TW: This essay talks about child abuse and religious abuse.The CDC estimates that at least 1 in 7 children are victims of abuse, which means I am far from alone. But so many of us suffer in silence, thinking it was our fault or that because we didn't get our bones broken we didn't have it that bad. Our families and sometimes even our friends do not believe us or tell us to just get over it. That it is in the past and we are just thirsty for attention when we try to talk about it. But the scars of childhood trauma often remain throughout our lives - not just from the abusive acts themselves, but from all the years we spent living in fear with no way to escape. If you know you were abused as a child, or even if you just have a nagging idea that something wasn't right, I want you to know that you are not alone and that it is not too late to get help.
I did not have a "normal" childhood, but I did not know that when I was a kid. My family was Jehovah's Witnesses and I was born and raised thinking I was one of the lucky few true Christians that would survive the imminent Armageddon. I was a spirited child - creative, sensitive, and placed in the "gifted" program in first grade. I effortlessly got As on every assignment and could read well-beyond my grade level. It is surprising that my mother agreed to sign the permission slip admitting me, but I know now that having a "gifted" child served to feed her ego - her children existed only as an extension of herself. I was "gifted", but I was also well-rehearsed. When the teachers asked me if I was going to be a doctor or a lawyer when I grew up, I repeated the words my mother taught me: No! I am going to be a wife and mother and fulltime servant of Jehovah God. I wanted to be "good" and I wanted to be loved, so obedience was my method.
When you are a Jehovah's Witness, every aspect of your life is controlled by the church and its "elders". We were not allowed to have "worldly" friends, even family members outside the church were treated as "dirty" - Bad associations spoil useful habits was a pithy slogan we repeated, apparently it came from the Bible. We did not celebrate birthdays or holidays. This meant I spent my elementary school years friendless and sitting in the school secretary's office licking envelopes whenever there was a class party. Sex was strictly the realm of husband and wife - a "gift" from God. In practice this meant that my only sex education was learning the words "fornication" and "adultery" - sins against God and the church that would result in being "disfellowshipped". If you were caught or, in a moment of deep shame and guilt confessed, your name would be announced at church and nobody would be allowed to talk to you until the elders decided you had repented adequately, usually months or years later. Jehovah's Witnesses also have a thing with blood - no blood meat and absolutely no blood transfusions, should you end up sick or injured and in need. My mother, in line with the church, read us stories about children with hemophilia who refused blood transfusions and died: there is no greater honor than to give one's life for God she told us.
And so it was that from a very young age that I knew two things: 1. that if I got sick and needed a blood transfusion, my parents would let me die, and 2. that any sexual behavior would get me shunned from my community and make me responsible for my parents' death at Armageddon. My brother was a little less than three years older than me. Our parents forced us to share a bedroom. When I was about 5 or 6, my brother started sneaking into my bed at night to touch me. At first it was just a game, but it eventually escalated into full-on penetrative sex that he secured by threatening to tell my parents it was my idea if I told on him. This went on for at least a year. I begged my parents for my own bedroom, but I couldn't tell them why and they refused...until one day I had enough and punched my brother in the face. I gave him a black eye. My parents finally let us have our own bedrooms.
Things were calm for a little while, but then things began to fall apart. My parents started fighting all the time and my brother, now entering puberty, became a ball of rage. This is when the physical abuse from him started. I still have flashbacks of the time he came after me with a screwdriver and gouged a bunch of holes in my bedroom door as I narrowly escaped, missing my brainstem by half an inch. There was no real accountability of course, and it wasn't unprecedented in my family. I was physically punished regularly as a child, most often for embarrassing my mother at church for fidgeting and not paying attention. If we were "bad" at church, we knew what waited for us when we got home - either my father's thick leather belt or a switch of our own choosing from the bush next to our house. We would be marched down to the basement and be beaten by my father - the basement wasn't just more dramatic, it also was to keep the neighbors from hearing us scream. My father was the one who hit us most often, but it was almost always because my mother ordered him: discipline YOUR children, she'd yell at him. And he obeyed. He was more concerned with making her angry than protecting his own children. He also seemed to enjoy it, occasionally kicking and punching us when he lost his temper: that bruise isn't that big of a deal, you're just sensitive. It was our fault for getting hit and our fault for showing a sign that would cause worldly people to hold him to worldly legal standards.
I'm not going to bore you with any more details: trust, it gets worse and more complex with time. What I want you to recognize in my story and possibly your own, is the inescapable nature of child abuse. We might have clear memories of certain parts of our childhood trauma histories, but often it is buried deep inside of us because we had to do that in order to survive - showing anger or fear would only lead to more abuse. The deep feelings of rejection and betrayal and worthlessness imparted by our abusive parent(s) sunk deep into our developing brains, leading to self-hatred and a distorted sense of self we carried into adulthood. This pervasive fear and stress was not just damaging to our minds, hearts, and skin - but also our nervous systems. This means panic attacks, autoimmune diseases, and addiction. If any of this sounds familiar to you, I want to tell you again that you are not alone and that what happened was not your fault. You can find help and support. I'm pasting some resources below that might help. Thank you for reading.
This author wishes to remain anonymous but has self-identified as a white cis woman over the age of 30.