Thursday, August 10, 2017

Leila's Story, Part One

(Free says: This is the first half of a guest post. If you'd like to tell your story, use the form at the bottom of the page or send me an email. Thanks!)

Dear Free,

I just discovered your blog while aimlessly researching the OALC online. Thank you for this site, and for letting me tell my story, as even my friends cannot understand how I grew up. You can call me Leila (not my real name). 

I was born into an extremely proper OALC family in Washington State. My mother's mother and my father were not raised as members of the church; they joined as adults, and I am not primarily Scandinavian like most of the OALC. As a result of my Native American and Spanish ancestry, I do not look like the people I grew up around, and was often made fun of by my "Christian" friends -- who would say in a joking manner that I would never find a husband because of my dark hair. I always laughed it off but deep down, it planted a sense of being unattractive, and I struggled with my looks. 

I attended church every Sunday and was exposed only to those of similar faith, except in public settings such as school. From a very young age I was reserved, and preferred books to the company of others. I learned to read before kindergarten. While I was considered nerdy and weird, my friends accepted me because of my faith. As long as I can remember, I felt “different,” however, and questioned almost everything presented to me, but the fear of going to hell caused extreme guilt, and I became increasingly cut off from others. 

At age 13, I was sexually abused by an older male relative. I reported the incident to my mother, who took me to talk to a preacher. Of course, I trusted the adults around me as I had never known anything else. I was told by this church leader that the abuser had "asked for forgiveness," and I should find it in myself to forgive him. The subject was not brought up again — by my mother or the preacher. 

When the abuse recurred, I went to my mother again, and we went to the preacher, and I got the same advice — this pattern repeated itself again and again until I stopped talking about it altogether. 

The abuse and my increasing sense of alienation caused extreme depression to take hold. I devoted all of my energy to school and maintained a 4.0 GPA while isolating myself further and further from those around me. My depression deepened. Finally, the preachers advised me to see a therapist to "find it in your heart to forgive the abuser, for we all sin and all sin is created equal.” They believed my symptoms were the result of a guilty conscience.

After my first therapy session, I reported to my mother that the therapist recommended legal action and a reconsideration of my faith. Shocked, my mother called the therapist and said she had no right to speak poorly to a young, "mentally unstable" girl about her faith in God. She moved me to another therapist, and another after that, but they all had similar, unsatisfactory advice. 

When therapy “failed,” I was told to seek help from a medical doctor. My mother and a preacher accompanied me to the doctor visit, explaining my symptoms (without mentioning the abuse) and asked for me to be medicated. At age 14, I was prescribed high doses of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, and antipsychotics.

This preacher was married to a retired nurse, a lifelong member of the OALC (some of you will recognize her by that description alone). After hearing of my depression, she "diagnosed" me with severe clinical depression, severe anxiety, and borderline personality disorder. I was told to turn my faith to God, and he would guide me through my “trial" of mental instability.

An important thing to add at this point is that my school work never faltered. I found comfort in my studies, and always enjoyed learning new things. Numerous teachers expressed their amazement at my mathematical and reading abilities. When they recommended I skip ahead a grade to be sufficiently challenged, my mother said no, on account of "mental instability." 

This so-called treatment continued for four years until I graduated high school and turned 18. By this point I had self-researched my alleged medical conditions -- and firmly believed myself to be sane! Shortly after graduating, I scheduled an appointment with a well-known Seattle psychiatrist and explained the entire situation. He offered to see me free of charge. Without telling anyone in my family or church, I drove the three hours north to Seattle to meet with him; we sat and talked for almost six hours. At the end of our session, he called my doctor, and expressed his concerns about my numerous medications, stating I showed no clinical diagnosis for any of my supposed conditions. 

I began the process of secretly weaning myself off of all medication. 

A year after high school, I applied in secret to an amazing university in California, which accepted me -- with a full scholarship on account of my high SAT scores and GPA. In most families, this would be a cause for celebration. When I gave the news to my mother, however, she suggested I talk with a preacher. I called a different one (not the nurse’s husband), and he said with absolute conviction that I should "stay close to home" and "remain close to your faith" to avoid the "dangers of the world" -- combined with my "mental conditions." Neither my mother nor anyone else was aware I had stopped taking medication.

I didn’t follow that preacher’s advice. 

While my mother cried, I packed all I could into my car and drove to California.

My new life had begun.

(To be continued.)

Thank you to anyone who reads this — feel free to leave comments or questions.

Leila

10 comments:

  1. I have read this shocking story with admiration and sorrow. The Laestadian forgiving practice and culture causes this everywhere.

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  2. Bravo, Leila. All too often, I've heard the victims of sexual abusers declared "crazy" while their abusers continue on in church, their reputations intact, and even serving communion or serving on the church board. So often a child who has been abused in some way--physically, sexually and/or emotionally--their families paint them as crazy or unstable, even if they're the most sane person in their whole family. I look forward to reading the second installment of your story. --Punahilkka

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  3. I was choked and filled with anger to read about your story. I was happy to hear that you managed to struggle free eventually and I am fingers crossed waiting the part 2. I was wondering why it was not possible for your parents to save and detach you from the perpetrator as it was obvious - at latest after 2nd or 3rd incident - that he did not have an intention to repent and correct his behavior. The described scheme of confession and forgiving is really an appalling practice to cover up shameful crimes and neglect the vulnerable victims.
    It has been a shock to the world to see these revelations in various religious communities. Catholic Church has sailed from big scandal to another - when truth is revealed after decades of cover-ups. For us raised in Lestadian homes it has been terrible disappointment to hear similar stories. The SRK-lestadianism in Finland has been under major publicity about these abominable cases. No doubt the problem is around in OALC and Firstborn groups as well. Social and criminal studies should be consulted to know what is the typical prevalence of such abuse, domestic violence etc in the general public. Whatever the case the most infuriating feature is the complicity of clergy, preachers and facade-preserving parents in mending things with religious tricks.
    Leila, I admire your perseverance and courage, I wish you have been able to pull yourself together, to find a balance in soul and reconciliation with the baggage of your religious heritage and little by little drop the bitter memories. I hope you have enjoyed your student years in the wonderful California. I am from Finland but I used to live one academic year in California 25 years ago. M

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  4. There is one incident in Finland, where the auteur is a preacher, but protected by his apology. Sheep.

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  5. I am so sorry for your experiences and hope you are finding strength in healing. Sending much love and support. Cheryl.

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  6. You are a beautiful person. Thank you for sharing, I'm so proud of you. Helena

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  7. I am so sorry this all too familiar story is yours. Weeping with you...

    It was a gift to me as well to excel academically. A 'passport' to amazing opportunity and freedom. I look forward to listening to the rest of your story. Blessings my dear! Love and hugs as well. Lois

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  8. I look forward to hearing 'part two' you are one strong women and it is amazing you were able to escape and create the life you did for yourself...stories like these, as sad and as horrible as they are, make me feel not so alone with my experiences from the OALC. Look forward to hearing more,
    Alyson Kadow

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  9. What I'm feeling is profound anger. I hope part 2 tells of prosecutions of the pastor, the nurse who is not qualified to diagnose and all others who were complicit in this child abuse! Leila, I am so impressed by your strength to rise.

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  10. Hello Leila,

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is extremely brave to share about a traumatic event. I feel like I understand some of what you went through. I grew up in the FALC (OALC is a split of FALC) and have since left as I felt the need to deepen my relationship with Christ and I didn't agree with many of their beliefs. I also was sexually abused (Not by someone from the church) so I understand what you are going through. Please feel free to contact me if you ever want to talk about anything!

    -Maria

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