Last night I was speaking with a friend who comes from an Evangelical Christian background and has similar experiences with leaving a strict and coercive religious and family environment. She mentioned that she was impressed that I visited my family so often and made as many efforts as I do to stay in touch. She said that, although I clearly had strained relationships with my family members, I also enjoyed spending time with them. All of this is very true.
However, I noted to my friend that although she makes fewer efforts to revive the cold links between herself and her mum and dad, she also did not tolerate any abuse from her family. I probably put up with more abusive behaviour than I should, especially from my dad. My father does very little to perpetuate a relationship between us. If we ever speak, it’s because I call him. I can’t remember the last time I received a gift, birthday, Christmas, or otherwise, that was purchased, wrapped, and given by him. I get gifts from “Mum and Dad” that were selected by my mother. Lots of this is probably just because he’s extremely busy with two full time jobs: the one that pays a salary and his Church calling. But recently I’ve realised that my Dad only speaks to me if I call, if I’m physically visiting his home and happen to be in the same room as him, or during these visits when he periodically decides to corner me alone late at night and have an agonising discussion about the dreadful state of my testimony. Discussion perhaps isn’t the best word; he asks questions and I think he believes he gives me an objective hearing, but he is not receptive and is a master of Doublethink to the point that he is not even aware that he does it. These interrogations are a blend of many forms of abuse: Laying the responsibility for destroying my eternal family on my shoulders, discrediting my legitimate doubts and concerns about the Church, pre-emptively blaming me for “what this will do” to my mother, shaming me for betraying God, threatening to keep me away from other family members, and attempting to make me doubt my own sanity by suggesting that none of the information I have studied so intensely is real at all. I feel sorry for my dad, who is just following the programming of a Good Priesthood HolderTM. He believes he is trying to help me escape the jaws of hell. These “discussions” leave me so ill that the next day people look at me and ask if I have the flu. I can say that 50% of my interactions with my father now fall into this category, although they are thankfully rare. But the other 50% of our interactions are tainted by the tension of knowing that at the next opportunity, he’ll do it again.
My friend is not close with her family, but she does not endure abuse. I am close with my family, and when we all get together we have a great time. But lately I’ve felt the drift between us increasing. At the last gathering of my LDS relatives, I was repeatedly shocked by hearing children and adults alike express sexism, homophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry, often in the context of expressing patriotism or religious loyalty. I realised that this was nothing new, and that my own mind used to exhibit the pollution of this shared worldview. I find that I have less and less in common with the people I love every day, and wonder when the balance will tip so that relationships I currently find 70% fulfilling and 30% abusive become primarily abusive. If I came out of the apostate closet, that balance would shift drastically and instantly. I wonder what sort of family I’ll need to create for myself if that happens, and how much of my old family I could possibly keep. It’s time to start booking my plane tickets to visit family for the holidays, and I keep putting it off because I fear that what are supposed to be heartwarming gatherings will be tainted by my father interrogating me in the middle of the night, or my mother openly rebuking me because I failed to participate in criticism of homosexuals. I don’t want to hear otherwise sweet and loving children spewing the filth their parents pump into their heads.
It’s disheartening planning your holidays around landmines of personal belief. It’s shattering to realise that the straightest path of truth would drag you over every one of those mines and blow it all to hell.