When I was a kid, I was the victim of an extreme religious cult. I’m not sure my parents knew what they were getting us into, but I was essentially a slave from the ages of 10 to 16. It took time, but I learned how to break free from my past.
I worked long days and went to long indoctrinating meetings in the evening. I lived in a house away from home with about 20 other young men and boys. I was beaten and abused on a regular basis. I had a lot to be angry about. How could I break free?
Learn more in my book: A Train Called Forgiveness.
I was rescued from the cult at 16. I thought I was free. But years later, in my 20s, I was drinking and smoking pot. I was making stupid choices. I was angry and confused. I was essentially suffering from an undiagnosed case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I Thought I Was Justified To Be Angry
I was holding onto my anger toward the cult leader, my parents, God, and even myself. I knew I couldn’t keep living like that, so I did some intentional forgiveness work.
I booked a nationwide trip on an Amtrak train. I did a lot of thinking. I did a lot of writing. I did a lot of soul-searching. I learned to forgive the ones who had hurt me the most in life.
An unforgiving spirit is like a heavy anchor holding you down in one place.
As I journeyed, I began to let go of the anger that I’d held onto for years. I forgave my enemies, my parents, even God.
That Was Just The Beginning
You see, forgiveness is not a one-time event, but an ongoing journey. It would take several more years and many journeys to come to forgive myself for my own mistakes in life. Over time, I learned that I was traveling from forgiveness to being free.
Set Yourself Free Through Forgiveness
- You’ll learn tolerance: When you forgive those who have done bad things, you learn to become more tolerant of those who deserve your love. When we hold onto anger, we are intolerant. Every person who reminded me of my past in a cult was subject to my criticism. For years, I treated anyone involved in organized religion with disdain. Now I accept all religions for what they are, cultural systems of values and beliefs.
- You’ll learn empathy: I used to prescribe to a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. I’d survived a cult, why couldn’t others survive a breakup or a minor setback? I had no empathy. Once I learned to forgive others, I also learned to see the world from others’ eyes. I learned to feel. Now, as a teacher, I can empathize with students from abusive backgrounds. I can listen. I can share my own story. I can help others to grow and forgive.
- You’ll find peace: Face it. If you’re angry at people in your past, you have no peace. If you’re angry at yourself, you have no peace. It’s not immediate, but once you begin the process of forgiveness, you begin to pull that heavy anchor out of the water. I used the writing process. Each page that I wrote was another tug on the anchor. The process in itself brought a sense of peace.
- You’ll find freedom: It took several years to reach this point. Forgiveness is hard work. Every once in awhile, you’ll slip. You’ll go back to feeling the anger and the hate. That’s normal. You have to rekindle your forgiveness vows. You have to remind yourself that an unforgiving spirit is holding you down. You may never completely forget what others have done to you. Just let a little anger go each day. Soon, you’ll discover that you’ve removed the anchor that was holding you down. You’ll be free to go wherever you want in life.
It’s A Long, Hard Journey, But Worth Every Step
There are still days when I think back on my childhood. Since boarding that train in my 20s and starting a long forgiveness journey, I’ve learned to see that my time in a cult actually had some positive results.
My past taught me resilience, hard work, commitment, and in the end, the power of forgiveness.
If you’ve been dealt a bad hand, been hurt by someone you love, or made stupid mistakes, don’t hold onto those things. Let them go. Take the journey from forgiveness to freedom.