Our guest blogger Jo writes:
The holidays are always a really hard time for me. Growing up in my cult group meant no celebrations like Christmas or Easter or Halloween or even my own birthday. What made it even more difficult was going to public school and being a complete outsider.
When my class would learn the music for the Christmas program, I would have to go to the library and do homework. When they had their Christmas and Valentine’s parties, again, I would have to go to the library. The worst was Halloween, because all of the other kids got to be in costumes. I still had to march in the parade through the school to be with my class, but I was the only kid not in a costume.
If a parent brought in birthday cupcakes for another child, I had to decline because it was vanity and a worship of self. If the class made Christmas ornaments in art class, I had to draw an alternative picture, because I was not allowed to make ornaments of silver and gold and hang them on a Christmas tree.
At Halloween, I declined candy from shopkeepers at the mall so that I would not have anything to do with anything that might displease God. I never got to trick or treat.
God was mean, but I trusted that if I endured this life to the end, I would be saved. Saved from what, I was never quite sure. But I lived in constant fear of burning in hell as an elementary school child. I was taught that those cupcakes and parties and costumes were Satan’s temptation, enticing me into living a pagan life that was not God’s way.
I left the group at 19, but I didn’t celebrate my birthday until I was nearly 24. My first Christmas was really difficult, as I was with friends who had no idea of my background. They asked me to hang some Christmas ornaments on a tree, and my hands shook the entire time. I couldn’t figure out how to use the little wire hooks. One of my friends laughed and said, “Jo, it’s like you’ve never done this before.” I laughed and lied and said that my mom had always been the one to do it at our house. She took over, and I went into the bathroom and cried.
I’ve always felt like I was on the outside looking in at people who understand life and living far more than I ever will.
I have an eating disorder, and my counselor and I often talk about how kids who have been deprived of love or food binge-eat as adults. A couple of times, I bought a birthday cake and ate most of it in one sitting. My counselor said that I was trying to make up for all of the times when I had to watch other people eat birthday cake…or the fact that I never got a birthday cake of my very own.
I’m getting stronger. I take one day at a time. I now think that it was my leader that was mean, and that God had nothing to do with it. I wonder how God could allow people to deprive children in his name. Why he allows it. My faith isn’t that strong, really, and I am okay with that. I question everything. I want to be a spiritual person, but I am afraid of being taken advantage of.
Most people think that I have it all together, and the truth is that I don’t. I learned how to pretend really, really well when I was in the group. I was never really allowed to have my own feelings or opinions, and I am learning with the help of my counselor to feel my feelings and grieve my losses. I’m learning to enjoy the holidays, but it is really, really hard. My two kids really love Christmas, and I love giving it to them. Still, there is always a sadness when they open their presents on Christmas morning. I think about the little girl who knew that there was a Christmas and tried to make herself feel better about it because she claimed to be serving God. She was tricked out of her childhood.
Sometimes, my friends tell me that I am really naive and childlike, but the truth is, I am trying to get back something that I lost because of the teachings of my cult group. There is so much more other than holidays, but it’s what has been on my mind right now.
I really am getting better and stronger. I hate that there are groups with leaders who demand that everyone be perfect like God. I really thought when I was growing up that it was possible, but I am learning that what was called perfect is really abuse in disguise. I don’t want to be like them, and every day, the group’s pull on me gets to be less and less.
I have learned all of the Christmas songs, and I love Christmas. I don’t know if God likes it or not, but I love it. And if there is a God, and if he made me to have feelings, he must want me to love things that are good. Giving presents is good. Singing is good. Loving is good. I am learning to do all of those things, and I am finding out who I am in the process.
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