Dispelled ~ One Girl’s Journey in a Home School Cult ~ Part 8: The Road to Freedom

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by Chandra

It wasn’t until this past year, while speaking to my counselor, that she looked me in the eye and asked of me, “Did you ever think to call 911?”

Something like a tidal wave went through me. I still feel like I am picking up the pieces of that.

“No,” I replied. “It never even dawned on me.”

I still don’t understand the full implications of living in such a mind-controlling cult. I really don’t. It’s…indescribable really and I often feel like a blundering, clumsy writer trying to articulate it to the outside world. The truth is that I had been trained to believe since I was six that all law enforcement was to be feared. The only authority that was to be trusted was that of a God-ordained institution: marriage, family, and sometimes, the church (if that church was legalistic or a home church). Government, social workers, doctors, lawyers, police officers…were all to be feared implicitly and never, ever trusted. I had become so trusting of my caretakers that I had turned into the girl who was ignorant of their abuse: because I had been trained to rely on them for everything.

I stumbled through the next few months after my graduation with a feeling of being a nomad, feeling like I was waiting for a game of chess to end, but somehow the game continued to be sustained by a few pieces. In retrospect, I see how certain events were orchestrated to my benefit, leading me slowly into the path of freedom. Even in June, after I had graduated, I was still weak and sickly from my previous pneumonia and ARDS. I got tired very easily, and frequently felt short of breath. I was also depressed. After all, I was a newly graduated senior and I was without friends. It had been well over four years since Hannah and I had last spoken to one another and probably about a year at that point since we had seen each other. Still, somewhere in my heart there was a longing and an aching for the hope that we could renew our once precious and sisterly friendship.

In truth, I had never had another friend like her. We were more alike than not, even in the way the thought about life. What I didn’t understand, even at nearly eighteen, was that we were both cut from the same cloth: brainwashed, controlled, and manipulated. Because our parents were the best at manipulating and “raising godly daughters as a heritage unto the Lord” it was a very natural thing that we would approach the world in the same way. But at almost eighteen, I didn’t understand that. All I knew was that there was loneliness, an aching, a void, a starving and thirst for human companionship and the sisterhood of true friends.

After I graduated, I received a sizable amount of cash, and combined with money that my grandparents had generously gifted me with over the years, this allowed me to purchase my first car. My dad actually spearheaded the entire purchase of the car. I purchased my first car when I was 18: a 1993 Red Honda Civic, with all the bells and whistles. I loved that car! It was the best thing that had happened to me in nearly seven years. I would drive with the sunroof back, the stereo blaring and loved the feeling of burning rubber. This car held out its metaphorical hand to me, encouraging me to embrace the freedom of my future. And I took it.

I began to look for a job, since going to college was completely out of the question. I was actually encouraged to get a job, because I was “creating a strain” on the family budget, according to my mom. My parents lived frugally, but they were always in massive debt, something that I did not understand. I saw how little they spent on us kids (my grandparents bought all of our clothing and they spent next to nothing on our education), and I saw how much my mom did without. My dad’s profession was a white-collar one, and even though he was largely unsuccessful at what he did, he did not make bad money. With only two kids to support, their lifestyle and the debt to which they incurred did not match. But as I aged, and especially when I began to work, I was made to feel like a financial burden if I did not help out with purchases around the home.

There were several of these arguments, where my mom would take out her frustration on their financial situation on me- blaming me that I was the reason why the family was in so much debt. Given everything that they had put me through in my short life, I believed her and internalized these perceptions.

I was desperate for friendship, and since I had a car, I sought it in every way possible. I really only had one dear friend at this time, who was two years younger than me, Dani (You can read about her story here). I was in her family’s home as much as I was able. I had no other friends in the homeschooling arena, since all had long since shunned and abandoned me year’s prior.

Since I was 14, my family had attended a large, suburban church. This was something that Candi hated and sought to actively undermine my mother’s commitment to the church whenever she caught a whiff that my dad was influencing her to become more active with church and less active in the homeschooling Movement. Without fail, she was successful. Her charisma and powerful sway over my mom’s thinking prevented me from becoming involved in church youth groups, activities, or even Sunday school.

According to Candi, it was fine that we attended church, as long as my parents didn’t hand over the responsibilities of training their precious children into the hands of the youth group or youth pastor. We attended Sunday school with my parents, which was incredibly humiliating and of course any other social activities were out of the question, since we were leaders in The Movement. I hated the way that they treated the church- like it was something to be afraid of. They were terrified of me learning things and inappropriate ways of relating to guys in the youth group. Mom and Dad viewed the kids in the youth group as being worldly and bad influences. They were also terrified that I might start to think for myself.  The youth pastor, on one occasion, met my mom and me outside the sanctuary after service. He was incredibly gifted with perception and sensitiveness to the needs of adolescents. He asked my mom if I could come to Sunday school that day and my mom coldly shot him down with a glare, telling him that it was her responsibility to “teach and train her children.” He shot me a glance of, “I’m sorry, I tried,” as I returned his gaze with something that probably spoke volumes of my depression and unhappiness.

Somehow throughout the years, my family continued to attend church. After the encounter with our youth pastor, I knew that there were people who were watching our family, and knew that they were extremely enmeshed, unhealthy, and controlling.

For a few years, the sole motivation to attend there was because as members, we could request the facility to use for our State Homeschool Convention. And with the purchase of my car, and my recent graduation from the homeschool world, there was no way that my mom or dad could keep me from seeking authentic relationships through church, which is something that I had very much longed for. I tentatively began to stretch my wings.

I signed up to become a staff member at our church’s nursery. It was a paid position, but it felt like a safe place to begin to seek out relationships. I have always loved little ones, and my level of commitment to them soon brought me into more babysitting jobs than I knew what to do with. This was a blessing, as I was still living at home. I could be gone for hours on the weekends, away from the toxic environment in my home. Within a couple of months, God answered a prayer that I had been praying faithfully and unceasingly for: a friend.

I was asked to join a tiny group of about four girls for a college girl’s bible study. I jumped at the opportunity and within a few short weeks, these girls became the sisters that I had been praying for. To this day, though scattered to all corners of the United States, we remain the closest of friends. These girls had something I longed for: peace in their hearts and an enthusiasm for Christ. They all grew up in public or private schools and yet they were more real, more accepting, more authentic and more fun than any other person that I had met in my narrow circle. Hardly a day goes by that I do not thank God for at least one of them. They met me where I was at, welcomed me, and loved me for who I was. It was the first time that I had ever experienced that kind of acceptance from anyone and it did my broken heart amazing wonders.

I increasingly became more and more involved in the church, and because my parents were consumed with trying to control me through over-involvement in my life, they decided that it would be a good idea for them to start as well. The business executive at our church understood this and approached my mom to ask her if she would consider letting me interview for a full-time staff position in the church office. He knew that if he asked me without their approval, it would never happen. God proved himself to me yet again, when my mom amazingly consented.

I started within a few short weeks, and was quickly busier than I had been in years. The main part of my job was assisting the counseling staff with their clientele and developing their programs. I was encouraged to read everything that they recommended to clients, and I met with the counselors once a week. This soon grew into personal counseling for me, which I actively pursued. I understood that I had much that needed working through and understanding before I would ever consider becoming someone’s spouse.

This job was nothing short of a gift. Not only did it provide me with the healing that my heart so desperately needed, it also provided me with the income that I needed in order to leave my parent’s home. One of the other girls in the bible study was ready to move out of her parents place, and together we began searching for a place to live. It all seemed so simple: get a car, get a job, move out. But there were two things that I had not planned on: falling in love and just how deep the clutches of control my parents had over me were.

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Chandra blogs at Dispelled: One Girl’s Journey in a Homeschool Cult

Chandra Hawkins-Bernat, was homeschooled K-12 (1986-1999), and is currently enrolled to get her Bachelor’s Degrees in Secondary and Art Education. She is also authoring her autobiography, Dispelled: One Girl’s Journey in a Home School Cult and is seeking to have it published in the near future. She is happily married to her best friend and is also the proud mother of three sons, two of which have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Read all posts by Chandra!