Friday, July 01, 2011

When You Leave a Cult...

I guess it has been 5 years since we left, it's so hard to believe.  We live in a different country, have added  another child to our family, and we are different people.  Some of the people we left behind think we're different too but they don't see it as a good thing...

  It's easy sometimes to forget how your experiences shape your thinking and everything you do.  On some days I feel that we are so much freer and happier, and on others, well, I'm still just trying to survive.  Though I don't often comment anymore on the blog SGM Survivors, I have always followed it and speak up now and again, especially if I think my words can somehow be an encouragement to someone else who is leaving (or contemplating it).   I think it's good to remember where you've come from, so I'm remembering.  And I'm thankful.

I don't regret our time in SGM.  We met some amazing people, learned theological perspectives that were new to us, and in the end we crashed and found that God's grace was there to rescue us from the rock bottom. We learned to never trust in the charisma of men, not to be fooled by fine-sounding arguments, not to believe false-humility.  We learned through it all who we really are in Christ, and to NEVER let any human being dictate to us who we are or should be.  I think we learned that freedom is the right and privelege of every single son of God; spiritual, intellectual, and emotional freedom. It's  something that no one can take from us but we can be persuaded and deceived into giving it up. It's something I will never give up again by God's grace. 

And there are some marks left from  all that we went through.  I'm still cynical and suspicious of churches and leaders.  I can't bear even the slightest insinuation of male chauvenism.  I will bolt like a frightened animal at the first sign of someone wanting to put me in a cage or control me.  I don't trust people, or should I say, religious people.  And legalism?  Not on my watch. 

I think as time goes on I grow and heal, but I'm sure I am forever changed in some way.  Life is like that.  Today I re-read the letter I wrote to Aaron a few months after we left the church.  I read it once or twice a year probably to remember.  I smile when I think of all the wonderful people God used to help us and  love us during a time of such confusion and bitterness.    I told my husband I was moving out and leaving the kids behind.  I was afraid I would become abusive toward them because I was breaking down, depressed, suicidal.  I spent my days in bed crying and escaping the house alone whenever possible.  The people we left behind didn't know us because we had spent all our energy trying to be who we were supposed to be, we didn't know each other anymore, or ourselves. 

All I knew was that I didn't fit the roles I had embraced as  "biblical".  I was a failure as a wife and a mother, the very essence of who I was supposed to be as a woman  ( as I was told) and I was miserable being chained to those roles, confined and suppressed for lack of male anatomy.  And every time my mind dared to ponder even the edges of my feelings about it all the guilt would come crashing in on my head in powerful waves, I could feel the sickening weight of condemnation in my stomach.  Because I had been well-taught and I knew that to think these things was evil and proud. How well I remember the feelings of condemnation!  I used to think it was a mark of holiness and humility and worried if I didn't feel it for a moment!   I was addicted to guilt but it was killing me as surely as any drug. 

Aaron and I had lost any sense true intimacy and connection.  All that seemed to hold us together after leaving was the common misery we found ourselves in.  Thank God for the gift of wonderful friends  who had left or were leaving at the same time, we talked for hours and hours processing everything in detail in a way I'm sure anyone from the outside would not have understood.    We were warned about the dangers of anger and bitterness and unforgiveness by many but it was in the freedom of true friendship that we were able to let it all out and deal with it without fear of judgement.  And then there were a few pastors from other places that loved us and prayed for us and helped us to know that not all leaders are power-hungry controllers.  Not all pastors teach and train people to submit to all their wishes and worship them.  Some just love people.  It's true, they are out there. 

Over time, our marriage became a marriage again. As we learned how to be ourselves (instead of trying to be the perfect husband/father and perfect wife/mother) I guess we discovered again that we like each other, the real versions.  When you take the performance requirements out of your marriage, there is room for love again.  There is room to make mistakes and laugh and move on.  And kicking your pastors out of your bedroom doesn't hurt either. Ha.  You see, at first we didn't know how to do anything on our own we were so used to having every detail dictated to us.  How to discipline  your kids, how to submit to your husband, how to control I mean lead your wife, what to say if someone says this or that, how to pray, what to read, how your sex life should be, and on and on....there are always special meetingsto "help" you do everything and anything in your life.  

But we started to figure it out together, the way God intended I think.  We became a team, unified, best friends.  You can't be best friends with someone who is not your equal but we discovered that we were equal and we needed each other.  I wasn't just a slave anymore (gasp).  I'm not saying that Aaron was to blame here, I was just as brainwashed as he was.  I don't think either of us fit in to this pattern and acted contrary to it all the time but we felt so terrible when we fell outside the roles we were taught.

I am rambling...just reflecting...just throwing it out there that it's a hard thing to do to leave any religous/controlling culture, but it can be done!  You can survive it, you can overcome it, you can be happy and free.  Not always happy, not perfectly happy, but you can feel whatever you want, whenever you want.  Yes, you can have your very own feelings and thoughts and words again.  And when you do that, you'll find you start encouraging your husband/wife, children, friends, everyone, to be free too!   And you can read your old good-bye letters and suicide notes and be glad you pushed forward and moved on to greener pastures. There is only one true Shepherd and he won't lead you him.


Dan Bowen said...

Thanks for the encouragement that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Although that meeting I had last year with them was awesome for forgiving them and letting them go of all that bitterness and anger, I still feel ruined for ever trusting a church or leaders and still daily try to throw off the chains of legalism. It's great to know a fellow traveller is making such awesome progress!!

jul said...

Dan, I miss you! You're making progress too. I feel the same way about trusting church and leaders. And I feel there are trigger points, things that set me off or close me down when I may have begun to trust a little. For better or for worse, SGM has left its mark. Hopefully the more negative effects are fading with time and the good things I learned from my experience will stick.

Bethany in mid-MO said...

We were not SGM, but over the years we got deeper and deeper into legalism. I truly thank God that He brought us out of it before I wrote any suicide letters. Now we wait on God for His healing.


Debra Baker said...

What a wonderful journey.

Over and over again, I hear people touched by PDI/SGM speak of roles and the pain of trying to fill expected roles.

I'm glad you're living your life instead of playing a character on the SGM stage.

lydia said...

I love it when you write your bare honest thoughts for all to read! If it weren't for you (and a few others) I would not have made it out in one piece, lol! I've decided, I like messy, it's more real and I think God likes messy too - he's not fooled by the farse of lives trying to imitate their version of godliness to the world! I can't describe the amazing feeling it is to be free to be who I am, think what I want with no guilt and make mistakes as I go along, only learning better for myself and realizing all the more that God simply adores me and I can't mess anything up really, cause He's just loving me beautiful!!!

(can't believe it's been almost 4 years for me!!)