PLEASE NOTE: The following post contains content that may make some readers uncomfortable.
By Lucy, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor. ‘Lucy’ is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.
My husband and I both grew up in Christian Science families. We first met at Principia Upper School and then attended Prin college together. He has always been more spiritual and I’ve always been more practical, so when both of his parents died early from treatable diseases he really dug into Christian Science as a way to try and find healing from his grief, which he didn’t think he was supposed to feel. But at some point, probably a few years ago, I began to realize that as much as I really wanted it to be true and work it made NO sense to me. I began to get into science… you know, actual science!
I started the process of just gradually exiting Christian Science. Nothing dramatic really, just stopped. I joined the Ex-Christian Scientists Facebook group a year ago, and I’ve slowly been getting more active. At first I was thinking, “well, I’m not very angry about things, so it’s not really my place.” But I’m having some realizations, and those have made me more interested in paying attention to what these folks have to say. I’ve been passing on some ideas from the group to my husband, as well.
It’s true that I’m clueless about some things, like my tendency to keep on running or working out while injured. That must directly correspond to my Christian Science upbringing. Realizing just now around age forty that those are related has made me sit up more and take notice. Also, my complete lack of emotion around what happened to me when I was little. I’m so emotionally disconnected from it.
My mother always took good care of me. She took me to the ER a couple of times as a child when it was called for; she did what needed to be done. Even though she didn’t report the sexual abuse when I told her about it, I do believe she honestly felt like she was doing what was best for me. That doesn’t mean I’m not mad at Christian Science for the influence it had on my family environment and on my mother’s reactions and choices.
When I was five, I was sexually abused by a teenage boy who was the son of our next door neighbor, after my mother began using him for my babysitter. I have memories of two specific incidents. I don’t know if they are all, or not. ‘Because you are special, and finally old enough.’ I was five. He used to give me grape or orange soda; I can’t drink either to this day. He told me not to tell anyone our special secret. I knew it was wrong, and I wanted to tell.
I don’t remember the words I said to my mom when I told her. I don’t remember her initial response or what she said to me at that time. I imagine she was very calm and matter-of-fact, based on what I know of her. I have a vague memory of her saying, “we will know that this isn’t really him and that you can’t be harmed.” He no longer babysat me, and at some point my mom told me that she’d talked with his mom and asked her to have her boyfriend talk to my abuser about ‘what is right and what isn’t and what it means to be a man.’ And that is all that was done. He was living next door to me for a few more years until my mom remarried and we moved away.
As a child, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the way things were handled, but as I’ve gotten older and considered it all, it boggles the mind that the authorities weren’t involved. It’s hard to say how much of my mom’s response was due to her Christian Science upbringing and mindset and how much was due to her own personality, or the times she lived in. As it turns out, my mom was sexually abused by her best friend’s uncle when she was little, and this is basically how it was dealt with in her Christian Science family as well.
My mom, at heart very practical, responded to any serious physical childhood traumas with those trips to the ER, as needed. Emotional trauma is a different story, though. It wasn’t something she could see. I guess it’s not reasonable for me to expect her to have acted contrary to what she’d been taught by her religion and her family for her whole life, and contrary to the way she herself had been treated when the same thing happened to her. And according to Christian Science teachings, once my mom had told me that I was unharmed, and that my assailant was not to be held responsible, and that the incident never happened ‘in Reality,’ any further escalation or discussion of the matter would just cause me further harm.
In Christian Science, as we all know, we don’t talk about the bad things. That would make them real—or not exactly that, but we’re told that naming the problem will only make it more of a challenge. Deny, deny, deny is the name of the game. Discussing the sexual abuse of your child causes unpleasant, uncomfortable feelings to flare up, and I imagine that in a Christian Science home those feelings would be classified as ‘Error’ or ‘mortal mind.’ I’m sure there was a ton of ‘knowing the truth’ about who he was and who I was. I’m sure she was very loving and took care of me. But it was not something to be talked of ever again.
A couple of years ago, I started volunteering at the Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Agency. Volunteering was my way of trying to help like I never felt I was helped. About six months into it, my mom emailed and said that my work there had gotten her thinking about what had happened when I was little, and asked if I wanted to talk about what had happened so I could learn more about what had happened from her end. When I read her email, I instantly went into shock, and then after after the immediate shock wore off I felt nauseous and terrified. Which was weird, because I have no problems talking about it with my husband or close friends, but when my mom was possibly involved I could think of nothing I’d rather do less. After a few days, I wrote back and said let me think about it awhile. That was two years ago.
She and I have an established lifelong pattern in our relationship: affection, but distance from any real, deep emotion. I’m able to maintain that distance. She gets emotional once in a while, and when it happens she’s VERY emotional. That’s kind of a Christian Science-y thing, in my observation, although it could be her personality too, of course. So, part of my avoidance was that I don’t want to hear about it from her. I don’t want her to get emotional and make herself feel better when it doesn’t change anything.
In retrospect though, I understand what threw me into shock when I read that email. I realized that for so long, on a deep level, I had still been pretending that what happened to me was ‘unreal,’ even in spite of talking to therapists and friends over the years, even in spite of volunteering with rape survivors. In my everyday awareness, I am clear that what happened to me was ‘real,’ of course, but to have her bring it up was profoundly unsettling and threatened to take the cap off of something she put the lid on 35 years ago. Very bad feelings. Get away. No thank you.
These days, I am generally okay, of course. There have been times when I get hit with this feeling of being rotten at the core, which I think comes from feeling as if there is a shameful thing I carry. I know that in reality I did nothing to be ashamed of. I am tired of carrying this secret and having to worry about what people know, and who doesn’t know, and who can I trust, and who it will upset.
I worked the crisis hotlines at the Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Agency once a week for two years—talk about terrifying, you never knew what was going to be on the other end. I heard some awful stories. I also did hospital response; that was being on call for a 24-hour period, and if you got called in you went to the crisis center to be a victim advocate as they went through the forensic exam. You gave them resources, talked if they wanted to, didn’t if they didn’t—and I often literally just held a person’s hand as they went through the exam.
After those two years, I found that it was wearing on me and making me hate humanity, in a sense, so I took a break from it as many volunteers have to do. Near the end of that volunteering stint, I took a women’s self defense class. I had determined to be able to defend myself as best as possible, given what I’d seen. I loved it! That first self defense class has developed into an ongoing study. I like to take Krav Maga classes these days, and I’ve passed the first level. It makes me feel confident and gives me a fighting chance. I mean honestly, if someone determined attacks me, my chances aren’t great because of my size. But I’m fast, and I know where to hit, so I have a chance. I would recommend it for anyone.
My husband and I talk about it sometimes and say we feel lucky to have made it through growing up and living the early parts of our lives in Christian Science with little consequence…although when we both stop and think about it, that’s so not true at all. I mean come on… you just have to laugh! My husband fought against it longer. He is still searching for something to replace it, I think. But he totally agrees that Christian Science is just completely nuts.
I’m not looking for anything to replace it, at least not in terms of a religion. I’ve found community in my Krav Maga gym where I do my self-defense workouts, and in my running groups. We’re both in a similar place, but maybe with different outcomes. He’s sweeter and gentler than me, so he needs something different. But what we are both grateful for is that we’re with someone who absolutely understands. Thank goodness we have each other. It’s so impossible to describe the weird things specific to Christian Science. I can always talk to him about what I’m thinking and feeling, and vice versa. It’s like being with the only other one who speaks a weird foreign language.