Then and Now

by AJ cross posted from her blog I Am Phoenix

I’m becoming more and more aware that I don’t need to “aware” of my beliefs in order for them to affect my life.

My beliefs shape the way my life is branching out right at this very moment, even if many of these beliefs were formed many years ago and I don’t give them much thought today.

This is the main reason I decided to start this blog in the first place, so I could document the recent changes in my beliefs. I’ve believed a great deal of archaic and toxic stuff for 36 years due to brainwashing and fear. But thank goodness, my spirit finally couldn’t take any more, rebelled, and started questioning a few years ago. During the last few months, I’ve had epiphany after epiphany.

You might wonder how I could actually belief these ideas, once I share them. I do wonder myself!

I can say that I felt torn and unsettled in my mind ever since age 5. I used to sit in the bathtub as a kid contemplating my life and being very confused by it. I do know that I was extremely fearful of my father, church and community.

I craved my dad’s and God’s approval so much, that I was willing to do and believe anything in order to get their OK. Because my dad hated me more than my siblings, I tried harder than them to get approval. My dad told me recently that he disliked me when I was young more than my brothers and sisters because I reminded him of himself, and he doesn’t like who he is.

But back to the cult. The teachings came from Bill Gothard and his Institute for Basic Life Principals. Tenant number one in the faith was to liquefy your brain into mush and simply accept the rules without questioning and without thinking. To do otherwise was to incur the wrath of your patriarchal father. I was so afraid of him that I believed without thinking. I don’t judge myself at all as a child, teen and young adult. I don’t judge my father either. To judge or hate him is to hate myself. And I love myself. I was innocent, a pawn on a chess board.

And now I’ve grown and I’m no longer a pawn. I know and own my own power, and I know it’s healthy go use my mind now. Above all, I don’t judge myself at all for shutting down my mind. I simply look at myself with love.So, let’s begin. Here is a taste of some of the teachings of the cult that I used to believe:

(I included in brackets the main emotion that goes with each teaching.)

Wives and children must be under the “chain of command.” [Fear] This concept is illustrated by an umbrella. The father is the umbrella, and his wife and children are under it. The wife and children are to be in blind submission, and are taught to give up their rights. The father controls them by making their decisions for them and creating constrictive rules for their behavior. His umbrella is two fold in that it represents his authority and his protection of those under him.

The catch here is that if you try to leave the umbrella of “protection” and authority, God will send judgment on you in the form of destroying your relationships, finances, career, health, sanity and happiness. Demons supposedly will come up and plague you as well.

I always worried in the back of my mind if that was true when I escaped the chain of command and lived on my own without a father or husband in authority over me to protect me. I was always looking over my shoulder in a state of fear, waiting for something to jump out and attack me. They say that what you fear is what you manifest. I don’t know. While living alone, I do know I often unknowingly put myself into negative and harmful situations and relationships because I believed I deserved this kind of attack for disobeying God.

Now, however, I know for sure this cult teaching isn’t true, and I have nothing to fear.

I am free!
         I am safe.

~Having friends other than your siblings/spouse is evil, especially non-Christian friends.[Lonely, Isolated] The logic here was that each human was evil, and couldn’t control that very much, even if you try your entire life through fasting, prayer, self flagellation and isolation. Most humans don’t try hard enough to curb their evil ways, and are a bad influence. Most humans don’t have the will power to resist a bad habit rubbing off on them, if they spend time with a person who has bad habits. So it’s best to limit your friends to Christians only, and only Christians who have no apparent vices.

Growing up in the cult rules, we were not allowed to speak to adults or children out in public, even in church unless our father put his stamp of approval on that specific person. That stamp didn’t make it out to anyone, so we grew up very afraid of people’s social advances. If we were caught talking to an unapproved person, we were warned, then given a whipping.

Even today, when I go to try to be friendly, an invisible wall pushes me backwards and I feel this thrill that I’m about to sin, then a physical revulsion like some huge hand is going to come down and hit me.

Over the last few years, I’ve made big improvements in this area. I know other people out in the world are not a threat to me. I am not afraid of “sin” rubbing off on me. It’s true that some people really think they have sin in them, and they act accordingly. You are what you think, and that’s what they think. It’s their choice to believe that illusion.

I have been people deprived for so long, that I am now always eager to meet new people. I am rusty at it because I didn’t practice making friends during my formative childhood years. It’s a bit awkward for me, but even now I am plotting ways to meet more friends. Meeting other people is like meeting myself, expressed in infinite other ways. It’s like expanding myself, and seeing myself from new perspectives.

Socializing is healthy, after all!

~Humans are born sinful when they come out of the womb as a baby, needing to be corrected and saved. [Fear] God is a god of anger, judgment and condemnation. I don’t believe that anymore. I now believe he/she is simply Love, just as I am, just as everyone is. I now believe that babies are born innocent and sinless. Their baby talk is the language of God. It is only as children grow that they get programmed to think that they are “bad.”

You are love.
        I am love.

~As a wife or child, you don’t have a right to question the Patriarch in authority over you. [Fear] A Patriarch answers to God alone, not his wife or child. A Patriarch has a God given right to get angry, threaten and punish you if you challenge or question him. The patriarch is only getting angry just as God gets angry when questioned. A patriarch channels the very voice and will of God, which is absolute and never wrong. A father and husband in the cult can do no wrong.

As a female, you will be under authority and voiceless from birth till death. You don’t have a right to speak up as a child under the chain of command. You can’t leave the home to escape unless you are a male and you marry and become the patriarch. Female children are forbidden to move out of their father’s home until they get married, and usually stay due to the threats and fear of what God will do to them if they don’t stay safe at home. If you marry late in life, you will be under your father’s authority as a grown woman, even if you are 40 or older. Even when you marry, you are only transferred over and are then placed under the authority of your husband.

If a child or wife happens to be in a family with a Patriarch who hurts or wrongs them, they have no right to express pain or questioning. It is the will of God this happens. In this case, the woman or children are trapped and can not speak up because of the fear of God punishing them even more through the Patriarch. The Patriarch has absolute power.

Those brave enough to speak up risk judgment and punishment are told they are being ‘bitter’ and ‘unforgiving’ and that God will judge them for that. The fault lies in them, not the perpetrator.

Even though I don’t believe these cult teachings anymore, sometimes out of habit I find myself being submissive when Christian men have crossed the line and threatened me. I catch myself now though, and speak up for myself.

I have a right to speak up to a man.

I have a right to set up healthy boundaries!

~Hugging is emotionally weak, and being emotionally weak is a sin judged by God. [Coldness] I used to be stiff and felt awkward with hugs. I was programmed to believe they were evil. Ha ha! Can you imagine. I now enjoy them, and like hugging people. My family members still don’t hug, but my new in-laws do hug, and so I really love that.

It’s OK to have friends.
        It’s OK to hug!

~Too much laughter and fun is evil, especially in a church setting. [Grim] Since children at their core are inherently evil, when they ask for something, the best thing a parent can do is to say “no” as a default, unless there is a definite, emergency need to say yes. A good parent shuts down their kids’ requests with grimness and frostiness.

I never did believe these ideas about children. Since I was a child, I have intuitively had a sense about other children, and just didn’t pick up on evil vibes from them. If anything, I’ve sensed wholesomeness and a slew of admirable traits in children that often disappear the older they get. I laugh now as much as I can. I love saying “sure!” to a kid’s question. I don’t have kids, but I’ve been a nanny for a few years, and I’ve taught first grade for a while. If something makes a child laugh and smile, I’m all for it.

It’s OK to laugh and have fun!

~Emotions are untrustworthy, and accessing them even a little too much is giving the devil an edge. [Fear] The reasoning behind this is that the heart is considered deceitfully wicked. The devil’s home is in your emotions when they are not guided by God’s word and his rules. It’s considered best to cut yourself off from as many emotions as you can.

This is one reason that women are not allowed to make decisions, be in charge of any kind of set up except in home matters, and are not brought into scholarly, Biblical discussions. It is thought that their emotions cause them to be the weaker vessel, illogical, unstable, lesser than men.

It is safe to feel your emotions.

Even if they hurt sometimes.

You are safe.

~Asking for help is a sign of weak character, and is a sin. [Lonely,  isolated] Supposedly, a good Christian is a lone ranger who fends for herself or himself, and provides in a responsible way for himself and his family. You are supposed to be able to do everything on your own.  Plus, you are supposed to be a one man village. Complete in yourself, not needing anybody. You can’t afford to ask for help, since other people are sinful and you can’t entangle yourself with sinners. Too dangerous.

From a religious perspective, it was much safer to be a one man band and avoid evil completely. Being fiercely independent is a high virtue, and any slip up in this vital area is a sin.

It used to be very difficult for me to ask for help in even the tiniest detail of life. However, I now know that helping another is a privilege and a joy. I realize that many people are honored to be given a chance to help out. Helping another is as life affirming as helping your own self. As life affirming and beautiful as it is to love yourself, to give yourself a warm shower, to rub lotion on your body, to feed yourself healthy, nourishing foods, to treat your body well.

I am interconnected now with everyone on this planet, so helping another is the same as helping myself and loving myself. This is a beautiful concept. It is a privilege to help another.

Asking for help is a sign
        of strength, not weakness.

~It is beneficial to break a child’s spirit. This way, the child will be less likely to rebel and sin. [Fear] This was not written in cult manuals that I know of, but this is the intent that my parents came away with and instituted for us.

In my family, I was the first to break, as I was the most sensitive. It was too much of an upward struggle to try to carve a safe place to develop my personality. I only had the energy to stay flat and bland, safe.  I was very scared of men, of loud noises. I kept my head down, submissive. It was easier to survive that way.

Children thrive on love.

Children are precious.

Giving compliments is sinful and sneaky. [Coldness] Supposedly, complementing someone made you put them on a temporary high, something you would do to someone because you meant to follow it up with asking them for a favor, or trying to hoodwink them into something. You were deceiving them and putting them off their guard, making it easier for you to take advantage of them. Because every human is sinful and was full of deceit, so giving a compliment meant that you were trying to butter them up in order to make it easier for you to sin against them by asking anything from them.

I now know that I have no sin in me, and give complements all the time. It is so freeing to finally be able to say things like, “I love your dress. It really brings out your color. It is so beautiful.” or “You are so beautiful.”

It’s OK to give compliments!

~The world is not a safe place, and life is difficult. [Fear] This belief stems from the presence of sin in the world. Even though we are forgiven of sin when we repent, we are sinners at heart and will continue to sin throughout our lives. Because you could never expect to fully wipe out your own future sinning, or other people’s sin, there will be much punishment ahead of you and many trials to refine your character. You have to be as vigilant as possible to protect yourself from sinful people and situations that could cause you to stumble, sin, and earn more punishment from God.

Life supports me.

~Being even a few pounds overweight is sinful. [Fear] A  responsible person (despite any medical condition he or she might have) would remain thin through rigorous diet and exercise, and any person who was overweight was by default irresponsible, and therefore sinning.

This line of thinking is ignorant and very harmful to one’s health and psyche. However, I was anorexic during my childhood, teen years and my twenties because I believed this nonsense. I desperately wanted my dad’s and God’s approval, and never got either. But I kept trying and kept hurting my body by depriving it food so I stayed stick thin. Of course, I now know that multiple physical conditions and metabolism imbalance’s can cause a person to weigh more than the next person, and this is not a fault at all. It just simply is.

All bodies are beautiful no matter what the size. I am very happy to be any weight, as long as I am healthy. I am beautiful exactly how I am now and however much I weigh years down the road.

Food is meant for nourishment.
                It is safe to nourish myself.     

~Those who admitted they had psychiatric problems such as depression or anxiety were simply irresponsible because they didn’t pray or fast enough, or resist the devil enough. So it was their fault they had these issues. [Lost, out of control, helpless] It was sinful to see a psychiatrist, and psychiatry is a sinful profession. To be honest, when I was exploring my life options in college, I wanted to go into the field of psychiatry myself just to make sense of my own world, but didn’t because my family had stamped that world as taboo.

My five siblings and I no doubt have struggled with depression and anxiety on and off through our lives, but none of us were allowed to go see a doctor for it. I now believe that psychiatric problems are hereditary, and can be exacerbated by chemical, hormonal and nutritional imbalances. I am intrigued by the world of psychiatry, the way the mind works, the supernatural, quantum physics, the way the mind and body are connected. There is so much I don’t know yet, but it is fascinating. I had a session with a medical intuitive a few months ago that was quite enlightening. I was able to release toxic emotions and unhealthy thought patterns. Soon after this energy work, my eyes were opened and scales fell off my eyes. I saw that I was blinded most of my life by unhealthy beliefs, including the religion I grew up with and the trappings and lies that went along with that religion.

It is safe to trust myself.
                  I am safe to love myself.

~It is necessary to control yourself and others vigilantly. Sin is lurking everywhere. [Fear, control] Our parents kept themselves under control with many rules, and they held us to the same standard. Since young children aren’t spiritually mature and haven’t realized yet the seriousness of needing to watch for sin and control themselves, it is up to the parent to keep the child under lock and key, monitoring their every move in order to catch and correct them. Only when the child gets to a point of very strict self monitoring can the parent ease up.

The control in my household growing up was intense. We were preached at and picked at spiritually by our father in every interaction he had with us. We couldn’t roll our eyes or shrug our shoulders without punishment. When Christian radio was on, if we didn’t listen alertly with much eagerness, or if we slouched, it meant we were apathetic and possibly backslidden, and we would get cross examined and punished.

Even when we tried to give compliments to each other, my father found sin or a sinful motive, such as envy in our compliments and made us admit it and apologize. He sniffed out sin where there was none, and tightly controlled our forced apologies.

Food was hidden, forbidden, or locked up in ammunition boxes with a padlock on it. The orange juice box had a line drawn by a sharpie marker showing the last level of the juice. If when he came home, the drink level was lower than the marking, someone would be punished. My father was afraid we would overindulge, which would be a sin. Food was sinful and had to be hidden. We were all normal size or small as kids, so his fear was a reflection of his own fear.

There was a ticker counter device installed on the front door limiting the number of times we could go in and out of the house. Because too much freedom even in going in and out of your own home would lead to a person getting… dare I say it… getting out of control. Our parents disabled our kitchen phone so that it would make incoming calls, but you couldn’t call out. This was to stop my teenage brothers and sisters and I to not get tempted to talk to other people unmonitored.  Hair gel, underwear that looked too “pretty,” books smuggled in that weren’t copies of the Bible, they were confiscated as tokens of evil.Under cult rules, we were not allowed freedom in basic life routines like eating, going in and out of our house, and communicating with the outside world. God wanted us to monitor ourselves vigilantly, because the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, hidden in everyday guises. You must never let your guard down.

I have major issues with control in my life. Even though I don’t believe the old cult rules anymore, a lot of the time I don’t feel safe if there isn’t tight structure around me. Often I make up impossibly high standards for myself and complex rules to follow even if no one else demands them of me. It’s been tough for me to let go and feel comfortable with less guidelines, but it’s something I’m working on.

   It’s OK to let go.
               It’s OK to relax.

~God doesn’t want you to love yourself. [Fear, Self loathing] If you love yourself, you are not being humble. Also, you are innately evil on the inside, and only the part of yourself that you are allowed to love is that part of yourself that you work really hard to allow God into each day. You can love God inside of you, but on those days, weeks, months or years that you haven’t been working hard to grow God presence, there won’t be much of you to love. You will need to chastise yourself, hate yourself, and let preachers make you feel guilty so that you finally get the gumption to start growing your relationship with God. Once you are sufficiently God filled again, then you have permission to love “yourself.” Even though you’re not really loving yourself, you are only loving God, a Source not innate to you.

I bought into this ‘hating the sinful side of yourself’ idea, and unfortunately I daily saw much more sin in myself than God, so I spent a great deal of time hating myself.

Not anymore. I don’t believe God judges us at all, and I don’t believe in ‘sin.’ This is my personal belief, and I feel free and liberated.

I love myself.

I treat myself well, now!

~Females and children don’t have a right to make decisions. [Self doubt]  The logic here is that children are born sinful and haven’t lived long enough to become Godly enough to make a Godly decision.  Women are too emotional and need a man’s guidance and logic in order to choose what is right for them. Women can’t resist the devil as well as men can, as they are softer than men. Men are the head of the household and are responsible for the major decisions due to their gender and authority.

Growing up, I was not allowed to make any decisions on my own up until I was 24. Because I was a female, everything was chosen for me, and I wasn’t allowed to develop a personality. It wasn’t safe. I was taught to doubt myself, my gut intuition, my feelings.

This cult belief has affected me to this day. I still have major problems trusting myself when making decisions. I often have to write extended pro and con lists, sleep on it for weeks, and even then after I decide, I have often have buyer’s remorse or second guess myself. This is something that I’m working on trusting myself on more.

I can trust myself to make wise decisions.

~Shunning is the best way to deal with a sinful Christian. [Coldness] If I did something sinful and didn’t repent, it was in my father’s right to withhold affection and love from me. To be completely honest, my father began his shunning of me the second I popped out of my mother’s womb, so there was unfortunately not an instance when his shunning ban on me lifted. However, that is another story altogether.

When my sister Thalia was in her mid 20′s and I was about 21 or so, still living at home, Thalia had a baby out of wedlock. My dad threatened my brothers and sisters and I, that we were not to call, email, or visit Thalia from that point onward. We were not to go see Thalia and Gloria in the hospital, and we were not to go visit them at her house. We were not to meet up with them in any location, and they were not welcomed at my parent’s home. They were dead to my father. And God would consider it a sin if any of us disobeyed my father and crossed his wishes. He guaranteed God would punish us and sabotage our lives if we got in touch with her.

The instant I heard that, I hopped in my car and drove to the hospital. From that point on, Thalia and I developed a bond, and she became my favorite sister overnight. I loved Gloria the second I laid eyes on her, and I became a regular at Thalia’s house. Shunning never did sit well with me. Love can move a person far more deeply and surely than shunning can.

Love can move mountains.

For real.

~As a Christian, helping anyone not in the Christian faith, and even helping a Christian who was living in any kind of sin… was prohibited and sinful. [Coldness, Fear] You weren’t to speak to these people, help them, even if they lay on your doorstep bleeding to death. If they were a sinner, then it was God punishing them if they were bleeding and whoa to you if you intervened in God’s justice.

My parents believe that God does not want the wicked to “prosper,” and that God also doesn’t want them to help allow the wicked to “prosper,” even if that wicked person is in need. So when a car broke down at the end of my parents’ short driveway, and the family in the car got out and were scratching their heads, my parents stayed inside watching through the curtains. My father is a car mechanic and has a garage and shop full of tools, but he was not about to offer help. He said he recognized the man as a neighbor who had drunken parties full of shouting and rock music into the early morning hours, so this neighbor wasn’t godly, and shouldn’t be prospered. If my dad helped the man, my dad would be punished by God.

My mom used to try to help people. Once she tried to go out of her way to give a ride to an unsaved woman who didn’t have a ride to work, but when my dad found out, he was insanely furious and yelled at her and told her she didn’t have any Godly sense and how dare she. I got the same treatment when I tried to help babysit the child of an unsaved single mom who was in a lurch. My dad flipped out and read me the riot act for daring to aid an unsaved person.

Heck, my parents even extended this cult belief towards their own children. They also refused to help me on several occasions because I wasn’t attending church at the time and wasn’t acting Godly enough. My siblings get the same treatment. No one is too dear to their heart who can sway them to bend cult teachings.

I now know that I am interconnected with everyone. I am the homeless man in the street, I am the unwanted child, I am the sick daughter who doesn’t have a place to go or job to uphold myself. When I help another, I help myself. We are all one. We are all love. When I help anyone, regardless of their political, religious or socio-economic background, I am helping myself. It’s such a self-loving, self-nurturing thing to do, to help another. It’s like loving yourself.

When you go to a spa, and treat yourself well by getting a back massage, you love yourself so much. What an awesome feeling. Helping another gives the same euphoria, because in essence, you are just really showing love to yourself.

  To help another is to help yourself.

~The cult way is the only right way. Christianity is the only right way.All other ways to God are not right. As such, this gives the Christian cult member status and privileges that other religions don’t enjoy. It elevates the cult member to a higher spiritual status, and opens the door to negative attitudes towards other beliefs.

What’s right for you is what’s right for you,

but maybe not for someone else.

~If a person isn’t a member of your religion, it’s OK to “hate” them. [Coldness] As a Christian in the cult, it was OK to “hate” non Christians. You weren’t supposed to say you hated them, but it was understood that it was OK to interrupt them in conversation, to be rude to them, to fight with them when you try to convert them, because your way is the only right way, and this gives you the right to be unkind to them.

I never got to the point where this belief sat well with me, and I shied away from “witnessing” to other people. However, I was aware that my dad, family and community felt it was OK to make someone mad or uncomfortable when you speak religion to them because your way is the only right way, and the other person should not be given free reign to believe what they want to believe. It’s OK to persecute people who are non-Christians, because they willfully choose not to go the right way.

This is a form of Christian “tough love.” My husband is very religious and believes it’s OK to nag at, raise his voice to, with-hold love from me when he feels I’m not being Christian enough for his liking. If I’m not reading the Bible enough, then it’s my tough luck and this makes it OK for my husband to penalize me for it. It’s OK for him to follow me from one room of the house to the next, hounding me about it. This shows he is a strong Christian man, who doesn’t bend to sin, and doesn’t allow sin in the house. Sin has to be dealt with, even if it means speaking over me, interrupting me, and abusing me emotionally.

Like I said, I’ve always known this line of logic is not healthy, and from childhood I haven’t used these tactics on others, Christian or not. I see now that in any interaction, love is the highest way. I don’t judge Karl for what he does to me in the name of God, because I know right now he is blind. Hating him now would be hating myself. I love him and understand why he’s acting this way. And I do stand up for myself when he tries to abuse me. I always verbally express my lack of approval of his tactics. Recently he apologized for what he was doing, because thank goodness his heart poked him, and he felt it. I’ll tell you about that story later.

But for now, I only see love. I look beyond any title, any religion, any front, and I see love. I see myself in everyone.I see no need to coerce anyone to any side. I don’t believe there is one “right” way. I love each person as they are. I love myself as I am.

  We all deserve love and respect.

~Dressing a certain way such as wearing shorts or tank tops is evil. Listening to rock music was evil, make up was evil. [Fear] There were countless rules on what was deemed evil. Hair gel, magazines, any book other than a Bible or approved religious devotional, any kind of music with a beat, nail polish, jewelry, clothing that ‘clung’ to the body, underwear that was too “pretty” and not plain enough, slouching, not meeting someone’s eye when speaking with them, the list is endless. The evil things if allowed in the house were burned, and the perpetrator was punished.

I half believed these rules on and off for awhile. I now know that God doesn’t see any sin in me at all, and he never did. He sees me as perfect and complete, exactly how I am. How liberating and freeing.

I am free to be me, exactly as I am!

~If a man is turned on by you as a woman, even if you had your entire body covered and didn’t think you were doing anything sexy, it would definitely be your fault as a woman. [Fear, blame, self loathing] You were “defrauding” that man. If a man every has a sexual thought about you, it’s your fault for leading him on, even if, like I said, you were wearing a potato sack. Men are sinless sexually… it is always the woman’s fault if a man desires you sexually. Because sexual desire is a sin, of course.

Young girls are taught what it means to “defraud,” and how they will be punished for doing so. It becomes ingrained in them to be fearful at every moment of the day in case they defraud a man. If a man reports that you defrauded him by doing something innocent like gaining a few pounds and filling out an outfit that normally would hang from your body, standing in a provocative way, or even kneading bread dough provocatively, you would be guilty, not him. The female would be punished, not the male doing the reporting.

Being sexy is a woman’s natural right.

Embrace your sexiness!

~A woman is a man’s property. [Loss of identity] Her sexuality is owned by the father when she is young and unmarried. A father often shares a purity ring with his daughter or signs a certificate with her to show her purity belongs to her him. Fathers choose potential suitors and sometimes arrange the marriage. The father gives the daughter away, and she then becomes her husband’s property. A woman then doesn’t control when she does or doesn’t want children. It is out of her hands. Her body is not her own.

It is in this regard that I’m very relieved not to be in the cult. I could not handle wearing my health down by having children in great multitudes, without giving my body a break to rest and reset. I also know I was given only a smidgen of attention as a kid, and I was only one of six. Children are so precious. They deserve to be given plenty of time and attention and I know from personal experience you can’t give them this if you are focused on being pregnant most of your life.

  I am nobody’s “property”!

~Medical intervention is a sign you are failing to trust God. [Fear] As such, a Godly parent will deny their treatment medical treatment if the need arises. It is better to trust God to provide miraculous healing instead of getting in his way by going out on your own to get something ‘fixed.’ Also, like the Apostle Paul had a thorn in his flesh that refined his character, physical problems in the same way can be God sent chances to refine our character and draw us closer to God. Most importantly, a physical affliction can keep us humble and as long as death is not imminent, this physical affliction shouldn’t be fixed.

It is because of this belief that my dad denied my siblings and I medical treatment growing up. All six of us siblings were denied braces because straight teeth would make us too confident and not humble enough. The scoliosis I had as a child and teen wasn’t treated, the bone trauma I had to my face wasn’t looked into, and  few of my siblings and I are now paying physically for issues that could have been substantially corrected back when we were still flexible and able to be helped.

It is this particular area in the cult where I feel the most anger and passion. I plan to divert this anger into something cathartic and healing though. I will be the voice for those kids who need medical attention, who are being abused physically and on other levels. I will make it right for them so that they don’t have to live in unnecessary, “Godly” pain.

Children don’t deserve physical pain as a gift from God!

~The family unit is structured to ensure that members uphold the rules first, and love second. [Fear]Often times, the rules become the focus and love and compassion is an afterthought. It was more important that we were held to the letter of the law in the cult. If there was to be a choice made as to following the cult rules or being loving and compassionate despite the rule, the rule was chosen.

We followed the rules out of fear of punishment from God. But there was no rule saying that God would punish you if you didn’t love your children or wife, so loving them was overlooked since there was no threat to fear if you didn’t show love.

The routines, habit and rules that had to be followed out of fear were the important rules in the cult.

It’s OK to choose love over the rules.

~The Godly way of parenting is a dictatorship type of parenting. [Fear, Control] Other methods of parenting are liberal and sinful. Children must be governed and managed by fear. To try to lead with love is liberal and gives the devil a foothold, because you are being too lenient. In this type of parenting, the father or patriarch ruled by instilling fear in the children. We were expected to obey first and foremost out of fear of punishment.

However, I now know that leaning on fear as a means of control is unhealthy. It’s good to have guidelines, but I lean now toward parenting based on loving the child first and foremost.

  A child’s first language is love.

~Corporal punishment is necessary. [Aggression, abuse] We were often told that we “needed the devil beat out of us.” Our father had a rod in the basement that he hit us with. My siblings got the rod more often than I did, because I was so scared of it, I froze up around my father. My toddler age baby brother wasn’t exempt, and neither was my 16 year old sister, who remembers being chased around the kitchen table with the rod on occasion. I disagree on so many levels with physical punishment.

To hurt another is to hurt myself.

~You aren’t allowed to listen to your intuition, emotions, or gut feelings. [Loss of identity, Cut off from self] You have to shun them, as they are deceitfully wicked, untrustworthy and shift often. It is Godly and acceptable only to rely on what your physical senses tell you, and the rules. Head knowledge is foundationally important, and heart knowledge is untrustworthy, an area where the devil lurks.

I trust my intuition!

~If you have talents, they are to only be used to glorify God, and not to be used for any other worldly reason or you would be punished. [Fear, shame, loss of identity, cut off from self]  For example, if you had a talent at the piano, you were only allowed to play hymns. If you could draw and paint, you better be painting Jesus, or a church scene, or the Patriarch in the family will come and burn your artwork. The devil resides in any frivolity of life that doesn’t directly involve God, the Bible and prayer.

For example, drawing portraits of people, painting nature scenes, cottages or animals… all of this was an ungodly use of talent, and would be punishable. It might be slightly acceptable if you added a calligraphy print verse from the Bible at the bottom of each painting, but more effort had to go into the verse and much less into the painting. Talents were given only to help you serve God.

Since I was quite young, I’ve thrown out and burned countless drawings and stories I created because they came from my imagination and some of them were deemed too mystical and imaginative. I got so afraid of using my gift because I hated having to throw away what I enjoyed doing, and I hated hating myself for enjoying it.

I ooze creativity and artistic flair… it is embedded deeply in each cell of my body, but I’ve repressed much of it so long and have become ridged and uninspired.  I have alienated myself from what’s innate to me, and this part of me is now pretty much severed. It takes a lot of effort now to reach that deep and uncover even the smallest amount of creativity. I know it’s there, but it is buried so deep and it isn’t second nature like I want it to be.

It’s OK to trust your intuition and be creative!

~If you are “unjustly” punished or abused, you should take it, because the person in authority doing the abusing is simply allowing God to speak and move through him. [Self loathing, worthlessness] Abuse and ‘undeserved’ punishment happens for one of three reasons: either you 100% deserved it and brought it on yourself, you had some unconfessed sin in your life and God was punishing you for and purifying you of, or God was simply doing you a favor and was refining your character through the abuse and punishment. In any case, the abuse and punishment was either your fault, or is simply an excellent gift from God. As such, you should meekly take the abuse, thank God profusely for it, and thank your abuser for being a vessel used by God.

As such, there is no such thing as “abuse” in the cult. It simply doesn’t exist. A better word for abuse would be a “gift,” or “deserved punishment.”

To resist “abuse” is to show a lack of humility and meekness, as well as a rebellion against God and his method of refining you. To resist it would be a sin and would bring even more punishment. Additionally, to show bitterness against your “abuser” would be a sin on your part, as the “abuser” is innocent, simply a vessel of God enacting God’s will.

I now know this isn’t true. Any form of abuse is degrading to the soul, and the soul is so perfect and wonderful and valuable… it never deserves mistreatment, it never will. Every soul is irreplaceable, beautiful and unique, and no soul ever deserves any kind of abuse. To hurt another is to hurt yourself.

    You never deserve abuse!

~If you get sick or go through an intense trial, you should know that trial was sent to you expressly for a reason. It’s because you sinned and deserved this as punishment for some sin in your life, you are being gifted with a trial to grow your character, or it is given by God to bring glory to his name.[Self hate] I don’t know about anyone else, but being sick is not fun, and a loving God would never send someone illness to punish them.

Christians say that we are God’s children. What kind of God would do something like this to his child? Even the most hateful parent would think twice before sending illness to their own child to punish them, make them stronger, or bring attention and glory to themselves.

I didn’t do anything to deserve being sick!

I deserve and accept complete health.

~Asking questions and thinking is sinful if you are a wife or child. [Fear] A Biblical father is and always will be a Patriarch. As such, he is unapproachable, above the law, and is always right. A child does not have the right to question the father.  As a teenager, I was once yelled at once for asking “why” in regards to mean spirited and cruel “Biblical” ideas my father held. My father was shaking with anger and hatred toward me when I asked him “why?” Only one word I uttered. His response scared me so much that I obediently told my mind to go blank, as would any good daughter.

You always have the right to use your mind and question!

~Females aren’t supposed to go to college, as it’s a sinful place, and gives women “ideas.” [Close minded] A woman won’t want to return to ignorance and submission to her husband if she gets ideas in her head. A woman’s sole purpose is to get married, stay at home, and produce many children who can be brainwashed and sent out in the world to evangelize the world and bring more converts to the cult.

This is how it was in my family We were raised separate from the world, overprotected, and taught to reject any book other than the Bible and devotional reading. The plan was for each of my sisters and I to get married off, be the submissive uneducated, powerless wives. We were to have lots of babies with no birth control used. Our bodies were not our own. We were to mass reproduce, allow our husbands to indoctrinate the children, so that the male children in the family would grow up to evangelize others and bring others into the cult, and our female children would grow up to produce more children

My sisters and I knew that college was our ticket out of the cult world. As long as we could get a college education, we could have our own careers and be independent of men. Why, we wouldn’t even ‘need’ to marry at all!  We were sure we were going to college because we needed to stop the cycle of  abuse we saw our trapped mother endure, as well as what we endured. We were re-writing our own history even before it began. We were intervening in our own ‘fates.’

It’s funny. I have three sisters, and looking at their life choices from my oldest to youngest sister, you can see that each of us progressively down the line have gone from one end of the submissive homemaker spectrum to the other.

My sisters and I (l-r) Thalia, Christy, me and Louisa

My oldest sister Louisa tried to deviate from my father’s plan by going to art school, and she wanted to be independent as a commercial artist. She held off on marriage until her late 20′s, but then she fell for this guy, and got married and, well. We all know what happened to Louisa. Bless her heart, she is in the dark. The rest of us went to college, finished our bachelors and masters degrees, and got into great careers such as marketing, teaching, and nursing. Thalia has a daughter, never got married, and is a free agent now with an open mind. I am 36 and don’t have any kids. I remained unmarried as long as I could, and was doing so well by myself, un-abused and free, with a great career and loving life. Then I got sick, returned home and fell back into the world of submission and abuse. However, my youngest sister Christy is doing well. She is a free agent with an open mind, in a long term relationship with a guy she lives with. She isn’t married, doesn’t have kids, and is an independent thinker who stands up for herself

Your mind is a beautiful thing.

I’m finding out now that I’m starting to get in touch with others who grew up in the cult that most women don’t physically get out like my sisters and I did. Most of them are married off to a man in the cult their father chooses. Many of them are not allowed to work outside the home, have never been allowed to get an education past high school, are not allowed to drive, and have an exorbitant number of babies and children running around underfoot. Others are in their 30′s still living at home under the chain of command. Many are abused and are still being told they deserve it, and that it is a gift that will refine their character. This makes me sick.

Knowing what the typical ‘fate’ is for females even today in the cult makes me so relieved that I physically got out for the decade or so I was out.

I’m also proud of myself and my sisters for breaking free and living life as much as we did.

As I’m updating this post, it turns out that the leader of this cult, Bill Gothard, was recently charged with sexually abusing dozens of young women. This is appalling. But the cult is set up so that any male sexual predator in a patriarchal position can easily get away with this and any other form of abuse, be it emotional, physical, psychological or spiritual. The cult is rigged with fear, and the females are too afraid of punishment from God if they turn against one of their perpetrators. The females are brainwashed to believe that they deserve this abuse, and that its from God.

I wish I could swoop down and rescue these females who are still in the cult. I feel so bad that this is still going on. There has to be something I can do.

There is one thing that still bothers me about the cult, and my detachment and healing from being in it.

As far as our father being abusive on several levels, I often think that I would not have minded that much if he had just been a ‘normal’ ungodly dad who was just angry and abusive. But he taught us as young, innocent children that his abuse was God sent and God approved. THAT is what made it so tough to accept and tough to get over. It’s so difficult and messy trying to separate God from the abuse that it feels impossible.. the two have melded together and even a surgeon with their microscopic scalpels would shake their head and say, “The two are one. I’m sorry. I can’t separate them.”

This blog is my record of the seemingly impossible: separating God from the abuse.

It’s one thing to separate God from “Godly” physical abuse and sexual abuse.

But it’s another thing to separate God from the subtle emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse.

The cult teachings give you no choice but to think on some hidden level that God actually endorses these emotions: fear, control, shame, guilt, worthlessness, close mindedness, self blame, isolation, loneliness, coldness, grimness, out of control, helplessness, anger, feeling trapped, powerlessness, loss of identity, cut off from self, and self loathing.

These toxic emotions have been buried in my subconscious for so long. They have directed my thoughts, actions and life direction for quite some time. Only now that I’m aware of it am I at the point where I can let them go. They don’t serve me anymore. They AREN’T Godly!

Some of the emotions have become ingrained habits, and they are difficult to dig out and let go. But I am at least aware of them, and I know they aren’t ‘me’ anymore!

My affirmations:

It’s time to move on! The whole world awaits.

I am safe.

I am in control.

I am free.

I am not to blame for what others did to me.

I am loved.

I am light hearted.

I am sociable and friendly, and it’s safe to be so!

I know how to help myself.

I am infinite.

I am powerful.

It is safe to find out who I am.

It is safe to tune into my emotions and feelings.

It is safe to be creative.

It is safe to let go.

It is safe to trust myself.

I am valuable.

I love myself.

1. http://www.sciway.net/sc-photos/charleston-county/angel-oak.html

2. http://iblp.org/
3. vi.sualize.us
5. spotonlists.com
7. Wiki.how
10. by athenaphoenix1 at http://www.glogster.com/ 
12,,16. anon
13. hug_iStock_000004330225Small
14, 17, 18, 20. by Christina at https://www.facebook.com/iamsooohappy/about
15, 19. photos taken by self

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Read everything by AJ!

AJ was raised in a spiritually abusive cult based on the teachings of ATI’s Bill Gothard. She has five siblings. After enough time AJ developed Chronic Fatigue, Adrenal Burnout and PTSD from the stress of her childhood. Her parents refused to help her in her ongoing health battle. She is married to a man that has recently emerged from spiritually abusive religion and together they are healing and moving towards daily joy! She blogs at I Am Phoenix

 

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

 

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