This is a really good article. I have some experience with this kind of thing. This is from the website of the movie Paradise Recovered, which was loosely based on first hand experiences of members of the Worldwide Church of God, founded by Herbert W. Armstrong. The creators of the film drew on some of our experiences and were in contact with those of us in WCG reform movement. -AK
30 Days Of Gratitude – Day 11 – Elizabeth Esther
We’ve met a number of kindred spirits on this filmmaking journey. The first was a writer that has been quite public about her own background of spiritual abuse.
Elizabeth Esther was raised in a restrictive religious environment. (We call them ‘high-demand churches’.) She’s growing and changing, and she is helping many people.
As an introduction to Elizabeth Esther, we asked to reprint one of her blog posts entitled “Why I’ve Stopped Living Each Day As My Last.“
She graciously agreed. Thanks, Elizabeth, for being a truth-teller. And thanks for reminding us to slow down – that we’re truly not on the brink of Armageddon.
Besides, if Jesus comes back? Isn’t that a good thing?
Recently, I had a jarring insight in therapy. Our marriage therapist was remarking on the fact that we have a high tolerance for living in high-demand, high-stress environments. We’ve been living like each day is our last since we were kids.
Apparently? This isn’t healthy. Who knew?
As children we were both raised in oppressive religious environments. On top of this, my husband’s family of origin was always teetering on the brink of breakup. My family was always teetering on the brink of church scandal.
As children, we learned how to live on hyper-alert. We were taught that tolerating abuse was normal and healthy.
As adults, we know how to live in chaos. We know how to manage and juggle and try to keep everything from falling apart.
Here’s the Big Lesson I’ve learned: no matter how hard you try, shit falls apart anyway.
This is a relief, actually. It’s not MY job to keep everything together. It’s not MY fault if things fall apart.
Additionally, living in survival mode is not a healthy thing. This is what is scaring me right now. I don’t know any better than to drive myself onward. Ever faster. Ever stronger. Always biting off more than I can chew. I am so driven that I am modeling that for my children. I am showing them that keeping up the frenzied pace is good and normal and healthy.
Furthermore, I am my own harshest critic. I criticize myself before someone else has a chance to do that. As a kid, I spanked myself. I don’t have mean thoughts about other people, all my mean thoughts are about myself.
I punish myself.
I never lashed out at the unfair, abusive living conditions. I simply internalized it and told myself to figure out a way to survive.
I didn’t leave.
Do you know how much courage it takes to leave an abusive situation? So much. I didn’t have that kind of courage. I am in awe of those who do.
People tell me I write courageously and vulnerably and the truth is: writing courageously is easy compared to the courage it takes to leave an abusive church. I didn’t have enough courage to do that. What I did do? I resigned myself to a life of misery. My church had to fall apart before I worked up the courage to leave.
The thing is, when dysfunction is your normal, you adapt accordingly. For children like me who were raised in high-demand, religious environments we simply adapted and learned how to survive. Hostile environments were our normal.
It’s just sick. You never give peace or happiness a chance because healthiness is abnormal. A major part of my recovery has been realizing my addiction to THE WORLD IS ENDING. Nothing seemed real unless it was fraught with adrenaline.
Happiness and peace feels abnormal. In fact, it feels damn uncomfortable.
But here’s the truth: human beings can live in survival mode for awhile. But eventually, it takes a toll. My marriage has taken a huge, direct hit. We are finally beginning to understand the long-term toll the Survival Lifestyle has taken on us.
Human beings are not supposed to fight unending wars. Something gives out. First goes our empathy. Then goes our health, perhaps. Then we lose our sanity.
I am finally admitting that I am human and I can’t do it all.
I need help.
And I need to keep getting help until I’m all the way helped.
I need to stop living like each day is my last. I need to sloooow down and just live.