had overdosed–at that exact moment I was sitting in a psych ward with six other teenage girls and two psych techs, in some group for coping skills or the like. The techs intervened at that point, bringing the group back on point, but I spent the rest of the group writing notes that bolstered my worldview that believing in God was the only thing that made life worthwhile and possible.

A few days later, after the 72 hour hold the emergency room physician placed me on expired, I checked myself out of the hospital. As a semi-minor, I had to have a meeting with my parents and the treatment team before I was released. My parents’ pastor and the biblical counselor I was seeing came along too. At that meeting, the treatment team asked me why I thought I was safe enough to leave the ward. I answered with more of the above, about having purpose because God was working everything together for good and it was all going to have a higher purpose, and I would continue to cling to that and draw strength from that and use it to fight the suicidal urges. The pastor and counselor and my parents all told me how proud they were that I defended my faith against psychological attacks. “You have the right beliefs,” the counselor told me. “That is what makes life worth living. We just need to help connect your head and your heart so that your beliefs guide your actions. God wants that for you–keep studying the Bible, praying, and asking the Holy Spirit to work in your life.”

After we left, I remember looking at the sky and being so relieved that I was out of the psych ward–yet so terrified because inside I didn’t know if the worldview I so stoutly defended was really enough to keep me alive.

And this is the story of my disillusionment with conservative Christianity. It wasn’t so much a lightbulb moment as a rocky path plagued by fits and starts, trying to go back, trying to believe, and coming up dry. Meeting people my religion condemned to hell and realizing they had a better outlook on life than I did.

Understanding that my parents’, pastor’s, and counselor’s approbation showed their overarching concern: that my soul’s security was more important than my body’s survival, that my ability to argue apologetics or memorize whole books of the Bible or “get my heart right before God” was more important than my ability to stop cutting or dreaming of death.

In fact, when I first started seeing the counselor, the first thing she said to anorexic, cutting, suicidal me was, “Before I even try to help someone with their life issues, I want to make sure they’re saved. Otherwise, dealing with the other issues will be ineffective.” When I ended up in the psych ward–again, and again–I would leave with resources to use, groups to attend, but the biblical counselor and pastor would tell me to quit them, to turn to their approved Bible studies and “counseling,” to pray more and make my life right with God. Over and over, this never worked. All the “right answers” just left me broken and battered, more wounded than when I’d begun to seek them.

Eventually, I went left home and started college. I was incredibly lucky to meet several therapists–ones with a degree who didn’t read me Bible verses for every session–who began to help me untangle the webs of lies and confusion I had been told. They affirmed my worth and value, and the priority of dealing with my depression and other issues, all without bringing the Bible into it or mentioning God or telling me my behaviors were sending me to hell.

As I healed, my parents expressed concerns about my salvation. In their eyes, my turning to secular psychology evidenced a rejection of the Bible and principles they wanted me to embrace. I spent hours trying to convince them–and myself–conservative Christian beliefs could be reconciled with reality in the world. I came up dry.
I also watched the way conservative Christianity treated people. I saw much talk about doctrine and scripture and grace and judgment and holiness and righteousness–and I saw an inability to listen to real people, real stories, real pain. From abortion to LGBT* people (before I had figured out I was one myself) to healthcare to immigration, I saw a plethora of articles and words about what should be done, what the Bible said about things, and precious little attention given to people who had lived these things.

Leaders my parents followed seemed to be more concerned about figuring out a doctrinal formula and backing everything up with Bible verses than they did with engaging in the pain and hurt in the world.

They were too quick to offer the “solution” that would fix some problem and prescribe the correct theology–talking–while refusing to listen or love.

A few months after I told my parents that I was queer, we had a conversation that had become commonplace. “I know you say this is how you feel,” my mom said, her face lined with concern. “But I ask you, who is Jesus to you? Do you call yourself a Christian? How can you back up that you are a Christian from the Bible?”
My voice trembling, the pull of religious fundamentalism that will always be in my blood tugging at my heart, I replied, “I can’t do this anymore. I won’t defend my faith to you. I don’t have all the reasons and all the answers and all the doctrines–and I don’t want them. I will never be able to justify my faith or lack thereof or uncertainty thereof to you. It only ends up hurting me and not answering you. My God, when I believe in them, is not the same as yours. They never will be. I am done. Defending my faith, defending conservative Christianity, almost killed me. I can’t go back. I am sorry, but this is not a conversation I can have anymore.”

That day marked a turning point for me. I gave up trying to reconcile my beliefs with conservative Christianity. Even though my heart still longs at times for the familiarity and rules that defined life for me for so long, I know I can’t go back. That bridge is destroyed, and it is for the better. If I remain a Christian, it will be in spite of conservative Christianity. In the end, love, truth and knowledge will win, defeating the hate-mongering, fear-mongering lies sold to people to modify their behavior. Until that day, I choose to live in love and acceptance, even if that means I don’t have all the answers

How Purity Culture Kept Me Silent About My Sexual Abuse as a Child: Dinah’s Story

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

Trigger warning: discussion of child sexual abuse.

I’m going to be honest—growing up in the Christian homeschooling world is hard.

People in the community that I grew up in were picture perfect families, with all their perfect children all in a perfect row, making perfect grades, milling their own wheat and making their own bread.  They were highly esteemed Christians who (of course) have a home church and serve their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. These people sound like they’d be lovely to be around, however, that was not the vibe I got at all. There is a heavy feeling that comes with being around those families—judgment:

You don’t mill your own wheat? Shame on you! Don’t you know store bought bread has chemicals? You don’t pastor your own church? Shame on you! Don’t you know about all the horrible mistakes large churches make? You don’t use the same curriculum as me? Shame on you! Don’t you know that you’re going to be dumb? 

Every homeschooler I talk to tends to make me feel self conscious and guilty for not being the same as them. But there’s one thing that I can not stand. You don’t have a purity ring? Shame on you! Don’t you know that you are dirty if you even think of having sex or kissing before your wedding day?!

You. Are. Dirty.

This is the message I got every single time I listened to anyone who spoke on purity. That’s what I was being told every time I went to a “purity seminar” or read a book on purity. People were going around telling girls that “God doesn’t want you having sex before you’re married. It’s a horrible sin, and if you do it, you won’t be pure anymore. You won’t have a gift to give your husband on your wedding. You’ll be used goods.”

I didn’t want people to think I was dirty—so that’s why I didn’t speak about my sexual abuse for 7 years after it stopped.

I didn’t tell anyone. I put on a façade. I am a quick learner, and always have been. I learned all the answers. I knew all the Christian responses to many situations, I knew what purity was and what was required of girls who wore a purity ring. So that’s what I fed anyone who wanted to talk. I put on this mask. I pretended that I had never had a sexual encounter, that I was oblivious to sexual desires, that I would never kiss a boy until my wedding day. Every time I lied, or just fed people answers, I was digging a deeper, and deeper hole for myself. That hole is what became a dark depression.

Every girl struggles during puberty. It’s exciting, but often times it’s hard to accept your new curves and all the changes that are taking place. You notice that boys look at you differently. You hear about purity, and how you should dress modestly so that men and boys don’t think about you in a sexual way. That’s what made puberty a living hell for me—a living hell that I could tell no one about.

“You must dress modestly so boys don’t think sexual things about you” translated to “Your new body is going to attract more men and boys, and if you mess up or dress wrong they’re just waiting to rape you.” There’s no way in hell that I wanted to attract anyone. I didn’t want these curves. I didn’t want to look like a woman. I didn’t want to enter this world of boys and sex and marriage because of what I had experienced for 5 years. When I was 4 years old a family member molested me and sexually abused me– forcing me to do things, and forcing himself on me. This went on until I was 9 years old.

By the time the abuse had ended, I knew much more than any 9 year old should know about sex. I knew so much, but I also knew that if I told anyone, I’d be in a lot of trouble. My abuser made me believe that what he was doing was okay, but if I told anyone he would hurt me. Because I was only 4, he was able to scare me so badly that I didn’t realize that what he was doing was wrong. I listened to him and kept quiet.

Well, when puberty hit me when I was 11, I was introduced to the concept of purity. This scared me because I knew that I had already had sex, and already kissed, and already did everything that I was being told not to do. That’s when the depression set in. I was so depressed that I became suicidal, started cutting and started struggling with an eating disorder. I didn’t want to be attractive. I didn’t want attention from boys. I was afraid that my abuse was going to happen all over again. I didn’t want anyone to find out about my abuse.  I just wanted to get away from this guilt and shame. This feeling that I was used goods, and that I’d never find a man who will love me.  I wanted to die because that was the only way to escape the pain.

Never ever make purity such a priority that it makes a girl want to commit suicide.

Looking back, I know that if someone had said that sex is a wonderful thing that is supposed to be enjoyed, I would have told someone about my sexual abuse a lot sooner. If I knew that sex was good, I would have known that what was happening to me was wrong. It was not good, it was not enjoyable. Because people were telling me that sex wasn’t good, that I would be dirty if I had sex, I didn’t tell anyone because I was full of shame. I didn’t want to be the girl with a scarlet letter. I didn’t want to be dirty. So I didn’t tell.

I’m still coming to terms with my abuse. I still struggle. But I no longer hold myself to the standard of purity. I’m not going to wear a purity ring, because that doesn’t mean anything to me. I am going to obey my heavenly Father and I’m going to honor Him with my body. That’s really all that matters.

I want people in Christian homeschool circles to talk about sex in a positive way. I want parents telling their kids that sex is amazing and enjoyable, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. I want people to stop shaming girl’s bodies, or boy’s sexual desires. I want people to be careful about what they talk about when they talk about purity. Talk about sex in a way that is positive, because if someone is being abused they’ll know that something is wrong with what is being done to them! Never ever tell someone that they’re dirty. Never encourage the shame that is already abundant.

I’m not “pure” by society’s standards, but I’m pure by God’s standards. That’s all that matters.

Life is Pain and Beauty and Truth: By Miriam

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Life is Pain and Beauty and Truth: By Miriam

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


Trigger warning: graphic descriptions of self-injury and suicidal attempts and thoughts.


“who does these things to you ?”

i do. i hate myself. and, i think i have lost the will to live. i’m tired of fighting to survive. i want to give up. i want to die.

the dark battle with the mental illness i still fight began with me.

i don’t remember a lot of my childhood. i have fragments of memories. but i’ve tried to forget the rest, the good along with the bad.

the bullying and the abuse began in junior high.

there were three adults. the first, a leader at a church. the second, an athletics coach. the third, an academics coach. they were all close friends with my parents. i trusted them. i looked up to them. i respected them. and i endured emotional abuse under each for a total of four years.

they taught me that i was worthless. that anything i tried to do was never good enough.

i can’t count the number of students that bullied me. but it came from everywhere: the church youth group, the debate team, the sports team. some were my friends. some were my role models. they were all tormentors in the end. i couldn’t escape being the victim, for four years of my life.

they taught me that i was fat, weak, gay, emo, worthless, stupid, dirty, and deserved to die.

i could only deal with so much. at age 13, i started fighting depression. it grew worse over the next two years.

at age 15, i was sad. i was tired of living. and i wanted more than anything to escape. to be happy again. i became an expert at pretending to be okay. fake smiles were second nature.

i wouldn’t let anyone close enough to let them hurt me. i couldn’t trust anyone. so no one knew. no one noticed how much it hurt.

i was alone.

may 25, 2012. i was home alone. the pain in my mind was unbearable. the heartache of the shame i felt was too heavy. i wanted to die. but i couldn’t kill myself. i wouldn’t let myself. i was too scared.

so i did the first thing that came to mind, to try and relieve the pain. i broke apart a plastic razor i found in the bathroom cabinet and i took the thin blade from it. i pressed it horizontally to my wrist. and i cut.

six small cuts. barely deep enough to break the skin, but still deep enough to bleed, to hurt. it brought relief like a flood in a way that i can’t explain with words.

i’ve tried to retrace my thoughts since then to figure out what ever gave me the idea of cutting myself in the first place. i’ve hit only dead ends.

but i had found an escape.

for the next month, i was okay. i knew i couldn’t cut my wrists because it was still summer and i couldn’t hide my arms easily. so i cut the skin across my thighs. every night. i got a little more courage. the cuts became a little deeper.

it hurt so good. no one noticed.

they taught in church that god is supposed to be the ultimate source of joy and peace.

i felt a deep shame. if god made christians joyful, why was i depressed. if god gave christians peace, why did i have to get relief from a blade.

i knew i was a bad christian. i knew that god must hate me.

they said that god loves the world and all the people in it. but he didn’t stop my bullies and abusers from hurting me.

i knew. god doesn’t love me. i stopped praying. i stopped reading the bible. i didn’t know why i should anymore. it wasn’t helping me get better. if god didn’t love me then i didn’t see why i should love him.

i didn’t love him anymore. i hated him. he made this happen to me. he made me hurt. he gave me life but then he made it so bad that i wanted to die.

i knew i was a bad christian. so i told my parents. they cried a lot. i promised i would get better and i would never cut myself again. i promised i would start loving god again. i said everything would be okay again.

i lied.

i tried hard to keep my promise. it only lasted a month. then i got worse. i broke down and starting cutting again. every night. deeper and deeper.

i wanted to die. maybe i could get enough courage to try and kill myself someday.

four months later. they found out. my parents took me to the doctor. he asked me a lot of questions and then gave me a bottle of pills to take. once a day. he said it would help me to feel better.

so they all pretended everything was okay now. i had pills. i should get better now.

i got worse again. it was winter now. i started cutting my wrists and worked my way all the way up to my shoulders. i could hide them under jackets and long sleeves. it didn’t matter anymore anyway.

the pills weren’t working. the doctor gave me higher doses of pills.

they took me to a psychologist. she seemed nice. she asked lots of questions. i told her about everything. she wanted to see my cuts. i showed her. she wanted me to talk to my parents. she wanted me to show them my cuts. she wanted me to promise to stop cutting.

i didn’t know what to do.

i said yes.

after it was over, i wore short sleeves again. people stared at the scars lining my arms. they asked me what happened. i told them a dog had scratched me.

i lied.

depression swallowed me again. the doctor gave me more pills. it was a different kind this time. he said they would help me not to feel tired.

but i was tired. i was tired of living. and i was sick. really sick.

i wanted to die. i thought i had enough courage to try.

it was 1:13AM. i couldn’t sleep. i didn’t want to live through the next day. i knew i could die now.

i thought about my knives. i got them and cut deeply into my wrist. i wanted to slice through a vein and bleed to death.

i failed. i was left with a mess of sticky blood. but i was too scared to cut deep enough to die.

i knew i would try again soon.

and i did. two weeks later. i tried reaching a vein again. i almost did it.

there was so much blood. my head hurt and i was dizzy. i couldn’t bring myself to keep cutting deeper. i was too weak and too tired.

i failed again.

i tried to keep living. i hoped that things would get better. maybe the pills would work now.

hope bred more misery.

i was brave enough to give it another shot. the knife couldn’t cut deep enough. i tried something different this time.

i found a large bottle of pills in the medicine cabinet. i swallowed a lot of them. i didn’t count how many. i drank a lot of water and tried to fall asleep.

my stomach hurt. i threw up all the pills.

i failed. for the third time. i used to think that the third time’s a charm.

i was too tired to try again. i cried and fell asleep.

a few weeks later, i tried again.

this time i got scared after i swallowed all the pills.

i called the only person i trusted.

he talked to me for an hour or two. i calmed down.

my stomach still hurt. my head was throbbing. i threw up all the pills.

i had failed. i was still alive, against my will.

i felt like god was laughing at me. i couldn’t stand to live but i couldn’t even get dying right. i was in limbo. in hell.

four attempts and still alive. i was sick. i hated myself. i wanted to die but i couldn’t.

the parts in between are a blur. i didn’t attempt again. i kept visiting the psychologist. i kept taking the antidepressants.

and i started talking to him more.

he asked me about my suicide attempts. we talked about my cutting. about my depression. about my self hate. about my shame. about the bullying and the abuse. about the hurt and the loneliness.

somewhere in all of that, i found myself. i realized that, amidst all the bullshit of life, there were some things that were worth living for. worth staying alive for. he was one of them.

i stopped cutting. i found an alternative. it made him really happy.

i started to talk to my psychologist more. it made him happy too.

i talked to him frequently. no one else cared about me.

the darkness started to clear.

i stopped practicing how to smile in the mirror. he made me smile spontaneously and for real.

i have never met a more beautiful person.

and that is why it hurt so much when he walked out of my life. without a clear explanation. without a spoken goodbye. just a phone call with a vague jumble of words put together that i couldn’t quite process through the shock i was feeling.

it hurt like hell.

and life does that. life is pain and beauty and truth. and i would rather have that than comfort and happiness.

i still have major depressive disorder. i still fight off anxiety attacks. suicidal thoughts dwell in my mind every day. i have constant flashbacks of the abuse.

there are things i’d rather not remember. and things still hurt.

but even though it hurt like hell when he abandoned me, losing my best friend taught me that the outstanding pain i felt from that was worth all that he had taught me when he loved me even though i hated myself.

he taught me how to love myself. to embrace brokenness. to turn shame into beauty. to turn lies into truth. to resist the urge to tear through my skin when i wanted to bleed. to appreciate life even when i felt like i would be better off dead.

through pain, i found myself. because of him.

and so, today, as i was thinking of how to write this, i remembered the first time i told him that i hated myself and wanted to die. when i told him about the abuse.

he asked me, “who does these things to you ?”

i didn’t have a clear answer.

i do now.

i know where i’ve been and what i’ve been through. i remember all the hate and the hurt. i remember all the shame and the sadness. i remember all the trauma and the tears.

and i know now that people like me who have mental illnesses never really do recover. after an experience like this, there is no way to reclaim the person i was before. there is no way i can recover who i once was.

and so, i have decided, to recreate myself. i will create a better life and a better world. there will be pain but there will be love. and i will learn to love myself as i live.

one of the hardest things i’ve ever done is share my story.

i’ve only told a few people. it scares me like hell. it’s tangled and it’s terrifying for me to relive some of the memories. but dragging shame out into the light drains it of its power. i share my story, not because it’s easy, but because it’s needed. because it’s real.

and to the reader: i don’t know what you’ve endured, how you’ve hurt, what you’ve done.

but i am glad that you are still alive.

Wrestling with God: By Caleigh Royer

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Wrestling with God: By Caleigh Royer

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate TruthIt was originally published on July 21, 2013.

It’s been almost two full weeks since I last wrote. It’s been almost two weeks since hitting a really bad low. A low where cutting (I didn’t cut) was very appealing, a low where I actually couldn’t see up. I hit a low where I did the only thing I could think to do; called my therapist and said I need help now.

I got into an appointment the very next morning, and we talked about how I needed a release because the chaos in my head was crushing and choking everything coherent. 

(Just so you all can be clear, cutting is not a suicide attempt. It usually has nothing with wanting to kill oneself. Cutting is about release. It is about having something that will distract you from the pain; emotionally, mentally, physically. It may help release the pain in that moment but it is not a healthy, good release. If anyone is wanting to cut, or is, or has cut, then please, go see a professional counselor or therapist. They are trained to help you find a healthy release for the pain!)

I expect a few more of these low lows before I can really start climbing up out of the depression and pain. I have willingly opened a door and walked through it. Opening that door is a bold, courageous, and scary move. Opening that door has given me no choice but to face my past head on and deal with it.

Can I just say that this absolutely sucks most days?

But there is a silver lining here. Even though I am being weighed down with more frequent days of depression, I am more easily triggered and face flashbacks of really bad experiences, I am moving forward. I am facing the demons that haunt me, I am standing up and saying no more. Most days forget standing, I’m half kneeling, half lying flat on the ground, but I am fighting back.

Some of the demons and triggers have had to do with hope, beliefs. I am still working on the “daddy” glasses I see God through. I still have a hard time believing that God is a loving, giving father to me. Believing that for others, my husband, friends, that’s no big deal. I can easily see God being a giving god for others, but for me? I don’t know how to believe that I won’t have anything good ripped away the moment I get it. I don’t know how to get back to the place where touching, opening, reading an actual physical Bible doesn’t make me shudder and become blind to the words. I don’t know how to reconcile the things I grew up being taught to what I know of God now.

I like to say that I have a whispering/yelling relationship with God right now.

He’s whispering to me, and I’m yelling at him. A friend asked a question on facebook the other day. She asked what it meant for us individually to wrestle with God. I realized that wrestling with God looks like being honest with him and saying I really don’t know if I want to trust him, I don’t want to keep not reading my Bible, I don’t know how to get to a place of being at peace with that again.

We’re planning on visiting an actual church on this coming Sunday, and I am just about scared out of my mind if I think about it hard. I haven’t been in an actual church building since the end of January. I am still not comfortable labeling myself under a certain denomination. I am still not quite to the point of being able to thoroughly lay out the nuances of my beliefs.

I am resting on the things I know for certain but everything else is still quite fuzzy.

It’s hard looking back at the few years I spent in CLC and how those years really cemented some bad theology. Theology I picked up while I went to Covenant Life Church, and theology I grew up with. I am thinking for myself now, and that was never encouraged no matter which environment I was in. I am wrestling with God and not hiding my feelings, pain, confusion behind randomly picked scriptures that are supposed to be all you need when life get particularly hard.

I don’t believe that scripture is all we need when life picks us up, spins us around until the entire world is a blur, and throws us down the stairs.

I believe that we need to stand before God and yell, scream, argue, cry about whatever our heart really is saying. He can handle it, and I believe that until we are fully honest with God we can’t be fully honest with others or even with ourselves.  I feel a real God when I am most honest before him. It is easier for me to believe him when I sit down, having cried, yelled, cried some more until I have no more tears, and all I hear is “I am with you. I love you. You are precious to me.”

I have an opened a door that will not close until the demons have been dealt with and put to death. Until I can lay the past to rest and have more good days than bad, depressed days, I will continue to fight. Healing is more important to me than staying cowed by the demons pulling the triggers.

I am seeing the progress I have made since starting therapy almost 4 months ago. I am seeing the strength I have becoming stronger as the winds continue to pound, throwing me around in the storm. I may be fighting a fight I purposefully walked into, but I am winning this fight even when it doesn’t feel like winning.

I am wrestling with God and finding peace.

I Was A Problem To Be Ignored: Krysi Kovaka’s Story, Part Two

I Was A Problem To Be Ignored: Krysi Kovaka’s Story, Part Two

Krysi Kovaka is the 2008 recipient of the Institute for Cultural Communicator’s Raudy Bearden Community Speaking Award. She served as an intern for the 2008 Communicators for Christ conference tour.

< Part One

I was a problem to be ignored.

At a post conference party in Texas, I met a man who used to be part of the NCFCA/CFC scene.  He was well into his twenties and I was seventeen.  We talked for a bit and ended up exchanging numbers.  Our relationship happened mostly via text and IM, and it was a case of trouble attracting trouble.  We never dated, but our relationship was really creepy and weird.  One night after I had taken loads of my Xanax and other meds, he drunk texted me and over the course of several hours, ended up talking me into sending him naked pictures of myself.  Despite this creepiness, I ended up disclosing a lot of my life’s story to him and I told him about my father abusing me.  He really encouraged me to tell Mrs. Moon about the abuse.  A few weeks later we ended up sexting again – eventually my mom found out about him and threatened to have him put behind bars if he ever talked to me again.

Towards the end of tour, I really started to fall apart (as if I wasn’t falling apart before.)  I started to stress about having to return home.  Things got so bad that I did end up telling Mrs. Moon and several of the other interns about my father molesting me.  I don’t know what an appropriate reaction is when a teenager tells you that her father molested her, but what happened was far from a right response.  We were at a conference in TN when I told Mrs. Moon about the abuse, and she had me tell my two younger brothers about the abuse, and then she had me tell my mother.  My memory of this conference is pretty fragmented, but I remember crying a lot and feeling absolute horror about what was going on around me.

At the time, I really didn’t have words to describe the abuse.  People kept badgering me and asking me questions about exactly what happened, but I was in no emotional state to talk about it.  I felt like I was on the verge of having a mental breakdown.  My behavior got more and more erratic and shortly after I told my family about the abuse, Mrs. Moon kicked me off tour.

We were in Pigeon Forge, TN and Mrs. Moon told me that she had asked my mother to drive down to TN to pick me up.  I would not be able to finish the last two weeks of tour.  Apparently, she had finally realized that I was in no condition to be on tour.  The Moons had a goodbye breakfast for me at a little diner in Pigeon Forge.  At this breakfast, I said goodbye to all the people who had been like family to me.  The Moons promised that they would stay in touch with me and help me and that if I ever needed to talk about anything that I could call.

I was completely numb at that breakfast.  I cried a lot and I remember several of the other interns crying.  Very few of them really understood what was happening or why I had to leave.  I hardly understood why I had to leave – in a way, I felt like I was being punished for speaking up about the abuse.  I was on vacation last week, and I ended up driving through Pigeon Forge – to this day I hate that place.

After being kicked off the internship, I didn’t return home.  I went to live with some family friends until my mom decided to divorce my father.  Life got really rough after that.  I attempted suicide again just a couple months after leaving tour.  I also started drinking all the time and I started using more prescription drugs.  I felt like my whole world had crumbled.  The following is an excerpt from an email I wrote to Mrs. Moon the day I left tour:

“Saying goodbye to the team was the worst thing I think I’ve ever had to do.  Arriving in North Carolina was even worse.  It occurred to me that I might be stuck here for a long time.  I really, really, really hate it here.  I don’t know anyone.  I’m lonely, depressed, teary, and scared out of my head.  Life is so confusing right now.  I hate this….All I want to do is go home.  I have no clue what home is right now, but I know I want to be there.  I just wish I could be somewhere where I knew people and where I felt safe and cared about.  I’ve yet to see what that would look like in practice…”

I tried to keep in touch with the Moons and with the people I toured with, but shortly after leaving tour, one of the other interns told me that none of the people I interned with would be allowed to talk to me.  As it was explained to me, Mrs. Moon felt like it was best that they not be in contact with me.  I later contacted Mrs. Moon and received a similar answer from her.  I can’t even begin to explain how much this devastated me.  These people were my friends and support system and all of a sudden it was all yanked away from me.  The Moons stopped talking to me shortly afterwards.  On tour I was treated as a problem to be ignored – when that problem got too big to ignore, I was dismissed from tour.  Once again, I could be ignored, as I was now someone else’s problem.

Needless to say, I was not invited to the annual Masters conference.  A week before Masters I was diagnosed with meningitis and was hospitalized.  I was told later that when Mrs. Moon heard I had meningitis, she was relieved because she would be able to use that as an explanation for why I wasn’t at the conference.  When she heard I was in the hospital, I was told that her exact words were, “Oh thank God.”

Several months later, my mom emailed Mrs. Moon and asked if I could use her as a reference for another internship I was applying for.  I should have known better.  This was part of the reply she sent to my mom:

“I have not really had a chance to experience the Krysi that is dependable, trustworthy, honest, respecting of authority, a team player – many of the qualities I would expect an internship director to look for. I am optimistic that these character qualities can become a part of how Krysi is known.  I currently have no real frame of reference for making that type of recommendation.  I recall receiving only a few pieces of communication from Krysi shortly after she left the team complaining about her life and her options…”

The email to which the last sentence refers is the one I quoted previously.  As to the rest of it… what did she expect?  I was an emotionally traumatized teenager put in an impossible situation.  Tour was one of the most stressful environments I’ve ever been in.  Mrs. Moon knew I was unstable and she still allowed me to intern – when that didn’t work out, she took away the only support system I knew.  I’m really not sure what other outcome she would have expected.

Six months after I left the internship, I sent an email to a friend and tried to explain to her how tour was for me.  This was part of what I said:

“People put way too much pressure on 17 and 18 year olds.  This was what damaged me the most, I think.  Everyone expected all 13 of us to be absolutely perfect.  On the platform and at conferences, we did a great job of meeting those expectations.  After a while though, it become sort of soul killing.  I’d go to a conference and feel absolutely dead – no one really knew me.  They thought they did, but they had no idea about my life.”

That’s the thing, the one person who had an idea about my life (Mrs. Moon) accepted me to intern – being fully aware of my mental health problems – and then put me on a platform and expected me to act, look, and behave perfectly.  When I didn’t measure up to those standards, I was rejected.  I really don’t understand the reasoning behind any of it.

The last contact I had with the speech and debate world was during the spring of 2010 when I went to an NCFCA tournament to judge.  I showed up with an orange juice bottle full of vodka.  I was completely drunk and I gave alcohol to several of the competitors.  After that I never went back.

I’m definitely not proud of all my actions over the years.  I know I’ve made some mistakes, but then again, so have the responsible adults in my life.  What happened on my CFC internship definitely messed with my head – I learned that nothing in life is permanent, that people will eventually abandon you, and that talking about trauma is unacceptable (and even punishable.)

Post tour, I got into a decent amount of trouble and did some crazy stuff (I was a wild one).  I rejected Christian fundamentalism, in large part because of the hurt I experienced in the “Christian community.”  About a year ago, I started to work on my trauma and substance abuse issues.  It’s been a journey, but I’m finally in a good place.  I’m happier than I’ve ever been, I have a great job, and I have people in my life who don’t abandon or reject me when I act a little crazy.  It’s the first time I’ve ever known what stability looks like.  I’ve re-embraced spirituality; I don’t consider myself a Christian – I’m just trying to figure out what it looks like to follow Jesus.  I still screw up a lot and make mistakes, but I have people who love me through those mistakes rather than rejecting me.

I’m sure that there are people who will be angry for the things I’ve said about CFC/ICC, and I’m okay with that.  I’m past the point in my life where I feel like I have to pretend everything is okay.

End of series.

I Was A Problem To Be Ignored: Krysi Kovaka’s Story, Part One

I Was A Problem To Be Ignored: Krysi Kovaka’s Story, Part One

Krysi Kovaka is the 2008 recipient of the Institute for Cultural Communicator’s Raudy Bearden Community Speaking Award. She served as an intern for the 2008 Communicators for Christ conference tour.

I’ve spent a long time trying to figure out what I would say about my CFC tour experience if ever given the chance.  It’s a lot to try and put into words. CFC was one of the first places where I felt a sense of family and acceptance.  It was also one of the first places where I experienced the rejection and hypocrisy that seem to go hand in hand with conservative homeschooling groups.

Krysi Kovaka's staff picture from her 2008 conference tour with Communicators for Christ.
Krysi Kovaka’s staff picture from her 2008 conference tour with Communicators for Christ.

To give proper background to this story, I first have to explain a bit about my childhood.  I grew up in a conservative Christian middleclass family.  On the outside, everything about my childhood was perfect (albeit a bit unconventional.)  My parents chose to homeschool me and my four siblings.  I was given a great academic education, but school is really only a very small part of any discussion relating to homeschooling.  My father molested me while I was growing up, and given the insular community of which I was a part, there were very few people who would have been able to spot any signs of abuse.  Nobody found out about the abuse until much, much later.

When my public schooled peer group was playing sports, doing ballet, or marching band (or just being normal teenagers) I was busy doing competitive speech and debate.  I started doing speech and debate when I was eleven and I went to my first CFC conference.  After that, I spent the majority of my time going to NCFCA tournaments, researching debate resolutions, and attending CFC conferences.

The thing is, I never quite fit the mold of what a conservative homeschooled debater should look like.  I was a bit different; I liked to dress differently, dye my hair weird colors, and do anything else I could think of to stand out from my homogenous peer group.  I think part of this was personality (I’ve always been a bit quirky) and part of it was my attempt at a cry for help.  I was a very troubled teenager; despite (or maybe because of) my Christian homeschooled upbringing, I had problems with cutting, eating disorders, depression, and substance abuse.  Of course, when I was competing in NCFCA tournaments and attending CFC conferences, very few people had any idea about my problems.

To adequately explain what happened on my CFC internship, I have to rewind a bit and talk about the winter before I went on tour.  Christmas break of 2007 I was put in a behavioral hospital for attempting to commit suicide.  I was radically unhappy at home, so I tried to overdose on over the counter pain medicine.  I was in the hospital for nearly two weeks before I was discharged, just a few days before Christmas.

Several weeks later (January 2008) my mom was hosting a CFC Masters conference in my hometown of Louisville, KY.  Prior to my suicide attempt, I had been accepted to be an RSA (staff assistant/all-purpose slave) at this conference.  For reasons that still baffle me, the adults in my life decided that I needed to attend the conference and pretend that everything was okay.  While I should have been in therapy, I was busy cleaning bathrooms, setting up for banquets, and doing any other menial task that came my way.  Child labor laws where never even talked about.

During this conference I spent a lot of time holed up in bathrooms either cutting myself or making myself throw up.  It’s interesting now for me to look back at pictures of myself at that Masters conference – it was evident from looking at me that there was something deeply wrong.  Still, no one talked about it or asked about it.  Depression, suicide, and mental illness are not socially acceptable topics among conservative homeschoolers.

To illustrate the polarity that was my life, I was awarded the Raudy Bearden scholarship at this Masters; in one minute I would be in a bathroom trying to hold myself together and in the next, I would be up on a stage accepting an award or giving a speech.  Prior to the awards ceremony where I was awarded the scholarship, I was in the bathroom making myself throw up.

It was also during this conference that I decided I wanted to apply for a CFC internship.  It wasn’t so much that I loved CFC or that I loved public speaking – I just wanted to leave home and this seemed like a perfect opportunity.  The week after Masters I filled out an application to intern – I was pretty sure that getting accepted would be easy since my sister had interned twice.  Turns out that I was right.  I had a phone interview with Mrs. Moon, and despite the fact that she knew all about my mental health background (including my recent suicide attempt) she accepted me to intern just a few weeks after the phone interview.  I told her that I was on psych medication but that I would be fully competent to tour the country in a motorhome with a dozen other people.  To this day, I’m not sure why she took my word for it.

That spring and summer was a blur – I remember a lot of emails and writing a lot of classes.  I remember having to go shopping for tour clothes (all of us interns had to wear color coordinated outfits.)  I remember feeling a lot of pressure to perform well at that year’s NCFCA national tournament.

August rolled around and it was time to go to prep week and start tour.  Over that summer I had spent a lot of time at counseling and therapy, but I was still in no mental or emotional condition to be in such a stressful environment.  On tour you are expected to look perfect at all times, teach multiple classes in a day, give speeches, and function on very little sleep.  At this time I was still dealing with an eating disorder (which I tried to hide by saying I was a vegetarian), I cut myself regularly, I was very depressed, and I was starting to abuse alcohol.  I tried to hide all of these problems and put on a brave face as I got up on countless stages and spoke about the benefits of communication training and homeschooling.  I felt like a performing monkey.

My internship wasn’t all bad – I made some great friends and I felt a real sense of community with a few of my fellow interns.  I got to see the country and I got to get away from home.  I loved not being at home.

Tour was a very stressful environment though, and I started to crumple under the constant pressure to be perfect.  I would get up on a stage to speak and the second I got off stage I would run to a bathroom (bathrooms were the only place I found privacy) and hurt myself.  I started having really bad anxiety attacks during this time, so a doctor (who was a friend of the Moons) prescribed me Xanax over the phone.  I promptly started abusing this medication and nobody attempted to monitor my use of the pills.

What really amazes me about all of this is how few people took notice of my troubling behavior.  Of course, there were a couple of my fellow interns who knew that something was wrong, but they were only teenagers themselves.  None of the adults in my life took any notice.  I can only attribute this to the fact that I was in a homeschooled bubble – I assume that the people I was around were sheltered to the point where they didn’t know what to look for.  The other explanation is that the people I was around purposefully didn’t take notice of my behavior.

During the second half of my internship I began self-medicating with alcohol more frequently.  One night, me and one of the other interns separated from our group.  We were in Boston and we decided to strike out on our own to explore the city.  We found a couple of homeless men and we had a fascinating conversation with them about life and God.  During this conversation, I shared their vodka.  Yes, I did that.   I really didn’t see a problem with sharing vodka with homeless people.  When we got back to the group no one noticed that I was slightly inebriated (or they pretended not to notice.)

On another occasion, I and two other interns raided the liquor cabinet at our host family’s house.  We got black out drunk that night and ended up playing a risqué game of truth or dare.  That night was the first (but not the last) time that I got sloppy drunk with a boy and made decisions I regretted later.  The next morning we three were nursing hangovers, but we drug ourselves to the motorhome and tried to pretend that we were fine.  I’m sure that one or two of our fellow interns noticed, but no one said anything.  That was the culture we lived in – pretend that everything is fine, don’t make waves, and ignore problems.

I was a problem to be ignored.

Part Two >

From Hell to Heroin to Here: Jezebel’s Story


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

Trigger warnings: child sexual abuse, self-injury.

I’m not really sure how to describe my childhood.  Blacks and whites don’t really exist in my world, so it’s difficult to say that it was ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  I feel like we put labels like that on things to simplify them.

Unfortunately, nothing is simple.

My earliest memories are very fragmented – my memory isn’t that great to begin with, and PTSD combined with years of drug abuse have further eroded the recesses of my mind.  I remember starting first grade.  My parents decided to send me to a ‘cottage school’ where I would go to school two days a week and be homeschooled the other three.  I knew my friends from the neighborhood went to something called ‘public school,’ but from what I overheard my parents talking about, I was pretty sure that public school was bad.  That didn’t make sense to me, because my friends were really nice and their parents seemed nice too.  I was curious about public school, but at such a young age, I didn’t pay too much attention to the differences between myself and the other kids.

Around this same time (when I was seven) my father started to molest me.  To this day, I don’t talk about it too much.

At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening to me.  No one ever taught me about sexual abuse or inappropriate touching, so I thought that what was happening to me was normal.  I hated what was going on, but I understood that it was very important for me to pretend that everything was okay.  From a very young age, I understood the importance of not making waves and protecting my family’s reputation.

As I was growing up, the only sex education I received was from my time with my father.  My mom never talked about sex with me, and since I was homeschooled, I was never given formal sex-ed.  In one sense, I was insanely naïve about sex, but at the same time, I was receiving a sex-education from my father that would prove to be incredibly damaging to my psyche.  The messages he gave me were that I was powerless, worthless, and valuable only as a pleasure receptacle.  It was all very confusing for me.

As young girls, my friends and I used to talk about how we wanted our weddings to be.  We would all daydream about what type of guy we wanted to marry and what type of dress we wanted to wear.  Me, my sister, and our two best friends were planning a quadruple wedding.

When I found out that a father/daughter dance was a part of a traditional wedding, I remember deciding that I didn’t want to get married anymore.  I was willing to do anything to avoid spending time around my father.  The idea of having to dance with him made me sick to my stomach.

My parents continued to homeschool me and my three siblings.  We stopped going to the cottage school and started going to a homeschool co-op (it was pretty much the same thing, just less organized.)  I don’t remember too much from this time period.  I know that I wasn’t particularly happy and that I found solace in drawing.  I was off in my own little world much of the time, and I had quite a few pets that were my best friends.  I didn’t have a lot of friends, and the few I had I didn’t really like; most of the time I preferred to be alone and draw with my dog.

The abuse from my father continued until I was eleven.  I can’t tell you how many people have asked me why he stopped.  Don’t fucking ask me – go ask that pervert.  Maybe he’ll tell you.  I can only assume that I was getting too old for him or that he found someone else he liked better.  I didn’t ask questions about why he stopped, I was just thankful that he did.

I remember the time period after the abuse stopped a lot better than I remember my childhood.  My parents were still together.  I can’t begin to convey how terrible this was for me.  On Sunday’s my family would attend church together (by this time we had started to attend a home church because traditional church was too secular) and my dad would get up and lead worship.  I hated him so much and I didn’t understand why nobody else saw him the way I did.  Everybody I knew acted like he was such a great person – after all, he had a great job, he let my mom be a stay-at-home homeschool mom, and to all appearances he was a loving father.  My mom never noticed him abusing me, but I don’t blame her for this.  I can only attribute it to her own dysfunctional upbringing and the years of emotional abuse she endured with my father.

Even then, as a young teenager, I didn’t have the words to describe what had happened to me.  At thirteen I knew very little about sex, and I knew even less about how to express myself.  I was full of inner turmoil and hurt, and I had no outlet for it.  This is when I found out about cutting.  I was reading a magazine article about Angelina Jolie and the article said that she used to cut herself.  This was the first exposure I had to the concept of cutting and I decided to try it right away.  I got a safety pin and started to scratch my skin.  I couldn’t draw blood with my safety pin, but I liked the pain it caused me.  For the first time in a long time, I felt some release.

Around this same time, I realized that I could achieve a similar level of catharsis through not eating.  I wasn’t entirely aware that what I was doing was considered to be an eating disorder – I just knew that I really enjoyed how it felt when I would starve myself.  I came up with crazy diet plans and arbitrary numbers of how many calories I was allowed to eat in a day.  Occasionally, I would screw up and binge.  I felt horrible about my binges, so I would cut myself to try and feel better.  Somewhere along the lines I figured out that I could make myself vomit.  From that point on, I would starve myself for days, binge, and then make myself throw up.

This sort of behavior went on for quite a few years.  Of course, during this time I did my best to hide my eating disorder and cutting.  To outward appearances, I tried my best to look happy, well adjusted, intelligent, and well educated.  I simply wanted to be perfect.  I was part of a very insular community, so it was fairly easy to hide the symptoms of my problems – after all, everyone was sheltered to the point that they couldn’t recognize the symptoms of emotional disturbances.

In my early teen years, I started participating in competitive speech and debate.  My mom signed me up for NCFCA tournaments, and public speaking and debate took over my life.  I still kept up with my other school work, but the vast majority of my time was spent designing visual aids for expository speeches, researching debate resolutions, and practicing speeches.  I had very little life outside of NCFCA – as has been said by others, the closest thing I had to a graduating class were the people I competed at tournaments with.

During my teen years, I wasn’t allowed to date.  Despite the parental prohibition on relationships, I started talking to a boy I met through NCFCA.  He became my first boyfriend, and he was the first person I felt I could really confide in.  At fifteen, I was looking to him to save me.  I told him things I had never told anyone – I told him about my self-harm problems and my eating disorder.  We commiserated over our teenage angst and unhappy upbringings.  I was never able to trust him enough to talk to him about the abuse I suffered as a child, but this relationship helped me to begin to open up to people.

Of course, the relationship ended badly and dramatically (as most teenaged relationships do.)  Still, the simple experience of being able to confide in someone was profound.  Shortly after this breakup, I was researching something online, and I stumbled across an article on child abuse.  The article talked about sexual abuse and molestation.  For the first time in my life I had words to describe what had happened to me.  Prior to this time, I had heard people talk about molestation, but I always thought that if what happened wasn’t actual rape, that it didn’t constitute abuse.  No one had ever taught me otherwise.

I came unhinged when I read about what molestation actually was.  All the evil I had experienced as a child finally had a name.  Not only that, I felt justified in feeling that the abuse I suffered was wrong.  I spent that whole night crying, cutting, and throwing up.

The next day, I called my best friend.  I told her that when I was little my father had sexually abused me.  It was the first time in my life I had told someone the truth about my childhood.  I was sixteen years old.  My friend told me that she already knew – she could tell by the way I acted and talked about my family.  She knew I was miserable at home, but she didn’t know how to help me.  She was only a teenager herself.

Having the words to describe my experiences made me feel better about myself, but it didn’t help my immediate situation.  I still lived at home with my parents and my siblings and I didn’t feel safe enough to tell anyone about the abuse.  To make myself feel better, I started self-medicating with prescription pain pills and alcohol.  I started to get drunk off alcohol I stole from my parent’s liquor cabinet and I would get high off of Lortab’s and Percocet’s I found in our medicine cabinet.  My weight continued to fluctuate and my arms were still crisscrossed with cuts.  Because I was fairly isolated, few people took notice of my behavior.

My mom and I started to drift further and further apart – we would fight over the silliest things.  I wanted to listen to secular music, and she preferred that I listen to opera and classical.  I was a political libertarian and she was a staunch republican.  I thought that morality had little place in art, and she believed that the books I read needed to have strict moral messages.  We fought a lot.

On one particular day, mom and I had argued over the Harry Potter books (what homeschool child hasn’t been through a conflict involving these books?)  I ran upstairs to my room in tears.  I wasn’t really depressed about having differing opinions with my mom about Harry Potter – it was simply the metaphorical straw that broke the camel’s back.  The weight of all the secrets I was keeping came crashing down on me and I couldn’t deal with it anymore.  I felt like I had no way out, that my adolescence would never end.  So I did the only thing I could think of – I swallowed a bottle of pills and prayed that it would kill me.

My sister called an ambulance when she came upstairs and found me – I was inconsolable as I told her that I had just swallowed a bottle of pills and I wanted to die.  The ambulance came and carted me off to a mental hospital where I stayed for two weeks.

Ironically, the mental hospital was the only place where I came close to being in a public school.  Because I was in the adolescent ward, we had to attend school while at the hospital.  When I went to science class, I raised my hand and challenged the teacher on her teachings about evolution (that was what I had been taught to do in all my worldview and debate classes.)  I’m pretty sure that the staff took this as further evidence of my mental problems.

After I was released from the hospital, I went through a very rough period.  I finally told my mom about what my father had done to me.  It was an experience that I can only describe as horrific.  My mother believed me, and she had me write a letter to our church elders asking them for help.  I wrote a detailed letter and told these men what my father had done to me.  The church elders responded to my mother and said that both she and I were lying and that we weren’t welcome at that church anymore.  To this day, my father still attends that church and is a very active member.

Amidst all this madness, I attempted to finish my senior year of high school.  It was chaos.  My mom and I cobbled together a transcript that was substantiated by my debate experience, my love of classic British literature, and little else.  I was very intelligent, but no one ever really made me complete my math or science homework.  I would tell my mom that I did my math or science homework, and for the most part, my word was enough assurance that I was getting a well-rounded education.

When I went to take the SAT I hadn’t studied (literally, I think I cracked the study book one time) and I was hungover.  I did very well on the English and reading portion, and I bombed on the math portion.  At this point, I didn’t particularly care about school though, and my home life was so hectic that my mom didn’t have time to care either – she was in the process of dealing with a hellish divorce.

During my senior year I was so busy going to therapy and psych appointments that I never got around to applying to colleges.  Growing up, I had always wanted to go to college, but in the midst of the wreckage of my parent’s divorce, nobody really had time to help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life or where to apply for school.  I got more and more depressed and I started drinking and abusing pain pills even more heavily.

After high school graduation, I was simply drifting through life.  I worked a dead-end restaurant job and spent all my spare time at bars (I had a fake ID that I had stolen from someone.)  The only friends I had were people I knew from work – very few of my NCFCA friends kept in contact with me and I felt a bit ostracized.  Alcohol and pills fixed these feelings though, so I continued to self-medicate.

Eventually I applied to the local community college.  I went there for a semester, and I enjoyed it.  At the time though I was working fulltime at the restaurant, working weekends at a haunted house, and trying to keep up with a fulltime school schedule.  I ran myself ragged – my health started to deteriorate and I ended up in the hospital with meningitis.  I would also periodically have to go to the doctor because I got severe kidney infections.  One day as I was leaving to go to work, I simply collapsed in the garage – my body was wearing out.

While I was going to community college I couldn’t stop drinking.  I would routinely show up to class drunk or high out of my mind.  Alcohol was the only thing that helped me feel less stressed.  After one semester of college, I dropped out.

After dropping out of school my life became a bit of a blur.  I continued to drink myself into a stupor every night because I was severely depressed.  After a while, I got fired from my restaurant job because I routinely came to work drunk.  Within a few weeks of getting fired, I tried coke for the first time and I loved it.  I started routinely doing hard drugs.  My drug use culminated in an addiction to heroin.

To support my drug habit, I started working at a strip club.  I worked as a stripper and a prostitute for several years before I got arrested for trafficking heroin.  My life was a wreck and I had nowhere to go, so I went to rehab.  I had tried going to rehab several times before, so I wasn’t sure that it would work for me, but I was out of options.  I ended up in a year-long program, and it saved my life.

When I was shooting up heroin and stripping, I didn’t care about my life.  I would overdose or get beat up and it didn’t matter to me.  I felt like I was a fuckup and that my life wasn’t worth living.  In rehab I did the hard work of processing everything that had happened with my family, and as awful as it was, I’m a more whole person for all that.

It’s ironic – while I was in rehab, I was processing with a counselor and I told her about how I was brought up – conservative Christian homeschooler.  She was shocked.  She said that my story completely reframed how she thought about homeschooling.  She had always assumed that homeschooling was a good way to safeguard against having your kids become radically screwed up.  I guess I disproved that idea.

Since graduating rehab (most of the kids I competed in NCFCA with graduated college this year – I graduated rehab – ironic, right?) I’ve done my best to live life sober.  I attend 12 step meetings and a big part of my recovery is letting go of my resentments.  I’m still working on letting go of some resentment I have about my upbringing, but I’m slowly coming to terms with it.  In no way do I blame my choices on the way I was raised; I accept complete responsibility for my actions over the last few years.  Still, as people we are the sum of our experiences, and homeschooling was a huge part of my experience.  My upbringing shaped me into who I am today.

I can’t say that I liked the process of getting here, but today my life is good; I have a good job, I’m clean and sober, I’m not incarcerated, and I have people that love me when I don’t love myself.

It’s been hell to get here, but it is what it is and I’m okay with that today.

To The Daughters of Sceva: R.L. Stollar

To The Daughters of Sceva: R.L. Stollar

Note from Ryan: I wrote this almost ten years ago. In 2004 I dedicated this poem to my friends, and I re-dedicate it to them now — and to all the other brave individuals who have shared their stories this week.


Somewhere I went blind in the conversation —

somewhere between the epidermis

and the angels —

somewhere my stomach lost its way

amidst the tangles of a prayer and an

agony, an anger, and all I hate.

Here is a scar; there, the bruise.

This is the air we breathe.

But the images burn deeper than the words:

I took all the precious porcelain perfections,

pictured the angels skating across their smooth, body-washed shells,

saw the angels’ traces, the less-porcelain pained faces,

the ethereal ballet,

the euphoria of one salt water ocean masked by another,

the liquid rose smiling at the black heart processional

projected to all as a cherry blossom joy.

I know not how many angels can dance

atop a pin, nor less do I know

how many have danced upon you —

what red slippers they wore, or

if they performed Swan Lake and the shell was the swan,

or if you ask for encores,

or if the show sells out — and how often.

Yet I know this night hurt.

I know the heavens broke loose with a shout,

and archangels, legions with blessed wings,

trumpets of the spirit (the spirit is the sword),

they descended tonight upon my red tremors,

they did a pirouette and I have lost breath and

appetite, and I feel silence, clammy as death itself,

I have a need for Tylenol, and let me effuse:

Can I not cast out angels

nor summon the demons at my command?

Can I not have arms of such love

so as to encircle the universe?

Hard Bones, Electric Wire: April

Hard Bones, Electric Wire: April

Trigger warning: graphic description of self-injury.

These bones are too hard.

I can’t break them.

I can’t feel my heart all the way behind them.

If I scratched off my skin,

I could hold these little blue veins in my wrists.

I can see them already.

Oh, God, I’m shaking thinking about it.

Why are they visible?

So vulnerable.

So tempting.

I could feel my heart in them.

I could know it was beating.

I could pull them out –

disconnect them like electric wire.

I could hold them like slippery blue worms pulsing between my fingers.

Then I could cut them open –

clean like the end of a hose.

I could watch the blood wash the floor or feed the dirt.

I could see myself fade in the pool.

No more chaos.

No more noise.

I could be deflated and flat.


Finally still.

I wouldn’t be me anymore.

It’s what everyone wants anyway.