The disadvantages of being in a cult

According to mental health counsellor and ex cult member Steven Hassan, there are four components of control employed by cults in order to influence their followers and they are; behaviour control, information control, thought control and emotional control. This is known as the BITE model and it is discussed in detail in Steven Hassan’s book entitled Combatting Cult Mind Control. In this post, I will mention some of the components of the BITE model as it relates to my experience in the Jehovah’s Witness organisation.

Behaviour control

Dictate where, how and with whom members may live or associate with.

As a JW, I was not forced to live in a certain area. However, I was admonished to only associate with fellow witnesses as ”bad associations spoil useful habits.” As a result, I was always careful not to become ”unevenly yoked” with ”wordly” people, or non Jehovah’s Witnesses. This meant that forming deep friendships at school, at work and with family members who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses was out of the question. Needless to say, dating outside was religion was vehemently discouraged! (Keep yourselves in God’s love, chapter 3)

Where, how and with whom members may have sex.

Premarital sex was forbidden and so was masturbation. Marital sex was given the green light however, married couples could not fully explore their sexuality as certain acts such as oral sex were seen as unclean. (Sheperd the flock of God pg.59)

Discourage individualism, encourage group think.

As a Jehovah’s Witness, we were encouraged to be ”no part of the world” and ”to put on the new personality”. This affected the way I dressed, the way I wore my hair, and the information I consumed as well as my worldview. (Keep yourselves in God’s love, chapter 5)

Information control

-Minimise or discourage access to non cult sources of information such as: televison, books, articles, newspapers and any other information that is critical of the group.

I remember reading a Harry Potter book as a teenager and feeling extremely guilty as such books were forbidden by the organisation due to their spiritistic nature. The only literature that was acceptable to read was literature that was published by the organisation. (Keep yourselves in God’s love, chapter 6)

-Discourage contact with former members

I remember shunning a very close friend as he was disfellowshipped due to the fact that he had been critical of the organisation and voiced his negative views. Little did I know back then that I would later find myself at the receiving end of shunning due to my decision to leave the organisation. (Keep yourselves in God’s love, chapter 3)

-keep members so busy that they don’t have time to think and investigate.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to keep busy in their organisation (Watchtower study edition 40- Keep busy duirng the last of the last days) In addition to preparing for meetings and attending three meetings per week, I also spent numerous hours in the preaching work. I would estimate that I roughly spent a minimum of 10 hours per week on theocratic activities and even more hours when I volunteered to build kingdom halls and when I occasionally did full time preaching!

Thought control

Require members to internalise the group’s doctrine as truth .

Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to their religion as the truth and they refer to themselves as the only true Christians.

-organise people into us vs them.

We were taught that we were God’s chosen people and eveyone else was worldly and probably destined for destruction at Armaggedon unless they joined us. ( What does the bible really teach, chapter 15)

-Forbid critical questions about the leader, doctrine or policy.

My friend was disfellowshipped because he had expressed that the organisation had made false prophesies in the past.

Emotional control

-Some emotions and needs are deemed as selfish, evil or wrong.

For example, it was selfish of me to seek higher education in order to have financial freedom, instead of dedicating my life to the organisation by becomeing a full time preacher. (The watchtower Study edition 2018, Serve Jehovah, the God of freedom)

-Make the person feel as if problems are always their fault, never the leader’s or group’s fault.

Whenever I felt unhappy in the organisation, public talks and publications told me that I was not spiritual enough and that I needed to do more for God.

Inculcate irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority, no happiness outside the group.

There is a lot of material depicting those who leave as people who will never find happiness in life. For example, the JW broadcasting of February 2016 (minute 31) showed a man who had left the JWs because he wanted freedom. Upon leaving the religion he started taking drugs and living a debauched lifestyle which caused him to lose everything. Realising how miserable his life was outside the religion, he decided to go back to the religion and lived happily ever after. Towards the end of that scene, he gravely admonished those who were thinking of leaving the religion not to do it, as ”Satan’s world will chew you up and spit you out!”

Such emotive propaganda discourages many Jehovah’s Witnesses from leaving their religion and it fills them with fear.

What was it like for me

I definitely experienced the behaviour control, information control, thought control and emotional control. I felt like a puppet even though they said we had free will. Staying in the religion caused me to feel anxious, depressed, inauthentic and guilty, among other emotions. However, leaving meant I would be labelled as disobedient or even worse, an apostate! Such labels would lead to disfellowshipping, shunning and possibly facing destruction at Armargeddon.

What now?

One of the best things I have done since my departure from the cult has been to educate myself about how cults operate and undue influence. Steven Hassan’s Combatting cult mind control has been extremely helpful in helping me understand exactly what happened to me when I was in the cult and in helping me move forward after leaving the cult. In the next post, I will write about how one can identify a cult.

The benefits of being in a cult

Even though I mostly write about the dangers of being in a cult and the challenges that follow during the recovery process, I have to admit that I have personally benefited from looking at my cult experience objectively. In this blog post, I will reflect on the positives that I experienced in the cult, as well as how I have used those positive aspects of the cult to shaped my life today.

Benefits that I personally experienced

  • As a young child, I used to be extremely shy, withdrawn and introverted. I was able to overcome my shyness and become more outgoing as a Jehovah’s Witness, since I was expected to engage in the preaching work and do demonstrations in front of an audience at the kingdom hall. Furthermore, being interviewed at conventions and being cast in a drama performance also caused me to come out of my shell and become more confident.
  • As a Jehovah’s Witness, I was enrolled in the theocratic ministry school, which helped me develop public speaking and teaching skills so I could be more effective as a preacher.
  • I had the priviledge of travelling and helping in the kingdom hall construction work in South Africa. I thoroughly enjoyed travelling and building in rural areas which were sorrounded by beautiful nature. Also, it was heartwarming and faith strengethening to experience the generosity and kindness of fellow JWs.
  • When I moved to Thailand, I joined a Thai congregation and fellow JWs often invited me to their homes to teach me basic phrases in Thai so I could preach with them in the Thai field.

How cult experience has shaped my post cult life

  • Due to all the time I spent in the preaching work, I am able to strike up a conversation with strangers to this day. This skill came in handy when I struck up a conversation with a stranger on a train and this led me to my current job here in Sweden. I have been working in the same company for 4 years and that stranger has since become a colleague and beloved friend.
  • I enjoyed having deep discussions with people as a JW and that love has continued to this day. The only difference is that now, I don’t talk to people as one having superior knowledge and having the intention of someday converting them, but I talk to them with an open mind. Consequently, I’ve had the most genuine, respectful and eye opening discussions I’ve ever had in my life!
  • As a JW, I thorougly enjoyed doing research for the theocratic ministry school. Looking back, I realise that I was only allowed to do research in publications which were approved by the leaders of the JW organisation. Even though the research I did back them was limited, my love for research and learning was nonetheless ignited! As a result, I am currently pursuing my honours in psychology and I hope to pursue my masters next year.
  • Lastly, leading bible studies with individuals when I used to be a JW made me realise just how much I loved teaching. I currently work as a teacher. Speaking of teaching, the little bit of Thai that I learned from my Thai congretation in Thailand has come in handy in my current job. I have a Thai student who had a particularly hard time following my English instructions to stop being rambuctious. To his utter astonishement, I said a phrase in his mother tongue that stopped him dead in his tracks! I have since earned his respect and that has made my life somewhat easier as his teacher.

My conclusion

After speaking to numerous new friends and aqcuaintances, I realise that they too have been in contexts that have developed certain desirable skills and traits in them. Therefore, this leads me to believe that I could have easily developed similar skills or traits in other non cult like and less dangerous contexts.

Finally, my positive reflections about the cult do not in anyway mean that I would recommend anyone to join a cult, nor do they minimise the damage that comes as a result of being in a cult. The next post will be about some of disadvantages of being in a cult and how I have overcome them since my departure from the cult.

Reasons why people join cults

Whenever I mention to people that I used to be in a cult, their reactions tend to be curiosity, empathy, pity or judgement. The latter might ask me how a person in their right mind would choose to join a cult. What they don’t realise is that anyone could become a victim of a cult.

Why some join cults

When I was in a cult, I encountered people from every walk of life. Black and white folk, educated and uneducated as well as people from all over the world. What they had in common was their dedication to this group. Some of them had been born into a family of believers, while others had been converted by members of the cult who had preached to them. As a Jehovah’s Witness, I was trained to preach persistently to members of the public even if they said they weren’t interested, in case they might change their minds due to a change in their life circumstances. I noticed that often, people who had been in a mentally vulnerable state due to the death of a loved one, divorce or other traumatic life events were more receptive to our message because they needed to feel hope.

Why I joined a cult

I joined the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was 12 years old. I come from a broken home and we lived in impoverished conditions when I was young. My late mom worked very hard to support my brother and I, which we truly appreciated. However, it meant was was away from us quite often. Add to that, I was sexually abused as a child. When I came in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses at the age of 12, I felt warmth and acceptance. My congretation practically adopted me and I gained a new loving family. Their teachings gave me a new lease on life. The though that all wicked people would be punished at Armageddon made me feel a sense of justice. The idea of earth being turned into a paradise was also very appealing and I would often imaging myself swimming with dolphins and frollicking with wild cats.

Pre-cult problems resurfacing after exit

After I found out some disturbing things about the religion and realised that it was a cult, I made one of the hardest decisions of my life, to leave the religion. I have experienced many psychological effects after leaving and one of them has been having to deal with the things that caused me to join the religion in the first place. You see, while I was in the religion, I somehow managed to bury my head in the sand about my sexual abuse and abandonment issues. The religion kept me so busy that I never got to effectively deal with those issues. Suddenly when I left the religion, I began to have psychological problems associated with those issues.

Therapy

The best thing I have done to deal with those resurfacing problems has been to seek the help of a psychologist. Moreover, I have done research on the effects of sexual abuse and abandonment and how to deal with them. Lastly, I express my feelings by talking to friends who are willing to listen, writing in my journal and also writing poetry.

Therefore, understanding why I was personally drawn to the religion in the first place and doing my best to heal from that pain has played a vital role in my recovery process.

It will hurt before it heals

 

After a three year haitus, I have decided return to blogging. After leaving the organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I had many scars that needed to healing before I could come back and continue to blog without any anger, bitterness and vindictiveness. I wanted to come back in more positive mind frame so I could write more objectively and constructively. I wouldn’t say that I have healed completely, but I am on the right path and I have come a long way! It certainly hasn’t been easy to attain this.

Leaving the organisation left me with a lot of emotional scars. Prior to leaving, loved ones had warned me that I would never find happiness outside the organisation and that the world would chew me up and spit me out. This narrative was further perpertuated by videos that the organisation showed , which always portrayed those who left as people who became unhappy, turned to drugs, contracted sexually transmitted diseases or stuggled with intense sadness and regret. I convinced my self that I had to be extremely happy and lead an almost perfect life in order not to fulfill the organisation’s stereotype, and that proved to be exhausting! Whenever I would experience melancholy and sadness, I would start to think that perhaps the organisation was right about abandoners of the religion never finding true happiness.

I also found myself yearning for contact with people with  whom I’d had a shared history and the fact that they were shunning me was totally devastating! I struggled with insecurities due to the fact that it was difficult for me to listen to my inner voice because I had learned to  ignore it while I was in the organisation, as I had been encouraged to only listened to the voice of the bible as intepreted by the governing body of the organisation. I was angry about all the time I had wasted in the organisation, spending approximately 15 hours each week on theocratic activities for 15 years of my life. For a while after leaving the organisation, I felt lost as the beliefs I had long held and cherished were now in disrepute.

Most of all, all the things that had made me vulnerable to joining a cult, such as; having come from a broken family, poverty as well as sexual abuse as a child; suddenly came to the fore once again as my head was no longer ‘buried in the sand’ and the paradise of the JWs was no longer within reach for me.

Needless to say, those emotions have at times been overwhelming and crippling. It has taken a lot of effort and energy to work through them. To be honest, I am currently still working on the emotional scars but I am happy to say that at last, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

The biggest epiphany I had during a counselling session with my psychologist was-  it’s ok not to be ok. When you have been through such hard times, it makes sense that you will sufferer before you heal. Struggling with negative emotions does not mean that the organisation was right about me being doomed to an unhappy life.  As long as I handle my negative emotions effectively and turn to the right channels for help, my fate does  not necessarily have to be that which is portrayed in the organisation’s propaganda.

The next blog post will be about how I have overcome that negative emotional state I found myself in and how I have moved on with my life post JW.

 

 

The price of freedom

”Freedom always comes with a price .”  S.C Lewis

When I decided to leave the Watchtower organisation a year ago, I underestimated just how deeply the consequences of my actions would affect every aspect of my life. It’s been a year filled with highs and lows of emotions, and everything in between.

One of the lows is the deep sense of sadness over lost relationships with my loved ones who are still in the organisation. I met my best friend at a kingdom hall at the age of 12. We played with a skipping rope outside the kingdom hall in Austerville while the adults finished cleaning the hall. We studied the Bible together with a mature family friend as our Bible study conductor, whom we sometimes drove crazy with our giggles over silly things, as girls that age often do. We grew in the faith, engaging in the door to door ministry, Watchtower preparation for Sunday meetings and other wholesome activities. Her entire family practically adopted me, and so did the entire congregation. My own blood relatives ( with whom my relationship was already precarious) were replaced with my new spiritual family, as the former were too ‘worldly’ to form real ties with.

When we got older we lived far from each other but we always caught up at family functions, congregation get- togethers and the conventions. We talked about how we were doing spiritually, my occasional pioneering, the Bible studies I was conducting, her university studies and the guilt she sometimes felt for pursuing higher education, as well my kingdom hall building adventures. Kingdom hall builds were my favourite. Visiting different cities and meeting different families who were strangers but brothers and sisters in the faith, with whom we shared a common goal. The love and hospitality they extended to us always deepened my conviction that I was indeed in the one true religion.

All those bonds, all those experiences, all the memories we shared… All swiftly cut the minute I decided my conscience would not allow me to support this organisation, after finding out some disturbing truths about it. No explanations were required from me by my loved ones as the organisation paints all those who leave with the same brush; they have made themselves enemies of God and must therefore be avoided at all costs. I don’t know what hurts most, the shunning or knowing that they may never know the real reasons why I left.

Although I mourn the lost relationships, I am constantly reminding myself that life goes on. Thankfully, the new relationships I have formed have opened up a whole new world of human relationships I never knew existed. Love and compassion for others regardless of their beliefs, respect for other people’s views, empathy and understanding for those who have different lifestyles to my own, open and honest communication, seeing others as equals and enjoying this journey called life together. I’m truly blessed to have found such awesome people in my life, who haven’t lived up to Watchtower’s negative description of worldly people and have enriched my life in many ways!

From a young age, I came to realise how unfair life was. My first memory of a place called home was a 50 square meter tin shack in Orange Farm, with a single workaholic mom for a parent.  The hope of a paradise earth, in which all would have beautiful homes, delicious food to eat and swim with dolphins was all too appealing. I was absolutely certain about the future of the world and had an understanding of the world’s current events, something I believed to be a privilege only revealed to our special organization. That knowledge not only made me swell with pride as a member but it also motivated me to work harder in the organization. Most of all, my religion gave me hope.

When I see injustices now and human suffering, I no longer have that rock-solid certainty that I had before. Going from a state of knowing it all to not knowing it all can make one feel disempowered, helpless and hopeless.  It has taken me some time to humbly accept that I do not have all the answers. However, what I am certain of is the fact that I am here, we are here, sharing this wonderful home called earth, and it is within each and every person’s reach to make a difference in some way, using whatever talents have been bestowed upon them.  That knowledge motivates me to be the best person I can be and to assist others whenever it’s within my reach.

I used to think being a good person was closely related to being religious and attending  meetings in a kingdom hall. This belief became deeply ingrained in me and became a natural part of my life.  When I stopped attending meetings, I had some mild withdrawal symptoms; I suddenly had so much time on my hands and I felt guilty about that, not belonging to a religion made me feel like I was a bad person and I felt my spiritual need would never be fulfilled without belonging to an organized religion. But now I see things differently. I spend my time on activities I love, which makes me a happier person. I’ve met a lot of atheists who are morally upright and wonderful people, which no doubt proves that being religious is not a prerequisite for being a good person. As far as not having a religion is concerned, I’ve come to see that religion is certainly not a prerequisite for being a spirituality minded person. I do not need a congregation or a building to feel in touch with my spiritual side. All I have to do is go out in nature and my spiritual need is fulfilled.

Another issue that leaves me with a heavy feeling in my heart is the hope of the resurrection, which was a source of comfort when my dear mother passed away. Now that I am no longer certain of that hope, as I am questioning everything that I was taught as a witness, the very thought of that never becoming a reality makes me grieve in a different way. This is something that is still a huge struggle for me. That is a loss I still need to come to terms with.

Some of the highs have come from the so-called ”cheap thrills of the world”, which of course were not the main reason I abandoned the religion, but have come about as a mere consequence of living life as ordinary people do. I marvel now and sometimes laugh cynically when I recall how some of these so-called cheap thrills would have gotten me disfellowshipped or in some sort of trouble as a witness. Having friends who do not have the same beliefs as I do, regularly socializing with workmates outside of work, celebrating the holidays, getting a tattoo, living with a male housemate, pursuing a career, investing in my hobbies, among other things.

Of all the things I’ve lost, what I certainly do not miss is the pressure that is being constantly put on witnesses to do more for the organization. The question always lingered in the air about whether or not I was doing enough and the pressure that fellow witnesses put on me, perhaps unknowingly, made matters worse. I also don’t miss the fear of disappointing others and of stumbling them, which caused me to live a  restricted life in which I could never be my authentic self. This certainly caused a lot of anxiety and depression.

I must admit that I still do have the occasional bout of depression and anxiety after leaving. It usually stems from feeling misunderstood and lonely. Missing my mom. Anger that I’ve been robbed of a regular life and wasted many years in a cult. Feeling like a late bloomer among my peers, who have so much more knowledge than I do on certain matters, especially matters of sexuality.  Not wanting to get too attached to people because once bitten twice shy.

When all seems murky and all these emotions overwhelm me, gratitude is my lifeline. Gratitude for the wonderful people in my life who make me feel loved and valued. Gratitude that I have the opportunity to start afresh in life and do all the things I wanted to do as a witness but couldn’t, like pursuing a career and my hobbies, without feeling like I’m doing something wrong. Gratitude for nature, which calms me and grounds me. Gratitude that I have me.  I’ve learned to be good to myself and to rely on myself. Most of all,  I’m grateful that I’m finally free to me ME!

My freedom has come at a high cost, but I am ever so grateful that my eyes were opened, I was set free and now the possibilities are endless.

 

 

Christmas in Sweden

If you had told me a year ago that I’d find myself sitting in a cozy cafe in Göteborg, reflecting on the wonderful Christmas experience I’ve just had, I would have definitely called you crazy. Me, celebrate Christmas? Never!

My religion forbade it, after all. And even though at the time I had some doubts about my religion, I strongly believed the fault was all mine. Exactly a year ago I looked around the streets of Bangkok, beautifully lit and decorated with the most dazzling Christmas decorations I had ever seen at the time. I stared at everything and thought how odd it was that a country that was predominantly Buddhist was embracing Christmas with open arms. I even felt a twinge of guilt for feasting my eyes on the beauty of the decorations and for unintentionally singing along to those annoying Christmas tunes.

Fast forward to today. The proverbial scales have fallen from my eyes. Instead of seeing a tower of refuge in my former religion, I now see a prison tower that enslaves the minds of its followers, restricts their enjoyment of life and imposes yokes that crush the soul. Moreover, that dangerous  tower also keeps as hostages the loved  ones of those who manage to escape from it.

I am thankful to have escaped, even though the process of recovery has been far from easy. During this period of recovery it has been a blessing to have experiences that lift the soul and warm the heart. It makes the struggle bearable, like a bright star on a dark night or a warm fire on a cold night.

This Christmas season has been just that for me. As it gets so cold and dark here in Sweden during the winter, it’s such a delight to see the streets all lit up with beautiful Christmas decorations. It’s also lovely to see candles flickering on the window sill of every house, creating a beautiful ambiance that always reminds me of how the light is always triumphant over darkness.

 

I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting people’s homes during this season and I love Swedish Christmas traditions.  The homes I have visited have been warm, cozy and inviting. For the first time in my life, I have enjoyed looking at  each and every Christmas tree without feeling guilty at all, but instead, with a renewed appreciation for how the tree brings the family together as they decorate it together and continue their family traditions. Without fail at every house I have  visited, there’s been some hot  glögg with raisins and almonds or some refreshing julmust to sip on, as well as some peppakakor and some juleskum candy to snack on .

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I had the privilege celebrating Christmas with my kind landlord together with his wonderful family. We celebrated on the 24th of December as it is customary for Swedes to do. We had a delicious three course meal which included some Swedish specialties such as sill , juleskinka and rödbetssallad.  Of course, other Swedish staples such as potatoes and salmon also made an appearance. True to his American nature, my landlord brought a delicious roast turkey as well as a scrumptious apple cheese cake. To add some South African flavour to the mix , I contributed some vetkoeks with mince. We enjoyed the meal and I was treated to some sporadic singing in between.  I ate so much that I needed to sit down on a reclining chair with my legs up for an entire hour afterwards, because my stomach felt too heavy!

 

 

As the presents were opened and I put on a Christmas hat, I was reminded of how two years ago, all teachers at my previous school were asked to put on Santa hats and hand out candy to the students. With my heart beating heavy in my chest, I asked to be excused from that and explained to my boss that I did not believe in Christmas. How different things have been this year. One day at school, I spent all day making Christmas trees and decorations out of paper, while shamelessly listening to Christmas songs repeatedly. The students joined me and we had  loads of fun.

It’s hard to believe that a year ago, I knocked on peoples doors  and encouraged them to research the pagan roots of Christmas. That was one of the arguments that my former religion brought forward against Christmas celebrations. Now that the veil has been removed from my eyes and I can think critically, I think that reasoning is quite rich coming from an organisation that hides some of it’s unflattering roots from it’s followers and forbids them from doing objective research on their own beliefs.

I am very well aware of the pagan roots of Christmas, as many other people are. However, I choose to see it as a special time for families and friends to get together and celebrate life. I have seen how this joyous occasion brings people closer together. And especially in a country like Sweden, its wonderful to have something to look forward to during the cold and dark winter months.

 

A new perspective

My au pairing adventure came to an end roughly about a month ago. I can honestly say that it has been one of the most life-changing experiences of my life.

My personal journey as an au pair happened to coincide with my exit from a high control organisation which many may refer to as a cult. During this time of immense self-discovery as well as discovery about the world so far removed from the cacoon I’d grown up in; I’ve had moments that have filled me with so much joy and gratitude to be alive, but I’ve also had some internal storms that come with exiting a cult. From my change of worldview to dealing with being shunned by precious loved ones, I’ve had to work had to fix the proverbial rug that’s been pulled from under me and stand on my own two feet. I’m sure you can imagine what a balancing act it’s been trying to deal with my own personal struggles while trying to be the perfect au pair.

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Having come from an environment that controlled my interaction with outsiders and poisoned my mind against those who didn’t share my beliefs, au pairing gave me the opportunity to live with two host families and dispel these misconceptions I’d previously held. I was fortunate enough to have families who understood my personal struggle, let me talk about it whenever I felt overwhelmed and encouraged me to focus on how to move forward.

Around the kids I tried my hardest to not let my issues get in the way. In my first host family  the kids were old enough to look after themselves, they didn’t really need my help that much, emotionally and otherwise. So I had plenty of time to fall apart, have a longing for my loved ones who were now shunning me, do research on different cults and then quickly pull myself together before engaging in my duties as an au pair. In my second host family, I had 18-month-old active twins who demanded a lot from me. Through the tantrums, diaper changes, refereeing (their fights), playground visits, loving hugs and sweet smiles, I gradually found my mind being occupied less by my personal struggles and more by Pippi Longstocking and Sheep Shaun.

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I got to share in some very special celebrations with my host families. On my birthday, my first host family woke me up to the Swedish version of the happy birthday song, served me breakfast in bed and spoiled me with some lovely presents. That was my first birthday in 16 years. We also celebrated Easter and Midsummer together. My second host family introduced me to my first Crayfish party experience. All these celebrations were joyous occasions that brought us together and we all had a wonderful time.

Both my host families encouraged me to go out there and meet new people and engage in different activities. I’ve danced some nights away like no one was watching.  I’ve had some lovely chats in cozy cafes, about every topic under the sun with awesome girlfriends who love me unconditionally. I’ve gone for solo walks in the woods and stared at nature with eyes full of wonder and appreciation. Speaking of the woods, I’ve been kissed passionately by a gorgeous Dutch guy who made my heart skip a beat and made me feel incredibly special. To an average person, these are normal activities that some people take for granted, but for me, having been deprived of such pleasures for such a long time, I took everything in with a renewed appreciation for life.

 

 

Of course, it hasn’t been all moonlight and roses. During this time of self-discovery and meeting new people, I’ve trusted and I’ve  been let down. But I’ve also learned from those experiences and become much stronger. I refuse to let negative experiences get me down. Breaking away from mental slavery has given me a new appreciation for life.

And being an au pair has helped me on my journey to freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skiing with my host family

I’d been with my host family a little over a month when they invited me to go to a ski resort with them. I was excited about skiing for the first time but also a little nervous because a friend of mine from my home country, South Africa , had injured her knee quite badly while skiing a few years ago. Knowing just how accident prone I can be, I was worried that the same fate might befall me.

We arrived in Kläppen on a Thursday at around noon. From a distance we could see the majestic slopes covered in snow, the cables going up and the people who skied so gracefully and seemingly effortlessly. We made our way to the shop where we could hire our skiing gear. I felt cool in my red jacket, helmet, eyeglasses and gloves and kept posing every time I caught a glimpse of my reflection. I felt cool until I put my boots on. It felt as if they weighed 10 tons and they were a mission to walk in! I walked like a robot trying to do the catwalk in heels. I wondered how I’d manage to put on my skis and actually ski, when it was such a mission just to walk in my boots.

Fortunately, I soon managed to walk in my boots reasonably okay. For a moment, I stood at the exit and and just looked out. The  snow looked less white behind my tinted eye glasses. I giggled a bit when I saw people around me doing the strange ski boot walk. My host mom helped me with my skis and held me up while I attempted to ski on the beginners’ slope. The minute she let go of me, I lost my balance and fell backwards. She and my host dad tried to help me up, but it was just impossible at first but they got it right eventually. The first day consisted of sliding, slipping and giggling. I just couldn’t get the hang of skiing, but I was okay with that because I was having fun.

There were more people on the slopes on the second day. Everyone looked like professional skiers to me, even the kids seemed to be doing it effortlessly. I started to feel very self conscious and extremely cold. I was relieved to discover the värmstuga (warm cabin), where I spent most of my second day reading a book. Every now and then, I’d show my face outside, slip and slide with the host kids and then disappear back into the värmstuga, under the premise of going to the bathroom.The highlight of the second day for me was the after ski party. There was live music, happy families and lots of dancing.

On the third day, I threw in the towel on learning to ski. I figured it was just not my thing, not my cup of tea. So when the host family went skiing, I had a lazy morning in our cute and cozy cabin. I did a lot of reading, went out for a walk and just took it easy on my aching body. My host parents were very understanding.  Later on I joined them at the after ski party. It was awesome!

On the last day I didn’t feel happy that I’d given up just like that. I wondered when I’d ever get such an opportunity again. I figured I would at least give it one more shot. My host mom took me to a quiet but slightly challenging slope compared to the beginners’ slope I had been on the other day. She demonstrated what to do, explained the mechanisms and allowed me to practice without saying too much. She then went to a more challenging slope and the next family member came to help me. They all took shifts helping me and they were all patient and kind.

By the end of the morning I could ski! Sure I wasn’t too graceful and I certainly couldn’t ski  on the difficult slopes, but I could ski! It felt awesome and they were very proud of me. We had lunch in a restaurant on top of the mountain. The view would have been fantastic had it not been for the thick grey clouds but we had fun nonetheless. We should have ended our trip right there on a high note, but no, I just had to ski one more time before we returned our ski gear.

I  attempted to ski down a not so steep slope,  my host mom eagerly waiting near the shop entrance and watching me. I’m ashamed to say it was a very clumsy attempt, I crashed into a cart and ended up flat on my face. Fortunately I remembered how to get up quickly. I then proceeded to make my way into the shop, quite nonchalantly while doing the awkward ski boot walk.

 

 

 

 

Picking up the pieces

Nothing can ever prepare you for losing a mother. Prior to  losing my mom, I’d read some heart wrenching stories of people who’d experienced this, I’d read about it in religious publications and I’d written exams on it my psychology  studies. But when it actually happened to me, it’s almost like I experienced amnesia. Or what my brain knew, my heart just couldn’t comprehend or accept.

I dealt with a range of emotions. I judged  myself and felt extremely guilty for a part of me feeling relieved when she died. I felt empty and purposeless because she had been my strongest motivation for working hard. I felt incredibly alone even when surrounded by people.The person who had my best interests at heart and for whom I had been a priority was gone. I was just another face in the crowd.

I’m still learning to deal with those emotions. Sometimes I can think about her and talk about her without breaking down, especially when I think about our happy days we spent together as a family, eating her delicious food and listening to her funny stories. Other times I’m so fragile that I crumble when seeing the mother of the bride at a wedding or grannies playing with their grandchildren. I just allow myself to feel whatever I’m feeling. I have a right to my feelings but it’s my responsibility to ensure that I don’t wallow in them.

I’m also learning to focus on the positives. For 25 years of my life I was loved, unconditionally, by an incredible human being who taught me a lot about this journey called life. The values and morals she instilled in me will remain in me forever.

I’m also trying to learn from the negative experiences too. She was far from perfect but she always did the best she could under the circumstances. She did what she knew based on her past experiences. What matters most to me is that she had the best intentions at heart. I hope the wisdom, courage and determination she had will help me learn from her mistakes  and always strive me improve as a person.

I can honestly say that grief has changed me. For the better and for the worst. The worst is that I don’t have the energy to run after people who show signs of not wanting to be in my life. If I can live without the the person I loved most and knew all my life, I can surely live without someone I recently met. However, I realize that I need to learn to communicate more effectively recognize which relationships are worth fighting for before indignantly cutting people off.

Now of the positives. I take more chances now. I feel if I could handle my worst nightmare coming true, I can handle anything else that comes my way. I’ve learned to be my own best friend and not rely on others to make me happy. I’ve learned to be more independent and stand up for myself and what I believe in. I’m more aware of my mortality now and that makes me want to live life to the fullest.

Most of all, I’ve learnt that life is too short for mediocrity. Whether it’s mediocrity in relationships, work or lifestyle. I’m more motivated to follow my dreams and live the best possible life, like my mom would have wanted me to.

 

Losing mom part 2

I soon grew accustomed to my new routine. Work. Hospital visits. The kingdom hall. Field service. And more work.

Keeping busy with something I was good at and could control to a certain extent, somewhat diminished my feelings of helplessness about things I couldn’t control. One cold winter’s day in June, I woke up to find a missed call from the hospital. I just knew she was gone. I was beside myself with grief. In that moment I was inconsolable, no promise of eternal life in paradise was enough to take the pain away.

Later, I just went into action mode. Being in charge of the funeral arrangements meant I couldn’t afford to fall apart just then. I was grateful for the practical help my kind friends offered me. The outpouring of support from friends, workmates and from my congregation was overwhelming. Not everyone’s circumstances permitted them to the with me in person, but they were certainly there in spirit.

To my surprise, even in moments of grief, there were things to smile about. Three days after my mom’s death I went to the Bluff in Durban, where the funeral was to take place the following day. I sat on a bench over looking the sea and coming towards me was a man in his 40’s , walking arm in arm with his elderly mother. I could hear their conversation, she wasn’t making any sense at all, but  he kindly kept saying ‘It’s okay, mom…’   It was heartwarming to see that interaction but  in the fragile state I was in, I burst into tears. She came and sat next to me and her son stood by. She asked me what the matter was and gave me a huge hug when I told her. They both showed such empathy and compassion towards me, a complete stranger. She then took my face in her wrinkly and trembling hands and told me a nonsensical story about having seen angels the night before, and one of them had had a sweet face like mine. I managed to let out a chuckle through my tears. It felt like momentarily experiencing the warm rays of sunlight after a long cold season.

The funeral was modest and dignified in the context of my beliefs and worldview at the time. I can’t recall exactly what happened, only that I didn’t shed a tear, even though I was bleeding inside.

The hardest thing was going back home alone. It was comforting and oppressive at the same time. Comforting because in that home, my mom and I had shared so many happy memories together. Oppressive because of the unhappy reminders everywhere. The pink see- through packet (from the hospital) with a white label that had her name and date of death on, it contained her clothes and toiletries . The smell of her lotion in her room. Too many bittersweet memories that played tug of war with my emotions.

As painful as it was then, and still is, I knew that I couldn’t put a pause button on life while dealing with my pain. Life just doesn’t work that way. You just have to find a way to move forward.