Note- this was something I wrote just months after filing for divorce in 2018. To date the bravest act I feel like I have done personally.
Bravery- Courageous behavior or character.
Synonyms: courage, valor, intrepidity, nerve, daring, fearlessness, audacity, boldness, dauntlessness, stoutheartedness, heroism.
Someone recently asked me, “ What is the bravest thing that you have done?”
What is bravery? Bravery is having the courage to face your fears, and in the face of possible ridicule and opposing views, take action. Nelson Mandela said, “ I learned that the brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers fear.”
I grew up in a cult, and I have many close friends and family that will not see it this way, as a cult. By definition cult is:1. a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object. 2. A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.3. A misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing. The cult that I was born and raised in falls easily under all three of these definitions. We had this “us against the world mentality,” and yes, there was so much criticism from family members that were completely cut off by cult members if they did not bow a knee to our beliefs or rather “the man of God.” Regarded as strange? Absolutely we were regarded as strange, from people in surrounding communities including the communities throughout the USA that we all left during the great migration to Florida to follow “a prophet of God.” At the time of the migration I was 8 years old.
I did not have a horrible childhood. I was healthy, came from a safe family home, loving parents, but sheltered. Looking back there are so many normalcies that we as children were sheltered from, “for our good”, that in hindsight I would beg to differ that this was the outcome. It bred entitlement, unwillingness to have perspective, a shortage of communication skills, a real lack of life knowledge, and this covers sports, music, movies, education, culture, and real world issues. This of course is the perspective of a woman; however the opposite was true for the men in the community as they were pushed heavily to work hard, make money, and provide for not only their families but for the “church” as well. A woman like myself with this built in desire to study more, have a career, face new challenges, only brought on the label of “rebellious” because, it was contradicting to the belief: a woman’s place is in the home, cleaning, cooking, bearing children, and teaching.
At 17 years of age I was put in an arranged marriage by the cult leader and my grandmother. I was told who I would marry, I was given a date, a time, a guest list, told what dress I would wear, and that my sister and two cousins would be sharing this day with me also. I had eight long hard months to prepare myself for this idea, and get acquainted on a more personal level with my soon to be husband through a series of “family dates”, and yes the entire family would join. We were old enough to get married, (so they said), but not old enough to be in a room alone. Strange, I know. I should have seen the writing on the wall at age 17, well I would like to think I did, but so much happens to your mind when you are raised in a controlled environment such as a cult. Pressure to obey or be disowned started at a very young age, I remember an incident as young as 8 years old when my mom got “ in trouble” by the cult leader for dressing me in a pair of blue jeans. That would be the last time for years that I would wear blue jeans. You see, in a culture like this you obey, because the consequences of disobedience were so painful it was not worth the fight. Consequences such as severe public shaming, being cut off and cut out of social circles, gossip and lies that were told as sure evidence of how messed up you were as a person. So as a brainwashed member you quickly learned, just do it, even if it doesn’t make complete sense. Back to the arranged marriage, the men in this cult were trained and told to be the “head of the household” and this meant complete control of the wife. Life and what little freedom I had was about to change. In May of 1998 as we all (8 in total) said I DO, I started down the road of losing who I was and who I could have been.
I would say that this loss of self was gradual, as my husband became more involved in the leadership of this cult the more intense my life became. The standard of living and what was preached in this cult was a life of perfection. Impossible. A life of being told if you have 99% right you are 100% wrong. This only lead to oppression, depression in many, feeling inadequate all the time, and a constant show of works to try and be accepted. It was like a life ride on an emotional roller-coaster, and if you were disgusted by the continual climb up the political religious ladder, you were disregarded, sometimes completely. Since a young age I was always told I was rebellious, this was in result of many insanities, mainly me openly speaking my mind and questioning authority, honestly it was me not bowing down to “kiss” the feet of the leader. As I grew my rebellion took on many different forms, hair color, makeup, how I dressed, and in later years it was making friends outside of the cult. My husband was told on multiple occasions he had better get control of me if he ever wanted a position in the church. One day I was locked out of my house, told to start walking as my phone and wallet were grabbed from my hand and the door locked behind me, as my 4 small children sobbed. To this day, I do not know why, but minutes after I started walking he(my husband) came and picked me up. Acts like these were encouraged to “teach” us as wives to be in submission. It is however, during moments like these you realize as a human you will never be good enough. All that good you did an hour, day, a week ago, that was just erased by how “wrong” you are in the moment, and you are at ground zero. This way of life sucks you dry, and tries to wipe out completely your individual self. On a grand scale of control outside of a home life, it’s social pressure, after all it was all about climbing the ladder to a position of power.
In 2015 we had the foundation of our life as we knew it shaken. Several years after the cult leader had passed away and the cult was under a new dictatorship, we learned that the founder of the cult had been molesting a young girl for many years. As much as this shook our world, it did not shock me in fact, I guessed it. It disgusted and angered me to hear how long and how far this sick man had taken his power of control. The reason I guessed this when told by the cults new leader of the time, you will never guess what we heard … was because of things I witnessed and heard growing up around this cult founder. Growing up with a gradual dose of oddities you think this is normal, looking back I know it is not. At 75 years of age you do not wake up your “grandkids” by rubbing all the way up their legs, you do not sit around and talk with your “grandkids” at ages 8-12 about sex and how you still enjoy it, you do not watch porn with kids of this age, and make inappropriate comments. This was the normal for him, and as a child you assume that this must be the normal behavior for all men that age. When we learned of this information, I said to my husband, everything is a scam, our entire life is a scam, it is built on a complete lie. Which he immediately told me I could not say that, and it was in fact not true but, months later he would agree with me. At this point I felt like the only real thing in my life was my four children.
2017 was I would say the hardest year of my life. I learned early 2017 my husband was having an affair, and he told me that in fact he had never loved me. The truth is, our marriage had been through hell, we didn’t start out normal by any means, but throughout the years we had our good times as well. When I learned of this love he said he felt for a 21 year old co-worker, I felt like my life was ending and I was going to lose it all for good. I confessed my love for him and fought with desperation to save “us”… for a year.. I was not willing to walk away from nearly 20 years together. I was living in an emotional hell, and I felt completely lost. We had good weeks, that would make me brace for the week of hell I was sure that was around the corner. I heard all year long how he didn’t love me, no emotional connection, even one day he drew out a figure of a woman on a sheet of paper to show demonstrate all the “things” I had but ended telling me I was missing “spirit.” I lived destroyed, not sure really what my purpose on life even was, I had failed as a person. I would say continually well at least my kids still love me, and I knew this was true.
At the end of 2017 after so much pressure from my husband, we both sought help in counseling. This was a hard step for me, because once again I was trained that you do not share your problems with anyone. Well, we were told we shouldn’t have problems. I would say that seeking help was life changing, for me. To hear that the anger, confusion, brokenness I was feeling was not only normal but to be expected, that alone was like someone took 1,000 pounds off of my back. You see, I had been being told to get over it, and made to feel like if I ever wanted us to work as a family I needed to just drop it. ( the affair or anything related) These counseling sessions were challenging on basic levels. Boundaries in a marriage? Personal boundaries? I had not a clue what that even meant… that was never a question for us. You see, marriage in a cult works like this, what husband says.. we do, no question. Reason being, we are taught they are the head of the house and it is them who would “answer to the lord” for the household, therefore full responsibility lands on their shoulders. Women have no need for opinions, desires, dreams, and certainly no need for boundaries. Die already to self was the idea.
As 2017 came to an end, a year of heartbreak, tears, and I would say on the verge of depression….. not only did I feel like I learned a lot, I started to change how I thought. I told myself I was going to start mentally checking things off a list I was raised to believe were wrong, but it bothered me inside I had not pursued. Doctors- at 37 I had never been to a doctor, only exception was the birth of 2 of my 4 children when we hired a midwife to come to the house. I changed that, I scheduled appointments and got caught up on all my doctor visits. College, this was a big one for me.. a dream of mine since middle school. I took my SAT test, and got accepted into the college of my choice to pursue a BA in Spanish. Spanish being another huge passion of mine that brought me so much grief in the cult, because it was not only education but people didn’t see a point in learning Spanish. It brought much criticism and at one point I was grounded from studying by my husband because, he was uncomfortable with the pressure he was getting from “friends” for having a wife who was studying.
Today looking back and trying to begin to make sense and understand the whole story I know the way 2017 unfolded, from my perspective, was in large part due to mental training and beliefs from the cult. I say this as an explanation for clinging to a dead relationship for a year. I also today can say I do not regret clinging to this relationship for a year, it was hell, and I survived. Not only survive, I learned so much about myself. As 2017 neared its glorious end, I told myself that I would not repeat another year like I had just lived. Big words, and words are the easy part, it was the guts it took me to act on these words that for me…took courage. I didn’t arrive at this point of strength alone nor did I arrive quickly. This was a process with the help of counseling, support of friends, and quite honestly beginning to understand that I mattered not only to family/friends but in Gods eyes….HE loved me. Maybe my relationship was failing, but I wasn’t a failure. Maybe my dreams, hopes, visions of my future had been squashed within my relationship…but that didn’t mean that they were worthless or of zero importance. It was as if new life was getting blown back into me. In a conversation with a friend I said, “ I feel like I am being squeezed through a dark funnel and I am about to drop out into something so bright and exciting”…. I could not shake that feeling.
Growing up I was taught, even if that be indirectly, that divorce and separation were a sin, and in our culture it was reason for people to be cut off from the church and those they loved. It was this belief that for me was the largest mental hurdle to jump, and I believe what made this so difficult (outside of the fact that this concept of divorce went against everything I was taught and advice I was receiving), was the fact that this was a decision I had to make for myself. While that may sound asinine, I was at 37 years old coming to the realization that I indeed could be the captain of my own ship.
So, what is the bravest thing I have ever done? In February of 2018 I filed for divorce. In February 2018 I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “you deserve more out of life, and you are not living another year like this.” Bravery for me was in the face of opposition, I said this insanity stops now. I was scared shitless, but the relief that followed… I knew that I had made the right decision for myself. Bravery for me was embracing my story, where I was at and how I got there. Bravery for me was to not feel ashamed of my past. It is what it is. So, for me bravery was not out fighting a war, or being a superhero, but this act of bravery for myself took every last ounce of courage I could muster up. I recently read a quote that for me was like walking into a brick wall,
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery none but ourselves can free our minds” (Bob Marley).
I do not have life figured out AT.ALL, but I am addicted to learning.