Turning the Keys: My Letter to You


By Caroline McGraw | Twitter @awishcomeclear

M_CarolineDear friend,

You never know when truth is going to find you. Truth sets you free, and that’s the best news there is. But you need to do your part; you must open your eyes. You need to look around your small cell and see Truth next to you, ever patient, holding the keys.

Truth is not outside; it’s there in the cell with you, close as your own heart. The Eagles had it right: So oftentimes it happens / that we live our lives in chains / And we never even know we have the keys.

Sweetheart, I just want to give you a heads up. Someday soon, you will find yourself writing an essay in which you describe your childhood church. You’ll want to link to a basic description of the organization, so you’ll do some research. By this time, you’ve Googled the church before, but words like “cult” and “abusive” made you look away.

You don’t see how your positive experiences—summer camp, close friendships—could fit those descriptions. You don’t understand how the warm, loving people you knew could be categorized by a word as cold as cult. You will feel confused, to say the least.

But in the midst of your confusion you will realize how well you’ve been trained to obey. You’ll see how a wall—subtle but strong—stands between you and free choices. Before, you didn’t recognize the bedrock of control beneath the good memories: Trust us, don’t trust yourself. Don’t question. If you want to wear a Halloween costume, you’re misguided. Halloween is the devil’s holiday. If you don’t fast and tithe, if you don’t believe that this is the ONE (and only) true church … then you’ve fallen astray.

So this time, you’ll keep reading the words you find online. You’ll learn about spiritual abuse. You’ll visit a support network for former church members. The whole process will be akin to seeing a car crash. It will be awful, but for the life of you, you won’t be able to look away.

And it will get more complicated the moment you realize: Oh my God, I’m in the crash. I’m not just watching from the outside. I’m in it. So is my family. So are my closest friends. It’s a pile up. I’ve been numb to it for a long time, but now I’m starting to feel the internal injuries.

* * *

That night, you’ll dream of your old friend Mandy.*

Honey, remember how you let Mandy be your jailer? It’s true. She told you what to do, when to call her, how to spend your afternoons. You’d get angry and try to leave the friendship, but the twin lures of false guilt and familiar patterns would bring you back.

In your dream, you and Mandy talk at a reunion, before a crowd separates you. She smiles and yells, “Call me when I’m done with my meeting!”

You shout, “Okay!” But the moment you say it, you see some problems. What meeting? What number? And smile or not, her words are a demand.

You walk away confused, but then you find your sweet husband, Jonathan. He takes your hand, and you feel safe again. The two of you walk over to a horse-drawn carriage, and you think you should probably call Mandy, but you don’t. You just want to stay in the moment. You just want to stay happy.

But then Mandy appears in a rage. “You didn’t call! You liar … ”

You turn to look at Jonathan for help, but he’s disappeared. You have to do this on your own. So you let Mandy rant. Except for an initial attempt to explain, you don’t speak. At first, you’re afraid of her, but gradually, the fear recedes. She can’t control you unless you let her.

Sensing the shift, she stomps off. You feel guilty, but you also feel free. It’s not an ideal way to get out of the situation, but you find yourself thinking, at least I am out. 

At least, at last.

* * *

Now you can finally empathize with people who stay in abusive relationships. You used to secretly judge them. How can they have so little self-respect? Now you can see that you judged them because you were one of them. You were the one who couldn’t get out. Not out of the church, nor out of the “friendship.”

This isn’t real friendship, you’ve admitted in your journal. And that truth-telling was part of what saved you, in your waking life and in the dream.

But that isn’t all. On the day that you start telling the truth about your life, you’ll also begin a new relationship with yourself. You’ll grow and flourish as you never have before. You’ll experience real relationships, real love.

See, when you started hiding your real thoughts and feelings, you became part of the problem. When you lived a lie, you invariably felt distant from others, even yourself. If you want real relationships, you have to be real. You have to take the key into your hands and open that door.

* * *

Tough terms, I know. It’s like what Jesus’ disciples said after he told them they’d have to eat of his body and drink of his blood (or, take truth into themselves). 

“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

From where I’m sitting, the answer is, those of us desperate enough to try for real nourishment, real connection. And that’s news for you, baby, good news. Telling the truth about your life will be the best decision you’ve ever made, because it will help you to forgive others, and yourself.

Because now you see it more clearly, don’t you? Why it all happened as it did?

You were all just hungry, honey.

You were all just starving for a little Life.


Your Future Self

* name has been changed


About Caroline

cgm-bio-scaled-downCaroline McGraw is a would-be childhood paleontologist turned writer, digging for treasure in people and uncovering sacred stories in ordinary days. Download her free ebooks to learn more about creating connections, nurturing relationships, and finding your way home.


Image credit: Brenda Clarke