#68 The Journey to Recovery

The Journey to Recovery

“I years had been from home,

And now, before the door,

I dared not open, lest a face

I never saw before

Stare vacant into mine

And ask my business there.

My business, — just a life I left,

Was such still dwelling there?”

Emily Dickinson

 

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I finally finished reading the republished and re-edited blog in September 2017. My intention, when shuttering the original in 2010, was to not look back again at MCM. My life in 2010 was busy both professionally and personally. I had said what I needed to say about MCM and cults.

I was done with it, I thought.

It surprised me, then, when the Editor’s email appeared in my inbox asking would I consider having my blog republished. This perplexed me.  How could a shuttered ten-year old blog about a cult, gone now some thirty years, be of any relevance to anyone?

But the Editors persisted with their argument that the blog did have relevance today. Their replies to me included links to the craziness of CJ Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries, the disaster of Mars Hill, and the insane churches that grew from the debris of MCM; pastored by questionable characters I had long forgotten.

With some hesitation I granted the rights to edit and publish this blog.

One of the conditions of given was that I would not be involved in any correspondence with readers, nor would I write any new posts (except the “Last Chapter”). Of course, having read and edited my blog, the Editors knew my weak spots (!) and soon I was corresponding with a number of blog readers, (including a few old friends). I began rethinking my entire MCM experience and what it meant. And that re-thinking had me writing once again, as has been my habit.

But, as all must in ten years, I had changed since writing the original blog. Re-reading some of my original posts (even in edited form) causes me to cringe, especially as regards the middle players in MCM, including Marty and others. For they were, no more or less, both victims and victimizers like the rest of us.

In addition, based on front page comments from readers, that went straight to the editors, I soon realized that something was missing from the blog.

That missing something was advice, or at least, a summary of the struggles I faced when breaking free from the mental shackles of MCM. About the only advice anyone could garner from my story (as written) was they should combine a delightful, and strong, Christian girl with two left-wing atheists, stir, sprinkle lightly with Bible Studies, and serve warm.

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“Time not only heals, time reveals.”

Karen Salmansohn

Recovery Advice for an Ex-Member[1]

Now in my late fifties I see that time is the great healer and, as Karen wrote, it is also the great revealer.

The older I get the closer all events seem to draw near; including my childhood, my college years, my wedding, my pending mortality, and my experience in MCM. Although only five years or so in length, my time in MCM coincided with my formative years, those years that in many ways are the crucible where our our future selves are formed.

I wrote in the original blog, “I have learned that we make our choices and live with them,” but I no longer ruminate about what would have happened had I given my MCM recruiters the boot that day. Time has worn away that thought.

I have the benefit of being out of MCM for thirty something years. I now realize that without MCM I might not have met Sissy, never gone to work for MPI where I learned so much from my mentor Mr. Morton, and never had my beautiful children. Although I could never go home to my nineteen year old pre-MCM self, neither would I want to.

But still the question persists (and was sent via the main page comments to the editors by a number recent readers), “So Tikie, how did you recover from MCM?”

Of course the answer assumes that one actually recovers from a cult experience. I don’t think this is the case exactly. I would liken it to a battle wound, the kind suffered by my father in the Korean War (a wound to his shoulder). It was long healed by the time I came along. But, on  cold mornings it ached even some forty years after the event. Thus my father’s wound never actually went away.

Neither has mine.

Professional Help

So I suggest that cult recovery is much like recovering from a severe wound or an injury. Time is the great healer for such injuries. If this wound analogy is applicable then the first thing someone should do after leaving a cult is to seek professional help from a therapist, just as one would seek help immediately from a physician if hurt.

At the time I left MCM seeking professional therapy would have not been acceptable to me or my parents. But had I done so, I could have saved myself much loneliness and grief.

Reading/Learning

The second step in recovery is to read about cults and how they work. I remember reading Margaret Singer and Janja Lalich works in the mid 1990s (pre-internet; I found it in Barnes & Noble)[2]. I literally could not put it down. It exposed, and explained, the process and experience I had been through at MCM. Not only did it bring that understanding it also showed me many other people had almost my exact experience. Incredible as it may seem, in this age of instant information, I actually had little idea of exactly what it was I had been through. Another most helpful book for me, just after leaving MCM, was George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Read during the depths of my post MCM despair it helped me begin to see the true nature of MCM and Bob Weiner.

Of course the internet is now a great source of help. I am certain that breaking off the mental and spiritual shackles of MCM would have been much easier had it existed at the time of my leaving.

Support

A support group and socialization, Sanger and Lalich agree, is critical. By that they mean at least one person that the ex-member can speak to frankly about their experience. But for many group members, just after leaving the group, there is no one left that they can share their true thoughts with.

This was a most difficult issue for me. I thrive on social interaction and, when I left MCM, it is no exaggeration that I had not a single friend left in my life. I was blessed to have two loving parents, but that simply was not enough. Even if I tried to share with them my thoughts, they had no context to help them understand the situation as I saw it. I am certain I was clinically depressed for the first year post MCM, although my mania for work probably disguised this condition from both my parents and myself.

It was only chance (or God’s provision) that I met Sissy. Sissy changed everything for me. It changed because of her kind nature and wisdom, but it also changed because I took the huge risk of telling her EVERYTHING, right from the start. Call it luck, or God’s blessing that:

a)I had the courage to tell her everything I was thinking, as insane as it seemed to me;

and that

b)I picked the right person to talk to.

You may recall before unburdening myself that I thought, “…if she really knew what was going on in my head she would run out of the restaurant screaming and yelling.”  This self protection, engendered by shame and guilt, is very common among ex-members. In some respects, it is a continuation of the thought control mechanism of the group.

In my own case I had convinced myself that if I revealed my conflicted thinking people would consider me crazy and reject me. This same sense of shame and guilt can keep ex-members from reaching out to build new meaningful relationships. I am not sure where I would have ended up had I not met my future wife Sissy about a year after leaving MCM. Her kindness and commonsense cut through much of the thought restricting concrete that MCM had poured around my brain. She was neither condescending, or overly cautious, as we talked about my MCM involvement and its continued effect on me. She saw my condition as a problem to be dealt with, of course, but she never treated me like some nut-case person to be pitied. For that kindness I will always be grateful.

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Some Practical Issues Post Leaving[3]

Explaining a Cult

Even explaining the group can present problems for ex- members. Especially those who were in a group that subsumed them and left them with no practical skills after exiting. For example, there were full-time MCM pastors without a college degree. When MCM exploded, and without marketable skills (other than fundraising and navigating the politics of MCM), these ex- members found themselves in trouble. Even those with a college diploma might have had to explain long gaps in their résumé to perspective employers, or to those with whom they want to build a relationship. This is why help from a trained therapist is so important.

Many ex-members carry a sense of shame at having been involved in such a group and, at the same time, a counter-intuitive sense of guilt at abandoning the group. Figuring out how to explain this gap, and to talk sensibly, and unemotionally, about the group, is a skill that has to be learned. I was lucky because I told my (future) employer, when I turned down their first offer, that I was going into mission work. They never saw it as anything more than a one-year sabbatical when I got back in touch with them. I was doubly lucky that I had a marketable skill, an engineering degree, unlike many MCMers who dropped, or who flunked, out of college.

Panic Attacks

I am not ashamed to admit during the first year after leaving I experienced panic attacks. I would not have called them that, nor recognized them for what they were. But occur they did, brought on by triggers like Christian music, the idea of even going to church, or the chance hearing of a radio sermon. You may recall from my blog that certain music or words would bring tears to my eyes and constricted my breathing. This panicked feeling I experienced induced more feelings of guilt and shame which, in turn, induced even more panicked paralysis. I can still remember sitting in my car before walking to Sissy’s dorm for our first evening together. With my hands gripping the steering wheel and my heart pounding I briefly considered driving off and ditching the evening. Surely it was God’s grace that I worked up the strength to even walk to her dorm.

Yet another cause of panic is the feeling of having no life direction or even of making the most mundane decisions. A cult member, used to having every aspect of their life managed and directed, can feel disoriented when the group’s boundaries are no longer in place. When they are removed this  can induce indecision about the smallest thing along with a fear of making a mistake. I tried to shake this off by throwing myself into my new job and working every waking hour. But a far better way is to seek professional help and not bull through it like I did.

Trust

Lack of trust in groups and authority figures by ex-members is reported by Sanger and Lalich[4]. This includes the inability to trust new acquaintances and so to fail to make new relationships. Anyone showing overt friendliness may be viewed with suspicion, for who wants to open themselves to the trap of love bombing again? A wariness of authority figures (such as bosses, employers, clergy, or professional therapists) can also result. I never had this problem, oddly enough. I was blessed because my first boss was such a stand up person, wise, hard working, and an all-around nice guy. But according the Sanger[5] ex-members believe that not only were they naïve in trusting too much, but also that their own judgement can no longer be relied on. If they were induced to join a cult once, they think, how can they ever trust their own judgement again?

Commitment

It took me two years to attend a church again. I did attend Bible Studies with Sissy, but only to be with her as much as possible. Fear of commitment, according to Lalich[6] , is a problem for many ex-cult members. It is directly related to trust issues cited above, but slightly different. The member has committed everything, money, love, emotion, and many years of their lives to the group. In the end they found that this commitment to the group was not reciprocal and was conditional. As soon as the member did not measure up, or if they began asking questions (however sincere), they  learned this terrible truth. Within one year, in my example, I went from being told by Joe Smith that God’s anointing was on me and that I would win thousands to Christ as a MCM leader to being someone that God, “was going to be cast in the lake of fire.” It is easy to see that this brutal rejection of the member, following years of commitment to the cause, is devastating. I know many ex-MCMers who have, understandably, given up on organized religion and the church in any form. This is another terrible legacy left by MCM on the lives of these members.

Alienation

Ex-members leave a bubble of the cults making. The black and white of absolute right and wrong, “us vs. them” thinking, the (usually) scornful attitudes toward the culture of the “world”, or those outside the cult, do not end just because the member left the group. I remember not listening to a top 40 radio station for well on two years after leaving MCM. My mind continued to categorized everyone I met as either a sinner, a hypocrite, or righteous-well after leaving MCM. I left the culture of MCM but it did not leave me.  Leaving MCM was like entering a strange new land, only it was not strange. I was, in truth, entering the normal culture of 1980s and leaving the weird and twisted world of MCM. But it seemed just the opposite to me. Fortunately for me, my employer and Sissy helped keep me on an even keel. But I estimate it was at least ten years before I shook off the last vestiges of MCM thinking.

Judging by the Wrong Standards

Alongside alienation was my continued tendency to judge everyone and everything by MMC’s standards. Ludicrous in the extreme, you might say. But this judging helped prevent me from building relationships with people who appeared flawed, according to MCM’s twisted standards.  Even though MCM preached the agape unconditional love of Christ, everything WAS conditional. If we were kind to a person in MCM it came with an ulterior motive- to win them to the group (to Christ we thought) or to show how spiritual and Christ like we were. The idea of being nice and kind just for kindness sake, was, well, alien to me.  MCM disdained those who could not, or did not, measure up. Of course this MCM thinking should never have taken hold of me as I had been taught the Golden Rule since birth. And Jesus did nothing but associate with flawed sinful people all day long!

I have no recipe for how to deal with these issues and others that ex-members may face upon leaving a group. Each person is different and each experience is unique. I do know that the simple step of understanding what is being experienced and giving it a name is a terrific help to someone who has just left a controlling group.

At least it was for me.

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I cannot stress enough that one of the keys to post group adaptation is time. Along with this finding professional help is a key to breaking free from the mental and spiritual shackles of a sociological cult.

Building relationships, difficult for new ex-members, helps bring a person out of their cult built shell and exposes them to human kindness that they may not have experience for years. All of this requires trust, of course, not easily given when so much trust has been abused. None of this is easy, but it can be done, and the effects of the group on the ex-mamber can be gradually diminished.

I thank God freedom can be won, no matter how hard-fought the battle.

Footnotes:

[1] I am not a licensed therapist or social worked and have no professional credentials. Any advice given here is based solely on my experience in leaving a sociological cult, my reading about such, and attendance at a few conferences. I highly recommend those suffering from depression (a common experience) see professional help immediately. This post is solely for information purposes only.

[2] Singer, Margaret. Lalich, Janja. “Cults In Our Midst” Josey Bass. New York New York 1995

[3] Cults in Our Midst explores more fully these and other issues faced by ex-members. The sections following this footnote  are based on notes I took after reading this book along with scribbled thoughts recorded in journal entries I made dated March-June 1996.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid