Your story sound so much like mine in many ways. Yes, the NCH Harpenden was a safety net for me too--my family of origin being in great disarray because of mental illness, alcoholism, the war, and God knows what else! Maybe even just the times, as they were back then! Not terribly enlightened in my humble opinion.
I was at Harpenden from the age of somewhere between five and six--still not sure of the exact date of my admission there, although I have my files. Before arriving there, I had already been taken away from my Aunt in Yorkshire, although she was very good to me and I was very fond of her. But she had little money, and my Dad wasn't much help, so they had to find alternative accommodations for my sister and me. My Dad, much as I loved him, was basically a skid-row bum, in and out of work, on the dole, and a full.blown alcoholic.
Nancy, my sister, was sent straight to the Harpenden branch, but I was placed in a foster home somewhere in Hertfordshire with completely unknown people who didn't appear to like me or understand me. I was of course very traumatised. They had asked for "a happy child" and were mightily disappointed, according to the records. After some months of this awful situation, it was worked out that I could be at Harpenden, where I at least saw my sister sometimes (she was in another house), and where, eventually, I woke up to some good things in life.
The stability and structure of the NCH life served me well in many ways, but I still suffered enormous inner turmoil that was never addressed except through rules, punishment, and the reliance on religious guidance. I loved the chapel and singing in the choir, but never for even a moment considered that I would ever qualify for salvation!
At twelve I was sent away to a foster home in Watford, which felt like another major abandonment, and not exactly good for one's already low self-esteem. I did well at school, and for a while that became a safety net for me, too, but I still had few basic life skills or any sense of my worth beyond intellectual achievement. It's now recognised that there's such a thing as "emotional intelligence", and over the years of being an adult, creating a family, making huge mistakes but learning from them, and finally seeking counselling and a path to spiritual understanding, I have found a certain measure of peace and inner wellbeing. We all had our own way of experiencing the NCH life, and also what we have done with it since. On the whole, I am grateful for those years in Harpenden where I could enjoy the fields and woods, learn something about getting along in a group, and enjoying at least the music in our many visits to the chapel, if not understanding the theology of it all!
Some of the things that have helped me are: 23 years of working the Twelve step program, 20 years of being a devotee of an Indian guru, 6 years of studying A Course in Miracles, on and off counselling over I don't know how many years, and currently, practising a simple breathing meditation that puts you in the moment and thus helps one let go of the past. Here's a beautiful quote from A Course in Miracles that helps me a lot: "All your past, except its beauty, is gone and nothing is left but a blessing."
I've even come to see some of it with amusement and humor, as well as gratitude. But it's been a long slog to get here, and it takes a lot of courage to do so. So I too wish you every good thing as you continue your journey to the truth and a happier life!
One last thought--my nature is more of a contemplative sort. Perhaps you are really different--I like the fact that you said you did things "with an attitude". Don't lose that aspect of yourself. It could be an asset! :-) I would have done well to have a bit more attitude, but I was much too shy.
All the best,