I’ve written before about the financial decisions my parents made and how that impacted me as a child who was taught that it was better to suffer than be happy. To the point that to voice the desire to be happy meant your faith was questioned.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
— Matthew 5: 11-12 (KJV)
Or, in my parents translation:
You’ll know how good (#blessed) of a christian you are by how hard your life is: how much you’re being persecuted, and how many people are angry with you. If your life is full of suffering, that’s god showing his love to you. Take joy in that suffering because you will have the most treasures when you go to heaven.
In practical, lived experience terms, this looked like watching my parents choose homelessness because they believed god told them to pay a friend’s mortgage and they couldn’t do both. God got the credit for my grandparents saving us by pulling some strings for a place the day we had to move out.
This looked like being kicked out of churches every 2 years after leaving the cult because my parents would get in an argument about faith healing with the pastors and swiftly shown the door. This was proof that we were right and doing the right things.
This looked like watching my parents make financial decisions based on how much stress it caused them, which they interpreted as a sign from god that this was his way.
Heavenly treasure isn’t really a comfort to a child who instantly lost contact with every almost-new-friend they were making. It does nothing to quell the anxiety about how to keep track of 4 siblings on the streets. That promise felt more like a curse as I aged, but I was never able to see it that way because to do so was blasphemy and called my eternal salvation into question.
It’s not that it didn’t occur to my parents that maybe the choices they had were ways to provide for our family and live in relative security and comfort (which is also blessed by god!), they believed that was sacrilegious and we were called to suffer.
“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:”
— 1 Peter 2:21 (KJV)
Because Jesus suffered for us, we are called to choose suffering; so we can be an example.
Add that to being raised inside extreme gender roles and taught (+ reinforced by experience) that it would be sinful for me to pursue a future that would make me happy, a future where I had autonomy and independence. Not only would that be sinful, but my life would be awful and my salvation rescinded, which makes for some really interesting results in adulthood.
By interesting I mean, the struggle is extremely real and it never had to be, but that was out of my control as a child and now I have to live with those consequences.
This is the crux of what I’ve been working on in therapy for the last 3.5 years now.
Magnitudes harder than it is for folks whose parents didn’t intentionally stunt their education to force them into a life of 1950s-meets-1800s in the 21st century after looking at their infant’s genitals and deciding that’s all they were good for.
I turn 29 this month and I feel like I’m suffocating from shame at my lack of education and abilities, and poverty; neither of which are my fault, but both of which I get to carry because of choices that unlike my parents, I did not get to make.
My parents chose to put me and my siblings at risk, they chose to keep basic life necessities out of reach, they chose to shame and guilt us for expressing needs and wants, they chose to punish and squelch any form of independence including employment, they chose to reinforce that my time and my energy is worth nothing by making me return payment to neighbors who wanted to hire me to watch their kids, they chose to spend 18 years of my life telling me that I am worthless and deserving of nothing.
And here I am at almost 30, working my ass off and making my chronic illness worse just to survive and yet constantly getting in my own way because the instant I make a decision that would better myself I panic. I internalized all of their choices because I had no exposure to anything else as a child, so clearly I was the one in the wrong.
Those lessons that my parents taught me? About how I need to follow in their exact footsteps, give to the point of harm, cast aside my dreams and stay at home to support other people? Even though I am extremely aware that they are all 100% lies, 100% abusive, and 100% meant to keep me in line with their plan that never ever included me? are still there.
They’re still powerful and strong and loud in my head every time I get rejected or ghosted on job applications. Reminding me that I wasn’t “meant” to do this. I wasn’t “meant” to be self sufficient, I was trained to be a helpmeet with no needs or wants.
I know better now, but those beliefs are still stuck to my core.
So it’s really devastating that when I do make choices to free myself (getting divorced, moving to CA, starting HRT, starting school, applying to jobs, doing the hustle), I spiral and fail because I haven’t yet learned the skills required to succeed. Unlike people who went to school and had jobs and income that was theirs to manage before being thrown into adulthood with debt and bills.
I am so good at what I do, and it’s so difficult to be able to survive well enough to do it. I’m trying to do all the right things, I go through the right motions – I apply to jobs, I write really good cover letters, I volunteer, I make friends, I was a year out from getting an AA! I have multiple income streams between patreon, and podcasting, and freelancing gigs. I work until I am exhausted and I am nowhere closer to being able to provide for myself let alone support others the way I desperately wish I could. *
*this also probably has to do with things I internalized as a child being taught about masculinity that I also need to hash out, but that’s a different topic for a different day.
Which is where the lies come back into play: that there must be something wrong with me or something I’m not doing, or maybe my parents were right all along, and maybe I am worthless and only meant for domestic duties because that was all I was ever allowed to be. I’ve been out for almost 11 years, and I have grown so much, but I’m still so far behind my peers. On bad days, I can’t help but wonder if that’s because I’m still wrong somehow, even though I know that’s a lie.
Every time I get close to “making it” something happens that strips it away. My politics aren’t pure enough, or my health plummets and ruins my ability to work and even function, or fascism intensifies….it’s a struggle to not see those coincidences as signs confirming my parents’ worldview.
When I get scared and triggered in the same way I did as a powerless child, I find myself defaulting back to those thought patterns…everything bad that happens to me is a punishment because I’m out of alignment with “gods will.” If I were in-line with “god’s will” then….these things would still happen (per my parents’ view) but I would be less scared about it?
The faith arguments really don’t hold up for more than 10 seconds after I start thinking about them, but that doesn’t make them go away and it doesn’t make them feel any less real.
That is the most insidious part about spiritual abuse: just because the faith has been left and the arguments don’t hold up against basic questions, doesn’t mean that the roots of these beliefs went away. Especially if this was instilled through the entirety of childhood.
Simply knowing a belief is wrong doesn’t magically vanish it. Which I find rude.
If there is one thing I’ve learned in the almost 11 years I’ve been deconstructing here it’s that all of these have to be fought, and it’s not a one-time thing, they come back. For me, fighting looks like this. Exposing these lies to daylight by writing about them candidly weakens their power. Something about seeing them outside of my head makes the beliefs easier to let go of.
Maybe it’s a professional mistake to be so open about this type of fighting, but silence hasn’t saved me (or payed rent) and if I were to guess, I’m not the only person facing this type of dementor.