11 Things That Helped Me Heal
Part of recovering from a cult is healing the parts of you that the cult hurt. In my case, a cult controlled, and its fear ruled my entire childhood. There are only photographs of my childhood days in cult clothes and doing most activities connected to the church. It’s very hard for me to even look at these photos without feeling a deep-rooted sorrow for my child self. I know now what I had missed, but mostly am aware of what was taken. I’ve been out closer to a decade after spending my first adult years as well inside.
There is no secret key to healing from a cult experience. But there are strategies through things like professional counseling and connecting to survivor communities and such that can prove helpful. I’m not simply healing from a cult (although there is nothing “simple” about surviving a cult), I’m also healing from emotional, verbal, mental, physical and sexual abuse and overall neglect. It impacted my everyday life, has touched even my future in ways like difficulties in connecting in new relationships, my education and a good career, and just so much more. I will continue to grieve what a cult stole from my childhood and my overall twenty-one years in it but have begun to heal as an adult.
Some of those healing things can look ordinary and mundane to many, but for me, they’re simply wonderful. Of course, sometimes things can become overwhelming very easily and so it’s important not to put pressure on yourself when trying to heal and try out new things. You’re healing and you will get to a point where you are not only healing but thriving as well.
In my case, that has looked like many things, but these are my favorite thus far:
Try new foods.
Really, I had no idea how much I had been missing out and all the places I couldn’t have a meal because they were too “worldly.” It also helps you to learn to choose what you want by looking at a menu and ordering something for yourself. At first, this was so overwhelming, that I’d panic, but now, I quite enjoy it.
So much of our lives were ruled by cult enforced rules. An example of this was having to show up for services numerous times a week and being incredibly busy with All Things Church related. Instead of going “knocking on doors” to recruit new followers on Saturday, maybe try doing something fun. I love going to parks and exploring their trails, etc.
Surround yourself with animals.
I have always had a fear of animals such as dogs. Not only did I experience a dog bite as a child, but they triggered my flight, fright and freeze response incredibly due to their unpredictability. I’d worry they would “turn on me” like the abusive people in my life. Exposing myself to environments with animals in them was so healing. I found I was learning to communicate my feelings and fears while I was alone with them. My favorite was a special cat who belonged to friends of a past significant other at the time. When I couldn’t confide in my partner, I spent time with the cat. It was a safe being to express I was having a bad flare up of my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Animals also helped learn how to calm my startle response and I now can settle into unpredictability more easily now. After experiencing trauma, I was always ready to experience pain and learning to trust animals was so important to me. To prove my point, at this very moment, I have a stray cat resting at my feet as I type this post out on my laptop.
Explore your style.
Everything was controlled, especially my clothing in my past cultic environment. I recently found that going to a mall and just walking around and looking at all the different styles could choose from was amazing. At first, I was almost overwhelmed and then asked myself these questions: Would I consider wearing this? Do I want to try this out? Another tip I do: Take a picture of clothing, jewelry, etc., that appeals to so you can gradually find what it is you enjoy.
Go to a movie theater.
Just do this! I could not express how much fun this was for me! The excitement building before the movie played, the lights dimming and speakers growing louder was incredible. Sneak food in if you’d like, but you didn’t hear that from me. Also, center seats are the best.
Take in live music.
I’m a huge music fan. I bob my head at stoplights to random cars playing their music loudly, regardless of the genre. I may pause to dance in grocery store aisles from time to time, but I’ll never tell. I just love music, period. Sitting on a blanket in a park while someone performs a song is so healing for me. Music was a big part of my cult experience, but they soiled it at first. Now, I just fall in love with it every chance I can.
Try to date.
If you’re single and although this is nerve-wracking, I do encourage trying to go on a simple date. It doesn’t have to be anything special to become special. My first date was at my childhood park, swinging on the swings and talking about climbing trees. It was simply wonderful and very memorable. Meeting new people to just have safe fun is a great part about being free.
For many of us, volunteering or spreading awareness about the dangers of cults has offered us healing. I blog, write articles on the subject, and volunteer for a nonprofit that helps victims of religious trauma find help after leaving their controlling groups. Being a voice for others can help give your former self one, too. Even donating to a cause unrelated to cult recovery can be a wonderful way to give back. Helping others also helps you and that’s what makes community a community.
Spoil your inner child.
Want that candy? Buy it. Want a stuffed animal that you would have loved as a child? Get it. Missed out on a classic childhood film? Watch it. If you were a child that felt neglected growing up, “parenting” yourself later is helpful and can aid in recovery. That’s why I love to swing, for example.
Take time to connect to nature or do whatever that helps you relax.
For me, nature got me through so much. It was finding the beauty in the night sky that comforted me after many terrible church services. While overcoming depression and anxiety after trauma, it was getting outdoors that was the first step to rejoining the world. I found it to be super relaxing and a way to calm PTSD triggers. It was gradual exposure to others on my terms while outdoors that helped me. It offered me tools to get ahead of hypervigilance, learn to ground myself and calm my brain. After years of constantly having to stay busy, taking time to just unwind is vital and nature can be a helpful aspect of that. Regardless of your choice of relaxation, you are your greatest priority now.
Make memories and capture them so you can reflect on them later. When I’m particularly struggling being reminded of everything I lost and how far I’m still removed from the “real” world, I look back on all the steps I have taken. By sometimes documenting those moments, I found they were just the validation I needed to encourage me. Eventually, you fall into just being present and enjoying the moment.
There is no one “right” way to recover from a cult. We simply survive and then try our very best to heal and eventually thrive. For me, actively aiming for thriving was so important on my journey. I’m not where I envision myself being just yet, but I’m getting closer. Each little step, and each leap, gets me that much closer. It’s a marathon, not a race on the journey of recovering from religious abuse. You have time to figure it out and you can enjoy the process on the good days, because there will be better days.
Posted with permission from Once Upon a Time in My Oceania.