Breaking Free: Sheldon’s Story



HA note: Sheldon blogs at Ramblings of Sheldon. This is an original piece that Sheldon wrote for Homeschoolers Anonymous.

In December 2013, I cut my abusive parents out of my life once and for all.

It took quite a bit of emotional strength to do it, but when I finally did, I felt worn out, but I realized that all feelings for my parents that once had were no longer there, they felt dead to me, they were living human beings of course, but I no longer felt any love or affection for them anymore, still don’t.

What led to this point? Well, that’s a lot of details to that, and hopefully I can explain it without writing a book. There was plenty of abuse in my childhood, but besides the effects of the isolation from homeschooling which still cause issues for me to this day at 25 years old, what really got me was how I was treated as a young adult by them.

It started when I tried to attend Southwest Baptist University as a Political Science major. I just couldn’t adjust to being 250 miles from home, going from isolation as a homeschooler to an actual classroom experience, dealing with people on a regular basis, and actually being able to make decisions for myself on a regular basis, from the mundane to the major.

I didn’t realize at the time that I was dealing with depression, and panic attacks started with a vengeance, I lost count after a while of how many I had, but in a 10 month period, I probably had around 15-20 major attacks, with many smaller ones, and that combined with extreme fatigue and hopelessness from the depression, I could no longer function.

Everything came crashing down around me, all my hopes and dreams that led me to become a political science major. I ended up having to face the reality that I could no longer continue attending Southwest Baptist, and was brought home after the end of the freshman year.

Most parents would would do their best to help out their child at a time like this, console them, help them to put their life back together, and emotionally support them. Not mine. My father understood what had happened, but he wasn’t the one who ran our household, my mother was, and to her, the depression was the result of “sin” and “not having a right relationship with god”. Her idea was to punish me for what she saw as recklessness and misbehavior.

I was forced off of medication for depression that I had started upon coming back home (after realizing what the depression actually was), and was treated like a rebellious teen.

I was controlled and emotionally abused to the point that when I tried in desperation to leave with enough of what I owned to fit in my vehicle and a few hundred dollars in my bank accounts, I was convinced that I had to leave, or it would end up leading me to end my life. She personally barricaded the doorway to stop me from leaving, threatening violence, and telling me that if she did attack me, I would deserve it.

I kept fighting, and just saw this as a temporary setback, I worked, saved up money, and finally a bought a house. She did help me rebuild the house, along with my father, but her dark side was showing up again, her controlling and hostile ways. I finally had enough, and told her no longer wanted any help on the house if she was going to act that way. She called me an “ungrateful brat”, I didn’t care anymore, her guilt trips did nothing to me by this point, I told her never to show up at the house again, and I would bring back dad’s tools to them.

I knew, based on the past, that something drastic could happen, so I went out, and bought new locks, and was in the process of installing them that night, when she showed up, I knew it couldn’t go well, I shoved the door shut quickly, with the lock in it half done, it was a fortunate occurrence that the lock jammed because it wouldn’t been properly installed yet, because when closed, it wouldn’t allow the door to open.

I could hear screaming, and her pushing and shoving the door, and futilely trying to open it, she was trying to force her way into the house.

I had enough, I called my town’s police department, and when the officer finally showed up, I went out the back door to talk with the officer, and my mother started the victim act, lying to the officer, claiming that this was all because I didn’t “want to help them work on the house”. My own father, who used to run interference  to protect me and my sister as children tried to punch me in front of a cop.

His betrayal that day (along with his increasing habit of trying to cover for her and make excuses for her in the year leading up to that time), is really what got to me the worst, my mother is who she is, and I doubt she will ever change in her lifetime, but for him to turn into a carbon copy of her was shocking.

It’s been severals months now since that day, and it’s been hard, I’ve had to give up the social circles that I had, since most involved the church I was in, along with my parents (it was bound to happen eventually anyway, I couldn’t keep my change in beliefs a secret much longer), and I had to stand my ground with the manipulative pastor of that church who tried to guilt me into accepting my parents back in my life, despite me personally telling him what they had done, both then and in my past.

Enough of that, I’m tired of being forced to be someone I’m not, to please people who won’t accept me anyway. I’ve had a lot of new experiences, I’ve learned what’s it’s like to have the simple freedom of walking around in public with a Pink Floyd or Sons of Anarchy shirt, and not give a care in the world.

I’ve learned how to work on my house myself, I’ve started coming to terms with the fact that I don’t really feel masculine or feminine emotionally on the inside (I recently changed the gender status on Facebook to “non binary”). I’ve found a great Unitarian Universalist congregation where I can be me, and be accepted as one of the group anyway.

Life now can be challenging, but it’s worth it, there’s no going back.

It’s Going to Be Okay: By Isabella

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It’s Going to Be Okay: By Isabella

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


This is all your fault.

If you were only a better Christian/Person/Sister/Brother you wouldn’t be dealing with this.

Try to help others more, then you will feel better.

Taking a pill to help is of satan!

Mental Illness isn’t real – it’s all in your head.

This is a result of your sin. Repent; and you shall feel better.


Hello dear friend.

Thanks for meeting me at this small coffee shop to chat. I know you’re nervous about something, that’s okay, I’ll try to do most of the talking. I’m sipping my coffee, and thinking. Today I’m having a quad (four shots of espresso) hazelnut white mocha. Heaven in a cup. I should know. I escaped to coffee houses a lot growing up to “study”.

Didn’t everyone fear their father and try to get out of the house as much as possible?

You’re being quiet while you sip your coffee. Not making eye contact. I get that. Maybe you think what you are dealing with is normal. Dear, it’s not.

I thought my growing up was normal.

The spankings, the yelling, the verbal abuse, all that was normal. Crazy thing is, I thought I was the one messed up. You know, because I was depressed. And dealt with self abuse. And had panic attacks. I must be really messed up if I made dad mad enough to throw my laptop on my bed and threaten to send me a mental hospital. There they would lock me up so I could never see my siblings again. I wasn’t supposed to talk about my self abuse — my depression — my panic attacks. That would make dad even angrier and make him send me away for sure.

Oh honey, I see the look in your eyes. This depression you are dealing with is not your fault. Just because someone tells you something, it doesn’t make it true.  You might be told to shove those feelings aside, that your feelings are wrong. If you hear it enough you might start wondering if it’s true. You might even start to believe it. Even if you have a “perfect family”, you might still deal with depression. It’s not your fault. No one wants to feel sad. No one wants to think about ending their life. No one thinks it’s a great idea to injure yourself or have panic attacks.

That’s not you. That’s not your destiny. Maybe you’ve tried “everything” and still deal with this stuff. That’s okay. That still doesn’t mean you are messed up, a bad person, or deserving of hell.

Dearest friend, this belief that I was messed up because I was dealt with these issues (let’s call them what they are — mental illness) and that I wasn’t supposed to talk about it is a huge lie.

Are you being told that lie? Let me tell you the truth.

The government won’t lock you up for being depressed. They have bigger issues in their hands. You won’t be locked up for talking about it. Talking will probably help you the most. Find help. If all you see is darkness, think of those that you love. I know you don’t think you will get through today. Tomorrow is even more uncertain. I get that.

I totally bawled at my high school graduation because I didn’t think I would be alive to graduate. Really. I was that suicidal.

If you cannot talk to anyone, talk to yourself. Write it out and burn the paper. Tell yourself you will be safe for five minutes, and then five more minutes. Play a game. Listen to music. Knit. Go for a run. Anything really will do, as long as it’s mindless and distracting.

Friend, if you have been out of the abusive situation for a while and are still struggling you might have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I have it, and sometimes I do slip into that dark hole.

I almost didn’t talk to you tonight. I thought that if I was quiet it would be better for everyone.

That’s what our abusers want.

They want us to be quiet about mental illness. God forbid that someone would come out of the perfect homeschooling family with PTSD! But the truth needs to be told.

Mental illness is never your fault.

You will survive this too, and be stronger for it. Find someone you can trust, and talk to that person. You will get through tonight. Deal with tomorrow when tomorrow comes. Right now, deal with the next five minutes. It’s okay if that’s all you can do. I don’t expect anything else out of you.

You are perfect just the way you are. Hold onto that hope.

It’s going to be okay, dear one.

My Mind Wasn’t Lost, I Had PTSD: By Susannah

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My Mind Wasn’t Lost, I Had PTSD: By Susannah

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

Writing about mental illness frightens me.

It’s a topic I don’t like to think or talk about, especially at times when it takes a lot of energy to maintain my emotional equilibrium.

My grandmother used to go through phases when she would sign our birthday cards “Snowflake” instead of “Gramma”, which always unsettled me. Other times she just took her “happy pills”, to my mother’s chagrin. My parents were opposed to “mind-altering drugs” and “worldly philosophies” of psychology. They were also followers of Bill Gothard, whose singular ideas about the root causes of mental illness are legendary. We were taught to smile to create good feelings, to force enthusiasm, to “submit” to authority even when we disagreed, and not to express “bad” feelings.

It was a recipe for disaster.

Though we knew numerous Christian people who suffered from depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and even psychosis at times, prayer–and maybe fasting–was considered the [only] acceptable course of treatment. One did not consult physicians (ours was a Catholic man who prayed with his patients and recommended homeopathic remedies) for problems with spiritual causes. One might consult a trusted pastor, but they never seemed able to offer anything but more prayer and Bible reading, which we certainly did enough of, anyway.

My sisters and I learned that it was better to keep our private internal conflicts inside our own heads.

I started having panic attacks as an adult when my other grandmother, my closest friend outside the world of religious homeschooling, died of cancer. (We used to pray daily that she wouldn’t perish in hell.) I went to the E.R. only to be told that my symptoms were a classic presentation of anxiety. Panic attacks? Me? As the eldest of eleven siblings, I had prided myself on being strong and resilient.

I was not happy to learn that my body had ways of bypassing instruction from my brain!

Like the society in Shyamalan’s “The Village”, the world I was raised in had been hemmed in by fears: fear of God, fear of  Satan, fear of persecution, fear of government control, fear of strangers or nosy neighbors, fear of vaccines and unhealthy foods, fear of ourselves. Though I had left that world years earlier, the patterns of anxiety were worn deep in my psyche. For the next eight months, I struggled with fear, insomnia, and depression. I did seek out a therapist who helped me process the fears of my past.

The fog eventually lifted, and life moved on.

Later on, the panic attacks returned with a vengeance–this time triggered by a college professor whose rude and controlling manner in the classroom dredged up numerous uncalled-for memories of misogynistic “spiritual leaders” from my past. Physically and emotionally overwhelmed, I returned to my therapist, who recognized PTSD. I was a child again, being spanked across my dad’s lap for asking one too many questions. I was a teenager trapped in his office being told my character flaws, or in his car while he asked about my sexual thoughts. I was a young woman in a fundamentalist cult organization where women had to be led, protected, and prevented from “causing” men to lust. I was walking on eggshells in my mom’s kitchen, afraid of accidentally saying, doing, or not doing something that would send her upstairs to her room in tears.

I started reading about C-PTSD, especially as it relates to adults whose childhood was abusive or neglectful. It made so much sense, and I was relieved to know my mind wasn’t “lost”, only responding normally to being bruised again and again. Medication didn’t help my situation a bit (made it worse, actually), but I found that writing and exercise would counteract insomnia and stress-induced pain, while yoga and coloring pictures calmed my hypervigilant and anxious mind. Meanwhile, supportive, healthy friendships gave me a new standard of how respectful adults interact.

Knowing people outside my family whom I can trust and talk to about my struggles means the world to me.

For so many years, I knew no one who would not defend my parents. I was socially isolated and there was no one I could turn to for objective counsel. Every major influence in our lives reinforced the fear and the pressure to conform our everyday emotions to an ideal level of contentment. But my friends and neighbors have never been judgmental; they never assume that depression or anxiety are my fault. More often than not, we end up sharing stories of feeling weak and of overcoming hard things. And when they ask me how I’m doing, I don’t feel I need to make something up.

The realization that all emotions are valid aspects of human experience was a huge relief to me. I am learning to first acknowledge my feelings without judging them, and then to choose how I want to act on them.

Learning To Leave My Son With Others


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on August 15, 2013.

I am a chronic worrier, a bit of a pessimist, an over-preparer, and prone to occasional panic attacks.  And since becoming a mother a few years ago, all of these tendencies are now focused on my son and his soon-to-be baby brother.

Growing up, I heard so many times, in so many ways, how unsafe the world was.

As an adult, reflection has made me realize how the “safe” isolated homeschooling world my parents confined me in was actually incredibly damaging to me and many of my peers, while my adult experiences in the “dangerous” outside world have been very positive and affirming.  I have been able to overcome my deeply ingrained childhood perceptions for myself, and feel like a functioning and happy member of the big outside world.

However, I am unexpectedly having to go through the same process again, now that I am in the role of a mother.

All the progress I made for myself, I am having to do again, this time for my son.

Hours, days, weeks, and months of continuously caring for his little infant needs really affected me.  I had never felt so needed and so intensely protective before–my entire life was about him, his happiness, his well-being, and I couldn’t spare any attention for myself or my marriage.  After all, no one could take care of my little baby boy as well as my husband me–we knew him better than anyone and loved him more than anyone!

It didn’t help that I had a huge falling-out with my mom and my mother-in-law at around the same time that my son was born.  And it also didn’t help that we were living in a relatively new area with no long-term friends around.  No local family, no close established local friendships, plus drama with both of my son’s grandmas–that situation made it easy for me to continue for a long time in my hangup without ever acknowledging to myself that I was deathly afraid to leave my baby with another person besides my husband.

As my son got older, I saw other parents that I respected leave their babies with babysitters, or in daycare, or with family and friends, and I thought nothing of it.  It seemed like the right choice for them, and once they got through the initial adjustment, it seemed like their choice really benefited the whole family.  But when I tried to imagine myself in the same situation, I would be flooded by panic attacks and vivid imaginations of what might go wrong.

My old fears were coming back to haunt me–not for myself but for my son.

With a lot of encouragement from my husband and my friends, and a realization that I was going to either fade from existence or crack under the pressure, I left my son with someone I trust and went out on a quick lunch date with my husband.  I sobbed, I thought about my son constantly, and I was in a rush to get back to him.  It really wasn’t much of a date, more of a milestone, because for the first time I saw that my son could be fine without my husband and me–he didn’t cry at all when we left or while we were gone!

Since then, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable leaving my son with a small group of people I know and trust.  And he has helped a lot by never crying when we leave, not even once!  However, I’m now stuck on the next step–finding and using a babysitter.  Once my second little one arrives, it will be a far bigger imposition to ask for babysitting favors, and much harder to return the favors as well.

The time has come to find and learn to trust a babysitter.  

The thought absolutely terrifies me.  But I will eventually push through this fear as well, and enjoy the benefits it will offer to me (sanity!), my marriage (better communication and more affection!), and my kids (more social confidence and self-reliance!).

I want to always be there for my little boy and his soon-to-be baby brother; I don’t think that will never change.  But I can balance that desire with my other desire, to see my sons learn to navigate the world when I’m not around and gain confidence in themselves.

And I need to give them space, little by little, for that to happen.

Why I Blame Homeschooling, Not Just My Parents: Reflections by Nicholas Ducote

By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

Author edit to clarify my call for more oversight: I recommended intra-community policing in my post. State action should be a last resort. Those that care to preserve their parental rights to homeschool need to hold other parents accountable. Unfortunately, fundamentalist homeschooling communities are often isolated from anyone who would question the parents. I don’t have a solution, but I know we can’t just assume the status quo will fix things. Hopefully, projects like this will scare other parents enough to make them confront other parents. But let’s be honest, do you see that happening in these sort of communities? Most of these people laugh at the idea of children having rights and would never support anything that encroaches on their ability to teach their children whatever they want. If you suspect child abuse or neglect in a family you know, please report them to Child Protective Services. 

Homeschooling, as a method of instruction, is not intrinsically bad, dangerous, or damaging. I saw many children raised in homeschooling who were not abused by religious fundamentalism – even if they were Christians. However, as a society, we have to realize that the current state of homeschooling gives parents unique power over their children. Yes, many homeschooled children are a part of co-ops, interact with neighbors, and have relatively normal social interactions. But other homeschoolers are isolated in rural areas, with no contact with neighbors, or the outside world. Abuse develops in these environments because there is no oversight from outside the parents and, if criticism if lodged, the parents are defensive. To many homeschooling parents, homeschooling (the method) is part of a larger worldview that involves rejections of secularism, science, and academic institutions.

I developed claustrophobia, a generalized anxiety disorder, and panic attacks in high school. At the time, I assumed my panic attacks were the result of the Holy Spirit convicting me of my sins. The most common trigger for my panic was sexuality. As a teenager, I would often shake uncontrollably after masturbating. Homeschooling can make children feel trapped because they are literally never away from their parents. When I was quasi-dating girls in high school, behind my parents’ back because they wanted me to court, I would have a mini-panic attack when the phone rang – scared that my parents would find out. When I got in trouble it meant a few hours with mom and dad, crying and arguing about what God told them to do, ending in me feeling completely trapped. When I woke up the next day, I had no choice but to bottle up my anger, shame, and humiliation and go “do” homeschooling. In ATI, many leaders preached about how listening to rock music would literally result in demonic possession. This is abusive to teach to children. To this day, I struggle with anxiety before I fall asleep.  I was taught, by my parents and by ATI’s leaders, that demons were very real and they could possess rebellious Christians. Many in the homeschooling movement conceptualized the “culture war” as spiritual warfare — the secular humanists were literally portrayed as the minions of Satan.

Spiritual abuse is a difficult term for many people to wrap their heads around. It may seem like we are trying to say that raising children in a religious tradition is abusive, which we are not. However, I can say that when homeschooling is mixed with religious fundamentalism, abuse almost always occurs.

There is a distinction between religious fundamentalism and mainstream religions. I once told my mom, “I would have been fine if you stayed Baptist. It’s when you drifted into fundamentalism that hurt me.”  What many people fail to realize is that most parents don’t wake up one day and decide they need to start controlling their childrens’ lives and prepare them for the culture wars. Yes, my parents are to blame for subscribing to fundamentalism, but the homeschooling community and movement are also to blame.

In many states in the 1990s and 2000s, homeschooling parents received most of the curriculum, instruction, and indoctrination at state, regional, or national conferences. There are a myriad of institutions and groups that formed the movement, so it is impossible to point to a single root cause of the abuse in homeschooling. But I know abuse doesn’t just happen because of bad parenting. The bad parenting that people indict was being advocated on stage before thousands of people. There is a reason why so many homeschooling alumni share stories and experiences. Tens of thousands of homeschoolers attended state Christian Home Educator Fellowship (CHEF) conferences, where they were exposed to

  • The Harris family and their beliefs about Biblical courtship
  • David Barton and Little Bear Wheeler’s revisionist history
  • Evangelical leaders that scared everyone about the evils of secular humanism
  • Michael and Debi Pearl’s harsh ideas on corporal punishment and misogynistic ideas of gender roles
  • Huge book sales populated mostly by Christian fundamentalist textbooks — advocating creationism, teaching math based around the Gospel message, or other “educational tools.”

All of these ideas circulated around the homeschooling communities and trickled down to local CHEF chapters.

Parents’ responses have been mixed, but many of them see our blog as a tool to take control of their children away from them. Parents emphasize their rights to raise their children however they want. But, as a society, we have already decided that parental rights end where abuse begins. Thus, one of the main issue in this debate becomes whether or not a homeschooling environment is emotionally or spiritually abusive.

You might think this is only a problem of the past decades — that now, in this new zenith of modernity, fundamentalist homeschoolers that spiritually abuse their children are dying out. You would be wrong. Yes, there is growing momentum behind secular homeschooling, but there is no hard social science about homeschooling.  At this point, observational data is almost all that exists about homeschooling and its demographics. We know very generally how many people homeschool and for what reasons. But ten states do not even require the parents to inform them of their childrens’ “enrollment” in homeschooling.

This is the start of an important conversation about homeschooling. I am opposed to religious fundamentalism in all forms and I believe that the abuse that occurs when fundamentalism is allowed to dominate homeschooling has no place in the modern world. I’ve heard so many Evangelicals and homeschooling parents mock the Islamic madrasas for their religious instruction, but fundamentalist homeschooling isn’t different by much.

To those homeschoolers who are afraid of this exposure, it’s time to own up. These abuses happened, the community’s leaders encouraged it, and the community does not regulate itself. If the homeschooling community is not willing to regulate itself – lest a parent tell another parent their methods and ideologies are abusive! – then someone else will.

I am tired of sitting around hoping that the abusive fundamentalist culture within homeschooling will die out.  I don’t want it to die out, I want to trample it out so that no other children face the sort of abuse I, and many other, went through. Part of the means telling the honest, visceral truth about what happens in many homeschooling homes. Yes, abuse is ultimately the fault of the perpetrators, but why does everyone leave the homeschooling community blameless for how it brainwashed my parents?

The issue of abuse in homeschooling is an issue of the distortion of parental rights and the reality of systemic indoctrination.

You cannot stop the abuse without exposing the advocates.