Purity Culture and My Sexuality

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on April 17, 2015. 

“I know that it’s a secret,
And that I gotta keep it,
But I want the lights on
Yeah, I want the lights on
And I don’t want to run away anymore
Leave the lights on, leave the lights on, leave the lights on
What would they say, what would they do?
Would it be trouble if they knew?” –Meiko

I had my heart broken twice before I realized I’d been in love. That might sound like an exaggeration or melodrama, but it’s actually possible thanks to the wonders of purity culture.

When I was a teenager, I read and re-read books like Sarah Mally’s Before You Meet Prince Charming, Eric and Leslie Ludy’s When God Writes Your Love Story, and Debi Pearl’s Preparing to be a Help Meet.

They kept me strong in my dedication to never think about sex, or to think about members of the opposite sex. I had my obsessions and celebrity crushes, but if the image of seeing someone naked ever entered my mind, I’d fight it out with quoting the Bible.

I knew I would only ever give my heart to one person – the man I would marry. He must show interest in me; women don’t initiate. The concept of mutual consent, mutual interest, was never introduced. If he didn’t reciprocate my feelings, it was a meaningless feeling, and feelings were worthless. I needed to control my very thoughts, so I could give my whole heart to my husband, along with my first kiss. Just toeing the line of saving sex for marriage was too low a standard for me.

Blame doesn’t fall on any one person for how I controlled my thoughts. It was a personal choice, something that was very important to me. The people around me reinforced the notion that I was doing the right thing. Some people were better at the game of self-thought-policing than I was, and they made me feel like I could never be good enough. Some people saw me as unapproachable because I was so sincere. Every failure looked like rebellion and felt like despair.

Surely I didn’t love my best friend when I started college. He didn’t love me, so I told myself to “guard my heart” and push away all emotions of attachment. At the same time, our late-night conversations kept me going through my darkest depression and most intense stress. I finally told him that I needed space to figure out why the sight of his name gave me such indecipherable pain.

It would take me months to unlearn what purity culture had taught me to do: conceal all desire, even from yourself.

So it was that I fell in love with a man, and didn’t realize what had happened until afterward. I just assumed I was straight because I was attracted to men. It never occurred to me that I might make the same mistake twice, equally blinded to my desires toward a girl.

It was similar – I had a crush on her, but didn’t know it. She once kissed another girl in front of me, and I desperately wanted to kiss her. Even that feeling was not enough to make me think I wasn’t totally straight. I figured I was just curious, having never been kissed. Giving gifts is something I rarely do and often feels like an obligatory chore, but I gave her thoughtful things that I knew she’d like.

When we had a fight that ended our friendship, I was devastated. Another friend asked if I’d been in love with her. I said no, of course I wasn’t.

A few months later I got an email, and was instantly interested – this person, who hadn’t revealed their gender or identity, matched me intellectually. I assumed the sender was male, and entertained thoughts of meeting, and we exchanged lengthy emails.

The person who wrote these intelligent, complex, and beautiful emails revealed that she was a girl, and I realized it made no difference to me.

I started asking my friends questions – you don’t see both the male and female body as equally attractive? I’d assumed that everyone appreciated the aesthetic differences between the genders.

In the world I grew up in, there were two kinds of people: straight, and broken. Nobody was born gay, the church and chapel services insisted. The idea of other identities on a spectrum was far outside our reality. The idea of romantic and sexual relationships other than marriage was blanketly labeled as “sin.”

Of course I’d think I was straight. If I could close off my feelings for men, I could certainly close off my feelings for women. It was only after I started to learn what attraction felt like, that I knew I liked girls. I always had liked girls. I just didn’t know that my experience was any different from anyone else’s, because we never talked about our feelings. We never defined our terms.

Humans are beautiful to me – whether they’re male, female, or non-binary.

You could call me sapiosexual, in that I love people for their intelligence, and my level of attraction depends on how smart and interesting the other person is. Many sapiosexuals, though, don’t find the human body sexually attractive, and I do. It’s also accurate to call me pansexual, because I’m open to dating non-binary or trans people, in addition to the binary genders. For me, the title I’ve chosen is bisexual.

I’m bisexual. There, I’ve come out, now you know.

Painting One-Dimensional Abusers

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Simon & His Camera.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on May 25, 2015. 


I’m sorry, momma!
I never meant to hurt you!
I never meant to make you cry;
But tonight, I’m cleaning out my closet.” –Eminem


Last summer, I had a dream about my mother.

In the dream, I was in my first consensual, trusting sexual relationship. My mom walked in on us and started screaming.

“How dare you not wait for marriage?” She demanded. “I told you, I tried so hard to not let you make the same mistakes I did!”

Sometimes in dreams, my emotional reactions are truer to my subconscious self than they would be in real life. If this had actually happened, I think I would have felt angry and defensive, and embarrassed for my love interest, who was standing there awkwardly. But in the dream, I saw her hurt with profound clarity. I felt nothing but compassion for my mother.

She got pregnant for the first time when she was just fourteen. She blames herself. She told us that she “made mistakes.” She told us to never have sex, to save ourselves for the one-and-only. She carries shame for her past.

It’s almost impossible to imagine that a 14-year-old girl in the year 1982, living in a trailer park of the Midwest, knew anything about consent or how to assert herself. It’s the story of many of our mothers in fundamentalist movements. They feel shame for something they probably couldn’t control. They tell their daughters to do differently.

I feel my mother’s pain. I know she was more than likely a victim. I know it wasn’t her fault, and she blames herself, and projects that guilt onto her own children. She’s just doing what she knows; she’s trying to protect us.

It was with this compassion and empathy that I started blogging about my parents’ abuse.


For the past several months, I’ve been challenging myself to examine my motivations in writing about my parents. I explained already why this has to be public, but I want to avoid the traps of venting in anger, or publicly shaming, or making my parents into purely evil human beings.

I’ve been following what Monica Lewinsky and Ron Jonson say about being publicly humiliated for mistakes. I just finished reading an article called “Abusers are people too.

On another level, I know that the capacity to do harm is within myself. This isn’t just about parents who shame their daughters for having sex drives, or about children being paddled. It’s also about the darker things humans are capable of doing, like genocide and rape and war.

Ordinary people do bad things. These situations are complicated. I refuse to excuse what’s been done, but I also refuse to paint a one-dimensional, inhuman face onto my abusers.

To see them as human is scary. It means abusers can be anyone, anywhere. That’s why so many people don’t believe me, it’s why so many people don’t believe so many other victims who’ve spoken up.


I don’t tell my story just to be vengeful. I tell it because I know I’m not alone. I tell it because I’m trying to make sense of the complexity, to bring healing to those who haven’t dared to forsake loyalty and broadcast their truth. I do it to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.

And I hope that there are some mothers out there who can realize that they’re breaking their children with shame they don’t have to carry.

You didn’t do anything wrong, mom. Sin isn’t real. Your young motherhood wasn’t your choice, mom. That matters, mom. You don’t have to blame yourself, mom. What I’m doing is by choice, mom. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, mom. I wish you knew that I understand, mom.

I know you won’t understand, mom. You were too busy making us sick to keep us close. We kids came cheaper by the proxy for your Munchausen Syndrome. My whole life I was made to believe I was sick when I wasn’t, that I was broken and dirty when I wasn’t. I get it. I got so used to being sheltered from the rain that always followed you, but I won’t come back to the wet, cold, sniffling comfort of your cloud.


“It seems like you’ve healed,” one of my most trusted friends, Lael, said to me a few weeks ago. “But the situation with your family hasn’t.”

“Maybe that’s just proof that I didn’t instigate it,” I replied. “Besides, if an ex-husband had done what my parents did, nobody would ask, ‘when are you going to seek reconciliation?’”

Understanding is not excusing. Explanation is not forgiveness. It’s possible to see people as complex and human, and still to acknowledge that it’s not healthy for me to be around them.

It’s also the only way to stop the cycle of abuse: acknowledge that we’re capable of doing the same, and choosing to be more self-aware with our decisions.

UnBoxing Project: How you can help (Cynthia Jeub’s thoughts)

Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com, is the news editor of the UCCS student newspaper, and is majoring in English and Chemistry. The following was originally published on Eleanor’s blog on March 15, 2015, and is reprinted with permission. 

Source: cynthiajeub.com
Source: cynthiajeub.com

< Part Eleven

Here are Cynthia Jeub’s concluding thoughts.

Rescuing people from cults is not an item to check off of a to-do list. It’s a process.

While we worked together on the UnBoxing Project, we learned this through our own exhausted time and money.

We didn’t just need to free people from church attendance and their abusive, controlling homes. In little funny moments and frustrating conflicts, we watched them free their own minds and personalities.

Moments like when Racquel wore jeans for the first time. We’d told her that she had a lovely figure that didn’t need to be concealed under long, wide skirts, and she didn’t believe us until then.

Moments like when Eleanor first moved out, I recommended dry beans for cost effective meals, and she didn’t know how to cook them.

Moments like the Socratic dialogue with Michela in a reclusive university meeting room, establishing that safety was possible.

After my friends and I got out, we struggled with various levels of PTSD, depression, and anxiety from the emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse we’d endured. It would be difficult enough to hold a job while dealing with shock and recovery, but many of the people we helped didn’t have any experience in the workforce.

I believed in self-sacrifice, and I didn’t care if I wasn’t well enough to help other people. Nobody else was going to do it if we didn’t. I told Cynthia Barram this, and she gave me a graphic image: She said to picture a woman in a place where food was scarce. The baby still sucked at his mother’s breast, but she had no nutrition left to give. At this point, the child was just eating blood.

We needed stability and resources ourselves, but with our parents gone, we only had each other. Like the undernourished mother nursing, we gave more than we had to give.

Many of us had to drop classes because taking care of extra people was so stressful. Eleanor ended up paying more than her portion of rent for the house she got with some of the people we’d rescued.

We realized that we weren’t heroes, and we didn’t have the strength to be heroes.

The question was, at what point do you let people learn for themselves? Our own limitations answered for us: we didn’t have the means to support other adults who had so little experience with the outside world.

We all decided that if we needed to rescue people, we wouldn’t be able to share finances with them, like cosigning on a lease. Getting out of a cult left these adults without survival skills, and we were young and broke, too. For the first year after my parents kicked us out, my sister and I rented from a family whose children were grown.

If only we knew some people who were older than us, who had the financial stability to own a house and rent out a room. If only we knew people who could teach a young adult, between the ages of 18 and 25 or so, how to keep a job and pay the rent.

Unfortunately, most of the people in the networks we had were similar to our own parents. That’s what isolation does – it limits the people you know.

We’re still looking for people who can help with temporary housing in our Unboxing Project, perhaps who have more stable living conditions than those of us who needed to escape, too.

We need places. People who are willing to take a young adult into a guest bedroom, and help them prepare for life outside. Help them find and keep a job.

Those of us who were abused aren’t very demanding. We generally don’t take up much space and we shrink at the thought of imposing on anyone. Just let us know we’re welcome, and let us know that it’s okay to talk about what’s going on. We need therapy to deal with what we’ve worked through.

Can we ask you to do that? Because we can’t do it ourselves.

Source: cynthiajeub.com

Part Thirteen >

UnBoxing Project: Cynthia Jeub’s story

Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com, is the news editor of the UCCS student newspaper, and is majoring in English and Chemistry. The following was originally published on Eleanor’s blog on March 10, 2015, and is reprinted with permission. 

Source: cynthiajeub.com
Source: cynthiajeub.com

< Part Six

I introduced Racquel and Ashley to my friend Cynthia Jeub shortly before they left the church. Here is her perspective.

Mouth shut like a locket
Like you’ve nothing to say
Speak your mind up,
Come on, baby, free yourself…
Don’t let nobody try and take your soul
You’re the original – Switchfoot

I met Racquel over the phone. She explained that her best friend, Ashley, was being kept from attending her college classes, and her parents had taken away all contact to the outside world – no Internet, no cell phone, and she couldn’t drive.

“We can get her a cheap cellphone,” I said, “One she can hide, and use in case of an emergency. It’s dangerous if she won’t be able to contact anyone.”

Racquel hesitated. “I’m not sure if it’s really that big of a deal. They’ve only done it a few times, and it made her get behind at school, but I really trust our pastor.”

It would be several weeks before we met in person. We had an argument. Her church was a large congregation of Protestants who spent most of their Sunday meeting time meditating and speaking in tongues. She told me that the pastor could always tell if your spirit was in the right place or not, based on his communication with the Holy Spirit. I asked if the pastor had any accountability, but she found it unthinkable that he’d say anything that wasn’t true.

Racquel said that though she loved horses, she wasn’t allowed to enter any competitions. She agreed with the church doctrine, she said, because it kept people humble. Winning competitions, or even trying to be good at something or to look good, was distracting from drawing attention toward God and away from oneself.

That conversation bothered me because it was so backwards: I was taught to pursue excellence, because it brought glory to God, and I was a living sacrifice.

We lived on two sides of the same degrading self-deception.


It was early 2013, and I drove an hour to the airport to pick up my dad from one of his events. He asked about school and life, and I confided about the exciting things going on: I was rescuing abused adults from cult-like fundamentalist families.

The first person who got out was Eleanor.

I wasn’t there when she moved into her first apartment, but I was part of the group of friends that gave her support as she adjusted to life away from home for the first time in her early twenties. After that, Eleanor did most of the networking for what we called the “Underground Railroad.”

She didn’t go looking for these people, she just found them everywhere – in her classes and at work, she found people in the many cult-like churches of Colorado Springs, adults still living at home, adults with weakened self-confidence, adults with limited skills and resources, all trying to get out, all trapped and afraid.

In our little group, I earned the title of “the logical one.”

Eleanor, and another girl named Cynthia Barram, turned to me as the no-nonsense anchor. When Eleanor found someone who was in a bad situation with their church or family, she’d connect them with me, and I’d check the facts. Then we’d find small solutions – things like helping people get a car, cellphone, job, or place to live. Many people were trapped because their parents wouldn’t even let them get a driver’s license.

I networked with the homeschool families I already knew, and asked them if they could provide “stations” in our “railroad.” I wanted parents who were good homeschoolers, not abusive, who had experience with adoption, and could demonstrate that homeschooling could be done in a way that wasn’t harmful. If such parents had a guest bedroom, we could send homeschooled alum there to pay rent, while still having parental figures who could provide support without the intense control their own parents used.

The homeschooling community could respond, I thought. They could prove to those who’d been abused that it wasn’t all this bad.

It surprised me to find so few homeschooling parents who were willing to help.

I related all of this to my dad, and he quickly shut me down.

“Don’t get between rebellious kids and their parents,” he said. “I do not support this. You don’t know the families and the full stories. You shouldn’t get involved with this at all.”

“Daddy, I think these situations are…different. There are some rebellious kids…”

I didn’t say Alicia, because my older sister’s name was so taboo in our family that it was always implied, and I didn’t want to hurt my father’s feelings.

“But there are also some very controlling churches and families, and they don’t ever let their kids, especially daughters, grow up. Even if they’re adults.”

He grunted severe disapproval, signaling that the conversation was over. That was the most we ever argued, because I always succumbed. I turned up some of the classic rock music he’d introduced me to, and let it drown out any awkwardness in the car. I decided I cared too much for those girls I’d met to just leave them in those suffocating situations. This was just one more thing I’d stop talking to my dad about.


Eleanor and our little crew kept working to help people.

We helped a girl escape from an arranged marriage, and gave resources to people whose parents kept them from contact with the outside world. Mostly we talked to our friends who were in cults about their aspirations and personalities, and helped them see their controlling churches as obstacles to what they wanted out of life.

The common theme was that we all had our own problems to sort. I thought there weren’t any problems with my family, but then I needed to fall back on our group more than once. Our friend Aaron supported me when I got drunk for the first time in my life, a few days after my parents kicked me out. Eleanor was frustrated with how Racquel and Ashley couldn’t see that their church was a cult, but she still kept in touch with her own overbearing parents.

We’d all lost the trusted older-generation adults in our lives, so we leaned on each other, but we were still young and inexperienced and unstable.

I posted an article on the Huffington Post about my frustration with freeing people. I couldn’t control them, but I also knew they wouldn’t stand up for themselves. I was tired of waiting.

I found out later that Ashley used a code name when she talked about me to her mother, because she was afraid her parents might find my writings and deduce that she was planning to leave.

In December, Eleanor sent out a distress signal to the group.

Ashley’s father discovered she was dating a guy outside the church and said he was kicking her out.

Around 6 a.m. on December 16, 2013, Ashley’s father texted her that he was dumping her possessions out at 3 p.m. Eleanor and Racquel left with Ashley to collect her things in Cynthia Barram’s van while her parents were at work.

When Aaron and I arrived, her bedroom furnishings were strewn about.

Racquel drew our attention to the picture frames. Her father had removed the family photos with Ashley from the walls and laid them face down in a corner, a symbol that her family had already disowned her for rebelling against the church.

Her father had also damaged the car she drove by tearing off the rubber lining in the door. And dumped out her purse in the car.

Racquel’s parents were less strict, and she moved out on slightly less dramatic terms.

Eleanor was living in a two-bedroom apartment, and she now housed three extra refugees there, including another girl who worked with us at the school newspaper. It was too small for all of them, so they moved into a house together, sharing costs.

Cynthia Jeub blogs about philosophy, religion, and growing up in a homeschool family of 16 and their television show at cynthiajeub.com. She studied communication and theater at UCCS, and was a reporter and culture editor at the campus newspaper, The Scribe.

Part Eight >

UnBoxing Project: The trouble with freeing people

Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com, is the news editor of the UCCS student newspaper, and is majoring in English and Chemistry. The following was originally published as “The Underground Railroad: Intro” on Eleanor’s blog on March 5, 2015, and is reprinted with permission. 

Source: Hunger Games: Mockingjay (part one).

< Part One

Continued from Being an angel with a shotgun.

“Eleanor, does your church teach the doctrine of pastoral authority?” my friend Racquel asked.

She was waiting with me in the classroom for my Organic Chemistry review session to start.

“What is that exactly?”

Racquel attended an apostolic Pentecostal church in Colorado Springs that taught a person wasn’t saved unless they had been baptized and spoken in tongues at that particular church, not another Pentecostal church in the area.

A long list of offenses such as watching movies and television or wearing short skirts and jewelry could grieve the Holy Spirit, and then you’d lose your salvation and have to “pray through at the altar” again.

“Pastoral authority means that Brother Burgess prays and decides if it’s God’s will for us to talk to a guy in the church, date him, get engaged, or marry. And whether or not we can move out of town and attend another apostolic church,” she explained.

“Other apostolic churches allow social media and let their young people listen to CCM [contemporary Christian music], but our pastor has decided it’s not spiritually good for our congregation.”

Racquel didn’t see the harm in what her church banned, but believed her pastor had good intentions.

“I can tell my pastor cares about the people in the church, the way he walks around and prays for us during the service.”

I hadn’t moved out of my parents’ house or begun dealing with the unhealthy cycles in my own life, but I knew something wasn’t right. A church should support my friend, not make her miserable.

Over the next few months, Racquel and I had many theological discussions, and I argued that Jesus was about freedom and grace, not rules. I said her church had the tendencies of a cult. But she couldn’t see it yet.


I’d started texting Racquel’s best friend Ashley. She’d just gotten permission from her parents to own a cellphone and drive the car again, even though she was nearly 20 years old and attending massage therapy school full time as well as a part time job.

I had moved out in August 2012, and felt even more strongly that Ashley’s family situation was toxic since my escape from fundamentalism.

In January 2013, I lost contact with Ashley when her parents and Brother and Sister Burgess discovered she and Racquel had watched movies again and listened to rock music, including Skillet. Brother Burgess declared Skillet was demonic after listening to their song “Monster.” Ashley finally bought her own iPhone with parental and pastoral permission eight months later.

Now it was late October. Ashley and I were meeting for coffee that evening. She taught me Search for Truth Bible study lessons, intended for potential converts, as an excuse so her parents would allow us to hang out.

I was driving down south towards Starbucks when I got a text message from her.

“I’m sorry, Eleanor. I can’t come meet u. My parents are now not letting me use their car for anything.”

“Stay calm, see if I can pick you up in a bit,” I replied.

“I’ll try. Don’t know if I can last that long. Cya.”

“You can make it. I believe in you. You still ok?”

“No I’m not. I’m done Eleanor, I’m sick and tired of this. I can’t do it anymore. I’m too tired and can’t keep this facade up. I’ve fought for 13 years against this and am too tired to continue fighting this. I have no control and no choice. I’m fed up and there’s no way out. I realize that now. I just don’t know what to do now.”

“Do you want out? Do you want to make the jump?”

“Yes I do. But I can’t.”

The church and Brother and Sister Burgess trapped both girls in an awful double bind, using manipulation and lies. I knew they needed out.

I organized a network of friends to be prepared when they asked for help. We informally called ourselves the Underground Railroad, in honor of the Civil War stories most homeschooled kids read over and over.

But when would they be ready?

As Cynthia Jeub wrote in The Trouble with Freeing People that fall on the Huffington Post, describing Ashley’s situation, I couldn’t force them to leave.

“Helping her feel ready to take freedom for herself is the only way to make her free,” Cynthia wrote.

Only they could decide.

Part Three >

UnBoxing Project: Being an Angel with a Shotgun

Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com, is the news editor of the UCCS student newspaper, and is majoring in English and Chemistry. The following was originally published on Eleanor’s blog on March 4, 2015, and is reprinted with permission. 

Source: Konachan.com. Image links to source.

Get out your guns, battle’s begun,
are you a saint, or a sinner?
If love’s a fight, then I shall die,
with my heart on a trigger.

– The Cab, Angel with a Shotgun (Nightcore remix)

These are the stories they told me.

“Eleanor, my best friend’s parents told her she can’t drive the car unless she loses weight consistently every week.

I’m really worried about her. Yeah, she could lose some weight, but it’s not that bad, and I don’t think that’s healthy. What do you think I should do?”

My insides went cold, feeling the familiar rigidity and control descend, but this time for someone else.

They say before you start a war,
you better know what you’re fighting for…
if love is what you need, a soldier I will be.

“Eleanor, I’m 26 years old and my mom wants me to get married. She says she’ll send out the word among the [Indian] community to find a man for me. But I don’t want an arranged marriage.”

My friend already had a bachelor’s degree from an ivy league college, wasn’t enjoying her post-baccalaureate pre-med classes, and knew her parents wouldn’t understand her adoption of American culture.

She asked for help in moving her things out of her parents’ house. I rounded up a few friends and she got out.

I’m an angel with a shotgun,
fighting ’til the war’s won,
I don’t care if heaven won’t take me back.
I’ll throw away my faith … just to keep you safe…
and I wanna live not just survive tonight.

“Did you know Mike died?”

“No, I just talked to him last week. He was trying to start a chapter of the F.A.S.T. club at his graduate school.”

The coroner ruled Mike’s death a suicide. Mike grew up in the Colorado Springs homeschool community, although I didn’t meet him until college.

Questions about his death still linger with me and my friends.

Sometimes to win, you’ve got to sin,
don’t mean I’m not a believer...
Yeah, they still say I’m a dreamer.

Text messages from Cynthia Jeub, September 2, 2013.

“I need help. My dad is angry because he’s not making enough money. Can you help Lydia and me get out and find a place to sleep until our apartment paperwork goes through?”

“Dad was yelling at me when you tried to call. I never thought this would happen. We have a friend who will help, we might need help from you when we get back.”

“Dad says he might turn off my phone and Internet. Tell [a friend] to come if you don’t hear back again.”

I was five hours away up in the mountains and couldn’t come get her on the day that they were kicked out.

They say before you start a war,
you better know what you’re fighting for…
if love is what you need, a soldier I will be.

Google chat conversation, June 2013.

“I just want to go Home and be with Him. It’d be so easy… one bullet, one noose, two cuts, but I can’t bear to think of facing Him when I got there… For being a coward. For not trusting him enough… I really just want to escape. Wouldn’t you eventually get over it [grieving for me]. Death is a natural part of this life.”

A younger friend was suicidal again. She’d done this off and on since she was 13, and a couple of friends and I had talked her out of it, over and over.

“As long as I’m in class, getting A’s and studying all the time without a boyfriend or any other distractions, no one really pays me much mind. A fight’s brewing. So I’ll let you know after it happens if it does happen.”

Once again, her parents crushed her with unrealistic expectations.

I’m an angel with a shotgun,
fighting ’til the war’s won,
I don’t care if heaven won’t take me back
..and I wanna live not just survive tonight.

I didn’t become an activist because it was another hobby. Friends came to me with their wounds, their struggles. And I couldn’t just let them keep bleeding.

This is a series on helping isolated homeschoolers and religiously oppressed young adults escape cults and abusive households.

These are the ones I fight for.

…and I’m gonna hide, hide, hide my wings tonight.

Part Two >

Drinking From the Final Straw

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 3.07.47 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on February 25, 2015. 

Trigger warnings: alcohol abuse, child abuse, graphic descriptions

“We were addicted to the blueprint
But we threw it in the flames and now we’re never gonna trace it
You, you lied
Ha ha ha ha I was right all along
Good job, good job
You fucked it up…
Now you’re walking on your own
Rain falls down, I’m not answering my phone
I got to phase you out my zone
Hope you realize now that I am never coming home
You were meant to be alone.” –Charli XCX

I wrote a post on addictive personalities as a prerequisite to an element I haven’t talked about yet on my blog. Many people who were, like me, abused in the Christian-homeschool-patriarchy movement, still maintain at least moderately rocky relationships with their parents. I gave up, in the end, because of the events surrounding how my parents started drinking.

One day near the end of 2013, I visited my parents’ house. Mom was in bed, recovering from her last miscarriage. She’d saved the fetus, named him Ezra Mark, dressed him and taken pictures, and buried him in the backyard. What shocked me the most, though, was that she had a bottle of Jack Daniels on her nightstand.

“Mom, why do you have hard liquor? I’ve never seen alcohol in our house.”

She said something about dealing with the pain. She was referring to both the emotional pain of losing a child, and the physical pain of blood loss. She insisted, though, that she was only taking small amounts of it as a medicinal solution.

I accepted this answer. After all, I drink alcohol sometimes. I wouldn’t want to be a hypocrite.

On the 6th of January last year, mom’s sister Debbi died suddenly. She was only 52, and she’d practically raised my mom and her brothers and sisters, because my maternal grandmother was, as previously mentioned, addicted to alcohol. I asked for time off work so that I could travel to Minnesota for my aunt’s funeral.

Mom was losing both a sister and a surrogate mother, and she turned to alcohol with the shock and grief. I’d always taken care of my mom, but she was making me worried. We ordered drinks on the plane. When we got to my paternal grandparents’ house, she asked me to sneak more liquor for her from their cupboard. It didn’t matter what it was – she had no taste preference, it was to numb herself.

Within weeks of our return to Colorado, dad was drinking, too. They had wine regularly, and there was a twelve-pack of beer in the fridge. When I asked about it, mom said that since she couldn’t have kids anymore (a statement I never got full clarification for), it was okay to have alcohol now.

Again, I accepted this. I didn’t accept alcohol for myself until I realized there was space between alcoholics and people who completely abstained. The problem was, mom and dad had never seen someone demonstrate moderate drinking. I assumed that they only drank when I was there, which was once or twice a week.

Once in the spring, we built a bonfire in the backyard and roasted marshmallows. Dad was acting strangely – less mature than the kids. He wanted to burn a whole door, and he threw it on the fire, scattering sparks and making the fire spread and smother. When I told him he was being dangerous, he laughed at me. My brothers and I nervously sat him down and contained the fire ourselves. It would take me months to look back on that night and realize dad had had at least three drinks, and was playing with fire around children.

By the time I started to get suspicious, I realized my parents were showing all the red flags of addiction: denial, minimization, and defensiveness.

Lydia was living with them again, but only kind of. She slept on the floor in the girls’ bedroom for a month, so technically she didn’t have to pay $500 rent. Mom sometimes lamented that Lydia didn’t have a bed to sleep in, but Lydia knew she didn’t mean it. She lived there to be around the kids. I couldn’t take the way I felt suffocated there.

Lydia started counting drinks when she wasn’t busy with work. Dad said to her, “I’m not an alcoholic, I just have a couple of beers in the evening.” Whenever Lydia voiced criticism about the alcohol, dad took her outside and yelled at her – for the first time in her life, he swore at her regularly. My parents weren’t being themselves, and it was getting dangerous.

Dangerous, because if you can’t admit that you’ve had a few drinks, you can’t admit that you need to wait before driving, or stay away from fire. Responsible drinkers keep count and stay accountable. The house felt less and less safe.

The last day went something like this…

I come in the house on a Thursday.
Mom offers me wine.
I turn her down, saying I try not to drink more than once every two weeks.
She looks hurt and suspicious, like I’m putting myself above her.
She adds what would have been my serving to her half-drank glass.
I start counting mentally: that’s two glasses of wine altogether for her, and it’s 5 p.m.
I offer to help with dinner, we talk about work and how my therapy is going.
I give vague, slow answers to her questions.
I watch as she drinks half the glass again, and refills it.
It’s a clever way to lose count.
Meanwhile, dad is outside at the grill.
He’s finished a beer when mom brings him his wine.
When we sit down to eat, mom’s wine glass is full again, and dad is drinking from a non-transparent covered cup.
I wait for him to get up, then I taste his drink. It’s kombucha mixed with wine.
He can’t possibly be drinking for the taste.
It’s 9 p.m. now. They’re both still unfinished with their wine glasses when we do family prayers, bless and kiss the children, and send them to bed.
Dad asks Lydia and me if we want to play a game.
We say no.
Yes, I think you do, he counters.
We really don’t.
But we don’t even know what the game is, he says.
We say it’s obvious that he wants to play a drinking game, and we’re not interested.
He looks dejected and rather disbelieves that we’ve just said no to him.
Before I leave that night, I ask mom: “Do you drink every night?”
She laughs loudly. It’s pretentious and insulted.
“Of course we don’t!”
I turn to my 12-year-old sister and murmur in a lower tone: “Do they drink every night?”
She nods slightly so mom doesn’t see.
The next time I visit, they don’t serve alcoholic beverages.
It’s like they’re trying to prove without words that they don’t drink every night.
It’s too late.

It was early September when Grandma – my dad’s mom, Judy – messaged me to ask how I was doing. I opted for honesty, and told her everything. She used to be an alcoholic, and she’d been a sober AA member for as long as I could remember. She saw what her and her husband’s alcoholism did to her kids. Surely she’d understand that something needed to be done so my parents didn’t hurt her grandkids.

She called me, and I told her what was happening. She said it sounded like alcohol abuse that had gone on for nearly a year, but she conservatively chose not to call it addiction.

She also questioned the validity of my story, because I was only going off hearsay from my siblings and extrapolation. I wasn’t living there and I couldn’t watch my parents all the time, so I couldn’t be sure.

Grandma said she was worried about my parents, since their alcohol use indicated stress.

“But Grandma,” I asked, upset now, “What about the kids? Aren’t you worried about them, too?”

“Well,” she said slowly, “I think you and your sisters have turned out okay. I’m amazed at the resilience I’ve seen in you and your siblings.”

“So you’re more concerned about my parents than about the kids.”

“I’m concerned about my son, and as a parent I want to know why he’s so stressed.”

“Well Grandma, that’s not good enough for me. I’m concerned about my brothers and sisters who are stuck there, and it’s not safe. What am I supposed to do?”

This part of the conversation was well-practiced for her. “I’ve worked with recovering addicts for decades, and we always learn the serenity prayer, do you know it?”

“Yes, I know it. I don’t think it applies here, Grandma.”

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

I burst into tears, and for the first time in my life, I vented my full anger at an elder in my family. Elders are to be respected, never contradicted. I broke protocol. “No, Grandma! I do not need you to tell me to answer this with prayer and acceptance! That is not what I need right now!”

She was quick to backpedal, rephrasing her words, trying to find some other practiced line that would please me. I realized that my dad had learned his habit of using all the right words from his mother.

Nobody was going to help me or listen. So I blogged about my parents being abusive. Grandma told me she felt like her heart was going to break, and I didn’t respond. If her heart could break and she could still treat my trapped siblings with indifference, I had no reason not to hurt her feelings.

The day before my dad released the podcast responding to my blog post “Melting Memory Masks”, I met with one of my brothers for lunch. He told me the alcohol was gone. Dad had thrown all of it out, saying that if it meant so much to Lydia and me, it wasn’t worth keeping. I asked why dad didn’t say that to me directly. My brother didn’t know.

Alcohol was the breaking point. It’s what made me realize that I had so few allies in my family, and that I needed to get away for myself. That’s what made 2014 different from all the years before it.

On Death (And Life)

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Catarina Oberlander. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Catarina Oberlander. Image links to source.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on November 28, 2014.

Cynthia Jeub touched on this in the first part of her post “Freeing Self-Deceived Fundamentalists“. My family has glorified death for a really long time. I remember Columbine, like she was talking about – being something almost revered – not remotely tragic. When things were shitty(-er than normal) or if I was making a life choice my mom didn’t agree with she would say “well the end times are coming and we’ll be raptured soon [so we won’t have deal with XYZ]”. Going to heaven was all my parents really cared about, they instilled a sense of life being almost useless into me, unintentionally.

Why bother living here when life will be so much better after you die?

When parents neglect or kill their children because they think god told them to or that they’re saving them.

When parents talk about how brave Abraham was for almost murdering Isaac.

When I remember that my parents coped with my two still-born siblings by talking about how lucky they were that they got to be in heaven while we had to suffer on earth…

I used to be afraid, or worried sometimes……..that something like that would happen. That “god” would tell my parents to murder us, and they would. Or that I would be murdered (martyred) because I was a (true) christian in America, and I would look down that gun barrel at Columbine and say “Jesus will save me” or “Get behind me satan” or whatever clever bible phrase I could come up with before my imminent death.

And my parents wouldn’t mourn – they’d talk about how much better off I was dead than alive, how everyone needs to be a christian so they can wait out their miserable existence and go to paradise.

It’s really depressing thinking about it. But it explains a lot about why, I guess, I’ve rarely been afraid of dying and have always just been kinda nonchalant about it.

It’s not a good thing, because it adds intensity to depression: why bother living, anyway? Now that I don’t believe in god and don’t believe that suicide would nullify my non-existent salvation.

But when I was a child…

The emphasis my parents put on dying and going to heaven always bothered me.

It was like they were so ready for our lives to be over.

They didn’t want to live.

They communicated that living was a waste of time. After all, we’re citizens of heaven, not earth, so why care about the world?

And that always fucked with me because I wanted to live, and I felt guilty for wanting to live, fully, and make the most of my time and help people while I was here, and even, (gaspenjoy my life here. Because some part of me understood that being here mattered, even though I didn’t – and sometimes still don’t – know why.

I was so hurt when my mom would rather I die/be raptured than marry my spouse. She said, hopefully, that Jesus would probably come back before I even had that chance.

I can’t explain to you with words how much that messes with a person. When your parents whole life revolves around the end of their, yours, and everyone else’s life………when rapture is the answer to things that you don’t like…and pretend like everyone who wants to live and love now is silly because obviously they should just be working on getting into heaven.

Everything my parents do is motivated by being the best christians so they get all the heavenly kudos.

I think my parents were really really depressed.

And I think that messed with me in a lot of ways, too.

Freeing Self-Deceived Fundamentalists

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Eric Magnuson. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Eric Magnuson. Image links to source.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on November 24, 2014. 

Trigger warnings: Christian martyr culture, child abuse

“Maybe I’m mistaken, expecting you to fight
Or maybe I’m just crazy, I don’t know wrong from right
But while I am still living, I’ve just got this to say
It’s always up to you if you want to be that
want to see that
want to see that way.” -Supertramp

“Do you remember wanting to die?” My housemate asked.

“Yep,” I replied. “After Columbine, they made all those kids heroes, and we 90s kids grew up just wanting someone to hold a gun to our heads and ask if we believed in Jesus. It should have just been what it was – a tragedy. They made it into an aspiration.”

“I always wanted to go to China, and for them to kill me for my faith. That was the best thing that could possibly happen to you.”

“I thought for sure I’d be killed for being a Christian by now. I never thought I’d reach adulthood.”

The other people in the room were shocked, and her boyfriend had lost his appetite.

The thing is, we were being mild. I could easily have gone into detail about the books I read and loved from very young – I read Joan of Arc when I was five, Samuel Morris when I was nine, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Jesus Freaks, and Tortured for Christ as a teenager. The Left Behind: The Kids series, which I read at age ten and eleven, described Christians being lined up to be guillotined after the Mark of the Beast appeared. My family never subscribed to the Voice of the Martyrs magazine, but I still found enough of those to mix the fictional Left Behind stories with real life.

The best literary example I’ve ever seen of the fundamentalist child’s mindset is in Orson Scott Card’s book A War of Gifts. While it’s disappointingly inconsistent with the book Ender’s Game, it’s worth the read as its own story. The main character, Zechariah, is seven years old when the government takes him to train for space warfare. He hates the government, and pushes his religion on everyone in the space school. When the other kids complain, Zech says he’s being persecuted. His father beat him, and he thinks he deserves it because of his rebellious spirit.

I remember being that seven-year-old who wanted to be persecuted and to die. It’s hard to describe what the dedication is like. I was spanked, and I thanked my parents for it. I wanted to die, and I thought that made me a hero. I thought I was happy. I thought I was doing the right things. I was willing to suffer and die for what I believed. Today, remaining a Christian is something so rife with conflicted emotions that I can’t even talk about it. My Christianity and the Infinite One can wait for me to process the manipulation and self-deception, no matter how long it takes.

When you’re willing to die for something, it’s very hard for people to reach you. That’s why I don’t know what would have worked when I was younger. Getting out was a process. The “breakthrough moment” couldn’t happen until I learned how to recognize what was wrong.

My sister Alicia tried to reach out to me many times, but I could not be reached. That’s the power of living in a manipulative household. I believed that she was a bad influence, and that she had abandoned me.

Now, looking back, I understand why my siblings have the same mistrust for me as I did for her.

If anyone tried to tell me that it wasn’t normal to set aside my schoolwork to bathe seven kids, or to dedicate my weekends to scrubbing all the floors in the house on my hands and knees, I would have just said they didn’t understand. My family life was different, so outsiders would of course be judgmental. When I found people with genuine concerns about my family online, my parents would write them off as “the haters,” and I believed that’s what they were.

If anyone had told me it wasn’t my job to keep everyone in my house happy, I wouldn’t have listened. I was an empowered, virtuous girl. I hated the phrase “it’s not your job.” I was capable of making the house relatively peaceful, so why shouldn’t I? It’s not like anybody else was going to do it. Meekness and self-deception gave me small comforts.

When people tried to tell me there was something wrong, it was always in a condescending tone. I was told I’d understand when I was older. I was dismissed as naïve, and my choice to embrace my lifestyle was treated like stupidity. Condescension never worked. You can’t tell someone who’s willing to die that they’re stupid or misled. The persecution complex plays into that perfectly: you’re insulting me, good for me, I’m suffering for doing what is right.

If you know anyone who’s immersed in fundamentalism, you need to know that we’re not stupid. We’re surviving, and we don’t know it. We will dismiss your condescension and shut you out, and honestly, you’ll deserve it. We’re told that we can fight and lose, or we can succumb and survive, and the latter is only acceptable if it’s convincing. And the easiest way to be convincing is to convince yourself.

People asked if I felt abused. I said no. People asked if my family felt like a cult. I said no. People asked if my life was bizarre because I was one of fifteen kids. My answer was always, “This is normal for me. What’s it like to be one of two kids?”

What did work was being recognized for who I was, and that happened when I made friends in college. Before that, I was praised all the time for the right things: I was great at cooking, cleaning, baking, sewing, caring for children.

When I got to college, I didn’t have to fear losing friends because I liked rap music and symphonic metal. Instead, my friends said I had good taste. When I got to college, my friend Cynthia saw a rebel in me because I was constantly criticizing the education system.

My old friends were “exhorters and encouragers,” who helped me on rough days. This life was holier, it was supposed to be difficult, it was the narrow path. It never occurred to me that maybe the difficulty of my life was an indication that something was wrong. It wouldn’t have helped if someone told me it shouldn’t be so hard.

I got out because people knew me for me, not what I was supposed to be. They didn’t talk about what was wrong with my lifestyle, they just encouraged what I didn’t know was okay.

So if you know someone who’s still in the world of self-deceived fundamentalism, please, please don’t condescend or even try to convince them that there’s something wrong with the world they know. Criticism is easy and it makes sense, but it doesn’t work.

Just listen and find out what makes us individuals, the part of us that’s not accepted in the world we know. Prize that. Nurture it. Let us be ourselves. We carry intense shame for it and we’re afraid to show it. We’re very good at hiding it. Help us be ourselves, and the pressure to be what we’re not will help us find freedom.

Born to Breed

Wendy Jeub on WE-TV's “Born to Breed" episode.
Wendy Jeub on WE-TV’s “Born to Breed” episode.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on November 17, 2014. 

Content warning: I describe unsanitary conditions for childbirth in this post…not sure if that’s a specific trigger for people, but thought it still deserved a warning.

“Pull back the curtains
Took a look into your eyes
My tongue has now become
A platform for your lies.” -Cage the Elephant

My dad was playing his guitar, and the rest of us were sitting around, following him for clues on what to sing next. He looked up at the new Bible selection, printed with a calligraphic font, framed and hanging above the piano.

He picked a chord, tried singing along with it: “Lo, children are a heritage…”

It didn’t fit. He adjusted his left hand to find another chord, and this sounded better. He tried singing a few notes, then broke into song, following the words:

“Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord,
And the fruit of the womb is his reward,
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man that has his quiver full,
They shall not be ashamed (not ever)
For they will speak with the enemies in the gate
Psalm one-twenty-seven, yeah, psalm one-twenty seve-en.”

My dad always said he wanted a boy. He expected for me to be a boy, and he expected Lydia to be a boy. By the time Isaiah was born, there were four girls, and my parents were done.

Apparently that’s when God got involved, and convicted their hearts to keep having kids. Mom miscarried between Isaiah and Micah, and they were still just sixteen months apart. Then she was pregnant almost every year until there were sixteen kids.

We were quiverfull, and we were proud of it. In later years, my dad loved quoting the books “America Alone” and “The Empty Cradle,” and he often talked about how Christians weren’t having enough children. If we ever wanted to keep Muslims from taking over the earth, Christians needed to keep having loads of children. This was a competition, and the Quiverfull movement was fighting to win dominion over the planet.

That’s why it was a little weird to see my dad blogging recently that “patriarchy has got to go,” and that he’s ” becoming more and more repulsed at the use of the patriarchal idea of ‘dominion.’”

In 2009, we filmed our second show, this one with CBS. This was for the WE-TV channel, exclusive to certain cable services (Or is it cable networks? Dish connections? I don’t know how to talk about television subscriptions – we only had TV for one month when I was a teenager; we got a free trial so we could watch ourselves on TLC and then cancelled the subscription). It was, we found out after the producers had already gotten their footage, a show called “The Secret Lives of Women.”

Our episode for season 4 of the show was titled “Born to Breed,” and it featured four women who talked about the Quiverfull lifestyle. The first was Vyckie Garrison, founder of the site “No Longer Qivering.” She’d removed the letter “u” for her slogan, “There is no ‘you’ in Quivering.” She talked about how she’d lived the Quiverfull lifestyle and escaped from it. Then there was my mom, Wendy Jeub – in 2009, she had fifteen kids and she’d recently lost her pregnancy weight, so she looked healthy and happy. Another Quiverfull mom, Rachel Scott, was filmed with her large family, but it wasn’t as big as ours. The fourth woman was Kathryn Joyce, who’d just published a book about the Quiverfull lifestyle.

At home, my dad had derogatory things to say about Vyckie and Kathryn. He never swore or called them names, he just told us negative things about them that were partially true. He said Kathryn, being a woman who’d never experienced the Quiverfull lifestyle for herself, was just a journalist who didn’t know what she was talking about. He said Vyckie’s kids were rebellious and misbehaved all the time, and they looked less happy than they had been in the Christian Quiverfull lifestyle.

I loved having a big family. I thought I’d save my virginity for marriage, and that I’d save my first kiss for my wedding day. I wanted to have a large number of children, too. When friends asked if I was scared of the pain of childbirth, I thought I could handle it. After all, I’d watched my mother give birth to nine kids, eight of them in the small Jacuzzi tub at home. She endured each labor patiently, never screaming, always breathing through each contraction.

The forest-green carpeting in my parents’ master bathroom had white mold collected in the corners, and the panels around the shower had black mold climbing up them. I don’t know if it was Black Mold because you need such things to get professionally checked, but the mold was black. Sometimes we couldn’t turn on the jets while bathing the children, so the water wouldn’t get filled with flakes of the stuff.

I’d seen my mother give birth several times before I learned that most women can’t stand the pain. It also didn’t occur to me until this summer that since the bathtub was covered in mold, it probably wasn’t an ideal place for giving birth. I watched childbirth nearly a decade before I learned what exactly sex was, but I wore a purity ring in my late teens anyway.

All this, and I still thought I’d choose the same lifestyle my parents had chosen. I thought I was born to breed, that I’d court and marry a man who had my parents’ approval.

I practiced contentment. After all, I told myself, if I couldn’t be happy with my life as an older sister in a large family, how would I ever be happy as a wife and mother of my own large number of children? I knew I wanted this, so on hard days, when I got frustrated and overwhelmed with housework, I thought about how I’d someday have a husband of my own. I refused to even let myself fantasize about intimate moments with a man – that was impure, and I couldn’t expect married life to be all about that. I knew most of the time after we were married, he’d leave me home to cook and clean and watch the children. I must accept this fact of life and learn to be happy with it.

That’s what my life was: making promises I didn’t understand, being totally committed to things for which I had no alternative, and wanting a future life that would be just as happy as the one I was living.