There’s a book inside me trying to get out. It’s called I was beaten more days than not. It’s called the beatings are still with me. It’s called I love you and I’m smiling but my heart is crying inside. Screaming in pain. The book is fighting with fear. Fear was my best friend. Fear kept me alive. But now fear is keeping the book inside and it’s going to kill me if it doesn’t get out. It’s going to grow and eat me like cancer. Or give me actual cancer. The book wants to be heard. The book is me. It’s all the ages I was when Fear was keeping me alive. Or hope. Because I think Hope might be Fear’s cousin. Not that I understand family or anything. Family, after all, is what Fear and Hope tried to save me from for all those years. In all those dark moments. You know, the moments when you’re told by the people who brought you into this world that you are disgusting to your core. That they never actually wanted you. That you’re always on the verge of wrath and judgement. God is looking at you and He wants to vomit. All that lovely, nurturing honesty that builds loving and confident members of society. I lived in the dark for years after I left the darkness. I took it with me. It lived on in my barely breathing soul. I pretended to be a living person. I even fooled myself for a time. But a living darkness like mine cannot be tricked into dying. It knows it’s alive. And when my careful charade of life was struck a blow by another version of what first tried to end me, the darkness began to weep. It made myself heard. All the me’s had found their voice. And gave it to the pain. The vibrations cracked my shell and I hatched. I was reborn. As a newborn, yet less helpless than before. The metamorphosis startled me. It knocked my back off my feet. I tentatively thanked the fear for keeping me alive, and handed the keys to hope instead with trembling hands. I can see colors I didn’t before. I can hear sounds I was deaf to. I can feel the life. I can see it teeming all around me. In its glory and agony. Sometimes I break again from the weight of it. The darkness is still with me. Some days it rides shotgun. Some days I can call it an Uber. Other days it stuffs me in a trunk and I’m not sure where we’re going. But then I hatch again. Another part of me is born and freed to begin again. Quivering with possibility and apprehension. Most do not welcome my darkness. Very few can accept the constant rebirth. I am too much for many and not enough for nearly all. But there is a book inside me, fighting with fear to get out. And maybe when Fear and Hope and Me can walk into the light together, I will feel heard. And the pain will settle to a dull roar. Which is preferable to the constant ringing in my head.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to put on pants. I’m clumsy and I struggle to maintain balance on one leg while inserting the other into my clothing. Also my yoga pants are a little too small… I blame my 1 year old.
It doesn’t often occur to me. Most mornings, in regards to pants anyway, I’m a “normal” all-American mom who wakes up and downs just enough coffee to allow for basic human function. I don’t even think about pants. Here’s hoping my autopilot remembers to put some on.
And then there’s the days that I’m both Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates. This morning, I went into my closet and pulled out Old Navy fitted athletic pants. And then I remembered that I’m not allowed to wear pants. That pants means I am on the broad road to destruction. That I have willingly allowed myself to fall for the lies of the enemy and am being carried away by apostacy. I allowed the gateway drug of pants to lead me towards Jezebel paint and shearing off my glory, as well as defacing myself bodily. In the time it took me to walk across my room, I played my mantra back to myself. I am 2015 me. I am an autonomous adult. My eternal life is not attached to the fact that the clothing on the bottom half of my body has a separate compartment for each leg. The woman who birthed me into this world is not my conscience, the Holy Spirit, my salvation.
It wanted to trip me up today. I had a strong moment. I chose to believe what I know and trust what I question to a God who I am learning loves my heart so much more than what I put on my earthly body.
I’m learning how to remind myself when I forget. Or rather when I remember. Rewriting, re-wiring, replaying. And hoping that one day I’ll wake up and remember what I know and forget what I should never have been taught.
And I trust in the bigness of God to be bigger than me.
“If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them … all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die.”
These are the words I was raised on. They flowed through my mother’s milk. They burned in my ears and in my dreams. You must make yourself worthy of the discriminating love of Almighty God. Love is temporary and easily lost. Especially the holy and unblemished love of God.
The fear was a constant companion. Always there was a shoulder to look over. Rights and wrongs painstakingly combed through. Was that bad enough for me to be left behind in the Rapture? Have I been adequately punished for the unrighteousness of which I am made? There was no way to know for sure. Because this…
I am through and through a worthless piece of trash and the only thing I can hope for is to throw myself upon the mercy of a God who’s ear I can only hope to earn. I lived with a ridiculous fear of rejection based on my performance.
Only it turned out to not be ridiculous in the slightest.
With barely a backward glance, all 7 of us were systematically signed away. Ages 17 on down to 8. Over a span of about 2 years. I grieve for everyone who has looked across a courthouse table and watched as their flesh and blood gave them up. Threw them away. For the saving of my soul. I had become so wicked that God could no longer reach me through my birth parents. Their holinesses were at a loss. I could not be saved any longer by their piety. I was 16.
While my life improved incredibly at this point, the wounds remained. Scars formed.
I has learned that love is temporary. While a part of me knows that is utter bullshit, an ever-growing part of me, the me that spent 16 years failing to gain a parent’s unconditional affection is not sure. I want to be sure. I want to claim that chapter over. I want to be done with it. I want to not feel the sudden and unexplained surges of fear. I would like to breeze through my day with normal worries and everyday difficulties. Without the bottom falling out with no notice.
I fear my adoptive family will be sorry they let a tempest into their lives. I fear my husband will suddenly reach a limit he didn’t know he had. I fear my friends will find me just too hard to love. That my insecurity will be too ugly. That my neediness will suffocate my people. That they will be washed away in the flood of my tears.
Because I learned that love is not forever. It does not conquer quite everything. I can be too much. I can be not enough.
I open the Word of God and I to fight to hear His loving voice over the din of condemnation. I struggle to believe that He is not Who I learned Him to be. I am up to my eyeballs in battle.
I don’t want to make excuses to the people I hurt with my brokenness. I have some reasons. But reasons are excuses. I could have, should have… Any number of things.
I almost never know when it’s going to grab me by the heel. By the heart. A word. A phrase. The 1611 NKJ version being recited. A bit of Christianese wielded flippantly. Any reminder that love is not everlasting. That I can fail to keep holding onto enough brownie points.
Not that I believe anything other than Jesus is my life. But everything else… Everyone else. It’s just a matter of time. I will be weighed and found wanting. Or worse I am sabotaging all of it.
Some days I see His goodness.
On days like today, I try to remind myself I will see it again.
And I think I understand this passage just a little now.
I am His little one. And I have been made to stumble.
And even if my fingers start slipping, He is still holding onto me.
I have a good man. I could have been drawn to someone abusive and unfaithful.
I have 4 beautiful, loving children. I could have been too afraid to be a mother.
I have relationships with my family. I could have turned and never looked back.
I have friends. Beautiful, wonderful friends. I have a bent towards the artistic and creative. If I met me, I would like me. Sometimes. While I am not perfect, it isn’t fair to make that the standard. None of us are. Preemies get adjusted age. So I’m giving myself adjusted health.
It’s a constant balancing act. I don’t know what it’s supposed to look like, so I look around and try to follow the patterns I see around me. Emotional and life skills that many children would develop subconsciously in their formative and teen years I have had to BS my way to. Fake it till you make it and all that jive. Every decision and every response is a process of filtering through layers of consideration. Is this how a normal person would answer? Does this situation merit my emotional input? I have trouble with boundaries. In having my own boundaries and knowing where others’ are, but also with making myself get out there and be a part of my life. When it gets particularly difficult, I close in on myself and withdraw. You may have no idea that’s happening. That’s not your fault. The years of caution taught me bizarre behaviors.
But my children deserve better. My husband deserves better. My siblings. My parents. So I take responsibility. I take myself to therapy. I hash it out. Over and over. I make steps forward. A few back. I study and I learn. And I hope.
I remember to say to myself, “You have come far.”
I am in a stable, healthy, ever-growing relationship. That is a fucking miracle. The odds were and are against me. Next September, Jim and I will be married for 10 years. I didn’t quit. I didn’t walk away. I didn’t implode. That is proof of life to me.
My life looks nothing like anyone else’s. It never will. I will never do things the way ‘normal people do’. My relationships will not be the way you think they should be. I will have to work hard for all of it. But it doesn’t have to look a certain way. My life is. That is all. It is messy and chaotic. But it has love. And light. And better.
I have people. Some of them understand different parts of me. But they all love me. And I am able to love them. Against all the odds. Despite the shattered pieces. And sometimes because of them.
And so my adjusted age…
I am letting myself off so many hooks. Your hooks. My hooks. The only hook I need to be on is God’s and Jesus hung on that hook for me so that He could take all of it and make a new mosaic. Where you can still see the broken pieces, the rough edges, and Who is holding them all together in His beautiful Masterpiece.
I’m putting it all together, one piece at a time. I’m rebuilding and rewiring. I’m Peeta Mellark asking over and over, “Real or not real?”
In my pursuit of the truth, I pondered the role that the church I grew up in must have played in shaping my childhood experiences. Until recently, I had not given much thought to the connection between the teachings of what I now realize to be a cult, and the damaging parenting practices that I grew up believing were appropriate and necessary. I naively assumed that being in a new family with a healthy religious environment somehow negated or cancelled out the destructive nature of the previous 16 years. After connecting online with someone else who was raised in the same church affiliation, I hesitantly put pen to paper. Or fingers to keys… For the first time, I attempted to objectively chronicle my upbringing as it relates to the religious beliefs of the people who brought me into this world.
I was born in 1985, the second of seven children. Until I was around 9 years old, my biological parents attended a gathering of Faith Assembly, under Dr. Hobart Freeman, in Endicott, NY. We drove about 2 hours each way to be there every other Saturday evening with very few exceptions. The teachings or messages were brought by James Mansfield. I believe we met in the basement of a school or community building of some kind. The meetings began on Saturday evening and went late into the night, sometimes early Sunday morning. A man named Lemuel Dees was the song/worship leader and Sean (bio father), among other people, filled in at times when Mr. Dees could not be there.
I have few specific memories of being there, but most of what I know of the group was from the teachings that were engrained in us at home. I feel our upbringing was the toxic result of the dangerously unbalanced teachings of Dr. Freeman and the deeply unstable emotional and mental state of both of our parents, but specifically Judy (bio mother). We would spend hours listening to cassette tapes of Dr. Freeman’s recorded teachings, as well as those by James Mansfield, and others whose names I can barely remember but would recognize if I read them.
Isolation from the world was heavily emphasized. We were homeschooled in an extremely sheltered fashion as to be cut off from even other homeschoolers. Aside from the occasional trip to the grocery store and the bi-weekly pilgrimage to the Endicott Assembly Meeting, we had very little contact with the outside world. For example, even though we lived in a duplex, we were discouraged from having much contact with the neighbors who lived on the other side of the wall. Family members on both Sean and Judy’s sides of the family were shunned and disparaged to such an extent that I grew up with very little knowledge of any of my extended family as they were not ‘walking in the light’. I remember a few loud verbal altercations in which my grandparents were told that their ungodly influences were not welcome in our life. Complete strangers were picked up and invited to stay in our home because they were missionaries spreading God’s Word.
We would often be without a vehicle for periods of time because Sean repaired them; we did not take them to be serviced when they broke down. I don’t know if this was because our family could not afford to have our vehicles repaired, because outside interaction was discouraged, or some cocktail of both. We grew up with very little. Sean refused to take a test that would have certified him as a land surveyor and ensured that we would have been better off financially. God would not have been pleased with our lust of the eyes and pride of life, however. As a result, we lived off very little and were fed accordingly. Clothing was worn at least a week before washing and baths were given weekly in as little water as possible to preserve the scant amount of cleaning products and personal hygiene products we could afford with coupons.
Any medical attention indicated both a lack of faith and outright defiance of God’s perfect will. We were never vaccinated or taken to a doctor for any reason. I recall being sick a lot. Stomach viruses were rampant, but as an adult, I recognize what was most likely frequent food poisoning from the expired food we ate. I remember once, in particular, as I was recovering from days of not being able to keep anything down, the dinner dish that was served contained sausage and I found it unappealing and I did not feel ready to eat it. The ‘demon of fear’ was cast out of me, apparently unsuccessfully, since after eating said sausage dish and returning to bed, I proceeded to be quite sick to my stomach. I remember my little brother often clutching at his ears, screaming in pain. I now realize he probably had horrible ear infections. I guess an upside of so much isolation is that we would have been much sicker had we interacted with any more people. We were often schooled on the dangers of just about everything and warned that if we were hurt we had better have enough faith to be well as we would not be administered medical attention. Once, when I was 11, I had an allergic reaction to something I ate. As my mouth and throat became itchy and swelled, the response I received was that Judy hoped I was “ready to meet my Maker.”
When we weren’t listening to recorded sermons, the radio was often playing; mostly the news about the Middle East. “See, the end is coming. The rapture is just upon us and you have been very disobedient children.” I lived in constant fear of being left behind. I was certain I would have to face the Great Tribulation on my own. I had nightmares and sleep-walked even into adulthood. I grew to hate the sound of BBC News and anything related to Palestinian peace talks. I felt cold all over my body from the fear.
We were beaten often, sometimes every day for days. We were forced to ‘confess’ sins and admit to things our parents had suspected we had done, whether or not they had in fact happened. It took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t simply a ‘spanking’ or ‘good parenting’. We were truly beaten. Sometimes it was with belts and sometimes Sean would take a piece of wood down to his basement workshop and sand it down and carve out a handle for better spanking leverage. We would sit in our rooms for hours sometimes anxiously awaiting the discipline that would make our souls right again in case of the rapture. We were told over and over that this was God’s will for us and would make us holy. My oldest brother’s desire to be a dairy farmer someday was squashed as a ‘selfish ambition’ that God wanted to cleanse him of. Once I remember being locked in a room for most of a day and being intermittently beaten throughout the day. To this day I have limited mobility in my right shoulder where the arm was yanked out of the socket to save my soul from hell.
As children, we were discouraged from thinking for ourselves. God had given us parents who were ‘enlightened’ and we were to trust and obey without question. We were often beaten for ‘back talking’ or saying things that were perceived as disrespect. Gender roles were clearly laid out. A woman’s place was to be a wife and mother only in the home and anything else was out of God’s perfect will and therefore sinful. Women must wear dresses, especially dresses that disguise the figure and are, for the most part, plain and unadorned. We were not to shave or pluck any body hair and were expressly forbidden to pierce any body part or apply makeup. Perfume was also sinful as it attracts men. I recall being told one day that my desire to drive a pickup truck was outside of God’s will. Only men drive trucks.
We were taught that men and women touching each other in any way was wrong. If our parents felt we were even being too affectionate or playing too roughly with one another, a no touching rule was enacted and would last for several days. We were assured that the night before we were to be married, we would be taken out for coffee by the parent of the same gender and explained how babies come into the world. No further education on human anatomy or sexuality was necessary or acceptable.
Judy became very ill when I was 9 years old. She had a severe case of gallstones which eventually caused a life threatening abdominal infection when a gall stone caused a bile leak internally. After being violently ill for quite some time, several people convinced her to see a doctor. I believe it was around this time that we were no longer meeting with the Faith Assembly in Endicott, NY. We were told that the group disbanded. From this point on, our family continued on much the same as we had been all those years with the exception that we went from church to church searching for others who ‘had the light’ in the same way we did.
Eventually, between the neglect, abuse, and mental instability, all 7 children were placed in 4 different homes around the time I was 15. None of us have contact with either Sean or Judy any longer and, in some degree or another, all 7 of us struggle with depression, anxiety, or other conditions. When questioned a few years back by one of my sisters, Sean informed her that, as children, we had rebelled against God. We had destroyed the family and were given over to our own desires and were not right with God. They desire no contact or relationship with any of us until we are repentant and ask for forgiveness in a way that shows we have turned from our sinful ways and have adequately made amends.
Putting words to the memories was difficult but cathartic. I feel in a strange way that I may even help me to forgive. Ackowledging the abuse and giving my childhood self a voice is freeing. There will be days ahead when I must look back and remind myself that I know I’m ok. There will be bright days that the past can barely touch with its tenacious darkness. I hope that bringing it into the light will lessen the power it has over me, help me to see goodness where it really is, and may guide some other beaten soul towards the path of healing that I am slowly finding for myself.
For now, I need a nap.
That trip down Memory Lane was exhausting.
I hate what this broken world has made me. I despise the way I react and respond to everyday situations. Every day I plead with God to change me. I wish He would do it instantaneously. I am grieved by the walls in my heart and mind. I am tired of distrusting. I am weary of suspecting ulterior motives. I am sad. And I’m tired of being sad. I am exhausted from second, third, and fourth guessing myself at every turn. I have good days. I have great days. I have days that are rocky, but doable. I have days of utter despair and heartache. Lonely, lonely heartache. I feel like a treasure. I feel like a burden. I am never enough. I am always too much. I’m very, very tired.
It was easier not to try. It was safer not to unearth everything that was wrong. It was less painful to not sort it all out. I’m getting better, but it is an uphill climb and the people around me are tired, too. Instead of mustered smiles and toughened exterior, I am raw nerves and bare emotions. It is good. It is better. But it is a mess. It is a step, a phase, a season in the process. I can’t stop. Or turn back. I have to go forward. I have to believe there is peace on the other side of this. That there is rest. And a reprieve from the feelings. There are too many of them. The spectrum of emotions is devastatingly broad and overwhelming.
I’m adrift at sea. On an ocean that is taking me somewhere good, but the gale force of the storm that is propelling me along has been threatening to capsize me.
Be my anchor. Like Peter cried to You, “Save me! I’m sinking!”
I hang on by white-knuckled fingers. You will not let me fall.
It’s really not. That’s been happening for a while now. There’s not hate. Or desire for revenge. There is some anger. Tears. A lot of confusion and questions, especially now that I have and love children of my own.
But it’s not really about forgiveness.
It’s about rewiring the circuitry.
I get that it’s broken. I’ve moved on from that. I’ve moved on from blaming. I’ve moved on to seeking out healing.
Well-meaning people keep saying things like “forgive, so they don’t have the power to hurt you anymore”. I know you mean well. Please just hug me instead, or don’t judge my unfinishedness. That’s the lovingest thing you can do.
I’m not holding on to hurt. If that was all, I’d have let go a LOOOOOOONG time ago. When broken people have hordes of offspring with no thought to their own wholeness, they crush their kids. They wire them wrong. They tell them f’ed up things that make them unsure of their worth, both to mankind and to the God Who created them.
I cried today. Because it’s September 11th. But not because of the tragedy that hit our nation that day over a decade ago. Before you gasp at my cold heart, hear me out. I got home from school that day to something that never should have been said to me. That never should have been said to my siblings. Or to any child, ever.
“You’re just like those terrorists.”
I remember it every year. And then I stuff it back down in the box where I keep everything connected to my childhood, lock it up, and go on.
This year I took it to therapy with me. Until this point, I have always remembered it as something said to me, neutrally, with very little in the way of positive or negative emotion attached to it. Very carefully.
It was wrong.
I honestly didn’t know that. I’ve thought for the better part of 27 years that the emotional, verbal, mental, physical, and spiritual abuse was merely their idea of doing the right thing, and who was I to say that they were wrong in any of it? After all, don’t we all make mistakes in the name of doing what we believe is right? There is a difference between making a mistake and abusing your children. Having a difficult day is not the same as discarding human decency in the name of parenting.
I am terrified that I am a horrible parent. That my love compass is broken. That I am irreparably destroying the single most amazing thing that has ever been in my life. The more I heal, however, and learn that the way I was raised was not an acceptable childhood, the more confidence I have in being a mom. The less fearful I am of myself. I am not her. I am not broken beyond repair. I can love. I am loved. I am as normal as I need to be. I may be re-raising myself along with my 3 children, but I am ok. Do I mourn the childhood I should have had? Yes. But I have forgiven. That is not my burden to carry. It’s such a mess that only God can sort it out. I am left with pieces, and empty spaces, but He restores my youth like the eagles.
So, no. It’s not about forgiveness anymore. That was awhile ago. Forgiveness doesn’t make me magically unhurt. There is no magic reset button. It doesn’t undo 16 years of trauma. It just puts things in the right place so I can start to untangle my own mess and realize just how precious I actually am.