Security vs. Anxiety -Structuring my life around that which is eternal and cannot be destroyed or taken away (John 6:27) - Bill Gothard
(Note from Ruth: This chapter is about my experience and my life. This is not intended to represent any family but my own or any childhood but my own. I fully realize that the adults involved made choices that were, even if influenced by ATI discipline strategies, in fact, choices. Not all ATI families utilize the same strategies or would implement them in the same manner. In addition, I am not going to name, even in pseudonym, the brothers who perpetuated the abuses I speak of here. They were children at the time these things happened and just as much victims of the circumstances as was I. I've also had my therapist give me input on writing this portion of the story.)
This chapter of my story will be a little different than the other chapters. Until now, the posts have been chronological in nature rather than addressing a subject matter or topic. In this chapter, I want to talk about abuse.
I've received e-mails and comments from people asking if certain ATI/Gothard teachings led to abuse in my family. The answer is "Absolutely." I'm sure that many belief systems or methods of child rearing can be distorted and twisted into a system of abuse, but Gothardism (as I'll call it) seemed to be particularly adaptable. The patriarchy system is another potentially misused ideal.
Before we were born, my mother followed the unique Gothard admonition to read the Bible to us in utero. This is what he calls "PBT" (pre-birth training). The recommendation stands that the mother read to the unborn for at least thirty minutes a day. Gothard believes that the unborn can hear the scripture in the womb and will absorb the scripture much as they absorb the nutrients passed from the placenta, through the umbilical cord. He also recommends reading scripture to the newborn and having scripture be the first words they hear. In my family, this was taken to the extreme. Most of us were homebirthed. When we were born, my father demanded that his voice be the first we hear and the first thing he said to each of us was from first Peters, 1:14.
"14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;"
I wasn't blanket trained - that would become commonplace in ATI families later. I was, however, from birth, forced to spend one hour per day listening to a recording of the Bible. In early infancy, this was usually done during my time in the wind-up swing, while mom cleaned or did other things for my brothers. At the age of six months, this changed and I was to spend this bible time in "obedience training". Kay oversaw the institution of this practice. I was put in a play pen and the tape would begin to play. If I cried, I was picked up and swatted on the butt. I don't remember this, of course, but it's been described to me by my older brothers. If I continued to cry, a sheet was placed over the top of my play pen to keep my eyes from wandering. If I continued to object or looked as if I were doing anything but listening to the tape, I was swatted again. This was repeated until the hour was completed or I had stopped crying. As a result of this, I began to associate crying with immediate and swift punishment. When I outgrew the playpen and could sit on my own, I was placed on a chair and the scripture would be read or played. The same rules applied- if I cried or fidgeted, I was swatted. As I (or "we", since this applied to all the children) learned to sit still, my mother or, usually, my father would put toys within my reach during this time. If we made movement to grab the toy, we were punished. I can recall learning to disassociate very early on. I would start day dreaming or "zoning out" during this time. Despite not paying attention to a word that was said, this looked as if I were attentive and worked for a time. Of course, the older we got, the more we would be called upon to recite what we'd been read and woe if you'd been zoning out. Was this abuse? I think it was. We were taught to deny our natural instincts to move, play, explore, or do anything that infants and small children do! Following our instincts meant physical punishment.
My father was a "spare the rod, spoil the child" enthusiast. There was no infraction too inconsequential as far as he was concerned. The fifth commandment was taken to heart. If we dishonored him in any way, we were punished. In truth, after being physically punished on an almost daily basis, it starts to become less damaging and painful. I got so used to being hurt, it didn't hurt (I know that makes very little sense). I would much rather have experienced his physical punishments than endure what emerged as I got older: emotional punishment.
When I was five, I got into a fight with one of my older brothers over a book. He yanked it out of my hands and I instinctively went to grab it back. In doing so, I knocked one of his loose teeth out. He ran to my father, who flew at me in a fit of rage. I was put into the prayer closet and told to beg the Lord's forgiveness. I was told that, until my father heard from the Lord through his own prayers, I was not to leave the closet. An hour went by and I was still in the closet. There was a small light with a pull chain and about two hours in to my "punishment" it burnt out. I called out to my father or mother that the light had burned out. My father came to the door and told me that I would have to "Pray for God's light to illuminate my spirit". All my mother could say, with dad standing behind her, was to practice self-control and close my eyes in prayer. I freaked out and, to this day, have a fear of the dark. I was left in the closet for four hours. At the end of that time, my father ordered my mom to put me to bed with no supper and, in the morning, it was back into the closet. All together, I spent fourteen hours in the p/c. When my father had "heard from the Lord", I had to kneel before him and ask his forgiveness for hitting my brother.
This didn't happen often. We weren't stupid children. We figured out that dad's punishments weren't something we wanted often. What we didn't anticipate was how minor an infraction would get to be to earn us a punishment. As we grew, we were also charged with the "sins" of those in our charge. For me, that meant if a younger sibling erred, I was punished because we were our "brother's keeper". If we saw something and didn't tell, we could be punished. If we saw something and told, we could be punished. There was no logic to it. If we forgot to hang a towel right or swore, the punishment was the same because, according to Gothard and my father, there is no difference between the two sins in God's eyes. As a child in that sort of environment, you get a point where the parent doesn't need to raise a hand to you - by nature, you feel guilty and scared. That IS abuse. To make a child feel so guilty and doubtful of their nature is wrong.