I spent the early part of my childhood in community. My family moved out of community around age 9. It was an unstable situation in the community house, and whilst we lived a relatively ‘normal’ life compared to some others, it was still an unsafe environment.
My family did normal things like visiting the coast, we went camping and spent a lot of time together. However the people that visited our house were not the most savory of characters. I remember violent men coming in and threatening people, I remember a weird lady that used to tell me off the whole time, we had a number of aggressive alcoholic men that would come round often and stay. My Mum said she never knew who was in and that one guy staying with us was an alcoholic and she never knew what state he would be in.
I remember not being able to get to sleep easily at night because there was always so much commotion downstairs. My overwhelming memory of my time there was very negative. I thought these things were occurring daily.
When we moved out dad had suffered a breakdown, struggled with depression and I remember feeling it and being aware of the hardship our family knew. We struggled financially, we had no money and took substandard accommodation. The whole time i felt unsafe and suffered anxiety.
Because my parents remained in the Jesus Fellowship I grew up in it. I had troubled teens and often thought of myself as rebellious. But really I just disagreed with much of the rules and controlling structure. The busy lifestyle.
I suffered a lot of anxiety and depression. I lived in the community bubble for half my 20s. I was swept along in the busy all consuming lifestyle. I felt like I had purpose and lots of friends. Looking back I cringe at how I was part of the control. Despite feeling like my life had purpose i often felt unhappy and depressed at the thought that this was it for me.
Because of my childhood in the Jesus army I lived with an overwhelming Fear of going to hell. I thought that if you left the church you were judged to be backslidden, and I had this sense that judgement day was so close. This sense of God watching me every second and fear of going to hell kept me from leaving. I thought life was shallow and meaningless. These thoughts trapped me and spiralled me into a depression. I desperately wanted to leave many times, but was too scared of judgment, stepping outside of the will of God which was obviously with the church and no one else. These were all mindsets I had without realising they were wrong.
I used to be made to feel very guilty for visiting my family. Particularly my mum. I’m very close to her and my ‘shepherd’ at the time would question why I wanted to see her so often.
I found this intensely hard as I found so much security and love in my mum. Also… she was part of the church. She just lived in her own house. I never understood the problem.
Friendship means an awful lot to me. I feel loved when people want to spend time with me, and whilst I was in community this wasn’t much of a problem. You are always surrounded.
We moved out in my mid 20s, We had the usual struggling financially, struggling to find anywhere decent to live, moved house around a few times with a baby, it was a hugely unsettling time.
I was determined to stay close to the church. It was a huge security to me. However I was now outside the community bubble.
I went through a couple of years of feeling so alone.
I went from feeling like I was part of this big meaningful thing, although often unhappy, and had lots of friends, to feeling like I had none and there was no meaning to life. Being a new mum, suffering with crippling anxiety, unable to relate to people and make friends easily, I fell in to quite a depression. The anxiety came out in different ways throughout my life.
Insomnia, social anxiety, physical problems like IBS and asthma, panic attacks.
I felt like I had to build my life from scratch. The hardest part for me though was feeling like I had no friends. Suddenly no one visited. No one called. No one text. If I went to a community house they’d be all over me, I’d feel momentarily happy again, then back home I was alone.
I slowly began to realise that friendship was a two way street and I was putting a lot of effort in, but others didn’t put the same effort in to see me. I stopped trying.
I stopped caring what people in the Jesus Fellowship thought.
I found a great deal of freedom and healing from my anxiety. I have a couple of friends in the church that I will always love as they have been with me through thick and thin, but I began to feel like I needed to know freedom.
Freedom to choose my path.
Having felt so let down by the church and like my friendships were based on attendance, and no longer suffering the anxiety and panic and fears that controlled my life, I now needed to find my own passions.
I realised I did not love the church. I couldn’t live without it due to my own anxiety. It was a security, and not particularly a very good one. It was the reason for my anxiety and unsafety as a child. The reason behind my panic was routed very much in my early childhood experiences.
It took a lot to break away as I cared a lot about what people thought and my own fears that I couldn’t make it alone, but i became increasingly unhappy. I felt like I wasn’t free to make my own decisions. I felt guilty and tied to the church. I really was on a journey of finding freedom to think for myself.
These days I feel like a free individual. The journey has been slow and I didn’t want to be influenced by others experiences or opinions. I wanted to find for myself what I wanted. In many ways I’m still learning this. But I do feel free now to make my own choices. I had to really break away to realise this. I’m allowed to disagree with the Jesus Fellowship covenant and not feel like a heretic.
I have found a lot of freedom from some of the mindsets I grew up thinking. God is with the individual, there is life outside the JA, hell isn’t waiting to pounce on me any day. I don’t need to live each day in fear. I am free to choose my own path, there isn’t just one right path for me. There are many possibilities and all are fine.