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  • Writer's pictureMary Byler

Liberation

Liberation Day!



Let me begin by saying February 16th, 2004, to February 16th, 2024, encompassed a variety of experiences, I can't begin to describe them all or summarize them all into a one-hour recording or a short blog post. When I threw my kapp (head covering) on the road and put that letter in the mailbox I had no idea how I was going to survive but I had a friend who told me they believed I was going to survive. They believed I could learn new skills. They believed I could access the resources I would need to survive in dominant culture society. Even when I didn't believe I could do it, other people believed in me.

 

Twenty years ago, I was terrified, there was a lump in my throat and my stomach bottomed out as I fought the nausea and fought at the idea that I was sinning by escaping.

 

I had to establish my identity first, and people helped me do this.

I passed my GED test in spring of 2004. I became a CNA in 2005. I completed my High School Equivalency Diploma in 2006. I joined the Army in 2006. I completed my associates degree in 2010.

My friends taught me how to drive in the best way, the Midwestern way, and I passed my driver's test in 2004.

 

I went on to take the steps necessary to conceal my location and make as many moves as necessary to remove the access to harass and stalk me.

These steps involved legally changing my name, moving, and more. I found that some steps were more beneficial than others. I also learned how to speak without giving away too much information about my location.

When I was chaptered out of the military for lack of a family care plan, it invoked another shift in how I saw the world. I received a chapter 8 - “involuntary separation due to parenthood” is what it’s called.

 

Furthermore, my name was legally changed. You will not find the name Mary Byler in the archives. The battle buddies I've made from the military have been some of the staunchest supporters and friends I've ever met. Some of the veterans I know have been the most beneficial in helping me make meaning out of life after trauma. Even though our trauma stemmed from different sources, they knew the consequences of PTSD. Some veterans I know have also lent their time and energy to me during some of the darker days I've seen since I've escaped. Thank you, and you know who you are. Keep it moving.

 

I wanted to share a special part of my life with the world, for this liberation day, specifically something that has embodied who I am today and where I came from: my redesigned Amish dress. When my dear friend James suggested I apply to be on Soft White Underbelly - I had never heard of the podcast before. I’d watched a few of the episodes about child sexual abuse before I decided that maybe it would be ok to apply, so I did. I thought maybe I could showcase my remade and beautiful galaxy Old Order Amish style dress I’d drafted the pattern for, based on my own measurements and the style of dress in one of the settlements I lived in. I wanted to share with the world the idea that joy is possible in life after adversity and even despite the trauma that you may have experienced. Sometimes that joy may come from places we might have never dared to dream could exist.

 

I sent Mark an email and we spoke. I shared my dress and asked if it would be ok if I wore my dress for the interview. I also asked if the interview could be released in February for sure, but specifically Feb 16th is my liberation day and I wanted this to be a celebratory kind of  interview, as in twenty years later, here I am. There is joy in life.

 



Amish Dress at Prom
Prom, 2023

I don't know if my goals were entirely accomplished, but I do know that I also wanted to wear the dress to represent the group of Amish born or raised who come to The Misfit Amish events. They asked me to wear it.

It is ours. It represents us and how some of us love color, art, and creativity, we are diverse and human in our representation.

In fact, the yarn I was crocheting with (and many who know me, know I often crochet during interviews and conversations, I love deep and meaningful conversations) was a gift from a dear friend of mine which helped me as it felt comforting to feel it as I crocheted, the perfect weight and texture for me to stim, too. My Amish-raised friend sent me a box of yarn in January. I carefully selected the soft yarn that happened to be soft, and perfect stimming material against my skin. I loved the feeling against my fingers as I was being recorded.

The earrings I wore were another gift - from a trafficking survivor, Joy Alona whom I met at a Christmas Market in 2021. Joy started making these earrings out of ground up papers from her life experiences documented on paper.

During this interview, I was visually and physically reminded by wearing the earrings, the dress, and the yarn  - I am not back there.

However, an unexpected thing I encountered was being deeply uncomfortable with Mark - and don't take this as an attack, I am a survivor and I like to think I'm thriving in life. I have friends. I can hold a job.

But the discomfort partially came from conversations wherein I felt stereotypes of Amish came  across in simply the initial questions asked.

Hear me out though, the world often doesn't know they are stereotyping Amish because it's simply the way Amish have been portrayed in media of all sorts. Comedians and novelists have long profited off comedy and  portrayals of  Amish as simple, stupid, cognitively impaired, and unrealistic, which is far too often how our lived experiences get measured.

Even so-called experts have written about us in academic journals - media of all sorts have perpetuated narratives about the Amish that are half-truths, and some are outright lies. We are simply people, from a different culture who also happen to have English as a second language. I don't think this is Mark's fault, I’m not here to throw blame specifically, but that lent itself to an uncomfortable beginning for me. Another thing was sitting on the stool, it was backless and somewhat shocked me to be honest at my internal reaction. I felt like I was back in an Amish church service for several hours, which in reviewing the video I can see it affected my body language during the interview. The cushion, however, reminded me I wasn't back there. The dress with accessories made it easier to maintain my composure throughout the interview, even when the straight pins started poking.

Let me explain. In many ways I can manage a lot of my trauma responses with physical coping skills and internal dialogue skills. Physical tools like the dress, earrings and yarn being a symbol of freedom and joy in the world made it much easier to discuss the things I wanted to discuss on my terms.

Often, when folks interview trauma survivors, they expect and almost demand for us to trauma dump which in and of itself is a LOT. This was not the case. I also didn't know Mark at all. That was a challenge for me. It was different. I did not feel obligated to delve deep into the trauma I’d experienced, and I didn't want too either. I didn't feel rushed to keep talking when I needed to sort out my thoughts and have a moment. I felt like I could take my time and I am grateful for that. I appreciated the lack of invasive questions about the trauma I experienced.

Sometimes, when someone interviews me that I know decently in professional and personal realms, I'm able to engage in a different way with a different connection - for example Shelise on Cults to Consciousness is a survivor as well. Our conversation and connection were vastly different than what I experienced with Mark. Similarly, a conversation I might have with a reporter might be vastly different from a conversation with any of my friends at Into Account vs any of my friends or even my colleagues. Lastly, when I present something with slides etc. in a professional capacity, I may speak differently than if I were at a rally speaking. I also wouldn't address a group of soldiers the same way I would address a group of civilians. Sometimes you can tailor information to the audience you wish to reach. Be concise and specific, but careful to refrain from overgeneralizing.

Joy is allowed to engulf you and fill you up.

Giving yourself permission to feel joy.

The covering is a nod to a cousin of mine who wore coverings in that style. This one was a little too fancy for our settlements since it was a two-way pleated kapp.

This was about the meshing of two cultures and two worlds; how difficult it can be to swing the pendulum from one side to another completely. However, there are things embedded within different cultural traditions that don’t go away.

The dress made it easier to speak in many ways. But then the backless stool I felt like I was sitting in Amish church, and I was doing the unthinkable and speaking, which for anyone unfamiliar with the type of Old Order Amish I was, women were not allowed to preach or even lead songs during a church service.

But then the cushion reminded me

The issue of Amish men speaking for women is bullshit. The ways people speak over and for Amish women is garbage.

I wanted Amish women to feel represented by this video.

 I think that the dress that I drafted off my measurements and the style of the last settlement I lived in, and specifically made it slightly "net in die adning" is something saying: this is mine.

I have rights.

You have rights.

We have rights.

Our voices deserve to be heard.

Our voices matter.

Being a guest on Soft White Underbelly was an honor and tribute to the last twenty years since I escaped. A shout-out to all the folks I've met along the way. A way to recognize both the joy of escaping and the significance of the consequences of exiting a high control religious group while sharing some of my joy in life today.

We are enough.

PS. For the folks wondering about my child, I am choosing to keep information about my child private, as their whereabouts and life are not for public consumption. Thank you for respecting and honoring that.

 


Amish Dress at Prom
Going to Prom, 2023

Freedom, BJK
Freedom, BJK

 

 

 

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2 comentarios


Kitch InFLA
Kitch InFLA
17 mar

Hey brave sister…. Keep that passion and that drive. This great big horrible world needs you.

Me gusta

Kathryn Anjin Harper
Kathryn Anjin Harper
17 feb

Thank you for sharing your story on SWU. I felt your discomfort, and I appreciated how you paused to gather your thoughts. I felt soothed as I watched you crochet. I know I don't know you, but I am proud of your courage and resilience. Your indomitable spirit that forged a way out. Thank you for being here.

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