My life there and afterwards

Archive for January, 2015

An untold story

All people seek to create meaning in their lives. It’s unavoidable and an integral part of being self-aware. Sometimes I feel like seeking for meaning in my life is like looking into two mirrors that are positioned to reflect each other, and your image is repeated indefinitely. There seems to be no end and no final solution or explanation. I think I have to accept and come to peace with the flexibility and unknowingness of a lot of life’s questions.

Having gone through the shock of betrayal and dislocation, i.e., realizing the cult was not the wonderful Christian group I thought it was, and suddenly being on my own with no planning or financial resources, I’m now at a point where I am re-claiming the good from those “lost years.”

I don’t know if other survivors have experienced this, but in the deep pain I have felt I have been afraid that others would not understand or not believe me, or try to minimize my experience. When I was told how well I was doing, it felt like a threat. “You mean I’m OK? Does that mean what was done to me wasn’t that bad?” Why I would see praise as indicating a lesser experience, instead of a greater healing, I’m not sure. That’s a topic for further exploration.

In this place of reclamation, I am looking for the parts of those 40 years that were my own, or that were good, without negating the horrible de-humanization I went through. The good from the past, and the healing of the present, are in spite of the wrong, not because the wrong was not there. That is a significant difference I need to remember.

In reading ICSA Today, Vol. 5, No. 2, I was struck by the article written by Greg Jemset. He says “Reauthoring is the process of a person looking back at neglected story lines in his life with an open mind, articulating them to a nonmanipulative audience, and rediscovering themes, values, and preferences for living that he may have disregarded previously.”

I get excited at the prospect of rediscovering my story lines that were neglected while at CJ. For instance, my love of children was torn from me in my own family, when my children were young. Many years later I was asked to be godmother to a new child, born to SGA’s at CJ. I was thrilled, and this child and I bonded. I became like his grandmother. I babysat him and took him to church. Our love grew and I looked forward to teaching him about the love of God as he grew. This love was noticed by the leadership and, as always, was interpreted as “family idolatry”. They came down swift and hard on me. They accused me of sinful attitudes and actions towards one of his parents (which was ludicrously false) and of an unhealthy attachment for the child. They forbade me to visit or babysit, and limited my contact to a weekly group kids’ lunch at the Convent with him. Not only could I not speak to the parent, I was not even to look at him/her. No explanation was to be given to the parent.

This was outrageously cruel and totally out of context. If there was a “fly” of sin in our relationship, this was killing it with a Mack Truck.

The one good thing about this extremism was that it broke my heart so completely and was such a repeat of what they had done years before with me and my own children that I sunk into a depression that was instrumental in bringing me to my senses and to leaving. This was a wrong that even I knew was wrong and could not excuse for some “higher good.” The outrageousness of it all gave me the courage to argue back against the blatantly false accusations.

Well – I think I wandered off topic a bit, but this is a story that has not been told yet. All the gory details will be in my book, and perhaps future blogs.


Name It

A slight depression dogged me all this last week. It was very frustrating because I did not know why my emotions were so low, and I could not shake it. I did not want to get up in the mornings; it was a struggle to get done the bare minimum of schoolwork and normal routines of living. I especially was frustrated at work, because the routine of the data entry was a perfect example of a dull, wasted life. My interactions with people were good, as always, but felt meaningless, since I can’t really solve anybody’s problems.

Finally, in talking about it, I mentioned in “passing” that I wasn’t handling my basement apartment as well as I thought I should. Suddenly I was crying, pouring out from the depths of my soul tears and anguish. I felt shut in and trapped. I sorely missed being able to gaze out the window at nature. It was a trigger from when I had been trapped in the cult.

I did not know when I rented the apartment that it would be a trigger for me. It is clean and cute and adequate and a wonderfully low price. But lo and behold, it is a trigger. Just naming this and recognizing where my depression is coming from has lifted my emotions. I now feel focused again, and to the top of my to-do list goes finding a new apartment. I am even willing to pay more, because my emotional health is worth it. I am worth it. It may take a few months, but I will find another studio apartment with large windows and lots of light.

In the meantime, now that I know what is triggering me, I can deal with it. I will get out more, visit friends more, do my reading by the one small window I do have, and anything else I can to not feel shut in.

For me it takes talking about it and getting a bit of input from someone I trust to get clarity on my emotions. I have spent so many years suppressing them, and enduring suffering so as to not be “a problem”, that I fall into that pattern too easily. I have this warped sense that I “should be able to handle it” – whatever “it” is.

I was taught that only major, major issues got you a ticket for counseling. Now I know that any suffering or anxiety or confusion can be brought to the table for discussion and help. That makes me glad and grateful, and the results are peace and stability and freedom.

First Love

My first love of the kind that you expect to hear from me was my boyfriend in my senior year of High School. I gave Terry my heart, and he loved me also. I suppose it could have been a romantic sweetheart tale, but we ended up going our separate ways.

The first love I want to tell you about, however, is of a different kind. I graduated from High School in 1965, in California. This was the Timothy Leary era, before LSD was even illegal, and I got caught up in the San Francisco experimental atmosphere; free drugs, free love, free happiness. After four years of various drugs and communal happenings I hit the bottom of the barrel and in my depression knew that something had to change. I was wondering where to turn to make a difference in my life, when some “cool” Christians visited our commune in the woods of Oregon. I was captivated. Not right away, but as we kept visiting them and hearing their story and what they had to say about God, I was won over. God entered my life and freed me from all drugs and cigarettes. Clean, complete break. This indeed was a first love of a magnitude I had not experienced before.

When I accepted Jesus as my Lord the change was drastic throughout my whole life. I was happy again. I felt free from my worries and burdens and confusion. Love infused me and I was happy with everything and everyone. There could be no wrong in the world.

My current boyfriend and I got married. My new husband wanted to go back to Cape Cod on the East coast, where he was from, to reconcile with his parents, so off we went, hitchhiking across the country. This was a honeymoon of love, not only between myhusband and me, but between me and my new-found God. All of our rides were with Christians, and we had a blast talking with each one of them. Once on Cape Cod, we were directed to a newly formed Christian community and soon came under the sway of the charismatic teachings of the two women who led it. Because I was so much in love, I was starry eyed and not thinking straight. I was also untrained in this new religion, having been raised as an atheist, and so couldn’t tell one brand of Christian teaching from another. I was ripe for training and exploitation, and that is what happened.

My first-love enthusiasm for the ideals of the religious life motivated me to endure much suffering, which was the emphasis of their teaching. They told married couples to not talk behind closed doors, so my husband and I rarely discussed our relationship or how to raise our children. As we grew more apart, I suppressed my concerns and endured. We were taught that any problems we had were our own fault, due to our sinful natures, so family counseling was not offered. I think my husband and I could certainly have worked out our marriage problems, but this group did not encourage that. To the contrary, they accused him of things he did not do in order to pressure him to leave, and they encouraged me to divorce him, saying I would be better off without him. I think his turning to alcohol was a problem they did not want to “bother” with, so they got rid of him. I was still a good worker-bee, so they kept me.
After many long years, I had to separate from this group also in order to save my own life, which was truly in danger of annihilation. I was becoming more and more depressed, and no longer had a love for anything, even the crafts and music I used to enjoy so much. My first love of God had been thoroughly crushed.

First loves are heady, all-encompassing experiences. They need wisdom which the young usually don’t have. I have learned a ton from the path my first love put me on, but I also regret the years wasted in an abusive and highly controlling community that deceived me. I am soaking in my freedom now, and exercising my ability to learn and discern, but I regret the many years of my life in which I fought against myself to conform to a way of life that I now have found out is aberrant, and not the gospel that Jesus taught. My beautiful first love of God was taken advantage of by power hungry people who thought they had a pipeline to God. Since all things work together for good, I am now rebuilding my first love into a mature and intelligent love. The pain of the years given to my first-love has taught me compassion, endurance, and a healthy dose of skepticism, which is helping me to find my way to a mature first-love. My regrests are being turned into thankfulness for what I have endured, for truly God will redeem my sufferings and I can now turn and extend a helping hand to others.

The truly exciting thing is that God never leaves us. It doesn’t matter how you define God, especially after you have suffered abuse. It takes time to sort things out. But that place deep inside of us, where in silence we listen for the voice of our true selves, that is where we meet God. I have just come back from an extraordinary retreat of quiet – no talking. I listened, and journaled, and talked once a day with a lovely lady who was full of compassion and the ability to hear my story and about my current journey with love and encouragement. I am continually amazed at what a privilege it is to be in the process of healing.

We are not left to bleed out with our wounds. We are survivors, we are strong, and we have access to the power of creation to help us on our path. And there are many wonderful people eager and ready to reach out a helping hand to us. I am grateful.

Fruits and Forgiveness

“You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) What fruits do you see at The Community of Jesus? What fruits are you looking for? Material fruits can be faked, or they can be genuinely beautiful and impressive and yet hide the real fruits of the spirit, which can be rotten behind the glittering exterior. We have seen this before with certain tele-evangelists, and we have seen this with some Catholic priests. I state that this is the situation at The Community of Jesus. My life there is witness to the fact that the beautiful material exterior blinds the casual visitor to the rottenness of the life lived unseen by the public eye. “How terrible it will be for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead people’s bones and every kind of impurity.” (Matthew 23:27)

Inside the “tomb” of CJ there is thought control, over-work, humiliation, sin-hunting, and abusive confrontations. These are some of the ‘fruits’ of the life lived at CJ.

Having said this, and I stand and testify of its truth, I also want to emphatically say that any truly good fruits of the spirit that can be seen at CJ come from the good people that live there, in spite of, not because of, the bad practices put forth by the founders and current leaders. I also want to emphatically say that good fruits don’t cancel out the bad fruits or practices.

Having experienced firsthand the effects of the bad fruits, how do I handle the spiritual idea of forgiveness?
First, what is forgiveness? I had to find the answer to that question first. I have not even wanted to approach this subject for four years. It was too entwined with things I did not want to do, like forgetting about the harm, which will never happen. Or saying it wasn’t so bad, and they didn’t know what they were doing, in other words excusing them, which will never happen. Or denying reality and pretending that it didn’t happen as badly as I thought. Nope, I’ll stick with the truth, thank you, even as painful as it is.

It has helped me to talk first about what it is not, which is all the things I just mentioned. Forgiveness is not excusing or denying or letting anyone off the hook of being accountable. At one point in the discussion it dawned on me – is it as simple as moving on? Is it simply getting to that point where “they” occupy less of my consciousness, and I am more consumed with the wonderful business of living my new life? I think so. Letting them go out of my mind does not excuse what happened. If I am ever asked to testify against their practices, I will gladly do so. Does spending more time living my new life suppress or deny or minimize the pain that was inflicted on me? Never. That pain lives as part of my life. Over time its sting has been softened by the joys and positive challenges of the new life I now have, but it is part of the fabric of who I am. I am stronger because of the harm they did to me. That does not put a good light on what they did, only on the ability of the survivor to survive, heal and grow. We survivors are an amazing miracle!

The place in my life where anger and outrage still over-shadow any feelings of release or forgiveness is not concerning the damage done to me. I think it is pretty universal that we can bear our own suffering a lot better than we can stand to see our loved ones suffer. When I witness the struggles my loved ones are still going through because of the life at CJ, the word ‘forgiveness’ is nowhere in the room. And it isn’t my place to forgive a wrong done to someone else. That is for each victim to do or not do, but as a mother, I feel intense outrage at what was done to my children.

Can I forgive them for the pain that was inflicted on me at the time they were controlling our lives? Can I forgive them for the continuing pain I feel now because of their way of life that was put on me? Cognitively I say yes. I understand that my rage is beating against a wall it cannot break down, a reality that cannot change. I understand that my frustrated rage is not productive. And yet, it has its place in my life. Suppression is worse than rage. As long as I need to go through the rage and express it, so be it. This too shall pass, but in the meantime, it is justified and has its place in the universe. Wrong doing needs to be cried out against and the emotions of a mother protesting the harm done to her children is a justified rage.

The true fruits of CJ can be best seen in those of us who have left, for it is only in us that they are not hidden. We are the ones who are in the real life struggle to cleanse ourselves of the bad fruit.

It is a ‘fruitful’ struggle, and God is with us to bring us new life.

I am still in the process of defining forgiveness and how it will be worked out in my life.