I Drank to Dull Pain

My father and mother were Christadelphians and had both been born into Christo families. My mother was the eldest child of 12. My grandparents on her side were hard out Christos – my grandfather even tried to start his own offshoot of the Christadelphians. Although it didn’t work, I was met a cousin at a wedding years ago who tried to tell me there were ‘only about 20 of Gods chosen left’ and that ‘times were like in the days of Noah,’ so I guess this desire to be the purest Christadelphians was passed down a generation and never fully failed. My parents separated and my father remarried an unbeliever, but still calls himself a Christadelphian and still believes in the return of the ‘Lord.’ He is quite confused about what he believes, and doesn’t give it much thought. I guess it is because he has invested so much of his life in the Christadelphians he doesn’t want to feel the immense loss he would if he admitted that Christadelphian beliefs are just stupid and outdated.

My mother was and is a die hard Christadelphian sister.  She is single now. From what I am told my grandparents were so busy running around after ‘The Truth,’ that it fell to the eldest children to look after the younger. I have also come to realise that they also had to look after their parent’s welfare and mental health by becoming devout Christadelphians. So the first 6 aunties and uncles are Christadelphians – proud of it and leading a perfect lifestyle as do their children (as they claim). As for the younger half of the family, the words disgrace, sin, criminal, mentally ill, suicide, feud, lawyer all feature.

The Christadelphians are not a unique religion, or, as I term because of the damage they have caused, cult. Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholicism, Destiny Church, Exclusive Brethren – they all have same mechanisms of indoctrination, guilt and fear driving them. They have their own form of rapture, even if they don’t call it such.

If you are born into the Christadelphians, you grow up believing and praying to a personal God. You pray to him in the playground, you hope Jesus doesn’t return until you are baptised, you fear nuclear warfare, earthquakes, floods… in fact, all natural disasters because they are ‘the beginning of the end.’  As a badge you wear your humiliation and pain as you try to save others. The greater the pain the more God likes you. You must save as many inferior sinners as possible. Everything revolves around God and all you have been taught about him. It’s no news that children are dependant on their family for survival and self worth. Questioning a cult that is integral to family operation is not an option for a young child.

For me, the first verbal manifestation that I was thinking contrary to indoctrination and looking at facts around me was when I was with a JW classmate. I was comparing my family to others, realising what was expected of me through my life till death (God willing) and seeing that something was seriously flawed with this reality. We both had notes from parents that excused us from school lessons about World War 1 (because it was about politics). Both cults have to be exclusive and special… to be apart from society and community. There is a fantastic opportunity to be this when war comes along. (But it is not just war – it is even in sport. God forbid a cultist should ever go to a football match and yell for their country like heathen hooligans!)

As we were alone doing homework, this classmate asked me if the Christadelphians were a cult. I was about 8. I said ‘yes’. I knew what a cult was. I really didn’t mean to say it… but it just slipped out from nowhere. I couldn’t understand it and felt terribly guilty for many a year.

There were other things I had to stay apart from in school (apart from friends that weren’t pre-approved by parents) – playground fads such as Transformer toys. Actually I lie: I was allowed one transformer toy. It was a robot that turned into a nuclear ballistic missile submarine. I was terrified of nuclear warfare. I was petrified of it, and was told how the whole world was supposedly on a hair trigger for nuclear warfare. I count that act of giving me that toy as psychological abuse.

Every Thursday before lessons there was a school assembly. The flag would be raised and the national anthem sung, but I wasn’t allowed to look at the flag being raised or sing. It is a horrifying thought about how even more messed up I would be if Christadelphian schools existed back then as they do now.

You only get one shot at childhood. One shot to define your world in a way that works for YOU! Not your parents, because their parents defined their world that way. This work is meant to be done in childhood, not as an adult. It is just another mechanism cults use to perpetuate themselves. It is a nightmare to have to take what you thought was reality and start all over again. I think maybe on some level most Christadelphians have thought about it and put it into the ‘too hard’ basket.

But what about family? You may lose them entirely. You certainly will never be able to have a complete relationship with them and their demands and persuasions.

I think that children in cults are raised to have an addictive personality. On Facebook I have seen threads posted by Christadelphians about how proud they are to be ‘addicted to God.’  They just don’t comprehend what they are saying.

After the age of 18 I was legally able to buy alcohol, and that addictive personality of mine found itself unable to have one drink – it fixated on the next one. Before that it was bulimia and very nasty depression, cutting even. The loneliness has been constant throughout life. Friendship, companionship, social skills, these are lessons that I missed. Not much liking Christadelphian peers and having an inbuilt aversion and fear of non-Christadelphians, (helped by some nasty bullying for my differences) school and high school years were spent being lost in fantasy novels and games. I would read and read myself to exhaustion.

My life between the ages of 18-27 was summed up by many crap jobs, and hitting exercise like a maniac… it was an outlet for a lot of rage for me and I was drinking every night. The drink hid a lot from me. I drank to dull pain and in doing so continued to miss the lesson the pain was trying to teach. I didn’t think much about the Christadelphians in these solid drinking years… drinking, not thinking. I didn’t want to know about them or my family, which I was removed from.

When I was 18, a few months after I said I was done with the Christadelphians, my family began to put pressure on me to return. They could see that I was serious about it and were worried they would never see their son filling out their needs. It didn’t work. I got sick of the manipulation going on, the agenda people had when they talked to me. I resisted and things just reached boiling point. I took a couple of hundred dollars I had saved, caught a train to the city then a bus to the state border. I worked the harvest season from the Victorian border way up into the Heart of Queensland and even further into the resort islands. I slept under bridges, hitch hiked, walked many kilometres down isolated country highways to reach the next down. I stayed in back packer’s hostels. I worked very hard and when I had enough money I would cut and run to the next town.

When I came back home things had changed. My family realised I was serious and would go it alone rather than become a Christadelphian. I also understood it was just going to be me for me from here after. My parents were about to go through separation. My father was under a lot of pressure for liking football and ‘worldly friends.’

At 27 I wanted to get out of the country for a fresh start. I wanted to do things that scared me. I realised I was living a very tough life with poor pay spent on alcohol, and little but an obsession for exercise that felt for me. I moved country and studied, something I had previously thought I could never do because I was so un-academic. I studied for 4 years. I became a different person and discovered I was much better in many ways than I had previously thought I was. I studied sport and recreation, won a body building competition and used the confidence won on that to get me into alcohol rehab at 30. I made a pact: if I had the confidence to get up on stage and pose, I would walk into an Alcoholics Anonymous group and work on recovery. For me a powerful lesson was learnt as to what I could be capable of if I could overcome my demons.

I was terrified of touch, but wanted it because I kept so apart from other people. I studied massage and for reasons I couldn’t fathom, my tutors showed great confidence in me. It wasn’t just good marks academically – it was empathy and careful consideration when dealing with dignity and respect. I didn’t understand it at the time – I kind of felt like the teachers pet and was a little uncomfortable thinking I wasn’t worthy of such marks. I got placements in a hospice for cancer patients and day centre for people with mental health issues – depression and bi polar mostly. I would like to do more with this massage path in the future when I get myself back together enough.

At 31 I had moved cities and felt very bitter sweet about my 4 years of study. I actually had some friends I was leaving. I was also leaving a place that had redefined who I was. I did a medical detox at 31 and had very good time off alcohol. But it was hard… very, very, hard because I was looking back at a past I had purposely buried. I learnt lessons from the pain that was finally being faced:

Guilt: I was saturated in it. Guilt for being a poor son. Guilt for not communicating or standing to be near family. Guilt for failing my family. Guilt for not being a Christadelphian. Guilt for using alcohol and an eating disorder. Guilt for not being able to trust people. But most of all was the guilt that I had failed my family.

Recognising the guilt in me finally allowed me to learn that this guilt was misplaced, and that it was misplaced because I was still under Christadelphian influence. I had been told so many times in so many ways I was wrong, I was guilty, I was weak and a failure. I believed what they had told me, when in actually fact all I was guilty for was for following my own path – a path which they had sabotaged as they belittled and abused me emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

I ever so cautiously approached my family to sound them out on this and received iron rejection and more guilt loading right from my tentative suggestions that they had done me a wrong. At first I was furious and would go into rages. I had been doing it for years in the gym, but this was different. It was blind rage I felt helpless to direct anywhere. It burned inside me, it scared me. I ended up telling my family to fuck off. I realised they were incapable of having a healthy relationship with.

The anger was hard. Really hard… but I stuck at it and didn’t drink. One day the anger turned to grief. That was a very unique day and I think that perhaps if I had been near understanding help I might have made it. I was in a crowd and I looked around and I couldn’t see one person walking by themselves – I saw families and lovers. For a second a terrible feeling of deep and unending grief shocked through me. Then somehow, like it was a Pandora’s box I had opened, somebody else slammed the lid down on it firmly. Drinking became an issue again.

I am still angry with the Christadelphian system and with the people who call themselves Christadelphians while living in utter denial about how damaging they are to people who don’t subscribe to their belief, but are surrounded in it and how much they do to ensure their young do subscribe to their cult. But at the same time I am sad and I pity them. What they have invested over a life time when they could have been so much more. The families that have been torn apart – they put cult before children and spouse. Their black and white thinking and their search for perfection they cannot achieve. Life is not perfect, neither is it meant to be. It is a lesson and its lessons escape the Christadelphians because they believe they know exactly the meaning and purpose to life. In doing this they close themselves to so much that could have been experienced. They are just another limiting cult, a prison of the soul.

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I Felt Like an Outsider

Throughout my life at school I felt like an outsider, not a lonely one (I did have friends, I just wasn’t popular) but a lucky one. Even though the children I sat next to in the classroom appeared happy and content, I knew that their lives were shallow, empty and above all sinful. It was obvious to me that they led a life of sin, their parents took them to pubs for meals, they watched television and probably ate takeaways in front of it on a Saturday night. To me their world was alien and even though I was desperate to be included, deep down I pitied them. Looking back now I think that that arrogance, hypocrisy and condescension was obvious to my peers; even if they couldn’t articulate it at such a young age.

At every stage of my education I was bullied and shunned. I used to take a certain pride in this, happy in the knowledge that it was because I was ‘different’ and not part of the herd. Now I look back I realise it was simply that they could see how much I looked down on them. The attitude of being literally ‘holier than thou’ pervades Christadelphianism, now that I am free of it, I can see how negatively it affected my life. At the age of 17 I was still living out the same routine with those around me – interacting with non-Christadelphians, but never being fully part of  ‘The World.’  One day I was talking to an agnostic friend from school, patiently explaining to her that gay people were inherently sinful when she simply said to me “What is the harm in being gay? What is it about it that’s wrong?” I didn’t have an answer.

I put the question to various Christadelphians; I brought it up in discussion groups and on one memorable occasion was informed that homosexuality was a sin because ‘the human anus is not large enough to accommodate the penis comfortably.’ It was obvious they didn’t have an answer either. I began to think that if Christadelphians could be so spectacularly wrong on that issue, then what else were they wrong about? Was any of it true at all?

I’m now an ardent atheist and can see why Christadelphians have created such a closed community. Talking to anyone outside ‘The Truth’ makes people question ‘The Truth.’ And once you starting picking away at it, ‘The Truth’ quickly unravels. I am now, for the first time, truly happy in my life and I can honestly say it has nothing to do with my background as a Christadelphian. In fact, much of my happiness is rooted in the complete freedom I now have from the guilt and negativity imbued in me by the Christadelphian faith.

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I’ve Never Looked Back

Like most Christadelphians, I was born into the community. My parents were and still are middle-of-the-road traditionalists. As I was growing up my Dad was a speaker and AB, my Mum was appropriately silent. We did the daily readings, learnt our proofs and went to Bible School in the holidays. There was no TV, no pop music, and Christmas was a guilty compromise – trees allowed, but strictly no carol-singing. We were allowed non-Christadelphian friends, but not on Sundays.

From a young age I understood that there was no greater sin than False Doctrine and that the EU was all a papal conspiracy – because the Bible told me so. I grew up in the shadow of the impending Apocalypse; we were living in the crumbling feet of Daniel’s image and the whole thing was about to come crashing down around us. The great whore rides a beast with seven heads and ten horns, and this was the age of the tenth horn. We were always, as my brother put it, just one beast metaphor away from doom.

When we were small, my parents decided that the meeting we belonged to was too liberal, so we left and joined a large meeting with the usual Christadelphian features – it’s members were mostly white, middle-class, and all related to each other. On Sundays the meeting room filled up with Sunday best outfits and big hats and the car park filled up with big-but-not-too-flashy status cars. Not many members lived in the neighbourhood – most drove in from large detached houses in the comfortably-off suburbs. The meeting was full of kids our own age, which was probably why our parents chose it, but they could be brattish, and my brother and me have some unhappy memories of our time at this meeting.

Rather unusually for a Christadelphian family, both of our parents ‘came in from outside,’ so we were not members of any CD clan. Our relationship with our secular extended family was complex. Our grandparents have all been traditional church-goers, although this didn’t stop us being indoctrinated with the commonly-held CD view that Christians are idiots who practise a shallow pseudo-religion. We did see our relatives, although we had little in common with them. Through child’s eyes my extended family seemed the epitome of worldliness – they had TVs, listened to pop music, and drank beer out of cans.

Otherwise, people ‘in the world’ were best kept at arm’s length. My Dad was especially hot on this. After all, how could anyone deny the truth of the Bible while the Holy Roman Empire re-formed before our very eyes? It must be willful blindness. My Mum has few friends outside the community, my Dad none that I am aware of.

I began asking questions almost as soon as I was baptised. I met a group of rebellious Christadelphians, who challenged the established CD views about the role of women and headcoverings. I still remember the first time I sat in the evening meeting, wondering if I had the courage to take off my headscarf. (I did)

After that, the rest came easily. I began to wonder why God had given women brains if we were not supposed to use them. And why was I being harassed for wearing trousers to the meeting? How could you reconcile the claim to be a ‘true Christian’ with the snobbery shown towards outsiders? I couldn’t see any justification for the total separation from other churches. I noticed some interesting psychology at play – when we discussed this amongst ourselves, no-one else could find any convincing reason for it either, but none of us took the logical next step. And the ‘us and them’ attitude towards people ‘in the world’ was quite ridiculous. In one group discussion, we wondered how best to approach these outsiders, if we were ever going to bring them to the Truth, so someone offered his insights: ‘You’ll find they all think the same,’ he advised us, ‘because they all watch the same things on the TV.’

I began listening to Christian music and reading Christian books.  I began to identify as Christian. I broke bread with other Christians, and didn’t feel guilt. I realised that I didn’t want to marry a Christadelphian man. By this stage I had many friends who weren’t CDs, and I realised I didn’t want any of them to become one.

One summer I tried to speak openly with my grandmother about our religious differences. At first she was defensive, probably expecting another attempt to convert her. But eventually she opened up. She told me she thought we didn’t love her as much because she wasn’t a Christadelphian. We were both crying. That day I realised I’d had enough.

I severed my links six months later. I’d been going to mainstream churches, and spoke about my involvement with the Christadelphians in the past tense. I was a devout Christian by then and I fasted for two days before telling my parents, who weren’t happy.

I was furious. I felt as if the values instilled in me as a child – that to do the right thing involved the intellectual acceptance of some abstract, academic concepts, together with the arrogant rejection of almost of everyone around me – were a twisted inversion of the Christian message.

I’m no longer a practising Christian (although that’s another story). I am still technically a Christadelphian, as I’ve never resigned or been disfellowshipped. But I’ve never looked back.

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Follow Until You’re Blind (Poem)

Children summoned from ‘round the world
Brethren in Christ. Dear Brother!
Hurtling through time with no care for Now
The Kingdom – here it comes!
Read the Bible, say your prayers, follow until you’re blind
Doctrine, dogma, goodness, faith…
Sit still, accept, stay dumb.
Appearance of evil – pleasure be gone!
Even thoughts can do you wrong.
Auntie, be quiet! Make the tea,
Sweep the hall, prepare the meal. Your husband is your head.
Daughters, be pretty, pray for grace, but keep it to yourself
Put on your hat, your hair is glory – your glory and your shame
Hide your Self and learn your lines: In Jesu’s name we pray
His will be done while yours is mute
And sing these dreary songs
Gather, rejoice that we’re the Ones!
Love and works and arrogance; they are our true salvation
But stray from the flock, you will be scorned
And left for the world to eat you.

Joanna Tebbs Young. August 24, 2010


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