Finding A Reason To Wake Up: Warbler

Finding A Reason To Wake Up: Warbler

Trigger warning: self-injury and self-sexual abuse.

Family Background

I know my older brother cut himself.  Sometimes he was just overly rough in whatever he was doing and got hurt that way.  I remember him sitting on the other corner of the table as my dad made us study Koine Greek together.  He glared at my father with hate-filled eyes and used his one set of fingernails to scrape up and down the inside of the other arm.  He got spanked about 3 times as much as we girls did.  He was “strong-willed” and didn’t seem to care how much they hurt him.  He boasted that he was never hurt and that they could/would have to try harder.  He was always “the rebel” and was the first one to defy our parent’s authority.

The eldest sister was “perfect” and I didn’t think she did anything like that until her ‘courtship’ went up in flames and daddy grounded her and threatened severe repercussions for ever touching the computer or getting online ever again.  I was in the other room listening to all of this, hiding.  She found me late and we sat there mutely staring at each other.  She said she was going to run away and she had a plan.  I was scared and I didn’t want her to get caught and punished worse, because that is what daddy always threatened.  But I looked deeply into her eyes; and I knew that if she did not get away, one of us would find her dead in her bedroom the next day.

I was a “chicken” in the fullest sense of the word.  I never had the courage to actually cut my own skin.  But I would exacerbate any wound or scab by picking at it fiercely and not letting them completely heal.  I would pick at the corners of my fingernails until I pulled off skin down the the cuticles that would bleed and ache for a week.  I would allow myself to get burned when I was cooking and wish the pain would keep going.  I developed a very high pain tolerance as I refused to care for bruises or cuts and attempted to “be tough” about them.

I had an active imagination and I would imagine myself doing things.  I hated being in the kitchen with the knives because I was never sure when imagination would lead to reality and I would “snap.”  Sometimes I wanted to snap.  Other times my primal instincts kicked in and I fought myself for life.  Because I saw myself as worthless and ugly and bad.

An Active Imagination

I hurt myself specifically from the time I was 10 until I was 17 or 18.  I know for a fact that homeschooling made this a problem because had I been taught more, I would not have used this to hurt myself.  A sex-ed class would have taught me much sooner that what I was doing was damaging.

I hurt myself sexually.  I would imagine some scenario where I was being forcibly raped or forced into being a sex-slave.  I would ball up a towel or a sheet and I would lay on top of it until I rubbed my skin raw (and sometimes rub it off).  I did not know much of anything about human sexuality, or why it hurt so much, but I would walk around in pain every step I took for a couple days and then do it again the next week.  I did not even know that it was “masturbating” or what that word meant until I was 14, and at that time, I was told only that it was a sin. I stopped for a couple of months because of fear, but having no other outlet, I began hurting myself again semi-regularly.  I was able to hide it even though I shared a room for most of my life.  I didn’t get any other information about sex until I was at least 16.  When I first understood the workings of sex, I was grossed out and immediately shut off the conversation.

It took me over a year to realize that what I was doing was actually sexual and bad for me physically. By that time I had an outlet for myself in a homeschooled social circle, a pet to care for, and an outdoor hobby (gardening) that gave me exercise, sunshine, and something to love and invest myself into.  I was incredibly depressed most of my teenage years and I know that was a big reason for my self-abuse.

Another reason, I believe, was because when I had a crush on a young man (he was 12, I was 9) my parents squelched it quickly and shamed me for it.  Instead of helping me develop my relationship skills and experience, I was made emotionally stilted.  My next male-interest wasn’t for another 11 years, but it fell apart due to my relationship-immaturity and inability to ‘learn’ years of relationship-growth-experiences/consequences in two years.   It caused a lot of pain and I think it was because I would have been a very different person if I had a larger social group.  I am the girl that has crushes on everybody.  Had I been able to express those and have them dealt with in a reasonable manner (not told to save everything for courtship, or when I was “ready” to be a wife and mother) I could learn what men were interested in me for me, what crushes were stupid and should have bad consequences, and what it took to make relationships work.

Homeschooling meant that my parents controlled my outward actions around men with fierce looks, codes of conduct, chaperones, and stringent rules.  So my emotions turned inward in a bad way.  I would imagine violent scenarios and hurt myself personally.  I could hide it from them because sexuality was never again discussed.  Homeschooling kept me away from my peers, leaving me with the romantic-relationship-IQ of a toddler.

When it comes to relationships with authorities; I am co-dependent and I feel the need to hide any part of me I think they will censure.  It was not healthy and it is something I still struggle with, personally.

Advice For Others Who Struggle

Find a healthy outlet.  Depression kills.

Go jogging, or plant a morning glory, grow an herb garden and start making tea, or adopt a pet, or volunteer at a shelter, or buy a junk car and find parts at a junk yard to get it running, or restore a painting.

Or climb Mount Everest.

Find something that you love and that you can pour your energy and emotions into: a place to give.

When you find a reason to get up every morning, you will not want pain any more.  I remember taking a shower and screaming into the gushing water, because that was the only place they couldn’t hear me.

It eats you up inside and I know you want to be free.      

Advice To Parents

Dear Parents:  Your kid is struggling.  Don’t say this isnt your kid.  I know they are.

This is not 1% who have a few problems, it is the 99% who hide it.

Your kid is struggling because you have set up a shame-based system of right and wrong.  If you ask them, they will deny it because they don’t trust you and they don’t want to be shamed even more. They know their failings more personally than you have ever had occasion to point out and they have internalized it.

You know that one issue that never seems to go away?  It’s a sign that something rotten is eating away at their heart.

The bad news (no, the first part wasn’t the bad news): you cannot really do anything about it at this point. Your child does not trust you; your words and actions and rules and teaching and religious views are largely the reason that this behavior began and has been happening.

You cannot stop it until after you prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are changing. And that will take a lot of time, more time than it will take for them to grow up and move away.  So I suggest that you do major damage control by being as brutally honest about your failings first.  Don’t expect anything from them except to try to live with you as you learn to listen.  Get books and read them and ask your child for help.  And if they actually tell you something: do everything they say.  Don’t argue, don’t talk back, don’t tell them that you never taught that.  Take what they say and live it.

Maybe after a couple years they will start trusting you enough to share their lives with you. When you demand your child give you her heart, she will give you the one you want to see.  Her real heart will be hidden as far away as it takes to stay alive.  

** 

I have this one quotation saved in my email drafts with the title “Raising Children”:

“The only hope you should have is that they will gladly share their own adult journey with you.”

Asexuality And Purity Teachings Can Be A Toxic Mix: Christine

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

I am an asexual. This means that I feel the same amount of sexual attraction for men that a straight man does, and the same amount of sexual attraction to women that a straight woman does. I remember that the conservative community denied the existence of asexuality, but I can’t remember the exact reason. I think it was something along the lines of ‘they’re just celibate’ or ‘they’re just abstinent’. However, many celibate or abstinent people feel sexual attraction, and many asexuals are not celibate or abstinent. To learn more about what asexuality is and is not, this is a great informative video:

I don’t know whether I was born this way or whether it has roots in my upbringing. All I know is that this is the way I am and the doctors say it has nothing to do with my hormones.

You’d think that asexuality would be a good fit for someone raised in a purity culture. However, due to the ignorance some are deliberately kept in about our own bodies, feelings, reproduction, and sexuality, asexuality and purity teachings can be a toxic mix.

Many homeschoolers try to ‘protect’ their children from knowledge about sex, sexuality, and reproduction. My parents fit into this category. As a result, I didn’t learn about human reproduction until I was in college, and didn’t learn that other people experience sexual attraction. Or rather, I misunderstood what sexual attraction was. I thought ‘being attracted’ to someone meant thinking they were smart, or good looking, or fun, because those were the kinds of attraction I experienced. As a teenager, I developed crushes based on those attractions. I did not know that other people experienced the world a different way, so I did not know that my experience was different or that I was asexual.

Due to the way my mother covered the TV screen when a couple would begin to lightly kiss in the 1940s comedies we were allowed to watch – and in the rare other shows and movies we were able to watch – I received the impression that all affectionate touching between a man and a woman was ‘sexual’. After all, sexual lust was supposed to be a desire that we all feel, and the desire I felt was one for affection. I wanted to be hugged, long and firmly. I wanted to lie with my head in my crush’s lap while he stroked my hair. I desired these things so badly it hurt, but I believed that they were obscenely sexual thoughts that I must, and did, repent of in tears. It wasn’t helped at all by the fact that our pastors and community leaders taught that the slightest amount of affectionate touch between a man and a woman was sin, must be avoided at all cost, would sully us for our future spouse, and would lead to procreational intercourse. “Don’t heat up the oven if you’re not going to put something inside” they said – and completely missing the sexual reference of that statement, I thought it meant ‘don’t touch someone if you’re not ready to procreate with them’.

There was also the problem that having a crush on someone was called, a la Josh Harris and his book ‘I kissed dating goodbye’, ‘giving away a piece of your heart’. Someone went further than this and said that having a crush on someone you weren’t married to was being an ’emotional whore’. So I had a huge amount of guilt about my crushes, even though they weren’t sexual (which I didn’t know). As a teenager, my best friend told me that ‘girls like us’ don’t have or respond to crushes on boys. My mother told me that homeschooled girls who talked to boys ‘are the ones they like now, but not the kind of girl they’ll marry.’

The long and the short of it is that a lack of information about sex and sexuality combined with the sexual-attraction-blindness of my asexuality led to many, many painful hours and tears over very innocent matters. It also led to ignorance of my orientation, which is not helpful when you hope to meet a compatible spouse, and which caused a lot of complications in my relationships.

There was another toxic teaching that reacted badly with my asexuality. There’s a letter in Paul’s epistles that was taught by our pastors and leaders as follows: A wife must allow her husband to have sex with her whenever he likes. This teaching is obviously toxic by itself. But for an asexual who doesn’t know she’s asexual and for whom this is the entirety of her sex-ed, this is what I thought sex was. Sex was something a man does to a woman. “It’s clear from nature, from very human biology” said Douglass Wilson, author of “Her Hand in Marriage” and the Credenda Agenda, “that men are for initiating and women are for responding.” (my paraphrasing) After leaving my family and starting into the world on my own, I decided that I didn’t think premarital sex was sinful, but that I personally didn’t want to have sex until after marriage (due to my desire for sex being tied very closely with reproduction). When my boyfriend raped me, I felt horrible but thought it was sex. I thought to complain about it to a friend would be to say that sex was wrong. So I stayed with my boyfriend and tried, futily, to convince him to ‘not have sex with me unless I wanted it.’

The above story wasn’t helped by the fact that I had not been taught about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. As a child, I was taught that I must always put my own interests and feelings aside and serve other people, and not argue. My body had never been my own – not when my parents coerced me to hug someone (‘to make them feel loved’) or when they’d told me to pull down my pants so that they could give me more spankings, or walked into the room while I was getting dressed, or had to go to a homeschool class when I had a 104 degree fever. So I was unused to being in touch with what my body told me, which made it even harder to recognize the full extent of what was happening to me. When touch felt bad to to me, I didn’t know to name it ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘undesirable’ or ‘repulsion’ or ‘fear’. I described the feelings to my boyfriend. He told me it was arousal and excitement. I didn’t know enough to know that he was wrong.

So, ironically, the teachings that my parents thought would keep me abstinent and make me a ‘good girl’ actually ended up putting me in unwanted sexual situations.

I sometimes wonder if some of the other things I was taught helped make me asexual. Not having a name for my vulva until college except for “pee pee thing’. Being taught that my vulva’s function was only for ejecting pee and babies (I was taught that pregnancy began when a man and a woman stood too close to each other.) Being taught that my ‘pee pee thing’ was very dirty and must never be touched. The close companionship each of my parents had with me instead of each other, called by some psychologists ’emotional incest’. As a young girl, I saw older girls mocked and derided by my parents, friends, and role models for being interested in boys. When I got my period, its function was not explained to me, but my mother cried and wished I wasn’t growing up. As my body began to develop, I was mocked and shamed. My breasts were a shame to me. My periods were a shame to me. Other maturing features of my body were a shame to me. The more I kept them hidden, the less I would be mocked. I never dared to mention a crush I might have on a boy because I could not bear the mockery and shame I knew was due to come.

Did this crazy upbringing ‘make’ me asexual? I don’t know. I do know that there was never a time when I felt sexual attraction, so if it’s due to my upbringing, that upbringing took affect before the time when sexual attraction would have normally developed. I’m still clueless about some things: As I’m writing this, I’m wondering when that time is for other people.