When Siblings Become Swords: Trista’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Søren Niedziella. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Søren Niedziella. Image links to source.

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

I grew up in patriarchy. The seeds of powerlessness and fear were sown in me from my earliest years. Having a voice or power in my family was not easy, in fact, it was a constant struggle. However, this system and hierarchy created and maintained by my parents allowed the rivalry and teasing typical of siblings to grow into unhealthy imbalances of power.

There was a distinct hierarchy in my family. Masculinity and age determined your respect within the family unit. My position as a girl and the youngest member of 7 children meant I was the lowest of the low. My position was to toe the family line, get along and agree with those who were ‘above’ me.

There was one sibling I did get along with very well. She (Anne) was two years my senior, and we were joined at the hip since I can remember. In many ways she faced the same trials I did, however, her sweet and caring demeanor made her a more naturally lovable person.

I was told that I should ‘submissively endure suffering as Christ did.’

I was regularly told I was inept, stupid, crazy and extreme. When I was mercilessly teased or abused to the point of tears, my mother would reprimand me for not loving my brothers. She told me stories of how much she desired brothers. It “shocked” her that I could not “endure a little teasing.” She would have traded most anything to have brothers. Teasing was normal and I was “weak,” “like a little girl” to be offended by the rudeness of my siblings.

On several occasions my mother told me the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, saying he loved his enemies and died for Christ. She asked me how he could be so holy and I was complaining about teasing? “Isn’t that silly?”

Minor errors or failures on my part were magnified and viewed as my identity. Once, one of my sisters, roughly 10 years my senior, told me, “You are inept, and incompetent. I know a five year old who knows how to use a key. No wonder mom and dad don’t let you do anything.” This rant was delivered after I accidentally broke her key to the house by turning it the wrong direction in the keyhole. At the time, I was 13 years old I was already insecure. The verbal attacks against my character only made me more angry, hurt and hateful towards myself and those around me.

As a girl it was my duty to ‘support the men’

Although an imbalance of power existed between me and all of my siblings, this imbalance was larger when the sibling was male. As a child I was expected to serve my older brothers without question. If they requested something I was ‘unloving’ if I did not do as I was told. Anne and I were often required to make food for them, clean up after them and in other ways serve them. When they were in college, we were required to make food for guests they had come over and prepare for parties that they were hosting.

My brothers were also heavily involved in sports. My sister and I were told, “You need to support and love your brothers.” When we begged to be involved in activities, sports or anything social, we were told that such things would conflict with our brothers and we “need to love your brothers. Why do you not want to support them?”

Under the patriarchy, it was clear girls did not matter. Our development, desires and needs were entirely subservient to males, because men act, while women are acted upon.

These things caused more anger in my heart. I hated being told I was useless, what I wanted didn’t matter. I would cry out in anger to God, “Why did you make me a woman?? I can’t do anything because I’m a girl and girls are useless.”

I felt a need to punish myself for being crazy

As a child I did not know how to cope with the feelings of helplessness, uselessness, hate and anger. I turned to self-harm at the age of 12 as a means of coping with how horrible I felt about my identity. Being homeschooled posed problems to self-harm. I was constantly watched, and my parents openly mocked the idea of therapy and mental health. They portrayed mental illness as a weakness, something attention seeking individuals contrived to gain pity.

I would find creative ways of hurting myself. I would chew my nails and fingers until they bled. Often my fingers would be raw from excessive chewing and peeling layers of skin off. I would scratch myself, especially my stomach, until I bled. I would ‘cut myself while shaving,’ craving the release I felt when my legs bled. Hiding in my closet I would bang my hands against a pole until they became swollen. One time I even purposefully beat my head against a wall in an effort to give myself a head injury.

I craved affection. I wanted to experience love.

I sincerely believed no one in my family cared about me. Part of the self-harm narrative was an effort on my behalf to gain the love of my family. In my mind I would rationalize, “If I am hurt very badly they won’t be mean to you. They would want to help you, right? See, they really do love you. You need to try harder to really hurt yourself.”

Often I would ponder dark thoughts, sure no one would notice if I were dead. I thought perhaps people would be happy to have the ‘crazy’ girl gone. I wanted to die, but was not sure how. It was something I constantly thought about. I would day dream of being murdered, mutilated and beaten to death. These imaginations served as a mental outlet for my pain.

I was careful not to display my pain to others. Instead, I developed a dual identity. I hated my siblings, but I desperately craved their affection. They were the only people on the planet I interacted with. If they did not love me, I believed myself beyond the love of anyone. In my world, friends were not allowed. Thus, if my own family did not love me, who on God’s green earth would ever see anything lovable in me?

On the outside, I was confident, defiant, strongly defending myself, rebelling in any way I could, actively antagonizing others in an attempt to exact revenge. This was the way my anger reacted.

Other times, my desire for affection would win and I would berate myself and say, I matter and I’m going to earn their respect. When my efforts failed I would oscillate back to hating my siblings and the pain they caused in my life.

Today, I am in my early twenties, a senior in college and headed towards a successful career. Yet when I am around my siblings, I feel like that hopeless, unloved child again. I never felt loved by my siblings. It is hard to feel love from people who hurt me so badly for so long. I still acutely feel the pain inflicted from childhood. It is impossible to negate years of being dismissed as a silly, crazy little girl.

The patriarchy damages its victims in many ways. In my case, it removed the joy of having those I call family.

Pleading for Death: Trista’s Story

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

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes/Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies/Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee/In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

I sat between two graves, softly singing this verse over and over. Going home was terrifying and death was an appealing thought.

As a child I was told I was “defective” and “half-aborted”.

When my mom would become upset with me, she would become psychotic and scream about how I was, “brainwashed at youth. It is surprising you can even think at all.” When I ‘rebelled’ again, I was told I could not think for myself because I was “half-aborted.” This was why I had to be protected by my father, who was the portal through which God and God’s will came to me.

As soon as my dad got home and I was released from school, I would lie to my parents, telling them I was going to the back of our five acre lot to the creek. I was still not allowed off the property alone, but they didn’t mind if I roamed through the backyard. Sometimes, I would go back to the creek, but usually I would walk back to the nearest trees and then cut through the neighbor’s yard and ran as fast as I could to the cemetery near our house.

The cemetery was only a half mile away and it offered me an outlet for the dark emotions I felt. I would sit between two graves and sing “Abide with Me” over and over. In between singing I would pray for God to kill me, begging with him to strike me dead.

Imagination was my only solace.

Because I was monitored daily by my parents, it was impossible to self-harm. But I thought about death, pain and torture daily. I wanted to hurt myself, but was terrified that if my parents found out they would refuse to send me to college, leaving me a victim in their house till the day I died.

With the fear of discovery always present, I used my imagination as an outlet. I would imagine various scenarios where I was in extreme pain. I would chew my nails until they bled as a form of pain because no one suspected I was doing this to hurt myself. The things I would dream about always involved death and pain. I imagined being beaten, shot, strangled, and stabbed to death. I contemplated different ways of committing suicide. There was a pond near the cemetery, and I would imagine drowning myself.

I loved the cemetery because it made me feel closer to death, closer to home. I hated my earthly home. It was full of pain and darkness. I was always alone, told I was stupid and useless. My father would mock women. In my home, being a woman made you worse than men. I wanted so bad to be a man, but I could not change my gender. 18 years of being in the cage of patriarchy made me hopeless. Happiness was not possible. I wanted death.

My daily prayer was “Jesus, take me home. I want to go home and be with you.” This was my way of pleading for death. I was trapped in a world and life that I had no control over. I was an object upon which my parents acted. I had no rights, and my desires did not matter.

The world I lived in told me I had no power.

The only power I had was in prayer, and I prayed for rescue, which for me meant death because I saw no other alternative to the pain in my life.

When I left for college two years later, I thought my preoccupation with suicide, pain and death were over, but I was very wrong.

Hurts Me More Than You: Traveler’s Story

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*****

Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

Additional trigger warning for Traveler’s story: descriptions of self-injury.

*****

Traveler’s Story

Here are the lessons I learned from spanking:

1) Suppress your conscience; avoid the consequences of your actions.

When I was very, very young, I unrolled a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom and then left the mess behind when I got distracted by something else. The mess was discovered, and I feared being spanked if I was implicated. Instead of confessing, I asked “what will happen to the person who says they did it?”

“Nothing except they will have to clean it up,” my mother responded.

“Oh, well in that case, I did it,” I said, and gladly cleaned my mess.

With the fear of violence removed, I was happy to answer my own conscience and fix my mistake.

2) You can’t make up for your mistakes; you can only suffer for them.

One morning, I was late starting homeschool because I had gotten distracted during my chores.  It didn’t matter if I was sorry, or if I promised to do better, or if I made my bed on time for the rest of the week, or if I even offered to do other chores to make up for it.  Forgiveness could not be obtained from my mother until she hit me until I cried.  I truly wanted to make my mother happy and to do right by her.  But, a spanking taught me that there was no way to make things right anymore.

The only way for me to be forgiven and returned to my valued place in the family was to submit to physical pain.

3) Violence and humiliation can be deserved.

When my family rejected me as an adult for my sexuality, I began to abuse myself.  I thought of it as a method of atonement. I would beat my shins against a table to raise welts and bruises.  I would scratch at the skin on my stomach, upper thighs, and arms to make myself bleed.

I felt like I deserved to hurt.

I deserved violence.  I deserved humiliation. I deserved emotional abuse.

And why shouldn’t I?  My family had always taught me never to let anyone hurt me.  But yet, they crossed those boundaries repeatedly when I was a child.  I learned that there were situations where violence, humiliation, and a lack of self-respect were deserved.

Is it so hard to imagine that these toxic thoughts could have carried over into my adulthood?

Hurts Me More Than You: Rachel’s Story

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*****

Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

Additional trigger warning for Rachel’s story: descriptions of self-injury.

*****

Rachel’s Story

Maybe I’m the oddball, but, I was reading some articles on the lifelong effects that spanking children has on their emotional and mental development when it hit me.

Being spanked as a child is a large part of why I started self-harming as a teenager.

Let me unpack this statement a little bit.

From a child, I had been taught through example that physical punishment was the Biblically advocated way of training your children. To be fair, my mother absolutely hated spanking us, and would cry at night because she believed it was wrong, but according to Mike and Debi Pearl, corporal punishment until actual pain was achieved is the only way to properly “train up a child”. And, indeed, Proverbs supports this methodology to a degree. We were spanked for back talking, direct disobedience, rebellion, tattling…and the list goes on. Being spanked teaches a child that physical pain is the only appropriate atonement for his/her misdemeanors. While my parents truly loved us and believed that spanking was the Biblical way to train their children, I have come to question the subconscious impact which this ideology has had on the way I personally relate to punishment.

When I was 15, I reached a particularly low point in my life. My parents had just found out about a young man who I was involved with, and were extremely displeased with the content of some of our conversations (eg. swearing, his expressing a desire to kiss me, etc..) among other things. Feeling that a relationship was not in my best interest at this point, they grounded me for a week and lectured me extensively.

But, for me, this punishment wasn’t enough.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had become subconsciously convinced that punishment which did not cause physical pain was not adequate punishment.

Because, after all, a lecture was never good enough when I had sinned as child. Spanking was always in order. Therefore, as soon as I found myself alone in my room, I, almost instinctively, physically lashed out against myself, taking a disposable razor to my wrist until it was dripping blood. I felt instantly better. After which, I cleaned it up, bandaged it, and fell asleep.

Dad commented the next day that I seemed happier. I was even smiling!

It became a vicious cycle. Whereas when I was a child, if I did something wrong, I was immediately spanked and then the incident was forgotten, as I got older the spanking became less frequent, and lectures replaced corporal punishment. What I didn’t realize was that I had unwittingly adopted the notion that physical punishment is the only adequate punishment. So, if I did something wrong, or my parents were displeased with me, hurting myself became second nature.

I cannot tell you how harmful this mentality is.

When Christ died, HE took the physical pain punishment for ALL my sins. Knowing that my parents are displeased, natural consequences, or rebuke, should be punishment enough for me. Of course, there are consequences, but these should be natural consequences. For instance, if you eat twenty pieces of cake, you’re going to make yourself sick. This doesn’t mean that wrong should be condoned. If my brother hits me, he’s going to be told why that’s wrong and if he persists in wrongdoing, should be punished by a timeout or something similar.

Obviously, circumstances are different for every family, but for me, at least, being spanked unwittingly implanted the idea in my head that physical pain is the only valid form of punishment.

I’ve wondered for months why it was that, when I reached that point where my parents were so upset at me, hurting myself was an almost instinctive reaction. I didn’t even think about it. It felt natural. It felt…right. There was no question in my mind that I completely deserved the physical pain for disappointing my parents, allowing myself to have romantic feelings for a boy, and using bad language. I believe a large part of it is that when I was young, I knew I was in the doghouse if I had acted wrongly. Apologizing didn’t fix things. Being lectured didn’t change things. BUT, as soon as I had gotten the appropriate amount of spankings, everything was forgiven and I was reminded again of how loved I was. How does one make the mental transition from “I need to be physically punished for any transgression” to “Now that I’ve reached a certain age, a lecture or being grounded is adequate punishment”?

And for those who argue that Proverbs commands parents to spank their children (Mike and Debi Pearl, I’m looking right at you!), my response is that Proverbs is in the Old Testament, and although I don’t believe we should discount it merely because it happens to be before the birth of Christ, please show me a passage anywhere in the New Testament under the New Covenant which commands spanking children as a form of punishment! The verses in the New Testament on child rearing say to not provoke your children to wrath but rather bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Admonition is NOT the same as spanking.

And, while I’ll readily admit that my ideas on child raising aren’t completely developed yet, I agree far more with those who advocate not spanking your children, or only using spanking as a very last resort, than those who spank their children constantly for any real or imagined misdemeanor.

Navigating the Justice System, Part Three: As a Young Adult

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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 June 12, 2014.

< Part Two

When I was about 17, I moved out.

Once it was truly clear to me that what happened in my home was abusive and not normal I decided to try to end the abuse for everyone. I started making regular calls to Children’s Aid on my father. I had to get help making these calls because Children’s Aid did not take my calls seriously because I was perceived as a disgruntled daughter (I was a disgruntled daughter, I suppose – but it didn’t negate what I had to say). There had already been multiple closed investigations on my family, and my parents presented as godly people who were just doing the best they could do with very little money and terribly rebellious children (although the social workers were always impressed with our obedience). I had help from guidance counsellors at my high school, and from the family I was staying with.

This process exacted a steep personal cost.

I had to relive what had happened constantly, and I worried that if this bid for freedom for all my younger siblings failed, and my parents found out, I would be cut off from them forever. My father had always threatened to pack everyone up and move to Mexico in the middle of the night, and I was afraid that if CAS called and invited themselves over for a pre-announced visit, my father would follow through on this threat and be forever protected by his friend-of-a-friend counterparts in Mexico. This situation caused a lot of pain for me. I had a lot of suicidal thoughts, and began engaging frequently in fairly serious self-harm, although I had done some self-harm even as a pre-teen before I knew that it was a thing. I have self-injury scars on my arms that will never go away.

My self-injury served as a tangible demonstration to those who were supporting me by calling CAS, that there was a real problem that needed to be fixed. I believe that some of the thinking was that maybe if they could get an intervention in the family home, they would be able to save my younger siblings from going through the same thing. It was kind of too late to save them from the pain, but at least they could end it.

CAS became convinced to take a closer look.

Once another investigation was finally launched, things moved quickly. There were a few meetings, and my dad was given the option of promising to not yell at my mother or physically punish the children (this may sound familiar). They found out that he chased teenagers with garden implements, and beat kids with dowel rods and broomsticks. They only wanted that to stop. He declined this option, so he ended up being removed from the property by CAS and police. He was taken to jail and charged with child abuse for his use of unreasonable corporal punishment. He was not allowed back on the family property because my mom was there with the kids (I had also moved home) and he wasn’t allowed to displace the family. We went to criminal court when I was 19. I had just started dating my now-husband, and going out for some lunch while at court was our first date. I testified, along with several of my siblings.

We were given victim support this time.

We testified much more clearly than we did when we were kids. We went for a few days. The judge was kind to us, and cleared the court room of anyone that we didn’t want to have there. They asked us questions kindly, and didn’t push us when it was hard. We only testified against my father, not against my mother. We decided as a group of teenagers that the priority was to get my father to answer for what he did, because what he did was much more serious than what my mom did, and my mom had not been physically abusive to my siblings in the time between my father’s arrest, and court. The result of those court proceedings is that my father took part in a plea deal, where he pled guilty to three counts in exchange for the other six (there are nine siblings) charges being dropped.

He was given a year of probation. He also had to continue going to court with my mom (family court, I believe) to work out issues of custody, but for him to get a say, he was supposed to file his own papers. He never did. He repeatedly attended court with no representation, or asked for adjournments to have more time to file papers. Eventually this ended and my mom pretty much ended up with custody and residency in the home, because of his inaction. My grandfather bought my father a car and a cell phone, and he has spent the past 7 years floating around between staying on his other property in Nova Scotia, and living with his like-minded friends in Ontario who allow him to live in their houses with their children, or to set up a shed or camper in their back yards.

He still has no concept that he did anything wrong at all.

End of series.

I Cannot Write You a Happy Ending, Part Two: By Slatewoman

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I Cannot Write You a Happy Ending, Part Two: By Slatewoman

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

< Part One

My inability to function in the big bad world has led me to do some stupid things.

Most recently, I went and got myself addicted to heroin. I’m a functional junkie, but a junkie nonetheless.  It helped me stick with my last job for much longer than I would have because it turned my brain off. The only upside to becoming an opiate addict is that all other intoxicants pale in comparison. I no longer drink alcohol or chug Nyquil. It’s taken the special edge away from listening to music, but I assume that will come back with time as I slowly kick this stupid habit I managed to get myself into.

The worst part of it is, that I knew exactly what was going to happen.

One of my best friends has been using for years and I would hang out with him, clutching my bottle of 2-buck-chuck and watch him shoot dope on the weekends. I would never partake though, because I knew I would instantly become addicted and have no way to support my habit. When I finally tried it, I was in a somewhat stable place. I was making more money than I needed to pay my bills and feed myself with and I was on the emotional upswing, a place where you never consider the downfall.

Homeschooling and mental illness are a terrible combination.

And chances are, if a parent is mentally ill, the child might as well be too — and this cycle can go on for generations.

My way of ending it is to not have children.

I don’t want them anyway and I would be a terrible parent. But I don’t want to spread my genes and the proclivities that go along with them. Other people solve it by breaking out of the cycle with superhuman strength of will and resolution. I do not posses those things.

Eventually I’ll find a way out of those stupid hole my mother dug for me and that I petulantly stay in because I know nothing else. I need to make some friends, get an intimate partner or two and build myself a support system because as it stands, I’m alone. And nobody can get by alone, no matter how big and strong I might think I am.

It’s difficult to make friends when I’m distrustful and afraid of people, even ones who are clearly ‘on my team’. Once I get into a relationship or a friendship, I’m great at keeping problems to a minimum and resolving ones that do arise. I can give people space and I am not a jealous lover which is a rare and extremely valuable trait among non-monogamous people.

People seem to see a caricature of me though, all they see are my neuroses.

I tend to hang out in a rather large but close-knit social group. I’ve been around long enough that people have seen me have public freak-outs (either incited by drunkenness or anxiety) and have heard tales told by one or two of my ex’s. I’m not sure that anyone has a fair picture of who I am beyond my flaws and unfortunately, one of my defenses is to be prickly and standoffish in social settings.

It is helpful in many ways, but it makes it tough to make new friends.

My only ways of coping with all this is to remind myself that my life is not,  in fact, the giant shitheap I usually think it is. I don’t know how to drive, so I get around town by bicycle and I live about 10 miles from anything interesting, so I try to go out and ride instead of taking the bus and regardless of whether I actually have anything I need or want to do.

Exercise is extremely helpful in combating depression. You’ve all heard it a million times, but I promise you it makes a world if difference.

Additionally, I’m genderqueer, maybe even transgender. Don’t know and I’m perfectly happy in the in-between realm. I’ve been that way since I was a kid, since before I knew it was “a thing”. I also try not to make it a defining aspect of myself because it’s unhealthy to fixate so strongly on a single aspect of one’s self. However, because of that I have a lot of discomfort surrounding my body. Keeping in good shape and exercise makes me feel a lot better about my body and biking especially puts me in tune with my body in a really enjoyable way. I go hiking in the huge natural park behind my house.

Physical activity is a good way to keep chemically regulated and also to stay positively in touch with my body which I often feel alien in.

I write incessantly about everything. The music I’m, currently obsessed with, I rant and rave about things that piss me off, I dig around in the back corners of my brain, I write about my basic feelings for the day. Writing is a good way to deal with negativity, but in my experience it can also serve to pick apart, over-think and catalog every negative aspect of my life. Being so isolated growing up, I’ve had so much time to stew alone in my own self that I’ve developed some pretty intense narcissistic tendencies.

It is perhaps better for me to not focus on myself as much as I do.

For some, they need to focus more on themselves.

Mostly I just retreat to nature and to my universe of mostly inhumanly abrasive music. I love aggressive music, metal, oldschool industrial, experimental stuff, droney stuff, I just love music. I can’t talk too much about it because once I start, I’ll never shut up, but music has and always will be my biggest saviour.

I find companionship in it, I relate to it, often in ways that I’ve never been able to relate to another human and it can concentrate all my bad feelings into a single compact unit that I can let go of when I go to concerts, or at home if I’m intensely enough into whatever I’m listening to.

When i was 10-13, we lived in a 2-story duplex that had a closet under the stairs. I ‘renovated’ it by putting couch cushions on the floor of it and running extension cords in so I could lay down comfortably, listen to music and read in there. At the time I shared a room with my sister which I deeply resented, so I often slept in there too. When things were going poorly around the house, I went into my closet, shut the door and put on my headphones.

To this day, my response to negativity in the world around me is to hole up and block it out.

I feel like this is acceptable to a point. If that’s what it takes to recharge and calm down or whatever you need to do, so be it, But don’t stay in there. You have to come out eventually and deal with people, with the ongoing and ever-recurring job hunt, with conflicts and even the terrifying adventure of going to buy a carton of cream before you’ve had any coffee, let alone done anything else to prepare yourself to go out into the world.

This is not a story of the past or the future.

It’s the now.

I can’t offer any suggestions (except maybe “don’t do hard drugs, kids”) or write you a happy ending.

But the call was put out for stories about how mental illness has affected your life, and I decided to write one. I have no filters. By the time anyone told me it was inappropriate to be a certain way, to say certain things or act certain ways in general, let alone all the variables of places, circumstances and people around you, I had already done all kinds of damage. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I can’t seem to learn how to adopt filters into my life and I have little desire to try because I just want to be me. I feel that if anyone has a problem with it, they’re best left out of my life because I don’t want people to become friends with a facade. No matter how idealistic that sentiment may be…

“There is an unconscious appositeness in the use of the word ‘person’ to designate the human individual, as is done in all European languages: for ‘persona’ really means an actor’s mask, and it is true that no one reveals himself as he is; we all wear a mask and play a role.”

~ Arthur Schopenhauer

The Road to Depression: By RD

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The Road to Depression: By RD

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

I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I was abused as a child.

While an uncomfortable reality, it was necessary in order to understand what was wrong with me. To be clear, I wasn’t seriously abused (as if one form was abuse was better than another…) but it was there.

While I don’t remember much of my childhood, there are parts I do remember. If I told a lie, it was (10) spankings with my father’s belt. Same thing for if I snuck something. (Stealing only applied if I took something from a store, which only happened once. And even that is debatable; I was between 5 and 6 years old waiting in line with my mom at the grocery checkout, and I took a pack of gum and opened it. Broad daylight, no subterfuge; I think it was an action born out of ignorance than ill-intent. But “sneaking” was taking any food or candy while at home that wasn’t approved.) If I used a “dirty word” I had my mouth washed out with soap.

My mother was fond of the “wait until your father gets home” method as well.

I can remember days that I had really angered her, and she passed that anger on to my dad via a phone call during the day. As soon as I heard the garage door open that evening, I knew the first thing my father would do was smack me upside the head.

It’s a very odd thing to know you’re about to get hit very hard, but to take no evasive or protective action because doing so only increases the punishment.

This abuse works; that’s the tragedy with the Pearl’s method or other methodologies based on corporal punishment. They work. But it is the underlying psychological impacts that belie the merit of these methods. Cocaine or methamphetamines will help keep you awake, but we all know it’s not wise to take these things. So why is the value of “training” or corporal punishment still debated?

My parents were members of HSLDA. I remember their receiving the Court Report and Focus on the Family magazines and other publications that called homeschooled families to action in order to fight the government from over-reaching. I realize now that many, if not all, of these stories were extremely over sensationalized or outright misrepresentations of the truth, similar to the drama unfolding with the Romeike story.

But to my parents these stories were real and reminded them of the dangers of this world.

As I was growing up, I couldn’t play outside during normal school hours because a city official might see me, think I was skipping school, and something terrible would happen. I was told that if Child Protective Services ever had the slightest suspicion of child abuse, they would show up and take me and my brother away from our parents and put us in a foster home. I was told that psychology wasn’t really valid; a psychiatrist would try to pin all a person’s problems on the parents while prescribing unnecessary pills. All these lessons were carefully crafted to try to create a particular world view, a view that sees anything that is not Christian as evil, harmful, or detrimental.

So what does all this have to do with mental health? I’m getting to that point, but I still have a few more bricks to lay in my foundation.

I’ve mentioned in a previous piece that my parents chose to homeschool me primarily because I was diagnosed as a young child with ADD. I even took Ritalin until I was 11 to 12; I cannot remember at what age I started taking it. I do remember as I grew older that my parents began to express the belief that ADD was over-diagnosed and that children are supposed to have energy and be hyperactive and all that. I’m not sure where they picked up on that idea, if it was from some of the Christian homeschooling circles, but it served to create in my young mind that ADD wasn’t real, that parents used that as an excuse for their child misbehaving or not performing.

My father was also an extreme perfectionist.

I can remember many nights staying up exceedingly late trying to figure out some math or science problem as he berated me because I’m was smart enough that I should know how to do something or that the mistakes I made were because I was being careless.

There is nothing quite as powerful as a backhanded compliment.

“My dad thinks I’m smart, but if I was smart I should be able to figure this problem out. Therefore either 1) I am not as smart as he thinks and thus a failure or 2) I’m as smart as he thinks but I’m failing to apply myself.” This method of thinking, created by a backhanded compliment, is very destructive to mental image.

So where does all this lead?

The abusive methods advocated by people like the Pearls are akin to dog training (very loose analogy) except without positive methods. You are training a child for instant, unquestioning obedience without thought, but you don’t reward the obedience.

You excessively punish the failing.

Thus as a child grows up, as I grew up, I focused on what was wrong, not what was right. Even today when I look at something, my first thoughts are what is wrong with it. While this helps me most times as an engineer, it is a very harmful mindset to have.

When you combine this way of looking at things with the perfectionist mentality I received, it creates a very negative self-image.

When children are raised with the message that if they have faith in Jesus or live their life according to the Bible then they will be blessed, it creates a very false expectation. Anything bad that happens, any misfortune, becomes interpreted as God’s punishment for not being faithful enough, for failing in your walk with him. I’ve seen this illustrated over and over again in the stories I’ve read of people involved in the courtship culture.

Now add to that the distrust of science, society, or psychology. As these negative thoughts, this negative self-image grows in the mind, the fundamentalist worldview pops up and says “you can’t be depressed; there’s no such thing. You are having these thoughts, this self-loathing, because you realize how out of tune you are with God’s will.”

This only creates a downward spiral that leads to more depression.

In my case, this spiral was fueled by my ADD. Throughout college I still carried my parents’ view that ADD wasn’t real; it was simply children being children. While I don’t deny that there are many cases of ADD (now ADHD) that are wrongfully diagnosed, I understand it is very real. Any adult reading this who suffers from ADHD will know exactly what I mean (and if you don’t suffer from it, you can find some excellent lectures by Russel Barkley on YouTube.). I cannot focus or concentrate if there are external distractions; put simply, ADHD is an executive function failing of the brain.

As I struggled through university with my ADHD untreated, I constantly felt like a failure as my GPA slowly dropped down to a 2.9. This lead to depression and even self-mutilation for a time. It wasn’t until several years into my professional career that I began to see a counselor, and later a psychiatrist, and began to identify the problem and take the steps to correct it.

But this is the danger of the fundamentalist’s method of child rearing. By linking bad things, misfortunes, with disobedience to god and equating negative thoughts as god’s working to convict the wayward child, it establishes a tragic downward mental spiral that if left untreated can end in suicide.

I Cannot Write You a Happy Ending, Part One: By Slatewoman

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I Cannot Write You a Happy Ending, Part One: By Slatewoman

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

Mental illness and addiction play a huge role in my life from childhood until now, and in the failure of my Homeschool Experience. (I wanted Homeschool Experience to sound like some kind of 70’s psychedelic progressive rock opera.)

My mom has been bi-polar for as long as I can remember, but she was diagnosed when I was 10. I remember when she started taking medication for it and things got bad. Real bad. This was back before many long-term studies had been done on the medications she was given, and she was given just about every one under the sun between then and now. Before she used to be unpredictable, she would stay in bed for days at a time and sometimes get a lot more angry than should have been expected for whatever the situation was.

I remember her staying up late with me when I was of pre-school age, teaching me how to read.

Those are the last positive memories I have of her.

Somewhere in 3rd grade, she dropped the ball and officially gave up on my homeschooling (my dad is out of this story almost completely because he was self-employed during most of my childhood and not involved in my schooling or as I’m starting to learn, not even aware of the things that went on when he was at work). I tried to keep it going on my own, with a card table set up in the back room of my grandma’s house where my family was currently living (we were in the process of a semi-long-distance move), dicking around with my multiplication flash cards and never really picking anything up.

Without guidance, I floundered and was unable to make any progress. I became frustrated and quickly gave up on learning and maintaining self-discipline. I just turned 30 and I’m still sketchy with multiplication and long division makes me cry. I’ve worked out some kind of bizarre system using fingers and break-downs to figure every day math, I can go grocery shopping and estimate almost to the dollar.

As a family, my mother’s mental issues… well, we are starting to suspect that she has borderline personality disorder, something I frequently dismiss as a thing to slap on unruly teens so they can be prescribed something to make them more docile and less annoying to their parents, but my mother is in her late 50s and has displayed the same behaviour her entire life. As far as I can tell (I’m an armchair psychologist, one of the few things I’ve studied seriously on my own time), she’s a “textbook case”. She self-medicated with marijuana which I believe is detrimental to her ability to learn to manage her issues.

My childhood is crammed full of memories of my parents fighting and what I now recognize as my mom manipulating me to turn against my father.

She thrives on conflict and wants everyone on her side. My younger sister and I have been enemies for most of her life. Recently we’ve reconciled and become good friends, we go out and do things together frequently. Mom sees this and is angry because a long time ago, she decided that I’m the Antichrist, his own bad self (in recent years she’s become hyper-christian and she knows I’m now an athiest, which doesn’t go over well) and that I’m going to turn my sister against her.

What our mom doesn’t know is how deeply she traumatized my sister and that she has been against her long before she and I ever became friends.

My mom is, as far as we know, dying of terminal cancer. She’s well outlived she life-expectancy  and we’re beginning to wonder if the doctors are wrong in their diagnosis because she’s been stagnating at this low level of functionality for so long.

It may seem like I’m demonizing her when she’s actually a sick person, but there has to be a line drawn. I can’t think of any illness that would excuse the level of emotional trauma she has inflicted on my sister and I and the way she’s tried to tear the family apart. Ironically, it all backfired on her and the dynamic now is that my sister, my dad and myself have formed a protective, non-judgmental pod against her attacks.

 I would assume that any regular reader of H.A would understand this  highly dysfunctional dynamic and not blame me for writing unkind things about my dying mother.

As a result of a difficult childhood and bad genes, I’m also full of problems. I’ve had suicidal ideation since I was 12, been self-harming since I was 10 (which I’ve stopped in recent years because my mom started to do it herself, thereby ruining it for me.) and am almost unable to function in normal society.

When I was 16, I was taken to a psychologist and given one of those fill-in-the-bubble forms. I can’t recall how many pages it was, but it felt like I was taking one of those online tests to find out which elemental fairy best represents me. Well, turns out that this test said that I was clinically depressed, had an enormous problem with anxiety and was on the paranoia spectrum. Low, but on it nevertheless. I’ve been tracking my mentality for years now and I see definite patterns.

I will be at the end of my rope, ready to go take a fat OD out in the woods somewhere, and a job will appear! A place to live will appear! Everything will be ok! And eventually life will begin to wear on me again, I’ll rage-quit my job and have to move back into my family home which I both love and loathe.

See, my family is not religious, but we are old-fashioned and we want to look after one another.

I love my sister and my dad, I want to be with them. Last time I lived on my own, I was massively depressed because I was not with them and felt like I was being forced away by my mom. Unlike a lot of homeschoolers, that doesn’t manifest in a harmful manner and apart from my brain problems, I can get by fine in the outside world, I just don’t like it. I can have healthy relationships, both platonic and intimate, sometimes a mixture of both…  the fact that I’m close to my family doesn’t make me the 30 year old creep living in the My Little Pony bedroom of their childhood.

I’m not a big fan of self-diagnosis, but after tracking things for so long, it’s fairly apparent that I’m bi-polar and that the paranoia (the paranoia, not my paranoia) has ramped up considerably. It’s not so much that the little green men are listening to my brain waves, but that everyone is turning on me and what many people consider conspiracy theories don’t sound so outlandish to me.

I can sense it.

Sometimes I know when i’m being irrational, sometimes I can’t tell because the things I worry about are so boring and every-day. My boss doesn’t like me. They’re all trying to push me out so I quit instead of them having to fire me. And you know, it’s worked. I’ve never been fired from a job because I’ve left before anyone had a chance to. Perhaps if I had just not listened to my own brain and my own senses, I would still have a job. Perhaps I might have moved up to a better position.

But see, I’m starting to rant a little bit and I’m trying to keep this concise.

I have no life skills because I never went to public school and learned how to play the weird games society plays and didn’t learn them anywhere else.  

I don’t know how to deal with authority because neither of my parents are authoritarian types. In fact, I absolutely loathe any sort of authority and am a borderline anarchist. It’s just that I see that an anarchist reality would quickly collapse upon itself and hierarchies would become established, like it or not. Therefore, I mostly see myself as a nihilist, if you really want to know.

My inability to function in the big bad world has led me to do some stupid things.

Part Two >

Growing Kids the Abusive Way: Auriel’s Story, Part Five — The Aftermath of Childhood Abuse

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*****

Trigger warnings: references (sometimes graphic) to emotional, physical, religious, and sexual abuse; self-injury.

*****

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Auriel” is a pseudonym. Auriel blogs at Drying My Wings.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: Growing Kids the Abusive Way | Part Two: Isolation and Ideology | Part Three: Mini-Parents | Part Four: The Sound of a Sewing Machine | Part Five: The Aftermath of Childhood Abuse

*****

Part 5: The Aftermath of Childhood Abuse

Sometimes, I still marvel at how I survived, and am able to function. I threw myself into extra-curriculars, speech, debate, work, volunteering — anything to be out of the house.

I now have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression, and suffer from panic attacks. It’s hard to emphasize just how much stress, anxiety, and pressure I was under. For years, the only dreams I could have were nightmares, and I developed eye-twitches and frequent illness from all the stress. I lived in a constant state of dealing with adult stress, all as a child.

I remember that I wanted to die young as a saint.

Maybe then, people would appreciate my life. Fleeting thoughts like, “You could die,” “You could cut yourself,” “You could kill Mom,” “Life would be better if Mom died or committed suicide,” crossed my mind unwillingly. They were my mind trying to find solutions to an impossible scenario. Of course, they only compounded my shame.

I didn’t know sophisticated ways to self-harm. As a distraction, I’d pick at cuts and bruises, pick and tear off my finger and toenails, or pull out hairs from my head. Starting in elementary school, I decided to become tough so no one could hurt me. I pulled out my teeth too early so they’d hurt, and walked barefoot on gravel or on the blacktop in 100 degree weather.

One day in high school, after a particularly terrible day, I was working in the sweatshop. In my sweaty palm, I held a gleaming, sharp sewing machine ripper to undo hours of stitching. In that moment, I didn’t fear my parents.

I just wanted to hurt, to escape, to get away from it all.

Somehow, I didn’t do it, and managed to keep pretending for several more years that I was ok.

Suddenly, a year into college, some memories hit me. I was floored. Day after day, I would have flashbacks and nightmares. It was exhausting, waking up shrieking into the night, trying to stay awake to avoid the haunting terrors that stalked my dreams, only to be beset by a new round of flashbacks in my waking hours. There was no relief.

I felt like a walking shell, a skeleton.

I remember thinking, “I must be going crazy. I am insane.” The next thought… “Dying has to be better than this, right?”

As soon as I thought that, I kicked myself into counseling.

As an adult, I stood up to my parents and protected my siblings like a mama bear. My parents threatened many times to kick me out for undermining their “parental authority.” I reported to CPS several times. Now, the reportable abuse has ended, my siblings are thriving in private school, and after many years of splitting up and reconcilement, my parents finally legally separated. They are less dysfunctional when apart.

The effects of the abuse don’t leave though.

Among us 5 kids, 4 have been suicidal, 4 have been in counseling, 3 have depression, 2 have run away multiple times, 2 have distorted eating and body issues, and 2 have self-harmed.

And yet my parents still do not see what they did as traumatizing! If these incredible effects don’t convince them, then nothing will.

As for me, I am on track to get a graduate degree. I have a great counselor, am on anti-anxiety meds, and have many coping mechanisms.

I’ve actually grown in my Catholic faith as well.

Having a higher power than my parents or the homeschool community gives me hope. In my darkest moments, I draw on my faith to give me strength.

I know I’m going to be ok. I would tell anyone in a similar situation that it gets better. The memories stay, and the pain doesn’t fully leave, but there comes a time when the pain doesn’t control you anymore. The waves don’t wash you out to sea, and you learn to stand strong amidst the soft ebb and flow of pain and joy.

So, if you’re struggling right now, I know how you feel. It is going to be ok. You will make it through. Reach out and tell someone you trust. It’s ok to need help. You are worth the help.

You deserve the best.

*****

She shook her tresses that were now darkened and saturated with the glistening orbs. The air smelled sweet, as it does just after rainfall. Each inhale was refreshing, rejuvenating, breathing life into her deflated bones. Sliding her feet through the thick grass, she balanced between the property line and the open world. Swiftly, silently, her right foot slipped across the barrier, followed by her left. Her bare toes clutched the asphalt, toeing the grooves.

She felt lost. She was lost. But she had herself.

She had her life. Perhaps it was just a shell and this was all a mystery. Who cared?

The cosmos would go on in its cosmic cycle with all of its boring striped pageantry. All she had to do was breathe. The only important thing was the asphalt, the sweet smell of the rain, and the tug of that straight road.

So swiftly, silently, she stepped into the night.

*****

End of series.

From Hell to Heroin to Here: Jezebel’s Story

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

Trigger warnings: child sexual abuse, self-injury.

I’m not really sure how to describe my childhood.  Blacks and whites don’t really exist in my world, so it’s difficult to say that it was ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  I feel like we put labels like that on things to simplify them.

Unfortunately, nothing is simple.

My earliest memories are very fragmented – my memory isn’t that great to begin with, and PTSD combined with years of drug abuse have further eroded the recesses of my mind.  I remember starting first grade.  My parents decided to send me to a ‘cottage school’ where I would go to school two days a week and be homeschooled the other three.  I knew my friends from the neighborhood went to something called ‘public school,’ but from what I overheard my parents talking about, I was pretty sure that public school was bad.  That didn’t make sense to me, because my friends were really nice and their parents seemed nice too.  I was curious about public school, but at such a young age, I didn’t pay too much attention to the differences between myself and the other kids.

Around this same time (when I was seven) my father started to molest me.  To this day, I don’t talk about it too much.

At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening to me.  No one ever taught me about sexual abuse or inappropriate touching, so I thought that what was happening to me was normal.  I hated what was going on, but I understood that it was very important for me to pretend that everything was okay.  From a very young age, I understood the importance of not making waves and protecting my family’s reputation.

As I was growing up, the only sex education I received was from my time with my father.  My mom never talked about sex with me, and since I was homeschooled, I was never given formal sex-ed.  In one sense, I was insanely naïve about sex, but at the same time, I was receiving a sex-education from my father that would prove to be incredibly damaging to my psyche.  The messages he gave me were that I was powerless, worthless, and valuable only as a pleasure receptacle.  It was all very confusing for me.

As young girls, my friends and I used to talk about how we wanted our weddings to be.  We would all daydream about what type of guy we wanted to marry and what type of dress we wanted to wear.  Me, my sister, and our two best friends were planning a quadruple wedding.

When I found out that a father/daughter dance was a part of a traditional wedding, I remember deciding that I didn’t want to get married anymore.  I was willing to do anything to avoid spending time around my father.  The idea of having to dance with him made me sick to my stomach.

My parents continued to homeschool me and my three siblings.  We stopped going to the cottage school and started going to a homeschool co-op (it was pretty much the same thing, just less organized.)  I don’t remember too much from this time period.  I know that I wasn’t particularly happy and that I found solace in drawing.  I was off in my own little world much of the time, and I had quite a few pets that were my best friends.  I didn’t have a lot of friends, and the few I had I didn’t really like; most of the time I preferred to be alone and draw with my dog.

The abuse from my father continued until I was eleven.  I can’t tell you how many people have asked me why he stopped.  Don’t fucking ask me – go ask that pervert.  Maybe he’ll tell you.  I can only assume that I was getting too old for him or that he found someone else he liked better.  I didn’t ask questions about why he stopped, I was just thankful that he did.

I remember the time period after the abuse stopped a lot better than I remember my childhood.  My parents were still together.  I can’t begin to convey how terrible this was for me.  On Sunday’s my family would attend church together (by this time we had started to attend a home church because traditional church was too secular) and my dad would get up and lead worship.  I hated him so much and I didn’t understand why nobody else saw him the way I did.  Everybody I knew acted like he was such a great person – after all, he had a great job, he let my mom be a stay-at-home homeschool mom, and to all appearances he was a loving father.  My mom never noticed him abusing me, but I don’t blame her for this.  I can only attribute it to her own dysfunctional upbringing and the years of emotional abuse she endured with my father.

Even then, as a young teenager, I didn’t have the words to describe what had happened to me.  At thirteen I knew very little about sex, and I knew even less about how to express myself.  I was full of inner turmoil and hurt, and I had no outlet for it.  This is when I found out about cutting.  I was reading a magazine article about Angelina Jolie and the article said that she used to cut herself.  This was the first exposure I had to the concept of cutting and I decided to try it right away.  I got a safety pin and started to scratch my skin.  I couldn’t draw blood with my safety pin, but I liked the pain it caused me.  For the first time in a long time, I felt some release.

Around this same time, I realized that I could achieve a similar level of catharsis through not eating.  I wasn’t entirely aware that what I was doing was considered to be an eating disorder – I just knew that I really enjoyed how it felt when I would starve myself.  I came up with crazy diet plans and arbitrary numbers of how many calories I was allowed to eat in a day.  Occasionally, I would screw up and binge.  I felt horrible about my binges, so I would cut myself to try and feel better.  Somewhere along the lines I figured out that I could make myself vomit.  From that point on, I would starve myself for days, binge, and then make myself throw up.

This sort of behavior went on for quite a few years.  Of course, during this time I did my best to hide my eating disorder and cutting.  To outward appearances, I tried my best to look happy, well adjusted, intelligent, and well educated.  I simply wanted to be perfect.  I was part of a very insular community, so it was fairly easy to hide the symptoms of my problems – after all, everyone was sheltered to the point that they couldn’t recognize the symptoms of emotional disturbances.

In my early teen years, I started participating in competitive speech and debate.  My mom signed me up for NCFCA tournaments, and public speaking and debate took over my life.  I still kept up with my other school work, but the vast majority of my time was spent designing visual aids for expository speeches, researching debate resolutions, and practicing speeches.  I had very little life outside of NCFCA – as has been said by others, the closest thing I had to a graduating class were the people I competed at tournaments with.

During my teen years, I wasn’t allowed to date.  Despite the parental prohibition on relationships, I started talking to a boy I met through NCFCA.  He became my first boyfriend, and he was the first person I felt I could really confide in.  At fifteen, I was looking to him to save me.  I told him things I had never told anyone – I told him about my self-harm problems and my eating disorder.  We commiserated over our teenage angst and unhappy upbringings.  I was never able to trust him enough to talk to him about the abuse I suffered as a child, but this relationship helped me to begin to open up to people.

Of course, the relationship ended badly and dramatically (as most teenaged relationships do.)  Still, the simple experience of being able to confide in someone was profound.  Shortly after this breakup, I was researching something online, and I stumbled across an article on child abuse.  The article talked about sexual abuse and molestation.  For the first time in my life I had words to describe what had happened to me.  Prior to this time, I had heard people talk about molestation, but I always thought that if what happened wasn’t actual rape, that it didn’t constitute abuse.  No one had ever taught me otherwise.

I came unhinged when I read about what molestation actually was.  All the evil I had experienced as a child finally had a name.  Not only that, I felt justified in feeling that the abuse I suffered was wrong.  I spent that whole night crying, cutting, and throwing up.

The next day, I called my best friend.  I told her that when I was little my father had sexually abused me.  It was the first time in my life I had told someone the truth about my childhood.  I was sixteen years old.  My friend told me that she already knew – she could tell by the way I acted and talked about my family.  She knew I was miserable at home, but she didn’t know how to help me.  She was only a teenager herself.

Having the words to describe my experiences made me feel better about myself, but it didn’t help my immediate situation.  I still lived at home with my parents and my siblings and I didn’t feel safe enough to tell anyone about the abuse.  To make myself feel better, I started self-medicating with prescription pain pills and alcohol.  I started to get drunk off alcohol I stole from my parent’s liquor cabinet and I would get high off of Lortab’s and Percocet’s I found in our medicine cabinet.  My weight continued to fluctuate and my arms were still crisscrossed with cuts.  Because I was fairly isolated, few people took notice of my behavior.

My mom and I started to drift further and further apart – we would fight over the silliest things.  I wanted to listen to secular music, and she preferred that I listen to opera and classical.  I was a political libertarian and she was a staunch republican.  I thought that morality had little place in art, and she believed that the books I read needed to have strict moral messages.  We fought a lot.

On one particular day, mom and I had argued over the Harry Potter books (what homeschool child hasn’t been through a conflict involving these books?)  I ran upstairs to my room in tears.  I wasn’t really depressed about having differing opinions with my mom about Harry Potter – it was simply the metaphorical straw that broke the camel’s back.  The weight of all the secrets I was keeping came crashing down on me and I couldn’t deal with it anymore.  I felt like I had no way out, that my adolescence would never end.  So I did the only thing I could think of – I swallowed a bottle of pills and prayed that it would kill me.

My sister called an ambulance when she came upstairs and found me – I was inconsolable as I told her that I had just swallowed a bottle of pills and I wanted to die.  The ambulance came and carted me off to a mental hospital where I stayed for two weeks.

Ironically, the mental hospital was the only place where I came close to being in a public school.  Because I was in the adolescent ward, we had to attend school while at the hospital.  When I went to science class, I raised my hand and challenged the teacher on her teachings about evolution (that was what I had been taught to do in all my worldview and debate classes.)  I’m pretty sure that the staff took this as further evidence of my mental problems.

After I was released from the hospital, I went through a very rough period.  I finally told my mom about what my father had done to me.  It was an experience that I can only describe as horrific.  My mother believed me, and she had me write a letter to our church elders asking them for help.  I wrote a detailed letter and told these men what my father had done to me.  The church elders responded to my mother and said that both she and I were lying and that we weren’t welcome at that church anymore.  To this day, my father still attends that church and is a very active member.

Amidst all this madness, I attempted to finish my senior year of high school.  It was chaos.  My mom and I cobbled together a transcript that was substantiated by my debate experience, my love of classic British literature, and little else.  I was very intelligent, but no one ever really made me complete my math or science homework.  I would tell my mom that I did my math or science homework, and for the most part, my word was enough assurance that I was getting a well-rounded education.

When I went to take the SAT I hadn’t studied (literally, I think I cracked the study book one time) and I was hungover.  I did very well on the English and reading portion, and I bombed on the math portion.  At this point, I didn’t particularly care about school though, and my home life was so hectic that my mom didn’t have time to care either – she was in the process of dealing with a hellish divorce.

During my senior year I was so busy going to therapy and psych appointments that I never got around to applying to colleges.  Growing up, I had always wanted to go to college, but in the midst of the wreckage of my parent’s divorce, nobody really had time to help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life or where to apply for school.  I got more and more depressed and I started drinking and abusing pain pills even more heavily.

After high school graduation, I was simply drifting through life.  I worked a dead-end restaurant job and spent all my spare time at bars (I had a fake ID that I had stolen from someone.)  The only friends I had were people I knew from work – very few of my NCFCA friends kept in contact with me and I felt a bit ostracized.  Alcohol and pills fixed these feelings though, so I continued to self-medicate.

Eventually I applied to the local community college.  I went there for a semester, and I enjoyed it.  At the time though I was working fulltime at the restaurant, working weekends at a haunted house, and trying to keep up with a fulltime school schedule.  I ran myself ragged – my health started to deteriorate and I ended up in the hospital with meningitis.  I would also periodically have to go to the doctor because I got severe kidney infections.  One day as I was leaving to go to work, I simply collapsed in the garage – my body was wearing out.

While I was going to community college I couldn’t stop drinking.  I would routinely show up to class drunk or high out of my mind.  Alcohol was the only thing that helped me feel less stressed.  After one semester of college, I dropped out.

After dropping out of school my life became a bit of a blur.  I continued to drink myself into a stupor every night because I was severely depressed.  After a while, I got fired from my restaurant job because I routinely came to work drunk.  Within a few weeks of getting fired, I tried coke for the first time and I loved it.  I started routinely doing hard drugs.  My drug use culminated in an addiction to heroin.

To support my drug habit, I started working at a strip club.  I worked as a stripper and a prostitute for several years before I got arrested for trafficking heroin.  My life was a wreck and I had nowhere to go, so I went to rehab.  I had tried going to rehab several times before, so I wasn’t sure that it would work for me, but I was out of options.  I ended up in a year-long program, and it saved my life.

When I was shooting up heroin and stripping, I didn’t care about my life.  I would overdose or get beat up and it didn’t matter to me.  I felt like I was a fuckup and that my life wasn’t worth living.  In rehab I did the hard work of processing everything that had happened with my family, and as awful as it was, I’m a more whole person for all that.

It’s ironic – while I was in rehab, I was processing with a counselor and I told her about how I was brought up – conservative Christian homeschooler.  She was shocked.  She said that my story completely reframed how she thought about homeschooling.  She had always assumed that homeschooling was a good way to safeguard against having your kids become radically screwed up.  I guess I disproved that idea.

Since graduating rehab (most of the kids I competed in NCFCA with graduated college this year – I graduated rehab – ironic, right?) I’ve done my best to live life sober.  I attend 12 step meetings and a big part of my recovery is letting go of my resentments.  I’m still working on letting go of some resentment I have about my upbringing, but I’m slowly coming to terms with it.  In no way do I blame my choices on the way I was raised; I accept complete responsibility for my actions over the last few years.  Still, as people we are the sum of our experiences, and homeschooling was a huge part of my experience.  My upbringing shaped me into who I am today.

I can’t say that I liked the process of getting here, but today my life is good; I have a good job, I’m clean and sober, I’m not incarcerated, and I have people that love me when I don’t love myself.

It’s been hell to get here, but it is what it is and I’m okay with that today.