Tag Archives: Independent Fundamental Baptist Abuse

Lani Harper’s Story – Part 3

MY ISOLATION, MY PROTECTION: living isolated, in fear of the world; Shunning

shunningMy parents taught us assiduously to be skeptical of anyone outside of our family. People in the church were okay, but still not to be trusted or relied upon; we could only rely upon each other. The IFB church helped in this regard, believing anyone in any religion, even a different form of Baptist, were wrong, misguided, in error, going to hell. The Southern Baptists were liberal, loose and soft on sin. This because they danced, allowed their girls to wear pants and just by the very nature of the South, were more relaxed in manner.

By teaching us that they, and we by extension as long as we remained “in the fold” created by them, had the One True Path and that we would get contaminated by others’ sins to be led astray, we learned to turn inward. We learned to mistrust everyone and everything, buying into their persecution complex, their belief that “everyone is out to get me”; failing that, at least to taint us by association or participation in their sinful ways. Thus, we needed to concentrate on building stronger and stronger ties within the family and the church, so that we had a rock-solid foundation and would not waver when faced with someone in the World who would inevitably tempt us. We would be able to stand strong.

They created such a picture, instilled such a fear, a wariness, a suspicion and guardedness of anyone outside our home, outside our family, that the only logical response was to turn inward. To return to our home and family. No one outside our Inner Sanctum could be trusted. We knew we could not trust our parents or siblings – they proved that by repeatedly betraying us. Yet without a viable safe place to turn, because the World and all its offerings could not be trusted, our only option besides sleeping under a bridge alone, was to stay. The evil we knew remained better than the evils we did not know. They made us understand that if we left, we would be utterly and completely desolate, alone, lost and vulnerable. We could return home; they would take us, but we knew our transgression of leaving would mean a lower rung on the familial ladder.

With the exception of Bonnie and Pat, a female/female couple who lived next-door to us in the Blue House in Waukegan (1982-3) long before we knew anything about gays or the Fundie stance against homosexuals, we were never friends with our next-door neighbors. Constantly and tirelessly instructed to not talk to them. Now, I look at that as another indicator that we were abused: they did not want the people who lived closest us too close. They might have seen something, heard something.

I would never have termed it isolation before writing this, but in re-examining my childhood, the proverbial Red Flags pop up where I least expect them, often in and among things I thought innocuous up till now. This is another one.

At that time, especially in the small rural town in the mid-west where we lived, very few people went to church. Not enough that we were odd because of the size of our Quiverfull family (though relatively small by Quiverfull standards, still much larger than anyone around us), and how our family operated – which was very different than others around us, much more stringent – we were now also strange because we went to church. Were professing born-again Christians, which no one around us was at the time. Now most people consider themselves Christians, and nearly everyone attends a church of some sort. But in that time, and in that area of the country, going to church was rare and made us an oddity. On every front we stood out, could not escape or avoid standing out.

I hated standing out. Hated being different. Desperately wanted to blend in, disappear into the background with the blessing of anonymity by being normal. We were not normal.

The first level of people we were not to associate with was the general public. They fell into the category of “unsaved” or “heathens”, and were Verboten. The barest of pleasantries in order to not be rude or disrespectful was sufficient; anything beyond that simply could not be. We were to prevent friendship or on-going relationship of any kind.

Further, we were taught that friendship with one of these Unsaved, one of these Heathen, simply was impossible. Because we did not share the most important and foundational component, belief in Jesus and salvation, the only way to have a friendship with someone like this would be to elementally reject and set aside our faith. Because it could not happen, I didn’t try, and thus missed out on countless friendships after entering the public school system. They couldn’t be my friends: they couldn’t relate to me or I to them. Their values would contradict and conflict with mine, and I didn’t want to be contaminated by associating with them. We were pure water, they polluting oil, and could not mix ever, no matter what, unless they accepted Jesus. Only then could we let them into the most personal and private areas of our life.

The second layer of isolation involved our extended family. My mother’s family were Catholic, and we in the IFB world knew they were going to hell for venerating Mary over Jesus, the doctrine of trans-substantiation (and yes, at 8 I knew the title and the definition of this and how it conflicted with our doctrine, as well as Bible verses I was to use to show Catholics how wrong they were), and other things that they took every opportunity to tell us. My father’s family were Protestant of some sort, but I never knew what type of church they attended, if at all. Because the type of church mattered.

Extended family occupied a circle inside the general category of Unsaved, but only just. They were not in the inner circle; that place belonged only to our family, my parents, sisters and brother. I could probably count on one hand the number of times in my first two and a half decades that I saw any given aunt or uncle, grandparents, cousins. My parents strictly controlled the amount of time we were permitted to be around them. Held their own families at arm’s length.

I knew my mother’s father had been abusive. She has told two or three stories about him, one involved him chasing her mother with a cast-iron skillet to hit her. I knew of his physical abuse, and I suspect sexual abuse, though she remains coldly silent about him. Any words she says about him are thick with anger, hatred, bitterness.

The first time I talked to him I was seventeen. He called our house, and I answered the phone. He introduced himself as Mike, asked to speak to Mag. That was the only time I’d had any contact at all with him, this man vilified by my mother’s few words.

When her mother died, she and I travelled to stay with one of her brothers and his family. At one point, they received a phone call. She then came to the room we were sharing, agitated and flustered, hands flapping as she paced back and forth. He was coming, she told me. On his way, imminent arrival. When he arrived, she refused to come out, refused to see him.

At the funeral, no one approached him, no one spoke to him. At one point, I walked over to him and introduced myself, Hi, I’m Lani, Mag’s daughter. And then she shunned me for the rest of the service. I knew she was angry at me for speaking to him, and later when we spoke of it, she could hardly spit the words out of her angry mouth. You don’t understand! You don’t know what he did to us.

I responded by telling her I didn’t care; I would not carry on generational bitterness. She exploded at me, I’M NOT BITTER! With some more you don’t understand statements. No, I don’t understand. She never told us, never told us about him or her childhood beyond a few short, tersely-brief stories meant to give evidence and validity to her not wanting us to see him, intended to make me thankful for her protecting and shielding us from his evils.

As a direct result of this isolation from extended family, my siblings and I still do not have relationship with any aunts, uncles, cousins or our sole remaining grandparent, JD’s mother. Any interactions are liberally sprinkled with awkwardness at not knowing them, not having history or memories with them. No holidays spent around Grandma’s table; all our holidays belonged strictly to our family, in our home, but always with people in the church, orphan-families who had no family with whom to celebrate. These were families my parents took under their wing, to instruct them in how to build a solid marriage and raise obedient children.

These occupied the next-smaller circle, inside Extended Family but outside Immediate Family, and this circle also belonged to our friends. That is, our friends inside the IFB church. And there were precious few of those.

The most inward circle was reserved for only our family. No others could enter, until we married. Then our spouses would be permitted entrance into the inner sanctum.

However, in this innermost of circles, the smallest and most restrictive, the isolation bended and twisted and curled around us, like a snake slithering through our midst. We never knew where we’d see it next or how it would encircle us. It was not a biting snake; its wounds were inflicted as it separated one or more of us, using its slimy, scaly serpentine movements to slowly strangle us apart from the rest.

The damage then, was two-part: physical separation in that we would be set aside, apart from the rest of the family, for a time; and emotional separation, where especially Mag would harbor anger against us and not speak to us for the duration of the separation.

Only during the writing of this book did I term the separations for what they really are. I’d labeled my childhood as abusive. I knew that with most religious or spiritual abuse situations members can be shunned as punishment, to coerce them back into the fold, to return from their wayward ways as the scriptural Prodigal Son. I mentally checked off the important aspects: parents beat us, check. Churches abused us spiritually, check. Verbal abuse, check. But we hadn’t been shunned, so I thought whew, we at least escaped that.

In the middle of one night, my thoughts roiled around in the guise of dreams, words tumbled over and over such that one sentence couldn’t end before the next had overlapped. Slowly, they honed in, tightening in my mind, focusing inward to the underlying point: oh my god, she shunned us, I thought, and woke at the same time the thought solidified into words. She shuns us.

The abusive story was complete.

Mag’s version of shunning is a bit different. It is not an all-or-nothing denial of our existence forevermore. She does not physically act or speak as if we are dead or that we never existed. Her method of shunning, or isolating us within the family, is much more capricious, much more fluid. She shuns when and if she feels it necessary to make a point, to teach us a lesson.

In Mag’s world of shunning, she holds the cards, controls the world. She uses it to what she deems her advantage, to keep us off-kilter, always guessing, never knowing where we stand with her. It is emotional manipulation at its very finest, and Mag has honed it to a well-defined art form. It can be so fast as to appear a transitory tantrum, with a large explosion (or a series of small explosions) then, if she doesn’t get her way, she’ll storm off in a huff. When this happens, I’m never sure when she’ll deign to speak to me again. Sometimes it’s hours; sometimes months. Regardless, when she does decide to acknowledge my presence again, there is usually a large dose of residual manipulation in the form of what I term the “wounded bear” complex. She ensures the other person knows she was offended and hasn’t let the offender off the hook yet, all without breathing a word about the event that set her off.

While we were growing up, we had a particularly unique form of shunning exhibited in our family relating to mealtimes. They used food as a leveraging tool, based on our attitude and work that we had completed during the day.

There were times we were not allowed to eat. I recall being made to stand in my place, in front of my chair, during dinner while everyone else ate. This was the picture that accompanied the words in the dream-state that informed me we had been shunned. Standing at the table as everyone held hands around us for the song and prayer required prior to eating, and did not touch us or speak to us during the entirety of the meal.

These meals would drag on seemingly for an eternity, with JD offering extra helpings to everyone multiple times, eating dessert, lecturing on the topic-of-the-day, discussing the day’s happenings. My legs burned, muscles threatened to rebel against being still for so long, and my stomach refused to remain silent. We had to stand with hands down by our sides, eyes straight ahead.

I tried, as always, to control my tears – received not a few You want something to cry about? I’ll give you something to cry about! statements – but inevitably a few would stubbornly refuse to obey and trickle down my cheek. I could not use my hands to wipe them away but made and unmade fists by my side, keeping the fist on the side away from my parents’ eyesight. And I had to work to hide my anger at being treated such, not let it show on my face: that was a surefire ticket to an attitude adjustment with the belt. I, more than my siblings, could not avoid the evidence of my emotions on my face, a fact that resulted in more than a few attitude adjustments.

The punishment continued after the meal with being made to clean up. At that age, I always had one of my older sisters “helping” me. Really, they were present to educate me, to instruct me in the proper way to clean up. Sometimes these were fun times, teasing and happily chatting. But after a meal that included shunning, the silence lay heavy in the air. I was still forbidden from talking to anyone, and to avoid having my mouth taped, I endeavored to show them by my voluntary silence that I understood what I was to do.

The sister, either Libbie or Andie, also had the duty of ensuring I did not sneak scraps off the plates, to appease my hunger. I was also forbidden from eating until the next meal which meant an interminable night of a rumbling stomach that would not let me sleep peacefully. Times like these we became adept at sneaking food from the pantry. Spaghetti noodles were my favorite, as they were small, could be eaten quickly, and couldn’t be counted. Marshmallows too, if I were brave to sneak something sweet. I loved sweets.

Andie was more compassionate; Libbie was, still is, very hard-hearted and tendered zero sympathy. She more than the rest of us completely swallowed the rhetoric shoved down our throats. She believed we deserved our punishment. And she could not be trusted to keep confidences but would betray us to Mag, silently and without our knowledge. We never guessed she was their mole; we simply thought Mag and JD really did have eyes everywhere. Libbie was their eyes.

This type of shunning continued for several years. In high school, they simply refused to let us sit at the table, remanded us to our room for the duration of everyone else’s joyful consuming of aromatic foods whose scents wafted up the stairs and under the door to taunt me. Always after a meal like this I had to clean up after everyone else, but by this time they expected I knew my duty to not eat. But I was very adept at sneaking small portions that would not be missed; because they checked the leftover containers to ensure the amounts matched what was left at the end of the meal.

Mag’s manipulation of us through battering us with emotional neglect continues to the present. It is so ingrained, so instinctual, so capricious I believe it is completely unconscious. Though I also believe she has no idea of the ramifications or tangent consequences to us or our psyches, I also do not excuse her any longer. In essence, she acts with social skills comparable to a spoiled three year old.

Not only does she herself shun, but she pulls everyone in the family into her shunning game. She uses her diabolical skills as emotional manipulator to convert my father and siblings into turning against me as well. Now, with this new definition of shunning on her actions, I look back at instances of her not-talking to me and see them for what they truly were. Not talking to me after disagreeing about baby-proofing (as in, I wanted to; she thought me to be spoiling my child) – shunning. Not talking to me after I joined a charismatic church – shunning. Her ire at me during her mother’s funeral – shunning. Not talking to me after Libbie’s wedding, as well as turning the entire family against me – shunning.

Libbie’s wedding exemplifies her tactics of persuading others to believe her and join with her in battle beautifully.

When my oldest sister got married, I like a dutiful sister traveled with my husband and babies to participate in supporting her. By this time my brother had also gotten engaged, and so I think I met his fiancé for the first time at Libbie’s wedding. By this point I had put myself on this path of questioning the way we were raised, questioning Mag and JD’s methods, questioning if they really did “the best they could have” under the circumstances. As a result, I’d experienced not a little bit of tension and animosity towards me and had begun distancing myself from my parents specifically, and also my siblings who Mag roped into agreeing with her.

My children were 22 months and 7 months, and I had persistently worked with Libbie for her to find me a babysitter so that I could enjoy the rehearsal and wedding without chasing after babies or worrying about their inevitable disruptions, and without needing to apologize for their babyness.

On Sunday the day after the wedding, they wanted to have a family breakfast at the hotel with everyone. I was exhausted from wedding activities and little sleep – my younger child was still waking up several times a night. Plus I knew the drive back to Raleigh from Virginia Beach would be taxing – my children hated being strapped in, unable to move for prolonged periods of time, so whoever was not driving was entertaining them so as to keep them content and quiet(er) than they would be. They had no coping skills for driving like this and were too young to understand. I’m sure they felt we were punishing them unnecessarily. Road trips were not fun, and so we avoided them as much as we could at that point in their lives.

I explained to everyone our need to leave first thing Sunday morning, that we would miss the family breakfast. At this point I still needed to be heard, to be understood, thought that if I just explained things correctly, used the right words, that my message would be heard and they would cease to antagonize and criminalize me for not complying with their wishes. Mostly “their wishes” applies to Mag, and JD by extension because he doesn’t disagree with her much, but Mag pushed her wishes on everyone else with her coercion and emotional manipulation.

Unable to get them to stop nit-picking at me, finding fault with my plans as my choices did not accede to what they wanted of me, I threw my hands in the air and went about our business preparing to leave, ensuring we did not leave anything behind, had fresh diapers on the kids, gas in the tank, and so forth.

Not sufficient to lambast me in person, Mag and my sisters continued to harass me via email for the next few weeks. At that point, Andie and I were still adversaries, clashing and believing what Mag said about the other person, and she took part in the email bashing. Her husband even took part, and between the two of them, they told me that I was hurting everyone on purpose, that I was self-centered, and tearing the family apart. Among other things, which she has since profusely apologized for. I do not fault her any longer for saying and doing these things then; I merely use it to exemplify what the family was like then and the hold Mag retains over anyone who lets her. Andie, Evie and I do not any longer let her control how we perceive each other, and we decline to take part in her schemes against anyone else.

At this point though, she turned everyone against me. I’m sure she griped about me at the family breakfast – it is her manner. Sadly, she has done it enough that I know her tendencies.

I responded authoritatively to each and every email, discarding my pleas for empathy and understanding, as my explanations only served to continue the harassment. The more I responded to their allegations and accusations, the more they accused me. The more I attempted to explain my point of view, my situation, the more I was labeled self-absorbed and egocentric. The more I asked for consideration of my circumstances, the more they said I was manipulative and trying to force everyone to bend around me as the center of the world. I should add that at this point, I was the only one who had children so no one understood the demands of having two babies; after many years, after everyone else had children, they would use that to appeal to my compassion: please, Lani, you should understand.

And so after a few bouts with several family members, including my brother-in-law, and conferencing with my husband as to the best way to handle the situation, I took a different tack: I responded with confidence, authority and a strength I did not yet own. And I cried after each email was sent. They had no business informing me that I was “tearing the family apart”, especially my brother-in-law, who had never met my daughter or come to my home or made any attempt to get to know me. That accusing me of “hurting everyone on purpose” was untrue and they did not have permission to say that, or anything like it, to me again. And many other things that I do not recall, as it has been nearly a decade since this all took place.

As a result of standing up for myself to my family, no one talked to me for months. No phone calls, no emails, no visits or invitations to visit.

Now, though, Evie, Andie and I see this sort of situation – which was and is far from exceptional in our family – as exemplifying how our parents turned us against each other. Used anyone who dared step out to stand on her own feet, in opposition – however courteous and respectfully – of their will and their way as an opportunity to influence the others, indoctrinate the siblings to their way of thinking and doing things. This created strife and massive rifts in relationship that the three of us are endeavoring to now mend, but these rifts and strife instilled between and among us run deep and are exceedingly difficult to change. We are trying.

But how stressful never knowing if your mother is angry at you! And wracking your brain, trying to determine which incident set her off this time. Examining over and over your actions, your words, wondering how she could have misinterpreted meaning or intent. Always viewing her and her words with skepticism, trying to figure out her underlying meaning, what the double-speak might reference. But never being able to define it or her actions for what they are, else ensure a barrage of venomous anger. As always, standing up to her means inciting her to wrath and guaranteeing that if she hadn’t been angry and shunning before, she surely would after.

Still, to this day, though I have left this life far behind, I struggle with letting people in. With the instinctive labeling of people relative to the circle in which I should place them. It is a constant and conscious and deliberate pursuit, to reject the isolation that I internalized due to the doctrines of the IFB and the practices of my family. To pause when I hear the words in my head, to form the thoughts into words and then reject those thoughts that tell me I should keep myself apart, separate.

It takes work to emerge from this sort of isolationist mentality, but it can be done. It takes effort, but it also takes desire. Without wanting to change, I would not seek change. Without defining from where I have come, I cannot define where to go. I still have a practiced mentality that completely dismisses next door neighbors. Living in the South has helped, though it has taken nearly two decades of deprogramming in this setting. Of not being irritated at what I defined as intrusiveness, of not reacting viscerally at what felt inappropriately intimate. Of not labeling people as dangerous, out to unravel my carefully-constructed life.

Now, though, I am much more gentle on myself, realizing my instincts of self-preservation, of preventing people close to me from damaging the most inward and delicate parts of my heart, reflect the severity of my upbringing. When I can put words to it, when I can make connections between why I do or feel something and what my parents did or taught me, I build a new step. A step that takes me further from them.

It is a long road, and a slowly-built one. And a never-ending road. But worth the effort.

Lani Harper’s Story – Part 2

From the Author: Lani Harper is a religious abuse survivor that has found the courage to speak out about the abusive teachings within religion. She is currently working on a book that will encompass how the teachings of her religion affect children. The working title of her book, is Dear Mom & Dad: You’re Fired. It is a much needed resource to show the populous how destructive religious teachings can be in the home; especially for children. I am looking forward to the time when it hits the market. Lani is an excellent writer and, is gifted with the ability to expose truth in such a way that it can infiltrate the heart of the reader and give genuine understanding regarding religious abuse and how it is used to destroy lives.

MY INJURY, MY SECRET: Lack of medical care

It is common in these cultures to minimize medical care for a variety of reasons. They decry the establishment of the medical community as information-gathering conspiricists complicit with the government which, though they appear to support, are in actuality extremely suspicious of its actions and question its policies and procedures that conflict with what they believe God wants them to do. But they also minimize medical care in order to hide abuse. Or they have lists of approved doctors who are complicit in hiding the abuse. These doctors are either Fundies (fundamentalists) or sympathetic to Fundies and will not report any injury that looks like abuse.

I had maybe just turned 6 when I received my first two-wheeler, and we were living in the blue house that JD (my father) had built in Waukegan (or Beach Park) Illinois. Shortly after receiving this bike, Mag (my mother) actually planned to go on a bike ride, just the two of us. I was beside myself with excitement. I never got her all to myself, always had to settle for the crumbs of her attention that I got when she didn’t have to be watching Dale and Evie all the time. Or be cooking with the older two. I was the middle child of five and expected to just find my place.

She and I prepared to leave. I had a miniature basket that looked like a small laundry basket that I tied to my handlebars. I had a bunny I wanted to bring along, and she needed a place to ride. I couldn’t very well hold her for the entirety of the ride, so I made a seat for her. We pulled out of the driveway and turned left, and I must have over corrected or lost my balance somehow, but my used-new-to-me bike and I fell into the gravel road. I skinned my left knee and my right hand was torn up. I remember crying and coming back inside, sitting on a chair just inside the door while everyone frenzied around me trying to figure out what was going on. There was some terse informing me I had to stop crying, but I was hurt and disappointed: I knew there would be no bike ride with mom and me now, and there was not.

That injury did not heal. I look back now and at the severity of the injury that does not equal the intensity of the accident and wonder: what really happened? It was nearly eight weeks, and most of the summer, I spent in and out of doctors’ offices getting my hand cleaned and treated and wrapped. My oldest sister is convinced I had a splint on my index finger, but I have always insisted that that particular event did not have a splint.

Which begins to create a spiderweb of possibilities. Was there another incident with a finger of mine getting injured that required a splint? Did they not appropriately clean my injuries from the bike accident and they got so infected I had to see a doctor? Why was my hand injury so severe? It required tons of gauze wrapped around my first two fingers, then down around my palm several times.

I also remember having this treated and returning to multiple residences during the healing process. Houses that I can’t place, that I don’t know where they were. I remember having my hand re-bandaged then returning to a bedroom where twin beds lined three of the four walls. Mine was under the window which had a window fan. Central air conditioning was not common at that time, so we used fans. I remember not wanting blankets because I was sticky with sweat, and I kept holding my bandaged hand up to the fan to cool it off.

I came in while the other girls were sleeping, and I crept across the cool, squeaky hardwood floor to my bed, eased myself onto the mattress and tried to ignore my stickiness in order to go to sleep. Why was I being treated at night? Was it a secret doctor? Why was this not the same house where the accident happened? We hadn’t moved in the interim. And Mag was not there: were my parents separated at the time? Did JD keep an extra residence to take us girls for secret time with us?

My sprained ankle when I was five was another instance I do not believe they took me to a doctor. I remember being taught to crab-walk through the house. It was so severe I could not put any weight on it, but any sensible doctor would have given me crutches. My sister Libbie taught me how to wrap it with an ace bandage, then sent me on my way to creep and crawl around the house, using hands and one foot and my rear in order to do navigate hallways and stairs.

About this time I also had a back injury, the first that left me with a life-long issue with my lower back that has plagued me off and on. I was outside playing with a ball at the blue house. This house had a garage with an automatic door opener. Someone had pushed the button to close the door, and my ball rolled under the door. Instead of going to get help or going through the house, I decided to crawl under the door. I had just enough room to get under it, but because of the time period, these doors did not have a safety sensor that would stop it if someone crossed under it while it was operating. So it closed on top of my back, and I had to sit there on all fours, screaming until someone came to find me. I was stuck and in pain, with the entire weight of the door resting on my small frame.

Another episode where I had a back injury took place at camp. I don’t know what camp is like for non-Christians, but for us fundies, when we were living in Roscoe, Illinois, we would go to the mountains in Wisconsin to Camp Joy. It took several hours by bus, and was located in an extremely remote area surrounded by acres and acres of wooded land, fields here and there, on the edge of Whitewater Lake.

My room along with numerous other girls was in the main lodge. The center room of the lodge houses the dining hall, and has one wing to the left and one to the right through double doors. Each of these wings has multiple large rooms used for sleeping, with several bunk beds in each.

Because it’s in the very hilly area of Wisconsin, they built a water superslide that goes from the top of a hill and ends in the lake. We would walk all the way up the hill, through trees and underbrush along a foot-worn path to the top of the slide and climb the stairs. The slide had three runs, so that they could send three children down at once, but they had ceased doing this, as some children on the outside two had fallen off on their way down and been injured. At this point, they only used the center run. One time I went down the slide, I gained a lot of speed, and being a small child, and perhaps because I unknowingly pulled my legs up at the last second, just before leaving the slide and sailing through the air and down into the water, I flipped around backwards. This meant when my body left the end of the slide and I careened through the air, my back hit the water first, instead of my behind and legs. My back smacked the water worse than any belly flop, and the instantaneous pain meant I struggled swimming back to the top and then to the side of the lake to get myself out of the water.

I remember crying as I was walked back to the lodge, hunched over with pain. They tried to get my shirt off so they could look at my back, but this required my grabbing the underside of the frame of the bunk above me (they had put me on the bottom bunk) in order to get my back off the bed so they could remove or lift up my shirt. Yes, in spite of the pain, they had laid me on my back in bed.

A stodgy old nurse gave me a cursory look-over, then I was put in bed to just lay there and recover. Alone. All day. Alone and crying with pain. They never took me to a doctor. They may have given me some Tylenol for pain, but the pain was so great I could not move for several days. Could not get to the dining hall, so they brought me my food. I lay on that bed with no way to count the time, knowing my friends were having fun without me.

I was told to “just rest”, but resting while enduring so much pain was next to impossible. I could not even reach my arms around to touch my back with my hands. and the bruise that emerged covered nearly the entirety of my back in a black and blue discoloration of my fair skin.

This injury prevented me from participating in camp activities for the rest of the week. I think by the end of the week, I could move around stiffly, walking like an old woman, slightly hunched over still, and had to stay with the counselors, sitting on the sidelines as everyone else got to play, run, jump, swim and cavort around the way kids do at camp.

The first time my parents took me to a doctor about my back was in middle school after testing positive for scoliosis. The testing took place during gym class, and the teacher tried to hide her alarm at the severity of the curve in my spine and the fact that my hips were not level.

The inflexibility of my spine meant that when I attempted to touch my toes while standing, I could reach no further than about mid-calf. This was not a problem with needing to stretch more; my spine simply would not bend the way it needed to because it was twisted and curved around in a pronounced S shape.

I am not sure why Mag decided all of a sudden to take my back issues seriously – I had complained about lower back pain for years; indeed, I did not remember a time without back or hip pain. But she went on a mission and found a pediatric back doctor of some sort and took me.

The doctor was a man, and coupled with my self-conscious sensitivity concerning body changes relative to puberty, I was humiliated that I had to undress and parade around scantily clad in front of a man. As I did not know how to voice my discomfort, and knew inside I’d be ignored anyways, and not knowing there were female options for doctors, I swallowed and tried to endure though I can still feel the fire of embarrassment in my cheeks as he sat behind me touching my hips and butt as he examined me. I was then sent for x-rays, after which he looked at x-rays of my physique.

He determined that he could do nothing – it was not severe enough to warrant surgery, but enough to keep observing it, and so scheduled to see me back in a few months. We went four or five times, with much the same experience and diagnosis: nothing to do but come back every few months to ensure it did not get out of hand.

After several visits like this, I told Mag I didn’t want to go anymore, that it was the same thing every time and he wasn’t able to do anything to help me. Instead of taking concern for my well-being and the health of my back as her responsibility, she never mentioned it again. I continued with low back and hip pain for more than a decade after that before I discovered chiropracty.

My entire life, Mag and JD dismissed things they did not value. They (still) do not explore something new-to-them to investigate its benefits or potential positives. They merely scoff and brush it aside, refusing to educate themselves to see if their opinion is correct.

Chiropractic care was one of these things. They scoffed: what use is cracking bones? They’d say with a tone that said more. They thought it ridiculous, worthless; these people were quacks, they told me, charlatans. People who duped their “patients” into believing they were physicians, but really they were deceitful, deceptive and Of The Devil. This “of the devil” determination was slapped on anyone and anything that fell outside the purview of our born-again Christian fundie mindset. They never researched chiropracty, never looked at or talked to any actual chiropractic doctors, just simply dismissed it without another thought.

But the degree of curvature was so severe that it had most likely developed slowly as I grew over the several years prior to my seventh grade year when they screened us. The teachers tried to hide their alarm, but urged me to tell my parents to get me checked out. The curvature prevented me from reaching my full height – the first chiropractor I saw also x-rayed me and measured the curve to be 47 degrees. At 50 degrees, surgery is the only option, but prior to this, even then there were braces and therapies to slow it down or guide the spine to grow upright instead of sideways. The chiropractor told me the curvature was so pronounced that if my spine were straight, I would be three inches taller.

Meaning, I was not allowed to grow to my full height due to lack of medical care when it would have made a difference. Thus, I stood out in my family: all my sisters grew to adult heights of about 5 feet 7 inches. They teased me as the “petite” one, the one who got Mag’s small-statured genes.

I began to see chiropractors just prior to getting married in my middle twenties. A little terrified, a little skittish – what was I doing, seeing the devil’s doctors? Feeling a little rebellious (I didn’t tell my parents what I was doing; they would have began a strongly-worded and toned lecture to tell me how astray I was), I went with my then-fiance to observe.

After he finished with my fiance, I let the doctor examine my back, though I was tentative – I had told a bit of my discomfort in previous back-examinations from my doctor experiences to my fiance, and he assured me that chiropractors did not undress you, that this particular version of medical care was very non-invasive. The doctor felt my spine through my shirt, and assured me that he could help.

Were I younger, he told me, he could actually have improved my spine by decreasing the curvature. At my age, though, he told me the best he could probably do was to get me more mobility (I was not very flexible due to the curve and how it had pushed my ribs and other bones out of place to make room for my spine) and definitely decrease my pain, increase my comfort level on a day-to-day basis. With my fiance urging me on, I decided to give it a try.

I began seeing chiropractors regularly, and as a result back pain rarely plagues me unless I have done something to strain it. My hips did not bother me again until after having babies, but even that issue is alleviated with regular adjustments. I have flexibility in my lower back that I never had before, and at the end of the day, when I lie down in bed, my back doesn’t keep me awake with the severe ache from just living, sitting, walking, standing, driving that happens in my days. And, despite what the first chiropractor told me, the curvature in my spine has improved significantly.

Multiple chiropractic doctors have independently told me the same thing that first one did: were I even 18, they could have done so much more for my back in decreasing the curvature, most likely even making my spine perfectly straight again, as well as realigning my hip. But due to my age, my bones had set and would only shift slightly. As a result of the lack of medical care in this culture, and a result of dismissing an option without researching to verify its ability to help me, my back and hips are permanently deformed, and I am physically disfigured.

I place the blame entirely at my parents’ door. Their attitude concerning chiropractors prevented me from getting help in a place that could actually have helped me. They ceased actively seeking out medical care of any sort for this issue, consigning me to a life of pain. And by lack of care, I live with the reality of being deformed when, had they explored the realities of chiropractic care instead of believing what the church told us about it, they could have fulfilled their sacred responsibility to ensure my health and well-being.

In fact, the more I have thought about it, the more I think Mag felt guilty. She may have done something to me when I was a baby that resulted in my hip being misaligned, and the reminder that it was still not correct, that I am maimed because of her and that it was an issue that plagued me throughout my life, made her hide and avoid any instance that would continue to remind her of what she had done to me. This is speculation, and she will never tell me. But given the realities of our childhood, how they purposefully injured us in order to “train” our behavior, this fits the profile.

Why else instantly and completely give up pursuing help for me for what others had determined was a serious physical malformity? Why else in this instance but no other would she let me, a child, have a say and go with my wishes when in all other instances they disregarded us? Why else not ever mention either the malformity or the pain that plagued me again? She never checked in with me on it, when she checked in on other, smaller maladies like headaches or flus. She would, however, if backed into a corner where she felt she had to admit it, blame it on me, on something I did, in a feeble attempt to exculpate herself.

Consequently, when my daughter complained of a rib hurting, I took her straight to my chiropractor. She had knocked a rib out of alignment while playing on a jungle gym, and I could not idly sit by when I knew of a tool that would help. Small things like this are ways that I purposefully walk contrary to my parents, endeavoring to be a better mother, to raise my children better. If looking at, and defining, their errors results in my learning not only how to not parent but how to parent, then I have succeeded in breaking the cycle. If I can say that is abuse, then I can identify things that are not abuse. I can free myself and move forward, but only when I know what I am moving away from.

And I will keep their secrets no longer.