Decolonizing My Life Post Cult

As many of you know, I was raised in a religious cult. Though it masqueraded as a mainstream version of Christianity, it had its own codes and symbols that would be unrecognizable to an outsider. It kept us inside its walls, though to the rest of the world we could come and go freely. 

I was educated from first grade through my first college degree in their schools barring one year at Portland State University. I left despite a full ride scholarship because I lost a bet with my mother who was deeply worried that I would leave the cult should I remain.

To tell the whole truth, I was a little worried I would too; it was so colorful, so self-confident, so...alive. So I slunk back to cult-land and finished my degree at an outpost university in England. There, I left the cult in my heart and mind but continued to attend school until I had my degree... and promptly had a nervous breakdown in Thailand after graduation because the stress of starting a life outside the boundaries of salvation was overwhelming.  
I reset the clock for my personal expectations when I left the church at 21. From that day forward I was a babe, slowly growing to the point I now find myself at--40 to the world, but really, 19 in Post Cult (PC) years. 

I met my partner, Tobias at age 12 PC and have wondered over the ensuing 7 years where the fun, increasingly light and accomplished person I was becoming disappeared to almost as soon as we discovered we were having a child. 

Tobias reflected to me a couple years back that I seemed to have fallen under some patriarchal spell of "the good wife and mother" role. This was baffling to him as he was raised to expect women to be empowered and have fulfilling work as well as a family. I could only agree and yet somehow, feel powerless to halt my auto-pilot that said good mothers stay home with their children until they are grown and feel resentful towards their husbands if they are not emotional and spiritual leaders in the home.

Alongside this script playing out like a well rehearsed  scene, was the 12 PC year old saying, "HEY!!! This isn't what I signed up for! There is something deeply WRONG here!!! Wake up! WAKE UP!"

But Sleeping Beauty was in Zombie Cult Wife mode which I have JUST started coming out of . It's a fascinating experience realizing that there are timed-release programs uploaded into my brain that start spooling out code when certain switches are thrown.

Like getting married.
Having a child.
Noticing the aging process.

I can only imagine which other life events will trigger the RUN PROGRAM sequence that will have me leaning towards Culty Stepford Wifing. 

It's wild to realize that I am basically a self-opening time capsule of Saturday Jesus Land. I don't have to think about how I will know when to crack the seal, it will just happen automatically because it KNOWS WHAT TO DO. I can only say, "Nice work, cult. Job well done." Talk about internalized oppression, I've been out 19 years and they had me whipping myself in large part for the last 7 years. Very effective.

The real Good News is that I reprogrammed my limbic system to function normally instead of being on Armaggedon Alert constantly, which has made this particular realization quite alright. In fact, I am feeling very grateful that it's only taken me 7 years to unravel and deconstruct what was trying to happen.

The question I find myself wondering is how I can listen more deeply to the 19 PC year old that has figured out wisdom that makes me happy. I imagine what the last 7 years could have looked like if the WIFE and MOTHER programs hadn't started running. A couple things are certain,

I would have played more music.
I would have been dancing more.
I would have continued to embrace my sensuality.
I would have written more.
I would have laughed more.
I would have been sillier.
I would have taken more time to feel beautiful.

As it stands, I'm not dead yet, so there's still time to be vibrant, outspoken, unapologetic, transformative, passionate, and wildly creative. 

So I have to name the oppression and the elements of programming I can see. I'll start with the expectations:

Good mothers stay home and care for their children.
Wives are generally unsatisfied with their husbands.
Husbands are supposed to be the breadwinners.
Wives are supposed to be sexually available to fulfill their husbands.
Mothers should plan elaborate parties for their children and take them to endless lessons, classes, and activities.
Mothers should be constantly worried about their child's health and well being.
Wives should cook, keep house, and make their husband's dinner, lunch and breakfast.
Wives should feel resentful of their husbands making money but not have a career.
Wives and mothers should feel their purpose is to care for their family.

I'll probably have more as time goes on but this is a good start.
These are not binary, but rather, evolve over time and take on a life and interpretation of their own, either through embracing them or rebelling against them while simultaneously experiencing guilt over transgressing the known values. 

Next steps will involve imagining an experience as wife and as mother that allows me to feel energized and inspired, connected and clear. I don't know how yet, but I KNOW the path will appear. 

It will. 

Please comment below; I love to hear your thoughts and responses to these stories...


  1. yes, the sda religion rules are there to hold you down, keep you fearful, judge people, that arent quite as christian as you are. I got out when i was 14, & I turn 69 in april. free at last, but it took me a very long time to come to terms with it. lucky for me, i have a sister that left also! eat the pork, life is short ! xo

  2. I was raised very traditional southern (North Carolina) non denominational Christian which was also very restrictive and certainly did not respect freedom of thought. Couple that with a very toxic controlling mother who was paranoid and afraid of the world. Much repression and guilt laid on me like a blanket. I try so very hard to take away the positive teachings and uplifting words... My life struggle has been breaking free and growing. Feeling the sun, planting my roots, and doing what was right. I believe in the basic tenets of least as much as I followed.

    Love as you would wish to be loved. Accept others as you would wish to be accepted. Show respect. Have understanding and be patient.
    I do not place judgement on these stipulations...and this is the beautiful idea I pulled from my years in this system of teaching.
    Love you and think you are beautiful. I remember your adorable red rain boots and your there's still time to be vibrant, outspoken, unapologetic, transformative, passionate, and wildly creative. Remember your energy taking photos. You connected with people. Live a happy life. I'm doing it too. Much much much much love to you Jaime.

  3. I really appreciate this post. It reflects so much of what I've been feeling lately. I wasn't raised in a religious cult, but I've had the same feelings of loss of self, loss of joy, dissatisfaction, irritation, resentment. I am reminded of Betty Fridan's Feminine Mistique. I never actually got through the book, but saw a writing recently that mentions the nagging dissatisfaction women in the 50s felt about their lives & prescribed roles as mothers & housewives. Though it was generally dismissed as "that's life", apparently Betty Fridan names it in the book.

    I feel like I'm closer than 7 years to that light and increasingly confident & accomplished person I was becoming, but it would be so easy for those years to slip by. Thank you for naming this - the programming, the expectations (yes! All of those!). I look forward to hearing how you get back to yourself & your joy. I am looking for my path back, too.

  4. Oh Jamie, this is so beautiful. I find myself in the lines you write. Love from London. xox


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