The Process of Undoing

Mel was raised in a strict religious organisation that ruled with power and fear. She made the decision to leave this organisation which then meant she has had to relearn how to do life!

She has experienced the devastating loss of her first baby, seen her husband through his own mental health struggles and is now living with the pain of watching her Mum deteriorate with Alzheimer’s. It’s a lot!

Here she shares an intimate insight to what her life looked like and how she has managed to stay positive and share her story with others.

You are the Mum of five children, your first babe is in heaven, how old are your kids and what is something you adore about each of them?

Jack (would be 17) – he made me a mother. I love that he and I got to experience my first pregnancy, childbirth and all that comes along with that together.

Isla 16 – She has the biggest heart I’ve ever seen and kindness pours out of her.

Cashius 14 – Watching this boy evolve in to a young man is equally terrifying & it is rewarding. He’s such a nice person.

Stella 11 – She is so comfortable with who she is. She also knows so many random facts & life hacks.

Chad 9 – He’s a ball of love. He tells me, his dad and his siblings that he loves us all day, everyday. He’s the most encouraging person you’ll ever meet!

What is the one thing about being a Mum that drives you bonkers?

That at any age you can’t stop thinking about your kids whether they are with you or not. When you are with them you look forward to some quiet time alone. When you aren’t with them you miss them and spend all your time wondering what they are doing and if they are ok. There doesn’t seem to be an end to this cycle.

You grew up in an extremely regimented faith based organisation which led to a lot of feelings of paranoia, people pleasing and anxiety.

Can you try and explain for us what your life was actually like?

Firstly thank you for taking the time to read what I’ve written and your encouragement.

I was born into an organisation that prides itself on being “right” compared to all other churches/ belief systems. There is very much an us (the organisation) versus them (the rest of the world) mentality. So I grew up feeling separate from the rest of the world. Including all of my aunties, uncles and cousins as they did not attend the organisation.

There were lots of rules that had to be followed. The children and teenagers especially are controlled very tightly. From what you could wear, who you could mix with, what music you could listen to, haircuts, dating, curfew and a myriad of things I’ve blocked out. Consequences for breaking these rules led to an embarrassing talking to by the pastor and in some cases being “put out” of the group, either for a specified time or in some cases permanently. By not being part of the organisation, we were taught we would go to hell (described vividly to kids as a fiery pit where you would suffer for eternity) so this concept was absolutely terrifying to me.

Your actions were always being monitored. Whether it was how many times a week you attended a gathering (there were 3 a week and they were considered essential). If you appeared to be slipping in attendance you would receive a “follow up” at home. Usually by two men at about 8pm on a weeknight, most often unannounced. Being sighted during the week having coffee at the shops with someone outside of the organisation would usually result in being intently questioned about it on the following Sunday. So there was never really any peace because judgement was always just around the corner.

I was an only child and was raised in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. So I was isolated from all of my church friends. I would only see them at gatherings. So as much as it was frowned upon my parents had to allow me to spend time with and befriend “worldly people”, or in other words the kids from school.

There was this time (even just thinking about it now makes my stomach tight) when I was 14 and I went to the mall with a group of school friends on a Saturday. I kept my church life very hidden from all but my school bestie because I was so embarrassed about it. I just wanted to feel normal and when I was with my school friends I felt free to be myself.

I had a bit of a crush on one of the boys in the group. He was walking next to me and took hold of my hand. I’m sure we can all remember that moment when we held hands with our crush in public for the first time and have that giddy feeling of gushing and being all grown up. Yeah well that lasted all of 30 seconds for me. That feeling quickly turned to dread when I realised that not only had I been seen but I was also being FOLLOWED by my youth leader! A man in his late twenties! He followed the six of us around for about 20 minutes and I was in such a state of fear. My best friend was the only one that picked up what was going on because she’d come to church with me before and she recognised him. I was dying inside but had to act as if everything was fine to my friends.

Eventually we made our way into a 99 cent store. I thought we’d lose him in there, because there were so many rows of shelves. Just when I thought he was gone he stepped out from behind a shelf right into my face and said “Hello Melissa” in the scariest tone I’d ever heard, eyeballed me for a few seconds, turned around and walked away. I still don’t know how my legs didn’t give way. I knew I was in so much trouble. The question for me at the time was, “will I be able to get home and explain this to my parents before the pastors get to them!?’ Long story short, I got to my parents before anyone else and confessed my “sin”. Yes I was in a massive amount of trouble and yes the pastors did get involved. I think the fact that it was my first offence I was let off with a warning. The reality is though, the fear and paranoia I felt everyday, was enough punishment anyway.

When I was 18 I married a Pastor’s son. I didn’t realise at the time but my husband was wound more tightly than I was so needless to say there is a lot more to that story.

You compare you leaving the organisation to an elephant being kept “at bay” with a rope and stake in the circus. Once the rope has been taken away, that's it. It's just an elephant standing there not really knowing what to do. How did you overcome this and adapt to your new way of living?