New Age Neglect: Rabbit’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, andrew and hobbes.

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

I don’t… I don’t know if I’m ready to really talk about all of what happened to me. But I feel like maybe I should say something about my experience with homeschool because it had zero to do with Christianity and I feel alone, and maybe the reason I can’t find any other secular neglect homeschooling stories is because I need to write one. So this is, in brief, my story. Maybe I will write more someday, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be okay talking about it in a language anyone but me and my husband understand.

Now, in 2016, I have discovered the following things about myself, things that I feel should be known, in order to give context to this account: I am an intersex woman with PCOS. I have EDS, a collagen mutation that causes chronic pain. I have been homeless and because of those experiences became a communist. I am a bisexual pagan witch. I am severely disordered, impacted by schizophrenia, autism, and two personality disorders (borderline and dependent) as well as extensive PTSD and anorexia, both of these latter from my childhood abuse and neglect, and the further abuse and neglect they set me up to face.

My mother neglected and emotionally abused me, as did literally every other member of my extended and immediate family, including my younger sister, who was also homeschooled for a time.

When I graduated from a very good and positive Montessori school at the age of eleven (5th grade) my mother put me in yet another private school for 6th grade and then, in the summer after, quit her job and pulled me and my sister out of school. She got a license to homeschool us (or… whatever that is, the registration that keeps the truancy officers showing up).

She bought all the sparkly accessories for homeschooling, made a few desultory efforts, and then got bored (she always got bored) and just started… ignoring our education.

She said, she always told people, that ‘oh, she’s so smart, she reads all the time. I can just leave her alone and she learns by herself!’

When I said I wanted to go to high school, she said ‘ok but you have to be in charge of that’ and then did absolutely nothing, forcing me to ask my friend, another 13yo girl, about how to enroll in her school. We were thirteen!! I had to go through this other friend of mine, on the phone, not even given the internet or anything, and print out the applications on my grandmother’s computer during Christmas.

She continued her sterling record of doing absolutely nothing, not even feeding me adequately or taking me to see a competent doctor when I was very clearly having severe medical problems (other than my orthodontia, because heaven forbid her child have crooked teeth), through the one and a half years I managed to limp along with zero parental help or support in a public (well, charter/magnet) school–the first time I’d ever been to public school.

And then, when I failed out of that school, she acted like I didn’t exist.

Again, she reasoned that she didn’t have to pay attention to me, because I could read and ‘read all the time’. She seemed to dutifully ignore the fact that what I was reading was fiction.

Anyway, later on, when I started talking about homeschooling with other people, I got very confused when they assumed I was Christian, and fundamentalist at that. I simply had never been around that kind of homeschooler–I’d only briefly been around any other homeschoolers, but the ones I’d met were all New Age. Scientologists, Pagans, etc. And all abusive in the same way, similar way to what I’ve read about from Christian survivors, but with that New Age ‘rebel’ twist that makes it hard to… well, rebel against it visibly (how are you supposed to rebel against an atheist or pagan? Go Christian??).

I still feel alone. Whenever I hear about survivors, or meet them (I live with two others–my husband and our roommate), they’re from horrific Christian cults. I feel like the only one that was from a secular or New Age philosophy or cult.

I guess this isn’t a full story so much as a call to others.

Where are my fellow secular survivors, where are they? Please speak up, please let me know I’m not alone. I’m here. You’re not alone.

I found out all of my conditions and illnesses in my adult life–most of them in the past year–and am learning more about how to live with them. My husband and I have been together for 9 years this April. I have been in recovery from anorexia for nine years. I am no longer homeless. I am able to buy items that ease the pain and lack of mobility from my EDS. I have some support cats. I am at a point where I can laugh derisively at my mother and my relatives and their abuse and neglect of me. I am recovering. There is hope.

You–and me–we’re not alone.

I love you. You can do it. We can do it together.

Family was my Everything: Alida’s Story, Part One

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

Moving from Homeschool to College was a lot tougher than I expected. I’m currently in my final year of undergrad, and I think I’m still adjusting.

I was one of those homeschool kids that took college classes in high school, which made me assume I’d have college totally figured out. Of course I was wrong.

Seven years after my first college course, I’m still struggling to find where I make sense and figure out the process of growing up.

Freshman year, I went to a private Christian university, along with a handful of kids from my homeschool, speech-and-debate social circle. I hardly grew as a person at all that year.

Sometimes I can look back at experiences and point out something that started a trend in my life, or a particular moment that was eye-opening in a way that isn’t identifiable until I link it to other events that happened later. There are only two instances like that from freshman year I can look back at.

The first is when I chose not to sit next to these two students in math class. In all honestly, it was because I thought they both looked weird. Those two ended up becoming my best friends at that school. We’re still in touch, and one of them I still consider my best friend.

The second is when I made friends with a person who identified as lesbian at the time. I remember deliberately trying to integrate into a different friend group so I would have an excuse not to hang out with them. As The Bible had been paraphrased to me so many times, “you become like the people you surround yourself with.” The gay agenda was very evil and very real to me at the time. We somehow ended up staying friends, which I attribute wholly to their kindness, tolerance and understanding, not mine.

During this time, I also was suffering from anorexia and bulimia.

When I was growing up, modesty culture influenced nearly everything around me.

I remember all the rules about how I was supposed to dress, talk, behave, and have friends. My shorts had to be at least a certain length. No clothes could be too snug. I shouldn’t speak so loudly now that I was a young lady. I was always to keep a “pleasant countenance” by smiling. Once I turned 13, it was no longer appropriate to have boys as friends.

My mom and dad told me all of these rules were very important because “men function differently than women,” and I might “cause them to stumble by my conduct” if I wasn’t careful enough. I never had a sex ed, but I attended a purity class, went to one of those father-daughter dances where you sign a paper about staying pure, the whole shebang.

For sophomore year, I had to move home and go to Community College for a while. I lived at my parents’ house. Again, I didn’t see myself changing much. I couldn’t see it from there.

And aside from what some covert internet searches had told me, I still didn’t know what sex was, even as a second-year college student.

This was also the first time I joined a sport since Tee-ball.

One day I was stretching with my teammates before a race, and I asked to trade places in the circle with someone else so I could move to the opposite side. When the girls asked me why, I explained that my back had been facing the men’s team, and “I didn’t want them lusting after my body” as we bent over to stretch our hamstrings. All the girls laughed at me. The girl who switched places with me laughed too and said something about how the boys could lust all they wanted- her booty was on fire!

I remember going quiet as my face turned red; I had never been in a situation before where saying something like that was weird or abnormal. But I also remember feeling self-righteous, thinking about how much holier I was than them, how much better of a person I was. I wasn’t the same kind of girl they were, I told myself. I was saving my body in every way for the man it would one day belong to.

Being around those girls was good for me. I slowly recovered from my eating disorders. Looking back, I’ve been able to identify the reasons I developed them in the first place.

All the modesty and purity-related messages I heard for so many years had internalized into the theme that my body was something wrong, something negative, something to be covered, something to be ashamed of.

Something to be hated.

As I started to get more involved in the sport, I started to see my body as something amazing. I lifted weights for the first time, and my body was something strong, something capable. My team started winning races, and my body was something useful, something functional. My body, to me, was no longer something exclusively sexual and therefore inherently sinful. My body was now something I could command to be strong, to accomplish a task, to fight for my teammates every day during practice and during races. I had motivation now to take care of my body, to be the best athlete I could be.

I said I would only ever date Christian men.

Over the years, I had been told many times that it was wrong to be in any kind of emotional relationship with someone who wasn’t also a believer, whether it be romantic or just a friendship.

So I dated a Christian guy from my social circle. After a little while, my parents forbade me from socializing with him, pointing out his “flaws” and “undesirable character traits,” saying we weren’t a good enough match. At the time, I experienced sadness but still firmly believed that as an unmarried woman living under her father’s roof, it was my duty to obey him. It was “scriptural” that I allow him to be my authority, they said.

Looking back on the situation, I see three things. The first is that my parents ended up being right about this guy. The second is that my they felt the need to exercise absolute control over my relationship. The third is that even though they were right about him, they should not have controlled my relationship the way they did.

But at the time, I didn’t know any better.

The next year, I started dating a good friend from my academic program. Tyler was the first man I fell in love with. I knew that he wasn’t religious, so we went to great lengths to see each other at times when my parents wouldn’t find out about our relationship. I made up lies about having to stay late at work or lead a study group at the library. We kissed a lot but never had sex, even though he wanted to. I remember being very proud of myself for that.

The entire time though, I experienced crippling guilt, especially when my mom and dad started to ask questions.

I eventually told them the truth, and on the same day, amidst tears, promised I would break up with him.

But I didn’t break up with him. We talked about getting married one day. As an “informed agnostic,” as Tyler called himself, it was difficult for him to understand the emotional and psychological toll that deceiving my family had on me. He didn’t have 21 years of homeschooled Christian culture and expectations weighing down on him. Family was my everything.

That summer, I fought with my mom more than I could ever remember. Multiple times, she threatened to kick me out of the house. Finally, I couldn’t handle it anymore. It was him or my family. I chose my family and prayed it would be worth it. My brother went into my phone and Facebook, blocking Tyler on both. Even though I knew how to disable the block settings, I didn’t. I told myself that abiding by my family’s wishes would help me.

For my fourth year of college, I earned an athletic scholarship and was able to transfer to the university I currently attend.

I moved to the opposite coast, and it was my first time not living under my parents’ roof.

One day, about a month into the semester, I was messaging a classmate on Facebook about studying for a quiz together. We decided that he would come over to my dorm to study and then watch the Avengers. A few minutes later, I got a call from my mom. When I answered, she started asking me how the day was going, if I had any plans, etc. So I told her about my day, and said that “I was actually about to study for a quiz, so I can’t really talk for long.” I wanted to end the call so I could go let my friend in.

Mom kept pressing me for details. “Are you sure there’s not anything else you want to tell me?” Nope, there wasn’t anything else I wanted to tell her. I couldn’t identify why I didn’t want to tell her that I had a boy coming over. We weren’t planning to do anything ‘bad,’ but for some reason I still felt very uncomfortable. Facebook dinged again. He was waiting outside the building. I felt annoyed with both mom and myself that I had to rush her off the phone.

The next day, mom called me again. “I know that you were hanging out with a boy yesterday, and that you didn’t tell me about it when I asked you point-blank,” she said. She had the password to my Facebook? I’d changed it multiple times through the years since I made it when I was 16.

Even from 3,000 miles away, she still had to control my interpersonal interactions.

She told me that I had sinned by omission and that by hiding important details, had caused her to doubt my spiritual health. I didn’t know what to say. Half an hour later, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably to my roommate, not understanding why I felt the way I did, feeling embarrassed that a situation that felt so stupid had evoked such strong emotions. My roommate told me that I had a right to privacy and that it was ok to keep some things to myself. No one had ever told me that before. I changed my password later that day, hating that I had to do it.

Love Jesus, All Else Be Damned: Sophia’s Story

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Sophia” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author.

My parents are very well meaning people.

They didn’t go to college, and they didn’t grow up religious. Just before they started a family together, they came to Christianity. For them, it meant safety. It was a formula for doing things correctly and for protecting their children from the hurt that they experienced in their own lives, hurt for which Christianity offered an explanation (sin). They homeschooled us to “protect us from the world.”

Growing up, though, I didn’t feel protected.

Instead, the most vivid memories I have from my childhood are of fear and loneliness. Fear that, at any moment, I was transgressing one of my parent’s constantly changing rules. Loneliness that came from sitting at home most days, with nothing to keep me company but my family and my books. Patrick Henry College seemed like a perfect escape. It was on the other side of the country, their rules seemed lenient to the sheltered 16-year-old filling out her college application, and best of all, I would constantly be around other people my age.

In reality, attending Patrick Henry College (PHC) was an extension of all the worst parts of my childhood. Again, I stepped into an atmosphere full of suffocating rules. All of our time was spent in rigidly structured and overbearingly supervised social interactions. When there was no rule in place, the college administration (really, disciplinary watchdogs), would remind us that we should abide by the “spirit,” not just the “letter” of the law.

If no rule existed, you weren’t safe. Instead, you needed to invent one. 

We had mandatory chapel where we (or at least, I, doubting my faith even as a freshman) had to feign enthusiasm while singing worship songs.  After that, we would listen to various speakers tell us of the evils of liberalism and homosexuality, or perhaps give a lengthy digression on some portion of the Bible. We spent the rest of our time in classes all day, then studying at night, all while conforming to a rigid dress code and rigid conduct rules (and many informal social sanctions). My four years at PHC were filled with incredible loneliness.

Within a few weeks, the excitement of leaving home faded, and the nature of my new prison became increasingly clear. I came to PHC the semester after the “schism.” My friends were all people who had been deeply affected by the ousting of multiple professors, and were generally “anti-administration.” At PHC, a school filled with students who’d spent their lives trying to understand reality in an us-versus-them (conservatives-versus-liberals, Christians-versus-nonbelievers, etc.) framework, it seemed natural to view the student body of PHC (a, mind you, very conservative school) with a liberal-versus-conservative, bad Christian-versus-good-Christian rubric.

My friends were the “liberals”, and by associating with them, dressing somewhat normally, and having career aspirations as a female, I too was branded as a liberal. Once, after attending a concert in DC with some older students, two members of the administration called me in to question me (probably thinking they could scare me, a freshman, more easily than they could an older student) about the purported use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs by students at the concert. I managed to say something about how I thought gossip was a sin, and they let me go. It was clear, though, that I had been branded, and was being watched.

College, a place where I was supposed to finally have friends, became a place where I felt lonelier than ever.

I didn’t know whom to trust. I felt that anyone around me was possibly watching for me to transgress a rule so they could report me to the administration. And if not that, anyone around me was probably judging me:

“You’re eating that much food?”

“You’re wearing that dress?”

“Your attitude toward that boy seemed flirtatious.”

“That comment was too assertive.”

Of course, coming from where I came from, I didn’t think this was wrong, or a problem with the college. I thought that there was something wrong with me. I simply wasn’t trying hard enough to be godly or pure enough.

That was just the tip of the iceberg. I now teach college students at a much more prestigious research institution, and I know that even at major Universities, freshmen confront some of the biggest blows to their egos of their lives. Students who were at the top of their class at prep school find themselves grade-grubbing at their TA’s office hours when they receive their first B- (or worse) on an essay. At PHC, we were learning how to write and think like all college students, and that involved many ego-bruisings. But there were also a few more nefarious subtexts.

We had to excel, because this was our Christian duty. Failure was somehow sinful. But in exceling, we couldn’t be too prideful. Especially as a female, this attitude could be seen as inappropriate. In one instance, after a particularly contentious student senate meeting where I’d spoken against the “conservative” wing of the senate, a fellow student senator (a “mature Christian” male) came to me and said:

“You know, everyone hates you. You’re too assertive, and it’s not a godly or womanly attitude.”

What really broke me, though, was something that happened freshman year. I was on the college debate team, which was one of PHC’s main selling points (“See, we have this activity where our students sometimes do ok against people at normal schools! We’re awesome!”). I’d won my first tournament. At my second tournament, my partner and I won enough rounds to advance as first seed, which meant we had the best performance in preliminary rounds. Our coach (another student), thinking that I needed to learn humility, held us back from advancing, and sent another team ahead of us. I couldn’t understand it. I thought I’d done everything I needed to do, but somehow there was this deeper logic of being ambiguously “Christian enough” that I was failing to follow.  After that, part of me stopped trying. I didn’t know where the lines were anymore. I just knew that I was somehow spiritually inadequate, and I didn’t know how to fix it.

I started to go deeper and deeper inside myself in the quest to be good enough. Like so many perfectionist girls, even in less restrictive environments, I decided I needed more rigid self-discipline. So I stopped eating, both because this felt like some form of success or control, and because I felt that I needed punishment for my inadequacies. As my eating disorder continued to develop, I continued to withdraw. The only way to stay safe from the onslaught of judgment was not to let anyone in, ever. One by one, my friends started to slip away from me. I still don’t really blame them. As an 18, 19, or 20 year old, dealing with your 18 year old friend’s anorexia is a pretty tall order, especially if you think it’s a sin (which she can just stop committing) instead of a disease (for which she might need professional help). I never got that help. The campus administration, who cared so deeply about whether our skirts were 2 or 3 inches above our knees (the latter was a serious infraction) or whether we imbibed alcohol (for which you could be expelled), didn’t seem to care at all about the fact that I (and many other students) developed life threatening self-harm disorders.

At the worst of the eating disorder, when I could hardly walk and just wanted to die and make it all go away, many people questioned my “walk with the Lord,” but not a single person asked me if I was ok.

This, to me, is what PHC stood for. Love Jesus, all else be damned.

Every time someone told me they “just couldn’t deal with me anymore,” or I  “needed to get right with the Lord,” I dealt with it by closing up a little bit inside, and eating a little bit less (650 calories today, only 600 tomorrow, oh, I didn’t deserve that salad, I should throw it up, etc). When an older classmate, someone I trusted, took advantage of that trust to force himself on me, I didn’t really resist. I was just a worthless shell, after all. Who was I to say no? It didn’t even seem worth reporting.

After all, it was (as I was later told by another male student) probably because my skirts were a “stumbling block”.

My parents, of course, didn’t know what to do.

They knew something was wrong when I came home for Christmas break my freshman year, 30 pounds underweight, withdrawn, and sad. I didn’t have the words to articulate what was happening to me, or how things were going at PHC, which they interpreted as standoffish. Even if I had articulated a cry for help, their backgrounds and religion didn’t provide them with the tools to help me. They tried various tactics, including denial, anger, and threats. But eventually it was them, in a fumbling but heartfelt attempt, as well as the kind attention of a wonderful professor, that finally tipped the balance.

After my freshman year, when I was exhausted, waif-like, and contemplating giving up on it all, my mom called me. She didn’t tell me I was sinning. She didn’t yell. She didn’t judge.

She just told me how she loved me.

How when she was pregnant they told her I might not make it, and how she cried and prayed and hoped every day that I would, and how it felt to hold me for the first time, and how all she’d ever tried for in life was to protect me in pain, and how she felt like she failed, and please, please not to give up.

Her words were filled with love, and in that love was a kind of freedom. It was also the freedom I found in the classes of one particularly gifted professor, who transported us away from the rigid confines of religious rules to questions about existence, knowledge, and politics.

These glimpses of freedom helped me make it through. Eventually, I recovered from anorexia (without any professional help, which is a different story). I made it through the rest of the PHC (not happily, but again, that’s another story), and I made it out to go to graduate school in a big city with no one to answer to but myself. Now, many years later, I still get nauseous anytime I get near Purcellville, Virginia. Sometimes I’m still bitter and angry, but mostly I’m grateful for my freedom.

Last year, I came back for homecoming to speak on an alumni roundtable about graduate school. The students expressed concerns about what it would be like to be surrounded by “non-believers”, who might keep them from vocalizing a “Christian worldview” in the classroom. I’m afraid that my attempts to explain the glories of academic freedom or the wonders of objective scholarship fell on deaf ears.

What I was trying to tell them was something I wish someone had told me:

Outside of that overly stylized colonial campus, there are places where you have the freedom to say what you think, and no one’s going to report you for it.

Through the Darkest Nights of My Life: Asher’s Story

Homeschoolers U

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

I’m a rising junior at Patrick Henry College.

You invited us to share our own stories rather than speculating in universal commentary, and I appreciate that invitation. The best place for me to start, though, might be with a bit of commentary on a universal aspect of life at PHC. I think it illustrates and introduces well what I hope to say.

First, a little background: at PHC, we have corporate chapel three times a week. In the spring semester, usually one of those weekly slots will be set aside for senior testimonies. In the space of one chapel service at about 20 minutes each, two graduating seniors have the opportunity to reflect, thank, and share the story of what God has done in their life and time at PHC with the whole student body.

As a freshmen, I didn’t know well most of the seniors who shared at the podium, though I knew of practically all of them (the perks and sometimes frustration of a tiny campus like ours). Some were more eloquent or funnier or more spiritually insightful than others. Some of them merited spontaneous, almost immediate standing ovations from the whole student body. Some of them simply produced appreciative applause. Sometimes the audience was awkwardly dragged by politeness into standing, or even more awkwardly divided between standing and not standing. Whatever the effect might have been on the student body as a whole, though, I know how it affected me. I don’t remember every life detail they shared or spiritual insight they told us. But I walked away changed.

Some of their life stories were unspectacular and ordinary from a worldly standpoint. Others reached down deep and opened up their darkest parts: struggles with crippling depression, debilitating eating disorders, pornography addictions, and more. Yet through nearly every last one of them, I saw the same story repeat itself again and again: a driven, determined young person who would somehow change the world – or perhaps just their own world, and escape the long-worn chains and burdens of the past – and prove that they were worth something. That they were worth loving. Then, failure after failure would set in… frustration and anger, despair and sometimes deep darkness would descend. And slowly, slowly, gentle hands would guide them out of their darkness and bondage… and they would re-learn what it means to need and accept grace. Redemption would do its slow, painful, but sure work. And senior after senior, while often admitting that their journey was incomplete and would extend far beyond the halls of PHC, would stand as a witness to the redeeming grace of God on a life too broken for anything else.

I walked away from those testimonies a different person.

I was awestruck to think that so much pain, struggle, hope, desperation, loneliness, longing, fear, striving, failure, victory, joy, sorrow, love, brokenness, and redemption could be possible underneath the daily exterior. These stories were drawn up, streaming and bleeding with the truth of lives lived, from depths too deep for our minds to fathom, much less search out in full. And it blew my mind to think that these kinds of stories were happening all around me without me having any idea. So I prayed a dangerous prayer – to know the hidden pain and suffering around me, and somehow, to ease it by bearing a part of it.

The fall of my sophomore year, my prayer was answered beyond anything I could have dreamed, asked, or imagined. I saw more of broken, hurting, messed up humanity than I’d ever seen before… and through that anguish, I saw hope, redemption, and beauty as I could not have conceived of in my wildest imaginings. It’s a long story; far longer and deeper and richer than my feeble words could share even if you were interested in hearing its entirety.

A crucial part of that story, though, are the brothers and sisters who were with me through every part of it. Through the darkest nights of my life – through seeing friends dearest to my heart battling weariness, grief, depression, cutting, eating disorders, and even suicidal thoughts – people were there for me when I needed them most. Whatever I needed – words of wisdom, the wordless comfort of a hug, a willing recipient for me to vomit my troubles on (if you think about it, it’s a pretty accurate picture of the kind of friend we all need at times), and endless prayers – they gave generously, lovingly, and unfailingly. Even before we entered that season of more darkness than I’ve ever known before, the friendships I’ve cultivated at PHC have been some of the deepest and most meaningful of my life. That may well be the case with most college experiences – but there’s a unique camaraderie and love that comes with being in a war-zone together. Under fire, bonds are welded that will not be easily broken.

I say all this for a few reasons, I suppose, but this might be the main takeaway: if you step foot on our tiny, NOVA campus, you will see many things. You’ll see students strolling in their business causal best as they laugh together between classes or attentively (usually) take notes in the classroom. You’ll hear debates on predestination, deep philosophical discussions on the Lord of the Rings, and no shortage of some of the most awful puns I’ve heard in my life in the dining hall. You’ll see us holed up in our rooms alone with Plato or in small platoons with Call of Duty (at least in the guy’s dorms, since we’re not co-ed; ask the girls what they do in theirs). You’ll see our jocks practically living in the weight room, and couples infesting our lobbies and lounges. During finals season, you’ll see us slouched over our desks on many a late night hammering away at a paper or procrastinating while we pretend to do so. During chapel, you’ll see us raising our voices to praise the One to whom we owe everything in one of the most beautiful voice ensembles I’ve heard or sung in (though you may well see a few people texting or struggling to stay awake during the speaker). On Sunday nights, you’ll see some of us gathered around a darkened room or out in the open night air, the resonance of a guitar mingling with voices of worship and the whispers of people praying fervently for each other.

Depending on who you are, there are other things you’d see too. You might see a strong Christian community that you’d love your son or daughter to be a part of, or a mob of young people emanating naivety and arrogance in the form of homeschoolers who think they can change the world. What you see in that case, either way, might be determined more by what you expect to see than what’s before you.

You’d see all these things and many more – but there’s a lot you wouldn’t see too.

If you had eyes that could penetrate walls and souls, you might see a bit more.

You’d see good Christian kids with burdens, pains, and hidden tears like everyone else. You’d see some strive harder in hopes that they can earn the love of God, in desperation and loneliness, thinking somehow that they have to do this on their own and not let anyone see behind their façade. You’d see conversations stretching into the deep of night between the hurting and those who feel the hurt just as deeply out of love. You’d see patient listening and long walks around the Farris wheel or tennis court in the dead of night, and tears of relief flooding out on sympathetic shoulders in the dorm rooms. You’d see the prayers, you’d see the hope that comes through giving and receiving love; you’d see the redemption. You’d see that there’s a lot more going on at PHC than just Mock Trial and a crowd of homeschoolers doing homework on the weekends.

If you could see past our exteriors, you’d also see a good deal of soul-weariness, from both the intensity of academics and the burdens of life. You’d see our insecurities and fears, our lonely nights spent wrestling with our various doubts and demons. You’d see hearts perhaps prone to gossip more than they should be, too often stepping carelessly in and around one of the easiest pitfalls of a small, tightly-knit community. You’d see the stubborn pride and judgmental cynicism that God is still weeding out of our hearts, and all of the areas in which we are still being sanctified, made more like the God we fall desperately short of.

At our very core, however, I pray that you would see not homeschoolers, not conservatives, not even college students or young people with drive and talent, but a broken, inadequate sinners who are being made into the image of Christ.

That is my heartbeat at PHC, and I know I’m not alone in that.

Some of that is more a hope than a description of the way PHC is now, and perhaps most of that entails far more universal commentary than you were asking for. What I can say is that I could only ever say any of this because I have experienced it personally, deeply, and repeatedly. More importantly, a core of that very experience is sharing it with many others around me. And I build my hope only off of what I have already seen; though I have seen much brokenness, I have seen the pieces redeemed into beauty – and only because it has been done so many times and so faithfully before, do I have any hope that the work will continue in and among us.

I love PHC. Like all things worth loving on this earth, I know that PHC is far from perfect, and I do my best to let my love give me a more accurate view (not a white-washed one) of PHC’s flaws and shortcomings. And as the student charge at our most recent graduation reminded us, as America will one day go the way of all nations, so PHC will one day go the way of all human institutions. It too was pass away. Yet, when I speak of the PHC I love, I don’t mean a little physical campus out in Loundon County, or even a vision of a liberal arts curriculum centered on Christ. I mean the people. The community of PHC will continue to grow and change over time; but I know that they will far outlast whatever endures of PHC institutionally.

What will remain is this: a broken people redeemed by a grace greater than we will ever know.

That, as best as I can describe it in a too-long-but-too-brief account like this, is what PHC is to me.

Prison: Leah’s Story

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

I would sit and stare out my bedroom window for 20 or 30 minutes? Maybe it was an hour? Time seemed irrelevant, and I certainly wasn’t going anywhere. My home was literally my prison. I had less privacy and freedom than most inmates in any state penitentiary, and unlike many inmates in a normal prison, I was unable to take classes to better myself for when I “got out”.

I was home schooled K-12…

… well, sort of.

I don’t remember my mom actually teaching me anything after the 6th grade. My brother “dropped out” when he was in 10th grade (and by dropped out I mean my mom didn’t know how to teach him algebra so they both just gave up, and he got a job as a waiter in a restaurant). After that my mom pretty much gave up on my sister’s and my education. I think part of it was because she didn’t think (as females) that we really needed an education. I begged her to let me go to school. It was all I had wanted from the time I knew what school was, but she refused.

I on the other hand, refused to go down without a fight, so I taught myself through high school. I made my own schedule according to what I imagined they did in “real” schools and I stuck to it, day in and day out. I would wake up every morning at 6am, get dressed and hit the books. It was difficult, not only because I had no idea what I was doing, but also because my mom and stepdad split up when I was 15. My mom took some odd jobs cleaning and watching kids (and by my mom I mean she accepted and took credit for the jobs but my sister and I did an equal share of the work). She then took a job making sermon recordings at the church, and so the nanny job fell completely to me. I, however, received no compensation for this, of course. I also felt responsible for my younger sister, and tried to teach her what I could.

I had no contact with the outside world, other than church on Sundays. We were never involved with any other home school groups, not even with the other families who home schooled in our church. I felt so terribly alone. I was very depressed and developed an eating disorder, both of which went completely unnoticed by my mom.

I wish I could say that as soon as I turned 18 and walked out the door I was free, but sadly, I cannot. The most agonizing aspect of my experience is that my mind became my prison. I left so inadequate because my education didn’t feel “real”. It felt like I was lying to the world. It didn’t matter that I did well on my SAT’s, or that I made good grades in college (when I finally got up the courage to go, with no help or guidance whatsoever from my parents).

I was utterly terrified of the great big world I knew was out there, but wanted desperately to be a part of it.

I started college when I was 21 and worked my way through, first through community college and then on to a 4 year college where I graduated with a BS. I met and married my husband while I was in school and I now have a 15 month old boy, whom I will not be homeschooling.

I still sometimes struggle with a feeling of inadequacy and like I am somehow missing something that other people are not, but I am very glad that I didn’t give up on myself, even when it seemed like everyone else had. I strongly believe that there should be better rules in place for parents who wish to home school. Some parents are not qualified to be teachers, and they are doing their children a great disservice by not just admitting to this fact. It can often become a form of abuse, and should be regulated like everything else.

Memories of EXCEL: Holly’s Story, Part One

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

I did not want to go.

That is the first thing I remember about EXCEL, The Advanced Training Institute (ATI)’s eight-week program for teenage girls and young women, which stood for Excellence in Character, Education, and Leadership. My parents had sent me to ATI’s Indianapolis Training Center for a ten-day counseling seminar a little over a year before I went to EXCEL.

I didn’t want to go there, either, but I told myself that if I were very good maybe they would leave me alone and not make me go anywhere else.

The next fall, my dad asked me if I wanted to go to EXCEL. I remember that it was a gray fall day, around this time of year, and he took me for a walk. I made the mistake, as I often did up to that point, of thinking that I had a choice in my own life, and so I told him I did not want to go. He pressed the issue, telling me all the good things he knew about the program and how it would teach me to be a young lady. I remember that we ended the conversation with him promising never to force me to go, and with me agreeing to “think about it.”

I knew I would never change my mind.

During that winter, friends of ours also in ATI hosted a mother-daughter luncheon at which two attendees of a recent EXCEL (I believe it was EXCEL II) were to be the guests of honor. To my dismay, the luncheon turned out to be a hard sell for the program, and my mother seemed intent on sending me. What was happening?

From that point on, my dad didn’t listen either. Mom wanted me to go, so he broke his promise.

They took money out of my college fund for the program and the plane ticket.

I began the process of filling out the application, with its numerous essays and commitments. I don’t remember the exact number of commitments I was expected to make, or what all of them were, but I had definitely not made any of them. One of them was to not listen to rock music, one was to remain morally pure, one was to dress modestly, and the others were similarly legalistic and restrictive. I remember trying to decide whether to honestly fill out the application saying that I had not made the commitments, or to lie. I decided it was wrong to force myself to make a serious lifelong commitment, but it was also wrong to set myself up to be made into a project either at EXCEL or at home. I filled out the forms as if I had made the commitments, deciding that it wasn’t so much a lie as it was a creative work of self-protective fiction.

The following winter, in the mid-1990s, I arrived at the Dallas Training Center, an historic hotel converted for the EXCEL program. Even though two of my friends from home were there as well, we were not allowed to room together. I had everything I expected to need for eight weeks, including toiletries, in two bags. During the evening’s orientation to the facility, the facility leaders explained our daily routine: early wake up (around six am, I think), get ready for the day, Bible study with our team, breakfast, class, a short break, another class, lunch, break, class, exercise in the park across the street, change for dinner, class, free time, and bed. Even though we were 15 years-old and up, we were not allowed to leave the property except to go as a group, escorted by staff, to walk in the park across the street once daily.

If any of us needed anything from the store, we were to ask training center staff to get it for us. We were not allowed to have food in our rooms. If we were hungry, we would be fed at the next meal, except on Sundays, when we fasted.

During our breaks and free times, we were expected to coordinate room cleaning with our roommate, as our rooms would be inspected daily. We were also expected to study for weekly tests on class material, memorize daily Bible passages, coordinate laundry with our roommates on our assigned day of the week, and find time to call our parents. We were never to be even one second late for any class or team meeting, or we would be disciplined.

I was overwhelmed. It wasn’t just the hotel that felt claustrophobic. It was my life.

The classes focused on etiquette and women’s submission instead of real academics. We even had a sewing class for several weeks, at which I was a miserable failure. Apparently good ATI girls were expected to have basic sewing skills, because the class did not start at “this is a sewing machine.” All of us had to make brocade vests to wear at our graduation ceremony. Since I could not sew and could not be taught, the instructor and my friend, an advanced seamstress, surreptitiously sewed mine. At home I was used to being allowed to read literature, science and history books, in addition to the ATI Wisdom Booklets.

Being at EXCEL made me doubt my future.

Were my parents trying to mold me into a cooking, cleaning, sewing, babymaking young wife? I wasn’t ready for that. I wasn’t even sure I wanted that.

Fasting on Sundays was a spiritual discipline, but I can’t help thinking that it may have also been a financial consideration. Walking to church was, however, a practical consideration. The training center didn’t have enough vehicles to drive 80-some girls and additional staff to church, so we walked a little over a mile each way to First Baptist Church.

On one of the first Sundays I fainted during church, which shouldn’t have been surprising, since I was obviously underweight and just as obviously suffering from an eating disorder.

From then on, I was allotted four Nutri-Grain bars every Sunday, along with the other girls who had health problems or who had also fainted on a Sunday. As much as I generally enjoyed a chance to lose more weight, I was thankful for those meager Nutri-Grain bars. The hunger I felt at EXCEL overpowered my desire for control over food.

My survival technique of being perfect worked well for me while I was at EXCEL. I never got in trouble for being late, forgetting to wear pantyhose, or failing to memorize the Bible passages. I did the laundry and cleaning for myself and for my roommate, who took advantage of my fear of failure. By graduation I was exhausted and had learned nothing except how to stay in line. On the one hand, I saw through the foolishness of the system. I never bought in to the ATI school of thought. On the other hand, the stress of pretending to agree with the program and of managing my behavior was taking a heavy toll on me. I was tired and needed a break.

When I got home, the expectation among family and friends was that I would be spiritually mature and more ladylike. Instead, I was withdrawn, exhausted, thinner, broken. I don’t remember exactly how it happened or what the details were, but I spent a lot of time in bed crying for the next few weeks. My parents referred to this as my “breakdown.”

After that, I never did another Wisdom Booklet. I don’t remember what was said, but I couldn’t do it. Within the next eighteen months I had finished homeschooling through high school and my family had left ATI. I was free.

I have never gotten free, however, from the memory of what ATI expected me to be.

Part Two >

Be Excellent To Yourself: By Rene

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Be Excellent To Yourself: By Rene

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

I’ve been reading Homeschoolers Anonymous since the very beginning and really love this community.  Perhaps now I can give a little back!  I want to tackle the writing prompt number five:  “Practices, techniques, etc. that you have found helpful for managing your mental illness.”

My background in mental illness involves a family riddled with various mental health challenges, all exacerbated by the isolation of homeschooling, poverty, and living in another country.  

My personal “mental health profile” includes OCD, Tourette Syndrome, general and social anxiety, recurrent episodes of depression that at one point led to several months of being suicidal, and many years of disordered eating.  I’ve never had access to therapy, but the last few years have seen steady progress toward greater and greater quality of life for me.  There are so many variables and things you can try and I love the way the internet gives access to so much support and knowledge and research, though it can be overwhelming at times!

The things that have been most helpful for me personally have been:

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1. I realized that a lot of the problems I was having were normal reactions to extreme stress and trauma.  

It was okay for me to be in pain and not functioning well, just like it would be okay for me not to be capable of running with a broken leg.

2. I started learning to celebrate small, even minuscule, victories. 

It might seem ridiculous in the grip of depression-fueled cynicism, but keeping a daily gratitude journal or literally patting yourself on the back for, say, going outside on a one-minute walk, can over time add up to big improvements in self-care habits.  As a former fundamentalist, I had to get over the habit of bashing myself for my deficiencies and weaknesses.  Instead, I just recognize that if I am struggling and still manage to do something beneficial, then that is awesome and time to celebrate!

3. I learned some things about diet and what my body needed.

Vitamin D3 supplementation is what I credit with getting me out of the suicidal hole I was in.  Since then I have learned a lot more about what my body needs, including that I can’t do gluten and that as long as I eat a balanced, no-grain diet I no longer struggle with binge eating.  It turned out that most of my eating disorder was physiologically-based and getting over that has had many ripple effects on my happiness.

4. Living simply but in a consciously hedonistic way, that is, simple living in order to promote pleasure, not deprivation, has been and continues to be one of the ways I care for my mental and physical health.  

It has helped a lot with my OCD and Tourette Syndrome, though leaving my parents’ house several years ago and no longer being constantly on edge from emotional abuse also helped erase most of my symptoms.

5. I consciously try to treat myself well.

If I would not yell at a stranger or child or friend for doing something, then why yell at myself for doing it?  This helps a lot with my social anxiety and the guilt I tend to feel when I make faux pas, which has in turn helped me gain more and more confidence and make a lot more and better relationships.

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These are the main things that have helped me.

It’s been four years now since I hit rock bottom and thought life would never get any better, four years since everything looked black and despairing, and now I’m pretty damn happy.  I never knew it was possible to be so consistently happy and resilient — and I purposely am not using the Christianese “joyful” here — I mean happy, not gritting-my-teeth-determined-to-be thankful.

I hope that if you are struggling my story gives you a little bit of hope.

Be excellent to yourself.

Allowing the Devil to Undress You: The Slut-Shaming of a Former Homeschooler

Teresa Scanlan.
Teresa Scanlan.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

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A disgrace.

A destructive force against families.

Homeschool dropout.

A rat turd.

These are but a number of phrases used on HSLDA’s Facebook page in reference to Teresa Scanlan, a former homeschooler attending Patrick Henry College. These are not phrases used by HSLDA; in fact, HSLDA has championed Teresa as a homeschool success story. But these phrases are also not coming from anti-homeschoolers or liberal secularists.

They are coming from fans (or at least previous fans) of HSLDA.

Yesterday, HSLDA shared about Teresa’s life and homeschooling experience in light of her being crowned Miss America in 2011. It was obviously about marketing to some extent — “the secret behind the crown was homeschooling!,” HSLDA says. But it also was about celebrating a young woman with passion and drive.

But things got ugly.

Some of HSLDA’s fans were livid. In fact, if you were looking for evidence that the modesty and purity culture that exists within Christian homeschooling can lead to some truly dehumanizing and dangerous thoughts, look no further than what unfolded.

Here is HSLDA’s original post about Teresa Scanlan, and here is the link to the post on Facebook:

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The comments that some people are leaving on HSLDA’s post about Teresa are frankly alarming. They are misogynistic and dripping with body-shaming. They even are scarily reminiscent of rape culture — that women are responsible for men’s lust and are “asking for it.”

Seriously.

There is direct, no-holds-barred slut-shaming going on right on HSLDA’s Facebook page.

Check it out:

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Yes, you read that right. Someone is pulling their support from HSLDA because of HSLDA’s link — which was merely a link to their original radio series about Teresa. Because old men and young men might “fix their eyes” upon Teresa dressed in a rather conservative red dress (you can’t even see her shoulders!).

Now you might wonder: how is that picture immodest? Well, it isn’t. But fear not. People encouraged other people to google her in a bikini. (Does that sound a bit hypocritical? Because it is hypocritical, and also slightly creepy.)

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Not everyone on HSLDA’s page, however, was attacking Teresa. Some people tried to defend her – and then got promptly slut-shamed, too.

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Yes, if you participate in a pageant, you have caused men to commit adultery and you will be “held accountable of Judgement Day.”

The comments continue:

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Another defender, who is attacked:

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By the way, Teresa is a Christian.

Not just “a” Christian, but a conservative Christian. In fact, she points out in her radio interview with HSLDA that many of the young women that participate in pageants are actually conservative Christians:

Actually, the majority of contestants, believe it or not, are Christian conservatives, I found, in the competition. And then the judges, in my interview, they have my resume in front of them, and they saw a lot of church activities and things on there, so during my interviews, several of them actually asked me questions about my faith.

But that does not stop people from judging her relationship with God:

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Also:

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It really is a train wreck. They call her a “homeschool dropout,” and attack her for wanting a career:

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They compare her to a “rat turd”:

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They do not hesitate to link to her Facebook profile (which, as we all know, will probably lead to further online bullying, harassment, and slut-shaming):

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This is not to even mention the likely hypocrisy and double standard of some people in the homeschooling community when they only think of modesty and purity in terms of women. What about men?

Were all these people up in arms when Tim Tebow went shirtless for magazines?

Or were they parading Tebow around as a homeschool superhero? Kathryn brilliantly pointed out (not on HSLDA’s page) this double standard about equally harmless actions:

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Credit must be given to those people who are defending Teresa on HSLDA’s page. This goes to show that not all homeschoolers — in fact, not all Christian homeschoolers — believe in the toxic ideas behind modesty and purity culture ideology.

I commend those people for standing up against those ideas and the people that would use those ideas to shame a young woman.

We need to push back like this. We need more homeschoolers to speak up against these ideas (and not just against the modesty and purity culture ideas). Teresa’s own experience has demonstrated that this shaming is (very sadly) nothing new to her:

When I first won, I thought, of course, that I would get criticism from the public in general about being a Christian, but it was kind of surprising to me that probably the most criticism I received was actually from conservative Christians that competing in the competition like Miss America did not line up with their morals and values.

No one deserves to be abused and harassed in this manner, regardless of their way of dress, their gender, their political or religious beliefs, or anything else. In fact, I commend HSLDA for being willing to champion a conservative Christian woman who is — through her actions — bravely overturning some of the deeply held assumptions in some conservative Christian circles. She is celebrating her beauty and her body, she is going to college, and she has high career aspirations — in fact, as HSLDA mentions in their bio of her, “her highest career goals are to run for president in 2028 or to be nominated to the Supreme Court.”

She also hopes to educate people about eating disorders.

She has expressed a desire to “educate children and adults alike as to the signs and risks of eating disorders, as well as how and where to get help for themselves or a loved one.”

More power to her.

Sharing the Burden of the Pedestal: Renee’s Story

Sharing the Burden of the Pedestal: Renee’s Story

Renee was a student instructor on the 2004 Communicators for Christ tour.

I toured with CFC (now ICC) in 2004. It was a fast-paced, high-stress whirlwind of a tour, and it was one of the best of my highschool experiences.

Let me give you some context. I chose to start debating competitively in the HSLDA/NCFCA at the age of 12. I was introverted and shy, but learned how to be outgoing and adopt a care-free attitude. I trembled with fear at every cross-examination, but learned to project confidence. I had some natural ability, a lot of determination, and a successful older sibling who was well liked and respected in the league. I made it to octafinals at Nationals by my second year.

The following year began well: my partner and I (a girl/girl team) did well at several tournaments. People I barely knew started coming to watch my partner and me “in action” in preliminary rounds. They stopped cheering as loudly when we made it to the finals, because it was just expected that we would be there. They predicted that we would win the national tournament. We didn’t. Instead, I had a losing record for the first time in my life. The crowds disappeared in awkward silence, and I was left with a staggering sense of very public failure. I was 14. I developed an eating disorder and severe performance anxiety.

The fear of a repeat failure spurred me to greater competitive success, bringing with it friends, popularity, and far too much of a spotlight. The increased attention raised the stakes of failure, and within a month of the new season’s start I had turned to self-injury to manage and escape the anxiety. My parents recognized the signs and intervened in the summer of 2004; by then I was 17 and had already been accepted to be a CFC staffer for the fall. At their insistence, I called Teresa and confessed that I struggled with anorexia and self-injury, and waited with a knot in my stomach. Was I too broken, too dysfunctional to teach? She asked whether I thought it would be a problem on tour, emphasizing that it would be a very stressful environment; that we would be under scrutiny almost continuously.  I said no. She trusted me, and in August I joined the team.

What I didn’t know, or didn’t fully appreciate at the time, was how much different the homeschooling culture I knew was from those in which I would teach. NCFCA had a normalizing effect on the parents in my community. My parents, and many others in California, made it clear to me that they hoped I would pursue a high-power career, encouraged me to take leadership positions in the club, and were receptive to criticism or advice when I gave it tactfully. I wore ties and pantsuits, had one of the most aggressive cross-examination styles in the region, and was used to people being more or less okay with both. I would learn, over the course of the tour, that some people think all women who wear ties are lesbian, that it is ungodly to encourage people to read books that aren’t explicitly Christian, and that women should in no context teach men (or boys over 13). Tour was eye-opening.

For the most part, I thrived on tour: I got to see friends across the country, coach fledgling speakers, comfort & reassure terrified parents, and teach the activities I loved without the constant pressure to be the best. When conferences went well, my performance anxiety was almost non-existent. When they didn’t, it was rarely because I had taught badly: the tough days were when a parent would complain about me. For some reason, such complaints rarely came directly to me; instead, the offended party would approach Mrs. Moon, who would then meet with me to relay the concern. The first few times, I fought back the tears, feeling like a failure, and went back out to finish the day as though nothing had gone wrong. Then one day when she pulled me aside, Teresa noted that she didn’t share the concerns, but that in the scale of things the project we were working on was worth the pain of accommodating the whims of the conference attendees, when not unreasonable.

There were several more complaints throughout the tour; there always are. It was still crushing to hear that I had offended or disappointed someone so badly as to make them complain, and it still kept me up at night, but it was easier to bear knowing that Teresa didn’t condemn me for it. Once I made a judgment call in the moment that offended some parents, but when they complained, Teresa took responsibility, saying it had been her call, and diffused the situation for me.  Hearing her handle the situation, I realized then that whatever strains and stresses I had suffered as an intern, it was likely she had undergone them a hundred-fold, each and every tour.

Occasionally, on the long drives between conferences, while we each sat up working late into the night, we would talk: about the stresses of living such a public life, about the delicate balance between truth and tact, about politics and people, exhaustion and motivation, and, of course, about failure.  Sometimes we talked about adjusting to life after tour—I was relieved that I had only one more season to compete. If I had been popular before, tour transformed me into a homeschool celebrity: students would ask for pictures, shoving binders and shirts towards me for me to sign. I loved being loved, but hated the pressure. On bad days, I could hold onto the thought that soon tour would be over, and in a year I would graduate, and I could leave the limelight. I knew that Teresa did not have this comforting thought: for her, the years stretch out unending, all under the title ‘Director of CFC’. When we had our differences, it was this thought that helped me to understand, at least a little bit, the kinds of strains that she must be under, and marvel that she was as even-handed and controlled as she did manage to be.

Teresa Moon is far from perfect, but I worry that too few of her critics stop to understand how difficult it is to live the life that she leads. Teresa lives on an awfully high pedestal: she must routinely make decisions that have weighty consequences, and must decide based on very little information, or in a very short period of time, and all under unforgiving scrutiny from all of us. The perverse thing about the sort of fame that she endures is that mistakes and missteps get more attention than all the right decisions she makes. There’s a logic to it, of course: we notice outliers, so if things generally are going well, we are likely only to notice when things go wrong, taking the successes—and all the effort required to achieve them—for granted.

It would be misleading to say that Teresa and I were close friends by the end of tour. One of the costs of living a life as public as Teresa Moon’s is that she cannot afford to open up to many people; confidants must be few, carefully selected, and stable. Interns just don’t fit that bill. We did part on good terms, and I returned to assist with the annual Masters’ conference every year until the demands of my college coursework precluded such activity.

Tour was not a panacea: it did not fix my self-injury problem (it took years of counseling in college to even get close to doing that). Nor did it eradicate my performance anxiety; unfortunately that may be here to stay. What tour provided was an outlet for my energies, a chance to do what I loved in a way that mattered, to help people rather than just collect trophies, and a group of close friends who understood and could share the burden of the pedestal together with me.

At 17, that was exactly what I needed.

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.