Guest Post: I am not a victim, I am a survivor of fundamentalism

Sheldon Cooper is a blogger from the St. Louis area who works in the warehouse industry. He talk about his past, and his views on life now (as well as the busy life that comes with becoming a first time homeowner) at his blog, Ramblings of Sheldon.

“Where are you going?” she kept asking over and over again, with defiance and a hint of amused contempt as she stood in the middle of the only doorway out of the room. I had told her just minutes before that I was leaving, and she immediately blocked the door. I had some of my stuff packed, and I was desperate to leave her home for good, but she just stood there and said I had “no right” to leave. 

Was I some pouting 12 year old kid at the time? No, I was 21 years old. I was desperate enough that I was willing to leave the home of my Mom and Dad with just a few hundred dollars to my name and an old van. 

What drove me to this point? It was many different things, and I should start from the beginning. Just two years earlier, I had come back from a prominent Southern Baptist college after a nervous breakdown that included severe depression with constant fatigue, muscle pain/weakness, and some bizarre panic attacks. Needless to say, I couldn’t keep it together, and had to return home.

When I did return home, I explained what had happened, and all of it was dismissed as “guilt” and “not having a right relationship with god”. You see, in her mind, my struggles with mental illness were not an illness, they showed a lack of character. Her attitude reflected much of what what can be seen in fundamentalism: that true happiness can only come from serving god, and if you aren’t happy, then that must be a sign that your relationship isn’t right.

The real kicker is that I actually believed for this for two years, and generated a lot of self hatred and frustration. I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working. I begged god for “forgiveness”, I doubled down on my dedication to my faith, but it wasn’t working. I was beginning to realize that the relationship with god had little to nothing to do with it, and that I had a real disorder. The problem was that my mother was never going to see it that way, and dealing with her ignorance left me feeling trapped in this situation.

It was pushing me to the point that I was starting to become suicidal. For a while I pondered jumping off a local bridge during the winter, but then I started to think that if I did, I would be giving my mother exactly what she wanted: control over me for my entire life. That thought bothered me more than the thought of ending my life. I knew I had to do something, anything, to break away, but I was stuck. 

At the time, I was in a local college, and I was starting to realize that they were a scam, but of course, she didn’t see it that way. I proved it to her in so many different ways, I even told her what some people in the field that my major was in told me at a summer job (that the college was a scam), but all to no avail. It didn’t work. 

She told me the only acceptable plan for my life was to go to college, and she kept pontificating about how supposedly I would never make it financially without that piece of worthless paper from the scam of a college I was in at the time.

Allegedly, I would be working 3 minimum wage jobs, have no time for anything, and would be starving. She called me “lazy” because I would rather work (I still haven’t figured out the logic behind that argument). She tried to make me feel without hope, that I would never leave, and that I couldn’t make it without her. I knew that was a lie, and meant to keep me defeated and powerless. I knew I wasn’t getting anywhere while trying to reason with her. I knew that if I stayed, it would be many more years suffering under her rule, and it might just lead me to finally end my life. 

So I packed some things, and was going to leave that morning, but there she was, standing in the doorway to barricade me in the room. "Where are you going?" It’s not as though she didn’t know, I explained it to her just minutes before. It was more of a challenge than a question. I had a phone sitting out, because as angry as I knew she would get, she hadn’t become violent with me since I was 11 years old. But she loved to threaten it when nothing else worked, and I couldn’t be too sure. 

She noticed the phone sitting out, and insisted to know why it was laying on a desk. She figured it out, and told me (keep in mind I was 21 years old at the time), that if she were to hit me, I would deserve it. I pointed out to her how hypocritical her statement was, due to the fact that she was always ranting about how bad her childhood was with a physically abusive father (and rightfully so). She had nothing to say for once, she simply walked away. 

I realized that if I was to ever reclaim my life, and get back any sense of hope, I had to push back, and resist in any way possible. Eventually I would wear her out, reasoning sure wouldn’t work. I refused to go along with her plans, and finally won on the college front. I got a job (not three minimum wage jobs), and saved my money, paycheck by paycheck

She tried to slow me down by making pay “rent” for living in her home (the home “I had no right to leave”),  which I payed, but I kept pressing on anyway. The muscle pain and weakness came back, but I fought through it, sometimes working up to 64 hours a week, despite the pain and stiffness. She told me that I was so lazy, that even if I did get a job, I wouldn’t stay at it very long. 

Guess what? I have not only been at the same company since September 2011, I have moved up within the company (thankfully to a job that is no longer physically demanding). I saved up enough money over the last 2 years to buy a foreclosure house, and closing procedures will take place next week (the week of June 10, 2013) [Note: this has happened. Congratulations Sheldon! -HH]. I paid cash for it, and won’t ever have to worry about house payments. My finances will be a little stretched to say the least while rebuilding it, but I never would have thought I would have gotten this far only 3 years after that day that I was barricaded in that room. 

There are times, like when I’m writing a post like this, that I feel much the same way I did that day: defeated, humiliated, like a victim, but then I remember, I’m a survivor. I fought, and clawed my way towards finally getting the right to start my own life, and won. I survived the toxic self hatred and ignorance of fundamentalism, and cast it aside.  I have a long way to go to rebuild my life, financially, emotionally, and in so many different ways, but I won the fight for my freedom.

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