Category Archives: RecoveringFundamentalist

So…you left an abusive church? 5 Tips to Start Healing NOW. @MarsHill #MarsHillChurch

Your pastor is hunkered down behind locked gates, his only communication with the congregation via pre-recorded video messages. Fifteen of your sister churches are closing. The church you believed in, the pastor you loved, the people you came to call brothers and sisters–it’s all falling apart. With a heavy heart and after much prayer, you decide it’s time to leave. You make a few phone calls. Or maybe you just disappear. Either way, a few days later you find yourself in full-blown withdrawal. You haven’t felt this way since you quit cigarettes ten years ago. You feel desperate. Freaked out. Confused. Depressed. Maybe you’re having nightmares. Maybe you’re doubting yourself. Did you make the right decision? Is God angry with you? Friend, I’m here to tell you–you’re not alone. Others have walked this path. I’m one of them. I even wrote a book about it. I’m here to help you. Let’s start with your immediate future. Here are some things you can do right now to insure a full and healthy recovery…You’re gonna be OK. We’re all gonna be OK. xo. EE.

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1. Refrain from diving into another church. Just like leaving a bad relationship, you suddenly find yourself with a huge, empty hole in your life. The urge to fill that hole is overwhelming. Just wait.

 You need time to heal and recover from what you just experienced. Your soul needs rest. Go to church if you feel that will help you–but avoid becoming involved. Let yourself heal.

2. Write Down Your Experience. As time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember what happened. Especially when it comes to trauma, our brains might try to “block” us from remembering what we experienced. If we don’t write down what happened, it’s easy to fall into nostalgia, reminiscing about all the “good times we had.” Distance makes the heart grow fonder. By writing it down you remind yourself why you don’t want to go back and you identify harmful patterns of behavior so you will avoid similar churches in the future.

3. Seek Support. Sometimes if our spiritual abuse was so bad, we may isolate ourselves. As someone who has done this repeatedly, I can assure you that isolation only makes things worse. It locks us in with our obsessive ruminations. This leads to resentment. We need the support of others to help us process and release our trauma. Seek support through safe ex-members.

If you can afford a therapist, seek a certified professional not just a  “biblical counselor.” Avoid public online interaction (at least initially). Ye shall not be healed via Facebook, Twitter or blogs. Healing takes place offline. However, secret FB groups can be very helpful.

4. Change your phone number, unfriend unsafe people, move out of town. Depending on the severity of the abuse and how close you were to the inside circle, you may need to make radical changes in the interest of healing. Sometimes a total cut-off is necessary. If you are like I was, you needed to cut everyone off (save for a couple safe, trusted friend) in order to re-learn how to live. Being around people who are still involved with the abusive church or who still defend it will trigger old thought patterns and behaviors.

5. Radical Self Care: You are probably burned out, disillusioned and exhausted. Take a FULL YEAR to take care of yourself before you commit to anything new. Many people don’t realize that leaving an abusive church is a major life event similar to birth, death or divorce. After a major life change, we are tempted to act out in unhealthy ways. Perhaps we eat too much, drink too much, watch too much TV or become sexually promiscuous. I can guarantee you that these behaviors will only lead to more pain. Self-care is not self-indulgence. Self-care means prioritizing sleep, healthy eating and rest. Choose one thing to focus on. Perhaps start a gentle exercise routine or choose to eat healthy. Maybe give your mind a break by limiting social media use or turning off your phone. Little steps of self-care lead to big, overall changes. Whatever you choose, don’t overdo it. Remember that you are vulnerable right now and the tendency is to overdo everything–even healthy things. You are learning–maybe for the first time–how to be gentle with yourself. Take your time. Go slow. It’s all gonna be OK.

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How to transform your pain without transmitting it

photoI have a high tolerance for crazy. Also, for pain. A big part of my recovery has been allowing myself to enjoy the good things in my life–despite the pain of my past.

Recently, I realized I have passed on my high pain tolerance to my ballerina–she’s danced on a strained hamstring for three months. Just danced through the pain because she wasn’t going to miss a competition or a recital, wasn’t going to let anyone down.

Well, that all caught up to her two weeks ago.

“No dancing for four weeks,” the doctor said. Jewel winced. That hurt more than dancing through the pain. And now begins a series of visits with a physical therapist, a referral to orthopedics…repairing and restoring before the serious YAGP training begins.

Today, the physical therapist kneaded and massaged and pushed and pulled and Jewel’s face was calm, implacable. I could only tell she was in pain by the slight flare of her nostrils.

“I didn’t know I was supposed to tell her when it hurt,” she explained when we left. “But I’m learning to tell the difference between good pain and bad pain.”

I nodded. Yes, I know this–this sifting the good pain from the bad.

Good pain leads to growth and new life. Bad pain leads to injury and death.

The only way to tell the difference is to be honest with ourselves. There is a discomfort in sitting with our real feelings. It’s never convenient to stop doing what you love and take time to rest, recover, repair. 

I would so much rather distract, escape or numb myself…anything other than sitting still with my uncomfortable feelings.

But daydreaming, disassociating, indulging wishful thinking and fantasies only makes me more unsettled and restless, unable to enjoy my good life right now. In the end, these coping mechanisms bring about longterm pain in the form of discontent.

One of the lingering effects of living in an abusive church for 25 years is that I wake up every single morning discouraged and anxious. My default setting is to believe the world is ending and the temptation is to yield to despair. This is “bad” pain.

I’ve learned that just because I wake up discouraged doesn’t mean I have to stay discouraged. I can get myself up and start stretching my “joy muscle” by choosing gratitude, telling myself what is TRUE about myself and my life. And then I make myself of loving service toward others.

A joyful life is an intentionally reparative life. It doesn’t deny that bad things happen, but it seeks to repair the wounds by choosing joy each day.

It’s annoying, this “joy workout.” It requires effort on my part–every.single.morning. I mean, I’d rather sit on the couch eating metaphorical cookie butter; ie. daydreaming my problems away. But once I’m up and moving, once I’m actively seeking gratitude and joy, once I’m focused on loving service–well, these “good pain” practices crowd out the bad pain–the negativity–and eventually, if I just hang on long enough, I can feel joy seeping into the deep places of my heart and life. I have a good life now. And I’m learning to enjoy it.

This past week my ballerina spent a lot of time in physical therapy. We got through it by talking, cracking jokes and at one point, just being quiet while the therapist massaged out her hamstring and IT band. It was good pain. It was reparative pain.

The good news is that after two weeks of no dancing and 4 physical therapy visits, her hamstring is already improving. The other day she tested out her leg and was able to turn a few exquisite pirouettes. The therapy is working.

Sometimes you learn that not all pain is bad. With God’s grace–and a little bit of reparative joy therapy–pain can be transformed into something beautiful.

Jewel

Why calling for Mark Driscoll’s resignation isn’t helpful to those inside @MarsHill church

Through out my 25 years in an abusive church (you can read about it in my book, “Girl At The End of the World”), many people told me what I should and should not do. My whole life was dictated by “shoulds” and “should nots.” And when outsiders started telling me what I should do–even a “good” thing like “leave The Assembly!”–it just felt like another person trying to control me.

I’ve maintained for years that Mars Hill Church is a dangerous and abusive church. Recently, I went so far as to suggest it was a cult.

But I’ve stopped short of telling Mars Hill Church what to do. Why? Because Mark Driscoll isn’t going to resign just because an outsider tells him to. 

I mean, I understand the good intention behind the recent calls for his resignation. Those of us outside Mars Hill Church have become increasingly alarmed by the stories emerging from exiting members. We are trying to find a way to be helpful and supportive!

But I just want to issue a mild word of caution to those of us seeking to “help”: I remember what it was like to be inside an abusive church and outsiders telling us what to do only made that worse.

If outsiders had called for my grandfather’s resignation, I would have felt happy that the abuses were being brought to light. However, I also would have known that outsiders calling for his resignation wouldn’t make a difference in what my grandfather did or didn’t do. My grandfather wasn’t gonna resign just because outsiders said he should. Ultimately–when my grandfather refused to repent–I was the one who had to make the choice to leave.

I get lots of emails from parents, siblings, friends and lovers all asking me the same question: “My child/brother/sister/girlfriend/boyfriend is stuck inside a dangerous church. What can I do to help them?”

The answer is always the same: you can live your own life and be happy in it. You can be a welcoming, loving presence. But you cannot control, change or force a person to leave an abusive church or relationship. That’s not how life works. That’s not how freedom works.

Ultimately, I had to to make my own choice to leave The Assembly. I often feel that I stayed far too long. But that was my choice. The key to my freedom was that I chose it. And furthermore, I chose it when I was ready to choose it.

Freedom isn’t freedom when others force it upon you.

This is why I’m leery about bloggers and outside media telling Mars Hill Church what it’s supposed to do. Do I think Mark Driscoll is a dangerous leader? Yes. Do I think Mars Hill Church needs to drastically re-examine it’s systems and structures? Yes. Do I believe Mars Hill Church has engaged in spiritual abuse? Yes.

HOWEVER. It is one thing to provide information and quite another thing to start issuing orders telling Mark Driscoll to resign.

When people who are not a part of Mars Hill Church start issuing orders, we are doing exactly what Mark Driscoll does to his congregation: telling them what to do.

True freedom means giving those within Mars Hill Church the freedom to do whatever they believe is best for themselves and their church–even if we disagree.

I, for one, fully believe Mars Hill church members are capable of taking whatever action is necessary. Indeed, I believe their freedom to take action is profoundly necessary in order for true repentance to happen.

Despite the rampant abuses, members of Mars Hill Church can still exercise their free will and hold their pastor accountable. They can protest (which they are!). They can spark massive change from within. They can call for Mark’s resignation. And if that doesn’t work (which, in my opinion, it won’t work because the systems were set up by Mark to serve Mark), well, then they can leave. 

I believe the sincere Christians inside Mars Hill Church have just as much access to God as I did when I was inside my abusive church. God is big enough to find us anywhere. Mars Hill Church members have the same free will I had. I know they can make the right decisions. I trust them with freedom. I don’t need to tell them what to do.

And when/if they leave, they will discover there are many spiritual abuse survivors out here. They are not alone.

UPDATE/CAVEAT: One scenario I do think could be helpful is if an outside pastor or leadership team from a trusted, healthy church stepped in to help Mars Hill. If the broader evangelical community sees what’s going on–then yes, an experienced pastor with good credibility could offer some invaluable help. In my humbly bloggy opinion, Mars Hill could use some of THAT outside help right about now.

Religious PTSD & fighting the darkness with acts of love

photoThe world events of these past two weeks have triggered a significant PTSD event for me. Growing up, our End Times eschatology was closely tied to whatever was happening in Israel. The details of what we believed are fuzzy to me now, but one thing remains: whenever Israel goes to war, I go crazy.

This usually means scanning the news for “clues” about whether this is THE END, desperate urges to stockpile food and emergency supplies followed by an urgent compunction to put my affairs in order lest Jesus return and I have no clean socks to wear because OBVIOUSLY.

Sometimes my PTSD is mild and manifests itself through detailed housecleaning (this past week I powered through all the laundry AND cleaned my room from top to bottom–which was not an entirely bad thing, ha ha). But sometimes, my PTSD goes viral.

This past week, it did just that when, on the same day, I had a devastating conversation with my father (he called me a self-centered and self-indulgent woman) and then I heard the news that Israel had invaded Gaza and also, a passenger plane had been shot down.

Winner, winner, chicken dinn–OH GOD THE SKY IS FALLING.

At first, I was stunned. I continued my morning routine in a daze.

But two hours later, my body broke down.

When this happens, there is nothing I can do but hang on and ride it out.

First came the blinding migraine that felt like an anvil had smashed into the center of my forehead. This was followed by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. I have not cried that hard in a long time. I was balled up on the bathroom floor just hanging on for dear life.

I took Excedrin for Migraine and the headache eased just enough for me to go to work that night. Yep, no matter what is happening, a Mama’s gotta keep going, am I right? So, off to waitressing I went.

I could only hope that the PTSD wasn’t going to last long.

Well, that night, the nightmares and obsessive thoughts started. I dreamed of dead babies and my grandfather roaring at me to repent. When I woke up, the question running through my head over and over and over was: Why doesn’t my father love me? Why doesn’t he love me? WHY? Why doesn’t he….?

It wouldn’t stop. During the day, the anxiety was so severe–everything seemed like a threat–that I got a second headache.

Then the mean voices started: You’re a horrible person. You deserve Hell. Your own father doesn’t love you, how could God love you? Your book is pathetic. You’ve ruined your chances of becoming a “real” writer. Look at how fat you are. You’re disgusting.

I have a friend who once told me: “Send those voices straight back to Hell where they belong.”

The only way I know how to do that is to fight the darkness with acts of love. Burrowed under the covers, I could see that I had two choices: 1. I could let the lies poison my heart and fill me with hatred or, 2. I could choose love–which meant, ACTING from a place of love.

In my experience, love is the only thing powerful enough to conquer my darkness. I was feeling so physically ill, though, that I couldn’t get out of bed. So, I started with words:

First, I spoke these words into the darkness:

“The Lord my God illumines my darkness.” (Psalm 18:28)

Then I prayed this:

“Mary, pray for me.”

Then I said:

“Jesus, have mercy on me.”

I had to say it a bunch of times before I started believing it. It seemed laughable that mere words of love could break the shackle-hold the mean voices had on my brain. Then, I opened my journal to the place where I’ve copied kind words from readers.

I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your courage and clarity
to tell the world the truth. –Amanda

I hope you come to realize what a help and encouragement your book has proven
to be for people like me. Your book is so beautifully written, so relatable and so
so discretely enlightening. –Lisa

You are a passionate, creative, generous, beautiful soul designed by God to tell your story,
your truth. Do not let mean words steal away your spirit. And don’t let mean words
create hatred in your heart. I wish I could tell you in person all the beautiful truths about you. –M.

After reading these words, I asked God to give me an idea for a way to fight the darkness with an act of service. I wanted to do something pure and good.

That afternoon I got the idea to start a ballet fund for my daughter. This gave me something tangible to do and it got me out of my racing, obsessive thoughts. As of today, you’ve donated $1,288 to Jewel’s YAGP prep fund. Thank you!

When I’m feeling this badly about myself, I try to keep a list of all the good things I’ve done each day as a way of reminding myself that I am, in fact, a good person. [I also put together a list of things I do as PTSD self-care. I will share that list with you in the next post.]

And then, there’s this: spontaneous love-gifts from my children. “Mama, we picked this lab-ender for you and tied it up with ribbons. Also, this card. We made it.”

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So, this. THIS is what saves my life: this mothering, this being of service, this being loved.

My children are my reason for living, their health and well-being are my daily motivation to fight the darkness and to make the world a better place. I love them with all that I am. Even little things like a trip to the library or cuddling up on the couch watching “Sophia the First” heals me and gives purpose to my life. Their joy helps me find MY joy. They teach me how to live. They teach me how to love. Motherhood saves my life every single day.

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Mary heard my prayer. She sent my children to comfort me.

Sometimes my recovery looks like a miniskirt, sometimes it looks like a maxi dress. Plus a hat. Or a headscarf. Don’t judge.

Guess what? You don’t just “get over” trauma. When you’ve suffered long-term childhood abuse, it’s not like it goes away. It’s so deep inside you, that sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the pain and the YOU.

This is me telling you that I struggle every day. This is me telling you that most mornings I wake up and my default state is despair. This is me telling you that I have to WORK HARD to think normal, healthy thoughts. I have to WORK HARD to believe new things like: I’m loving, lovable and loved.

This is me telling you that it DOES get better and you have permission to craft your recovery in WHATEVER WAY helps you heal.

And because I want to be honest with you, I’m gonna share what some of my recovery work looks like. This is super embarrassing for me to share, but hey. Maybe it will help someone out there feel like they’re not such a freak show. Because guess what? What happened to you? That abuse you suffered? It wasn’t YOUR fault. And sometimes, maybe you need to slap a maxi dress on it.

So. This is what my recovery sometimes looks like.

Safety

My Safety Shield has magical powers. But mostly, it just makes me feel better.

Recently, I had a particularly nasty “Triggering Incident” which turned into a full-blown, batten-down-the-hatches-we’re-all-gonna-die panic attack. Followed by a week of PTSD symptoms, double-dosage medication. And my Safety Shield Outfit.

Well. OK, I guess it’s not a REAL Safety Shield. It’s a long, billowy dress. I wear it because it covers All The Things.

I have affectionately dubbed it my My Safety Shield. Because when I wear it, I feel super safe and calm. It’s like having a magical shield all around me and nothing bad can get inside.

Because sometimes? When panic blindsides me? When the PTSD is so bad I can’t eat or sleep and have to close all the shades in the house and hide under the covers? Well, there’s only one thing that helps me feel safe. There’s only one thing that gives me the courage to get out of the house and back into my life: Head-to-toe clothing. Plus, a headscarf. Or a huge hat.

It’s like my own personal hug machine. Or a weighted blanket. 

I still don’t know WHY wearing an UBER-modest outfit sometimes makes me feel all better, but it does.

Also, it’s very comfortable.

I can sit, kneel, bend over and sit cross-legged with ease. No more pinching. No more sucking in. No more accidental panty-exposure when I bend over to pick up a kid. Just comfortable, safe, CAN’T-TOUCH-THIS Safety Shield.

Sometimes I pretend my Safety Shield has magic powers like: it makes me invisible or lets me hear conversations happening a mile away. Mostly, I pretend that my Safety Shield transforms me into a “normal” person who can leave the house and do normal things like go to the grocery store–even when I’m in the middle of a PTSD Week.

I don’t like to wear My Safety Shield out in public–mainly because I don’t want to run into anyone I know and have to explain things like: “No, I didn’t convert to Islam, I’m just freaked out the Rapture might happen and I’ve been left behind.” Because AWKWARD.

But sometimes, I have to go out in public, even during a hard PTSD week. Maybe we need milk or food or allergy meds and so, I am compelled to wear my Safety Shield outside.

I gotta say, it’s an interesting experience.

People treat me differently.

Servers and cashiers and bank tellers are more polite. Respectful. The first time it happened, I thought it was a fluke. But after it happened EVERY TIME I went out in My Safety Shield, I realized something about my wearing head-to-toe dresses caused people to behave differently towards me. I don’t really understand that–and I’m not sure I’m happy about what this implies (we live in a systemically oppressive, patriarchal society?)–but it IS true that people treat me differently when I’m swathed in yards of fabric.

And wearing my Safety Shield almost guarantees there will be NO no leering or cat-calls from men. No dudes wagging their nasty tongues out of car windows. No unwanted contact. To be honest, it’s nice. It’s just….calm. Like I can go about my business without feeling men’s eyes on me.

All I know is that sometimes my recovery looks like head-to-toe clothing and a headscarf or big hat. All I know is that it helps me feel safe.

Usually, my frayed nerves and anxieties calm down after a week or two. That’s when I can tuck my Safety Shield back into the far corner of my closet and put on my regular clothes again. Or maybe a miniskirt.

These days, I try to live like I’m no longer a victim–even if that means wearing odd clothes, changing my hair color or just setting alerts on my phone that remind me to pray the Serenity Prayer every three hours.

The point is, I’m fashioning my recovery in a way that works for me. I am no longer a victim to circumstances. I have tools to help me deal with the inevitable triggers of life.

And THAT gives me hope that I AM getting better.

Maybe someday I won’t ever need my Safety Shield again.

 

Top 5 Reasons People Join Cults {hint: it’s not because they’re stupid}

People don’t join cults because they want to join cults. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “Hey, I’d love to join a cult today!” Another misconception is that people join cults because they’re stupid or uneducated. THIS IS NOT TRUE. (In The Assembly, we had plenty of highly educated folks). So, please. Check your condescension. If people KNEW what they were getting into, NOBODY would join a cult.

The reason cults exist is because NOBODY believes they’re in one!

Sure, having a good education (and especially exposure to lifestyles other than your own) might render you a little less susceptible to the glittery, sparkling promises of a cult. But pretty much, if you’re a human being–you can be seduced.

And that’s what cults are all about—seduction. Becoming enthralled.

People join cults because they fall in love with a beautiful dream.
They see something they desperately want or need.
They feel like they’ve found The Answer to life’s problems.

If you’re capable of falling in love, you’re capable of joining a cult.

Only later–much later (preferably after they’re married or otherwise “tied down”) do they begin to see it was false advertising.

Growing up in a cult, I learned one big rule: outsiders only see what we want them to see. New visitors saw well-behaved children, wholesome teenagers, intact families. What they DIDN’T see was that from a very young age, I was coached on how to “reach out” to visitors.

In the aftermath of my book being published, I’ve received dozens of emails from people who remember meeting me as a child. Invariably they comment on how “cheerful” and “outgoing” I was. They remember me hugging everyone enthusiastically. They remember me singing at the top of my lungs during church meetings. These sincere people are shocked that behind closed doors I was suffering near-constant abuse. B-b-but! You were such a HAPPY LITTLE GIRL!

I can only shake my head. Oh, yes. They were seeing EXACTLY what The Assembly wanted them to see.

I was TRAINED to be that way. I was SPANKED if I didn’t behave exactly the way my parents coached me. I had to behave like that because it was survival.

So, why do people join cults? Well, like a successful marketing campaign, cults know how to sell:

1. We Have What You’ve Been Looking For: Do you crave meaningful relationships? Are you tired of superficial pursuits? Do you long for abundance, happiness and wealth?

2. Sense of Urgency: TODAY is the day of salvation! What if you die tomorrow? Will you have ANY regrets???? [SIDEBAR: when I was "witnessing" to people, I would get super frustrated when they replied, "Well, if I die tomorrow then I'll be glad I lived a good life." I was like: Nooooooo! BE ANXIOUS! BE VERY AFRAID! Otherwise this whole formula doesn't WORRRK!"]

3. Sense of Purpose: Did you know God has a Great Plan for your life? Do you really want to miss out on that? Join our cause. God is REALLY MOVING in our generation. Together, we can change the world. [SIDEBAR: this whole phrase about “God IS MOVING in our generation!!” really annoys me. Newsflash, guys. God has moved in EVERY generation. God didn’t suddenly start MOVING once evangelicals figured out how to build mega-churches. Or win political elections. When I was growing up we were all: yeah, Christianity existed and everything. But it didn’t really START until like the 1500′s when Martin Luther nailed a letter to a church door. I mean, THAT’S when God REALLY started moving!”]

4. Sense of Superiority: we are the TRUE believers. We are the PURE ones. We are reclaiming what’s been lost. We have uncovered hidden truths. You won’t find this anywhere else. You might be a nobody in this world, but in OUR group you’ll be special. [SIDEBAR: I often call this "The Special-Ness Syndrome." The more SPECIAL a church thinks it is, the faster I run away.]

5. INCENTIVES!!! Look at all these beautiful women following Jesus! Look at all these godly, spiritual men! You could have TRUE intimacy. No more broken hearts. You will find a wife who respects and serves you. You will find a husband who loves and provides for you. You will find a community of like-minded people who will help you and you will never be alone again!! [SIDEBAR: in cults--as in everywhere else--sex sells.]

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Further reading:
IS MY CHURCH A CULT? 
WHAT NOT TO SAY TO SOMEONE WHO HAS SUFFERED SPIRITUAL ABUSE
IS MARS HILL A CULT?
HOW TO HELP SOMEONE INSIDE A CULT

Top Ten Signs of a Potentially Abusive Church

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is: what are some signs of a spiritually abusive church? My book, “Girl at The End of the World,” tells my story of growing up in an abusive church. But I thought it might be helpful if I shared a list of “red-flag” warning signs here on my site as well. Thank you, as always, for reading and sharing. EE.

  1. Personality Centric: a pastor whose charming, charismatic, intense, persuasive and intelligent personality holds unquestioned sway over his/her congregation. He/she is treated like a celebrity. Not held accountable. Not held to same standard of morality as the rest of the congregation.
  2. Operates Independentlyno oversight, doesn’t answer to an established denomination, there is no way for grievances to be filed or addressed, even in cases of outright abuse the police or civil authorities are not called.
  3. Engulfment: “true members” of the church devote their WHOLE lives to the church, center all their activities around church activities, discouraged to have friends outside the church, family members who express concern about the church are cut off, leaving the church is the same as leaving God.
  4. Busyness: a plethora of required/mandatory-without-saying-it’s-mandatory activities that fill up the weekly schedule, giving time and energy for free to various hard labor projects (cleaning and cooking for pastor’s family, for example).
  5. Stalking: Big Brother-type monitoring is called “just keeping each other accountable.” Calling to “just check in” if a member misses church meeting. Approving clothing, daily decisions, watching online activity for “problematic” opinions and posts–all under the guise of “spiritual care” for the person’s soul.
  6. Coded Language: an ingrown church has developed a special, insider language/lingo that only those who have been there for a long time understand. Sometimes common, everyday words are given different definitions particular to that church; ie. “keep sweet” is a phrase used in some polygamist circles that means women should behave in a church-approved way.
  7. Unrealistic Promises: members of an unhealthy church are often seduced by big talk about all the wealth, blessings and riches God will give them if they just devote their lives to this church. Delivery on these promises is rare. Those who do not experience God’s blessings are told they have “weak faith.”
  8. Courting Rituals: a man must seek leadership approval (above parental approval) before seeking “to court” (or date) a woman, courting couples must follow a prescribed set of rules according to arbitrary traditions established by the church; ie. no kissing until the wedding day.
  9. Shunning: if someone leaves the church, church leadership requires all other members to ignore this person until they “repent.” New church members are told to shun family members who don’t support the church. Parents are told to shun “rebellious” teenagers. Husbands are to shun “unsubmissive” wives. The church comes first in all relationships.
  10. “The Ends Justify the Means:”  a spiritually abusive church justifies all kinds of oppressive behavior by saying they only desire to truly serve and love God. “We’re doing this for Jesus, so it’s OK!” ; ie. spanking children to “break the will” because the end result is a child who will love and serve God for his/her whole life. Be wary of a church that emphasizes “purity of doctrine” over the WAY it treats people. Methods and processes matter. The ends do NOT justify the means.

A tale of Mrs. Judge-y Pants and how she learned that being honest was better than trying to be good

stairsI read a phrase in some 12-step literature recently and it precisely captured the way I’ve been trying to live my life in the last few years: “We are working hard at being honest, not good.” Honest, not good. Oh, yes THIS.

Growing up in a cult, we were ALL about being holy but NOT so much about being honest. (You know you have a problem with dishonesty when you’re more concerned with looking holy vs. being holy). *Raises hand* *Fidgets uncomfortably*

Outward appearances, man. We had THAT whole deal down to a mother-bustin’ science. And I mean that literally: mothers busted their butts (and their mental health) making their families look all holy. I should know. I pretty much lost my own sanity trying to live up to all the Standards of Godliness.

It was a destructive way to live. But it also felt so….addictive. Control: that’s some powerful stuff, right? Having EVERYTHING all figured out. Being 110% certain about God and Christianity and how everyone ought to be living their lives. CONTROL. Control is as addictive as any drug. It’s like believing you’re in charge of when and how the wind blows.

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Ironically, those who worked the hardest at being good ended up as the biggest hypocrites. I’m pointing the finger at myself, here.

Since leaving the cult eleven years ago, I’ve abandoned a lot of Be Ye Holy baggage. Meaning: I stopped trying to be good a long time ago. I took up drinking and swearing. I quit God–for about a week. I bounced around from church-to-church. I went to therapy and went to rehab. You know, THE USUAL.

It’s been a long process of figuring out how to be a whole person.

It started by getting really honest with myself. Can I just say right now that being honest is WAY harder than trying to be good?

I mean, at some point I had to stop blaming the cult for every problem in my life. Note to self: taking responsibility for myself sucks. I would really prefer to sit on the couch eating cakes all day while God–that magical genie I’ve always imagined Him to be–fixes my problems.

But this is not how God works.

As I wrote in my book, Girl at The End of The WorldI heard this story somewhere that when you ask God to move a mountain He says “OK!” And then He hands you a shovel. In other words, you gotta do the work.

The hopeful part in all of this is that I’m learning to do the work differently. Instead of TRYING to be good, I’m working hard at being honest.

When I practice daily, radical honesty–goodness naturally follows.

: : :

sand

In the last two years I’ve been reading 12-step literature and attending 12-step meetings in the (desperate!) hope of rewiring my brain. It’s become really clear to me that even though I left the cult, the cult didn’t leave me.

I have issues.

Inside me there lives a hardline fundamentalist. I call her “Judge-y Pants.” When Judge-y Pants comes out to play, she’s..well, she’s judge-y. She’s harsh. She’s critical. She’s demanding.

Basically, she’s a biatch with a huge KJV under her arm.

For one thing, Judge-y Pants is always in a state of panic. She runs around yelling about the world ending, cashing in 401ks, fleeing to the hills and don’t forget the canned goods.

This is no way to live.

Point is, I got 99 problems and that biatch is one.

So, I go to therapy, pray every day and attend 12-step meetings to pin down my insane, chaotic, flighty brain. I’ve tried drinking and cussing and over-eating and Arguing On The Internet and well, NONE of that never gave me the long-term serenity I so desperately crave.

It DID make me 30 pounds overweight, though. So. Yay, cleavage?

But I want long-term serenity. I’m tired of intensity and freak-outs and meltdowns.

I’m doing things differently these days.

I’m making daily to-do lists, and following a simplified schedule and cutting out anything that triggers my need for action! adrenaline! CHAOS!

crochetBasically, I’m living like an 80 year old woman whose idea of fun is crocheting and watering her potted plants.

 

FYI: living like this? Being all calm and stuff? It’s hard work.
It feels completely ABNORMAL.

: : :

Growing up in a cult, you have this wonky sense of normalcy. Normal was frantic urgency. Normal was END OF THE WORLD-omg-we’re-all-going-to-Hell intensity. I was always living on the edge.

I’ve heard this is similar to kids growing up with alcoholic parents or in deep poverty. You always have to hustle and be hyper-alert because you never know when The End will come. You’re just running and panicking all the damn time.

Even after I left that environment, I didn’t know how NOT to live like that. I didn’t know HOW to live peacefully. Calm felt boring.

It’s taken a lot of therapy, but eventually I’ve realized that I’m addicted to intensity. Even though I hated The Crazy, at least The Crazy was comfortable. I understood it. I knew what to expect. And even though I could see how living on this razor-sharp edge would eventually kill me, I preferred The Crazy.

This is how you know you have a problem: you keep returning to The Crazy even though you know it will kill you. 

Hi, I’m Elizabeth and I’m addicted to chaos.

If you’re looking for me, I’ll be sitting by the pool crocheting.

pool

 

Top Ten Ways to Misuse The Bible {from an ex-fundamentalist guilty of ALL ten}

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The worst use we can make of the Bible is to use it simply as a source of proof verses.
–Matthew The Poor, The Communion of Love (pg. 20)

  1. Read the Genesis account of creation as a science text.
  2. Insist that every verse shall be interpreted literally.
  3. Pick and choose which verses shall and shall NOT be interpreted literally.
  4. Assume your interpretation is God’s interpretation.
  5. Use Bible verses as ammunition in theological debates.
  6. Say: “If it’s not in the Bible I don’t believe it!”
  7. Subject Scripture to an individualistic, Americanized lens; ie. “The American Patriot’s Bible.”
  8. Elevate intellectual assimilation of Scripture over spiritual understanding.
  9. Use the books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation to create charts and timetables that predict The End of the World.
  10. Know All The Words without living a life to back them up.

Top Ten Ways to Use the Bible Respectfully

  1. Read the Genesis account of creation as it was meant to be read: as a figurative story for non-literate peoples, understanding that the point is still the same; mainly: God created the Heavens and the Earth.
  2. Respect the various genres in the Bible and interpret them accordingly: i.e. poetry is not intended to be interpreted literally. However, it IS wise to believe Jesus means what He says in St. John 6 about the Eucharist.
  3. Refrain from picking and choosing which verses to interpret literally; deferring YOUR individual interpretation to the wisdom of theologians who have done that work for you over 2,000 years.
  4. Unless you are God, your interpretation is not God’s. Humility is best served when we preface any statements with something like: “My church teaches…” or “This is what I believe” instead of: “God says…”
  5. Remember that while you may win the theological debate with your battering-ram of verses, you won’t win any hearts.
  6. Understand that before Christians had the Bible, they were Christian. The Bible as a book is a modern luxury for us. But even without it, we can come to a saving faith in Christ.
  7. View Scripture as words for ALL peoples–not just white, Anglo-Americans who vote Republican. Choose a translation accordingly.
  8. Intellectual assimilation of knowledge is ME working, spiritual understanding is GOD working. Remember that sometimes God reveals His greatest truths to children! So, spiritual understanding of Scripture is not about knowing All The Right Verses. It’s about yielding to God’s love and letting God reveal what He wants to me.
  9. Remember that Jesus said even HE didn’t know the day or hour of His Second Return. So, maybe just let go of End Times predictions. What will be will be. And all will be well!
  10. The brightest witness of faith is a life LIVED faithfullyBe a doer of the Word, one day at a time. A heart full of LOVE is far more powerful than a mouthful of words. Love, always.

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p.s. This post will make WAY more sense if you read my book: “Girl at The End of the World: my escape from fundamentalism in search of faith with a future” :)

I’ve gained thirty pounds–oh-my-gosh-did-I-just-write-that-on-the-Internet??? #ElasticWaistedSkirtsForEvah

I’ve gained thirty pounds. I had to write that sentence first because it’s the scariest one to write and I’m in a rip-the-bandaid-off kinda mood. Hopefully, the rest of this post will be easier to write.

OK, and now I’m crying.

Sooooo…..this ISN’T gonna be easy to write? Ok, never mind I’ll just send this post to the trash…NO!

KEEP GOING, EE. KEEP WRITING.

*deep breath*

I stepped on the scale this morning for the first time in three months and honest to God, I TOTALLY thought the scale was broken. I was like: Maaatttt! What did you do to this scale??? It HAS to be wrong!

Matt: “Why are you getting on the scale? Did you WANT to have a bad day today?”

No. I just wanted to know the TRUTH.

And the truth is: my scale is not broken.

I mean, I kinda sorta suspected things were getting out of hand–I haven’t been able to get into my jeans and have been wearing loose, flow-y skirts for like four months–I just didn’t realize HOW out of control I’d gotten.

I stepped on the scale this morning because I finally hit a moment where I was like: I feel uncomfortable. Where did this belly come from and why is it in my way?

So, I got on the scale.

I’ve gained thirty pounds. 

I’m writing that again because CLEARLY I’ve been in a good bit of denial (#ElasticWaistedSkirts4Evah!!!!!!!) and CLEARLY I needed a reality check.

You guys. How is this possible? How is this even happening right now? THIRTY EFFING POUNDS?!

Just when I think I’ve Overcome All The Things and Survived All The Crap–well, THAT’S when I get to work on ANOTHER area of my life???? Seriously, universe??

I‘m so BLESSED with ISSUES that now I get to examine my relationship with food?????

Awesome. Juuuussssstttttt awesome.

YOU MEAN I HAVEN’T ARRIVED???????

I would just like to state for the record that this is entirely UNFAIR.

Doesn’t the Universe understand that I’ve SURVIVED enough crap? Doesn’t the Universe want to hand me a size 2 body without my having to work for it????? It seems like just yesterday I was prancing around in my stinkin’ cute little size 2 dress. Granted, I was also eating mindfully and exercising regularly.

And now, 10 months later, that dress is tucked way, WAAAYYYY in the back of closet and instead, I get to face the awesome truth that I haven’t been exercising regularly and also? I’ve been eating. A lot.

More Truth: I’m an emotional eater.

This past year has had MORE than its fair share of emotions: writing a book, writing it again, writing it a THIRD TIME, editing a book, having my book published, my family entering the Catholic Church, adopting a rescue dog, figuring out my mental health issues and finding a medication and dosage that works for me…

SO YEAH. A lot of emotions. And apparently, a LOT of comfort food.

I am human. I can’t handle all of that stress without SOME kind of comfort. This past year, I chose food.

This is the weird thing: I’ve never been happier. I’m content. I’m calm. I feel like I know my purpose in life. I‘m working my recovery using the tools I’ve learned in therapy and my 12-step programs.

For the first time in my life, I’m not in horrible emotional pain every day. I’m stable.

So, why can’t I be stable AND slender?

Why do I have to be happy AND chubby?

WHY CAN’T IT ALL BE PERFECT? WAAAHHHHHHHH.

Alright. I’m gonna stop whining now. Because. There ARE upsides. For one, cleavage. For two, chocolate. Can I get an amen?

But at some point–and I’m pretty sure THIRTY POUNDS is that point (dear God, please let this be my rock bottom and not FIFTY POUNDS)–I’m gonna need to get back with the program. I need to start exercising again–consistently. I need to be mindful about my eating–which means tracking it.

And I need to pay attention to the deeper issues, here. Because there are ALWAYS deeper issues. The truth is, even when I was at my skinniest, when I looked in the mirror, I saw a fat girl.

Yay, me. I have a NEW issue to work on. Food Sobriety, FTW.

Can you relate? Who wants to join me?? Or just throw some encouraging words at me!!