How I Became a Disillusioned Homeschooler: Elisheba’s Story

Image by R.L. Stollar.

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

Content warning: descriptions of self-injury.

I used to be a good homeschooler.

I used to be a good Christian. I used to be a model daughter. Then something happened. I’m not sure what it was, I’m not even sure how it happened.

When I went to college I was determined not to lose myself to “the world”. I didn’t want to be another statistic for why you shouldn’t send your kids to college. I didn’t want to be written off. I was going to defy the odds.

My first full time semester of college was a blast. Learning with other people and having a social life? Hot damn! Sure my 17 year old sister was taking the same classes as I was and would comment on my new found friendship with a fellow homeschooler who happened to be a guy.

Fast forward six months. I am enjoying college as much as ever and even am proud to say I have a boyfriend. Sure I can’t talk about him around my parents, sure hardly any of my friends know about him but I have a guy. Things are slipping. I am becoming one of those people. One of my friends that my mom used as an example to warn me about. One of those girls who I’d have coffee with to try to encourage her to do the right thing. I wasn’t any different.

Then the depression started to hit.

Not only was I not a good daughter anymore, God had turned His back on me, or so I thought. I spent countless nights on the bathroom floor crying and holding a knife to my arm. Pushing it in just enough to leave an impression but never deep enough to actually cut myself. Even in self harm I failed. I didn’t have the guts to do it. Only to tell my boyfriend that I was losing it and that I was going to do it or that I wanted to die. The only relief I could find was being with my boyfriend, which led to more excuses, less time spent on homework and more lies to my parents and more guilt tripping from my boyfriend because I wouldn’t grow a spine and move out, all of this lead to more feelings of being a failure and depression.

Fast forward another six months. I was finding out that my prince charming (it sounded less worldy and in your face than “boyfriend”) wasn’t all that I thought he was, but I had given him my heart which meant I was never going to get that piece back (Boy Meets Girl, anyone?) and could never give anyone my whole heart so logically, I was stuck with him.

I had made my choice and once again I was not going to be another statistic.

My first college relationship would last. I was going to marry him no matter what, even if that meant moving to Texas to live in a trailer with his grandparents and dropping out of school. No price was to high to pay to not be a statistic. So here I was, my relationship with my parents in shambles. God? Yeah. Not really on good terms with Him. Good homeschooler? Not so much. I hated that I had been subjected to that.

The one thing I had was my best friend. She was honest with me, but somehow not harsh. She got through to me. Literally the only reason I did not move to Texas was because of her. To this day I am so thankful for her influence in my life. She saved me from so much pain and ruined dreams. My boyfriend moved to Texas for school. I wrote letters in class instead of taking notes. My grades continued to be mediocre or worse.

Then my parents gave me an ultimatum, him or them.

Some how, even though my relationship with my parents was totally shattered, I chose them. Even now, I’m still not sure why. But I did. Enter major heartbreak, anger, some more lies, and eventually surrender. I still seriously thought we were together, only now we couldn’t talk, okay, don’t become a statistic. We can still make this last. Until the day of all my finals, a mutual friend texted me and told me that my boyfriend had a new girlfriend and that he was a jackass. I got out of my car, stopped crying, threw up, walked in to take my first final and then repeated until all of my finals were over. So there I stood, still not the good, model daughter that I once was. Not a good christian, in fact I really hated God, that day especially. And now to top it off, I was dumped, damaged goods. It did not help that I was crushing really hard on this catholic guy that I knew even though I was sworn to my first guy. It made the depression and the feelings of guilt worse. Not only could I not make a relationship work and I was used and damaged now, I was emotionally cheating on my guy.

Three strikes and you’re out, right? I had them all.

Now I was trying to rebuild myself. Who was I? I was a broken, used, depressed, put in any similar adjective here, person. How should I redeem myself? How could I get my model status back? Fall in love with somebody else? Sure. Enter catholic guy. The perfect gentlemen. The guy who wasn’t afraid of my parents. The guy who my siblings and mom loved. The guy who knew how to handle almost all situations. The guy who treated me like a lady and made me feel like I was valuable and important. The guy who (though he did and doesn’t know it, helped me rebuild myself). Enter the perfect prince charming. No sneaking around this time, except in my head (Leslie Ludy’s books, anyone?). I was having an emotional love affair and giving more of myself away. More guilt, but no lies and no emotional abuse from this guy so not nearly as much depression. I felt loved and cared for and safe. Life was good. Fast forward. Things are good, in my head at least. Ends up he has a girlfriend and has had one for quite a while. Enter sobbing and telling my story to a guy that I don’t really don’t know (he will be one of my best friends eventually).

Again. I’m used and broken. But were we ever actually dating? This drives me nuts. Then the self loathing. Not only was I a sucker for another guy, he was catholic of all things.

Good homeschooled, christian girls don’t fall for catholic boys.

Good homeschooled, christian girls don’t have a chain of boys period. No good homeschooled, christian boy will ever want me now. Hell. God probably doesn’t want me now.

On the other hand I don’t have as many pieces to pick up this time. My grades are good. I have a supportive, loving group of ladies that I study with that are like second moms to me They get that I’m heart broken, they also get that finals are coming up and I have to study. During these study time we talk about everything. Life. Women’s roles. Religion. I learn that there are different types of christians and I like it. Maybe it’s more important to show people that God loves them than to show them where they’re wrong and how confused they are about God. Maybe God could accept the broken, used, messed up me. Maybe He doesn’t care if I’m the perfect homeschooler, daughter, christian girl that I once was. Isn’t that the gospel anyway? He takes something used and broken and renews it? Life isn’t too bad.

I’m still determined to not become a statistic. I will not lose my faith. I will not become too liberal. I will stay conservative. I will believe in courtship. I will follow my parents and obey them. I will not be crazy. I will only attend our church as it is the best and the right way to worship. I will of course homeschool my future children.

Fast forward. I have a best friend who is an atheist. I have another best friend who is struggling with their faith. I have other best friends that are rock solid in their faith. I’m just me. I don’t want to offend anyone. I’m not sure how to defend my beliefs but I think they are true, maybe. Then I start hard core struggling with my faith. What if there really is no God? What if my whole life has been a lie? What if nothing that I told was important, is important? The depression starts creeping it’s way back. I start cutting for real this time.

Now I’m a homeschooler that cuts. That’s not supposed to happen.

I’m a christian who isn’t sure if their God is real. That’s not right.

And I’m a daughter who isn’t telling her parents any of that.

Say goodbye to any chance of getting the daughter of the year award.

Who do I go to? My friend that was struggling and decided for their sanity that they cannot believe in God anymore. They get my problems. I go to my friend who is an atheist. He listens and tries to help. Several months later, I go to my friends who are rock solid in their faith. They still love me and don’t judge.

Fast forward a bit. I’m here. Now. I am tired of trying not be a statistic. Yes. I still hate the idea of it but people are going to make statistics out of whatever they want and as I learned in my research class, they can make those statistics say whatever the hell they want. Who am I to fight it?

Here I am. A homeschooler, christian, not so model daughter who is wondering if living at home is really biblical, if courtship is biblical, if modesty really matters (how is it all the girl’s responsibility?) basically I’m questioning everything I was ever taught was the correct thing to do.

How did I get here? I’m still not sure but it was through slow disillusionment of my life. I’m never going to fit the mold. I can’t. I’m too broken. Does that bother me? Sometimes. Sometimes it really gets to me. Sometimes I still want to die. Sometimes I’m still so depressed I can barely function. Sometimes I still want to cut. But do those things define me? Not really. Does not fitting the mold ruin my life and my plans? No freaking way. It opens up opportunities for me. It allows me an escape.

I’m starting to realize not fitting the mold may be one of the best things that has ever happened to me. The not ideal, disillusioned homeschooler, christian me.

I Guess It Was Love: Andy’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, John Perivolaris.

Content warning: descriptions of self-injury, homophobia.

All of the strong memories I have of my mother include yelling. When I was eight, I was outside watching our bunny, and got distracted. I couldn’t find him. She screamed at me at the top of her lungs. He was fine, just a hop down the street, but I couldn’t forget her voice screaming my name in absolute fury over two pounds of fur.

When I was 14, I began to discover myself. But this led to a lot of bullying.

My real life friends thought I was a “disgusting homosexual.” My “fake” internet friends thought everything I did was for attention. Maybe it was. It’s not like I got any from anyone else.

We left on a trip to Texas, and I remember very clearly that I propped my only mirror up on a rather unstable surface for the week, thinking it would stay. During that week, my codependent best friend and I had a huge fight. I was heartbroken. When we got home, the mirror had fallen. Shards of glass were all over my carpet. I broke. I scrawled “bitch” into my leg in fire and glass and pain. I did it over and over, until it was deep and bleeding and full of glass pieces I dug out for months. A few days later, I realized it wouldn’t heal right. And so I went running to Mom. I guess I’ve always trusted her a bit more than I realized. I don’t know what I thought she would do, I just needed Mommy. I was broken and desperate.

She screamed at me. She screamed questions, why did I do this to myself, what was wrong with me, what kind of person was I. Didn’t I know I was created in God’s image? Why would I ever do that to myself?

All I remember is screaming.

After that, things only got worse. I tried over and over to kill myself, getting more and more frustrated when it didn’t work. Mom and Dad sent me to a therapist to pray the gay away, and a skin specialist to make the scars fade. Not that I really wanted them to.

Then they found out that I had put off my schoolwork for an entire year. Mom screamed at me.

All of the memories after that involve crying. I cried when I came out to some of my homeschool friends, Mom cried when she found out about my girlfriend. Mom cried when she learned that all of my college papers were signed “Andy.” Mom cried when she found out about my testosterone supplements. I guess I started getting better around then. I got my computer back, I started going to college classes, I got away from the “homeschool bubble” that perpetuated the Christianity around me.

Now I’m very comfortable with myself, and about to go off to college. I’m planning to become financially independent and begin HRT alongside my transgender boyfriend.

She’s probably going to scream at me.

I guess she thinks it’s the loving thing to do.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month: Orion’s Story


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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Orion” is a pseudonym. This piece originally ran on May 12, 2014.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  

I think that’s important.  I think we should talk about this stuff.  We spend so much time posting on Facebook about politics and pictures of cats.  The reality, though, is that our political arguments probably won’t change a thing, and we’ll never meet that one cat who got scared by a lizard. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that.

But mental illness isn’t something that happens to “other people”.  It’s something that someone around you is struggling with, has struggled with, or will struggle with in the future — I guarantee it.  I could cite statistics to prove my point.  I could play with numbers, and talk about the percentage of the population that suffers from depression, or anxiety disorders, or schizophrenia.

But I’m not very good with statistics.  One thing I can do is tell stories.  So, with your permission, I’d like to tell you my own story about mental illness.  Now that I’ve got some distance from the worst of my experiences, I feel a responsibility to make those experiences count for something, and this is the best way I know to do that.  I believe stories have power, and my hope is that this particular story can help give you the power to survive your own struggles, or to pass that power along to someone else in need.

(Note: If you’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts and depression, and are easily triggered towards those thoughts again, please slide right on by and don’t read this.  It’s not for you, and I don’t want to cause you those difficulties.)

For several years, I’ve lived with depression.  

The first thing that you need to understand, though, is that “depression” is actually a very general term that describes a lot of different difficulties.  There are as many varieties of “depression” as there are individuals who suffer from it.  My story doesn’t and couldn’t represent everyone else’s.  If you want to understand someone else’s experience, the best thing you can do is go ask them.  That said, the symptoms I dealt with (and deal with) are fairly common, or so I’m told.

It started during my time at college.  First, I lost the ability to be cheerful.  It’s not that I was sad, I just didn’t really feel happy about things, even when I knew that I should.  As time went on, I gradually lost the ability to feel other emotions, both positive and negative.  For a while, I existed in a strange sort of state where I couldn’t feel anything but anger and sadness.  But my life was pretty good, actually, so I didn’t have anything to feel angry or sad about.  I think that at times, I sought out reasons to be angry or sad, just to feel something.  But eventually, even those emotions died away and I felt nothing.

Life without emotion isn’t as great as the mystics and zen masters try to make it sound, y’all.

There were times that my emotional capacity would briefly reawaken.  It was hard and unpredictable.  During those times, people ended up on the receiving end of my undeserved anger for no discernible reason.  I would break down in tears and not fully understand why.  But mostly, I lived in the doldrums of an emotionless, grey mental landscape.

There’s an analogy I use to help people understand this part of my life: Imagine that you’re blind.  Now, there’s two ways that might have happened to you.  Either your eyes were damaged, or your brain was.  If it was your eyes, you’ll still be able to remember what it was like to see.  You’ll have all your visual memories.  You’ll remember your father’s face, or your girlfriend’s smile.

If the blindness resulted from brain damage, however, it’s a different story.  In addition to losing your vision, you’ll lose your visual memories, because your brain has no way of processing that information anymore.  You might still have the information stored somewhere on your hard drive, but you’ve forgotten how to understand it.  Because of this, you won’t be able to see anything — and, quite possibly, you won’t be able to imagine what it was like when you could.

That’s where I was.  Except instead of vision, it was emotions.  My friends would talk about being happy.  Me?  Well, I knew I’d been happy before.  I knew because I remembered telling someone about how happy I was.  But remembering what that felt like?  Imagining what it would be like to be happy again?  Or, even more, imagining that I could be happy again in the future?  Impossible.  The idea of happiness — of any emotion, in fact — just stopped making sense to me, because that part of my brain was dead.

Life was like that for over a year.  Seasons came and went, all in an emotionless haze, punctuated by brief bouts of intense feelings reasserting themselves without warning — sometimes for mere hours at a time.

At the advice of my family, I sought medication, but even that was a crapshoot at times.  I remember the first medication I was put on, I felt better within a week.  Within another week, my depression had flipped to crippling anxiety.  Instead of feeling nothing, I felt everything.  Constantly.  For the first time in my life, I started having panic attacks.  They would strike at the smallest provocation, or no provocation at all.

First, I’d sweat.

Then, I’d have cold flashes running throughout my whole body.  About that time, I’d start feeling my heart beat as though I were staring down the barrel of a gun.

Finally, all at once, my entire body would start to shake as paralyzing nausea washed over me.

And there’s my mind in the middle of it all, not understanding what set me off this time or what I’d done wrong to deserve it.

That was the first medication they put me on.

What followed was a rollercoaster of experimenting with dosages and combinations, all in an effort to fix the broken mess that was me.  Sometimes, it helped.  But quite often, the medication shifts and subsequent withdrawals were just more stress piled on top of it all.

My grades were slipping, most of my friendships were in shambles because I was not a pleasant person to be with, and I was just exquisitely weary of asking myself what the next day held — only to realize that I didn’t even care anymore.  Without going into too much detail, I foiled my own suicide attempt one night, deciding that I’d give life outside college one more try.  I moved home.  I did not finish college.

But moving home didn’t mean those thoughts were gone.  As many who have struggled with suicidal thoughts would tell you, they’re never gone for good.  I got a job.  I woke up every morning, and breathed in and out.  There’s no one thing that saved my life during those days, but there are many things and people who did.

That process continues today, years later.  Every morning, I wake up and pick a reason to live that specific day.  Some mornings are easier than others.  Sometimes my little sister is my reason.  Somewhat less majestically, occasionally I just wake up and want a sandwich from the cafe.  Or maybe I thought of a funny joke and want to tell it to people.  There’s a lot of different reasons, big and small.

And really, I guess that’s part of the point.

At times, I still fall back into the “grey, emotionless doldrums”. It can last for days.

I’m struck with temporary emotional blindness all over again.  I don’t know what triggers these episodes.  Probably nothing in particular.  They pass.  I’ve built a life that works, formed habits that provide safety nets and boundaries for me.  I haven’t done it alone, but I have done it.  And that is more than I would have been able to imagine during the worst times.

I feel like I should end this story with some advice.  “Chin up, you can do it!”  Or maybe something like, “It’s always darkest before the dawn!”  But there were people who told me that stuff back then, and none of it meant a thing, so I won’t subject you to it.  All I can tell you is the reality that I experienced.

The reality is that if you or someone you love is struggling with mental illness, you’ve got a long road ahead of you.  And it’s gonna be difficult.  It might not be a straight road.  Medication might help, or it might not.  You might get “better”, like getting over the flu, but probably not — you’ll more likely just improve by degrees, over time.  You may have to accept that some things can’t be changed, in order to change others.  You might have to live your life carefully, like someone with an acute allergy, monitoring your mental and emotional diet on a daily basis.  It’s probably going to be rough.

And you know what?  That’s OK.  Some of us have different roads than others, and that’s OK.  It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.  If that’s the road you have, just start walking it.  Please don’t stop.  I like you.  Let me know if you need somebody to walk it with you for a while.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I think that’s important. I think we should talk about this stuff.

I Shall Not Live in Vain: Jael’s Story


HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Jael” is a pseudonym. Jael blogs at To Not Live in Vain. This piece originally ran on January 15, 2014.

I began home-schooling after a summer of fraught efforts, on my mother’s part, to find me a pre-kindergarten class. Later, she said she took me to forty different schools trying to determine which program would suit me best; I only remember attending two, for no more than a few weeks at each. My experiences were uncomfortable, which led my mother and father to decide that homeschooling was the best option.

My mother home-schooled me from kindergarten until seventh grade. I had some good friends that I saw at a maximum of once or twice a week, and we did some cooperative schooling with parents providing science and language classes as a group. We drifted from charter school to homeschool group, never staying one place more than a few years.

I didn’t understand it at the time, but I realize now, looking back, that these moves were probably caused by my mother’s unaddressed psychiatric issues. 

I got a first-hand look at these issues when I was about eleven. It was the year that I got my first period, in an awkward stage between adolescence and childhood. My mother started experiencing psychiatric symptoms with increasing severity – I won’t go into detail, but she made me actively fear that our family was in mortal danger for a period of several months. My father was emotionally and physically absent, working all the time, and left me entirely in her custody. My mother made sure that I had no support during this time; she separated me from all my social groups because she believed they were haunted by people who wished to harm us. She separated me from my best friend because her mother told my mother (not incorrectly, in retrospect) that my mother was acting crazy

It got to the point where one day she demanded we pack up a suitcase immediately, and we drove for hours aimlessly, going from one cultish bookstore to another, while my mother wept and my grandmother (who my grandfather had convinced to join us for this expedition, presumably to make sure my mother didn’t kill us) sat stony-faced in the front seat.

My mother threatened alternately to kill us by crashing, then to merely leave the state.

She believed our family was being persecuted, and told me so in many ways for many months, treating me as her only confidante (during the times that my father was not around, at least). When my grandparents found out what was happening, they told me that my mother was sick and not to believe her. We lived for them for a month, while they watched over their borderline daughter.

It took me a long time to finally understand that the things that my mother had predicted had not come to pass, and would not come to pass. And it made me angry, because it was difficult to understand, particularly in a family where mental illness (or sexuality, or anything really important) was never discussed. My mother was my only source of information and learning, and when paranoia struck her, and I began to identify that her fears were unrealistic, I felt betrayed. My anger bred, with periodic fights with my mother, where she ignored my legitimate needs and feelings, instead always refocusing any argument on herself. Eventually, we had a fight that had epic consequences.

I have no idea how it started, but I do remember how it ended:

“Do you want to go to public school?” she threatened me. 

I snarled back, “Yes, maybe I do.” 

She deflated, glaring at me like a wounded tiger who was giving up a fight. “Fine,” she said, and that was that. She took it as a personal slight to her ego, that I might want to be educated elsewhere. She told me I would regret it. At that point, making me go to school was the only weapon she had left that could harm me. I no longer loved her, so she could not emotionally manipulate me in the same old ways anymore.

I was really scared, to enter public school, since it had been painted in such a negative light. Entering public school was a culture shock, but at least it was better than being at home, most of the time. Classes were somewhat miserable, with math and chemistry being the worst, but at least I had music to get me through middle school and high school. I found comfort in the two public school teachers who best supported the conservative, Christian perspective I had from my home-schooling years, teachers who prayed before tests and encouraged me to keep strong despite my travails, encouraging me to look towards college when I wouldn’t have to worry about my parents. Reminding me that at least I had parents.

I confided in these teachers about what happened in my family. I did the same with other authority figures that I began to trust. But I never was referred to counseling, a school social worker, or any other services. I know that if I had, at least I would have had that extra support, someone to help me understand that what happened was not related to me, and to help me cope with the realities I experienced every day.

Every time I began to trust an authority figure, I would cry and cry, and tell them what had happened.

This happened at least four times at three separate summer camps, one of which was connected to my school. These summer camp counselors did not know what to do. My teachers did not know what to do. I think I must have been asked once or twice whether or not I wanted a referral to services, and I would insist, no, I didn’t want services.

But I reached out, and reached out, and reached out, over and over and over again, in so much psychic pain. My mother was psychologically and sometimes physically abusive to me when I went home, threatening me with calling the police for talking back at her, threatening me with a knife if I was angry, threatening to take away my lifeline (the internet) constantly, and threatening to kill herself basically every chance she got. So I would retreat and hide in my room, where I would IM friends on the neighbor’s WIFI connection (thank you so much it basically saved my life) and write gothic stories about self-harming girls and roleplay.

I confided in friends about what had happened. One or two offered me books, and I refused them, scared that if my mother would see that I was reading these books, that I would be punished. I appreciated the confidence of these friends, though at the same time my mother tried to dissuade me from pursuing practically any relationship, criticizing any friend that she met that I seemed to be growing fond of.

People assumed that because I was smart, that I was doing okay, and that my issues were normal teenager stuff. Also, I was not very good at advocating for myself – still am not, by the way – and I didn’t know how to articulate the severity of the issues I was facing. At this point, I’m finishing up a graduate degree at an Ivy-league institution. I don’t want to write more than that for fear that either my mother or someone else will find this and identify me and put me in a compromising position. Even today, people presume based on my appearance – white, middle-class, female – that I was raised by a happy family. It pains me because it’s definitely not my experience.

I have lasting psychological issues that impact my life even now as a young adult in my 20s. I have PTSD, paranoid ideation, suicidal ideation, and depression despite the fact that I am no longer in contact with either of my parents.

It was not so much homeschooling that traumatized me as much as my mother’s mental illness. This was hidden by homeschooling, and the pain that damaged me came from the constant exposure to her psychiatric illness.

I feel like someone roasted me over a fire, leaving me with burns to rest the remainder of my life, and I didn’t even know at the time what fire was.

My early education was a shield that kept everyone from seeing who was doing the roasting, and of what. My father and my grandparents did not advocate to separate me from my mother, instead telling me to suck it up until I went to college.

That was the constant refrain. Wait until you’re in college. Everything will be better then.

Well, the short story is that no, it wasn’t better when I got to college, because I went to college in my home state, a quick drive from my hometown. It’s not been better until I cut off all ties from my family.

I should not have had to be in this position, as a child growing up. I had many, many adult mentors in my life – and none of them helped intervene with my family. It has become my purpose in life to help prevent my story from ever happening again – or at least, if I can stop a few more hearts from breaking, I shall not live in vain.

Hurts Me More Than You: Charis’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.


Charis’s Story

Our physical abuse was defined as love.

I used to think that there was only one thing that was not ideal during my childhood. What I remember as isolated incidents, the times that my mom was not ok with my dad’s behavior. I’m now seeing with different eyes the methods of ‘discipline’ and ‘training’ that my parents used. Realizing that what was abusive, I considered normal.

When it came to “training” or “discipline” there was no doubt my parents believed it was for our ultimate good. That it was an expression of their love for us. They “chastised” us because they wanted to keep our souls out of an “eternal lake of fire.” We were told many things about how this abuse was actually love, and demanded by God:

“I do this because I love you.” “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” “God disciplines those he loves.” “Parents who don’t discipline their children hate them.”

When I was younger, spankings and time alone were the main methods of “discipline” that I remember. It didn’t really matter how old you were. A first time for one of us, I remember my sibling being around maybe eighteen months. My mom and I came home from the grocery store and my younger sibling was very… subdued? Dad said they had had their first training session, or something like that. No idea what, if anything, had been done wrong.

I know there was some statement by dad on how he had done it while my mom was gone because she would have been too soft.

I don’t even know how to describe what they used to strike us with. It was made of something like leather, very thick and smooth, too big to be from a belt.

There was always a pronouncement of how many times we would be hit. “That’s eight!” or the like. My mom had a penchant for counting, like some parents do when they want you to do something “one, two, three…” In our case each count represented another “spanking”. Before you could be punished, or “chastised”, you had to express absolute submission. This meant not crying, removing your pants and underwear, and bending over the bed.

Afterwards you had to hug them, and usually there was a drawn out discussion about what you had done wrong.

I remember being maybe five years old. It was after my dad had spanked me, and I was crying. I didn’t want to touch him, so I was backed up towards the wall away from him, and really didn’t want to hug. He was explaining to me that just like I was backing away from him, my sin separates me from him, and hurts our relationship.

Conditional affection, love defined as chastisement, and the blame laid to me for problems in our relationship.

I distinctly remember a “training” moment when I was a small person, at whatever potty training age was. I remember being given specific instruction to go in the toilet and not my underwear, or else. It seems like mom and dad left me alone to play for awhile, because I remember the moment when they came to my door and discovered I had gone in my pants. It seems like the reasoning was that I was rebellious or lazy, but I couldn’t say.  “Sins of omission” and all that. I was in big trouble, was given a lecture and spanked. I also remember that I was wearing orange.

I have a memory of playing in my room with a doll that cried if you turned it over. I was spanking the doll with the leather instrument my parents used on me and making my doll cry. My parents discovered me and I was in big trouble. To this day I have no idea what was so wrong, I was a child emulating my parents.


There is one term my dad uses to this day that concisely defines the picture of God I was painted.

“God’ll help you with that.”

Seemingly sanguine, it was used as a threat or condemnation. It meant something along the lines of: “If you don’t get your act together God will make your life living hell until you shape up.”

Similarly, if dad said “I can help you with that” it was meant as a threat. Figure out how to obey on your own, or the consequences would be severe.

Around eight I have fewer and fewer memories. The bottom dropped out of life and everything was hard, for all of us. Never got easier after that. From age eight until I moved out life was a constant stress. You never knew when something was going to happen, when someone was going to get hurt. Sundays were the worst because dad was home all day. There was plenty of ‘discipline’. I have no idea what was deserved and what wasn’t.

Something must have happened to the leather thing, because my mom adopted a sturdy wooden spoon. She broke a few of those with use. Dad, I think, used his hand for a bit because I remember his graduation to a board due to the strain on his hand.

I was around ten or eleven years old when dad made a board with a handle and put work into sanding and finishing it. I remember it being 2+ feet long and five or six inches wide. I only have the memory, nothing exact, and of course everything is bigger when you’re a child.

There was a big to-do about the whole thing. Dad talked about a board from his childhood that had holes in it and two separate layers along with a handle. One of those -you’re so lucky I had to walk to school uphill both ways- kind of things. I don’t even know if the story was true.

The existence of this new form of punishment was a big threat. I had no doubt dad would use it on us. At this point I was already afraid of hearing his truck in the driveway. I remember cleaning my section of the room immaculately. The hangers in our closet were so straight that looking at then made me dizzy.

The very first time dad pronounced punishment with the new board it was for me. We were getting groceries as a family. My younger sibling started to walk away to go be with dad. We got in trouble for being between parents alone in the store, so I grabbed my sibling’s sweatshirt and told him to stay. He went to dad and told him what I had done. Dad got in my face and said he was going to punish me with the board. I fell apart right there in the grocery store, absolutely hysterical. My parents herded us out of the store, I was screaming and crying the whole way home. My dad told me to shut up, no more noise on the way home. I couldn’t stop crying. Mom suggested to my sibling that we take the punishment together, split it or something. He would have been around five ears old. To this day I don’t understand why she said that. I don’t remember any more of what happened. It seems like mom and dad started dickering (maybe about her suggestion that I get less) and then dad left angry, for a long time. I don’t know for sure.

I figured out that if something mattered to you, they’d use it to punish you. If you did something wrong, they’d take it away. If you didn’t do something right, they’d tell you that you might have gotten what you wanted back, but now you wouldn’t.

I made it my mission in life to care about absolutely nothing.

If I didn’t want it they couldn’t use it against me. I didn’t care about eating. I didn’t care about spending time with them. I didn’t care about being alone. I had no friends after eleven, so they couldn’t keep me from seeing anyone. One sibling was particularly hard to use the method of removing “privileges” on. I remember my mom saying in exasperation that there was nothing that mattered to him, how was she going to take it away? Removing meals or no food for a day was an oft used punishment.

I remember distinctly the moment when I realized I could never be good enough. It was never going to stop.

I had made dinner for the entire family, cleared up and was just finishing washing every dish. My dad came into the kitchen and screamed at me. I remember dad saying that if I thought that was good enough I was crazy. I don’t remember anything after that.

I figured out there was nothing I could do to protect myself or my siblings. All I wanted was to find a way to prove that we didn’t deserve it. That we had done the right thing. We had obeyed even if dad didn’t think so. I became increasingly depressed and suicidal as I faced the reality that there wasn’t a standard of perfect that christians agreed to. Even if I were capable of perfection, we couldn’t even decide what it was.

The years from early grade school and all through my teens are a blur. I have very few isolated incidents that I remember. Screaming and cursing, unpredictable enough to completely catch you off guard.

My brothers definitely got the worst of the punishments. I don’t know why this is. Maybe they thought boys were sturdier or more rebellious and needed more force to make an impression. Maybe my parents had a harder time breaking their spirit. Maybe because they were younger than me and got the worst of my dad’s anger as his stability waned.

My dad beat my brothers. I have no difficulty calling it a beating. If you hit your child with a board using all your force countless times on a regular basis, that is a beating.

I know there was punishment that I never knew of, and sometimes there were things I heard about later. Dad would go into a room with one of us and I had no idea what happened. Most of the time I would intentionally go outside in the yard so I didn’t have to hear the screaming of my sibling.

Every day it shatters my heart to know that I was there, and there was nothing I could do about any of this. I wanted to do something, I wanted to protect my siblings. But I was helpless. I wished I could take it all for them, find a way to teach them how to avoid all of it, to be good enough. In hindsight I know it was fruitless.

This ‘training’ is not what love is, but I was raised to believe that it was.

I Am a Survivor: Elizabeth W.’s Story, Part Two

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< Part One

Trigger warning: graphic descriptions of physical and verbal abuse.

Part Two

Looking back, I can see that after we moved and no longer had immediate neighbors to hear the screaming when she beat me or my brother, she felt much less restrained and the violence increased in frequency and intensity.

If I was quiet and withdrawn (which was pretty much always) and mom decided my quietness was “rebellious” or “disrespectful”, or if I forgot to say “ma’am” after addressing or answering her she would begin screaming at me, calling me a disrespectful whore/slut/tramp/bitch, while simultaneously slapping me across the face hard enough to knock me down. She began to use bigger and better weapons than her hands and the bristle side of a hairbrush. I was beaten with length of copper pipe, pieces of two by four, a thick wooden yardstick (which broke on me eventually), thrown down stairs, had my wrists twisted until she forced me to my knees, screaming in agony, was dragged around the house by my hair and my head bounced off any and all hard objects. She tried to suffocate me several times, held me down and forced a pillow onto my face with all her weight, while screaming she was going to kill me and she wished I would die. I had my head and face forced under a pouring tub faucet and held there until I thrashed my way out of her grasp.

These things happened at least several times a week, sometimes more than once a day, interspersed with the verbal abuse, and her refusal to address me by name, but rather as “bitch” or “slut’. I was regularly told I was “ugly”, “fat”, “disgusting”, “crazy”, and “stupid”.

For those who think I may have been a “difficult” teenager from 11-16 or so when this pattern really took off – I never raised my voice to my mother, never cursed at her, never had friends over or snuck out, never wore anything other than black, baggy clothes (which is hardly slutty), never disobeyed a direct order, never did an illegal drug, smoked or drank, and only ever argued by politely stating I didn’t want to do something, or I thought she was mistaken. The latter two always resulting in a beating or several, so rarely did I dare say no to anything.

In public, my siblings and I were always perfectly behaved, rarely speaking, never making noise of stepping out of line. Mom only had to give us that angry glare that promised later retribution for us to think twice about doing anything at all. There was no one around who knew us beyond the brief homeschooling afternoons with the LEAH group who could have possibly known that anything was terribly wrong in our house. We were so isolated, there was no one I could have spoken to, even had I found the courage to do so.

We’d been trained to fear the authorities and Child Protective Services and had no friends or family to speak of.

Mom “volunteered” me to go work at St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen once a week to win points with the local Catholic church she dragged us to once in a while. At first I was furious that she had volunteered me without even asking me, but after a while I realized it was a few hours a week out from under her thumb and grew to enjoy it. Mom also signed me up for confirmation classes at the local Catholic church, after she had begun attending workshops run by a fundamentalist Catholic homesteading family who also homeschooled their twelve children.

Mom decided it was time for all of us to get more “spiritual”, and began three times a day “prayer circles” where we would all be forced to sit and read aloud from the Bible and sing hymns that the “Fahey’s” (the Catholic family she was imitating) sang. She instituted a clothing change, head-coverings for the girls (I refused), she began making ankle length dresses for herself and us (I also refused), and only long sleeved button down shirts for the boys. She threw out our shorts and t-shirts, started getting rid of her college feminist lit, and any and all of our books she found too “worldly”. Mom sold the computer my grandparents had bought for us, got rid of our tiny video and cd collection, and began instituting even stricter rules for us to follow. So during these changes I attended confirmation classes at the local church, which I despised and between the forced Bible study there and the forced Bible study at home quickly grew to despise Christianity and the confining, narrow-minded tenets the Bible espouses. I never spoke my thoughts aloud, but my mother could tell from my face when I wasn’t agreeing or complaisant enough and my face invariably led to new beatings and verbal abuse.

Mom began to use the Bible as an additional weapon, quoting the “Thy shall honor thy father and mother”, and telling me that God said I must be obedient and respectful to her. (Even though I was always obedient and never voiced any disrespect.) This just furthered my disgust for the Bible, although I now see that, like homeschooling it was simply being used by my mother to her ends, not necessarily bad unto itself.

I was falling deeper and deeper into a depression that seemed like it was swallowing me whole. I started sleeping really late every day, shuffling through my duties with my head down and my mouth shut. I began snapping at my siblings when mom wasn’t looking, I had no patience for their demands for my attention or their quarrels. My brothers began fighting viciously with each other, first when mom was out, later even when she was home, resulting in beatings for them as well as me. I knew my mother hated me, I didn’t know why.

I tried so hard, for so long, to be what she wanted me to be, obedient, respectful, responsible, but never seemed to find her approval or even a respite from her rage.

I am, at my core, fundamentally an honest person, having no talent for acting, for pretending to be happy when I am not. This was my downfall. If I had only been a better actress, perhaps I could have fooled her into thinking I was, in fact, what she wanted me to be, rather than merely doing whatever I was told with my face betraying my misery and despair.

I tried to kill myself twice.

Once, at summer camp, I stepped in front of an oncoming semi truck with a feeling of exultant freedom and calm. A boy who liked me happened to be standing nearby and turned around and yanked me out of the road as the truck went by. The second time, my brother Alexander and I were coming home from the paper route and I decided the easiest way to end my misery would be to poison myself. I picked a handful of deadly nightshade berries and was about to throw them down my throat when my brother jumped up and slapped them out of my hands and started screaming and crying hysterically.

I felt sad, resigned, and guilty for terrifying him so, and didn’t try to kill myself again.

1997, was the last year of my paper route as mom decided it was allowing me too much freedom and she wasn’t making enough money off of it/me to be worth the trouble, so she called my boss and “quit” for me. I was devastated by this, as it was among my last outlets for momentary respite from the hell that was my home.

The following year I got my first real job, washing dishes at a local pizzeria for minimum wage. I was ecstatic at being able to get out of the house a few evenings a week and being allowed to save a little money to buy a puppy for my sixteenth birthday. After about six months, my mother called and told my employer that I could no longer work there because I was sleeping with a married 30 year old man who was a coworker there. All this because I had spoken to him on the phone (about a dog) while she was listening in, and she said she could tell we were having sex by the tone of his voice. Really. There was no other evidence for her accusation, that was it. Mom convinced herself that this was true even though both he and I told her she was mistaken and crazy. She then beat me, off and on, for the next two days for this delusional belief until I could stand it no longer.

I packed my things and lived on the streets of Buffalo for next three weeks.

I camped out in the basement of an abandoned apartment building, slept in a refrigerator box when I could, and mostly just tried to process what on earth to do next. Going home was not an option, if I stayed another minute I knew I would kill myself, I felt as if I was being slowly crushed by my life and there was only a spark of life and spirit left. After a few weeks, I found a runaway shelter who helped me track down my biological father who came and got me.

My mother’s insults and degradations became ever more creative and hateful, designed to wound. They did. To this day, simply recalling these things makes me shake uncontrollably and I do not believe that my littlest sisters should have to wait until things get as bad as they were when I was driven to the streets before someone should step in. I have only waited this long because I had hoped that mom had changed her behavior as she claims, and because she is still my mother and I was, (and still am) hesitant to speak the truth and have her never speak to me again.

Contrary to what I’ve been told by DCS when I made a statement regarding my two sisters still trapped there, physical abuse is not the only threat to a child at home. Emotional and verbal abuse leave damage far deeper, with myriad consequences to a child. Emotionally fragile, sensitive teenage girls do not need to have what little self confidence and self respect they have destroyed by the one person in the world who is supposed to support them, believe in them, and give them strength to take on the struggles of life. My mother does not, and never has provided any of those things.

On the contrary, her words tore me down to the ground and I have spent half my adult life rebuilding my self image and confidence solely because of the things she said every day of my childhood.

End of series.

Former Employee of David and Teresa Moon at Communicators for Christ Alleges Workplace Abuse, Harassment

Susan Young
Susan Young

HA note: The following story is written by Susan Young, the Communicators for Christ Executive Assistant from Summer 2005 until Spring 2007. While HA took care to verify the claims contained herein, it must be noted for potential legal reasons that the claims are the author’s and not HA’s.


We’d hit the bottom.

I thought it was my fault

And in a way I guess it was.

I’m just now finding out

What it was all about.

Those words from Ben Folds have rung true in multiple relationships in my life and none of them were healthy. The situation described, though, should never develop in your place of work. I realize now that there are things like labor laws and I know phrases like “hostile work environment.” At the time, I was naïve and far too old at the age of 23 to be so unaware of my own rights.

My rights weren’t exactly a big part of what I had been taught.

I was a good homeschooled girl. I had graduated with great test scores and had decided that college was completely unnecessary for my future. My plan for my life saw me at home with my parents until I would meet and marry a good, preferably homeschooled man. While all of this could bring up many other topics, suffice it to say that in many ways, I fit the profile of the community.

My younger brother had become something of an early rising star in the home school speech and debate community – an activity I had never participated in. Being eight years older, I had long since graduated and was working as a piano teacher. My family, however, was growing personally closer and closer to the Moon family and they were meeting up outside of Communicators for Christ conferences. Eventually, I was invited to attend a get together as well. It wasn’t long afterward that I was offered a part time job updating the CFC database and I accepted.

For the next few months, I was a strange, creepy person who called up random strangers from a spreadsheet asking them to verify and update all of their information for us including all of their children’s names and birthdays. It struck me as at least as weird and frightening as it did the people I was calling, but I was sold on CFC as a whole and would have done pretty much anything Teresa Moon told me to do. My parents believed in it, and therefore so did I.

I became more and more involved in the workings of CFC. Eventually, I gave up teaching piano, devoting more and more time. It was good timing for Teresa as her current administrative assistant was leaving for a new job opportunity. The role would soon fall to me.

The earliest clue I could look back on and recognize that should have told me something was badly wrong with my job was when the former administrative assistant was leaving. She took me aside, looked me right in the eye to make sure she had my full attention and said, “Guard your time.” I promised her I would, not really taking the warning very seriously.

Teresa told me that they wanted me to be an independent contractor, not an employee. She explained to me that we would both save money this way since my taxes wouldn’t be withheld.  Even though I read the requirements from the IRS that made it clear my type of position wasn’t eligible for independent contractor status I believed her and was sure she wouldn’t do anything illegal, so I went along with it.

After all, why would she lie to me?

My second clue that this was all wrong bounced off my optimistic skull almost as easily as the first one. While going through customer emails, one came in that I didn’t know how to respond to. It was a warning directed to anyone involved with Communicators for Christ to stay away. The author of the email told whoever might possibly read her note before it was deleted that anyone who gets too involved or gets too close to the Moons ends up deeply hurt. I sent it on to Teresa not knowing what else to do. She told me to delete it and treated it like it was just something to be ignored from someone who was very bitter. Even then, I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to trigger such a dire warning.

Soon, my work load exploded. My days were a mushroom cloud of maintaining spreadsheets of all conference registrations for the entire tour, answering all phone calls and emails except a few directed specifically to Teresa, packing and shipping all of the orders for the online book store, running every credit card by typing the number manually into a terminal since we had no online shopping cart system, retrieving the mail from the company box, going over each bill with David Moon, taking care of payments for all bills, both business and personal, maintaining the records of all things financial in QuickBooks, and occasional random errands like picking up printing orders and dry cleaning.

At first I could manage it, but as tour season came closer and then launched, leaving me to manage alone in the office for months on end, it became more than one person could handle. After arriving at the office at 9 in the morning, I would get just barely caught up enough on my work to rush the day’s book order out of the door to the UPS store barely in time for pick up mid afternoon and grab lunch at a drive through on the way back to be consumed while sitting at the computer futilely attempting to catch up again. At 9 pm, I would trudge out of the office after the credit card terminal automatically closed the day’s batch to drive home, stopping at another drive through on the way.  This would happen Monday through Saturday and I would sometimes slip in a few hours on Sunday.

David once laughingly told me it was a good thing I was on a salary because they couldn’t afford me otherwise.

Meanwhile, my mother and Teresa became closer and closer friends. They met up often and soon it became apparent that nothing was off limits in their discussions. Not my job performance, and not my personal struggles with my family. I don’t believe my mother was intentionally trying to cause problems at work, but in hindsight I’ve been given every reason to believe that Teresa stores up this type of information to use and get what she wants.

Those home issues could be a whole other series of articles, but for now, all that’s relevant is that living at home at the age of 23 was not going well. My battle with depression, which had already been off and on for nearly a decade, was a constant in my life at this point. Still, I was trying desperately hard to be the good girl and earn approval. That approval at home now seemed inseparably tied to my performance at work.

Several weeks into my 70+ hour per week work schedule is when it all spiraled into addiction. Due to a strange food allergy, I can get ridiculously high on a fairly common ingredient: artificial food coloring. Later after meeting people who were quite familiar with drugs, I described the symptoms and they told me it was exactly like crack. Obtaining it was as easy as my usual runs to the drive through on the way home. Taco Bell provided my dinner and my fix in the form of a burrito and a large pink lemonade that I would sneak up to my room frequently so I wouldn’t have to interact with anyone while under its influence.

Eventually, it became clear to Teresa that I wasn’t keeping up, so in response she turned up the pressure on me and began calling frequently from the road to check on what I was doing, obviously convinced I wasn’t doing anything. I would also receive phone calls from David who would berate me and scream at me because in my struggle to keep everything on track for the business, I would drop balls like one of their personal bills. I knew it was all going to hit the fan after tour. Before they came back, I took a vacation they approved during which I still checked in on phone messages, returned calls, answered emails, and shipped book orders. I had literally brought books with me so I could fill orders.

After they returned, it was like I had feared. I had not lived up to their expectations. I was a failure. They wanted to know what went wrong. Why had I taken that vacation when there was so much work? I hadn’t done the work they were paying me for. I wasn’t worth my $18,000 per year salary.

I couldn’t do it any more.

I got up, dressed, and got in the car as though to go to work at my usual time, pulled out of the driveway, and went in what appeared to be the right direction. At a crucial intersection, I took the opposite turn driving away from the CFC office. Without really remembering much about the trip there, I was sitting in the back of the Walmart parking lot fighting to get control of my frantic breathing. I had a plan.

It would be easy enough to walk in, buy a knife from either sporting goods or kitchen supplies, take it back to my car, and end my life at the back of the parking lot.

As a last ditch effort, I called a number my therapist had given me where they’re supposed to talk you out of killing yourself. They tried to get me to a hospital, but I couldn’t get there from their directions. I wasn’t incredibly motivated to find it considering my worst fear was and still is a hospital psychiatric ward. They talked me into calling a family member and said they were going to call back and check on me. They didn’t. I called my dad who convinced me to come home. Turns out that Teresa had already called them wondering where I was. I got home. No one said much. My parents sent me to bed.

Later that day, Teresa showed up at my house. My parents left me alone with her to talk. I remember she asked a lot of questions. She wanted to know why I had done what I did. I don’t remember what all I told her, but I do know she learned about my depression and ADHD. She acted like that explained a lot about me. What I didn’t realize was that she was collecting ammunition.

She liked to push me

And talk me back down

Until I believed I was the crazy one.

And in a way, I guess I was.

 The following weeks, I was back at work, only now they knew. Under the guise of concern, Teresa monitored me, checking on what I was doing, and scrutinizing everything I ate. While she didn’t know about my allergy, I never brought colored food to work, so there was nothing to see there. She was convinced that something I ate had to be triggering my depression and my work failures. Somehow, the culprit was erroneously identified as carbohydrates and I began ordering grilled chicken salads every day to avoid her judgment on my lunch.

Eventually, I even switched to a therapist she recommended.

Teresa told me she was glad I wasn’t seeing my old therapist any more because “Every time you saw her you came back talking about your rights.”

Her opinions extended to the medications I tried and she didn’t hide her disappointment after I stopped a particular one due to its horrible side effects.

The annual Masters conference was where it all finally went to pieces. One of my jobs had been to drive some of the volunteer staff assistants from their host home to the conference and back every day. My driving style was a lot more cautious than it was aggressive, so I became the butt of their constant jokes and taunting about my driving skills every day morning and night. Eventually, it took its toll and an intern found me in a bathroom crying and asked what was wrong, so I told her. Maybe that was a mistake, but later that day I was called in front of a very angry Teresa after the story had made its way through the rumor mill up to her. All of these volunteers were hoping to become interns in the future and she had her eye on several of them for the position. If what I had said were true, it would disqualify all of them from interning, including my own brother, since people now knew about their disrespect. That is, unless I changed my story and made a point of telling anyone who asked about it that I had overreacted and they weren’t really teasing me so much.

Caving to the pressure, I made myself out to be the crazy one. I think the only people who didn’t really believe my modified story was the intern who had found me in tears and a select few of the kids I had been driving who knew what they did and realized how close they had come to losing their internships.

As if that weren’t enough, a flu epidemic swept through nearly all of the attendees and I was not spared.  Despite the fact that I couldn’t stand without shaking, Teresa made no effort to hide her irritation at finding that I had involuntarily fallen asleep on a sofa in the staff room. The next day, I had to excuse myself from driving students for their own safety after collapsing on the floor.

And I twisted it wrong just to make it right.

Had to leave myself behind.

The week after the conference, Teresa sat me down across from her and grilled me about what went wrong. She said I had done a better job the year before when I hadn’t known what I was doing yet. I was also berated about the work that had fallen behind in recent months. In my effort not to miss bills and keep everything up to date for conferences, bookkeeping had suffered. There were implications that it traced back to my mental health and that I wasn’t fit for the job. I believed her. I was damaged and worthless. That’s when she told me, “You haven’t done the job we’ve been paying you to do. How are you going to make that up to me?” The same shaking, desperate girl that had sat in her car in the back of the Walmart parking lot fought for some form of redemption.

Teresa was finally satisfied when I told her that I would give back my paychecks for January, which I had not yet deposited, and I would work through February for free.

After that, I would resign. Teresa added the caveat that working through February would be enough if the work was caught up by that time. Once again, my lack of knowledge regarding labor laws and her experience with how to manipulate me allowed her to take advantage.

Over the next month and a half through the end of February, the slow season allowed me to catch up on the bookkeeping and prepare to leave the world that my family revolved around more each day. My mother came to the office frequently as she prepared to spearhead the new chapter program. My brother readied himself for his internship the following tour season.

I left the office for what I thought would be the last time at the end of February. I was called back again in March to train my replacement – for no pay of course. Tax season came around and Teresa’s deception about my “savings” as an independent contractor came to light and I was left with almost nothing not long before I would have to strike out on my own and support myself.

My home situation was crumbling as everyone but me, the now unemployed oldest child, practically orbited around the Moon family. To be clear, I don’t think that Teresa or CFC was the cause of our problems. But I don’t hesitate to say that our involvement accelerated the self destruct course we had already been travelling for years.

It wasn’t until much later that I fully “opened my eyes and walked out the door” of that world. Yes, I could have sued CFC and had I realized it before the statute of limitations was up, I probably would have. Looking back is a painful, nauseating experience.

The worst part is reading the stories of others who have been abused by Teresa and realizing that my work facilitated her behavior.

I ask myself how much longer it’s going to go on before someone still in a position to bring them to justice and hopefully put a stop to it will speak out. I’m not the only one who has been pushed to the point of harming themselves. How long do we have before someone is driven to another suicide attempt? What if it’s successful?

I’ve just passed the 7 year anniversary of when I resigned my position with CFC. Despite everything I’m sure Teresa still believes about me, I’m proven myself responsible and capable many times, which has lead to success in my career. Since then, I’ve learned some crucial things that would have drastically changed my experiences:

  • Employers do not have the right to force, encourage, or even allow staff to work for free.
  • Employers do not have the right to be privy to the details of their staff’s medical conditions. There are a few exceptions where it might affect their job or cause them to miss work, in which case they may require a doctor’s note. Situations in which an employer can require a doctor’s note vary by state.
  • Employers have no say over the medical care of their staff. That is entirely up to the patient.
  • If there is ever any question about whether an employer’s behavior is acceptable and you live in the US, each state has a department of labor that can clarify the law for the state you live in. There is also the National Labor Relations board, which covers different rights and has several offices throughout the US. There is a section on that explains the particular rights they protect.
  • I have the right to report any illegal activity by my employer to the appropriate government office without fear of retribution.
  • Any therapist worth their fee will tell a patient to quit a job that is making them suicidal, even if it means living on unemployment for a while.

If I had known half of this, maybe I wouldn’t have taken the job. Perhaps I would have left sooner.

Maybe someone will learn from my mistakes and not allow their boss to take advantage of them.

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.

How Purity Culture Kept Me Silent About My Sexual Abuse as a Child: Dinah’s Story

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

Trigger warning: discussion of child sexual abuse.

I’m going to be honest—growing up in the Christian homeschooling world is hard.

People in the community that I grew up in were picture perfect families, with all their perfect children all in a perfect row, making perfect grades, milling their own wheat and making their own bread.  They were highly esteemed Christians who (of course) have a home church and serve their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. These people sound like they’d be lovely to be around, however, that was not the vibe I got at all. There is a heavy feeling that comes with being around those families—judgment:

You don’t mill your own wheat? Shame on you! Don’t you know store bought bread has chemicals? You don’t pastor your own church? Shame on you! Don’t you know about all the horrible mistakes large churches make? You don’t use the same curriculum as me? Shame on you! Don’t you know that you’re going to be dumb? 

Every homeschooler I talk to tends to make me feel self conscious and guilty for not being the same as them. But there’s one thing that I can not stand. You don’t have a purity ring? Shame on you! Don’t you know that you are dirty if you even think of having sex or kissing before your wedding day?!

You. Are. Dirty.

This is the message I got every single time I listened to anyone who spoke on purity. That’s what I was being told every time I went to a “purity seminar” or read a book on purity. People were going around telling girls that “God doesn’t want you having sex before you’re married. It’s a horrible sin, and if you do it, you won’t be pure anymore. You won’t have a gift to give your husband on your wedding. You’ll be used goods.”

I didn’t want people to think I was dirty—so that’s why I didn’t speak about my sexual abuse for 7 years after it stopped.

I didn’t tell anyone. I put on a façade. I am a quick learner, and always have been. I learned all the answers. I knew all the Christian responses to many situations, I knew what purity was and what was required of girls who wore a purity ring. So that’s what I fed anyone who wanted to talk. I put on this mask. I pretended that I had never had a sexual encounter, that I was oblivious to sexual desires, that I would never kiss a boy until my wedding day. Every time I lied, or just fed people answers, I was digging a deeper, and deeper hole for myself. That hole is what became a dark depression.

Every girl struggles during puberty. It’s exciting, but often times it’s hard to accept your new curves and all the changes that are taking place. You notice that boys look at you differently. You hear about purity, and how you should dress modestly so that men and boys don’t think about you in a sexual way. That’s what made puberty a living hell for me—a living hell that I could tell no one about.

“You must dress modestly so boys don’t think sexual things about you” translated to “Your new body is going to attract more men and boys, and if you mess up or dress wrong they’re just waiting to rape you.” There’s no way in hell that I wanted to attract anyone. I didn’t want these curves. I didn’t want to look like a woman. I didn’t want to enter this world of boys and sex and marriage because of what I had experienced for 5 years. When I was 4 years old a family member molested me and sexually abused me– forcing me to do things, and forcing himself on me. This went on until I was 9 years old.

By the time the abuse had ended, I knew much more than any 9 year old should know about sex. I knew so much, but I also knew that if I told anyone, I’d be in a lot of trouble. My abuser made me believe that what he was doing was okay, but if I told anyone he would hurt me. Because I was only 4, he was able to scare me so badly that I didn’t realize that what he was doing was wrong. I listened to him and kept quiet.

Well, when puberty hit me when I was 11, I was introduced to the concept of purity. This scared me because I knew that I had already had sex, and already kissed, and already did everything that I was being told not to do. That’s when the depression set in. I was so depressed that I became suicidal, started cutting and started struggling with an eating disorder. I didn’t want to be attractive. I didn’t want attention from boys. I was afraid that my abuse was going to happen all over again. I didn’t want anyone to find out about my abuse.  I just wanted to get away from this guilt and shame. This feeling that I was used goods, and that I’d never find a man who will love me.  I wanted to die because that was the only way to escape the pain.

Never ever make purity such a priority that it makes a girl want to commit suicide.

Looking back, I know that if someone had said that sex is a wonderful thing that is supposed to be enjoyed, I would have told someone about my sexual abuse a lot sooner. If I knew that sex was good, I would have known that what was happening to me was wrong. It was not good, it was not enjoyable. Because people were telling me that sex wasn’t good, that I would be dirty if I had sex, I didn’t tell anyone because I was full of shame. I didn’t want to be the girl with a scarlet letter. I didn’t want to be dirty. So I didn’t tell.

I’m still coming to terms with my abuse. I still struggle. But I no longer hold myself to the standard of purity. I’m not going to wear a purity ring, because that doesn’t mean anything to me. I am going to obey my heavenly Father and I’m going to honor Him with my body. That’s really all that matters.

I want people in Christian homeschool circles to talk about sex in a positive way. I want parents telling their kids that sex is amazing and enjoyable, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. I want people to stop shaming girl’s bodies, or boy’s sexual desires. I want people to be careful about what they talk about when they talk about purity. Talk about sex in a way that is positive, because if someone is being abused they’ll know that something is wrong with what is being done to them! Never ever tell someone that they’re dirty. Never encourage the shame that is already abundant.

I’m not “pure” by society’s standards, but I’m pure by God’s standards. That’s all that matters.

None Dare Call It Education: Anna’s Story

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Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.


Hello, my name is Anna.

Like many who write stories for Homeschoolers Anonymous I grew up in a legalistic, controlling, and abusive homeschooling Christian household. When I saw that Homeschoolers Anonymous would be posting a series on sex education I knew I had to write something. My story may be appalling to some, but to others I know it will sound all too familiar. I hope that my story will give you insight and encouragement, and I thank you for taking the time to read it.

My sexual education was completely nonexistent.

I remember that there was a book on one of the living-room bookshelves entitled “Preparing For Adolescence.” I don’t know if the book was intended to prepare parents or children, but neither my parents nor I ever read that book. At 11 and 12 years of age I had long since learned to be ashamed and scared of my body; the lectures on modesty and roles of women had made sure of that.

When my body started changing I didn’t know what was going on, but I stayed silent. My parents were not people I could go to with my fears and questions. My period started without me ever having heard the word before. I had no clue what was happening, and it was probably the most horrifying experience of my life. Again, freaked out as I was, I didn’t tell a soul. My mom noticed the blood when doing laundry weeks later, and she had the only “talk” she ever had with me. Her little discourse included only what do about the “problem” and nothing else.

I got the message: another female attribute to be hidden and feared.

Because my mom seemed oblivious to my needs, my older sister gave me her old bra and bought me my first razor and deodorant, and even these items I felt the need to hide. I was always too scared and shy to ask my mom to buy me anything of an intimate nature. I would use the same razor and wear the same bra for years at a time. My fears were somewhat justified; I remember the time that my mom found a receipt for tampons in my purse and asked me severely if I had bought some. I panicked, lied, and said that I had accidentally picked up someone else’s receipt.

Mom let me know that tampons were strictly off limits.

Throughout my teenage years I gained knowledge about sex years by various covert means. I looked up words in dictionaries and read the books about pregnancy that I found on our bookshelves. I found some answers on the internet when I was able to use it without my mom monitoring me, but I always felt like I was doing something wrong. It wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I went on a research binge and learned the complete picture, including things I should have known much earlier, like the names for my own anatomy.

Though my parents never talked about sex directly, I picked up on their attitudes and beliefs, and sexual thoughts and questions were always accompanied by fear and shame. We were told to save our first our first kiss for our wedding day, that women should never make men “stumble” (I never even knew what that meant, hell, I still don’t know what it means), that dating was giving your heart away to strangers, that to Your Future Husband the most valuable thing about you was your virginity and your pure heart. A fear that consumed my life for years was how I would explain to My Future Husband that I masturbated (at the time I didn’t know the word). I knew he wouldn’t want me, and that it would always be my biggest secret.

I felt I wasn’t a virgin, I was sullied.

I was strange, surely no one else did this. Above all, I was letting God down. I began to lose my faith, because I knew I couldn’t think these thoughts and feel these feelings and still be a Christian. Almost the entirety of my teenage years was spent severely depressed and suicidal, and the overwhelming shame attached to my sexuality certainly contributed.

My mom once told me that when a woman looks at a person, she first looks at their face, but when a man looks at a person, he first looks at their crotch.

Hence, the need for women to wear skirts, (can’t let those men “stumble”). This lovely piece of wisdom made me feel even dirtier, because I began to realize how much I was noticing other people’s bodies. When I saw a person, my eyes would travel up and down their body and linger on their butt and (if a girl) her boobs.

I was clearly some sort of freak, only men were supposed to be this way.

Good grief, was I “stumbling?” I hated the girls I saw walking down the sidewalk in tight jeans. How could they flaunt themselves this way? And how could I help but stare? Deep down though, I envied them. When I was around 15 or 16 I was noticing women’s bodies more and more, and women began to enter my fantasies. In a year or two I was thinking about women in a sexual context just as much as I was thinking about men.

I now had another secret to keep, and this one was absolutely damning.

I heard the sermons and speeches; I read the blogs and articles; I listened to the conversations happening around me. Christians hated gay people. God hated gay people. I knew I could never admit my attraction to women and still be accepted by literally anyone I knew. It hurt me every time someone would talk about gay people as if they were evil beings bent on destroying everything good in America. They were a problem that needed to be fixed, and they were certainly not welcome in a church. I felt better because I knew I wasn’t completely gay; I was still attracted to boys. But then what was I? Where did I fit? Would I always be an outcast?

Today as I have left homeschooling physically as well as mentally, I finally have the freedom to discover and embrace the person that I am.

For the first time I am perfectly happy and confident in my sexuality. I am attracted to the entire range of sexes and gender expressions; masculine men and feminine men, femme women and butch women, androgynous and genderqueer men and women, and everything in between. Would I take a magic pill that could make me be attracted to only masculine men, one color in a whole rainbow? Fuck no! I love my orientation.

I don’t know if I believe in God, but if there is a God who made me, he made me the way I am and he doesn’t have a problem with it.

I have yet to tell my parents or anyone in my old homeschool circles about my more fluid sexuality. It’s really none of their business. But I feel the desire to throw it in their faces. I want to say, “Look at me! A real live non-straight person. Tell me to my face that I’m going to hell. Tell me that I am destroying the moral fabric of America. Fight to keep me from having the right to marry a woman if I wish. Shove a Bible in my face and lecture me about the morality of who I am. Give me pat answers and tell me to pray more. I’m a person, right in front of you, not an ideology or an obscure Bible verse. Do you want to cut all ties to me and keep me away from your children? Am I any different now than you always thought I was?”

But I know I can’t look back; I have to look forward. I can’t worry about how my old acquaintances might view me; I have to focus on making new friends. Vibrant, fun-loving, intelligent, creative, accepting and open people, like me.

As for what I wish to say to my mother, the cause of my thoroughly shitty childhood, “You told me what it meant to be a woman. You were dead wrong. You told me what my future would be. You were wrong. You told me what was right and how to please God. You were wrong. You told me who I had to be. You were wrong. You were wrong to deny me an education; never giving me basic information about my body and sex caused me a lot of pain for many years. You created an absolute hell and kept me prisoner there, but I have come out beautiful and strong. I am now one of those “femi-nazis’ that you spoke about with such derision. I will forever be exactly who I want to be and love who I want to love.

“I no longer follow any of your rules or subscribe to any of your ideologies, and I have never been happier.”

My sister has also written about her sexual education experience; the link to her story is here