The Difficulty with Admitting Trauma: Kandice’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to a pseudonym at the request of the author.

My name is Kandice, and I grew up being homeschooled.

My parents were and are members of HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) but in our part of Massachusetts, there weren’t too many other homeschoolers.

My seven siblings and I were all home-schooled together; initially started using a mix of curriculum including Christian Liberty, but my parents quickly switched over to Pensacola Christian College’s (PCC) ABeka Book program. I was homeschooled from 2nd grade through 12th.

My siblings and I were raised with very clearly defined social, political, and religious ideology. Strict Calvinism, coupled with the dogma of Independent Fundamental Reformed Baptist theology was the religious perspective; politically, my father is rabidly conservative – huge fan of the NRA, Newt Gingrich, and Rush Limbaugh etc. Socially, we were taught children to follow Biblical principles as my parents saw them.

We were taught the world is full of sin, and you can’t trust anyone other than fellow Christians as all others are under Satan’s sway.

Curiously enough, unlike many in Fundamental circles, my parents are not racist at all. In fact, they harbor great frustration and confusion over racism – we were taught all people are created in the image of god and therefore physical differences don’t matter; my parents explained differences in appearance and language are stemming from the tower of Babel (Genesis Ch. 11).

I have a B.A., which I got from Bob Jones University, which is private and religious.

I was raised by educated parents who valued learning highly – my mother has a B.A. in English and my father has both a B.A., and his M.Div. My father was a minister at an Independent Fundamental Reformed Baptist church – although his religious views didn’t start out there, they progressed to that point. In my early childhood we were traditional ABC Baptists, but after my father got his own church, things began to change.

My political beliefs changed before high school, largely because I knew I was gay, and then continued transforming.

My dad is an extremely conservative Republican and we were raised with that ideology. My biggest passion in life has been reading, I can’t remember not loving words, and this drove change for me. I started reading literature that changed how I saw things – several authors were powerful in this for me: John Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, Pearl S. Buck, Thomas Hardy, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

By the time I entered high school I already disagreed with my family/father on social justice and equality matters – reading literature made me explore history and social science which really helped to broaden my view.

I knew I was gay from a young age, and in college, in my Ethics class, we were taught “facts” about homosexuality that didn’t connect at all with my experience. Such things as, people become gay through being recruited, usually at a bar (I’d never been to a bar and as far as I knew, I’d never met a gay person); or that Jesus and the Bible condemned homosexuality – well, I read everything Jesus said and he did not ever speak out against the LGBT community; the OT references to Sodom and Gomorrah are referencing the sin of lack of hospitality, not being gay. So in college, my political beliefs opened up still further to be able to fully accept myself as gay, and to be able to say that all people, regardless of religion/gender/orientation etc. should have the same rights and freedoms.

My religious beliefs went through transition as I grew older.

I stopped believing in any way that Jesus was more than a man – he existed, but he is not god or any deity. My view of god changed – I don’t have a definition for the power that some of us use the word god to describe. That power exists, and that power is more than me, but beyond that, I don’t have definitions or rules about religion. I learned to see people in light of who they were and what they do, rather than what the claim to believe – beliefs are only as significant as we let them be, and they’re so tied in to our perceptions of reality that they are often wildly flawed. And contrary to what I was raised with, I don’t think it’s my job or duty to try to “convert” anyone. I think my responsibility today is to live the most spiritual life I can, following the path I’m on, and do my utmost to not cause harm but to be of service to others.

These changes occurred because I was reading, and learning. I took what I read and compared it to what I experienced and saw in the world around me and it didn’t align. Teaching I had been taught in the Bible didn’t match up to my experience, or what I experienced from people who were deemed “sinners” or “apostate” or “lost”. And in fact, what some Christians did to me, and others, was distinctly un-Christlike; there was no logic in saying that their behavior was acceptable because they called themselves Christians, while the person who doesn’t believe in god but does amazing good is going to hell.

I would have to say homeschooling was a traumatic experience for me.

I don’t like admitting that. Because admitting trauma means addressing it beyond the bleak recitation of the facts of what occurred. Diving into how it makes me feel, or affects me, is challenging.  I think that unless homeschooling is done in conjunction with an outside schooling process, it leads to isolation, control issues, lack of contact with reality, social discomfort, low self-esteem and self-confidence, poor communication skills, and significant challenges building healthy relationships.

Homeschooling did have some lasting psychological effects on me. While this is not as powerful as it has been in the past, the scars still remain. My journey involved alcohol use that became alcoholism… that was one of the ways I coped with what I was experiencing/had experienced. I also suffered from severe depression and anxiety, leading to suicidal ideation, and this started around age 11. In college I actually attempted suicide because I just had no coping mechanism, and I didn’t know enough to know there were supports available.

Additionally as an adult, I learned that a lot of the behaviors I had as a kid that my parents labelled as “sin” and tried to punish/discipline out of me, were actually tied in to having Asperger’s and having an IQ/mind that naturally asks questions, and that needs to be challenged. It was actually hard to learn that because it hit me really hard to realize that I had spent so many years and so much time trying to change something that was neurobiologically programmed and that couldn’t be changed. Also, it didn’t need to change – it wasn’t wrong.

But the concept of Autistic persons as being sinful is very prevalent in the community I come from.

My father has repeatedly told me he would do the same thing over again, and that it’s [the way I process things] sin, not the way my brain functions.

Guilt over leaving my younger siblings behind to go to college and then leaving them again when I came out as LGBT is something I’m working through. It’s not as bad as it was, by far, because my siblings hold no animosity towards me. I just felt very responsible for them because as their older sister, I always had been responsible for them. And in big families in these environments, you sometimes feel more like a protector or caretaker than a sibling and that changes things.

Had I been in a public school setting, these experiences would have been very different.

I know this for sure since I was in public school for kindergarten and 1st grade – and in 1st grade, when teachers and administrators began to have concerns over what they saw in me, as well as my siblings, my parents shut the door on the world and began homeschooling. Getting diagnosed at a younger age, having supports in place, learning healthy coping mechanisms – yes I definitely believe this would have made a difference. I can truly say I like myself today, though, so I don’t know that I would want to not experience what I experienced because I don’t know who I would be if I hadn’t gone through that.

In conclusion, homeschooling was a mixed bag for me, very much so.

I enjoyed not being held back or slowed down by anyone else, I enjoyed having no homework, and I felt comfortable (translate – safe/understood) being around my siblings. I’ve been told, as an adult by a psychologist who had done a series of IQ tests on me, that homeschooling was actually a very good thing for me in terms of my intellectual development. So I’m grateful for being homeschooled in the sense that it allowed me to really develop my mind.

Emotionally, socially, psychologically, spiritually – homeschooling was extraordinarily damaging. Not knowing how to interact with anyone comfortably that wasn’t from my family, being raised to not trust other people, not having healthy psychological supports in place or anyone in place who could say, “Wait. This is not ok” – that wasn’t good at all. Being able to learn to reach out to people for help has taken years.  And it’s also taken a lot of work. It’s still not easy. Knowing that’s it is ok to feel something other than gratitude for being one of god’s elect was another learning process; the reality that feelings of sorrow, anger, depression, grief, loneliness – these are ok, also they’re normal and they are not sin was definitely not something I was raised with. Most emotions and thoughts were deemed sinful; learning how to first say “sin is man-made, in fact it’s not real” and then say “feelings are feelings, not good or bad unless I want to assign them so”, that also took many years.

If I were a parent, I would not home school my child.

I think we exist as part of a community, a whole, and that community is so much more than a family or small homogenous group.

I think removing the opportunity for children to learn, from a young age, about differences is unacceptable. It stunts growth emotionally, mentally, and socially. I think raising children in rigid, rule-oriented, controlling and judgmental environments is harmful. Not knowing who you are, not being able to develop your own views through experiences and feelings, is not healthy and it leads to damaging behavior and unhealthy practices in adulthood.

I’m not angry or resentful that I was homeschooled; as I mentioned above I like myself and this is a part of who I am. But I can’t in good conscience recommend or advocate for homeschooling.

5 comments

  • I have aspergers autism as well. And i understand you fully. I grew up in an extremely controlled judgemental punishing environment from my mother/teachers and other kids bullying me for being different even though I minded my own business. The difference between me and you is that my family was so controlling and judgementally abusive that i cannot and do not, know how to function socially with my family. And i act more like myself with the general public although with obvious signs of aspergers as even though I still dont know how to act properly in social situations with the public, I am more likely to either be super trusting but still exhausting my energy or be comfortable enough to ignore everyone and be me, because i know they dont know me. and they will leave me alone. it still drains my energy but it feels better in public when i cn be left alone to be in my own mind to wander without the screaming voices of my family.

    • hey amanda thank you for your comments! i understand what you’re talking about as well, the energy drain….it is really tough to process. i’ll keep you in my thoughts.

  • Kandice, you sound like you’re an awesome person. You’ve come through so much and you’re at a place where you’re able to write about your experiences in a masterful way. Congrats on that point. I think the thing that resonates most with me from your piece is the idea that you experienced suicidal ideation at 11. I did as well at that age, and that’s been a focal point of my own recovery from my trauma. Remembering that my environment and experiences led me to fantasize about ways of dying over and over again, that remembering helps to underline the fact that no, it’s not me who’s ‘crazy’ but my family environment that was unhealthy. If you’re ever in NYC I’d love to have you over for dinner sometime / I offer you my futon to sleep on if you ever visit. Even on this site, which has really been a godsend, there aren’t many people whose experiences resonate with me as deeply as your experience.

    • thank you!!! i’ve been to NYC once before & i would love to visit again; i will totally look you up if/when i do so 🙂

  • Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it. 🙂

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