I’ve stopped writing here so frequently partially because I’ve been writing a lot more on Quora (question & answer website) and on my own fiction. The answer to this is clearly to share my more entertaining and/or interesting (imho) answers from Quora. Part X.
A question with my name in the title! I feel like a minor internet celebrity now.
OK, this has a short answer and a far more complete long answer. I’m going with long because it’s very difficult to grasp the extent to which childhood indoctrination grips one unless there’s some background.
If my father had lived, it’s entirely likely that I never would have left the culture in which I was raised. While my father was alive, our family and theological beliefs were very stable. My parents very rarely disagreed in front of us, and their occasional, vicious fights always took place behind closed doors and after we six kids were mostly asleep.
I was vaguely aware they disagreed on some things – pants on women, for instance – but they presented a united front. When there was dissention, we were raised with the more conservative viewpoint.
My father died when my siblings and I ranged from age 18 to 7. I was 12. The breaks in the facade started immediately. Without my father as a buffer, my older sister and mom got into screaming fights until my sister got tired of hiding black eyes with illicitly-purchased makeup and moved out at age 17.
My relationship with my mother, always tense, deteriorated also. The emotional abuse escalated as I continued to develop and hit puberty, and the physical abuse got more brutal and frequent.
My younger siblings and I alternately supported each other and threw each other under the bus to save ourselves from the verbal and physical violence. My youngest brother, always mom’s darling, was so creative and constant in his attempts to get us in trouble that we referred to him bitterly as “Mom’s Little Gestapo.”
Simultaneously, the theological constancy in our lives was shattering. My mom took up with a lapsed Seventh Day Adventist man about three weeks after my dad’s funeral. We started attending church with him on Saturday every few weeks in addition to our normal Sunday attendance at our protestant, non-denominational church.
We had previously denounced Seventh Day Adventism as “if not a cult, then nearly as bad as one.” my entire life, and suddenly my mother was espousing beliefs in the Sabbath and drifting towards more vegetarian cooking.
About a month or six weeks after my dad died, mom moved the SDA man in and claimed they’d gotten married “as the Israelites did,” aka, they boned and that made them married “in God’s sight.” This was another shake in the firm foundation built in my childhood.
Soon, we were going to the SDA church and our non-denominational church full-time. Two sets of Sunday/Sabbath school, two sets of services, two sets of prayer meeting. We kids mentally revolted – piety was one thing, but double church was quite another!
Two of my younger siblings were enrolled in the Adventist version of co-ed Boy Scouts, and suddenly, for the first time in our lives, we were friends with children our own age and in frequent contact with adults whose job it was to look after our welfare.
Having been homeschooled and attended a tiny church or homechurching our whole lives, we’d never had such freedom and social interaction before, and we quickly became aware that compared to the (extremely sheltered) Adventist kids, we were socially backward and embarassingly sheltered.
We took advantage of mom’s preoccupation with her new “husband” to spend increasing amounts of time with the Adventist kids and those of their parents who semi-adopted us.
At the same time, I was increasingly obsessed with reading and literature – especially science fiction and fantasy. This was one of those things which mom and dad disagreed about. Mom believed all fiction (except some historical fiction and most christian fiction) was literally demonic. She thought that by simply reading fiction/sci-fi/fantasy, one opened a metaphysical door which let demons into an otherwise angel-protected home.
Dad, on the other hand, gave me C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series and watched Star Trek with me when mom was out of town. Since I’d always respected and quite frankly loved my dad more than my mom, I felt this gave me the moral high-ground.
It became a cold war between mom, me, and literature. I would go to the library, get approved and unapproved books, and attempt to smuggle the “demonic” ones home. If mom caught me, I would be beaten, screamed at for literally hours, and the books burnt in the burning barrel.
When she didn’t catch me – and I got away with it more often than not – I was exposed to radical ideas and thoughts.
I learned that gay people existed thanks to Mercedes Lackey. I read about sex and the deification of Paul Muad’Dieb and Leo II in Dune. Tolkien introduced me to pantheons of deities, and absent gods and present demons. In the works of Robert Jordan I read about polyamory, pre-marital sex, gay relationships presented as socially unremarkable, and eastern philosophy.
Then I discovered the romance novels section and gained a ridiculously wide-reaching and anatomically incorrect knowledge of sex.
The cracks were spreading, but I still held bone-deep belief in the conservative mindset in which I was raised. However, some things changed. I fought with mom for months until she let me graduate highschool (GED). I fought her again for months until I got a driver’s license. And again until I got a job that wasn’t working for my fake step-dad.
The crawl spaces of the house, the rafters of the barn and shop, the tree-house, and random buckets in the garage held collections of books, “whoreish” clothing, make-up, and jewelry. I smuggled myself off the property late at night and early in the morning and walked downtown in jeans and tanktops and poorly applied makeup and shook with fear and excitement and my arms twitched to cover my comparative nudity with every glance from a stranger.
Mom was losing the war, and I wasn’t yet aware that I was fighting one.
The final nail in her coffin was when she decided her SDA fake-husband was too sinful. She kicked him out and moved in another man in the same two-day span, and all her flimsy justifications just didn’t hold up to the extremely thorough theological education she and dad had given us.
At that point I was either almost sixteen or just past it, and I started saving up from my part-time fast food job to get an apartment. Well – I tried. It was nearly impossible to save because mom wouldn’t let me get a bank account and frequently “confiscated” my money to punish me, and she inevitably decided that she would keep my paychecks as punishment for my rebellion.
The fall that I was sixteen I got a little complacent. I lingered a little too long watching forbidden TV, hid my “demonic” books a little too sloppily, and mom’s fury boiled over. One evening she caught me watching TV and absolutely went ballistic. She dragged me down two flights of stairs by my waist-length hair, and when I tried to stand up, she’d shove me down with a hand to my throat.
Down the stairs, through the house, and into my bedroom by my hair, and then she screamed at the top of her lungs for two hours. It was the usual litany (whore, bitch, witch, demon, lesbian, Jezebel, I should kill you, etc), and everything in my room that she could lift got thrown at, near, or into me.
By the end of it I was bruised from head to toe, crumpled, and sobbing.
Later that night while I cried myself to sleep, mom slipped into bed with me, petted my hair gently, and said “I’m sorry you were so bad that I had to do that.” and my skin crawled.
The next day I called a friend I’d met via an international fan club for the Wheel of Time series and cried on the phone for forty-five minutes. She convinced me to run away from home. She coached me to call my older sister and set up an escape plan, so I did.
That’s where everything went to shit.
My older sister called our cousin so our cousin – who was local, whereas my sister was 3 hrs away – could keep an eye out for my safety for the next few days. My cousin told her dad. My uncle, unwisely, called a pastor friend of the family. That pastor-friend, absolutely STUPIDLY called my mom and said “So I heard you cold-cocked Sarah.”
Mom flipped. She, the manipulator supreme, spent hours alternately screaming at me and reasoning with me until she actually convinced me that I was mis-remembering/basically made up the entire previous night’s events.
Then she forced me and my younger sister to go out to my uncle’s and convince him that the grapevine had exaggerated everything, and that we kids were fine.
I did what she told me. I was so confused, and it broke my will. At that point, I actually believed mom’s horrible words she’d been telling me my whole life. No one but Mom understands. No one but mom would take care of me. I couldn’t survive on my own. The world will eat you up and spit you out. You’ll be persecuted for your religion and dragged down into perdition.
The next six months are such a haze of misery, failed suicide attempts that no one ever noticed, and drudgery that I barely remember them. In the middle of that I got a bit of backbone back and started dating an Adventist boy and only somewhat successfully hid it from mom.
She was mostly jealous and angry that I got on with his mother so well and clearly preferred to be around Estée to my own parent.
In February when I was 17, I got the flu. Everyone at my workplace had the flu. For two weeks I would be called into work three or four hours early to cover someone else’s shift, then work through mine as well, stagger home and collapse.
One of those nights I got back just as mom was heading to the store. She told me to shower and watch my siblings and we’d have (mandatory) family devotions when she got back, and then I could go to bed.
When she did get back she was very irritable and immediately got angry that I was only just getting out of the shower. She accused me of a whole host of ludicrous misdeeds and was irrationally enraged that I was still drying off and getting dressed when she returned.
We segued into family devotions and I fell asleep while she was reading the bible. I was really drifting in and out of sleep rather helplessly and feverishly. I remember her huge, angry brown eyes being fixed on me every time I woke up a little as she read the chapter with a dangerous, angry tone.
She finished devotions and woke me up and we immediately had a screaming fight. She was accusing me of liking Estée more than her, of being a whore with my boyfriend, of being a witch and a lesbian, of being such a horrible daughter that no one but her would ever put up with me.
“No one else would take care of you! If you went to Estée and Rick they’d throw you back out!” she screamed, and I snapped.
“They wouldn’t!” I argued, and she basically responded with “Well you can prove it: get out of the house.”
I fled, packed all my “whoreish” clothes, the few skirts and blouses I liked, and all the money I’d hidden all over my room. Everything I wanted to take with me and considered essential fit into one small duffel. My little sister snuck out of bed to tell me I could take her bicycle, and helped me up the stairs.
That night at one am, so sick I was dizzy and the world blurred before my eyes, I pedaled away from my childhood home, sobbing with relief and joy.
I didn’t go to my boyfriend’s parents, but the dad of my only friend my age. He took me in without any questions, and tried to help in his clumsy, well-meaning way. I’m afraid I hurt his feelings when I laughed hysterically in his face when he offered the next day to “facilitate a reconciliation with your mother.”
I am twenty-two years old and I haven’t slept under the same roof as my mother since February 24th, 2011.
My younger three siblings are all independent, safe, and happy as well.
How I escaped from that religious side of that fundamentalist way of life is the exact same story. What mom shunned, I studied. What mom claimed was truth, I obsessively scrutinized. I’ve written about that aspect of this journey on Quora before – links below.