I was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas to a raised Baptist mother and a raised Episcopalian father (who had apparently converted to Mormonism for a few years in his late twenties before I was born). From three years old, I was in Sunday school each week and Bible memorization club each Wednesday at the Bible Church of Little Rock, a non-denominational church. by Kindergarten was in private school run by the church. I remember singing Christmas songs with classmates and the beautiful stained glass window and how the light shown through them during morning chapel.
I remember having my first profound spiritual experience around seven years old. The part that I will never forget is that it didn't have anything to do with the doctrines or narrative I was being told at church or school. I remember waking up from a dream and finding myself high above the universe, experiencing the vastness of Time and what I can now define as Source. I remember remarking to myself "Is this heaven? This isn't what heaven is supposed to look like." I believe that I was experiencing a kind of early awakening experience and astral projecting. I would continue to show signs of being an intuitive, Starseed throughout my childhood and young adulthood. Of course, those signs would be erased or re-labeled as ADD or ditsy or imaginative. In my a fundamentalist upbringing, spirituality is confined to the Bible passages, Biblical scholars, charismatic denominations who dabble unadvised, and any place elsewhere is simply a straight up tool of the Devil.
Personal is dangerous. In an interview with a music pastor named Brian Wren from Wren states exactly what I experienced growing up the opinions of personal experience and spirituality.
I'm not against the appeal to personal experience, but I think we're in danger of going too far in that direction. Many people hunger for some sense of personal contact with the divine, a contact that involves the heart as well as the head. That is entirely valid, although it's unwise to be too confident that what you feel is the divine...The negative side of this search is that it can become a preoccupation with "my own journey, my own feelings," as if they were unique simply a private view of life, a private view of the world. (Wren 2000)
This dissonance between my self-worth and self-efficacy as defined by the dogmas of my religion proved a crippling threat to maneuvering my young adult life.
As a Christian, depressed women with auto immune disorders, in her late twenties, in the conservative south – with very limited context for going to therapy outside a church counseling context – my mother had very little regulatory skills for herself. Postpartum, the medications she was on for her health, sleep, and depression, all left behind a depleted individual that road the waves of fluctuating emotional highs and lows. In her worst times, she had slapped or pinched me, jerked my arm, released small bouts of rage or tears. She slapped me only a few times, but their sting will always rest in my memory. The first time of memory, I was seven or eight and I was pouring milk from a large jug and I missed the cup. It went everywhere. She slapped my face, yelled, then almost immediately burst into tears and wept at my feet in apology. Other times she would pinch me with blatant intensity behind her eyes – scolding me for this or that. Sometimes she'd call me in to her room to talk to me hours later, apologizing and eyes glistening.
As an adult, I've tried not to vilify my mother, while at the same time acknowledging that I was the child in the scenario - the innocent. That I deserved the treatment rested itself somewhere deep inside me for years, right on the same shelf as my innate sin. So not only was I to blame, but I was sinful so had most likely sinned in some way to deserve her punishments.
As a childcare provider for many years, I have experienced degrees of frustration, exhaustion, and emotional scarcity wherein I can understand how anger can be lashed out to children in many surprising, instinctive ways. I remember one time, when I was very little, I was helping my grandmother watch the toddlers in the nursery school at church. Inexplicably, I found myself pinching a sweet blue eyed girl. Her eyes welled up and I stopped, instantly feeling confusion and remorse for why I had just hurt this innocent. I have often looked back on that moment and felt cripplingly ashamed. I realize more now than ever that what had been taught to me was manifesting itself through me.
My appearance on the scene had filled some significant holes in my Nana's heart, not to mention my mother and father's hearts. Stories for another time and place, but this all serves to tell the main story I'm trying to tell of my mother, and her journey.I remember a story that my mother has told me several times about her own mother. Often she inserted this story in the context of reminding me how prized I was as a granddaughter, how my Nana worshiped me and would go to the moon for me if she could. I knew this was true. My Nana has been my biggest fan. She held me first in the hospital - I was premature and my mother severely sick at the time of my birth - before both my parents. She took me to her house every weekend to stay. She was there to capture my first performances on her fifteen-pound camera. There is a journal entry I found in a journal of Nana's that she kept for a few years following her divorce with my grandfather in the late 80s. I was born in 1986. One the page of my birth, she wrote that "now she could learn to love again."
[My mother and my on my paternal grandparent's boat in the 1980s]
[My Nana, my Grandfather Jerry (who I never knew) and my mom and her cousins as a child in the 1960s.]
My mother's story of her mother is that one day when she was around seven, my mom fell off her bike and skinned up her knees. She ran crying up to the house to find her mother talking on the telephone. Showing her her bloody knees, Nana waved or off distractedly and said, "Oh it's fine, go put a band-aid on it." I remember when I fell at school and burst my chin open, Nana found out, left work, and drove as my mother put it, "like a bat out of hell" to pick me up. I understand more than ever the limitations my mother had to mother me, based on her mother's limitations...and so on. In fact, my namesake Sibyl Conly was described as an overly critical mother by my Nana. Sly verbal criticisms seems to my my mother and Nana's vernacular, stemming perhaps from Sibyl and perhaps from someone before her.
I'm reminded of Sondheim's song from Into the Woods called "Children Will Listen." It's lyrics aptly express the pathos of parent's passing on their intentional and unintentional narratives to their children.
God and Self Worth
Leaving my performance career behind to pursue a life as a therapist and spiritual healer coincided with events in my life that helped me to realize how embedded my self worth was to my being seen as a unique, important performer or singer. Finding this video last year solidified that my mourning of my performing life and all the expectations I had placed in that image of myself was a type of reckoning and healing of my childhood self.
I have always been a performer. In this same camcorder performance, I passionately sing many other favorite songs - Disney tunes, my favorite song of all time "Over the Rainbow" - but this particular song shows a deeper sort of longing. My spirituality was very much at the core of my personality by a young age. However, it was also very much a type of indoctrination. "I have to sing to God so that he can love me." Somehow I was already attributing my singing to my personal duty and what made me worthy of love.
"God made me special" and yet I am inherently imperfect, shameful, sinful, in need of saving....the mixed messages presented in an Evangelical Christian education like my own were profound. For many of us, 30 years old now, we have had to make our peace with reconstructing our own narratives. (I'm the one in pigtails on the bottom left.) For the little personal contact I still have with a few of those faces, and not just on facebook, it would seem that many have stayed with in the same belief systems we were taught. Most still live in and around Little Rock, Arkansas and are politically conservative.