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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- People left without warning. They were excommunicated and we were never allowed to speak to them again. It was awful and terrifying.
- 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.
- 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.