Appreciating the Ride

Note from April 9, 2021: This post was first published on October 27, 2014. I just found it this morning among my unpublished drafts, and decided to write a note here for the 468(!!) of you who will be getting this old piece of writing among your emails today. I take your attention seriously and want to acknowledge it.

Here is a very raw thing that I wrote almost seven years ago, at the age of 22. I’ll be turning 29 this summer. The gaps in my perspectives are massive. I refer to taking care of many children on long cross-country drives in huge vehicles that still give me stressful dreams as “road trips across my beautiful country,” words I would never use today about that experience in this shithole country. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Lana Del Rey said some stuff last year that is worth pointing out as a disclaimer, and I wouldn’t write around her music anymore because this morning was the first time I listened to it in years, and yeah, it glamorizes men being dicks (who’s going to censor me now? This isn’t Facebook or Twitter). My music interests have improved with my broader exposure to better music, I’m happy to report.

The most striking change between my perspective then and now is the knowledge of these past six and a half years. I didn’t know how much worse life would get before it got better. I would endure multiple heartbreaks and lost friends before finding my people. Being homeless or nearly homeless for years isn’t fun. I literally commented to my partner yesterday that if I could have gone back and told myself how long it would take and how painful it would be, I would have just given up. Because honestly, the fight for a place to live with the people I care about was way too fucking difficult. I’m almost 29 and this is the first time I’m living in a stable place, with an income that modestly pays the bills. I haven’t even been able to save up to own a car in years, but I’m grateful to have a co-signed lease that allows me to know where I’m going to sleep every night. I’m so thankful for the many gifts you’ve all sent to make our little apartment into a home. Some people would see my writing and painting from home in a pandemic, disabled and taking care of two other disabled people, as “sitting around and wanting free stuff,” but I see it as just wanting to live, and getting by through asking for help as needed.

The reality of being a millennial who has trauma from growing up queer in a fundamentalist family, deprived of a proper education and career path, is that I’m extremely lucky among my peers. I have so many friends and people in my broader network who didn’t make it, who aren’t making it, to finding a home. I worry about the other survivors of abuse, of things that were worse than what I experienced, because speaking up has helped me to survive, and there are so many who don’t have the privilege of being able to speak up about their abusers. I am helping others as much as I possibly can, but we desperately need for the vast inequality in the world to be addressed, because looking back on this post is saddening. I had more hope then than I do now. I had no idea how many people we’d lose, how much of my mental health would be compromised by exploitative work environments, poverty, and stress. Life is an exhausting slog through a dark and thick swamp, and I’m struggling to see it as anything else for people like me, unless something drastic changes in how the resources are being funneled away from those who most need them.

Anyway, I found this draft and realized it hadn’t been published, probably because I was saving it for a time when I could write about it with some perspective. Begin post from 2014: 

“It sounded very…melancholy.” The man said, about what I’d written on my 22nd birthday.

He was right, but I knew he wouldn’t understand if I tried to explain the depth of my hope that also resided in that blog post.

He had a home.

I’ve always hated every variation of the phrase, “It’s not the destination; it’s the journey.” Destination matters. Goals and ambitions matter. I thought those lines came from complacent people, content people, and contentment means getting stuck without motivation.

I didn’t see value in the sentiment, “Just ride.” Not that I didn’t love road trips across my beautiful country. I was on a spontaneous road trip when I deeply longed to know what it was like. My road trip companion played the music video for Ride by Lana Del Rey for me, and I didn’t understand it.

The singer narrates, “There’s no use in talking to people who have a home. They have no idea what it’s like to seek safety in other people, for home to be wherever you lie your head.”

I had a home. There was no use trying to explain it to me.

That road trip was, for me, a turning point toward a more spontaneous lifestyle. I didn’t know this girl, she didn’t know me, but with a few days’ notice, we traveled across state lines together. It was an adventure, but it was safe. I had a home to return to, parents who I felt supported me (though at 20 I needed to lie a bit to get permission), and the promise that I’d be back in a few days. Lana Del Rey’s questions haunted me, though: “Who are you? Are you in touch with all of your darkest fantasies? Have you created a life for yourself where you can experience them?”

I wanted a life like that. One full of spontaneity and living on the edge, of digging for my darkest dreams and not denying myself the pleasure of making them real. I love the way Amanda Palmer talks about couch-surfing, and the way Mac Barnett talks about bringing fantasy into reality. I wanted a life that’s crazy and unique and risky, and I knew from watching that music video that I didn’t have it.

The night my parents kicked me out, I lay on an unfamiliar lower bunk, with my sister sleeping above me. It takes a lot to get me to cry, but I’d managed to do so several times that day. I needed to go to work in the morning, and school the day after that. Adulthood said I had obligations. I pulled up that music video again, and I understood it a little more: “Just ride.”

My world was more hostile than I’d known. I no longer had a family and a home. The world was also more inviting than I’d thought – friends had offered me a bed and a way to get to school and work. I’d sought safety in other people, and trusted in the kindness of strangers, and they had not dropped me.

Trust the process, because some nights are too dark to see the destination and there are too many steps between the dream and the next action. When the place you’ve left behind no longer exists, and the place you’re going to doesn’t exist yet, all you have is the road. You cling to something that can’t be held – pavement racing by at breakneck speed.

It’s an entertaining paradox: Don’t fall asleep, because driving at 80 mph down desert roads is a dance with death. Drive when you have to, even if it’s midnight and the radio’s broken. Rest when you have to, even if it’s on the floor of a stranger’s house. People with homes don’t know this edge-of-a-knife balancing act. You can’t explain finding comfort in cognitive dissonance to people who have homes. I can no longer speak in the same terms as those who still have a home.

Paradoxes work, though. The smell of a lemon candle is an acidic scent that’s relaxing, though acid stings. Glimpses of massive pieces of the universe combine logic with awe. I cannot explain it even to myself, because the world of explanation is the one I’ve left behind. I probably lost it with my home, left in a pile alongside my insistence on religious superiority, in the dimension of black and white divisiveness.

“I belonged to no one, who belonged to everyone,” Lana Del Rey continues, stepping out onto the stage and looking with profound loneliness into the audience, meeting their individual faces. I write to bless children because I’ve lost my own children. I’ve sought out intimate relationships, but people have just taken advantage of me in my weakened state, and I’m single again. I still don’t know what “love” is.

Melancholy? Perhaps. I’m not sure if there’s much difference between criticism, lamentation, and satire. I analyze what I see and I put it into the best words I can manage, and the words fall short, and still my blood reaches my fingertips and begs them to keep typing. If all you see is melancholic, you’ve missed the fierce hope with which I manage to keep publishing these words.

I know what it’s like to lose people and to trust strangers, so let me be your stranger. I’ll take your hand for this part of the journey. It’s enough for me that I’m helping people ride, and that I might not get to see the destinations for which they’re headed. I’ve found welcome among friends, and my current home is one I’ve only known for a short time, a mere stop along the road.

I keep writing because I’m not the only one who has lost my home. I state facts and search for beauty, and it looks melancholic, but it’s the most hopeful thing I can conjure. When there is too much to process, I just ride.

‘I’m Sorry You Lost Your Kids.’

“On prie pour sauver les apparences (To save someone from losing his appearance)
Par moment oublier toutes les distances (In this moment you have to let go of all the distances)
Sans répit je pense et les silences (Without a break I think, and all the silence)
Dissimulent la souffrance de vos absences (The hidden pain of your disappearance)
…I just feel no joy
Far away from love,
From my baby boy” –Nâdiya, Si Loin de Vous

Trigger warning: child abuse

“Soap in my eyes! Soap in my eyes!”

“Hold still, baby, I’ll help.” I carefully rinsed my hands in the bathwater so I wasn’t adding more soap to my brother’s face. I gently pressed my thumbs across his eyelids, removing the extra liquid on them. We could fit up to five children into my parents’ Jacuzzi tub at once, and I wanted to bathe them gently.

I remembered being a child and I disliked how wiping my eyes with a towel didn’t always work. This solution made my little siblings calm down, and it minimized the pain of soap in the eyes.

When I was a child, my mother would warn us to be extra careful while in the bath, because if we were disobedient, we’d get spanked. Spankings on bare skin, while wet, were the most painful of all. It was hard to tell when our bath time playing would make mom or dad decide to spank us.

I was allowed to spank my little brothers and sisters, but I could never bring myself to hit them while they were in the bathtub. It was too painful for me, and I remembered what it felt like.

These days, I drive past my parents’ house and there’s a dull ache in me. Those kids were mine. I raised them, and I can’t see them. Sure, I could drop in uninvited, but it would do no good. My little brothers and sisters have been trained to distrust and hate me, just as I was taught to hate my older sisters.

It’s like I’ve lost custody of my kids, except I was the better parent, and the court never asked about my rights. Also the parents who got to keep my kids are abusive, and they tell lies about me.

I used to read about big families and how the older kids raised the younger kids, and I thought it was all nonsense. Of course I changed diapers, and of course I spent half my time babysitting. That was just life in a big family. People on the outside wouldn’t understand that we all felt like mom gave us individual attention, the dynamic just looked a little different.

Now I remember with more perspective. I know how ignored we were. I know I did more work than my parents, both around the house and in the office working on the family business. I’ll always have back pain because I learned to carry children on my hips before I properly had hips. I’ll always have memories of getting up in the middle of the night to take care of a sick or restless toddler.

Part of me doesn’t resent all that. How can I, without wondering which of my siblings I would have given up, and knowing I love them all? I know kids are smart because I taught my siblings how to handle the things I didn’t know how to deal with. I know kids respond well to kindness, because I was kind to them.

I wasn’t always kind to them. I had a temper when I was a young teenager, and got angry and would lash out at my little brothers and sisters. I was bigger than my brothers then, and could wrestle them to the ground and smack and hit and punch. With my more sensitive smaller sisters, I could make them cry with my words.

I hated how it felt to hurt other people, so I stopped. I chose, instead, never to get angry. When a conflict came up, I’d hide my feelings from myself, so as not to hurt anyone. I learned to dissolve conflicts by making everyone cheer up, helping everyone be as happy as I was. That’s how I managed to be gentle and cheerful: I forced myself to do it.

So I exchange stories with other people who’ve also lost their surrogate kids, and we help each other cope.

One friend said her siblings are always asking when she’ll be coming back, they don’t understand that she moved away from her parents for her own mental health. Another friend told me she can’t tell her little siblings about how she’s happily partnered with a girl, because her parents believe that being gay is a sin. She wrote in an email, “When I first came out, everyone tried to manipulate me into staying by using my kids as pawns. They knew that it was the only thing that would make me pause. It was brutal. Even now, a year later, the pain is still fresh from leaving them.”

We are invisible mothers, and our children will never be ours. We will wait years to restore our relationships, if they will ever be restored.

In memory of my siblings, of the pain I inflicted upon them, and the love I know they can’t reciprocate because they think I’m insane and I’m a bad influence, I write to help others.

Because there are countless young people who distrust their older siblings, believing lies their parents tell them daily. There are countless surrogate mothers who have no voice, no way to get their kids into a better situation.

We write to each other and exchange stories about our little siblings. How we found ways to be gentler than our parents. How we know each of our siblings’ individual struggles and needs and interests.

We say, “I’m sorry you lost your kids. I understand. I lost mine, too.”

Of Course It Wasn’t All Bad

“I want to become brave and courageous
Not buried in self-pity of my own
Ashamed and alone from all
That’s been done to me
It’s not my fault, I remind myself” -Plumb

My parents weren’t exclusively abusive. I don’t think they were the worst parents ever. Before I learned about the subtleties of abuse, I’d always thought of myself as having had a happy childhood. It’d be dishonest to say that my parents never did anything right.

Even before I started writing this series, I had many people asking me how I could be so ungrateful. After all, my parents fed me, clothed me, cared for me, educated me. They did their best, I was told, and they loved me in their own way.

I’m not here to make excuses or to defend myself. I want to explain something about looking on the bright side.

People in abusive situations live in denial. We do it to survive. I convinced myself that I supported parental rights to spank, and I took pride in being excellent at cooking, cleaning, and nurturing children from a young age. Even now when I look back on my childhood, the majority of what I remember is bright, cheery, happy.

My siblings and I were undereducated, and I’m still working through middle-school level learning in some subjects. I love science, but I couldn’t study what I wanted to when I started college at age 19, because I didn’t have the high school concepts I needed to make it through a base-level chemistry class. I taught myself to become a better writer through reading and practice, and fighting the poor habits I got from my dad and other homeschool writing curricula, particularly the Institute for Excellence in Writing.

Today, I’m teaching myself what I missed with books and the Internet. I’m no longer attending university, because during my fifth semester, my federal financial aid request didn’t go through. My dad had forgotten to pay his taxes. I’m paying off my loans and teaching myself partially because I was dissatisfied with the higher education system, and partially because I wanted to be financially responsible for myself instead of relying on my parents’ inconsistency.

One of my siblings is an adult and doesn’t know enough geography to name the continents of major countries like the UK or China. Another one of my siblings is planning to graduate high school at age 21. Another one of my siblings is severely dyslexic, and thinks it’s their own fault they didn’t work harder to learn to read by themselves. After all, I was a fast learner and I picked up on reading quickly, surely all the other kids will pick it up by themselves. My parents didn’t discover that sibling’s dyslexia until that sibling was fourteen.

There were some awesome things my parents did – like letting us travel the country for speech and debate competitions. It may have been our main source of education, but I appreciate that I studied logic and learned to speak and present myself, and that I learned to perform even if I felt sick or nervous. That’s been helpful to me in my adult life.

When I stopped working for my dad, I didn’t know how to identify my own panic attacks. I just knew that I always glanced behind me while I was at work, afraid I’d get caught doing something wrong. I thought it was normal behavior, when I worked for other people, for me to lose my breath and jump when my managers wanted to talk to me. From the age of thirteen, I was a secretary answering phone calls, handling customer service, and packaging orders. Later I took on the tasks of accounting and editing, design, and formatting and link-checking our publishing company’s sourcebooks.

If I ever made a mistake in accounting, I wasn’t allowed to listen to music for the rest of the day. This was the worst punishment imaginable, because music was, and is, so important to me. Soon, because I made slight discrepancies, I wasn’t allowed to listen to music at all on accounting days. It surprised me, years later, to realize that “margin of error” is a common thing in accounting. I was expected to get an exact matching amount when entering data, something no professional accounting job would ever expect, much less demand. I did it because I had to, and I dreaded details and numbers. I was never paid more than minimum wage, and we rarely kept official timesheets, so I’d only worked as many hours as dad decided I had afterward.

I ran a business when I was nine, selling books on, which is how I learned to manage my own checking account and pack and ship orders. My feelings are mixed about this. Running my own business carried with it a sense of freedom and responsibility, and I think most kids should run businesses as part of their education. I think one of the most important things people should know is how to teach themselves skills, and I learned that.

I can go on and on about how my alternative education prepared me for success, and how I love every one of my fifteen sisters and brothers.

I can count my blessings. I can move on as if there weren’t any problems. I can keep quiet and not tell my story. I know I can. I’ve seen the bright side. I lived in it for over twenty years of abuse.

While living at home, my mom often told me to go write down the list of things I was thankful for. This could calm me and make me forget about whatever I’d been upset about. It helped me deal with the demands of housework, fights over chores with siblings, changing diapers, bathing and supervising young children, and countless other responsibilities.

While working for my dad, I often brought schoolbooks with me because I wanted to learn. I’d finish my work quickly so I could read and study. If he ever caught me at my desk with books of philosophy or science or algebra, he’d tell me I was supposed to be working. If I ran out of things to do, I should ask for more work. Whenever I tried to avoid a project, he’d ask if I wanted the money, and told me to be glad I had a job.

It was worse for my siblings who didn’t have a natural inclination to read and learn and study. They didn’t even try to fight the demands at home and in the family business.

Abusers tell their victims to count their blessings. Abusers tell their victims that they don’t deserve any better. Abusers tell their victims that they’re not special, that nobody will listen if they try and speak up. Abusers tell their victims that everything is fine, when it’s not.

Victims believe them, and live in a prettily painted world of dysfunction and misshapen perception.

When people tell me to focus on the bright side, they’re encouraging the very thing that I’ve done all my life. So if you ever want to tell someone who’s venting that they should think more positively, know this: your well-meaning advice just brings back memories of what we were told. We’re hesitant to listen, because it didn’t work for us back then. It just kept us helpless.

You sound like our abusers when you tell us to be quiet.

How a Logical Girl Talked Herself into Fundamentalism, Part 3

This is the third and final part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning, or here to go to part 2.

Trigger warning: child abuse

“Icy roads beneath my feet,
Lead me through wastelands of deceit,
Rest your head now, don’t you cry,
Don’t ever ask the reason why.” –Opeth

When Tangled hit theaters in 2010, my sister Lydia and I saw it within the first couple of weeks. We were late for the movie, missing the narrator introducing Mother Gothel as the villain. We found our seats just in time to see the song “Mother Knows Best.”

Both of us thought, after watching that song, that perhaps in this movie the witch in the tower was a good person. After all, it was a retold fairy tale. You never know what they’re going to swap around.

For the uninformed, “Mother Knows Best” features textbook emotional abuse with manipulation and control, using guilt trips, threats, and fear tactics. I watched the song again recently, and realized most people knew that when they first saw it. When I was eighteen, I did not see any problems with the song.

Gothel looked like a good mother to me.

So after reading an article about girls in the homeschool movement who live with self-deception, I did the most natural thing I could think to do. I emailed it to my mom, and said I felt like my life had been that way.

Her reply: “We left all that behind in ’06.”

For context, my family filmed for reality TV in 2006. After that, my parents re-branded themselves, championing the word “love” as the ultimate trump card. They wrote a book called “Love in the House,” and emphasized that the greatest commandment is love.

To this day I get shamed for talking about the multi-faceted manipulation in my family, because it’s not in accordance with our brand, “love.” I got a text message a couple of months ago from my dad, after I walked out the front door because he started yelling at me for, well, ignoring his text messages. The text read, “Love is the answer. This is not love.”

Because I was accustomed to believing my parents every time they reinvented stories, I believed my mom. Maybe I wasn’t under pressure after I was 14. But I wrote letters about brightening the house until I was 18.

I visited my parents’ house sometime in May this year, and my sister Hannah, age 11, was standing at the stove. I asked where mom was, and was told that mom had been shopping for the past four hours. My brothers were working, and my eleven-year-old sister was left to feed and supervise her six younger siblings, and clean the entire house. Hannah beamed proudly as she told me about her work: she’d cooked, cleaned, watched the kids.

It was the first time in my life that this situation seemed like too high an expectation for an 11-year-old girl. It was what I was raised with. It had been normal.

The only thing Hannah didn’t have time for was the dishes. We don’t have a dishwasher because, with 14 people living in the house, it’s inefficient. We use too many large serving and cooking items, and there are more plates and cups at each meal than a regular dishwasher can hold. My parents have always verbalized dreams about an industrial dishwasher, but we could never afford one. As a result, we wash everything by hand, which takes hours, but it’s better than putting up with a tiny dishwasher.

Mom got home an hour later. Hannah beamed with pride, waiting for a compliment on how well she’d done. Mom’s eyes went straight for the dishes, piled all around the sink. Hannah had cooked, babysat, swept all the floors, and the other counters and tabletops were clean. The dishes were her one oversight.

My mom started yelling, and I watched my little sister crumple. I felt a twinge of familiarity. I had received the same treatment at her age, and taken it with the guilt I was supposed to feel, and tried to perform better. I became a master of homemaking over the next several years.

We listened to mom rant about how dishes are an important chore, and why didn’t Hannah get them done, and now it would be hard to move ahead with the day, and I-was-gone-shopping-aren’t-you-grateful-for-my-hard-work-enough-to-do-what-I-asked.

Hannah defended herself, listing all she had completed. My mom would hear none of it, so I stepped in. “Mom, the house is never this clean when you’re in charge. It’s always in better shape when you leave one of the girls here.”

This was insult. I was informed that my mom did her best, and now was no time for criticism. I tried to help her see that she was holding her young daughter to a hypocritical standard. It was no use. Hannah deserved a tongue lashing, but my mom could not be expected to keep the house in order.

I brought up the email. “You said you left all this behind, and here we are,” I said. She insisted that there was nothing unreasonable about her expectations.

Another time I visited, Hannah and mom were having the same argument: mom had left the little girl in charge, and Hannah had failed on one chore, and mom was yelling at her. I walked in on the middle of the conversation, and Hannah had evidently just cried.

My sister turned to me. “Happy Fairy, cheer me up.”

Something twisted in my gut. This was what I’d been coping with when I pretended to be happy. This was what I convinced myself was a good thing. This was what I was burying away, and this was why I’d dropped out of college and started mental health therapy – because I couldn’t live in denial of my depression anymore.

I looked at Hannah, who was hopeful and ready for my “magic” power to cheer her, and said, “The Happy Fairy was a lie. I forced myself to be happy. Just in the past few months, I’ve learned to start sentences with ‘I feel…’ because I was never taught to express my feelings. I spent my teenage years pretending to be happy. I thought I could fake it until I made it.”

My mom was standing in the kitchen with us. She was quick to announce, “You didn’t learn that from me.”

But I did learn that from her. One of my mom’s favorite lines was, “It’s scientifically proven that if you smile when you don’t feel like smiling, it sends messages to your brain that you’re happy, and pretty soon, you feel better.”

I turned back to my little sister. “I also distrusted myself when I felt angry or sad. You’re angry for good reason: you tried to keep the house in order and you didn’t please mom, and she yelled at you. It’s okay to be frustrated about that. You don’t have to pretend to be happy, and I’m sorry I made you think it would work. It didn’t work for me. It just helped me bury all my emotions for years.”

In the weeks that followed, my mom used all kinds of emotional abuse to get me to stop criticizing her. She said she could yell at my siblings if she wanted to, that’s just the way she is. She could never see the hypocrisy of having higher expectations for her kids than she had for herself. She threatened to commit suicide. She appealed to my emotional vulnerabilities, and she knew them all: I’d just been through a breakup, I couldn’t trust myself because I was mentally ill, and I should feel guilty and ashamed for not being forgiving and loving enough.

One evening, when I was exhausted from arguing with her, I collapsed on the couch. She sat next to me and stroked my head, and told me I could trust her, and that she loved me, and that she hoped I’d get better, and said how she thinks I’m an awesome person.

It was like being cuddled after a nonconsensual BDSM session, as I told a friend a few days later. Had I not read a post on tumblr criticizing the lack of consent in Fifty Shades of Grey, I would not have recognized what my mom was doing that night.

Then I realized she’d done this all my life: attack, threaten, comfort. Hurt, and then flatter.

And in that one moment, with my mother gently caressing my hair and murmuring soothing words, I lost every ounce of trust I’d ever had for her.

How a Logical Girl Talked Herself into Fundamentalism, Part 2

Trigger warnings: child abuse

“I could fight this, but I may die.
And all I want is [to] be the apple in your eye
Well I could stay here, strap on my face
Listen to the words that put me in my place.” –Pendulum

I was a curious child. I wanted to know how everything worked and why we did certain tasks, and if the explanation wasn’t satisfactory, I refused to participate.

One day when I was nine, I questioned the reasoning behind sweeping the floor. It was always dirty again within hours. Why not just leave it, or find something more efficient? In a fit of frustration, my mom pulled my ear and yelled in my face, then threw me into the pile I’d partially swept. My head rang from hitting the wood floor and my mom kept yelling about how I needed to finish my chores and stop asking questions, and do it as she said to do it. I finally obliged.

The next day, I felt weak. I struggled with low energy and being underweight, so this happened pretty often. I didn’t have the strength for my chores, and fell asleep again soon after breakfast. My mom brought me a snack and gently offered comfort and care, and she said that I could always trust her. When I felt safe, she asked about why I had such a strong aversion to chores. I remember this phrase from her: “Jesus wouldn’t be happy that you won’t listen.”

I didn’t recognize my own use of humor as a defense mechanism. “I don’t want to follow Jesus, mom.” I laughed at her alarm and joked, “I want to be a follower of Garfield. He’s okay with himself how he is, and he lays around, and he’s not skinny as a rail like me.”

The next day my mom told me, “Your dad and I have talked it over, and we decided you can’t read comics for a year.”

I wanted to cry. I already knew what it felt like to lose something I loved for a whole year, because they grounded me off of watching Star Wars when I was seven and eight. I loved reading, and I loved comics. I loved reading Garfield, Spider-man, Calvin and Hobbes, Foxtrot, and always got the newspaper and read the comics before reading some of the news. It was wit and humor and information and philosophical thought and character development.

My favorite movies, and now comics, took precedence over my parents’ religion and expectations, and that made them an idol. My crime for losing what I loved was that I loved it too much.

But like I’ve said before, I knew to suppress my feelings. I took pride in the fact that I did not cry.

For years afterward, I checked myself: never let your obsessions with fantasy and science fiction and stories get in the way of God. Better yet, convince yourself that you want to love God more than anything else.

I started to enjoy housework after my last spanking, at age eleven. I was fighting with my mom about chores again, and she called my dad’s office. He was a web designer for Focus on the Family. I was afraid of talking to him on the phone, so I hid. I was told I’d be spanked with a belt, and I was terrified.

Now, again, I didn’t make these connections at the time – but now I know that the threat of a belt was a trigger for me because my older sister was beaten with a belt years earlier. It was the first and only time the belt was used on me. I cried, and what I hated about spankings was that I always had trouble catching my breath after I started crying. That moment of fighting to breathe was agony, worse than the initial pain of the spanking itself.

Within a week, I decided I loved housework. I took pride in doing it well. I did my chores on time, then I was allowed to disappear and read. I couldn’t read comic books anymore, so I read more chapter books. As I grew into my teen years, I learned to bury my emotions and put on a smile. By the time I was an adult, I had mastered the art of self-deception.

I could either resent what I was expected to do and be, or I could embrace it. I chose to embrace it, and spent countless hours cooking, cleaning, babysitting children, and encouraging other girls like myself, so they could enjoy my lifestyle as much as I did.

As a teenager, I remember thanking my parents for spanking me. I thought it had been effective, and I thought I’d spank my own kids. Now that I’ve researched emotional and physical abuse, I see my memories in a new light: my parents broke me into embracing the identity they demanded of me.

How a Logical Girl Talked Herself into Fundamentalism, Part 1

“Do not look down
Or the abysmal beast of non-conformity
Might stare some unpleasant truth
Into your desensitized mind.” -Meshuggah

It was in April 2014 that I read an article on Homeschoolers Anonymous by Sarah Henderson entitled, “Oh daughters of fundamentalism, take upon yourselves the cloak of self-deception.”

I read it, and for the first time, I recognized how I’d survived my teenage years.

There’s a huge myth I run into on a regular basis – that people raised in fundamentalism are stupid. It’s too simple an explanation for the many types of people involved in it. There are the stupid ones, of course. There are also those who love power, and they control those less intelligent than themselves. Some are willfully ignorant, checking their brains at the door, as it’s been so eloquently said elsewhere. Then there are those who are both smart and ignorant, and, having been presented with no alternative, survive with self-deception.

I was in the last category. I prided myself in logical thinking, and had quite a few radical ideas of my own. I read all the time, and I wasn’t afraid to reject what I thought seemed unreasonable. Predestination, for instance, was something I enjoyed arguing against.

To give you some idea of what it was like to do what Sarah Henderson describes, here’s a segment of a letter I wrote to my best friend when I was eighteen:

“About setting the tone in the house…I know exactly what you mean. It’s in the difference between the bright ‘Oh, I’ll clean up the cinnamon all over the floor’ vs. the blame-leaden ‘It’s Noah’s job to clean the kitchen in the afternoon’. I think the problem with attempting to brighten our family’s faces is that, at least for me, I feel like nobody cares if I’m really trying to be an encourager. So one thing I do is to remind myself what I hear from people who work in minor departments on films: ‘The best compliment is no comment at all.’ Especially for animated films, there are people who work as hard as the rest in order to get the lighting just right to make the scene vibrant, but the audience doesn’t notice. The only thing the audience sees are the characters talking, the clever dialogue and movement. That’s rather how it is at home: the goal is not to make my siblings and parents realize how hard it is for me, but to do my best, and the results will brighten the mood of the house, not necessarily the task itself. I guess what I’m trying to say is that others don’t think of my actions in terms of isolated incidents, they look at my attitude’s consistency as a whole. What goes on inside my head is not what my family sees, hopefully. What they see is a cheerful servant.”

See, I was informed and could command words. I gave good examples. I was not unreasonable. Looking at that letter now, I see denial and buried emotions. I had no idea that I was in survival mode. It would take three more years for me to realize that I was depressed, and that my depression was perpetuated by forced smiles and taking pride in the fact that I never cried.

I was great at it. In my final years of living with my family, my parents and siblings nicknamed me “The Happy Fairy.” I was known for my skill in lifting spirits. I could make everyone laugh away any frustration. I could lighten any mood. I embraced my Happy Fairy nickname. After all, I love fairies, and my ever-bettering skill as the one who could keep the house happy was a sign of accomplishment. When I started college and spent more time away from home, my family complained that they missed the sound of my cheerful singing.

This took years to develop. My adult self was the product, but I didn’t stop fighting until I was eleven.

‘We Didn’t Kick You Out.’

 “Easy for a good girl to go bad
And once we gone
Best believe we’ve gone forever
Don’t be the reason
Don’t be the reason
You better learn how to treat us right.” -Rihanna

Want to know what it’s like to be a Jeub? If you check my dad’s Facebook, you’ll see smiling faces and positive talk.

Let me tell you a story.

Dad walked into the bedroom I shared with my sister, Lydia. To consolidate space, Lydia had taken to hanging up most of her thrift-store clothes in the closet. We didn’t have room for another dresser in addition to my dresser, a bookshelf, the bunk bed we shared, and our two desks.

Lydia was 19 and I was 21. It was normal for dad to walk into our bedroom without knocking. Our door handle’s lock was broken – when you have fifteen rough brothers and sisters, most things don’t last, including bedroom door locks. We didn’t have curtains hanging in our window, so I usually changed in the bathroom, carrying my clothes with me each time I showered. The bathroom door was broken, too, and I shared it with six sisters, so I’d been dressing myself behind the shower curtain since I was eleven.

“Girls, get in my office.” He was yelling. “We need to talk.”

“Dad, will you please close the door behind you?” I asked, knowing he wouldn’t. In winter, the open door would chill the basement room, with a thin layer of carpeting protecting us from the icy concrete floor. We used spot heaters to warm our rooms during the colder months. It wasn’t cold today, but dad always left our door open after waking us up.

It was Labor Day, 2013. I’d just started my fifth semester of college, and I was working three jobs: my part-time desk job, editing a section of the school newspaper, and working for my dad. My best friend often said it was too much for me to do, when there could be five to ten kids in my bedroom at any given time. I told her it was fine, and this was normal for me.

Most of what Lydia and I owned was already in boxes. We’d planned to move into our own apartment that week. There was just one problem: we needed proof of income to take over an apartment lease. Lydia had just interviewed for a store that was about to open, and I’d just started my part-time job. The newspaper didn’t record many hours, and my new employer quickly produced what I needed to prove income. We just needed dad to show that, as our main employer, we were making enough to move into our apartment.

When we asked our dad to help us show proof of income, he refused. He said we couldn’t make it on our own, and we wouldn’t be able to afford an apartment on our own. We were confused, seeing as we both had jobs and incomes, but you couldn’t argue with dad.

So this morning, Lydia and I shuffled into his office. Mom was sitting in the corner, the two of us took seats in front of the desk, and dad shut the door behind the four of us.

“I’m upset.” He said. “You drain our resources, you eat our food, you live in our house, you drive our cars, and you were supposed to be moved out by now.”

He was worked up, pacing and glowering down at us in our chairs. For the first time in my life, my dad started cussing at me. He said we didn’t help out around the house enough, and we were ungrateful, and we were wasting his money. Mom sat in the corner and approved the whole episode with her silence and nodding.

If we stayed, dad told us, we would need to pay for everything: the printer, the Internet, the SUV we already fueled whenever we drove it, and rent to sleep in our bedroom.

I’m not sure why I was determined not to cry. I know dad had made me cry many times in these kinds of exchanges, but this was too far. He’d never used swear words, and I had done nothing to bring this on, and I needed to protect my little sister. “Dad, you’re not making any sense. We are literally packed and ready to leave.”

My training in competitive forensics let me see the status dynamics. He was standing, and when I stood up, this threatened his power over me. He demanded that I sit back down, or leave his house immediately. My mind raced. Where would I go? He’d already taken away my ability to get an apartment. I only had a few thousand dollars to survive, and with me being enrolled in school, I didn’t have time to try for more income.

I finally sat back down. “Now, see, why did you sit down?” Dad jeered. “Because you’re admitting that you can’t make it on your own. You need me. You need my resources, everything I pay for and can’t afford. Now, since you’ve chosen to stay, I’m going to charge each of you $500 per month for rent.”

I stood up again. “That’s it. You’re being completely unreasonable.” I walked out, and, as soon as the door was closed, started shaking uncontrollably. I frantically texted a handful of friends. I was afraid dad might disconnect my cell phone, since we were on the same plan. I told my friends to show up if they didn’t hear back from me in half an hour, because I might lose my ability to contact them.

I still had paperwork to print for school, but dad had yelled at me for using the network and printer. I was in a double bind: I could ask to use the printer, and have my request denied. I could print without permission, and risk him confiscating or tearing up my papers – which I sincerely thought was a real possibility in his current mood. I could also hand him twenty-five cents, which would cover the cost of a few sheets of paper in his industrial printer, purchased for the family business’ publishing needs. The last option seemed the least risky, but I also knew my dad would probably be offended. I gathered two dimes and a nickel from my wallet, brought it into his office, and said I was paying for sheets of paper and ink. I went back in my room, and began loading the last of my belongings into boxes.

Dad slammed my door open and threw the coins at me. “Take your damn money!” he yelled.

I yelled back at him, saying I thought he wanted me to pay for using his things.

Lydia and I have twelve younger siblings, and the kids looked frightened and worried. I asked mom if I could take a shower before I left, or if I should pay them for it. She seemed surprised that I even asked, and said, “of course you can.”

I cried in the shower, knowing it would be my last day living in my family’s house, I was being kicked out, and I hadn’t done anything. Mom came in the bathroom while I was toweling off, and she said I should apologize to dad for rudely offering him change. My brother Micah, age 16, just wanted peace, so he begged me to hug my dad and say everything was okay. Five little kids stood around and watched while we obliged him begrudgingly.

One of my friends was still living with her parents, and they said they could come pick us up. I informed my parents that I had a place to go.

Lydia went for a walk and angrily processed what was happening for two hours. When she came back, mom and dad were opposed to letting the two of us have a private conversation. “Don’t think that if you leave, your sister will want to go with you,” dad told me.

We ignored their wishes and talked briefly anyway, before meeting in the office again. Dad smiled widely. “You guys found a place to go, and we’re so proud of you guys!”

Lydia and I exchanged glances at the heel-face turn.

Dad said, “We just have some finances to sort out, and then we’ll send you on your way.”

In our family, we never really tracked finances. Most of our work for the family business was contracted, so extra hours weren’t paid. Most of those contracts were spoken, not written or signed. Dad controlled all our bank accounts, so he just transferred agreed-upon amounts when we finished projects. Lydia and I often thought he changed his rates before and after, but we had no way to track it, and besides, he would ask, aren’t we committed to the business? When we did get paid by the hour, it was supposed to be minimum wage, but filling out timesheets wasn’t a priority.

We talked about cell phone charges and other expenses. Lydia and I forced dad to look at his bills and do the math, and this always meant we owed him less than he said at first. When we finally figured out what we all owed each other, he paid us for the past six months of our work, and we paid him for utilities and phones. He came out ahead and transferred the difference from our accounts.

Then he said, “I’m so proud of both of you. We gave you options, to stay and rent from us, or to find a place of your own. So you’re moving out, and we don’t want you to go around to all your friends and complain about us. We didn’t kick you out, so don’t say we did.”

The next hour was perhaps the most awkward of my life. My friends came to get us, and my parents showed smiles and invited them in for dinner. We hadn’t gotten so much as an apology, but now everything was fine. As Lydia and I left, dad stopped us at the front door to take a picture. Of everything that happened that day, this is the Facebook post people saw:

That’s the difference between Jeub home life and what you see of my family online or on TV.

Why Mom Never Told Us

Trigger warning: physical abuse, self-harm

“We are thrown away in the house you made of every stolen moment.
Don’t pretend, I know how this ends, and who you are in secret.” -Blue Stahli

When I read Libby Anne’s article, “Then why didn’t you tell us that, mom? it resonated with me. My parents had been doing the exact same thing with me for years.

“I want you to know that I never believed everything in Created to be His Help Meet.” My mom told me recently, after having taught Bible studies from it for years.

I was 18, and in my super-senior year of high school for another season of debate. Throughout my teens, I wasn’t allowed to read the Harry Potter books. I was okay with that, though, because I knew why. I argued with everybody because I’d done my research: Harry Potter had real spells in it and kids had gotten into witchcraft because it made devil worship attractive.

One of my friends said I should read the books for myself. I thought that was a reasonable request, so I went to my parents for permission. I was careful in presenting my case: I was just going to read the series critically, so I could tell my friends that I’d read them when I had arguments.

When I’d finished, my dad said, “Harry Potter was never not allowed.”

I replied, “Oh. I thought it was.”

My parents were both offended. “We would never be so controlling as SOME parents!”

I felt guilty for assuming, so I quickly apologized for my oversight. My parents were forgiving, and I went on to read and enjoy the series of children’s books, and my mom and siblings also read and enjoyed Harry Potter. It wasn’t a set of instruction books for devil worship; it was an intriguing, well-written, and powerful story.

The problem is, I remember the books being prohibited. My older sister read the first Harry Potter book in the early 2000s, and my mom read an article talking about how evil they were. She proceeded to tell us countless stories of people who’d gotten into the occult through Harry Potter. We had friends who hosted book burnings at their churches for anyone who, as my mom put it, wanted to repent of their sin: reading Harry Potter.

It would take me a few more years to realize that my parents made a habit of denying any unfavorable memories I had of them. They also denied anything that made them look uncool by the standards of whatever crowd they wanted to blend with.

I have a good memory. I was only four when Michael and Debi Pearl stayed at our house, but I remember what changed.

The Pearls were treated like royalty. My mom was pregnant with her fifth child, and all the kids believed, because our parents taught us to, that the Pearls were magnificent people.

My older sister, perhaps ten at the time, was terribly afraid of hell. She told Debi that she wanted to make sure she was saved, and Debi prayed the sinner’s prayer with her to make sure.

When my parents found out, they did two things: they forced my ten-year-old sister to write an apology letter to the Pearls, saying she’d lied about her salvation.

Then they started beating her with a belt every day, no matter what she did. She got additional “spankings” if she did something wrong.

This physical punishment was never predictable. Sometimes she’d endure five swats, other times forty. Sometimes she was allowed to keep her pants on, other times she was not. I was also spanked, but not with a belt, and I could expect punishment for specific disobedience. It frightened me to see my big sister suffering, but I didn’t have the words to identify my own emotional reaction at the time.

If any of us had known what anxiety attacks and survivor’s guilt were, it might have partially explained why my sister jumped and lost her breath every time my parents called her name, and why I started self-harming at age four.

Five years ago, while my sister was living in another country, she tried to ask my parents why they beat her every day for some part of her childhood. They said it had never happened. She thought it was a problem with her own memory until I mentioned that I remembered it, too.

Abusers deny and minimize what they’ve done, and if they can’t deny it, they’re so sorry, and once you’ve expressed forgiveness, you can never bring it up again.

Because bringing it up again is keeping a record of wrongs. That’s not love, according to the Bible, and we’re all about love around here.

Only when I started researching patterns of abusive people, did I recognize this pattern in my parents. They didn’t give explanations at the time, because they could deny it later:

“Your sister was never physically abused.”

“You were always allowed to read whatever you wanted.”

“You’re not being fair to us when you say otherwise.”

So Libby Anne, about your post: “Then why didn’t you tell us that, mom?”

For a long time, I didn’t know why our moms never told us that things were different than we remembered them. I think it’s because they didn’t disagree with what we were taught. It’s easier to make your kids believe every new version of the narrative than to see the problem and change it.

Why Does This Have to be Public?

A lot of people are asking me why everything I’m saying must be public. Why not just go to counseling, why not sort it out privately?

We have tried. I’ll go into more detail later. In short, as my little sister explained it today: “mom and dad believe the way to solve their family problems is if they can’t control a child anymore, they kick them out and won’t let them back unless we agree to more control.”

My first sister was kicked out in the early 2000s, and at 18 years old she was given the option to live in Kevin Swanson’s basement, having counseling sessions with him and my parents every night until she succumbed to their authority, or to leave and never see us again. She lasted for two weeks before she couldn’t take it anymore, and I didn’t see her for three years.

My second sister was more abused than any of us, and she just hopes we can all get along. The most healthy thing she did for herself was literally move to the other side of the world. She’s very torn over me going public, so please, if you have the urge to contact somebody or ask questions, message me or Alicia or Lydia. She doesn’t need the extra pressure.

When our parents kicked Lydia and me out last year, we saw the pattern for the first time, and thought perhaps we were wrong to feel abandoned by our older sisters. I tried to confront my parents more than once, and it always ended with me in tears, feeling guilty and ashamed for ever seeing anything wrong with them. Mom and dad found a counselor last month who we planned to go see, but then they took the liberty of spending two long sessions telling their own story to this counselor before inviting Lydia and me to join the conversation, and asked us to write an essay about our top three grievances so they could deliver these to the counselor secondhand.

We gently informed them that we thought they were controlling and cared too much about their reputation, and they said they disagreed. We said there was physical, emotional, and financial abuse, and they didn’t reply. We backed out – there were too many red flags surrounding the attempt to reconcile. We later found out that this counselor was recommend by a family friend who gave Christian counseling to both my sister Alicia and me (conflict of interest), and who made me distrust therapy in general for a long time.

Lydia and I received messages from my dad saying we would not be allowed to visit our family until we followed their demands to reconcile on their terms. Both of us heard the phrase “Our love is unconditional, but our welcome is not.”

This abuse and dysfunction has been going on for the two dozen years since my parents met – and my mother abused my older sisters before my dad entered the picture. My parents chose to make everything public when they put us on TV, happy and smiling, to demonstrate how great our family was. Extended family knew about it, observers noticed hints of it, nobody did anything. My youngest brother is three years old, so if nothing happens, my parents will continue doing this for at least another fifteen years. My older sisters didn’t have a voice. I’m using mine now.

The Breakthrough Moment

 “How can I pretend that I don’t see
What you hide so carelessly?
…It’s not what it seems
Not what you think
No, I must be dreaming…
Help, you know I’ve got to tell someone
Tell them what I know you’ve done
I fear you…” –Evanescence

I have blogged very little about my family, even though I know many of you follow me because you’re interested in what a girl with fifteen brothers and sisters has to say.

I never thought of much to write about. My family felt normal to me. There was nothing deeply introspective or philosophical about it. My lifestyle was intriguing for people because we were different. That’s all.

Recently, the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed gave domestic violence victims a chance to tell their stories. They piled in by the hundreds – women and men explained how spouses, significant others, and parents had abused them. I chimed in with this tweet:

#WhyIStayed my survival mechanism was convincing myself that my parents were right to abuse me and my siblings. #WhyILeft I was forced out

The most informative thing I first saw about domestic violence was Leslie Morgan Steiner’s TED talk, “Why domestic violence victims don’t leave.”

In it, she says that when we ask why the abused people don’t leave, we’re asking the wrong question. Such a question blames the victim for being in the situation. She also tells her own story, and says she didn’t know it was happening.

Her husband beat her, but she didn’t think of herself as a battered wife. That’s how many, many victims feel before they get out. Abuse is the norm, especially for children raised in abusive homes. Some abusers may even tell their victims that it could be worse, and abuse is what happens in other homes, but not here.

Often, victims don’t realize it’s a problem until the breakthrough moment. For me, the breakthrough was a few things – being told that I couldn’t live in my parents’ house anymore was one. For Steiner, the breakthrough was “a particularly sadistic beating.”

Every morning I wake up and think, “How did I never see it before?”

Some days, I have trouble getting up in time for work. It’s debilitating to look at my past as something different than what I thought it was.

Nobody has to ask me why I never said anything about my past in abuse. I ask it of myself, and I question my own sanity. I trusted my parents completely, and I couldn’t identify manipulation or emotional abuse. I was physically abused, and I don’t just mean that I’m opposed to spanking.

I didn’t know I was abused. For every violent incident or when my parents lost their tempers, I had three options. First, I could blame myself and assume I deserved it, or that one of my siblings deserved it. Second, I could see this instance as isolated and minimal, totally out of character, and thus erase my logical ability to recognize patterns. Third, if the first two options didn’t work, my parents apologized profusely and demanded forgiveness, which meant I could never bring it up again.

The life of abuse isn’t full of anger, getting thrown and smacked and bruised, and being yelled at and torn down. That’s only part of it. You also feel special and needed. You don’t feel like life is hell, even if it is, because you know how to force a smile. It feels good to damage your own health and wellbeing for your abusers, because you’re told that you’re doing what is right. You fight for acceptance and admonition, because you’re always getting small tastes of it, and it’s always just out of reach.

The breakthrough moment isn’t the only reason domestic violence victims don’t leave. They also stay in their situations because they feel trapped. Once they know what’s going on, it’s unsafe to leave.

The reason it’s unsafe is because nobody knows about it, and if you speak up, the perpetrator threatens and punishes.

I wasn’t safe to talk about my family life until now. I had to get a new bank account, so my dad could stop financially abusing me with easy transaction-making access. I had to get my own car, so my mom could stop using rides to my much-needed mental health therapy as reason to tell me I was ungrateful if I stepped out of line. I had to buy my website’s domain name from my dad so he couldn’t delete my blog for prying the mask off my family’s face.

These stories have always existed. I was taught to tuck them away as if they never happened. To speak of them would be unforgiving.

There’s so much to tell. I’m assuming that those of you who don’t know anything about my family can use Google to fill yourselves in on what I’m referencing. My parents love the spotlight, so it’s not hard to find the pieces.

Ages will be estimated. Because my parents deny so much of what happened, I can’t confirm exactly when certain events occurred. I’ve chosen to include specific ages for the sake of narrative.

Also, I want to say a thing about abuse. I am not labeling everything in the following stories as abuse. Some things are abusive, some things are just a little weird, and some things are totally common. “Bad” and “common” are not mutually exclusive terms, but I want to be clear that I don’t classify everything my parents ever did as abusive.

Never letting my older sister and me grow our hair very long, and pressuring my sister who wanted short hair to keep it long, was bizarrely controlling. It was just a piece, a detail, of how our bodies were not our own.

But the time my mom grabbed my ear as a small child and threw me on the hard wood floor so my head rang, or the time my dad hit my sister over forty times with a belt not as punishment, but because she had a rebellious spirit, or when my brother wasn’t allowed to attend his regular extracurricular activities for a couple of weeks so nobody would see the bruises my mom left on his face…I think it’s fair to call those things abusive.

I’m just telling stories about my past, so there’s a mix of everything: the abusive, the controlling, the bizarre, the good, how I dealt with it, and how I see it now. I’m undecided on a whole collection of things. Parenting, for instance, is something I can only write about as someone who well remembers being a child, not from the perspective of a parent.

I predict this, and some of it has already happened since Friday’s teaser: people will say it’s disrespectful to put these stories on display. Others will say I’m complaining about things that aren’t a big deal. Still others will discredit my voice because I sound angry and hurt, as if the people who’ve been hurt have no right to speak up about what they’ve experienced. I will be, and have already been, accused of lying. I’m prepared for all of these things.

You have to reassure people when you’re talking about such things, so here’s that reassurance: I have a great support system from friends since losing trust in my parents and connection with my siblings. Yes, I have friends who disagree with me, so I have accountability. Yes, I’m prepared for being accused of slander and I can back up my claims. I’m moving forward in my career, and I’m in mental health therapy. I am living in a safe place.

I hope my stories are redemptive.