When I was 19 I had the opportunity to write out…basically my life story and post it to a website with a lot of readers. It helped me start processing my life and was the catalyst for rethinking all the things I was taught and starting to see my abuse for what it was. I’ve requested the author of the site to take the articles down because I feel the site no longer represents or seeks to aid survivors of abuse like mine – but I still feel like my story – though I have grown and changed massively in the last six years – is important and can maybe still help people like me. So I’m posting it here. It was originally published in 6 parts, but I’m posting it in one fell swoop with handy navigation.
This was my start. I was just out of my parents house and still talking to them, facing a world of unknowns, and clinging to religion and the hope of a healthy family. Where I was then is still important, because it gave me the courage to become who I am now.
- Big Girls Don’t Feel
- Maintaining Appearances
- Critical Thinking
- Growing Up
- Waking Up
- Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
I’m no stranger to hard things. In ways my life was built around doing hard things and part of that has made me who I am today. I’m no stranger to sacrifice, conflict, or rejection. For a while, these things seemed to follow me and my family wherever we went.
In 19 years, my mom’s had 10 pregnancies and 8 children, most of them taking place over the last 11 years. At 8, my life would become a cycle of doing my own thing, and then that being put on hold to take care of everyone and keep the house running until the newest baby arrived. This wasn’t always the case…
We started homeschooling when I was in kindergarten, according to my parents, primarily because my private school wouldn’t let me jump grades (since I was at a 1st grade level). My brother’s best friend at the time was also homeschooled and their family had spent the last few years convincing my parents that my mom doesn’t belong in the work place and should be at home teaching us. Through Bible studies and home-churching, my parents began to learn that homeschooling was actually God’s will and most of what they believed was wrong.
The first home-church that I remember essentially taught us that corporate churches aren’t godly, that God did not give us doctors (and to see them is weak in the faith), home-birthing is the way to go, we should farm, and introduced us to a cult called Cleansing Stream. Thankfully, we did manage to get out of the cult. We started up our own home-church which involved spending most of Sunday afternoon sitting quietly listening to the dads read their bibles and talk about things that were just over my head. My dad eventually decided that we should go back to church and Sunday’s went from being boring to being stressful. My parents would argue with each other about how hypocritical it would be to go to a conventional church. One day I just blurted out that I hated sundays because of all the fighting. We did start attending traditional churches, and this began a time in my life filled with loneliness and uncertainty.
My average church experienced looked something like this: We’d go for a while, become semi-involved, I would start to make friends, the pastor would say something my parents couldn’t agree with, they’d approach the pastor and tell him he was wrong, there would be a big fight, we’d be forced to leave either by leadership or because the church totally turned against us, I’d lose whatever friends I managed to make. This cycle repeated over and over until eventually I just didn’t get close to people, I was social, but I never attached to anyone because I knew we’d only be there for a short time before we left, home-churched, and found another place that we’d have to leave.
It was at this time, between all the pregnancies and friendships come and gone, with me sitting in the middle helpless to stop any of it, that I developed what I eventually called my iron shell. I compared myself to The Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, and created a persona that nothing could permeate or illicit a tear. I thought crying (especially publicly) was a sign of weakness, and managed to sit stone faced through my brother’s funeral at age 10. I remember being annoyed with my mom for crying (both publicly and during movies or reading books) because I didn’t understand why it was okay for her to cry.
I tried to train my mind to become more like what I thought guys’ brains were like – compartmentalized. I tried to lock my emotions in a box where they wouldn’t come out, and I let issues build up for months on end until eventually I couldn’t take the weight of it all and I broke. As I got older, this would happen about every 6 months, so I only really cried twice a year, which, though I would have rather not cried at all, it was tolerable (since, I was human and it had been building up).
What’s worse, I was genuinely proud of the fact that I had (to a degree) been successful in locking the most intricate (though messy) part of me away in my brain, where I hopefully would never have to see (feel) it again.
In time, I would begin to envision myself as a fair rose hidden inside metal armor. Afraid to grow, afraid to feel, staying inside a metal cage meant to protect. As far as appearances went though, you’d never know I felt that way. I don’t think my own family knew how I felt, when it comes down to it. Appearances were very important – we always had to look perfect, the house had to be spotless, when we were moving we had to be all happy about it (even if we weren’t), that way people wouldn’t think there was something wrong. The worst thing that could happen would be for someone to wonder if there was something wrong/ someone wasn’t “happy”.
I joined a speech club when I was 13, and for the first time in years, I felt like I was going to make friends, my own friends that wouldn’t be impacted by my family (because, we were a debate club learning how to think for ourselves). Just as I felt like I was making some progress and was beginning to allow myself to know people, our situation changed and we prepared to move out of state – somewhere we’d never even been. It was a house my grandparents had bought and offered to let us stay in until they retired. I was not happy about the move. I was stressed, and I had no qualms about letting people know that I was less than thrilled. My mom took me aside one day and talked to me about my “bad attitude” basically explaining that I had to be happy (and I had better be!) because we don’t want anyone to think something was wrong – we should be excited instead.
So, by all appearances I was happy and excited about what God was doing for my family. Only Him and my journal witnessed my true feelings and felt my tears pour down and stain the pages. I still have that journal, and I can go back to those pages and thoughts, and the giant handwriting to express my anger and sorrow and stress of it all, and the pressure of having to put on a false front to keep my family from potential damage. It felt wrong, I was lying to myself and I knew it. Back into the box my emotions went as I prepared to say goodbye to the almost-there friendships. When we moved, I completed my tough-girl persona by dawning camouflage and a marine hat.
Becoming even more engrossed in politics and debate, refusing to cry, and trying desperately to purge emotion, I still longed for friendship, and eventually I found it. This handful of friends would be the first people to really know me, the people I could turn to and actually be myself with.
I did great things when we moved. After being there only 3 months I took on a project as an event coordinator. At 15, I managed to make contacts and spearhead a military rally, become a keynote speaker at a patriot’s day event, and over the course of a few years I would work on different local and out of state campaigns as a volunteer. I even had some experience working as a legislative aid for a month.
So again, to all appearances (even my parents) I seemed like a content over-achieving homeschooled teenager. I got good grades in school, wrote articles, and did all those cool hard things that homeschooled teenagers should do. I guess it’s no wonder that in light of that and my persona, even my family didn’t realize that inside deep down, I was hiding.
Hiding behind a wall of appearances, because deep down, I was afraid of myself. I didn’t want to let myself feel, I became afraid of differing with my parents because of the consequences. So I was the daughter they wanted, I took their words to heart, I defended them, I agreed with them, and I was their arrow. Made to pierce the bubbles of well-roundedness. To the observer, I was my father’s daughter…
Many people tell me I’m brave, they can’t believe how strong I am. Ten years of playing “mommy 2” isn’t overly common in the outside world. People at church would often tell me how lucky my parents were to have me and say “I bet you help out a lot, huh?” and I would nod and say “yes” while scanning the room to keep tabs on my siblings. “You guys are so blessed!” They would exclaim to my parents, “I don’t know how you do it.” My parents would nod in agreement while other families noted how well behaved we were.
It seemed people either wanted to have our faith or detested us. They would aspire to become like my family, or think we were crazy lunatics. We prided ourselves on being polarizing like that. There was no happy middle, happy middles just didn’t exist, it was like a murky grey in a black and white world, we were taught there was no such thing, people who believed in grey were just in the black but too cowardly to acknowledge it.
My parents did a good job training me, honestly. They taught me how to think critically, discern God for myself, and not let other people do it for me. They taught me to stand for truth in the face of lies and not back down in the midst of uncertainty. They didn’t raise a daughter who would just sit and look at injustice quietly. I learned how to differentiate between issues and people in debate club, and how to speak effectively through speech class. Even though I never did well in competition, between my parents and debate, I learned how to form my own opinion and find truth.
It wasn’t until I was almost 17 that my buried emotions and conflicts began to surface and affect my relationship with my parents. I graduated high school early (shocker) and was in my first (and only) relationship. It had already been a long year, my mom’s most recent pregnancy had been the hardest yet. I was struggling emotionally and spiritually as well as dealing with the added pressure of trying to teach all of my siblings on top of everything else. In short, I was burnt out. I wanted a day off life, I was tired and walking on eggshells because of a stressful pregnancy.
I felt selfish for wanting – needing a break. Told that my attitude and selfish behavior (because I was tired and burnt out/grumpy) was not something God would honor or bless. I had hated myself for years, and this compounded it. I was such a sinful selfish person and I did not deserve a break. My job was to take care of my family, life gave no breaks, and to want one right now was immature and selfish. I should happily give up my life to take care of my family, and to be annoyed that my life was put on hold (yet again) was horrible. I was wrong for feeling this way, I was a bad daughter, and God would never bless me. I cried. I was being petty, the things that bothered me really weren’t that big of a deal, I was just being a lazy brat and needed to get my act together.
I needed to Do Hard Things after all, and I wasn’t doing it right.
The thing about training is that eventually, you grow up and exercise what you were taught. I was taught to think for myself, to stand up regardless of pressure, and in the end, that’s what I did.
The last half of my 16th year my parents spent drilling into me that I was a capable adult and ready for marriage. I went to visit my boyfriend after christmas and I think my parents fully expected a proposal even though (despite me being 16) we’d only been together since September. I was nervous, naturally. A hasty marriage was being pushed by my family while his were much less hurried. I was scared, because at 16, I interpreted this as there being something wrong…maybe they didn’t like me, maybe they didn’t want us in a relationship. Over the next few months I realized that this wasn’t the case, they just didn’t want to rush us.
My family refused to think that my initial fears were misinterpreted or that we had already resolved the situation. The summer of my 17th year was filled with long discussions about how I was wrong and nothing was resolved, even after I had told them it was.
This is the point in my life where I started thinking for myself, realizing how to solve conflict, and put what my parents had taught me into practice. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well.
Towards the end of the summer, my mom got pregnant, and I freaked out. My parents had decided they’d had enough of me being in a relationship, and with my boyfriend asking (twice) if I could come up for a week in August, they decided that I’d experienced enough and needed to go back to being their helpful daughter, which meant no communication was allowed between me and my boyfriend (otherwise, I wouldn’t break up or move on!).
In fairness, they did give me 3 days to decide if I would break it off, and they did give me some incentive ($300) before they made the move on their own and I woke up one morning to an email saying:
“After much prayer and careful thought, we have decided that the courtship between Alex and Kierstyn has to end. You may be aware that a few days ago, I had told Alex that I am forbidding him to propose to Kierstyn and I’m forbidding her to accept his proposal.”
It went on into much more detail, but this marked a turning point for me. I was devastated, I tried so hard to do everything right, I was doing what I was trained to do. I was seeking God for myself, thinking for myself, and making my own decisions, like adults do, like I was told I was supposed to do. And then, this happened. I screamed harder and louder than I ever had before, it was this guttural sound that was somewhat akin to Wesley in the Princess Bride.
God Why did you do this to me? what did I do to deserve it? that was all I wanted to know, I tried so hard, and apparently, failed.
A failure, that’s what I was, a giant failure. I couldn’t be the daughter my parents wanted me to be. I had tasted freedom, and I felt like I deserved it. I couldn’t go back to being the second mom after being told I was an adult. Adults can’t take their children’s adulthood away, can they?
The 6 months between the split and my 18th birthday were the darkest days of my life. I was horribly depressed, I hardly ate, I contemplated cutting and suicide on more than one occasion. Honestly, if it weren’t for the friends I had made before and my boyfriend’s pastor stepping up and reaching me when I cried for help, I don’t know where I would be. I was mad at God, mad at my parents, mad at myself for being so stupid to think that I could have my own life. I felt a little piece of myself die with every passing day, as I realized that I could not be the person I believe I was created to be and the daughter my family needed me to be. I was alone in a house full of people, my already shaky relationship with my parents dwindled down to nothing. I hardly talked to them at all except to get assignments, all while I was screaming “Notice Me!!!!!!!” inside.
They don’t care about me, I thought. So concerned about the rest of the kids, they don’t see that they’re losing me, pushing me away. I don’t matter. My job is the same it’s been for the last 10 years, take care of the kids while they have another one. That’s what I’m here for, and that’s my role in life. But I was so much more, and they didn’t see it.
I felt like the only reason they loved me, was because of what I did while they had babies, and I felt horrible. I felt like no one would ever want me, because I had loved, and then I couldn’t. Like I was “damaged goods” and even my boyfriend wouldn’t want me back. I didn’t know if I could ever trust again, because the people I had trusted my whole life turned on me.
I somehow still believed I had a reason to be alive, besides playing second mom. Deep down I knew that I was created to be me. I thought I was crazy, losing my mind, because all of a sudden I am seeing and acknowledging the world exists in a way different than how I used to see it. I was scared, I was insane because my parent’s didn’t think of it like this. I thought I was wrong, but I wasn’t.
I gave up being the perfect daughter, because by now it was evident that I would never reach that mark. It hurt, I failed my family. But they taught me that God was more important than man, and I sincerely thank them for instilling that in me. I ignored the communication ban and bode my time until I could leave. Until I would be free to grow and develop as an adult, as a woman, as the person I knew I was created to be. Staying at home was no longer a training ground, it was a prison, I wasn’t free to follow God as I once was.
It’s hard, to live in a God fearing house and yet have to struggle so much because what you know you’re supposed to do does not coincide with what other people think.
On my 18th birthday I would do the hardest thing I’d ever done, I would leave. I’m sad that I didn’t say goodbye, but I was honestly terrified that (despite their saying they would have helped me pack) they wouldn’t let me out of their sight. I went out to dinner, my boyfriend came down, and we left. We called at the border and told them what was going on, and after an initial shock, they threatened to fill out a police report. We had friends who were cops and knew what was going on, but we managed to avoid the report altogether.
Even with all the pain, guilt(tripping), and general missing of my family, leaving was probably the best thing I could have done. I would have loved to be able to sit down and talk reasonably to my family, but it wouldn’t have happened.
As weird as it is to admit, my parents prepared me for this. I used the skills and lessons they taught me as a child, to make my own decision, to follow God on my own, become an adult, and break free. I stood in the face of danger and change and I took the step, because it was mine to take. I did the hardest thing I’d ever done, because my parents gave me the tools to become a person, and I’m grateful.
When we arrived, my boyfriend’s family and pastor took me in and became my adopted family. They ministered to me and loved me, and generally instilled the confidence in myself, in God, and in family that I had lost.
When we announced the news of my engagement, my family started writing my pastor and generally trying to sabotage my wedding by not sending my dress or supporting me in any way. To give me my dress would the same as giving money to a homeless drunk in their eyes. My in-laws and my boyfriend paid for everything, and we used the church for free.
It was a (perfect) small wedding. My grandparents came and I walked the aisle alone. I liked this because, it was me, making a decision. My pastor asked me after the ceremony how I felt, and I answered “free.” I made it. I didn’t give up, and I did what I knew was right. It was worth the pain, the depression, and the sacrifice to be free.
I’ve left a lot behind, I think differently, I don’t view the world as I used to, and I’m enjoying having the liberty to learn and grow. My husband and I have been married over a year, are stronger than ever, and enjoy being able to make decisions without being worried about unneeded input. I am now confident and pleased with myself – no longer hating my own guts.
My relationship with my parents fluctuates between shallow and non-existent. In time, I hope they’ll accept me as an adult, and not view me as their unrepentant child who still needs training. I hope someday, they’ll be willing to listen, and love me because I’m their daughter, respect my decisions (and husband) because I’m an adult, and have a healthy relationship with me. I’d love for that to be soon. I’m sorry for any wrong or pain I’ve caused them. I know they meant well, they were trying as hard as they could. I don’t want them to think that because I’m different, that it means I’m bad or rejecting them, just that, I’m a person.
I guess if there’s anything to be learned from my story it’s that there’s hope. Sometimes it’s hard to see, but there’s a way out, a way to freedom, a way to life, and it’s worth the pain to find it.