I Was an LDS Homeschooler: Tirzah’s Story, Part Two

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.

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

< Part One

Part Two

When I went on my mission everything changed.

I learned LDS doctrine and began to really see how dangerous the Patriarchy “doctrines” were. I realized that everything Doug Phillips was so persuasively teaching my mom through his books and CDs and all his lovely “Christian” products was an insidious poison that was slowly strangling me and all of my younger siblings, boys and girls alike. We butted heads constantly through our emails and letters. I began to push back harder and harder against the dangerous changes I saw her making.

She threatened on several occasions to have me sent home.

I talked with my mission President about it every time we met it seemed. He assured me that if she tried or stopped paying (the money that I had worked for free to earn for years) that he wouldn’t allow me to be sent home. It was such a relief to have someone who recognized what was happening and could explain theologically why my instincts were right, and why that lifestyle was theologically unsound for any person who claimed to follow Christ.

I dreaded going home. I thought about trying to extend my mission somehow, but I knew it wouldn’t happen. Now please don’t get me wrong, I love my mom, my step dad, and my whole family. But I knew that a big battle was coming between my mother and I, and I dreaded it.

I flew home, she and I exchanged an awkward hug, then loaded my stuff in the car. We hadn’t even left the airport before it started. I wasn’t allowed to use Facebook because “we weren’t a Facebook family”, my sleeves (which were perfectly acceptable as a missionary) had to be longer, my makeup lighter, I had to start school but I couldn’t use the cars, or get a job, or get into debt. I wasn’t allowed on the computer more than 20 minutes a day, no “modern” music and of course, they had to approve of any boy friend that I might get. And if they didn’t approve then I had to break it off, to set a good example for my sisters.

I tried to work with her for a couple of weeks, tried to get her to see that she couldn’t expect people who were well into their 20’s to be willing to live like a little child. She would have none of it. We weren’t really adults because they paid for our bills. I countered by offering to get a job and help pay for rent and utilities. That was unacceptable because it would disrupt the family, and emasculate my step father. It went on and on, I was called into her room every other day to report to her what my plans were and how I was going to accomplish them, and then she would go through piece by piece to try to dismantle them.

But I wasn’t having it.

A few weeks after getting home I met my future husband. My parents were fine with him until we started dating. Then nothing he did was good enough. If he did handy man work for my dad he was too blue collar. If he didn’t work during the winter then he was lazy. We had to figure out very early on what our goals and plans were, if we weren’t planning on getting serious/married then it wasn’t worth it to continue going out. We decided to get serious. My parents were still unhappy, and placed even more restrictions on me, an 8 pm curfew being one. I found ways around their new rules and got more guilt trips about how prideful I was and how rebellious. I didn’t care. Then came the day when they tried to send me to a different state to keep us apart.

That was the last straw. I called my mom to try to reason with her, but she was adamant. They couldn’t trust me, and she didn’t know if I was fornicating on their couch or not (I wasn’t…) so the only solution was to send me away. And that’s when I told her something that I had never said to her before. “No.” There was silence, then a tense “What???” “No, I’m not going.” Then came the hastily worded mini lecture about how I needed to follow their rules in their house ending with “You know if you really don’t think you can follow our totally reasonable rules then you can always leave.” (This was the worst threat she could imagine ever being given for some reason). “OK.” I replied. There was an even longer silence, followed by an incredulous “REALLY? This is worth losing your family over?!”

Only in my mom’s sad world of jumbled theology would moving out be akin to losing one’s family.

I called my husband/then boyfriend and told him what had happened. His parents found a place for me to stay within a few hours, so I once again began packing my belongings up into a suitcase. Later that day as I talked to my (step)dad he informed me that “they weren’t done raising me”.

I told him that they were.

The next 18 months gave me a very strained relationship with my family. Many of my younger siblings, especially my sisters, felt like I had abandoned them. My parents forbade my husband and I from spending time with them because we were such an evil influence (I taught my 18 year old sister about how ovulation can affect how attracted she felt towards men and then told her she could read biology books at the library to learn more, that’s what I had to do… ) The fact that we didn’t hide the fact that we were having sex as a happily married couple meant that we were trying to sully the rest of them.

All the while I also dealt with feelings of guilt for “abandoning” my younger siblings. I had nightmares where I was trying to get them out and away from danger and they wouldn’t listen to me because my mom told them they were safe. I still felt so responsible for them, and like I had somehow failed them. My husband patiently cared for me and helped me understand that they were now responsible for themselves, that they were the only ones who could get themselves out.

I had to step back and let them learn on their own.

He told me that if one of them did try to leave and my mom kicked them out then that sibling could live with us as long as they needed, but they needed to get themselves out first before we could help. He told me that leaving was the best example I could have given them. And even though it was incredibly hard to let go of needing to take care of them, he was right.

I bore the brunt of the disapproval, the suspicion of rule breaking, the constant monitoring and spying, and it was a responsibility that I took seriously. I bore the constant mind games, the guilt trips, the hours of lectures on my rebellious nature, because I hoped it would make things easier for them. And now looking at everyone grown and on their own, I know it helped them be able to get out. Because I showed them that they could. That it was OK to leave and be adults. That they could be trusted to make their own decisions.

Now I know how to answer my mom’s question if she ever asked again (we are on much, much better terms now!).

I would tell her that she is what changed us. That I couldn’t trust someone who never believed me and tried to keep me in an unnatural relationship. I would tell her that the patriarchy garbage she had bought for so long is just a ponzi scheme for abuse. I would tell her that I am not a horse to be trained, and that the life she wanted me to live would have set me up for being just as abused and stuck as she was.

I could tell her a lot of things, but honestly, I probably won’t.

I think it would kill her, or damn near close.

But I can tell you, you new parents who are wondering if it’s worthwhile to “train up your child”. Believe me, it’s not. It never will be. Choose a different and more peaceful way. Teach them tolerance and love. Teach it by example every day. Lead them, guide them, walk beside them, but don’t every think you can spank or guilt them into loving God. Teach them correct principles and trust that God will touch their hearts.

Now, as I look at my own sweet babies sleeping in their beds, I know that things will be different. We are planning on homeschooling them, but mainly because our schools here are terrible. We are not “training them up” to be obedient unthinking robots. We let them experience the natural consequences of their choices. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s so much better. They make wise decisions on their own because they *know* where foolish decisions lead. We do give them a swat or two on the butt when they’ve done something harmful, but those are rare instances.

Our home is not perfect, but it is happy, and our children know they can trust us.

And that is the greatest gift a parent can ever receive. 

I Was an LDS Homeschooler: Tirzah’s Story, Part One

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.

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

I was homeschooled my entire life. As were all my brothers and sisters. I actually don’t mind at all that I was homeschooled. I enjoyed it, a lot. As an educational method I think it can be remarkably effective, giving children an unhindered environment to learn at their own pace and truly develop their own talents.

That being said, I still feel compelled to write and share my story. It’s not as bad or traumatic as some, but not as happy and rosy as others.

A few years ago my mother looked at me with a mournful and wistful look and sadly asked, “What happened to us? You used to trust me and confide in me so much, then when you were about 11 that all changed. Why did you stop trusting me?”

I didn’t know how to answer that at the time.

I was still sorting through my childhood and I genuinely believed that the change our relationship had taken was somehow my fault. I didn’t think it was all my fault, but surely a large portion of it was mine, because my mom loved me, and I was the one who was annoyed by her.

My family is LDS (you know, those controversial Mormons?). As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints we have a doctrine that is distinct and very very different from any evangelical Christian denomination. But for a family that wants to homeschool for religious reasons back in my day there really weren’t any LDS oriented curriculums. So my parents did what many Mormon homeschoolers did: they branched out.

Abeka was the first inclusion I can remember. The books were vaguely creepy to me, with randomly placed Bible verses that had no bearing at all on whatever the subject matter was. Gradually more items worked their way in. Books about Amish and Mennonite children who learned valuable life lessons about greed, vanity, and perfect immediate obedience. They were also creepy, but I loved to read so I read them occasionally out of sheer boredom.

My dad was extremely abusive. He was large, frightening, and he thrived off of intimidating people. Especially us. He kept my mother in a constant state of fear and desperation, so as very small children we were largely unmonitored, my mother desperately cleaning one room after the other as we moved through like a storm of tiny Tasmanian devils. My mother eventually gathered the courage and resources to leave him and she gained full custody of all of us in the divorce. I came out of that experience with some deep rooted trust issues with men. I didn’t want to be left alone near any man.

My mother didn’t help in that matter, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Now a newly single mother my mom faced a lot of pressure to put us in school. She didn’t feel like that would be the right thing, so she figured out ways to make money while staying at home. She also needed to figure out how to undo the years of bad habits we had learned when it came to our cleaning habits. And that is when she discovered the Pearls and their masterpiece of parenting wisdom “To Train Up a Child”. Suddenly her mind was opened- children were like horses who needed guidance and careful training, who needed to learn instant compliance in order to learn obedience to God. If they didn’t receive that training then their souls would be in peril and they would wander off into the lost paths of darkness, and be pulled into the hedonistic world of Babylon.

I got the horse analogy a lot as a child and teen. I was the oldest at home, my older brother having been sent off to live with our father, and as the oldest she not only needed me to be the example, but to also make me the example. So I got lots of switchings. Sometimes it was a switch, others a belt, once a wooden spoon but she broke that on me. Then I was in more trouble because I made her break the spoon.

I had no privacy for my thoughts. “Murmuring” was not tolerated, because Laman and Lemuel murmured (book of Mormon people) and that ended up creating an entire civilization that rejected God. I wasn’t allowed to feel any anger towards her for the sudden changes in my life, and anything but perfect respect and admiration was unacceptable.

My mom didn’t use the spanking philosophy for long, she couldn’t bear to continue to inflict bodily harm on her kids (gee, I wonder why…..) but the attitude and mentality behind it remained. Seemingly overnight I had gone from being decently self sufficient and independent to being unbearably incapable and never to be trusted. The siblings that I had spent my entire life protecting from my father and mentally ill brother suddenly needed to be protected from me. Suddenly I was a pathological liar who bullied and harmed them out of spite and malice. I was never to be believed, because I was older and bigger, and they all told the same story. My younger brother was the perfect and honest one who would never lie to her… Only me. I was the liar, I was too rebellious, too unruly. I was leading my siblings astray.

I was always made to feel self conscious of my body.

My mom once pulled me aside at the public swimming pool to inform me that any time I stepped out of the pool I needed to wrap the towel around my waist because men might think my legs were really sexy. I was only 13, and wasn’t even close to puberty. Once at 17 a boy in my youth group cruelly called me a “corner girl” to hurt me, they all knew that I had never so much as kissed a boy, so that was an especially painful barb. When I told my mother about it, instead of defending me she told me it was because my shirt was too tight and they could see the curve of my breasts. We were always warned about sex, but never taught anything. It would lead us to immoral acts, and if I learned anything about it then I might say something to my siblings and that would cause them to be immoral too. Every decision I made had to be weighed against how it would affect them.

But her lessons on my responsibility as the oldest and the counseling we had received in our abuse survivors group sunk in, and not how she had hoped. I knew that it was my responsibility to teach “the youngers”, as I referred to them, how to move into adulthood in spite of my mom’s desire to go back in time and re-raise us. So I pushed on. I persuaded her to let me get an email account. She was very worried about allowing me on the computer, and told me that I could become addicted to pornography from the junk mail, or kidnapped by a stranger who would try to “get me” from the chat rooms. After establishing some rules I got one. Within a few years the others each has one as well. The same went with phone usage, then cellphone use, then Facebook.

Eventually I decided to serve a mission for our Church. But because it was several years before the age change our church recently had, it meant that I lived at home till I was in my 20’s to save money and prepare for my mission.

It was during that time period that my mom discovered the Christian Patriarchy movement.

She feel in love with the notion of “stay-at-home daughters” carefully protected and guided by their wise and loving parents. My mom had remarried by this time, and desperately wanted to take back the abuse and neglect we had receive from our biological father. What better way to do that then having sah-daughters? Oh she thought it was lovely and refined. But still unreasonably expected us to function as adults. But her vision of adult daughters was one of daughters who were wise enough to submit to their parents.

At the time I went along with it, but with a great deal of reservation. I tried to be humble and submissive and recognized that I was still living in their house so I needed to respect their rules. I worked for my step father and “contributed” to the family. Don’t get me wrong, I had some pretty decent perks as well, lessons in music and other sports that I valued highly, but it was still miserable.

When I went on my mission everything changed.

Part Two >

It’s True, Dungeons & Dragons Ruins Your Life

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Written by Luna Lindsey. Additional reporting by M. Dolon Hickmon.

I was once one of God’s elect, chosen to come to Earth in these latter-days to usher in the Second Coming of Christ.

Now I’m a spiritual mutt, belonging to no religion, believing in no gods, and “speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed.” I’ve become exactly like Korihor, a Book of Mormon villain, who winds up smitten by God for his unbelief.

How did I fall so far? Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), of course.

The first time I heard about D&D, I yearned to play it. I was a homeschooled teenager with few friends. Even among my peers at church, I didn’t feel accepted. My one respite from constant loneliness was reading novels of fantasy and science fiction.

Dungeons & Dragons held an almost irresistible lure. Here was a game where you could pretend to be a different person. You could solve puzzles and explore mysterious and magical realms. It sounded perfect!

But D&D was forbidden. Like tarot cards, Ouija boards, and even ordinary playing cards, anything to do with magic or mysterious symbols was presumed to be imbued with evil forces. Wicked spirits clung to those D&D figurines, to the strange books and polyhedral dice. They lurked, waiting for a chance to creep into the minds of young people, to possess them, or worse — to drag them away from God and into a life of sin and sex, addiction, devil worship and human sacrifice (in roughly that order).

Such were the images of the game in my impressionable young mind: a collection of scripture fragments, urban legends and fearsome admonishments from my mother. The cover of the Player’s Guide revealed this truth: pictures of scary monsters! Scary things are evil. Because evil is scary.

I’d been told that D&D taught kids to cast actual spells. Someone was just bound to accidentally summon a demon; it only follows. As my mother always said, it’s all fun and games until someone joins a coven. (Then it’s just fun.)

D&D is the gateway drug to Satanism, I had no doubt.

The demonization of D&D started in the 1980s. Patient Zero is now thought to have been a woman named Patricia Pulling. The aggrieved mother of a teenaged suicide, Pulling blamed her son’s tragic death on a pretend curse which had been placed on his character during a role playing game he’d played at school. When her lawsuit against the high school was tossed, Pulling took a forty-hour course and became a private investigator. After much sleuthing, she discovered other murdered or suicided children who were also D&D gamers. With no other relief at hand, she resorted to the best possible course of action: write a pamphlet calling for a ban on make-believe-monster-slaying, fictional-spell-casting, and pedantic rules-lawyering with mysterious, multisided dice. (Does anyone even know what those things are for?!)

The curious can read Pulling’s entire pamphlet for themselves.

Al Gore had not yet invented Facebook, but mimeo’d copies of Pulling’s pamphlet spread like chicken pox at day care. Faster than you could click ‘Share’ on a cat-in-a-shark-suit-on-a-roomba meme, Pulling’s inventions became the one point of doctrine upon which Baptist, Catholic and Mormon moms could all agree.

Television networks broadcast credible-sounding news reports (like this 60 Minutes piece), saying that D&D caused suicide. They were ubiquitous enough that I saw at least one when it aired. The ‘logic’ usually went something like this: players became so involved with their characters that they lost all track of reality, and when their character died, they were left with no reason to live.

Or maybe, the deeply superstitious speculated, kids were actually being possessed by demons, who (for some reason), wanted to immediately kill off the host they’d just spent centuries trying to attract. Hey, you can’t expect demons to be any more logical than the religious leaders who invent them, right?

For many parents, then and now, this was God’s literal truth, as can be seen in this unedited footage from an actual D&D game.

D&D remained forbidden fruit; just one more thing I wanted that I couldn’t have. Like wanting to stay up late enough to watch ‘Doctor Who’ on PBS. Or to date boys before I was 16. Or even to wear shorts in 105 degree summer heat.

Then life happened. I met a guy, and we got married. I got pregnant, then divorced, and I became the worst thing any Mormon girl could be: a divorced single mother. Divorced! I was used goods at the ripe old age of 20. All without so much as having ever rolled a natural 20. (Those cursed dice again! What are they for?!)

So there I was, a twenty-year-old with a wee baby on my hip. LDS singles who’d avoided me before my marriage now barely spoke to me. Afraid they might catch a bad case of divorce—or worse, sex!—people steered wide when we passed in the halls at church activities.

I needed friends.

My interest in science fiction drew me to RadCon, a fan convention. This outing would be risky: people would be playing D&D! By going, I’d place myself within temptation’s grasp. Burdened with the guilt of “crucifying Christ anew,” I went anyway.

Finally, after years of dreadful yearning, I walked among scattered tables festooned with nerds, stray game pieces, and cold pizza, trying to decide which would be my first tabletop role playing game.

Not D&D, of course. That was the Big One; a horror reserved for degenerates who’d surrendered to some demonic over-mind.

No. My first game would be something safe. To me, that meant science fiction. Fantasy games were inherently malevolent, with their wizards and monsters. But sci-fi would be totally okay.

No magic spells or demons; just robots and computers.

I lingered in front of the table for Cyberpunk 2020. Finally, I decided: This is the one. Nerves jangling with fear and excitement, I sat down. Immediately, my conscience screamed: This was the top of the slippery slope that I’d been warned about!

But I needed human connection. I needed a sense of belonging. I needed fun. So I played. And I had a blast. I connected. With people! People who liked me. People who didn’t make me feel like a freak.

I wanted more. But not D&D, no way! Rather, I found a weekly Shadowrun campaign with an open spot. It had trolls and elves and magic, but also guns and bombs and computer hacking. I felt fairly certain that the inclusion of technology would make it safe from the influences of the devil.

I almost lost my nerve. One dark night, in fitful prayer—the kind that Mormons call “wrestling with God”—I told the Lord that I was going to do this, because it made me happy. It was the one fun and fulfilling thing in my lonely, stressful and depressing life.

I was gripped by an overwhelming sense that I was about to cross a forbidden line. Was that the Holy Spirit, telling me not to go? Was he saying that this would separate me from God? Was it possible that I would surrender my soul to Satan, between rolling dice and downing potato chips?

I imagined a rope tied round my waist, the other end connected to God, as I jumped into the black pit of Outer Darkness. If things get out of hand, I told Him, you yank me back.

Then I willfully, pridefully (a dirty word, for a Mormon), joined the Shadowrun game.

After Shadowrun came SLA Industries, a far-future space cyberpunk game that was disturbingly violent and completely screwed up. No demons or magic there (psychic powers don’t count, right?), so I was still safe!

I’d heard about the Camarilla, a live-action role playing game. Players didn’t just sit around at a table; they dressed like their characters and walked around, interacting, pretending to be vampires, which had been a shameful fascination of mine since I was little. What could be more exciting? Or more risky? (Well, besides D&D.)

I joined the Camarilla, though I was very careful to play non-gothy characters. To be extra sure, I didn’t wear black. But I hung out with goths, and people who smoked and swore a lot. We listened to heavy metal music.

I made tons more friends.

Breaking the final taboo proved astonishingly easy. One evening, it just happened. I sat on a couch with friends and we played D&D. At this point, the cautionary tales seemed superstitious and silly. It was just fantasy role play, and there were far more hardcore games (I’d played them), and obviously there were no demons hiding under the odd misshapen dice. The worst thing I actually had to worry about were power gamers, with their obnoxious desire to kill everything in sight.

I was still a true-believing Mormon. Very much so. But now I had far more friends outside of the Church than in. This was a sin, in and of itself. Mormon youth and single adults are strongly “encouraged” to associate with other Mormons, and if you intended to make friends outside the Church, they should not be of the sort that came out of closets and wore T-shirts that said, “I only wear black till they make something darker.”

Worse, I’d met people from other faiths.

Not just non-Mormon Christians, either. There were Buddhists, Wiccans, and even a real-life Satanist.

They were all very nice people, who had interesting things to say. They tolerated my beliefs, and I tolerated theirs. They weren’t evil or scary. Not even the Satanist, in spite of his black fingernail polish.

I learned from them, which is even worse. The things they told me made sense. I discovered that prayers were answered for people of other faiths, too. Wiccans called this phenomena “magic,” but it didn’t involve summoning demons. In fact, aside from the addition of candles and incense, it didn’t seem all that different from my Mormon prayers. I learned Buddhists were really chill, relaxed, and very accepting of me. More accepting than most Mormons I’d met. Even the atheists were kind!

These people allowed me to be weird. For the first time in mylife, I could relax and be myself, talk openly about my interests, and even be liked for it.

Some part of me already recognized the true danger in role playing: exposing myself to “the world,” which tainted my mind with new ideas. Ideas that conflicted with, and even refuted, many LDS claims.

I made one last effort to get straight with God, to “Chose the Right” and rededicate myself to the Mormon Church. I still preferred the company of gamers and geeks, but God wanted me to find a righteous LDS husband. And I wasn’t going to find him among heathens. So returned to church, leaving most of my friends behind.

Only now I had something to compare my LDS life to. In stages, it dawned on me that I had never been happy at church. I’d never been worthy enough and I’d never had the kind of spiritual, uplifting experiences that I’d had with those supposedly “wicked” and “sinful” worldly people.

And I never would.

I wasn’t good enough for the Mormons, but I was good enough for the geeks. And I’d adopted a few of their beliefs. These were like tiny seeds, which I’d fit into the cracks that riddled the cinderblock wall of Mormonism.

From those seeds, green shoots sprouted, their roots prying against the foundations of my Mormon belief. In time, I discovered additional kernels, which fit those widening gaps in the LDS paradigm.

These new beliefs suited me better, and they were more compatible with facts and science. New thoughts lent me additional mental flexibility. Limber vines of reason began to eat at the brittle mortar of tradition, until eventually, the whole wall fell.

I no longer believed in God.

It could be said that my path out of the Church was inevitable. My heart never fit, no matter how closely I followed the Church’s commandments.

Perhaps D&D was merely a catalyst: the accelerant that sped the process of reframing my beliefs. But without it, without that window opening my mind to thoughts outside the stifling Mormon ideology, I might still be there, doing my best to pretend to be someone I’m not.

D&D led me down a path of temptation, until my heart became desensitized to the Holy Spirit, and I could no longer hear the gentle whisperings of God. Too late to turn back, I had been misled, brainwashed by the ways of the world. I am well ensnared in Satan’s grip.

Or so I would have once believed.

Today, I recognize that the path I took was one of liberation. By choosing to follow my heart in spite of the Church’s frightening conditioning, I made a saving throw that rescued me from decades of spiritual slavery.

So thank you, Gary Gygax, creator of D&D. Some might say that you summoned an elder demon, which is even now destroying the very fabric of American morality.

But in my story, you are the hero.

*****

Luna Lindsey
Luna Lindsey

About the Author

Luna Lindsey was born into the Mormon Church and left the faith in 2001, at age 26. She now lives in Seattle, WA and writes about topics of interest to her, including psychology, culture, and autism. She also writes science fiction and fantasy. When she’s not busy traveling to improbable worlds, or thinking hard about this improbable world, she’s enjoying life with her improbable family. Her new book, Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control is available in e-book and print.