How to Find Your Way Back
It was my book reading in Washington, DC. There were people attending whom I knew from various parts of my life: high school friends, local friends, family. There were strangers attending who had come simply to hear me talk and to buy my book. (Very cool!) There were former Unification Church members. It was overwhelming.
One recent friend raised his hand to ask a question. He was also a “second-gen”—someone born and/or raised in an extremist situation. He had been born and raised in the Unification Church. He is now out like I am, but not for as long.
“So many of us who grew up in the movement, who have left…so many of us struggle. It is hard. It is confusing. What should we do? What can we do?”
My first answer for him was that I had no answer for him and that I wished I did. I have no “magic bullet.” I have no clear 3-step (or 22-step) process that guarantees release from the pain and confusion. I have no ultimate answers to help someone heal from falsely believing they had ultimate answers.
So instead, I gave him the things I do know and the things that have worked (at least for me). I gave him my roadmap to finding my way back, and sometimes finding my way back yet again. I firmly believe that the five actions on this list have helped save my life and soul, and I firmly believe that the five actions on this list are at least partially applicable if you are leaving an extremist situation or if you’re just trying to pull yourself out of any painful, life-numbing, soul-denying thought pattern or situation.
• Find support and community – When I left the Unification Church, there were no counselors who understood what it was like to be in an extremist group…and to leave an extremist group. There were no communities of others who had walked the path before me, at least not that I knew of. Now there are. To anyone who wants to leave—or who has left—something that has had that ultimate hold on their mind, life, and soul: Find support. For anyone who is stuck in a life pattern or situation that is holding them back or making them suffer: Find community. You don’t have to go it alone. Don’t.
• Practice extreme self-care – Finding your way out of wherever you may be stuck and finding your way back to wherever your heart longs to be is tough. It requires stamina, perseverance, and extreme self-care. Figure out what helps you feel cared for, and figure out how to get that for yourself. Know the safe people to ask for hugs. Indulge in warm baths or cool drinks of water or long runs or soothing yoga classes—whatever it is that will heal and comfort you, indulge in it. And while you’re at it, throw in a huge dose of self-compassion and acceptance. You will not always be at your best. You will not always feel hunky dory. You are on a journey, and sometimes journeys are traumatic—even journeys out of trauma can be traumatic. Take care of yourself.
• Look for what’s good – We get more of what we pay attention to, so pay attention to more of what you want. During many of my dark moments, I am often still able to see a glimmer of light if I notice what’s working or what makes me smile. When I focus on what’s good, I feel better, and I can often “pick up my mind and put my thoughts down somewhere better,” if I try. Try it.
• Remind yourself that there’s no perfect destination and no perfect way to get there – It does get easier, and it does get easier if I let go of my perfectionist definitions of the “there” that I’m heading for. If you’re like me, you might get caught up in needing to get to the perfect mental state in the most perfect way…but there is no perfect mental state, and there is no perfect way. The more you can remember that, the more breathing room you give yourself. Give it to yourself.
• Choose love – The most sure-fire way I’ve found to find my way back—to me, to wholeness, to peace and ease—is to choose love. To love myself more. To love others more. To choose to see the world with love and as if it embodies love. Choose love.
These five actions may or may not work for you. I hope they do, as they, at least almost always, work for me. All I could say to my fellow second-gen that night was that it is possible to find a way out of the anguish and confusion and a way back to himself. That it does get better. And then maybe worse again, but then better again.
Everyone’s way back may be, and probably is, a bit different, and everyone’s way back is fine, as long as it works for them.
I’d love to hear what works for you.