Then She Stood By the Brave

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate Truth. It was originally published on April 8, 2014.


**DISCLAIMER: the situation you are about to read about is in good hands and I ask that you not try to contact any of my siblings. They are safe and things are being taken care of.

About a month ago I got a phone call letting me know one of my siblings was being admitted to the mental health ward. All I could think was when it is going to be enough, how many more of my siblings are going to suffer.

Their story is theirs to tell, not mine, but I want to tell you about a story that has continued to unfold over the past few weeks.

Phil and I went to visit my sibling in the psych ward, and I saw my sibling relaxed, a little medicated, but they were relaxed, peaceful, and they were safe there and they knew it. We brought one of my other brothers in to visit our sibling and I found out that he had been faithfully visiting his sibling the whole time during their psych visit. This brother is the one I have had my spats with growing up, and in fact, thanks to him I have a nice numb spot on my hand from one of our fights. This brother is also the one I see holding one of the biggest, caring hearts I have ever seen. The fact that he would purposefully take time out of his day to go visit his sibling in the psych ward every day they were is a huge indicator of just how big his heart is.


I am now barely 2 months away from having this child of mine.

I am becoming more and more aware of how important it is to stand firm with my boundaries when it comes to my mom and my dad. I somehow found myself in a position last week where I was asked by my mom to “draw out” my sibling who had been in the psych ward. My sibling had been asking to be admitted again that morning and wouldn’t talk to mom or anyone else about what was going on. Inwardly I knew my sibling was only going to talk to me and that’s why my mom was pushing me to talk with them. After spending awhile chatting, I knew what I needed to know and just let my sibling know that I was there whenever they needed me. The rest of my visit over there ended in me putting my foot down and being completely blunt with my mom. I told her my exact thoughts on how her staying with my dad was at the expense of the kids and how he wasn’t changing, how I didn’t believe her when she said he was, and just watched her shut down as I refused to let her screwed up logic change my stance.

In that moment I realized I have changed.

I am no longer blinded by the manipulative logic my dad uses to control those around him.

I could see right through everything my mom said and was able to see things I had known were there but had never been able to put words to. I am stronger, I am clear headed, I have changed, and yet, it became painfully obvious she hasn’t changed. She is still toxic to me, she is still clinging to some delusion that my dad is changing, and until she can let go of that and actually protect her children from that man, I have to be careful to keep boundaries in place.

It was encouraging to see how therapy has really worked and I have been able to break so many chains that had previously greatly bound me. I am also in a position now where when a sibling needs help, I’m one of the first people they call, and hell, I’m out the door before they can even coherently say anything other than to beg me to come get them. Which is what happened recently, and which included a visit to my siblings’ school counselor who after hearing our story immediately called Child Protective Services to make a report. I have proven to my siblings, the ones who need it most, that I am not the mean, evil older sister my dad makes me out to be. I am who I say I am and I will drop everything for them if they need me.

I sat in that office and watched my siblings find their strength as they stood up to the abuse they have personally suffered from our dad. My heart bursting with pride, I backed up their stories, and watched as they willingly gave information that will hopefully make a difference. I watched my siblings make very brave and bold decisions despite the possibility of facing retaliation. They are doing what I wish I could have done years ago, they are brave enough to stand up and say enough is enough and it hopefully will truly be enough.

The little girl inside of me wept as I proudly stood by my brave siblings.

I felt like I watched my childhood come full circle. The shame of not being “strong enough” to stand up to my dad was put to rest as I stood there being my siblings’ support. I went through what I had to so that I could be there for my siblings when they needed me. I am stronger now, I have the strength they needed to be able to be brave themselves. I can validate their fears and tell them they’re not crazy despite what the man at home will say. I don’t know about you, but that’s quite a good reason to have gone through what I have if only to be the support my siblings need.

I’m feeling hopeful, I am full of pride, and so relieved I can be there for the siblings who call for help and I can be there to lift up their voices.

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel 

A Shamed Sexuality: Gracie’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.

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

Trigger warnings: the following story contains descriptions of sexual harassment and emotional abuse relating to sexuality.


“Will you have sex with me?”

So much hung on that question. I was in love with him. I wanted to be with him more than I could put into words. I said yes before I could allow myself to really look at the situation.

My sex education was never given to me. My mother gave me “The Big Sex Talk” without ever explaining sex. It wasn’t till I was sixteen or seventeen, and had started going to public school, that I figured out was sex was and how women get pregnant. Seventeen. I would hear things from the kids at school, words or phrases I knew were vulgar, and I would slowly piece together their meanings. I didn’t know what birth control was or why you would ever need it. I spent my high school years hiding my lack of knowledge, discreetly looking up definitions online, trying not to look like the freak I felt I so obviously was.

I entered my first year of college as an emotionally and sexually repressed woman who felt nothing but shame from her body, a body that she knew little to nothing about. The results proved to be detrimental.

The first rude awakening came during a football game, in a busy stadium crowded by over 60,000 people. I was cornered by two large men who made sexual comments at me, tried to get me to sit with them, and groped and grabbed at me. It was all over in just a few moments and they disappeared into the crowd. I spent the next several days terrified that they would walk into the restaurant I worked in or run into me on campus. I had no one I could talk to about it. I was afraid to call my parents, afraid they’d make me come home.

So I bottled it up and labeled it with more shame.

I don’t know how many panics attacks I had that week.

Then came the boy. He was attractive, funny, adventurous, and had a way of making me drop everything for him. But he didn’t love me. In fact, he was verbally and emotionally manipulative and abusive. He would dangle his “love” over my head and after 9 months of following him around, I would have done anything to hear that he loved me.

I come from a large and chaotic household where emotions were never expressed. I can’t remember ever feeling loved or welcome at home. My high school boyfriend was so wrapped up in being the “good godly young man” and staying “pure-minded” that he broke up with me because he was afraid to find me attractive, lest I ruin his relationship with the Lord. Sex was never discussed. Sexuality might as well have been a curse word. The only thing I had ever felt sexually was shame.

But here he was, asking me to have sex with him. As my abuser so clearly explained, over a text message, he would be delighted to be my boyfriend, to love me, if I only agree to have sex with him.

And I said yes.

Then came that night; that horrible, horrific night. He looked at my undressed self and he turned away with disgust. Suddenly I was cheap he said. It was too easy to get me to sleep with him. Had I gained weight? Was I not taking care of myself?

I still hear his violent words running on a loop through my mind. Even though I walked away from everything that was connected to him or that year, I have found that walking away from those memories is almost impossible.

Therapy was the first time I was told that my having a desire to share an intimate and sexual relationship with the man I loved wasn’t a bad or shameful thing. It’s called having sexuality. Being a human. Every human has sexuality and I can’t fault myself for wanting to explore mine.

I wish that abstinence wasn’t taught so aggressively to me. I was trained to hide away my sexuality and never let anyone know it’s there. I was told that I was responsible if a boy around me “stumbled” and had an “impure thought.” That’s a lot of pressure and shame to put on a child. Now, as an adult, I’m having to teach myself to celebrate my sexuality and not shame myself in it. It’s a slow learning process.

Telling my story is helpful. Therapy is helpful. Naming my abuser for what he was is helpful. All of this is very painful, stressful, difficult, but very helpful.

And very hopeful.

The Day I Left

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate Truth. It was originally published on February 3, 2014.

February 6th three years ago marks the day I packed all of my meager belongings and left my family’s house.

It was almost exactly two weeks after my dad had kicked me out. He had walked into my room, told me I wasn’t worth his time anymore, he was tired of dealing with me, then proceeded to blame me for all of the issues he was having with my siblings. After his little speech, he told me I had two weeks to leave, if I needed help finding a place, I could ask, but basically I was on my own. He looked around my room and pointed out the pieces of furniture I could take or what had to stay behind. I was only allowed to take my trunk, my desk, and a dresser I had just happened to buy.

I left that house and never looked back. 

I believe my therapist was right in telling me I had cut ties with my family years ago, but leaving that day was the final string. My dad celebrated that night by taking my family out to dinner, a very rare occurrence. I was asked if I wanted to come as if I was already no longer part of the family. My siblings were confused, here was their dad telling them about how much of a rebellious and bad girl I was. I was an extremely bad example all because I had chosen the man I was going to marry and wasn’t going to back down no matter how much my dad abused me and tried to manipulate me.

I was finally standing up to his vicious anger and this was the consequences.

I fought for my siblings, it was me who held them together, only, no one saw that until I was no longer there. My siblings couldn’t see that, they couldn’t see what I had been protecting them from all of those years; the man behind the mask who grew more and more manipulative and abusive as the years passed. I have never really processed the emotions that went with this event. 

I often feel burning anger towards my dad and also great sorrow because I can see how blinded and truly sick he is.


Recently my younger sister Emma has been starting to find her voice.

She is speaking out about what it was like to grow up, and I am proud of her for standing up to the man whose sperm just happened to be part of creating us kids.

She is calling the bullshit as she’s seen it and she is not skirting around the real issues.

It does my heart so good to see her taking the steps I have taken before her in what will hopefully be a healing journey for her.I am going to stand by her and lift up her words because more of us need to speak out.

It struck me the other day how often the abusers get a free pass. I see the discomfort cross faces when I bring up what my dad has done and how I’m working through it. I hear the sorrow in their voices and see it in their eyes when I say I will not allow my dad to go anywhere near this child of mine. It isn’t sorrow for me so much as it is sorrow that I don’t have the daddy-daughter relationship I’m somehow supposed to have. It’s sorrow and discomfort because my life hasn’t gone the way people would rather have seen it gone. Very very few people I have interacted with in regards to my dad’s abuse has actually had what I consider the right response. Very few people have actually gotten angry, upset because of what he has done. 

Abuse is not something to just brush over with “grace” and “pray for your persecutor.” 

Abuse in any form is worthy of anger and worthy of being stood up against.

I remember when I first started sharing my story and starting to peel back the layers of pain hardened emotions to find the wound holes. No one seemed to understand why I needed to speak. It was all “hush, hush, you shouldn’t say that, it’s slander.” By keeping silent I was allowing his abuse to continue, I, the victim, was being told my story didn’t matter, it wasn’t appropriate to share. 

“Protect the men and their egotistical reputations at all costs!” is apparently the unspoken mantra in the circles I grew up in.

Girls, families, I had spent a lot of time with no longer speak to me, I can’t stand going to reenactments because of running into those people and having to deal with the sad pitying looks they give me because I am the black sheep, I spoke out against the abuse I have suffered, I chose a good, good man to marry and all they saw was a rebellious girl thumbing her nose at the authority “God had placed over her life.”

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. – Elie Wiesel

A friend of mine wrote a post about “Rage and Grace” recently, and I really can relate to her words.

It is difficult to find the balance between not answering the abusers, the tormentors, with how they have approached us, and with being appropriately angry and upset about something we should be upset about. Abuse is never something you should brush off. Yes, the abusers are strong, they are used to getting their way and crushing us.

But just as a little flame can turn into a raging fire, so can our words and our taking stances about abuse, speaking out, and healing from our abuse make a difference.


The day I left was a significant day.

That was the day I stood up and said no more. My mom kept telling me I could appeal to my dad, she seemed desperate to keep me at home. But my heart had already left, this was simply my body making it’s departure from the family I had grown up with. 

I will never stop defending my ground as a survivor and continuing to put up healthy boundaries to protect the fragile healing my heart is still undergoing.

I will never stop standing up and doing my best to aid the siblings who come to me for help. It has taken time, but I believe they are starting to see I am not the bad sister my dad has made me out to be. Not talking with my dad is my choice and it is not a sad choice. It is not something worth your sorrow. It is the choice I have made to protect myself, protect my marriage, and to protect my child. He is a dangerous man and it is not worth placing myself back until his toxicity just for the sake of making people feel like I am showing him “grace.”

I am content and very happy with my life, so please be happy for me?

My life is not about my family. My life is about me, Phil, and my little boy.

See those other survivors who are struggling with family relationships and friend relationships? Be happy for them with the life they have chosen. Be willing to set aside your preconceived ideas about what family relationships should look like, and be happy for us when we share an exciting discovery in our healing or our own personal ventures.

We need you to stand beside us and to be angry at the abuse and celebrate the good.  

I Hope That I Get To See My Sister Again: Elizabeth’s Story

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I Hope That I Get To See My Sister Again: Elizabeth’s Story

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

Growing up in a fundamentalist family is a unique experience for everyone.

For my ten siblings and I, we were consumed by an “attitude of gratitude” that our parents instilled in us from an early age, and any lack of gratefulness was a rebellion that had to be beaten out. They also taught us that an illness was God teaching us something, and intervention was only acceptable under dire circumstances.

Due to this mentality, we were blind to the mental sickness that was creeping slowly into each and every one of us, accepting it as “normal” and “God’s will”.

Though we all suffer from varying degrees of mental sickness, one sibling experienced hardships that surpass anything the rest of us have faced. When my oldest sister was a little girl, our grandmother (we called her “Nana”) noticed that she was adopting a passive state and not acting normal for a girl her age. When Nana pointed this out to our parents, they just brushed it off and were offended that anything could be wrong with a child under such “attentive” care.

Another factor was that they didn’t (and still don’t) believe in health insurance, so any medical expense was out-of-pocket, and only mild care like dental health was taken care of due to the impoverished lifestyle our parents adopted for all of us. This selective blindness allowed our parents to see my sister as a girl in perfect health and focus on building character and obedience.

Years passed, and my sister became more and more withdrawn, putting on a face to keep our parents happy.

Her life was becoming a miserable mess, but she didn’t show it for fear of punishment and rejection. When she went off to Harvard (something that didn’t happen without a big fight), she was still marred by the view on healthcare we were raised with, and didn’t see a professional to start working through her issues, mostly because she didn’t see them herself. A life of neglect was all she had ever known.

Upon graduation from college, she moved to Germany for business and to be with her husband. She would visit home once or twice a year, trying to maintain a relationship with the rest of us at home even though her relationship with our parents was crumbling. She was able to keep this up for 12 years, but spring of 2007 was the last straw. As everything she had tried to smother surfaced, she was overcome by the depressive state our parents modeled as “normal”.

She stopped coming home.

We kept up by email over the next two years, but she stopped that also because I, in my naivety, had become the synapse between her and our parents. I was hurt then, but looking back, I see that it was the best choice given the situation.

In early 2009, my family came home from vacation to hear a phone message from her (my sister’s) sister-in-law. My sister’s husband had committed suicide. When our parents successfully contacted my sister to express their deepest sorrow, she was very upset that they knew, and replied via an official stamped letter from her lawyer stating that she was changing her legal name so we couldn’t find her. My understanding is that some siblings were in contact with her after that, but those communications were eventually cut off as well, and none of us have seen her in over 6 years, or heard from her in over 4 years.

My family was seen as the pinnacle of perfection by most, and what happened behind closed doors was viewed by select individuals who couldn’t do anything to help.

As I begin to realize how neglected my siblings and I were, it frustrates me even more that our parents think it isn’t their fault. Observing the individuals my siblings and I are becoming, they are blind to the reflection our instability has on them, thinking it’s our fault for leaving the community they created. As some of us seeked out therapy and realized that communicating with our parents regularly was hindering our ability to heal, they compared us to my oldest sister, assuming that the months will turn into years for the rest of us as well.

I hope that I get to see my sister again someday, but I am now starting to understand why she cut off contact.

I can’t hate her for that.

Wrestling with God: By Caleigh Royer

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Wrestling with God: By Caleigh Royer

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate TruthIt was originally published on July 21, 2013.

It’s been almost two full weeks since I last wrote. It’s been almost two weeks since hitting a really bad low. A low where cutting (I didn’t cut) was very appealing, a low where I actually couldn’t see up. I hit a low where I did the only thing I could think to do; called my therapist and said I need help now.

I got into an appointment the very next morning, and we talked about how I needed a release because the chaos in my head was crushing and choking everything coherent. 

(Just so you all can be clear, cutting is not a suicide attempt. It usually has nothing with wanting to kill oneself. Cutting is about release. It is about having something that will distract you from the pain; emotionally, mentally, physically. It may help release the pain in that moment but it is not a healthy, good release. If anyone is wanting to cut, or is, or has cut, then please, go see a professional counselor or therapist. They are trained to help you find a healthy release for the pain!)

I expect a few more of these low lows before I can really start climbing up out of the depression and pain. I have willingly opened a door and walked through it. Opening that door is a bold, courageous, and scary move. Opening that door has given me no choice but to face my past head on and deal with it.

Can I just say that this absolutely sucks most days?

But there is a silver lining here. Even though I am being weighed down with more frequent days of depression, I am more easily triggered and face flashbacks of really bad experiences, I am moving forward. I am facing the demons that haunt me, I am standing up and saying no more. Most days forget standing, I’m half kneeling, half lying flat on the ground, but I am fighting back.

Some of the demons and triggers have had to do with hope, beliefs. I am still working on the “daddy” glasses I see God through. I still have a hard time believing that God is a loving, giving father to me. Believing that for others, my husband, friends, that’s no big deal. I can easily see God being a giving god for others, but for me? I don’t know how to believe that I won’t have anything good ripped away the moment I get it. I don’t know how to get back to the place where touching, opening, reading an actual physical Bible doesn’t make me shudder and become blind to the words. I don’t know how to reconcile the things I grew up being taught to what I know of God now.

I like to say that I have a whispering/yelling relationship with God right now.

He’s whispering to me, and I’m yelling at him. A friend asked a question on facebook the other day. She asked what it meant for us individually to wrestle with God. I realized that wrestling with God looks like being honest with him and saying I really don’t know if I want to trust him, I don’t want to keep not reading my Bible, I don’t know how to get to a place of being at peace with that again.

We’re planning on visiting an actual church on this coming Sunday, and I am just about scared out of my mind if I think about it hard. I haven’t been in an actual church building since the end of January. I am still not comfortable labeling myself under a certain denomination. I am still not quite to the point of being able to thoroughly lay out the nuances of my beliefs.

I am resting on the things I know for certain but everything else is still quite fuzzy.

It’s hard looking back at the few years I spent in CLC and how those years really cemented some bad theology. Theology I picked up while I went to Covenant Life Church, and theology I grew up with. I am thinking for myself now, and that was never encouraged no matter which environment I was in. I am wrestling with God and not hiding my feelings, pain, confusion behind randomly picked scriptures that are supposed to be all you need when life get particularly hard.

I don’t believe that scripture is all we need when life picks us up, spins us around until the entire world is a blur, and throws us down the stairs.

I believe that we need to stand before God and yell, scream, argue, cry about whatever our heart really is saying. He can handle it, and I believe that until we are fully honest with God we can’t be fully honest with others or even with ourselves.  I feel a real God when I am most honest before him. It is easier for me to believe him when I sit down, having cried, yelled, cried some more until I have no more tears, and all I hear is “I am with you. I love you. You are precious to me.”

I have an opened a door that will not close until the demons have been dealt with and put to death. Until I can lay the past to rest and have more good days than bad, depressed days, I will continue to fight. Healing is more important to me than staying cowed by the demons pulling the triggers.

I am seeing the progress I have made since starting therapy almost 4 months ago. I am seeing the strength I have becoming stronger as the winds continue to pound, throwing me around in the storm. I may be fighting a fight I purposefully walked into, but I am winning this fight even when it doesn’t feel like winning.

I am wrestling with God and finding peace.

I Am Not A Spartan

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate TruthIt was originally published on May 18, 2013.

Write the hard thing.

I have not been able to write the hard thing this week because I have not been able to figure out what that hard thing is. As I am writing this, I am listening to a conference call for my Story 101 class and we are talking about writing the hard things.

I feel like there is something that is sitting right under the surface for me.

There is something floating right there about my emotions, something about not blaming my parents but being in deep emotional pain. Something about being made sick with memories that I don’t want to face because they hurt so very much. I don’t want to face those memories because they continue to tear my heart up even though it’s been years since those first happened.

It is overwhelming because I don’t want to blame my parents, I don’t want to blame my mom, but I have pain.

I have excruciating pain that makes me physically sick as I remember being left at the MRI clinic. I have pain when I wanted — no, needed — comfort from my mom, I needed my mom and she wasn’t there. I needed that comfort and the tight hug accompanied with a whisper of “it’s going to be okay, I’m here.” I hate this pain, I hate the depth that is reaches because it kills me every time I face those memories or something triggers them. I hate that I feel pain when I face my mom, I hate that my heart breaks all over again when I look at my dad and remember the pain of finding out what he had done.

I feel shame.

I feel like I am a terrible person, and I feel like this deeply emotional shredding of my heart is something I should feel guilty about, like it is something that is disgusting and makes me worthless.

Facing these feelings of shame, guilt, and worthless and hearing my therapist softly tell me that no, I am not bitter, I am not blaming, I am feeling the pain I should because I have a heart and it deeply feels and that is good.

My heart is soft, my heart is easily broken, my heart beats to help others heal, and it seeks to comfort and protect those from the pain it has felt already. Some of my deepest fears involve fearing a stone cold heart, and fearing the bitterness and blaming that comes with a hard heart. I have always felt frustrated as I feel the pain, I have felt anger when something strikes my heart with resounding accuracy because my heart is easily reached. I used to think that setting up guardrails or those walls to keep the arrows out was okay.

I used to think that that was more important than letting myself feel.

I used to fight the feelings and try to be stoic and unfeeling. I felt like feelings were dirty, shameful, and something we should fight, not allow in, and certainly not allow out.

Friends use to tell me that I was being too emotional whenever I had some sort of emotional response to their words. They would tell me in such a way that it seemed like they looked down on me for emotionally responding, good or bad, to what they were talking with me about. They were the friends who first made me feel like I had to shut my emotions down. They were the ones who first told me, in their own stoic, spartan way, that emotions were not acceptable. Emotions were disgusting and worth very little.

Emotions were a failed sinful part of our human bodies and not to be trusted or allowed a voice.

Those friends were the ones who made me feel ashamed of the glorious, beautiful, redeemed emotions that the Lord of the Universe has created within me.

Hear me say this: I am gloriously emotional and I am a gift.

I am gloriously emotional and I am a gift.

It has taken me a long time to accept the emotions that bubble up within me as a good and beautiful thing. It has taken hearing my therapist’s gentle words of reminding me that I should be feeling this pain to accept the pain. It still totally sucks, and I find myself drained after a wrestling match with those memories. It still is difficult when I feel something so acutely and feel like I have to be a spartan and hide my feelings.

The hard thing is accepting the truth about myself and reveling in the beauty of a torn heart. Yes, there is beauty in a broken heart. There is a certain amount of glorious vulnerability that comes from allowing the broken to be revealed.

There is an astounding amount of release when I acknowledge the pain that has driven me to weep time and time again.

I no longer fight this pain but simply let the tears flow, the pain wrenching my heart. It is my way of healing, it is an act of letting the tears bind up a deep and bleeding wound. Those tears are my heart’s way of telling me yes, I can still feel, I am not a spartan robot, I am a redeemed emotional woman.

I believe that women are created specifically to feel the hard things, the painful things, the gut wrenching things. I believe that I am supposed to feel the pain deeply, I am supposed to and should cry because I have been deeply wounded. To not cry would be killing the specifically designed voice I have deep within me that allows for those feelings to be let out.

I am done killing my “wild voice.” I am done hiding the emotions I once felt ashamed of.

I am ready to stand up and point down to the feelings I once turned my nose up at and called dirty. I am now ready to announce them beautiful and precious.

My hard thing is accepting the emotions that course freely through my heart and soul. My hard thing is allowing for my eyes to be overwhelmed with tears as I feel the pain and am reminded of what I have faced.

Crying, weeping, letting the Holy Spirit decipher the deep groans for which we have no words is a beautiful, glorious, healing thing.

My Body Took My Soul’s Pain: Bailey

My Body Took My Soul’s Pain: Bailey

Follow Bailey on Twitter or read what she calls her “weird blog,” which is “half about finding truth, half about television, and half about arachnophobia. (It’s mostly not about math.)”

Trigger warning: self-injury.

The Triggers

It started small when I was small—still in the single digits, probably. Huddled in my room after facing my parents’ wrath, I would curl up in a corner and scratch hateful messages into my legs. “Stupid,” I would write, and “bad.”

It hurt, sure, but I felt less guilt over my stupidness and less shame over my badness after I’d punished myself. “You’re not stupid or bad anymore,” I would reassure myself afterwards. “It’s over now.”

When the hell of adolescence struck, I was overwhelmed constantly. Take a sensitive nature, put it in a volatile home situation, and add the chaos of hormones, and it just seemed impossible to find any emotional or mental balance. I felt stupid and bad all the time—not just when mom and dad yelled. (Although I didn’t know it at the time, it was the first of many periods of clinical depression.)

Most of the time, my parents were really quite loving. But they were also strict. For instance, they required immediate, unquestioning, cheerful obedience. But what if I had a deep sadness or a burning question?! I could never comply to their satisfaction, and they said that meant rebellion. I didn’t feel rebellious, and yet I couldn’t stop rebelling! I deserved their yelling. Clearly, I was just a failure at the pursuit of piety. And that was the worst imaginable failure. Failing my parents meant failing God, so their displeasure represented his. 

Shame characterized the core of my being. My parents said they loved me unconditionally, but it seemed like their love stopped whenever I displeased them. If they didn’t restore their love, then I had to do something drastic to restore order. If I was bad, I deserved a punishment; if I received a punishment, then I would be absolved—on some grand karmic level, if not in my parent’s eyes. After the punishment, I could feel like I deserved love, even if I didn’t receive it. I had paid the price to absolve my sin, so the weight of my sin felt lifted.

Obviously, I misunderstood God and his grace. I also read my parents unfairly; they still loved me, they just didn’t show it in a way that I understood. They’d been conditioned by the homeschool culture to show displeasure towards any failure-to-be-holy. Otherwise, they’d be letting my sins slide, and then they’d be bad parents who were letting their child’s soul go to hell!

They loved me, so they didn’t want me to go to hell. They believed—because they had been told—that it was their spiritual responsibility to mold me, which meant insisting on a narrow definition of behavior. Unfortunately, that sometimes played out as refusing to show grace toward human imperfections. To a kid, that means conditional love. And that means shame, guilt, self-doubt, and fear.

Even apart from my parents, life wasn’t a walk in the park. Being a teenager just plain sucks. But I never fought back against any of these forces. I internalized everything until I was so full of bad emotions—general anguish, hatred toward myself, and anger toward the world—that I felt insane. 

I was desperate to release those feelings, but it had to be private; I didn’t want to get in any more trouble, and I didn’t want to be like my parents, who took their emotions out on me and my siblings. So I did what seemed, at the time, like a great idea. I focused on myself, to protect everyone around me. I punished myself to release my guilt. In my mind, I was even defending myself from my parents: “This is what you’re doing to my soul,” I whispered. “So, fine, I’ll do it to my body. If I deserve it, I’ll take it.”

Self-injury transferred my soul’s pain to my body, and I found the physical pain infinitely more bearable. It distracted me from the terror of the moment, a change that allowed the possibility of quietness and peace. I assured myself that sensations existed other than mental torment. I craved the endorphins.

And I wore long sleeves and pants, claiming chronic coldness even in hot summers.

The Transition

Everything worsened in college. My parents panicked about letting me grow up and hence became stricter, angrier, louder. Now that I saw the whole world, I wanted to find my own place in it, which meant leaving behind their careful plans. I think this frightened them, which angered them, which frightened me, which angered me. They divided our phone calls between friendly chats and harsh condemnations.

I was furious with them, and I didn’t want to be like them. I knew, on some level, that they loved me and wanted the best for me, even if they didn’t know how to give it to me. I knew they were scared and worried, and their feelings of terror and rage had to go somewhere. (That was a situation I deeply understood.) They chose their target: me. Perhaps in a warped domestic version of Stockholm syndrome, I chose the same target. Me.

Eventually, people found out, which was the thing I least wanted. I was sent to a therapist, which was the thing I most needed. I was surrounded by loving friends and wise counselors, fortunately, and they worked hard to help me. I’m eternally grateful.

But I fought with my therapist, arguing that my coping mechanism didn’t hurt anyone else and didn’t cause permanent damage. Why was my choice irrational and unhealthy, but it’s fine for parents to crush their children’s souls?  Plus, what the hell should I do instead? 

I ranted and raged because I felt hopeless. Of course I knew that hurting myself was a foolish thing to do, and ultimately unhelpful, but it was all I knew. It didn’t even matter whether I wanted to get better, wanted to give it up; I simply couldn’t. What would take its place? Terror? Insanity? A homicidal rampage? It was the only way I could control my frantic world.

I acted angry, but I secretly longed for an escape, for any other coping method that might actually work. I just didn’t believe, for a long time, that one existed.

Of course, there wasn’t a magic solution or a silver bullet. Truly changing yourself takes time. Slowly, I let go of my twisted habit—not because I solved the riddle, but because I built a support system and began accepting myself. As I matured, I focused on the things I loved, instead of my parents’ criticisms. I let myself explore my own ideas and believe my own beliefs; I gave myself freedom to be uncertain, to be open-minded, to be a work in progress. I married a man who liked me exactly as I was, and I let the strong, stable truth of his love overcome my self-doubt. I allowed myself to think I might be worthwhile. I let myself be both happy and flawed.

Most of all, I realized that I’m not powerless. I self-injured because I thought it was my only option; I couldn’t control anything in the world except my own body. I still can’t control most things, but I can be a force for good. When you are loved, then you have a radical power to affect the lives of those who love you. You can turn inward, focusing on your own misery, or you can turn to others for both solace and purpose. Even if you’re not strong, you always have the power to help others.

The Truth

I still think about cutting almost every day, but it’s different. Before, no one knew, and no one saw, and I felt better afterwards. Back then, in the worst-case scenario, my parents would have found out; that would have been (well, was) terrifying for me, but it was also terrible for them, which met some tiny sense of justice.

But if I hurt myself now, my husband would find the marks, and he doesn’t deserve it. I would feel guilty for making him sad—and “more guilt” was never the goal. It would also hinder our fantastic sex life, because I’d be afraid to get naked. (At the beginning of our marriage, before I figured out these things, I would sometimes go a month without taking my shirt off. That’s not a great way to celebrate newlywed bliss.)

And most of all, there’s darling Madeleine. Of course having a kid changes your lifestyle, but it’s also a game-changer for the soul. My entire heart aches to protect her from pain. I treat her with respect, and I glory in my power to build up her self-esteem, but my control ends there. Life hurts, at times, and the world is cruel. And poor Maddie is just as sensitive as her mother. Even if I never yell at her, she will face trials, and she will struggle to respond.

When I first got pregnant, I pledged that I would be a kind mother—at any cost. I know I would experience frustration, fatigue, and helplessness, as all mothers do, but I would not take it out on Madeleine. Yes, I actually planned to deal with these things through self-injury. Better hurt me than hurt her, I figured. She would never see, and she’d never know.

But I’m realizing, as Madeleine grows older, that I missed the real issue. It’s not what I successfully hide from her; it’s what I fail to show her. Things like modeling healthy coping mechanisms. Like responding to life’s challenges with flexibility and strength. Like acknowledging the stress and insanity of life, and admitting it hurts like hell and that’s ok, and then proving that it doesn’t have to beat you.

She should never feel that gut-wrenching sense that she can never make it, never satisfy, never be good enough. As a kid, I always felt on edge, knowing every moment that I was forgetting something, ruining something, or failing something. I think most women feel like this for most of their lives. But I want the opposite for Madeleine; I want her to know that she’s imperfect, to feel at peace with that knowledge, and to know that she’s valuable anyway.

But I can’t raise her in an environment of peace while letting myself live in an environment of anxiety.

Hiding my bad coping strategies isn’t enough. I need to find, test, practice, and then pass on some equally realistic but tremendously smarter strategies. If Madeleine sees me facing pressure and responding purposefully—with healthy methods and, ultimately, with grace—then maybe she’ll never feel so desperate. Maybe, as she observes my strength of soul and develops her own, she’ll decide that she can handle anything.

And if I can empower others like that, then I’m definitely not powerless. Definitely not stupid. Definitely not bad.

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

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

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.


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


Part Five: Forming Boundaries Late in Life

"I wasn't secure enough in my boundaries, so I was hyper-sensitive to any attempts to control or manipulate me."
“I wasn’t secure enough in my boundaries, so I was hyper-sensitive to any attempts to control or manipulate me.”

Do any of these sound like you?

I have to always say yes to others, or else I am selfish.

I have to always hide my hurt, or else I am unloving.

I have to treat other people as faultless, or else I am holding a grudge.

I have to keep my wants and needs to myself, or else I am a burden to others.

People who experienced authoritarian parents tend to turn into adults with poor boundaries. They were trained for it their whole lives and can’t imagine another way of doing things. However, it’s an extremely unsatisfying and unsustainable way to live, don’t you think? But most importantly, it’s actually not what a loving person is like! For me, when I was in that mindset, my “loving” actions were actually motivated by obligation or guilt because I thought I didn’t really have a choice; I was just an actor.

Besides hindering me from showing real love based on real choice, this mindset also prevented me from ever feeling loved. My buried wants and needs were still there; I just expected any true friend to be hyper-vigilant to my emotional state and correctly guess my unexpressed wants/needs. I felt that anyone who didn’t put in that monumental effort didn’t really care about me. And when people hurt me, I didn’t give them a chance to repair the damage to the relationship; I either lied to myself and them by saying that I wasn’t hurt, or I expected them to realize the problem and fix it without being told. Obviously, it was really hard for anyone to break through those defenses to form a real and lasting connection with me, even if they wanted to.

When I was in my late teens/early twenties, equipped with my driver’s license, I began to have more opportunities to interact with my peers.  However, with my poor boundaries and repressed emotions from authoritarian parenting, and with my severe social anxiety from isolated homeschooling, I wasn’t exactly set up for success. It’s not surprising that I was able to form friendships with more dominant and outgoing people most easily at first. They were the ones who were confident enough to break through my guardedness and befriend invisible me. I had no identity and nothing to contribute, and they were the ones who could talk enough to cover for my silence. They were the ones with ideas that I could go along with. And, thankfully, they were the ones who could ask me the pushy and nosy questions on occasion that helped to break open my protective shell.

It’s also not surprising, although really sad, that many of those first friendships didn’t last through the turbulence of my mid- and late- twenties. In a way, I was really experiencing my teens and twenties simultaneously. Out on my own for college, I was trying to discover and establish my own identity for the first time in my life, and dealing with an incredible amount of childhood baggage at the same time. And just when I felt I was making real progress in replacing social anxiety with relationships, my progress in forming boundaries set me back.

I asked my husband to provide a little outside perspective of what the process looked like, since most of it took place during our relationship. He sees it this way:

1. I realized that conflict had to be acknowledged and resolved rather than ignored in order to have a healthy relationship. That meant that it was ok to admit when someone’s behavior bothered me. However, since I had no experience at conflict management, I didn’t know when or how to go about it. I was a mess of over-reactions and under-reactions, and the whole time I was incredibly stressed and afraid of rejection.

2.  Once I began to open up about my feelings, wants, and needs, a backlog of repressed emotions suddenly started to flow out. In my mind, lists of ways I had been wronged started to appear, even from all those times that I thought I was being loving and not keeping a record. So, whenever I needed to talk to someone about a conflict, they would be surprised and hurt by the size of my list of related issues.

3. I wasn’t secure enough in my boundaries, so I was hyper-sensitive to any attempts to control or manipulate me, whether it was a friend or a family member. Even just their attempt to change my opinion by sharing a different perspective was threatening to me. Figuratively speaking, if a person even dared to knock politely on my boundary wall, I would appear with a shotgun and tell them to get off my property. I had very strong ideas about how I should be treated, and it was almost impossible for people to fit in my narrow tolerances. Everything had to be on my terms; I expected anyone who cared about me to change immediately when I informed them of a problem.

4. Now I’m finally feeling more secure in my boundaries, so I’m starting to become more balanced and pick my battles more carefully. I’m getting better at differentiating between real offenses and simple mistakes, as well as determining what approach might be most effective way to manage the conflict. I’m also trying to prevent emotional build-up by dealing with things right away. And most importantly, I’m trying to take other people’s differences and imperfections into account and realize that change usually comes slowly. It’s easier to accept that when I remember that others are also being patient with me in ways I can’t fully see.

I deeply appreciate my husband’s support during this process; without him, it would have been much more difficult to work through so many issues. Even though this process has been extremely challenging and painful at times, and even though I still have a lot of progress left to make, I am so much happier than I was before. Now when I choose to help people, I have the reward of feeling happy and satisfied because I did it willingly. Now I take responsibility for my needs, wants, and feelings, so I don’t feel so helpless and dependent. Now when I choose to tolerate people’s imperfections, I feel a sense of our shared humanity rather than feeling devalued.

However, it is unfortunate that I had to go through this process so late in life. I feel like it was much more traumatic than it needed to be because it conflicted with the progress I was making in forging friendships with people for the first time in my life. If you are dealing with similar issues as an adult, I’d like to recommend two things: read the book  “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend and find yourself a good therapist; hopefully you can find a way to establish and maintain good boundaries in a less destructive way than I did.


To be continued.

Thoughts on Healing

By Sage Sullivan, former HA Community Coordinator

What does losing your mind feel like?

In a word, awful. It can manifest itself in many ways. Anxiety, depression, nausea, anger, maniacal activity, constant illness, PTSD, you name it. Sometimes it can be just one of these things. Sometimes it can be many.

But ultimately, the feeling is that you are without control. You might feel led to do things you wouldn’t normally do. You may have abstained from alcohol and suddenly find yourself worrying about being an alcoholic. You may have been adamantly against smoking and find yourself smoking at least a pack a day. You may have been rail thin and now you’re struggling with weight problems. No matter how you cope, you find you just can’t manage to get things back under control. None of these activities are inherently bad, but you are driven to excess in an attempt to fill a new void.

Whether it’s depression, anxiety, anger, or something you’re experiencing, these are unfortunately completely natural feelings. I’ve experienced a number of them myself as have many other people who have suffered through religious abuse. Even if these feelings are normal, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything about them. With therapy (and medication in some instances), these feelings will begin to go away.

You will once again find yourself in control of your life and find something to fill that void.

You may be thinking right now about why there’s even a void in the first place. After all, you made the decision to depart that religiously oppressive upbringing for your own happiness. You shouldn’t be unhappy, right? Think about what you just did in doing that. In your mind, you’re a bird flying out of its cage. It’s truly a beautiful sight. However, in reality, you’re leaving behind a way of thinking and coping for something completely unknown. I’m not going to lie: breaking away at first is going to feel awful. You’re going to want to replace your way of coping with so many things to numb your feelings. It’s not an easy road, but it gets easier as you travel upon it. There is healing and happiness somewhere in the middle. As far as the eye can see after that, the road is rocky, but never quite the same as it is now.

You may have been taught otherwise but it’s a well-known fact that the activities of the mind and body are somehow connected. Constant stress compromises the mind’s ability to cope. Religious abuse is just one type of stress. Because of that fact, it’s rare for any of us to break free without experiencing some type of mental and emotional problems. After all, you’re not leaving because you’re happy with the way things are.

The good news is that we’re also learning more about the mind as time goes on. Activities such as therapy help repair some of that damage by helping us think about it differently. The brain is incredibly plastic and its ability to form new neuronal connections in unsurpassed by just about anything. Negative feelings can be turned into positive ones. Therapy is often necessary to do this. In some instances, medication will help quell some of the negative feelings so that therapy can be conducted more easily. In rarer instances, it’s actually necessary to keep things from getting worse. I fall into this last category.

I do not want you to think for a moment that you’re somehow defective or going against God’s will because you might need to take medication to help cope with some of the emotional problems you’re experiencing. Psychiatric medication is mostly just a “means” to an “end.” It doesn’t change who you are. It does help you figure out some things by constructing a sort of barrier against the negative emotions and helps them come in one at a time instead of flooding in all at once. A psychiatrist and therapist will work with you to see if you could benefit from this route and help you manage it.

You might feel a bit overwhelmed right now with all this information. You might feel that you want to be completely free all at once. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a gradual process, but it works. To me, this whole process is somewhat like learning to play the piano. You can choose to ignore the teacher and play all day, learning nothing. That’s the easy route, just banging around on the piano without direction. Or you can learn to play Chopsticks. You can learn to read the music and it opens new doors to you. You will probably never be a concert pianist, but I do think you’ll learn to play some beautiful Chopin, all on your own. 

Just don’t forget this important fact: if you don’t use it, you lose it. Keep practicing.

You can only get better, never worse.