Learning Disabilities and Homeschool

I have not been in contact with my family in several years, and my siblings have attended some charter school and community college. I can only speak to my personal experience, not to what has happened in my siblings’ education since cutting contact.

My parents had a religious and political agenda in homeschooling my siblings and me. They were not capable of teaching a full range of subjects through 12 grades to 16 kids. To believe this is possible takes a great deal of ignorance and arrogance, and this fueled their approach to how they taught us. While these elements contributed to my ignorance as I entered adulthood, I was also limited by learning disabilities that were overlooked and undetected by my parents. I was told that I was excelling when I was never being tested. Homeschool Christian speech and debate competition supposedly held significant weight in my academic and professional success.

When I started college, it was not only my lack of basic education that held me back. I had severe anxiety and was struggling to focus, study, and learn. Several distinct symptoms indicate that I am neurodivergent. This means, among many things, that I struggle to learn at the same pace and in the same way as neurotypical people. I have been trying for years to teach myself what I missed growing up, but my retention of information is poor. I’m either highly distracted or hyper-focused on creating. It is difficult if not impossible for me to force myself to focus or pay attention, even to do something simple like watch a movie.

While I was a distracted student throughout my childhood, it was treated as a behavior problem if it was noticed at all. Mostly it went unnoticed, because my only standard of success was whether I had trophies from memorizing passages from the bible or performing in speech and debate. I didn’t take tests or receive informed instruction beyond the simplified children’s propaganda published by Christian conservative homeschool publishers. My symptoms of fidgeting or struggling to sit still were punished when I was very young so that I would sit still in church. Beyond this, I was often reprimanded for being forgetful of the many things I had to keep track of in caring for my younger siblings. Overall, my symptoms were not recognized as ones that could hinder my learning, just my own failures to shoulder the responsibilities I was given.

There is also significant stigma against acknowledging and properly treating mental illness in the evangelical Christian world. In some instances, it is seen as a spiritual problem to be addressed with prayer. In others, it is seen as behavior to be corrected with negative reinforcement. Rarely is a child given adequate treatment to address the underlying cause of the symptoms in this environment. There was nothing to indicate whether I was doing well or not, because homeschooling meant my parents could teach in whatever way they wished. They could declare me an educational success because they said so.

Year after year, my parents would teach us kids the same basic things. Year after year, most of the kids would fail to learn these basics, because there was no structure, no testing, and no informed instruction. We went through at least three different reading curricula before one of them finally clicked, which left my younger siblings very confused about how to read, write, and spell. I was often tasked with helping to teach them how to read when I should have been learning more advanced things myself.

In 2014, when I started blogging about my parents’ abuse, I gave another example of neurodivergence in my family. This is because I had still not recognized that I had learning struggles of my own. I was vague and didn’t specify which sibling or identify their gender when I brought this up. I wrote the following in my post “Of course it wasn’t all bad”:

“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.”

During 2020, my dad had the entire draft of his book about me up on his blog, but it has since been removed. I have the screenshots and text saved from when it was online. In response to what I wrote above, he twisted my statement to make it sound like I was attacking and teasing my sibling, or blaming my parents for something they couldn’t control:  

“My second-born son, just a year younger than my first and nearly an adult, was most devastated. He had a strong story of overcoming severe dyslexia and going on to winning national speech tournaments. He’s quite a success story, but his sisters hijacked his story to accuse us of “educational abuse,” making his dyslexia somehow our failure as parents. He hated the misrepresentation and attempted to enter the online frenzy to set things straight. He was teased by his sisters, especially when he would misspell words, and the online community claimed such misspellings as evidence of our “educational abuse,” not his dyslexia.”

In my dad’s own words, the emphasis on speech and debate success is apparent. I wasn’t saying that the dyslexia itself was my parent’s mistake, but their failure to notice it until he was well into his teens was. This sibling is not the only one in the family who struggles with spelling and grammar – we all did, including me. I may write for a living, but that doesn’t make my writing academic or grammatically excellent by any means. I just write about what happened, and I know now that I have learning disabilities of my own that were overlooked because my education was inadequate.

I am an Ignorant Adult

I was severely unprepared for adulthood in every way. I had been indoctrinated to view the entire world through a religious lens. This meant that I thought the world was small. I lacked (and still lack) the professional and social skills needed to attain and maintain gainful employment. I also lack the skills needed to learn in a formal educational setting, as my abysmal college GPA shows. It’s been ten years since I took the SAT and “finished high school,” just before I turned 19. I never got a diploma and I wrote my own transcript, but I had a graduation party and my parents made a speech about how proud they were of my accomplishments. I would remain at home with my parents for another two years while struggling with higher education.

The only things I learned at home revolved around my assigned role as a daughter and future wife under the Quiverfull patriarchal movement. That is, I learned how to change a lot of diapers, wash a lot of dishes and laundry, and supervise a lot of children. My work experience was in the family business, so I knew a very specific niche (curriculum for homeschool Christian speech and debate competition), but it failed to give me adequate skills to qualify for other jobs.

My parents didn’t care whether the children assigned a daughter role went to college. I wanted to be a journalist, but my closest sibling had no interest in college at all. The first classrooms I sat in for a full semester were in college. I didn’t know how to study, and didn’t have time to study anyway because of my responsibilities at home. I was used to trying to study with a child sitting in my lap and five more piled on my bed. I didn’t know what a scantron was, and I didn’t know the answers from my attempts to learn. I dropped out because I knew better than to keep trying to win a game I couldn’t figure out how to play.

Socially, I was praised as a child for being able to converse so well with adults. I was considered “wise beyond my years” and knew better how to talk to adults than to kids my own age. I miss social cues every day. Jokes and trivia go right over my head, along with common knowledge about history and geography. I often find myself missing whole chunks of conversations with my peers because I don’t understand what everyone else is talking about. I have accepted that this is a normal experience for me because it’s better than singling myself out by asking. Not only was I deprived of a normal education, but I missed most of the entertainment of the 90s and 2000s, because most things including television weren’t allowed. Some things were considered too secular, others too satanic. As the years passed and my parents had more and more kids, they relaxed a little and let the kids watch movies throughout the day.

My professional track record is a mess. My only desk job was one I got through my parents as a reference, and I was lucky to keep it after I blogged about my parents’ abuse. After that, I realized that what I’d learned had not given me what I needed to stay in the white-collar workforce. I knew how to watch kids and keep a home, so I became a nanny and then a summer camp counselor. After that I washed dishes in a restaurant, then worked as a deli clerk at a grocery store. I was a line cook after that, then I worked at a call center. Between 2019 and 2020 I went back to a grocery store deli, and I’ve been working for myself thanks to Patreon since March 2020. I don’t know how I would attain meaningful income otherwise.

I believed that things were not as they are. I thought I was supposed to demonstrate god’s goodness to the people I encountered. Worse, I thought I was succeeding in doing so. I saw myself as a prophet, someone who was chosen to do the work of god. I fully trusted that my parents had expertly prepared me for this purpose. I was wrong about everything I thought I knew. This ignorance made me believe I was informed when I wasn’t. It went along with naivete and bigotry.

All of this hardly scratches the surface of how significantly my life was impacted. I am so many years behind my peers, and while I can patch my education in ways, I can’t get those years back. I spent my school years doing my parents’ work for them. I worked at home and for the family business. My childhood was exploited for labor instead of cultivated for learning. The result is that all I can do to get by is keep unpacking what I went through in my writing. I am ignorant about everything except the oddity of my own experience.

Homeschooling as Indoctrination

The prevailing myth surrounding homeschooling is that it is a superior form of education. The problem is that homeschooling is such a broad and vague categorization. A wide variety of experiences exist. Furthermore, it is difficult to objectively judge one’s own quality of education. I know because when I first “graduated,” I believed that I had received a better education than my peers. The truth was that I had been indoctrinated with propaganda to interpret everything in the world through a lens of fundamentalist teachings. Part of what I had to believe was that I was highly informed and educated, and the rest of the world was in fact being misinformed and indoctrinated to believe in falsehoods, like evolution.

Homeschooling is as unique as any family might be who uses the term to identify their educational style, or lack thereof. For some, it indicates specialized emphasis with the help of teachers or tutors to thoroughly educate the children. For others, it swings to the opposite end of the spectrum, sometimes referred to as “unschooling,” that is, nothing resembling schooling happens at all. For me, schooling meant religious indoctrination, pro-US propaganda, and competitive speaking to defend what I’d been taught.

From early childhood, what I had to learn was centered around religious beliefs. I memorized verses from the bible before I could read, learning that Jesus had died for me because I was sinful. Every time we “did school,” bible study and prayer was prioritized, sometimes after singing some worship songs and pledging allegiance to the American and AWANA flags. Most of our curricula was written and published by Christians, so even seemingly unrelated subjects used biblically based examples. Everything I knew about the world was interpreted through a religious lens – science existed to magnify the creation of god, and the course of history had the clear influence of providence.

My mom’s idea of teaching us history was to read historical fiction aloud to us according to the time of year. For instance, we spent every November listening to her read a book called “Stories of the Pilgrims” by Margaret Pumphrey from Christian Liberty Press. This book followed children whose families were being persecuted for their secret church services in a time of hostility to true Christianity. It followed their daring escapes to Holland and then the new world. From there, it told how several indigenous people including Squanto helped them survive. There was a good deal of miserable talk about the harsh conditions that led to many white deaths, but none about the impact colonization has had on the indigenous people of this continent. While there’s nothing wrong with thematic reading, it’s not a substitute for actual history, and there was none. The only history textbook I remember was for third grade, and it was called “Our American Heritage,” published by Abeka. It had short descriptions of famous American founders from a Christian perspective.

Science was a subject that was the same every year. We learned about our bodies and about the world as creations of god. We would color in simple pictures of the body parts with crayons while Mom read from a book called “More About My Magnificent Machine” by William L. Coleman. Google describes this book as “an explanation of basic human physiology interspersed with Biblical references and related religious thoughts and prayers.”

For me, high school was focused around speech and debate competition. I have so much to say about how debate was used as a tool of reinforcing indoctrination, I’m saving it for multiple chapters on the subject in my book. In short, conservative Christian homeschool speech and debate has specific parameters defined by a political and religious viewpoint. Our parents had disagreements among the many denominations they adhered to, but they could all agree that abortion was inappropriate to bring up in a debate round. They say their children are “learning how to argue both sides” through debate, which is perfectly logical if you believe that there are no two sides to abortion. There was only the fact that it is wrong, and therefore bringing it up in a debate round is unfair to the opponent. I was also told that I was making friendships that would last a lifetime with the other homeschooled kids who were my competitive rivals. For that matter, my only friends were the children of my parents’ friends, the ones who shared their ideals about family and homeschooling.

The result of my education was that I was prepared to approach my college campus as an evangelist. I wanted to “reach out” to the secular world with the message of Jesus. I joined demonstrators opposing abortion. I campaigned for republicans and worked undercover to try and catch democrats and LGBTAIQ allies in acts of corruption. I thought I was a prophet with a mission from god himself. All these delusions were carefully sown and tended and protected from the invasion of alternative perspectives.

It would take years to get through to me that reality was not what I had been told to believe it was. I was influenced by the people I encountered who were LGBTAIQ and who didn’t share my religion. I fought to hold onto all I’d been taught, slowly losing my grip with each thoughtful conversation these people patiently had with me. Questioning everything took time, but the foundations of the system I was raised to defend crumbled under scrutiny.

My Homeschool Transcript

I was taught primarily for religious and political purposes, not to prepare me for independence in adulthood. My high school transcript, and the fact that I wrote it myself, demonstrates how little I was taught. For me, being homeschooled meant that my access to information was severely limited by what my parents thought was true. It meant that I was expected to teach my younger siblings at times. It meant such ignorance that I could not identify the subjects I had and hadn’t been taught. There was nothing to measure my knowledge against but my only teachers, my parents. They believed they could teach their children everything they would need to know, which is an arrogant thing for any one or two people to assume. The result is that I entered adulthood with incredible ignorance, naivete, and bigotry.

I’ll talk more about the years leading up to high school in another post, because I want to focus on what I learned as a teen as I discuss the transcript below. In short, we learned a great deal of religious and politically conservative propaganda. Once I got to high school age, I started Saxon math books and competing in speech and debate. Math was a textbook with the answer book so I could check my own progress and teach myself. The only measure of success my parents seemed to care about was whether my siblings and I did well in speech and debate competition. Because of this emphasis, our education was warped to form around an extra-curricular activity. There was no foundation in core subjects like math, science, and real language skills. For this reason, my siblings and I struggled to compete against other homeschooled teens in an informed way. Debate was full of big words we didn’t understand and often couldn’t pronounce, and speech was a time to be as performative and we could possibly be.

Below is the actual high school transcript that I designed and wrote myself based on a template I found on Google, and asked my parents to sign. The first thing to note is that I had never been graded on anything, and knew only that I needed to be realistic while getting as close to a 4.0 score as possible. When I presented it to my dad, he asked why I hadn’t put down 4.0 in everything, and I said it didn’t seem realistic to me. I knew I hadn’t taught myself math very well, though I’d tried to work my way to the answers on my own. Every grade is not even a guess, but a blatant lie, because I never had grades. I just needed to write something that looked like I had.

The subjects themselves are odd: I list bible, debate, sewing, piano, and hunter’s safety for my first year. I also listed my debate resolutions as subjects: immigration policy, environmental policy, philosophy, and foreign policy. What I counted as “biology” and “chemistry” were religious devotionals about the human body, butchering animals on occasion for meat, and cooking.

Piano was taught by a homeschool mom, and I never got rhythm or sheet reading down after several years of lessons. Physical education was a Christian group that got together weekly to play simple games in groups, like dodgeball. Business was an important subject to include because I was learning about it through working for the family business. “Current events” was code for a speech event called extemporaneous speaking. This involved limited time to prepare a speech about events in the news. Apologetics was in the same “limited prep” category of speeches, but instead of the news, it was about theological questions. I read a lot, so I figured that counted as studying literature.

In my junior year, I wrote that I did a “publishing internship.” This meant that my dad decided to demote me from a paid position in the family business to an unpaid intern. That summer, several other high school students became unpaid interns, too, and my dad’s reasoning for demoting my sister and me was “so my kids don’t get special treatment.” I also wrote in my senior year that I had been a volunteer child counselor, which meant that I’d worked briefly at a Christian day camp in the summer to help children with performing tricks while riding horses.

Ultimately, what I was learning was how to be overwhelmed with too many responsibilities around the house. I worked for my dad and my mom, who each had to-do lists for me. I wrote this transcript to try and show that I had done schoolwork I hadn’t done. Most of my work was spent looking after the family and family business. So it was that I got into college making a poor case for my k-12 education. Once in college, I failed in many ways because my education had been inadequate. It would take several more years for me to gain the experience necessary to look back on my education with some perspective.

What I know now, looking back, is that I shouldn’t have had to write my own transcript at all. This shows how hands-off my parents were about my education, expecting me to figure it out myself. I didn’t figure it out, I ended up being underinformed about the world and frustrated with myself for not being autodidactic. I still don’t know what a normal transcript should look like, or what I might have learned if I was taught real scientific subjects. Instead…I know a lot of bible verses I wish I could forget.

My Patriotic Education

This happened last week, but I’m still thinking about it. The trick the president is trying to pull is outdoing himself constantly so each shock makes the previous one seem mild by comparison. How can one consider that he’s trying to control how children see the world’s biggest industrial-colonial-prison system, when it was followed up a few days later with refusal to give a direct answer about whether he’ll allow a peaceful transfer of power following an election loss? With so little national faith in the electoral system, will any of us even believe the results? Trump says if he loses, his followers certainly won’t, and I think that much is true. That’s another good trick when you’re managing masses to increase power and profit: mix a good amount of truth in with the lies.

As I describe my personal experience, I realize this may not be exactly what Trump has in mind when he calls for “patriotic education.” In fact, what he has in mind may be far more regulated, which is terrifying, but possible. I think it’s important to write about this because my education was spotty at best, indoctrination at worst, and this is exactly the kind of education that makes Americans so patriotic. The elements necessary include the suppression of information and racist tokenization. They include memorization of pledges of allegiance to symbols from early childhood, before it’s possible to think critically about what is being sworn away. They write off conflicting information as fake or revisionist. From what I can gather, this problem is only exacerbated when parents are in full control of their children’s access to information, not limited by any means to the homeschool table.

Every school day morning, when my siblings and I gathered around the dining room table for homeschool, it was time to get the American flag and say our pledge of allegiance to it. We kids took turns holding it up in reverence, putting our hands over our hearts, and most of us had the pledge memorized by the age of 2 or 3. Then we’d also say the pledge of allegiance to the AWANA flag. This was to practice for our Wednesday night AWANA meetings. At each AWANA meet, too, we said the United States flag pledge before pledging our allegiance to AWANA clubs. (For those who don’t know, my parents have since stopped homeschooling or participating in AWANA, so I am commenting on my own childhood experiences, not the present.)

AWANA is all-caps because is an acronym from a Bible verse, 2 Timothy 2:15 – “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” It stands for Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed, explicitly an organization designed to indoctrinate children early. I started at age 3, as one of the “Cubbies,” memorizing two full books of short Bible passages like “Jesus loves me.” Then between the ages of 4 and 7, I was in “Sparks,” named such because we were young children “shining” for Jesus “to light the world,” based on Jesus’ reference to calling his followers “the light of the world.”

I won’t put the US flag pledge here, but I can write the AWANA pledge from memory since it’s less well-known:

“I pledge allegiance to the AWANA flag
Which stands for AWANA clubs
Whose goal is to reach boys and girls
With the gospel of Christ
And train them to serve him.”

That was the beginning of each school day, followed by praying aloud as a group – mom and us kids. Not all of us had to pray, but at least four of us had to volunteer to take each kind of prayer my mother required. She went by ACTS – Acclimation, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. The scapegoated kids were usually put on the spot to come up with something to confess in front of anyone, and we were scolded if our prayers didn’t seem genuine enough. By the time the pledges and prayers were over, we were expected to do Bible time, before listening to mom read aloud from a children’s illustrated historical fiction book while we colored pictures.

The first history book that comes to mind is Stories of the Pilgrims, written by Margaret B. Pumphrey and published by Christian Liberty Press. I remember it well, because we read it every November for as long as I can remember, leading up to Thanksgiving. What I remember about this book was that my mom had no problem reading it exactly as it was written, referring to the Indigenous people they encountered as “the Indians.” We always celebrated Thanksgiving as the history of the Pilgrims being welcomed into a new land where they would be free to worship.

We listened to Rush Limbaugh on the radio constantly, along with the cohort of similar hosts including Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck (though Beck wasn’t conservative enough sometimes). We didn’t watch Fox News, not because we didn’t believe it reported with accuracy, but because we didn’t have TV. Our main source of breaking news was Drudge Report. There was constant exposure to rhetoric about taking back the country. America was awesome, and so was our family, and thinking otherwise was cause for great conflict.

While every holiday had a Christian perspective, including adding a Last Supper Communion cup of wine – er, sprite and grape juice – to our “Passover” celebration every Thursday-before-Easter, Independence Day was as big a deal as Christmas. The 4th of the July started in the early morning, when we started decorating the bikes and wagons so we could join in the children’s parade. Then we’d all gather for the big parade, which always concluded with lots of sirens. We always tried to see fireworks in the evening, too, and in my younger days mom would make special caramel popcorn for watching them.

The only thing I learned from my parents about slavery was that Abraham Lincoln was a great man for ending it. When I was perhaps 10, I told my mom to read the American Girl books about an enslaved child. They made her cry, but she never chose to include this crucial part of history with the other kids – maybe she didn’t know how to talk about it.

Our whole lifestyle had to do with supporting war, capitalism, and white supremacy. Patriotism looks like festivity for white people in this country, which is grotesque but true. It looks like pretending whole genocides didn’t exist. It’s disgusting to me now, but that is only because I have since learned how inaccurate my education was.

I can’t get to everything. I’ve been writing this post since yesterday. I need to wrap it up. My point in offering all of the above information is that part of systemic racism is educational neglect, and giving the power to educate to uninformed people. I do not believe any child can be sufficiently educated by only two people, particularly not by two people who agree enough about the world to be married to each other. Yet millions of people go through our public education system and are still left thinking that oppression is the problem of the oppressed.

Cognitive dissonance is going to be a real problem for all of us as things get worse on our planet. Our brains have not adapted to a rapidly changing world. As reality becomes more frightening, denial is more enticing. At the same time, denial will become more difficult to achieve.

I mention denial here because it is the key ingredient in keeping our system working the way it does. Evil happens because they don’t expect us to even believe anybody could be that evil…but the evil is everywhere: health insurance companies burying people alive with bureaucracy. Empty homes owned by the wealthy, while others go homeless despite their most dedicated efforts. Vast inequality, most detrimental to those who are the most disadvantaged. Police brutality to keep it all working the way it’s supposed to.

I don’t know what to say to help people get from a point where they embrace this country to realizing it’s an empire of exploitation. Perhaps it is impossible to cut past the extreme indoctrination. It’s not an education at all. It is the insistence that this country ignore its roots as a colonial power. It is the demand that we swear our loyalty without knowing what we’re agreeing to.

No longer do I stand to recite the pledge, nor do I sing the national anthem. It only reminds me of how I was told what to feel and think and believe. Now I am reading everything I can to inform myself about what really happened.

Unfortunately, whatever Trump is calling for has already taken place for millions of us. We were supposed to be patriots.

Therapeutic Creativity

Image: a painting with a black background with an yellow/red/orange sun in the center, a maroon planet with a shiny green ring off to the upper right, below the arm of a galaxy illuminated with silver clusters of stars. Crossing from the middle of the left side to the top, there is a spiral of shiny blue and green intertwining. A blue planet lurks in a dark upper left corner, three moons surrounding it – the biggest moon, to its right, is gold, and two smaller moons are to its left, blue and silver. In the lower left corner are twin planets, the slightly larger one is gold and the slightly smaller one is a shiny green. Finally, in the lower right corner and swooshing across to the bottom-center of the painting is a wave of silver dot stars over dark blue swirls.

Today to procrastinate on writing my daily blog post, I’m updating my page about the themes I’ll be covering in my memoir. People online have been asking if I’m still writing it, and the short answer is I’m working on it very very slowly. The reason for this is that I’m quite young and haven’t put much time between myself and the events of that time yet, and it’s hard to write about trauma. I’ve been telling my Patreon patrons about this for some time: It can be counterproductive to recovery to continuously unpack the traumatic events.

I didn’t even realize my family was cult-like until I was 22 years old. I’m 28 now, and my book’s master document has…79,456 words. Not including the work-in-progress chapters, of which I’m working on two. It isn’t fully drafted. I expect that it will take at least a few more years before it’s physically in print. Memoirs take careful simmering, and I may not be ready to say what I need to say for a long time still. I’m not rushing, because some of the best memoirs of all time were not completed at a young age by their authors. I recently finished Boy, Roald Dahl’s memoir about his childhood, which he didn’t write until he was more than twice my age. (Thank you to the sponsor who sent the book!)

That’s why I’m engaging in three therapeutic things: writing fiction, writing shorter and less edited blog posts, and painting. This is giving me the space to reawaken my creativity instead of succumbing to writer’s block over a memoir that I may not be capable of finishing very quickly.

The painting is going well. I took an interest in painting when I was very young, but due to the number of younger siblings I had, nothing was safe from being destroyed by very small children and toddlers. One Christmas when I was six or seven, all my aunts and uncles got me art supplies. I received paints, giant paper, brushes, the works – each a gift that showed they saw my artistic ability and wanted to encourage it. As a final surprise, my grandfather revealed a wooden easel he’d built for me and painted navy blue and white. It was just my height, so I could easily reach. I picked up color schemes and learned how to mix primaries to get the colors I wanted for the next few weeks of winter. Then one day, my little sister poured my paints together until they turned a horrid brown color, and spread it all over the easel. I don’t remember the repercussions, just that I lost interest in painting. I returned to it about 6 months ago when I bought some canvases and a cheap set of acrylics. Now I’m working on painting every day with eagerness.

I won’t say much about writing fiction just yet because I want it to remain fun instead of obligatory, and so far it has been. I’ve been writing fiction with a companion, who has created a fantasy world, and I have built a character to play, and we email back and forth, adding to the story in small increments. I don’t know where this will lead as far as developing more fiction of my own, but if you’d like to see a story I wrote, I published this one a while back: The Legend of the Snow Fairies

Finally, short blog posts. I think I have enough here for today, and I can sign off. I’ll be back for small portions of nonfiction writing here on the blog as regularly as I can.

Public Gaslighting

Abusers don’t like being held accountable for their actions. One of the best ways to keep an abuser from holding power is to expose their true nature. This is what I set out to do in 2014, when I first revealed to the world that my parents had been emotionally, psychologically, and physically abusive toward myself and my fifteen brothers and sisters. Leading up to that point, our secrets were kept within the family. I broke the taboo because I had nothing left to lose after my parents said I couldn’t see my siblings anymore, using the children I’d raised as leverage against me.

This March, I had the opportunity to tell the whole story in Huffington Post Personal, in cooperation with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. A few weeks later, my dad began publishing a response defending his reputation and tearing down mine. I have spent the months since thinking about if I should respond, why it might matter to respond, and whether a response will heighten tensions. I concluded that I don’t owe anyone a response, nor do I owe anyone my silence. I will continue to tell the truth and work on telling my story to the best of my ability.

I don’t presume to know exactly what is going on inside my dad’s head. While I am speaking of specific scientific findings in this post, I can’t say with precision what level of awareness he has about his own actions. I can only observe the patterns of behavior and protect myself from being abused, and help others to recognize what abuse looks like.

At first, my dad wrote with apparent compassion toward me, saying that he had no idea how I could concoct such “false memories.” Since then, however, I’ve been painted increasingly as the villain. Over the past three months, he’s grown increasingly bold in his stance, demonizing me for outright lies, libel, and what he’s calling “social smearing.” He claims that he is on the side of love, and that he is “Facing Hate,” the title of an upcoming book he’s writing about how much my rebellion has hurt him.

It is unclear exactly what he is disputing, because he hasn’t gone into detail. His phrasing was already patriarchal, the man of the family speaking for the rest of them: “The Jeubs are not and have never been a family of abuse.” As if a family can be “of” something, like families have brands and mission statements like businesses. Rather than speaking as an individual, my dad insists on hiding behind the family to make this statement. This silences the individuality of his children, making them all into poster children for whatever he wants to say. It also assumes that I’ve opposed my siblings as well as my parents, which isn’t the case. To a man like my father, children are products – assets, as he likes to say. The family does not need vindication from my allegations. My siblings were the victims, not my parents.

Later in that post, he wrote, “At first, some in our family supported Cynthia, and our family was fractured.” I wanted to know, why would any of my family have supported me, if everything I said was lies? Further, what specifically was he denying as false? He has called my claims “far-out and bizarre,” and “unbelievable.” Every claim I made was not an unbelievable one, but similar examples can be found in countless families like mine. My Huffington Post article mentioned his book “Love in the House” pretty early on, and he’s still promoting that, while insisting what I wrote was “fabricated. All of it.”

DARVO

At first, these posts had the effect of making me doubt myself. I spent a couple of weeks in a fog of confusion, my dad’s words dancing around my head, disturbing my sleep and emotional stability. Then someone sent me the science of what was happening: a phenomenon called DARVO. Here’s the definition from the pioneer of this research, Jennifer J. Freyd, PhD:

 “DARVO stands for ‘Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.’ The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim — or the whistle blower — into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of ‘falsely accused’ and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.”

My dad’s pattern followed DARVO precisely. He denied everything I had to say, with vague blanket statements. He attacked and demonized my mental state, my credibility, my integrity, my character, and my lucidity. Then he reversed victim and offender, making himself into the victim in the situation. According to his blog and Patreon, he’s suffered like Jesus over my writing, endured an onslaught, had his reputation ravaged, and more.

As written on the University of Oregon’s website[1]:

In a 2017 peer-reviewed open-access research study, Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame[2], Harsey, Zurbriggen, & Freyd reported that: “(1) DARVO was commonly used by individuals who were confronted; (2) women were more likely to be exposed to DARVO than men during confrontations; (3) the three components of DARVO were positively correlated, supporting the theoretical construction of DARVO; and (4) higher levels of exposure to DARVO during a confrontation were associated with increased perceptions of self-blame among the confronters. These results provide evidence for the existence of DARVO as a perpetrator strategy and establish a relationship between DARVO exposure and feelings of self-blame. Exploring DARVO aids in understanding how perpetrators are able to enforce victims’ silence through the mechanism of self-blame.”[3]

It was especially number (4) from the paragraph above that made me realize what was happening inside my head. I was responding to the tactic with self-doubt, which is a consistent behavior when faced with DARVO from a perpetrator of abuse who’s been called out. It was a natural reaction, and that helped me understand that my doubts came from repeating a pattern of abuse I’d been groomed for. This self-doubt manifested in many forms, and I worked on them in my EMDR therapy sessions. I turned to friends and my partner for comfort and reassuring words, helping me to believe in myself while my head spun. I was angry that he could make me cry again. I was frustrated that he could get inside my head and plant confusion there. I felt unsafe, knowing that he can still reach my mind from afar, even if I’ve moved away and done my best to move on from the family and their ideology.

My dad was and is attempting to gaslight me from afar, via the internet. And it was working, because it was making me question my own sanity, even though I was and am surrounded with people who support me. It took a few weeks to regain my footing, to have control of my mind again, instead of being trapped in a state of shock and confusion. During this time, I carefully examined the facts again, checking my knowledge against what was being presented as the unvarnished truth.

False Memories and Mental Illness

It stuck with me for some time that my dad had accused me of concocting false memories. Well, had I? I asked myself. Especially because I spent over two decades being groomed specifically to go along with his specific form of psychological abuse, these blog posts sank through my skin, reminding me again how he uses words to hurt and abuse. As demonstrated above, abusers will attempt to undermine anyone who tries to hold them accountable for their actions. This alone should defend me against the accusation that I’ve produced false memories, but there’s a lot of interesting research on the subject. In the 90s, there were famous “memory wars” going on in the field of psychology, with countless people “remembering” abuses and even extraordinary events, like being abducted and prodded by aliens. How is one supposed to sort truth from falsehood, when memories are so hit-and-miss?

For information on this, I turned to the work of Bruce Perry, Ph. D. A child psychologist, he was called upon to sort through a case of mixed memories. In his book The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, he breaks down exactly how he went about conducting interviews and gathering information about what happened. The situation was what he titled “Satanic Panic,” and many children were telling mixed stories of “real” memories. Perry sorted out what was truth by discovering one crucial detail: that the children had been tortured by their caregivers, forced to relay stories of what they had never experienced. This information allowed him to sort out what had really happened. He observed that while some of the stories were told as if they were events being remembered, others were told with blank expressions, repeating details as if they’d been memorized. This process took 22 pages to explain, so I highly recommend the book to anyone who is interested in reading more about it.

I have never been quiet about my own mental illness. I suffer from Complex PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Growing up, I did not understand that mental illness comes in many forms, nor that having a mental illness isn’t the same as someone being “crazy.” I didn’t know this because my parents didn’t know it, and my parents were my only teachers. Today, my dad still lives under the assumption that calling someone mentally ill is an effective way to discredit them. This is not the case. You are not any less trustworthy, valid, or credible if you have a mental illness. My dad’s attempts to discredit me are ad hominem attacks, using as a personal attack something that doesn’t even discredit me.

Deplatforming, Doxing, and the “Social Media Mob”

Deplatforming is a nonviolent way to disempower the powerful. It is not at all like doxing, which involves leaking people’s personal information, exposing them to hate speech and death threats, including threats to personal safety. Deplatforming can, however, have an impact on the individual’s ability to continue using their name and influence to continue generating revenue or spreading hateful messages.

Because he is an abuser, my dad deserved to be deplatformed. He had a reputation that he’d worked hard to build, as a trusted debate coach and parenting author. While preaching a message of “love in the house,” he has no idea what love really is. For him, God is the ultimate definition of love, which makes it an ultimately meaningless word. For him, love does not have to include acceptance of or accountability to others. I wanted to reveal his hypocrisy to the world, and in telling the truth about my childhood memories – the good and the bad instead of just the good – I successfully removed him from the platform he did not deserve.

He has not been doxed or had an “online mob” sent after him. A legitimate series of examples of actually being targeted by falsehoods can be found here. Here are several comments, including some of his own, that he recently deleted. These are, to him, what constitute the “social media mob” that I’ve apparently sent after him.    

Book Three

Now that I have fully explained myself, I want to add one more piece of information. This book that my dad is writing, tentatively titled “Facing Hate: Dealing with social smearing from the people you love” is not the first book he has written about one of his rebellious children. I am his third daughter, and my two older sisters also had books written about their particular rebellions. The first one is pretty obvious, being Love in the House. Published after we were on The Learning Channel in 2007, it details a “reconciliation” that my parents had with my older sister, and how the prodigal had returned to the fold. This didn’t last – to my knowledge Alicia still isn’t on speaking terms with my parents. The second one, their book Love Another Child, was written inadvertently at my second oldest sister, Alissa. She eventually relented and began having children, even though she never wanted to. This third book is about me, and is the most explicitly targeted one.

After processing all of this information, I believe it is safe to assume that my father is still abusing his children at home. The reason for this is that the abuser has two goals: (1) he must be allowed to continue his abuse, and (2) he must keep up appearances that he is not, in fact, abusing anyone. Whenever someone makes (2) impossible, (1) is at risk. This is why he is getting so defensive – he wants to continue hiding what happens inside that house. Again, I must say that how he personally views the situation is entirely different from how I do, and it is impossible to tell for sure what is going on inside his head. I am pointing out the patterns I see in this very public statement he has made about me, and calling it what it is: public gaslighting.


[1] https://dynamic.uoregon.edu/jjf/defineDARVO.html

[2] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10926771.2017.1320777

[3] Harsey, S., Zurbriggen, E., & Freyd, J.J. (2017 — published Open Access). Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, & Trauma, 26, 644-663.

Art Worth Making

“Don’t use your memoir to air old grievances and to settle old scores; get rid of that anger somewhere else. The memoirs that we do remember from the 1990s are the ones that were written with love and forgiveness…although the childhoods they describe were painful, the writers are as hard on their younger selves as they are on their elders. We are not victims, they want us to know. We come from a tribe of fallible people and we have survived without resentment to get on with our lives.” -William Zinsser, On Writing Well

I’ve been reflecting on what’s important to make art about, and what it means to me to make good art. For me, music is worth making, but I’m not in a position in my life where I can afford musical instruments and I am very out of practice on my piano lessons. I love music, which is why I put so many music lyrics in my blog posts. In my own self-deprecating self-talk, I think of writing as a lesser form than music or less of an art than painting. When I think about how many tears I’ve cried over my book and the heartfelt essays and stories I’ve written, though, I know that it is art. Sometimes the pain of the process looks less painful when it produces such beautiful things as songs and paintings.

Over the past several months, I’ve been having a very difficult time writing at all. It’s why my posts, which used to go up daily or at least weekly, have dwindled to one or two a month. I keep giving myself breaks from it all, going to therapy and working through the shit I’m writing about, and then trying to write about it, bouncing back from the dissonance of revisiting trauma, and it’s very difficult to accomplish much at all. That said, I’m making progress on the book and I’ve finished a few chapters that took me literally years to get out, going back to the same memories until I’d finally told the details fully and clearly.

So, it’s difficult. Such is the life of making art, I tell myself, so I shouldn’t complain. I often question myself, though: what kind of art do I want to make, and what kind of art is worth making in the first place?

In attempting to answer the first question, I’ve been working my way through memoirs to better acquaint myself with that particular form of writing. I’m writing a memoir, so I want to know what made great memoirs great, and what details of the story are truly unique experiences. I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is that my childhood was not among the worst things humans can endure. I’ve read and heard stories far more brutal and cruel than my parents ever were or could be. While I know things could have been worse and I was lucky in a lot of ways, I don’t have to be grateful that it wasn’t worse.

Back in 2014, I was so shocked by what had happened in my family, and was so full of grief over losing my little siblings who I’d helped raise, that I wrote from a place of anger. I didn’t embellish facts, though my dad is still trying to convince the world that I did. But today, that anger has found rest. I’m wondering now how much longer this back-and-forth will go on, and whether I should directly acknowledge and respond to my dad’s many posts about me that he’s made recently. I am young, and so are my parents, and this could escalate to legal proportions as the years drag on. These are all things I took into account when I decided to write about my parents’ abuse. I am just…apparently still chewing what I bit off, which includes my dad’s hypocritical attempt to damage my reputation by calling me a liar who’s trying to damage his. Which, full disclosure, I’m well aware that I hurt his pride and ministry – two things I do not value. But I have not hurt my siblings by writing, I’ve helped make sure they were put in school. This is something I explained to my Patreon patrons a few weeks ago, and I want to explain it here now. I’m not angry anymore. And I want my memoir to reflect the perspective I’ve gained in the years I’ve spent building a life for myself.

The memoir as an art form is like a self-portrait. It doesn’t have to be an exact likeness, but can be abstract or in whatever the painter’s style is. Showing yourself to the world is a vulnerable act, and good art is raw because artists do the hard work of reaching within themselves to make manifest representations of universal experiences. As I’ve read memoirs that are similar to the one I’m writing, I’ve been observing what I do and don’t want to do in my memoir. I don’t think I’ll be calling my mother a bitch over and over like Christina Crawford did in Mommie Dearest, and I won’t be writing from the same place of confused pain that I first wrote with almost five years ago. It’s taken me this long to get to the point where I am even able to take the outline and notes I’ve been working on and start seriously drafting. But at last, the draft is underway. After walking away from the book for a month and coming back to it with fresh eyes, I have two more chapters done. The process now is to just keep taking it word by word, not letting myself procrastinate in the name of perfection, still looking after my mental health as I write, and forming the best possible memoir I can write, no matter how long it takes.

Cultivating Intelligent Disobedience

“Loyal dogs, unfailing tool
They do what they have been trained to
With the eidolons, the minds are full
The evil ghosts of old
The evil ghosts of old
Insanity turns back at last
As soon as their food is done
And dog will raven dog
The claws crush bones, the claws crush bones
Claws crush bones, claws crush bones
Claws crush bones, claws crush bones
The one who disobeys
He learns a cruel lesson of bones and stones
Your dissidence objected
And it’s a basic skill to earn.” –Jinjer, Sit Stay Roll Over

I was trained like a dog to be perfectly obedient. My parents had rules for every type of behavior. We had to practice sitting still and being quiet before church, someone with a spoon hovering and watching for signs of boredom or kicking toddler legs, quick to train with a swat. When our parents were talking to other adults, we were to place a hand on their shoulder and wait, even if it took several minutes, until we were acknowledged. At the call of “Jeub kids!” or “Little Jeubers!” we would line up by birth order. Once in ordered attention, we were ready to go through the first rule. Mom cupped a hand around her right ear, and said, “What does this mean?”

We were to sing out, “Listen the first time!”

I don’t remember any of the rules after that one. I would watch the procession from the ceiling, something I wouldn’t learn to recognize as dissociation for years to come. Often, when mom was training us, one child would be spanked in front of the rest of us for not obeying quickly enough. Even more frequent was mom’s habit of lining us up to medicate us with endless homeopathic remedies. Refrigerated coconut oil – a tablespoon, chewed up raw. 32,000 International Units of Vitamin A per day. A dropper of bitter oregano oil under the tongue. A spoonful of colloidal silver. Even if it was a fight to swallow, disobedience was the key crime against the family unit. I hardened my stomach to fight any reaction, and to this day have a mild aversion to the taste of coconut. I’m still investigating the long-term health effects of the anti-vaxx alternative medical treatment I received, but what evidence I have indicates that confusion and control was a goal for my mother as she chose these treatments.

Being trained in this way, regardless of what I may never fully know about my mother’s medical endeavors, has had lasting effects on my mind.

Because I was expected to suppress emotion and idealize my family, with my parents as the eidolons, I survived in a sort of shell. What happened to me was not happening to ME, but to SHE who was going through whatever this life threw at HER every day. My survival instinct made me dissociate, while my parents’ agenda gaslit me into minimizing traumatic events. Those two put together means a lot of confusing memories, and putting together a puzzle of the past.

All of that to say, I have a lot of problems with authority.

My parents were my only authorities. They were my teachers, my pastors and biblical scholars, my boss and manager, my owners in many ways for many years. Because they brought such a warped view of childrearing into parenting, and they had the power to keep my world small, I didn’t question what I thought was true. That is, I stopped questioning after it became necessary to survive in the dream house.

But there are some dogs who are taught better than I was about how to question an authority.

One of the most important books I’ve ever read is Intelligent Disobedience by Ira Chaleff. In it, the author describes how guide dogs are taught to notice what their masters may not be able to see. That is, after all, the purpose of a seeing-eye dog. If a person with blindness cannot see an oncoming danger, the dog has to know how to recognize a threat and disobey.

If the dog can see an oncoming electric car, but their owner can’t hear it, the dog will be given two conflicting signals: to obey the order to cross the street, or to fight back, saving the life of their human. Chaleff goes into depth on how the training for these dogs take place, and he notes that negative reinforcement is never used. A dog that is punished, even verbally, for making the most logical decision in a situation, may have their ability to serve compromised.

With analysis including an exhaustive chapter on the Milgram experiments, the book addresses situational ethics and power structures with insightful perspectives. For me, reading it gave me a better relationship with the age-old question of free will. I’d been a free will defendant as a Christian, but post Christianity, when I read the work of Sam Harris on the subject, I was still not convinced that the dichotomy is fair. Jumping from one extreme to the next is an old habit of mine, likely learned. The extremes were always cooperation OR competition, free will OR total predestination, choice OR life. It had never occurred to me that sometimes the authority figure is in the wrong, and sometimes they are in the right. Or perhaps “right” and “wrong” are subjective, too.

Today, I still respond to my training. I still struggle to eat enough, my mouth fighting the flavors, the toxic doses. I still wander off in my head, so my friends can hardly get my attention without calling my name loudly. I still have that Kimmy Schmidt I-was-raised-in-a-cult persona, and I hate being defined by my past, when the only thing I knew about myself for a long time was what I was told about myself.

So of course I rebelled in the smallest of ways, jittering from shock as each day passed. Forgetting what I’d been told to do, leaving things out of place, sneaking off to read, avoiding housework and office work, procrastinating on important projects, and all the while being legitimately frustrated with myself for not having a better memory. The spots missing were just my own dissociation, jumping away from the chaos, the screaming children, the sounds of the Disney movies I’d memorized, my only education most days.

Should you only read one book before the end of the year, please read this one. This concept is what tamed my anarchist heart. The author writes about how to question bosses in ways that don’t make them feel undermined, how to technically follow orders while siding with justice, and how to disagree with an authority figure that has made a life-threatening oversight. I am finally learning to let go of what I thought was my own responsibility, because I know I can control so little – and paying attention to the details of what I can control is very helpful.

Cultivating intelligent disobedience means a lot of hard work and recovery from the trauma. I may not be able to end poverty and curable illnesses the world over. But I can stand up for myself. Even if it’s hard, and I’m fighting tears and trying to suppress the bitterness that rolls beneath the surface, I can stand up for myself.

Swivel

I want to unite once again with poetry

But I no longer cope

Concocting false hope

Projecting upon a limitless background

The audacious human tendency

To call his own perception, true reality

When we exist as a near-infinite improbability

 

I knew this, at once, when I was born.

I knew I had been here before

I was old, bent and worn,

Then I was new and young again

I knew this life would not be easy

But between two parents, I was made to swivel

 

For days, the word has echoed in my head

Swivel to the right,

Hip out, carry the toddler

Even if you’re too small to have hips

Swivel to the left,

Balance a laundry basket

No kissing boys was allowed,

But hungry babies could suck your lips

 

The swivel point wakes me up in the morning

Stretch

Swivel

Right arm up

Crack in the elbow

Right hand on head

Crack in the neck

 

The muscles lock around my lower back

Now an adult

Aged too quickly

Everyone else at my specialist’s office

Is three times my age

 

They look at me, “young girl, are you lost?

What has life done to you

That you wake each morning

Wincing like an old woman

Weeping like a widow

Whose children were torn from her arms?”

 

I say, please believe me when I say

I can’t work anymore, I’ve tried

I will die if I go back to trying to stand and work

I’ve paid my dues –

Twenty years of unpaid labor

That robbed me of education

Opportunity

Privilege

 

And now I wonder that I took those things for granted

Blind to my own family’s wealth

But they said we were poor

That

 

Swivel, move those hips,

They should be ready for childbearing

But hide them, sweetie,

Imagine if a pervert looked at you in that

Let me look at you with the eyes of ownership

Your features must be plain

And your education stunted

Now go catch a man

With only the knowledge

Of how to manage in a house of too many children

 

Now go change your clothes

Your existence deserves humiliation

You are evil without God

And God looks like me

 

So I swiveled. Counter to counter,

Chopping and boiling and mixing

Plant my feet and swivel around

Well, now there’s a protrusion in my back

And they don’t seem to care

That if all you’ve got to sleep on is a bare floor

It’s only worsening the damage

 

Bring a basket to the laundry room

I unload the dryer

Swiveling on the axis in my young lower back

And I lift wet laundry from the washer to the dryer

Again, again, again,

Swivel, swivel, swivel

All day

Eight loads a day

 

Swivel from wash to rinse

(why is she so tired? She must be sick)

Swivel to hold a baby

(where is the baby?)

Swivel the faucet

(shh-ssh-shh)

Fill the sink

(be careful not to throw)

Bathe the baby

(out with the bathwater)

Diaper and dress and lay down

(we aren’t animals)

Down for a nap

(hush, baby, mommy says the medicine is safe)

Then back to dishes

(desirable women have calloused hands)

 

Hot water

Cold water

Wake up

Be perfect

Have no complaints

Even in your mind

 

Swivel on the axis

Of your tiny little body

Spin around until you faint

Swing from one extreme to the next

Guessing desperately

For what will please God

How to feel like

They meant it

When they said

They loved you