Gaslighting

Growing up in a small town (population 1,200) things were uneventful save for the ordinary disturbances of any kid’s life. I was a coach’s son, played baseball and basketball, hung out with my pals, visited Gramma each weekend. My parents were parents of the 50s. We went to church, assumed God was love, Jesus was loving, the Holy Spirit was inconceivable. I don’t recall ever talking about “right religion.” It was the 50s: you didn’t talk about money, religion, politics. You were nice.

I was in youth group at the church. We played a game called Bible baseball where you were tossed a question and if you got the answer right, you got a hit. Once I was asked how many sins Jesus committed. I said, “One.” I was asked by our kindly minister why I said that. I said, “When He went off to the temple, he didn’t tell his parents where he would be.” It was that kind of childhood.

And then along about high school time our church hired a youth minister. He was charismatic, recruited several of us to meet with him several times a week for breakfast, took a deep interest in us. Before long we were praying together and he was teaching us about the “Truth” of Christianity. I’d love to tell you his name. He stole my life and after a while my very self.

Today there is a psychiatric term for what he did–Gaslighting.

45 is a gaslighter. He says the news is fake. He turns those who care about people into enemies of the state. He makes lies a means to an end. He calls revenge patriotism. It’s all about him. You don’t need me to tell you this. The youth minister was a gaslighter. He terrified me with damnation until I realized that I had to be converted. Soon he had me convinced that certainly all my friends, along with all the little town — help your neighbor, church going souls — were not real Christians. In the diction of 45, they were fake Christians.

This “correct Christianity” had nothing to do with Jesus, and a lot to do with double binds, terror, brainwashing, and the inculcating of a cult. Gaslighting by its very definition. All of us who contradict 45 are the evil ones. Lindsay Vonn after her stumble at the Winter Olympics received a deluge of tweets (I hate that word. Poor Chickadees!) declaring that this happened because of her criticism of 45 and her saying that if she won Gold she’d not go to the White House.

I went off to college. How’d that go? My sophomore year, my whole cruel gaslit psyche broke into a thousand pieces. After class one day, my roommate found me catatonic. Thirteen shock treatments, five stays in four different psychiatric wards, years of panic attacks, depression and PTSD followed — that’s how it went.

That so-called Christian minister and his like–ie. 45–always wash their hands of anything they inflict. It’s our fault. We’re wrong. We’re believing fake news.  Kinda like the 1% who have never pulled a weed from their multiple gardens saying it’s the poor’s fault, that they need to work harder for their money.

We’re being gaslighted. Know it, and resist.

After the Thirteenth Shock Treatment

I asked for two fried egg sandwiches
and a blueberry milkshake. I got soup.
And it was raining so instead of trying
again to read Middlemarch,

I lay on my side and watched the rain
glide down the window. I used to love
to go outside. My sister was a high school
cheerleader, someone everyone loved

to be around—if anything was good,
it was great. I needed to know. My God
spoke only in doubt. The nerves at the ends
of my fingers never slept, and when my fists

bloodied my forehead, only the comfort
of bandages let me look out across
the parking lot, out over the vans, Audis,
and pick-ups into the trees where I could

see how the leaves held to the limbs.
At home my father stayed alone in his
gardens. My mother carried her knitting
to a neighbor’s and talked about dinner.

–Jack Ridl
First published in Talking River
 

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47 thoughts on “Gaslighting

  1. Ohmygoodness. This is riveting. And powerful. Powerful beyond your masterfully crafted story. And courageous. And truth. And wise. And every person in this country should read this. And I’m going to forward to many many people. And it makes me respect and admire you that much more. And…and…and… Mary

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Kinda like coming out. I hope it’s encouraging to others.
      I don’t know how I made it. And I do.
      Your celebration of a stunning affirmation means everything. I have
      been curious as to why T hasn’t been called out for this.
      I am that I am. And you need to know your part in bringing
      the days to me.
      XXX

  2. I remember when I first studied poetry in a literature class. I had an amazing teacher – Peter Stine. He was, at that time, the creator of, and editor of a magazine called Witness. I remember him saying that poetry points a finger at the world – it says “Look here. And here. And look…here.” I wept too when I read this post – not because of the poem – but because you’ve given me a name for what is happening around us today: “gaslighting” – and how, like that minister, our country has been slowly “terrified” into conversion, to the point where we either break down then find a way to cope (ironically, a healthy response,) or we break down and comply. Of course, either way, we lose our innocence.

    • oh my yes, Peter Stine. Was he ever lucky to get to be with you!
      You who is one who connects us to what matters by always always
      having us “Look here. And here.”

      Yes, either way we lose our innocence. I do like to go with Wallace
      “Wally at the office) Stevens who believed in The Necessary Angel
      and that we can summon up innocence. That’s why there are thirteen
      ways of looking at that blackbird–each a new summoning of innocence.
      XXX

  3. Jack, I have a story. Our grandchildren, from Tennessee at the time, took swimming lessons here in Holland at the aquatic center. Zach did well at first, but then would not even try to go the length of the training pool. After a few days his teacher and I had a talk with him. “There is a black line there. Black is sin and I’m to not go near it.” So much for Southern Baptist Vacation Bible School teachings at age five. But that is forever in his head. Black anything is fearful.

    Sent from my iPad

    • Donna,
      That’s it. That is precisely, horrifyingly precisely, what they do, what happens,
      what lingers. It’s a mugging of our joy, something we’re born with and that can
      be stolen. May Zach discover that black is still beautiful. I’m so so sorry–and
      enraged.
      XXX

  4. Jack,

    Every time I read one of your poems that references this time in your life I want to go back in time and cold cock this youth minister. I know, not very Christian of me, not very pacifistic, like a good liberal Mennonite.

    But folks who think, or pretend, that they have the TRUTH by the tail and convince those with less power, or education, or experience, to follow them….. well, I’m convinced that ranks right up there with some of the worst evils.

    I’m glad you made it through, buddy, and made it through in ways so you could bring beauty to other people, so you could bring kindness and care, so you could teach in the ways you do.

    I’ve been thinking of you plenty. Can’t wait for the new book!

    Have Julie hug you for me. Then you hug Julie for me.

    Your buddy,

    Todd

    • Ahhh my bro/friend. Cold cocking for good is fine by me. But I honor
      your Mennonite heart. Maybe warm-hearted cocking. : )

      I’m convinced too that it’s an evil. I wonder when psychological damage
      will get more recognized as violence. I see it often, and often it’s disguised
      as rigor or demand or tough-mindedness. Or some other euphemism for what it is.

      I am ever grateful for you. Hug Shelly and those lugs, those sons.

      XXX

  5. OMG….dear Jack. Thank you, thank you for this gift of love, pain, wisdom and warning. Have sent it to Dave & Jim…..grateful for your always meaningful part in their lives.

    No one has summed up Trump this powerfully (imho).

    Del (who is sitting here in bed with ☕️) sends his grateful thumbs up to you.

    We love you & Julie!! ❤️❤️😘 Sally Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Okay, you two: LISTEN UP! It was you two who came to the ward, you
      two who never turned away, you two who walked with me back to me.

      We miss you.
      XXX

    • Lou, it’s good to stop the day. Every one of your photographs does
      that and more–each one keeps the day stopped and always with us.
      Thank YOU!
      XXX

  6. Three years after my divorce, I still have compelling urges to try to talk sense with my gaslighting ex-husband. It can seem as if my very soul depends on establishing equilibrium with him. After thirty-six maddening years of wanting an egalitarian marriage, when these residual longings occur, I have to force myself not to repeat useless patterns. Coincidentally, he looks, sounds, and acts like 45. My tears over reading your offering, Jack, have to do grief over the fact that I’m still too shell-shocked from my own life’s circumstances to publicly oppose our nation’s. Thank you for making this part of your work.

    • Sandie,
      Ugh. Yes. Oh my yes. I am so so sorry. One close to us had this kind of marriage. She has recovered,
      but it was so painful to see her lose herself and then walk with her as she came back
      to being who she was. It’s a mugging, a robbery of the cruelest kind to steal another
      and the other’s world. And if I may impose: the US doesn’t need ya. There are plenty
      out there dealing with him. Attending to him is a destructive distraction from attending
      to what deserves our care. Same with your ex.
      On we go, must go, will go.
      XXX
      XXX

  7. Jack, I now read your poems of sleeping dogs and morning coffee and the beauty of evening stars with another layer of appreciation for the peace they inspire. Delicate fruit, they are, of a deep resilience and a deeper Mercy.

    • How lovely, Gayle. So true. When one comes out with Lazarus there is a world one
      can not savor enough, that never grows tedious, that is ever present. Deep Mercy
      Amen.
      Shalom
      and
      XXX
      Jack

  8. Hi Jack,

    I am writing to let you know about how your essay helped me this morning. I woke up early and sat in bed and looked at my mail, via my phone. I read your blog and found it very compelling and healing. I could say that my doctor might prescribe me to read your words “as needed”, or “before breakfast”. What a curious way to start the day. I made my way to the kitchen to enjoy some tea and breakfast and wrote in my journal. “Dear Jack,” I wrote that I need to share with you what was in my heart. “You are love: as a teacher and a kindred spirit. Thank you for your generosity and vulnerability and for your rare gift of seeing the world.” Warmly, Susan Your words stayed with me all morning, as you are a true artist with a keen eye to know what is real. I especially was caught with your line about the 1% ers never pulling a weed from their multiple gardens. Wow. If you recall, we met at the Lost Lake Writer’s Retreat this past fall, where I read about my son and our struggles. I valued your warmth and support ,and your remarkable gifts. You are a treasure. You are the opposite of “gaslighting. You are alive!”

    Much love, Susan

    • Susan! Of course I remember you! My goodness, your courage is indelible.
      What a delight and sweet honor to be in your journal. To know that what
      I try to do has been with you means so much, so very much. Please know that.

      A surgeon once said to me that he fixes people, that artists heal. How I
      hope that can be true for many, if the healing be only that of understanding
      and comfort.

      I was touched by your writing “I made my way to the kitchen” There is a lot
      within that.

      I am glad to know that I am writing to you each week. It is a great sustaining
      support.

      Kinda pathetic, isn’t it that most 1% don’t know the delight of tugging a weed.
      You are one of the great good gentle weed tuggers.

      Thank ye so much
      XXX

  9. Hi Jack,

    I am writing to let you know about how your essay helped me this morning. I woke up early and sat in bed and looked at my mail, via my phone. I read your blog and found it very compelling and healing. I could say that my doctor might prescribe me to read your words “as needed”, or “before breakfast”. What a curious way to start the day. I made my way to the kitchen to enjoy some tea and breakfast and wrote in my journal. “Dear Jack,” I wrote that I need to share with you what was in my heart. “You are love: as a teacher and a kindred spirit. Thank you for your generosity and vulnerability and for your rare gift of seeing the world.” Warmly, Susan Your words stayed with me all morning, as you are a true artist with a keen eye to know what is real. I especially was caught with your line about the 1% ers never pulling a weed from their multiple gardens. Wow. If you recall, we met at the Lost Lake Writer’s Retreat this past fall, where I read about my son and our struggles. I valued your warmth and support and your remarkable gifts. You are a treasure. You are the opposite of “gaslighting”. You are alive!

    Much love, Susan

  10. Jack, I’m astonished, I didn’t know of this history! And, I’m bowled over because something similar happened to me. I was raised in an interfaith family, my dad was Jewish, mom Protestant, and she took me to church, a church filled with family and good, loving people. In high school I got twisted into a Campus Crusade for Christ group at my public school. The young reps of this organization spewed damnation on everyone who had not prayed the Four Spiritual Laws. Kind Sunday School teachers! Ladies of the Missionary Society! Certainly my Dad! This just underscored my already shaky psyche. It left scars. I never thought of it as gaslighting until I read your words today, but that is exactly what it was. I’m so sorry for what you endured.

    • Oh Betsy, yes. The CCforC was/is notorious for attracting these cruel people.
      I’m sorry that each of us endured this. And look at us mow–we look back and
      we go on and we chuckle our way.
      You of the great good heart–such easy prey–and isn’t that a glorious pun!
      XXX always

  11. Bless you.

    We ARE being gaslighted. Truth is being redefined as evil.

    We are victims of wanting to believe that a single human can solve our lack of faith in ourselves. I think that was Jesus – not 45.

    Believe in the people.

    Turn off the news. Real. Fake. Russian. NRA. it’s only about the money.

    Believe in those who know the meaning of Love.

    Believe in you.

    You are Love.

    All is well. Somewhere. May be in Norway. Maybe in North Dakota. Maybe in Douglas or Orlando.

    Or just inside our hearts. Minds are another question entirely.

    Thirteen shock treatments.

    Thirteen questions.

    The Truth is out there.

    Bless you.

    jean

    >

  12. Dear Jack, I am at a loss for words with a welling of angst for the “places” we have been….and now, to know this….As I write I am watching the absurd remarks of our audacious 45….frightening and embarrassing….idiocy has risen to the top…. I am in your huddle….love and hugs, Ginny

    • You and I have been in the same huddle for a looooong time. And I
      bet you didn’t have an inkling that your affirming me way back when
      was an integral part of my becoming and realizing that I’d made it back.
      Love is you, Ginny
      XXX

  13. I didn’t know about this history Jack. I think you are right to assume some possible links between that pastor and your anxiety struggles. I am so glad you can tell the story and perhaps help others avoid the damage. Peace, Jane

    • Jane,
      During my most regretful time, you hoped I’d make it
      and have been with me ever since. It’s not all that
      common. Your abiding kindness stays in this heart.
      XXX

  14. Somehow I can’t get in to WordPress to comment, but I want you to know I cried reading this, too!  Thank you for “coming out,” Peer!   Marianna

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

  15. Dear, Dear Jack! How I wish I could have been a friend to you during the pain and torment of the years of suffering and treatments. I will never forget the image you paint of lying on your side, watching the rain on the window, without even a choice of what you want to eat, while your parents wait out the pain in their own silences. And then the betrayal of being told that God is a God of judgement, rather than love. The gift of your benevolent love for all of creation, and your acute awareness of the sacred nature of each moment in life is highlighted against the anguish and despair you suffered. Your authenticity shines through everything you write, just as it has always poured through your teaching and into the lives of your students. What a context this remarkable poem gives to your gentle steps in this world, to the strength that holds you up under the weight of this world’s imperfections and then goes beyond that to hold up the hearts and souls of so many others. Bless you, my friend!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  16. Thank you Jack. I’ve reread inorder to soak it in more completely. So much I can relate to being an adolescent in the 50’s myself. I’m still sorting much of my life journey out in these growing (aging) years allowing me the time to remember and connect the dots of those earlier years. It provides some comfort (and joy) that I am traveling on a similar path with you. Wishing you well and restorative moments and days in your walk. Light will prevail.
    Warmly, Pete

    • Pete,
      It is remarkable isn’t it, that the dots do indeed connect.
      Thank you for bringing me gentle joy knowing that we are
      walking together.
      Blessings and care always,
      Jack

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