I got this cup for Christmas from my best friend. It says “Be You.” Only a very close friend could have known the impact of that phrase for me.

As I have written before, when one is raised in the cult environment, an identity is chosen for you and imposed upon you. You don’t get to choose to be an individual or to figure out for yourself what you like and dislike. You are told who you can be and what you must like and dislike.

A few years ago, I was involved in a teacher’s education program that included a class on child and adolescent development. We were required to write and illustrate a complicated paper on each developmental milestone, and how that related to our own upbringing and development at each stage of life. The illustrations had to be from either photos or copies of art or writings that we had saved from our childhood.

Of course, by this time I knew that I had been raised in a cult, so each stage was an interesting flashback for me, but nothing really stood out as horrific until I reached the adolescent stage. In adolescent development, ideally the adolescent is forming their own identity–they often play around with different thoughts, ideas, styles, and values while they are trying to figure out who they are and what they want out of life. By the end of adolescence, ideally, they will have figured this out and settled into a worldview and formed their identity.

When I got to the stage of adolescent identity formation, I hit a brick wall. It was a revelation to me that I had never matured in that area, because I was not allowed to formulate my identity at that stage in life. Everything about my identity was dictated to me. My parents told me that they had raised me to be a preacher’s wife. I was taught how to dress, what styles were appropriate, even how to style my hair, what to like and dislike, what music to listen to, and what books to read, as well as how to interpret what I read…among so many other dictated ideals.

As I begin to realize this, as an adult, I started questioning who I was and exploring what I would want. I found that I had long ago turned off that part of a person who asks questions about life and makes decisions. No wonder it was so hard for me to make choices! No wonder anxiety raged through me on a daily basis!

I started on a quest to begin figuring out what I like, what I believe, and what I want out of life. It has been an interesting journey so far. In my 40s I am finally “Finding myself”, and the journey has been so much fun! Although there has been some trial and error, it has not been as weird and chaotic as a teenager often finds it to be.

The times I struggle most with my new identity is when I am around my extended family members who are still in the cult. That is why my friend bought me this cup. It is a daily reminder to just be me. It is a constant encouragement to cut out the overthinking and to reduce the anxiety that comes with being raised to conform.

I have made it my motto for 2017 to just “be me”. My heart is full of hope that 2017 will bring much joy and freedom to myself as I continue to overcome anxiety and the past.