Most healthy people can conceive of themselves as both separate from others and as complete. One of the hardest parts of coming out of a cult is forming a strong sense of Self. By Self I mean a whole individual with complex strengths, weaknesses, moral values, and preferences; a unique individual, not an extension of another or a group.
People who join cults in adulthood have a Self to return to: often an immature, incomplete Self, but a baseline all the same. Those of us born into cults don’t have any pre-cult life to go back to. Our role in the group may be our entire understanding of ourselves and our place in the world around us.
When we first come out we are disordered fragments of people. We may take years simply cataloging and understanding what skills we have from our years in a cult and how to apply them to the world at large. Many of us will have no legal identity when they come of age – no birth certificates or social security numbers – because some groups eschew hospital birth and legal records as a matter of faith or practice. Sub-par homeschooling or religious schooling may further complicate things.
I was lucky. I had legal proof of self (from age four on), a public school education, and secular work in food service starting as a teenager. I gained access to life skills like filling out job applications, managing my own money, and interacting with people who did not share my group’s outlook, dress, or behavior. For many people raised in cults, these skills and education must be acquired in adulthood.
Once we begin to understand the pieces of us that exist – that piece that prefers pistachio ice cream or loud music or cool autumn days, the piece that can serve dinner for twenty on four hours’ notice or make people laugh through their darkest hours or cool a fever using herbs – we being the journey of integrating these pieces into one cohesive, multi-faceted whole.
That’s my next step and I’m beginning it. For now, I know that I am Angie: mother, writer, and friend. I know that I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Southern cooking, and the Gulf coast of Florida. I know my sense of justice is my own, not a linger hold that the cult still has on me. I know I am becoming more whole, and I look forward to it.