Saturday, February 20, 2010

Finding My Fundamentalism

(responding to the Epilogue of her book Quivering Daughters)

Dear Hillary,

Thank God for you. Your ability to translate the depth of my (your) pain into words is a thing of terrible beauty. I would probably not have identified myself as a casualty of spiritual abuse without your words. And, therefore, never begun the healing of these old and deep wounds in my soul.

My family of origin lived on the liberal edge of fundamentalist Christianity in the 70's and 80's. My father was a pastor/music director/various positions of authority in a variety of Baptist, Church of God, and Plymouth Brethren assemblies and always somehow "in ministry". Our family's own practices were rarely so extreme as what I've been reading on your blog and the blogs of other survivors of radically right Christianity but the ideas, and ideals on which those ideas are based, were a large part of our theology. Your description of the spiritually abusive family fit my childhood to a T. I can now admit that the quality of abuse in my family is in no way less because the quantity of abuse was less than some.

I left organized religion at the death of my mother from cancer (at 49) nearly twenty years ago, thinking that I was leaving behind all the self-righteous hypocrisy and with it the pain and self-hatred engendered by church and family. I came to see however that hypocrites and Pharisees exist in every social group. Legalism is alive and well in the Simple Living Movement, Waldorf Education, neo hippie Back-to-the-Landers, and alternative medicine circles.

What I didn't notice until more recently was that the depression, anxiety, and perfectionism that plague my adult life resulted from the same deep self-loathing I thought I had left in the church. Having recognized it finally, a couple years ago, I didn't know how to change it. I had no capacity to extend myself the grace and forgiveness I have long extended my family (all of whom remain in church). I knew intuitively that my soul held long unhealed scars, festering abscesses that needed lancing, but I have kept my pain so deeply buried that I didn't know where to find it anymore.

My body and mind have paid the price of my denial and I developed hypoadrenia that left me unable to function or even to think in complete sentences for the better part of two years. Fortunately, I am over a year into recovery from that and am at least a contributing member of my family again. Part of the recovery process, however, is to search out the beliefs, behaviors, and situations that caused me to abuse my very Being to the extent that my body and mind were nearly lost. I knew I needed to reach those soul scars. If only I knew what they were!

A couple weeks ago, I was net-surfing about my daughters’ fascination with the Duggars and started finding references to Quiverfull and associated ideas. And I became addicted to reading about extreme Christians and those who've left the extremism. I started to get an inkling that maybe this was It ... the source of my festering. But even your Quivering Daughters blog with its evocative writing, while extremely helpful in identifying and describing spiritual abuse such as my childhood, simply couldn't pierce through my intellect to the emotional pain.

Today I read your new blog [edit: this blog is no longer public] and the post about mothering the child you were. For the first time, I cried. Only a little, not nearly enough. But I know it's a start. The rawness, the achingly fragile quality of the strength that kept you alive touched me in a different place than your other writing. The very personal pain that you strive to keep separate from your other blog (and probably rightly so) was the key that unlocked my own pain.

Thank you for being able to put that staggeringly choking clawing gripping reality on display for me. As I ache for the Luna in you, I am finally able to ache for the soul-hungry, whimpering, terrified, furious child in me.

Many blessings to you.


  1. Sandra,

    Hillary sent me a link to this blog a few months ago, and I came here that day to read this post and cried for an hour.

    I'd just finished up writing what started out as the chapter entitled "Tender" for her book, and I was indeed tender. I'm not even sure if it's in the book anymore, after so many edits, but a long part of what I wrote concerned the physical affects of self-denial and of all types of abuse. I was overwhelmed with the process of academic writing in one half of my brain while feeling so deeply the pain and that "felt sense" of being still in the other, putting in all into perspective. I wrote for others, but I was writing about me, and I was undone. The process pulled me apart in ways I never expected while putting me back together again. And your post resonated with all of that in me.

    Months ago, I deleted that email from Hillary and bookmarked your blog, and then my computer took a fatal turn. Today I saw your comment on Quivering Daughters and recognized your face. And I came here to cry again.

    I guess that I'm confused about the heretic label you've bestowed upon yourself, for after reading most every post here, I don't think that I see anything heretical -- a very heavy word. (I apparently get accused of calling all kinds of people I'm angry with for their cruel elitism heretics, though I very rarely ever use the word!) YOu seem to be professing that you don't really know what to profess -- so long as its genuine.

    I relate deeply with you right on down to seeing that strange colorful glow around people and the flash of those "Ah ha" moments. I look through a lot of it now as I become more integrated with my body and self, and I always thought it was the Holy Spirit. I don't know what I know anymore, learning that more of my experience was hypnosis/psuche than Spirit. Where did I end and did He begin? And I feel like I don't belong anywhere anymore.


  2. . . . .You've definitely got a deep theta thing going on. That's that brain wave oscillation just above sleep, that state you slip into when doing repetitive things or driving down the highway and don't know how you drove to where you were going as your mind was somewhere else. People in trauma have high theta states for a long time thereafter. It is the fight or flight and the intuitive sensing mode -- a function of self-protection that doesn't readily shut off. I entrain right down into it when I read what you write.

    Could it be that you're just fractured like the rest of us, maybe a little more than some people are in certain ways? The first part of reintegrating is getting through the cleansing rain of grief which you addressed so eloquently. You then learn to feel and be genuine and in your own skin as those waves of adrenal fatigue pass over you, as you move through them. And rebuilding from the ground up involves seeing each fractured piece of what used to seem whole in its true light for what it is, moving through those feelings that we attach to each piece of ourselves.

    I don't see you as a heretic, and I think that there is great virtue in honestly appraising things for what they are. I've been thinking much lately about that Third Step in the famed Twelve, where it says "God as we understood Him." He certainly knows who He is, and I think it is up to us (with His help) to spend a good chunk of our lives seeing Him more clearly. A look at your nightstand stack shows your passionate effort to see who and what He is.

    If you're headed in the right direction, thinking about Him and who you are in Him, even in the general sense, I think that you're always making progress. There is a terror in knowing some things so surely! I think that a good portion of my life has been realizing just how heretical I was in my Christianity, and the goal is to somehow be much less so when I leave this life.

    In that sense, we are not so different, and I have a sense of wholeness here in the quiet stillness that sweeps around me in your words. Who knows where we will end up?

    But for grace...

  3. I saw your comments come through on my phone as I was plugging it in for the night and had to read. Then I had to go get my laptop so I could read your words more fully--not on that little iPhone screen. Now that I'm here, I can't let the night pass without saying THANK YOU for your encouragement. To know that what I've written to process my own healing and spiritual evolution has touched another person is the extra blessing that makes it so worthwhile.

    I've wandered in and out of several of your web homes and seen you at several blogs I visit often. I'm delighted that you stopped by here! I respect your work and to have you appreciate mine in return is gratifying.

    You have asked some good questions and raised some things for me to think about. I will undoubtedly have to blog about my ruminations on your comments!

  4. Quick note to say that the chapter Cindy was working on with me I felt was so important that I wanted to give it the full acknowledgement it deserves. It's now entitled "The Body's Silent Weeping" and is the afterword to the book. Sandra, you will love it.

  5. Sandra,

    I received Hillary's book today -- the real thing. (!!!) I ended up reading the acknowledgments in the very back first, as Hillary wanted me to see this right away...

    I clutched the book hard to my chest and cried and cried. Hillary writes:

    To my quivering daughter-sisters – you inspire me with your courage and bravery. Every day I wish I could throw my arms around you; thank you for reaching, for asking, for searching. Thank you for your faith, for seeking the narrow way that leads to life. Thank you for loving truth, even when it hurts. Thank you for living, even when it hurts. For daring to step into the unknown so that He may become known.

    Having just read your words here last night, I thought of you tonight, echoing Hillary in my heart. I see you as doing all of these things here on your blog.

    Thank you for sharing your heart and your honesty. I am deeply moved and I share your griefs. Be encouraged.

  6. Cindy,

    Thanks for your very kind comments. I am moved that you would include me in the group whom Hillary acknowledges.

    I have been thinking about this part of your comments a lot:
    "...a deep theta thing going on. That's that brain wave oscillation just above sleep, that state you slip into when doing repetitive things or driving down the highway and don't know how you drove to..."

    I had to google brain waves since it's been a couple decades since I had a chapter or two in college on the subject and I've been observing myself. Obviously, I can't measure my brains waves directly but I have been stunned at how often I find myself "coming to" as it were from obviously having mentally been somewhere else--or nowhere--esp while driving (which is kinda scary) but prolly a dozen times a day.

    Just today, I was commenting to my daughter that I liked when I lived in a city with good public transit and I could take the bus. She asked why and I said it was because I didn't have to fight with my brain for attention between driving and all the million other things going on in my head. And I used as an example just earlier in that drive how I had crossed three lanes of traffic on the freeway only to "come to" and ask out loud how I got there, when had I got there, why had I got there?

    As I heard myself saying this, it was as if the sound came from far away and with that movie-like God voice and dramatic music swelling in the background. I'm definitely going to have to look into this business some more!