Sheila’s Story, Part VIII
This is one of a thirty part exposé on the Children of the Legion. This group of women, then girls, in the Regnum Christi, share their stories of abuse, neglect and the aftermath of being children in the Regnum Christi. For a complete list of stories to date, view Children of the Legion.
I woke up the next morning a different person. I had left home as bubbly, happy, irrepressible, irresponsible 14-year-old. I came back a much older, sadder, more serious, and shyer 16-year-old. I was coming back to a different family, too — I now had a younger brother. Everything seemed weird and different — like it wasn’t at all the family I had left, but a new family I was going to have to adjust to.
I kept up all my prayer commitments and did more than required. I also continued wearing only skirts and never pants. I didn’t even realize how weird other people must have thought I looked. But the only goal in my mind was to change whatever about me had been lacking so I could go back to the precandidacy next year.
Step one was to face the “rough edges” of the people in my family. I had always been intimidated by the way my parents would sometimes yell at me, so I was waiting for an explosion so that I could try, like I had tried at the precandidacy, to face up to criticism without crying or arguing. I was going to be saintly about criticism. I was going to be like Christ before Pilate.
But that never happened. Sure, my parents occasionally — very occasionally, because I gave little cause for complaint — criticized me or lost their temper with me. But it was no big deal at all. I could clearly see that their anger was more about what was going on in their own lives than it was about me. They weren’t saying calculated things to “test” me. They were just doing their thing, and sometimes they weren’t as gentle as they could have been. It no longer bothered me. I realized that I had had a lot more “harshness” from my formators than I had ever had from my family. Besides, I had changed overnight from the girl who dissolved into tears over everything. I felt like I had no feelings at all. I felt annoyed when people looked for an emotional connection with me, trying to share feelings or hug me. I didn’t want to be touched anymore. And my feelings were a shameful thing I didn’t want to share.
I had been pretty outgoing, if kind of clueless in social situations. Now I was painfully shy. I couldn’t bear to talk to strangers. I developed a severe stutter when talking to anyone but my mom or my little brother. Even with my dad or my older brother, I found my tongue hesitating when I tried to say anything. It wasn’t physical — I just found myself so unsure of what to say, afraid to speak. I was homeschooled that year, so I didn’t have to deal with many other people, but I took voice lessons. It amused me to be seen as “the shy one.” I didn’t think of myself as shy. I just didn’t want to talk.
Pretty soon even I was able to recognize that I was deeply depressed. The only emotion I felt was a deep misery and loneliness. I called up the one former classmate whose number I had. She was very understanding. “When does it get better?” I asked. “I’ll let you know,” she said. She told me of others who had turned to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain after going home. I was shocked. None of us would do that!
I called my old friend from junior high. When I told her what had happened, she said, “Uh-huh. I’m really busy. I gotta go.” I was very hurt, but in retrospect, I hadn’t written her in two years. I’m sure it seemed to her that I had ditched her, and then was calling her back because I’d decided I needed her after all. It’s just that I hadn’t been allowed to write except for recruitment purposes, and she hadn’t seemed like she’d be interested in being recruited.
I threw myself into the local Regnum Christi group. At least, I tried to. It took me months to even get in contact with anyone. At the retreats, everyone else was an adult. They heard my little pitch about having just come home from boarding school, nodded, and walked away. No one was “looking up to me” like I’d been told I would. I had been told I would have spiritual direction when the traveling consecrated came through, but that took months as well. When I finally did meet with my new spiritual director, she just told me to get involved in apostolate. She assigned me to run a girls’ club, which I happily did along with the ONE another girl my age in RC in the area. This was a blessing in so many ways. I was able to interact with people in a framework I was accustomed to, and so there wasn’t so much shyness here. And in time, I became very close friends with my co-leader. She was very introverted, and I was deep in a shell, so we mostly talked by email, but it was the beginning of a great friendship that continues to this day. I credit her as one of the people who saved me from the despair I was in.
The other person was my little brother. It was so different to have someone who needed me. No longer was I “forming myself” just for the sake of forming myself. I had to smile even if I felt sad, not because it was the right thing to do, but because Joseph needed a smile from me. I had to leap up and help, not because I had been assigned to help, but because he needed help right then and couldn’t wait. He was generous with smiles, appreciation, and hugs. I didn’t feel comfortable hugging anyone but him, but he reintroduced me to the world of touch and it was so comforting. I used to hold him, at about a year old, and tell him all my problems. He would nod wisely and ask for more cheerios. It was a good relationship.
I spent my free time writing the world’s worst novel. I wanted to find some way to talk about the precandidacy without having to explain something that “no one would understand,” so I came up with this fantasy idea of a swordfighting academy. It was pretty horrible. I believe I’ve rewritten it twice, but maybe it’s time to accept that it really isn’t salvageable.
In May, at the end of that school year, the depression finally began to lift. I looked around me and finally began to see the things that I had used to love — sunshine, blue skies, flowers all seemed to appear out of nowhere now that I was looking. I had a plan for my life, so it didn’t matter that I’d had this brief setback.
In the summer I went to an RC convention in Chicago. I’d raised all the money myself by babysitting and selling baked goods door-to-door. (Oh, that was SO awful. I am a decent salesman, but I hate it.) I had a great time. The other girls both had that “RC vibe” that was so familiar to me, and were a lot more worldly than I was, so they helped me to adjust to the “real world.” Even the consecrated helped me to fit in better. They encouraged me to borrow a pair of jeans and admired the way I looked in them. Basically, they were trying to tell me, “You’re in the world now. You don’t have to keep trying to be a precandidate.”
At this convention, I was able to speak for a few minutes with my old director, Caroline. I was sure I would be able to convince her I was ready to come back. I really had solved all the problems she’d spoken of. But she shut me down instantly. “Not this year. Maybe come back for the candidacy when you’re done with high school.” I was flabbergasted, and also rather angry. How could she tell in ten minutes that I wasn’t good enough? What was she looking for? Or had she lied to me that coming back was even an option?
I went to community college my senior year of high school, by my dad’s insistence. I hadn’t wanted to go, but it was actually pretty fun. I didn’t fit in at ALL, but I made one friend, and I joined the Christian club on campus. We’d get together over lunch once a week and sing praise and worship songs. I even volunteered to speak to the group, and spoke on faith and works. They didn’t know at the time that I was Catholic! I felt like a stealth missionary.
I brought up to my spiritual director the idea of going to the candidacy. She immediately squashed it. “Go to college, meet a nice boy,” she told me. I was sad, but I decided that if my vocation was marriage, by golly, I’d get on that. I didn’t know what to do to prepare, so I started embroidering pillow cases for a hope chest and applied to the most Catholic college I’d heard of.
This story is a testimony from the 49 Weeks Blog. You can see this and more stories by visiting 49 Weeks.