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How I Left The Family

R. S. Martin



I've read dozens of books about self-improvement. That is what turned my life around. Counselors didn't work for me. My distrust of people was too deep. Then I did a university degree in social work (not the actual social work degree; just the foundation degree so I can go on and do the social work degree if I want to). I also have a significant number of religious studies courses and I am nearing the end of a degree in theology. All of this helps in a major way to figure out what happened to me and why. Just as important, it has put me in direct contact and working relationships with many decent and respectful people--profs, staff, and students.


What you say about the impact of abuse surfacing only after--that's a new idea for me. But I KNOW it has played a major role in how I relate to my profs and classmates. Fortunately, initially I made such an astonishing and amazing impression on everyone who came into contact with me that lots of people befriended me. It took me years to trust that it was real--that I was worthy of such respect.


But this thread is the first time I ever got involved in a support group or whatever on dealing with irredeemable family offenses. It's so good not to feel like a total freak for renouncing family. I've heard of cases where parents disowned children for breaking with tradtion but I did not know that more than the odd freak renounced family that professed a desire for a relationship. And then, like I mentioned above, there were these church people who helped me get out of the horse and buggy church, but they refused to believe the depth and severity of the problems that required immediate attention.


Somehow or other I survived. A major thing was school. Everyone--outside the Old Order Mennonites--praised and commended me for my outstanding performance at school. Since I so desperately needed support for my decisions this helped enormously. This changed, however, when I started doing graduate work. I guess according to their values I should have been happy with a BA and go get a job.


Several years later I had a classmate who had considerable experience with the modern Mennonites. She explained that Mennonites believe more in doing than in learning. She believed this probably explained the attitude that I should get a job rather than more education. I wasn't involved with a church anymore at that point. One more observation on those Mennonites. The person who most strongly advised me that I should go get work had a PhD, and had worked as president for the local Mennonite college.


This was not a community technical college to learn a trade; it is part of a major university where students can earn BA and MA degrees that qualify them for further studies in the world's top universities. This person also had a penis--I assume. In other words, regardless of professions to the contrary, patriarchal attitude probably played a major role in his advice.


It was so crazy-making the way these Mennonites thought they had to look out for me. *I* on my own initiate and strength--in the face of major, major opposition and persecution--LEFT the Old Order Mennonites and came to them. They did not come to me. All they did was respond to my plea for help. That is the way I would have wanted it. Had they offered it, I would have rejected it. I was raised to distrust them and everything they stood for. I had a huge identity crisis to deal with just to attend their church. One thing they were NOT going to do was tell ME how to live MY life. It was totally outside my comprehension how come they imagined that I would change my life plans to suit them.


In looking back, I see that my abstinence from church and my beginning of graduate studies happened about the same time. The lack of support may have played a larger role than I realized. Not going to church was not a conscious decision at any time. I would plan to go to church, but when Sunday morning rolled round I had no energy to go. I did not understand this. The way I see it now is that coming from my background it was not possible to move directly into "the world." I absolutely needed the cultural buffer these people provided.


By all appearances, esp. from the perspective of a horse and buggy Mennonite, these modern Mennonites were "the world." I had already worked through the issues of women with cut hair and pants, and also about divorce being okay. I never had a problem with instrument music or cars and other material stuff. Their theology was basically what I had grown up with. Thus, I did not have to make theological decisions at the same time that I was undergoing such a major transition on the level of lifestyle and culture.


Many of them had come from the same group I did, or one very much like it. This probably helped me more than I realized. People reached out to me and talked to me about the cultural and theological transitions. I missed not being able to talk with them about my very serious problems with Christian theology.


I did talk with a few people, which included the pastor. But this pastor and I clashed in the worst way. He promised to preach on the topic in July. This conversation took place about April. It seemed so WRONG to force a person with such a seriously burning question to wait four months for an answer. It did not mesh AT ALL with Jesus' teachings. I had no choice so I waited.


He preached his sermon. It did not even address my question. All he did was present about four different versions of atonement theory. I was so bitterly disappointed that I had to go spend some time in the washroom. This was in spite of knowing that I would miss some very beautiful music; the worship band played right after the sermon. I had heard them practice in the morning and it was exceptionally good. I really wanted to hear it. But I had to deal with my bitter disappointment--I had no choice in the matter.


I would like to be able to say at this point that I left that church not ever to return but I didn't. I was not in a social or emotional situation to do that. I don't run from problems; I stay and try to solve them, often way beyond the point of no return. Living in a trap of abuse for one's entire life teaches one how to stick to it and try solutions. I did eventually leave and nobody seemed to care. That really hurt. Yet I was not in a position to hold it against anyone.


I attended a few other modern Mennonite churches after that one, the last one being that man who said I should get work. I ran into serious personality clashes with authority figures in every church I got involved with. I wanted ANSWERS. All I got was promises. That is the other major reason I just don't go to church anymore. The clashes were simply too painful. I could not afford trying new churches all the time only to get hurt so seriously.


At the last church I gave a serious chance I became aware of my penchant for challenging authority figures--people who led adult SS classes, pastors, most people who listened to me and seemed to be supportive. Once I started trusting them and confiding my deepest questions, I would get hurt. I can cope better with having no answers than with empty promises--having my hope raised only to have it dashed mercilessly on the rock of reality. Reality: THERE IS NO ANSWER.


I ended up doing my MA in theology. We had to read some really heavy stuff. I did not understand all of it. It was just so many words. On some level I was still looking for The Answer. It occurred to me that I could not afford not to understand every word I read. Then I remembered. Christianity was supposed to be such a simple religion for slaves and children. Obviously, advanced degrees in theology were not required to understand the plan of salvation IF THE PLAN MADE SENSE. And it didn't.


I still needed an MA in something. I liked the atmosphere of the seminary and I enjoyed learning more about the Bible and what people believed it meant. So I'm doing my MA there. This has provided me the opportunity to talk with some of the best people on this planet. Yes, they are Christians. But religion in and of itself does not make a person good or bad. The school's policy is not to discriminate against students' beliefs. They do require that students demonstrate a cohesive value/belief system. And I have that.


In four months I hope to be done with my degree and be starting a job. My family does not know this. To the best of their knowledge, I am going to do a PhD before I get a job. I know they would be happy with my decision and it might even make a difference in how they deal with my rejection of Christianity. My dad hinted that I was looking for a prestigeous postion of some kind. He told me on my visit back in October that one should not look for some prestious work but be content with something less.


I told him that I will be happy if there is something I can do that I also enjoy, that I am not looking for a prestigious postion. I challenged him regarding the basis to make such assumptions. He seemed not to have meant it that way. He seemed to suddenly want to change the topic. I let it go.


For so many years they have been urging me to get a job, not to just waste money on education. They knew not to take it far if they wanted any relationship with me, not to mention it every year. My decision is not based on anything they--or anyone else--has said. It is based on how I personally feel. The way I feel at this time is that I am exhausted from studying. By April I will have been at it for nine years straight. I need a break. I've talked with a lot of people who have done a PhD and everyone says it's a really tough pull. I know without being told that there is no promise of work at the end.


Ever since I committed myself to make myself happy at whatever cost, life has gone reasonably well. There have been low times, such as when I had to leave the church, and later when I ran into serious personality problems with a university department. In the end, I left that department and started at the seminary. Never ever have I felt for prolonged periods of time that death was the only way out.


I have been asking myself: If I stop school short of a PhD, and without a clear sense of what I want to work, was all of this a waste of time and money?


NO! I learned MUCH about how to be human. I learned about navigating relationships and resolving problems positively. Right now I am trying to figure out how this post is supposed to fit into this thread. I had no intention of saying half of this when I started. But it came tumbling out. Now I know. All of this is part of the saga of being/becoming estranged from family. There seem to be a lot of people like this on this thread.



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