Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why I Left the Convent

(Continuation of Tuesday’s posting . . . )
In the beginning of my convent years, I often felt joy, as sudden as freshening breeze. Yet a certain restless was also present during those eighteen months in the novitiate and the seven years that followed. I strained at the lack of independence. I struggled with responding to bells summoning me to each task of the day. Every minute accounted for. Every moment tied up with obedience. So few choices.
            I longed for the creek that ran through our farm. The creek where I had lazed away my youthful summers. The creek that had no timetable. The creek whose gurgling water summoned me into being.
            Strangely, as the convent years passed, I felt I’d forgotten how “to be.” I became what was expected. Willy-nilly I let go of myself. A coldness settled around me. I felt no emotion. Joy disappeared.            
            Eight and a half years after entering, I left the convent. What happened to all that joy? To living within the holy? To my deep desire to pray?           
            The easiest answer is that I didn’t do well with obedience. I’m stubborn. But the answer to my leaving is more complicated than that. In the weeks and months ahead I’ll explore those convent years.
            Some stories will be, as they were then, laughingly humorous. Other stories have a poignancy that still echoes in me, some forty-four years later. For today, it’s enough to say that I grieved, but I didn’t know for what.
            I first asked to leave just nine months after entering. “You were born to be a nun,” the Novice Mistress protested. No ifs, ands, or buts. “If you leave, you’ll never be happy. In fact,” she added, “you’ll be miserable for the rest of your life.”
            I took her at her word. She was older and, I thought, wiser than I. Who was I to know what was best for me? That thought alone could have been the first clue that I was immature even though I was nearly twenty-three. But did I listen? No. I simply accepted someone else’s tally of me. I’d been doing that my whole life. And I continued doing that for many years afterward.
            It took me eight more years to finally walk away from the security of that convent. Those years hold the stories we’ll share in future postings. Today, I’ll simply address the actual ending.
            During my eighth convent year, I began to hallucinate three women who yammered at me constantly. I taught in high school that year, and whenever I spoke to a student, these three figments listened and commented. They stood in three of the corners of whatever room I was in.
            “What a dumb thing to say,” Anna would scold, her voice so strident that I had a hard time hearing what any student was saying.
            Dodo responded, “I liked it.”
            Dolores chipped in with “Leave her alone. She’s doing her best.”
            Daily they tormented me with opinions. Trying to listen to the students above the din within wore me out.
            Anna never stopped censuring me. I always measured up short for her.
            Dodo couldn’t recognize a mature thought or emotion if it tangoed for her. 
            Dolores tried to arbitrate, but Anna’s know-it-all voice riveted her too.
            In the beginning, I knew hallucinations weren’t “normal.” So I was careful not to show I heard voices and saw invisible, but multiple, Dees. I’d observed others for years and knew what was taken for normal. I produced it now.
            That acting depleted me. I lost considerable weight. Became gaunt. I wasn’t sleeping. Communal prayer was a trial of endurance.
            So I left the convent, wary of others realizing how far down the path of madness I’d already traveled. Wary also that the Mother Superior would cart me off to an insane asylum and I’d be lost in the system. Other nuns were there, soon I might be also. I was surely crazy enough.
                                                                        (To be concluded on Saturday . . . )

22 comments:

  1. I absolutely love the way you described your childhood creek and the influence it had on you. Your description of what convent life was like for you, personally, is so beautifully and poignantly expressed. The way your superior dealt with your concerns and your own silent aquiescence to her apparently superior knowledge and authority, both sad and touching.

    The realisation of multiple personalities dictating your every action, revealing! It must have been quite difficult for you to maintain the charade of commitment to this way of life when your very soul was fighting to be set free. This is an incredibly moving, touching and wonderfully honest post, Dee. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I really am hooked on hearing more of your story, which I'm finding utterly fascinating and captivating.

    I am so glad you found the courage to break free when you did...hopefully, you've never had any regrets about your decision and have continued to fully embrace your life! Imagine if you had ended up in an asylum! What a tragic loss to the world of one of its shining stars, because already it's clear that this is what you are...a shining star, Dee!

    Big hug,
    Des xoxo

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  2. Desiree, I cried when I read your comment. Its reflective tone and its understanding of what leaving the convent meant for me touched me deeply. Thank you.

    In Saturday's post you'll see the word you used--"star." When my college mentor said Saturday's quote to me I felt heart-sick.

    And no, I have never regretted leaving the convent. Nor have I regretted entering. I learned a lot there and met many strong and interesting women who have remained my friends. My path has not always been easy since then, but whose is?

    Thank you again, Desiree. I treasure your words.

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    1. I was in the convent for 18 years and I would have to say that God led me there - it was where I belonged at that time in my life. Later in my thirties I felt called to another path- I left - got married -had children and a wonderful career. In both instances I was where I needed to be at the time - and I will always be grateful to the community who gave me a terrific education - and a lasting appreciation of my faith

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    2. i was in the convent for 18 years - I was where I was supposed to be at the time .At the time I left I felt I was being called to another life experience - another path. I left got married and had two children and a terrific career. In both instances God led me to where I should have been I will always be grateful to the community I left for a terrific education and for developing in me a tremendous spiritual compass

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  3. Dear Dee, I am fascinated by your story. You write so beautifully, so gently bringing us along with your feelings and fears as a young woman, held within those rigid walls. It's hard for me to fathom an existence that is so controlled, I would be rebelling before the week was out. Yet, you say you have no regrets, and that is moving to me, that you treasure what you've learned about yourself where ever you were (and are).

    The voices must have been so frightening, and I agree with Desiree, we are all blessed that you found your way out of the convent before you were ensnared forever. I can just see that as it might have been. And, so tragic.

    I never tire of reading about your life. You are able to reel me in, and I am caught up in wishing I could know more, right now! But, I will wait, however impatiently, for Saturday . . . and the post after that, and more!

    Thank you for sharing your experiences so honestly.

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  4. I am officially addicted to your blog. This is so interesting; I even called my mother to talk to her about your blog. The stories about your convent years should be a book.

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  5. Such a difficult decision, to leave a vocation. I'm glad you made that choice and that your life has been fulfilling.

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  6. I agree with Elisabeth, you should consider sharing your stories in a book. Thank you for sharing this very personal journey with us.

    Best,
    Linda

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  7. I just had to drop back by and tell you that I added you to my list of favorite blogs :0)

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  8. Beautiful. Your courage is so present throughout - from the decision to enter the convent, to the decision to leave, and all the moments in between. Fear is a powerful thing and I am inspired by the way you met it head-on. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  9. Dee,
    This is truly well written. I can feel your confusion and anger and sadness. I can feel the loneliness and the other parts of you fighting to escape and rebel against what you knew inwardly was not your calling.
    I'm so glad you are writing this out. You truly are a treasure and I agree with the others you are talented and should really write this into a book.

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  10. Hello, Dee. I just came over from Melynda's blog. Don't worry--I'm not going to give you a hard time.

    I wanted to tell you what a treasure I think you are & what a great talent you have for making others feel what you felt. I am anxiously awaiting the continuation of this story Saturday &, now that I'm a follower, anything else you want to share with us.

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  11. Desiree, Sandi, Elisa, you two Lindas, Kario, Melynda, fishducky--I'm truly overwhelmed by the graciousness of your comments. I hope that tomorrow's posting lives up to your expectations.

    And I hope that my postings for the next several weeks in which I'll share the seminal experience of my lifetime, which happened when I was five, will draw you in as much as this convent story has.

    I am so grateful that you are finding this on-line memoir of mine interesting enough to read. Thank you.

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  12. Dear Dee--You have obviously had several "callings" in your life. First, the church, then teaching & now writing. I just went back & read a month of your posts. You write beautifully! As I said before, you have the marvelous ability to make the reader feel what you felt. Please consider writing a book. I don't care what the subject is--I would preorder now!

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  13. Dee--Me again! I want to read A CAT'S LIFE: DULCY'S STORY but I can't find it either in Amazon or at the library. How can I get a copy?

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  14. Dee, your story truly is fascinating. As I read, I wanted to speak to that young girl who listened to the Mother Superior. I wanted to say, "She is telling you how to live your life. This is a red flag!" One does have to wonder what would make us think that others had all the answers for our lives when we were young. Why didn't we follow our hearts and spirits more?

    As you got older, I can understand staying. There was security. The world outside must have been scary. That is when it would have been hard to leave. Could we say that in some ways this is somewhat like the cult experience?

    That you realized that your mind was breaking, that you were losing your grip on reality and acted on that realization is remarkable.

    Write on. We are reading.

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  15. Of all the stories I've heard about your convent years, this is the most compelling. I truly can't wait for the stories to come.

    How wonderful it is after nearly 30 years of friendship, that you're still revealing parts of your story and your true self here in this blog.

    What a blessing you are, Dee.

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  16. I have often thought of entering the Dominican order myself. Only after God called me to the "ordinary vocation' of being married, that thought was simply no longer possible, but I still have a great fondness for the Dominican sisters and attend Vespers and Compline at the Mother house here in Nashville a few times a week. I am so grateful for your blog and have added it to my favorites as well. I am looking forward to keeping up with your accounts of life for you in the Benedictine Convent.
    Deo Gratias!

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  17. I am blown over by your story and your beautiful writing.

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  18. This post has left me breathless and shaken. The struggle that you went through to keep your word, to find your way to yourself and the fight to maintain the 'self' that God gave you is so heroic in its scope. Oh, Dee, I am overwhelmed by your ability to convey so clearly what was in your heart and soul.

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  19. i have similar voice after a tense scene in my life.
    control is what this world functions on. control by way of fear. it's harmful.

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  20. I couldn't handle a convent. I'm way too disobedient. Tell me to do something, and I'll probably do the opposite. Obviously, they should have let you go with their blessings the first time you wanted to leave.

    Love,
    Janie

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