Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Old and Empty Holes

Maybe the most frequent question I'm asked by spiritual abuse survivors is "How do I move forward?" I don't have a definitive, foolproof answer. I only have my own thoughts, observations, and experiences to offer, so here goes...

When we lose something - the security of a religious belief system, love, family, friends, a home, a way of life - it leaves a substantial (sometimes gigantic) hole. The natural inclination is to respond to this loss and resulting hole by trying to fill it with something else as quickly as possible. This is one instance where I'd urge you to resist your natural inclination or compulsion. You can end up doing a lot of damage to yourself and others.

I know a young woman who was widowed several years ago. In the years since, she's been interested in or pursued only men who fit the exact same physical and perceived mental/personal profile of her deceased husband. None of her new ventures have lasted, and in their brief duration probably lasted only until the man involved figured out exactly what was going on - she wasn't looking for a new relationship, but instead was looking for a new version of her dead husband. There was, and is, a big hole in her life, and in her haste to fill that hole she's made poor choice after poor choice and looked for her solution in all the wrong manners and all the wrong places. Feigning health doesn't heal old wounds, and hers are deep. She needs healing. Not a filler.

Religious addiction causes the same kind of problem. I've spoken in the past of my ex's family, having left one authoritarian cult, and filling the hole that was left with another authoritarian cult. They had to put something there. Just had to. Their addictions overwhelmed them. In Halfway Houses I wrote about people who leave groups like VF or Gothard trying to fill the holes of religious addiction's loss with equally as toxic groups and teachers like Piper, Driscoll, Sovereign Grace, et cetera, while thinking they've found a good thing. Again, feigning health doesn't heal old wounds, and fillers will never nuture healing.

In all of the examples above, all that was accomplished was a patchwork (at best) filling of one hole by digging a brand new hole right beside the first, or trying to cure an old wound with a new, and hopefully less painful, one. Continuing in that behavioral pattern only results in a series of holes (and new wounds) - not a great position for a wounded, vulnerable, perhaps very needy, person to find him or herself in.

The biggest part of my own healing process has been a determination and stubborn refusal of attempts to fill old holes in my life. I haven't tried to, and don't want to, replace my ex. As far as my own religious addictions, I've no desire to replace the old, rejected belief system with a new one. As far as being an independent and critical thinker, I don't achieve that by becoming the student of a new teacher, even if a rebel teacher.

Rather than filling old holes, I'd prefer to climb new mountains. Life offers plenty of them. As far as the old holes, I'm content to let time, and the wind, rain, and erosion of life, fill them in. It will in due course. 

The survivors that I'm seeing really flourish are those who are climbing new mountains. This doesn't mean you forget the pain, or forget the loss, or even forget the wrongs. 

You just climb. And live. And heal.


  1. Thanks, Lewis. I just had someone I love push me and everyone else away due to pain and it really hurts still. I hope he gets through this dark time OK. He's been trying to fill the holes in his life with work, but that coping system is failing him, and it looks like he's having a breakdown now. He tried the feigning health thing and yeah, it just wounds you more. I know because I've tried it too. I miss this person a lot, so thanks for the reminder to look to new vistas.

  2. Absolutely love this. Thank you. I hope you've climbed a few new mountains my friend. :)

  3. Easier said than done, but certainly very wise advise. You worded this perfectly. Thanks for sharing your heart. I needed to hear these words - now I just need to try and do it - climb new mountains. Let's just hope that during the climb, I won't fall off into another ditch.

  4. Thanks for sharing these words, Lewis. I know they come out of deeply lived experience. I'm an ex daughter of patriarchy who was teetering on the edge of conversion to the Eastern Orthodox Church when I happened to read one of your other posts on this hole filling topic some months ago. I forget which one it was. But your insights seemed sound and the comments of others on the post also gave me pause. I doubted the healthiness of my conversion instinct and decided to wait it out. My sense of the glamor of the Eastern church did begin to wear off as time passed. I realized that I felt a sense of peace, beauty, and spirituality there. . . but a spiritually healthy person can feel these things most *anywhere*, I suppose. The structure, authority, exclusive claims (they believe they are the One True Church), and stability were pulling me as well, and this is where I think the connection to my CP/QF past was strong.

    Now I'm in a kind of mainstream evangelical charismatic-ish church that I like. It may be it's filling some holes as well, but I wonder, is that always a bad thing? The needs for things like spiritual community and a sense of belonging seem like healthy enough ones. If we pushed the felt need for those things away wouldn't we be the worse off?

    Well. . . I suppose I'm just thinking out loud on your blog now, lol. I am curious about more specifics on your thoughts in general on resolving the "church question" and especially on how you've settled it for yourself. (Have you just quit going altogether?) But please only reply if you have the time and are so inclined.

    Happy Holidays. :)

    1. Leah...Sorry I haven't replied sooner.

      I think the "church question" is a thing that has to be resolved on a personal level - a person's beliefs, a person's needs, et cetera, and what healthy options the person has available to them, and whether those options meet the needs.

      The area of personal "needs" is where things get a little trickier, I think. Probably wise to identify the basis of those needs - whether they're legitimate human, emotional, and spiritual needs or the remnants of old indoctrination and religious addictions. This is another area where each individual has to make this call on their own, but something always worth examination.

      As far as personally, I'm no longer associated with any particular church group. I'm not comfortable personally (from a spiritual perspective) in dynamics where I disagree with so much of what goes on - even when good people are involved - so I've found more of my "church", if you will, in interacting with communities like this one at the blog, or even in having a meal with friends, hanging out with friends, et cetera. There's considerably more nuance to it in my case, but this is a good sampling of where I am. Again, that's just me, and everyone needs to determine what meets their personal needs on their own.

      Have a great 2013.

  5. I left IHOP-KC for a smaller unhealthy religious group in which all the members moved to a different state to "start a church". I wasn't able to leave that last group if it hadn't been for studying what the Bible had to say about authority structure in a church and realizing what I was involved in was abusive. After that, I listened to a lot of John MacArthur and came to see the Charismatic Movement as an abusive system. Then I was able to really leave a lot of cultural American Christianity behind. Quite honestly, I think MacArthur's teaching helped tremendously because he seemed to have the simple goal of explaining what the Bible says in context, apart from the influence of cultural American Christianity. I believe none of us is free of bias but studying the Bible in context helps transport is out of our little cultural bubble to a time and place very different than ours while at the same time populated by humans and problems not so much different than ours. In all this, I am most intellectually satisfied in the Bible's claims about itself, namely inerrant revelation. While ignorant and unstable men may twist the scriptures to manipulate, control, and abuse (in the same way they would do these things under the guise of any other religion or no religion at all), I don't believe the problem lies in the Bible itself. It's like love; love (or, more accurately, the pretense of love) can be used to manipulate, control, and abuse, but true love nourishes and protects. Though evil exists in the pretense of love, true love still exists. Though evil exists in the twisting of the truth until it's no more than a lie, the truth still exists.