Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor's Network

The spiritual Abuse Survivor Network was started by Vyckie Garrison author of the blog No Longer Quivering.  
     The network developed when "Vyckie [had] noticed that NLQ forum member, Libby Anne, seemed to be doing a lot of processing of her quiverfull experience through frequent posts and comments. She encouraged Libby Anne to write her story for NLQ".  The collaboration between Vyckie and  Libby Anne  (the author  of  Love Joy Feminism) would help launch the creation of  a space for those who have experienced spiritual abuse to come together, share and support. 
     The network is based on this foundation of collaboration and seeks to promote survivors who are speaking out through blogging about the issues of spiritual abuse " We are working together toward a shared goal of increasing awareness of this issue of spiritual abuse – the control, the confusion, the devastation, our struggles, our triumphs, our survival and recovery."
     The network of Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs has focused on steering away from the exclusive and divisive religious practices that they left behind "the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network employs the proven, non-abusive strategy of teamwork to gain more visibility for all the individual survivor blogs (...) recently, there has been a significant increase in the number of spiritual abuse survivors starting their own blogs - so many awesome, enthusiastic writers who deserve a significant platform! The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network is committed to helping these survivors succeed."Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

No Longer Quivering – Vyckie GarrisonSeeking The Light – Suzanne TitkemeyerLove, Joy, Feminism – Libby AnneThe Phoenix and the Olive Branch – SierraWordgazer’s Words – Kristen RosserIncongruous Circumspection – Joe SandsHomeschoolers AnonymousPermission to Live – MelissaBaptist Taliban and Beyond – Cindy FosterMari’s Muses – MariPast Tense Present Progressive – LatebloomerDispelled: One Girl’s Journey in a Homeschool Cult - Chandra BernatHopewell Takes on Life!The Way Forward – Bruce GerencserBecoming Worldly – Heather DoneyDefeating The Dragons – SamanthaI Am Phoenix – AJWide Open World – Lana HopeFeminist in Spite of Them – Sarah HendersonLeaving Fundamentalism – Jonny ScaramangaLove is Not Equal to Love - Mere DreamerThe Talking Llama -Boze HerringtonThe Lost (And Found) Mind of Kaleesha Williams – Kaleesha WilliamsLiving Liminal – Living LiminalWhat Really Happened In The Church and Life After The Diocese – HGQuiver Full of InformationRethinking Vision Forum

What little girls are made of; Speaking out

"My mama’s phone started ringin’ off the hook

I can hear her now sayin’ she ain’t gonna have it

Don’t matter how you feel, it only matters how you look

Go and fix your make up, girl, (...)

Run and hide your crazy (...)

'Cause I raised you better, gotta keep it together

Even when you fall apart


Wish I could be just a little less dramatic

Like a Kennedy when Camelot went down in flames

Leave it to me to be holdin’ the matches

When the fire trucks show up and there’s nobody else to blame"

When you grow up in an abusive home, there is a primary importance placed on keeping things behind closed doors and saving face by your abusers. You are taught this from such an early age, and in such subtle ways that you don't think about it; yet unconsciously you fear ever embarrassing your family or airing any dirty laundry. The outcome of a slip up could go from mild  consequences to much worse punishment from your abusers. 

I had a hard time with this. I was in many ways outspoken when I was younger, not enough to garner any attention to my abuse but enough to make people think I should behave better. I always got the impression they felt I was over emotional and dramatic. And as I have written before there is a system in place which determined that I should not be taken seriously. So when I acted out against some injustice it seemed I was always left holding the matches and no one else to blame.

This helped my abusers because because it looked like I was reacting to something when it looked to  others that there was nothing there. It also instilled in me that despite having very real reasons to, my doing so was a selfish dramatic display that was unnecessary. Writing this blog I can still feel like I am that angry, over dramatic little girl who should just keep things to herself because I am making an unnecessary scene and fool of myself. There is also still a very real fear of getting into trouble. Even though I am far away from my parents there is always a small part of me that still feels like they have super powers and could descend upon me in an instant to punish me for speaking out. 

This is why abuse often remains hidden and enclosed in silence. If I still have these fears as an adult can you imagine what it might be like to be a child in an abusive situation? If you speak out you are going to get in trouble, your parents might be taken away, or you are hurting your family.

The lie about hurting your family is strong one. My family in particular believes on some level that I have convinced myself in a delusional manner that I was abused and that the truth is by confronting them and drawing boundaries I am really being abusive and hurtful to them. Please see Dr. Henry Cloud & Townsend's book on Boundaries for myths about "boundaries hurting others". I think Vaarsuvius in particular has convinced themselves that I have a kind of disease that I caught and that it has nothing to do with the abusive home I grew up in or the way they parented me. I feel they think this is my disease I made up and convinced myself I have and they are just going to pat me on the head and humor me about it.  In fact I received a note in the mail that seemed to say as much (turns out you cannot block postal senders).

I flip between being terrified at breaking the silence to angry that the abuse happened. Recently it has been Vaarsuvius's actions that have compelled me to start speaking out. The more stories they spun about me for others the more I felt infuriated. I knew I couldn't convince any of the people they were telling their side to, but I didn't have to let theirs be the only side told. I could have a voice and not let them speak for me ever again. I could take away that power and stop the things they were saying from being the only isolated accounting of the abuse.

What finally really pushed me into speaking out further;  I found out I could not ask for any financial compensation for the abuse suffered. Some state laws have a statute of limitations and I could not sue. My abusers had left a substantial amount of damage in my life and yet they would be able to walk away with no consequences. I couldn't touch them. That broke me a little inside. I had always fantasized that I would have the law on my side, that I could have a dynamic team of lawyers who would seek justice for me while protecting me from the potential assault my family might launch. That's when I stopped caring as much about getting in trouble for talking about the abuse. What did I have to lose? My family has kept the truth tucked away in a vacuum of space and I wanted to change that. Silence is how abuse continues to thrive and I wanted to take away the nurturing environment. I also know that speaking out helps others speak out and allows us to dismantle the cultural taboo on the subject. Having a voice does not let my family keep me in a corner with no power and it allows me to seek justice on my terms and air all that dirty laundry they told me not to.

I plan on showing them here on out, even when I am still a little terrified, what little girls are truly made of.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Story; A Heart Like Mine P2 (edited & updated)

    I was raised as a “modern” Evangelical Christian. But the more I read the more subtle the distinction I find between how I was raised and Fundamentalist beliefs (such as Quiverfull).
     I didn't wear long dresses/or skirts like the women and girls of the Duggar family, however I still had fashion specifications I was required to follow. I was still in many ways made to be lady like and modest, even if it was in pants. I rebelled and pushed this boundary as best I could and with dramatic flair. I even won my battles with mini skirts eventually. Probably due to my parents crumbling relationship; there was something else to distract them from my fashion rebellion. Similar to more fundamentalist beliefs I had little or no ownership over my body. What I did with it including cutting my hair was controlled or hindered by Vaarsuvius and Other Parent. I had to beg for permission to get my ears pierced when Other Parent did not want me piercing any part of my body, even for age appropriate earrings. Some of these things seem small or normal to parent child relationships; but the subtleties and the battles fought daily to be my own person were not small even if they were lumped in with what people considered "normal".

     There was nothing good or normal about how in our Evangelical patriarchal household Other Parent owned us, including our bodies. This was evidenced by their treatment of Vaarsuvius and the fact that they told them once they had made a commitment to on another that Vaarsuvius's body was now theirs and it was founded in Biblical principals. The structure we lived with supported these ideas and passed them off as normal, it hid the insidious dark underside. Body ownership also meant that I was Other Parent's object to do with as they willed; they did. I was sexually abused and I am strongly suspicious that Other Child was as well. But even at times this horrific act can be and has been defended by wielding the umbrella of the Bible. If Vaarsuvius was not sexually satisfying and upholding their spousal duty to Other Parent, child sexual abuse could be seen as a natural consequence. In some cases it has.
 Please reference Christina Enevoldsen and her blog Confessions of a Child Molesters Wife.
      Quiverfull is based on the idea of having many children and raising them Godly to be released into the world like a quiver full of arrows to proselytize and convert others to following Christ. Modern Evangelical Christians similarly believe in raising Godly children to be a light in the world, and both sets of ideologies focus on training children to be soldiers of Christ. My family held those beliefs (close to that of Quiverfull) and this was evidenced by their association with the Christian Organization known as the Navigators. This organization focuses on recruitment, training and deployment. They have bases of operation in Colleges to seek out young people who are in the midst of identity upheaval. They preach salvation, identity and purpose. They are are also focused on our Military and have ministries on base. Ideally they recruit and then deploy missionaries across the nation and all over the world. Meet the Missionary Marines Corps. Hoorah.
     The only reason that my family was not large had less to do with my parents beliefs and more with circumstances. Other Parent wanted more children and liked the idea of a traditional large family. Vaarsuvius was pushed by Other Parent to follow this more traditional path, but ended up being saved from it due to Other Parents health issues. Somehow they convinced Other Parent that there physical health meant that they could not be a fully supportive parent to a large family and that Vaarsuvius could not do it alone if something happened to them.     
     The lack of extended numbers of siblings did not stop Vaarsuvius from making me responsible for Other child or throwing me into the role of a caretaker at an early age. Vaarsuvius was a member of a Christian parent preschool group, but I was too old to do any of the programs. So instead of finding someone to watch me they enlisted me to help serve all the children groups their snacks, as well as being additional help as a caretaker for the toddler class or any other class that needed help. I have been taking care of babies and children since I was seven. It didn't help that I had a natural affinity for connecting with toddlers and infants, this also meant I had to help Vaarsuvius and Other Parent during their Nursery duty at church and when they taught Sunday school to younger children. I didn't have to be in a family of nineteen and counting to be roped into being a little mother.    
      This led to the assumption that I would grow up to be a mother. I remember being around the age of ten when Vaarsuvius finally sorted through all of our baby clothes, and had Other Child and I pick out which ones we wanted to keep for our future children. We also picked things that they wanted to pass onto us, and it was neatly packed away in boxes, our stand in hope chests. Eventually we had our own hope chests as well as these boxes stored away for us, beautiful hand crafted family air looms that smelled of cedar and future dreams. Vaarsuvius always assumed that without a doubt I would be married and pregnant someday, and that it is something I would want. I did get married, and the cedar chest is in my home. But it's a different kind of hope chest now. It stores my favorite personal things, and is my office filing cabinet. And I won't be passing it down to any children with a wedding trousseau stuffed into it.    
      I was always fairly quiet, due to nature and the expectation that I be a dutiful child. I cannot remember if I ever saw a copy of To Train Up a Child in our home, but like other christian families we knew that type of philosophy was pervasive. These too were supposedly modern Christians who would probably tell you that they believe themselves to be very different from Fundamentalists. But like my parents they were firm subscribers to Dobson and Focus on the Family. The ideals and philosophies from that ministry are not very different from fundamentalist ones. The idea that a child should be bent to the will of the parent and to God is not different from that of the Pearls.   
     Other child and I were to be seen and not heard. We were expected to obey, and do it with a smile. Any hint of an attitude on our part was seen as defiance and resulted in consequences. This was true if you did not behave as expected and embarrassed our parents. I was once punished because Vaarsuvius wanted to introduce me to someone, but I was shy and hid behind them. This was seen as being unruly and embarrassing them and I was duly punished. We were fairly well behaved due to the fear of what would happen to us if we weren't. This power dynamic did not change much even when we were teens, I was very nearly punished for being ten minutes late for curfew, and almost spanked by Vaarsuvius at sixteen for having an attitude. In fact this power dynamic did not change until recently. As an adult planning my wedding I snipped at Vaarsuvius who was being stubborn and unhelpful and was told "don't you take the tone with me".   
       Vaarsuvius has always called me their compliant child, as Other Child began to show their stripes and distaste for the way we were raised earlier on and in a more vocal fashion. I wasn't though, I did what I need to do to survive and if that meant playing at being the compliant child so I did not get my butt beat, so be it. But inside I was constantly rebelling, I acutely felt a sense of injustice and was well aware that the way I was raised was often wrong. Being a good little country girl saved me, it was a face I wore to protect the "Nora" part of me. This blog, and my pen name is named for that part of me. The compliant country girl saved me until I turned eighteen and could walk away.
Stay tuned for the final post in this series My Story; A Heart Like Mine P3

My story; A Heart Like Mine

 They say you can take the girl out of the country, but not the country out of the girl. I was a country girl once.

     I grew up in rural America among farm fields and livestock. I was in both 4-H and FFA. I attended church, was patriotic and knew how to shoot a gun. My Family was Republican, Evangelical Christian, and I was home schooled due to my families belief the public school system was failing. Both my parents came from agriculture backgrounds so it seemed natural to pass that on to their children. My life revolved around livestock projects and my families love of horses. I was never as good with horses but I had a myriad of my own animal projects to tend to and was kept quiet busy. The church we attended was a start up Evangelical church with a small congregation, under two hundred people. I don't remember my parents specific reasons for choosing the church, but the larger church they had formerly attended had split due to differentiating beliefs. I can no longer recall any joy I might have had going to church. Much of it is marred by the control and abuse of my parents and the difficulties socializing with my own age group. I was bullied and picked on; frankly i was never fast enough or witty enough at comebacks. I was also alienated somewhat due to being home schooled. There were other home school families in the church but despite that there never seemed to be enough common ground between myself and my peers. And it wasn't just my peers, there were adults, public school teachers who would tease about my education. It didn't help that I was not diagnosed with ADD until years later, or that I had learning disabilities. I was also under educated by my primary home school parent. So not only was I the odd kid, but the dumb kid.
     My thoughts about home school are fairly critical, and rightly so. I had a parent teacher who was unable to provide a good foundation in education. They were also experiencing spousal abuse and were more often than not abusive themselves. This made for a difficult parent/teacher and child relationship. I think home schooling already makes the distinction between those relationships difficult and adding abuse makes for no winners. Teaching is a gift that not everyone possess, and my Parent eventually gave up because I had learning difficulties. Instead of seeking help they left me on my own to educate myself. Thankfully I was eventually enrolled in running start.
      My grandparents were occasionally very concerned about my parents home schooling me, but this was met by a defensive wall from my parents who only perceived it as an attack on their choice of home schooling. This is a common problem that can occur in the Christian home school community. Families believe that government agencies will try to take away their rights to teach their children as they see fit. Any criticism of their methods is an attack upon them, their beliefs and rights. Quite often with that being the focus; a child's needs can become a last priority. And in their defensiveness parents like mine are well armed to deal with opposing opinions. Like with their religious beliefs there were a standard set of arguments memorized to defeat any non believers they encountered. And these are the type of arguments that come with a mindset that anyone opposing is trying to manipulate and convert you to false beliefs. So the defense statements are girded to deflect any truly open conversation and minds are closed.
I was raised in a traditional Evangelical Christian home, two kids and nearly white picked fence. For the sake of my safety, and emotional well being and not being met with any lawsuits over slander I will refer to my parents asVaarsuvius and Other Parent as seen in the order of the stick Comic ( a gender neutral couple).
     Other parent wanted the white picket fence dream; barefoot, pregnant, and to be Godly missionaries to the Godless. Vaarsuvius seemed to go along with this fairly willingly. They both deferred to a patriarchal model of Christianity with one of them being the primary household leader and the other submitter (or is that BDSM?)
Unfortunately and as is too often the case, this model of household is the perfect incubator for abuse and is a favored environment for abusers. Adhering to patriarchal Christianity is often a tool used to perpetrate abuse because it assumes that married partners are equal but one more so than the other. It assumes this is because one of the partners is thought to be weaker (even in a gender neutral situation).
      Being the weaker of the partnership comes with all kinds of assumptions in Evangelical Christianity (Patriarchal). First accepting the role as secondary partner means that you are not as intelligent. Second this lack of intelligence affects you ability to reason. Third this lack of reasoning means that you are not able to discern things logically only emotionally. Your sole reliance on emotions to direct you means that they can be erratic and unreasonable and therefore should not be trusted by yourself or others around you. This naturally extends to children who are also presumed to be weaker by the nature of childhood. As weaker parts of the family unit your human rights are assigned accordingly. The secondary parent has supreme rights over the children but not over the primary parent. Children have no rights. Children may be given some rights by virtue of proving that they are not bad, compliant, submissive, godly and that the inherent badness they were born with has been adequately stamped out. But these rights are very small.
     When it comes to a conservative church and community everyone looks to the primary partner as the individual family leader. These primary partners often become church leaders. They are seen as a pinnacle of Godliness; anyone who tries to contradict this image by presenting issues of abuse is only seen as trying to maliciously tear down a good person. And if it is the secondary parent or children speaking out about abuse please see above section about being unintelligent and only ruled by emotions- why should anyone believe you? Again abusers (Other Parent in my case) will use this traditional and religious structure to their benefit. They are pleasing charmers and shining church leaders who can behave how they will behind closed doors at home. No one else will see the behavior and no one would believe that they are anything than how they present themselves to be to the outside world. No one believed myself or Vaarsuvius that Other Parent was an abuser behind closed doors.     Because of the nature of this structure it allows for further abuse, but this time from the secondary "weaker" partner. Either because they were always somewhat abusive themselves or because the damage they take from the primary partner causes them to lash out and transfer the abuse to those lowest in the hierarchy- the children. Vaarsuvius was often equally abusive in our family unit. Add to that each parent tried to pit myself and Other child against one another; it was chaotic and you couldn't really decide who was the worst parent. Survival dictated you pick the one that was going to be nice to your for that day or even for that moment. You constantly had to switch sides. It was incredibly confusing.
     No one had a clue in our little church about the abuse, or if they did they brushed it aside in disbelief. Partly I also think this was due to the nature of the patriarchal christian structure. It is hard to distinguish between those traditional values and abuse. So what if the primary parent is a little controlling. In this structure that is easily dismissed as part of their God defined role. These blurred lines occur in how children are raised as well. I was spanked with wooden spoons and horse quirts and my parents believed that I was to be punished until I submitted, my will was to be bent to theirs and Gods. So child abuse or traditional family values? For the record if you hadn't guessed that is child abuse! Traditional "family values" are also a cover for the parents who take discipline even farther into the abuse spectrum, as is evidenced by the death of children subjected to Michael and Debbie Pearls To Train Up A Child philosophy. Even beloved psychologist, (I say Psychologist in the very loosest sense) Dr. Dobson also advocates similar philosophies. The problem with these philosophies is not that people are wrong for “not wanting to raise bratty children”. Nor is it simply because a minority of abusive parents misuse their teachings. It is the root of those teachings which are inherently problematic. Even when used by non abusive parents these teachings are harmful when applied to children.
      Quiverfull home school Christians and Evangelical home school Christians both frequently adhere to a set of beliefs about child rearing and government interference. I have talked about their ready defense of their home school beliefs, but the second part of these beliefs relates to parenting and child abuse. They quite often believe that the government will snatch their children away from them, and that they will be reported to CPS if their child trips and shows up with a bruise. They believe that CPS is anti parent and is out to get good Godly parents because CPS is the devil and hates Parents especially Christian ones. Parents who abuse their children tend to be even more afraid of the big bad wolf CPS, and for obvious reasons. However Parents like mine convinced themselves they were not abusive parents but that it was CPS and the system that were abusive.

      Children like myself are raised with gnarly fairy tales of children being snatched away and that we had to be careful what we said or the government would take them away and lock them up forever. I received this terrifying lecture once when I had commented out loud about my home environment and that I thought my parents enjoyed spanking me. Other Parent did in fact enjoy doling out punishment.      These lectures were also focused to prepare us for any doctor visits. We were trained what to do, what to say or not say if they doctor said they wanted to talk to us alone. So the very people who might have caught on to abuse issues would be ignorant of what was actually going on. Abusers wield the tool of Christianity well. If if the Secondary partner objects or someone questions their decisions or authority, they can solidly refer to the Bible to back them up. This is of course when spiritual abuse enters the situation, but it's not made out that way. From a traditional patriarchal christian perspective this is just the natural way of things, and a Godly way of life.
My story; A Heart like Mine continued in a follow up post.