Depression and Spiritual Abuse: By Kierstyn King

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Depression and Spiritual Abuse: By Kierstyn King

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on July 17, 2013. This is the second of Kierstyn’s three-part series on mental health. Read Part One here and Part Three here.

Looking back, it’s no wonder that all of the feelings and self loathing that lead to my depression, brought depression. I was taught that I was worthless, that I should never think well of myself, that I needed to be humble, I was never allowed to show any emotion that was not a plastic smile.

Perfection was constantly demanded, and perfection is what I was incapable of.

I am, and was, keenly aware of my failings, of the places I don’t measure up, where I don’t meet parental wishes or requirements — those were held over my head, brought up in arguments to coerce me further into being my family’s slave.

I remember times when my parents would sit there and berate me for hours (under the guise of “concern” and wanting to “help my [spiritual] walk”) and tell me that because I missed doing laundry one day, misheard or misunderstood a demand, that I was a bad sister, a person going down a path of destruction, away from god, if I kept up this “rebellious” attitude.

I remember being bragged about to people (when convenient) only to be later pulled aside in private and told to shape up. I remember dismissal and invisibility.

I was a pawn, a tool, a broom.

I related strongly to cinderella and everyone thought it was cute, but they didn’t realize that I felt as worthless as the dirt she was mopping. That I believed I was as worthless as the dirt she was mopping — to know and be told in actions that I am only loved and approved of when I do things in a certain way, with a certain demeanor regardless of feeling, ill, tired, or stressed. When I was imperfect (as all humans are) I was punished — verbally, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, mentally.

I internalized their words of my failures and believed that I was a failure, who didn’t deserve any good.

This was aided by the fact that my family explicitly believed and taught that it was better to live a life of suffering (by god’s hand, of course) than to live a happy life. That god did not want us to be happy (and by unspoken extension, wanted us to be miserable or persecuted).

It’s no wonder that between the bullying because of my imperfections, and the toxic theology of my parents, that I internalized at the most impressionable ages, my total and utter worthlessness and the only way to deal with that, was to hate myself as much as I perceived I needed to be. It’s no wonder that it escalated. It’s no wonder I shut down, became numb, stopped feeling, and felt robotic.

It’s no wonder I was, and at times still am, utterly ashamed of being a woman (someone who is less because of different anatomy)*.

*by people like my parents, the tendency of republicans in positions of power, and people who perpetuate the theology of “equal but different” where differences justify belittling.

*****

To be continued.

Authoritarian Parenting Is Poison: Faith Beauchemin’s Thoughts

Authoritarian Parenting Is Poison: Faith Beauchemin’s Thoughts

The following piece was originally published by Faith Beauchemin on her blog Roses and Revolutionaries. It is reprinted with her permission. Also by Faith Beauchemin on HA: “The Importance Of Telling Your Own Story” and “Starship Captains and Dinosaurs.”

My parents wanted to be the best parents they could be.  It’s a pity that I barely even speak to them. It’s not really their fault, and I would forgive them immediately if they ever admitted their parenting had been wrong.  But they defend themselves and make excuses and believe that they were doing it all to the glory of God.  And if something is to God’s glory, of course it’s going to be good for every person involved.

But that’s not true at all. I suffer significant psychological and emotional distress to the point of being developmentally stunted in several ways because of my parents’ “god-centered” parenting techniques.

All the books and sermons available to my parents convinced them that their parenting techniques were correct.  Multiple authors and preachers basically bullied my parents and many others like them to completely dominate and break their childrens’ wills, because total obedience was God’s plan for children and if children could not obey their parents, how would they ever know how to obey God?  My parents were convinced that my eternal salvation rested on their success as parents.  If they did everything right, I would follow the Lord and be happy all my days.  Too bad I only started being truly happy after I left home and left the church.

In the interests of doing everything right, my parents chose to homeschool me and my siblings.  This, along with the very tiny church which was our only social interaction, meant my dad’s ideas and will completely dominated every aspect of my life growing up.  He passed it all off as God’s ideas and God’s will, but there was of course only one correct way to think of everything and that was my dad’s interpretation of Christianity.

As a young child, I was happy, imaginative, precocious, friendly, outgoing, intelligent, excited to explore new ideas, devouring books about dinosaurs, about history, and every story I could lay my hands on.  By the time I went to college, I was quiet, depressed, frightened of everything, unable to speak in public, socially awkward to a painful degree, and self-censoring as to what ideas I was willing to even entertain or think about. I channeled my intelligence into proving the few points that I believed were true, and disproving everything else.  My mind wasn’t just closed, it was completely locked down.  It took four long years at college to return me partially to the outgoing, intellectually curious, adventurous personality I had lost.

My parents broke my will.  They wanted to make me follow a prescribed course of life.  They had a particular bundle of beliefs that they wanted me to adopt and take with me forever.  Any flicker of self-interest, self-will, was seen as rebellion and immediately crushed.  Any personal desire contrary to their wishes was deemed sinful, and spanked out of me.  And, I cannot emphasize this enough, I never got away from my parents.  I was always in their home, always dominated by their influence, their thoughts and desires.  I had one channel of freedom, the books I checked out of the library.  But when every other part of my life was controlled so totally, I tended to closely self-censor on what books I would read or how I would interpret them.

The adversarial form of parenting, the one which sees the child’s self as automatically opposed to the parent’s authority, is unbelievably harmful to the parent/child relationship.  It took me a very long time to relate to my mom as a person rather than just an authority figure. I still can’t relate to my dad as a person, his whole being is consumed with his religion, and with trying to prioritize God in his life. He has obsessed for a long time over the fact that he’s the authority figure in the family and everyone needs to honor him, which come to think of it makes me a little worried about his mental health.  He hasn’t realized that it’s wrong to put your ideology before your children.  He doesn’t understand why we barely ever speak to him.

Even hearing about homeschooling families or reading materials written by people in the homeschooling or fundamentalist Christian movement can trigger flashbacks.  I am still working, every day, on reclaiming my self.  I wonder, sometimes, what life might have been like if I had been allowed to develop my own path instead of being forced to follow so closely my parents plan for my ideas and my life.  What might I have accomplished if I hadn’t wasted the first 19 years of my life focusing all my time and energy on matching up to this ideal Christian model held up by my parents.  Perfection was the goal and therefore it took all of my time and energy to try to reach that goal.

I have only just now, at age 23, begun with any kind of seriousness to figure out my place in the world.  Once I realized I had spent the vast majority of my life in a tiny insular principality, ruled by my father, which had very little to do with the rest of the world, I felt completely lost.  And who am I supposed to turn to to figure it out?  My parents? They’re the ones who screwed up my life this badly.

I have to rely on myself, the self that was squashed and harangued and abused almost out of existence.  I’ve survived, and I’ll go on to do something important and real and lasting in this world, but I will never know what could have happened in those years that are lost.

The Space To Be Human: Jayni’s Story

The Space To Be Human: Jayni’s Story

I was fourteen when I was introduced to CFC/NCFCA. The mother of another large home schooling family approached my mom with the “great opportunity” to provide all of the meals for a CFC conference she was coordinating. “If you make all of the meals the conference fees are waived for your family and I thought of you, since you have so many children.”

The conference was terrible. There were very clear expectations of what each attendee should look like and how they should act.  The conference was full of bright, happy, perfect home schoolers with impeccable manners. They all looked like they had stepped out of a Lands’ End catalog. (Lands’ End: the modest J. Crew) I was embarrassed to have to re-wear the only two skirts I owned for a full week. I was ashamed to be a “scholarship” kid.  I inwardly raged at the attitude that you were a bad Christian if you were not a good speaker. Naturally shy and introverted, I balked at the idea of ending the week by giving a short public speech.

It was very clear to me that I was an outsider. But by the end of the conference my mother was sold: her kids needed to do this NCFCA thing. And by the end of the conference I was hesitantly intrigued by debate: my mother would support me verbally fighting with people? Awesome.

Looking back at the few years I spent in NCFCA, I am struck by the contrast I experienced. On one hand, every organized experience (both in and out-of-state conferences, CFC, and Masters) were terrible. On the other hand, I met people who saved my life.

The first year I partnered will my unenthusiastic older brother. Wisconsin was very new to NCFCA and there was only one in-state tournament. We were warned ahead of time that all of the “community” judges were biased towards the hosting debate club. We were assured that if we lost every single round it was not an indication of our debating ability. We went 2-4 and I was devastated. I saved every ballot and poured over them incessantly, trying to find the key to my failure. For a league that touted Communicating for Christ there was very little grace for the losers.

The next year my brother went to public school. I was partner-less in a rural area with no club. I turned to everyone’s favorite online phorum to find a partner and debate coaching. It was extremely intimidating: apparently I was the only one who had not spent every waking moment since I was 12 obsessed about debate. I began spending upwards of six hours a day researching (I’ll admit, now, often without a clue about what I was looking for.)  I found an out-of-state partner and began pushing my parents to let me attend more tournaments. This meant expensive out of state travel; something my mother had not planned on. My birthday present that year was attending a practice tournament in Indiana.

The comments on my ballots that year were evenly split between admonishments of “have more confidence! =)” and “you are too intimidating and forceful, try to be more lady-like.” The capstone was at that year’s aforementioned state tournament. In a semi-final round my partner and I were debating against the tournament coordinator’s son. Before the round began when we all filed into the room to introduce ourselves to the [impartial] judges and shake their hands, one of them leaned over the table to give this guy a hug and mentioned something that happened at church last Sunday. I shook it off; I knew this team relied on smooth talking for the win, but nobody could ignore my heavy box of evidence. They were affirmative and the case was weak.  I jumped out of my chair to cross examine him after the 1A. There was a huge hole in the case and I dived right in. He talked around the question. I asked it again. He changed the subject. I rephrased and asked the same question. It got heated.

I doubt I even have to tell you that we lost the round because I was “rude.” The kicker? The timekeeper was the guy’s younger sister. My father was in the room watching the round and said afterward that when it was clear that I “had him,” the girl stopped the clock and called time.

Losing that round prevented me from going to nationals. Knowing my season was finished, I decided to focus on the friendships I had built through the online phorum instead. The phorum became a huge outlet for me. Thinking about this is still hard, and it’s hard to put into words. Looking back, the largest flaw I see in the home school debate world was the propensity to radiate perfection in everything. Because, obviously, if we’re Christians, we’re perfect.

I was envious of those “perfect” debators, and the more popular and perfect they were, the more I hated them, knowing I could never be them. I was fifteen the first time I typed over AIM that I was depressed. It took a long time to type those words because it took a long time to realize them. My closest friend, the one I had chosen to tell, responded by saying he didn’t think depression was a real thing. As my reputation grew on the phorum, I was increasingly known as the crazy girl, the rebel, the one who took things too far. Outwardly I embraced it. Inwardly I was embarrassed and ashamed. That reputation had a bright side, however. Asking questions like “Why do you believe in God?” sparked deep friendships with the girl from a single-parent home, the boy who was bipolar. These were the friends who supported me when I very shockingly announced I would no longer be a part of NCFCA because I was going to public school.

I was assailed with comments like, “you’re going to the dark side!” People were genuinely appalled; some genuinely thought this was a clear indication that I was no longer a Christian. The truth was that being home schooled in a heavily patriarchal home with an abusive father had led to suicidal depression.

The very fact that Homeschoolers Anonymous exists is a testament to the emotional trauma endured by many, and it’s very important that we have an open dialogue to ask why. Home schooling and debate are entwined worlds for many, and the individual answers will vary.

I rarely think back to my years in the NCFCA.  For the most part I prefer to forget it ever happened. When I do think back, I regret that façade of perfection we all felt pressured to adopt. Time has taught me that’s all it is: a façade. I wish that teaching us to change the world with our radical communication skills was not NCFCA’s sole focus: there was no space given to teach us to be human.

Let’s Talk About Tim Tebow For A Minute

Crosspost: Let’s Talk About Tim Tebow For A Minute

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published on June 9, 2013.

I don’t know Tim Tebow, never met the guy, though from what I’ve heard from people who knew him at UF, he’s a genuinely good guy. He’s definitely someone I’d rather have representing the University of Florida than some of the other famous alumni. What I can say for certain though, is that Tim Tebow is no saint.

Wait, wait, before you get the angry mob with pitchforks and torches to come after me, hear me out. Tim Tebow is no saint because nobody is. We’re all flawed human beings trying to figure out how to live our lives, and nobody is perfect. Nobody can be perfect. Even if Tebow is the nicest guy to ever walk the planet other than Jesus himself, he’s still not perfect. Perfection is impossible. Not only that, but we don’t all agree on what “perfect” even is. No one can possibly keep everyone happy.

I’ve alluded from time to time about the pressure that comes from being put on a pedestal in the homeschool world. Being a homeschool poster child who everyone in your homeschool community looks up to as an example isn’t exactly what I would call fun. It’s something I hated as a kid, and something that I couldn’t figure out how to escape. I eventually managed to gracefully get down off the pedestal by going away to college and drifting away from the homeschooling world.

Even after having been away from that community for as long as I was though, one of the nagging things in the back of my head as I was mentally preparing myself to come out was the knowledge that there was a non-zero chance that as the story made its way through the homeschool grapevine, people would talk about me in hushed tones and wonder what went wrong. It’s why I’ve referred to myself as a cautionary tale to the homeschool subculture (and also one of the reasons why I said I could never figure out a way to even rebel). All I know is that despite being small potatoes in the homeschool world, the pressure of the pedestal that others placed me on isn’t something I’d wish on others.

So what does this have to do with Tim Tebow? Easy. Tim Tebow is, by orders of magnitude, by far the most famous homeschooler on the planet. He’s been put on a bigger pedestal than any of us ever have been, all because he’s pretty decent at the game of football.

Maybe he likes being on the pedestal, perhaps he sees it as an opportunity to be a witness for God. That’s certainly what any good little evangelical missionary kid homeschooler has heard all of their life. Whatever the case may be though, staying perched on a pedestal as high as the one he’s on for as long as he’s been on it is not something that’s easy to keep up. One misstep and you come crashing down. And as much as the cynical sports and entertainment media love to tear a person down, the church world is even more brutal.

I cringe when I see how the homeschooling and conservative Christian world talk about Tebow. With the way they’ve built him up, he really can’t win. I don’t know how he can possibly be himself when the hopes of every homeschooler, or at least every religious homeschooler, are riding on his shoulders.

Can we please have a moratorium on homeschoolers and Christian culture treating Tim Tebow as a living saint? Let the guy just be another football player for once. Stop treating him as the homeschool poster boy and let him be an actual, real person, flaws and all.

Be Perfect as Your Heavenly Father is Perfect: Charity’s Story

true_love_waits_ii_by_oriel94

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

I’ve been following HA from the beginning. I knew from the first moment I saw the Facebook page that I would write my story, even though I do not think there is anything surprising about my life. I was raised in a conservative Christian home, was homeschooled through graduation, and in graduate school dropped Christianity for feminism. That transition, while difficult, felt natural for me. Feminism gave me a language for the discrepancies I could see and feel, but could not name. To this day my parents are dismayed and my brother is bemused about my ideological transformation.

I don’t know what parts of my life are important to tell, which parts are most salient. I just know that along the way I learned to hate myself. Because even though I know that I am smart and beautiful, I also know that I should be better. The only yardstick I have is absolute perfection for whatever it is that is on my plate in the moment. And if I can’t be perfect, then I need to just complete whatever the project is and move on to something else. There is so little joy in that way of living. There is no self-acceptance. Nothing can just be what it is in the moment; the striving is both constant and tortuous. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain.

I was raised to be a good Christian girl who did the best she could. It just so happens that, aside from math, I’m good at most things I have tried. All of my life I’ve been told that everything I touch turns to gold. There is a shit-ton of pressure in that statement and that pressure is the center of my story.

Until college, my social circle consisted mostly of other homeschoolers and families from church. Basically my life was “all Jesus all the time.” I learned from a very early age that both God and Jesus were perfect and that perfection was the goal. Of course, my parents would deny that they ever taught me that explicitly, because of course perfection is impossible. But try telling that to a child who grows up hearing about how the perfect love of God covers all her sins! I am a typical first-born, Type-A overachiever. Combine that with the teaching that God made it possible for me to be perfect through the perfection of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross, and BOOM. I am a walking shitfest of a mess.

As a teenager I tried to do everything right. I signed the True Love Waits pledge card, and took it one step further: no kissing until marriage. I taught abstinence-only sex education to 7th graders at a local Catholic school. And as if that wasn’t enough, I happily boarded the Joshua Harris I Kissed Dating Goodbye train. I am still baffled as to how I believed that I could do so much talking about sexsexsex, whether it was blatant or veiled, and not want to even think about doing it! I was encouraged and applauded by every adult I met for my amazing character, commitment, and chastity. But what I remember most was feeling shame about every inch of my body and what it wanted, how good it felt when I touched myself, and the simple desire of wanting a boy to like me. How could I be perfect if I wanted to have sex?

Growing up I lacked imperfect role models…people who were successful, but weren’t afraid to genuinely admit their imperfection.

For the next decade, that was my frame of mind. Any little imperfection ate away at my self-worth. I really bought into Matthew whatever-whatever, ‘be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.’ Instead of seeing my life as an opportunity to nourish my soul through learning what my mind and body could accomplish, every endeavor became yet another way to measure my failure. How can I be the perfect student if I don’t have a 4.0 (finally got it on my third degree!)? How can I be the perfect yoga instructor if I can’t touch my toes? How can I be the perfect partner if what I want is to leave the man I married? How can I be perfect if one of the few places I find both joy and solace is in a bottle of rum? Growing up in the Christian homeschooling subculture taught to view life from the negative. I want to believe this was unintentional. My flair for the dramatic aside, my biggest regret is that I wasn’t taught to enjoy and love my body or my life. I was taught that both my body and my life were things to be disciplined, controlled, and held in check.

I bought into the belief that not being perfect meant I was a failure.

A different truth is that if I ever achieved perfection, there would be nothing left for which to live.

I took a three-day break after writing that last sentence. I needed time to process. Yesterday morning I was having breakfast with a friend of mine and I told him about this essay. He asked me what my story had to do with being homeschooled, since it sounded to him like a story about being raised super-Christian. Good question. My answer? Being homeschooled meant that I only ever came in contact with other people of the same persuasion, religious/belief system, hell!, life system, as the one in which I was living. Being homeschooled for me was being surrounded by people who were also supposed to be perfect because we were all ‘covered by the blood of Jesus.’ I didn’t know that imperfection was an option. I didn’t know that I could make choices outside of the Bible and still be a good person, that I would still like myself, that people would still like me, that God would still like me. Not that I really believe in God anymore, but that’s for a different essay. It wasn’t until graduate school that I finally came out of my shell—out of my parents house—and realized that there was an entire world in which my identity didn’t hinge on if I was a virgin or read my Bible or went to church or dressed modestly or all the other things my childhood and adolescence was hyper-focused on—because of course, for a woman, those things equal perfection.

Hang on. I’ll be back in another couple of days.

After rereading and thinking and editing, I’ve decided that this is not something I want to come back to. This isn’t really the story I want to tell. So let me start again.

I was homeschooled. I was sheltered. I was raised in a very conservative, Christian home. But I got out. I don’t have any major regrets from high school; I am lucky. I have worked exceptionally hard to get to know myself, to be honest with the people in my life, and to make choices that are good for me. Being homeschooled taught me to hold myself accountable and that at the end of the day, the only person who was responsible for what was or was not accomplished was me. My parents taught me an amazing work ethic that I couldn’t shake even if I tried. Sure, that has led to me being a perfectionist workaholic who sucks at relaxing, but the yoga and rum are helping with that.

My parents and I no longer talk politics or religion, but I know that they love me and have my back. Being homeschooled meant that I had a lot to overcome in terms of finding a footing in the world outside of my parents house; I think it took me a lot longer than average to figure out who I wanted to be because the people I came in contact with were so homogenous—I didn’t have options to pick from until I was in my 20s. But, being homeschooled also taught me to be content with myself because quite often I was left alone to my own devices.

So, all that to say being homeschooled was definitely a curse; in that sheltered, Christian environment I learned some pretty shitty ways of thinking about myself. But being homeschooled also taught me how to look out for myself. Perhaps that part of the equation paved the way for me to become the feminist I am today? My mother would die if she read that. But even so, without both those pieces of the puzzle, I doubt I’d be writing this today.

Feminist philosopher Margaret Urban Walker writes that,

In any case, I think that feminist thinkers are entitled to the excitement and intellectual challenge of forging and intensively testing visionary paradigms, of inaugurating their own discursive communities as sites of solidarity and creative communication in their own terms, and of self-consciously exploring confrontational rhetorics as some instruments, among others, for initiating wholesale intellectual change in their favor. (“Further Notes” 154)

Writing this piece has been a process of “feminist thinking” for me; becoming a part of the HA community has forced me to (re)consider so much about myself. I am grateful for the opportunity to add my voice in solidarity.