The Bright Side of Leaving a Cult

“I wasn’t in a cult,” I insisted.

Fuschias spilled from the edges of the veranda, and the candle flickered across the table linen as the sky turned purple around us.

Thank god the restaurant was empty, because with my friend, there is no talking about pedicures or if it’s going to rain; no, we dive headfirst into issues normally reserved for therapy.

She leaned closer to me, a good German beer in her hand and said, “It was a religion where your husband had complete authority. You had to do everything he said. You couldn’t watch TV or listen to the radio or watch movies. You were isolated from family and any real friends. He used the bible to control you. That sounds like a cult to me.”

I married at age twenty and slipped religion on like a new overcoat. Admit to Jesus you’d royally screwed up your life (drinking, flunking college, stalker boyfriends, being born) and fasten up the brass buttons on your new life.

We were part of a bible-based, non-denominational church, which was fine. There are still a lot of good people there. However, for our family, it was the gateway drug to an opiated existence, where my Ex filled us with the only ideas we needed. It got worse when we moved six thousand miles away from my family and could find no ‘like-minded individuals’ in our new country.

The chapel on the local military base was too ‘liberal’ (because Catholics also used the facility), and the so-called missionary churches were downright creepy (and offensive….one pastor told me a woman with short hair was rebellious as I ran my fingers through my bob…though, maybe he had a point). Regardless, our seemingly normal, conservative Christian existence quickly became a cardboard cutout of real life.

The only emotions I really remember were fear (when my Ex would leave the bible open to passages about murdering one’s wife), sorrow (crying behind a locked door as I prayed God would just strike one of us with lightening…or in church-speak ‘take us home’ the easy way) and exhilaration after running a marathon (my escape of choice).

So, when I had the opportunity to walk away from the marriage, it was like stepping out of a time capsule.

I often find myself wandering the aisles of pop culture like an Alzheimer’s patient in a big box store. My twelve year-old had to tell me what a Kardashian was (FYI: not a fancy sweater). And I have become addicted to TV — and I don’t even have cable (The miracle of streaming! Who knew?)

This is probably one of the best parts of stepping out of the time capsule: I can watch ENTIRE seasons of shows the rest of the world waited weeks, months and even YEARS for.

OMG, I just watched all eight seasons of Psych and Big Bang Theory. My daughter is slowly dolling out the last episodes of Pretty Little Liars; and we began working through Family Guy. Just yesterday I discovered Sex and the City — I literally laughed out loud.

It’s not just TV though. After all these years, I can finally read Harry Potter without thinking I’m going to burn in eternal fires. I can’t believe that I’ve gone this long with NO spoilers…I’m on book 6 now, so be careful what you say to me! I WILL kill you in my next novel!

Life has gone on while I was away, and now I’m catching up. I’m sad that I missed Obama as president (He was deemed ‘a good candidate for anti-Christ’), because the more I learn about him now, the more I think the US will miss him. Politics always bored me because I could never have opinions of my own.

I have a voice now, and thank god I have people around me who like to hear my opinions.

When someone has made most of your decisions for you for twenty years, you end up changing your clothes five times before you run to the store for milk. And things like insurance policies or cell phone contracts…it takes weeks to decide...a new apartment can take months.

I’ve been meditating recently, mostly to help combat stress and nightmares, and I’ve grown fond of the Green Tara from Tibetan Buddhism.

Relax, I’m not dropping one religion for another, I’m just finding things that are helpful.

It’s not just that she’s both mindful and can crush the skulls of men under her foot; but she is a symbol to remind you to fight your own demons:

the lion of pride

the elephant of ignorance

the fires of anger

the thief of preconception

the serpents of jealousy

the imprisonment of greed

the waters of desire

the ghosts of hesitation (a biggie for me)

So here I am, like a baby toddling around a playground for the first time. Touching the grass with my bare feet, climbing ladders, burning my hands on hot slides, skinning my knees, leaning back while I swing, so my ponytail drags in the dirt.

Laughing.

Meeting real people. Feeling. Loving. Regaining my confidence.

Discovering the Green Tara inside.

Life in the cult was miserable, yet easy, with no choices to make.

But oh, god, how much better it is to be free.

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