At seven years old, on a summer day at home, my mother sat rolling her hair and told me very matter-of-factly she and my father didn’t want children. And I believed her.
To my parents caring for their children seemed like replacing the broken fence or mowing the lawn—inconvenient—but you have to do it or the neighbors will talk about you. So, in some ways, I survived as an unwanted orphan, alone. My mother raged—living a disconnected and mentally ill life. She told me day in and day out, “You’re stupid and you can’t do anything right.”
My alcoholic father worked excessively. Neither knew the Lord. Consequently, I developed a type of “heart disease”—a spiritual vacuum in place of a parent’s love.
I didn’t understand love.
When I was thirteen years old, my aunt visited from Michigan and told me she loved me. I didn’t know what to do with that. So I turned my aunt, the one who loved me, into an enemy. The truth of love and hugs for some reason was too painful to bear.
Team Me, Myself, and I at the Oncologist
When I was fourteen, I found a lump in my breast. We visited a surgeon who diagnosed it as a quick-growing tumor requiring immediate removal.
My parents didn’t say anything. It was as if I didn’t really exist. So I agonized in my own thoughts and fears without them. On the day before surgery, my mother dropped me off at the hospital and left. I faced humiliating exams and questions from a young male intern and a giggling nurse—and I faced them alone.
The next morning a nurse who called herself “Big Momma” stuck me with a hypodermic injection. All the while saying, “Don’t worry, honey. If worse comes to worse we can probably cure it.”
When I awoke from surgery, my mother was sitting in the room. And my father came that evening. I hadn’t known they would come. But what concerned me most was the huge bandage over my breast. I assumed the surgeon removed my entire breast and no one wanted to tell me. And when the bandage was removed, I breathed again.
But my parents took me home and still ignored me. I went up to my room, gazed out my bedroom window, and couldn’t understand why I felt so alone, so depressed.
Shortly thereafter I began acting out with boys.
Sometimes two is the loneliest number.
Barely seventeen, I ran away from home, and married my high school boyfriend at eighteen. After ten years living with his rage, physical domination, and hypercriticism, he divorced me for a woman seven years younger and left me with a seven- and one-year-old.
One year later, I married husband number two and we had a son.
At church I hid my past as best I could. The loneliness and aching was my fault. I wasn’t like those people who told me about Jesus and the way to be saved from my sins; I wasn’t good. They knew how to live. I just knew how to find a way to soothe my wounded heart and temporarily replace the sadness. And while I didn’t blame this on God, I asked him many times, “How long, How long, O Lord? Will you make me live with this heartache forever?”
The hole in my heart remained, and in fact grew. A deep, dark, cavernous place—a place of insatiable loneliness. The kind of loneliness with an energy of its own, it compelled a desperate need. This blind driving force propelled me into relationships and behaviors that were, to say the least, unhealthy. It also triggered me to accept all kinds of abuse from men, and caused me to hurt others—hurt people hurt people.
My life had spiraled downward into multiple relationships and then marriages.
When I was ready to deal with this pain I told my Baptist minister and a therapist visited my Bible church. He taught a Sunday morning class series on facing life’s problems biblically. He worked for a Christian counseling agency. I trusted him and became one of his clients.
He was much older than me, old enough to be my father. He led me through Neural Linguistic Programming, a protocol to revisit past pains, write about them, and read them in therapy to relieve and heal the traumas. I had hope.
I became attached emotionally to this therapist, like the parent I so longed for. Experiencing the emotions of my childhood traumas felt like having some kind of drug in my system, fuzzy and otherworldly.
I became needy and childlike for a time. In my weakest moment, my therapist began calling on me for “his encouragement,” took advantage of my vulnerability, and lured me into a relationship to support his sick needs. I lost my second marriage and added deeper wounds to my already weakened heart.
When my church pastor discovered this, he refused to talk to me. Others passed on that he feared I would sue him or the church for bringing the therapist into my life. Only one elder and his wife fought for me, but that proved short-lived. My heart cried out, “How long, O Lord?”
Bearing the Rage of a Religious Conman
On the tails of this, I married my third husband, a monster, a religious conman. He controlled me and my children. We couldn’t watch TV or listen to radio except for Christian programming. He held us hostage for hours upon hours listening to his “sermons.”
But, he wouldn’t work, always claiming recovery from a stroke.
He raged, and he raged, and he terrified us with all kinds of violence. He chased my daughter away to live with her dad. Repeatedly, he threatened to kill my son with his bare hands. I made plans in my head of how I’d murder him with the fireplace poker if he ever made good on his threats.
Then he began physically abusing me, many times holding me down and screaming and threatening all night, making crazy accusations. He threw me around and got on top of me, threatening to kill me. In his rage, I knew he could.
It took seven years and three attempts, but I finally left him.
Healing That Carries the Weight of the “What Ifs”
Eventually, after many years, I found healing through Christian community and a mentor who valued me and taught me to understand God’s love, and through Christian twelve-step programs. Now I don’t feel ashamed about myself and the problems the hole in my heart had caused.
But, I’ll tell you, I have often wondered how my life might have been different if believers had been the family of God to me and to my children.
What if my church community had realized my family’s wounds because they attended well to their members instead of living such independent lives? What if they spent time with us, supported us emotionally and spiritually, and followed up frequently to ensure we thrived? Would we have kept falling, or would we have had a much shorter fall before climbing up to God?
Cover image by Christina Lavaggi.