A Long Escape


I am a 67-year-old female with two adult children: a 40-year-old male, a 33-year old female, and four grandchildren between the ages of 12 years and three months. I got involved in an independent fundamental Baptist church and Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) school when I was 37, my son was 10 and my daughter was three. I was extremely lonely and wanted to “fix” my marriage: my (ex) husband (was) is an abusive alcoholic. I was promised by this church that if I totally submitted to god and them that my husband would be “saved,” and god would cure him of his alcoholism. Until that time his alcoholism and abuse were god’s business not mine. I was to submit to him (my husband) and therefore submit to god in all things. I had to put my kids in the A.C.E. little school which was literally part of the church, i.e. in the same building. This school was one was of uppermost importance in the church’s teachings. Women had to also work in the school as ‘helpers’, unpaid of course. So my children and I spent the next 12 years in this horrible place. It is just too hard to go into all the doctrines and dogmas.

We escaped back in 1999, out of sheer self-preservation and survival. We also escaped my ex two years later, again, out of sheer desperation and survival. We all suffered at the hands of the religious. My son went from age 10 to 18 in A.C.E, but then went onto TAFE, then University. These are the two main types of tertiary institutions in Australia. However, because he wasn’t motivated, self-disciplined nor driven to make a go of it, he dropped out. He did, however, go on to get a really good job, but he ultimately sabotaged it, then went onto do the same with subsequent jobs. My daughter was in A.C.E. from age three until 13. At that time, I simply could not take the punitive inadequate school any longer and I pulled her out. For the next two years only TWO people spoke to me and only then under obvious sufferance. They said that I was “severely disobedient” by removing my daughter from the school, and god would very likely kill her or me. “God bends, breaks, and buries disobedient Christians,” they added. I won’t go into all that went on as it’s too difficult to talk about. We, that is my son my daughter and myself, were all still going to church at this time but I simply could not take the preaching nor the ostracism. The preacher was of the sort who, being 6’5”, would yell and scream and thump the pulpit. I was the lone black sheep in the flock, a disobedient female with an ‘unsaved’ husband. They said that he would surely remain so if I continued to be disobedient.

I found no love in that place from day one and all they did was punish individuals and families. If they got wind that you were thinking of leaving (which they often did), god would come thundering down from his heaven and deal with me. I was terrified to leave and terrified to stay. We finally escaped, i.e. we just stopped going, but, I was still believing in god and so went church hopping. My former friends said that “I was going into enemy territory, Satan’s churches.” Anyway, two years later we also escaped my abusive alcoholic husband, he had begun beating up my son.

Of course, I hadn’t been a part of the workforce for 21 years, so I had been dependent on my ex-husband for that entire time. I started doing domestic cleaning to support my two adult children and myself in our new life. I underwent intense counseling and psychotherapy, paid for by social services, from which I also received financial assistance. That was 16 years ago.

After I pulled my daughter out of the church school I put her into a very large Christian school, but one which had a secular curriculum. She absolutely thrived in this environment. It was difficult at first because it was a huge change. Because my daughter is extremely intelligent, motivated, self-disciplined, driven, and talented, throughout her secondary education she was in the top 5 every year. She also achieved an extremely high mark in TEE (Tertiary Entrance Examination), and a curriculum council award. She went onto to study law and commerce at university and has been a practicing lawyer now for ten years, has a wonderful partner, and has just given birth to her firstborn, a baby boy. She’s an amazing young woman, she’s kind, thoughtful, loving, caring and very generous. In 2011 she took me on an all- expense paid holiday to Europe for three weeks: it was the holiday of my life. I appreciate, love, adore my daughter. She’s been my friend and has supported me in all my trials. She never ever held anything against me, but simply got on with her life. I don’t know how she achieved such amazing results whilst we were still in the family home because it was so turbulent.

My son, on the other hand, has been quite the opposite. He was a beautiful little boy and adolescent, but when he turned 18 he got involved in drugs and he dropped out of university. Several months after we left the family home (father/husband), he took up with a young lady, who had come from an extremely toxic dysfunctional family and had left home when she was 14. She was on the hunt for a husband who would father her children and give her the family she never had. It was all too easy for my son: he wanted a replacement mother and someone to look after him. Anyway, I spent the next 15 years trying to make it up to him for all the harm I had caused him and the education “I had denied” him. I poured my money, what little I had, into his life with his partner/wife (and 3 kids). I got into debt, I bailed them out over and over, paid rent, paid bonds and many other items. I spent endless hours helping out with household duties, baby sitting, until I was totally drained of everything.

Of course, I now know that I was acting as co-dependent and enabler, and he was just using and abusing me all the while. I have since discovered that he’s a narcissistic abuser with a personality disorder and that he used everything as a weapon to control and manipulate me. I was completely empty of everything and in February this year I had to withdraw all my help. My health was deteriorating as well. Because of this, in June he was threatening me. His life was spiraling out of control, yet again. He continued to make demands and threats so I got the police involved. They issued him a restraining order and told me to cease all contact permanently and to change my phone number.

Needless to say, I’ve been suffering from a broken heart since, have gone back into therapy, and have turned to the internet to make some sense of it all. I am reclaiming my life, which I haven’t really had since I was 17 years of age (which is when I met my ex), and at the age of 67 that’s extremely hard.

I was preyed upon by three male narcissistic abusers: my ex-husband, the male dominated patriarchal religious organization, and then my son. But I’m a survivor, a struggling one. Being separated from my son, who is 40 years old now, has been the hardest thing I have ever experienced in my life.  Sometimes I don’t think I’m going to survive and I feel like my broken heart is going to kill me, especially since it’s likely that I created my narcissistic son by staying in my marriage and placing him in a severely punitive church and a grossly inadequate and punitive school.


December 2, 2017

About the Author Karen Garst


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