by AJ cross posted from her blog I Am Phoenix
I am at the point in my life now where for the last several months, I have felt safe enough to process the past. Although I was sexually abused when I was a child, I didn’t tell my family then or as an adult. I kept quiet because I was threatened with hell and the devil when I was a kid. I was so traumatized, I pushed most of the memories away and didn’t think about them for over 30 years. Now that I haven’t been a Christian for over a year, I’ve lost my fear of hell and devil, and I finally feel unthreatened and able to process the abuse.
The sexual abuse was inappropriate, but at this point in time, I am actually most angry at the religious bullying that kept me from not telling. It’s one thing to commit incest with your child, as a Christian man. It’s quite another to cover it up by scaring an innocent child with threats that she’s going to be tormented by demons and sent to hell.
When I was five, my mom walked in and found out what my dad was doing to me and my baby sister at the time. I didn’t know what my father was doing at the time was “wrong.” I just thought he was being friendly. It was my mom’s extreme, livid reaction when she found out, in addition to her encouraging me to shut down and never talk about it again, that clued me in that what was going on was horrible.
After my mom found out, my dad asked me to come upstairs to his and my mom’s bedroom. He told me that on this particular day, we were just going to talk. He acted depressed. He sat on the edge of the bed and said that what we were doing was wrong. He opened up Paul Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” and showed me a picture of a grotesque, slightly pink devil with a leer on his face and the flames of hell behind him. I was extremely terrified of this image, and he knew it. He had showed it to me before. Even just flashing the page open quickly and getting a tiny glimpse of that image made me break out in a cold sweat.
He told me that if he kept playing the special games with me, both he and I would go to hell. He told me he was miserable because he didn’t know how to stop.
Then he told me he was between a rock and a hard place. He said that God was angry at him, and what he did with me was sin. He said that if he kept doing it, he would go to hell and I would too. He said he already was at the point where he feared he would go to jail. He told me he had taken it too far with me.
He told me that I could help him out, and that he was depending on me. He asked me if I wanted to help him and I said yes. He warned me that it wouldn’t be easy for me. But he said it was the only choice he had.
Then he told me we would both have to work hard. He said he would study his Bible and some thick books with brown covers that he showed me which were apparently helping him. But he said I needed to do my part too.
He said he couldn’t trust himself to be alone around me anymore, because if he was around me, he would do something he wasn’t supposed to do. He said he would sin if he was around me. He said that sin lurks in everyone, and I brought out the sin in him when he looked at me and was around me.
Then he said that he didn’t plan on ever asking me up to the bedroom again, but if he slipped up and did, he wanted me to tell him “NO!” in an angry voice. He said it was extremely important that I said “NO” and meant it.
He made me practice.
He had me go outside the bedroom door. He had me knock. He opened the door and pretended to be extremely angry and mad, and told me to go away and never come back.
Then he made me practice this with him many times over. He kept pretending to be mad and angry. I remember laughing, because it seemed funny.
He said he was worried that I wasn’t taking it seriously enough, and that I wasn’t being angry or loud enough. He wanted to hear how mad I could get, and how loud I could say “NO!” I didn’t understand at all.
Then he said he would never be alone in this bedroom with me ever again. I asked him if I could come in the bedroom to watch movies with the other kids. He said yes, but he didn’t want me to be the first one to come in. He said to wait until the other kids came in first.
He told me that there were other places that he wasn’t supposed to be alone with him at. He said there were safe places and not safe places to be around him alone. He started listing them.
I was confused about what places I wasn’t supposed to be alone with him at. The kitchen? He said it was OK to be alone with him there. The living room? Yes. My brothers and sisters’ bedroom? Maybe. My bedroom? No and maybe. It depends, he said. I asked what it depended on. He said it depended on if there were the other people close by or not. I asked him if I was allowed to be in the shop alone with him. He thought about it for a while, and said “maybe. It depends. It might not be safe.” Then he said that no, it probably wasn’t safe to go in the shop alone with him, unless the door was kept open. But then he said that probably that wasn’t safe, so I shouldn’t go in the shop alone with him. I kept getting confused. I listed all the places I could think of that I went to and continued to ask him if I was allowed to be alone with him or not. The yard (yes), the bathroom (no), the woods (no), the road (yes),the living room (yes), the kitchen (yes), the attic (no), the bedroom (no), the basement (no), the garage (maybe), the shop (maybe). I told him I was confused because some places he said were ok, like the kitchen, and some places were not ok. I told him I couldn’t remember which ones were ok or not. So he said that he would make it easy for me and he told me that for sure that the bedroom was one place where I was not supposed to be alone with him in.
He said that I reminded him of sin. He said from here on out, he would hate himself every time he looked at me. He said it wasn’t my fault. But he said that from then on, he would have to hate me too, because if he didn’t hate me, he would do sinful things to me that he shouldn’t. He also said that it would help him if he hated me, because every time he looked at me, he would feel hate instead of desire. He said he would see sin every time he looked at me, and he would hate that sin and would hate me. He said this was the only way he could stop himself.
Then he asked me if I was mad at him. I said I wasn’t. He asked me if I was mad at him for sinning and making me sin. I said I didn’t think he sinned, and I didn’t think I sinned. He asked me if I was scared of him. I said I wasn’t. At that point, I felt safe with him. I had always felt safe and relaxed around him during the sexual games and while we were having this talk.
He told me we couldn’t be friends anymore. He said he wanted me to be angry at him. He said it was OK if I got so mad at him, that I never talked to him again. He said he wanted me to hate what we did. He told me I should hate the things I did with him, and hate him for doing them. He said he wanted me to hate him. He told me that it would make it easier for him.
Then he said that it would be easier if I was afraid of him. He said he wanted me to be afraid of him, just like I was afraid of the devil. I thought that was funny. Then he tried to show me the devil picture and I didn’t want to see it because it was horrible and scary.
He told me he was worried because I didn’t seem to hate him and wasn’t angry enough. He worried that I thought it was just a fun game. He said he was worried that I wasn’t angry enough or strong enough to say “NO.” He told me he was depending on me to pull my weight and help him resist temptation. He told me this was very serious and he reminded me again about jail and hell. He said that he was worried that I wasn’t taking this seriously enough. He told me that we needed to practice me making an angry face and saying “NO! STOP!” to him. So he had me yell at him while sitting side by side on the bed. He kept making me yell “NO!” with an angry face. It was exhausting.
Then he said our talk was over, and that I would never be alone with him again in that room. Then he told me to go out and he shut the door.
After that, my memories closed up. From age 5 to this present time, I didn’t remember most of the sexual abuse or most of the “devil talk.” The parts of the devil talk I did remember was that it wasn’t safe to be alone around my father, and if I ever was, something terrible and horrible involving the devil and hell was going to happen to me. I was terrified of this.
After the “devil talk,” my father began his systematic verbal, physical, emotional and psychological abuse towards me. He hadn’t been this way before the talk. My other siblings experienced his verbal abuse and his fits of rage. But he didn’t have it in for them. He singled me out and let the others alone for the most part. I thought it was a shame, because I followed his rules to a “T,” far more than my other siblings did. I saw how they weren’t in his line of fire, and they were more or less “accepted” and not as bullied. I tried harder to get his approval than the others did by being a perfect Christian daughter and following his rules. Oddly enough, the more I tried to conform to his rules, the angrier he got and the worse he treated me.
I quickly learned from age 5 onwards to be terrified of this man who seemed to have changed overnight on me, even though I didn’t know why. I started having anxiety attacks at age 5, unable to breathe when I heard his loud footsteps thundering up the steps. I didn’t know why I was afraid of him, though. I was living in a good, Christian home and people commented all the time on how lovely a family we were, how obedient and respectful we were, what great people my parents were.
I always thought it was just my fault that I felt weird in my family, afraid, traumatized, the one who was picked on. That that’s just the way it was. I was terrified of my father, terrified of gong out in the world, terrified of unknown situations, terrified of being around people, then terrified to leave my house for years. Afraid, but I didn’t know why.
Now finally, I know why.
Now, finally, I have no fear of hell or demons, no fear of my parents and their religious threats. I’m free.
And I’m ready to stand up to my abuser and tell them that I know about it, and that what they did was horrible.
The last month or so, I’ve been in the process of telling my parents. Let me tell you, it hasn’t been going so well.
I started by writing a long email listing details of how and when my dad sexually abused me. Before sending it to my parents, I called my mom and said, “Hey, mom. So… I wanted to share something with you.” I tried to be diplomatic and smooth, gentle in tone, but firm. It didn’t work.
My mom flipped out on me. She denied that my father would ever do that kind of thing to me. She started screaming and crying hysterically like a trapped animal. Like a little child stuck in a cage. It was almost embarrassing. My mom is a calm person, balanced and emotionally even keeled. In the three decades I’ve known her, I actually can’t remember her raising her voice in anger or any negative emotion… until this phone call. I used to wonder how she could be human and not raise her voice or yell, even once. I know it partially has to do with the cult, because she isn’t allowed by my father to access and display emotions except for positive ones. True, she has a naturally calm, sunny personality, but the cult sealed it up for her, and she wears her cheerful face like a bright Christian banner. She also has only cried two other times in her life in front of me, once when her father passed away, and once when my aunt died. I told my sisters about my mom’s reaction on the phone when I told her about the abuse, and they knew it was out of character. They told me they feared she would have a heart attack and convinced me to wait a week to send the email.
So I waited. Then I sent the email. I waited two more weeks. Then I called my mom to see if he had read it. I couldn’t bring myself to ask my dad directly because I am terrified of him and out of self-protection, stopped speaking to him when I was 16. Additionally, he is anti-social and prefers not to speak to on the phone, even with his own children. Plus, it would have triggered me too much to tell him on the phone.
It turned out that my mom read a sentence or two of the email but deleted it before my dad knew about it. She told me bluntly that she refused to read my email, and she refused to let him see it because it was “horrible” and would “destroy him.”
To be honest, I am still shocked that my mom knew how to get into his email. I’m also almost impressed that she deleted it before he could read it. She is not computer savvy, and I didn’t think she had the nerve to do anything this shady. She is the type of Christian who crosses her t’s and dots her i’s in every way, smiling and being pleasant in actually (what I thought) was a genuine way. My mom was the kind and “safe” person in the house when I was growing up. I guess I didn’t know how monstrous she had become in the past decade or so being alone with my father after we all moved out and her world was only his.
So over the next two weeks, I sent an email to my dad at various times of the day, especially in the evening when I knew he was home. He doesn’t have a smart phone to check email during the day. To be on the safe side, I sent the email from several different email addresses, as well as from my husband’s email address.
Finally, after I still didn’t get a reply back by email, I was fed up and decided I needed to just call and ask to speak directly to my dad. I was shaking and having a panic attack. But I was so angry. I called their house. The phone rang three times and they didn’t pick up. The fourth time I got their voicemail and I left a message. I angrily demanded an explanation for why mom was deleting my emails.
And what do you know. My dad picked up the phone and wanted to know what emails I was talking about. It was so weird, surreal actually to have a give and take conversation with him. But I was angry. I told him mom had been deleting my emails to him, and that I knew he sexually abused me when I was little.
Then he got defensive and started quoting Bible verses. He told me that I was full of demons, and that an evil spirit in me was making me say untrue things about him. He started to cast the evil spirit out of me over the phone. “Satan, I command you in the name of Jesus to come out of AJ, NOW.” I interrupted that business right away and told him I didn’t have any demons in me so he didn’t need to be doing any of that casting out on me. I started to relate to him the various memories I had of him sexually abusing me. Each time I paused, he told me I was delusional. That I wasn’t thinking straight. That I was out of my mind. That I was being cantankerous. That I was sowing discord among the brethren. That God was going to destroy me if I didn’t take back what I said.
Then my mom cut in and screamed at me that I was an embarrassment. That she was ashamed of me, and that I was a horrible daughter. She said she TOLD me not to send another email to my father. She told me I had besmirched the family name in the past and that she had never told me how awful I was to do so, but that she was angry at me now and was ready to let it rip, ready to tell me all the horrible things I had done in the past that she disapproved of. Apparently, I had dated a non-Christian man and had been doing worldly, non-Christian things and word got around in her family and she was shamed by them for my actions. My mom told me how dare I, after they sent me to Christian school. How dare I publicly date a non-Christian and ruin my reputation and theirs. (Seriously. She was being serious.)
She told me that I deserved to have my husband leave me, and she hoped I would have nowhere to go. She told me she would never answer the phone again if I called, unless I got down on my knees and repented for lying about my father.
Then she followed this up with a juicy email that reads as follows:
The title of the email was “sick, sick.”
“AJ, this is Mom, I can’t begin to describe how I feel. Your e-mail was so sickening, untrue and perverted, it was so bad I couldn’t even read most of it, mainly because none of it is true, and sounds like it came from the pit of hell! I know for a fact that these things are not true, you believe what you want, but you will never get better physically or spiritually. Oh by the way none of your siblings believe your father did anything and I think there is something really wrong with you! I’m asking God to heal your mind, I still love you, but with this attitude towards your father, don’t call or e-mail till you can think clearly! Praying for you, Mom. Your e-mail is blocked, and won’t get through, I won’t answer the phone if you continue to spew out all this hatred!”
This email was particularly interesting, as my mom last month had told me that she didn’t believe that God was punishing me and keeping me sick because of some sin I was committing. She said she didn’t think God was like that. We were talking about this because I told her that her son in law was preaching in our family that this was the case with Thalia and me. But my mom said he was full of it, and she didn’t believe like this. Apparently, my mom is singing a new tune now that I dared to speak up against her beloved Patriarch.
Seriously. This is what happens in my family if someone dares to speak up and say something against the Patriarch. My mom protects him like he’s the Pope, like he can do no wrong. She was freaking out because I got past her and went straight to the Patriarch without her permission.
After this, my dad went and did damage control with my siblings. He called each one and told them that I was spreading lies about him that he sexually abused me. He told my siblings to not listen to me, as he felt I was mentally imbalanced, delusional, and demon possessed. He also told them that I was spreading stories because I was bitter towards him because I didn’t like him. Then he called me the next day and told me that none of my siblings believed me. He told me that when Louisa visited my house for Christmas that I had told her that I was going to hell and didn’t care. I told my dad that wasn’t true. I said that I told her I didn’t believe in hell, and that it was my right to believe as I saw fit, and that I shouldn’t be penalized for it.
He told me he knew I was possessed by demons because I told mom in the past that there was a friendly ghost in Maggie’s laundry room making the door pop open sometimes. He told me that Louisa said that when she visited and Sabrina was singing a song from Vacation Bible School, that I told Sabrina to stop singing. Again, untrue.
Sabrina was singing, “I wanna be a sheep for Jesus, ‘cause sheep are meek.” and when she was done, I sang, “I don’t wanna be a sheep, cause I was wanna be a goat! I wanna have a backbone and stand up for what I believe!” Then I asked Sabrina if she knew any non-church songs. And she did, and she sang them.
But apparently, I was wrong to say that and sing that IN MY OWN HOME. In my own home that I helped purchase, living with my husband as adults. Both Kyle and I have decided as adults that we are not Christians. But according to my family, I don’t have a right to voice anything opposite of the Christian way even in my own home, or it will be used as ammunition against me and will be talked about in the family behind my back.
This is why I do not want to invite Louisa and her family over anymore. I was planning on inviting her and her kids over, as well as my brother Matt and his three kids, and my cousin and her daughter. I was planning on having a picnic here with all of us catching up.
But it may not be safe to even have my siblings visit. If they are reporting back even the smallest of Christian infractions to the home base as Louisa did, then I don’t want them in my home. It is too oppressive for me to have to hold my tongue in my own home and not speak my mind about my beliefs. What, even my own home isn’t safe now? What, they have control of me even in my own home when I’m married and living my adult life? I don’t think so.
God. Why do I have to keep cutting people out of my life? The further this thing goes, the more I see the true colors of my family. Not just my parents. But my siblings too.
I had a conversation with my younger sister Christy last month, and she shared with me two incidences of things my dad did to her when she was a child that were sexually inappropriate. I knew what she was talking about, because I had been there as a child in the room when these things happened. But when my dad was doing damage control and called Christy, she didn’t confront him.
Maybe Christy isn’t ready to talk to him about it. I hope she didn’t stay quiet on the phone with him because he intimidated her. He told her I was full of demons and was mentally unbalanced, so it didn’t set that great of a climate for her to want to say, “Look Dad. You did it to me too, and you know it.”
I am disgusted with the fear of demons that my father uses to keep his children quiet and in line.
I am also disgusted because in my parents’ religious cult, adult children aren’t allowed to grow up. They are still subject to parental Christian rules long after most normal Christian parents have relaxed their grip on their kids. It’s like I’m back in grade school, not having the freedom to voice my own spiritual or non-spiritual beliefs. Even in adulthood, I can’t escape their religious scrutiny and control.
Speaking of control, my mom is no longer “allowed” to visit me or Thalia because we are too un-Christian, according to my dad. As if my mom needs that decree. She told me she doesn’t ever want to see or speak to me again until I confess for telling a lie about my dad.
It hurts. I didn’t fight back when my mom was screeching at me. I wasn’t ready or prepared for her attack. I didn’t expect her to be so riled up. I won’t lie. I was shaking afterwards. My parents are making me out to be this horrible, delusional, sexually sick person. In their mind, a good Christian daughter would never have been sexually abused by her Christian father in the first place, and even if she thought she was, she would realize it was a lie from Satan and she would forget about it and go along cheerily in the Christian walk, smiling and pretending like everything was OK.
That’s how it is in my family. If you go against their Christian way, they will reject you, warn other family members to stay away from you, and withhold communication and support from you until you confess. As long as they deem you are out of the will of God, you are fair game. They will curse you, your health, your finances, your mental state, your relationships, your career. It happened to Thalia before it happened to me, so I’m not the only one. It also happened to my Aunt S, who left the church and was called irresponsible, out of her mind and demon possessed for voicing her non-Christian opinion. She was going through a tough time in her life and the last person she talked to was my dad. He told her she needed to repent so her life situation could change from the miserable place she was in, and that she needed to get the demons exorcised out of her. He was the last person she spoke to. She committed suicide that night. She ran her car off the road at a high speed into a tree. My parents are treating Thalia and me now the same way they treated Aunt S.
My family is twisted. They use Christianity as a weapon to keep us silent. Even if my family thinks you are in God’s will, even then you are still judged and talked about behind your back. They judged me up one side and down the other even when I was a church goer for decades and was living a Godly life. When I needed help from them while I was a Christian, they were not there for me, because of the sins they remembered I had done in my past. You can’t win in my family.
However, I will not let myself back down to them. I think that the best way for me to recover from the PTSD induced by my family is to keep standing up for myself. Even if they are swarming like a nest of bees now talking about me and warning each other to stay away from me. Even though I am now quite alone in the family department. Except for Thalia, who has always been there for me.
Well, I will show them. I am getting healthier and stronger every day. I am getting my power back and they can’t scare me in the name of God anymore. I am strong. I am brave. I don’t need to swallow my truth. I can stand up for myself. I don’t deserve their shaming. I don’t deserve their wrath. I don’t need to rely on my toxic, unsupportive family in order to survive. Other people who I don’t know yet love me and will be there to help me if I need it. But I’m getting better, and I am a survivor, and I am strong. I will show them all!
I will get my health and career back, and I’ll be more than well enough to drive again. I’ll buy my own car. And I’ll hop in my car and drive off, away from this mess. I’ll drive so far, and they will never hear from me again. I’ll go someplace safe and start over again.
Right now, I just want to be around people who are kind and compassionate, who don’t scream or yell. I need to be around people who feel safe. I will practice making a bubble around myself, detaching from the external world and going deep, grounding myself. I can do this. I’m going to start EMDR trauma release therapy in the next few weeks. I can do this. I’m brave. I can make it through this.
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