Journey to Independence | VI

When we left off, my family had been seeing a couple at our church for counseling and they were actually helping.  My brothers were maturing; my dad had cut back on drinking and started hearing our concerns again.

Unfortunately, this was not to last. The couple counseling my family had crossed an invisible line in asking my mom to change. Within a very short time, my parents quietly informed my brothers and me that we would not be counseling that couple anymore– they didn’t understand what my mom was going through as a Navy wife– and were “undermining her authority as a parent.” Thereafter, my parents began meeting with yet another church couple, this time an associate pastor, who was former military, and his wife.

By this point, I was a full-time Running Start student with classes every day and used the excuse of studying to stay away from home as much as possible. Dad deployed in August of that year for Afghanistan but left for briefing a month earlier in July. Without Dad around to provide balance, Mom rapidly lost any semblance of sanity she’d previously maintained.

Have you ever seen a herd-bound horse react to being separated from its herd? The horse panics, screaming and running the border of whatever pen they are in, tosses their head and froths in particularly severe cases, unable to cope with even temporary line-of-sight separation from its herd. That was our home life without Dad.

We all found excuses to stay away from home as much as possible. I took refuge at the barn, feeding breakfast at 9:30 and staying until dark– 9:30pm during those long, summer days. My brothers took refuge at friends’ houses, spending the night as frequently as allowed. Sometimes even that was unpredictable. Writing this paragraph, my memory flashed back to a time Christian was at a friend’s home and had planned in advance to spend the night, but late– 9:30 or 10 at night– Mom “forgot” that she had given him permission to stay and texted him, demanding he come home immediately or be grounded.

I had all of Mom’s computer passwords so that I could print things out for school. Since she used the same passwords for everything, I did what I felt was necessary for self-preservation and took to reading her e-mails and Facebook messages on weekdays while she was still at work. I didn’t want to invade her privacy and I didn’t feel good about doing it but that was the only way I knew to be prepared for the ball of emotion that would walk in the door late at night. As the oldest and self-appointed protector of my brothers, I was responsible for managing Mom’s emotions and thus I had to know what to expect before they hit me. We never knew whether she was going to be in an okay mood, or primed to explode because the kitchen sink wasn’t clean enough (that actually happened).

Mom’s e-mails and Facebook messages revealed a rollercoaster of emotions from day-to-day. I read virtual epochs accusing my dad of abandoning her, of not loving her, of not supporting her, of cheating on her, and of not being attracted to her anymore– all while he was in Afghanistan, sometimes outside the wire. 24 hours later, I’d be reading sexts (trust me, you DO NOT EVER want to read your parents’ sexts) and at the same time, she’d be sending e-mails to the wife of the Navy couple they had been meeting with, claiming that my dad was an alcoholic and abusing her. Once convinced to stay with dad, she flipped to the other extreme.

Suddenly, she was SUPER NAVY WIFE. She did what she should have done earlier and found a hobby; she started working out to lose weight and surprise Dad when he got home. Unfortunately, the hobby wasn’t distracting enough to keep her sane. She forbade my brothers and me from talking to Dad without her present. We had to cc her on any e-mail we sent him, we couldn’t Facebook message him, and we were only allowed to videochat with him on her computer with her sitting front and center. She ran the house with an iron fist. Challenging her was out of the question because she’d threatened our deployed dad with divorce unless he backed her up (read: went along with literally anything she said).  They were “a team,” something that is generally good parenting but in this case was unquestioningly abusing us. She held sexy videochats with Dad in the open family room while we were getting ready to leave in the morning in spite of requests to keep it in her bedroom. (There are things I cannot unsee.) She repeatedly lied about Christian’s behavior to elicit Dad’s sympathy, drove a wedge in Dad’s relationship with us, and we were helpless to change it.

In conclusion, the year Dad deployed was nightmarish. It wasn’t nightmarish because we missed him or because he was in a war zone in frequent danger. It was nightmarish because Mom lost her mind and three kids were left to manage her meltdown by themselves as our friends and church family looked the other way.

 

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Journey to Independence: V

When we left off, my mom had returned to blaming her favorite scapegoat, since our new counselors didn’t accept that my brothers and I were to blame for her awful temper, extreme discipline, and lies.

That moment was the beginning of the end of counseling for me. There was good news and bad news!

Good News: Our new counselors didn’t buy the bullshit. This guy I met at 14 and dated for a year and a half couldn’t possibly be responsible for coolness that began when Mom kicked my six-year-old brother out of the house for breaking a vase. Mom screaming at us, daily telling us to “stop bitching,” screaming at my younger brother that he had the devil inside him– none of that was caused by my ex-boyfriend and none of that would have been corrected by courtship.

Finally, someone asked my mom to change her behavior. The wife of the couple told Mom that it sounded like she needed to take responsibility for some of the distance between us. Mom defended herself by saying that she had tried to do mother-daughter things with me and I refused! I wouldn’t go to chick flick movies, I didn’t want to get my hair or nails done, and I wasn’t interested in going shopping with her, so obviously, I hated her.

I need to stop here and explain some things about myself since I haven’t written about my hobbies or my personality. 

  • I am fairly tomboyish now and was even more strongly then. I have always hated chick flicks. I do not watch movies or television shows with highly predictable outcomes that are one giant cliche. I love the outdoors. 
  • I have my hair trimmed around once a year. I have paid to have my hair styled exactly once. I have had four manicures in my life and only one of them was before I moved out on my own. I keep my nails short because I ride horses and exercise regularly and any manicure is ruined within days.
  • I shop like a guy: I make a list, go in knowing exactly what I want, and leave immediately if I can’t find it. My mom meanders aimlessly up and down every aisle. 

My mom begged me to do stereotypically girly things with her because my mom expected me to be like her. She preferred to believe that I hated her over accepting that we had very different personalities.

The wife of the counseling pair gently nudged Mom, “Those sound like things that you would enjoy doing, but is there anything you have offered to do that she would also enjoy?”

Mom retorted, “I’ve spent my entire life doing things for her– she should want to give up a day now and then to do stuff with her mom!”

Bad News: Thus ended our foray into family counseling. I wasn’t required to meet privately to address my relationship with Mom again and a few weeks later, our parents informed us that we were no longer attending counseling with that couple: “They didn’t understand the things [Mom] went through as a Navy wife.”

My dad was a reservist at the time and wasn’t activated until a month after this break with the second counselor pair. Until his activation, Dad was gone one weekend per month and two full weeks a year.  He had not been active duty for 13 years and had not been deployed for longer than that.  It was a transparent excuse, but we didn’t have time to dwell on it because it was all downhill from there.

Journey to Independence: IV

I returned from the youth pastor’s house disheartened and certain of nothing except that my home life was a mess from which I needed to escape with my brothers. Mom lied about the incidents I had cited to the youth pastor and his wife, so I thus reasoned, clearly, what was happening was wrong.

I thought about running away– straight up living on the streets– but ruled that out as dumb pretty quickly. I thought about calling CPS, but I was afraid my brothers and I would be separated and my brothers wouldn’t know how to grow their faith to thrive into adulthood.  I knew I could go to college and get away, but that would mean abandoning my brothers and protecting them was the most important thing to me. At 15, I didn’t know how to protect them without being physically present.

Unsure of what to do next, I approached my middle brother and discussed my talk with the youth pastor and his wife, Mom’s lies, and my conviction that something was very wrong in our family.  I didn’t know what we would do with the collection of information, but I knew that more written testimony was a good idea. I convinced my brother to join me in writing down problems as they occurred. Our youngest brother was still too young to really understand what was happening or assist.

Roughly six months later, our parents shared that they had started attending weekly counseling with a couple from church and invited my brothers and me to accompany them. Mom and Dad even told us that we could share things in confidence with this couple and it wouldn’t be passed along to them. I had my doubts, but I was young and naive then and still hoped my family life would change if only someone else told my mom she was wrong.

For a few months, my burden was lightened. These counselors were different. They started by asking questions of us:

“What have you done to sin against your parents?”

“What can you do to prevent your mom from becoming angry?”

“How can you respond to her anger in a way that is God-honoring?”

When we met as a family, they asked the same questions of my parents, but with “kids” in the place of “parents” and “mom.” I started to see change as my brothers, my Dad, and I all worked intentionally to follow instruction, go above and beyond to help as needed, be calmer, and to mitigate conflict as often as possible. My brothers’ interactions with me and with each other changed in front of my eyes and my middle brother became someone I liked again instead of the annoying pest I thought he’d been from 8-14ish.

Still, at home, we couldn’t win. We did dishes without being told; they were done wrong. We folded extra laundry, but it wasn’t folded and put away quickly enough.

With my brothers and I corroborating each others’ experiences and our mom repeating at meetings with the counselors that, “They made me yell at them! and “If they just did things right the first time, I wouldn’t have to yell!” the counselors realized they needed to work on correcting the dysfunction in the relationship between Mom and my brothers and me. They targeted me, as the oldest (16 by this point, nearly 17) and the one usually leading the complaints about Mom, as the one with the most “bitterness and negativity” toward her. Mom and I subsequently began meeting one-on-one with the wife of the counselor couple and were assigned homework to complete.

After another couple months of completing Bible reading and counseling homework about grudges and holding onto anger,  I was 100% certain that while I thought Mom was terrible at stress management and didn’t respond well to rational questions, I didn’t hold a grudge against her. Mom’s complaint against me was that I “never talked to her,” and for that, she blamed…. My ex-boyfriend.

Just like that, I was back at the youth pastor’s house. I was talking to different church people about the same concerns, now with my brothers’ corroboration, but we had come full circle from a discussion about why she was a bad parent and how she could improve to a discussion about why my ex-boyfriend was bad and her version of courtship was good.

Journey to Independence: III

I know, I know… it’s been over a year since my last blog post. For all my pronouncements about self-advocacy, and speaking up even when it’s hard, I’ve been afraid. I have drafted post after post, written dozens of paragraphs, and left the post in my drafts.

I’ve been following the USAG scandal and read Rachel Denhollander’s testimony, then her interview with Christianity Today. It burdened me to share again on this topic I’ve desperately desired to address but terrified to reveal. I’ve known for some time that I want to help others who share my experiences within the church. I’ve known too many people that have abandoned their faith when the church failed to protect or defend them.

Flying high after validation from the youth pastor’s wife, I was excited for the meeting with my parents, the youth pastor, and his wife. I thought my family would get help. I thought the youth pastor and his wife would share some insight to drastically improve my life and my brothers’ lives. The meeting did not go as I expected.

My parents brought their courtship books: Boy Meets Girl and I Kissed Dating Goodbye and a partial transcript of online chats with my then-boyfriend. I had no privacy at 15, so my parents read every word we wrote to each other online and frequently watched over my shoulder as we chatted.

Mom asked to see the list I’d put together of incidents that concerned me about her parenting. I only had the original, hand-written pages, which the youth pastor’s wife dutifully handed over to her. She broke down crying and insisted that she didn’t remember most of them. She wasn’t “saying [you’re] lying,” but that my then-boyfriend was distorting the reality of the situations, and I had exaggerated her responses.

It was as though I had said nothing of my brothers being beaten repeatedly in anger, unaimed, with a leather belt, until my mom’s anger was exhausted. As though my mention of a letter one of my brothers wrote at 13, nearly identical in content to a letter I wrote to my parents at 11, had gone unnoticed. All that was important was that 15-year-old me liked a guy that my parents didn’t.

In those chats, I talked about wanting to leave home (for college) far away so that I wouldn’t have to deal with my parents anymore. They used those transcripted chats to show Youth Pastor and his wife that then-boyfriend was “poisoning my attitude” toward my parents, that I wanted to “run away with him” because I was haplessly “smitten” and that he was “pushing me away from my family,” distorting my views, and that that’s why she and Dad needed to “protect” me from this “17-year-old manipulator.”

The concerns I had voiced over abusive punishments, co-dependence, emotional abuse, and control were all dropped so that the youth pastor could look me in the eye and tell me my dad was just trying to protect me and I should be grateful to have such a wonderful father. He shook my dad’s hand and told me to read Philippians and James again, and that even if I thought I was being mistreated, the Bible says to endure under an unjust master as though living for God, not for man. He reminded me that it’s my dad’s job to protect me from guys that try to steal my heart before its due time and that my then-boyfriend pushing me away from family was a sure sign that he was a threat. The youth pastor and I discussed college, and I mentioned worrying about my brothers when I left. Youth Pastor responded by sharing two things I had nearly forgotten, but thanks to contemporaneous Google Docs, are recorded for posterity:

“Leaving your father’s house doesn’t mean you stop living by his rules. It’s a father’s job to protect his daughter until he passes that protective authority off to the man she marries. The Bible doesn’t place an age limit on ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.’ When you leave for college, your dad is still responsible to protect your heart, even when you’re not physically under his roof. You should be grateful your dad loves you enough to teach you these things.”

He followed this up with gratitude to Dad: “Thank you for guarding your daughter’s heart. It’s an honor to meet such a dedicated father.”

That was the day I discovered that the church I’d grown up in and the people I loved would only hinder my escape and enable my family’s abuse.

That was the day my trust broke.

Common Myths of Parental Estrangement

Today, two friends of mine shared a blog post from a woman dealing with parental estrangement; at least one of her children had ceased communicating with her. She complains in the blog post that her friends telling her to apologize is hurtful, because she’s done so, and her kid rejected it.

That, however, is not the full story, as you’ll see when I pick it apart.

… I was … battling my own self-flagellation where I blamed myself for being inadequate.  I examined every word every action under the microscope of hindsight seeking for the mistakes that I made. ([Y]es I made my list of things [for which] I needed to apologize … and wrote the letters as advised.)

Her initial response to her kid cutting her off is a pity party.  Is there a chance it went something like this, “I’m so sorry for anything I did to upset you! I tried my best as a parent, but we all make mistakes, and I just tried to do what was best for you! I love you! Please talk to me! We were so close; what changed? Why don’t you love me any more?”

This is not an effective analysis or response. It’s not a genuine apology. We’ll come back to the part about her writing a letter of things for which she needed to apologize in a moment, but first:

What is a genuine apology?

A genuine apology consists of an acknowledgement that a specific action, reaction, and/or pattern of behavior was wrong and hurt the person to whom the apology is directed. It does not include any justification or defense of the individual apologizing. It is given without conditions or expectations. A genuine apology indicates the offender has given thought to the offense(s) committed, recognized them as wrong, and thus will be less likely to repeat the offense(s) in the future.

She continues to say:

First of all[,] most parents that have been estranged do “do the apology thing” first and think about it later.  In the early stages of estrangement[,] most parents … will blanket apologize for everything and anything they did wrong in hopes of begging their way back into good standing.

A “blanket apology” is not a real apology. If you haven’t thought about your apology, it’s probably not a genuine apology. A genuine apology isn’t about the victim hearing the words, “I’m sorry,” it’s about the victim knowing the offender is remorseful and will work to not repeat the offense(s).

If the offenses you committed against your children were so heinous that they cut you off, begging won’t help you get back in their good graces. Begging pleads, “Please come back and let me keep abusing you! I don’t know what to do without my punching bag!” It whines, “I shouldn’t have to change my actions, because guilt tripping you is easy and worked in the past!”

She follows up with:

I confess; I too did several apologies.  All of them were met with silence!

but unfortunately, reaches for the following conclusion:

Declining an apology is about control.  As long as they control the situation they are powerful.  Rejecting an apology [maintains their] control.

So close to taking responsibility for her own actions, and yet so far.

Her response also begs a question: Since we’re talking about adult offspring, don’t they have a right to associate or disassociate with whomever they please? Isn’t being an adult about gaining control over your own life? Why shouldn’t they exercise control over the relationships in which they engage?

Then she talks “demands.”

Then there are those [that] reply to an apology … with a list of “demands”.  They … say, “I am in control, do as I demand or I withhold myself from interacting with you.” Any attempt to reconcile without acquiescing to the demands is turned down flat.  This is not an act of communication and compromise, it clearly is about control.

FLASHING NEON SIGN AHEAD!

What are the demands her children made of her? We’ll never know, because she didn’t share them. Often, the demands look like this:

  1. When you cried because I didn’t allow you to co-sign the loan for my car or my apartment, I felt manipulated. I needed to take responsibility for my own life as an adult living on my own, but you were still trying to assert control over me. Please recognize that being an independent adult does not mean I hate you. Please do not interfere with my decisions as an adult. You may voice disapproval if asked for your opinion, but you may not use your emotions to manipulate me.
  2. When you sent e-mails to someone that offered me a job, her boss, and many of her coworkers, then used information a third party shared with you to e-mail the company’s clients urging them to sever their contracts with the company, knowing that would hurt my earnings, you decided that you knew me better than I knew myself. You sabotaged a job that would have given me a higher earning potential. You used your social power to exert control over your adult daughter’s life. I asked you for your opinion, and instead of giving your honest opinion, you expected me to read your thoughts and when I didn’t, resorted to sabotage.
    You will never do that again or threaten to do that again, or I will immediately cease communication. Forever.
  3. When you refused me birth control to mitigate menstrual cramps that left me unable to leave my bed for 48 hours, because you decided I wanted to be promiscuous, you treated me as an extension of you instead of an autonomous individual with my own set of ideals and morals.
    You will not ever give or receive input on my healthcare decisions.
  4. When I moved out on my own, and you told many people in our shared professional network that I moved out because I didn’t want to do laundry, and that all you wanted from me was “a little help around the house” you damaged the character our professional network believed I had through deception. That is an abuse of your power.
  5. When Dad suggested cutting my pay in a position where he had the power to influence that, mentioning that I could always “move back in” with you guys to the Executive Director, he destroyed my faith in his willingness to protect me, and demonstrated that he would damage my professional future to return me to your control.
  6. When you told my horse trainer that my ex-boyfriend hated horses, because he was allergic, and she believed you; when Dad declared that obedience to his rules was more important than being respectful of my wishes, when you insisted that emotional intimacy with a long term romantic partner was unhealthy, when you cried that the “devil invaded your family” when your kids asked you for specific, consistent relationship rules, when you meddled in arguments with my significant others, when you told me that my ex had “subverted your authority” and disrespected my wishes by asking to go hiking, because you wanted to go to the zoo, and many other awful experiences, you taught me that you would never respect my romantic partners.
    If you ever denigrate my romantic partner or my friends (all of whom are people above reproach), if you are in my house, you will be asked to leave. If we are in a public place, I will leave.
  7. When you told me at 16 that I would need to pay for gas, insurance, and a car if I got my drivers’ license, and I opted not to because you also wouldn’t let me ride to the mall with you for work, then later, told friends that I was too afraid of driving to get my license, you proved to me that you cared more about keeping up appearances than honesty.
  8. When you prohibited my brothers and I from talking with Dad independently while he was deployed, so that you could continue lying about my brothers, you told me that you really only cared about yourself, and that you would turn your kids’ father against them if it meant you would continue to look good and get the lion’s share of his attention.

Do not reply to this letter immediately. I don’t want to hear from you unless you can demonstrate that you read all the way through this and have thought about why the actions listed were wrong. This is far from an exhaustive list of grievances, and apologizing for these will not immediately jump-start our relationship. You need to attend actual therapy, with a license psychologist, for at least six months, to discuss your codependency and maladaptive ideas about love.

Again, she reaches the wrong conclusion. This sort of a demand letter is not about control. It’s about protection. I love my parents, but I’ve erected boundaries for my own protection. Her kids have probably done the same, based on her own descriptions of her actions.

So close, and yet so far.

In conclusion:
Apologies ARE accepted, but only if they’re heartfelt.
Demand letters CAN be healthy, if the demands made are simply demands for standard respect, and for emotional abuse to cease.
Co-dependency is BAD and will do terrible things to your relationships.

Go fix it!

 

Terrorism Doesn’t Care About Your Safe Space

Dear American Liberals,

LGBTQ+ are Americans as much as I am an American. A terrorist attack at a nightclub with a predominantly LGBTQ+ clientele is not an “LGBTQ+ tragedy,” it is an American tragedy.

I will not give Orlando victims any more “special attention” than I gave the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, the victims of the Paris Bataclan attacks, the victims of the San Bernardino Massacre, or the victims of 9/11, because each of these attacks was a hate crime, having been perpetrated by Islamic extremists against anyone following an ideology less puritanical than their chosen interpretation.

Therefore, in the wake of a terror attack, I will do whatever I can to help and comfort victims, but their suffering is not “worse” because they’re not cisgender and straight. Would you tell a cisgender heterosexual suffering PTSD flashbacks that their trauma is less real, because they weren’t specifically targeted? What about victims of the Orlando attack that are cisgender and/or heterosexual allies?

The LGBTQ community is always united in struggle, so instances of direct violence and harm affect even those displaced from the situation. Moments of mass violence are always threatening and scary, but they especially hit home when directly impacting “safe spaces” for a community that is constantly on guard for discrimination, harassment and harm.

Let’s discuss this bit from Mashable:

  1. Why does “being united in struggle” mean that a terror attack affects you more than it affects me?
    After Nidal Hasan, motivated by the same ideology, opened fire on soldiers at Fort Hood, we didn’t hear that “the military community is always united in struggle,” so the attack would affect even those outside of Fort Hood. In fact, the terror attack was first classified as “workplace violence,” in spite of mounds of contrary evidence.
  2. Why was the night club considered a “safe space?”
    Were non-allies kicked out for being less than supportive? And if so, isn’t that even less tolerant than say… a flower shop refusing to decorate a gay couple’s wedding? (Arlene’s Flowers provided flowers for the plaintiffs on many occasions over the years, and only balked at servicing the wedding.)
  3. As a character in a recent episode of South Park complained, “Reality’s here! He’s trying to crash the party!”
    Reality here: You can make your home a safe space, provided no one in your family ever leaves, and provided you live remotely enough to prevent overhearing traffic and neighbors. A night club will never be a “safe space.” Public spaces cannot prevent you from experiencing harm. LGBTQ+ are not special snowflakes.

If you want equal rights, and to be treated equally, stop telling me you require special treatment. The #pride flag shouldn’t be flying at half staff over the Space Needle; the American flag should be there. Americans should be gathering to support and defend each other, regardless of sexual orientation. Don’t tell me you’re more victimized than someone else. Don’t tell me I’m “erasing you from your tragedy.” Don’t want to be othered? Don’t expect to be treated as a separate class of terrorism victim. We are all Americans, and we are all the targets of terrorists because we value freedom and liberty over convert or die. Fifty Americans were killed today, and another 50+ were injured. Thousands of Americans have today felt the sting of Islamic terrorism as it personally affected them, their families, and their friends.

Regardless of screed, race, or sexual orientation, terrorism is a horrific scourge, and must be fought by all Americans, standing united.

Speak Up & Speak Out! Caucus this Saturday!

Washington State has two parts to our presidential selection process:

  1. We caucus. This year, 49% of Washington State’s Republican delegates are assigned to a candidate based on caucus results.

    This year, that happens on Saturday, February 20th. There are five locations spread across Kitsap County, and you should caucus at the location that includes your precinct. (Registered to vote, but not sure what precinct you’re in? Click Here.) Registration opens at all Kitsap County caucus locations at 9:00am, and caucus procedure begins promptly at 10:30am.

  2. We hold an open primary election. Open primary means that no one is bound by party preference– Democrats can vote in a Republican primary, and Republicans can vote in a Democratic primary (though we really wish they wouldn’t– Trump is a scourge to all). As in any other election, you may only vote once.

    This year, Washington State’s primary presidential election will be held on May 24th, and 51% of Washington State’s Republican delegates will be assigned based on the results of that election.

Kitsap County Caucus Locations:

  1. Woodward Middle School (Precincts 301-345)
    9100 NE Sportsman Club Road
    Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
  2. Baymont Inn & Suites (Precincts 001-099)
    5640 Kitsap Way
    Bremerton, WA 98110
  3. Olympic High School (Precincts 101-175)
    7070 Stampede Blvd.
    Bremerton, WA 98311
  4. North Kitsap High School (Precincts 401-464)
    1780 NE Hostmark St.
    Poulsbo, WA 98370
  5. Marcus Whitman Junior High (Precincts 200-297)
    1887 Madrona Dr. SE
    Port Orchard, WA 98366

Make your voice heard! Generally, Washington State doesn’t matter for much, but this year, we have a chance to DUMP DONALD TRUMP and right the GOP’s ship.

I’ll be caucusing for Marco Rubio this Saturday, and as he is the GOP’s only hope of regaining the White House, I hope you will, too!