My abuse weaponized me against my body. Until my body won.

My abuse weaponized me against my body. Until my body won.

Bethany Brittain, a former board member of the CFFP, talks about how the physical and emotional abuse of her childhood affected her relationship with her body and, ultimately, her health.

When I was 13, I declared war on my body. It wasn’t hard to do. It was quite natural even. There were dysfunctional events and forces in my past that had groomed me for that moment. I had received physical discipline from the time I was 6 months old. My family had unhealthy standards for female “modesty.” Physical and emotional boundaries that were essential for mental health were nonexistent.

Meanwhile, outside of my household, I saw many visuals that defined for me what the “ideal” body looked like. Most transmitted a plastic look found in your average Barbie doll. My wobbles and bulges were proof that my body wasn’t anything near ideal.

It all got to be too much. And so I took the only option I thought I had: I decided my body was something to be despised and declared war.

Fast forward to 2014. At the age of 46, I came down with a chronic illness called Pemphigoid. It’s a disease in which the immune system rejects proteins in the skin. If left untreated, Pemphigoid is disfiguring.

I had painful blisters in my mouth that started small and became large and intrusive over time. A year later, I had blisters all over my body that itched insanely. I looked like I had rolled in poison oak. My life became centered around doctor appointments, oncology waiting rooms, and medications that come with a lengthy list of side effects.

The disease and the drugs were changing what my body could do. Activities like yoga and running were things I’d assumed I could always do. My yoga practice which I’d had for years was almost too painful to continue with. I was frustrated. I couldn’t do the poses very well. My arms and legs would contort with painful cramps and spasms. I kept trying hoping to get my body to do the yoga I loved.  I had to stop running and start walking. Some days I talked myself off the couch, and other days there was no point. I felt too lethargic and my body was in too much pain. I was no where near the perfection I’d wanted at 13 years old. I was losing big time!

But there’s nothing like a moment of clenched teeth and shaking knees to help you find clarity about yourself and your life. A daily diet of prednisone does wonders for mind-bending clarity. (Prednisone is a drug that suppresses the immune system and inflammation and whose side effects include nausea, thinning skin, acne, and weight gain.) I was taking cancer drugs that caused nausea amongst other side effects. About a year into the disease, I began to worry about the risks these medications were posing to my body.

That’s when I realized that my body, which I had resigned to hate, was trying to tell me something. It was asking me to stop the war.

I was coming upon one of those choices about my body that many other women probably have had to, also. Whatever body I have, whatever shape it’s in, and whatever dozens of wobbly parts stick out, maybe it’s worth saving.

Yes, I turned. I began to care about body. I started making changes. I’ve become more patient with my body.

After doing this work, and receiving two infusions of the antibody Rituximab, the disease began showing signs of letting up. My body, my perceived enemy, even in its beleaguered state, had been fighting for me in ways I didn’t think possible.

Now during yoga, my legs bend into an Eagle pose, and I can almost fully plant my hands to the floor in a forward bend with straight knees. I’m still gentle as I slowly progress. Feeling my feet grounded into my yoga mat feels absolutely amazing. Hugging friends and loved ones—really feeling their bodies and mine—there are no words to convey that feeling. In my job, using my hands to bring stories to life as I design classroom training and curate collections of photography is worth getting up out of bed. 

My body, having contracted a disease, made me stop and re-examine my body in ways I hadn’t wanted to. I feel disappointment at times, but more often, hope. I’m on a healthier path, a magical journey of knitting mind and body together as one. For that, I am grateful.

There are still those images of seemingly perfect women wearing things I’d like to wear and never will. I will never be mistaken for a swimsuit model. But I’m done with that battle. After 37 years of fighting, my focus is on progress, not defeat.

This is me.

There is always a clear bright day after every storm. A chance to look around without the mind-crushing side effects of Prednisone. The love and light that peak through the clouds beg the question, “How does it feel to be at peace?”

Bethany Brittain is a senior instructional designer in San Francisco, a survivor of religious child maltreatment, and an advisor to the Child-Friendly Faith Project. Her story can be found in the book, Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment.

Do you need support in making your way out of an oppressive faith environment? Please feel free to join our Child-Friendly Faith Facebook group.

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Why the Waffle House Shooter’s Homeschooling Background Matters

Why the Waffle House Shooter’s Homeschooling Background Matters

Three Christian homeschoolers became radicalized domestic terrorists this year and it’s only May.

Photo credit: The Tennessean.

On April 22, 29-year-old Travis Reinking made headlines when he shot and killed four people in a Waffle House in Nashville, TN. His motives are still unclear. Because Reinking is white and his victims were black, some have speculated that racism played a role. But I’m looking at another possible influence: the fact that Reinking was homeschooled in a fundamentalist Christian environment. Read More »

Idaho legislative candidates weigh in on faith-healing child deaths

Idaho legislative candidates weigh in on faith-healing child deaths

Once a subject it seemed no one was talking about, candidates running for the Idaho House of Representatives in next week’s Republican primary are now saying just how they feel about so many children in their state dying from “faith-healing medical neglect.”

Due to the great work of child advocates, such as the nonprofit Protect Idaho Kids, many Idahoans are aware of this life-and-death issue. Tragically, religious exemptions in state laws permit parents who deny their children necessary medical care to avoid prosecution, even in cases of great suffering and death, as long as the parents claim they used only prayer as “treatment.” Learn more about the issue by going here.

With the primary happening on May 15, the Idaho Press-Tribune has posed this question to all candidates running for the state House of Representatives: Canyon County experiences the highest rate of child deaths due to faith healing in the state. How will you address it? Read More »

Guest Blog: A physician weighs in on Iceland’s effort to protect boys from genital cutting

Guest Blog: A physician weighs in on Iceland’s effort to protect boys from genital cutting

The oldest running parliament in the world may soon achieve a legislative first—ending circumcision of both girls and boys.

A bill before the Icelandic parliament proposes to expand its law that currently protects girls from genital cutting to also protect boys, including infants.

The measure states that medically unnecessary circumcision of children violates their rights. Female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation, is already illegal in the United States and most European countries. The bill proposes a penalty of up to 6 years in prison for anyone carrying out a circumcision on a minor that is not medically warranted.

While the bill acknowledges that parents have the right to provide to their children religious guidance, it also states that “such a right can never exceed the rights of the child.” The bill says children who wish to be circumcised may do so when they reach an age at which they “understand what is involved in such an action.” Read More »

Will Texas parents lose their right to sue faith-based schools that abuse their child?

Will Texas parents lose their right to sue faith-based schools that abuse their child?

 

A decision by the Texas Supreme Court could give religiously affiliated private schools legal carte blanche to harm children.

 

As parents, when we enroll our children in a school, we entrust it to care for our kids and keep them safe. That’s certainly true for private K-12 schools which can cost upwards of $15,000 to $30,000 a year. Some parents believe that religiously affiliated schools are particularly trustworthy because of their spiritual teachings.

But, of course, all schools—be they religious or secular—can leave children vulnerable to psychological harm, as well as physical and sexual abuse. Now there is a case in the courts in which the Episcopal School of Dallas has been alleged to have caused a child emotional trauma, while the school claims that no court has the right to intervene because it is faith-based. Read More »

Evangelicals: The single most important change for #MeToo

Evangelicals: The single most important change for #MeToo

In the last days of 2017, riding the wave of the #MeToo movement, a group of 140 evangelical women released a petition on “Breaking the Silence on Violence against Women and Girls.” Under the hashtag #SilenceIsNotSpiritual, it invited “the community of faith” to “join this historic moment . . . sparking genuine change in the very place we call our home – the local church.” The petition has quickly garnered more than 5000 additional signatures.

More specifically, the petition issues a two-fold call to action for evangelical churches. First, it urges the creation of “protected spaces” so that survivors of sexual abuse who offer their stories will be received “with empathy, love, and care.” Second, it calls on faith leaders to cease their “silent assent” to harmful “systems, structures, and practices” and “to fight both systemic and individual injustices.”

This is the kind of talk that makes me want to pump my fist in enthusiastic support. Read More »

Mormon wants to end church’s “masturbation interviews”

Mormon wants to end church’s “masturbation interviews”

Sam Young (Credit: Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle)

What if you learned that your young son or daughter had been grilled about sex or masturbation without your permission? As a parent, I would panic. And then I would start asking questions; Who is doing this, why are they doing it, and is my child okay after enduring such a bizarre and intrusive questioning?

Sam Young knows the answers all too well. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints routinely asks such questions of children. (The ‘why’ is a bit more complicated.) And children, he says, are, without question, often harmed as a result. Read More »

Just because parents appear to be “good Christians” doesn’t mean they’re not abusing their kids

Just because parents appear to be “good Christians” doesn’t mean they’re not abusing their kids

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

 

When the parents of David Turpin learned that he and his wife Louise had been allegedly torturing their 13 children, they were “surprised and shocked,” because their son and daughter-in-law were “a good Christian family.” 

 

We hear it time and time again. People express shock and disgust that parents who appear to be religious have been abusing their children.

In the horrific case of the Turpin family, police found the 13 children, ages 2 to 29, shackled to furniture, severely malnourished and pale, living in filth, and injured. Many appear to have cognitive issues and nerve damage, a result of abuse. The children were so thin, police drastically miscalculated their ages; they thought a 17-year-old girl was only 10.

According to the children’s grandparents, James and Betty Turpin who live in West Virginia, David and Louise had so many children because “God called on them” to do so. James and Betty thought that the children had appeared thin and were aware that they had been given “very strict homeschooling,” Also, the grandparents said the children had been trying to memorize long passages of the Bible. Some even had been trying to memorize it in its entirety.

The grandparents hadn’t seen the home-schooled children in 4 or 5 years. But based on what they knew and had observed, did nothing stand out as a red flag? Were they not at all concerned about the way the parents were raising their children? Or were they satisfied just knowing that the children were being raised in the Christian faith?
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Left Behind: When will Baptists catch up with #MeToo?

Left Behind: When will Baptists catch up with #MeToo?

Andy Savage (Credit: Christian Today)

 

At a Southern Baptist mega-church in Memphis, pastor Andy Savage admitted to having a “sexual incident” with a 17-year-old girl twenty years earlier. The congregation’s response? Silence? Boos? No, a standing ovation.

The admission came after the now-grown woman, Jules Woodson, posted a January 5 #MeToo account on social media, describing conduct constituting sexual assault. Woodson said Savage offered to take her home after a church event and instead drove her down a dark dirt road to an isolated area where he had her perform oral sex on him. Savage was then a youth pastor at the Houston-area Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church.

Woodson wrote that she was motivated to come forward after seeing Savage’s social media posts in which he decried Matt Lauer and other men accused of sexual assault and misconduct. Soon after the post was published, Woodson painfully recounted her story for a local Memphis TV station.

Shortly after the alleged assault, Woodson reported Savage’s conduct to associate pastor Larry Cotton, but like so many other victims of clergy-perpetrated abuse, the teen received little support. “He said something to the effect of, ‘So you’re telling me you participated?'” Woodson told the Austin American-Statesman. “This wave of shame came over me, greater than I had ever felt before.” Read More »

Looking Forward: A Message from CFFP President Jaime Romo

Looking Forward: A Message from CFFP President Jaime Romo

It’s about time we begin to turn the world around
It’s about time we start to make it the dream we’ve always known
It’s about time we start to live the family of man
It’s about time, it’s about changes and it’s about time
It’s about peace and it’s about plenty and it’s about time
It’s about you and me together and it’s about time

 

As we look forward to 2018 and our continued efforts to fulfill our mission, these lyrics from a 1983 John Denver song ring true today. It’s about time to not only name abuses that happen when people misuse religious authority, but to gather our voices, our vision, and our shared strengths to transform the practices of maltreatment of vulnerable individuals, particularly children.

The Child-Friendly Faith Project began with a clear vision to educate and raise awareness of religious child maltreatment or RCM. Over the years, we have organized conferences, developed educational resources, and have been called on to support survivors. As we have grown, we have lent support to change legislation in Idaho that protected child medical neglect under the guise of “religious freedom.” And we have had the privilege of supporting those who grew up in, and were abused at, Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. Read More »