Amy remembers those weekends in Seattle before the move, crying when she had to leave her dad, and crying again when she had to leave her mom. The divorce came as a shock, and Dianne had been a completely devoted, loving mother, and things changed so drastically after the divorce. She introduced Ben and Amy to several new male "Friends" and they seemed to be Dianne's focus now, where before the kids were everything to her. This all happened just weeks after Bob had moved out.
Months after the divorce, the Ben and Amy and their dad met Dianne at the airport for a very tearful goodbye.
When Bob moved to Alaska, he stayed in the basement of a church family's house with Ben and Amy. Amy had blonde hair down to her waist that her mom had previously loved to brush and braid and style for her- her dad found it a struggle to maintain (using rubber bands from the morning paper to style it, usually ending in tangles and tears) so he took Amy to Super Cuts and they cut her waist-length hair to her chin. He also didn't have much money for clothes, so he would dress Amy in her older brother's hand-me-downs.
Amy constantly missed her mother, and had a very hard time fitting in at school, initially. Her only friends were the children her age in the church. At this time, 1986ish, the local church consisted of about a dozen families. Also around this time, Dianne announced she was moving to Las Vegas with a friend of hers, and Bob announced he was getting remarried. Leah (a "sister" from the church in Seattle) and her 13 year old daughter Mary would be moving from Seattle and joining them in Anchorage. Bob had found a nice house in a nice neighborhood and they all moved in together. Amy could not have been happier to have a mom. She had felt so lonely, and so all alone ever since the move. Leah had not been able to have any children after Mary, but had always wanted a big family. In so many ways, they filled a whole in each other's hearts.
Amy's biological mom had become a strange voice on the phone telling her horrifying stories of rape, stalkers, etc. in Las Vegas. Ben and Amy would visit Dianne each summer. Dianne would work overnights at a casino leaving Ben and Amy home for long periods of time in her tiny apartment in a not-so-great area of town. Amy was 8 years old the first time her mom told her about being raped in her apartment. Needless to say, spending nights alone in this same apartment was a terrifying experience for Amy. She hated those visits and finally at age 14, she told her mom she didn't want to come any more.
Amy lived in her house in Anchorage, Alaska with Bob, Leah, Mary and Ben from 1987-1997. Every Sunday they would meet with the Local Church. Amy was raised that men are over women, women are over children, and children are over the animals. Leah was an incredibly submissive wife who suffered from severe depression and several mental health issues. Amy was terrified that her dad would someday abandon her just like he did, so she did everything she could to seek her parents' approval her entire life. Leah often bragged (and still does) about what a "perfect" child Amy was. Never talking back, never making waves, never rebelling, always making good grades.
Ben was the "Black sheep." Dianne had always told him he was special, that he was destined for great things- i.e. fame. He loved music and was incredibly artistic- both things frowned upon by the church. Bob always tried to discourage Ben, and Leah never could understand him, but Dianne was the voice in his head telling him he was so special, and that he was going to do huge, huge things. He loved the trips to Las Vegas, and had a very different relationship with Dianne than Amy did. Amy felt Dianne had an unhealthy obsession with Ben and was horrified to find pictures that Dianne had mailed Ben of Dianne in lingerie- Ben was 16 at the time.
Dianne also mailed Ben a 6-foot bong as a gift for his 17th birthday. Bob and Leah destroyed it immediately. By the time Ben was a junior in high school, he was wearing all black, dyed his hair black, and was consistently butting heads with Bob and Leah. So much to where they had kicked him out of his bedroom and made him live in the garage. Ben bought a VW bus his senior year and was so excited to show Amy- despite their differences, they were so close. Ben was only 16 months older than Amy and she absolutely worshipped him. He was just most passionate, talented, hilarious person she knew and she adored him. When Ben brought Amy out to see the van (he was 17, she was 16) he also showed her his marijuana stash in side the van. This was the first time Amy had ever seen drugs and it shook her. She didn't know what to do, and her dad and Leah knew something was up. She eventually broke down and told them about Ben's stash. This led to Ben moving out of the house and crashing on the couch of some not-so-great people in a really bad part of town. Amy never forgave herself for ratting him out.
Now's a good time to tell you a little about the religion in which Amy was raised. The church preached that man is made with a body, a soul, and a spirit. Your body, of course is your physical body. Your soul houses your mind, emotion, and will. Your spirit is made to contain God. Once you believe that Jesus is God and that He died for your sins, you ask Him to come live inside you and He lives in your spirit. The goal is that the more time you spend in worship, the more God will move from your spirit into your soul and even eventually your body. The only 'good' part of you is your spirit because that is where God is. Your soul and your body are evil, fallen, due to original sin. The purpose of your existence is that you spend so much time with God that he spreads so much in your being that you don't know where God stops and you start. Eventually you become one with God-- so much to where you actually ARE Him. (In life and nature, but not in the Godhead-- aka divine authority). This way you match Him and are the bride of Christ. The church insisted that there was no hierarchy, and that they were not religion- religion is full of rules and we're just trying to follow God in our spirit. We were taught that the clergy-laity system was fallen and created to stifle the members of the Body- and that every member should participate. The church was "run" by a group of designated members- always middle aged men. Women were to be submissive and they followed the teaching of the apostles. We didn't celebrate Christmas or Easter because they were pagan. Members of the church didn't date, watch movies, listen to music, wear revealing clothing, swear, etc. Typically members of the church would go to college- where there is a strong "church life"- then go to the Full Time Training in Anaheim, CA where they would spend 2 years studying the bible and the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. Typically, this is where church members would find their spouse. A brother would pick a sister, then go to the elders and seek their blessing. If they agreed this was a good match, they would go to the sister and ask if she was interested. If so, the brother would then take the sister to coffee, and then they would get married. The joke among the young people in the church was "wanna get a coke" is the same as "will you marry me?" There was absolutely no dating and courtships were very, very brief. This practice is ongoing today.
After completing the FFTA and getting married, a woman's role then was to raise children and support her husband, they should both serve the church, the church should be the sole focus of their family life. Any “ambition” or goal outside of serving the church and being one with God was from Satan. Amy bought into all of this heart and soul and gave everything she had to following the doctrine.
In 1997 Amy graduated high school and followed her best friend (from the church) to school at UT, Austin. The local church there was huge.. hundreds of people, and it was a whole new experience to Amy who was used to being part of a youth group of 4. The church had a college group called Christians on Campus. There were approximately 200 college-aged members of the Church in Austin (that’s what they called the church.. always named according to the city, just like in the New Testament). Most of the families in the Local Church are somewhat educated and upper middle class. Amy was the only college-aged church member that had to work her way through school (Her dad was a mailman and her step-mom stayed at home due to depression or whatever physical ailment she was suffering at the time). At the beginning of each school year, the elders and campus workers would hold a meeting for the students setting the expectation for the year. Each student church member was expected to have appointments on campus with what they called Full-Timers-- 20-somethings employed by the church to “shepherd” the students. These appointments would happen in a cafeteria or wherever on campus and would usually be spent in prayer and going over some ministry- Living Stream Ministry is the church’s publications- sooooo many volumes of books all by Nee and Lee. In addition to these appointments between classes, students were expected to attend bible studies, prayer meetings, a college meeting on Sat nights, service on Sat morning where we cleaned the meeting hall and property, and two meetings on Sundays. All in all, it’s about 30 hours of church activities.
Oh, also, Amy was living in what was called “Corporate Living”. Corporate living was a living situation arranged by the church where students lived in an apartment with full-timers. There were very strict rules- no radios, no TVs, no behaviors that could “stumble” the people you were living with.
Amy dove into corporate living and all of the expected meetings with absolute fervor. She preached the gospel on the corner on campus, on the bus, on the grocery store. She participated in all of the meetings and became used to speaking in front of groups of up to 500. She loved the local church. For the first year of college, Bob had told Amy he would send her $400/month and this would be enough for her to live off of (rent, groceries, clothing, EVERYTHING), because he didn’t want her working while she was a freshman. Turns out this was NOT enough to live off of. When Amy called her dad and said it wasn’t working, he accused her of being irresponsible and to do a better job ‘living within her means.’ She found school overwhelming and stressful and in her first couple months in Austin, she called her dad to ask his advice. His response to his 18 year old daughter was that she was no longer his problem, and if she needed something, she needed to go to the elders.
Somehow Amy made it through that first year and spend her second year in Austin working full time to establish residency so she could get in-state tuition. She finished that year, now a year behind her roommates and church friends but just happy to be there. Her third year in Austin, she continued working and went back to school. There were not enough hours in the day to work, attend all the church activities, and study. She eventually started having severe panic attacks, and she was sure she was possessed. She had no one to talk to and eventually started to lose her shit. Being as she was the only one in the hundreds of students that had to work, no one in the church understood and only looked at her with disapproval after she had missed a prayer meeting to work. She felt judged constantly.
Then a gentleman Amy was working with started to pursue her. She finally had a “friend”.. someone she could talk to who didn’t judge her. But this guy was in his early 30s, so much older, and had a dark agenda. She started sneaking around with him, he was her first kiss, and he also took her virginity in the most cold way. But Amy was okay with it. She figured physical intimacy was better than no intimacy and being used was so much better than being alone. She continued to let men use her, thinking this was the closest she would get to any kind of “love”.
The elders suspected something was up and one day, after going with a few other rebellious sisters to a dance club, they sat Amy down and told her she belonged to the devil and the devil was going to kill her.
This sort of thing went on for the next 2 years until Amy had a total mental breakdown and ran away to San Francisco with the drug addict boyfriend she had been sneaking around with. It was 2000. He promised he had friends there, so she threw her few belongings in her car and the two of them drove out there. She never looked back. Once they got there, they realized that he did not in fact have friends out there and after living in her car for 2 days, Amy broke down and called the only person she could thing of to call- Dianne. The boyfriend stayed in California and Amy drove to Las Vegas to her mother’s apartment. Her mom helped her get a job at the Hard Rock, took her shopping, and gave her so much empathy and sympathy. She encouraged Amy to date- a lot. Dianne had been an escort for many years in Vegas and encouraged Amy to live a similar lifestyle. So Amy did. Until one day when she met Jonah. This was when dating apps had just became a thing, and he was the first “normal” guy. He looked like a backstreet boy, complete with tattoos and a motorcycle and frosted tips. He told Amy it would be the two of them against the world. Dianne did NOT like that Amy was seeing Jonah and changed the locks on her apartment leaving Amy homeless yet again. Jonah was living in a house with his sister and a couple of their friends and they invited Amy to live with them. Right around that time Amy found out she was pregnant- and it wasn’t Jonah’s. Amy called Bob and Leah for the first time in 6 months since she had run away from Austin. Leah was NOT happy to hear from Amy, but Bob was. Amy told them the whole story- that she was pregnant and had no idea who the father was, and that she had met Jonah and didn’t know what to do. Jonah decided he did not want to raise this child and Bob’s response was “this kid won’t know who his dad is, but he’ll know his grandpa! Come live with us!” When Amy was discussing next steps with Jonah and the rest of the members of the house- one of the roommates said “Do you really want this kid raised in what you were raised in?” That shook Amy to her core. Did she?? Around the same time, somehow Dianne found out, and she showed up at Amy’s work with a handful of cash and said “Get rid of it.” So Amy had an abortion. She had researched and found that most women had felt nothing but relief after the procedure. This was not the case for Amy. She found herself sobbing on the floor of the clinic, crying “My baby! My baby!” over and over again. She didn’t know if at 10 weeks a fetus is considered a person or not; all she knew was that she had felt someone with her, until the abortion. She hadn’t even realized that presence until it was gone and that absence of that someone was the most terrible thing she had ever felt. She was convinced she had murdered her child and that feeling has never gone away.
During this time, Ben had moved to Seattle and was pursuing a career as a rock star. He had also fallen heavily into drugs. He would call Amy occasionally and every single time, those phone calls felt like a visit from her guardian angel. The only one who loved her unconditionally and was a voice of support and encouragement- he was the only one she felt was never disappointed in her.
After Amy healed from the abortion, Jonah said that he thought they should try for a baby of their own. Amy couldn’t agree fast enough. Anything to fill that hole. They began having unprotected sex, and also started having relationship problems. Amy realized that Jonah was controlling, and incredibly emotionally abusive, but he was all she had. So when he said that he wanted to move back to Colorado where he was from, she agreed. Amy met Jonah in October of 2000, this was April of 2001. Hannah was born December 17, 2002. Jonah and Amy were married 3 months before Hannah was born. Hannah was born deaf in her right ear with a few other neurological issues, but to Amy, she was perfect. Everyone commented on how she looked like a doll-- not a smooshed up potato like most newborns.
On her first night home from the hospital, Amy looked at her beautiful, perfect sleeping daughter and she realized in that moment that God didn’t hate her. That maybe God was loving and forgiving and wasn’t waiting to punish her.
When Hannah was three days old, Amy was trying to soothe her in the middle of the night and Jonah stormed into the room screaming couldn’t she MAKE HER SHUT UP.
10 years of emotional abuse and two more gorgeous children later, Amy had reached the end of her rope. She left Jonah- thanks to the help of an old flame. This is a story for another time, but when Amy was 19, she met a brother in the church and fell HARD for him. He was her first love. His name was Russell. He was perfect- they were going to go to the FTT and get married, until she found out he had been having secret conversations with a sister in the church in Chicago. Her heart broke, and she never got over him.
When Amy was 30, she found Russell- thank you internet- and it turned out he was in a horribly unhappy marriage with a woman who was violent towards their small children. He was going to leave his wife and she was going to leave Jonah and everything was going to be okay. He wired money into her account and she was able to file for divorce and find a tiny apartment for herself and her 3 girls. Hannah was 8, Shelby was 6, and Zoe was 4. Amy had spent their childhood working part-time as a waitress- so happy to have every day with them and to be the kind of mom she always wished she had. They were her entire world and, while she had stayed with Jonah because of them, she realized, as Shelby watched Jonah punch a whole in the wall 2 inches from her mother’s face, that the best thing Amy could do for her girls was to show them that this is NOT how a woman should be treated or how a marriage should be.
Amy left Jonah in October. In November of 2011, Russell flew across the world to help her clean out the house they’d been renting and settle into their new place. This was the first time Amy had seen him since 1998. The girls were spending a weekend with her dad, and Amy had spend the weekend with her best friend buying a new outfit and perfume- things she hadn’t been allowed to purchase in the 10 years she was with Jonah. She felt butterflies like she’d never experienced on her drive to the airport. She met him by baggage claim, and it was like nothing had changed. She was 19 again. Only, instead of being at a church conference and him only speaking five words to her, he walked over to her and immediately kissed her- like something out of a movie. They spent an entire week together and Amy had never been happier. They were the best 7 days of her life.
He flew back home, told his wife he wanted a divorce, and his wife refused. She enlisted the help of her parents and his parents and the rest of the church and they told him if he pursued this, he would never see his children again. So he stayed.
Amy’s heart broke. She didn’t shed a single tear leaving her 10-year marriage, but this tore her in half. She spent an entire day crying until she realized that although she no longer had the future she had dreamed of with Russell, she had a future with her daughters, and withOUT the person who had spent the last 10 years finding new ways every day to make her feel absolutely horrible.
Amy had hope.
And the girls were doing GREAT. Since Jonah was only able to see them on the weekends, he was finally an attentive father. 8 year old Hannah told Amy- I’m so glad you got a divorce because daddy’s finally a daddy!
Amy had gone back to school and had received grants and scholarships- being a single mom helped hugely with that! She was taking classes from UC Denver online and she loved them. She was getting child support and was still waiting tables on the weekend. While Jonah had used their finances as a means of control, for the first time she wasn’t having to go to the salvation army to ask for food donations- she could buy fancy shampoo and no one would yell at her. The girls could blast Dora on the TV in the living room of their apartment and no one would yell at them! There was no yelling!! Just lots of laughing and cooking and playing and hugs and kisses and it was cozy and happy and wonderful.
Amy had been isolated- cut off from her girlfriends and any kind of a social life the whole time she had been married. After the divorce friendships blossomed and she started going on adventures on the weekends while the girls were with Jonah. A friend eventually convinced Amy to sign up for Match.Com. And Amy met Caleb. He was shy and nerdy and sweet and hilarious and had an abusive ex very similar to Jonah. You don’t really hear so much about men being hit, but it happens and it’s horrible. Caleb had daughters Hannah’s age and Zoe’s age and he never ever ever wanted to get married again. He had gotten his ex-wife pregnant when they were 18 and spent 10 years working nights so that he could take care of his girls while his wife went to work in the city. When Amy asked him what he liked to do for fun, he said “I have no idea.” He was perfect. They decided to explore Denver together and went to hockey games, basketball games, restaurants, concerts, shows, bars, hiking- they crammed as much as they could in their weekends together.
And Amy started to confide in him. About everything. They’d sit on the front porch of her apartment drinking and talking until all hours of the night. And Caleb never judged Amy. He offered sympathy and friendship and hugs and, eventually, Amy realized he was not only her best friend, but she loved him. Amy and Caleb got married on December 27, 2013.
Over the past 5 years, Jonah has gradually faded from the picture and Caleb has become the dad Amy always wanted for her girls. There is so much laughter in their house- so much dancing, silliness, love and hugs and kisses. There is support and encouragement and unconditional love.
Caleb is an atheist, so is Hannah. Shelby isn’t sure and Zoe is showing psychic tendencies. Amy is happier than she ever thought she could be. She has built an amazing life for her daughters, she has found a husband that is good through and through. He is so kind, so respectful, and the only person other than Ben to be her biggest cheerleader.
Been passed away October 13 2009 of a heroin overdose. He had been battling drug addiction from the time he was 16- Amy often blamed herself for getting him kicked out of the house and right into the living room of a drug dealer- he had gotten sober in 2008 and had actually moved to Denver to live with Amy for a year while he got his life figured out. That year was so special- he became so close to the girls and Amy got to finally make things right. She apologized for always caring more about seeing Bob and Leah’s approval than having his back. Amy got him job, cooked for him daily, and did everything she could every day to let him know how much she adored him. She thought sometimes that they would be like Matthew and Marilla from Anne of Green Gables. When Amy didn’t have anyone else, she had Ben. Until she didn’t.
At first, after Ben died, Amy decided she would never be happy again. She would mourn the rest of her life, and that is how he would know just how much she loved him. A few weeks after he died, Amy had a dream. She was at a restaurant and saw her brother walking down the sidewalk outside. Amy ran out to him and wrapped her arms around him and squeezed with everything she had. He looked down at her with his blue eyes- they were always SO blue-- and he said “do you have any idea how hard this is for me?” Amy instantly woke up. How hard this is for HIM?! And then she realized. If Ben could see what Amy’s grief was doing to her, how it was destroying her and the girls, it would break his heart. In that moment, Amy realized the best thing she could do to honor her brother is to live the happiest life she could possibly life.
Now it’s 2019 and Amy is busy working full time doing sales for a recruiting firm and raising three very strong-willed, sassy, hilarious and beautiful teenage daughters. The stepkids come to visit, and those visits never last long enough. Her husband is her favorite person, and she wakes up every single day so thankful, and excited for each and every day.
But. There is always a voice in the back of her head saying “you don’t deserve this” “You are going to be punished” “Something horrible is going to happen”.
And sometimes Amy will do stupid things to sabotage her own happiness- to try to drive Caleb away since she figures he’ll leave eventually any way. Everyone Amy has ever loved has eventually left. Her mom, her brother, Russell.. no one stays. Amy is always so afraid something will happen to one of her girls, or to her. She doesn’t feel like she deserves this sort of happiness and she is always waiting for the inevitable punishment that she ultimately deserves. She feels alone a lot of the time, and like no one can possibly understand what she’s thinking or feeling. She believes the world is ultimately evil and will someday destroy her and all the people she cares about.
Amy turned 40 on March 2nd. As a birthday present to herself, she decided to eat really healthy and start lifting weights so she could be the healthiest she’s ever been, and in the best shape of her life. She did it- and it was so exciting to buy a pair of size 4 jeans for her birthday party outfit! But then she started thinking- what if she decided to become healthy on the inside, too. A friend texted Amy an article on Religious Trauma Syndrome and Amy started researching it. She discovered Journey Free and for the first time in her adult life, she thought someone might understand. Someone might actually be able to help. In the past, the therapists she had talked to had just scratched their heads, unable to understand or help, ultimately leaving Amy feeling more alone and depressed than ever. But after reading the articles on the Journey Free website, Amy had hope.