In this series: Part One | Part Two | Conclusion
One household. Three cults. Twenty two years.
Twenty two years more than I would wish on anyone.
“I’m angry because I’m alive, because life hurts so much and I can’t hear the good things. Because my purpose is merely to glorify god and I can do that perfectly in heaven. It’s sick, but it’s true, and I have to deal with it. But I don’t want to. I just want it to all go away. Do I want to die? Not really, I’m not ready to, I just want to be with jesus. I’m tired of the tears.” – Journal entry
Leaving it all behind took a total of four years.
Cult is a strong word to use, and it’s especially difficult to assign to a group you’ve been subject to.
Something I find amusing about the three groups I was in is each of them had their own, “Here’s why we’re not a cult” speech.
Reminds me of a proverb in the christian bible, “The wicked flee when none pursue.”
Here are a few of the signs of a cult shared among all three groups:
● The leaders are always right; hierarchical and authoritarian power structure.
● Use of guilt, shame, and excommunication to manipulate and silence group members.
● Suppression of dissent, you must change your beliefs to conform to the group’s beliefs.
● Newcomers need fixing, the leaders believe they are entitled to know everything about you personally.
● Black and white thinking, contradictory messages, group specific language.
● Insistence that this group holds the source of truth; unquestionable dogma.
● Elitist and isolationist; denigrating other religious groups, and personal attacks on critics.
I don’t know how to live, how to feel. I want to be real, not put-on. It’s just about impossible. I’m so good at being fake, playing the game. Being good enough. I don’t want to be just good enough. – Journal entry
Institute in Basic Life Principles – 12 years
IBLP is a seminar and publication based cult, through which parents and/or churches absorb teaching. Bill Gothard was the long-standing leader of this cult. He stepped down after it came to light that he had been taking advantage of young girls for decades.
Of all the destructive ideologies my parents picked up from Bill Gothard, one in particular regarding bitterness was used to justify any and all abuse toward their children. Interestingly, if I take a direct quote from Gothard, it isn’t quite the reasoning my parents used, rather the root they manipulated:
“When offenses are left unaddressed, bitterness often destroys relationships. Favoritism, disappointments, and misunderstandings are frequently causes of bitterness. …By your example, lead your children to maintain both a clear conscience and loving interaction in the family.” – Bill Gothard, The Rebuilder’s Guide
In practice, this principle translated to a cycle of abuse: Abuse would occur, parent confesses, and the child must respond with express trust and affection.
If the child becomes withdrawn, or exhibits any sadness or fear, this is shown as evidence of bitterness. This accused bitterness is in turn deserving of punishment and abuse, and the cycle continues.
It seems like dad doesn’t want us as friends, we don’t behave good enough, but I know from experience perfect never happens. It’s never enough for him, so why bother? He doesn’t want me anyway, I’m not good enough, and I never will be.
…I know somebody is asking why I don’t say something. Tried that. It doesn’t make a difference. He know’s what he’s doing, and it’s just my fault. You give up hope after a while. It says you can’t be loved until you’re perfect, and you can never do that anyway. – Journal entry
I applied for my first real job at the local fabric store after my father more seriously threatened to kick me out, though not the first time he’d made this threat. I had no social skills, no diploma, and no driver’s license. Amazingly, they hired me. I was ecstatic. I had an incredible learning curve ahead of me; learning to talk to people, pluralism, how answer a phone, so many things.
“I don’t remember when exactly the shy little girl slipped into my life, but I remember where. She was quiet, reserved, and dressed for the wrong century with long flowing hair and dresses. She was quirky when you got to know her, quick with a side snark, and sharp as a pin intelligent. We at the store became used to her quickly (homemade fudge had a little to do with that) and thought of her as a little sister. Her family came in a few times, mom, dad, brothers, but no one was quite like her. Something seemed off about the family. A stillness, a caution. Something hid behind the big green eyes of the girl, but I couldn’t figure out what. As a manager, I was pressed against the wall of deadlines and corporate, so wasn’t able to get a moment to think as it was. She kept on working and blowing everyone’s socks off with her brilliance. And silence…” – A
I continued living with my parents, I couldn’t afford to move out. Life at home got worse, and I didn’t have the ability to cope with it.
There’s so many things I know that are inside of me and I don’t know how to get it out. And more than anything I need a reason to live. Some days are worse than others and I need something for those bad days. When the feeling of adrenaline is so bad I can hardly concentrate at work. – Journal entry
My job became my safe place, where I got away from everything at home and did something I had become good at. I made friends with people that weren’t religious, something criticized in my world.
“I remember when you first started working there, you were so quiet and shy. It seemed like you had no idea what the outside world even looked like, let alone how to live in it. You had your long hair and very sensible long skirts, no piercings or anything. After a few months, you really started to come into your own. You were talking more, and it turns out you were super friendly! No one knew because you never really talked much. That’s when I started learning who you really were. Sweet, kindhearted, and funky as hell, haha. I remember when you got your ears pierced, and it was such a huge deal for you.” – J
In a moment of reflection, I wrote the following:
So what have I learned? …Life is not worth living. Maybe I ought to do it anyway. That tears heal, but it’s not always easy to cry. That saying what I think and feel does not cause the world to implode. That me is a hard thing to find sometimes. That real friends are found in strange places. That any relationship void of honesty suffers. A life with secrets wanting to be told becomes unbearable. A life without hope isn’t. – Journal entry