8/10/2012 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Tabitha ~
I’m 38 years old, and I’m the youngest of three children. I was raised in the Assembly of God churches of Washington state by a fanatical, born again, end-times, tongues-talking mother, who herself was raised by a southern Baptist mother that was about as warm and fuzzy as John Calvin and Martin Luther combined. My father was a mean drunk who spent long hours at work, then abused all of us when he was at home.
I was baptized at age five in the Wenatchee river, and I answered countless altar calls over the years, but I never felt saved, just dirty and shameful. My earliest memories are of shame.
My mother used to stand outside my bedroom door and listen to hear if I was masturbating, so she could throw the door open and catch me touching my own body. Then she would continue to stand there and lecture me, and tell me that I was going to hell for being a dirty-minded girl, and that I better repent of my sins. She did this to me from the time I was a little girl until I was a teenager. I was a good kid, and if it weren’t for masturbation I’d have had nothing to ask god forgiveness for, and nothing to produce the appropriate amount of shame and self-loathing required to need god. It was key to my indoctrination.
I was isolated from everyone outside the church, and I was not allowed to make friends with unbelievers, because the world was wicked and evil, and under the power of Satan.
I was not allowed to read anything but the Bible, other than books about the Bible, or anything sold at a Christian bookstore. Chick tracts were a favorite of mine as a kid, and I had the whole collection, which I read and reread more than the Bible. Mike Warnke’s fictional account of his life as a Satanist , “The Satan Seller”, was another favorite - especially the part where he talks about eating a human finger. I believed that secular books were dangerous to my soul, so I stayed away from them.
I was not allowed to listen to secular music, because the devil was in the music, and he could jump right in my ears and possess me for hearing the wrong thing. My dad would play Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and I would freak out, because my mother would tell me Pink Floyd was music for witches. I was trained to fear music. I grew up during the Satanic Panic, and talk of demonic possession was everyday conversation. The devil and his demons were everywhere, waiting to catch me.
I saw all the “Thief in the Night” movies about the Apocalypse, and I lived in constant fear of being separated from my mother in the Rapture. That was another key to my indoctrination, being threatened with the loss of my parent if I didn’t believe in Jesus. I didn’t have normal hopes and dreams for the future, because I thought there wasn’t going to be any future. Jesus was coming back soon, and the world was doomed to end, so what was the point in trying so hard?
My mother had no interest in my education, and after 3rd grade, she stopped asking for my report cards. She never asked if I had homework to finish, or if I needed help. After attending emotionally draining church services, several days a week, that went on for hours, I was always too exhausted to think clearly at school.
I went to seven different schools, and moved to a new house or apartment almost every year. My parents barely graduated from high school, and saw nothing wrong with our rootless existence.
In 5th grade, my parents divorced, and I was moved again, hundreds of miles away, to the city of Renton. We lived in an apartment building next to the cemetery where Jimi Hendrix was buried, back when he had only a simple marble marker, and it was hidden way in the back corner. I was wandering among the graves when I found him there, and I wondered how a famous musician like Hendrix ended up with such a poor memorial.
We were on welfare here, for the first time in our lives, but there was never enough food to eat, and we took whatever was offered by the food bank, and the church pantry. I was so hungry all the time, that I ate half-eaten food out of garbage cans, and food I found on the ground. One year we were given three frozen turkeys for Thanksgiving, and I ate so much of it, that I gag at the thought of leftover turkey now.
Outside my bedroom window, I saw my first eviction. Everything was put in a pile in the parking lot, in the pouring rain, and covered with a tarp that was too small to be effective. I knew it wouldn’t take much for us to end up in out in the rain, homeless.
I became very anxious and depressed, but when I turned to my mother for help, she told me it was just an attack from the devil, and that I needed to rebuke him in Jesus’ name, and read my Bible more, and pray more. The Lord did not give us a spirit of fear, she would say. Fear comes from the pit of hell.
Reality had nothing to do with my problems.
When I started to develop stomach aches, chest pains, migraine headaches, and insomnia, my mother didn’t take me to the doctor, because my problems were not physical, but spiritual. Mother said they were a “burden from the Lord”, and that someone, somewhere, needed me to pray for them. I was a thumb sucker until I was eight, and chronic bed wetter until the age of ten, but mom believed that psychiatry was evil, and that I already had a perfect counselor - Jesus.
There were many times I would pray for hours, sobbing, pounding the floor at the devil, but there was never any relief. When I would tell Christians about my struggles, they would peer at me with suspicion and ask, “How’s your relationship with God?” Christians had plenty of excuses for God’s absence, and when they ran out of them, they just put the blame on me. The book of Job is classic example of this kind of blame-shifting behavior, but I’ve met very few Christians who understand what it means to be a “Job’s comforter”. I felt responsible for my sadness, and that God was punishing me for some reason, but I didn’t know what I’d done.
I began to fear that my mother, the pastor, and everyone in the church, wouldn’t believe that I was a real Christian until I spoke in tongues - the one outward sign that proved I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I went forward for prayer at almost every opportunity, and I would be surrounded by men and women in the church, with their hands on my head, and my shoulders, and my back, and my belly, telling me to let it out, let the Holy Spirit flow out of me. But it wouldn’t come, so I made up my own language, borrowing from all the bizarre sounds I heard around me; playing the part because I was desperate to belong somewhere, and to feel love and not judgement. It didn’t occur to me then that everyone else was playacting, too.
Obedience was the most important thing to my mother. Many times she would rebuke me and call me Satan for questions I posed to her. For example, I was not allowed to attend Easter egg hunts because the egg was a pagan fertility symbol, but when I challenged this, and asked her why we had a Christmas tree then, because that was also a pagan fertility symbol , she looked me in the face and said, “Get thee behind me Satan!”
I was accused of being a witch, because I was rebellious, and rebellion is the spirit of witchcraft. I was forced to endure long prayer sessions with my mother and her church friends, that were basically exorcisms, with lots of shouting at the devil, moaning, and ululating.
When I didn’t show enough contrition for her liking, mother would open the Bible to Deuteronomy 28, and read, out loud, the 14 verses of blessings for obeying God’s commandments, and the 54 verses of curses for disobedience. By the time she made it to verse 68, she was practically foaming at the mouth. I started to believe I was doomed to be a sinner, and that I was going to hell, no matter how hard I tried to be without spot or blemish for God.
I decided to give up trying to be good, and I told my mother I wasn’t going to church anymore. I was tired of not having any friends. I certainly didn’t have friends at church that were going to miss me; the only friend I did have moved away to Walla Walla, after her mom died of cancer in one of our Pastor’s failed faith healing experiments.
At 17, I was a backslider. My home life was so chaotic, there were months and months of sleeping in different people’s houses, because mom was always broke. And yet, there was enough money for the church, and the televangelists who promised a jackpot from Jesus if she was generous. At one point, I was kicked out of a pick-up camper in the woods, where we were living, which had no running water, or working fridge, or stove. Before the camper, we were live-in caretakers of a woman I had known my whole life, who had Alzheimers. It was one of the worst experiences of my life, and after that I started smoking cigarettes. They were a mercy in my mental state, and threats of hell couldn’t convince me to quit.
I dropped out of high school in my senior year, and moved out on my own as soon as it was legal. The next couple of years were rough. At 20, I had an abortion, and the shame I felt was so unbearable that I hated the sight of myself, and wished I was dead. I couldn’t forgive myself, and I turned into a born-again Christian.
At 21, I asked to be baptized again in the Wenatchee river, this time in the month of March, to prove my devotion to God. I was reading the King James Bible from start to finish, praying in tongues, but I remained depressed and held myself responsible for my suffering, instead of seeing it as a matter of mental health. Jesus was supposed to fix everything; by his stripes I was healed, I just had to believe. I even attended a two-day Benny Hinn healing crusade in Seattle, begging God to make me happy.
I lived in a Christian co-operative home in Seattle, after my born-again experience, and made friends with my Catholic roommates. I found they were more open to literature, music, and art, which felt healthier than what I was accustomed to. They introduced me to Baudelaire, and Camus, and Voltaire, and Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy, for which I am still very grateful.
I had been attending an Assembly of God church with some of my roommates, but I wasn’t happy there. Then I went with some other roommates to Mars Hill, where the sexuality of the Song of Solomon was discussed in minutia for months, leading some of the parishioners to sin with each other during Bible study, and giving Mark Driscoll an excuse to get angry and make them feel like crap about it. I even went to the Vineyard church a few times, which was when I decided I never wanted to go to another church like that, ever again.
What I wanted was the peace and quiet I found during compline service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, where everyone was welcome, but I craved more rituals. I started to attend mass at the Catholic church where my friends went to, and by 2000, I was a convert. I loved the silence, and the prayers in Latin, and taking communion, and crossing myself with holy water when I came and went from the church. I felt connected to the other Catholics, without all the emotional demonstrations.
When I didn’t show enough contrition for her liking, mother would open the Bible to Deuteronomy 28, and read, out loud, the 14 verses of blessings for obeying God’s commandments, and the 54 verses of curses for disobedience. By the time she made it to verse 68, she was practically foaming at the mouth. For the next few years I was a devoted Catholic. I attended mass 2-3 times a week. I carried my rosary with me everywhere, and prayed novenas. I lit candles and asked the saints to pray for me. I prayed the stations of the cross, and stayed with nuns at a priory for religious retreats. I looked forward to Lent, and deciding what I should give up, as an exercise in self-control. I loved the rituals and the religious art - the churches I had went to were ritualistically anti-ritual, so I was ready to embrace transcendent beauty.
Then all the family secrets started to come out, all at once. I learned that my sister was molested by our father, and that she found her 3 year old son being molested by his paternal grandfather; and that my mom was molested by her brother, who I had always disliked. The last time I went home for Thanksgiving, I had dinner at my dad’s house, and learned from his second wife, while I was helping her with the dishes, that my dad was addicted to internet porn, and that he hadn’t touched her in a year and they were sleeping in separate rooms.
The Christmas before this, I didn’t go home. My cousin was invited to stay at my mother’s house with his wife and child, and on Christmas eve, while everyone slept, he robbed the house. They left early in the morning, before mom could get into the kitchen and notice that the cupboards were bare, and so was the fridge. Not even a cup of coffee left for Christmas morning. She should’ve called the cops, but instead she just forgave him.
I finally went to a doctor and begged for an anti-depressant, because it felt like there was no goodness left in the world.
Around this time, I was at a bar, drinking with a Catholic friend, trying to feel happy after yet another failed romantic relationship, when I met the future father of my son, dancing by himself. There’s a saying, that you should never get involved with a man who’s dancing by himself in a bar, but I didn’t hear that advice until recently. It’s still good advice though.
Within a few months I was pregnant, unable to work at my job, unable to get a new one, and too broke to afford rent, or anything else. I had to move in with him, because I had no one to turn to for help. I wanted to believe that I loved him, and that I wanted to marry him, because he was the only one to ask, and because I didn’t want another abortion. I was trapped by morals and no money.
My Catholic friends shunned me for being an unwed mother, and for living with a Stanley Kowalski/Philistine-type who drank too much. I tried to ignore them, and kept going to mass anyway, whenever I could, which was becoming less and less. My time no longer belonged to me now that I was beholden to the father of my son for everything I needed, and I spent many Sunday mornings watching him and his friends recover from drinking all weekend, by drinking even more.
He was jealous of anything that took attention my away from him, including church, and the books I would read. Why did I need to read so much, when I could be making him dinner, and cleaning his house?
I was abused throughout my pregnancy, but I didn’t even know it. I didn’t even realize he was an alcoholic, because I blamed myself for his drinking, and for making him so unhappy; I deserved his insults and anger. But I was taught to forgive abusers, like my dad, over and over again, seventy-times-seven. The victim is the one who must forgive and forget.
While I was at the hospital, recovering after a difficult delivery, the father of my son was at home, torturing my cat to death. Even though items from our home were used to kill her, the police didn’t question him. The man from the Humane Society asked me if I had any enemies, but I had no clue then what an enemy I had, and I said no. There’s a strong link between animal cruelty and domestic violence, but I didn’t know that then.
I got married when my son was six months old, to try and make God, and my mother, and every horrible judgmental person in my life, happy. And in another six months, I was getting a divorce from him.
When he accused me of being on drugs, I voluntarily went to the hospital for a full drug test, just to prove I wasn’t on anything. I was in tears that day, but no one in the hospital recognized the abuse I was suffering, or how much I blamed myself for it, and it just got worse.
He told me I was crazy, and that he would get my records from a counselor I had seen for a few months, and prove that I was crazy. I wasn’t crazy, but he made me feel like I was going there - when he was around I doubted my sanity.
Then he pushed me too far, and said he would destroy me, and that I would be living on the streets like a bum, and I would never see my son again. I was at the lowest point in my life, and I believed him.
I admitted myself into the psychiatric ward of a hospital for two weeks, because I didn’t want to live anymore if I couldn’t have my son. My little boy was the only thing that made my life worth living. I was in horror of the evil his father was capable of, his cruelty towards us. I was making plans to drive my car to a deserted park, and slit my wrists with razor blades, while I watched one last sunrise; but then I thought of my son being alone, and being raised by that monster, and I couldn’t bear the sadness of that outcome for him. I did what was right, I stayed alive for him.
No one in that hospital recognized I was an abused woman, or offered me information on women’s shelters, or even talked to me about domestic violence. They just treated me like another basket case, and put me on Lithium, Prozac, and Clonazapan, and diagnosed me as bi-polar. I’m not on any pharmaceuticals now.
During the divorce, I had no money, and no lawyer. The days of pro bono lawyers are dead, because I only found the kind that wanted thousands of dollars. I had no choice but to sign his lawyer’s papers, which made a baseless assertion that I had a history of mental illness; which was struck from the record later on, when I had enough money for my own lawyer. I felt I had no choice but to sign, and do whatever it took to keep my son.
After this, I stopped going to mass, but my home was full of religious art, I wore religious medals with Mary and Jesus, holy cards were tucked into the sun visors of my car, I still carried my rosary with me. My belief remained that a force beyond me was in control.
I met the man I am married to now, almost two years after my divorce was final. We met because of a bird: I had a bird question, and my neighbor sent me over to the bird watcher that lived next door. He treated me and my son with the kind of love and respect I never knew existed. He was also very intelligent, with an apartment full of books, and because of him I began to read everything I got my hands on, and I wasn’t afraid of books anymore. I started to see everything in a new light.
My opinions on religion shifted radically and rapidly, once I got my hands on books by Bertrand Russell, John Stuart Mill, Frederick Douglass, Max Weber, and Freud. Bill Maher’s film Religulous blew my mind, and it made me want to study comparative mythology; so I read a lot of Joseph Campbell, and had my mind blown further. All the anger I needed to be free, I owe to Christopher Hitchens.
In 2008, I went to mass for the last time. I was having a hard time about losing my belief in God, and I was there on a last attempt to not become an atheist, because that was definitely where I was heading. It was at this particular mass that the priest gave a special message at the end, reminding everyone that the Catholic church defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and that we should remember this before voting on the extension of rights to gay and lesbian couples in civil unions. No one said a word, but I was crying. That was the exact moment I stopped believing in anyone’s bullshit. A priest was telling me to ignore my love and compassion, and to discriminate against my fellow humans. It took this moment for me to decide I didn’t belong to this community anymore, and to begin to accept myself as a bi-sexual woman for the first time. I excommunicated myself.
There were more horrors awaiting with my ex-husband, and he and his whole family fought against me in court for a year, refusing to believe that my son was being terribly abused and neglected by his father. Even after my ex-husband threatened his mother with a knife, and she filed a restraining order, she refused to believe that my son was in danger. She chose her son over her grandson, and now her grandson doesn’t trust her anymore, but she hasn’t figured that out yet.
It was during this year in court; when I had to file my own restraining order, because I was terrified my ex-husband would show up with a gun and kill us; that I came to see how abused I was; and not just by my ex-husband, but my mother, and the church. Spending hours thinking about what my son and I had been through, and writing down my testimony for the judge, I found my strength in anger - anger at anyone who made me feel worthless.
I had to lose my faith in humanity before I lost my faith in god, but as painful as it’s been, I’m grateful to free from the fear of hell and original sin, and the feeling of being under 24 hour watch. I was getting really tired of hating myself, and being told to hate other people, for the unrequited love of God.
At the moment, I don’t have much self-confidence, and I often feel like a bad person, no matter how kind I try to be. I don’t know how to make friends or trust people anymore, and I’m stuck in the past, unable to move on with my life. That’s why I’m writing this, so I can move on, and maybe not feel so alone, by sharing it with you.
I can’t stop thinking about religious abuse because it’s still happening right now. As long as religion is treated as a product of culture, which deserves our respect, there will be no freedom of religion for children, and no one to care about their human rights.
I’ll finish here with a quote from Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not A Christian”:
“Neither love without knowledge nor knowledge without love can produce a good life. In the Middle ages, when pestilence appeared in the country, holy men advised the population to assemble in churches and pray for deliverance; the result was that the infection spread with extraordinary rapidity among the crowded masses of supplicants. This was an example of love without knowledge.
Although both love and knowledge are necessary, love is in a sense more fundamental, since it will lead intelligent people to seek knowledge, in order to find out how to benefit those whom they love. But if people are not intelligent, they will be content to believe what they have been told and may do harm in spite of the most genuine benevolence.”
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