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.

The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Twelve

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HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on September 20, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Eleven

Trigger Warning: Depictions of extreme medical abuse

Part Twelve: Exorcising Demons

Spiritual warfare is quite an interesting subject, all the more so because we don’t have much information on it, though what little we can infer from the Bible is quite fascinating.  Inferences to divine armies battling in the heavens, the devil being cast out of heaven, references to the “giant dragon” trying to devour the infant Jesus…what do we make of all that?  We know that in some hazy way these events are related directly to us, and that our actions affect the other-worldly battle going on in unseen realms.  But how exactly they’re related and clear specifics?  I have none of those, and I suspect you’re in the same boat.

I’m not sure where exactly Joe LaQuiere got his own beliefs on demons.  For Joe, spiritual warfare was simple.

Any bad attitude could be evidence of an indwelling “evil spirit”. 

Just like the devil went around “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”, we were taught that evil spirits were lurking everywhere, just waiting for the chance to settle in our hearts and souls.  If we gave them an opening through having a bad attitude, they’d jump on it and invite themselves right in.  So our parents spent time “rebuking” the evil spirits in us every time we were grumpy.  As you can imagine, this did not endear them to me.  In fact, hearing my parents order evil spirits to leave me, in the name of Jesus, just made me even more grumpy!  It felt very stupid and silly, because I knew I was just in a bad mood, not possessed by a demon.  But our parents took these things very seriously, praying over us and ordering the demons to leave.  If our bad attitude didn’t immediately vanish, that was further evidence in their minds that it was spiritual warfare they were dealing with.

This was the environment that existed in our group when my little cousin H started having seizures.  The first time it happened, they called an ambulance and rushed her to the hospital.  She was prescribed anti-seizure medication, and I believe they even gave it to her, at first.  We heard about it the next morning, and even as children, were properly scared and worried for her.  I think she was about 6, but I could be off on the age…it was a long time ago.  We all hoped it was a one-time occurrence, and that little H with her blonde hair and sweet smile, would be fine from then on.  Then she had another seizure.  And another.  At this point Joe LaQuiere sat her parents down for some very serious discussions.

He was almost completely sure that these seizures weren’t medical – they were spiritual.

He thought they were being caused by demon possession, and he had a way to prove it one way or the other.  When she started having a seizure, or right afterwards, they needed to order her to say “Jesus is Lord”, because demons couldn’t say those words.  So if she said the words, then it wasn’t demon-possession, and presumably was just a medical condition that they could continue to treat with anti-seizure meds.  If, on the other hand, she refused to say “Jesus is Lord”, then they had a very very serious problem, and it was going to require a lot of prayer and work to drive the demon out.

With this fool-proof bit of theological wisdom in hand, they and Joe set to work on little H.  The next seizure came and went, and they tried to get her to say “Jesus is Lord”.  She wouldn’t say it.  There was the proof: their little girl was possessed by a demon.  This was further confirmed to them by odd things she would say…sometimes she would say there was a “black man” in the room, and she would want him to go away.  Even the little bit of reading that I’ve done on the subject has come up with information on visual and auditory hallucinations as a common and expected side-effect of epileptic seizures.  But apparently this research was outweighed by the expertise of Joe LaQuiere, who told them this was further evidence of demon possession: she was able to see other demons that were invisible to the rest of us.  The “black man” was clearly a demon, and little H needed to be delivered from her demon possession as quickly as possible.

So they stopped the seizure medication, and instead spent hours with her, Joe LaQuiere assisting, every time she had a seizure, ordering her over and over to say “Jesus is Lord”.

Often she would resist and fight them and cry, or say some variant of the magic words “Jesus is Lord”, but not the exact phrase.  I was told that many times they would be up with her all night, fighting and trying to hold her down to control the demon inside her.  This was a serious spiritual battle, and they were determined to win.  Joe LaQuiere told them they could, and they believed him.  Sometimes little H would say “Jesus is Lord”, and they would relax for a bit, believing the demon was gone.  Then it would start all over again with another seizure.  At one point I think she was having upwards of 12 to 15 seizures a day.  I’m not sure what else they tried in their quest to exorcise the demon from H besides prayer, and ordering her to say “Jesus is Lord”.  I was told of one time at least that Joe had them forcibly hold her in a shower as part of the process.  I’m not sure what affect that was supposed to have, but the seizures continued.  Little H started to look like she was in a constant daze all the time.  She didn’t act normally any more.  She didn’t talk much.

I don’t know how long this went on…I know that eventually the seizures lessened…for all I know, they put her back on seizure meds eventually.  I was never told.  The one thing we do know for certain: the effects.

H experienced permanent brain damage as a result of the untreated seizures.

Today she is in her 20s, but she’s never progressed mentally from the small child she used to be.  She is still sweet, but with the sweetness of a young child.  Her brain has been permanently scarred by the ordeal she went through, and her life will never be the same.  I grieve for her and her stolen potential.  What will happen to her now?  Will she ever be married?  Have her own family?  Have the emotional capacity to realize the spiritually abusive environment she is in, and the ability to leave?  I don’t know.

But I do know who is responsible: Joe LaQuiere.

Part Thirteen>

photo credit: Joel Dinda via photopin cc

Pills and Popsicles: Mahalath’s Story

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

My mother up and decided around the time of puberty that I had ADD. She’d just bring it up randomly, saying that’s why I wasn’t focusing on my work, getting good grades, etc. There were two problems with this. The first was that she demonized ADD. It was a “condition” that made me lesser than my peers.

I was treated like I was broken.

Some days, depending on her mood, I was purposefully causing it; other days it was something I could not help that would plague me for the rest of my life. She spoke to me in a high voice, like you would a baby, and would constantly ask me if I understood the simplest things. It took me some time many years later to get a proper understanding of ADD because of this.

The second problem was that I did not have ADD. Immediately upon her initial announcement, I did some research of my own and discovered that with the exception of some memory issues (hereditary from my dad) I did not display any symptoms.

Many years later, professionals confirmed for me what I had believed as a child: I do not have ADD. I have never had ADD.

I tried and still do try to convince my mother of this every time the subject is brought up. But there was no convincing her. She started checking magazines about special needs children from the library and reading them around me. After homeschool conventions she’d bring back these weird things that were supposed to help me “focus”. There was this weird beanbag thing I was supposed to keep on my lap, a plastic spinning thing for the end of my pencil, an enormous timer for each assignment. None of these did any good, apparently. So she started making me take these caffeine pills. They were stupid and yellow, bought from Walmart in bottles of fifty. They didn’t do anything for me. Really, I felt no effects at all. But I had to take two every day, regardless of where I was. She literally pulled me aside at a youth event because it was “time for my pill”. I kept telling her they didn’t work, and it was ages before she realized I was right.

So around the age of fifteen, I was in the office of my pediatrician (a small private practice), and they made me take this test with colored boxes. I tried to answer as normally as possible. Then they came back with big smiles and said I no longer had to take the caffeine pills. I was thrilled, but then the doctor held up a paper of blue and yellow pills and said that these were my new ones. They proceeded to talk about the price, effects and frequency, completely ignoring my frantic questions. When I left that day, the only thing I knew was that I only had to take one per day at breakfast. This seemed more reasonable, so I was willing to give it a try.

The first day I took this new pill was the day of a friend’s 16th birthday party. It was at the church, so I was allowed to attend unchaperoned as long as I was picked up early. Soon after entering the designated party area I realized something was wrong. It wasn’t that I was quite overdressed and old fashioned (which I was), or that everyone already knew everyone else and I was alone (which I was). There was a movie playing on the TVs at both ends of the room, so I tried to focus on the Phantom of the Opera, which I had never seen before. Yet even this opportunity to learn about popular culture could not hold my attention.

I felt dizzy and sick to my stomach. All the noises seemed far away, and my mind seemed foggy and dark. Everything seemed duller, almost as if it was not there at all. And I realized suddenly that this was due to the medication. I was horrified. The rest of the party was spent silently crying the darkness of the “movie house” theme as the beautiful normal people laughed and ate cake.

Perhaps I was still adjusting, I reassured myself. These effects could be temporary. But these side effects continued on, and soon the most terrible truth hit me between the eyes: because of the pills, I could no longer daydream. This was indeed what the pills had been designed for, but I needed to daydream. Escaping to my private world of fantasy was my primary coping mechanism to surviving my homeschool experience. When I couldn’t stand the emotional abuse, the ever increasing rules, the loneliness, I retreated into my head. Suddenly, I became a starship captain, mountain climber, or long lost princess. I’d paint a Hitler mustache or bunny ears on my unsuspecting parents as they screamed at me, and it made things better for a bit. Dreams were my oxygen, and now I couldn’t breathe.

That year became “the year of hell”. My schoolwork suffered. Depression overwhelmed me once again, almost stronger than the initial onset. I read books like they were food, bargained for every extra scrap of TV, played music constantly to keep the pain at bay. Any stimulation for my suddenly still brain was coveted. I begged my parents to let me stop. When they refused, I hid pills in increasingly complicated ways. Upon discovery of my schemes, it became mandatory to watch me take the pills every day, like a prisoner. Choked breakfast table sobs went unrecognized, and discussion was not permitted.

A year later, I went for my yearly doctor’s appointment. I had planned how, in calm tones, I would make my case directly to the pediatrician. As soon as the topic was brought up, my mother started to babble on about how wonderful the medicine was and how much better I was. I began my piece, but immediately I was shouted down by both pediatrician and parent, claiming that I didn’t know what was best for me. I looked a lot better now, insisted the physician, and my mother claimed my behavior had improved. Denying her claims did not help.

Asking about the test I had taken a year ago was fruitless: it “didn’t mean anything”. When I inquired as to the basis for this knowledge, she said, “I see you in Bible study every week. You are a lot more focused now.”

It was then that the true nature of the situation became apparent. The doctor and my mother were friends. Close friends, it seemed, as they chatted about the most recent passage that the group had been studying. Of course this woman believed her. This group that I was marched to every Thursday morning was quite large, but I was still stunned. How had I never noticed before?

All of my carefully constructed calm was gone. In tears and hysteria I pleaded my case yet again. I explained how the medication was hurting me, how I couldn’t focus on anything, why I needed to be able to daydream. With everything in me I tried to make them understand what they were doing to me, but it was all for naught. They simply smiled thinly, reiterated my “disease”, and told me that I would continue to take the medicine. In fact, the pediatrician suggested, a higher dose might be a good idea.

They exited the room, and I broke down. What if it was like this forever? What if I never got away from my parent’s home and I wasted away, lifeless and desperate?

I started sobbing hard and I couldn’t stop, because I’d lost control over my own mind, quite literally, and there was nothing I could do.

A soft knock on the door frame caused me to look up. A student nurse stood in the open doorway, looking concerned. She had sat in the corner during my examination, silent and observing. Now she tiptoed inside again to where I was curled in a ball on the crinkly paper of the counter. In a soft voice, she asked if I wanted a popsicle.

I was touched by this tiny act of sympathy, and said yes. She flitted away, returning in a minute with the orange flavored treat. Remaining in the room a moment longer before rushing out again, she rubbed my back and looked at me with sympathy. She did not say a word, but this little act of kindness helped calm me down and gave me hope that not everyone was out to get me. Student nurse, if you ever read this, thank you for what you did for me.

Some time after this, I was informed that I would no longer have to take the blue and yellow pills and would resume the caffeine pills twice a day. Any annoyance at this earlier means of control was gone, and I reacted joyfully. Of course, I asked why. Why did I no longer have to take the prescription drugs? Could it be that someone had finally heard my cry for help? No. The pills had just gotten too expensive.

I cannot overstate how much of an impact this experience had on my life.

To this day I become agitated in all matters concerning medication, doctors, or really anything to do with the medical practice.

Yes, if something became seriously wrong I would force myself to take medicine. I would get myself to a hospital if the need arose. But these convictions have only been a recent development, and the condition would need to be quite serious (a.k.a. detached limb). This is not a healthy view, I know. I’m working on it.

This doctor was a close friend of my mother. They went to Bible Study together. They were friends. Other than that test that “didn’t matter”, her diagnosis of me was based on my mother’s accounting of my behavior. There was no actual medical analysis involved in the whole affair, nor did anyone bother to explain things to me or ask how I felt, physically or emotionally. And of course, mother knows best.

While on medication, it was as if someone had erected a brick wall in my mind, keeping all the creative, imaginative parts of me blocked off, so I couldn’t access them. I could not think beyond the here and now, and even that seemed all blurry and dark. My head hurt sometimes, a few times I literally felt short of breath. I lost any faint sense of time that I possessed. Everything ran together in my mind and got confused and jumbled up. I had trouble focusing on the words on a page. It was terrifying.

The worst part was when I began to doubt my own sanity.

Perhaps my mother was right? Perhaps I really did have ADD? Perhaps this WAS the way normal people felt? Well, if this was normal I didn’t want it. It hurt. Besides, I didn’t have ADD. I didn’t! Or did I? I spent many nights crying myself to sleep, sure that I was losing my mind. It is only now, after a professional diagnosis (utterly terrifying, by the way) that I can confidently say that I do not have ADD, nor did I have it as a younger child.

Even though I’ve chucked the bottle of caffeine pills my mother sent me for college, even though I’ve had someone properly assess me, even though I am learning about medical care in a whole new light, it is not over for me. I am safe, I tell myself, no one will ever force me to take pills again. But I was still misdiagnosed and improperly medicated.

The scars from this will never go away

Things HSLDA Opposes: State-Mandated Medical Exams for Homeschoolers

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on December 24, 2014.

View series intro here, and all posts here.

New Jersey is one of eleven states that do not require homeschooling parents to notify education officials of their intent to homeschool, and from time to time bills introduced into the state’s legislature have sought to change this. In 2010, a bill was introduced that would have required parents to provide notice of homeschooling at the beginning of the year and turn in a portfolio documenting the child’s educational progress at the end of the year. Unsurprisingly, HSLDA objected, but it was another part of this bill and HSLDA’s response that caught my eye.

Namely, what caught my eye was this bit:

2. A parent or guardian of a home-schooled child shall provide documentation to the resident district board of education no later than September 1 of each school year that the child has undergone an annual medical examination.

You can see the logic here. Annual medical examinations are important. I know several homeschool alumni who have life-threatening medical conditions today—conditions that were preventable and would have been noticed and treated had they seen a doctor as children. Requiring homeschooled parents to take their children to a doctor each year makes sense, and would have made a world of difference for these alumni.

But HSLDA objected:

This bill (companion to S3105) treats every homeschool parent like a child abuser by requiring them to give their school system documentation of a medical exam every year for every homeschooled child.

Yes, in HSLDA’s world, if you are required to take your child to the doctor for a checkup each year, you are being treated like a child abuser. This makes especially little sense when you realize that parents of public school children are also required to take their children to the doctor and submit documentation, and that each public school is required to carry out annual hearing and vision screenings and examine children for various chronic conditions. Does this mean that all parents of public school students in the state being treated like child abusers?

Let’s talk about the abuse aspect for a moment, though. When bills are introduced with the intent of making it harder for abusive parents to use homeschooling as a cover for their mistreatment, HSLDA and organizations like it often complain that homeschoolers are being “singled out.” The problem with this argument is that it is rarely true—public school children are seen by mandatory reporters every day, and many states, like New Jersey, require doctor visits and conduct examinations of their own. However imperfect it may be, there is a system in place in the public schools for identifying and dealing with chid abuse or medical neglect. There is no such system for homeschooled students.

I stated already that I think requiring homeschooling parents to take their children to the doctor each year makes sense simply as a way of preventing medical neglect, but there is indeed another aspect as well. HSLDA has this to say of abuse concerns:

The media carried reports recently about the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) failing to protect an allegedly homeschooled child in danger—with tragic results. In effect, S3105 punishes parents for the failures of DYFS.

It’s true: New Jersey has had its share of homeschool child abuse horror stories. But as you can see, HSLDA blames these tragedies solely on DYFS, enabling them to ignore the role homeschooling can play in concealing abuse and making it harder for social workers to gain access to that child. When an report is made about a child who attends public school, social workers will frequently speak with the child on site, before or after school. This is not possible when a report is made about a homeschooled child—and children sometimes die as a result. Similarly, teachers will often report when other adults in a child’s life will not, and removing a child from contact with teachers can mean the end of reports—and the end for the child. So HSLDA can pretend all they want that these cases are all the fault of social services’ incompetency, but they’re wrong.

Now yes, the vast majority of homeschooled students do not homeschool to hide child abuse—but it does happen. When a child dies or is horrifically neglected, it’s normal for officials and lawmakers to look at the system and ask what went wrong—and how they can change things so this won’t happen again. This happens when the victim attends public school, and when the victim is homeschooled. If having an annual medical examination has the potential to help even a few abused homeschooled children—doctors are mandatory reporters, remember—I’m all for it. After all, what do we lose?

So, what is the practical effect of HSLDA’s opposition to this bill? Put simply, preventing this bill allows homeschooling parents to not take their children to the doctor—ever, if they so choose. While many homeschooling parents will take their children to the doctor regardless, others won’t. Without required medical examinations, it will be easier for abusive homeschooling parents to hide their maltreatment—and in addition, more homeschooled children will have preventable conditions go unnoticed and undiagnosed, in some cases resulting in chronic or life-threatening medical conditions as adults. And I’m not just saying this—I know homeschool alumni who never saw the doctor as kids, and suffer permanent consequences today.

Unfortunately, the bill ultimately died in committee. But if nothing else, HSLDA’s opposition to this bill makes it obvious that they’re not working for the interests of homeschooled children.

Giving Too Much, Part Two

Photo from Kierstyn King: "Grandma, Me, and Mom – Dance Recital Circa 2003."
Photo from Kierstyn King: “Grandma, Me, and Mom – Dance Recital Circa 2003.”

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on December 12, 2014. Read Part One here.

When I was 11 we came home one day to find someone we’d met at a homeless shelter/food kitchen/church thingy on our doorstep, with her infant. We’ll call her Missy.

I don’t know how she got our address, or why she was there.

But she was.

And I gave up my bedroom and moved in with my sisters and Missy stayed with us for a very long time.

She stayed with us through the aforementioned foreclosure, where my parents stopped paying their mortgage in lieu of paying someone else’s.

She stayed with us so she could get her two other kids (and nephew?) back in her custody.

*****

Our house was foreclosed on and we were facing homelessness – not just for our family, but for Missy’s as well.

My parents traveled all over the city, and even a few hours north of where we lived, trying to find some place to live, but because we were being foreclosed on, no one was taking my parents + another family, because they didn’t trust they’d pay.

On the day we had to be out (the people who bought our house granted us an extra week or two on account of they were nice and we had a shit ton of people to move – although, Missy did most of the packing because….I think mom and dad were busy looking for houses and also hanging on to “god saving our home”) we had nowhere to go, we were looking at being homeless, and Missy was still going to follow us around.

The plan was for me and my siblings to stay at my grandparents while my parents continued to travel anywhere to find somewhere who’d let a two-family-one-income household rent from them. It was a really terrifying day. Not knowing where we were going to sleep, or live, or if I’d see the people in my homeschool group ever again…

But then my grandparents mentioned that the house next door just went up for rent, and so my parents went over and the guy who bought the place just wanted the land, so he didn’t ask questions and said as long as we’d paid the rent we could stay there. So we did.

And the house was a 3 bedroom + bonus room, and one of the bedrooms had it’s own private bathroom and entry, so that was where Missy stayed with her 9 year old and infant (the timeline is fuzzy, because it was around the time we moved there that she got partial custody of her kids, but I don’t know if it was simultaneously, or a little later), and I eventually shared a room with Missy’s 15 year old. My dad put up a false wall in the bonus room because it was connected to the master bedroom and my sisters slept there, and my brother literally slept in a closet.

When Missy’s nephew joined our party, he slept on a futon outside my bedroom, in the dining room.

*****

When I was 12 mom got pregnant again, which meant that pubescent Kiery got to take over everything again, except this time….not only was my mom telling me what to do, and having me run the house, but Missy was too.

I was cooking and doing chores not just for my family, but hers as well.

Let me mention this again: I was 12 years old.

I was taking care of two families single handedly.

I was not okay.

Eventually my parents confronted Missy about using me as her slave too, and set up a chore list so other people had to also cook and clean and do laundry. Mostly, just that Missy had to take care of her family’s stuff, and we alternated cooking days. Zero introspection on the part of my parents regarding…I don’t know, placing too much responsibility on a twelve year old.

My parents got mad at me for my “attitudes” (because I was adolescent, exhausted, run ragged, burnt out, and barely keeping up with everything, including school), and blamed it on Missy’s 15 year old daughter’s influence (because I shared a room with her – even though we weren’t close). Very little came of this besides my trying extra hard to be totally happy all the time.

It was Missy’s older child who alerted me to the fact that my period had started when I was studying in a tree with my brother, her cousin, and some of the other kids. My brother was very concerned, and I panicked. Missy had then asked me, at random, if I was pregnant or not because I would sometimes wrap my arm around my abdomen (because cramps and no meds.), and I was mortified. Half because I didn’t know what sex was or how to do it, and half because that’s not something you ask an isolated twelve year old who just started having periods.

*****

My parents paid Missy $40 a week to stay with us and homeschool her kids. That way, she could say she had a job to the CPS people, while still fulfilling her god-ordained plan to be a stay at home mother and educator. I…don’t remember this going well. To be honest I’m not sure if she even did anything more to educate her kids than through books at them, like my mom did with me, but I don’t remember. I was otherwise occupied.

Missy was, however, a far superior cook than my mom, and fish and frog-legs aside, she made some really good food. This is the only pleasant memory I have of her. Graham cracker cake and home-made Chinese food.

*****

Shortly before/after my 13th birthday, my parents discovered that Missy had been abusing pharmaceuticals and kicked her and her family out.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved that I only had one mom around any more, and my own room. Also, my brother got to move out of the closet and into Missy’s alcove, which was nice…and I was maybe jealous.

The second stillborn happened two weeks before my 13th birthday.

*****

After Missy, my parents decided not to let random families live with us again. Turns out my mom didn’t like having another lady in the house either.

*****

My mom got pregnant almost instantly after the stillborn and I had to get my own rides to ballet (which meant asking my teacher to pick me up and coming home with my grandma). My ballet teacher was a wonderful adult to have in my life at the time. She made me feel valued and cared for at a time when I really needed it, because I wasn’t getting that from my mom.

In fact, that was often one of the things that hurt me so much as a child – I never had time with my mom, and I’d get upset and we’d have a mother-daughter day, but that would happen all of three times before she would get pregnant again and it would end and I just became an object. I tried to explain this to her once, but she never really understood it.

She spent so much time talking to and being there for other people, acting like she knew all the things about being a good wife (helpmeet), homeschooling, and parenting – but was never there for me, never there for her kids.

I never doubted my parents’ heart for giving.

I’ve always doubted their love for me. 

A *Real* Investigation into IBLP

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IBLP’s Headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.

Jeri Lofland blogs at Heresy in the Heartland. The following was originally published by Jeri on June 22, 2014, and is reprinted with permission.

Thoroughness:

Knowing what factors will diminish the effectiveness of my work or words if neglected

–Bill Gothard

Bill Gothard’s buddy David Gibbs, Jr. has now completed his “investigation” into allegations made against Gothard by former IBLP staff members. According to the IBLP board earlier this week,

“…the Board sought the facts through a confidential and thorough review process conducted by outside legal counsel. Many people were interviewed, including former Board members, current and past staff members, current and past administrators, parents, and family members.

“At this point, based upon those willing to be interviewed, no criminal activity has been discovered.”

But according to the team at Recovering Grace,

“…not one of the women who have shared their stories on our site were personally contacted by Gibbs Jr. or his investigative team, including Charlotte, who alleged molestation.

Perhaps Gibbs Jr. needs to brush up on his Character Qualities.

It would seem that Gibbs’ investigation focused narrowly on certain allegations of sexual impropriety (some of which Gothard has admitted to, resulting in his resignation). However, this is but the sensational tip of the iceberg and ignores the broad scope of hurtful, unethical, and even illegal activities that have damaged numerous lives associated with the Institute in Basic Life Principles.

Gothard promoted his organization as “Giving the world a new approach to life” and following God’s “non-optional principles”. A ministry that prides itself on being “under authority” should have nothing to fear from the truth. And yet, the testimonies of some former students and staff members paint a disturbing picture. Some of these stories of life under the auspices of the Institute have been published on Recovering Grace. Others have been shared more privately. Some victims are willing to have their names attached to their experiences while others prefer anonymity, or pseudonyms.

Each of the incidents outlined below could likely be explained away on its own. But taken together they suggest a pattern that I believe is worthy of deeper examination. The Board of IBLP can write, “We dedicate ourselves to help build up families and individuals,” but if these situations actually took place, the Institute’s so-called “ministry” is a farce, with or without Gothard, and IBLP should be shut down to prevent further abuse of power.

real investigation of IBLP might look into allegations of the following:

OSHA and other code violations at all locations: Indianapolis, Oak Brook, Elms Plantation, Oklahoma City, Eagle Mountain, Eagle Springs, Northwoods, Big Sandy, Flint, South Campus, Little Rock, Nashville, and others

For example:

  • Lack of permits: illegal remodeling, dredging a lake without a permit, improper electrical wiring
  • Poor fire safety: hiding fire extinguishers and fire pulls behind paintings or décor items; silencing a monitored fire alarm to avoid disrupting conferences, not reporting fires to fire department
  • Improper supervision: letting teens work on upper-story building exterior or fire escapes without safety harness
  • Injuries: electrical shocks from unsafe practices, minors injured while operating power tools, carbon monoxide poisoning of kitchen volunteers
  • Faulty elevators
  • Violations of residential occupancy limits

Prayer rooms (especially at 2820 N. Meridian, Indianapolis):

  • locking minors in solitary confinement without notifying parents
  • locking minors in solitary without access to a restroom
  • withholding food or medication
  • spanking minors without parental consent

Failure to protect children by reporting abuse:

  • failure to report sex acts with or molestation or attempted sexual molestation of minors in IBLP’s care at the ITC (Rodger Gergeni)
  • failure to report sexual abuse of minors in ATI families (Bill Gothard)
  • pressure on homeschooled victims not to report physically abusive parents
  • shaming victims of sexual assault and neglecting to counsel them to contact police
  • pressuring ATI moms not to divorce abusive husbands who posed a danger to the children

Educational neglect:

  • failure to educate “homeschooled” minors who were sent to IBLP centers by their parents
  • using A.C.E. curriculum for children sent by the courts
  • violation of child labor laws
  • children (9-10 years old) working in the kitchen or cleaning bathrooms, sometimes rising as early as 4 or 5 a.m. to work
  • unpaid teenagers working 12-18 hour days in the hotels (cooking, industrial laundry, cleaning hotel rooms and public restrooms)
  • selling teens unaccredited degrees (Telos.edu) without adequate explanation of their value

Forced fasting:

  • on weekends, designated prayer days, and other times when meal preparation was inconvenient
  • though some children were sent there by the state and other students paid for room and board, only two meals were served on Saturday and only supper on Sunday
  • sometimes only two meals a day were served for weeks in a row
  • requiring students to turn in care packages
  • also mandatory weight checks (Weigh Down) for staff women, involuntary diets, forced exercise
  • failure to recognize eating disorders such as anorexia (even when girls were passing out)

Medical neglect:

  • withholding or confiscating prescription medication (including antidepressants, an asthma inhaler, post-surgery pain medication)
  • refusal to get prompt medical treatment for severe burns, broken bones, concussions, pneumonia, collapsed lung, high fevers, torn ligaments, acute food poisoning–many former students trace chronic health problems to untreated conditions that arose at training centers
  • treating injuries with alternative remedies such as sugar water injections (Dr. Hemwall)
  • letting doctors or dentists with revoked licenses treat students at training centers

Campaign ethics:

  • sending youth to campaign for Indianapolis judicial and mayoral candidates
  • providing private services to a public official (Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin) in Oklahoma

Employer issues:

  • pressuring employees not to record overtime on time sheets
  • advising employees that submitted overtime hours would not be paid
  • mandatory unpaid evening work teams for employees (washing dishes, cleaning carpets, scrubbing bathrooms)
  • paying less than minimum wage, paying minimum wage minus “rent”
  • firing employees without due process or notice
  • refusal to pay workers’ compensation
  • instructing employee to lie to hospital staff to protect the “ministry”
  • praising employees who gave up their paycheck to become volunteers
  • allowing children under 16 to work more than twenty hours a week
  • sexual harassment of junior staff or students by adult staff

ALERT:

  • physical abuse, medical neglect, solitary confinement, unsafe equipment, psychological abuse
  • refusal to contact parents regarding medical emergencies
  • keeping four teens tied together by the feet for an entire day, resulting in injury
  • a unit of under-dressed teen boys standing outdoors in sub-freezing temperatures at night until one confessed to a minor infraction
  • disregard for basic safety precautions
Mistreating Russian orphans in Moscow and at Indianapolis South Campus:
  • foster families spanking children and even teens
  • children spanked for minor misdeeds
  • English-speaker spanking Russian child without an interpreter present
  • withholding meals from children for disciplinary purposes or feeding them only dry rolled oats and water
  • child labor (reports of children required to clean toilets at 5 a.m.)
  • using orphans to “encourage” financial donors

Restricted communication from training centers:

  • limited access to public phones, email, fax, or internet
  • reading students’ outgoing or incoming mail, confiscating mail or making students open mail in presence of a leader
  • censoring outgoing email
  • telling students what to tell (or not tell) their parents about situations at the training center
  • limiting who a student or employee was allowed to correspond with outside
  • restricting conversation or interaction between fellow students

Psychological abuse:

  • lengthy, repetitive, or middle-of-the-night “counseling” sessions (berating and brainwashing)
  • restricting sleep
  • piping loud music into bedrooms
  • assigning staff to night duties on consecutive nights (along with their day jobs)
  • requiring student to wash clothing by hand until she had earned “privilege” of using the laundry facilities; requiring staff to recite extensive Bible passages before breaking a fast
  • confiscating clocks
  • hours of forced labor intended to “break will” or “conquer rebellion”

Violations of privacy:

  • not permitting students to take bathroom breaks or use the restroom alone, or with the door closed
  • confiscating personal items such as clothing, music, photographs, medication, and cell phones

Miscellaneous:

  • sending unreported cash through customs on staff member’s person
  • exaggerating or misrepresenting facts in newsletters
  • promotional video about ALERT describing a pilot “rescue” omitted the fact that it was ALERT’s own plane that crashed while taking aerial photos of the property)
  • personal gifts of cash or clothing from Gothard to his favorites
  • discrimination against males who appeared “too effeminate” and females who were overweight or not “feminine” enough
  • photoshopping hair, clothing, and landscaping for newsletter photos
  • selling overpriced plant kits to ATI families under fraudulent advertising
  • serving old (long-expired) donated food or insect-infested grain
  • transferring minors across state lines between “training opportunities” without parental permission or notification
  • insisting that Character First was not affiliated with Gothard

With former ATI students and IBLP staff reporting incidents like these, is it any surprise that so few choose to use Gothard’s materials with their own children?

The Deliberate Spread of Misinformation

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on August 14, 2013.

When my siblings and I were children, my parents deliberately misinformed us about the world.

I am still not sure what the overall goal was. Some of it makes sense. The ideological nonsense that contributed to psychological control makes sense, such as the misinformation about lust, reproduction, and consequences, but some of it really doesn’t make sense.

Why were we misinformed about the healthiness of foods? Why were we misinformed about women’s periods? Why were we misinformed about the lactose content of butter? My parents also gave us this information in a way that made us afraid to double check, and there was certainly no ability to find out correct information and take it back to our parents. As isolated as we already were, there was always the fear that we could be isolated further if our lifestyle allowed for too much knowledge seeking.

My parents taught us some strange theories about food, which I believe contributed to a lot of food and weight issues in our family. They told us that calories were a lie, and that potatoes and rice were vegetables. They didn’t teach us to have a treat or two and then healthy food, to make choices. They didn’t teach us that you could have a certain amount and maintain, lose or gain weight. They taught us that when food was available to eat it. There was always food, but sometimes it was just rice, for breakfast lunch and supper. So when there was tasty food available, we really wanted it. We weren’t taught moderation and we were taught that there was only ever starvation or overindulgence.

For the purpose of this writing I finally did some quick googling about lactose in milk. It doesn’t matter now and it didn’t matter then, no one in my family is lactose intolerant. But my parents told us that butter didn’t have any lactose but margarine does. This, as I learned today, is very outdated (50 years or more), because margarine is now normally prepared to be lactose free, and butter is often ‘enhanced’ with other dairy products. Pure butterfat is lactose free, but that is very difficult to achieve.

My mother had the female reproductive talk with me when I was younger than nine years old. I think I was eight, but she denies this, but I remember the house. I then promptly forgot until I thought I was bleeding to death when I was 11. She then reminded me what it was but didn’t give any more information so I thought I would bleed forever. Miraculously it stopped, so I thought I was gone forever. Then it came back and I had to ask again, and she was annoyed and made fun of me. I decided then not to ask any more questions. I learned about human anatomy from a health textbook, which my parents provided on the grounds that I wouldn’t look at that section. I did.

My parents taught us that everyone outside our circle wanted to harm us.

They taught us that foster parents are bad people and that social workers want to hurt children. They taught us that non-religious children are mean and selfish and would steal our stuff. It was only after going to high school that I learned that non-fundamentalist teens are great people. Sure they aren’t perfect, but they really don’t judge other non-perfect teens either.

My parents taught us that strangers are dangerous. Not like most parents do, but to the extent that I have to catch myself to not view all other drivers on the road as evil people who will hit me if they want to, for example. They taught us that if there is a way for other people to hurt us, they will.

They taught us that we were a lower tier of person than others. This is a complex issue, because they also taught that we were better than others because of the fundamental beliefs. I think this was more about guiding us to have low self-esteems. They taught us to let others walk first and butt ahead of us and choose last and give in, in all areas of life. It was hard to change this mindset and take my right of way and walk boldly through a grocery store.

They taught us that spending money on something that you do not need to the point of failing health or death is wrong. This extended from food to shoes to glasses. I was given a pair of glasses when I was nine, at which point I learned that stars are real (I thought people were lying about seeing stars in the sky) and stores in the mall have signs above them so you know which store it is – I thought people guessed and I couldn’t see in, and I never had the courage to ask what I was missing. My next pair of glasses came when I was 15. After there were about six of us I don’t think my parents ever bought shoes or clothes, not even from second hand, instead depending on other families to give us their cast off underwear and shoes and other items.

These are just some of the ways we were misled about daily life, not to mention the religion-based untruths. Further to the idea of not buying items that weren’t life preserving, we were taught that desiring things was wrong, and that god would judge us for jealousy if we wished for more of anything or asked for what we saw other children receive.

My parents taught us that girls were able to evoke some kind of sinful feeling in men, and so we needed to be very careful about how we dressed, stood, walked, and sat, or we would answer before god one day about what thoughts went through the minds of men in our lives.

My parents taught us that girls weren’t as valuable to parents as boys were, because boys could grow up to be powerful successful people one day, unlike girls. They taught us that the women’s role was to support the men in whatever the men wanted to do, and we weren’t supposed to have any dreams of our own because it would hinder the goals of our future husbands.

I know that at this point I have been able to gather knowledge and counteract the misinformation I received, but I still have siblings in that home that are receiving a similar level of false information.

I took it upon myself to give some information to my siblings, especially regarding female health, because there was a real worry that misinformation could cause harm. And I thought my sisters should know that tampons didn’t take your virginity. Lying to your children like this should be criminal.

Tylenol is Evil. Because Witchcraft.

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on February 20, 2014 with the title, “I don’t know what to call this.”

I was going through the files on my laptop looking for something specific and I ran across a picture that I saved from 2007. I won’t post it here, because it makes my stomach turn, but content note: graphic descriptions of infections and medical neglect.

My parents stopped taking us to doctors before I was 10. They believed that god told them doctors were evil, to go to doctors was to not have faith in god’s ability and will to heal the sick. Along with that, came the belief that if you were sick, it likely had something to do with sin in your life. Both of these came from James 5.

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So, anytime we got sick, we did that. We’d have dad pray for us, literally anoint us with extra virgin olive oil, and then make sure we didn’t have any unconfessed sins. Ex: a cancer sore we could have because we “talked back”.

Because my parents didn’t believe in doctors, they also didn’t believe in medicine, because there is a greek word called Pharmakeia which is where the word pharmacy is derived from, but also means witchcraft. My parents made the jump to then decide that any medication, including ibuprofen and tylenol is evil, because witchcraft.

(side note: just writing this all out now is making me feel sick. First, I can’t believe I remember these arguments so well, and secondly, I just, I can’t, it’s so stupid)

We had one bottle of children’s chewable aspirin on hand, they reasoned THAT was okay because it’s from bark, not chemicals, and because one of my sisters was prone to migraines that resulted in vomiting – but that was only for dire emergencies.

My mom had “natural” remedies, like tea tree oil, oil of oregano, and Werther’s hard candies (for sore throats  << that one I’m not complaining about, actually, it was candy). Stuff that 1) doesn’t actually make sense and 2) is not located anywhere near the pharmacy area in the grocery store.

(side note: it took Alex so long to get me to take ibuprofen for migraines because of this.)

So, when I was 16 and a half, I had this horrible horrible infection on my leg. I could not move. It was swollen and oozing and painful, any movement at all was excruciating (and no painkillers), it swelled so much that my thigh didn’t look like part of my leg anymore, it was some weird mutated…thing.

My parents believed it was boils, like Job had (Job 2:7)

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So, they prayed for me, anointed me with oil, asked about my sins, which I couldn’t think of and then….the fun started.

Remember: no medicine, no doctors, nothing. My mom decided we had to keep the infection clean (makes sense), so, she would push and squeeze the abscess until puss came out of it (so. fucking. painful.), then she would put oil of oregano in and around the wound because it was a “topical pain reliever” and “antiseptic”, I’m pretty sure hydrogen peroxide happened too. Basically I just remember my siblings complaining that I smelled like spaghetti (maybe that’s why I hate it so much).

It was deep, and there was a good bit of blood – it was blue and swollen around the..head? I still have a visible scar from that first one. And the second one.

This went on from the time I was 16 and a half until I was 18 – it didn’t start fully clearing up until I left home, though it had gone down in intensity.

The second one, was right below the first, had two heads (which I think had more to do with my mom PHYSICALLY SQUEEZING THE ABSCESS than anything else) each wound was big enough you could put a pencil eraser in (I still have that scar too), and there was like, a flesh bridge between the two holes, so they were connected /open at the bottom/inside the wound, but on the top there was a little bit of skin that kept it from being a fucking gash.

After the first one though, my parents were less concerned, and I managed to move – while still in excruciating amounts of pain with no recourse – and do chores and go places and manage.

As time passed and I continued to get these and they continued to leave scars and I continued to function in large amounts of pain, my mom started commenting on how my legs looked.

Because, due to the scars – and random abscesses, they looked polka-dotted. So, I wore only jeans or ankle-length skirts (or tights) so as to hide the hideousness of my infected legs. (This continued well into my marriage, in fact I think it was around a year before I stopped wearing exclusively jeans and wore skirts/dresses that were above my knee, because of that reason.)

I walked for 10 hours in boots with an abscess on my knee (it was not fun and towards the end of the day I was having a really hard time walking/keeping up with the group, but being carried was not Teenpact Appropriate). Some of my skirts had stains from them.

I passed up an opportunity to intern with Teenpact after that trip because of my legs and knowing I wouldn’t have the stamina required to wear heels and walk all day.

They were frequent but became smaller – I started to be able to get to them before they developed into something bigger.

This whole time though, over a year and a half  – no one thought anything of it, no one thought to maybe get it checked out, this infection that didn’t go away – this thing that we’re calling boils and figure it has something to do with god, and not providing any kind of relief from the pain, I just had to suck it up and deal with it, and I did.

Our second year together, my legs and scars were healing and I was wearing shorts and short skirts and my parents would always comment on my legs – “oh, it looks like they’re clearing up!” which actually just reminded me that my legs might still be unseemly and polka dotted.

I realized, yesterday, after digging up that picture on accident, that my infection, much like my teeth, was something that they had the power to stop and chose not to. Instead they chose to shame me about it and give me the bare minimum of help (if oregano oil and being made fun of because of it counts as help) because of their religion.

The first two scars are shiny and feel weirdly smooth, but are fading.

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I Hope That I Get To See My Sister Again: Elizabeth’s Story

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I Hope That I Get To See My Sister Again: Elizabeth’s Story

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

Growing up in a fundamentalist family is a unique experience for everyone.

For my ten siblings and I, we were consumed by an “attitude of gratitude” that our parents instilled in us from an early age, and any lack of gratefulness was a rebellion that had to be beaten out. They also taught us that an illness was God teaching us something, and intervention was only acceptable under dire circumstances.

Due to this mentality, we were blind to the mental sickness that was creeping slowly into each and every one of us, accepting it as “normal” and “God’s will”.

Though we all suffer from varying degrees of mental sickness, one sibling experienced hardships that surpass anything the rest of us have faced. When my oldest sister was a little girl, our grandmother (we called her “Nana”) noticed that she was adopting a passive state and not acting normal for a girl her age. When Nana pointed this out to our parents, they just brushed it off and were offended that anything could be wrong with a child under such “attentive” care.

Another factor was that they didn’t (and still don’t) believe in health insurance, so any medical expense was out-of-pocket, and only mild care like dental health was taken care of due to the impoverished lifestyle our parents adopted for all of us. This selective blindness allowed our parents to see my sister as a girl in perfect health and focus on building character and obedience.

Years passed, and my sister became more and more withdrawn, putting on a face to keep our parents happy.

Her life was becoming a miserable mess, but she didn’t show it for fear of punishment and rejection. When she went off to Harvard (something that didn’t happen without a big fight), she was still marred by the view on healthcare we were raised with, and didn’t see a professional to start working through her issues, mostly because she didn’t see them herself. A life of neglect was all she had ever known.

Upon graduation from college, she moved to Germany for business and to be with her husband. She would visit home once or twice a year, trying to maintain a relationship with the rest of us at home even though her relationship with our parents was crumbling. She was able to keep this up for 12 years, but spring of 2007 was the last straw. As everything she had tried to smother surfaced, she was overcome by the depressive state our parents modeled as “normal”.

She stopped coming home.

We kept up by email over the next two years, but she stopped that also because I, in my naivety, had become the synapse between her and our parents. I was hurt then, but looking back, I see that it was the best choice given the situation.

In early 2009, my family came home from vacation to hear a phone message from her (my sister’s) sister-in-law. My sister’s husband had committed suicide. When our parents successfully contacted my sister to express their deepest sorrow, she was very upset that they knew, and replied via an official stamped letter from her lawyer stating that she was changing her legal name so we couldn’t find her. My understanding is that some siblings were in contact with her after that, but those communications were eventually cut off as well, and none of us have seen her in over 6 years, or heard from her in over 4 years.

My family was seen as the pinnacle of perfection by most, and what happened behind closed doors was viewed by select individuals who couldn’t do anything to help.

As I begin to realize how neglected my siblings and I were, it frustrates me even more that our parents think it isn’t their fault. Observing the individuals my siblings and I are becoming, they are blind to the reflection our instability has on them, thinking it’s our fault for leaving the community they created. As some of us seeked out therapy and realized that communicating with our parents regularly was hindering our ability to heal, they compared us to my oldest sister, assuming that the months will turn into years for the rest of us as well.

I hope that I get to see my sister again someday, but I am now starting to understand why she cut off contact.

I can’t hate her for that.

Homeschooling and Mental Illness: By Sara Tinous

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Homeschooling and Mental Illness: By Sara Tinous

HA note: Sara Tinous blogs at Sementifera. She “was a child of fundamentalist parents who home-schooled her and my sibilings.” The theme of her blog, Sementifera, is taken “from the fire pines that respond to forest fires by releasing their seeds… They are sementifera – they are carrying seeds that will grow in spite of their destructive environment.” This post was originally published on October 12, 2013 and is reprinted with her permission.

Isolation was the constant experience of my ten years of homeschooling. A lot of this had to do with the fact that the adult presence in my daily life, my mom, was unpredictably angry, sad, or completely unavailable, and as time went on she increasingly avoided social situations.

It didn’t help that no one was good enough to be our friends.

After being pulled out of the fourth grade for a job change and move, my dad decided that my mom should homeschool us against her will. We suddenly spent most of our time at home and basically left the house once a week to go to church. A little non-denominational church that confirmed my parents in their belief that people outside of their own flavor of church weren’t really christians, including anyone who used the public school.

My dad’s growing attention to the writings of Douglas Wilson and my mom’s anxiety lead my parents to also isolate us from dangerous influences like the kids who went to our own church’s youth group, awana, and my own cousins. Repeatedly they would try to make friends with other families, but then essentially discard them as unworthy.

My mom couldn’t handle suddenly having us home with her all the time, and began to spend her time in other rooms away from us.

When she was feeling ok, she left us alone while she cleaned and talked on the phone. When she was not feeling ok, she left us alone while she cried, filled notebooks with cryptic spiritualized laments modeled on the Psalms, or pounded on the piano without acknowledging us if we tried to talk to her. She would throw a fit if we wanted to leave the house. My sister and I stopped asking to go anywhere, my brother started sneaking out at night.

I spent a lot of my time alone in my room trying to avoid anything that might set her off. We all felt guiltily relieved when another sibling was attracting the negative attention.

Homeschooling went mostly unsupervised, enforced only by our lack of freedom to do anything else. We were given screened books to read, many of them inappropriately difficult, but went for weeks without having a real conversation with anyone. I completely lost myself in books and gained a huge vocabulary, but could barely follow the rhythm of a basic conversation.

My little brother went for years without direct instruction, and then my parents straight up told him he was stupid because he didn’t spontaneously educate himself. That still just kills me.

As things got worse, we stopped going to even the occasional homeschool gym days and coop classes. Anything could trigger angry words that only stopped when we were in tears. The constant message we got from her was that we were in the way, we were a burden, we should do everything we could to avoid having feelings and needs.

When I was the first kid to hit puberty, the very existence of my body became a personal affront. My mother’s illness crescendoed around this time, her personal body image issues projected onto us daily. Our medical care was neglected, only the most egregious oversights like broken bones and dental emergencies were noticed by other church families and taken care of. I punished my blemished skin compulsively. Food was an area of contention, just like everything else.

My sister started making herself throw up in secret.

Growing up in this environment was a catalyst for my own anxiety and depression. I went from being an incessantly chatty queen bee elementary school kid who knew everyone at my school to someone who only ocassionaly saw one of three or four girls my age and who was afraid to use a telephone to talk to a librarian. I started to zone out so completely while reading that I didn’t hear people talking to me, and began sleeping as a safe pastime.

My voice shrank to something nearly inaudible. I started talking to myself to keep myself company and replaying my few conversations with others in my head over and over. I embarrassed the whole family, including my siblings, by constantly crying “without reason,” sometimes at church.

They didn’t know the half of it. For years, every night I wept alone in my bed at night, silently.

Mom explicitly said that “sadness” was a sign of spiritual disorder, a “heart issue.” That phrase was her favorite way to threaten and punish me (and herself) for feelings that tarnished the family’s public image.

When I was 12 or 13, I remember steeling myself to leave my room and interact with my mom, and having an epiphany. I suddenly knew at that moment that I had not done anything wrong to cause her to be angry, even that her mood existed without being caused by any immediate person or event. I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe mental illness, but I knew it wasn’t my fault. Remembering this moment makes me sad for all the time lost before that realization, for the child who felt that I was to blame for what was happening to me.

As an adult I see now the pressures that my mom was under, how trapped she must have felt. She lost all her friends and freedom in one move, and must have felt powerless to actually change her situation. She religiously believed that my dad had the right to make unilateral decisions, that what should change about her situation was her own feelings, so she waged battle with her feelings every day. Intellectually, I understand and want to forgive….

But for now this is all I can do:

Say that these things really happened to me, and it was not ok.

Say that these things are still happening to other kids, and it is not ok.