I found this blog post late last week. It’s a sobering read and difficult at times but it is a good one. There are a lot of points that Captain Cassidy made that resonated with me but one in particular really caught me:
In this model, the parent owns the children, the husband owns the wife and children, on up the line to the pastor, who of course owns all the laypeople in his church.
That sounded like something straight out of my childhood, only it wasn’t my father who “owned” me. If he had been my “owner”, the story would have been quite different. Instead, my sole, absolute owner was my mother.
In my formative years, I was often told that I belonged to my mother. I was hers, her child. She repeated this statement on a near constant basis. I myself was really not a fully formed human being with differing thoughts and opinions. Far from it. I was exclusive to my mother and that was it, no ifs, ands or buts.
I even thought, as a young child, that my father belonged to my mother. Dad was supposed to be “the head of the household” but I always thought it was Mother. Her personality was so overwhelming that I simply assumed she was the one in charge.
I was not my own person. I was my mother’s daughter. She had total say over me. That total say continued into my adulthood, when in 1997 she threatened to “make my life a living hell” if I attended a a certain toy robot convention. I was in my early twenties when she made this threat. I accepted it as routine, normal even. Sure, it upset me, as I scribbled angry words about it in a journal I was keeping at the time but to me, that was just how things were. I was her daughter. I did not have the ultimate say. My mother did. My age and the fact that I was legally an adult did not matter.
When you think about it, the idea of me being abused as a child doesn’t seem so far-fetched. I was, for all intents and purposes, being set up for abuse. The idea of agency never entered my mind. If I was to tell an adult “No”, it would be a potential molester. Other than that, my thoughts and opinions were ignored.
That ties into this excellent post dealing with being a part of “the world”. Here are the guidelines:
- Go at your own pace.
- You are not stupid.
- Figure out what you think.
- Look after you.
- Don’t try it alone.
They are all exceptional and are a great starting pint for moving yourself forward.
For those of you who have never heard of this, “the world” is exactly that: the fallen, sinful and decaying secular world. Anything not of the church is considered part of it. If you’ve ever been in a Kingdom Hall, you’ve heard the term. I heard it a lot during my childhood. No one from “the world”, not even law enforcement, was ever seen in a positive light. They and everything else were all part of Satan and not Jehovah.
To those of you who have never lived in such a closed system, it sounds ridiculous. You can’t trust yourself at all, for that “little voice” inside of you might actually be the Devil, trying to lead you into some sort of temptation that would cost you your immortal soul. Seeing or being around anything of “the world” might contaminate you: a trip to Disney World, a kissing scene in a movie, a swallow of gin, a cartoon that features ghosts, a scene in a television show that implied sexual relations between non-married people, you get the idea.
Again, it makes perfect sense that I had an abusive childhood. Looking at it now I’m stunned to ever think that this was normal. I was in a closed system within a closed system; neither one respected even basic agency. What should surprise me isn’t the fact that I was abused but that it wasn’t worse. In such a pair of closed systems, you have no say over yourself. You are owned by those around you, they have ultimate authority over you.
It goes without saying that the very idea of having any control over yourself, whether it happens to be your body or your life or even your thoughts, is a completely foreign concept.
You have no say over yourself. None.
Again, when you think about this, it doesn’t surprise anyone that a great number of christians do not like the idea of basic human rights for well, anyone. Not for women and definitely not for children. This is why a good number of christians oppose the outlawing of spanking; in their minds, this is “their” property and they can do with it as they see fit. Of course, they aren’t actually abusing the child because the same thing happened to them and they turned out just fine!
If you happen to be one of those children who was reared in such a closed system, being on your own is absolutely terrifying. There is no one there to tell you what to do, unless you are married. You have to submit to authority figures, unless that authority figure is undermining the church’s teachings. You have to make sure you are “doing right” by god. Oh and for the love of all that is holy, don’t have fun! Unless it happens to be good, clean, wholesome fun at a church picnic or ice cream social. Don’t you dare step foot inside a club or someplace that serves liquor.
Those are just the basics, really. It can get worse.
Now, if you’re one of the lucky ones, you manage to get out of that system. If you’re even luckier, you actually try to go out and become part of the world at large. To say it isn’t easy is putting it gently.
In my case, this isn’t just a journey or a destination. It’s both. I’m trying to fumble my way through and learn agency, learn and accept the fact that I and I alone belong to myself, that I have authority over me. It’s daunting at times. It’s overwhelming at times. It completely goes against everything I have ever been taught. It’s “unlearning” at a base level.
Am I getting better? Yes. But there are still times when I catch myself thinking that I shouldn’t do this or that because my mother wouldn’t approve of it, whether it’s having a second beer at dinner or having a good time with some of my friends. I sometimes slip into that old way of thinking, even for a second, and wonder if what I’m doing is morally right.
Those instances are becoming rarer, thankfully. I am learning to adjust, to cope. I’m slowly learning that “No” can be a sentence and that a sip of tequila won’t turn me into a devil worshiper. I’m slowly but surely learning that I am my own authority, that no one else owns me.
I’m learning about agency. And I’m learning that I love it.