OLD BLOG POST
You know, there comes a time when you feel the need to speak up about your experiences. Then there is a time when you recognise that you probably need to just shut up about it. That usually comes when you realize that there are a lot of people out there who actually don’t give a crap. The ones who do give a crap are going to support you anyway whether you have been through a traumatic experience or not. The ones who actively work against you aren’t worth talking to. It’s difficult to determine who is the right and best person to hear your story. It’s a slow journey.
I have made a lot of mistakes telling my story to the wrong people and for the wrong reasons.
We told one of the Pastors at an extremely large church (founded by ex-MCF members) here in Melbourne about our plight, hoping that we could find a fellowship that would be supportive and nurturing. Now, that was not a sin, and it wasn’t a mistake. We did a very normal thing for a Christian to do. We went to a pastor who by his own confession and trade is a professional carer. We contacted him, he made it clear that he was willing to talk further, and then invited us over to his house for a meal. We just assumed that we had found somebody caring enough to want to help us.
Here, I would like to make a point of saying that in my experience as a christian, I have not met that many pastors who know what they are doing. Too many young men go into the ministry with bright ideas, but no real understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, or level of compassion. Like any of the caring professions, I imagine people get worn down and forget to care for themselves. They get emotionally tired, stressed, dare I say cynical. They get sloppy, bad at what they are doing, and when they should have cut their losses, or looked for some help, they continue on in body while the spirit has left the building.
To the credit of this man and his wife, he listened for nearly four hours to a very intense story. It would have been exhausting.. At some point in our conversation, he must have figured he was either in over his head, or that he just didn’t have what it took to help us. He explained he was on his way to Canberra to some sort of political conference and couldn’t help us right now.. The impression we got was that his agenda was politics, and not pastoring. Now that is another subject entirely, but suffice to say he should not have met with us at all if his attention was focused on his own career, and not his job description. We weren’t part of his portfolio, so he passed us on to ‘somebody who can help you better than I can’. It was just a shame we spent so much time and emotional energy talking to someone who couldn’t help us.. We sent him a few emails after that trying to clarify a few issues, but his attitude was clearly that of somebody who had already decided he didn’t want anything else to do with us. Ok then.
So, he passed the buck. That meant we would have to go over the whole thing again with another complete stranger. Unfortunately, the complete stranger that we spoke to had previously spent 30 years in MCF and was still struggling with the fact that his daughter hadn’t left with him. He was clearly devastated and used the opportunity to spill out his agony to my husband when he phoned him. Still more unfortunately, my husband let drop that we were not attending a church. He told us we would lose our children if we didn’t immediately go back to a fellowship. At that point, we had just had enough. More accusations of irresponsible parenting, or ‘backsliding’ as a Christian (whatever the hell that actually means) we did not need. Besides, this gentleman was hardly in a position to be helping others since he had clearly not come to terms with his own grief on this issue. He was very intense and confrontational. So, lesson learned…you would think. You would be wrong.
Some time later, I made the mistake of telling my story to the administrator of a course that I had taken at my local TAFE college. I was not happy with the actions of a teacher who had some serious issues with misogynistic and inappropriate behaviour. I made some complaints to the administration, (who had confided in me that I wasn’t the first person to complain about this man) wasn’t getting anywhere, and felt that if I explained my background to these people, they would understand why I was felt so distressed by the behaviour of this teacher. I was wrong. I was essentially giving them a reason to not follow through with my complaints. Instead of allowing the issue to hang on its own merits, I sought to give it some extra oomph by explaining my personal interests in attending a college which took some effort to make sure its teachers were not abusing their positions. What happened instead was that my ‘history’ now mitigated my complaints, and actually lessened the potency of my case against this teacher. I became the ‘cult survivor’ with all of the insinuations that carries about my alleged emotional and mental stability, rather than just being a concerned female student. Although they went through the motions of passing the buck from one department through to the next, no real action was taken and I got tired of being ‘wrangled’. In the end, I felt I had exposed myself and my personal history in a way which did not honour myself, or even my own family for that matter, and the information was not treated with respect.
They were not ‘bad’ people as such, but I wasn’t using discretion, I was getting desperate enough to think that if I ‘confessed’ they would support me and deal with the teacher who was behaving inappropriately towards me. The fact is, this is exactly how I functioned at BCF. Confessing your struggles, your most intimate secrets, your bad experiences, your failures is a way of lifting the burden of guilt that you carry with you daily. Apart from that, you are expected to go to the ‘fathers’ in order to be matured as a christian. The more you lay yourself open to them, the greater your spirituality is supposed to be. It doesn’t work that way in practice however, everything you say is taken down as evidence and used against you at the soonest opportunity.
Only other cult survivors can truly understand what you have been through when you exit a cult. The trouble with that is, often cult survivors want to get as far away from the cult as they can, and that means they don’t want to socialize with other cult survivors that much. All you end up doing is rehashing the experience, and it can be ten times as stressful as talking to someone who doesn’t share your background. You are not only living your pain, you are living other’s pain as well. Despite that, you still need to construct a support group to replace the one which was so cruelly ripped away from you, so the process of recognizing and relating to emotionally healthy people is a very complex one. There is no such thing as pre-packaged premium grade materials with which to build a truly supportive and loving ‘family’ to replace the one which you either didn’t receive when you were born, or the one which you thought would do you in its stead, your local christian cult. So you are not only having to use some wisdom in knowing who to talk to, but you need to be able to bounce back from the inevitable disappointments and frustration of coming across people who are either completely incompatible with you (despite their initial apparent concern), or are actually out to use their position to take advantage of your vulnerability. Yes, life is a bitch. Or to put it more eloquently, small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life and few find it. But then, this is all part of the change of attitude I needed to espouse on coming out of the cult. Cults make everything black and white, right and wrong. Life just isn’t like that, and if you have a penchant for easy answers, real life has a way of knocking you back down every time you think you have got it all pegged. But then, I think everyone faces that frustration, not just cult survivors, its just much harder for us because our brains are hardwired to ignore the inevitable anomalies to our world view. When you exit, you have to find another world view. Therein lies the problem.
I was looking for emotional and personal support. I didn’t find it at college, I didn’t find it at the church we went to, I didn’t find it in my family (who are dysfunctional anyway) and I didn’t find it from the counselors I spoke to. Counsellors and psychologists who claim to be ‘good with cult survivors’ generally aren’t. Unless you have experienced it first hand, don’t even think that you know what you are talking about. It’s like a virgin looking up a sex manual and going, ‘yup, know what that’s all about’, and then teaching a sex education class. Not only will you be giving out faulty information, but those with experience are going to pick your lack of it very quickly and any credibility you may have had with the inexperienced is going to fly out the window. You will in short get your bottom kicked very quickly and you will deserve it. Unfortuntaely, nobody kicks the bottoms of most psychologists or counselors, they tend to just not go back to them if they aren’t good at what they do. I think the professionals tend to pass this off with the euphemistic phrase ‘not everyone is compatible’. They fail to see that sometimes they are just not good at what they do. So what’s the answer? When I was looking up scriptures while writing this post, I came upon that old group of couplets from Ecclesiastes 3:
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
What I think is interesting is the line in verse 8, ‘a time to love and a time to hate’. There is a time to hate. A time to hate what is evil. There is a time to tear down, and then there is a time to build. For us, these last four years have been a time to tear down. We have had to tear down the wrong, the evil, the bad, the destructive, the lies, the deceit, the toxic relationships, the friends who weren’t, and the family who had no capacity to love. We have had to deconstruct the world according to Meg and Burnie and replace that with the truth. Truth has to be sought. It doesn’t stare you in the face. If it did, Paul would never have had to be knocked off his horse. We have had our time of weeping, in fact, I wouldn’t like to say we are done yet, I think we have some weeping still to do. We have had our time of mourning, and our time of throwing away, our time for war. Now we are looking at a time to rebuild. Our time for healing from the destruction is now, and that means that we gather the wisdom we have gleaned from our mistakes, the mistakes we have made since leaving BCF, and we recognize that not everyone is our friend. Not everyone even makes a good friend. Not everyone who appears benign is so, not everyone who says ‘tell me your sorrows’ is genuinely good at listening. Not everyone with a title has the attributes of that title, not everyone with a profession is naturally gifted in that profession. I guess this is not exactly a revelation for most people, but it is what we have learned over the recent past.
I am overlooking the good in all of this however. There are people in this world who are compassionate, good at listening, selfless, patient and gentle. They are not as common as they need to be. Finding them takes time and effort, and for every time you think you have struck gold, be prepared to realize that fools gold is always more abundant than the genuine article and you are going to be disappointed now and then. Having said all that, God himself fills in the gaps that people leave. For as many times as you strike out, the comfort of God can give you encouragement which makes up for the frustration. He also gives you the ability to keep going long after you have grown tired of other people. Once you are stronger, you are able to accept other’s inadequacies, and you learn to lean on Jesus more often.
I was going to title this post ‘note to self’, but it applies to everyone I think. There is a time when you realize that the need to tell your story is completely valid, but your story is so important that you make a lot of mistakes trying to find the right avenue for it. You need to talk, that much is absolutely vital. I still need to talk. I need to get past those tapes in my head which still say ‘who the hell do you think you are’ every time I voice an opinion. After the initial gush of talking, when you find your voice, you discover the elegant, subtle and much overlooked virtue of discretion, and recognize that you have the unrestricted power to choose what you will say to whom, and how and when you will speak. It is an unadulterated pleasure to me to think well before I speak, and to make my decisions with the maximum of forethought rather than being hasty and deciding because I feel pressured by someone else. I am even learning the art of the well-timed retort to presumptuous questions; learning I say, not good at.
Telling your story is important, and when the urgency has faded to a low roar, you are more in a position to choose your words wisely. This is a skill learned slowly and carefully, and not one I would insist on for those who have recently come out of abuse. Your need to talk is too great and I wouldn’t want to smother anyone. To each, the wisest course is best discovered in their own way and time.