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My Life with Bill Gothard Part Three


This series was written a few years ago, but since Gothard has been in the news of late, I thought readers might find it interesting.

A guest post series written by Anonymous

Quite recently a friend of mine was found dead. We’re still not sure of the cause of death. It’s difficult to believe she intentionally committed suicide without leaving a note to her very beloved family. She was one of the most devoted mothers I’ve ever known and left four children and five grandchildren and many friends and other relatives, all who loved her immensely. She was my co-worker, my friend, my ‘happy hour’ buddy and was always good for a laugh or a chug. My heart is heavy; my stomach has been in knots for days. I will miss her greatly.

Her passing has renewed a few conversations in my mind I’ve been mulling off and on for several years. My next few posts will deal with some very personal issues but I think issues that must continually be brought to light in order for change to occur.

It seems the whole of Fundamentalism (including Gothard) reject the fact that depression exists and those who experience are not to blame. I grew up with a very depressed mother. I believe my father is depressed as well although he exhibits different symptoms (as men normally do). After their abusive childhoods and cultic/religious teachings full of blame and condemnation, depression is no surprise. My mother’s father was a depressed man. He turned to alcohol to ‘deal’, thereby circumventing displaying for his children alternative coping skills. My mother did not utilize alcohol. She had Jesus and a Bible full of verses to tell her what a horrible, rotten person she was and that even her good deeds were as filthy rags to him who died in her stead; if it weren’t for his death she would be nothing; and she was the reason God’s only Son suffered….and on and on it goes. If that’s not the most depressing ‘Good News’ I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is.

One of the first stories I remember hearing Gothard relay to his audience was about a woman who had left a plastic bag in her infant son’s bedroom. While he was sleeping, a breeze blew the plastic bag into the baby’s bed and suffocated him. I can’t imagine losing one of my children, but knowing my choice not to pick-up the plastic bag is what took his life would haunt me forever. Of course, this woman was plagued with guilt and Gothard’s remedy was to remind her that all her sins were nailed with Jesus on the cross. Was that woman’s choice that cost her son’s life a sin? No. A bad decision? Yes.

But this seems to be the mind of Gothard: that every possible life choice or decision (seemingly major or minute) is a misstep in the eyes of god. Those who live under this teaching and believe it rack up hours and days, years & lifetimes of doubt, fear and guilt. It’s a vicious cycle I observed continuously as a child. My mother – beautiful, capable, classy and stylish- was never good enough for anyone in her own eyes. The condemnation was always there, but then she had the audacity to go and be human – feel emotions, speak her mind, react in anger or frustration and then the guilt would accumulate and we’d find verses written on 3×5 cards around the house or on the chalkboard in the school room reminding her of who she was ‘in Christ’ (only), not as a person who was loved and could choose to love herself without the permission of any ‘Savior’; accept her humanity (and that of others); to choose happiness. No, it was a constant search for affirmation and still is.

Even as a child, I remember feeling huge pangs of guilt and fear over small ‘sins.’ And in Gothard world, just about everything can be a sin. Any thoughts, feelings or behaviors that didn’t fall under the realm of his particular brand of ‘godliness’ were stressed over, creating compulsiveness I still find difficulty shaking. Most people in my family seem to possess a disposition for depression. When you are reared to believe ‘Jesus is enough’ and not taught to utilize positive coping skills, instead internalizing all the ‘sinful bad’ and shameful emotions, you become an accident waiting to happen. I internalized so much and created a very dark, depressed, narrow-minded world by the time I was 21 leading me to seriously consider taking my own life. I’m not sure why I didn’t but that day, I began a new journey out of the old thought patterns, belief system and mindsets that had led to so much bondage instead of the freedom purported by those I love and trusted.

Not too long ago, I was mopping the living room floor alone, enjoying the peace and quiet. I was in a good mood; I’d had accomplished a lot that day (always good for a happy high) and all of the sudden, out of nowhere, came a flood of depression, unhappiness and fear in such dark contrast to the sunlight I was feeling just seconds before. Tears escaped my eyes before I could not hold them back. At that point I realized the flood of depression and negative emotion I experienced was in no way related to my previous moments of happiness and that I had the say-so over the gloominess. I get to acknowledge its presence in my life, forego the guilt and blame and conquer its hold. That day was a life-changer for me. I came to a new state of POWERFUL self-awareness in my life and a new desire to find the strength to adequately cope with whatever comes my way.

It is not arrogance to believe you are worth whatever it takes to make this life YOUR BEST LIFE. It is not selfishness to take care of YOUR emotional, physical, spiritual self. Depression is not a sign of weakness. It is okay to acknowledge depression and get whatever help you may need. Depression is not a sin and never was.

I wrote this post in honor of my friend and for any and all of you reared within the condemning confines of Fundamentalism and Gothard’s teachings and who continue to self-flagellate, allowing those teachings to instill fear, obligation and guilt. My friend was one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever known. She was constantly doing for others and may have forgotten about herself in the process. Perhaps she did not learn how to cope; to confess her humanity to others instead of constantly trying to please & make everything ‘look’ good on the outside, discounting her own sadness and fears by focusing on the thoughts and needs of others. While I don’t know for sure, my own experience with Gothard has created some difficult hurdles as I continue to learn how to manage my emotions and thoughts and not berate myself over my own humanity (faults, weaknesses, commissions/omissions, etc.). For every person set free from the stronghold of Gothard’s teachings, there is something to share, something to be learned.

How have you learned to cope with your depression and negative thoughts stemming from cultic teachings?


  1. Avatar
    Brandon Smith

    My story, while obviously different from yours, has many similarities, including Bill Gothard/ATI/homeschooling/COA parent/Depression/Suicidal Ideation. Differently, tho, I am gay, and I came out at 18 and promptly burned all spiritual bridges (family connections were iffy for several years, but improved relationships now). I’m 26 years old now and still trying to sort thru the emotional and psychological wreckage. I’m so much healthier now than I was at 17, but that’s like an 800 lb person who drops to 500 lbs saying “I’m so much healthier now than I was then.” That’s true, insofar as it goes, but the healing process is far from over.

    I believe guilt and shame are essentially useless emotions if they last more than a second or two. I’ve believed that since I came out 8 years ago, but I still struggle with feeling overwhelmed by these emotions at times. The best way I’ve found to deal with these 2 emotions is to figure out:

    1) What exactly happened that I’m feeling shame over (is it my actions, or am I feeling sympathetic guilt for someone else’s actions?)
    2) What I can do right now to address these feelings (do I need to go apologize to someone? change what I’m doing right now? or distract my mind from these emotions with something humanist or humorous or just distracting?)
    3) What I will do differently (or the same) if I face a similar situation in the future


    Thanks for sharing your story; I wish you the best on your healing journey.

    • Avatar

      A baby develops in the womb of a woman ‘willingly’ subject to the horrid abuses of cultic beliefs. She is subjected both internally and externally to ‘pressures’ of exaggerated guilt and shame, sick and invasive teachings and rules. That anxiety is as real in the body as it is in the mind (which is of course, body too) and all the somatic suffering in ideas and ‘biblical’ subjugation harms both the mother and child from BEFORE birth.
      Now, one need not believe as I believe, (that this ‘infection’ causes life-long alterations in the brain of a child beginning with the negative womb life) to see the paradigm of cultic harm, emotional abuse beginning from even before birth. Somatic structures develop in this environment of crazy guilts and crazy shaming with regular preaching-punishment and usually a good deal of isolation from any balancing effect the world might have….
      Depression is never from nowhere even when it seems to come out of nowhere. It is pain leaking out of our unconscious mind because it must, because it is like a virus that plagues and will never quite be cured. Lifelong harm is done by abusive family-life in cultic conditions. Just as living with an alcoholic destroys the lives of all exposed. Homeschoolers Anonymous is what speaks to this lifelong harm, just as Al-anon exists to aid family members or anyone harmed in being exposed/incarcerated in a situation over time with an alcoholic.
      Brandon, your feelings of guilt and shame are not useless because they are symptoms of harm done in your past. They come as reminders that you were not so much loved as you were trained into a sick army of extremists. That you survived and removed yourself so that you could simply exist is a testament to your personal strength. Your image of the big guy losing hundreds of pounds and still being the big guy, the problem is very apt. Freak-extreme belief will always see you as outside the chosen particularly as you enjoy the double-whammy of being gay AND outside the fold.
      I think one thing very common to all of us who we extensively exposed to extremes, is this feeling of being different and outside in everything. What I have found most helpful is getting older. The decade between 20 and 30 for me really helped me confirm who I was and getting away from the inside of the ‘inside’ of the family for years really helped. I was also helped by honoring my depression and misery, not by actively setting it aside but by going deeply into and through it, feeling the horror at its core, the utter depravity of sick belief imposed on me. By going there (in therapy, in safety) I relived things that still bring tears to my eyes at 63 years of age. My tears now are from knowledge that this Hell on earth goes on for other children even if I am free of it. I despise extremist religion and the smarmy smiles of cults. I will always be angry about this criminal destruction of childhood. The body’s feelings, your own life and ability to feel it all, is the key to going through to real freedom, maintaining simple human freedom.

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