I'm 34 years old this year. 34 years of stories, of lives, of trauma, and all that sews up the seams of who I am, and I have never been able to sit down and tell my story in it's entirety. For decades I told myself a lie, that I needed to BECOME somebody, achieve great success, before I could have others reflect on my life and justify my achievements. I never believed that I was enough. How sad. I weep for the young woman who was always enough, enough to have a voice. Enough to shine bright enough to illuminate the dark spots and dry out the wet damp shame that permeated through her existence. It's taken me years to uncover that simple truth, yet what a change in my existence it has become.
I grew up in a very unloving yet creative home. My father was an emotionally distant alcoholic, my mother an extreme co-dependent that was extremely artistic. We had a 7 foot inflatable Gumbi on our turn of the Century Craftsman style porch, hand in hand with Martha the life sized mannequin. Mom would dress her up in vintage 1940s clothes to match the season, always flaunting a vintage wide brimmed hat to cover up the fact that she was lacking in hair, posed gracefully waving at passer-byers. I wore cellophane tied around my waist to school. Just another typical California girl. Totally normal.
Things began to shift dramatically when I was 9 years old, and my mothers father died. She had spent her entire life yearning for a connection with him, after he left her and my grandmother in the 60s to marry his secretary, and starting a glamorous new family lifestyle, with two new children. They became closer during his time with brain cancer, and his strength in Christianity had strengthened considerably. I suddenly went from having an atheist mother to sheepishly squirming in a pew, my father poised and angry beside us reeking of beer, singing hymns. My mother, on a quest to fill the never ending void of love, turned to religion instead of finding it within herself, and down the black slippery slope of religion we slid. Boy what a trip it was.
Around this time, homeschooling had hit the California area, gaining fans of alternative living from all over. There were a few families that attended the same church we now were who were involved in the Northern California home school group, and my mother had latched on to these new found friends quickly. It seemed ideal enough. I came home one day from public school and shared this new concept that was given to us prior to testing. We would lie on a mat in the dimly lit room, closing our eyes and listening to the sounds of the ocean waft through the classroom, focusing on our breathing. My parents flipped their shit. Meditation made them highly uncomfortable...because god forbid I learn how to live in peace and not chaotic fighting. I think about this often as I meditate, how differently my life may have been had I learned how to breath and become self aware. I can't help but wonder how many self destructive methods I may have avoided further on down the road in a confused search for peace and love.
So, yes, obviously you're right and guessed it. I was yanked out of public school and began being homeschooled. At this time there were 2 major publishing companies for Christian schoolroom curriculum, one being Rod and Staff publishing company, catering to their Amish and Mennonite schools. Many of the families chose their text books, which aroused interest within the publishing company to see why the sudden influx in the Northern California region. They reached out to the groups coordinator, seeking interest in hosting a series of revival services in our area. After being met with enthusiasm, a notification was published in our local homeschool newsletter looking for families interested in housing the traveling revivalists. Dad was still drinking heavily at the time, and we still had a television in our home ( hello PBS kid right here), but mom was all on board for hosting the people with quilts and canned foods, and flower print dresses at our home. So, we did. My parents were hooked. It was like a one way ticket complete with instructions on how to lead an upstanding, moral family life while looking pretty, speaking softly and having what appeared to be solid marriages.
Shortly after this I came home after spending an afternoon with my "wordly" friend from public school to find our television gone, as well as a majority of our records and music. Also, my clothes. I was always pretty quirky and eccentric in my fashion, artsy tomboy mixed with cowgirl. I hated dresses. Mom.... loved dresses. Florals, with lace, frills, and all that shit that was primarily taking up my space in my closet. My entire identity was quickly being boxed up, packaged and hauled off and in place of that was isolation from the outside world spruced with tea parties and black vans... and the ministry.
Each Mennonite church belongs to a district, with a bishop overseeing them all. Underneath the Bishop is what is referred to as The Ministry, made up of a Minister, often times a lay minister, and a deacon, sometimes more. These men are in the authoritative position to uphold the districts standards ( equip with a standard book that is detailed down to print size on dresses and the type of functions not allowed to be attended. I.E. " hayrides and such", and a significant section on how women should behave to their authority. The ministry are the eyes of God, driving around to make sure the people are living in accordance to God's word. They drop in unannounced to make sure you are presentable as a woman in your clothes. They drive by slowly to make sure you are not barefoot in the yard. They are in charge of reviewing every single book that is donated to the school library, tearing out pages in the encyclopedia that reference sexuality, human physiology, anatomy along with any world event or attraction that deem unsuitable or full of sin. The Ministry hated me.
We continued to attend the missionary Mennonite church for a few years until my family decided they wanted to go to a more conservative church, finding us moving to the Midwest to a larger district, at Mt Pleasant Mennonite Church in Southern Illinois. I was enrolled in their school for the 9th grade, which was the last year of my undergraduate education. I honestly have more of a 7th grade math background, since most of the church's mathematics were more of a practical standpoint. Women really did not need to know more than how to cut and double recipes and balance a checkbook in case she ended up an old maid and needed to handle her own finances. Typically they would still rely on their fathers for this but nonetheless, it's still taught.
Things began to become increasingly tense at home. Moving to a more conservative church fueled my fathers power trip and dominance over women. He no longer tried to hide his loathing for women, and he was in a position to control us as we were taught to be submissive beings. This power was his new drug of choice and he was a monster, especially to me. The ministry continued to be concerned over my appearance and actions, and held several meetings after church with me and my parents to use shame, public humiliation and guilt to brainwash me. I was beginning to crack around the age of 16, after solid 6 years of intense brainwashing and mental abuse. My parents fought constantly over me, and my father finally decided he wanted to ship me away to live at the bishops house with all the other "troubled youth". My mom intervened and snuck me out of the house to seek counseling, which was strictly forbidden by the church. I was suicidal at the time, cutting myself and pulling half of my hair out. None of this was visible due to clothing and my head covering, but I was having such extreme breakdowns and acting borderline psychotic that somewhere within her, she knew I needed help.
I was in therapy for almost 2 years. How my therapist did not call DCFS is beyond me, but he slowly introduced me to having a safe space to learn what emotions are. I lived for our weekly sessions. It was like opening a boarded up house and slowly releasing new air into a dying space. He was the first man that spoke to me as an equal. He was the first man in my life that ever listened to me to understand. It was a joint effort, but I look back now and give myself the credit for somehow believing in myself that I could be my own person, and create who I wanted to become.
I sent in a formal resignation letter to revoke my membership to the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church at the age of 17. I had a 9th grade education at best, no connections to the outside world, and lived in a house divided by my decision for freedom. I was hell bent on receiving an education, despite my lack of one formally, and fought tooth and nail to get accepted into any community college that would take me with my GED and lackluster ACT scores. Didn't matter. I was going for it, and I finally got in.
Much of my 20s was me trying to discover who I was, since my identity really did come to a halt at 10 years old. Because I was so innocent, I was victim time and time again of abuse, toxic relationships and friendships and continuing to be manipulated by my parents ceaselessly. I became pregnant by an emotionally abusive man at the age of 21, and my parents convinced me to marry him. He charged over 35 thousand dollars on my credit, sold my cars, made me sell my first house and kept the money, until I finally divorced him 2 years later. He has failed to pay child support and we never speak to him. I went back to school as a full time single mother, carried a full credit load and worked 50 hours a week. I lived in government housing, was on food stamps, and determined to rise out of the shit. I then jumped into a relationship with a man who physically beat me for over a year. I was thrown out of a moving car onto asphalt, and lived in continual fear for my life depending on his mood swings. My mother told me it was my fault for not loving him enough and always encouraged me to submit more and try harder to not make him mad. I always went back begging forgiveness.
Through all of this, I prevailed in pushing towards my education and dream to be in the horse industry, to which I did. My family was *surprise* very unsupportive in my decision and continually told me I needed to realize that I would never amount to anything and to just get a job or live off of welfare. I dated a man throughout the rest of my college years who has extreme Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which was perfect for me, the co-dependent at the time. He cheated on me. He used extreme gaslighting techniques to control me. He broke up with me constantly, telling me I was never successful enough and that he was privileged and I was too trashy for him, and would use silence to manipulate me time and time again. I loved him more than I have ever loved anyone, certainly myself at the time, and would always go back apologizing, begging for forgiveness.
We split apart after he moved out of state for Law School, and I graduated college and began my career. Around this time my parents really began changing as well. My mom became extremely promiscuous and started actively cheating on my father. Many of the men she was pursuing were men that I had turned down throughout the years. She told me that it was my fault that her marriage was falling apart and she was led astray because I had abandoned her to pursue my riding and work career. I plummeted into another round of deep depression for several months, giving up my friends and hobbies to try and put my energy into fixing my mother, to no avail. I was continually blamed until the truth finally came out.
My mom is gay.
The whole Mennonite hell that I was drug through was due to her infinite need to be loved and accepted. When she couldn't find that there, she continued to spiral out of hand and used me as her crutch and addiction. My entire life, up until that point, had been a considerable lie and I decided that I needed to make major adjustments in order to claim my own life, finally, at the age of 29. I decided to move myself and my daughter out of state which created massive turmoil with my parents. My father spit in my face and screamed at me " Who do you think you are, that you can just move and create a life? Your life is shit. You are worthless. Your life will only fall apart because you are such a fuck up. The only reason anyone listens to you is because you have tits and a cunt. Fuck you Jasper" the night before I moved to Nashville. I was so good at numbing myself that I just listened and was silent. If anything, their hatred fueled me to succeed.
Since I moved, I began picking up speed on learning self worth, understanding my " enoughness" and learning to rise above the toxicity. I no longer speak to my family. DCFS was called on me for abusing and starving my daughter when I cut my family off, my bank account was hacked by my mom who paid her credit cards with it, and so on, but I have had no contact with them for 3 years now. They are blocked, along with many others, on every platform possible. The amount of peace I gained for the things I had to give up are paramount. I learned how to have a voice, and use it. I learned and implement boundaries. I learned my own inner strength and beauty. I learned to love my body no matter what size. I am learning how to effectively communicate and be vulnerable. I am such a badass and fucking love myself so much. I have effectively stopped the pattern of co-dependent behavior by teaching my daughter ( who is 12 now) what true love and healthy boundaries look like. I have overcome brainwashing, Stockholm Syndrome, Codependency, Gaslighting, Religious abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, got into college with a 9th grade education, pursued my dreams and here I am, standing strong in the face of it all.
If you have made it all the way through this, I want to personally thank you for sharing space for so much of my story, and for me. I honestly tried to condense it as much as possible just for time and space, because there is just so much to it. I want to remind you of how much magic you have inside of you. That abuse, trauma and others cannot taint or destroy it. Keep fighting for the light. Hold someone's hand and together, we can light up the sky with our truth. Pain cannot win here, because this little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine. I love you, and I see you shining too.
I am Jasper, a Brave Babe and I love and accept myself.