Please note: The content contained herein does not necessarily reflect the values and opinions of the NLQ blog and its administrators.
I still remember what I was doing on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001. It was a gorgeous morning, crisp azure sky with nothing but the blissful autumn sunshine overhead. Not even a cloud. I pulled into the church parking lot, sunroof back and something along the lines of Green Day blaring. I arrived at the office early, unlocking the door and booted my computer, prepping to attend to the stack of projects that pastors needed completing. I glanced over the counseling schedule for the day and realized that it was going to be a light day. After I had started a pot of coffee for all the guys, I went back to my desk to begin my day.
Somewhere around 9am the news came flooding into the office about the tragedies that were surrounding our eastern coast. Several key members of our church were in the air on business meetings, yet to be accounted for. My co-worker and I went to the sanctuary to pray and when I came back, my inbox said, “You’ve Got Mail” from this mysteriously attractive guy named Darren that I had met over the summer in the singles group. I was a baby, just 19 when I met him. And he was 29. But we were friends and we started an email conversation on 9/11 about the current events facing our nation. And for some reason, this conversation never stopped.
I was still living at home and I knew for certain I wasn’t about to let my parents screw up my chances at finding love and happiness. I knew I needed to leave the house before I could date, because there was no way in hell that I would ever consider courtship. My parents were so screwed up, that that model would not have worked, even though that was their clear desire for me. They wanted to be able to control whom I married so that they could continue to control me from beyond my father’s house.
I began to actively search with a dear friend for a place to rent later that same month. Things at home had grown substantially worse, if that was even possible. I was never home, often leaving early in the morning and often not returning until well past midnight. My sexy Honda became my refuge and respite from the intolerable home environment. My mom grew increasingly intrusive and controlling, opening my mail (keep in mind, I was 19), analyzing my credit card statements (again, I was 19 with a full-time job and zero overhead), my eating habits (she told me that I had bulimia- HA! I wish!), and my choice in clothing (my father told me while going to church that I looked like a prostitute).
I was told that my lack of pitching in with my hard-earned money to help out with household costs was the reason that my parents were in so much debt. I believed it, and internalized these statements, rather than recognizing that my dad’s sexual addiction was the cause of their financial state. Rather than throwing my money to them, I determined that my best option was to leave.
I was weary of trying to make things work at home, of no freedom and completely humiliating incidences. My mom would call people I was hanging out with, demanding to know where I was and when I would be home. Many times, she would be awake when I arrived home, and would begin her emotional tirades against me from the moment I stepped into the house. They never set a curfew, so I never felt compelled to keep it. Once, my mom barged in on a church single’s party, tracking down where this social gathering was. She appeared and demanded if I was there at the house. She came in, and dragged me by the hand out of this home and humiliated me in front of everyone. Again, I was 19. That was the final straw. I ripped into her, telling her how much I hated her and it was not two weeks later, that my friend and I found a condo that was offered to us by a member of the church where I worked.
I was thrilled to at last have found a place to live away from my parents toxicity! I had my little red Honda packed and ready to go weeks in advance, but I would be required to live with my parents through the holidays. My girlfriend and I were free to move in anytime after Christmas, so the day after Christmas, I planned my move. And this guy Darren, who had befriended me that autumn had the truck that I needed. I did not need help from my parents, and refused to take it. I needed to leave, flee- as far away from them as my situation would take me, and I wanted them to have no part of my new life.
I got myself moved and found my parents and my brother in my new condo, unannounced. I had forgotten to lock the door. I was more than just a little angry that they wouldn’t leave me alone, and told them to leave. This was my life, and I wanted to live it apart from them perpetrating their abuse and control on me. Little did I know what a long road I would have ahead of me in actually obtaining that freedom.
Darren and I had had an unadmitted attraction to one another that grew out of our email conversations. But my parents were weird, and he knew it, and our age differences kept us at bay. Until I moved out. The day I moved out, we had our first official date. We went out to the St. Louis Zoo, watched the polar bears, and then went to a wonderful Irish pub for lunch. We talked incessantly the entire time. Ironically, though I had a strong desire to flee my family and knew that I was abused, I still maintained that homeschooling was something that I wanted to do and I wanted to do it differently. And even more ironically, this came up in our first date, and Darren felt the same way. Funny how God works. On New Year’s Eve, we became an official couple and watched the fireworks on the Riverfront underneath the St. Louis Arch as the New Year dawned.
I had moved out of my parents’ home and got a boyfriend all in one week. And I had never been happier in my life. I refused to call my parents and I was free at last. I was so happy! For the first time in my life, I finally knew what it was like to be loved and to have the freedom to love completely. My whole life, I thought that I was some sort of freak, some degenerate pagan that was so unlovable and unlovely that God simply didn’t care about me enough to let me experience that. I believed that there was something so inherently and deeply flawed with me that no one would ever find me lovely or acceptable.
Hope sprang eternally in my heart and even though I felt this way about myself, I kept on hoping that maybe there was a chance that love could hypothetically happen to me. And even if it was a tiny sliver, I refused to snuff it out. And to my amazement, he loved me for who I was and didn’t want to change a thing about me! He accepted me just The Way I Am and it was the first time in my life that anyone had ever shown me that kind of love or compassion. My dreams were coming true, and the wounded heart inside of me was finally beginning to thaw and melt into a lovely array of blossoming fragrance.
With my continued therapist sessions, the new love in my life, and my new condo, all was well in my world. I had my cat-the only friend I ever truly had until recently, a group of besties, a wonderful job, and this amazing man (the only thing lacking was that I couldn’t wear heels around him!). My heart was happy, it was free, and it was free to be loved and to love.
Darren and I became serious with one another. But the enmeshed web that I was raised in came back to haunt me as our relationship grew to the point where we were desiring to become engaged. It was as though my parents had grown invisible fingers and knew how to have a hold on my life, and continue to control it, even though I was physically gone from their house. It’s a thing called, “spiritual molestation” according to Stephen Arterburn. I was the victim, and they were molesting me of my dignity and self-respect. Robbing me of joy. My mother had become an expert in exactly what to say and how to phrase it in order to get me to acquiesce. This time, it had to do with a guy they didn’t like. It proved that if I was going to find true love and happiness, that I would have to fight. And it was only just the beginning.
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.