This is Racquel’s story.
Content warning: forced starvation, religious manipulation.
Somehow I never imagined the inner peace and joy I felt as a 5 year old girl after being filled with the Holy Ghost would disgust and scare me.
I am writing this because I believe my voice should be heard. I hope that by telling my story it will help my healing and others with similar stories as well as prevent more stories like mine from happening.
The music was loud, and the atmosphere was pulsing with energy.
I wanted to show how much I loved God, so I went up to the front of the sanctuary and danced with all my might, letting my tears flow. I had been taught that I should dance before the Lord and not let anyone’s opinion stop me.
Often, I was the first one or the only one at the front of the church.
This was good. It meant I was a leader, and that I was fighting spiritual warfare. It would also show my pastor, who was God’s voice in my life, how my walk with God was and what a good apostolic young person I was.
I remember night after night where this was my mindset.
I was isolated from other members of the youth group because I would refuse to do things that the pastor had commanded us not to, like riding in a car with a guy unless it was approved or unless a married approved chaperone was in the car.
However, there were also the many, many times where I sat or knelt at the altar, weeping and feeling the guilt of my many sins when I simply failed to uphold the standards because I had listened to unchristian music, watched a TV show, or could not stick to a daily prayer life.
For years, I went through a cycle of getting trouble with my best friend, Ashley, for questioning the pastoral authority and why we held to some of our standards, sometimes completely disregarding the rules, and then being told that my best friend and I should not talk or hang out because our personalities did not complement each other.
Meanwhile, I stood by as she was abused in so many ways by both the pastoral authority and her parents. The only thing I could do was be there for her.
In January 2013, my best friend and I had come to the conclusion that we did not and could not agree with the church. However, we were discovered yet again and ripped apart.
This time, the pastor lied to both of us, trying to turn us against each other by saying that the other one had ratted us out.
At the direction and guidance of the pastor, Ashley’s parents were punishing her for not losing weight because it was said that God could not use her unless she lost the weight. Because of her inability to meet their demands, she had begun starving herself.
I texted her one night in compassion and frustration that she should “F*** (written politely as $@##) what they think” to drive home to Ashley that starving herself was not the answer, and that her parents and pastor were wrong.
During one of the long sessions in the pastor’s office after getting caught, I discovered the pastor had hacked into my best friend’s phone and found my text. I was questioned about my lack or respect for authority.
My hands were tied as I seethed in anger not able to tell the pastor the context of the text, lest the abuse she suffered would increase because the pastor was part the abuse.
Back then, Ashley was too scared of losing her parents and being kicked out to do anything other that play along with them. When she was 19 years old, her parents and the pastor stripped every form of communication, transportation and even her ability to go to college from her.
She was not even allowed to be alone in her own home at any time.
In March, the deception worked and the pressure finally broke me to the point that I gave in and did exactly as the church and the pastor wanted me to do. I felt helpless and that the reason for these crazy feelings must be because I was not submitted to them.
I continued to not talk to my best friend and tried to force myself into the mold they had created for me with my approved Christian friends and guilt-ridden prayer life.
I still had all of the same questions.
Why must a man my pastor dictate to me what God wants and God not talk to me directly? Why must I not be allowed to talk to my best friend who was still the most important person in my life? How could so many injustices and abuse be what a loving God wanted?
So when my little sister decided to leave suddenly and move in with a guy I had never met, and I had no idea were she was or if she was safe, when my approved friends failed, I reached out to the one person I knew who would be there: Ashley.
Within two weeks of resuming secret communication, we had both discussed in detail what we saw wrong with the church, and had stated that no matter what we were going to keep communicating, even if it had to be hidden. Almost immediately, she started to date a coworker.
On December 15, 2013, her dad followed her to her boyfriend’s house, and that night he kicked her out.
I received a text: “They know everything can you come and get me.” I immediately drove to her house and picked her up.
After that, we stayed in Eleanor’s apartment. She had also recently escaped an abusive fundamentalist home.
There has been a lot of healing and learning since then and now. Learning to live outside of the box has not been easy, nor do I think it ever will.
I now have the wonderful freedom of choice, and with that comes what I would describe as both the beauty of a rainbow and the burden of the rain cloud.
Making these choices is the scariest and most exhilarating thing that I have ever done. I have learned and accepted more of who I am.
I can only hope that healing will come in time and the scars will become less painful.
Racquel graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology in May 2014. She struggled with undereducation from inadequate homeschooling and private education in her church throughout her college career. Racquel hopes to pursue a graduate degree in counseling, and her job involves assisting troubled teens.
The Underground Railroad: Being an angel with a shotgun
The Underground Railroad: The trouble with freeing people
Why the name Underground Railroad?
The Underground Railroad: Racquel’s story
The Underground Railroad: Defecting from a cult
The Underground Railroad: Ashley’s story
The Underground Railroad: Cynthia Jeub’s story
The Underground Railroad: Options, not ultimatums
The Underground Railroad: Gissel’s story
The Underground Railroad: Homeschool, the perfect hiding place
The Underground Railroad: Self-care during activism
Underground Railroad Stations: How you can help (Cynthia Jeub’s thoughts)
Underground Railroad Conductors: How you can help (Eleanor Skelton’s thoughts)
The Underground Railroad: Surviving and thriving on the outside