Friday, May 5, 2017

Walking in the Light that we have {ten things about what it's like to grow up in a cult}



The other night I met with some friends and I mentioned that I grew up in a cult as part of the discussion and of course my friends wanted to know more. It was hard to find the words in the moment. But I have been thinking what it means to me to grow up like that and how it affects how I view life. I don't know if I really want to write about this, but oh well, here's a few random thoughts about growing up in a Christian cult.


  1. I often say I had a sanitised childhood. This is because we didn't have tv, go to the movies, listen to music or read books. There is a whole lot of cultural references that I don't get and I'll never catch up on that one.
  2. We didn't socialise. We went to church, we went home. We did chores, went to school etc. Sometimes I'm socially awkward, maybe it's because of my upbringing but maybe it is just who I am anyhow! 
  3. It was really really really lonely. Loneliness that felt like it would kill you. To be so alone and so isolated. To have no one to share life with, no one to discuss life with. I can't even begin to explain how awful that was. That's one of the worse things I think about my upbringing.
  4. We wore funny clothes. This is the easiest thing to talk about. We didn't wear trousers or t-shirts and we were always dressed modestly. We didn't cut our hair. 
  5. We wore dark colours. I have a memory of being in the car with my mum and looking at all the wattle trees flowering in the spring. I said to her, look God must like yellow because it is everywhere. She said, but He didn't want us to wear it. (It's ok mum I would have looked awful in yellow anyhow xox)
  6. We had a pretty shitty education. The girls were going to be wives and mothers apparently and so we did lots of clothing and textiles and home economics. The worst part about that education for me was that I was always being told that I wasn't good enough, not smart enough. We had no benchmark so I believed it. Turns out I do have brains but it took years to learn that. This is why education is such a precious gift to me.
  7. There was a lot of punishment. Because of the nature of cults, there is a strong focus on power and control. There are a lot of ridiculous rules and consequences if you break them. These days I hate being punished. I particularly can't cope if someone shuts me out, doesn't talk to me or similar. To be honest I'll do almost anything to stop that from happening. It is probably the biggest thing that I still deal with because it means I'm a complete pushover when it comes to conflict.
  8. People left without warning. They were excommunicated and we were never allowed to speak to them again. It was awful and terrifying. 
  9. I was never good enough. That's the point of a cult. To make sure that you feel that way. To this day, it is super easy for me to feel like that. Self doubt is probably the second lasting legacy that I have.
  10. When you grow up in a cult, you grow up with a definite knowledge of who is in charge (and it isn't you). Once you come out of that, it is really really hard to trust others. This is because you trusted these people and then found they were fallible. 



We used to hear the leaders talk about people who "walked in the light that they had". What they meant is that those people didn't have the knowledge that we supposedly did. But with the gift of hindsight, I can see that we also were walking in the light that we had. We were taught the rules over and over again. They became part of who we were. I don't blame my parents or my younger self. The nature of a cult is that they get you when you are young and/or vulnerable and a Christian cult has the added draw card of a charismatic ideology. My parents were both young and vulnerable with a strong desire to find faith. They were just in the right place at the right time to become part of something which appeared welcoming and inclusive.

It took me a long long time to find my way to being a whole person after I grew up. I'd like to think that my past doesn't define me anymore. It shaped me for sure. I think it made me a strong, resilient person. I learned compassion. I learned to endure the hard things and I learned to hold on in those times. Everybody has a story. It's not good or bad, it is just what it is. This is my story. It is my past but not my future. I have hope in a future for myself and for my family. It's going to be good.

12 comments:

  1. Hugs! Thanks for sharing your story!

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  2. Childhood is something we have little control of , even as an old bird i still find my childhood haunts me , but it was what it was . So long as you continue to move forward with little stumbles and steps back now and again you grow as a person

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  3. I'm so curious about your childhood, I'll be honest. The details you share about your life (at any age/stage) are a precious gift, and for that reason I'll never ask for more. Your final words are so bright, reminding me of Jeremiah 29:11. Here's to us all walking in a brighter light now, that will only get bigger.

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  4. beautiful , tears come to the eyes as I hear, feel you Deb. you write beautifully. For me I now have excitement finding who I am, what I believe . Getting to know me. It can be awesome and can be scary. I hear that I am unique , have great honestly and a specialness that others dont have. Maybe with some of the weirdness it has also made me a little who I am with a lot of depth
    too. Hugs

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  5. Your story really resonates with me as my mum grew up in Wellington in a very exclusive Christian cult. It has impacted me and my sisters as we grew up. It's not easy. Good on you.

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  6. Hey Deb. I am always interested when you write about it. I had a flatmate who left a Christian cult in CHCH and several of my church friends also left. Some as adults, some as children with their parents. Some were linked to glorivale, some in the stages when it was at cust. It is always interesting hearing someones story and trying to understand all the unspoken things. Although I have been a christian since I was 21 I am often challenged about how do we love and accept everyone where they are at. I think a lot after you post and have thought deep and hard about your post on your faith at the moment. I struggle to find a church that meets my faith and remind myself that we are all seeking hope and comfort of Christ and none of us are perfect, therefore no church will ever be perfect and they will make decisions or do things I dont like or agree with. It is all a balance. You are amazing and very open with your thoughts and feelings and that empowers others, don't ever stop. Love Karen

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  7. Deb, I have been reading your last few posts and not commenting. Because it's too painful. My faith is so broken, it feels beyond repair. I didn't start going to church until I was 16 but it was very much Us and Then. We were going to heaven. They were going to hell. And if you backslide, you are going to hell. Like real hell that the Bible talks about where you beg for a drop of water forever and ever and have total separation from God. I struggle now because I am pretty sure that's where I am going. I don't feel God's loving presence. It is one of the reasons I suffer from debilitating depression and anxiety.
    I wish I could come to some sort of peace that God really does love me/us and we are not simply pawns in His greater plan to defeat evil.

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  8. Thanks for sharing Deb. One of the things I see as an enduring part of your legacy is how to walk graciously with the hurt others have caused you. This is such a evidence of the beauty of who you are and the love of Jesus you embody. Thanks for being my friend - you are wise AND clever, and you are enough for the story you are called to be. xxxx

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  9. Wow Deb. Amazing, we take for granted our so called normal child hood. You are amazing and thank you for sharing such a deep personal thing. Respect

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  10. Would you ever consider writing a book?

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  11. Hi Deb, that is fascinating! You are amazing to have come through it so open-hearted, open-minded and bright. Given all you have gone through lately, and the fact you are in a 'searching' space, you might find Pema Chodron's books helpful - she comes from a buddhist perspective, she is a buddhist nun - but her work speaks to anyone. I return to her books again and again when life gets bumpy, my favourite is 'When Things Fall Apart'. Best of luck with all that is on your plate, Helen

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  12. I hear you as I grew up in a "Christian cult" too. There was nothing very Christian about it in my opinion. I was five years old and extracted myself when I was 32 or thereabouts. Thank goodness my husband supported me and left shortly after me. I left my family, my friends and started again and am eternally grateful to come out of the other side of it. Being in that kind of environment totally screws with your mind in a way that cannot be understood by those who have not experienced it. You are Deb Robertson. Who you are as a person is not defined by a cult, a broken relationship, being a single working parent, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a work colleague.... You are you and that in itself is one of the most important things to remember. As we stand alone as ourselves, we have value for what we are not what we think we are expected to be or what others expect us to be. Coming from a cult environment, to start believing we have value as people just because we are here on this earth and for no other reason, takes a long time to feel comfortable with. I hope that you find a place and space where you are totally at peace within yourself, knowing deep within yourself that you are OK!! Take care and be very gentle with yourself. Anne xxxx

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