This morning I decided it was a good day to stay in bed with my e-reader. The cat settled next to me on the pillow, the sunlight peeked in through a crack between the curtains…
I finally started on the autobiographic work by my dear friend Carrie Maya: Chase Down Your Freedom. She had graciously gifted me a copy of the book, I guess about a year ago. But you know what it is with books like these, especially when you are a survivor yourself, you need to be in a good place emotionally and mentally to even get started.
Getting started I did! In fact it is now 7pm and I have officially finished the book, have talked to my partner about it, just sat and stared for a bit, and fired up the laptop to tell you about it.
Once Again I Am Struck By the Similarities
I suppose I will never get over how similar all our stories are. Carrie is a survivor of religious abuse, whereas I myself experienced emotional abuse at the hands of my parents. Yet, the strategies, feelings and stories resonate across our experiences. I had the same experience when editing Aubrey’s Bodies in the Basement, which is all about marital abuse.
I suppose sociopaths and psychopaths are not quite as unique as they believe themselves to be.
Although a term more linked to romantic abuse, it is also present in other settings. You do not have to charm your children into submission, biology does a lot of that for you. Still, my parents used this behavior outside the family, they love-bombed the whole town. Everyone seems convinced of their wonderful character. In fact both my parents have been awarded a Royal award for their contributions to the community.
Carrie describes her first introduction to Michaela (the pastor) like this:
“She was incredible. She had short, spiky hair. Her eyes were blue, and her smile was huge. Her clothes were colourful and co-ordinated—sometimes polka dots, sometimes stripes, sometimes flowers—but whatever the pattern, there was always colour. Not to mention so much jingly costume jewellery that you could hear her coming a mile away. When she preached she interacted with the congregation by asking us all questions. And once the services ended, we’d all stay around for lunch, a cuppa, and a chat.
Watching her engage with young people was one of the most compelling things about her. Because she actually listened. She seemed to really care about youth and I’d never met an adult who did it so genuinely.
On my first time attending Heaven’s Gateway, she spoke and listened to me as though I was the most interesting person in the world. She asked about my hobbies and interests, and sympathised with my struggles. I wanted to be around her because she made me feel important.”
I am willing to bet that we have all seen this behavior in our own abusers too. That special level of attention. As if you are the ONLY thing in the world that is even remotely interesting. If not used against us, we have seen it used against others. And we all know… it does not last long!
The Failure of Bad Health
Another story that resonated strongly with me, was that of health. In my family there was no room for bad health. You just had to suck it up. I remember my mother once telling me just to ‘walk it off’ while I was violently ill with a migraine. Luckily at that point I had gained enough independence to ignore her advice. Nevertheless, as a child I was afraid to go to my mother about any ailments.
“’Why would you be in trouble for having a seizure, Carrie?’ You might ask. Well, sickness was not something we were allowed to experience at Heaven’s Gateway. If we got sick, we hadn’t had enough faith in God. We’d opened the door for the devil to come in. By seizing, I had failed. I didn’t have enough faith.”
I once got my foot stuck in someone else’s bicycle spokes. My foot was purple, but I did not tell anyone. When my aunt asked if I could go to the supermarket, I tried to decline. I was shouted at for being lazy and uncooperative by my mother. I then reluctantly told my aunt about my foot. Of course she informed my mother (as she should) and I was off the hook for the supermarket. The injury was treated with annoyance though, another inconvenience I had caused her.
In short: bad health or injury is failure on your part.
The Programming and Denial for Survival
I have been talking to my partner a lot lately about how different my head feels these days. Sure I have good days and bad, but on average I feel I am a successful, kind person with a ton of talent and love to pour into the world. That was not always so.
Everyone who has ever been the target of abuser know the enormous burden of self-loathing we feel. We feel responsible and even deserving of the pain that is inflicted upon us. We feel like we will never find anywhere better and all we can do is frantically try to be whatever it is that our abuser wants us to be so they will stop hurting us.
“I was trapped. So many emotions bubbled away beneath the surface. And I just couldn’t face them. Because I knew if I allowed myself to feel—whatever it was that was going on inside of me—I would not be able to unfeel them. I would not be able to turn back. I would have to actually do something about them. And the Carrie I was then—the Carrie cult pseudopersonality—it was not in her nature to defy Michaela. It just wasn’t an option. The only two things I was sure of were: 1) I would do anything to secure Michaela’s approval and 2) that I was a completely disgusting, and unlovable person.”
Now that I am recovering from the abuse, I cannot understand that I did not see it sooner. But like Carrie describes here, the revelation of abuse is terrifying (it is also euphoric once you are ready, but it is mostly terrifying). Once you acknowledge what is going on, you give yourself responsibility for what is going to happen next… You may feel both afraid for your life and utterly empowered, all in the same terrifying moment.
Until we are ready to face that responsibility, we will continue to close our eyes to the abuse.
I Could Have Ended Up In a Very Different Place
The second and third part of Carrie’s book deal with the aftermath of her escape from this cult. I have to be honest and give you some trigger warnings here. Carrie really went to hell and back to get her life back on track (which I am happy to report, she has). I read these sections with tears in my eyes. I loved this girl before I read her book, but… well just WOW!
This part of her journey also made me realize how very fortunate I have been. Sure, I have PTSD and it really really sucks sometimes, but I am getting more and more skilled at dealing with that too. Besides it has never left me feeling so lost and alone that I could not go on. I realize how lucky I am to have gotten out the way I did, and with the support I did. The online community of survivors and my partner have really been my saviors.
I have had similar dark moments, all before I even considered leaving my family. Somehow though there was always a friend, or a guardian angel to pull me out of the most self-destructive paths I got lost on. With hugs, good advice and even by chasing off the assholes who were trying to hurt me.
That being said, I am in awe of the strength that Carrie had to get from those darkest of dark places to the determined and fun person I have gotten to know.
“So as I walked back and forth like a caged panther at the zoo, struggling on every level to get passed the darkness, a voice within me rose up and said as clear as day, ‘Chase down your freedom. No matter what.’
And, immediately the darkness lifted. I had the deepest, strongest sense that getting free was entirely possible. And that whenever I had to go to bat for myself mentally, the torment wouldn’t last. I had to have a “no matter what” attitude. Even if I was scared—chase down my freedom. No matter what. Even if I failed—chase down my freedom. No matter what. Even if I fucked up—chase down my freedom. No matter what.
These words became my personal philosophy. And a mantra to get me through times of struggle.”
To follow along on Carrie’s journey through life, head for her website. Once she has finished with some further editing, you can get your copy of Carrie’s Chase Down Your Freedom too, but do remember my trigger warning. You will want to be in a good place when you read it, and possibly plan some quality time with friends for afters.