Invisible

sept writing

It’s no wonder I struggle with issues of self-esteem. Until only recently, it had not entered my mind to consider myself a victim. In fact, I pride myself in being strong and resilient at my age. However, I recently stumbled upon some information on the topic of cults and mind control, and saw how applicable it was to my early convent years. During my first five, pre-Vatican II years in the convent, my companions and I were deliberately subjected to a gradual erasure of our individuality. Much like the military, we were broken down and then systematically reformed into more acceptable products.

In short, we were brainwashed.

According to Rick Ross, the founder and executive director of the Rick A. Ross Institute—an expert on cults, controversial groups and movements—there are warning signs of groups and individuals who use such mind control techniques. I recognized each of those listed in an article quoting Rick by Dr. Phil:

  1. 1.Cults enforce a controlled environment: Loved ones are cut off from family,

no communication.

 

In my story, Once Upon a Convent, you will read about how the convent enforced this rule and how it affected me.

  1. In cults, there is a necessity to break down the sense of self—the self-esteem–to literally attack them as individuals on the basis that they are wrong

and that the group is right.

Knowing this has begun to help me “put myself back together” again. My book gives evidence of the erasure of my personal identity.

  1. Instill a new sense of identity: a group identity

that reinforces and outlines the right behavior and the right way of being.

Wearing the habit and following the rules took away who I was as an individual—even as a teen-ager and blossoming young woman. To this day, I feel somewhat lost when I don’t belong to some kind of other-ness—marriage, partnership, or communal endeavor.


  1. Isolate: Cut off from outside world. Fear keeps them trapped

inside the environment of the group.

 

Even without fences, guards, or chains, we were trapped within the remote confines of a rural community, far from old friends, family, and the rest of the world.

The process of writing my story has unearthed the similarity between cults and my convent experience. I understand now, why I sometimes feel invisible. Like I wouldn’t be noticed unless I was gone. In the convent, I remained unseen, unless I allowed the dust in my assigned hallway to accumulate to any measurable degree. I was important in my performance of duty. Had there been no one to dry the pots and pans during my nightly dish duty, someone would have come looking for me. Or had my assigned spot in chapel been unoccupied during prayer, my absence would have been noted. As long as I fit into my prescribed slot in the communal machine, no one gave me a second thought.

Except my parents, who regularly wrote me about how much they missed me. Otherwise, I felt erased. Unimportant. We were taught that invisibility was a noble way for nun to feel. It was an indication that we were advancing toward the state of being without ego—of becoming humble. I quickly mastered the art of melding into the crowd within days of my entrance.

Had our differing attributes been highlighted, we would all have been enriched. Instead, we were individually erased. Expected to regard everyone equally; melt into the background, and act as one.

I still know how to disappear, but it no longer feels right. I remain marginally unsure of myself, and find it difficult to fade out. I still work on accepting myself as a unique individual. On some level, I’m still overcoming a deeply instilled sense of unworthiness.

Though my head definitely knows otherwise.

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Feathering My Own Nest

Mother & eggs   I woke up the other day to realize I’d put all my eggs into one basket—my former partner’s. While my own remains empty. I’ve spent too many hours gazing out my rear window, looking after, and waiting–expecting a soufflé she hasn’t the inclination or recipe for.

Time to pick myself up, dust off my feathers, and rebuild my own nest.

Lay a few eggs.

Hatch my own life.

I’m fully capable of, not only omelets, custards, and souffles, but of whatever else my dreamy little mind wants to concoct.

Time to move on again.

in the Grove

grove 2

A grove of trees consoles me from the opposite side of the park outside my patio. Five trees as one. So, even though I feel completely solitary on this day of golden light, I remember. It’s been said that we’re never really alone. Especially not in a world of more than a billion people. Neighbors reside so closely above and beside me that  draw my blinds in early evening. Reminds me of the convent where I struggled with feeling alone while living in a five-storied building with two hundred other women. My excuse then was that we weren’t allowed to talk to one another, except during brief periods of recreation. Otherwise, we observed Silence.

I yearned to talk.

To be seen and heard.

We stood alongside one another in rigid line, bumping elbows. We obediently did our best to ignore one another and stay focused upon an invisible god.

Though I no longer have to, I keep Silence again and live alone with my two cats.

Except for the grove of five, who keep watch over me from across the lawn.

Oh Lord, I am not worthy

Mountain Love

Somehow, I presumed the sending off of my memoirs would flush me of some of those pesky habits I carried from the convent so long ago. But it hasn’t. My sense of unworthiness prevails.

Not feeling okay.

Or good enough.

Like a sudden gathering of clouds, a darkening overshadows me when I least expect it.

I blame the convent, where I developed the habit of gazing inward each day, and examined my sinful self for every possible imperfection. It wasn’t enough to skim through the Ten Commandments in search of sins—impure thoughts or feelings of jealousy. I was also taught to look for slight infraction against the rules. Talking too much, running in the hallway, and gawking around during prayer were inadmissible faults, and needed to be publicly admitted on a daily basis. Like a monkey, diligently hunting for and picking at its body for fleas, I daily searched for—found—and developed a long list of—my daily failings. Had I not discovered at least a few faults, I would have been guilty of the more serious sin of pride.

Years later, my spirit has learned to expand and soften, but I still I work at accepting my imperfect and fault-ridden self.

It had not come easy. . .

this letting go,

this allowing.

Even today, I hesitate at being proud of,

or thinking myself good enough.

It has taken a lifetime.

Emptied

Recie August 2014

Since I sent off my manuscript, I feel emptied–perhaps peaceful. Even aimless. For four years, I hammered away at my memories. A difficult task—certainly no labor of love. I had lunch with four other writers on Saturday, and was envious of their enthusiasm—their lust for writing. Each was years younger than I and working on futuristic novels. I wondered that something might be wrong with me as I struggle with every word. Every sentence. Every thought, my critic working overtime. Even as I write this, she smirks and points a finger at my computer from over my shoulder.

You scramble for words and can’t get out of your own way. What makes you think you are a writer, when you stumble over every thought that enters your head? You think anyone is going to read this? You should have taken at least another year to mold your manuscript into something more interesting—more uplifting—more worthy of being shared. 

I feel humbled. Beat up. Taken to task. As if I should kneel at the feet of my confessor and ask for a penance. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I dared reveal things about the convent that most former nuns would never dare.”

As I await my penance from behind the other side of the confessional screen, I hear a kinder voice from within, rather than my imagined pious response from a priest. It is the less familiar voice of my Inner Wisdom, and it silences even my Inner Critic.

Hey, dear one. You have shared YOUR truth. Your version of nineteen years in the convent. Whether anyone else cares or understands, doesn’t matter. You began writing years ago to relieve yourself of memories that burdened you for too long. Applaud yourself and move on. A whole new chapter awaits you.