I don’t like waking myself up screaming.
I don’t like awakening with a start, shaking, gasping before realizing with relief that my family is not dead, I am not being tortured by Nazi’s, I am not trapped in a tall building with bad guys hunting me down.
I do like that the more my life is filled with real love, real happiness, real peace, those nightmares are fewer and farther between.
As a girl I found myself in a religious cult, far from nurturing family and friends, trapped in a 10-story former hotel in Indianapolis where I would be worked 17-20 hours a day with no pay, no holidays and no breaks save for a few hours early Saturday morning when I was allowed outside in the parking lot to play volleyball in a long skirt with tennis shoes. It was the highlight of my week. 🙂
During the day I would have my “ministry smile” firmly affixed to my face, so afraid to appear anything other than radiantly happy lest I be accused of a rebellious spirit and sent to solitary confinement in a room void of furniture where I would be isolated on bread and water until my “heart changed.”
I smiled when they said I was worth nothing and only good as a servant. I smiled when they would take away our food on Sundays and lock the kitchen so we could “free our minds from distraction and focus on God.” I smiled when they tried to break me by demoting me to scrubbing toilets and folding laundry for ten or more hours a day.
But at night, safe behind the locked door of my room I would cry, wondering what was wrong with me that made me so unlovable to the people who ran that place.Why did they look for opportunities to publicly humiliate me, discipline me harshly, isolate me from all who loved me and saw value in me? It got so bad that even a few in leadership positions would wait for a rare moment when I was alone, whisper how sorry they were, explain with tears that there was nothing they could do, then hustle off before anyone saw them. They’ll never know how much those secret messages meant to me.
Looking back now I should’ve called my parents at the first sign of abuse and asked them to get me out of there. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. Two things the leadership drilled into me: 1 – if I truly loved God I would want to encourage my parent’s hearts by only giving them good news. 2 – if I tried to get out of a painful situation, God would only put me in a worse one so I could learn the lessons He had for me. They’re both lies, of course, I see that now, but back then, they were an effective tool to keep me terrified and silent. My situation was bad enough, the thought of something worse awaiting me if I tried to leave was beyond reckoning. So I stayed. Said nothing.
Somewhere in those years I found comfort in reading about the Holocaust. I devoured every story I could get my hands on (biographies were allowed in that place, novels were verboten), finding solace in the stories of people who had been through so much worse than me. It made me brave, strong, able to face my persecutors each day. I’ve carried those books with me ever since, just seeing them on shelves was a reminder that I could do it, I could make it, I could overcome anything those wretched people did to me and my friends.
But when I was packing up to move last month, I had the strangest feeling wash over me as I looked at those books. I smiled as I realized, I don’t need them any more.
I am free from that place.
I am at peace.
I am dearly loved.
I am stronger every day both in spirit and in the body they broke down.
I am happy, so happy, with the dearest friends and family a girl could ever hope for.
So I packed them up to give away. Perhaps they’ll provide strange comfort for someone else.
I still have a nightmare now and then. Usually when I’m working through some particularly painful memory from those years. But now I have people I can call, who remind me that I’m no longer trapped, no longer abused, no longer stuck in a place void of love, hope and peace.
I am free.