I had the oddest experience this week, I was erased. Scrubbed out, lifted out of the family tree. Orphaned! I found myself parentless, without that blissful safety net that a warm loving family offers. Thrown out on the streets like a street urchin….oh all right maybe that is a trifle dramatic. Dickensian even. I wasn’t thrown out on the streets like old rubbish, but my image, my visage, all pictures of me were apparently removed from the family home.I like to hope that as they were removed from the mantle and the walls, they were packed in tissue and then hidden away in a safe place so that when my parents wake up, and I mean this in a metaphorical sense, they are not in a coma! Well they are in a cult induced coma but more of that later. I sincerely hope they do wake up, and that I will be returned to my rightful place amongst with the rest of the motley crew that is our truly dysfunctional family.To be honest I haven’t really had a warm and loving family, not ever really. Growing up I was never in any doubt that if I chose a life outside the lines and boundaries which my parent’s faith upheld, then I would be, as Robert De Niro said so eloquently in Meet the Fockers, “Outside the circle of trust.” It’s a long story for a much longer composition than this one, but in brief, my family were recruited by the Jehovah’s Witness cult when I was a one year old. The recruiters or “publishers” as the cult calls those whose job it is to sniff out vulnerable people, caught my mother at a low ebb and the rest as they is history! What you may not know about the Watchtower touting cult, is that when a member, even a family member leaves they become known as an “unapproved associate”, and as such socialization is thoroughly frowned upon, you would lose your privileges within the cult if you hang out with us unbelievers, it shows weakness and may stumble your fellow brothers and sisters, so to be on the safe side and to continue to be part of the pack you will of course ignore, abandon, say adieu to friends and family who follow a different path . If you have been caught out or owned up to impure conduct or you decide to excommunicate yourself, which for many is the only way to get them to leave you alone, you become “a dis-fellowshipped person” and these poor souls lose all contact with their family. There are to be no telephone calls, meals, family meetings, holidays or contact whatsoever, in an attempt to bribe them back to the faith. Yes I know, it’s sick, it’s cruel and it is cult behaviour. But the JW’s believe this to be a loving arrangement which brings us wicked ones back into God’s arrangement!After a few false starts, I left the cult fully, finally breaking free at 23 to begin the long road to find myself, to find out who I was, what I liked, what I was good at, what made my heart sing, what didn’t, and eventually to learn that I am enough just as I am. And here I am at 45 still on that path, and truthfully each day is a gift, a joy, a lesson and fairly often a drama, life is full of those, they add texture and colour, they add depth I embrace the dramas.
And then finally this week another little part of the jigsaw fell into place and I began to let go. To let go of the part of me that was hanging onto the damage that the cult had done to me. The scars that they had left me with.
So I find out that my folks had made the decision at some point this year to put away my pictures, it was a shock, it kind of winded me, we hadn’t spoken since January and that was partly my choice, when your family is in a cult nothing is normal, you don’t have normal conversations, you don’t do normal family stuff like Sunday roasts and Christmas dinner, you don’t go for long walks together or ring up to chew the fat. No, you have no common ground as the normal stuff that makes up a life is considered evil and the work of the devil, so you find yourself making small talk and avoiding any kind of discussion that really means anything. So really, from the age of around 16 when I made my first bolt for freedom, I had been alone and had walked my own path. I had grown up far faster than any other 16 year old I ever knew.
Along the way, I have built a new family around me, my kids, my partner, and my amazing friends. I have always subscribed to the belief that family are the friends we draw around us. And I consider myself to be rich in family, so don’t feel sorry for me.
But that said I did feel sad; not just for me, but for my folks who are locked in the cult. They have lost so much, birthdays, Christmases, family gatherings, weddings which they did not attend as dis-fellowshipped people were in attendance, they have no careers to speak of, own very little and of course, as the end of the world is around the corner they have made no provision for their old age and worryingly they are creeping somewhat quickly into that downward spiral. And as my very, very wise daughter said to me, “They must be really sad, that is why they took down the pictures.” I was proud of her when she said that, there is a kid that is awake!
I clung onto the pain all week, or perhaps it has been for 29 years, perhaps I have been dragging it around with my all that time. A life raft that held me to them, bound in my pain at losing my family, my place in the world. It was so much easier believing that you are special and singled out by God. So much easier not to have to strive, to take responsibility or plan or the future. Letting go of all of that was scary. Being brought up in a cult means that your sense of self is squashed, you are defined in many ways by the rules and limitations that they impose. And yes, I have carried some of that with me into my new life, my need to prove that as a woman I am equal to any man, that I am just as clever, just as strong, just as capable, and it has been a lifelong mission to prove that ” YES MUM AND DAD” I can be happy outside of the boundaries the cult leaders impose. But childhood conditioning is a tough thing to break free from and the scars cut deep and sometimes they weep. And sometimes someone comes along and reopens a wound or pushes the knife in a little deeper.
This week I choose to take back control, or perhaps the more honest thing would be to say to take control, because I never had it to start with in the first place. I was never allowed to have control or shown how to be in control, not safely, not in a grown up way.
I may have created a world around me where I am in the driving seat, the boss, in charge, having the illusion of control but the honest truth is that being vulnerable for me was absolutely terrifying.
This week I dug deep, I sat with this pain, this abandonment which in truth was very, very old, much older than hearing that my pictures had been taken down, maybe it went back to first time I remember hearing my mother say “If you leave Jehovah I will kill myself.” No pressure mum! Be yourself and basically you will kill your mother. Heavy! I sat with all of that and honoured it. I honoured the parents who are lost inside a cult that has stolen their lives, they will disagree, they will say they have been washed clean and have a wonderful future ahead of them, but I see, I know what has been lost, I weep for them, I weep for the family we could have been and the love we could have shared. I dug deep and honoured my pain and began the process of letting go.
I think perhaps for the longest time I have hidden the sadness, sat on it, hid behind understanding how they must be feeling, putting myself in their shoes, my pain, my tears were from my point of view more often for them and what they seemed to be missing, rather than what I was missing.
This week, a wonderful therapist held me accountable for my pain, for my truth and invited me to let go of my need to understand and for them to understand me or even see me. To begin to let go of the need for the cult members to acknowledge my success for them to see my life as being enough!
The letting go has begun, and although it feels good, it also feels sad. I realised that for the longest time I have been waiting for my parents to acknowledge that despite my rejection of their belief system I am a success, I am happy and actually a good person. That as a women I have surpassed everything they said I should be and have become instead who I am. Look Mum and Dad I run my own business, I have three beautiful feisty kids, I have an amazing relationship, I have friends, I write, I help people, I laugh a lot!
It was a comical moment for me that realization, “I was waiting for approval from the loons in the loony bin.” My parents, who sadly are locked up in a fear based faith, too scared to step out for dinner with their daughter in case God sees them and marks them out of his book of life. Was I really holding onto that? Good God!
So I let it go, I saw it for what it was, what it is and I began to let go.
I thoroughly recommend it. Don’t carry the pain around with you, face it, sooner rather than later, and then let it go. Find a therapist a good one, one who will hold you accountable, someone you feel safe with, someone who will look you in the eye and see you, wherever you are hiding and guide you back to your divinity, your wonder, your truth.
And Robert, “Go take your circle of trust and stick it up your Jacksy!”