Even though I’m an English major with a passion for editing and good grammar, I still write in all lowercase when I’m on IM. I write poetry in lowercase, too. I think it’s because when I allow myself to be transparent, I’m still afraid [of getting squelched? being too confident in my own opinions?] and want to protect myself by speaking more softly and appearing less definite. Thus: lowercase. I have nothing to fear, but the habit of undermining my own thoughts still holds.
Similarly, when I was about 14, I developed a bad habit/minor speech impediment–I mumbled. My dad would get annoyed at me and lecture me repeatedly for “swallowing my words,” and then I’d get embarrassed and either say “never mind” or repeat myself until he understood me or I got angry and just yelled the words and then ran off and cried. My confidence was shot. I second-guessed the worth of my thoughts, my opinions, my emotions, everything. And so I mumbled things, assuming that if someone was interested in what I had to say, they would listen closely and understand. I also got in the habit of undercutting my own sense of humor, adding “just kidding” to the end of a somewhat witty comment, and eclipsing the wit with my own insecurity. It became excruciatingly awkward, but if I did feel like someone really cared and would listen to me without condemnation, the mumbling would stop and I could speak with confidence.
I’m not writing here to wallow in pain, but sometimes it needs to be processed. Today I read a paragraph that triggered a host of memories for me, memories of the darkness and fear that made me so insecure as a teenager. Blogger Melissa wrote:
My parents told us that if people saw us outside during school hours, we would get taken away and put in foster homes where they would make us go to school. I remember crawling underneath the windows in the front of the house, because I was afraid someone outside would see me and call the police. One time a family friend knocked at the door during school hours, and my sister ran to open it. I heard the commotion from the other end of the house and ran in the kitchen screaming “don’t open the door!!” and when I rounded the corner and realized that the door was already open and there were no policemen waiting to take us away, I shrank away in embarrassment. I remember being outside and hearing the screams of a sister being spanked for what seemed like an eternity, and besides that usual sick feeling in my stomach for what she was going through, my main worry was that since the window was open, someone might hear and call the police. One time when I was babysitting my siblings, a chair got knocked over and broke the dining room window. I cried, and yelled at all the kids that now someone would see the broken window and think that dad was a drunk who beat us, and they would call the police. (From her post “Rights of a Child Part 2“)
This description matches parts of my childhood quite well. We were afraid of strangers asking questions about why were were out of school, we had rules about how to answer the door or phone during school hours, and it was always a bad day when a sibling’s misbehavior and its consequences could be heard outside of the house. “Quiet! The neighbors might hear you and call the police!” we would tell each other. Fear seemed to dominate our homeschooling, and we were always on the defensive about our lifestyle.
This was not always how it was, and the day to day of my childhood was pretty happy. My family is full of creative people and we were almost given total free reign to draw, paint, narrate, imagine, create, build, etc. I have many happy memories of my dad playing guitar and reading to us before bed, of camping trips and learning to appreciate nature from mom. My siblings and I mostly got along, and life was fine. We didn’t have any tangible troubles to point to, and we certainly had many things to be thankful for. Our parents loved us.
I was the outspoken, spunky kid who wanted to do everything, see everything, know everything, be everything. I told my mom once, “When I grow up I want to be a candymaker veterinarian ballerina writer teacher and go hiking all the time.” I was un-self-conscious and would talk to anyone about anything (but mostly about how I thought Jesus was amazing and they should think so, too).
Once, when I felt that my Sunday school teachers were patronizing my fifth grade class by giving out candy for bringing a Bible and candy for acting out the story of Jonah (with no “this teaches us about God because…” follow-up or lesson), I wrote a long letter to our pastor in pencil on binder paper and told him that this was unacceptable and we were old enough to learn real things about God. (He pulled me aside the next week and told me that was inappropriate and did my parents know? I told him they didn’t, and if he wasn’t going to fix the problem, I would stop going to Sunday school and just sit in the sermons. So I did, and they were just as bad. My parents thought this was hilarious.)
In short, I was a confident, slightly stuck-up kid with a passion for knowing and talking about truth. But when my family moved across the country when I was 12 (for a host of reasons…another story for another day), my world fell apart in ways I wouldn’t realize until years afterward.
After our move, I was introduced to the Sovereign Grace Ministries culture. Actually, more like immersed in it. Our first week there, we got moved in and unpacked by SGM families, and my sister and I were invited to a “welcome to the church” party with all the girls our age. Things seemed okay, initially. [Looking back, this was a classic SGM love-bombing, and we didn’t develop deep relationships with many of the families who helped us out and welcomed us. I’m glad they helped—it made the move easier—and I know they meant well. But most of them never noticed us when, a couple of years later, we had a really rough season and desperately needed help.]
We stuck out, as a family, from the other folks at our church. I called adults by their first names (until I was swiftly rebuked), I liked both feminine and masculine things (ballet, softball, shooting, camping, horses, etc.), I was a fashion disaster, I wanted to go to college, and our family was (compared with the other families in our church) somewhat poor. The other girls—the popular ones—would go out to movies and go to the mall to hang out. I would be restricted from these things by money and morals (“that movie isn’t from a Biblical world view”) and my friend group dwindled as a result.
Most of the other families in this church were homeschoolers, too, but that common ground disappeared quickly—the majority of these homeschoolers participated in co-ops where moms taught and the kids went to classes with their peers for various subjects. These might be once or twice a week, or every day for part of the day. My parents wouldn’t put us in these, though, saying that we couldn’t afford it (both the time and money). My dad also commented on these co-ops, saying that “they don’t really homeschool—it’s ‘faux-schooling.’” His opinion was that these other parents weren’t as committed to raising their kids in a godly manner and were shipping their kids off to be taught by other people (which he thought was lazy and irresponsible).
However, he was simultaneously becoming less and less involved in our family’s educational choices and we had limited resources for text books and curricula. The cognitive dissonance of this manifested itself in my mom’s rising stress levels and I began to shoulder more of the housework and help watch my siblings more.
In the meantime, my friends kept going to co-ops and the mall, and I’d see them at church on Sundays and try to talk about things I was learning, books I was reading, and daily family life—and it grew increasingly evident that no one could relate to my experiences and that almost no one wanted to take the time to get to know me and understand my family and my passion for new ideas. Several girls who had initially been wonderfully welcoming (and whom I had begun to count as dear confidantes) faded out of my life and moved on to be close with other girls who were more “cool.”
Around that same time, my mom was pregnant with twins (siblings #6 and #7) and our family life revolved around doctor’s appointments for her, and then for the babies. Life was full and overwhelming and my siblings got restless and edgy with mom being so absorbed with two newborns. I took on more around the house, and school fell to the wayside completely. For a period of six weeks, we had at least three doctor’s appointments every week and I was babysitting for some reason or another every day. Mom was utterly exhausted and had a hard time recovering from her pregnancy, and it seemed that every day was in crisis mode on cruise control.
These circumstances made a social outlier of me and my family, and I felt like I had been pushed aside by everyone at my church as if I wasn’t either too different or just not worth their time. In the meantime, high school was a struggle for me (finding time and a place to work in peace was hard) and my mom had another baby and fell into post-partum depression, which really didn’t lift for the next four or five years.
I was a hollow person, tired of being so busy at home, and desperate for friends and time to pursue my own interests. And I stopped speaking with confidence, and grew afraid of letting anyone get to know me, for fear of being rejected again.
Miraculously, God provided an online community for me and I eventually made a few very dear friends, but it still never quite filled the void of fellowship, and I was still very insecure.
Going to college was something I had always assumed I would do, and as someone who loved to learn and think about abstract theories, college seemed like it would be a kid-in-a-candyshop experience for me. However, my church taught that women were designed to find their highest satisfaction in homemaking. So, most of my friends assumed that they would not go to college, that they would stay at home and learn domestic skills, that they might work as a secretary at the church office part time, and that eventually they would marry some godly SGM guy (ideally, a pastoral candidate, or at least a potential care group leader) and then they would make a bunch of happy babies and stay at home and homeschool them all.
Since I had just spent the last 6 years of my life playing second mom to my siblings and was already quite competent with household management, I thought that this was utter nonsense. They would be bored to death before the honeymoon was over!
In a word, I didn’t fit. I was worn out by the circumstances surrounding daily life with my family, and I couldn’t live up to academic standards, social norms, or my own hopes for myself.
I don’t think I was ever technically depressed, but all this took a major toll on me, as my confidence withered and I retreated to the recesses of my bedroom to create an alternative imaginary reality where I could decompress. Novels, art projects, and writing stories became my refuge, and I suppressed emotions (loneliness, feeling inadequate, yearning for affection, desires for acceptance and affirmation) through imagination until my own feelings were distant and vague in comparison with the stories I threw myself into.
This was only noticed as it affected my high school grades, and I lost practically an entire year of school. My parents cranked up the academic pressure and accountability, and my academics did improve, but the deeper issues lay untouched. They were themselves too burned out to be able to offer helpful support beyond guilt-trips to finish school well.
A lot of women coming out of CP families have experienced an overwhelming flood of difficult-to-process emotions, bottled up over years of living in denial of normal emotions, or living in repressive environments, or just being too busy to process themselves and their lives as they lived them. Sometimes this aftermath is so strong that they are very rightly diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Sometimes it’s just a matter intense frustration with relearning what the heck a normal person, a normal Christian living in grace, is supposed to do with normal emotions. What does one do with the grief over dreams left to wither for practical or irrationally motivated CP-like reasons under the auspices of honoring God. With processing friendships that unraveled or turned sour over things that should not have mattered. With years of loneliness. With weariness. With a marriage that didn’t happen at all or didn’t happen the way you thought it would. With lingering insecurities over various aspects of “being normal.” [how does it work?]
Recovery is slow. Grace works thoroughly, not quickly. In the meantime, I still IM in lowercase. But I don’t mumble.