by AJ cross posted from her blog I am Phoenix
Thank you for showing me who I am not.
You beat me with a rod because I laughed when my baby brother shot peas out of his mouth and laughed. My baby brother wasn’t obeying you when told to eat neatly, and you said he was old enough to have the devil beat out of him. You said the next one who laughed when my baby brother spit peas onto his high chair would get the rod. The next one was me. So you beat me with a wooden rod.
You pushed me out of anger. I was too shy to dance, but my sister was dancing and being foolish, and you praised her. I got up the courage to do a twirl or two, and you got angry because I was obstructing your view of her. You pushed me out of anger, and I fell, cutting myself and bleeding. You promised me a sticker to make up for pushing me, but when we got to the farmer’s market with the stickers, you forgot. I reminded you, but you hushed me down so my other brothers and sisters wouldn’t hear about the transaction. You got me a 2 cent sticker the size of my pinkie, but I wasn’t able to say I didn’t like it because I was afraid of you, that you would hit me again for speaking up.
When I was 5, I crashed my tricycle off of a sidewalk onto a concrete slab several feet below. The handle bars swung around and hit me on the condyle of my jaw, knocking it out of alignment, and causing intense migraine. I laid there for hours, crying and thinking I was dying, too afraid to move. Finally I limped inside and my mom comforted me, but then you found us. I was in my sisters crib drinking out of a sippie cup eating a Ritz cracker. You lost your temper when you saw me. You started roaring and yelling at me. I felt the intensity of your anger like flames sinjing me. You ordered me out of the room, out of your sight. You told me never to make my mom baby me again, and to never get in my sister’s crib again. I felt disgusting, like I didn’t deserve to live. I thought you wished I had died out there on the pavement, and that you were mad that someone as disgusting as me had lived and dared to show my face afterwards. I was afraid of you from then on. I’ve had daily migraines, jaw pain and scoliosis since then. You never sent me to a doctor, and shot me dirty looks when I was a teenager and suggested we go get it checked. You told me it was God’s will for that to happen, and that if I spoke up again, you’d put me in my place and make me wish I’d never opened my mouth.
Dad, I had my first panic attacks when I heard your footsteps thundering up the stairs when you came home from work. I was 5 years old, and I would stop breathing. I would make sure my hair was perfectly straight and my toys were perfectly in line so you wouldn’t yell at me.
Dad, you taught me that I am worthless. You taught me that my emotions are worthless. You taught me that speaking up was pointless, and you didn’t ever want to hear my point of view. Dad, you roared at me in anger the few times I attempted to speak up when I was in the same room as you. Dad, I was afraid of you and still am. I couldn’t meet your eyes back then and still can’t.
Dad, you took us to church three times a week and we sang about God’s love, salvation, the joy of the Christian walk. We sat eight in a row in the pew, all the arrows in your quiver lined up so quiet and well behaved, the perfect family. We were shaking in our boots, afraid of you. You abused us emotionally, psychologically, physically and sexually. Some of us starved, while you locked food up in ammunition boxes in the fridge. Why did you do that? You denied us medical treatment. You had the money, but you spent it on expensive toys for yourself. Why did you do that? You made us girls feel sexually dirty. Why did you do that? You picked me out as your special target. You hated me most, Dad. I asked you why on the phone last year, do you remember? You told me that I reminded me of yourself the most, and that’s why you disliked me most. You said it matter of factly, as if that was all there was to it. I don’t know, Dad. I kind of think that if I had a child who reminded me of myself more than my other children, I’d be tempted to love that child the most, if anything.
Dad, you taught me that God is angry, vindictive and cruel. You taught me that God doesn’t care about my emotions, and that he thinks I’m worthless too, aside from the mass salvation he provides to those who fear him enough to accept it.
Dad, you taught me hate myself. You taught me and my sisters how to submit to men without asking questions. You taught me that any kind of chastisement or punishment at the hands of a man was really God’s divine strengthening of my character, or a punishment for my sins. That either way I should accept this treatment with open arms, praising God for his generous discipline. You taught me that I was worthless and always would be, and that I could look forward to a lifetime of further abuse and loving punishment from God, praise the name of the Father and his Almighty Son, amen.
I got sick a few years ago. Real sick. I had to give up my career as a teacher, my apartment, transportation, my independence. I had to come home. I had to ask for help. I wasn’t able to shower by myself, make food, or stand up. I was dying. I wrote out my will and all my passwords. And twice, Dad, you told me I couldn’t come home. You told my mom to tell me to go to hospice, and that I shouldn’t expect a ride there from you. I had no where else to go to. That was my breaking point, Dad. You knew it, too, but you didn’t care.
You think you’re worthless, Dad, and that’s one reason you can’t help but try to drown others like me. You taught me to believe that I was everything that I am not. If I didn’t experience being your daughter, I wouldn’t have been forced to look inside of myself to find out my true value laying hidden there all the time.
But in that nothing, when I was sick at the point of dying, with no family to comfort me, I should have been feeling very worthless. But surprisingly enough, I heard refreshing snippets and phrases coming to me from the “world” of all places, not from the church or you. From Nike ads, from the ads for Dove deodorant, from L’oreal, from my New Agey friends who posted inspiring messages on Facebook to each other that they loved each other, and that the beauty of life was inside of them. Something deep inside of me said that was true, and that there was love and life outside of religion, outside of Christianity, outside of my family. So I went on a mission to find out more, and guess what, Dad?
I found out from the voice inside of me that it doesn’t matter what you say. I am worthy. I am lovable. I am beautiful. I am worth it. I don’t deserve punishment. I don’t deserve abuse. I don’t have to endure pain to be learn lessons. Life is not horrible. There is something beautiful inside of me, and it’s the same thing that’s inside of you, and all of us.
So, thank you, Dad. You played your part well in my life. You didn’t teach me that I was worthy and lovable. You taught me the opposite. But even so, I found out anyway. And who knows, maybe my belief in myself is stronger now than if you had just spoon fed this to me since I was a baby.
The neurons and DNA and cells in my young child’s body were programmed miserably since age 5, in a way that made me fearful, tense, anxious, unloved, and toxic. But that does not concern me. Right here and now with my adult mind and heart, I am resetting all neuron connections, all my DNA, all the cells in my body. My heart’s magnetic field is strong, and it influences my whole body. I am being reprogrammed so that I am growing more loving, more flexible, juicier, more vibrant, stretchy, relaxed, wholesome, balanced, settled, grounded, happier, more content, and more joyful. I’ve come home to myself, and that is a beautiful place.
Thank you, Dad. I might forget every now and again when I see a photo of you or walk past you at a party. I might forget and think that you ruined a good portion of my life. But then I will remember how good I do have it now. You showed me very clearly everything I am not, and then you pulled the rug out from under me. You clearly showed me in no uncertain terms that there was zero love for me at my neediest moment. And in that moment of extreme clarity, when there was nothing there, I still felt love. It was coming from absolutely no where, for no reason at all.
So thank you, Dad. Thank you for signing up to play this role in my life. It has been difficult, but it has caused me to discover that I am loved, in a very deep way that nobody can take from me. Namaste
Comments open below
AJ was raised in a spiritually abusive cult based on the teachings of ATI’s Bill Gothard. She has five siblings. After enough time AJ developed Chronic Fatigue, Adrenal Burnout and PTSD from the stress of her childhood. Her parents refused to help her in her ongoing health battle. She is married to a man that has recently emerged from spiritually abusive religion and together they are healing and moving towards daily joy! She blogs at I Am Phoenix
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce