I have been reading the online book, "Recovering From Churches That Abuse" by Ronald Enroth, and I came across a great list of steps that will help you on the road to recovery. I want to share that list and add some of my own thoughts as I go along. (The list from the book will be in green and my own personal thoughts will be in black.)
1. For closure to take place, there needs to be an acknowledgment of abuse. Denying what has happened will only stall recovery.
In my former church we were taught that "confessing" we had needs or problems meant that we were "not in faith." This resulted in me and many others holding years worth of questions and fears inside. I believe you can't fix what you don't acknowledge. That is very evident to me now that I see what holding it all in got me. Since I have been sharing my experiences through this blog, I have taken huge strides on my road to recovery. I believe admittance is very important because if you try to minimize what has happened to you and push it aside, it will only pop up later in your life. Even though it my be hard, admit it now and take these steps so you can truly move forward in your life.
2. Find someone who will listen to your story, who supports your desire to gain healing and restoration.
In a controlling church, you are never encouraged to talk about issues you are dealing with. Even though it may go against the grain of how you have lived for years, you need to tell someone your story. I wrote a post several months ago called, "It's Okay To Get Counsel" because in many controlling churches counseling is frowned upon. If you are feeling like you need to get things off your chest, do it. If you want to share your story on this blog, please feel free to. I understand you not wanting to talk about your situation at your new church because if you told some of the things that happened, people may wonder why you continued to stay. Unless someone is familiar with these types of churches, they just wouldn't understand. Find someone to talk to who has been there and understands. Depending on the degree to which you were involved, you may even feel like you want to talk to a professional counselor - and that's okay.
3. Talk freely about your doubts, feelings, and hopes.
4. Recognize that you will probably go through a grieving process - grief for the lost years, the lost friends and family, and the loss of innocence.
Everyone handles things differently. Some people are just happy to be out and they are able to put the past behind and not look back, but others do grieve. We were always taught the grieving was "not of God" and that you were supposed to be strong and get over it, but in some situations it's a normal part of the process. I cried for a whole weekend when we made the decision to leave. It wasn't because I was going to miss the church or the leaders, but it was because I had spent such a huge part of my life there. I had friends that I had known for years and I knew that many of them were never going speak to me again. I knew that I would be labeled and shunned. I knew my children would lose friends because their parents were taught not to talk to the people who left. I felt like I had wasted years of my life, and the biggest thing I dealt with was that I had kept my children in a spiritually unhealthy place. Yea, I did grieve when I realized I had raised my children in a situation that was now bringing doubt and pain to them and leaving them wondering who in this world they could trust again. Thank God, we are getting past all of that now, but it is a very real part of the process you walk through.
5. Expect to feel fear, guilt, and shame. It is crucial to find people who will support and validate your own step of faith and can help you address your hard feelings.
I can tell you that you will feel every emotion known to man as you leave a controlling church and walk through the detoxing process. It will level out and become easier with each passing day, but don't be surprised if you think you are all over it and then one day it hits you like a ton of bricks. Something you see or read can trigger this reaction and it will be like an aftershock. It's all a normal part of the process. When you have given so much of your life to something and had your children involved in something you now realize was wrong, you won't be able to get over it in a day.
6. Expect to feel foolish and experience self doubt. You may ask yourself over and over, "How did I let this happen to me?" Feeling foolish and regretful about poor decisions is a sign of growth; you will soon leave these emotions behind.
I have asked those questions hundreds of times over the past months. "How could I have not seen this? Why did I put up with that for so long? Where was the love?" I have kicked myself and felt foolish. I have felt embarrassed when I tell people my story, but the most important thing is that I did see the truth and when I did, I left. Don't beat yourself up over it any more and don't ever let it happen to you again.
7. You will need to trust again, in stages. Above all, learn to trust God again. Renew your walk with Him; rebuild a quiet time with Him; don't give up on the church despite it's imperfections.
I have talked to many people who have wondered if they could ever trust again, but it will happen eventually. I have met some wonderful people who have helped me to rebuild my trust, although I have my eyes wide open. Psalm 118:8 tells us it's better to put our trust in God rather than in man. That is one of the problems in controlling churches - you are taught to "honor your man of God" and in many cases people end up honoring him more than God. It is never supposed to be that way! Over the years, I developed a distorted view of God because I thought God was like these controlling men of God in my life that I was told to honor, but since I have been gone I see that God is the opposite of who they are. God is full of mercy, compassion, patience, kindness, and love. It's sad to say, but some have not been able to separate God from the men that hurt them and they have given up on everything. That makes me so sad because God is not who they think He is. He is love. It may take time and don't feel like you have to rush into any of this, but don't let the people of the past keep you from trying to trust again.
8. Relax! Enjoy your new freedoms. Take time for physical recreation, art, music, and just plain fun. Thank God for all the good things He has given us to enjoy.
9. Remember that forgiveness is crucial to recovery. It has been said that forgiveness is for the benefit of those giving it, not for the benefit of the ones receiving it.
I shared this quote on forgiveness several months ago and it has really helped me to look at forgiveness in a whole new way. We were always told we had to "forgive and forget," but I think that was said many times because that's what they wanted us to do. But just read this....
"Forgiveness does not require you to pretend that what a person did never happened and it in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. Forgiveness does not excuse anything. Forgiveness is not about forgetting. Forgiveness releases you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and ability to love fully and openly. Don't let the anger and pain and loss you feel prevent you from forgiving. You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realized that you have forgiven completely." (William P. Young)
I encourage you to consider carefully each one of these steps. I know of many who have walked this out and are now happy and free. I have walked out these steps and I feel like I have covered a lot of ground on this road to recovery. It has been 7 months since we left our former church and I can honestly say that we have never been happier. God has been so good to us. He has brought some wonderful people into the lives of my children who love them and have made it easy for them to learn to trust again. There are still days when we have to deal with doubts, but it's way better today than it was 6 months ago. This just shows God's love and faithfulness. If you are just beginning this process, I'll just tell you now it takes time and it's not always easy, but you will make it through and you will experience joy again.
If you have found yourself having a hard time trying again, know you are not alone. I had some young people from the former church tell me the other day that they were having a hard time understanding prayer. They explained how they hear other people talk about praying and yet they feel like they don't even know how. Chalk that up to the church they came out of - the church that said, "God doesn't want to hear your problems. He only wants to hear you speak the Word." I told them how when I first got saved as a teenager I fell in love with Jesus. I told them of how I used to lay on my bed and just talk to Him. I would tell Him about my day and I talked to Him about things I was going through. I would share my life with Him and ask Him questions. I lost that over the years of trying to follow the "7 steps to prayer" and trying to confess things a hundred times to make it come to pass. I encouraged these young people to start over and just talk to Jesus. I told them to lay on their bed and say, "Lord, I don't even feel like I know how to pray and I need your help to figure all of this out." I told them to be honest with Him and tell Him about the things that were bothering them. That's what we all need to do. He wants to be a part of everything we do. I can't say it enough - don't try to hide your feelings about what you've been through from Him. He understands and He will help you through all of these steps. He wants all of us to be spiritually healthy and strong so we can help Him do the things that really matter - love people and share the gospel with the world.
*An interesting sidenote - Psalm 118:8 is the verse that's in the exact center of the Bible. I don't think that's a coincidence.