I have felt the biggest change within myself throughout this last year. It is a good change. I feel stronger yet softer. My eyes are open and accepting; no longer shielded. I realize now that my need for control was a way of running. I kept myself busy, I didn’t want to look up from my work. I wanted to control my world. I thought I had to or everything would fall apart. My world fell apart anyway.
The end of 2017 marks ten years since I left the cult. As the anniversary approached I felt like I was ready to move forward. Moving forward means to me that I am able to separate events from the past and current time. Previously I had been feeling everything so strongly, and with flashbacks and PTSD it was very hard to separate myself from the trauma. Despite this, I had a looming fear that was bigger than most fears I have had. It was the fear of losing my sister. My sister is ten years younger than me and she was born in the cult. Whereas my brother and I were 6 and 7 years old when Mom joined. My sister really seemed to be struggling with thoughts of suicide this year, and I just didn’t know how to help her. I had vowed to always protect her from harm, but how do I protect her from herself? She would reach out to me sometimes, and I knew that was good, but I always questioned if what I said was good enough for her. Was I encouraging enough? Did I say the right thing? When will I see her again? WILL I see her again? I was getting desperate and feeling helpless.
One of the main ideas in the cult is that everyone (in the cult) was a part of God’s family. What this means is that we were taught to blur the lines of family ties. And since much of our extended family wasn’t in the cult, they weren’t our ‘family’ anymore, not really. I was told many times that any family outside the cult didn’t truly love me. I was also told that my Mom and Dad needed help raising us, because they didn’t know what to do with us. so that’s why the authority (pastors, associate pastors) had to insert themselves into our family business. We were also supposed to see other members of the church as our family. There was one couple that I was supposed to refer to as my grandparents. When I was 18 and I moved out, my counsel told me that I wasn’t part of my family anymore. I needed to separate myself from them in my mind and emotionally. It was one of the hardest things I had to do. Even when I lived at home, we weren’t very close, but moving away caused a great divide. Suddenly, we were strangers. I loved seeing them at church events, but we became distant. Because of this, I have come to realize that there is a great gap of time that I don’t know about my brother, sister, or parents lives, and they don’t know about mine. I moved out of their house when I was 18, and we left when I was 24.
In December of 2007, I took a road trip to California. Upon returning, I left the cult.
In December of 2017, I took a trip to California to visit my sister. It was family week at an eating disorder facility. She was admitted in September. I didn’t know what to expect. My brother and I went down together. It was the first time in over 10 years that it was just the three of us. The trip was heart-wrenching and beautiful. I will admit that I was wrong about everything I thought an eating disorder was. My brother and I had three days with my sister. All three days were spent in group sessions, individual therapy, and family therapy. It was exhausting work. We learned about shame, attachment theories, family dynamics, and more. My sister does this work, and more, every day. I am so proud of her and I admire her so much. She pushes herself daily to face the deepest, darkest, and most painful parts of her life. She invited us there for family week, and showed patience and compassion during the sessions and visits.
I would look at her when a therapist or the nutritionist would ask her a question, and she looked exactly the same as when she was three years old. The day my sister was born, she brought with her a great light. As she grew she became funny, outgoing, and charming. The pastors didn’t appreciate that quality. The main goal of the authorities at the cult was to ‘break’ people. Here are some examples of the breaking process that I witnessed of other members and was also personally subjected to: yelling, hitting, public humiliation, late night meetings, shunning, not being allowed to eat or sleep, standing in the corner until you fell asleep, being forced to take off your clothes, only being allowed bread and water to eat outside with the dogs. My sister was born into a world where this type of treatment was normal, and expected. I noticed a change in her by three years old; she was giving up. I cannot imagine giving up on life by three years old.
I am so grateful for this trip to California. I feel honored that my sister let me in, and is willing to show herself and teach me about her. I have trouble, even now, finding words to describe the experience. I had tried my best to do what I thought was right for her all those years, but I had to face the ways that I had caused her pain. We were stuck in an awful cycle, and I don’t know how we survived. I learned so much about my sister and my brother through this trip. We did an expressive exercise in which we had a pretend situation and we said everything going through our heads. I realize that I have no idea what they are thinking, and I haven’t known for a long time. Through those exercises and therapy, we learned it was okay to say our thoughts, and that we need open communication. We love and accept each other. The trip gave me hope for the future. I haven’t had hope for a long time. As a family (including Mom and Dad) we are committed to family therapy.
So, here’s to ten years.