From the Author: Lani Harper is a religious abuse survivor that has found the courage to speak out about the abusive teachings within religion. She is currently working on a book that will encompass how the teachings of her religion affect children. The working title of her book, is Dear Mom & Dad: You’re Fired. It is a much needed resource to show the populous how destructive religious teachings can be in the home; especially for children. I am looking forward to the time when it hits the market. Lani is an excellent writer and, is gifted with the ability to expose truth in such a way that it can infiltrate the heart of the reader and give genuine understanding regarding religious abuse and how it is used to destroy lives.
MY INJURY, MY SECRET: Lack of medical care
It is common in these cultures to minimize medical care for a variety of reasons. They decry the establishment of the medical community as information-gathering conspiricists complicit with the government which, though they appear to support, are in actuality extremely suspicious of its actions and question its policies and procedures that conflict with what they believe God wants them to do. But they also minimize medical care in order to hide abuse. Or they have lists of approved doctors who are complicit in hiding the abuse. These doctors are either Fundies (fundamentalists) or sympathetic to Fundies and will not report any injury that looks like abuse.
I had maybe just turned 6 when I received my first two-wheeler, and we were living in the blue house that JD (my father) had built in Waukegan (or Beach Park) Illinois. Shortly after receiving this bike, Mag (my mother) actually planned to go on a bike ride, just the two of us. I was beside myself with excitement. I never got her all to myself, always had to settle for the crumbs of her attention that I got when she didn’t have to be watching Dale and Evie all the time. Or be cooking with the older two. I was the middle child of five and expected to just find my place.
She and I prepared to leave. I had a miniature basket that looked like a small laundry basket that I tied to my handlebars. I had a bunny I wanted to bring along, and she needed a place to ride. I couldn’t very well hold her for the entirety of the ride, so I made a seat for her. We pulled out of the driveway and turned left, and I must have over corrected or lost my balance somehow, but my used-new-to-me bike and I fell into the gravel road. I skinned my left knee and my right hand was torn up. I remember crying and coming back inside, sitting on a chair just inside the door while everyone frenzied around me trying to figure out what was going on. There was some terse informing me I had to stop crying, but I was hurt and disappointed: I knew there would be no bike ride with mom and me now, and there was not.
That injury did not heal. I look back now and at the severity of the injury that does not equal the intensity of the accident and wonder: what really happened? It was nearly eight weeks, and most of the summer, I spent in and out of doctors’ offices getting my hand cleaned and treated and wrapped. My oldest sister is convinced I had a splint on my index finger, but I have always insisted that that particular event did not have a splint.
Which begins to create a spiderweb of possibilities. Was there another incident with a finger of mine getting injured that required a splint? Did they not appropriately clean my injuries from the bike accident and they got so infected I had to see a doctor? Why was my hand injury so severe? It required tons of gauze wrapped around my first two fingers, then down around my palm several times.
I also remember having this treated and returning to multiple residences during the healing process. Houses that I can’t place, that I don’t know where they were. I remember having my hand re-bandaged then returning to a bedroom where twin beds lined three of the four walls. Mine was under the window which had a window fan. Central air conditioning was not common at that time, so we used fans. I remember not wanting blankets because I was sticky with sweat, and I kept holding my bandaged hand up to the fan to cool it off.
I came in while the other girls were sleeping, and I crept across the cool, squeaky hardwood floor to my bed, eased myself onto the mattress and tried to ignore my stickiness in order to go to sleep. Why was I being treated at night? Was it a secret doctor? Why was this not the same house where the accident happened? We hadn’t moved in the interim. And Mag was not there: were my parents separated at the time? Did JD keep an extra residence to take us girls for secret time with us?
My sprained ankle when I was five was another instance I do not believe they took me to a doctor. I remember being taught to crab-walk through the house. It was so severe I could not put any weight on it, but any sensible doctor would have given me crutches. My sister Libbie taught me how to wrap it with an ace bandage, then sent me on my way to creep and crawl around the house, using hands and one foot and my rear in order to do navigate hallways and stairs.
About this time I also had a back injury, the first that left me with a life-long issue with my lower back that has plagued me off and on. I was outside playing with a ball at the blue house. This house had a garage with an automatic door opener. Someone had pushed the button to close the door, and my ball rolled under the door. Instead of going to get help or going through the house, I decided to crawl under the door. I had just enough room to get under it, but because of the time period, these doors did not have a safety sensor that would stop it if someone crossed under it while it was operating. So it closed on top of my back, and I had to sit there on all fours, screaming until someone came to find me. I was stuck and in pain, with the entire weight of the door resting on my small frame.
Another episode where I had a back injury took place at camp. I don’t know what camp is like for non-Christians, but for us fundies, when we were living in Roscoe, Illinois, we would go to the mountains in Wisconsin to Camp Joy. It took several hours by bus, and was located in an extremely remote area surrounded by acres and acres of wooded land, fields here and there, on the edge of Whitewater Lake.
My room along with numerous other girls was in the main lodge. The center room of the lodge houses the dining hall, and has one wing to the left and one to the right through double doors. Each of these wings has multiple large rooms used for sleeping, with several bunk beds in each.
Because it’s in the very hilly area of Wisconsin, they built a water superslide that goes from the top of a hill and ends in the lake. We would walk all the way up the hill, through trees and underbrush along a foot-worn path to the top of the slide and climb the stairs. The slide had three runs, so that they could send three children down at once, but they had ceased doing this, as some children on the outside two had fallen off on their way down and been injured. At this point, they only used the center run. One time I went down the slide, I gained a lot of speed, and being a small child, and perhaps because I unknowingly pulled my legs up at the last second, just before leaving the slide and sailing through the air and down into the water, I flipped around backwards. This meant when my body left the end of the slide and I careened through the air, my back hit the water first, instead of my behind and legs. My back smacked the water worse than any belly flop, and the instantaneous pain meant I struggled swimming back to the top and then to the side of the lake to get myself out of the water.
I remember crying as I was walked back to the lodge, hunched over with pain. They tried to get my shirt off so they could look at my back, but this required my grabbing the underside of the frame of the bunk above me (they had put me on the bottom bunk) in order to get my back off the bed so they could remove or lift up my shirt. Yes, in spite of the pain, they had laid me on my back in bed.
A stodgy old nurse gave me a cursory look-over, then I was put in bed to just lay there and recover. Alone. All day. Alone and crying with pain. They never took me to a doctor. They may have given me some Tylenol for pain, but the pain was so great I could not move for several days. Could not get to the dining hall, so they brought me my food. I lay on that bed with no way to count the time, knowing my friends were having fun without me.
I was told to “just rest”, but resting while enduring so much pain was next to impossible. I could not even reach my arms around to touch my back with my hands. and the bruise that emerged covered nearly the entirety of my back in a black and blue discoloration of my fair skin.
This injury prevented me from participating in camp activities for the rest of the week. I think by the end of the week, I could move around stiffly, walking like an old woman, slightly hunched over still, and had to stay with the counselors, sitting on the sidelines as everyone else got to play, run, jump, swim and cavort around the way kids do at camp.
The first time my parents took me to a doctor about my back was in middle school after testing positive for scoliosis. The testing took place during gym class, and the teacher tried to hide her alarm at the severity of the curve in my spine and the fact that my hips were not level.
The inflexibility of my spine meant that when I attempted to touch my toes while standing, I could reach no further than about mid-calf. This was not a problem with needing to stretch more; my spine simply would not bend the way it needed to because it was twisted and curved around in a pronounced S shape.
I am not sure why Mag decided all of a sudden to take my back issues seriously – I had complained about lower back pain for years; indeed, I did not remember a time without back or hip pain. But she went on a mission and found a pediatric back doctor of some sort and took me.
The doctor was a man, and coupled with my self-conscious sensitivity concerning body changes relative to puberty, I was humiliated that I had to undress and parade around scantily clad in front of a man. As I did not know how to voice my discomfort, and knew inside I’d be ignored anyways, and not knowing there were female options for doctors, I swallowed and tried to endure though I can still feel the fire of embarrassment in my cheeks as he sat behind me touching my hips and butt as he examined me. I was then sent for x-rays, after which he looked at x-rays of my physique.
He determined that he could do nothing – it was not severe enough to warrant surgery, but enough to keep observing it, and so scheduled to see me back in a few months. We went four or five times, with much the same experience and diagnosis: nothing to do but come back every few months to ensure it did not get out of hand.
After several visits like this, I told Mag I didn’t want to go anymore, that it was the same thing every time and he wasn’t able to do anything to help me. Instead of taking concern for my well-being and the health of my back as her responsibility, she never mentioned it again. I continued with low back and hip pain for more than a decade after that before I discovered chiropracty.
My entire life, Mag and JD dismissed things they did not value. They (still) do not explore something new-to-them to investigate its benefits or potential positives. They merely scoff and brush it aside, refusing to educate themselves to see if their opinion is correct.
Chiropractic care was one of these things. They scoffed: what use is cracking bones? They’d say with a tone that said more. They thought it ridiculous, worthless; these people were quacks, they told me, charlatans. People who duped their “patients” into believing they were physicians, but really they were deceitful, deceptive and Of The Devil. This “of the devil” determination was slapped on anyone and anything that fell outside the purview of our born-again Christian fundie mindset. They never researched chiropracty, never looked at or talked to any actual chiropractic doctors, just simply dismissed it without another thought.
But the degree of curvature was so severe that it had most likely developed slowly as I grew over the several years prior to my seventh grade year when they screened us. The teachers tried to hide their alarm, but urged me to tell my parents to get me checked out. The curvature prevented me from reaching my full height – the first chiropractor I saw also x-rayed me and measured the curve to be 47 degrees. At 50 degrees, surgery is the only option, but prior to this, even then there were braces and therapies to slow it down or guide the spine to grow upright instead of sideways. The chiropractor told me the curvature was so pronounced that if my spine were straight, I would be three inches taller.
Meaning, I was not allowed to grow to my full height due to lack of medical care when it would have made a difference. Thus, I stood out in my family: all my sisters grew to adult heights of about 5 feet 7 inches. They teased me as the “petite” one, the one who got Mag’s small-statured genes.
I began to see chiropractors just prior to getting married in my middle twenties. A little terrified, a little skittish – what was I doing, seeing the devil’s doctors? Feeling a little rebellious (I didn’t tell my parents what I was doing; they would have began a strongly-worded and toned lecture to tell me how astray I was), I went with my then-fiance to observe.
After he finished with my fiance, I let the doctor examine my back, though I was tentative – I had told a bit of my discomfort in previous back-examinations from my doctor experiences to my fiance, and he assured me that chiropractors did not undress you, that this particular version of medical care was very non-invasive. The doctor felt my spine through my shirt, and assured me that he could help.
Were I younger, he told me, he could actually have improved my spine by decreasing the curvature. At my age, though, he told me the best he could probably do was to get me more mobility (I was not very flexible due to the curve and how it had pushed my ribs and other bones out of place to make room for my spine) and definitely decrease my pain, increase my comfort level on a day-to-day basis. With my fiance urging me on, I decided to give it a try.
I began seeing chiropractors regularly, and as a result back pain rarely plagues me unless I have done something to strain it. My hips did not bother me again until after having babies, but even that issue is alleviated with regular adjustments. I have flexibility in my lower back that I never had before, and at the end of the day, when I lie down in bed, my back doesn’t keep me awake with the severe ache from just living, sitting, walking, standing, driving that happens in my days. And, despite what the first chiropractor told me, the curvature in my spine has improved significantly.
Multiple chiropractic doctors have independently told me the same thing that first one did: were I even 18, they could have done so much more for my back in decreasing the curvature, most likely even making my spine perfectly straight again, as well as realigning my hip. But due to my age, my bones had set and would only shift slightly. As a result of the lack of medical care in this culture, and a result of dismissing an option without researching to verify its ability to help me, my back and hips are permanently deformed, and I am physically disfigured.
I place the blame entirely at my parents’ door. Their attitude concerning chiropractors prevented me from getting help in a place that could actually have helped me. They ceased actively seeking out medical care of any sort for this issue, consigning me to a life of pain. And by lack of care, I live with the reality of being deformed when, had they explored the realities of chiropractic care instead of believing what the church told us about it, they could have fulfilled their sacred responsibility to ensure my health and well-being.
In fact, the more I have thought about it, the more I think Mag felt guilty. She may have done something to me when I was a baby that resulted in my hip being misaligned, and the reminder that it was still not correct, that I am maimed because of her and that it was an issue that plagued me throughout my life, made her hide and avoid any instance that would continue to remind her of what she had done to me. This is speculation, and she will never tell me. But given the realities of our childhood, how they purposefully injured us in order to “train” our behavior, this fits the profile.
Why else instantly and completely give up pursuing help for me for what others had determined was a serious physical malformity? Why else in this instance but no other would she let me, a child, have a say and go with my wishes when in all other instances they disregarded us? Why else not ever mention either the malformity or the pain that plagued me again? She never checked in with me on it, when she checked in on other, smaller maladies like headaches or flus. She would, however, if backed into a corner where she felt she had to admit it, blame it on me, on something I did, in a feeble attempt to exculpate herself.
Consequently, when my daughter complained of a rib hurting, I took her straight to my chiropractor. She had knocked a rib out of alignment while playing on a jungle gym, and I could not idly sit by when I knew of a tool that would help. Small things like this are ways that I purposefully walk contrary to my parents, endeavoring to be a better mother, to raise my children better. If looking at, and defining, their errors results in my learning not only how to not parent but how to parent, then I have succeeded in breaking the cycle. If I can say that is abuse, then I can identify things that are not abuse. I can free myself and move forward, but only when I know what I am moving away from.
And I will keep their secrets no longer.