HEAVEN'S HARLOTS: MY FIFTEEN YEARS AS A SACRED PROSTITUTE IN THE CHILDREN OF GOD CULT
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your
Charles gave me a book when I first left the Family. It was M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled. As I read through it, the desire to know my purpose grew in intensity. Charles gave me other books as well, mostly written by recent Nobel Prize winners, and I reread the classics, which I found in a local English library. I soaked in these books as if I were dying of thirst, which I was. My husband, who never understood my interests, had given me only one book in our fourteen years together. It was written by a beautiful Italian television actress and was about how to keep your breasts firm. I had nursed five babies now, and he thought I was worried about what shape my breasts were in. I wasn't until he gave me the book.
I knew the direction for my new life was to go back to school. I had worked as an English teacher for the British School in San Remo, Italy, for a while, and when I asked the director why I received half the pay that other teachers got, he told me, "You don't have a degree," At first I wanted a degree in order to make more money, but the more I read and realized how little I knew, having lived in an intellectual vacuum, the more I wanted to go to school just to learn. Early in 1991, I tried to go back to college, but everyone laughed at me: my friends, Paolo's Italian relatives, the college administration. They all told me, in one way or another, that at thirty-eight years of age, with four children at home, higher education was not an option. At least not in Italy. But if I could not go to school there, I would have to go somewhere else. As if others were conspiring to help me, my sister Karen called from the States, offering me her house if I wanted to come to America. I had been thinking that I could go back to school if I lived in America, but I had not told anyone. I had kept in touch with my family through infrequent letters and small Christmas gifts, but the last time I had talked to Karen was when she came to visit us in Italy three years before. She had no idea that I was thinking of returning to America. But here she was on the phone telling me that her husband had taken a job out of the States, and I could use their house in the southeastern part of the United States. She thought it was time I come home.
The last time I had been in the States was when Athena, who was now ten years old, was born, and even then, I was there for only a few months. All together, I had been away from America for eighteen years. Discussing the possibility of going back with Paolo, I suggested that we try our luck in America for a few years, and if it didn't work out, we could always come back. Paolo finally agreed, after he lost his fifth job. It took us months to sell everything for the money to buy tickets, and by that time Paolo had found another job, which was going well for him. He now wanted to stay in Italy. We were back in the trailer again, and with the tickets already in my hand, I said that I and the children were going. Paolo stayed in Italy another five months before joining us in America.
The hardest part of going back to America was being separated from Thor, who was now eighteen and ready to graduate from high school. Ironically, his father also wanted to return to America, and Thor had already been thinking about it himself. He would attend college in France, since his grades were good enough for him to make use of France's academically vigorous, but free, universities. However, he would visit in the summer, and he was already thinking of going to graduate school in the States. My four younger children were excited about going to the country where almost everything came from-the movies, the music, the latest fads, their mother! I told them I would kiss the ground when I arrived, and I did.
Returning to America, however, was more of a cultural shock than I expected. My sister no longer lived in the city where I landed, but she sent a friend to meet me, for which I was extremely thankful. I had only recently learned to drive, and the seven-lane highways looked terrifying. My mother came down from Lancaster right away to stay with me and help with the children, but I still felt estranged from her, having been emotionally absent for twenty years. I was busy learning how to live in America, in this hot, humid city where no one walked anywhere, grocery stores were open twenty-four hours a day, children did not play outside but in the play areas of fast food restaurants, and people did not visit without calling you to make an appointment. I didn't have anyone to visit me anyway! Often, I went to sleep crying silently, so the children would not hear, wondering how I would make it in this harsh environment. There was nothing to do but persevere.
First I had to find a job. I drove the half hour to the first city rapid transit stop, rode the underground train to a center city connection, and descended into a corridor filled with police. Two men had just been shot at the entrance to the station. It took another two hours for me to find the office for my first job interview. I had dressed in an elegant silk pants suit that I had seen women in France wear in offices; however, the lady behind the desk looked at my pants with my bare ankles and said, "You really should wear a skirt and stockings to an interview." Stockings in 90- degree weather, I thought, remembering that Esther had told me the same thing years ago. As I sat in the cool waiting room, I thought of my four children and elderly mother back at the house with no air-conditioning. They must be so uncomfortable. Tomorrow I'll go out and buy some kind of wading pool for them to sit in. Finally, a man called me into an office for an interview; however, the stress of the day was so great, I started to cry when he asked me why I had come back to America. On the way home, I decided it would be easier to work in one of the cheap family restaurants down the street from our house in order to earn a few extra dollars in tips. I was hired immediately and began working the night shift, returning home at three in the morning.
Meanwhile, I looked for a school for the kids. Apprehensive about sending the children to a large, impersonal public school after the small, one-room schoolhouse they were used to in Italy, I went to every private school in the area, offering to work in exchange for free tuition. I didn't have a degree, but I knew two languages and had taught English to children in Italy. Surprised by two job offers, I took the one that gave me a small stipend plus free tuition. It was a Christian school with about one hundred students, in kindergarten through twelfth grade, and my children adjusted well, even excelling in the school's basic academic courses. At first I was a teacher's assistant, but within three months I became the first-grade teacher and taught Spanish to the high school students. When the principal found out about my evening job, he offered me a better stipend so I could quit working at the restaurant. I think he was embarrassed that one of his teachers was a waitress. No one knew that I had been in a cult, and I never talked to anybody about it.
I had called Paolo to let him know how hard it was in America, and that maybe we should just consider this a visit and we'd all come back. But he already had his mind set on coming. It was no easier once he arrived; in fact, for me it was harder. Now I felt responsible for our poverty and guilty for having taken the children away from beautiful Italy. I had almost given up the idea of going back to school when, during a visit to my hometown of Lancaster, my old friend Jan told me I could go back to school on a Pell grant. She had received her degree while she was a divorced mother, and the Pell paid for it all. So I applied and soon I was going to college full-time in the evenings, while I continued to work as a teacher during the day. After my first quarter, during which I received all A's, I knew I would be able to handle it all, but Paolo discouraged me all the way. Later, in Christian counseling, I was told that it is very difficult for a man to accept a wife with a superior education, but that wasn't a good enough reason for me to stop college.
Charles had lent us money to invest in a mobile pizza trailer, and we began working the fairs to supplement our low income. For one year I went to college at night, taught during the day, and helped in the pizza business over the weekends. I studied literally every spare minute: I carried note cards out onto the school playground at recess, had my kids read college texts to me while I drove, and covered my books with flour and tomato sauce as I read while making pizza. I made straight A's my first year, but my marriage with Paolo had reached a crisis point.
It wasn't only because of school! Paolo had become more difficult as he saw me gain more independence. I knew inside myself that it was only a matter of time before we would have to separate, but since I was working in a Christian school and attending church, the counsel I was receiving left me feeling guilty about even thinking of divorce. It was my father's stay with us in 1992 that provided me with the key to moving on.
My father was in a veterans' nursing home in Pennsylvania, and I took my family to visit him. Frail, skinny as an old TV antenna, and hardly able to remember who I was, he asked me to bring him home. The doctors told me he might live a month or a few years. Almost eighty years old, he suffered from emphysema after smoking two packs of cigarettes a day all his life, and he had weakened an otherwise strong body from alcohol abuse. After discussing it with my mother, who had been living apart from him for over twenty years, we decided to bring him home with us. I watched in amazement as my poor mother fell into the same reluctantly obedient role I had observed her enacting when I was a little girl.
"Freda, Freda," my father would call from the other room.
My mom would drop the dishes she was doing and run to him, complaining on the way.
"Get me a cigarette," he said when she arrived. He was too weak to walk very far, and I kept the cigarettes hidden, out of his range.
"You are only allowed one per hour," she replied.
"It's been an hour," he yelled at her. "Get me a cigarette."
"Oh, all right, but you won't get one for another hour, you know."
This same scene was repeated about every hour throughout the day, and my weakened old mother obliged him every time.
She complained about him constantly, however, and I told her not to answer when he called.
"Well, he might need something important," she said.
"Well, don't give in to him," I answered, without thinking of the multiple meanings this statement could have. Suddenly, I understood.
I had always experienced a block to understanding my confusing emotions about men, and I felt like I had now found the key. A child first learns about relationships from her parents. There are few "perfect" marriages, but my parents definitely had a very peculiar one. My mother was the only one who supported our family emotionally, and she received no support for herself. She gave constantly, yet often without joy! She argued with my dad, complained about his drinking, cried when she discovered he had stolen the family savings, yet in the end, she always gave in to him. She disliked my father deeply, yet she gave and gave and gave-it was the Christian thing to do. I remember when I was a young girl my mother and father slept in different bedrooms, and sometimes my father would go into her room. I heard her complain, and then the complaining would stop. He did not come out.
"Why does she keep giving to him?" I thought when I was a little older and knew what he was doing in there.
And here she was, an old but content lady, still giving herself.
My father died in my house less than three months after arriving. I had taken him to the V A hospital for a checkup, and the doctor basically told me that he was on his way out. We discussed putting him back in the hospital, but even the doctor saw no point in it, and my dad expressed an earnest desire to go back home.
A few days later, I was sitting with him on the porch. He was in the rocking chair, struggling to say something to me while I held his hand. Listening earnestly, my heart sounding like the clock of the universe on the quiet porch where we sat, I thought that maybe he would say, "I love you, Miriam." I don't think I ever heard that from him. He raised his arm weakly with the first two fingers of his hand sticking out like a priest about to bless a congregation. I felt he was dying-dying peacefully while I held his hand, after having lived a life of alcohol-induced confusion and turmoil. What was he going to say with his dying breath? He could not get it out as he coughed and sputtered.
"God loves you," I said, hoping that he would go to heaven. I said a prayer for him as he looked into my eyes with what seemed like an understanding of the meaning of life. Finally, his voice came back and he said the words he was trying to say, bringing his two fingers close to his mouth as if to kiss them.
"Gimme a cig!"
I smiled. Was I a spiritual fanatic or what? I got his cigarette and lit it for him, but he just let it burn away, seemingly content to know it was there.
I had to leave him to take my mother to the dentist. She thought he would be all right till we came back, and I left one of my daughters to sit with him on the porch. Charles, who was visiting us at the time, also came out to sit with my father. When I came back from the dentist, Charles told me he had passed away peacefully.
I never saw my mother cry over his death-not when we checked his pulse to see if he was dead, not when the coroner came, not at ,the funeral. Maybe she cried in the seclusion of her room; she had 'always been a very private person emotionally. I cried because he was my father, but I thought to myself, "I would not cry if he were my husband either -- I would be relieved."
The moral of the story unfolded like a dream to me. I was continuing this subtle, yet life-sucking form of oppression. I had unconsciously learned it from my mother, and I would be passing it on to my daughters. I was always giving in to my husband, Paolo, and hating him a little more each time I did it. I didn't know all the psychological theories of why daughters continue the dysfunctional models set by their parents, but I knew I had to stop it! I was not teaching my children love; I was showing them how to learn hate and pretend that it was love. Forget the "wives obey your husbands" rule! There was no reason in the whole universe good enough for me to give love lovelessly.
I finally took the first step to breaking that long chain of oppression, and struggling against the self- condemnation that I felt rising in my heart from years of church indoctrination; I separated from Paolo. I promised to stay nearby with the children, but I felt it was dishonest and unhealthy to live under the same roof with a man with whom I felt less of a connection than with a stranger. Yes, he was the father of my children-but why? Because I gave him sex to lead him to the Lord, to keep him in the Family, and finally to obey some rules that I was no longer sure who made and why. Trying to keep the family together for the children would ultimately perpetuate the cycle of oppression I wanted to break.
I discussed the separation with my children, and did so periodically, asking them if they had any questions, any problems, any preferences of where and with whom they wanted to stay. I will not say it was easy for them; however, they have always been honor roll students in the public schools they now attend, and they have told me they like it better this way because Daddy and I used to fight all the time. I question my daughters often, wondering what they remember from the Family. One of my daughters told me that her earliest childhood memory is that of her parents arguing.
Paolo and I went for about a year to a marriage counselor, and I took the children to see if they would reveal any hidden anxieties in counseling. We were told that our kids were some of the healthiest children, emotionally and psychologically, that they had ever seen. "Whatever you are doing," the counselor told us, "it's working with these kids." What we were doing was attempting to have an amiable, intelligent separation. Paolo paid a decent child support, saw the children at least twice a week, and they went to his house on weekends.
I started attending day classes at another college, working part-time, and living in a trailer again until I saved enough money to move into a house I bought with my mother. We split the down payment and the mortgage, and she helped me watch the children while I finished school. My mother was still a giver, but now she was giving where she desired to give. I asked her many times if she wanted to go back to her home in Lancaster, which she now rented out, but she always told me she'd rather stay with us. She was an immense help, and just her presence in the house made me feel safe when I was gone. Three years later, I graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree, and I was accepted into graduate school with a graduate research assistantship.
During my first few years back in America, I looked to the churches to provide me with understanding and spiritual support, but after about three years, I finally realized that I was not going to find a resting place for my soul within traditional organized religion.
Thor visited us every year, and I discussed my search for truth with him. Now twenty, he had grown into a tall, thin young man with a tousled mop of red hair, a sharp mind, and a spiritual orientation. Although he had become a talented musician, played in a band in France, and earned all his money through music, he was intent on getting a good education and continuing his own search for truth. His father was now divorced also, and living in Colorado, so Thor lived alone while finishing college in France. We spent hours together discussing our past lives in the cult and our present lives in the world. At that time, Thor saw the world through the eyes of a mystic.
One day as we drove down the interstate, he explained to me that he saw God in everything.
"Of course," I responded. "I can see God in the trees, in nature, in children. But what about that," I said, pointing to the city skyscrapers that just came into view. "Do you see God in that?"
Thor had a peaceful expression as he smiled and gazed out the window at the highway. "I see God in the tar on the highway," he said.
I looked at the material on the road, as intensely as I could while driving. I detected little sparkles in between the black.
"Yes, I can see some beauty among that too," I responded rationally. "But what about child molesters. God cannot be in a child molester."
"God is in everything and everybody. At least in the way you understand God."
"Well, okay, let's define God, then."
"God is Love. Well, let's not talk about Love. Its meaning is too distorted. God is truth-absolute Truth. But where can one find absolute Truth? In churches? In religion?"
"There might be absolute Truth," he responded, "but it is not in the domain of dogma."
I agreed heartily, since it was about that time that I stopped looking for truth in church and religion.
Yet I felt strangely very "spiritual." I noticed little miracles happening around me constantly, and I felt guided by dreams that I could not remember. I identified with the "paradigm shift" that some avant garde scholars were predicting. I could not help but notice that the old paradigm characteristics were definitely masculine in nature, such as competitiveness, individualism, power struggles; whereas the new paradigm called for cooperation, community, peace, and nurturance. I was on the verge of embracing feminist thought, but for the time, I was interested in understanding my involvement in the Family.
My 4.0 grade point average in college had proved to myself and others that I was not stupid, a common accusation leveled against those who join cults, and in my case reinforced because I was a blonde. Now I seriously tackled the question of why I had spent most of my life in a cult. I had not been led blindly, since I knew what I was doing and could have left at any time. Yes, I had perhaps been blindly idealistic. My ideals were those taught by the Bible, such as "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his neighbor." "All that believed were together and had all things in common." "Lovest thou me [Jesus]? Feed my sheep." But I was also an extremist. Someone told me how to live these words to the extreme, and I followed, along with about twenty thousand other people. I was also self-sacrificial. I was willing to be used for a greater cause. But a cause greater than what? Than capitalism? Perhaps idealistic extremists should stay away from religion and politics, but I did not know that at eighteen years old. I also did not know the difference between religion and spirituality.
In every upper-division class I took in college, I made use of my experience while conducting research on cults or the Children of God. Eventually, this line of research led me to the study of women's issues; but in the beginning, I was intent on understanding what had happened to me. One of the best explanations of cult experience was written by William Kephart, who created a valid typology of people who join cults. I identified with the "deep feeler," who, according to Kephart, views social problems on a grand scale and identifies emotionally with social issues much more strongly than does the average person. He claims that the "deep feelers" do not usually feel that they are victimized, since their emotional involvement is often for the masses. I did not like to describe myself as a victim, or if I ever used the word, I said I was a willing victim. I think children in general are victims, as well as any person who is physically, emotionally, or psychologically dependent on others. The question became why had I allowed myself to be willingly abused, but the answer to that was still hidden.
Most cult analysts claim that cult members are alienated from society. However, that in itself was not a sufficient reason. Many people I came to know outside the COG were also alienated. In addition, there was a growing number of ex-cult members now living in the world who were still alienated. Perhaps knowing the cause of alienation in each individual would shed light on why one person dealt with alienation by becoming a criminal and another by becoming a prostitute or a monk and so on. I believe that in the COG we received relief from alienation at the price of exploitation. There were no blanket answers.
During my graduate studies I learned some amazing theories of social interaction, which I tested on my experience in the cult. One of the classical theories in sociology talks of a "collective consciousness" that becomes an entity of its own in society. One learns, obeys, and internalizes the morals from the collective consciousness of the group, and in my case, having rejected the consciousness of mainstream society, I adopted first the counterculture's, then those of a new society, the Children of God. I did not realize, of course, that morals eventually become internalized; I would not even have known what the word "internalized" meant at that time. But my experience and subsequent reflection showed me that everything I had been taught as morally wrong in society was questioned and often replaced by the group's new morality of "love."
Emile Ourkheim wrote of the impulse we have to seek harmony with the society to which we belong: to adopt the ways, thoughts, and actions of those who surround us, to obey without reason solely because the moral maxims possess social authority.
But why did I not internalize the morality of normal society? Why had I chosen-actively sought out-an alternative? Classical social theory explains that society is like an organic body, and one part of it cannot be infected by a disease without affecting the whole; therefore in times of crisis there will arise currents of disillusionment that create a sort of social malaise. At this time, religious systems might spring up to reduce the feeling of the senselessness of life. Those who experience this alienation often look to these new religions for relief from their pain. In the late 1960s, America was undergoing an internal crisis that resulted in a proliferation of what scholars call "new religious movements," but which are commonly known as cults. Without clear goals or a sense of direction, the (usually young) people who are most sensitive to society's sickness often join what they see as an alternative. That is what I did. But the question still remains, why me?
I hope that this story of one cult will not instill in the reader the simplistic idea that all new religious movements should be stopped. Consider the fact that Christianity started as a cult. What I do wish to impart to every person who considers new fountains of truth is to seriously consider the source! And lines must be drawn. I believe any group that condones child abuse needs to be rooted out. Those are not merely weeds!
Through much research, I had begun to find academically sound reasons for why some highly idealistic people join cults and participate in a destructive moral system, sometimes, as we have seen in Jonestown and Heaven's Gate, to the point of mass suicide. I still did not understand why I did it. Nevertheless, I continued to explore cult involvement as I talked with the growing number of adults, teens, and children who left the Children of God over the years. And there were many.
In 1990, the total membership of the COG was reported to be eighteen thousand, and it remained at about this level for years, as the number who left were replaced with newborn babies. Researchers estimate that hundreds of thousands of people from my generation have been involved with cults at some point in their lives. For those who joined as adults, reorientation into the "world" was always difficult, but for children raised in the cults, it was traumatic. I became acquainted with a few organizations that gave support to those who came out of a cult experience, but inquiry showed me that these support groups were usually religious, and often steeped in dogma. In fact, one of the ex-cultists I worked with had been "kidnapped" (forcefully taken against his will) by a hired deprogrammer, along with his brother, while they were both in the Children of God. They were kept in a hotel room for days and supposedly deprogrammed from all the brainwashing they had experienced while in the cult. Upon their release, his brother went home, but he promptly rejoined the COG and stayed a few more years.
I wanted to have some contact with others who had been in cults, if for no other purpose than research, but I didn't want to get involved with a church-influenced organization. Then, in a coincidence which I eventually recognized as the serendipity that occurred frequently in my life, an ex-COG member, my old friend Ruth, moved to the city where I lived and organized a meeting with other ex-Family members. Together with another single mother and a couple, Rose and Bishop, who had been out of the Family for about twenty years, we planned a national reunion of former COG members.
The reunion, held in a park in Atlanta in 1993, drew not only former Family members from across the nation, but also the attention of the national media. The focus on us-amplified because of the recent event in Waco, Texas, involving the Branch Davidians -- was short-lived, but through it we established a network of ex-COG members that has grown exponentially. I was interested in helping former members discover themselves, but I was also interested in their stories. It was wonderful to see and hear from my once beloved brothers and sisters. Some of them had turned to drugs; many returned to Christian churches; others had tried to salvage badly made marriages and had failed. However, most tragically, there was a great number of women who now struggled heroically to raise their children and find a stable means of support: often alone, misunderstood, and looked down upon by others, especially if they told their story. Clearly, the women of the cult had suffered greatly, and compared with many of them, I felt fortunate to be so far along the road to recovery.
Sociologist Steve Kent, an expert on the Children of God, reports that "the most manipulative use of feminist rhetoric against women occurred in the Children of God, where its leader ... subjected women to numerous pregnancies, traditionalistic family roles, subservience to men, prostitution, physical violence, and general sexual exploitation." I was now a witness to the results of such indignity. I had a feeling that I had passed through this abusive cult for a reason. But I was not yet ready to understand its significance. First, I needed more revelations about myself.
Other than higher education, my search for meaning led me to read many of the popular books that were currently reflecting the baby boomer midlife consciousness. With my belief that nothing was too sacred to question, I was on the path to questioning God. I read with an open mind and heart the contemporary works of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Matthew Fox, Scott Peck, Alan Jones, James Redfield, Rosemary Altea, and others-all writing on modern spirituality. Jones claims that to mend the world, one needs self-knowledge. I was on a search for my original self so that I could know her. I had reached the midlife decision that Estes talked about-whether to be bitter or not-and I chose not to be. Little had I known that I would receive the "gift of tears" along the road to joy!
One of my earliest influences among popular nonfiction writers, after leaving the Family, was Scott Peck. In his book A Different Drum, he sets forth in layman's terms the stages of community building, which are very much like the stages of faith development. He explains the four stages -- pseudocommunity, chaos, emptiness and [true] community as a developmental process that those seeking to build community must pass through, When Peck came to speak in the city where I lived, my supervisor at college gave me her ticket since she could not attend.
During the question-and-answer session, I asked Peck what he thought we could do about the poverty in the world, or even in America. His answer made clearer to me than ever before that there are many forms of poverty. I had been working on pulling my family out of economic poverty, but I still had forms of my own emotional and psychological poverty to contend with. However, I didn't have the financial means to seek qualified outside help.
Later, when a Peck-inspired "community-building workshop" came to town, I received a scholarship and attended the workshop for three days.
On the first day the facilitator told us to write down any dreams we might have that night and to talk about them the next day.
I woke up about 5 A.M. sobbing uncontrollably. I had just had a dream, and I could recall it vividly. Not sure if! was awake or asleep, I went through the dream again in my mind, and I felt as if I were there.
I was a little girl about seven years old. My mother was away at the hospital having her fifth baby. My brother, who was two years older than I, was hiding somewhere in the house, and I guess my two younger sisters were being taken care of by someone else. I seemed to be alone with my father. It was dark outside, being January, and I was playing in the alcove at the front of the living room with a doll I had just received for Christmas. I was pouring her tea when I heard my father calling from the middle room, right before the kitchen and at the foot of the stairs. It was dark in there, and he was slouching on the couch. He always slouched that way, and he mumbled as he talked.
"Miramm, Miramm, come here!" he muttered.
[Lying on my bed at forty years of age, I felt the fear, loneliness, and helplessness that I had felt at seven years old, as acutely as if I were there again.]
"Where is Mommy?" I cried to myself. "Why isn't she here to protect me? Where is my brother? He should be here playing with me. I don't want to go in to Daddy. Why isn't someone here to save me?"
"Miramm, come here, I said. Come to Daddy," he called again from that dark place.
I put the tea things away in the case and lay the doll inside the bench box we used for toys. I wished the doll could help me. But she was lifeless. I never played with her or any dolls again.
I walked into the room dragging my feet. The familiar smell of my father, of cheap wine, filled the air. My father was on the couch with his penis out.
"Come here and hold this, Miriam!"
I didn't have to write the dream down. I could remember it vividly now whenever I wanted to.
When I went to the workshop that morning, I waited for others to say something. There was a much smaller crowd since some of the people decided that this wasn't for them. No one had a dream to tell. The facilitator kept looking at me, as if to say, "Tell your dream." Finally, I started, as tears welled up in my eyes. By the time I finished, I was sobbing, and so were a lot of other people in the room. Then, one by one, half the people in the group began recounting sexual or emotional abuse that they had suffered as children. Some seemed much more terrible than what I had experienced; a few, like mine, had never been remembered or talked about before; but all were traumatic. I felt an emptiness inside, and I realized that before this emptiness I had been living in chaos.
I began to understand something about my soul from that point on. The issue in my life was not only cult involvement. Another issue was, and still is, the abusive power imbalance. The fact that my father, like many fathers, brothers, uncles, and other authority figures, as head of the family (or whatever power position they hold, such as priests, teachers, coaches, doctors), could violate his duty of moral transmission and get away with it is an attack on a child's soul. This scene, which I had repressed, was not the only blow to my soul. There were others, such as the time my father threw a chair at my mother and it hit me on the head instead, leaving a scar that remains today, and the nights I spent at the top of the stairs, afraid to go to sleep and ready to run out the front door if my father came home drunk. By the time I was ten years old, a strange man exposed himself to my friend and me on a quiet neighborhood street, and I was so confused, I thought it was funny. Recently I read that child-abuse survivors can experience a long list of psychological disorders as adults. One of them jumped off the page -- an inability to establish meaningful relationships. That was another reason why I had found it so easy to be a Heaven's Harlot and so hard to be a wife. My psyche had been wounded at a very young age, and no one came to help stop the bleeding. There had never been any healing. Perhaps this was the bloodied little girl who had appeared to me in Italy.
When I eventually discussed this with members of my family, no one but my sister Ruby gave me any emotional support. On the contrary, as is typical when only one child remembers abuse, I was discredited. One of my siblings suggested it could have been the typical Freudian fantasy of a female child in the oedipal stage, which is commonly known as "penis envy." My family insinuated that I was imagining the incident, and at the same time they said, "Well, it wasn't that bad! Lots of drunk men expose themselves." They were right -- child abuse often involves much "worse" intrusion than mere exposure, and drunk men are notorious for indecent exposure. Some children are more resilient than others. However, the fact that I buried this incident so deeply in my subconscious, and that it returned with such emotional violence in dreams and visions, indicates that I was profoundly affected.
Perhaps I had become a "deep feeler" for the sufferings of the downtrodden masses, but I was also an "unfeeler" of my own pain. Perhaps I had been eager to dissociate from myself so I would not feel the pain. Perhaps in locking up pain, I had also locked up morals and values. Wasn't it the universal moral taboo of incest that had caused my pain to begin with? What better way to rid myself forever of that pain than to discredit the taboo. If I had not been a mother also, I probably would have remained oblivious to morality. Now that I understood my original wound, I questioned God even more earnestly: "What is the meaning of this? Why would you, God, allow this to happen over and over again?"
For some children it is much worse. Some children don't make it through.
To this day, any incident of child abuse that I hear about causes profound feelings of pain to surface, and I often weep to the point of emotional exhaustion. When I read about the two girls who were found dead in a Belgian farmhouse, having been subjected to sexual abuse for months, I almost completely lost faith in any concept of God. The parents and townspeople had prayed for months for the protection of these kidnapped girls. I questioned everyone and did not find a suitable answer as to why any God would let this happen. I don't know how God the Father thinks, but God the Mother would not let this happen. Even after being indoctrinated by Family principles of morality for years, after internalizing the belief that sex is natural and should be shared with all, and after giving my body, in the end I was not willing to give my children. Fortunately, I had enough decision-making power left to decide to take my girls away from eventual abuse. How could an all-powerful, all-knowing God allow continual abuse to happen in His creation? So who or what is God? I want to know!
My mother was living with me at the time I had the dream/revelation. Although she had played a significant role in that incident of my childhood, by being absent, I knew she was not guilty of neglect. Actually, she was a survivor herself, and I now recognized that my detached attitude in life was modeled after my mother's. I had perfected the coping mechanism by becoming dissociated. I was now able to identify the signs indicating that my mother used whatever she could to survive her pain and abuse.
She had been trained to be a scholar and socialized to live a middle-class lifestyle. Instead, she married an alcoholic who could not keep a job, and being a devout Christian, she allowed him to father her six children. Nothing had prepared her for parenthood by herself, and even more tragic, nothing had prepared her for the abusive relationship inherent in being married to an alcoholic. Her religion told her that she could not divorce, and so she did not. Instead, she bore her burdens by forgetting them. My mother forgot almost all the dramatic incidents that I remember in detail. During her first pregnancy, she developed epilepsy, and she has taken phenobarbital and Dilantin ever since. Perhaps this had something to do with her memory loss, but it also helped her to survive her life in hell. The Christians certainly did not help enough. When her own father suggested she get away from my father, offering to help her start a new life in Germany, she refused. She told me later that she stayed with her husband because of her convictions.
Memories seem to collect cobwebs like an unused attic, but I had to start cleaning out the rooms. I have lived too long with vague memories. I remembered all along that my father had been abusive, only I did not consistently remember. As a child I had recurrent nightmares of a "boogeyman" in my bed, and sometimes I would wake up and see a tall figure leave the room. I asked my mother to sleep with me until I was a teenager, and I even wet the bed once at sixteen years of age while I baby-sat at a neighbor's house. All these are serious disturbances, but I did not look for a cause. When Mo advocated sexual activities with children, I allowed the memory of my father's actions to resurface as something that was not morally wrong. However, when I saw the results of abusive sexual relationships, through the drawings of Judah's child, I finally made my own decision that indeed it was terribly wrong. But again I blocked out my own sexual abuse. All power abuse cuts to the heart and soul. And as children, who have nowhere to run and hide, all we can do is let our heart bleed and hide our soul!
I think my mother, who stumbled into this abuse as an adult, hid her emotions. I know she suffered greatly because she stayed with my father. When I was five, right after my second little sister was born, my mother's fourth child in less than eight years, she had a nervous breakdown in front of her children. We were living in a hotel on the highway, and she took the baby and sat in the middle of the street screaming like a lunatic, while the other three children, myself included, stood on the side of the highway waiting for help. The police came and put her back into the hotel room. She doesn't remember the incident. She was one of the silent survivors of a society that allowed patriarchly sanctioned abuse. Abusive husbands in the 1950s were supported by law, while abused wives were silenced. I was not going to perpetuate this grim silence. I wanted to scream to God -- to the world -- "Why do you let this happen?" But I couldn't scream yet. I couldn't even find my voice.
Through books, I learned much about the correlation among suffering, searching, and knowing oneself. In Women Who Run with Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes talks about the women who die a thousand deaths and are constantly reborn:
Having lived through a gross repression causes gifts to arise that compensate and protect. In that respect a woman who has lived a torturous life and delved deeply into it definitely has inestimable depth. Though she came to it through pain, if she has done the hard work of clinging to consciousness, she will have a deep and thriving soul-life and a fierce belief in herself regardless of occasional ego-waverings.
I had lived through an emotionally torturous childhood. As a young adult I joined a repressive authoritarian subculture, and I lived most of my adult life allowing myself to be manipulated by men. Somehow I hung on to consciousness, and I was ready for a thriving soul-life, sensing that there was more to learn. Little did I know that my oldest son, the love of my life who gave me the utmost joy and was the unwitting cause of my most intense pain, was going to be the key to a deeper spirituality.
Thor came to live with me in 1995. With a hard-earned French degree in math, he applied to graduate schools in America. After scoring a perfect 800 on his GRE, he received an assistantship at one of the best schools in the South. The time we spent together was priceless, and I discovered that my twenty-two-year-old son was a spiritual seeker of great depth. His own sufferings, which only he can write about, and his essential search led him to an Eastern form of meditation, a spiritual discipline known as Sahaj Marg, or the "natural path." He explained this practice to me patiently for many months, and I started the meditation sporadically at different times, but because there was a "master," which reminded me too much of my cult experience, I was always wary. In fact, during one of my rare conversations with the "master" of this particular discipline, I expressed to him my distrust of any type of leader or guru. He suggested that I "just meditate."
I have not become as involved in the Saharj Marg practice as Thor has, but as a result of the meditation I have done, I began to experience more dreams and visions. First, I rejected these as too "cultish," because the Family had put so much emphasis on dreams and visions, especially those received by Moses David. However, I wrote them down, and they have been a source of inspiration for me, since they were usually messages about myself. It also is a way for me to counterbalance the nonspiritual world of academia. I had become so absorbed in external struggles, such as the economic one, that I found I had little time for self-reflection. Yet self-awareness, like morning dew, is life-sustaining.
When I began to meditate, I was doubtful that it would yield any benefits, but because I wanted to be part of my son's life in whatever way I could, I did it. Sitting still for an hour was very hard, and thinking "no thoughts" was even harder. No one gave me any indication as to what should happen during meditation, or that I would "see" anything. However, as I concentrated on the inner light as a focal point, I began to feel more peaceful. My first visions during meditation were of beautiful colors and designs that I had never seen before and could never reproduce. Another time I saw a multitude of robed people, stretching out across eternity. One day I envisioned an evolution regression, seeing an ape change into a fish and finally into some microscopic organism in which I felt intimate energy. Sometimes I saw things that I recognized as "my story" in symbolic form; other times I received images that gave me inspiration or revelations about something that was bothering me. The meditation practice helped me during a difficult period in my life. I was a single mother, with four school-age kids, and going full-time to college. I felt I was just keeping my head above water. Then one night, while sleeping at Thor's apartment, I had the "dream." I will recount the dream exactly as I wrote it down early in the morning, with tears still streaming down my face.
I was living next to a big old house, almost a mansion in size, and it seemed that I knew this house intimately. Maybe I lived there before. I now live next to the house with my children. I know that the people who were living in the big house had left and the house was now empty. But I heard a baby crying in the house. At first the cry was very faint. Sometimes it would go away. This had been going on for months now [as I knew in my dream]. I thought the child must surely be dead, if there really was a baby in there.
I often asked myself, "Why don't I go in there and look?" But I was afraid. I was afraid of that house. Something had happened to me in there. But tonight, in my dream, I hear the baby distinctly. I hear her crying louder and louder in desperation. I know I will have to go in and look for her or else I will go crazy!
I do not want to go alone, so I wake my oldest daughter, Athena, and tell her about the baby crying next door. She believes me, although she cannot hear the crying, and she says she will come with me to look for the baby.
The old house is connected to our house somehow, and we climb through the attic and into the house next door through an attic trap door, since I do not want to go in the front main entrance. Once in the big house, I feel oppressed with fear, but the sound of the baby crying keeps me going. I must find her.
I start looking everywhere in the attic, and I can't find the baby anywhere. Then I stop hearing the cries. "She must be dead," I think, but just then I hear the crying coming from downstairs. Athena thinks she heard something but isn't sure. I hear it distinctly; however I don't want to go downstairs. Athena thinks we could save the baby. So we go to the next floor and search everywhere, but again the cries stop, and again I hear them coming from down further. Each time I search a level, I can hear the cries on a level below. Finally, Athena, who has never really heard the cries, thinks we should give up.
We are on the floor above ground level now. It is the floor of the master bedroom and the library. The furniture is of an old, massive type and very heavy to move. I pull drawers out frantically to look for the baby behind the big dressers. In the library, I madly rip the books off the shelves, looking inside and behind them. Athena is beginning to think I am losing my mind.
"I am sure the baby is dead by now," she says, almost trying to help me give up my frantic search before I go crazy.
We are in the master bedroom now. I can't even hear the baby cry anymore, and I am about to give up, when I hear the baby breathing. I can hear her better than I hear my own breath; in fact, it feels like it is my breath I hear.
"No, she's in here," I say excitedly. "I hear her breathing. She might be on her last breath and she doesn't have the energy to cry anymore."
Athena cannot hear it, but she believes me. I get down on my hands and knees since I think the sound is coming from below a great old-fashioned wardrobe. I peer underneath it, and there in the back is a tiny fragile baby, covered only with a small blanket and lying on her stomach. I gently pull her out. She is so small she fits in one of my hands. Her skin is translucent and she is glowing like a star or a crystal. She is breathing very faintly, and I am thinking how wonderful it is that I have found her. I will take her home and nurture her back to health. I am filled with an amazing love for this glowing baby.
Just then, a man comes in downstairs. I look over the stairway and he comes up the steps. He is a sophisticated-looking man in a nice gray suit, but his face is without emotion. He is accompanied by a little lady, and he tells her to go up to the attic and shut the trap door. Then he looks at me with an evil smirk, as he takes the baby out of my hands and throws her disinterestedly over his shoulder.
"So you found her," he sneers. "Well, she's mine. And now you are going to suffer for finding her."
I remember thinking that I should not have brought Athena with me. This seemed to be my destiny, and I should not have brought Athena into it. I am overcome with such a fear for Athena that I wake up.
I wrote the dream down right away, but even in my wakeful state, I was strangely afraid, especially for my children. I told Thor the dream, and he thought I should see a Jungian psychologist, trained to interpret dreams.
In wonderful synchronization, my friend Ruth told me about a Jungian psychologist whom she knew in Paris and who now lived in our city. I contacted her and made an appointment.
The psychologist, a woman, forced me to draw the explanation out of myself. The house is myself, my life, and the baby is my soul, who has been abused and neglected for many years. I was forced out of my house by this man, and perhaps kept out of it at different times, in different situations, by different men, but now I was ready to come back in and take possession of my house. My soul had always known its birthing place. Now I had found my soul, and my journey was just beginning! Meaning, purpose, understanding -- they were mental processes, paths through the head, and I felt I could now learn the way of the heart. This is my continuing journey!