I was raised on Sunday church, summers in Vacation Bible School, and dinner time grace, but these were more due to habit and culture than spirituality. When I went away to college, these fell by the wayside.
As I learned to exercise greater control in my emotions, I could actually stand back in my mind and watch him unleash his fury upon me, as I did absolutely nothing. There was now no doubt in my mind about whether the violence was my own fault – I knew I had done nothing to incite or deserve it, and it was all his own.
As my EE (evil ex) became more abusive, he extended his control into my religious practices, or rather he decided to fill that void with various experiments in religious extremism. As with all his abuse, it started off innocently enough - but would eventually become a rather strange form of abuse called "religious (or spiritual) abuse."
My EE was raised Jewish but gave it up in college, and wanted to “return to his roots” and introduce me to that part of his life. Sure, why not? Was my natural reply. I’m no anti-Semite, I wouldn’t mind learning about a different religion than what I was raised on.
As time progressed, he became more and more radical. He started hanging out with an extremely ultra-orthodox Jewish crowd, although we never went to temple. We started eating kosher, not too hard since we were already vegetarian. He also started talking about needing to dress orthodox, myself included. But then he had a falling out with his new best friend and gave that up before we implemented more lifestyle changes.
Apparently feeling an increased need to control this aspect of my life, he then decided we would be orthodox Catholic. Many of my relatives are Catholic, and so I was somewhat familiar with it from attending mass when I went to visit them. However, as could be expected, my EE’s version was twisted. We never went to a church or met a priest or any “other Catholics.” In his mind, their ways of worship were wrong and he knew better. He required that I learn by heart and sing a few particular Latin hymns several times a day, such as the Te Deum. He also insisted on mandatory home bible study, so over the course of the few years that we were “Catholic,” I read the bible nearly cover to cover. He would then selectively choose verses as examples of how to live righteously, but warp these lessons as reasons for a beating.
He abruptly gave up Catholicism, and his interest moved to Buddhism. I was made to read the works of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and then the Pali Canon. However, even these lessons of peace and love could not escape being turned around and used against me. He made me shave my head to “save” me from vanity, in the style of a Buddhist nun. I could only wear his worn out clothes (far too big for me, as well as being ugly) for the same reason. I was not even allowed to wear a bra anymore – not a comfortable thing when you have a double D cup chest - because of some lesson he twisted the meaning of.
As with all previous religious studies, he twisted the words to tell me I needed to be meek, to not argue, to accept my life as he dictated it, and most of all to be punished whenever I did something “wrong.”
Ironically, as I read the Buddha’s teachings (which he intended to use to control me further), my mind which had for so long been addled by fear and suffering began to clear. I could now see that he was twisting the truth about everything, that I was not crazy, and that his violence was not my fault. Only he could decide to raise his voice or his fist – I was not controlling his muscles. And that I was in charge of controlling myself – it was my choice to react to his jabs.