Let me take the time before you get neck-deep in this post to warn you that if you’ve ever been abused, this post may be triggering.
I was diagnosed with ADHD in 1st grade. I was a very hyper child. I couldn’t sit still, and I always had to have something to keep my hands and mind occupied. Movies were too much for me. I wanted to be running or playing with something. My mother tells me I ran before I learned to walk, and I believe her. My dad wanted me to be a well-behaved little lady, and that just wouldn’t work for me. I wanted to be climbing trees and digging for worms, not wearing pretty dresses and playing Tea Party.
I don’t remember what it was I did that earned the ire of my father the first time he beat me. I just remember being held chest-down on my bed while he wailed away on my butt with his homemade paddle. This was a gnarly, beastly paddle, cut from a 1X4, with a handle notched out of one end. I was nine years old. I’d gotten spankings before, but nothing like this. This was different. This wasn’t three swats. This was a lot more – exactly how many I can’t remember, but by the time he was through, I was a hyperventilating, sobbing mess, curled at the foot of my bed, trying my best not to put any weight on my backside because it stung and burned so badly.
We lived in Kansas at this time. Shortly after, my parents made plans to move us to Texas. They’d discovered this mega church there and were convinced that god had spoken to them at one of the church’s many conferences and decided the best place for our family was there. They wanted us in that church’s private school and to surround our family with other families with the same belief system. This began the most miserable period of my life.
When we moved to Texas, to be able to afford rent, the tuition for the overpriced private school, and other living expenses, my dad had to take on two jobs, and my mom found a full-time job and ran a paper route. My parents were always exhausted and always working, so they never had time for us like they did before, and being new to this world we found ourselves plunged into, we children didn’t always know how to behave. Being the eldest, I had it the hardest, because not only was I expected to set an example for my younger sisters, but I was also already used to life outside this cult, where I didn’t have a thousand rules dictating my every move. It was also hardest for me because this church did not believe my diagnosis of ADHD was real and felt it was just doctors trying to drug me. So, without medications to help me control my impulsiveness and hyperactivity, I was always getting into trouble and breaking rules and was never really able to make friends.
The beatings began to happen on a more regular basis once we’d moved. Our new church espoused the “spare the rod, spoil the child” mindset, and taught parents that you are to beat your children into submission. I was the wildest child at this church and I’m sure I got the most beatings, at home and at school, of any child there. I cried a lot the first few years after we moved. I missed the friends I’d been able to make at my old school, I missed the simplicity of life, and I was positively terrified every morning of going to school. The teacher I had the first year at this new private school was a monster. I know she hated me, and my mother has confirmed as much. I was unable to please her, no matter how hard I tried, and, at least once a week, I’d end up in the principal’s office for swats. The thing about getting a spanking at school is that you also get one when you get home.
Much of this part of my life is a blur. I don’t know if it’s because I repress these memories. All I really remember is nearly becoming physically ill every morning on the way to school because I was so terrified that I’d done my homework wrong, forgotten to do something, did something wrong the day before I was going to get in trouble for that day, or that I’d end up doing something wrong and getting swats.
Sometime around the age of 11 or 12, I started having migraines. I actually welcomed these headaches to an extent, because with their blinding pain and nausea, they got me out of the most terrifying part of my life, which was having to go to school. I didn’t fake them. They’re real and they continue to this day. But, I didn’t always have headaches.
During my teenage years, I started discovering who I was and who I wanted to be. I started realizing that being a part of the church wasn’t normal, and that when most of the kids in my school graduated, they disappeared and it was taboo to talk about them or to them if you happened to see them. I started questioning why things were the way they were and why they had to be that way. This wasn’t good for me.
My dad hated being questioned. I think he hated the independence I was starting to develop. I was 15 when I got my first job working at McDonald’s with my parents. My dad was their maintenance and janitorial man, and my mom worked drive through. I worked the front counter with the other teenagers. One day, I got a break around the same time my dad did. I don’t remember what I did that set him off, but I’d ordered a breakfast platter to eat and the next thing I knew I was wearing my food and the syrup.
No one said anything to my dad. He took me home, made me change, and took me back to work. I was humiliated. Everyone I worked with saw me get covered in my own breakfast by my dad because I’d done something that made him angry. I no longer wanted to be there. I wanted to find the nearest rock and crawl under it. All I wanted to do was cry, but I had to suck it up and put on a smile and take orders.
Another time my dad lashed out at me, we were on the bus route we ran to pick people up and take them to and from church. I said something I thought was funny, and the next thing I knew my dad had smacked me upside my head with his Cambridge Wide Margin Bible (if you have any idea what that looks like, you know how good of a thud it can give!) He broke the claw clips in my hair and I just slid down in my seat and silently cried the rest of the ride home. When we got home, I managed to piss him off again, and the next thing I knew, I was pinned to my bed, kicking and screaming, as he slapped and punched at me.
This is one of the few times one of my sisters came to my defense. She learned better that night. She told my dad to stop hitting me, so he removed my heels and threw them at her. Thankfully, they missed, but she decided it was better to not stick up for me in the future.
This was the instance we ended up telling a friend about who lived up the street from us. She told her mom, who made us tell her the story again, and then she called Child Protective Services. That night, I learned not to expect CPS or the police to rescue me out of this situation. They came to investigate and told me that I deserved it and I should have shut up and just taken my “whoopin'” like a good, respectful child.
The last time my dad ever beat me, my sister and I had straightened out wire coat hangers and were using them to sword fight with. We were having fun, and neither one of us was being hurt by the other, but I guess we’d woken my dad up after he’d gone to bed, because the next thing I knew he was grabbing me by my neck, dragging me into my bedroom, and laying into me again. All I kept saying was, “I wasn’t hurting her!” But, obviously that’s not why I was getting the beating.
After this, fearing she’d have ALL of her kids removed by CPS and wanting to try to save her marriage, my mother went to the youth pastor at our church. He told her she needed to send me off to a girl’s home in Mississippi. So, my parents started making calls and planning, and found a couple of homes they thought would be good matches. We took a trip out to Mississippi to visit them, and my parents decided on Happiness Hill outside of Union, MS.
This place terrified me. I saw the way the girls walked around like robots and recited things like they had no independent thought, and although I’ve never been suicidal, I knew I would die if I had to go there. I decided to be brave while we were visiting and put on a show and even act as if I was a little excited about joining the girls. I wasn’t. The whole ride home from Mississippi, I was filled with anger, dread, and terror. My parents made plans to take me back out to Mississippi a few weeks before my 16th birthday, and I had read the Texas laws about how parents can’t force kids into homes across state lines after their 16th birthday.
The night before we were supposed to head out to take me to that home in Mississippi, I made some calls to people I knew and begged everyone I could think of to let me come hide at their house for a few weeks. You cannot imagine the terror I was feeling that night, thinking that if it didn’t pan out, I was royally fucked. I ended up getting a friend to talk her parents into coming by my house at midnight that night to pick me up with a bag of my belongings. I stayed at her house for about a month. I’ll be eternally grateful to that family for helping me out.
I still hold a little resentment towards my mother for this. I felt she chose my dad over me, her own flesh and blood. I existed before their relationship did and I felt and still feel as though she should have done what was right and instead of trying to push me into a home for wayward teens, she should have properly protected me from my dad.
After my 16th birthday, thanks to a lying case worker at CPS, I ended up back at home. My mom eventually made my dad move out and get his own place, because she couldn’t have him in the house with me, acting the way he did.
My dad and I are in a better place, now. We’ve had the opportunity to hash out our feelings with each other in therapy, and I no longer fear him the way I did as a teenager. Thankfully, I didn’t continue the cycle of abuse. I married a wonderful man who would never dream of laying into me the way my dad used to.
If you would like information on the cult we were involved in, you can view a 20/20 episode regarding it on YouTube. You can also watch Vyckie Garrison’s speech regarding the abusive cycle in this cult. If you would like to know more about the homes this cult runs for teens and the controversies surrounding them, please read this article by MotherJones. If you are interested in the “spare the rod” doctrine taught by these churches, please take a second to read this ChristianityToday article.