The Reality

Part II
(Preface here, Part I here)

From babyhood, I was expected to be perfect. (These are the 49 characteristics of perfection, if you’re interested.) Any mistake was evidence of rebellion in my heart, rebellion was “the sin of witchcraft,” and witchcraft could only be driven away through physical pain. If you’ve ever met a typical two-year-old, you can probably imagine how many hours a day were devoted to driving away my rebellion. It didn’t work, of course; I still hadn’t achieved perfection by age five, or eight, or twelve. I tried though. My eternal salvation was on the line every second of every day, and I was terrified of ending up in hell for failing to be polite enough or understand my math problems or keep my younger siblings from making messes.

We read long stretches of the Old Testament every morning with whipping implements nearby in case anyone squirmed, and I learned in a very tactile way about God’s violence. (I still can’t open the first two-thirds of my Bible without risking a panic attack.) I often had to copy down biblical passages that directly condemned me as additional punishment and then show up to church where my dad was a pastor and put on a show of saintliness. I would have hated God with every breath had I not been so scared.

I had plenty to fear: hell for myself, hell for my younger siblings, demons who could read my thoughts, a vengeful God who could read my thoughts, violence at home, ridicule outside our home, church staff who would fire my dad if we misbehaved, trick-or-treaters who would bring Satan to our own front door, policemen who would take us children away if they spotted us, doctors who would take us away if we ever went to the hospital, the government who would take us away if we got social security numbers, my body that could cause men to stumble, my emotions that betrayed my sinful nature, my mind that questioned what I was told, and my heart that was black with wickedness.

My parents were able to use scare tactics and violence to control my siblings and I unchecked for a few reasons. First, the isolation of homeschooling meant that my parents didn’t need to answer to anyone. They didn’t have to take us for medical check-ups or immunizations, they didn’t need our education levels checked, and we rarely had visitors. Our church could have posed some opposition, but with my dad being a pastor and my siblings and I looking for all the world like a row of docile ducklings, I think people tended to brush away misgivings. My parents had uncontested authority over us, especially my dad as the God-ordained head of the family, and absolute power without any checks or balances has the ability to turn even well-meaning people into monsters.

Second, the methods used on my siblings and I instilled in us a deep, unrelenting shame. Horrible things were done to us, and they were all our faults. We were vile creatures; God saw us as worms. Our needs were laughable. Our bodies belonged to our caretakers to treat as they saw fit. We were expected to submit willingly to abuse and then thank our abusers with joy; it was utterly humiliating. And because every bit of it was God’s will, we had no right to protest. We were silenced by religion, fear, and shame… and despite this, my parents never did feel like they had the control over us that God commanded of them.

(To be continued…)

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  1. Having just finished reading The 19th Wife, your story is resonating in horrible ways. O!!! I find myself growing so angry on your behalf and on the behalf of all those people whose terrible need for this subjugation brings such abuse upon them and their children :(

  2. I feel physically sick after reading this. I clicked on all of those “characteristics of perfection” and couldn’t get through it. Not only because it is impossible, but many (most!) of them are contradictory. I just want to erase the pain for you, and for all of the children who are going (or have gone) through this nightmarish experience. The isolation and the “absolute power” are the scariest parts. Nobody could save you because nobody knew. Geez Bethany, how did you get out? You have to be one of the strongest people on earth, and one of the most resilient. You were amazing before I knew about this, but now, you are on a whole new level. Hugs being sent your way. This has to be so very difficult to relive. Hard enough to live through once.

  3. It’s when you get into this area that I am most amazed that you somehow…some-grace-how…kept your heart open to God. Most people would run for not just the hills, but the mountains, scattering big boulders behind them, abandoning all hope in a God who has so much evil done in His name. So much evil. I can never, never understand these people who believe in beating innocent babies.

    I just feel so sorry for your parents. I can’t imagine dealing with the guilt of hurting my children so badly, even if I meant well. I mean, we all make mistakes, we all have bad days. But choosing a method that is outright abuse? I mean, do these people picture Jesus HURTING children to teach them? It just doesn’t make any sense. Even to someone with a serious lack of logic (that would be me).

  4. Liz – It makes me angry too, furious tear-up-pillows kind of angry. At least now I’m able to see that the source of all this lies in people other than my parents and that the whole lot of them must have been miserable people to enforce that kind of severe control over others. If they had known love or compassion in the slightest, they couldn’t have continued thinking the way they did.

    Megsie – Every time a tragedy happens in an isolated family like ours, the friends and neighbors all say the same thing, that the family looked so perfect from the outside. The isolation and absolute power are the top two reasons why I rather strongly disagree with homeschooling in general; not much good can come out of them. (I have a lot of other reasons too, but I think one can of worms is probably enough to open at a time, eh?) The how-I-got-out part is next… stay tuned.

    Sam – Well, most of the continued opennness toward God was still a result of fear and conditioning. I’ve only really started finding a peaceful spirituality in the last year or so when I realized that God was absolutely fine with my disavowing religion altogether, that he had in no way endorsed the things that happened to me, and that he was equally happy to be addressed as a she for my own peace of mind. :)
    Oh, and people who believe in beating babies don’t think they’re innocent. I’ve heard claims that babies who kick inside their mother’s wombs are throwing fits of rebellion. It completely boggles the mind.

    Thank you all so incredibly much for your encouragement. I feeling more and more retroactively validated, if that makes sense, and I would give you each a big hug if I could.

  5. We didn’t have social security numbers either, or birth certificates. It’s always shocking to discover others from a similar background…thanks for writing. I’ve met many people who understand a little of my past, but rare (as in I can count on one hand) those who understand this degree of extremism.

  6. ^^Let me clarify; I mean that many understand but not many experienced it also.

  7. my heart isn’t beating right. while I want to extend love and kindness and admiration and gratitude, they’re aren’t words befitting at the moment. just know.

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