People’s opinions differ on Richard Dawkins, and everyone is by all means entitled to their opinions on any given author or public figure for any reason.
But, I have my own reasons for admiring the man. And now is the stage where I need to reach out to people. So I sent the following e-mail to him…who knows if he’ll ever read or respond? Or offer advice? I’m okay no matter what he does. But I’m putting my story out there for the first time ever, and that feels really good.
I’ve copy/pasted the text of the e-mail I recently sent to someone on his website…I don’t know which e-mail account he reads, if any. But I gave it a try anyway. Those of you who have read my previous posts can probably skip over this e-mail–it says many of the same things, just in more detail and geared towards a different person.
I want to stress this is probably a pretty depressing message. But, you’ve been warned!
Religious Abuse. Can we talk? Does Richard Dawkins read any of this?
This probably isn’t the right e-mail address, and Dawkins is an author with so much on his plate that I doubt he’ll have time to read this even if it IS the right e-mail address.
But I’ve read most of his books, seen his interviews and documentaries, and I know that he speaks out in regards to religious abuse more than anyone else I’ve ever heard of. He’s even talked to victims…I saw a YouTube video once that really touched me. The one with the woman who was raised in the Exclusive Brethren.
So, I’d like for him to know my story. Not just for support, although any support is appreciated.
I want him to know my story because, for all of his intelligence….I think there are things about America, and religion, and the New Age movement he just doesn’t know. Not through any fault of his own, of course, but simply because he was lucky enough not to grow up in the thick of it! I only felt safe talking about all of this recently…now that I’m living in Canada.
So, I just want to tell him. I hope it gets to him if he has time…and what he does with it is up to him. It feels so good just to be honest for a change.
I was born in 1984.
Mick and Glenda were my parents. Mick, Dad, was a workaholic and a Vicoden junkie.
Glenda, Mom, was a narcissistic hippie.
They raised me in America. We lived in Oregon, then Hawaii, then Oregon again. Also Utah, briefly.
I was born with a traumatic brain injury. And they never noticed.
I never would have figured it out myself, either…until I met my husband and he persuaded me to seek medical care for the first time. My husband, Jamie, is my hero. He pointed me in the direction of the right books and supported me…without even realizing he was doing it half the time!
Somehow, as stupid as this sounds; I still can’t say this out loud without looking at a picture of Carl Sagan and Anne Druyan…when they were alive, and together, and in love. Some part of me still wishes they could have been my parents.
Patient people, kind people, people of very sound mind and gentle disposition. Smart enough to look beneath the surface of things. Not a shred of gullibility in them. The courage of lions. And the kind of parents who would have always protected their kids and listened to them. Never let them get hurt.
I was an imaginative kid, the kind who thinks the monster under her bed is real. I believed in ghosts and witches. The problem was, Glenda was insanely religious, so she had her own monsters. She believed almost everything she saw on Oprah or John Edward’s “Crossing Over.” She watched shows about psychics who claimed to communicate with pets.
She believed that the self-proclaimed “psychic” Sylvia Browne was legit…and the things that woman has done to people still give me the chills. I also still get sick at the smell of St. John’s Wort…but that’s another story.
She once told me that “Bloody Mary trick” that the other first-graders sometimes did in the mirror would actually work to bring in demons. I thought Glenda’s angels spied in on me at night; she talked about them so much. Whenever we moved, (which was a lot) she would burn incense or sage to clear the “bad vibrations” from the new condo or whatever before we could move our stuff in. Most of the people I know on her side of the family still do that.
Somehow, as a child, I thought Glenda spoke for God. It was like I couldn’t tell the difference. Opposite the American stereotype of the Nuclear family; where God speaks to the father and the father passes the orders along to everyone else.
But fuck stereotypes—about religion, sex, gender, ethnicity, jobs, social status, age, mental health, wealth, and abuse. Stereotypes do more harm than good. Look beneath the surface. This is my story, and I’m blowing the stereotypes wide open.
Listen to a kid, even if you think he or she is being a brat. If you suspect anything, take them to real freaking doctor…don’t just pray about it!
Thomas Jefferson’s “Iron Wall of Separation” should be placed between a person’s beliefs about the supernatural and how they behave towards others. If you see a kid with a broken leg, take the poor boy to the doctor! And hold his hand. If you have to wave a cross or a crystal over him later, that’s up to you. Sprinkle water or salt around…but just make sure he feels loved. And listened to.
I don’t care what people believe. Just that we take care of each other, and we break the cycle of abuse wherever we find it. That’s called being a Humanist.
Sorry, just sorting this all out. Back to my story:
What matters now, in 2014, is that I’m beginning to remember my life. All of it. It feels so good just to be honest for the first time. My memory is coming back.
Apparently I have mood swings and OCD, anxiety, panic attacks, possible Add or Adhd symptoms. Obvious memory loss; both short term and long term.
I disassociate under stress, absent seizures possibly? It’s hard to tell the difference between social anxiety and claustrophobia, I might have both.
I may have PTSD; still working on the details.
But all of my medical history seems to point to brain trauma sustained at birth.
I once had a job as a medical receptionist in Oregon. Someone dropped a bunch of clipboards…and I literally dove under a desk like some kind of Vietnam War Veteran. They fired me the next day. Exaggerated startle response.
I get flashbacks. For years people persuaded me that my flashbacks were hallucinations, divine messages, past lives, or something or other. More on that later.
Elementary school; no idea what age. Baptist Sunday School Teacher. Ashland, Oregon. Big, fat lady. Got angry at me for something, shoved me in a closet or something…felt like she was crushing me. Thought I was going to die. Never told anyone.
Unity Church after that. Age 12 or 13. Maui, Hawaii. Old, bald “Sunday School” teacher in a white silk shirt (I call them guru shirts, but that’s a story in itself. You’d probably see it an call it a hippie shirt) cornered me in the church backyard. He got a little grope-y…I started crying, and he and licked the tears off of my face. But at least he went away. Tried to complain…other adults told me to shut up.
Of course, I went about it wrong…my memory is worse than most people’s, but I’m starting to recall the words, “I was honouring her! Board-Member’s Daughter wrote a letter!” Being used at some point. Dumbass Kara…yeah, I did write I letter. But I was too stupid to mention the most important part! OCD Kara who always sounded pretentious…because she could talk like a book, but not a person. Because she was better at reading than actually looking a person in the eye.
Age 14. Catholic school. Raped by one…maybe two religion teachers…I will never know the details because I have always disassociated under stress. Could have been the young one or the bald one, or both. Physical signs seemed to point to both.
All I know is that one of them asked me to stay after class…and I blacked out at some point. Hands were here or there; I was on my stomach or my back, I was awake or half-awake. I don’t have a video tape in my head; just a series of really bad flash bulbs. I don’t trust my own memory of the incident enough to pick either one of them out of a lineup. My back and bottom hurt like I had been beaten hard with something but I never looked in a mirror. Besides, I’m freaking thirty now! But I know a rape occurred.
In my mind, I called it torture. Because that was just the connection I made from the books I read…again, stupid little kid being an insufferable bookworm. When someone beats you, rapes you, sodomizes you, makes you fear for your life, makes you bleed all over the place for reasons you can’t understand, when you’re restrained in any way…and it’s all over what, a difference of theological opinion? A matter of politics? I just figured torture was what people called things like that.
Fuck, I’m still looking for the right word. I just figured…people tortured other people, and I was just the one on the receiving end that time. And that I would, somehow, always be.
I also know that I still can’t be in the same room with a religious person of any kind without getting panic attacks/flashbacks. But the treatment is helping. I’ve learned to excuse myself rather than fly off the handle and assume the worst of them. They’re not going to rape or kill me.
My right arm hurt afterwards like it had been grabbed really hard, but no obvious bruises or anything. I don’t remember after all this time if they might have hit my head against something…but that’s a possible reason why I remember so little.
I just know that I was bleeding when I eventually wound up in the bathroom. Anus and vagina. Felt like I had been torn open; back and front. Cleaned up and somehow made it through the rest of the day like a damned zombie. Not that I remember a single incident of the day after that…except, oddly enough, eating a green apple. Which I never would have done if I had been on anything other than automatic pilot, if that makes any sense. I freaking hate green apples! I spat it out and threw it away.
Lucky I didn’t just wander in front of some random bus, because I could have. I became a creature of habit…like a literal sheep, looking to see which students were supposed to be where this time of day and who I should be standing next to. I stared at people’s hair a lot, because somehow it was easier to remember to follow a classmate’s pretty red braid than look her in the face. Whoever’s braid that was; I remember it way too vividly. It’s such an absurd detail to focus on. But it was like a sunset over a battlefield. And then there was another girl with a brown braid, and I stared at it for hours.
My little head decided that girls were safe. They had soft hair and gentle hands. I could look at other girls…and drown the rest of the world out. I could use my OCD to memorize their features when I was mentally incapable of doing anything else. When the last thing I wanted to do was hear any teacher in the world talk about anything at all, ever again. Because from then on I developed a habit of hearing them only in scattered noise…like in some Charlie Brown cartoon.
I couldn’t determine the difference between a teacher, a teacher who taught religion, a Unity Sunday School teacher, and a priest. They were all just god-men like Glenda…priests of some sort, whatever. And this was in 1998 in Hawaii, when priests and nuns no longer wore the special outfits. Kids had to wear those silly uniforms, but teachers dressed normally.
I think every teacher I ever had after that must have hated me. The hotheaded kid, the one in every classroom who just doesn’t get it. Ever. Who can’t pay attention.It’s not that I was too stupid to pay attention…it’s that I was too afraid to.
I was even afraid to be in the same room, alone, with a teacher for years afterward. They said, “See me after class,” for any reason, even if it was some short harmless Asian woman who taught math…I still said. “No. I don’t trust you. Put it in my damned record if you have to but I’m outta here.”
I still look at pictures or paintings of women with red braids, and I tried to draw them myself until I gave up on ever drawing anything more than a straight line. Coping strategy I guess.
It’s confusing enough to be bisexual…without being abused. But I know I turned to women my own age for love because they were the only people I didn’t fear. I still appreciate women as much as men. But my husband Jamie and I need only each other.
The incident only came back to me later in flashbacks, which I was actually brainwashed enough by Glenda and her hippie friends to mistake for past life memories!
Stupid, stupid, idiot kid with a literally damaged brain. I just never knew any better. So of course Mick and Glenda didn’t believe me, and they told me to shut up about it already. I just had a really, really active imagination. I shouldn’t be talking about my past lives so much already. I had enough to worry about in this life, didn’t I?
They thought they were doing me a huge favor by sending me to the most expensive counselor they could find…but there’s a reason why she was so expensive. She was a quack whom they knew from Unity Church. I saw her three or four times before they said they couldn’t afford counselors anymore.
Understandably, American private health insurance companies won’t pay for counselors who are absolute quacks. Natalie was her name…she believed in reincarnation, all the positive energy she could get her hands on, clairvoyance, you name it. James Randi would have torn her apart with his rapier wit.
She hung crystals in her office. She persuaded me that I was having past life memories, at the age of fourteen. It was like a group mind engulfed my tiny one inside of it.
So then Mick and Glenda sent me to normal counselors, but I was so convinced that Natalie had been right that if those normal counselors didn’t immediately believe in reincarnation, I assumed the next words out of their mouths would be, “Stop making shit up already.”
Never mind that Glenda couldn’t stop talking about her own personal God, Jesus, and the spirit of her deceased father whom she believed answered her prayers on occasion.
Who, I assumed, all collectively hated my guts. I still want to change my middle name, because Glenda chose it. It was her deceased father’s nickname.
And somehow that’s the hardest thing to admit. Not that I was the temporary little fuck toy of two adult men…but that I actually mistook a flashback to an actual rape for a past life memory. I was so freaking gullible.
I was fourteen, two years after I started my first period. My first period…which started the day of Unity Church Camp. And those Unity grownups loved their reincarnation and karma and whatever the “spirituality” was of the week! You just make the wrong conclusions as a kid, especially a kid with a broken brain. Oh, my wrong conclusions are a story in themselves. They led to polytheism for a silly reason I won’t get into now.
I couldn’t wait to tell Glenda when I reached that “period milestone”…because, to her credit, she took me to those Planned Parenthood classes a couple years in advance. Adolescence requires an absurd amount of preparation.
That’s what people don’t see about religious abuse…it messes with your head so much worse than some stranger who just decides to jump you in a dark alley as an adult.
In some ways, the environment that you’re in makes you think that God himself hates you or else it wouldn’t have happened…or that there are multiple gods or demons and you’re caught in the crossfire…for years I literally wandered around trying to figure out how to interpret what happened. I mean I wandered on the beach, crying. Hiked up mountains and prayed. Blamed myself for everything. Ran for the hills if people ever physically got too close to me unless I had proper warning and time to prepare first. If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s to go for a hike rather than jump off a cliff when the flashbacks get too bad. One of the reasons I think therapy dogs actually do help people…but, of course, that’s yet another story.
Perverts sure can pick them, can’t they? They go for the black sheep of the herd. But then I remind myself that they’re still supposed to be shepherds, not wolves.
Yet I still blame myself for being that black sheep, isn’t that weird? The strange kid with the hippie parents. The moody one. The rebellious teenager…not some cute, blonde popular girl who everyone liked. The one with the big nose and the nappy hair who everyone made fun of.
And they had so many reasons to make fun of me. I was the one who wore a political pin to school that supported gay marriage rights…to a Catholic school. Not specifically out of rebellion, which they never seemed to understand, but because I actually supported marriage equality in Hawaii in 1998. I sure don’t remember what they said…but some part of me thinks they were trying to beat and fuck the rebellion out of me. Keep the little brat in line. In some ways it reminds me of how African men think they can rape women straight…but it’s not like a half-conscious fourteen year old knows politics very well.
Still, things like this wouldn’t happen if I’d kept my head down. I don’t know how many times I heard that phrase from Mick…and it was like it became part of me no less than a subtle brain tumor. Keep your head down, and bad things won’t happen to you. Just obey…whoever is in the room. I couldn’t count the number of times he believed a teacher’s story over mine when it came to little things, like a conflict with a student or the time someone threw a wad of paper at my head. After a while I just gave up on thinking he’d believe me over the little things…so I never expected him to believe me over this really big thing.
That’s why I went to Glenda first. And she blamed my overactive imagination. And then Glenda sent me to Natalie, who believed in reincarnation…until she couldn’t afford it anymore. Then everyone gave up on me.
I was the kid no one believed. I was the girl who wore a Wiccan pentagram to a Catholic school…because she was fascinated with ancient mythology, immersed in it. It was my “chosen field of study” from my first exposure to it in fifth grade for years afterward. I listened to Joseph Campbell audiotapes with Mick.
Ancient myths were fascinating to me, always, from the Neolithic to the present. I still do see religion as something that’s worthwhile to study because it can be a fascinating aspect of culture…but I don’t see any reason to believe in anything supernatural.
Not just writing; but reading and researching things is a passion of mine. It has always been a way to channel my OCD in a constructive manner to keep myself from breaking down. It’s easier to bury my face in a book than face my fear of people…so I figured I might as well be learning something.
I was also too young to tell the difference between a broken hymen combined with rectal bleeding…and a miscarriage. I should have known better…but I just saw blood all over the place and made the wrong connection. I actually gave my “lost baby” a name and everything. I wrote “his” name on a stone somewhere in the woods or a park, like a grave, put flowers on it, and cried. I visited it for a while…then left it alone.
After the rape I starved myself, drew away from my friends, tried to look as butch as possible. Even wore jeans with a “soft pack” like a pre-op transgender female-to-male at one point! That’s so embarrassing to admit now that I’m over it, but it was just something I did to cope.
At one point I actually bound my chest so my breasts wouldn’t show; kept my hair incredibly short. Never wanted to look like a female again. Also never wanted to be touched by any man again, ever, for a very long time…but that went away eventually. It was all just part of the confusion you get after a thing like this.
I at least convinced Mick and Glenda to take me out of that Catholic school and to a public one called Baldwin. I just convinced them I hated it there.
Even at Baldwin, I couldn’t focus. Kept getting flashbacks to the whole thing, talking about it so much my friends couldn’t stand to be around me, or resorting to OCD behaviors to block it out.
My brief attempt to have a boyfriend was a literal sham…I chose him as a social accessory like a pair of earrings. My real crush was on a bubbly girl who I couldn’t carry on a conversation with for five minutes.
Grades slipped. Dropped out of high school, then college; couldn’t hold down a job or a relationship. Got my GED at least; or the Hawaii equivalent.
Wound up back in Oregon; with a much older Wiccan boyfriend who pimped me out for six years or so to pay the bills. Not street level; call girl. I don’t remember much of it due to…you guessed it, freaking brain trauma! But I couldn’t take it anymore. Finally left.
I call him my boyfriend, but the distinction is blurry. We were planning on making it official with the Wiccan High Priestess, a woman named Aylah…but he chickened out on signing a legal contract two weeks before the ceremony, so it was just a “handfasting.”
I was way too afraid to tell Mick and Glenda that he’d chickened out, since they’d already paid for the ceremony. I was terrified what Glenda would do, or say, or make me do…her behavior was just that unpredictable to me. What if I owed her money? Glenda actually slept with a gun beside her bed. And Glenda spoke for God.
People don’t know how terrifying that knowledge is to an elementary school student; even if Glenda was also the kind of person to wear peace sign earrings and smile at everyone, and listened to the Carpenters on those audiotapes in the car all the time. It’s the kind of thing you remember for life. Mick and all my friends were terrified of her in ways I still have a hard time describing.
And I really did love my ex. Crazy as it sounds, when you think the world hates you, even your pimp is your port in the storm. Anyway, whatever my ex was to me, he isn’t any longer.
I finally went back to college…sure it was a community college, and I just got a “Landscape Technician Certificate.” But fuck it; I love horticulture almost as much as writing. It was the best thing for me.
I met Jamie online in late 2009. He earned my trust enough to get me to talk to someone for the first time…doctor and therapist both. Finally, I’m spilling my guts to him…after more than two years of marriage.
Now I’m here. 2014. Still standing. And if you’ve read this far, you know why I wanted to spill my guts to anyone who will listen…I’m shouting this shit from the rooftops if I have to. I’m the lucky one who survived…but plenty of people in my situation haven’t.
Nate Phelps, son of (the late) Fred Phelps who founded the Westboro Baptist Church, is finally speaking out about his life. I’ve actually met him in person. I understand that his story will save lives…so I think there’s at least a ghost of a chance that mine might too.
I think that sums it up. Thanks for listening.