Dreams of defiance and steps of healing

I just read a blog post on modesty, and this excerpt stuck out to me for a very specific reason, a reason I will explain in a minute:

“And men, don’t let the Proverbs 7 woman deceive you!” he shouted from the pulpit.

My head was pounding. I glanced around. Everyone was drinking it in, nodding solemnly.

“She waits for you men. She lures you in. A glance here and a flash of skin there– don’t trust her.

I frowned.

“And women, don’t fool yourselves. Don’t- don’t dress in a way that says you’re offering something you can’t give. Don’t give your brothers a reason to stumble. The female figure is fatal. Don’t go prancing around, parading.”

Disgust was rising within me.

“Do we have a dress code here? No! No. But we do encourage young ladies to dress in a way that says that they love the Lord their God with all their heart mind and soul. Yes, yes. That’s all we ask.”

Oh, sure, I thought. I’d heard too much of this, for too long. We all know what that’s code for: knee length skirts, loose shirts and high necklines show that you love God.

“And he went to this sister in Christ, who was dressed modestly,” he continued as I tuned back in, “And he thanked her. He thanked her. By concealing her shape, by ensuring that she is not alluring, she enabled him to keep his focus where it belongs. On God.

Men, don’t be averted for a moment. Don’t let a woman, through her- her.. appeal, pull you away.”

I’d had enough.

A boldness I’ve seldom felt grew inside me and I found myself standing up.

My mouth opened, and words poured out.

“How can you preach like that?” I said, disgusted.

I turned to the women and implored that they value themselves more. I shamed the men for demanding that women conform to their fashion ideals, claiming the Bible.

And then I woke up.

Reading this excerpt reminded me of a blog post by Melissa that I read a few months back:

I can hear them in the next room. Dad yanks at his arm, yelling at him and threatening to spank him if he doesn’t do … something? I’m not even sure what he’s in trouble for this time. I cower in the next room, wanting to do something, wanting to save him. I hear the slaps, he starts to cry, Dad shoves him away. Holding my breath, hoping and praying for it to end, maybe if I squeeze myself small enough into this dark corner behind the bookcase… I could just disappear.

I stuff more dirty clothes into the wash machine, refusing to look out the window at the dreary sunless day. My sister comes in, long hair pulled back in a pony tail, wearing a long tan skirt and her favourite blue collared polo shirt. She looks tired. “We need to get to that family room before Dad gets home” she says. I nod, turning the knobs on the washer. “I have to start dinner, do you think you can get a sister to help you?” She shrugs, “I think so, she’s been super emotional today, but I’ll try.” Part of me wishes Mom was up to handle this, but she’s been in bed for days now.

“Get over here, you have to be spanked for talking to me like that.” My stomach tightens. I can’t do it, not again. I run into the bathroom and lock the door. I look at the bathroom sink and remember how many times I’ve leaned over that sink, skirts lifted, thighs clenched, waiting for my mom to land the blows on my leg, willing myself not to make a sound.

I hate this room.

“If you don’t come out of there it’s just going to be worse for you later” her voice comes through the door. There is a roaring in my ears. I fight the urge to yell that I’m sorry, and undo the lock and just get it over with. It doesn’t matter how many times I submit, how hard I try, this is only going  to continue, day in-day out. How can I live like this?

This needs to end. I have to get out of here. This time, I’m not going to roll over and play dead. This time, I’m going to do something about this. This time, I’m going to tell someone.

I head to the window, I know how to remove the screen, maybe I can get to a neighbours and use their phone… To call someone. Call who? I don’t know… the police? My grandparents? I move to the window and fumble with the latch, I can hardly believe I’m doing this.

And then I woke up, drenched in sweat, heart beating wildly. It took my several minutes longer to realize that my lover is sleeping peacefully on one side of the bed, my youngest baby on the other, and I’m in the middle, safe.

The post goes on:

I haven’t lived with my parents for years. But since I moved away, I’ve lived some of those old memories in dreams again and again. Sometimes I am a young child in my dream, sometimes a teen. Sometimes I am an adult somehow transported back in time and living in my parents home as the child I no longer am.

The one common factor in all of these dreams, is that I never stand up. I let them hurt me, I watch them hurt my siblings, or (in the worst of my dreams) I watch them spank or belittle my own children, and I never do anything.

I am always powerless in my dreams.

I had this dream early last December, but it took me a few weeks to realize what was different about it. This marks the first time a dream involving my parents included anything but my complete obedience to them. I didn’t quite stand up to them in my dream, but I was leaving the situation with plans to make it change.

I know it’s just a dream, but it feels like a huge step for me.

I cried when I read this post. Cried, because I wanted to yell “me too, me too!”

I never suffered the sort of physical abuse Melissa describes, and I haven’t had nearly as many bad dreams about my past as Melissa has. And yet, I have had some, every now and then. A recurrent dream.

In this dream, my father is yelling at me, yelling at my in front of my siblings, yelling me for being brainwashed, for being led astray, for betraying him. Yelling that he should never have thought of sending me to college. And I am crying, crying, crying.

I had this dream again a few months ago, but it didn’t end the same way. Instead of sitting and crying I got up. I got up, walked to my father, looked him in the face, and talked back. I stood up for myself in a way I never had in my dreams – and in a way I never did in real life. I was full of strength, full of passion, full of confidence and courage. I was not afraid or ashamed. And my father backed down.

And then I woke up.

I think Melissa is right. I think that dream was important. I had this dream not long after starting to see a therapist. I think sometimes we heal in our dreams.

The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
When Marriage Looks Like the Only Escape
What the Ruff, the Spotted Hyena, and the Cuttlefish Taught Me about Gender and Sexuality
What Courtship Was for Me
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    I’m very happy for you. I hope you continue healing and take pride in the fact that your children surely won0t have that kind of nightmares about you ^^

  • Kevin Alexander

    Think what a remarkable thing it is that your generation is the one to finally break free of savage habit and what that means to your children.
    Your parents are not really responsible for how they raised you, they’re just repeating what was done to them by their parents. Making others obey by violence goes back to the beginning, it’s millions of years old. Only very lately have we been able to reason it through, to see the damage that it does and then to change.

  • Adele

    I definitely think this dream is a sign of healing. That’s great news! I’m very happy for you. Thank you for sharing.

  • smrnda

    You have to have a major case of insecurity, narcissism and self-righteousness to treat kids that way. Then again, it’s what people are taught. If you’re taught that you must have total control over your kids at all times, you’re taught to make a big deal out of everything that most people wouldn’t even pay attention to. If you’re taught to never question authority, the slightest doubt or question would send you into a rage against the person who dared to bring it up.

    I can hardly believe how lucky I was to get permissive, non-religious parents.

  • Meggie

    Thankyou Libby Anne and thankyou Melissa.

    It is easy to look at families like the Duggars, the Bates and the fundamentalist/evangelical families in our own communities and say “hey, they’re happy, live and let live” and “I will respect their beliefs as long as they respect mine”. This post reminds us all that this is not acceptable. We can not step back and let children be abused in the name of religion. (I will send an email to my neice tonight, reminding her there is an invitation to come and stay with me whenever she wants. I know her parents will never allow her to stay with me but I want her to know that if she ever decides to run, I am here and I will look after her.)

  • http://bibicalpersonhood.wordpress.com Retha

    I am happy for you too.

    BTW, I read somewhere that it is good, if you have a recurring bad dream, to actually picture a positive ending, where you are stronger, when going to sleep. When, in the night, you wake from the dream, let your half-awake mind go back to imagining the good ending.

  • Honora Ladiea

    I found your blogs moving. My family were not churchgoers at all and abused us kids by neglect and verbally/emotionally abusing us. Now both parents have died, a decade after I left home, and I feel freed up and no longer have the bad dreams — that part of my past is just dissolving in the light of the present. As for the religious dream, please remember that there are progressive churches out there (Unitarians, Episcopalians, Quakers, UCC) that don’t fit that description in any manner. Good luck to you on your journeys.

  • lorimakesquilts

    Yes! My father is verbally abusive. With the birth of my son my husband finally helped me realize I was repeating his horrors. I’ve stopped now, and have gone through a long period of rage and anger. But the healing has started, even in my dreams, just like you related. It’s a long hard road, but so worth travelling.