The following post is copied with permission from the blog of the survivor and author, Shari Howerton. It can be found at this link… http://tinyurl.com/4ky2gb2 . This post is to me of the same open and honest quality with which the book was written. Thank you, Shari for allowing me to share your work with the readers of this blog. Certainly hoping all will be helped as much as I have been by your story, your insights and your victories. The book can be found here http://www.sharihowerton.com/ .
“I have recently been corresponding with a few more readers of my book. Since my book is a testimony, it has a limited audience. And since I am an unknown, self-published author, it will never be a bestseller. But it continues to sell (albeit in small numbers) each month. And I continue to hear from readers. Many of the people who have written to me were loaned a copy by someone who wanted to share it. I know that some authors might be frustrated by that because it means less book sales. But that doesn’t bother me at all. I spent nearly a year of my life working on the book. I poured my heart into it. And what is most rewarding for me is just knowing that it is still being read.
I appreciate every person who has taken the time to write and share their own experiences, wanting me to know what the book has meant to them personally. I continue to hear from people I know and people I have never met. I’ve heard from people who grew up in the same religious movement I did and others who have had similar experiences with completely different groups and abusive leaders.
I have learned in the last few years just how pervasive the problem of spiritual abuse is. I remember once thinking that the group I was raised in was unique and that no one outside my environment would be able to relate to my experiences. But I discovered that wasn’t the case at all; we were similar to other cults and cultish groups; not only in the area of control and intimidation, but even in many of our distinctive doctrinal beliefs.
One reader, who authors a blog on religious abuse has recently written about my book, sharing what an emotional read it has been for him. His experiences were with a completely different group. But he discovered many similarities between his experiences and mine.
Another recent reader who keeps in touch with me has been deeply traumatized by the same group I was raised in (just a different location) and is still in a difficult struggle to break free. She sees clearly that her life and many of her relationships have been devastated or destroyed by her association with the group, yet she is gripped with the fear of leaving and losing her “spiritual covering.” She has told me that the first time she read something I had written and saw my picture, she cried for hours that night. The reason? I looked so normal and happy to her and she couldn’t understand how I could be either. The “you can’t leave this fellowship and find God elsewhere” message has been deeply branded into her thinking. Though she has been abused horribly by the leadership of this church, she still cares so deeply about how she is perceived and vilified for leaving. I understand that.
The brainwashing and mind control she is struggling to overcome is so glaring to me that I have at times felt frustrated while trying to help her. I want to say, “Can’t you see…?” I have pointed out to her that God does not send fear and anxiety as a way to “deal” with our hearts. Men are doing this to her, not God. I have shown her how idolatrous it is to elevate a certain group of people to such a standing that God cannot be found outside its walls. I have explained to her that Jesus is her Savior and King, not a group of men calling themselves “the ministry” while putting themselves on thrones. I’ve said many things in my genuine desire to help her break free from the mind control. I’ve suggested books and I’ve encouraged her in other ways. And I think I have helped her, even if it’s just a little.
I have made myself available to strangers because I understand their struggle and the need to talk about it with someone who understands. I have spent hours on the telephone with some who just wanted to hear my voice and have an actual conversation with me after reading the book. My husband found it kind of odd at times that I could spend hours talking to someone I had never met and have so much in common to talk about. He has occasionally made jokes, saying that I was an unpaid therapist. And I would remind him that the word for it is “ministering.” That is the very reason strangers want to talk to me after reading the book; they sense that I understand what so many in their lives cannot. I can’t count how many people have said to me, “Nobody understands except someone who has lived this way.”
That’s true of all types of abuse. And I don’t have any special gifts to offer. But I do have compassion and empathy because of the difficulties I have come through. And I know that one can heal and thrive after these experiences, not merely survive. But it requires a relationship with Jesus Christ that is not filtered through another human being or a certain group of people.
What I have discovered about my own healing process in recent months is how much I have healed. Obviously, not everyone is going to write a book about their life (or even want to). But writing has been very therapeutic and healing for me. Whether God inspired me to write my story to help facilitate that healing, or He just gave me the freedom to do it, I don’t know. But it has been a healing journey. I don’t know if anyone heals by internalizing, I just know that I don’t. I don’t know that I would define it as a “need,” but it is accurate to say that I have felt compelled to share my journey and to connect with other people whom I could relate to. I’m thankful it has helped others and not just myself.
The author of the blog I mentioned above recently asked me if I would consider writing a guest post for his blog. He told me that it encourages others to hear the testimonies of people like me who are further along in their recovery from this particular abuse. That’s why I started writing this post.
The new reality for me is that I honestly don’t find myself thinking about spiritual abuse very often these days. That’s how far I’ve come. I believe I have pushed through so much of that. But it hit me this morning that that is no small thing. It’s nothing short of a miracle for me personally. And it occured to me that just sharing that might really be helpful to someone else. I never want to miss an opportunity to help someone else by sharing what I’ve been through. And it occurred to me this morning, as I was catching up with his blog, how far I have come in just the last year.
When my husband was newly diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, I was on an emotional rollercoaster for quite some time just trying to process and deal with what I thought of as my shattered dreams for our lives. I was so devastated by the pain of an uncertain future and the possibility of ever losing John that I cried every day. I just couldn’t get a grip on my emotions. I poured myself into learning about CLL and all its variations, treatments, specialists. I invested in online communities (in much the same way I invested in an online community to help me deal with the emotions of breaking free from a cult). That is how I deal with emotional struggle. I share and I find people I can relate to. Apparently, I’m not the only one.
I found comfort in not being the only one in my struggle. After my very, very, very lengthy introduction on CLL Christian Friends, I was comforted and reassured by others that the emotional rollercoaster was normal and they all understood what I was going through; but I would settle into a new normal. And whether I believed it or not, there would come a day when I didn’t ruminate constantly on CLL and my fears. They were right. I still wish my husband didn’t have leukemia. It’s not an experience I would have asked for. But I no longer feel shattered by it. I’m coping and I’m finding ways to help others through shared experience. And that part is very rewarding.
Our lives are a journey, not a destination. The silver lining in every difficult experience for me is that through my own struggles, God is equipping me to help someone else through theirs. Whether it’s recovering from the effects of spiritual abuse, emotional abuse or a chronic, incurable illness — I have the opportunity to reassure someone else that a new normal is just ahead of the storm.
If you are still struggling with the baggage of having been involved in a religious cult, I want you to know that no matter how hard it is in the present moment, you CAN heal from this experience. It’s a process. And there are some wounds that are easily reopened for a long time. But those wounds become scars. And then, just like physical scars, they fade until they are barely visible — even to you. You forget you have them until something focuses your attention on them again. That is where I find myself today.
For a long time, I thought about my past and people from my past on a daily basis. I grieved lost relationships and certain people’s distorted perceptions of me. I shed many tears and even suffered with anxiety. I struggled with fears of all kinds. I experienced the pain of rejection from people I loved who couldn’t understand me — and probably never had understood me, truth be known. I don’t doubt that I may have perceived rejection from some who didn’t even intend it. It’s very typical for people who have experienced a lot of rejection to fear it and anticipate it and even mistakenly perceive it in some instances. I see that trait in myself. And I acknowledge it.
I haven’t ONLY suffered spiritual abuse. I have been verbally, emotionally, mentally and physically abused in ways that I did not attempt to address in the book because it would have distracted the reader from the message of this book; which was the spiritual abuse of a false gospel. But I am well acquainted with the wounds of abusive relationships. Thankfully, I have experienced tremendous healing from those wounds as well. But it wasn’t instant in any case. It’s been a process. And God has used people to minister to me in that healing process. One of those people has been my husband, John. I am so thankful for him. But if I had stayed in the cult, I would not be with him. Not only because I would have feared marrying someone outside the group, but because he recognized it as a cult the one time I took him there. Participation would have been a deal breaker for him.
After having John in my life for almost eight years now, I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without him. I cannot fathom a more perfect husband for me and my personality. God gave me someone who seems “made to order” for all of my needs. And he feels the same way about me (which is still hard for me to believe). To think I could have missed out on so many blessings God had for me (all the blessings that have come through John, including many cherished friends) because of the lie that God would not honor a union between myself and someone outside that group. At this point in my life and personal growth, it’s almost hard to believe that at one time I was that deceived. But I was.
Do I still sometimes feel a twinge over the reality that even some of my family members don’t want to be Facebook Friends with me? Does it ever bother me that even some who have expressed warm feelings toward me privately cannot openly be my friend because of the awkwardness it would cause in other relationships? Sure I do. But it’s a much smaller twinge than it once was. And I accept it as the personal price I must pay for speaking my convictions openly and honestly from my heart.
In wrapping up this lengthy post, I also want to say that I am truly sorry for any pain I have caused anyone from my past with my words. In all honesty — it has never been my heart’s desire to hurt anyone from my past (or anyone in my present for that matter). I have made mistakes. I know I have not said or done everything perfectly. But my intent was never to hurt anyone or retaliate for wrongs done to me. Actually, I hate hurting people and I agonize over it when I know I have. If I have hurt you, I ask for your forgiveness sincerely. And if you will contact me personally and tell me specifically how I have hurt you, I will ask your forgiveness in a more personal and specific way. I believe I have forgiven those who have hurt me. Sometimes I have to recommit to that forgiveness because of memories that still sting. But forgiveness is not a feeling. It’s an action. And I know I have released those who have hurt me from owing me anything — including an apology.
Although my convictions are as strong as ever that I was raised in a cult, that does not prevent me from continuing to love the people I grew up with and wanting them to know that I always will.”
By Shari Howerton
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