Rough draft of a 3 pt series about religion, depression, relationships, & mental abuse
Growing up, I was always a very curious child. I was the annoying little shit who always had to ask, “but why?” about everything. My close family was never very religious. My mother had bouts of Christianity every once in a while but that’s about it. And boy when she was committed there was no stopping the hypocrisy. My extended family, on the other hand, always was very devout in their faith. When I was young, my mother allowed me to be taken to church. There are old pictures of me in Sunday school dresses from the time I was a mere year old – possibly younger. What I’m getting at here is that religion and religious gatherings have played a large part of my life for as long as I can remember. However, I can’t admit that my experiences were all unicorns and rainbows.
When I was small, Sunday school was the most joyous place to be. In the tiny, musky nursery room contained the most incredible crayon collection I had ever beheld. I’m talking hundreds here people. I would gladly endure the boring lectures and lessons about the bible as long as I could get my hands on them. You have to give a little to get a little, I suppose. Besides the dank basement musky scent the room had, it always smelled like Keebler Elf fudge stripe cookies and Kool-Aid. The nursery room was home to the age group of newborn infants all the way up to children who were in second grade. It was always my safe haven. I never asked too many questions while I was there. I was too busy working on my art skills and cramming my face full of Pringles. Now that I’m thinking of it, it may have been unwise to allow small children to ingest so much sugar.
As the years past I moved into different classes and age groups. Every time I would move up a level I would question the bible and faith even more. I was eager to learn and understand all that I could. In return for memorizing bible verses or books of the bible we would receive rewards. At one time I could name all of the Old and New Testament and in return I was awarded a fancy bracelet making kit. You know, the kind that have the picture of the two girls laughing while making friendship bracelets for each other. The kit only contained some twine and a few mismatched beads, but to a ten year old me, it was the ultimate sign of Sunday school status. Every Sunday I would strive to be the best pupil in my class. None of the other kids seemed attentive during our readings or conversations and debates. In fact, they seemed very uninterested in anything besides what time it was and how much longer they had to endure the lessons.
Middle school was a tough time for me. I still went to church regularly and participated in church activities, but for some reason I just didn’t feel the same. When I was twelve I didn’t look the same as my peers. I was an early bloomer and looked closer to sixteen. Church members had never bothered me before. I was always well liked among most of them. I was in the kids’ choir, I was respectful during services, and every once in a while I would get up and perform a song. Previously I thought my fellow church go-ers were very welcoming and polite. After all, most of them were just harmless little old ladies.
I have always been a modest dresser. My mother and grandmother would never allow me to leave the house in inappropriate attire, especially not to church. For some reason, the members of the church, including the family who took me to church, always felt the need to comment on my outfits. Not only did they disapprove of that, but they also commented on my weight and my body. As a twelve year old girl, nothing is more damaging to self-image than ugly comments from people you trust and consider role models. “That outfit is so tight on you, can you even breathe in that dress?” “Honey, you might need to go up a size in that blouse.” Those are only the things they said to my face. I don’t want to imagine what they said while I wasn’t listening.
As my self-confidence slowly dwindled away to nothing, I was left wondering – are these people really the people who follow Christ? I know the things they say and their actions are very ungodly, but I still hold respect for them. After all, they are the elders of the church. Perhaps they know more than me and have more knowledge. I began to wear extremely baggy clothes to church. I felt like I was being swallowed by my clothes, but at least no one noticed me. Forget about the fact that I liked my other clothes and they made me feel nice. It was more important to be invisible. Being invisible was easier. Forget that all of the other girls got to wear pretty and frilly outfits that fit them to a t. I was stuck in shapeless, drab blacks, greys, and other neutral tones for approximately six years. In retrospect, I was never a fat child. I was never ugly. In fact, I was quite thin until after high school; I just never really realized it. I have never loved my body. I’ve never even been given the chance to love it.
At the age of thirteen I got my first boyfriend. Everything changed from the day we started dating. My personality. My attitude. I just wanted him to like me. He was tall and blonde and oh yeah, he was sixteen. A three-year age gap doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a girl that young it is. My grandmother was never okay with me dating him. In fact, she blatantly told him she disliked him and he was not welcome in our home. As I got closer to him, I drifted from church. Did I mention he was also my best friend’s brother? I had known him since we were kids. We all had sleepovers and gatherings a lot. Of course, the rules changed when we began dating. He was no longer allowed to stay the night at the same house I stayed when I slept over. He had to go to his grandmother’s.
If you have ever been to church, you will know that the single most preached about subject to teens is abstinence. It was engrained into my mind that once I lost my virginity I was worthless. I would have nothing more to offer when I decided to be married. Churches focus on this subject so much to a point it could brainwash a kid! And if it’s not enough to tell you that your self worth is diminished they always had to pull the “hell card.” One particular verse that disturbs me, “Hebrews 13:4 - Marriage [is] honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” God will judge. I remember a youth pastor preaching on this verse, reminding us all that pre-marital sex is a sin. He even said something along the lines of disappointing God, your parents, and your future husband. This particular message was predominantly aimed towards the girls in the church. The pastor never mentioned anything about the future wives. He kept repeating himself. “God will judge.” The more he said it, the more it sounded like, “I will judge you, others will judge you, the church will judge you.”
I was always a straight A student. I never got into trouble, so I guess my family never assumed I would have premarital sex. The youth group at my church had us all take pledges of purity, so they assumed they could avoid the dreaded talk with me for at least a few more years. But what do you get when you mix an innocent thirteen year old girl and curious sixteen year old boy? That’s right folks, sex. I had no idea what was what. I had never even seen nudity on tv. Everything happened so fast, but I remember most everything. It was terrifying. I was not emotionally or mentally ready for this kind of step in my relationship. The only thing I had ever been told about sex was that it was bad and not to do it, which lead me to fear it. But that didn’t stop me from wondering.
It was the day before Christmas; somehow we ended up being (mostly) alone. My grandmother had called me and I told her I would be staying the night with my friend and my mother had given me permission to do so. She was very unpleased with my news and let me know it. She accused me of being a whore and some comment about spreading my legs. So in spite of her, I decided to make her words true. Not my finest moment, by all means. My friend and her boyfriend were playing lookout. The room was dark and freezing. I don’t even remember getting undressed, but somehow there I was, as exposed as I had ever been. I shivered as he touched my arm, repeatedly asking, “Are you ready? Are you sure you want to do this? You don’t have to do this you know.” But I was already this committed. I nodded my head in reassurance. I couldn’t just back out. No one told me how much it would hurt the first time. I suppressed a painful scream. The whole experience was agonizing. I sighed in relief when I realized it was over. Curiosity got the cat.
I tried my best to bottle up my emotions. I lead him on to believe everything was fine and I was okay, but as soon as he left I couldn’t choke it back anymore. I began to sob uncontrollably. I couldn’t even form proper sentences. “God won’t love me anymore. He will never forgive me. I knew better than this. I am going to go straight to hell. Now I have nothing to offer my future husband.” My way of thinking was so detrimental to my self-image. In my mind, I was worthless, and now no man would ever want to be with me. I was impure.
When I got home the next day I ran straight to my mother and cried to her. I laid my head in her lap and she ran her fingers through my hair. As I told her about the events that unfolded the previous night, she began to laugh at me. I expressed my concern to her about my sins, and she laughed even more. I never understood why when I was young, but now I do. My feelings were hurt pretty terribly at the time. But she was very right to laugh. The church had taught me that to have premarital sex is basically unheard of. If you do have sex outside of wedlock you will burn in hell. They scared me into making sex into the most evil sin you could commit. Sex is not some terrible, evil thing. And sex can even be great at times. But it took me a very, very long time to discover that. It does not define you. The church does not define you. Only you can define you.