Four years of freedom

October 31, 2013 in General

Four years can seem like a lifetime.

It’s enough time for someone to go to university and get a degree, travel the world, fall in love, and establish themselves in a career.

It’s also enough time to deal with the grief and anger of past injustices. And, sadly, it’s enough time to forget the voices and faces of loved ones.

Today marks the fourth anniversary of my final excommunication from the Exclusive Brethren church. Leaving the church meant losing everything I knew, from family to friends to employment. My parents threw me out, I lost my job, and every person I knew abruptly cut me off.

I’ll never forget the pain I experienced when I said my final farewells.

The agony of holding my grandmother as we both wept, knowing this would be the last time. The way her hearing aid buzzed as it rubbed on my shoulder the way it always did.

The way my aunty cried “no!” when she heard me say I had come to say goodbye.

The heartlessness with which my father pinned my 9-year-old sister’s arms behind her back as she sobbed, to prevent her from running to my arms.

And knowing that as I walked out each door it would be for the last time. Ever.

It’s impossible to describe how that feels. By the end of it, I had nothing left to give. I had wept as much as was humanly possible, and all that remained was a cold, empty shell.

It took years to rebuild emotions and relearn to love and trust again. Now, four years on, my life in the Exclusive Brethren seems like a distant memory.

Last week I was sent a relatively recent family photograph of my family. Not from them – they’ve refused to send me any pictures – but from someone who still has contacts within the church. Trying to access such things is akin to engaging with the Gestapo.

I had to pinch myself as I stared at the faces of people I once knew. The faces were familiar, yet felt like strangers. I have thousands of memories involving them, yet now those memories seem distant and foggy; clouded by the passage of time.

The photograph is a telling sign of how records are erased once a person leaves the Exclusive Brethren. It’s taken from an official church book, and only six children are listed beneath my parents. I’m not mentioned anywhere, and future generations won’t know I existed. There’s also no mention of either of my grandfathers, both of whom were also thrown out of the church (long before I was born).

Seeing a picture like this produces a range of emotions. There’s a hint of grief for the loved ones I once knew, although not enough to produce tears or any real sadness. It’s more a nostalgic remembrance of what once was.

There’s also a trace of anger. I still strongly feel the injustice of the way I was treated, and it’s insulting to see the church air-brushing over the records to erase all trace of me. I’m still my parents’ child and always will be, no matter what the church says.

More than anything, though, I feel pity. Life within the system is all my family have ever known, and it saddens me that my parents and siblings will never have the opportunities I have. In many ways, I’ve accomplished more in the last four years than they will achieve for the rest of their lives. The saddest part is they can’t see they are trapped – a bird may seem happy in a cage, but if it lives its whole life in that cage it will never know how far it can fly.

In hindsight, I never really knew my family. Our lives revolved around subservience to the religious system, and everything else was considered unimportant. I have no idea where my mother would like to travel to, what movies my brothers would enjoy or what my sisters would study at university if they had the chance.

The thing is, none of them will ever have these chances.

That’s the real tragedy.

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