Updated: Dec 3, 2019
This year and next year will be full of firsts. I left behind a former life that was restrictive, judgemental, full of pain and heartache. Freedom has arrived.
This year was my first Thanksgiving after escaping a religious cult back in April - a cult that prevented the celebration or enjoyment of......anything. They believed that all holidays were pagan and as the "true christian religion", such things should not even be touched or mentioned (never mind that there are so many pagan undertones to so many other things that were somehow, found acceptable). They viewed Thanksgiving as having more of a patriotic start and patriotism was also considered evil. Presidents, such as Washington and Lincoln, instituted days of thanksgiving as a time set aside for the growing country to be thankful and be brought together on that one single day. Far too patriotic for this relatively modern religious sect. Not to mention, the "first thanksgiving" is associated with pilgrims who clearly did not know the true god or his untainted christian religion. And anyways...."people should be thankful EVERY day...not just on one day - a day institutionalized by the United States". Plus gluttony is a horrible sin.
As a member of the cult, one was expected to turn down all festivities, including holiday dinner invites from family members...even if it meant making Grandma cry. This evil, controlling, hypocritical religion, though, would get together in small groups either on Thanksgiving day or the day after, making the excuses that it was because everyone had the day off and turkey was cheap. People would bring potluck dishes, we'd all sit around talking, laughing....watching football. But it wasn't called Thanksgiving because Thanksgiving was evil and that's what "worldly" people did - the same people who were destined to die in armageddon if they did not accept the true god. It may have looked exactly like a traditional Thanksgiving but it was held in secret away from the eyes of those who's doors were knocked on in the ministry by these members of this cult, the same people present at this Not Thanksgiving, who were telling the householders why they shouldn't celebrate Thanksgiving.
Often times, there were entire families inside this cult that were sometimes generations deep. They could all get together and celebrate this Not Thanksgiving. I, though, had relinquished my family and former friends for a religion that I thought was right. I missed not being able to be with my family on the holidays and it hurt the most when I was amongst cult members and THEIR families on that Not Thanksgiving Day. I couldn't understand why we couldn't freely celebrate normal Thanksgiving. What was wrong with being thankful, being with family, eating yourselves silly off of mounds delicious food, having a good time and forgetting about the everyday stressors for an afternoon? Isn't that what we were doing on this Not Thanksgiving anyways? And to think my then husband and I made Grandma cry when we turned down her Thanksgiving invitation every year. My mom could not understand why I was able to do Thanksgiving with my "church" but not with her or my brother.
Earlier this year I was jolted awake from the mind numbing hypnosis of the cult by a series of highly unsettling and even abusive situations happening within my marriage and the cult. You know how when you awake from a horrible dream and even though you're awake, it still feels like you're in it? Those moments right after waking up from a dream like that, you're having to remind yourself that it was just a dream, everything is fine and you're safe. You feel groggy, heart is racing, stuck between two worlds, not sure which end is up...kinda like when you jump wrong into the deep end of a pool. You're grateful that the dreamworld isn't reality but you keep having to double check that you are indeed awake and all is well. That's how it's been this year....an odd mixture of relief, doubt, confusion, fear, happiness and gratefulness.
This was my first Thanksgiving in my freedom. My mom, brother and I hopped in the car and traveled two hours north to my cousin's farm in Elkin. My trunk and backseat were stacked with table linens, decorations, Corelle dishes full of green beans, corn pudding, cranberries, a cheese ball, crackers, carrots and celery and humus for snacks while the feast was being made.
I love being on the farm. It's rooted (literally), grounding, peaceful, quiet....country. When it comes to celebrations involving food, my cousin is also a chef and you really can't beat that. And he's a really good one. To add in another twist, this is really the first time in my life I've had the opportunity to get to know him. He's a bit older than I am and during our growing up years we were separated because of geographical locations, whacked out family dynamics and most recently because of my involvement in the cult. He's a practicing pagan which is viewed as extra evil by the cult (and honestly many other Christian faiths). So even once he moved closer, I wasn't allowed to speak to him without punishment or at least heavy guilt. Since the summer, when we reconnected, I'm finding he's a super cool fella with a heart of gold, who doesn't take any bull shit and will give you the shirt off his back.
What makes this all even sweeter is his girlfriend is having a baby - due in the early spring. A baby girl! We haven't had a baby in this family in a very long time. Now, I get to be here for every little bit of the process and I'm loving it. Carrie (my cousin's girlfriend) is so much fun and has me in stitches laughing every single time I see her. I'm so glad I have an awesome female buddy in life - in my family.
We started off the day with veging in front of the TV starting with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and then moving on to Disney+. Watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was a true blast from the past. I remember, as a little kid, sitting on the floor, glued to the TV and every year seeing the same classic, well loved floats and balloons along with new exciting ones from my favorite movies. In recent years, I watched bits and pieces in secret but this year I was able to watch it openly without guilt or judgement.
While TJ (my cousin) cooked up a wonderland of deliciousness for our tastebuds, Mom and I wandered around the property. I waded through the tall field of bright, sunny, dried goldenrod up to the edge of the woods where I found already cut bows of cedar - perfect for decorating the center of a feast table. I've always loved the challenge and the art that comes with decorating and generally I'm pretty good at. For so many years it had to be limited and suppressed but now I can run wild with it or keep it as simple as I want it....because I'm FREE to do which ever I choose. I cradled the bows of greenery and had a handful of pine cones and sprigs of holly that I carried back up to the house. Side note: apparently I'm allergic to cedar. My hands broke out in pricking hives.
For the table setting, we kept is simple. Sometimes when it comes to decorating for the holidays, less is more - less fuss, more time with family. I had basic paper plates, bowls, plastic cutlery, solo cups, paper napkins, the greenery I found out on the farm and a candelabra. We didn't have any taper candles so I substituted baby pine cones to sit in their place.
*Green Beans with Bacon
*Macaroni and Cheese
*Butternut Squash and Leek Bisque
The whole thing was a bit surreal because I was celebrating something that just 10 months prior, I was adamantly against and with people I should not have been with (according to my prior beliefs). I felt like such a rebel but in a warm in fuzzy way. Most people who leave/get kicked out of the cult have no one, not even their families. But I am extremely fortunate because I DO have my family and I'm so grateful and happy for that. I have love, support and a place to live. I have my freedom and I'm no longer being abused, I'm safe. I'm free to sit at a Thanksgiving table, no matter how elaborate or big, and simply be thankful for it.