Spinar, Mary Jane

Introduction: I read this to 300 co-workers (CO-workers not “workers”) for a Growth, Respect, Opportunity Workshop). GROW is a grassroots type conference where we immerse ourselves in a 3-day training. The training includes keynote speakers and breakout sessions. The heart of the workshop is The Take a Walk with Me panel.  

Resilience is Freedom

My story is a journey to freedom. There have been mountains and valleys; however, still a victory with the miracle of rewiring the brain and belief system.

Hidden violence to the mind and emotions is very toxic. Continual shame is a form of deadly force, especially the constant dripping day by day and believing the shame. I have been asked, “Do you realize how much trauma you have had?” I thought the traumatic events which happened during my youth and marriage were the only traumas. Not understanding the shaming and self-talk I learned was a continual dripping faucet on my emotional being.

My story began 100 years ago—NO! I am not that old. Yes, our choices can affect our families for many years. My great-grandparents and grandparents bought into a lie. They believed a specific group had started at the time of Christ. I have found out in the last 12 years that in reality, the group started in the late 1800s, less than 25 years before. My parents were born into the cult. I was born into it, as well.

I am the one you would have never dreamed of leaving the cult. I dedicated myself to the lifestyle with my whole identity wrapped up in the cult. As my sister said, “the goodie two shoes.”  In the hierarchy, I married a man who was a nephew to a respected minister in the cult. I drove an 18-wheeler cross-country with my husband wearing dresses, pantyhose, and my long hair up like in the early 1900s. I truly believed it was the right thing to do.

To keep the cult family on the straight and narrow, gossip was used as a tool to keep us in line. The criticism, continual striving, being shamed for asking questions, was the beginning of the constant dripping of shame that was the beginning of believing I was less than and self-hatred. I was programmed to think conformity was the path. I now understand my parents and grandparents did the best they could with the light they had. My journey to freedom is how to take care of myself and not hurt others—stop the cycles of shame.

When I married, I soon found out I married a man insanely jealous of my family, so much for a good family man. I was determined to make it work. At the beginning of the marriage, I studied the book of Ruth; thinking and believing I was learning healthy submission, when, in reality, I became an extremely compliant, almost a slavish servant people-pleaser. Of course, my husband and the group loved it. I was easy to manipulate and praised for being so teachable.

You ask, why did I stay? Indoctrination and brainwash are crippling to confidence. My confidence was still too low. Influence outside was “worldly.” You may think “worldly” as positive. However, in the cult influence from those not in the group, “worldly” was “bad.” Counseling was not acceptable. Just like my father believed you could go to heaven or high school but not both. So many beliefs to let go and overcome.

I began to see glimpses of freedom when I taught quilting. The ladies who owned a fabric shop where I taught began to sow the seeds of confidence. It took 14 years for the seeds to mature into the courage I needed to leave the abusive relationship and then six years later leave the cult.

Another foretaste of freedom was when I got a job with a cellular phone company and began thriving intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. The company had a library of communication and interpersonal relationship audiobooks. I would check out tapes and listen on my drive to and from work. This was the beginning of my journey into a different way of thinking and a new mindset. The irony is the cult told us to not listen to the audiobooks of the Bible because voice inflection changes the meaning. I began to see that mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse was alive in my marriage. The day the abuse became physical—that was the day I left.

We all know divorce can be painful. I had checked out of my marriage years before I left; so, I was like a bird out of the cage. The freedom was immense. I now had a good job with benefits and retirement. In my freedom, I changed my dress style, started wearing make-up, getting my nails done, had a television, went bar hopping ALL of which were no-nos in the cult.

The metaphoric “divorce” from the cult was much more painful than leaving the marriage. It was six long years of knowing I am walking away and am going to break my dad’s heart. His whole self-worth was wrapped up in his children being in the group. In the end, he was the reason I left the cult. A few months before I left the cult, I had sold everything I had except what would fit in my car. It was freeing to sell everything and move back to New Mexico.

In the beginning, my heart ached, aware I was walking away while wearing a mask of happiness and a ready smile. In this time of deep grief and fighting to find my identity, I resisted accepting that I was coming from a cult. I would acknowledge it was mind control. I now recognize the group is a cult. Cults are not always about physical violence. However, one thing they all have in common is they deny the mind control, unusual behaviors, and mindset. I ultimately lost my whole social circle. The liberation became a burden due to the loss and deep pain of grief; the ostracism and shunning became unbearable. I had known I did not fit within the group for several years. I now knew I did not belong in the group.

I had no emotional or community support. I did not trust the “outsider.” During my marriage in the jealousy and semi-isolation, I knew how to create a community within the cult. Belonging was huge. However, when I left, I did not know how to create a communityoutside the group, plus I had unreal expectations. I would try things and then deal with the guilt and shame of former beliefs, which made no sense to my co-workers or acquaintances. I now felt like a foreigner in my own country, trying to find my way was very painful. The pain, loss of connection, and belonging were intense, and many did not want to get close, plus I was scared to let them in.

I was experiencing all of this pain at the very beginning of my career with the Forest Service. I now see being part of something bigger than myself was stabilizing. My walk away from the cult began at the same time; I started my journey with the Forest Service. However, the ache was minor compared to when I accepted my first permanent position in Albuquerque in 2007. This country girl who loves small rural communities, arrived terrified, I would run into my ex-husband’s family and old friends. I now see that it was an unrealistic mindset. There are a million people in the area. In the midst of all the hurt and pain, I began to see and experience glimmers of freedom. Like when I started discovering and participating in circles of highly educated people. It was fascinating and overwhelming at the same time.

When I started with the Forest Service, I believed I could never be more than a Support Services Specialist. I NEVER, in my wildest dream, thought I would be an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist. If you had told me then that I would be standing here speaking with you about my journey and resilience, I would have said you were crazy. I was told over and over for years, I was a cry baby, and I just needed to toughen my skin. I would get frustrated not knowing how to express myself when people told racist, sexist, or any other type of derogatory jokes. I had learned not to ask questions, so the tone and words sounded very judgmental. I did not realize that I have an advocate’s heart for social justice.

Having witnessed several leave the group through the years, I had seen those who were afraid when they left that they were going to hell. I saw others with anger and bitterness eating them alive. The most tormented ones were those who had one foot in and the other out. I have seen those who think they are out just because they changed and began doing forbidden things like buying a TV, smoking, chew, cussing, going to concerts and movies, or ladies cutting their hair and having their nails done.

This group drives me to continue working on my beliefs. I have many cherished memories and friends from the cult. When I left, I determined I would go back to dad’s funeral and be as loving as I had ever been. I am grateful to say that happened. Even though I have left and still love many in the cult, I do not want to be around them. I realize how naive and easily I can be manipulated.

Resilience does not mean no tears, always being positive or totally cheerful with a Pollyanna attitude. Resilience is fighting through the messiness of adversity and coming out on the other side, a stronger person. The fighting is a determination for the transformation and not to give in and go back to the old thinking. One lesson I have learned is when I become grateful for the experience, I am past the trauma. I am thankful for the adventure. It has given me the heart to empathize with others. I have learned our stories are very similar.

By Mary Jane Spinar
October 6, 2019

Verses I shared with my Christian friends and church family.

Romans 12:1-2 Be not conformed, be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Romans 8:1-2 No longer condemned

John 16:33 I have overcome

1 John 4:4 You are from God and overcome for he who is in you is greater

2 Timothy 1:12, 14 I know in whom I believe; and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

1 Timothy 6:2 guard against godless chatter

2 Timothy 2:16-17 avoid chatter that spreads like gangrene