I was reading an article written by someone who had been recruited by ISKON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) and was struck by some similarities to what I had experienced at The Community of Jesus. The article was written by Nori Muster in the ICSA Today magazine, Vol. 5, No 1, 2014.
“The ISKON gurus wanted us to erase any non-ISKON parts of ourselves. They preached that we were dogs before we met them…As a compliant and emotionally needy young person, I obediently disowned more than two decades of memories and threw away…anything associated with my karmi (pre-ISKON) life. Erasing my precult self took away both my inner strength and my ability to think rationally.” (Muster, p. 7) This echoes my experience. The leaders at CJ preached that our lives before coming to the Community were completely sinful, and only by following the way that they provided, that they said we had been “called to”, could we be free from the hold that our sin had on us. They told me to cut any contact with my parents, which I reluctantly did. That was a painful time. My parents had done nothing to deserve the cut, and were hurt by it. It would be 13 years before I would write them again. The leaders at CJ taught us that nothing we had accomplished before coming to CJ was of any value. It was only the life of obedience within CJ that had value. Anything else was steeped in pride and was a hindrance. My husband and I had come from years as hippies, so I did not have a college degree or a career or many physical possessions, so it was not that drastic on a material level. It was with the family and friend connections that I felt the pain of separation. By demanding this kind of separation from any former identification, the Community was successful in taking away any critical thinking I had, or any ability to compare this new life with anything else.
“Writing key scenes from my pre-ISKON life helped me reconnect with my precult self and was therefore a major part of the therapeutic process.” (Muster, p. 7) I also have found this act of writing to be key in reclaiming my identity and life. When I left, I did not feel that I had a former life. I did not reconnect to who I was before I left, because I didn’t know who that was. At first I wrote about my years at CJ. Then I did begin to look further back, and remember and write about my childhood. That was very helpful in seeing how the difficult things about my family life had set me up to be manipulated by CJ. Later it also began to help me see some of the positive things about my childhood, and to remember the good parts of who I was back then. That was an awesome realization, to remember who I was before CJ life. That has helped me to feel more secure in my new life, because it is again based on who I am, not who CJ wanted me to be.
I wish all who have left a destructive High Demand Group (cult) the security, love, acceptance, time, and leisure to process and find the joy of a new life.