Finding your own truth
By NADIA SCHMIDT
I’m 21 years old and grew up in a home where my parents were fundamentalist Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you’re not familiar with the religion, the way I was taught was that if you are not part of the church, if you disobey your parents in any way, God will kill you in a soon-to-come Armageddon. This is a story they told in church, in My Book of Bible Stories published by The Watchtower Society, in congregation meetings that were held for two hours at a time, three times per week, at strangers’ doors in the Saturday morning evangelizing work, and not to mention the eight hour “convention days” that took place for three days consecutively, three times a year and that children, even infants were required to attend.
I don’t know how I knew, but at age 5, I recognized my parents’ religion was not the “truth” as they claimed it to be. I sensed I couldn’t trust my parents or any of the authorities at the church (called the elders) who were supposed to be revered unflinchingly. At age 7 I started developing anxiety as I saw more of the details unravel — my mother and father were not on my side, but rather on that of the church. They tried to cram down truths and brainwashing that simply would destroy me if I continued to follow them. I had my own strong feelings and beliefs about how good people outside the church were. I grew up hanging out with all the neighbor kids who celebrated holidays, and while nothing seemed perfect, things seemed happy, generally okay.
I hid my instincts, thoughts and feelings away to protect myself, scared my parents and the religion would rip away my soul if I shared. At age 13, I started openly “rebelling” — but really, just standing my ground. I started secretly celebrating my birthday, holidays, hanging out with friends from school, going to school dances, promising myself that I would do everything possible to give myself a normal upbringing. My parents’ abuse of me began to grow and take new, horrific forms as they realized I was not going to be the one to validate their beliefs.
My dream is to be an actor, and when I told my parents this (after failing to hide the fact that I was cast in my first school play), they said I would be a glorified prostitute, that they would never invest in my college education because I was a lost cause, that I would literally “rot in the ground” — meaning that I would surely be killed in Armageddon in a few years, whenever God brought it, and they didn’t want to throw away their money on me if I was going to die anyway.
I had amazing teachers and influencers in my life — first in theatre and then in English — who carried me through these years, along with my soul, until I was 18. One of these people, I came to confide in because I felt so messed up living at home. I had sleep paralysis — my body would literally inflate at times from all the stress, I was anxious, pained and really had no place to call home. The list goes on, but I will save all the details for my book. She helped me see that I needed to take care of myself and pursue a life on my own, away from the dysfunction of my parents’ home. Two weeks later, I moved to Chicago and started living on my own, and eventually, cut off contact completely with my birth family as I learned more about the extent of their abuse and how detrimental their influence was to me.
A few months later, I met someone in Chicago to whom I became very close, first as my boss and then as a friend. She had an amazing home, was fun, funny and so generous. As we got closer and she learned I was on my own at a rather young age, she offered me a place to stay. I felt a connection with her, too, and wasn’t entirely surprised when she proposed to do an adult adoption with me a few months later — in fact, I was elated, over the moon. There was nothing I wanted more than a mom at the time.
Unfortunately, the relationship was disappointing. I was shown versions of love I never had before — holidays, a big, liberal family, neighbors who were like family — and at the same time, daily abuse that mirrored exactly what I experienced with my parents: control, abuse and harassment. Only this time, I was an adult and the prison was my own choosing.
The strong self I had throughout high school got lost because during this time, I cut off vital connections with my soulmates — those teachers, guides and friends who always brought me home to myself. I was scared to lose what I thought I needed to be whole – a mom – and was consequently holding myself back from my personal power.
Last September, I finally moved out and the relationship ended. The loss was painful and devastating for many months. But I look back now and know it was absolutely for the best.
In the wake of it all, I started reuniting with my soulmates — those teachers, friends and mentors who always helped bring me back to myself. I also started improvising a few years ago and through this, have met amazing friends and teachers who’ve helped me to build my creative career. With them, I feel not alone. I feel loved for exactly who I am. I also have two incredible roommates I just happened to meet on Craigslist who have become like older sisters to me. It is one lucky foundation for my life and I am grateful for it.
I know I came here for a reason. I am strong for a reason. I am proud of myself, and I believe I have become so much of who I am because of the people and experiences in my life. Amid occasional fear, I have nothing but hope for now and the future.
I’d like to share, whatever you are going through, you came into this life choosing it because it makes you the fullest version of you. Without the contrast of what you’re not, you can’t really know who you are. That’s something a wise woman told me a while back. I can only say it because after every heartbreak in my life, I seem to have opened up to even deeper levels of joy and have realized everything that happens is always working out in my best interests. I am happier now than ever. Pain is part of the process, and while it’s important to grieve and be human, joy is our common destiny and it’s right here, inside of us.
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