#PinkHairDontCare

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So the other day I’m sitting in my therapist’s office discussing one of the most traumatic moments of my life, and kinda laughing it off because it almost sounds silly. I wasn’t discussing being molested or raped- not to say that’s not a discussion, it absolutely has been for many years, in fact, it has monopolized many a’therapy session. So much so that I have blown off other traumatic moments because when you compare them, you kinda can’t top sexual abuse. Well, that was my mainframe, anyway… But let’s not compare apples and oranges…. trauma is trauma. These moments can define you, and they did define me in many ways. I’m working towards living MY life and not basing everything off of my past.

SOOOO I’m discussing the days leading up to my baptism into the (cough* CULT *cough) ICOC. I was 15, it was the summer before I started high school, my parents FINALLY let me dye my hair pink, and I really wasn’t buying “the god thing”. My parents/teen leaders expected me and my sister to go to Teen Camp, and we did… At this point my closest friends had been kept from me for months. You know how I was a bad egg because I questioned, and am not easily silenced. The “church” decided it was better to isolate me… and they were right. Being left out was awful. It didn’t make me believe in god, it made me feel like there was something wrong with me. Like I was broken for not having the same blind faith as everyone else. It came down to being treated badly and either ignored or rebuked, or I could “study the bible” and be baptized and be treated kindly.

At this point, you have to understand that I literally didn’t see life beyond the ICOC. I didn’t dare to imagine it. I was RAISED drinking the koolaid. I felt like it was wrong, but what did I know? I was trained from the get go to believe that this was the only way to live. So when I questioned, I felt like I was “in sin”. It was scary and lonely and confusing. No one sympathized. Even the kids who rebelled still had some sort of faith in god. I was the only one that didn’t. So I told myself that I was wrong, and I should at least try because if I TRY, if there is a god, he will “soften my heart” and I will have my friends back, and my parents would be proud of me. That’s what I did. I studied, (studying The Bible in an ICOC or ICC church is pretty intense. Over the course of a few studies, you have been brainwashed into believing that the only way to achieve salvation is by confessing your sins to someone *who’s going to share with other people*, having a specified discipler and being baptized by someone in the ICOC/ICC. You’re eventually expected to distance yourself from family members that are non disciples.) memorized and regurgitated. After passing the “Prove It” study, my disciplers informed me that I could be baptized by next Sunday, but I had to dye my hair back to a normal color because I was” too noticeable and that’s sinful. God doesn’t like that sort of thing.”

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Remember how I was 15 years old and I had been begging my parents to let me dye my hair pink for like 3 years??? And FINALLY they said yes???? But, guess what, my cool pink hair was sinful. Just like my personality “made the boys struggle” (You guys, I wasn’t even cute, boys didn’t like me. I was awkward and mousy and plain. Flat chested, short… I wore glasses and read books. TRUST me when I say that I was not the girl that “made boys struggle”.) I was infuriated! Of course to be saved I had to conform. After deliberation and prayer, I bleached out the dye, and was dunked into the Pacific Ocean that Sunday. I really hoped my first breath after my baptism would feel like my first, that I would feel cleansed and new. It was a devastating slap in the face to see that I felt exactly the same. Only… pissed. These people have been lying to me my whole life. (I know some of you feel like your baptism meant something, and, OK I’m not saying nothing changed for you, I’m saying it didn’t work for me and it wasn’t for lack of trying.) Never mind the fact that at 15, how much sinning could I have done. I was actually on the more angelic side of the spectrum when it came to actual “sinning”. Realistically, I just wasn’t a bad kid. And after fuming for a few minutes and receiving awkward hugs, responding as honestly as I could when people asked me over and over, “How do you feel?” (probably just to reaffirm how they tell themselves they felt after the baptisms. In fact, I remember asking my best friend the same question before I was baptized, if she felt new, I would, too.) to which I answered, “cold.” I thought, “And I dyed my hair for this?”

Jenna and her rad blue ombre
Jenna and her rad blue ombre

Just over a year later I “fell away”. Afterwards I pierced my belly button, my nose, and tongue. At 18 I started getting tattoos, but I stopped dying my hair. Weird, right? I don’t remember consciously deciding I wouldn’t dye my hair again, but it’s been roughly 10 years and I finally dyed my hair a few months ago, nothing crazy, just blonde streaks. a month or two later I went a little further and went very blonde ombre… kinda dipping my toes in. I remember that feeling, the change every time you look in the mirror. New. Baptized.

And that’s the revelation I had.

For years I have avoided “ceremonial” signals of change. I stopped believing in these big moments that signify transformation.

And then, I decided it was time to dye my hair pink. Why? Because I want to, and I’m an adult now, so piss off! (Yes that was a drop Dead Fred reference) And guess what… I absoFUCKINlutely LOVE my hair! (I especially love that my husband dyed it for me #keeper) Also, we decided that all the kids should rock colored hair, because, why not?

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So… I grew up in a cult…

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Being authentic is extremely important to me… now. This wasn’t always true, well maybe it has always been true, but I pushed the real part of me back and put on a front, a mask, with a big cheesy smile plastered right in the middle. This is how I survived, although I certainly wasn’t living. I have talked about the “church” *cough* cult *cough* I grew up in ( http://healthymama.net/?p=38 ) and how badly it screwed me up. Thinking back, I don’t know when I knew there was something wrong, but I think I was born questioning and pushing boundaries. Not every “Kingdom Kid” (that’s what they called us, the kids who grew up in The International Church of Christ “ICOC”) is as scarred as I am, and some were burned far deeply than I was. I am just the vocal one. A lot of the Kingdom Kids have let it go, they are “over it”, some still believe in god, some found other churches, and others completely turned away from any form of religion… and a few have been completely deluded and brainwashed and have been baptized, became “disciples” (basically a hoity toity way of saying you are a Christian, because that’s how Jesus refers to his followers, the term “Christian” was only used a few times in The Bible.) devoted their lives to “evangelizing” (recruiting) the “world” (everyone who is not already a disciple). Many of whom have also cut off their families, and friends unless they are part of ICOC or ICC ( International Christian Churches, the relatively new faction, an offshoot of the original church, led by Kip McKean , who was asked to step down from leadership, so he started a whole new church, and recruited a lot of the disciples from ICOC in a time where the church was very weak thanks to a lot of very shady going-ons.). I even know families who are divided between the two churches… and “The World”. The saddest thing for me is to see these adult Kingdom Kids, my would be, once upon a time brothers and sisters, and to experience their judgments and feel that complete disconnect. I wonder if they went back, or stayed because they need to feel a part of something. ICOC really was a huge family in it’s prime. I grew up in those rooms, in the bowels of The Shrine Auditorium every other week, and then sitting in those red cushioned chairs during huge church conferences. I was there the night we rented out The Rose Bowl, and the monumental night we filled The Staples Center (this was when the church had to come together to address Henry Kriete’s letter to the ICOC http://www.tolc.org/kriete.htm ) I went on “vacation” to “Shake n’ Bake” (an annual retreat to Palm Springs were we had marathon church services and classes) I went to summer camp Kingdom Kids from all over California, for as long as I can remember. These people were my family, some are still my best friends. I got married about 3 months ago, and I had 9 bridesmaids, 6 of them were Kingdom Kids, and all 6 of them have as little to do with ICOC/ICC as possible… this is difficult as 3 of them have family that are leaders or are just active in one or the other church. As you can see, I have maintained relationships from ICOC, and to be honest, I am thankful for the church for giving me such amazing friendships, and teaching me how to be a friend, how to forgive, and instilling an integrity in me I may have otherwise never found.

My wedding, all my beautiful bridesmaids, and my hubby
My wedding, all my beautiful bridesmaids, and my hubby

Unfortunately, this integrity, and ability to make deep lasting friendships came at a huge cost. For years I didn’t know myself because I was not allowed to be myself. I was taught to be a model Christian, and was brainwashed into following not The Bible, but my leaders to a fault. The problem with following people is they all have their own ideas on what you should say, think, feel and do. And they didn’t give you the option to make your own decision, they flat out told us. And they were wrong. I know many of them came into the church with their hearts in the right place, but over time things got really fucked up. We were not really allowed to be ourselves, and were forced to live a “Fake it til you make it” mentality. I knew that I had to put on a smiling face, and hug everyone I saw and met, even if I felt uncomfortable, even if I didn’t want to be touched, especially by strangers, my job was to make everyone around me comfortable, at the expense of my own comfort. This was the beginning of me ignoring my intuition, and second guessing myself… the beginning of me not being true to myself, when I began willingly putting myself in situations that were not healthy because I was TOLD to. I did not have the option to say “no” when I was asked by my “discipler” (kind of like a sponsor in AA, or a mentor) or a leader to do something, I was rebuked if I didn’t follow their directions or advice. We were not given the chance to think for ourselves, and if we did, and we spoke our thoughts, we were rebuked, belittled and shamed. There were really dumb rules, like, if a fellow kingdom kid asked you out on a date, you had to say yes, even if you didn’t want to. They said dating was about building friendships, but we all knew better, and certainly knew what a date was, and whether we wanted to date someone or not, and that did not help me as a young adult when it was time to say no…

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I had a particularly rough time because my dad is not only sober, but he has worked in rehabs my entire life! So I had the strictness of church, AND the strictness of “The Program” (in Alcoholics Anonymous there is a book they call The Big Book, not to be confused with The Bible, but equally as important when you are an addict, and it has a 12 Step Program that you follow to help you to stay clean.) I think the fact that my dad had already been in the Program, when he found the church, a church that prided itself on many of the same things that AA does, you see, ICOC may not have  12 Steps, but we did have The First Principles, which were mandatory studies that you had to go through in order to get baptized into ICOC, some of them were really intense, like “Light and Darkness” where you confess all of your sins. Even if you are only 12 and you have yet to sin for real. You literally catalog your sins, as many as you remember, (focusing specifically on sexual “sins” because the church seemed to have an obsession with sex, although they preached purity, they had people share during communion, and more often then not they chose people with a history of promiscuity and they would tell the entire congregation, and cry, and feel totally “ashamed”.) don’t worry, they give you guidelines, so you don’t miss anything, and then you apologize to whomever requires an apology. In AA there is a step where you basically do the same, and make amends to anyone you have hurt. There are a lot of similarities between the two, but a few of the main similarities is having a sponsor (discipler), a fallible, human who is there to keep you accountable, and help you when you struggle with anything that can lead you to “sinning” or in AA’s case, using. Another is the importance of fellowship, in AA you are encouraged to go to as many meetings as you can make it to, and surround yourself with other people who are in Program, ICOC encouraged us to go to church, midweek, or Bible study several days a week, and discourages maintaining relationships with people who are not part of the church, unless you are converting them, of course. So, as you can see, this environment made perfect sense for my dad. But if you are not in Program then the church was probably a little extreme. I grew up kind of meshing the 2 groups into one, kind of like some kids have the confusion between Santa Clause and God, well that was me, I thought that drinking alcohol was a sin, and was confused when I saw my friend’s parents drink a glass of wine at dinner. No one ever really explained anything reasonably to me, all I was ever told were absolutes, I lived in a world that was black and white. It was either, be good, or go to Hell. We were not Catholic, but the guilt trips were laid on thick! To further my confusion, my dad and step mom were perfect examples of what a Christian should be, they held Bible Studies in our home, never swore, or used god’s name in vain, they were never late to church, or missed a service, they were consistent and very strict, they “Shared their faith” (invited strangers to church). All things that you might expect in a Christian home. My friend’s from school, had parents who were very lenient, and although they went to youth groups, my church told me those other churches were not “real” churches, so all my friends were going to Hell, even though they were not “bad”, but, you know, I saw their dad drink a beer, so….

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I still have a really hard time when I talk to people who claim Christianity, but don’t follow The Bible, you have to understand, I was brain washed, I grew up believing that you lived your religion, and you put it before anything else. So, forgive me if I roll my eyes when you tell me that you only go to church on Christmas eve and Easter… when I grew up, we went to church unless we were vomiting, and we went 3 days a week! I had to go door to door inviting people to church (humiliating), I was not allowed to wear spaghetti straps, and my family prayed before every meal. I talk to people who are “Christians” but they live with their boyfriend… and these same people hate homosexuals for no other reason than they think The Bible says homosexuality is wrong. I knew people who were basically forced to get a divorce because their spouse didn’t go to the church, and “You can’t be yolked to an unbeliever”. This church was a mess, a hypocritical mess! But I still don’t think you’re a Christian if you don’t follow the rules in The Bible. Yeah, I’m still confused my my strong feelings.

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Some of the kids may have had it harder, as they were not born into the ICOC, their lives were flipped upside down when their parents took the (baptismal) plunge. Some of these kids flat our refused to have anything to do with ICOC, and were dragged to events sometimes because parents were considered to be in sin if their whole families were not part of the church. This was a particular issue when us Kingdom Kids were in middle school and high school, we may have been the perfect kids before, and as such we helped our parents climb the spiritual ladder to leadership status, but once we began rebelling, it was our parents who had to take responsibility, and eventually, lost their status, and in some cases their jobs if they were part of the ministry. But don’t worry, the church was really good at “fixing” problems. When a minister’s daughter ran off with some guy she met on the internet, the church kept it really hush-hush and moved the entire family to another region to continue leading. Another time, an Elder’s son confessed to basically pretending to be a disciple (as we all did on some level or another) and from my understanding wanted out of the church, he was given a secret baptism so his family could maintain their status, and so his discipler, the leader of the Teen Ministry didn’t look bad. When I was 15, not long after I was baptized, I broke down and tried to “Fall Away” (leave the church), I was really close with our regions minister’s daughter, so her mom took me out for coffee and bribed me to stay, and when I agreed it was never spoken of again. What did that teach us?  That secrecy is OK as long as it was the church’s idea? That the church will cover for you if you’re valuable enough? That the church really only cares about their numbers, and how much were were tithing.

 

I don’t think I ever really believed in god, I think I was told what to believe, and told not to think, and for a while I just went with it. But when I was 11 I started questioning, and I never stopped. I was told over and over that the I was not good enough, that my personality was too flirty, but if I turned off, and shut down, I was told that I was being selfish and having a pity party, and needed to be “out of myself”. I left the church when I was 16, (my family was actually black listed) and was struggling badly with an eating disorder. I went to rehab, which is where I started to discover myself (fitting, as the company was called Center For Discovery). this was the first safe place I had ever been, I was allowed to tell the truth, say what I felt and thought and I wasn’t told I was wrong, in fact, the opposite, I was totally nurtured for the first time in my life, my lack of faith in god was not ignored, it was validated.

The years following rehab were growing and learning years, they were some of the hardest years, but during that time, little by little, I started to shake off the fake me, even if people didn’t like it. I started standing up for what I believed, even if it completely contradicted what you believe. I finally found my voice, the voice that said, “Don’t touch me.” When he put his hands on me, the voice that stood behind my sister when she came out, and has not stopped fighting for equality. The voice that told the truth when I was miserable and pregnant and hated life, and has continued telling women that pregnancy and motherhood is not all rainbows and unicorns. This voice speaks up when something is not right, and sometimes blows up when I am angry… If I had not found my voice, I would still be stuck in a miserable, lonely relationship, far away from everyone I love, not living, surviving.

I am thankful for my upbringing in The ICOC because I feel that it opened my eyes to how fallible people really are, that right and wrong is not black and white, that there is a gray area, and it’s something inside you that tells you if it’s OK. We have a conscience for a reason and I don’t need a book or a person to tell me how to live. I am so comfortable with doing what feels right to me, and saying no when I need to, validating myself when no one else will, because that’s a life lesson we all need to learn… if we are unhappy we are giving someone else control, someone else is calling the shots, maybe it’s not your church, maybe it’s your mom? Whomever it is, it’s not their life, and I am giving you my blessing to stand up for yourself, and follow your heart and TAKE BACK YOUR LIFE.

*I am not encouraging you to tell everyone in your life to fuck off, I am encouraging you to find yourself and follow your heart, not someone else’s plan for your life.*

****If you are reading this because you have had a similar experience, have history with the ICOC/ICC, or you need help leaving, I am going to post some resources here for you. Free to email me at isahealthymama@yahoo.com or find my “recovery page” on facebook www.facebook.com/icocrecovery Here are a few blogs and websites from people who have left the ICOC/ICC and have shared their experiences and knowledge:

http://www.reveal.org/ <— This page has the truth about the ICOC.
http://www.spiritualpornography.com/ <— Don’t worry, it’s totally appropriate, she named it Spiritual Pornography because that’s what Kip McKean called it when you read anything negative about the church. They post information it might be harder to find, such as Kip’s (supposed) resignation, and letters written to the church.

http://henrykriete.com/ <— Here you can read what REALLY happened with Henry Kriete and his family.
http://ministeriolatino.blogspot.com/ <—- Here you can read a blog from a former member of Kip’s current church (City of Angels International Church of Christ). He has written actually experiences between himself and Kip, AND other “leaders”. A very interesting read. He came across my blog and actually recognized someone I had written about (I kept it confidential).
http://www.tolc.org/ <—- Here you can read Henry Kriete’s letter and other letters written to the church. You can also click “debate” and you will be transferred to http://forums.delphiforums.com/n/main.asp?webtag=ICCdiscussion&nav=start&prettyurl=%2FICCdiscussion%2Fstart where you can interact with current and former members.