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They were raised in a normal America. They had children and then, in reaction to the symptoms of societal misdeeds, they were drawn to an organization (the Institute in Basic Life Principles) that held a checklist of answers to life’s every question. (clothing, hair style, vocabulary, music, activities, toys, pets,education, culture, friendships, dating, marriage, raising children, finances, etc.) “If you do A, B, and C, the results will be success. If you fail to do A, B, and C, the results will be heartache and chaos.” And so these seeking individuals joined the Advanced Training Institute, the exotic inner-sanctum of this Institute in Basic Life Principles, subjecting their young children to the ideals, principles, teachings, and “standards” of the organization.
Now remember that we did not grow up in a normal America. We grew up in the homeschool/ATI culture chosen by our parents. And, in time, we reached an age where we “got out”. But when we finally left, we left our first culture. Remember: Normal America was our secondary culture. Therefore, recovery is going to be a process.
So let’s talk about recovery. In the beginning, I think it’s normal to feel guilty. I’m opposing the only thing I’ve known. On one hand, I’m sure that getting out is the right thing to do. But on the other hand, I feel like a rebellious child.
I watched Disney’s “Tangled” with my family recently and was struck with the number of analogies throughout the story. Here was a soul, trapped and made to believe that her captivity was in her best interest. When she finally escaped her captor, she felt liberated. But then her liberation scared her. Notice the confusing dialogue that proceeded and how spot-on that dialogue is to our confusion when we –the children of the Advanced Training Institute- realize the deception we’ve been under for so many years!
Not only are we afraid of being wrong, but we’re afraid of hurting the ones we love who are still involved in the system: leaders, friends, parents, pastors, relatives, God,… Yes, I included God. Because, although God has not been properly represented in this religious sect, all we know is to connect Him to it. If we have swallowed false teachings about God, and if we’ve been fed a misrepresentation of his character, (particularly throughout childhood and the teen years) then a lifelong task lays before us to get to know the real Him. A genuine, simple, sweet relationship can be developed with the true, loving Heavenly Father. At first, however, it is natural to think you might be running from Him as well as from the cult. What a terrible, terrible feeling.
The next phase many of us reach is the questioning phase. It can get pretty confusing as to what exactly needs questioned. We question the “standards” of the organization. But maybe we also question the existence of God or the truth of the Bible. Unfortunately, I’ve seen former cult members stop and plant their feet here. They’ve turned to a lifestyle opposite to their upbringing merely because it’s the opposite. The thing we need to remember is that the families who bought into the cult did so in order to be different from normal society, while hoping for promised success. I call this a pendulum swing. (See http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2011/07/religiousnoose1/ for a better understanding of how this swing began.) It is critical, though, that we guard ourselves from a pendulum swing in the opposite direction, resulting in further damage. Also, remember that a swing like this indicates that we are still being controlled by the organization …albiet, in the opposite way.
I’ve watched former Advanced Training Institute members (who are also my dear, sweet friends) become atheists, claiming that there is no God. Or, some become agnostic. Because “If there is a God, then why would He be so cruel?” To them, IBLP meant God. To them, the beatings they received to comply with the family standard was received as coming directly from Him. So, the thinking is, “Who needs God? Why would I want to voluntarily invite that kind of heartache and pain into my life?”
The physical stress that goes along with pre and post-recovery varies in form. I have friends and loved-ones who still carry literal, physical scars left by the whippings handed out under the approval of the IBLP organization. Other stress-symptoms have come in the form of frequent sickness, anxiety, nightmares, emotional problems, attachment disorders, marital problems, sexual confusion, divorce, suicide, hostility, anger, nausea, clenched teeth, or other signs of stress. The longer or deeper the person or his family has been in the group, the more painful these symptoms can be.
The final stages of successful recovery from a religious organization such as the Advanced Training Institute comes with the realization that I am precious to my Heavenly Father. It comes with taking hold of the true meaning of grace in my life and making it personal. The key is learning to lay myself out there naked to Jesus, knowing that I don’t measure up. And I never will. But get this… it’s still understanding that, to Him, I AM TO DIE FOR. I’m priceless. It’s integrating my old personality (the one who was trained to please, and to hide imperfections, and to fit a mold) into my new personality (the one who sees my Creator for all He is. The one who “gets” that grace makes everything okay. The one who is learning, day by day, to keep centered in Jesus while living in normal America. The one who rests in Him, learning to live fulfilled, growing, thriving, and loving others to Him along the way.) This is recovery. And this is what the ministry of Recovering Grace is all about.