I Am Not A Victim, I Am A Survivor

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sheldon, who blogs at Ramblings of Sheldon. It was originally published on Confessions of a Heretic Husband on June 21, 2013.

“Where are you going?” she kept asking over and over again, with defiance and a hint of amused contempt as she stood in the middle of the only doorway out of the room. I had told her just minutes before that I was leaving, and she immediately blocked the door. I had some of my stuff packed, and I was desperate to leave her home for good, but she just stood there and said I had “no right” to leave.

Was I some pouting 12 year old kid at the time? No, I was 21 years old. I was desperate enough that I was willing to leave the home of my Mom and Dad with just a few hundred dollars to my name and an old van.

What drove me to this point? It was many different things, and I should start from the beginning. Just two years earlier, I had come back from a prominent Southern Baptist college after a nervous breakdown that included severe depression with constant fatigue, muscle pain/weakness, and some bizarre panic attacks. Needless to say, I couldn’t keep it together, and had to return home.

When I did return home, I explained what had happened, and all of it was dismissed as “guilt” and “not having a right relationship with god”. You see, in her mind, my struggles with mental illness were not an illness, they showed a lack of character. Her attitude reflected much of what what can be seen in fundamentalism: that true happiness can only come from serving god, and if you aren’t happy, then that must be a sign that your relationship isn’t right.

The real kicker is that I actually believed for this for two years, and generated a lot of self hatred and frustration. I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working. I begged god for “forgiveness”, I doubled down on my dedication to my faith, but it wasn’t working. I was beginning to realize that the relationship with god had little to nothing to do with it, and that I had a real disorder. The problem was that my mother was never going to see it that way, and dealing with her ignorance left me feeling trapped in this situation.

It was pushing me to the point that I was starting to become suicidal. For a while I pondered jumping off a local bridge during the winter, but then I started to think that if I did, I would be giving my mother exactly what she wanted: control over me for my entire life. That thought bothered me more than the thought of ending my life. I knew I had to do something, anything, to break away, but I was stuck.

At the time, I was in a local college, and I was starting to realize that they were a scam, but of course, she didn’t see it that way. I proved it to her in so many different ways, I even told her what some people in the field that my major was in told me at a summer job (that the college was a scam), but all to no avail. It didn’t work.

She told me the only acceptable plan for my life was to go to college, and she kept pontificating about how supposedly I would never make it financially without that piece of worthless paper from the scam of a college I was in at the time.

Allegedly, I would be working 3 minimum wage jobs, have no time for anything, and would be starving. She called me “lazy” because I would rather work (I still haven’t figured out the logic behind that argument). She tried to make me feel without hope, that I would never leave, and that I couldn’t make it without her. I knew that was a lie, and meant to keep me defeated and powerless. I knew I wasn’t getting anywhere while trying to reason with her. I knew that if I stayed, it would be many more years suffering under her rule, and it might just lead me to finally end my life.

So I packed some things, and was going to leave that morning, but there she was, standing in the doorway to barricade me in the room. “Where are you going?” It’s not as though she didn’t know, I explained it to her just minutes before. It was more of a challenge than a question. I had a phone sitting out, because as angry as I knew she would get, she hadn’t become violent with me since I was 11 years old. But she loved to threaten it when nothing else worked, and I couldn’t be too sure. 

She noticed the phone sitting out, and insisted to know why it was laying on a desk. She figured it out, and told me (keep in mind I was 21 years old at the time), that if she were to hit me, I would deserve it. I pointed out to her how hypocritical her statement was, due to the fact that she was always ranting about how bad her childhood was with a physically abusive father (and rightfully so). She had nothing to say for once, she simply walked away.

I realized that if I was to ever reclaim my life, and get back any sense of hope, I had to push back, and resist in any way possible. Eventually I would wear her out, reasoning sure wouldn’t work. I refused to go along with her plans, and finally won on the college front. I got a job (not three minimum wage jobs), and saved my money, paycheck by paycheck

She tried to slow me down by making pay “rent” for living in her home (the home “I had no right to leave”),  which I payed, but I kept pressing on anyway. The muscle pain and weakness came back, but I fought through it, sometimes working up to 64 hours a week, despite the pain and stiffness. She told me that I was so lazy, that even if I did get a job, I wouldn’t stay at it very long.

Guess what? I have not only been at the same company since September 2011, I have moved up within the company (thankfully to a job that is no longer physically demanding). I saved up enough money over the last 2 years to buy a foreclosure house, and closing procedures will take place next week (the week of June 10, 2013) [Note: this has happened!]. I paid cash for it, and won’t ever have to worry about house payments. My finances will be a little stretched to say the least while rebuilding it, but I never would have thought I would have gotten this far only 3 years after that day that I was barricaded in that room.

There are times, like when I’m writing a post like this, that I feel much the same way I did that day: defeated, humiliated, like a victim, but then I remember, I’m a survivor. I fought, and clawed my way towards finally getting the right to start my own life, and won. I survived the toxic self hatred and ignorance of fundamentalism, and cast it aside.  I have a long way to go to rebuild my life, financially, emotionally, and in so many different ways, but I won the fight for my freedom.

Torching All That Is Sacred: Alexander Anon’s Story, Part Two

Torching All That Is Sacred — One Child’s Emergence From a Totalitarian Environment: Alexander Anon’s Story, Part Two

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

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In this series: Part One | Part Two

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Something people should know about me: I am a fighter. Now, I am not an obvious fighter, and if I was put into the ring, I guarantee nobody would put money on me; but that does not change what I am by nature. See, I am a quirky fighter.  I am weird.  I am unpredictable, though not always intentionally so.  For a while, I simply took what my parents dished out and did not question it.  I do not mean what they intentionally dished out; I mean that I adopted a victim mentality and pitied myself for being in the situations I found myself in.

As I grew older though, I started wanting to change things.  I would still take things timidly, but if they pushed too hard, a fire would flare up in me and I would push back.  Harder.  Through this, I learned that I am much stronger than I had ever previously thought.  I am not a victim; I am the one in control.  If my parents would chide me for engaging in foolishness, I would keep it coming and even ramp up my efforts.  What could they do?  I was invincible.  My foolishness knew no bounds; there were no depths which could be plumbed, no dregs that could be drained.  I could out resource them, outlast them, and outsmart them at virtually every corner until they admitted the futility of their efforts to make me into the cookie-cutter Christian homeschool child.  I had another advantage: the sibling just under me was much more openly defiant (although he used vastly different tactics), thereby allowing me to get by being just slightly less troublesome.

Since being in college, my mom has several times equated my academic success (completed undergraduate honors program with a GPA of 3.92) to having been homeschooled.  This is quite possibly true, but I have never quite had the heart to tell her the truth: her perceptions of my homeschooling experience are much different than my perceptions of that same experience.  If I was to be completely honest, what I enjoyed most was the freedom of homeschooling.  I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, and pursue whatever caught and kept my attention for as long as I wanted without interruption.  For me, at that point in my life, it meant creating Redwall cards that played similar to the Decipher Lord of the Ring’s trading card game.  I would spend hours reading the books, creating workable game mechanics and themes for each culture, and then drawing and coloring the cards.  I was an artist, and a not-too-bad one at that.  I was also an avid reader, but only if the book was of interest.  Many history books and other required readings were simply not to my tastes, and since there was no way to prove if I had actually read the book, I occasionally lied about how much of the book I had read in a particular day (or, at my worst, simply did not read the book while claiming I did).  I did this so that I could spend time doing what I wanted to do: Redwall cards.

I was also notoriously bad at science.  For a while, I thought I simply sucked at science.  Since then, I have realized I did not understand how to study at that point in time.  I would shove a bunch of scientific definitions in, then output them for the test.  On tests where there was more information to memorize, I would earn lower grades.  This measured nothing about my ability to actually understand science; it measured how well I could replicate 15+ definitions word-for-word, with each definition containing several sentences and sometimes looking more like paragraphs.  My junior year, she threatened to kick me into public school for my senior year if I failed a particular science test (since I wouldn’t then be able to pass that grade of science).  Needless to say, I took the ethical high ground and cheated my ass off.  I did not (and still don’t) think it is fair to both at once tell your child that public school is essentially hell and then threaten to send your child to that hell if they do not perform to your liking.

I mention these two aspects of my homeschooling life because they would later get me in trouble just when I thought I was home free in college.  After attending college a few years, I casually joked about how I sometimes wasn’t the best homeschool student as a kid.  To me, it was funny.  Look how well I’m doing in college despite goofing off the last few years I was homeschooled (11th & 12th grade).  My mom, on the other hand, broke out crying at even the hint that I had cheated or lied.  To her, my not taking some aspects of school seriously somehow reflected on her.  It told her she hadn’t done well enough homeschooling to make me care, even though not caring about school is typical for teenagers at that age and I had proven I could excel in college.  She had not failed in any sense of the word, since I was prepared for college and doing well.  But she did not see it that way; only saw that I was admitting homeschool had not been the perfect picture of happiness she thought it had been.

Secretly, deep down, I suspect the true reason she cried is because my goofing off the last 2 years I was homeschooled sent a clear message that I did not need her and homeschooling as much as she thought I did.  Did not need her as a teacher, that is.

This gets to the crux of the matter; it ties together this up-until-now rather bizarre and random story of my childhood.  I think that despite whatever reasons my mom thought she was homeschooling us for, her true motivation was to never have to be alone again after living her entire childhood virtually alone.  Homeschooling, while it may have been about us not getting hurt by others in public school, was also about her not getting hurt by nobody needing her.  It was about making us dependent on her, so that she felt wanted.  Needed.  Ironically, she sometimes lashed out when we expressed the very dependence on her that she had fostered in us.  More than a true need for us to be homeschooled was the need for her to have an identity outside of her children.  An identity that should have come from her relationship with my dad, and with friends her own age.  She needed to escape the burden of parenting for a time instead of embracing it even more fully and homeschooling us all.

I am not saying we should not have been homeschooled; but rather, homeschooling us should not have been the top priority.  She often screamed, “What about me? When do I get to do what I want to do?!?” when she got mad at us for needing her.  But the truth of the matter is this; she was too scared of nobody needing her to ever wander off and do something she wanted to do.  She was afraid that if she did wander off, she might return and find everyone had forgotten her, or worse: never even noticed she left in the first place.

This, then, is what I want to communicate: my entire childhood was shaped by events driven just as much by my mom’s need to be emotionally fulfilled as it was trying to give me what I needed in an education.

Possibly more.

The worst part is knowing she did not do this consciously, she simply failed to recognize what was going on and intervene.  This is not a ‘Fuck you, mom! Fuck you, dad!’ letter.  This is not an article to be used for arguing homeschooling is psychologically harmful and should therefore be overseen, controlled, or prevented by the government.  There is no political message here, no hint of animosity towards anyone; no purpose for saying any of this other than that it is the truth.

The truth.

Truth is never something I was good at hiding, or even wanted to hide.  I tell everyone who will listen that I would rather have a ‘fuck you!’ screamed in my face and punctuated with physical blows than have someone pretend to be my friend.  I do not care if I am physically assaulted; I care if I am told the truth.  Asshats are a dime a dozen; but honest people are virtually impossible to find.  Bluntness, that is.  People who throw social politeness under the bus in favor of calling it like it is.  The ‘ain’t no bullshit here, captain!’ kind of people.  There many honest people in the world, but few who will be blunt with you.

That is what I mean.

In order to avoid ending on a downer note, I will fully self-disclose that things have gotten so much better over the past few years I have been attending college.  Only my youngest brother and sister are still homeschooled, with my oldest sister having attended public school since 9th grade.  I do see my youngest brother struggle with many of the same things I did, but I know I am here to guide him through the confusion and pain that accompanies his upbringing.

More importantly, I know what helped me cope and have given him access to these means at a much younger age.  When I was growing up, I did not have anyone to reach out to about this.  My youngest brother can talk with me about this all; about how sometimes although our parents love us both very much, they do not act rationally and instead resort to violating their own rules and taking their emotional issues out on the children and use us to meet deep needs that we can never fullfill.  He can question me about why most people think the earth is billions of years old but he learns it is only several thousand.  I do not provide him with ‘the answers’, but ask questions to help him think through the issues on his own.

That is what true homeschooling should be: parents providing their children with an outlet to escape the biases and politics of public school without imposing their own biases and politics.  Because ultimately, that’s what homeschooling is: freedom.  Freedom to question authority, to question rules, to question the ‘no tolerance’ policies that are a virtual shitstorm in public schools.  My story is one of that freedom being unconsciously abused, but that same freedom can be used to free others from the abuses they may receive elsewhere.

As hinted at in my opening paragraph, eventually my parents figured a lot of their issues out and loosened the stranglehold conservative Christians had on their throats.  This legalism went to hell when our family became the black sheep of the congregation and the pastor and elders treated our family like shit.  We were accused of much, and treated like enemies instead of brothers and sisters in Christ like they claim to treat all believers.  What they failed to mention when you sign up is that their interpretation of the Bible only tells you to treat people as human if they think as you do and do not question what you demand of them.  Anyone who threatens their reputation, who is similar enough to them and then suddenly appears less than perfect, is quickly either intimidated to fall back into line or else cast out into the cold world to die a lonely and painful death.  Fortunately, our family pulled together and told them that while we appreciate their willingness to spend their entire lives with their heads on vacation in the wonderful world of Up-Your-Ass, our family preferred to admit we are living, breathing, feeling, fallible individuals who must address our shortcomings and forgive each other.

So yes, our family is no longer the perfect Christian, homeschooling family we once were. Thank God. And I mean that; I am both relieved to leave the bullshit and small-mindedness, and thankful to God for rescuing us from the bullshit.

As you can tell, I still believe in God. But not the Orthodox Presbyterian Church God that requires men to dominate women, for children to obey their parents without questioning what they are told to do, and for His followers to spend their time prior to dying and enjoying their life in blissful paradise feeling like shit because they believe happiness is automatically indicative of falling into sin.  Focusing on how fucked up you are, or others are, does nothing to solve the problem.  Even their own book tells them that much, but they still do not see despite claiming you do not see.  Slowly, their God died to me (not for me), and I can personally attest that this death did not occur on a cross.  It took place in my mind, after years of watching my family suffer the consequences of sucking it up when things got hard and pretending everything was alright.  However; this god did die at a cross.  Crossroad that is. The death of the OPC God was a crossroad where I switched paths.  Where our whole family switched paths.

I have never been more proud of our parents than when they essentially told our old OPC church to go fuck themselves. (This message was not communicated quite as bluntly, but the effect was the same).

In closing, I am not mad at my parents. I hold no bitterness for them, or anyone else, including the OPC church and their members.  I am still friends with many of them, and see the pleading looks in their eyes to come back when I occasionally visit.  But I see more than this.

Underneath the pleading for me to return to them I see another kind of pleading; a pleading for someone to rescue them from themselves.  As for me, I am never going back. Not permanently, although I do visit every once in a blue mooon. Having now experienced life in the open — in the sunlit world having emerged from Plato’s cave with the totalitarian forces striving to keep individuals locked away in the cave — I know what it is I will spend the rest of my life doing:

Fighting to free others from the blindness, from being emotionally used and feeling helpless to escape, whether it occurs while being homeschooled, public-schooled, or not schooled. Because using others, even unconsciously, to meet your needs is not right; and having gone through this myself, I find that I cannot wish it upon anyone else either.

We are Anonymous.

We are Legion.

We are Homeschooled.

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End of series.