Continued from My Story – Part 1 (Childhood Background)
In 8th grade I was voted “Most Shy” along with a boy in my class. I was always very shy throughout school; but by middle school, I was pathetically shy. Despite my shyness, I made a few close friends in middle school who were there for me throughout middle and high schools. For them, I am forever grateful. They showed me kindness, compassion, and joy that made the last 3 years of high school fun and memorable. My freshman year of high school really wasn’t much fun because I was worrying with all of the medical tests and questioning life. I never really dated while I was in high school. Like I said, I was shy; so I didn’t have much opportunity. I went to the occasional dance with someone, but my first and only long-term relationship before marrying began the summer after I graduated high school.
On questioning my religious upbringing: By the time the new church was finished (not sure what year), the congregation at the Assembly of God we had been attending grew to over a hundred people. The music department included drums, a bass guitar, an electric guitar, piano, keyboard, trumpet, and the husband and wife song leaders. The “praise” service would sometimes go on for hours. There always seemed to be some drama going on with the music department (gossiping and fussing, mostly) to which the pastor said the devil was attacking the musicians and prayed for them. But then again, this is also the same church that laid hands on and prayed for my mom’s car, a Plymouth K car, because they thought it was possessed by a demon when, in fact, it was just a lemon! Daddy ended up replacing the car a few months later. Despite the craziness that was my church, I really looked up to my Sunday school teachers. I read my Bible daily and prayed to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I thought for a time that I was (during my freshman year of HS), but I was still skeptical. At some point, I began asking questions. At first, I pretty much accepted the answers everyone gave me; but by my senior year in high school at age 17, I began having serious doubts.
I also had an excellent English teacher my sophomore and senior years (I dropped back from advanced English my senior year, just so I could have this teacher again). In our literature discussions about poetry, we turned to the Psalms briefly which led to a memorable discussion about the Bible and the Christian religion. My English teacher dared to tell us that King James added the parts about witches to the Bible or that it was, at best, a mistranslation. I’m not sure if this is actually true or not; but more recently I have discovered many reasons in the history of Christianity to warrant further skepticism. Nevertheless, my ever-questioning mind got me thinking, first about the people of other religions and their fate, and secondly, about the possibility that the Bible was not the “true and infallible Word of God.”
To make matters worse, I chose the topic of speaking in tongues (Glossolalia) for a research paper in this English teacher’s class. My research paper made me start questioning the validity of this experience that I witnessed so many Sunday services. I read that it was not actually a language, that it was a learned behavior, and most likely the result of a kind of mass hypnosis due to extreme emotion. I began watching the people closely who spoke in tongues and the ones who “interpreted.” Observing these behaviors in a few of the children at my church only seemed to confirm my suspicions that this research on the topic of Glossolalia was indeed true. I had no doubts that the faith of this congregation was very strong. These were kind, honest people. However, the doubt in God that I was experiencing caused me an enormous amount of shame. The answers I received to the questions I asked my Sunday school teachers and the preacher’s wife made me question even more, “If God would condemn all other religions to Hell, then how could He be a loving God? Why would He be worthy of my praise?” Questions like these made my doubts grow and my self-worth plunge. I thought, “If I’m questioning God, then I must truly be evil.” It was right before graduation that I took the first step in accepting my doubts by not attending church so regularly anymore; but this was also the beginning of an unconscious “rebellious” phase in my life.
During my senior year, I had already become interested in Hinduism and Buddhism, even tried out meditation for the first time, which many at my church frowned upon. A New Age bookstore had opened up at East Towne Mall in Knoxville, a store that I dearly loved from the first time I saw it. My Sunday school teacher and I often argued about this store. She swore that it was Satanic, as did most of the congregation at my church; but I found it spiritually enlightening and began reading as much as I could about the New Age movement. From then on, I continued searching through many different paths and philosophies, as I still do. Personally, I find the topics of religion, spirituality, and belief incredibly fascinating – to the point of obsession; although, I no longer consider myself Christian.
In the spring before I graduated high school, my dad had a heart attack. His heart attack actually, coincidentally occurred on the exact same day one of my best friends had a very serious car wreck. They were both at the same hospital in Knoxville. Things changed pretty drastically in my family life. My dad had to take time off of work to recuperate; and Mom went to work part-time at a local fast-food restaurant. I also found a part-time job working at a local grocery store. For the first time in my life, I had to concentrate on two things at once – work and school. Somehow, I managed to keep my grades up that last 9 weeks; but I remember feeling overwhelmed and pressured in a way that I never had before.
Shortly after I graduated high school, *C.F. asked me out on a date. We both worked at the same grocery store (he was a stocker, and I a cashier). We dated that entire summer before I left for University that fall. That first semester of college was wonderful, exciting, scary, and overwhelming, all at the same time. I absolutely loved East Tennessee State University’s campus. It was beautiful. Even the library left a lasting impression with its secret hideaways on the upper attic floors. Sharing a dorm room with my best friend from high school and a another girl, who we quickly became friends with, I found it hard to get the level of alone time that I required to settle my nerves, to self soothe, and process emotions. In addition to being shy, I’m also an introvert (they’re not the same thing). About mid-way through the semester, I began feeling overly anxious and occasionally depressed; but I fought hard to remain focused.
An example of my mindset that first time away from home: When I took karate to fulfill one of my college physical education requirements my freshman year, I remember one particular day in class when we paired up, sparring. The girl I was sparring with hit me right in the solar plexus, not hard, barely a tap; but I started crying! Of course, everyone (including the teacher) thought I was hurt and gathered around me for assistance. And of course, that made it even worse! By the time the teacher sent me back to my dorm room, I was in a full-blown panic attack. I’m not a fighter. Dare I say that I’m a total wuss? Yes, probably so. Needless to say, that semester ended with me becoming so homesick (or lovesick?) that I returned home spring semester to attend a community college close by. I even changed my major from art, which everyone told me held no future, to early childhood education. Nearing the end of fall semester, C.F. asked me to marry him in my dorm’s common area, which probably influenced my decision to move back home more than anything.
EVERYONE told us we were making a mistake. To be honest, I had second-thoughts from the day he asked me to marry him; but I was rebellious and stubborn. And I felt like getting married was what “I was supposed to do” next. C.F. and I were married in the winter of 1991. Looking back, now, I agree. We got married way too young. We were only 19 years old. I realized early on, like within the first month after we moved in together, that the man I married was a real jerk. He was hateful. It was as if the tone of his voice was enough to just tear me away. It’s hard to explain. We moved into an apartment in Morristown to be close to the community college, where we both were attending spring semester. Those first few months of our marriage were stressful, to say the least. Financially, we were overwhelmed. Neither of us had a clue as to what we were doing or how to make things work.
In June 1992 C.F. enlisted in the army. While he was away at Basic Training and AIT, I moved back in with my mom and dad with the intent of saving money for the move to our first duty station, which was taking us to lovely Hawaii. I was so excited! By Christmas 1992, our household goods were packed and on their way. The trip for household goods took anywhere from 3 to 6 months to reach Hawaii. I found myself on a jet for the very first time in my life. I was moving 4,270 miles away from my home, my friends, and my family. Other than my first semester of college away from home, this was the first time I really left home, let alone moving out-of-state… so far away from everything I knew. I broke down into tears as the jet took off. I must have cried the first 500 miles, before excitement finally took over. From CA to HI, I had a sweet little girl sitting next to me who was absolutely captivated by my southern drawl. If I could, I would thank that little girl for lifting my spirits on that flight.
I arrived in Hawaii the day before Christmas. Getting off the jet, I immediately caught the scents of salty air and the most-heavenly-flower-gifted-to-humanity-by-Mother-Nature-herself, the Plumeria blossom. I spent Christmas Eve, 1992, sitting in the moonlight on the beaches of Waialua Bay. It was gorgeous. I absolutely loved it there! It was certainly a culture shock to a naive, very sheltered 20-year-old; but I was fascinated by everything. We settled into our apartment, and I began working as a teacher’s aide at a preschool. I didn’t have the chance to finish my Associate’s degree before we moved. By June of 1993, I found out that I was pregnant with our son. Financially, we were not prepared for this; but we were so excited and happy.
A few months after our son, M.A., was born in 1994, our names came up for military housing. It was a new townhouse unit in the middle of a pineapple field closer to the North Shore than where we were previously living. Especially with the move, our finances were out of control. Our relationship began to suffer. By December, 1994, we decided to try couples counseling on post because things between us had become so very tense. C.F. and I were racking up some severe credit-card debt; but he just wouldn’t listen to me that we were getting in over our head (I was raised to steer clear of credit, that it’s a trap.) Marital counseling only lasted briefly. After only 3 visits, our therapist said she could not work with C.F. To be honest, I think his abrasive nature intimidated her as it often did me. She told him to seek individual therapy through his unit division, which he never did, to my knowledge.
My therapist continued to see me alone. I was feeling very overwhelmed, having severe mood swings, a lot of anger towards my husband, and constantly second-guessing my abilities as a parent. Honestly, I was a complete nervous wreck. I questioned everything I did and had moments of total paranoia. I think this actually began while I was pregnant because I had this irrational fear that a worm was growing inside of me, something my friend and I laughed about in labor delivery after he was born and I counted all his toes and fingers to be sure. Nine months after our son was born, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and dysthymia. I refused medication at the time because I simply didn’t trust it.
Throughout several months of individual sessions, I questioned my childhood relentlessly, which to be honest, really wasn’t that bad. A lot of people have had it a lot worse. At my worst, I felt neglected some of the time; but there was no history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse that I could recall. However, in the course of therapy, my therapist concluded that I had been sexually molested at an early age due to memory gaps, problems with dissociating, anger and shame issues, and whatever other reasons she gave at the time, even though I had/have absolutely NO memory of anything like this ever happening (I have discussed this with no one since that time, not in all of the remaining years of therapy I received). Shortly after she reached this conclusion, my therapist had me attend a women’s group for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I continued therapy and attended the group briefly, for only a few weeks, before I quit going to both altogether because I questioned the validity of her assumption.
A couple of months later, C.F.’s tour of duty at Schofield in Hawaii was over; and his second duty station took us from beautiful Hawaii to an isolated military post in the middle of the Californian desert. Sierra Army Depot had only 40 military personnel, total, and their families. This post has since been decommissioned. Everybody knew everybody. I seriously cried the moment I got out of our car when we arrived at billeting on post and saw a tumbleweed blow past my feet. The nearest town in one direction was Susanville, California, which was about 40 miles away; and in the other direction about 55 miles away was Reno, Nevada.
It was a demolition post, so that meant there was at least one huge explosion every single day while we lived there. You could set your clock by that explosion. It rattled the windows and shook everything in our house. I began to get severely depressed as the isolation began to wear on my nerves. At some point my husband had me see the PA on post who prescribed Prozac. I finally gave in and started taking them. Exactly 5 weeks from the day I began that prescription, the depression worsened to the point that I attempted suicide for the first time in my life (Suicide attempt #1 – overdose). I was hospitalized for two weeks (Hospitalization #1 – suicide attempt), diagnosed with Major Depression; and the army gave C.F. a “compassionate reassignment” to a post closer to home – Fort Campbell, KY.
*All names in my story have been omitted in order to protect the privacy of the people involved.