PLEASE NOTE: The following post contains content that may make some readers uncomfortable.
By Rachel, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor. ‘Rachel’ is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.
I was a fifth generation Christian Scientist. Having grown up in a family involved with Christian Science for multiple generations, I can see patterns now, passed down through family stories; patterns from the very first family members to join Christian Science. The things that happened to me in my childhood were probably going to happen to me regardless. But the incidents would not have been handled in the manner that they were if not for the fact that our family were Christian Scientists.
I was sick so much as a kid with diseases I was not vaccinated against. I had every kind of measles that you can have, and the mumps. The ear infections were horrible and one of my most prominent memories of childhood. I don’t think my mom knew what an ear infection was. My dad did insist that I have the polio vaccine—I’m so grateful for that. And no one ever made me feel guilty for being sick, or berated me. Christian Science taught me how to do that all by myself.
When I was four years old, my teenaged cousin raped me at at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother gave me a Christian Science ‘treatment’. She cleaned me up, telling me the whole time that God knew nothing of what had happened to me, nothing of anything bad. He only saw good. That my cousin and I were both God’s perfect children. That it had ‘never happened.’ We never spoke of it again, and my grandmother never told my parents.
My grandmother and I had a very complicated relationship. I watched her die as a direct result of practicing Christian Science. She had stomach cancer, and the only saving grace was that her little heart failed because she hadn’t really had nourishment in months. She passed relatively peacefully. So often with Christian Scientists that is, sadly and devastatingly, not the case. When she died, I got seriously p*ssed off about the sexual assault that occurred at her home and the way it was handled. I may just be starting to scratch the surface of it. I have found myself in a deep anger over Christian Science’s role in my family’s history several times in the last few years. I downplayed the impact of Christian Science on my life for a long time. I guess I just feel like the adults who should have protected me didn’t. Wasn’t that their responsibility? I struggle to figure out how much to lay at their feet and how much to lay at the feet of Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science.
I struggled through my teenage years with anorexia. It was a slow form of suicide. It began to take over when I was nineteen years old and away at school. I was attending a secular college and majoring in biology. My non-Christian Scientist dad was thrilled, the rest of the Christian Scientist family was horrified. My boyfriend grew frustrated by my inability to take myself to the doctor for my mounting medical problems and ended our relationship. Around the same time, I was date-raped by someone who I thought was a close friend.
Within a few months of these events, my eating disorder bloomed into a monstrous entity that controlled every aspect of my life. I checked myself into treatment after I realized in the shower that I could see the outline of my organs through my abdomen, and thus began my journey out. My family was more resentful than supportive. I was proving that we weren’t God’s perfect family.
Due to the anorexia I had dropped out of school, and upon leaving treatment, the only support group that advocated the twelve steps for anorexics was Overeaters Anonymous. That was short-lived as I didn’t feel welcome there, so I landed in an AA meeting where they welcomed me with open arms. I stayed there for nine years as they taught me the real meaning of healing. The first step was admitting at a deep level that I was desperately sick and that I could not ‘know the truth’ out of it. I did make a couple of serious attempts at using Christian Science for physical healings after that. The last one, at age 22, landed me in the hospital with an untreated bladder infection that the doctors said had brought me hours away from sepsis. It required a three-day hospital stay to stabilize me. That was eye opening, to say the least.
I married at 25. I had damaged my reproductive organs with my anorexia, and I’d also been diagnosed with endometriosis and told I was unable to have children. I was shocked to find myself pregnant fairly quickly. I’d made a good friend in AA, a veterinarian, who had asked me to come to work for him. He’d hired me to answer the phones, but I quickly started transitioning to a vet tech. I loved it and I was good at it. I’d also been studying nutrition and speaking at women’s events and local schools about eating disorders. I was sort of a nutritional consultant and healthy eating advocate. In the circles I was in, we began to delve into the associations between food and disease. That is where Christian Science and I came to our crossroads. Denying my own suffering was one thing, but denying someone else’s was not something I could ever pull off. Even back in college, my friends would all come to me to patch a wound or take care of someone sick. I always enjoyed taking care of people in that way, even when I identified as Christian Scientist. I’m so ticked off sometimes that being a doctor wasn’t presented as an option for me growing up.
One of the techs from the veterinarian’s office eventually became a PA and asked me to join the practice. Now I work in a non-traditional medical office focusing on health and wellness through holistic medicine—vitamins, dietary changes, bio-identical hormone replacement, etc. I work only with new patients. I counsel people struggling with weight loss issues.
I was watching home videos of my mom’s family when she was just a little kid. My grandmother looked so happy and light hearted. She was such a beautiful woman; she was affectionate and smiling. My memories of her are so different. While I know she loved us, she was so closed off. You can’t pick and choose the feelings you stuff. Eventually you stuff them all. It’s just how it works.
I have honestly spent hours trying to figure out how much the unhealthy behaviors in Christian Science culture and Christian Scientist families have to do with Christian Science theology, and how much they have to do with the type of people attracted to it. Maybe Christian Science is a cloak for certain types of personalities. Having been involved in recovery programs for so many years, one of the things that has always stood out to me are the discussions about how strong people’s ability to stay in denial about the reality of their situation is. Well, good god, Christian Scientists take first place there.
On the other hand, I’ve spent more than twenty years now working either with or in recovery programs, and I have heard horror stories of emotional, mental, physical, sexual, and even medical neglect. The amount of women who choose to side with the abuser when confronted with the sexual abuse of their child is absolutely disgusting. And, Christian Science is not alone with the crazy sexuality views. Many Christians have some seriously messed up opinions regarding sex.
I am struggling with my Christianity, or lack thereof, lately. Five years ago, I would have considered myself a devout Christian, but life happened to me and it happened hard. Five years ago I also would have said that I didn’t feel that I have leftover issues from being raised in Christian Science, but now I see that I do. At the end of the day all you really need to know about me is that I believe in grace, mercy and love, and I found that to be completely absent in Christian Science. However, if being raised in Christian Science and experiencing the horror of it gave me the life I have today, then it was worth it.
I was trying to explain Christian Science to my son tonight. He’s sixteen, and he just looked at me like I was a unicorn. He kept saying ‘Why?’ ‘Who thought of this?’ and ‘People believe that?’ I’ve never hidden from my kids that this is how I grew up, but as each one has finally gotten curious enough to start asking questions, their responses are the same.”