Recovery from religious abuse can be a long and arduous process. It takes conscious effort and positive, decisive actions to undo the damage from such abuse. Many are at a loss when it comes to knowing what to do. They extract themselves and their families from an abusive religious environment and then struggle under the emotional load and strained relationships. Still, there are others that are struggling with chemical dependency as a result of some of the abuses they have endured.
In step one I talked about how important it is to first “accept the truth and take responsibility.” Denial of truth and responsibility will never lead to full recovery. I also talked about the importance of professional counseling in the recovery process. Professional counselors will always be highly recommended for all stages of healing and recovery. Together We Heal is one such organization that I recommend often to survivors of childhood sexual assault. Together We Heal offers free counseling services to those who cannot afford to pay for a professional counselor.
I also emphasized in Step One that these are steps and thought processes that my husband and I used. While they worked for me and my family, they may not work for you. Everyone’s situation is different. Please keep this in mind as I let you inside my personal “bubble” again for this next step. Also, remember that the steps I give can be done in any order best for you and your situation. You can even combine some of them. You decide what you feel is best for you!
There are countless religious abuse survivors out there who have shared their testimonies, written books, and hosted blogs in order to help other survivors to cope, deprogram, find aid, locate professional help, recover, and heal. In order for any of us religious abuse survivors to live the remainder of our lives with any semblance of peace and happiness, it is imperative that we deprogram our minds and reprogram them. This is why my second step in the deprogramming process is to READ.
STEP #2: READ, READ, READ!!!
I cannot emphasize the importance of this step! Do NOT leave this step out. As cult survivors we MUST deprogram ourselves. If you want to deprogram faster and with less pain, READ!
WHAT I DID
I delved into books on early church history and Jewish Biblical Literacy. I wanted to find out if all the religious dogma, beliefs, and rules I was taught were true. Did Jewish teaching and biblical history line up with the dogmas and beliefs I was taught? Did the Jews degrade and oppress women like Christians do? Did Jewish Scholars interpret and translate Old Testament passages the same way as our English translation? What about New Testament passages? I had so many questions!
I bought and read all Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s books. I downloaded all copies of the Bible from the 1500s and 1600s and many of the Apocryphal books that are available. I read and compared these. I bought almost all of Bart D Erhman’s books and read them. I delved into Greek and Hebrew scholar’s works from the 16th – 18th centuries – Backhouse, Heeshon, Thayer, Jukes, Bushnell, etc. I visited countless blogs and websites to read and learn. I googled everything I had ever been taught. I bought and downloaded countless resources and articles. From all these sources I took notes. I filled countless notebooks so I could have all the “important” stuff in one place. What I found was that many of the doctrines Christianity taught me as “truth,” were LIES. These were not small lies either! The lies had long term and abusive consequences for women and children. As you study, you will discover what’s been twisted too; especially if you read the works of Bushnell, Thayer, Backhouse, Telushkin, or Erhman.
Learning new truths through the experiences and expertise of others along with documented history, was key in helping me to change my perception instilled by the cult religion I had been a part of for many years. Many of the articles on my blog were birthed because of learning new truths that debunked the lies I had believed all my life. As I read, I came across information that in my heart I was not ready to accept. I warn you ahead of time that this does not mean it is not true. It meant I was not ready for it yet. Some truths needed me to grow a little bit more before I could accept them. The ones that were not true, I figured out along the way. I Just set the stuff I was slightly ‘choking’ on aside and kept on reading. Please understand that not everything we read and learn will be used right away in the healing process. We may have to go back to it later.
In order to change my perception of myself, I had to get educated. I had to find “truth.” As I read and learned and grew in knowledge, I began to change. The twisted scriptures I was taught to believe by religious leaders that were abusive, began to stand out with glaring reality. The evidences I discovered gave me fact-based information to re-establish new beliefs and foundations. As the change began to take place, I realized that I had been poisoned by religious bias and sexual bias! This is when I began to systematically extract all this “poison.” As truth entered, the toxic waste began to erupt out . . . like vomit. I found myself angry. However, I did not give “public” place to this anger. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to express it in bits and pieces to vent it. However, “vomiting” out my anger in front of others could have caused hurt to other survivors who were in different phases of growth and healing.
So, I waited and continued learning and writing. Writing down my thoughts was so therapeutic and helpful! If you can keep a journal, I highly recommend doing so during this stage. After the anger subsided, I was left with a feeling of loss. I cried for weeks over the fact I had been deceived and had wasted almost 20 years of my life for nothing. What did I have to show for it? Nothing. My foundations the church helped me build upon the opnions of men and lies, crumbled completely. The next phase was uncertainty. I felt “undone.” If I was taught to believe lies, what am I to believe now? How do I rebuild new foundations? As I continued to read, however, the anger dissipated and gave away to new understanding and perception; not only of myself, but others. It also automatically began rebuilding my new foundations of faith; except this time, my faith was not “blind.” It was now based on evidence uncovered through my research. There is nothing wrong with having a foundation of beliefs built upon facts while exercising faith in the most important area of all – the saviour. Faith in the Savior is all that is required; not faith in the church, religious leaders, rules, dogmas, or theologies. Faith in the Savior that he is sufficient to keep that which I have committed to him is all that is necessary.
Perception is everything to a religious abuse survivor because perception is “fact” in our mind. Changing my perception, changed how I viewed the facts that I uncovered. It also enabled me to accept the facts and change accordingly based on them. This is why reading was vital for me. I had to change my negative perception of myself and the world around me by analyzing the evidence of truth I discovered. I was taught that I was worthless and the cause of evil in my life. I was taught to fear the government, child protective services, public schools, law enforcement, other religions, and ‘worldly’ people. I was taught to fear drinking, wearing pants, going swimming, going to the movies, and a whole host of other ridiculous things. I was taught God would kill me, my children, or some other family member if I did any of these things! I had to change that perspective or I would never come out of isolation! Yes, I isolated myself. I lived in such fear of so many things that I could not even go to the grocery store alone. I was afraid God would kill me or send someone else to because I was no longer in the “church.” I believe “fear” is the hardest of all things to overcome.
My fears caused depression, kept me isolated, induced panic attacks, kept me from making new friends. To this day, I still find it difficult to make new friends; not because I can’t, but because I do not trust. Trust issues will probably follow me for the rest of my life. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but, it can sometimes prevent me from enjoying others’ friendships and fellowship. There is more to life than we were taught in the cult, and fear can often keep me from enjoying life like God intended. Education and action overcomes most fears. I have been taking action and doing what I have been afraid to do. Now, I am in a much better place than I have ever been in my life. Life has joy. My relationships with my family are the best they have ever been. Life is FUN.
Am I fully recovered? Not yet. I continue reading and learning. For me this is something I will do for the rest of my life. I never want to find myself in the place of bondage to a religious institution and its leaders ever again. I never want to find myself in a place of manipulation, control and oppression ever again. And to top it off, I never want to lack the appropriate knowledge to be able to see through religious lies, men’s opinions, and false teachings! I am like a sponge, I absorb the knowledge and do my best to use it wisely for the benefit of others.
Here are some recommended books for those who don’t know where to start:
- The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment – Thomas B. Thayer
- God’s Word to Women – Katherine C. Bushnell
- Religion’s Cell: Doctrines of the Church that Lead to Bondage and Abuse, by Cynthia McClaskey
- The Truth About Tithing, by Cynthia McClaskey
- Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen
- Healing Spiritual Abuse: How to Break Free from Bad Church Experience, by Ken Blue
- Toxic Faith, by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton
- Combatting Cult Mind Control, by Steven Hassan
- Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, by Steven Hassan
- Misquoting Jesus, by Bart D Erhman
- Jewish Biblical Literacy, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
- The LIES We Believe, by Dr. Chris Thurman
- People of the Lie, by M. Scott Peck, M.D.
Get some education under your belt with some of these books mentioned and you will find release and freedom from the lies that have held you in bondage to institutions, attitudes, behaviors and corrupted thinking. There are many more books, but these will at least get you started in deprogramming. This step could take many months. It’s okay to take your time on this step. There is a lot to digest and a lot of contemplation to be made. What you will find after reading a few of these is that your foundations built by the cult will crumble. You will feel like I did – undone, sad, angry, etc. You will feel a whole host of emotions because you will have realized many of the lies you believed. You will have also realized the destruction these lies brought to you and your family. This is all normal! In order to heal, we must let go of the old foundations built upon lies and rebuild new foundations based on truth. Let’s get rid of the corrupted foundations. Let’s get through, and deal with, all the EMOTIONS that will ensue as these foundations are chiseled away and removed. We don’t want to try and build a new foundation over an old, corrupted one!
Let me remind you again that there are many religious abuse survivors that have written books. Don’t be afraid to read their books! Many of them are helpful and give amazing insights! These authors want to help others to recover and heal. They, too, want to help untwist the lies and corrupted domgas of religious teaching. On my blog I have a few of these authors, if you wish to check out their works. In the next step I will be giving more resources. These resources will enable you to come in contact with more religious abuse survivors that have authored books.
I hope this information is helpful to you as you embark on your road to recovery and healing from religious abuse. Please stay tuned for the next step I took in this journey to recovery and healing!