A few days ago I got an SOS call from work. Rosie called with that most dire of all emergencies, they were out of toilet paper. Where’s Mr. Whipple when you need him?
Since we’re an artsy bunch we’re not the most practical and we tend to run out of things or have massive fail on things practical. During my fundamentalist years I used to beat myself up internally about my lack of domestic ability and interest. Now I realize I’m simply hard wired very differently than the perfect wives and housekeepers I knew at church. And that’s okay.
Took me a long time to realize it didn’t matter a hill of beans to the universe if I was practical or impractical or if my living room was cluttered with art supplies or pristine.
Back to the tale of no tush paper. I laughed when Rosie called, picked up my purse and stopped by the local grocery store before dropping the rolls off at work. I didn’t mind at all. Answering SOS calls is something I’m good at.
But it made me think back to those days at Possum Creek Fellowship, back to my leaving. Before I left you could pick up the phone, put in a yell for help, an SOS, to a dear sister or brother and usually count on someone stepping up to meet your need. I remember once in particular when my husband had to be hospitalized suddenly I called up a friend at church and she took my kids for a few days until the crisis passed. Later people brought meals for us so I didn’t have to care for my husband and worry about cooking at the same time.
After I left I couldn’t escape the judgment and torment those same brothers and sisters felt compelled to heap on me. I knew better than to ever ask for help. And if I didn’t know better I had an encounter right after switching churches that showed me all too well that there would be no more help at all.
I’d had another in a series of asthma attacks that escalated into anaphlactic shock. I’d shoved my epipen into my thigh and high tailed it to the local ER. I was laying on that narrow gurney, getting an IV of various medications to open my air ways and a whopping dose of Ativan to turn off the panic attack. I used to get terrible panic attacks when I had more serious asthma attacks because of the adrenaline that floods your body during the attack. The hospital doctor had told me I could leave in an hour or so if my improvement continued but I would have to call someone to drive me home. I would not be allowed to drive with that much tranquilizer floating in my blood.
As I lay there gasping for breath and waiting for the tranks to take effect someone parted the curtain dividing me from the rest of the other poor sad saps stuck in the ER and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ It was Diane, someone I knew well from PCCF, roomed with on conferences, taken care of each others kids. A good friend. I asked Diane what she was doing there and she told me she was dropping off something to another church member here in the ER but was on her way home now. I asked Diane if she would give me a ride home since she had to pass my home on her way to hers. She looked at me as if I had two heads and one of those heads had Ebola and the other was riddled with Syphilis. She then told me that her husband had instructed her never to speak to me again because I was apostate. She oh so piously spouted that scripture about how believers should not be unequally yoked and departed.Diane had seen my name on the white board in the ER listening all the patients and what curtain they lurked behind.
The staff ended up calling my teenagers to come drive their woozy momma home.
When you’re all enmeshed with your flavor of koolaid church you are taught to believe that outsiders and non-believers would not help you. They’re too busy with their own self-focused sinful pursuits to ever help a Christian brother or sister. You could only trust those in the body of Christ from your own church. No outsiders.
When I was reading Carolyn Jessop’s book, “Escape” I saw that the FLDS also teaches that outsiders cannot be trusted. She also had to learn, like myself, like many others, that’s not true, that people our churches look down upon as ‘sinful’ can be as loving and helpful as those that once helped us from inside the church.
Leaving that safety net at the church of those that will bail your biscuits out of the fire to the great unknown is one of the scariest things about leaving. You leave your entire support system, people you can talk to when you’re struggling, friends, advice givers, you name it. Most families don’t understand while you’re going through this, they think, big deal, so you left your church, if they are unbelievers. If you’re unfortunate enough to leave behind family members in the movement then you have more built in tormenters who will not help you.
Eventually you manage to make a few friends and rebuild that network of people who appreciate you for who you are, that don’t measure you by how long your hair is or how many offspring you manage to push out. They love you for you. That’s when you start to heal and realize that life outside the cult walls isn’t nearly as bad as you’d been taught.
I made the decision after I left PCCF that I would help and extend mercy whenever asked and for me that was the right decision. Helping others with no expectations or feeling pressured to do so feels pretty darn good. I now have plenty of pals I know would bring me toilet paper if I called up asking for it.
Strangely enough one of the new things happening in my life is that I’ve been contacted by many of the ladies currently leaving PCCF. The church is coming apart at the seams, it’s not splitting, it’s evaporating. They are asking, very tearfully most of the time, how you recover from the pain of leaving the only community you’ve ever known. I sigh and tell them that it’s not an easy task.
I wouldn’t wish that uncomfortable experience on anyone.
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