Saturday, February 23, 2008

From Caterpillar to Butterfly

Well, I told you I probably would and I did it. I changed the heading again! It doesn't have the snappy ring of "Surviving Reality" but it's the next step. "Thriving reality" is a state of being, a state of grace, a stage in life. In order to move from one stage to the next, be it victim, survivor or thriver, we have to grieve the last stage, let it go and move on. It's a never-ending process.

Here's a little poem I wrote about it:

Does the caterpillar know
when it’s turned into a butterfly?
Does it mourn its
flat-footed groundedness
when it’s flying through the air?
Those wings, like arms of a
royal robe, opening and closing,
decreeing, celebrating, does
the butterfly know that it is now
what it was not?

And how, with time,
we must all detach
from the chrysalis that
incubates our future selves.
How, before long, life’s womb
spits us out and sends us flying
into the air of change?
Some would cling to the cocoon
forever but the cocoon fades, too,
and soon becomes a grave.
We might as well release the cast
that holds us to the ground.

Grieve the caterpillar.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Victim Mentality Freedom

VMP. I just learned a new acronym. I always love learning new acronyms. This one sounds like a venereal disease. Actually, it stands for “Victim Mentality Propaganda.”

Now, what’s interesting about this “condition” is that it connects the word “mentality” with “propaganda.” Of course, there are people who are perpetual victims, who blame the world for their problems and take no responsibility for their lives themselves.

But those who WERE victims and have moved beyond it, have a story to tell. That is not propaganda – that is the survivor’s story, the cautionary tale. That is what my memoir is.

Unfortunately VMP comes precariously close to “BVM” or “Blaming the Victim Mentality.” This acronym (I just made it up) came in response to a book called "Blaming the Victim" about women (primarily) who have experienced sexual abuse or domestic violence. It answers the question of “Why didn’t she just leave? No one was putting a gun to her head.” In some cases, there was a gun. In some cases, just the threat of a gun was enough.

I can recall many times in my cult when I was threatened with death, destruction or maiming if I were to leave. I was convinced the devil would take me if I left and yes, I took it very seriously. I was under the thrall of mind control.

It takes a great deal of courage (if not desperation) to finally leave any abusive situation. But psychological or spiritual abuse is the most challenging precisely because there IS no gun. One can argue that “it’s all in your head,” like the “gaslight effect.” (If you’ve never seen the movie “Gaslight,” I highly recommend it.) But that is the essence of mind control – that you think it is all in your mind when it is not. There are outside forces at work.

Healing is a process from victim to survivor to thriver. As a victim, I was stuck in my abusive situation. As a survivor, I excaped. As a thriver, I now live and share what I have learned through VMP -Victim Mentality Freedom. But I am ever mindful of those victims who are still caught in their desctructive webs of abuse and are trying to break free. I pray that my story (not propaganda) may assist them in some small way.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Law of Attraction Unplugged

As you know, I’ve been out of commission on my library couch for a good six weeks now with a broken ankle. In that time, I have “discovered” Oprah. Every day, at four’o’clock, my husband and I sit down with our martinis and microwaved popcorn and turn on the TV to channel 3 to see what Oprah has up her sleeve for the day. Two weeks ago, it was “Living Green on the Planet” so we switched to cloth napkins and canvas shopping bags. Last week it was the “Law of Attraction” as set forth in the popular bestseller “The Secret.”

Now for those of us who were involved in the Way International, “The Secret” is old news. Wierwille called it “the Law of Believing.” I don’t know what Jesus called it but he certainly placed a lot of stock in faith. The book, “The Secret,” is no secret to me, in fact, it’s a little annoying, with its parchment-like cover and fake waxed seal as if we’ve discovered a treasure map to success. The “life coaches” swear by it. I’m skeptical.

Having been a believer for so long with dubious results, I object to the formulaic approach to life. Input in, data out. “It’s a law” they say, as simple as gravity and those who don’t believe end up in the “wrong place at the wrong time” and may be subject to all sorts of untowards circumstances, such as the holocaust, tsunamis or involvement in a destructive cult. What about AIDS babies, I wonder. “Who did sin?”

The proof, they say, that you’re “plugged in” to the secret of the universe is prosperity, happiness, a million+ dollar home in Malibu and traveling all over the world. Bad feelings equal bad thinking, equals bad believing.

Now, as a clinical social worker/ therapist, I know the power of positive thinking, I have no objection to that. I teach it to inmates on a regular basis. But to say that their poverty, addictions and lack of education is based on their willpower alone is to oversimplify very complicated issues.

Even King Solomon recognized that the “race was not always to the swift or the battle to the strong, or bread to the wise or riches to men of understanding but time and chance happens to them all (Ecclesiates 9:11) So how do we account for time and chance? I think there is such a thing as “bad luck” no matter how much you believe. Humans have been known to defy the law of gravity. Why can’t God throw in a wild card every once in a while?

I don’t believe in God the Machine. I believe in God the Creator/Destroyer. He/She/It is in charge and no matter how hard we follow the “laws”, there’s always that element of grace and surprise. Remember the father whose son was “possessed with demons” and Jesus asked him if he believed? The father said, Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.” I’m a chronic hopeless doubter by nature and that’s my prayer every day. “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.” As Dr. John Juedes said in an enlightening interview on believing on the, the relationship with God is what’s key here, not just my feeble capacity to operate some law as if it were a computer.

Sorry this is so long. I know blogs are supposed to be short and to the point. But I feel strongly about this. Thanks for reading. Please leave your comments and tell me what you believe.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Reality and the Devil

When I was a student at Yale Divinity School, fresh out of a fundamentalist cult, I encountered a student who read tarot cards. She was a single mother as I was and our daughters played together. She had short cropped hair, wore no make-up, sported unshaved armpits, and lived in the brightly-colored South American clothing of an ecologically-minded feminist. By biblical standards, which I was trying hard not to apply, she was a virtuous woman. She operated her own loom, spun her own yarn, knit prolifically and made delicious lentil soup. She also believed in Jesus.

One day she asked me if I wanted to have my "cards read." Sure, I said, though not without intense fear amd trepidation. It was a Friday night. We sat on her apartment floor as the children slept in the other room and she lit some candles. Then she pulled out "The Deck," wrapped in a black silk cloth. She carefully unwrapped the cloth and invited me to touch the cards, just start randomly shuffling them, holding a question in mind. I followed her instructions carefully, with one eye on her, just in case she grew fangs and her head started rotating on its axis.

This was some devilish stuff, I thought, though I had ostensibly come to divinity school "looking for the devil." Our cult leader used to say that seminaries were the breeding ground of Satan. So when I left the cult, having not had much success with God, I figured I'd give the devil a try. Here I was - face to face with the devil's wiles. But as it turned out, neither of us showed signs of demon possession - eyes rolling back in the head, uncontrolled fits of cursing God, human sacrifices, pledging my soul to Satan.

Instead, what I learned was yet another tradition in unfolding the archetypes of the spiritual self. The Chinese have them in the I Ching. Hindus have them in mandalas. Native Americans have them in their own ceremonies. To me, the devil does not exist in these material things. The devil exists when we elevate these man-made forms above the Mystery of Being, above God, be it a deck of cards or a black leather-bound book.

As Shane the cowboy said, when asked about guns, "a gun is only as good or bad as the man who uses it." I believe the same applies to spiritual traditions. If we exalt a human device above the mystery of God, if we turn it into an idol, whether it's astrology, tarot or biblical research, then we are playing with the devil. It's only as good or as bad as the person who uses them.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

On why I changed the heading AGAIN

As I said before, blogs are organic things. As I evolve, so it evolves. We seem to be in some kind of growth spurt.

Last month I fractured my right ankle in two places. I have been, for all intents and purposes, a cripple, confined to three rooms - the library, where I sleep, eat, work and play; the bathroom and the kitchen (sometimes). I haven't climbed the steep stairs of our one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old house to my bedroom in over a month. My husband has patiently assisted me in almost everything.

I've had a lot of time to think. I've thought about cults and trauma. I've thought about cults and recovery. I've thought about the past and the future. I've thought about the purpose of this blog. I have decided that I would rather explore reality, in all its breathtaking complexity than just focus on cults and my past all the time.

Therefore, I think the most fitting new title to this blog is "Surviving Reality." Corny, I know and it sounds like a support group for people who have been on Reality TV shows. But I'm talking about Life, uncut and uncensored. Reality - Spiritual, physical, psychological, emotional, sexual and so on. The key here, of course, lies in knowing what reality is. Not always easy.

Shortly after I left the cult, I asked a a warm-hearted psychiatrist if I was crazy. He assured me I was not but he did say I was "suffering from reality." I'd like to dedicate these posts to "Survivors of Reality," which, we all know can be pretty brutal....and beautiful. I'd love to know how other people find their ways in this crazy world - how they survive and thrive. That's what I think we're all really after, anyway, isn't it?

Knowing me, I'll probably change the heading again. Until then, keep on surviving.....and thriving.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Thanks, Dalai Lama

“The best thing is, whenever exploitation, sexual abuse or money abuse happens, make them public.”
The Dalai Lama

I ran across this quote as I was sailing through cyberspace and it made my heart skip a beat. I hope the Dalai Lama said it and there’s no reason to believe he didn’t. (There goes my skepticism again.) He is a religious leader, not a cult leader.

The essence of bondage seems to lie in secrecy. When abuse is made public, there’s no more room for speculation, shame or fear. That’s why a free press is SO important and why cults do everything in their power to suppress the expression of free speech.

I strongly believe in the freedom to open the lockbox. That was a major motivation in why I wrote my memoir, Losing the Way. I decided to make my abuse public as a way of ensuring that it wouldn’t happen again – not to me, not to anyone else.

The Bible talks about this all over the place but I’d have to look long and hard to locate the scriptures – they’re all about confession and walking in the light and shunning things done in darkness– something like that. (Perhaps this is an indication of my recovery- that I’ve actually forgotten where some of the verses are. Either that or its early onset Alzheimer’s.)

Anyway, I’m so glad to have found this quote and wanted to share it with you. Hope you find solace in it as well.