Sunday, March 7, 2010

Trauma and Recovery

I recently co-facilitated a former-members support group for ex-cultists. We met in a spacious office and went around the circle and told our stories by turn. There were survivors of all sorts of groups - Bible-based cults, therapy cults, new age cults, even political cults. We listened to each other's stories, reacted and asked questions. Even though I had heard many similar accounts, it didn't mitigate the shock of what people do under cult mind-control.

When it came to me, I rattled off the litany of abuse which I'd suffered while involved with The Way International- things like sexual abuse, physical abuse, spiritual exploitation, psychological manipulation, severe depression, suicide attempts. They were all old hat to me. But when I finished my recounting, everyone sat in silence. I felt embarrassed, like I had done something wrong and upset the group.

On my way home, while driving, I had a chance to reflect on what had taken place. I had been horrified by some of the things I heard from some of the ex-members - things like hypnotism, child abuse, brainwashing. Perhaps, I thought, other people had had a similar reaction to my story. Even though I'd been through it a thousand times, I even wrote a book about it all, it was still unsettling for me to see people's response to my story. They were looking at me the way I had looked at them.

I think whenever people hear about trauma of any sort, the reaction is the same. Shock, denial, horror, anger and grief and so on. Even if you've been through abuse yourself, hearing other people's stories can elicit these same emotions. Now I think I understand how people I know feel when they read my book - why some of them look at me cross-eyed and don't know what to say. Perhaps they worry that these aberrations of normal human experience are contagious.

My abuse took place over twenty-five years ago. I'm healthy, happy and living a more or less sane life. But when I show my scars, and see myself through the eyes of others, I am reminded of the pain. The pain is new to the ones who are hearing it for the first time. But, for me, these wounds are healed and I am basically whole. I only get thrown if I react to their shock, like a baby that falls and looks at the pain on its mother's face then starts to cry.

I have to remind myself that I am not a child. I am no longer a victim. I will always be an ex-member, always a survivor but now, by God's grace, I'm a "thriver." It's been a long road from trauma to recovery and I need not go back. Except to hold out a hand to someone who is trying to cross the chasm to healing themselves. That is why I'm co-facilitating the group. But that doesn't mean I still don't get tweaked by my own story. Sometimes it's just plain hard for me to believe I went through all that stuff. And if it's hard for me to believe it, why should I be surprised that others feel the same way, too?


Anonymous said...

Your one of the strongest most courageous person I know.

patsystone said...

Well I feel pain from my past-maybe not all from the Way, but from mental illness, troubled neighborhoods, drug buddies, isolation, rejection by churches.....
I can't do any meditation groups cause it brings me to negative holes in my life.
I am frustrated, cause my church is trying to do a meditation group- but the meditation brings me to negative experiences in my past life. Don't know how to handle it- just have been recommended to avoid the meditation group----

Anonymous said...

TWI was pretty fun in the early times. People ruined it. I am still so thankful for TWI and Dr. VPW because I learned to read the Bible for myself and think for myself .. then people with Power lust got involved as leaders and tried to think for me, so I left. But there are wonderful memories that I have of being around the most loving people I have ever met.. and most of those people left TWI too.. just saying, it wasn't a Cult.. it was hijacked by some pretty selfish people and a good thing was ruined because Grace and Forgiveness were removed from their vocabulary... I chose to take Grace and Forgiveness and all the other good things God gave me with me when I left. Wish others could do the same.

Billy said...

For myself, I must agree with you. TWI was fun at the start, and I learned some things about God I still consider very valuable. I think it was that way for many others as well. I don't agree with those who try to paint a picture of nothing in TWI ever being good. In fact, I think the good makes the abuse that Kristen and others increasingly suffered (even while we were having fun in those early years) so much more tragic, as the good was used to justify the abuse.

At the time, I was even having fun in the corps, despite a few less pleasant things that took place. Then, and for years after my exit, I would have laughed at any thought that the little sexual episode I was put through (this was in the late '70s) was abuse. I still wouldn't call it abuse, but I'm not laughing anymore, because it pointed directly to the abuse that Kristen and some others were subjected to. (Corps men were supposed to loosen up sexually, or be loosened up; I don't think this happened to everyone, but i got a taste of it).

I want to remember and use the good I learned also, as long as I can remember not to pretend that the bad didn't happen.

Billy said...

I didn't realize the significance of that minor sexual a direct sign of much worse that others went through...until I finally came to believe that the much worse happened, and that realization was fulfilled when I read "Losing the Way". At that point, a reason that it came back so plainly happened right after the event. I immediately went back to the men's side of the trailer and crawled into my upper berth sack. Now, in the corps, like lots of things, "lights out" means just that. You could get away with getting in late, but you had to find your bed in the dark after that time, so we all got good at that. On that night, I was the only one in at that time, but obviously my corps "brothers" thought I was still out, even though I was still awake in my bunk. They started talking to each other about what the two corps women involved told them about our "encounter", and that is when I hear the term "loosening up" used about me, along with the details of what happened. And, quite evidently, neither they nor the women ever knew that I heard them talking about me that night.

oneperson said...

Thanks Billy for pointing me to this blog entry. Lots of stuff in the entry and the comments.

I have a CD of the late Walter Conkrite. It's been years since I've listened to it. In fact. I listened to it while I was still with The Way.

Hmm...let me back up a moment.

I became physically sick (not to mention emotionally/mentally) my 4th year in The Way. I battled severe (not an over statement) immune function problems. One of those included asthma (which I had never had as a child).

I suffered much for a couple decades. Only my husband really knows the full brunt. It was trauma. Some might laugh at that, but when a person cannot literally is traumatic.

Looking back now and after I became 90% better, I can see how much emotional suppression and shame played a roll in my physical health.

Anyhoo, in the past while I was still sick I'd sometimes begin to share with someone about the suffering...and I'd notice that their eyes would kind of glaze over. Thus, I didn't share about the battle(s) often.

Well, some 10+ years ago, I listened to that Walter Cronkite CD. In his interviews with combat veterans, the vets shared that when they tried to share with others (who had never been in combat) about the trauma, others' eyes often glazed over.

A lightbulb went off in my head at the time...the "others" couldn't relate.

Later, after leaving The Way and learning about dissociation, which we all experience in order to function especially in this age of overload, I've wondered if the "glaze" is the person somewhat dissociating...simply because the person cannot process the trauma being shared. Just a thought/theory...and maybe with no substance.

oneperson said...

As far as sexual looseness in The Way...I became loose. Though I had been sexually active from a young age, I was never promiscuous...until after I became involved with The Way. How much was due to the "attitude" of free love, grace, etc.? How much was due to my own shame of an abotion and AWOLing the Corps? How much was due to the 70s/early 80s cultural mindset? I don't know. But I did use sex to recruit men, though at the time I didn't look at it like that.

I was an ab-user; using something good abnormally.

oneperson said...

Billy stated in response to the 2nd Anonymous poster:
"I don't agree with those who try to paint a picture of nothing in TWI ever being good. In fact, I think the good makes the abuse that Kristen and others increasingly suffered (even while we were having fun in those early years) so much more tragic, as the good was used to justify the abuse."

I agree Billy.

Also, as far as writing memoir, etc.,: When an author/narrator writes about experiences from the past, it doesn't mean the author is still trying to "get over" something. That could be the case, but not necessarily. Much grace and forgiveness and mercy may have already taken place within a victim's life. To write about the experiences does not mean the author is embittered. Expression simply is. Facts are. Memories are.

At least that is my viewpoint.

I take part weekly for about 8 months a year in a memoir writing workshop. We write and we read our pieces aloud. Then listeners respond...not with analysis of the situation written about, nor with advice, nor with suggestions. Listeners respond with how the piece made them feel or the impressions they were left with.

We have a kind of rule...that just because someone has written about a life event doesn't mean they want to discuss it. They may just want to express it.

From what I've read of Kristen's work...her heart seems filled with mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and grace.

Thumbsup Kristen!