Leaving one's family, community, and faith can provoke all kinds of ambivalent feelings, but there are moments of pure clarity also -- especially when well-meaning people make uninformed assumptions, and you have to school them or blow a gasket.
Even if the schooling takes place as an interior dialogue.
When I saw this Facebook post, I asked if I could share it here. The writer agreed and said shared that she is in a better place now. The frustration you'll read about below "has been diminishing every time I speak up."
Many people say to me, “it must be hard for your family because they can’t see/talk to you.” They say “Oh, it must be hard not to have relationships with your family.”
This is one of the hardest things I deal with now. Some people, when they say this, they are empathizing. Some are vilifying me. I am a monster because I left, I’ve been gone for a good half decade. Who in their right mind could do that sort of thing? Or I must be a ruined pile of a person because I don’t have relationships with my family. Guess what. I’m not a monster. I’m not a ruined pile.
Ending relationships with family doesn’t happen from a place of function. It comes from a very dysfunctional place. If you have a loving, caring family, you may not understand or even comprehend the logistics of unhealthy relationships. But at the same time, repeating over and over that family is the most important piece of one’s life is damaging, especially if family means dysfunction. So tweak your rule a little bit. Family is the most important part of your life, if your family is healthy.
In not being able to recognize this, you are at the same time denying my experience, my pain. You are triggering me yet again to feel shame and betrayal that I felt when I left. Calling it shame and betrayal is undermining what actually happened. I experienced repeated psychological abuse. My dad spoke a sermon about me. Well, it wasn’t actually me. It was his perception of me. With a warning that the devil was going to get my pinkie, my arm, my whole body because I had a taste of sin. Which was alcohol and a man and breaking into my grandma's house to hang out with said man and liquor. Oh, and french bread and heirloom tomatoes. Devil’s got my pinkie, oh delicious, juicy tomatoes. And I actually didn’t drink the alcohol. I’d never had any before and I didn’t start then. Oh, no. It was later on, and it was Mike’s hard lemonade. I was so terrified that I probably drank half of it in the span of two hours.
My question is? How much would you put up with? With a stranger it’s easy to say no. Family, though. That’s a different field, isn’t it. Family can do anything to you. It’s okay. They’re family.
Would you put up with a sermon from your dad about how the devil is getting in your soul? Would you put up with calling your grandma to ask for money only having her ask you to call back when grandpa is home, so you can talk to him. You do that and when you talk to him on the phone, grandma is in the background telling him what to say. That no, you can’t have money to pay your balance at the university. Why, you ask? Your grandma tells your grandpa to say it’s because you’re living in sin. You’re living with a man, who you’re not married to.
Can you guess why we didn’t get married right away? Because my family was treating me like shit and I was hoping it would get better but it never did.
Would you put up with a Thanksgiving where your sister-in-law and your mom snarkily talk about how an engagement ring isn’t a ring if it doesn’t have a giant rock? And you’re standing right there, listening to them, and your engagement ring is giant rock-free?
Would you put up with people stopping saying “God’s Peace” to you, which is code for “we are in the same church and everyone else is going to hell.” Like bro code. You could stand in a line with forty other people and a person walks down the line, shaking everyone’s hand and saying God’s Peace. When the person gets to you, they skip you like you didn’t exist and move on. God’s Peace. God’s Peace. God’s Peace. Oh you’re going to hell. Next person.
Would you put up with letters written to you about how sinful you are? Would you put up with your sister-in-law writing messages to your fiance on Facebook about she hates his posts and why does he even say anything?
Would you put up with a friend who once said you were like a sister, walk hurriedly by you within five feet, angrily, and at the same time pretending she didn’t see you? Would you call her later as a lifeline because you’re so alone, and she says let's meet up, but not in my home. Because I might, like, bring drugs or something because I’m going to hell. Anything sinful is up for grabs.
Would you put up with your sister telling you that you need to save your siblings from the church? That by maintaining abusive relationships you can help pull them out too?
What would you do? What would you do when your whole community, your family, your world is torn down from the inside? When all the loving, trusting relationships you ever knew instantly turned to pain?
Would you run or stay?
Many of you might say that you would run. But let me tell you something. Out of all the people that I know left my church, many of them still have these relationships with their family. And they are dysfunctional. My cousin’s dad punched her sister in the back and said that she and her sister were making their mom cry all the time because they didn’t attend church. When we were kids he broke a neighbor kid’s arm. He broke a child’s arm. Never went to jail. My cousin that left the church still maintains her relationship with her dad.
There are stories and stories of sexual abuse too. Molestation. Rampant in families, rampant in the church. If you don’t believe me just ask. If emotional and psychological abuse aren’t enough for you.
This is the tip of the iceberg of my story. But I ask you. Respect me. And don’t say shit like “Oh it must be hard to not have relationships with your family.” You know what’s way, way, way, way harder? Spending 20 or so years being abused.
And letting it happen even longer. Because family.
Saying “it must be hard….” silences me. I cannot find myself when yet again, I am seen in a weird light. I had a fucking hard time, yes. Try to think of these painful moments and realize that they happened to me every day. Every day. A hiss of “I’ll pray for you” in your ear by your great aunt and you’re supposed to act like your day is perfectly fine. Your attempt to empathize isn’t going to fix years of abuse.