Lines in the Sand

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.

8 thoughts on “Lines in the Sand

  1. I’m kind of where your friend is at. The relationship was all but ended 2 years ago when they found my blog, and in response to my ultimatum that they either accept that I believe differently, or not, they issued their own that I either have the gospel explained to me again, or never see them again. The problem with abusive people, is that their ultimatums and threats of no contact don’t really hold that much water 😉

    Anyway, there has been limited, if any contact since. I know I could probably mend the bridge, but I fear I’d end up where you are… The snide comments about my lack of faith, and late night ‘discussions’ about my lack of belief.

    You would always be welcome at our home for the holidays, however with 5 kids running around, it wouldn’t be much of a vacations!!

  2. After a period of time where I tried to take the high road and maintain social interaction, I’ve come to the conclusion in my case that no road is better. Not the high road where I stoically harbor fools and not the low road where I vent my anger and frustration.

    None of us need people in our lives who are energy drainers and who poison our well of the good life. I find it difficult at times, but I try to even avoid the thought of them. My life is better without them and I consider thoughts of them “mind poo”. They are the defecation of the elephant in the room.

    I’m speaking of siblings and former acquaintances, not parents. My Dad has my back and my Mom is dead. It’s harder in your case. Still, I’d create healthy boundaries for yourself…whatever that means for you but it probably means less interaction or more standing up for yourself.

  3. Ugh, this is exactly what my husband is going through in his family (at least one side). He used to cherish holidays and family gatherings with these people, but the more we notice their homophobia and sexism, not to mention the total lack of any kind of affection among them, the less my husband want’s to be around them at all.

  4. Mormonism makes it very difficult if not impossible for ex believers to have healthy relationships with believers. When you view the world as black vs. white, good vs. evil, and ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’ it tends to foster abusive, condescending relationships.

    While my parents have ceased talking to me about the church or anything relating to it, they’re still unable to treat me the same way they did before they knew I was a gay atheist. Their love and acceptance and respect are contingent on me being their version of me, and because I’ve rejected that, they feel “forced” (by their brainwashing cult) to treat as not-quite a member of the family.

    They’re far less abusive and emotionally manipulative now than they were 2.5 years ago when I first left the church, but I doubt our relationship will ever normalise. They’re just incapable of respecting me as an autonomous adult whose views are equally valid as theirs are. Mormonism hammers into its adherents a totally unhealthy and damaging superiority complex that makes it nearly impossible to treat anyone who’s not a Mormon as a real human being. They view anyone who disagrees with them as a personal affront because they KNOW that they’re right, and they KNOW that everything they believe is the epitome of purity and goodness and righteousness, and everything everyone else believes and does is dripping with evil and loathsomeness.

    I really hate Mormonism.

    The only advice I’d have for you is that you call your parents and make some conditions. Tell them that if they can’t treat you with respect then you simply won’t be visiting them. I did that one year, and they showed marked improvement the next year.

  5. Thank you for the support. I get self-conscious about being too openly personal here, but sometimes the anonymity makes it easier to be honest with myself, and it also opens me up to the support of wonderful people like you lot.

  6. Ditto to what Craig said. I hope you can find the right boundaries for yourself. I’m lucky in that in my family me, the apostate, is the least of their worries with most of my siblings. I’m the one that still has the best relationship with them. But when it all comes out with my in-laws I know all hell will break loose and we’ll get the abuse from both his mom and dad, thank goodness we don’t live by any of them. So when that happens, I’ll probably come over to you for some advice! Hang in there!!! Hugs from me across the great blogging world.

  7. Pingback: Main Street Plaza » Sunday in Outer Blogness: in or out edition!

  8. Pingback: Exit Strategy « Molly Muses . . .

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