Hi folks! You might notice that this post is written from an anonymous account — that’s because someone we know and trust within the community asked us to keep her identity private for the sake of her family and friends. Thanks for understanding! — Gillian and the Sewcialists Team
Hi there everyone!
When Gillian brought up the idea of writing about how sewing intersects with our identity, I was both intrigued and hesitant. Intrigued because everyone has a story, and I love hearing them. Hesitant, because I too have a story (boy, do I have a story), but it’s personal. I talked with Gillian, and we decided it’s a story worth telling.
I’m 36 years old, and I was raised in a cult.
I should point out here that my parents are amazing people. They were raised in the same environment (except more so), and were simply doing what they had been taught was right. I’d rather not get into the specifics of which cult it was, etc.; it’s not very fun to talk about, and most of the lay members of it are really sweet, nice people. But, we were taught that women were to be covered lest they tempt the men. Women have no executive power. We were taught an extreme form of obedience to centralized authority. Our entire social structure was built around church. We were taught that leaving the cult meant that we were under the control of evil powers, and that, should we be so foolish as to leave, we would never, EVER, be happy.
I escaped with my husband and sons last summer. It was the single hardest thing I’ve ever done.
It turned out, though, that leaving physically was a lot easier than leaving mentally. I was terrified. I felt (even though rationally I knew better) like I was going to turn into a monster. Would I still love my husband? Would I go around hurting people? Would I be a liar? Was I ever going to feel happy or spiritual again? I got over the first few fairly quickly — my husband is amazing and adorable, and it turns out I’m not a liar or a monster. But the mental and emotional trauma involved in escaping that kind of situation is not trivial, and it was a long time before I stopped crying. Even longer before the nightmares stopped. And even then, there was a lingering numbness in my soul. I’d had very few friends before I escaped. Afterwards, nearly everyone I knew knew me as Me the Apostate or Me the Ex-Cult-Member. Sometimes I wear those labels with pride, but sometimes they get very, very heavy. I was starting to feel like I’d never get away from them. Maybe the church had damaged me so badly that I’d never be more than okay again.
Here’s where sewing comes in. (I know you were wondering when we’d get there!) I teach garment sewing classes at a local fabric store. I started noticing that I felt better after classes. It took me a while to figure out why, but eventually I realized that none of my students knew me from anywhere other than class. They didn’t expect an Apostate, or an Ex. They expected nothing more from me than competence in sewing and teaching.
My students turned into my mirror. Every skill learned meant that I was good at my job. Every smile meant that I was being kind. Every hug at the end of a class meant that they felt good and safe around me. Every request to know when my next class was meant that they were comfortable learning from me. And every repeat student turned into another affirmation that I WAS good, that I WASN’T evil, and that maybe, just maybe, I could start to see myself as just me again. While I was teaching, it became possible to forget the other labels.
It’s been over a year. I have more friends now than I ever did — people who are still in my old church for various reasons, a lot of fellow apostates, and a TON of sewists, both online and in real life. When I look at myself in my bedroom mirror, I see happy eyes more often than I see the haunted ones. (More often than not this summer, happy eyes over a sleeveless shirt and a pair of Maritime Shorts, because take that, patriarchy!) When I look at my student mirror, I see a woman that is confident, competent, approachable, and fun to be around.
Rationally, I knew that everything was going to be okay. But it was the sewing community that made me feel it. Thanks everyone. I owe you.