on my own

I am not sure if this is the place to write this. I am not even sure where it is I am going to be saying that I am not sure if this is the place to write this. Of my approximately five options, one is a PTSD board for people with PTSD from whatever trauma, one is a board for ex-fundamentalists who have walked away from their churches to varying extents, one is a board I only just joined that seems mostly focused on sexual abuse and rape, and the last board is a board for people with invisible disabilities.

I don’t know the PTSD board very well at all and, to the extent that one can get a vibe from just a few visits to an internet board (and I can, actually, and I am usually right), I get a vibe from this one that gives me some pause as to whether queer non-religious folk are welcome there or would be treated with care. I have not been to the ex-fundamentalist board in about two years and although I did get something out of my time there I don’t remember it being a place where one talked about more general familial abuse or trauma beyond that which was directly related to fundamentalism. About half of what I have to write is directly related to fundamentalism.

The invisible disabilities board is more of a place to go when one is running out of spoons than for insight into abusive childhoods; most of the people on that board do not attribute their disabilities to abuse and most of the disabilities represented there are more physiological than psychological–although I do believe that most psychological disabilities correspond to series of discrete but complex physiological states, there are many discrete, complex physiological disabilities that correspond to no particular psychological state. In other words, my invisible disability is one that tends to get section off in its own little room, apart from those with disabling physical symptoms.

Which leaves me with this other board I just joined a little while ago and my own blog. This other board–I am tempted to call it YABB4D (Yet Another BB for the Disenfranchised)–seems extremely genial and is watched over by some very fierce women who are determined to make it a safe space. Thing is–and wouldn’t you just know it–out of my full house of trauma cards the first one that has come up since joining this board has nothing to do with sexual abuse or rape. I have those cards, but my head tends to deal somewhat randomly and has chosen this week to ask me to think about spiritual abuse and the threat of abandonment instead.

As it happens, I have decided to, if not systematically, then at least with some sense of deliberation, try to unpack the tangle of narrative and nervous tissue that constitutes my own origin myth. Some of this involves therapy; some of it involves finishing the goddamned autobiography already. Some of it involves researching the spread of agriculture and the Neolithic revolution in Europe and some of it involves becoming more aware of my predecessors’ relationships to the origin myth of the United States.

It’s a big project. It might produce as many as five books if I live long enough to write them all. It’s not that this is the only thing I can think of to do but it seems rather to be the only thing that I can do with any regularity and it seems like the one thing I have to do it in order not to have lived for absolutely no reason.

But so this is just a small part of the whole undertaking but “yesterday”–whenever that was–I was fooling around with a mind-mapping program that has you name “thoughts” and draw lines between them to indicate specific types of relationships. I wanted to take a look at the various roots of my own PTSD to see how they might be connected and, indeed, how many of them there might be to be connected. The results have yet to come in; all I can say at this point is that I have created 60 thought-nodes and that there must be at least 200 connections running this way and that between them.

I decided to make a timeline because it seemed like a good idea for trying to get a handle on what happened when rather than relying on my extremely hazy memory that only recalls for instance the slow silence that descended from about fourth grade on and became rock solid cold noiseless and bare by the time I was 15.

What I found out surprised me. Or rather one thing I found out that I did not know before and it seems significant.

In fourth grade–and I knew this already–I found a Jack Chick tract in my classroom. Yeah I’m not gonna link but if you do not know of Jack Chick and you either are not a recovering fundamentalist or you do not easily get recalled into fire-and-brimstone mode you can Google ‘Jack Chick’ to get an idea of what they sell or sometimes give away. I’m pretty sure Jack has kicked the bucket by now but the operation carries on. The one you want to look at–or don’t want to look at, as may be the case–is named “The Beast”.

In “The Beast,” Jack luridly illustrates his version of dispensationalism; briefly, dispensationalism states that all true Christians are, very soon, going to be raptured away from the earth before a period of pestilence and war, known as “the tribulation” begins. The tribulation will end with the ultimate battle between Good and Evil with, of course, Good winning. After that will be the Last Judgment in which, again, all true Christians (usually Catholics are not included here) will be ushered into their eternal reward of golden streets and harp music while the rest of us are cast into the Lake of Fire.

Sound bizarre? It is. And a notable percentage of North Americans believe it pretty much as I stated it there. My mother did at the time I found the tract. I don’t know if she still believes in it as literally as she did then but I suspect she hasn’t changed a whole lot in her beliefs given some of the things I have had the bad fortune to hear her say or write in relatively recent years.

But so what I found out was that I must have found this beautiful little storybook–which had anyone trying to buy groceries without the mark of the beast being guillotined on these small guillotines on little forklift car thingies (Nice touch. They gave me a very concrete picture to obsess over for years)–sometime in 1970 or early in 1971, because that was when I was in fourth grade.

Well I brought it home and told my mom I was confused about something I’d picked up and she said she would go through it and explain it to me and so I brought it out and we went through it and she basically confirmed that the tract was accurate and that that was how things were going to happen and that, yes, as long as I was not saved, my family would be raptured away and I would be left behind–this was before one could be Left Behind with capital letters.

Oddly, I do not really remember how I reacted to being told that, or at least I do not recall my immediate reaction. She did succeed in scaring me half to death–there is no mistaking that, but I do not know how I took it. I was a quiet kid and was able to take most things without any visible reaction once I had learned that reactions were usually met with shaming tactics so if I was suddenly terrified no one would have known but me.

I do know that over time I became terrorized, but that is part of a different part of the story.

What is significant, as though this were not significant enough, is that in early 1970 my family went through a very stressful upheaval that threw me for a million loops before I ever found the Chick tract. The narrative itself is not that interesting, although the fact that we had to drive to California and back before Lockheed laid off my dad was certainly unforgettable. The short form of that is that first they were going to transfer him from Lockheed-GA to Lockheed-CA for six months, so we packed up and drove to L.A. where we stayed for two weeks before being called back, which was puzzling, but it was decided that we kids would be taken out of school and we would take our sweet time about driving back, being sure to hit all the tourist spots. Basically a long work trip turned into a very interesting vacation.

But when we got back Lockheed told my dad he didn’t have a job anymore. My mom had been a housewife up until this point and I had been very accustomed to having her at home. There’s bound to be some understatement here because somewhere in the question of whether I am on the autism spectrum or just extreeeeeemely introverted lays the fact that I was more dependent on my mom than most kids my age until I finally was unable to keep the double life going anymore and had to break things off with her completely–the life being doubled as soon as I felt I had something to hide from her, which was the case very early on and only became more so but this is another story still and the breaking off was gradual and not total until I was legally an adult.

The short version is that my mom had to get a job when my dad lost his because he decided to return to school and work as a mechanic for lower wages than he got as an engineer and so we needed two incomes. The only thing my mom felt like she could do in a hurry was work as a telephone operator, because she had done this before. Southern Bell (no joke) hired her on the swing shift, so she worked very irregular hours and was sometimes not there when I woke up and not there when I went to sleep and sometimes there but only for a short while during the day. Mostly she was not there, was how it seemed to me, and without her I had no one.

Which, well you know, I was eight years old and had been put ahead a grade the year before (skipped second: went from first to third) even though socially and emotionally I was probably about four. Back then that was their answer to kids that knew more than they were supposed to. Just kick them on ahead.

So what I’ve got here, for the first time in such close succession, is that my mom left me to go to work (trauma, but not abuse) and then, within a year’s time, also told me that she and the rest of the family were probably leaving me here to face the mobile guillotines soon. And I believed it exactly that way; I took the news of the rapture as straight on and literally as a person could take it. Trauma; emotional and spiritual abuse.

I am a bit horrified. After that, well after that I regularly spent whole nights awake trying to get saved in some way that did not require me to “walk the aisle”. Anyone who has spent time in a church that does altar calls or “invitations” at the end of their services knows what it is to walk the aisle. I didn’t do it for another five years, and then not until I was told I was going to. I never decided to do it on my own. More of another story yet.

Until “last night”–whenever that was–I didn’t realize that so much had gone so horribly wrong in a relatively short amount of time. She didn’t just leave to go to work; soon after she also was the bearer of the news that there was nothing she could do about the fact that she and my dad and my brother might well disappear at any moment and that if I was left behind it was because.. why? What was it because? Not just that I hadn’t “made my decision” yet but that I was born at all. Something that I hadn’t asked for but now that I was here it was something I was inexplicably responsible for.

When of course it was not I who called myself into being.

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8 thoughts on “on my own

  1. as a recovering fundie myself, there were at least a few times in my youth where i believed this stuff so much that if it got too quiet or i couldn’t find anyone, i began to panic and think the Rapture had occurred and i’d missed it. until i found other people who i knew wouldn’t be damned like me.

    all of the “we’re going to be raptured” and “we’re going to get in a nuclear war with russia” and “we’re gonna have The Big Quake here in southern California” stuff produced a very fucked up little me. i was sure that the world would be destroyed before i was 30.

  2. .. i guess my reason for posting my own anecdote is to say “you’re not alone, i do understand how this stuff can work, and i understand some of what you’re going through.”

    in case i wasn’t clear

  3. I got ya. I do the same thing. People don’t always understand that “I had the same exact thing happen” means “you’re not alone” but since I do it I know what it means. :)

    I didn’t grow up in CA but there were Russian missiles pointed straight at me or almost, given we were maybe five miles from a major aircraft manufacturer which happened to be adjacent to and share a runway with an Air Force base.

    Honestly I was more afraid of the Rapture. Isn’t that fucked up? The Russians were abstract notions I never quite understood as concretely as “your family is going to vanish without notice any day now.” Maybe cause the preachers were more emphatic about the latter than they seemed worried about the former.

  4. Holy shit, been there too. Lying awake terrified, trying to MAKE myself believe, because somehow I could believe in the consequences of not being saved, but I couldn’t believe I was in fact saved no matter how many times I prayed, because when I prayed I knew on some level that I was DOIN IT RONG. If that makes any sense at all.

  5. That was it exactly: DOIN IT RONG! For me it was that I was trying somehow to ‘weasel out’ of the requirement to walk the aisle–which was not necessarily biblical, except that it forced you to ‘publicly profess your faith’. But it didn’t matter what the Bible said; what Mom said was much more powerful stuff. Nothing else would stick, it seemed.

    Makes perfect sense to me.

  6. Thanks, ozoozol. I hope that you find it interesting enough to hang around. Me, I’m trying to post more than once a month. :)

  7. No pressure — just I’m a chronic lurker and have decided that it’s better to introduce myself as I land rather than sit silent for a long time, until I find myself needing to write a comment that goes “you don’t know me, but I’ve been reading all about your personal life for YEARS, and =I= think…” :)

    We appear to share several significant traits/experiences, so a comment like that might have been unavoidable.

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