The pain is real. The journey to healing is real. It’s long and at times feels like it is never-ending. But every year when I look back over the previous year I see the progress that has been made – rebuilding my life. It’s been almost 6 years since I left. Which sounds like a long time, but it isn’t really when I consider that I was born into the sect and left when I was 33 years old. I’ll have been out of that toxic church system for half of my life when I turn 67 years of age!! That sounds awful and depressing. I’m currently 39 years old. Looking at it this way makes me realize that it is okay that I still have a long way to go on my healing journey. I’ve been out 6 years, but I was in for 33 years (plus the 10 months in the womb!). I’ve been free from extreme control for only 15% of my life. Wow. In that 33 years I wasted approximately 9,000 hours sitting listening to mind-boggling theological discussions spoken in Shakespearean English – that I never understood. None of it brought me close to God.

Last night my new husband and I went to a get-together with his work colleagues. It is at events like these that I realize that I still feel separate. This feeling lessens with each passing year, but it is still there. It gives me social anxiety because growing up in isolation from “worldly” people means that I didn’t learn normal social skills or the ability to relate to and interact with people from all walks of life. It has been scary and tiring to learn these skills in my thirties. I look normal on the outside now, and can put on a good front, but underneath I still feel odd, and different, and like I don’t belong.

It is to be expected because for 33 years of my life I was told, and therefore believed, that I was part of a small group of elite Christians who were God’s chosen people. The only people to whom He came; the only ones with the “truth”; the only ones worthy of true fellowship; the only ones who had interpreted the Bible correctly. All other Christians and non-Christians were misled by Satan, and were to be feared. Physical separation had to be maintained at all costs so that we were not infected by their evil (yes, the words “infected” and “evil” were actually used). We were not allowed to dress like the world, watch TV like the world, watch movies like the world, listen to the radio like the world, have a library card like the world, live in a condo building like the world, be a part of a professional association like the world, etc… I used to stand at my bedroom window when I was about 10 years old and look out at the dangerous world with fear and wonder what it was like to be in Satan’s clutches and wonder why God chose us for such special “light” and “revelation”. But deep, deep, down in my core I was jealous of the freedom that “worldlies” had.

Therefore, there is no wonder that I still struggle with socializing with people I don’t know, especially on mass. No wonder I escape to the washroom every hour or so just so I can breathe deeply and collect myself. To add to the awkward feeling is the fact that I have never watched The Simpsons, haven’t heard most of the popular music that was released more than 6 years ago, never went to University, have never owned a TV – so I sometimes look ignorant because I lack basic knowledge about these everyday things.

Healing takes time. It takes gaining self-esteem, establishing self-concept, establishing a new world view, finding a new community, making new friends, counting what was lost, processing the anger, trying new things, experimenting with clothes and hobbies, binge-watching TV shows from the 90’s on NetFlix, grieving what was lost, grieving the years that were wasted, grieving your old identity that wasn’t really you, and grieving for the family members who are still in a deep state of cognitive dissonance and brainwashing. It takes creating a new identity. It takes finding the real person beneath all the layers of conditioning and slavery – fear, guilt, shame, must-do, have-to. It takes courage to seek a relationship with God, when all you knew was rituals and rules. When He was very scary and full of disgust.

Healing can’t be rushed. It’s a process. Respect it. Honor it. The path is different for everyone. There is hope – peace and joy can be found on the journey. Celebrate the work-in-progress You.