I Fight These Demons So I Can Explain The Scars: Shiphrah’s Story, Part Two

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HA Editorial note: The author’s name had originally been changed to ensure anonymity. “Shiphrah” was a pseudonym. I am editing this today because I am ready to say that Shiphrah is me. I wrote this and asked that it was posted anonymously because I had only begun to explore the depths of my memories and my pain at that time and I needed an outlet to work through it. I no longer feel the need for anonymity, no longer am I afraid to claim the darkest parts of my story. I am Darcy, and this is my story and my pain and my healing. ~Darcy Anne, HA Editorial Team 

Part One

Part Two

I grew up thinking I was unworthy.

Unworthy of love, nice things, friends, God’s favor. I strove to be the kind of person who would be worthy of these things, but always fell short. I did everything I could to look the part on the outside: I dressed modestly and acted like a godly young lady and played the part as best I could.

“Fake it til you make it,” my Mom liked to say to me.

My journals of that time are so filled with anguish and desire to be accepted and to be good. I can barely read them. I want to go back there and hug that girl and tell her that she WAS worthy, she WAS good, she was enough. But I can’t. I can’t go back there and comfort that girl with the broken heart that was broken by the ones who were supposed to protect it. I am left with the woman she has become. The woman who has had to teach herself how to be loved and how to accept worthiness and how to see herself and the world through different eyes.

When a boy fell in love with me, and I with him, they all did their best to convince him that I was a terrible, selfish person and he would be sorry if he married me. That they knew me better and I was just putting on an act to impress him. He was skeptical, but thought maybe they really did know better. So he watched me, befriended me, and realized I was every bit the person he thought I was and my mom and sister were crazy.

I coudn’t understand why he would persist in loving a person like me, but he did and it was such a wonderful feeling.

I was so afraid he would find out who I really was and would run far away. But that didn’t happen. We fought for our relationship against my parent’s wishes and we married very young and very in love. Not too long after we were married, we were talking and I said “Well, I am a selfish person”. He looked at me in surprise and said, “Why do you say that?” It was my turn to look at him in confusion and say, “Well, my mom and sister always told me I was selfish and I struggled my whole life to not be, but I guess it’s just who I am and I thought you knew that.” He took my face in his hands, looked right into my eyes, and said, “You are the most selfLESS person I have ever met. Never let anyone convince you otherwise. You can’t fool me. I know who you are. They don’t know who you are.”

I cried that day, at 20 years old, for the first time thinking that maybe I wasn’t the person my family had tried to convince me I was, that my religion tried to convince me I was, that I needed to hide and pretend not to be so people would love me. Maybe I really was loveable and the fact this man had married me wasn’t because I had fooled him into it. But it would be 5 more long years before I was able to clearly see how dysfunctional my past was, the part that fundamentalist religion and homeschool culture played, and began to heal and figure out who I was really and to fight for myself. It would be 10 more long years before I was able to put a label on the treatment I received from them.

Emotional Abuse. The systematic diminishment of another person….their worth, their dignity, their character.

“Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidating, or under the guise of ‘guidance,’ ‘teaching,’ or ‘advice,’ the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting than physical ones.” (University of Illinois, Counseling Center)

Spiritual Abuse. The use of religion and spirituality to control, manipulate, coerce, dominate, and beat down. To control behavior and thoughts by religion.

“Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own.”   (Jeff VanVonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse)

I can’t tell you what came first: the dysfunction or the religion.

But they worked together to create a complete brain-washing and erasing of my self-worth and self-concept. Our religion taught that self-esteem was really pride and God hates a prideful heart. We were not to think highly of ourselves but to remember that we were nothing without God and probably nothing even with His help. To be told that I was a selfish, horrible person but that they loved me anyway “because you’re our daughter/sister” is no different than this view of God that makes us all worms who are only worthy of anything because God created us and therefore must love us. Turning the idea of a “relationship with God” into an abusive relationship between a narcissist and a victim. A manipulative power-play. Is it any wonder that “God’s people” turn out abusive when they see Him as such?

If I try to say any of this to my family, to recount my experiences and feelings, I am told I’m overreacting, too sensitive, too emotional, that these things never happened or “didn’t happen like that”. I’m told that even if they did happen, I should forgive and move on because family is the most important thing in life and I’ll regret making a fuss over the past. That I was raised in a good home and was loved and am ungrateful. I am denied, belittled, and word has spread that I’m a crazy, unstable person who has a chip on my shoulder and is trying to tear apart our happy family. But I am done accepting their definition of who I am, their portrayal of my identity.

I am not who they think I am. I am so much more.

I am worthy of love. I am a good person. I am a human being, wife, mother, and friend. I love unconditionally and fiercely. I fight for the people I love and for people I don’t even know because I desperately want them to know that they are worth it. I fight my own demons to give my children a healthy mother and so I can explain the scars to them someday and they can know that I valued them by valuing myself —

— That I fought for them by fighting for myself. That I broke the cycle.

“Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life-choices: learn to self-reference or remain a victim. When your self-concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers.

It’s time to stop playing that role, time to write your own script. Victims of emotional abuse carry the cure in their own hearts and souls. Salvation means learning self-respect, earning the respect of others and making that respect the absolutely irreducible minimum requirement for all intimate relationships. For the emotionally abused child, healing does come down to “forgiveness”—forgiveness of yourself.”

~Andrew Vachss, taken from this excellent website: The Invisible Scar.

I Fight These Demons So I Can Explain The Scars: Shiphrah’s Story, Part One

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HA Editorial note: The author’s name had originally been changed to ensure anonymity. “Shiphrah” was a pseudonym. I am editing this today because I am ready to say that Shiphrah is me. I wrote this and asked that it was posted anonymously because I had only begun to explore the depths of my memories and my pain at that time and I needed an outlet to work through it. I no longer feel the need for anonymity, no longer am I afraid to claim the darkest parts of my story. I am Darcy, and this is my story and my pain and my healing. ~Darcy Anne, HA Editorial Team 

Part One

I was never good enough.

From as far back as I can remember, I was never good enough. I was told I was selfish, lazy, prideful, rebellious, and argumentative. I was told I needed to ask God to forgive me and make me a good person through Him (because we could never be good on our own, only with Jesus’ help and then it was never to our credit, only to His).

When my little sister picked fights with me and I lashed out at her, I was the one scolded, grounded, spanked, had things taken from me, forced to spend time with her to “help us get along”, told to get along and be nice and stop being so selfish and be a better example because I was the oldest. She often got away scott-free, even when she started it. I was told numerous times that if I couldn’t learn to get along with my sister then I couldn’t have friends. Family is more important than friends and how you treat your family tells you how you will treat friends. And if you treat friends better than family, you’re a special kind of hypocrite. I tried to explain why it was easier to treat my friends better. Because they were nice to me.

I was then told that Jesus said “what good is it if you love those who love you?” but loving people who aren’t nice to you is much better in God’s eyes.

Everything I did was criticized. It was never good enough. There was always something to be fixed, some way to do things better. I remember being about 12 years old and telling my mom in exasperation, “All you ever do is criticise me. You never tell me what I do right, only ever what I do wrong.” She first acted surprised and denied it, then promised to try to notice the good before telling me the bad. That didn’t last very long and felt very fake even when she tried. Like she was straining to find something good to say to get it out of the way so she could go on to grasp “this teachable moment”. Of course, when I resisted the “teachable moment”, I was the one at fault for being “unteachable”.

To this day when someone says “teachable moment” I recoil.

I was always “unteachable” because I often argued with my mom’s criticism. Because her words stung and fighting them off was my only defense, as little as it was. I was good with words and knew how to wield them as weapons of defense. I often had Proverbs quoted at me that said that people that were unteachable were fools and only those willing to listen to constructive criticism were people of good character whom God loved. So I guess that was just another thing that God hated about me too.

I was told constantly that I was selfish, and it didn’t take long for my sister to take up that anthem against me. Of course, sister had “a servant’s heart” and was selfless and kind and I should be more like her. She was generous and I was stingy. I only thought of myself and my needs and God was not pleased with that. I should ask God to give me a servant’s heart. I spent many hours as a child crying to God to give me this elusive servant’s heart that I apparently lacked and needed before my mom would accept me and my actions. Then maybe my sister wouldn’t hate me either. We were given roles very early in life and we played them well. She learned early how to manipulate our parents against me and she was always believed over me.

I was a child of many emotions. Sensitive, thinking, opinionated, deeply feeling.

But I quickly learned that some emotions were not acceptable, maybe even a sin, and I was not allowed to express them.

I learned that if I was angry, it was “godly” to forgive and forget that anger and definitely don’t express it. “Be angry but do not sin” meant “be angry but never tell anyone or show it”. There were times I wanted to scream because of the pent-up feelings of anger at my parents, anger at my sister, and anger at myself for being angry with them. I must be the terrible person they said I was because I couldn’t stop being angry and sad all the time. I begged God to make me nice and happy and sweet. “Why can’t you be sweet like your sister?” was something I heard often. I often escaped with a book into my favorite tree, away from everyone I could possibly sin against, away from the constant criticism of my actions and “bad attitudes” and the reminders that I was rebellious against God and my parents.

When I was an early teen, things only got worse. Thanks to a cult leader called Bill Gothard and his seminars and his followers, my family finally found answers to all our problems and embraced the promises to have the perfect godly life if we followed the Basic Principles. I was 14 and I thought, yes! This is the answer! The rule list that will finally make me a good person whom my family will love, who will be worthy of their love and acceptance. I poured my heart and soul into the materials, spending hours praying to God to forgive me for all the ground I gave to Satan. For not accepting my parents as the hammer and chisel that were molding me into the diamond I was meant to be. My resistance of their umbrella of authority must be the reason I’m a bad, selfish person. I was determined to finally fix my broken soul. I befriended many “godly girls” who were homeschoolers and whose families understood and followed the secrets of a godly life, hoping their goodness would rub off on me. Eventually, those girls popped into arguments between me and my mom….”why can’t you be more like them? They would never treat their parents and sister the way you do.” I wanted nothing more than to be “more like them” and tried even harder.

I had many teary confessions to my parents for being rebellious. They piled on the modesty books and the courtship books and all the books that told me I was a naturally bad person and needed my parents as my authority because I couldn’t trust my heart to know what was best for me. I ate them up, thinking i would find the answer to all my problems. When my sister would lie about me, get me into trouble, pick fights with me until I snapped at her, I would take a breath, search my own heart for any evil thoughts, and beg her to forgive me for being selfish. She always did, of course. It was very magnanimous of her as a good, generous person to forgive my selfish actions.

There were some dark times in there. For a while I was convinced that since I was such a terrible person and my family hated me so much, that maybe God hated me too and what was the point of me living? I began to fantasize about ways I could kill myself and relieve my family of the burden of me. I never went through with anything.

I was afraid of death, that God really did hate me and would send me to hell and I couldn’t die until I turned into a better person.

Part Two >

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Two

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Two

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

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Part Two: The Social Isolation of Homeschooling

What do homeschooled girls and trash cans have in common?

They both only leave the house once a week.

"What do homeschooled girls and trash cans have in common?"
“What do homeschooled girls and trash cans have in common?”

This joke was well-received among homeschooled youth because it rang true for so many of us.  For almost all of my teen years, church was the only social activity that I engaged in, the only time during the whole week that I might have a chance to interact with people who were not my immediate family.  Making friends in that context, especially as a shy teen girl, seems daunting.  However, I had an even greater obstacle to deal with: I was not allowed to participate in youth group.

My parents were absolutely terrified of teenage rebellion.  Thanks to various books and speakers popular in the homeschooling community, my parents believed teen rebellion to be a recent American trend due to indulgent parenting and peer pressure.  A rebellious teen was more than just an annoyance in the homeschooling community: that teen was turning his/her back not only on the parents, but also on God.  What a tragic waste of years of sacrifice and careful training by the parents!  This type of thinking motivated my parents to maintain careful discipline and to shelter us from almost all contact with our peers, even at church.

I distinctly remember the conversation between the youth pastor and my mom.  I was probably 14 or 15, and so shy that I would start shaking if anyone tried to talk to me at church.  Although social interaction was painful, I desperately needed it, and I think the youth pastor noticed that.  He approached my parents after church one day to invite us to Sunday school.  My mom asked for the materials that were being used in Sunday school, and took them home to peruse them with my dad.  I heard the decision the next week at the same time as the youth pastor: “Our kids will not be attending Sunday school.”  The reason?  Apparently the material mentioned a teen who was frustrated with his parents, and it was dangerous for me to think that frustration was a valid or normal feeling for a teen to have toward parents.

The tough thing about social phobia is that it is often self-reinforcing.  In my case, my severe social anxiety displayed itself in uncontrollable muscle spasms, and anticipating the shaking made me even more anxious about interacting with people.  What if someone noticed me shaking?  I used to cry myself to sleep at night quite often, occasionally trying to get my mom to notice my tears by sniffing juuuust loud enough for her to hear as she walked by my door.  When she came in to ask why I was crying, I would say something like, “I don’t have any friends” or “I don’t know how to talk to people.”  The answer to these was always the same: “You have us” or “You’re talking to me right now.”  In the morning, life would proceed as usual.

Unfortunately, the “usual” for my life at home was very empty and quiet.  My dad was working long hours and was permanently in a bad mood when at home, and my mom was always sapped of energy for various reasons.  She left us kids to do our schoolwork independently much of the time; we even corrected our own errors from the answer key.  Later, due to mysterious and debilitating health problems, her energy was so low that just going to the grocery store was often too much for her to handle.  It was simply understood in the family that we shouldn’t harass her about wanting to leave the house.  Since I wasn’t able to get my driver’s license until I was 18, I was stuck for hours, days, weeks, months, years with little-to-no mental or social stimulation.

Little-to-no stimulation is not an exaggeration; obviously, a teen girl who can’t even go to Sunday school due to “bad influences” is going to find many other things forbidden to her as well.  Our home did not have a TV; we watched few movies; we only read pre-approved Christian or classical books; we did not have internet access; and we certainly did not listen to most music.  My one musical joy was listening to Steve Green and going to his concert with another homeschooling mom.  When I tried to add Rebecca St. James to my CD collection, my mom almost had a meltdown because of the beat and the heavy breathing; it didn’t matter that almost every song was a verbatim quote from the Bible.  I knew my role–honor your parents–so that CD went straight into the trash and I tried to feel happy that I was obeying God.

What did I do with my time at home?  I dragged my school work out to take up most of the day; I spent large amounts of time spaced out, lying on my bed; I wrote in my journals; and I made my own clothes.  My homemade clothes were the outward sign of my feelings of isolation.  Starting at about age 13, I was responsible for furnishing my own wardrobe (within the boundaries of modesty my parents provided, of course).  I had $25 a month to work with, and my mom could tolerate shopping at fabric stores much more than at clothing stores, where everything was “immodest.”  (And that was in the women’s clothing sections–I didn’t even know that clothing came in junior sizes until after I had graduated from high school!)  Out on various errands or on family vacations, wearing my very odd, ill-fitting clothing, I felt the stares and desperately wished that human contact was unnecessary.  “I wish I could just be a hermit!” — this sentence occurs a little too frequently in my teen journals.

My first friend of my teenage years came from Hope Chapel, when I was about 17.  Pastor Reb Bradley, with the support of the homeschooling families of HC, would not allow a youth group in the church.  Finally, I was not so odd!  It was easier to strike up a conversation with someone, knowing they might be just as desperate and nervous as me.  It was easier to not feel judged when the other person’s clothes were just as odd as my own.  I could more easily feel successful at conversation because it was not full of cultural references that I had no idea about.  I became a little more confident socially, strengthened my atrophied conversational muscles, and got a little more hopeful about life.  I was even able to add a second friend by the time I was 19.

Now I’m 30 years old, with four years of college and eight years of work between me and my teen self, yet I still feel the effects of the isolation I experienced growing up.

First, I still feel significant social anxiety in even the most non-threatening situations.  I am particularly at a loss in group settings full of new people.  What do I say? When do I say it? Whom do I say it to?  How/when do I end a conversation?  Even in a circle setting, when it’s my turn to say my name, my blood pressure skyrockets.

Second, in the whole world, there is no place and no group of people where I feel like I belong.  It’s like I was raised in a different culture, with the distinct difference that I can never go “home” to it.  I’m permanently a foreigner; interacting in this foreign culture takes a lot of attention and effort.  I’ve tried to catch up on the culture I missed…to watch the movies, to listen to the music, to see pictures of the clothing styles…..but it will never mean to me what it means to you.  People always use cultural references and nostalgia as a way to build community and connections between people; for me, they create distance and remind me how different I am inside.

My profile photo is of the 80s star Molly Ringwald.  The first time I ever heard her name mentioned was at my first real job, when I was 22 years old.  God bless my dear gay boss, who saw through my awkwardness and gave me a chance at the job because I looked like his favorite childhood actress!  When he learned that I had no idea who she was, his jaw hit the floor.

These days, I manage to avoid shocking people too much, unless I decide to tell them about my past.  To me, the biggest compliment I can receive today is, “You were homeschooled? Wow, I can’t even tell!”

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To be continued.