I am thrilled to offer a post from a dear friend and fellow “recovery warrior” (and an amazing coach, if you’re looking for one!) Caroline Garnet McGraw – who offered to write a post for me so that I could lie on my side porch doing nothing, healing from my last chemo treatment, even more.
May you enjoy it, and her, as much as I do!!!
Have you ever had your world turned upside down by a single sentence? Have you ever felt someone else’s words unlock a caged place within your heart and set you free from fear?
If so, then this story is for you.
It begins with me spending a month in a residential rehab called The Clearing.
It’s 2016, and I am here for work – I’m a copywriter on The Clearing’s team, writing ebooks and essays – but I am also here for my own healing.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family and a cultic church, I learned that I was born sinful and selfish. And the only way I could hope to atone for this innate depravity was through hard work and self-sacrifice.
When I told a parent that a friend wasn’t good to me, that our friendship was no longer healthy, their response was: “Well, Jesus let himself be nailed to the cross!”
Given that indoctrination, it was no surprise that I kept choosing pain long after I left the cult. Like Lisa, I struggled with perfectionism, self-harm, an eating disorder, and overwork.
In short, I didn’t know how to be good to myself. I kept working hard for a forgiveness I couldn’t feel.
Choosing to spend a month at The Clearing is a radical departure from the path of self-denial. But in some wordless way I know it’s exactly where I need to be.
On this particular day in workshop, we are learning about self-forgiveness. We are offering ourselves compassion for our judgments against ourselves and others.
Then The Clearing’s co-founder Joe tells us, almost offhandedly, “Oh, and by the way, you don’t have to worry about asking God for forgiveness.”
At this, I cannot help but raise my hand and say, “Wait … you don’t?”
There is incredulity in my voice, because Joe is speaking a language I don’t understand. The thought of not asking God for forgiveness feels utterly foreign to me.
After all, my childhood God was a God of judgment. While I met some wonderful people in my church growing up, I also absorbed a lot of ideas about working hard to be saved and not ending up in the Lake of Fire.
And while I’ve let go of some spiritual baggage, the child within me still fears not measuring up.
How many times have I prayed for forgiveness over the years? How many times have I begged the God of my understanding to please, please forgive my many mistakes and failings?
“No,” Joe says. “And I’ll tell you why not. As we’ve discussed before, here we believe that God is unconditional love.”
I nod. That much I can follow; that much feels familiar.
Joe continues, “Well, think about it. A lot of people talk about God’s unconditional love … except if you do X, Y, and Z. But that’s not actually unconditional love. By definition, there is no judgment in it.
God doesn’t need to forgive you because God never judged you.”
My eyes are deer-in-the-headlights-wide.
Joe gives me a kind smile and concludes, gently, “You were the one that judged you. But God never did.”
It’s hard to describe precisely how hard this hits me. God doesn’t need to forgive you because God never judged you.
It’s as though I have spent years in a dark room and someone has flipped on the lights. I am blinded, yet I am also seeing clearly.
Joe’s words conflict with religious doctrines that I’ve believed for most of my life. But they also cause a powerful, ring-true resonance within me. They align with every felt experience of the Divine that I’ve ever had.
My mind is incredulous – How can this possibly be? – but my heart is beating out steady affirmation: Yes. Yes. Yes.
Soon there will be tears in my eyes, but for now I am too shocked to cry. When I do find my voice, I say, “Wait. Wait. Stop the bus. Really?”
For the rest of the session my fellow Participants will make (good-natured) fun of me for my reaction, and I will not mind.
Instead, I will feel old knots of fear falling away. I will think about the recorded words of Jesus in the Gospel of John: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
And as the weeks and months pass, this simple, freeing truth will return to me again and again …
God never judged me. God never judged you. There was always only love.
And that’s what I love about to the moon and back. On one hand, it’s the story of a child sacrificed on the altar of religious madness – a story of stunning child abuse and neglect. And on the other hand, it’s the story of how Lisa realized that she didn’t have to sacrifice her life any longer.
In her book, Lisa tells the story of a time when a single sentence helped set her free:
“I was at a lunchtime [recovery] meeting at St. Patrick’s Cathedral …. I again shared my story of life with Will [my boyfriend who was an alcoholic] …. When the meeting ended, a man approached me from the other side of the room. I’d seen him before but didn’t know him. “I heard what you said and wanted to share one thing with you.” He paused. “There are no victims, only volunteers.” He gave me a hug, turned, and walked away.
Somehow, I heard what he said. I really heard it. I’m not sure why or how, but something kicked in – my steel rod backbone, my guardian angel(s) – and it became apparent that I had options.
While I could spend the rest of my life with Will and survive, it wasn’t my only choice. I didn’t have to stay with him to prove I was tough enough. I no longer had to suffer or pay indemnity to prove anything.
I had allowed myself, once again, to be influenced and controlled by something – or someone or my false beliefs – but I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to be a strong warrior. I didn’t have to withstand everything.”
This is my favorite part of to the moon and back, because it reminds me of what I know, deep down, and often forget: We are free to choose.
And there is so much strength in choosing not to be the strong warrior — in choosing to sit down and say, simply and clearly, “No. No more.”
Caroline Garnet McGraw is the author of You Don’t Owe Anyone: Free yourself from the weight of expectations. Read the first chapter for free
I’d love to hear your thoughts, and please share this post with others if it resonates with you!
If you have been in ANY high control group or religion, share your story with the hashtag #IGotOut. Share on your own platform OR if you need to be anonymous and/or would like support, there are resources at the @igotout_org website.
When you see a survivor share their story, let them know they have been heard. This is such a meaningful part of the movement. We all need to know we’re not alone.
If you know someone who has been harmed by a high demand group, share #igotout posts or stories you think would help them.
Together we can bring awareness to how many of us have been harmed by high control organizations and end the shame or stigma we might feel about our experiences.
Tell your story
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Find out more at igotout.org
Lisa! Thank you so much for being you, and for sharing this story today. 💗
Thank you for sharing your story with me!