With the majority Americans depending so heavily on technology, it’s difficult to imagine turning off all modern conveniences for even a day. But for over 300,000 people in the US, it’s a way of life.
You’ve probably heard of the Amish community. To the modern ear, it sounds unbelievable — a community that often lives without electricity, internet, cell phones, cars, or running hot water?
According to one woman, that was her experience for over a decade. Meet Torah Bontrager, a modern-day Manhattanite who grew up in an Amish settlement in Michigan and escaped at the age of 15.
This week, Bontrager shares her compelling story on Unconventional Life: “From Amish-Escapee To Author: How To Powerfully Leverage Your Personal Story.”
Born and raised Amish, a simpler life was all Bontrager knew for years. In a typical day, she “would get up at 6 o’clock in the morning, eat breakfast, do the chores, milk the goats by hand, head off to the 1-room Amish schoolhouse in a horse and buggy for 1st through 8th grade, come home, work until sunset, eat dinner, go to sleep and do the whole thing again.”
Although Amish life may sound quaint or peaceful, Bontrager says it was anything but. She recalls feeling isolated from the outside world, disappointed her education would only carry her to 8th grade, and frustrated she was forbidden from expressing emotions like anger and sadness.
“The day that I graduated 8th grade, that was a sad day for me,” Bontrager says. “That fall, when school started again and I saw my younger brothers and sisters taking off in the horse and buggy down the road I cried… but of course I couldn’t show my mother my tears or that would be considered a sign of rebellion.”
Bontrager always knew she was destined for more. She loved learning and would read any book she could get her hands on. It was through her reading of titles like “Pippy Longstocking,” “The Secret Garden,” and “The Boxcar Children,” where she gradually found the confidence to overcome her circumstances and create a better life for herself.
“These stories all showed children who didn’t have loving adults to care for them, and they struck out on their own, and they survived, and that’s how I knew that I would be ok, that I could leave as a child,” Bontrager says.
Bontrager began planning her escape at age 11, contacting her non-Amish uncle through the community’s phone shed late at night. It took four years for her to finally secure a way out, when her uncle picked her up late one night and the two returned to his home in Montana.
For Bontrager, telling her story has been the greatest force for personal healing. Her message seeks to inspire others to be vocal about their own life experiences and create a culture of empowerment.
Since speaking out, her story has inspired thousands and is about to be published in her upcoming book, “An Amish Girl In Manhattan,” this Fall 2016.
If you’re on the fence about telling your own story, Bontrager recommends you first find others who have shared their stories — read their testimonies, follow their blogs, and learn from them.
“It’s hard to speak the truth when you’re the only one,” Bontrager says, but surrounding yourself with others can help you to find your own voice.
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