It’s a week before Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, and for anyone who is newly estranged from their family due to spiritual abuse, I have some advice. Do not spend the day alone. Make your plans now. Ask someone to join them or go ahead and host your own gathering.
I acknowledge that Thanksgiving is a painful time for many. For indigenous people Thanksgiving represents a time of betrayal, theft of lands, and genocide. This is the historical reality for which I grieve. My friend lost her mother to pancreatic cancer this time of year. Soldiers are separated from their families. Thanksgiving can be a very solitary day.
For the person who is newly shunned or estranged from family and friends because their belief has changed, Thanksgiving has the potential to feel very lonely. But doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ve been out 25 years now, but I remember the confusion of the early years. I was fortunate to get invited to Thanksgiving when I couldn’t be with my family. (You might recall, I gained back part of my family, and lost the other half, when I exited my childhood religion. However, I started college and couldn’t always travel home.)
In those early years, I saw the other half of holidays- not a pagan holiday, or only an act of betrayal toward native people, nor a fake day of being thankful, since we should be thankful every day. I saw the power of spending time with people you love, and the joy of making of new friends.
In the early years, I ate Thanksgiving at several tables, and yes, I sometimes had to initiate an invitation. I gathered around various tables and ate foods I never had before. I laughed, watched football, told and heard stories. Each time it was one big love fest.
I had to be honest enough to trust someone else and say, “May I join you?” I felt vulnerable admitting I had nowhere to go, but no one ever turned me down.
As time went on, I created a family of my own. It includes my family but also a few key people I couldn’t imagine celebrating without. I also invite stray people.
Thanksgiving is a great day to think about what you still have. It’s easy to get stuck on losses. But to break free from a controlling mindset, you will have to change your thinking.[i] Cults teach people to be anxious and see threats. Thanksgiving is about the good in life.
When I first left my childhood faith, I was anxious and depressed. Things changed for me when I changed how I talked. I started to tell myself, “Five minutes of today was rough, but the rest went well.” Thanksgiving is a day to intentionally note what is good. That’s why I say, be with others. In our family we ask, “What are you thankful for?” We listen to each other’s answers and it draws us together.
Ask people about their plans, and if they are inviting friends over, ask if they have room for you. Ask if you can bring anything. If they say no, still bring something. I have found flowers go over well. Send a thank you note.
Ask, because the cult is punishing you. They want you to be alone, so that you come running back to them. Don’t fall for it. Go spend time with others, and discover the generosity and the kindness that is said to not exist outside of the cult. It’s a lie that there is no where else to go. There is always room for more at a table built by love.
You’ve got less than a week to ask.[ii] Now get to it.
[i] Bonnie Zieman’s book, Cracking the cult Code for Therapists, talks about the indoctrination and control process. Cults need to create anxiety in order to convince the adherent that safety is only found in the group.
[ii] If this is not your style, see if you can volunteer to help feed the homeless. I volunteered this way several times and my assignment was to take the meal to seniors who are shut in. We spent time and brought their meal to their home. There is nothing like helping others to help increase your own gratitude.