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This is my story of how I have found healing from my experiences in Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute (ATI) and Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP)–and in my family, as it was under the influence of these organizations. You may not agree with how I came to find healing; you may not agree with my belief that I have experienced healing. You may dislike, disagree, discount. And that’s okay. Because this is my story. And it’s the only one I’ve got.
My experiences with ATI/IBLP and the way my family handled them left me angry and bewildered. I knew that I didn’t have peace about them, but I could never figure out why. I knew that I needed to forgive, submit to God’s workings, let go, move on, etc. But try as hard as I might, I never could. I would think I had dealt with my experiences and put them in the past, only to have some triggering event cause it all to flare up again. I was tired of feeling like I’d dealt with this part of my life only to find out that I hadn’t.
When I was invited to an online group for adults who had been ATI students at one point in time, I accepted the invitation not really expecting to participate much. I thought I’d pop in from time to time to see what was going on, but assumed that most of the discussions would either be about stuff I just didn’t care about (like alternative medicine), or about people who were just bent on staying angry forever. I was really surprised when I began reading some of the early discussions to find that many of the folks seemed to be in the same place as me: I want to move on. I want to heal. I’m just stuck and don’t know how.
In the early days of the online group I found myself logging in to the group frequently. In one sense, I was hoping someone might have discovered the secret formula to healing; in another sense, I started to develop a real fondness and affinity for all of my new (and a few old) friends in the group. As the weeks turned into months, I found myself laughing at some of the ridiculous things we used to believe. I was horrified when I read stories of abuse of every stripe and variety either carried out under IBLP’s watch or under the influence of its teachings. I was sad when I saw the heartache so many of my friends were carrying. But most of all I was angry. I didn’t want to be angry. I didn’t think it was okay or godly to be angry, but reliving events from my ATI days and some of the years thereafter, and vicariously experiencing some of my friends’ woundings sent me into a full-blown rage. All of those embers from my ATI days which had long lain dormant were suddenly stoked up into a raging inferno that threatened to destroy me, my career, and my family.
REACHING CRITICAL MASS
I knew it was becoming a problem when I found myself with a nearly non-existent fuse at home. The slightest infraction from my children ticked me off. I was easily frustrated by things my spouse did; and don’t even get me started on extended family! This rage spilled over into my work life as well, where the slightest insensitivity from a co-worker would invariably send me into orbit.
At first my spouse and I blamed the online group. It was making me too crazy. I needed to stop reading the stories and stop participating in discussions. Then we blamed my character–I just needed to exercise self-control, be an adult, etc. A friend saw the spiral and suggested counseling. I shook off the suggestion. After all, I was a Bible-believing Christian. I didn’t need “psychology.” But as the spiral continued and threatened to destroy me and my family, eventually my spouse and I came to the place where the conclusion was inescapable: I needed professional help. Though we didn’t think we could afford it, we determined we would find the money somehow before I completely self-destructed.
I had no idea where to start. The friend who suggested counseling gave me a recommendation. I sat on it for awhile. Then I remembered a guy who went to my church who did counseling for a living. I looked him up through Google and saw that he was an LPCC, so I was intrigued. I called my insurance company and learned that this was a covered benefit. All that was left was to call him. And I hesitated. I was afraid. I was afraid that I would be judged. I was afraid that I would come out of counseling determined to throw away everything in my life and start over serving at a food bank in some big city (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Most of all I think I was afraid that I would be told to just quit whining and “get over it.”
TAKING THE FIRST STEP
I finally called him, and it took a few weeks of phone tag before my first session was scheduled. I left our meeting very puzzled. It was nothing like what I expected. He basically left me with this rhetorical question: “Where are you lying?” (as in not telling the truth). Initially, I thought this was a good behavior thing. Something to feel guilty about and then end up with a litany of folks I’d have to approach to clear my conscience. “God has convicted me of how wrong I was in lying to you. I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but would you forgive me.” I later came to see that this exercise had more to do with illuminating those areas of my life where I was living in denial. Where I was saying and thinking I believed one thing, but my behavior and attitude revealed something different.
More sessions followed, and I continued to learn. I learned a name for the angst I had with my ATI/IBLP experiences and my family’s response to them: disappointment. I learned that I could let other people “own” the anxiety that should belong to them because they had not planned well. I learned about thought-blockers which were tools you could utilize to stop yourself from going down a destructive pattern of thinking that would only lead to frustration. I learned that I’m not responsible for the behavior of other people. I learned that it is okay to have plans of my own and that I need not give those plans up just because someone else has their own plans. I learned about power assignment, in that people have only had the power over my life that I assigned to them or allowed them to exude.
Somewhere in all of this learning a transformation took place. I found that I had finally let go of my ATI/IBLP experience. It no longer imprisons me. Why? I think it was because I realized the power to let it go was mine. You see, in ATI all of my choices were “bounded choice.” Even if no one held a gun to my head, they were always presented in such a way that they were obviously the only logical choice to make–the only choice that would be honoring to God, etc. My pent-up frustration had built, year after year, because I had become a passive participant in life. Once I realized that I no longer had to let it go, I was free to actually choose to let it go. In other words, it was no longer a bounded choice.
REACHING SOME RESOLUTION
So what does that mean? Yes, I still believe that what happened to me and what happened to so many others in ATI/IBLP was wrong. Heinous even. But I no longer have the rage and sense of hopelessness I had before. However, this was MY journey toward healing. It’s not the same for everyone else. Just as it would be silly to wonder why someone with severe cerebral palsy doesn’t just walk up the stairs like you do, I think it is equally silly to wonder why someone else is still dealing with the aftermath of ATI/IBLP all these years later if you are not. Healing is a process, and everyone has different wounds, skills, and aptitudes.
Thus the reason for the title of this article (So Far)–I know that I’m not done. There is more healing that needs to take place in my life, and it will come in time. But for now, I rejoice at this milestone.