Hurts Me More Than You: Charis’s Story

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Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.


Charis’s Story

Our physical abuse was defined as love.

I used to think that there was only one thing that was not ideal during my childhood. What I remember as isolated incidents, the times that my mom was not ok with my dad’s behavior. I’m now seeing with different eyes the methods of ‘discipline’ and ‘training’ that my parents used. Realizing that what was abusive, I considered normal.

When it came to “training” or “discipline” there was no doubt my parents believed it was for our ultimate good. That it was an expression of their love for us. They “chastised” us because they wanted to keep our souls out of an “eternal lake of fire.” We were told many things about how this abuse was actually love, and demanded by God:

“I do this because I love you.” “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” “God disciplines those he loves.” “Parents who don’t discipline their children hate them.”

When I was younger, spankings and time alone were the main methods of “discipline” that I remember. It didn’t really matter how old you were. A first time for one of us, I remember my sibling being around maybe eighteen months. My mom and I came home from the grocery store and my younger sibling was very… subdued? Dad said they had had their first training session, or something like that. No idea what, if anything, had been done wrong.

I know there was some statement by dad on how he had done it while my mom was gone because she would have been too soft.

I don’t even know how to describe what they used to strike us with. It was made of something like leather, very thick and smooth, too big to be from a belt.

There was always a pronouncement of how many times we would be hit. “That’s eight!” or the like. My mom had a penchant for counting, like some parents do when they want you to do something “one, two, three…” In our case each count represented another “spanking”. Before you could be punished, or “chastised”, you had to express absolute submission. This meant not crying, removing your pants and underwear, and bending over the bed.

Afterwards you had to hug them, and usually there was a drawn out discussion about what you had done wrong.

I remember being maybe five years old. It was after my dad had spanked me, and I was crying. I didn’t want to touch him, so I was backed up towards the wall away from him, and really didn’t want to hug. He was explaining to me that just like I was backing away from him, my sin separates me from him, and hurts our relationship.

Conditional affection, love defined as chastisement, and the blame laid to me for problems in our relationship.

I distinctly remember a “training” moment when I was a small person, at whatever potty training age was. I remember being given specific instruction to go in the toilet and not my underwear, or else. It seems like mom and dad left me alone to play for awhile, because I remember the moment when they came to my door and discovered I had gone in my pants. It seems like the reasoning was that I was rebellious or lazy, but I couldn’t say.  “Sins of omission” and all that. I was in big trouble, was given a lecture and spanked. I also remember that I was wearing orange.

I have a memory of playing in my room with a doll that cried if you turned it over. I was spanking the doll with the leather instrument my parents used on me and making my doll cry. My parents discovered me and I was in big trouble. To this day I have no idea what was so wrong, I was a child emulating my parents.


There is one term my dad uses to this day that concisely defines the picture of God I was painted.

“God’ll help you with that.”

Seemingly sanguine, it was used as a threat or condemnation. It meant something along the lines of: “If you don’t get your act together God will make your life living hell until you shape up.”

Similarly, if dad said “I can help you with that” it was meant as a threat. Figure out how to obey on your own, or the consequences would be severe.

Around eight I have fewer and fewer memories. The bottom dropped out of life and everything was hard, for all of us. Never got easier after that. From age eight until I moved out life was a constant stress. You never knew when something was going to happen, when someone was going to get hurt. Sundays were the worst because dad was home all day. There was plenty of ‘discipline’. I have no idea what was deserved and what wasn’t.

Something must have happened to the leather thing, because my mom adopted a sturdy wooden spoon. She broke a few of those with use. Dad, I think, used his hand for a bit because I remember his graduation to a board due to the strain on his hand.

I was around ten or eleven years old when dad made a board with a handle and put work into sanding and finishing it. I remember it being 2+ feet long and five or six inches wide. I only have the memory, nothing exact, and of course everything is bigger when you’re a child.

There was a big to-do about the whole thing. Dad talked about a board from his childhood that had holes in it and two separate layers along with a handle. One of those -you’re so lucky I had to walk to school uphill both ways- kind of things. I don’t even know if the story was true.

The existence of this new form of punishment was a big threat. I had no doubt dad would use it on us. At this point I was already afraid of hearing his truck in the driveway. I remember cleaning my section of the room immaculately. The hangers in our closet were so straight that looking at then made me dizzy.

The very first time dad pronounced punishment with the new board it was for me. We were getting groceries as a family. My younger sibling started to walk away to go be with dad. We got in trouble for being between parents alone in the store, so I grabbed my sibling’s sweatshirt and told him to stay. He went to dad and told him what I had done. Dad got in my face and said he was going to punish me with the board. I fell apart right there in the grocery store, absolutely hysterical. My parents herded us out of the store, I was screaming and crying the whole way home. My dad told me to shut up, no more noise on the way home. I couldn’t stop crying. Mom suggested to my sibling that we take the punishment together, split it or something. He would have been around five ears old. To this day I don’t understand why she said that. I don’t remember any more of what happened. It seems like mom and dad started dickering (maybe about her suggestion that I get less) and then dad left angry, for a long time. I don’t know for sure.

I figured out that if something mattered to you, they’d use it to punish you. If you did something wrong, they’d take it away. If you didn’t do something right, they’d tell you that you might have gotten what you wanted back, but now you wouldn’t.

I made it my mission in life to care about absolutely nothing.

If I didn’t want it they couldn’t use it against me. I didn’t care about eating. I didn’t care about spending time with them. I didn’t care about being alone. I had no friends after eleven, so they couldn’t keep me from seeing anyone. One sibling was particularly hard to use the method of removing “privileges” on. I remember my mom saying in exasperation that there was nothing that mattered to him, how was she going to take it away? Removing meals or no food for a day was an oft used punishment.

I remember distinctly the moment when I realized I could never be good enough. It was never going to stop.

I had made dinner for the entire family, cleared up and was just finishing washing every dish. My dad came into the kitchen and screamed at me. I remember dad saying that if I thought that was good enough I was crazy. I don’t remember anything after that.

I figured out there was nothing I could do to protect myself or my siblings. All I wanted was to find a way to prove that we didn’t deserve it. That we had done the right thing. We had obeyed even if dad didn’t think so. I became increasingly depressed and suicidal as I faced the reality that there wasn’t a standard of perfect that christians agreed to. Even if I were capable of perfection, we couldn’t even decide what it was.

The years from early grade school and all through my teens are a blur. I have very few isolated incidents that I remember. Screaming and cursing, unpredictable enough to completely catch you off guard.

My brothers definitely got the worst of the punishments. I don’t know why this is. Maybe they thought boys were sturdier or more rebellious and needed more force to make an impression. Maybe my parents had a harder time breaking their spirit. Maybe because they were younger than me and got the worst of my dad’s anger as his stability waned.

My dad beat my brothers. I have no difficulty calling it a beating. If you hit your child with a board using all your force countless times on a regular basis, that is a beating.

I know there was punishment that I never knew of, and sometimes there were things I heard about later. Dad would go into a room with one of us and I had no idea what happened. Most of the time I would intentionally go outside in the yard so I didn’t have to hear the screaming of my sibling.

Every day it shatters my heart to know that I was there, and there was nothing I could do about any of this. I wanted to do something, I wanted to protect my siblings. But I was helpless. I wished I could take it all for them, find a way to teach them how to avoid all of it, to be good enough. In hindsight I know it was fruitless.

This ‘training’ is not what love is, but I was raised to believe that it was.

Hurts Me More Than You: Sabina’s Story

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Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

Additional trigger warning for Sabina’s story: brief description of sexual assault.


Sabina’s Story

I remember the spanking I was proud of: the spanking when I closed the door on my emotions and became a blank page. I was probably 7 or 8, and two or three strokes in, bent over my parents’ bed, when my rigid body finally went limp.

Afterwards I was so proud of myself, and never again did I cry during a spanking.

For years I had been trying to “receive my discipline correctly”. I had a chart, and every time I received my discipline (didn’t scream angrily, didn’t cower or cover my bottom, didn’t lash out before, during or after) I would get a sticker and my mom would be proud of me. After I filled the chart, I got to get a pet of my very own. If I didn’t receive my discipline correctly, it was ok, my mom was good enough to give me another chance to receive my discipline right then, with another spanking. Another 10-15 swats with the paddle my dad made in the garage and sanded down smooth so it wouldn’t cause any damage, perfectly flat so that it wouldn’t hit unevenly. Made with love, not even as thick as a wooden stirring spoon, it had a hole at the top to hang it next to the phone in the kitchen.

I say this with no malice. My parents love me and I love them.

They wanted me to receive my loving discipline correctly as training for when I would need to accept the loving discipline of the Lord as an adult. They would get angry when we sinned, but they never made us receive discipline when they were angry. We would get sent to their room, to wait until they calmed down enough to do what the Lord required them to do.

Today I’m almost 27. You know how when people are angry, they say they see red? If you were to hit me right now, I know I’d see white.

I remember that white being peaceful, like I was finally not responsive to the impulses of my sinful brain that so often used to make me instinctively cover my butt.

I stopped getting spankings when I was 11 or 12, I believe. But that white numbness came again when I was 19.

A kid my age trapped me in a room and sexually assaulted me after I told him I was a virgin. I couldn’t push him off me, I wouldn’t defend myself, because something told me it would be over soon and I probably deserved it for talking with a boy about sex. Just like my spankings, I wanted everything to be over as soon as possible, so I could receive forgiveness and be able to forget about it.

So I did.

I shoved the experience away and didn’t talk about it for years, until I heard the term “sexual assault” in a sociology class and the memories came rushing back.

When I told my mom about the assault, she cried and asked why I hadn’t told her. I didn’t have an answer then, but now I know:

When you receive your discipline, you are supposed to be quiet, teachable. And the slate will be clean and your sins will trouble you no more.

The Problem with Virgin to Vixen: A Personal Story

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hobbs’ blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. It was originally published on October 28, 2013.

(If anyone around here is uncomfortable reading about sex, drop out now!)

In “Pulling the Victoria’s Secret Dance”, Libby Anne tackles the conservative Christian culture’s strange demands on women, that they go from being perfectly virginal, pure, and innocent to becoming their husband’s personal porn stars after saying “I do”.

I imbibed enough of Debi Pearl and other Christian writers (not to mention my mother’s advice to ‘not say no too often’) to get this idea in my head that while I could enjoy sex, it was for me primarily about performing for my husband — in part to make him happy, and in part so he would never cheat.

And boy did I perform.

And I think I did a pretty decent job for someone who had never seen so much as a sex scene in a movie — since my husband hadn’t seen anything like that either, he didn’t know any better. ;)

And I enjoyed performing. Mostly. I would sometimes get flashbacks during sex of being touched by other people, but i would push past that — I would disassociate. My mind felt like it was leaving my body and it felt odd but i didn’t stop because I believed that to stop was basically to invite my husband to leave me.

And when I say performing, I mean it. I was acting. When i didn’t feel sexually attractive, I was pretending I was.

It was all an act.

That only gets you so far. It can be fun, acting, but doing it every time is draining and regularly having sex while disassociating left me feeling a little sad and confused.

I finally realized this year that I was performing — like I was taught — instead of really being there myself.

I’ve started saying ‘no’ when I start to disassociate. I’ve started being a little less sexy, and a little more myself. I’ve started learning about what I want.

I’m relaxing more and forcing it less.

This is the part where i would love to say that everything is better than ever now. Well, that isn’t quite so. It was easier when I was acting. I knew exactly what to do and my feelings didn’t matter. I could even manufacture a version of the feelings if necessary — growing up where your ‘attitude’ and emotions are under constant scrutiny makes you good at that.

So it isn’t all a bed of roses now. We have a lot of rebuilding to do, trying to get rid of my emotional baggage and start over from a new, healthier perspective in which sex comes out of love and desire instead of duty and insecurity.

But we’re working together, connecting instead of acting, and I think it will end up being a beautiful thing.

What Happened When I Called the Cops on Dad

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on April 26, 2013.

I’ve been reading these stories of homeschool kids who were so scared of CPS. They were told that CPS were evil, would find any excuse to take them away, and that they would wind up in foster care situations where they would be horribly abused, physically and sexually, and where people hated them because they believed in God. They were told that the worst thing the foster care people would try to do was force you to reject Jesus and if you did, you would go to hell with them when you died.

Sadly, that fearmongering anti-CPS indoctrination was my story too. I was told the same thing. I was also not allowed to go outside in the yard on weekdays until we saw the Catholic schoolgirls through the window, walking down the sidewalk in their matching skirts, signifying that “school hours” were over. My parents were careful to keep us hidden from truancy police even if they weren’t careful to have us do any actual schoolwork.

Given all these years of instilled fear and propaganda, and how much I honestly believed a lot of it back then, I ended up doing something surprising as a teen, something that is still to this day the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and I figured I’d share it here.

Just to give you the background, I was 14 years old, my grandparents had recently forced my parents to put all of us in public school (I went into 9th grade), and my Dad still regularly did things like hit us with belts; slap, kick, and body slam us; yank our hair; drag us out of bed or out of the shower; and repeatedly slap us in the face. Often it looked and sounded a lot like this. As we got older and he increasingly lost control of us, as we started to question and oppose things more, the abuse just seemed to escalate. It was bad enough that today I have a “bum knee” and a pinched nerve in my upper back, both developed in my mid teens and neither attributable to any other cause than getting physically abused by my Dad, as I did not play sports.

The worst part of it all was seeing my siblings get hit (I either “tuned out” or fought back when I got hit) and I was concerned that one of them might get maimed or killed, particularly my younger brother, the eldest son, who always got it the worst. At public school I had recently learned that most people figured you were supposed to call 911 if something real bad was happening. I decided to give it a shot.

“I’m gonna call the police!” I said, but nobody seemed to notice. Dad was too busy hitting and shoving my brother and calling him names, and my brother was too busy curled up on the livingroom floor, trying to make himself as small and unhittable as is possible for a nine year old to do. I don’t know where anyone else was. It was a small old house with all the rooms pretty much connected to all the other rooms, but people still seemed to find ways to quickly disappear at times like this, except for me. I never seemed able to pull off the escaping thing very well, and by now I was thoroughly sick of it. I had also been told I was responsible for my siblings often enough that I believed it. I had decided I was going to do something radical and crazy. Even if foster care got us it couldn’t be worse than this, right?

I shouted about calling the cops again and again no one paid me any attention. I went into my parents’ bedroom and picked up the phone. I pushed the 911 buttons quickly so I wouldn’t lose my nerve. I could barely hear the sound of the operator’s voice over my own heartbeat. I told her “my Dad’s hitting my brother and won’t stop.” She calmly asked for the address and said “ok, we’re sending someone out there right away.” She asked me if I wanted to stay on the phone until they got there and I said no and then thanked her. It seemed I only had a moment to wait and then suddenly there were sirens. The police arrived and then two young men in blue were standing in the living room. I came out and sat on the old gold-colored couch in the living room in my ratty nightgown, stifling sobs. I suddenly felt embarrassed as I hadn’t brushed my teeth or washed my hair since waking up, and my face was red and stained with tears. I felt ugly and by the looks on their faces they seemed to think I was ugly too. They looked at my brother, standing there, bug-eyed, and then let him go in the other room, which he was in a hurry to do. Dad turned on the charm and told them a story of how he was disciplining his son, who had misbehaved and that I had just lost it and interfered. He told them I was wayward, and willful, and disrespectful and had cursed at him.

One cop took my Dad outside to hear more of this yarn, and the other one stayed to look at me sternly and lecture me on how I needed to be respectful to my father, accept punishment for bad behavior, and not curse at adults. I sat there, seething, saying nothing. You just don’t talk back to a cop, especially when you’re a 14 year old girl and he’s obviously taken sides and ignored all evidence that didn’t fit with what he wanted the situation to be. They didn’t even check my brother for bruises or marks (which he had). The cop looked only a few years older than me, not much taller. He apparently knew nothing about this type of situation and obviously didn’t want to learn more.

Mom was standing there in her nightgown, nervous and sinewy, arms folded tightly, with purple lips and a crazy, almost baffled expression. Her usual look when fights happened. The policeman tried to include her in the conversation about what I should and shouldn’t do. I glared at her and said “you know what was going on, and you never do anything.” Now it was time for her to play the victim. She looked at the cop with big child eyes and said that she believed children should be disciplined in a Godly manner and her husband was the head of the household, blah blah blah, but that she didn’t like it when he slapped the kids in the face and when he would get mad she just didn’t know what to do.

The cop then directed all of his attention at Mom, trying to ask her questions, probe deeper into this. He quickly discovered what everybody else already knew, that asking Mom any kind of yes or no question and expecting any kind of direct or conclusive answer was an exercise in futility. She gave him a few long, indirect run-on sentences about nothing. He became bored and joined the other cop outside with Dad. I looked out the window and saw them talking on the gravel driveway, just along the fence line. Dad was standing inside the gate and they were standing outside. His body language showed that he probably wanted to kick them off the property altogether but instead was being submissive and deferential and thinking he might be in trouble. I looked at my brother, who’d come back in the living room, still bug-eyed, to look out the window with me. He said “you shouldn’t have done that, Heather.” I turned away from him as my heart sank and I sobbed. I’d done this for him. I didn’t want him to get killed. I looked back out the window.

The two policemen looked comfortable, chatting with Dad easily. One of them came back up to the door to tell Mom that they’d spoken to him and told him that corporal punishment was ok, but that slapping your kids in the face is not included or allowed. They said they’d also told him that if they had to be called back out here, he’d be arrested. They were leaving now. That cop didn’t even look at me again, still sitting on the couch. I didn’t matter. I felt so alone, terrified. I figured I was probably going to end up dead. Dad would kill me and I would be buried in the ground somewhere and no one would ever find me! They were leaving and he was coming back inside and I knew he was furious, and…suddenly I wasn’t scared anymore. I was a ghost, floating up above my left side, looking down at the ugly gold couch with the ugly teen girl on it, saying “hmmm, I wonder what’s gonna happen to that girl, Heather?”

Dad walked into the house and I stopped dissociating. I wasn’t a ghost anymore. I was me and all I could hear was my heartbeat. I wasn’t afraid. I would meet death straight on and show no emotion. I would look expressionless. He would not get any begging for anything from me. He stepped into the kitchen and instead of showing anger, he looked over at me with the saddest betrayed eyes I had ever seen him look at me with. He seemed like a little child that someone had punched. He slowly looked at me again and then averted his eyes, seeming to not bear to even see me anymore. He spoke to Mom in a sad voice and said “I can’t believe you didn’t support me. I don’t even have a good Christian wife that supports me.” He brushed off her attempts at conversation and sadly shuffled into the bedroom to lay down. Mom tried to go in and talk to him but he said “just leave me alone,” in the same sad resentful voice, and she ended up coming out and cleaning the kitchen table instead. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t smacked or yelled at or killed! I was still on the couch and nothing had happened to me.

The next day at school I felt exhausted and mentioned to the boy I liked in computer science class that I’d called the cops on my Dad. He looked at me, shocked, and said “Wow, that’s terrible!” He didn’t ask any questions and kept playing Doom, so I kept playing Oregon Trail, feeling worse than usual every time my pioneer family drowned in a creek or starved to death. I felt guilty. Maybe it was terribly wrong to call the police on a parent. It sure felt wrong, but so did a lot of things. Was it more wrong to treat your own kids like that? Was it wrong to be a cop that’s stupid and doesn’t pay attention when it’s your job? What was I supposed to do? Accept that it was corporal punishment and it was ok, we deserved it? I just couldn’t. Getting hit had just always felt wrong, disrespectful. I decided I wouldn’t say anything else to people at school though. Apparently that just wasn’t a good idea. Still, the more I thought about what happened when I called the cops, the more I felt angry. I was still afraid and on guard the next few days, thinking there was a chance I might still have it coming from Dad.

All that week he didn’t speak to me or interact with me, except once to tell me “Grammy wants to talk to you,” and hand me the phone. I picked it up and she started yelling on the other end. She was attempting to tell me what a terrible child I was for calling the police on Dad. I tried to explain to her what was going on, because she’d listened and tried to help when I’d told her stuff before, but she just couldn’t hear me over all of her own yelling. I finally told her I knew I did the right thing and she just didn’t know. She got me to promise her that next time there was a problem, I’d call her, not the police. It was an easy promise to make because after what had happened and how those cops were, I didn’t plan on ever calling them again anyway.

After that everybody stopped mentioning that I’d called the cops on Dad. The only reminder was that he seemed to try and show more self control. He stopped getting the belt or the red stick, even if he still threatened to use them. If we did something he didn’t like, he would put us “on restriction,” his term for grounded, in back-to-back two week increments (which would usually end up being extended for months on end), and when he did lose it, he was more likely to only corner or intimidate us, and if he did hit us, only leave bruises where clothes or hair would cover them up. Also, now he had to be careful because every time he lost it on somebody, Mom would scream “I’m gonna call the police! I’m gonna call the police!” She never did call on him though.

The abuse ended for me when I moved out at age 17 after Dad knocked me over in a chair, chipping my front tooth. The abuse ended for my siblings two years later when Dad moved out and my parents divorced.

Two years ago my brother, now 25, and I finally talked about the time I called the police, our first time ever discussing it since it had happened. He said he was sorry for telling me I shouldn’t have called back then, that he had thought what was happening to him was just routine, normal, and that what I did was what was out of line, extreme. He said looking back he was glad that I called, that he felt it was a “wake up call” to Dad and while things still weren’t ok after that, they got better. I cried when he said that.

There was certainly no need for him to say sorry for anything he’d said as a little boy, but his words now, as a grown man affirming that I’d done the right thing, meant so much to me. Nobody had ever told me that. Back then everyone had acted like I was very much in the wrong, a person who betrayed my family.

I look back and feel so very thankful that I somehow had the guts to fight that fight, that my siblings and I all survived it, and that the younger ones can just be kids and don’t have to go through any such stuff.