then she stood by the brave

**DISCLAIMER: the situation you are about to read about is in good hands and I ask that you not try to contact any of my siblings. They are safe and things are being taken care of.

About a month ago I got a phone call letting me know one of my siblings was being admitted to the mental health ward. All I could think was when it is going to be enough, how many more of my siblings are going to suffer. Their story is theirs to tell, not mine, but I want to tell you about a story that has continued to unfold over the past few weeks.

Phil and I went to visit my sibling in the psych ward, and I saw my sibling relaxed, a little medicated, but they were relaxed, peaceful, and they were safe there and they knew it. We brought one of my other brothers in to visit our sibling and I found out that he had been faithfully visiting his sibling the whole time during their psych visit. This brother is the one I have had my spats with growing up, and in fact, thanks to him I have a nice numb spot on my hand from one of our fights. This brother is also the one I see holding one of the biggest, caring hearts I have ever seen. The fact that he would purposefully take time out of his day to go visit his sibling in the psych ward every day they were is a huge indicator of just how big his heart is.

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I am now barely 2 months away from having this child of mine. I am becoming more and more aware of how important it is to stand firm with my boundaries when it comes to my mom and my dad. I somehow found myself in a position last week where I was asked by my mom to “draw out” my sibling who had been in the psych ward. My sibling had been asking to be admitted again that morning and wouldn’t talk to mom or anyone else about what was going on. Inwardly I knew my sibling was only going to talk to me and that’s why my mom was pushing me to talk with them. After spending awhile chatting, I knew what I needed to know and just let my sibling know that I was there whenever they needed me. The rest of my visit over there ended in me putting my foot down and being completely blunt with my mom. I told her my exact thoughts on how her staying with my dad was at the expense of the kids and how he wasn’t changing, how I didn’t believe her when she said he was, and just watched her shut down as I refused to let her screwed up logic change my stance.

In that moment I realized I have changed. I am no longer blinded by the manipulative logic my dad uses to control those around him. I could see right through everything my mom said and was able to see things I had known were there but had never been able to put words to. I am stronger, I am clear headed, I have changed, and yet, it became painfully obvious she hasn’t changed. She is still toxic to me, she is still clinging to some delusion that my dad is changing, and until she can let go of that and actually protect her children from that man, I have to be careful to keep boundaries in place.

It was encouraging to see how therapy has really worked and I have been able to break so many chains that had previously greatly bound me. I am also in a position now where when a sibling needs help, I’m one of the first people they call, and hell, I’m out the door before they can even coherently say anything other than to beg me to come get them. Which is what happened recently, and which included a visit to my siblings’ school counselor who after hearing our story immediately called Child Protective Services to make a report. I have proven to my siblings, the ones who need it most, that I am not the mean, evil older sister my dad makes me out to be. I am who I say I am and I will drop everything for them if they need me.

I sat in that office and watched my siblings find their strength as they stood up to the abuse they have personally suffered from our dad. My heart bursting with pride, I backed up their stories, and watched as they willingly gave information that will hopefully make a difference. I watched my siblings make very brave and bold decisions despite the possibility of facing retaliation. They are doing what I wish I could have done years ago, they are brave enough to stand up and say enough is enough and it hopefully will truly be enough. The little girl inside of me wept as I proudly stood by my brave siblings.

I felt like I watched my childhood come full circle. The shame of not being “strong enough” to stand up to my dad was put to rest as I stood there being my siblings’ support. I went through what I had to so that I could be there for my siblings when they needed me. I am stronger now, I have the strength they needed to be able to be brave themselves. I can validate their fears and tell them they’re not crazy despite what the man at home will say. I don’t know about you, but that’s quite a good reason to have gone through what I have if only to be the support my siblings need.

I’m feeling hopeful, I am full of pride, and so relieved I can be there for the siblings who call for help and I can be there to lift up their voices.

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel 

 

Goodbye Christianity – Q&A – Part Three

I’ve been quiet for awhile longer than I intended, but I think I needed this space think and further process my last two posts. Writing publicly about what I’ve been processing for the past is forcing me to really dig deep so I can reply to the questions I have gotten in response. I have said this before in the past and I want to reiterate it again, more for myself than my readers, but everything I write on this blog is something I can back up or am willing to stand by.  I want to spend this post answering more in depth the questions you all have asked me in the comments in response to the past two posts.

One of the questions I have thought a lot about but haven’t answered yet is:

Do you want to be a Christian despite your overwhelming reasons and feelings to reject the belief?”

The reason I haven’t responded to this comment is because the answer is way more complicated that a simple yes or no. It confuses me to see those who identify as Christians put so much intense weight to that one label, word. The reason it confuses me is because it is not something I see determining how you treat people, how or what you believe, or who you are. Now, before you jump on that, let me explain further. I don’t understand where the weight came from when Jesus himself didn’t use that term to identify his followers. I am uncomfortable letting one word define my belief system because how I’ve known that word and seen it applied is something I can no longer follow. I don’t yet know how Jesus fits into my beliefs or who is really is to me, but I am not going to let a title determine which path I go on. So I have answer for this question; no. No, I do not want to be a “christian” as I’ve known that to be. I can’t even phrase this without having a massive gagging attack, but I do want to be a believer in Jesus, I just don’t know what that looks like or where I’ll end up. I am rejecting a certain belief and a title, yes. I am literally clearing EVERYTHING off my belief system plate. Everything. For anyone who has never been in my shoes does not know what it takes or what it looks like to have a severely broken belief system in you hands. Please do not take what I write as a personal affront to your own belief system. I am not tearing down all Christianity, I am tearing down what I have believed and am very purposefully forging myself a new way. That is all that I’m doing here.

“Do you believe that there were errors in the way abusive people in your early years interpreted the Bible or that their interpretation was correct and the Bible has errors? Or some combination?”

I am so very hesitant about digging deeper into these sorts of questions specifically about the bible.

Once again, this is a not a simple yes or no answer and I don’t think it should be. I do believe there are errors in the ways people I grew up with interpreted the bible and I also believe the bible has errors. My parents, the “elders/pastors” of the many, many churches I went to growing up, those around me in authority, I believe all had and even some still function under a very abusive and twisted interpretation of a book they have used to control others. One of the ways abusers can be so successful is by using isolation and control to make sure their interpretation of something or their teaching is seen as the “only right way.” I grew up only knowing my dad’s version of the bible as well as others’ interpretations that were just like his. I am still “brainwashed” when it comes to this. I don’t know how to read the bible or see Jesus or God as anyone other than who I grew up with. This is what I am trying to make clear, I have to strip it all away so I can start literally from nothing. Unless and until I can remove ALL things I knew before, those ideas, those toxic ideas will continue to poison anything I try put back together. I am not starting from a healthy place, nor have I ever been in a healthy place when it comes to my belief system. I have to get to a healthy place before I can even think about rebuilding.

Now about the bible being errant. The bible has been translated more times than I care to count. It has been through a continual editing process as different translations decide what a word means. Simply through this process the bible cannot be truly true or fully accurate. Translations get words wrong and interpret concepts wrong, leading then to different meanings given to phrases and passages than maybe the original author meant. The bible was chosen by men, put together by men, and other books were discarded that didn’t make it into what we know as the bible because men/humans decided those books/letters didn’t belong. Was that process God inspired? I don’t know, I don’t really care honestly. That doesn’t change how the bible was put together, and come on, the old testament is so chronologically out of place you can’t read it and gain an accurate picture of what happened when. I don’t believe the bible to be an authority because of how many people have twisted it, some unknowingly and others knowingly and because of how it was put together. There are too many people who think they have the correct understanding of the bible and it becomes a huge mess.

Basic core of what I believe when it comes to the bible? It is errant and that’s okay. This is MY belief and that is okay. 

this last set of questions I’m still working through but figured now is as good of a time as any to put some thoughts to them.

“If you don’t believe the Bible was even inspired by God, and its not to be taken at face value, what value, if any, do you believe it has? And if it’s inaccurate and just words thrown together on pages, how do you know Jesus really did take human form, live a perfect life, die on The Cross, and rise again? Where do you believe our core beliefs, foundational deep gut “this is what I know to be true” comes from?”

Okay, first, I think you have to take the bible at face value, meaning you have to understand where the bible came from, how it was written, put together. This is what face value means to me, and that is what I am doing. I don’t really know what value the bible has other than a book of wisdom, stories, and history. I can’t give this book any value because I haven’t yet figured out what it means to me really beyond the craziness I went through with it while growing up. As for Jesus and that part of the bible, I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead in this deconstructing process. I have never “questioned” that part of the story. I see his life, death, and resurrection to be a fixed part of that faith and have never had any reason to question it. And please don’t ask how that fits into what I believe or don’t about the bible. I seriously don’t have any answer for that question, it is one of the frustrating inconsistencies I am trying to work through.

I believe that we were created, by God, a higher power, whatever, with a mind capable of knowing what is right for us. Those core foundation beliefs are going to be different for every single person because that is something we decide for ourselves. Where you can run into trouble is when you believe something just because someone told you believe it instead of working through for yourself why you believe what you believe. I had never taken the time to really dig deep into why I believe what I believe and the outcome of finally doing that is what is spitting out these posts. I am coming across things I know I can’t believe and those things make me wonder how I ever could have believed that without being completely brainwashed.

I don’t know if this all answers at least in part some of these questions. I really do appreciate the questions. Keep asking! I will do my best to get around to answering them.

Goodbye Christianity – The Bible – Part Two

Writing last week’s post about saying goodbye to Christianity was only the beginning of publicly peeling back the layers to something I’ve been working through for the past year, especially the past 6-7 months in particular. It’s always interesting to me to see what people say in comments because it becomes painfully obvious who has actually read my post and who just simply skimmed it or missed the key parts.

Before I dive into this post, I want to make two things perfectly clear.

1. I am not an unbeliever by saying I am done with the label “christian.” That term is not even something Jesus used and I will say it again, IT. IS. A. HINDRANCE. Whether I call myself “christian” or not should not matter to my beliefs or who I am. I cannot continue to work through what faith and belief means to me with labels that people have taken, used, and abused. So please stop telling me I’m giving up on something or losing something or just being wrong. My identity is not “Christian” my identity is ME and that is all I believe that matters.

2. This is even more important for you to understand. These are not decisions I am making lightly. These are things I have seriously wrestled with for over a year and am not coming to any conclusions flippantly. Again, please respect my story, my decisions, and my choices. I am not blind and I am not tossing away everything in front of me. I am being careful about what I pick apart and what is worth keeping and not worth it. What I choose to believe or not is up to me and only me, so please keep that in mind when commenting or talking to me. 

Now, here’s the next part of my series of saying Goodbye Christianity.

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The past half a year or more has consisted of a lot of inward mulling, frequent outbursts to friends or Phil who are my sounding boards, or long sessions at therapy feeling frustrated. I have tried to logically and purposefully pick apart and understand what belief system I believed growing up and more importantly, WHY I believed what I did. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and my therapist can attest to the many ranting conversations we’ve had that have been full of me trying so hard to understand reasons for why Christians believed something.

To pinpoint what the hardest part of this has all been, I would have to say it all comes back to the bible. It all comes back to the book Christians worship, place intense authority in, and often use as a weapon.

Putting my bible away over three years ago was one of the easiest yet hardest things I have ever done. It was like feeling trapped and triggered and hurt by someone but also feeling a strong attachment and shame of ever thinking about leaving them. [A lot like a bad ex-boyfriend; it's hard to break up with someone you may have good memories with, but it makes perfect sense to leave when they start abusing the relationship.] It didn’t make sense to me anymore to read something that only served to continue to remind me of the gut wrenching pain I felt which pushed me into the pages of that book. All it reminds me of is my dad’s hypocrisy, his blatant refusal to only read the “children honor your parents” verses and not the “fathers do not provoke your children” verses, and of the verses he used to shame and manipulate me. The verses held so dearly by people I know are verses that will put me into an almost immediate panic attack. They remind me so severely of the pain I felt when I loved those verses, my heart threatens to break all over again. Those verses bring back instant flashbacks to crying hard as I tried to shakily underline a specific verse or two.

The bible became and still is a book I have seen used as a weapon to break people, shame people, and I have seen Christians [mis]use that book and take things severely out of context. The bible is a book I immediately equate with pain, betrayal, shame, and manipulation.

The more I stood back and tried to gain a better understanding of the book worshiped and given much authority, the more I couldn’t understand why I had believed what I had while growing up. I can’t understand how or why so much authority is given to a book written by men, put together by men. It was not and is not written by an invisible hand of an invisible god, it is a book of two halves; one being seriously out of order chronologically books of poems, battle stories, and some deeply disturbing accounts of the viciousness and goriness of human interactions. The second half is full of various accounts of a man called the Messiah, and then there are the letters; letters in response to churches’ issues, dealing with cultural issues, and we don’t even know what was written in the letters these are in response to. I hate seeing Christians take Paul’s writings as what is supposed to happen in church or Christian life today. So many people ignore the historical and cultural context and grossly misapply men’s letters and I must admit I’m so done with that.

I do not see the bible as having any authority in my life. I see the bible to be a book written, put together, and upheld by MEN. Various counsels decided what was to be put into the bible, I want to know what they decided didn’t belong. Where are those books? I view the bible as a book of eye witness history, which means to me that it probably isn’t entirely accurate. I see the bible as a book of poetry, proverbs to hold loosely when applying to modern day life. It makes me so uncomfortable when I see the bible as a book of stories put together by men and I can’t understand why Christians worship it so highly or place so much authority on the inaccuracies of a book written by men. The bible is a book with inaccuracies, and as a book with fallacies, I can no longer place any authority on it. I would view it as a book of curious readings if it didn’t trigger me so badly.

So yes, I will no longer read the bible and I can no longer see it as something with legitimate weight when it comes to trying to prove an argument or debate or conversation or something I MUST do with my life. I do not see how the bible can be applicable to my life anymore, and I honestly don’t know how anyone can explain it to me and it make complete sense.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to come back and read it, but right now, no. It has taken me a long time to admit this to anyone, including myself, and I know I am exposing myself to getting a lot of flak for saying this in public. But please, understand that this is my decision, this is something I have worked long and hard with and have been wrestling with for a long time. I have not come to this conclusion lightly. Please, please understand that. Please do not tell me I am throwing something away and make it sound like I am making a flippant decision. Just the opposite in fact, I am choosing to walk away from something that has caused me a lot of pain and something I have known all of my life. That’s not easy and please respect the amount of thought and wrestling I have put into this. 

(more coming in another post, hopefully next week.) 

Goodbye Christianity – Part One

There have been so many conversations going around teh internets over the past few weeks about Christianity. People trying to defend their “faith,” people trying to shame others into believing what they believe, people trying to just ask questions and express their doubts about their own faith. There have been resurfacing conversations about bakeries, anit-gay bills, and Christian colleges covering up horrendous abuse [note: just google BJU, PHC, or the Arizona anti-gay bill to see what I'm talking about]. The more I’ve watched these conversations and have been appalled at the responses from Christians I once respected or felt were worth following, the more I’ve once again been aware of how much I don’t want to be called a “christian” anymore.

I have seen Christians more concerned about their beliefs being upheld than listening to the broken people who are trying to tell their stories and who are in need of love. I have seen Christians tear into stories of horrific childhood rape and accuse the survivors of not having been modest enough, blaming the victims and saying “it’s your fault.” Christians! The people who are supposed to be known for their love. I’ve had people bring verses to me to show me how wrong I am about speaking out about the abuse I have suffered while growing up. I have felt like the enemy they feel needs to be taken down instead of a person in need of love, support, understanding, and care. I have had pastors look me in the eye after I had just told them about the physical abuse my dad had done to my siblings and tell me I need to only pay attention to my own heart and I need to forgive him and not be bitter. I have felt the lack of care coming from pulpits when it comes to those who suffer from depression, PTSD, PPD, and any other mental illness. The care for those physically ailing abounds greatly, but those of us who struggle just as much with mental illness barely get a second glance.

I can’t accurately verbally explain the devastation I feel when I see people proudly bearing the title “Christian” viciously, viciously tear into someone who is threatening their beliefs. My heart feels wrung of all emotions except overwhelming sorrow. I don’t know if people realize how they are being known for their hate not their love when this happens. If they are so concerned about upholding and protecting the name of Christianity, hating and being so blind and shaming is not the way to do it. The reputation a lot of Christians are beginning to have, or even have already, isn’t good, and it is definitely not that of loving people. I’m aware this isn’t ALL Christians, but the number of Christians I have seen like this continues to grow. I am aware of how this post can potentially hurt a lot of people I know, because you might take this as me personally hating on you, but this post isn’t about you. Please don’t take this as a personal affront if you are a Christian, that is not the point of this post. This is personal for me, this is what I have personally experienced and watched, this is about the people I have seen turn a blind eye towards abuse, and spew unloving words to those who just really need love.  I want to see Christians care less about their religious rules and care more about loving those to who they call out “sin! sin!”

I have spent the past few months/years really trying to understand how what I’ve been through affects my faith and my beliefs in present day. I knew when I set aside my bible for the first official time over a year and a half ago it was not something I was going to be able to go back to. I understood fully before taking that first step into deconstructing I would never be going back to who I used to be or what I used to believe in. What I didn’t expect was how viciously my belief system would be ripped apart or how people around me reinforced the decisions I was making in tossing out certain beliefs. While watching a lot of Christian culture it became more apparent that it is a culture of rigid religious rules, “pharisee” like responses to things they didn’t agree with. I used to be that pharisee Christian and it’s hard to watch those on the receiving end of that legalism because i know how much that hurts now. You could say that the past few months, almost year, specifically has been my time of quietly observing, privately writing out realizations, reasons for why I do or don’t disagree with something, and waiting to speak publicly. I have spent hours upon hours raging, verbally pacing, and having long discussions with my therapist, Phil, and various friends about what I was continuing to see. 

I have reached a point now where I am beginning to understand better where I am when it comes to my beliefs and the bible. I wrote about the beginning of this part of deconstructing my faith once, and I have merely continued processing and working hard on naming pieces of the puzzle since then. 

I realized the other day that there is nothing left in Christianity that speaks of peace to me. Associations are powerful things and the only things I can associate with Christianity are terrible, negative things. Christianity equals tension, abuse, unrest, vicious threats, blindness, and legalism for me. It is a label I no longer want to be known under. Do I still believe in God/Jesus? I don’t know. Honestly. I don’t know anymore, I believe in a higher being, but the God I grew up with is not something I’m comfortable with, he is someone I don’t know what to think of anymore. I deeply crave a belief system that is peaceful, calm, and healing. Christianity as I have known it is not that. I have never felt anything but guilt for not following rules, shame for not reading the bible as much “as I should,” or pain for having something I thought was precious twisted and used against me. I am searching beyond Christianity for that belief system I crave. It makes me start crying from a feeling similar to relief as I realize how much my heart wants peace when it comes to my beliefs. I want that, I am craving that peace with every fiber of my being. Where I’ll end up, I don’t know, but I am eager to explore other belief systems and find the peace I am looking for. I firmly believe a person can still believe in God/Jesus and be a follower of another belief system. Just because I don’t want to be known under a label that is synonymous with hate, legalism, and unloving attitudes for me does not make me an unbeliever.

I am moving forward on this deconstructing-rebuilding journey, and I know more is coming that I will have to deal with and work through and chose one path or another. I honestly have no idea where I’ll end up in the area called my faith. I don’t know if I will ever be okay with being known as a “christian” or if that will be something haunting me for years to come. Even though there are just as many unknowns now as there have been, I am content with my choices, I am at peace with not knowing and making hard decisions or even just letting things come and go as they may. Even though I am searching for beliefs to call my own, I am at peace with this process. I am content with the unknown, I am not frantic or uneasy as I face the great out there I have never explored. I am excited, I am making peace with myself for who I am and I am happy and content with the choices I have made and am making. I have a peace that comes from for once in my life being able to breathe, not feeling pressured to believe what everyone else believes, and from being able to be my own person and make my own decisions.

And that is good.

The weight of Obligation vs. the beauty of Responsibility

I blame the other day’s break down on part pregnancy hormones and part becoming painfully aware of another part of my past. I have been fighting against this feeling of being the insanely responsible one, the one everyone can rely on because I am responsible and capable of making sure everything happens when it’s supposed to. I have never not been this kind of person, I have been made into the person who knows where the vehicle is going even if the driver doesn’t.

I am the one who sees the person leave their purse or hat or bag behind and reminds someone to make sure they don’t forget. I am the one who can plan an entire event with ease and who knows the schedule inside and out and I am fully aware of the clock and when things need to happen. I am the one who will make sure there is always food on the table, laundry is done, dishes washed, bathrooms cleaned, fridge full. 

[But ya know what, I'm done with that. This responsibility has weighed so heavily on my shoulders I feel bowed. I know I can keep carrying the weight but sometimes being the person people rely on and having a reputation of being "the responsible one" is just more than I want to bear.]

Sitting in my therapy session the next day, pulling kleenexes out of the box next to me, sobbing out the weight of this responsibility I have always had to carry as long as I can remember, my therapist waited until I had spilled everything. “Caleigh,” she said, “that isn’t responsibility, that’s obligation.” It was a moment of sudden clarity as she explained the difference between obligation and responsibility.

The weight made sense. The feeling of not knowing what my talents really are or why the things I once held dear are such a distasteful thing to me now made sense. 

The confusion as awareness crept in made more sense as my therapist explained how obligation comes with baggage and is from an outside source, but responsibility is a personal choice and it is an inside choice.

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I didn’t have a choice about being a good cook; that was my job and if I didn’t do it I wasn’t serving the family, I wasn’t helping. I was obligated to cook, but I made a choice to cook well because it was live or die and I sure as heck wasn’t going to do it poorly. I rarely got praised for it though, if at all. I would sit down with the kids for dinner, a meal I felt tasted awesome and beyond the obligatory “thank you making this” the kids were required to say, that was it. I never felt like I could feel pride over my cooking because it never felt worthy of pride. I got upset once because one of my siblings was making a big deal about being in the kitchen and getting in the way when I needed to make dinner. “Well, whose kitchen is it anyway?” my dad asked. Confused, I said it was my kitchen. He scoffed at me and said no it was his kitchen. I realized then I was just as insignificant as the tools I used to make the many meals I did. I was merely the tool used by my parents to make the food for the family. Becoming a good and efficient cook was a obligation, it was a choice between shame and conditional love and surviving. I cook because I had to, not because I loved to and chose to pick up that responsibility.

It was my dad’s dream that one of his children would be able to sit down at the piano and be able to play whatever was in front of them. I felt the fire start as I sat down at those white keys for the first time. I was determined to make my dad proud, I wanted to see his eyes shine with pride as I walked back from the piano during a recital. I wanted to hear “good job!” because I never did with anything else. I wanted to see him smile at me and know I had fulfilled his dream. I poured my body, mind, and soul into the piano. I ruined my wrists, I pushed myself hard, I saw teachers sadly shake their heads as my arms started to give out. I watched what I thought was my dream ripped away as my health deteriorated. I had reached levels teachers were impressed with, I was at a level where the next logical step was to continue in college and become a professional concert pianist. But, I had reached my dad’s dream, I could play whatever was put in front of me. College wasn’t an option, and when the piano no longer could be my dream, his disappointed wasn’t for the heart break I felt, but because his dream no longer would exist. It’s no wonder I can barely touch a piano anymore. I felt obligated to fulfill my dad’s dream, I learned to love what I thought was my dream, and when it was ripped away, it became painfully obvious it had always been my dad’s dream.

I visited a Civil War reenactment when I was about 12 and the bug bit hard. This is the one where it is half obligation and half responsibility. I begged my parents to let us become reenactors. I knew I already had an eye for what was authentic and what was inauthentic, I knew this was something I deeply wanted to do. My mom started doing research, I tried to research too, I barely knew how to sew, but she told me the only way we would do something like this was if “we” (being me) learned how to sew. I asked for an authentic civil war dress for my 12th birthday, I wanted the corset, chemise, drawers, petticoats, I wanted the whole kit and caboodle. I started learning how to sew, I learned through trial and error, but I was determined. Then my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. It wasn’t for another three to four years before I went to my very first reenactment in full regalia. Over the course of a few years, I became a very accomplished and competent seamstress. I was a quick learner and began to teach others the sewing tricks I knew to create accurate outfits. I felt obligated to teach because I somehow felt like my sewing capability was for others to use. I made money through taking sewing orders, I loved to sew, but I began to feel like I was being taken advantaged of. It felt like I was just a tool being used again. The girls I spent hours teaching my secrets to turned around and started their own business, something I had been wanting to do for a very long time. I stopped giving tips and began to hold my distance because of their “I know what I’m doing, I don’t need any help” attitudes. I no longer felt needed, I no longer felt like I was worth anything. It’s hard for me to pull my machine out for any sewing right now without feeling like a tool, feeling like my talents were used for others and taken away from me. It’s confusing to be praised for being a good seamstress when this baggage sits behind everything I sew. Sewing was taken from me, my “talents” were used for others’ gain and it felt like it never was really my own choice. Maybe that’s why I was always trying to make myself more dresses, do something special for myself, make myself feel like my talents were my own and not something put on me.

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I look back over my life with a new awareness of understanding the difference between obligations and responsibilities. The revulsion I often feel towards sewing, the piano, cooking, and even having been a nanny makes more sense now. The hard part now is looking forward and figuring out what is left that was my own choice and not put on me. The one thing that stands clearly right now is my writing. Writing was never something that was an obligation, it was a choice I made, it was a responsibility I chose to pick up and hold as my own. And maybe that’s why my parents never gave much notice to my writing; it was something I chose, not something they put over me.

Becoming a mother, having my OWN child is a responsibility I have chosen, not something that has been put on me. That is another thing I can claim as my own decision and choice as I continue to move forward. Phil and I have waited three years for this little one, and I am so glad we’ve had three years together before we add in a child. I’m excited, I am ready to be a mother, thanks to the obligations of my childhood and teen years I am well prepared for being a mother, but it’s different this time. I have CHOSEN to become a mother and that makes all the difference in the world, there is no baggage coming along with this choice, and that is good.

The day I left

February 6th three years ago marks the day I packed all of my meager belongings and left my family’s house. It was almost exactly two weeks after my dad had kicked me out. He had walked into my room, told me I wasn’t worth his time anymore, he was tired of dealing with me, then proceeded to blame me for all of the issues he was having with my siblings. After his little speech, he told me I had two weeks to leave, if I needed help finding a place, I could ask, but basically I was on my own. He looked around my room and pointed out the pieces of furniture I could take or what had to stay behind. I was only allowed to take my trunk, my desk, and a dresser I had just happened to buy.

I left that house and never looked back. I believe my therapist was right in telling me I had cut ties with my family years ago, but leaving that day was the final string. My dad celebrated that night by taking my family out to dinner, a very rare occurrence. I was asked if I wanted to come as if I was already no longer part of the family. My siblings were confused, here was their dad telling them about how much of a rebellious and bad girl I was. I was an extremely bad example all because I had chosen the man I was going to marry and wasn’t going to back down no matter how much my dad abused me and tried to manipulate me. I was finally standing up to his vicious anger and this was the consequences. I fought for my siblings, it was me who held them together, only, no one saw that until I was no longer there. My siblings couldn’t see that, they couldn’t see what I had been protecting them from all of those years; the man behind the mask who grew more and more manipulative and abusive as the years passed. I have never really processed the emotions that went with this event, I often feel burning anger towards my dad and also great sorrow because I can see how blinded and truly sick he is. 

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Recently my younger sister Emma has been starting to find her voice. She is speaking out about what it was like to grow up, and I am proud of her for standing up to the man whose sperm just happened to be part of creating us kids. She is calling the bullshit as she’s seen it and she is not skirting around the real issues. It does my heart so good to see her taking the steps I have taken before her in what will hopefully be a healing journey for her.I am going to stand by her and lift up her words because more of us need to speak out.

It struck me the other day how often the abusers get a free pass. I see the discomfort cross faces when I bring up what my dad has done and how I’m working through it. I hear the sorrow in their voices and see it in their eyes when I say I will not allow my dad to go anywhere near this child of mine. It isn’t sorrow for me so much as it is sorrow that I don’t have the daddy-daughter relationship I’m somehow supposed to have. It’s sorrow and discomfort because my life hasn’t gone the way people would rather have seen it gone. Very very few people I have interacted with in regards to my dad’s abuse has actually had what I consider the right response. Very few people have actually gotten angry, upset because of what he has done. Abuse is not something to just brush over with “grace” and “pray for your persecutor.” Abuse in any form is worthy of anger and worthy of being stood up against.

I remember when I first started sharing my story and starting to peel back the layers of pain hardened emotions to find the wound holes. No one seemed to understand why I needed to speak. It was all “hush, hush, you shouldn’t say that, it’s slander.” By keeping silent I was allowing his abuse to continue, I, the victim, was being told my story didn’t matter, it wasn’t appropriate to share. “Protect the MEN and their egotistical reputations at all costs!” is apparently the unspoken mantra in the circles I grew up in. Girls, families, I had spent a lot of time with no longer speak to me, I can’t stand going to reenactments because of running into those people and having to deal with the sad pitying looks they give me because I am the black sheep, I spoke out against the abuse I have suffered, I chose a good, good man to marry and all they saw was a rebellious girl thumbing her nose at the authority “God had placed over her life.”

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. – Elie Wiesel

A friend of mine wrote a post about “Rage and Grace” recently, and I really can relate to her words. It is difficult to find the balance between not answering the abusers, the tormentors, with how they have approached us, and with being appropriately angry and upset about something we should be upset about. Abuse is never something you should brush off. Yes, the abusers are strong, they are used to getting their way and crushing us. But just as a little flame can turn into a raging fire, so can our words and our taking stances about abuse, speaking out, and healing from our abuse make a difference. 

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The day I left was a significant day. That was the day I stood up and said no more. My mom kept telling me I could appeal to my dad, she seemed desperate to keep me at home. But my heart had already left, this was simply my body making it’s departure from the family I had grown up with. I will never stop defending my ground as a survivor and continuing to put up HEALTHY boundaries to protect the fragile healing my heart is still undergoing. I will never stop standing up and doing my best to aid the siblings who come to me for help. It has taken time, but I believe they are starting to see I am not the bad sister my dad has made me out to be. Not talking with my dad is my choice and it is not a sad choice. It is not something worth your sorrow. It is the choice I have made to protect myself, protect my marriage, and to protect my child. He is a dangerous man and it is not worth placing myself back until his toxicity just for the sake of making people feel like I am showing him “grace.”

I am content and very happy with my life, so please be happy for me? My life is not about my family. My life is about me, Phil, and my little boy. See those other survivors who are struggling with family relationships and friend relationships? Be happy for them with the life they have chosen? Be willing to set aside your preconceived ideas about what family relationships should look like, and be happy for us when we share an exciting discovery in our healing or our own personal ventures. We need you to stand beside us and to be angry at the abuse and celebrate the good.  

Marking and Honoring the Memories

I have a tattoo and this is something that causes friction and tension among certain circles of people. I understand the difficulty people have in seeing tattoos anything other than “decimating” one’s body[temple of God] and the fear of skin sagging and looking terrible after years of having a tattoo. While this makes sense to me, I see and find an intensely deeper meaning attached to tattoos.

While planning out and deciding on my first tattoo I kept thinking about how tribes all over the world for centuries and even the building of memorials in the Bible, have been marking their skin and setting up memorials for the things of significance that have happened. I love the visual images of honoring the past, the future, and acknowledging the present etched into skin. I see tattoos as a way for me to carry my story on my body. I know some people just get tattoos to be cool or just because, or they get tattoos to show their standing in a specific group. For some people, tattoos are simply an impulsive decision brought on by peer pressure, and honestly, good for them. It takes guts to get a tattoo and it is someone’s personal opinion and should be honored as such. Tattoos for me are a way to remember the important things I want to permanently remember. I want reminders of who I have been, who I am now, and who I am becoming etched in “stone” and visible.

I believe this is a year that is going to change my life forever. My son will be born sometimes this spring/early summer, Phil graduates college, there is also a big potential for moving out of state or somewhere entirely different. There are a lot of choices we are being faced with and will have to choose from in the coming year. I can feel the winds changing this year as well. Last year I claimed freedom and broke free from chains that have held me tightly bound for most of my life. I called myself a Phoenix and saw last year as my year of rising from, being reborn through the ashes. Not only is this a year of being loved, loving, and learning love, it is a year of remembering as well. A year of remembering without the sharp burning pains of fresh broken wounds. Tattoos are simply one part of the remembering process. I am remembering last year and building memorials to the great steps forward I made even though the year felt like it was constantly falling down around my ears. 

The tattoo holding memories on the inside of my left wrists says “Hold Fast Hebrews 10:23.” While anything with Bible verses on it makes me cringe right now, this verse is still a verse of great meaning to me. I have always loved, from the first time I ever saw Master and Commander, the constant undercurrent of holding fast throughout that movie. There is something powerful in those two words; Hold Fast. Ever since seeing M&C I have clung to that phrase, finding it to be the only thing pulling me through the darkest days of my life. I promised myself I would always hold fast no matter what. Hebrews 10:23 says, “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Even though having anything connected with a verse is seriously grating to me, this is who I once was and it still applicable for my life. Choosing to get my tattoo on my wrist in a visible spot and a place where I will always see it was not a difficult decision. I knew I would need a constant reminder to hold fast so why not put the words in a place I was going to actually see it. 

After I got my tattoo, my entire belief system shattered, leaving me gasping and very unsure of who I was. Seeing a daily reminder to hold fast pulled me through. I chose to hold fast no matter how dark the days got (and they got very very dark). I chose to hold fast no matter how much I couldn’t get out of bed or simply function. I chose to hold fast even though the days when Phil and I burrowed down to just make it through the day, week, month. Words have power and I strongly believe in the power of those two words. Little did I know when I chose those words for my first tattoo I would be facing soon after the darkest and hardest days yet. I was marking and honoring the memories I have faced and made it through but not only that; I was also reminding myself to continue to hold fast. 

I am a firm believer in the strong symbolism of tattoos. I see them as one way to mark and remember what we’ve been through, honoring the memories, honoring the pain and the healing. I am proud of my sibling who have chosen to become bearers of their memories and it does my heart good to hear them be so distinct with their choices for their tattoos. I know tattoos aren’t for everyone and a good number of people have a very strong negative reaction to tattoos, so this post isn’t probably for you if you are one of those people. But for everyone else, let’s continue to bear the marks of our stories and carry the memories and honor the healing? I am looking forward to getting the two other tattoos I have planned. These two other tats give me the chills because of just how intensely significant each symbol has been in my healing.