I’m starting this blog as a sort of journal for myself to be able to see whatever progress I may make in recovery from christian fundamentalism and also b/c I’d like to do my part in raising awareness on a topic that isn’t very much understood or acknowledged and help people who have no one around to talk to. I had a great deal of trouble finding the right support for years and a lot of it had to do with not quite understanding what the hell was going on with me or realizing what I had been through.
It’s been my experience that most people aren’t aware of the difficulties ex-fundamentalists face when leaving their church. They think we just became unhappy and left and life went on as usual. Perhaps some people are capable of doing that. However, I was born into fundamentalism and left when I was 15 on my own. The only thing I ever knew was that the world was going to end soon and though I was “saved,” it was far from enough to be one of the 144,000 “true christians” to escape Armageddon. The pressure to measure up to what I was told were God’s laws was enormous and even today, about 12 years later, the pressure to not make mistakes, in general, still plays out in my mind in various ways and creates anxiety that can go as far as being almost disabling.
I also experience PTSD due to the trauma of having lived in a state of constant fear those last 3 years when I joined a crazy youth group and also due to the death threats, being held hostage, stalking, parental abuse, loss of support, etc I experienced after I left. My entire outlook on life that I had grown up with suddenly became a lie and I found myself not knowing who to trust or what to believe about the world. I certainly didn’t think I had anyone to turn to, so I began relying on an eating disorder and drugs/alcohol, which was almost fatal for me. There was a 4 year period of time when I began traveling and working all over the country, never staying in any place for longer than 6 months. I did this to escape going home and to try to escape myself. There were suicide attempts, intense depression, rehab, psych ward stays, and a sense of hopelessness that went on for years as I didn’t think I would ever be a normal, functioning adult. Many labels were given to me by the medical community, very few making any kind of sense, though I did have a very hard time expressing myself and couldn’t recall my cult experiences very well, I just had this looming sense that something very bad happened. Today, it’s still hard to get my thoughts together when talking about things that are bothering me, and in some way I still feel guilty or wrong about being honest that way, so I prefer to write. I do think it has to do with growing up in an environment of not being able to talk about negative feelings and having to keep a lot of secrets.
Though a bit extreme, this story is far from uncommon for people who leave. Many people face far worse things than I did. It wasn’t until last year that I started remembering what happened to me and that’s when I started experiencing the PTSD full on. I had been in school in PA and was doing quite well, better than I ever had been doing in life. I finally had a grasp on a sense of safety, something I hadn’t really felt before, and my body responded by saying it was time to process…everything.
Three months ago I moved to NYC and have recently found a therapist who specializes in treating former cult members. I also found my support network in the last place I ever thought I would even step foot in….church. (I know. I’ll explain later…that could cover an entirely new post.) A few amazing friends I had met prior to moving who don’t completely understand, but are willing to listen and that goes a long way with me. Then there’s the assistant pastor I meet with about once a week who helps me understand a concept of God that’s very loving and completely blows my mind b/c I’ve never heard any of it before and I thought I knew all about Christianity. Turns out I don’t know very much. I get challenged to answer questions (like, use my brain) and read things for myself. Things that sound really basic, but is new to me in this environment. I was so scared to start these meetings (though they were my choice) but I am starting to enjoy them and it helps that this pastor is more like a mentor than authority figure and maybe one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met. It’s changed how I see church leaders, people who regularly attend church, and God. It’s been a very healing experience so far and I’m just getting started.
I will not be using this blog to promote Christianity, as I know how harmful and off-putting that is. However, there may be times when I write about experiences with these people. This is my path and I want my writings to be honest. Feel free to comment on anything and share your own experiences (hopefully I am not the only person who ends up reading this site.)