Why I’m doing this

It was two days before my thirteenth birthday when the first of my grandparents died spectacularly and unnecessarily, traumatizing the whole family. The story includes the classic Christian Science elements of not even his spouse knowing until… then not even his sons knowing until… not getting him to the hospital until… and he’s yelling Christian Science BS at his sons and wife while they’re trying to save him. I loved him most in the world, and the feeling was mutual, but in Christian Science culture it wasn’t ‘appropriate’ for me to know what was going on.

When I found out he was dead, I also found out that he had been dying horribly and mysteriously for the past two days, one state away. I will never forget the crushing, screaming grief I felt; not because I’m stuck there, but because I have never felt any emotion approaching its strength since. It amazes me that I felt something so keenly once. It was felt for no one’s benefit, alone in my room, sobbing endlessly, endlessly. Because I should have been able to cry on his face in the hospital, at least. I don’t think anyone cried on his face, while he was dying.

Two years later, my other grandfather, just as beloved, had a massive stroke in the middle of the night after a year of warning signs. His practitioner had advised him to take a break from work but not to see a doctor. His family had pled with him in every way they could think of. Still, I cannot get my mind around my grandmother’s phone call to the local Christian Science nursing facility instead of 911, with her husband convulsing and speechless on the floor, his last words having been, “Something’s wrong.”

After refusing all medical treatment before and after the stroke, all that happened anyway was he kept having strokes until his son defied his father’s will to get him medical treatment. By then, all the damage had been done and my grandfather spent another decade trapped on earth taking all the pills he had been so afraid of and never getting his speech back and never walking at more than a slow crawl again, and it was a giant failure in the middle of our family. I didn’t visit him enough. At all. It is a great regret. I numbed myself to him even though he was a consistently dedicated, gentle, loving, witty, patient, formative mentor to me until the moment the stroke erased his personality.

I couldn’t help them. I couldn’t help my family.  I was too young, I couldn’t see through the CS fog.

Maybe I can help someone now.

Elizabeth

Content Editor & Community Coordinator
The Ex-Christian Scientist

Katie J.’s Story (Part 1)

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By Katie J., an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

 

To say that I was literally born into Christian Science would not be an exaggeration. I was born on a cold January morning in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at my grandparents’ house. My parents were in the middle of going through a divorce, which, according to Oklahoma law, could not be final until I was born. Because all of this was happening amidst a legal proceeding, my father had been required to provide my mother with medical care during her pregnancy, which she completely ignored. There was a doctor set to deliver me at a local hospital, and a plan to avoid said doctor and local hospital. I would be born, then the doctor would be called to be informed that he had missed the whole thing—it had all just happened so fast. My grandmother’s name appears on my birth certificate, but that was only done to protect the identity of the real attendant, a Christian Science nurse.

As luck would have it, the Christian Science nurse had been a legitimate obstetrics nurse before converting to the religion. This was lucky for my mom because there was some complication with the separation of the placenta—and this nurse knew how to deal with that—something that the average Christian Science nurse wouldn’t know anything about. And so I came into the world, the placenta was dealt with, and my mom and I were both healthy and came through the ordeal with no medical intervention whatsoever. I never had medical care and I wouldn’t be seen by anyone from the medical field until I was sixteen and snuck off to get birth control pills at the local Planned Parenthood clinic.

Continue reading “Katie J.’s Story (Part 1)”

A Reflection of Perfection

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

 

I was raised in Christian Science in Canada. We were a rare species! I was a fourth generation Christian Scientist. I recalled this morning, after 38 years, a Sunday school lesson when I was about four years old. In the lesson, the very old teacher explained to me that I was like the reflection from a diamond ring— a reflection of perfection, but not actually there. I feel like I understand the source of a lot of grief over the years now. What a thing to say to a preschooler.

The root cause of many of my problems is the brainwashing I received as a child, and that’s something that I have to remind myself of constantly. I was lucky that I never had to face any serious illnesses as a child. Consequently, I don’t think I really understood radical reliance, although I guess that is what it was. As an adult, it just increasingly became clear to me that I couldn’t measure up to the impossible standards set by the religion. Then I did get sick, and that was the end of it for me. But I think the legacy of constant failure in Christian Science was the thing that hurt me the most as a child. It continues to haunt me as an adult because I often feel that I’m not trying hard enough, not working hard enough–just not enough.

As I was thinking about leaving the religion, I had been living with undiagnosed adult onset asthma for about a year. I was blue for that entire year—I couldn’t make it up a flight of stairs. Yet, I kept praying–waiting for my ‘thought to clear.’ My first puff of a rescue inhaler convinced me to leave Christian Science. The little blue inhaler that allowed me to function was a revelation, as was the fact that the doctor I saw was so matter-of-fact about it. It was the first time in my life that someone had acknowledged an ailment, and did not expect me to feel like I had brought it on myself for some unknown infraction.

The guilt that Christian Science requires children to live with is soul-destroying. Even without the physical effects, this guilt and fear becomes so often the defining feature of the person raised in Christian Science. And how to fight these things remains elusive to me. After a pretty trying week at work a couple of weeks ago, I told several people that I’d ‘given myself a migraine.’ I couldn’t just accept that it had been a particularly horrible week and that I was tired and stressed. Somehow, it had to be my own fault.

I’ve had many therapists over the years—my least favorite was the therapist who told me to wear an elastic band and just snap myself with it every time I felt bad about myself. I asked her if I could stop when the bone started to show. But the one I have now—wow. She just gets it. Christian Science is so weird that I think she has been intrigued and considers me a special challenge. She was the first person to make it clear to me that Christian Science and I weren’t the same thing. Also, she thinks Mary Baker Eddy was psychotic, and that consequently Christian Science attempts to replicate psychotic boundary-less thinking. But it has taken me a while to find someone like this.

I would encourage anyone who is comfortable with the process to talk to a therapist about Christian Science–and to keep looking until you find one who is willing and able to do the work to help you. A dispassionate listener who can see the damage, and help you to see it too, is unbelievably important; as is the understanding that the psychological mind games of Christian Science are, for many people, a form of religious abuse.

Reshaping My Distorted Image of Doctors

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

 

I went to the doctor for the first time when I was fourteen years old. Months of caring for my mother as she succumbed to untreated breast cancer forged the courage my sister and I needed to break away from our parents’ radical reliance on Christian Science for healing and venture into the world of modern medicine. This was a huge step for us. We had never been to a doctor’s office for any childhood illness or injury.

My mother meticulously sheltered us from learning anything about medicine or even the basics of how our bodies functioned, in an attempt to protect us from sickness. This left a void of information that was replaced with fear of the unknown. I had no basis for evaluating whether a symptom I was experiencing was a life threatening problem or nothing to be concerned about.

The stories that had been told by my family and Sunday School teachers about Christian Scientists that had gone to the doctor were dismissive at best. Those Christian Scientists had been too fearful to address their problems with prayer. Going to the doctor was equitable to irrational behavior. There was always the old story that was paraded out about some family member who had gone to the doctor and taken medicine that had made them even more ill.

I imagine my sister and I looked out of place in the cheery, well lit waiting room of the doctor’s office on that first visit. Two wide-eyed, terrified children, sitting alone, clinging to our parental permission slips like we were headed to an execution. My mother had recently died and I was frightened that the doctor would find that I too had some terminal illness.

Beyond the fear, though, I felt profoundly determined. We had overcome so many barriers just for this wellness exam. The choice to go to a doctor was not only challenging due to the lack exposure to medicine, but also the generational lack of information on how to navigate health insurance and medical offices. We started from square one with learning the basics: that there are different types of doctors and only some doctors are in your insurance network. As children going to the doctor alone, we needed permission slips to receive any type of medical help. My sister and I drafted the permission slips the night before our appointment, and we felt fortunate that our father was willing to sign them.

The friendly receptionist gave us several long forms to fill out about our medical history. Most of it I had to leave blank. I had no medical history and neither did most of my family members. The doctor we saw was wonderful. She had a warm personality and seemed to recognize we were frightened. She did not make a fuss over the lack of medical history. Instead, she empathetically acknowledged that it must be very scary for us to visit the doctors for the first time. We received our vaccines and a clean bill of health.

This experience was the beginning of reshaping my distorted image of doctors. I found more guidance and comfort in that one visit than in every phone call I had ever made to a Christian Science practitioner. Over the years I have found, to my surprise, that the vast majority of my primary care doctors have not made me feel awkward about my non-traditional past. The biggest issue I still struggle with is remembering to reach out to my doctors for guidance on health problems. My childhood conditioned me to trivialize my injuries and illnesses and to cope without medical help. It’s hard to remember that I no longer need to suffer in silence.

 

I maintained appearances in order to please my parents

By Tessa, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor. Tessa is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.

 

I stayed with Christian Science out of family loyalty and guilt for decades, eventually living a dual life—the one I lived in front of my parents and the one I lived when I was apart. I lived that double life out of fear and a superstitious belief that maybe Christian Scientists were right all along and if I stopped believing in it I would be cursed. But most of all, I maintained appearances in order to please my parents. There were a bunch of us kids, and I always felt that being a Christian Scientist was a requirement for being approved of and loved. I had a nagging feeling that I was loved less because I wasn’t a good Christian Scientist.

I “came out” in bits and pieces over the years, but the incident in which I truly showed them that I was not a part of their religion was at the ripe age of 42 when I invited them for Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house. I asked my boyfriend to bring wine and instead of either not drinking in front of my parents or sneaking drinks in the kitchen, I offered them ginger ale and then loudly asked my boyfriend to pour me a glass of red. It seems like an insignificant thing, and most people I know would never understand what it took for me to do it. It took a lot of courage. It felt fantastic enjoying wine with my meal without guilt. I felt like a weight was lifted off of me.

I once wrote an article for the local paper after a major brewery swooped in to buy our local cottage brewery. I wanted to show the difference between a local brew and one from a large corporate-run company and interviewed people in the community, including a brewer. I got everyone to take a taste test. My mother, always a fan of my writing, read the article and said, “oh, but you didn’t taste the beers of course!” She said it like it was fact, even though in the article I included my thoughts on the taste of both beers. Denial was ever present.

For all the problems I had with my parent’s beliefs, they were right there for me when I went into premature labour at 23 weeks gestation. They visited me in the hospital and did not bat an eye at the IV drip or the nurses or doctors. They were kind and accepting of my needs for the medical world. When my son was born a week later, 24 weeks and 520 grams, they came to visit him, donned gowns, scrubbed up, and sat by his incubator. Sure, they prayed in their CS way, but they also accepted my beliefs, including giving my son his inhaler treatments when they babysat him.