Cult Survivors Open Up To Share What Their Experience Was Like.
1. My aunt (never met her) is part of a cult in Texas. A couple of my cousins, her daughters, got out and were basically shunned by the community. My aunt told my cousin that she would go to her wedding and then before the wedding she sent a letter to my cousin that she wasn't going anymore because the marriage was damned to Hell. She also told her sister, my other aunt, that she got sick (had cancer) because she didn't believe enough.
My cousins are very successful now and work hard but damn, they went through some crazy brainwashing as kids.
2. I was born and raised in a cult, and considered myself a member up until I left my parents' home at the age of 18. The group I was associated with is not well known, but the effects on the members are tragic and undeniable.
We were literally brainwashed. We had weekly services with a set program (three hymns, prayer, sermonette, hymn, announcements, main message, hymn, prayer.) It never altered from that layout. As well, the messages we would hear were often videotaped sermons from maybe five main people at "headquarters". The topics were extremely narrow (Prophecy/the end is coming!, Self Improvement/all of you suck and you should hate yourselves, Setting Ourselves Apart/don't talk to "worldly" people, they will taint you.)
There were many ways in which we were indirectly encouraged to harm ourselves. Many people looked down upon modern medicine, and felt that using it was a way of turning away from God - slapping him in the face, making it clear he wasn't needed. I personally knew people who died for their faith, waiting for God to heal them. On the other hand, when any of the main leaders fell ill, they were immediately rushed off to receive medical care.
They controlled our diet. We pretty much were kosher (though they denied all influence or association from/with Jewish people.) There were annual days of fasting, and whenever the leadership could scare up enough drama within the members, they would declare a "church-wide fast" so we could all get closer to God and resolve our issues. We fasted when the church's income was said to be dropping. We fasted when leaders were ill. We fasted when people died. We had our own personal fasts for the hell of it, or when we felt especially guilty and out of touch with God. Parents were encouraged to get their children involved as young as possible. My parents tell me I started observing the annual fast when I was three years old. I remember one year when my brother was two or three, at at one point during the day, he just broke down sobbing because he was so thirsty (oh, yeah - we abstained from food and drink. We got obscenely dehydrated, every time.) Looking back, I just don't understand how a parent can behave that way.
There was actually an entire message once where one of the leaders took on the subject, "Are we a cult?" and he actually went through a checklist for us. His conclusion was that we were a cult, but that it was a good thing. We should be proud! Only not, pride is a sin. We should be pleased.
They were so sex-negative, I can't even describe. We spent so much time and energy frantically thinking, "I can't think about sex" that it was all we thought about. It was "evil, dirty, wrong, and it would hurt if we weren't married." I literally built up so much fear over it that when I did finally have sex (Continued)
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I literally built up so much fear over it that when I did finally have sex (as an unmarried adult, hah...) I had developed vaginismus, a sexual pain condition. The cause is often psychological - in my case, being so afraid of it hurting, that it hurt, which further fed into my fear.
You had to be baptized before a minister would marry you. You couldn't be baptised and marry someone else who wasn't. You couldn't marry outside the church. Some ministers wouldn't baptize you if they thought your only incentive was to get married.
There were rampant cases of sexual abuse from the leadership, but we were always too fearful to report it. Always taught that it must have, in some way, been our fault.
"Traditional" gender roles were enforced - i.e., women stay home, pop out babies, cook, and clean. Men were to work and support the home. Having children, and lots of them, was strongly encouraged - "Be fruitful and multiply", and all that crap. Adoption was frowned upon, even for those who were unable to have their own children. So many families were living in poverty because there were just too many children to take care of. God forbid that any of them have a medical condition that required constant treatment.
We were robbed on a regular basis. They called it tithing. Not only did we give ten percent of our entire income, but we were also to set a second ten percent aside (to be used at a seven day religious convention of sorts every year) and on every third year, we would give an additional ten percent to the church. Imagine losing 20% of your income every year, and 30% every third year. Imagine being poor to begin with. Imagine being told you are poor because you have been literally stealing from God by not diligently paying your tithes.
I could go on forever. There is so much.
3. I was part of a fundamentalist Christian cult known as ATI/IBLP. Recent scandals have hit the news about the cult leader Bill Gothard when over 50 women came forward with allegations that he sexually harassed/assaulted them. But that's only scratching the surface. Let me tell you my scariest experience - and just keep in mind, I'm far from the only one.
First off, throughout my childhood my father and sisters abused me. Since the cult taught a strict familial hierarchy, with the father being top dog, then mother, then children in order of birth, as the youngest I was bottom of the totem pole. My father would twist Bible verses to justify anything he wanted to do. Because ATI is a homeschool cult, it was really handy to cover up the abuse from any prying eyes. My home was a prison for 11 years until he died of a massive heart attack. And that's not even the scariest experience.
Fast forward 2 years. I'm 13, with a mother who's frantically fixated on me being a "troubled child" because 1. I dared resist my father's advances and argue against the abuse I was suffering, gaining me the reputation of 'Rebellious', 2. I'm severely depressed because I'm a freaking victim and depression is considered sin, and 3. I asked too many questions as to WHY we believed the things we believed - you don't ask questions, needless to say. So she calls some cult members here and there, pulls some strings, and long story short, she gets me placed in a secretive program called the "Log Cabin" program. They tell her very little details about it, and she tells me even less. All I know is I'm about to move to Oklahoma for a while to be fixed by "nice counselors" because I'm a dirty sinner.
Wednesday, July 11th, 2001. I'm dropped off. (Continued)
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Wednesday, July 11th, 2001. I'm dropped off at a locked-down compound in the middle of nowhere near Skiatook, Oklahoma called "Eagle Springs Training Center". They pose as a "residential childcare facility" for appearances sake. This means my mother literally signs over custody of me, her own child, to a bunch of strangers in a compound in the middle of nowhere, and leaves me there and goes back home far away. They assure her I'm in good hands.
For the next two years, I am tortured, brainwashed, starved, sleep deprived, threatened, punished, humiliated, interrogated, and terrorized. I lose 40 pounds in the first month or two. They take me off my medications (believing it is wrong to take them) cold turkey; I exhibit severe symptoms of withdrawal and they go ignored. I am worked grueling hours, sent on aimless hikes and marches, scrubbing floors on my hands and knees until my knuckles are cracked and bleeding from the bleach, punished with hard labor until I'm near fainting. They had fun coming up with new and strange "punishments". One was a forced vow of silence: You were told never to speak for days or weeks on end - if you do, you are punished further. I was given tasks designed to fail (for example, extremely short time limits on difficult tasks) in order to be punished and humiliated. I was forced to grovel and confess humiliating sins (existent and non) in front of the 30-or-so members in the compound. I was given spoiled, undercooked foods, and even chemically-treated water that burned my throat and left me horribly sick. I was placed in solitary confinement for 2 1/2 weeks, while they blared music to torture me (the song lyrics went, "Trust in the Lord, he makes no mistakes, he knoweth the end of each path that we take - for when I am tried, and purified, I shall come forth as gold" -- basically it was a blatant message...you're being tortured because God loves you and he's going to put you through fire to melt you into gold) and gave me endless confessional papers to complete detailing what a terrible sinner I am. I was interrogated for hours on end, as well as hypnotized. I was screamed at and "exorcised" for hours on end. I had no privacy, even going to the bathroom they would stand outside the door.
I was there for TWO YEARS.
The scariest part of all of this is that I am far from the only one. The Log Cabin program was run in Oklahoma, Indiana, and I believe an alternate version for Russian orphans was done elsewhere (either Indiana or Illinois). All of these programs secretly tortured and brainwashed children and teenagers. Many of them were so-called "delinquents" (they had committed minor, petty crimes) who were ordered by judges to be shipped to these compounds and held against their wills.
This runs very deep. It has never been accounted for and probably never will be. They tried to investigate alarming allegations of child abuse in Indianapolis, IN and the whole thing got swept under the rug. The only thing you got to hear about on the news was Gothard feeling up a bunch of women. You never hear about his systematic child torture programs.
Bill Gothard and IBLP simply have their fundamentalist hands in too many pies. They will probably never be caught.
4. My parents were members of a cult with a fake guru/ holy man sort of thing. He used to lead group chants and things and one time while everyone's eyes were closed chanting away in the semi darkness, me and him locked eyes and he realiszd that I was laughing at how dumb it was. He had a vendetta against me since then.
He turned my parents against me first, convincing them that one day in the future (he could read the future apparently rolls eyes) i would break their hearts and leave and destroy the family. because they were so invested in him they started believing it and treating me (a 13 year old) as if I had already committed the unspeakable act.
After this he made my parents focus on my older brother more than me, lavishing him with expensive gifts such as gucci watches, a brand new mitsubishi jeep with a private plate before he even passed his driving test, and experiences like executive box seats to major sports events up and down the country plus more.
This wasn't enough, after this he (Continued)
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convinced all of his followers that I was mentally disabled, and needed to be kept isolated. for most of my teenage years I would come back from school/college/ university to an empty house, many times not seeing another soul for weeks. the story of my parents retarded child spread through the entire community where it is an accepted fact now, and i cant get married because everybody just assumes that I am mentally disabled.
After this, he bankrupted my parents and family, making them pay all his bills/ expenses and rewarding them with "prayers.
He convinced my parents that I was their enemy and to ignore me my entire life. To this day, I have never once been able to have a heart to heart talk with either of my parents. I have been working for 6 years now and they don't even know the name of my boss, or team, or even what i do. they are only interested in what day I get paid.
I am a better man than anyone has ever understood, and I forgive my parents. I forgive them not because they deserve it, but because I believe that this experience made me stronger as a person. If all this could not break me through all those years, then what can break me now?
If anybody is reading this, who is going through something similar, all I will say is that your family is ill. If they were of a sound mind, they would not be doing these things. Be kind, be good, be better than them.
7. A friend of mine accidentally got involved with a cult in Iowa. He thought it was just a really close knit church, but eventually snapped that something wasn't right. He moved to Texas for work pretty shortly afterwards and after about a week of being here someone knocked on the door. It was one of the members. She came there to try and talk him into going back, and progressively became more and more emotional. They ended up having to call the cops to have her removed from the property.
8. I was best friends with an Olympic athlete who was into Scientology. Due to his semi-fame, he was given the VIP treatment at their Hollywood "Celebrity Centre" where I often accompanied him. I sat in the waiting room with the likes of Lisa Marie Presley and Giovanni Ribisi while he did his auditing sessions. When he introduced me to John Travolta at one of their celebrity events, Travolta wrapped me in a bear hug and lifted me off the ground.
My friend convinced me to leave my day job and work as his personal assistant. He was doing a lot of corporate speaking appearances. I moved into his house and we lived like brothers, swimming in his pool, going to strip clubs, working out at his training gym. I had some amazing experiences like going backstage at the American Music Awards and hanging out with Guns N' Roses for two hours.
The Church's publicity team wanted to set him up with a girlfriend. They set up a series of dates with very cute Scientologists, but nothing really took off.
We had a lot of philosophical discussions. I found many of Scientology's aspects to be very insightful, but the money-grubbing and the Xenu business kept me too skeptical to fall in. At one point, he made an anti-gay argument, basically saying, "Imagine carrying that to the extreme. We'd all die off."
Things got creepy when he started asking me for (Continued)
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Things got creepy when he started asking me for rubdowns after his workouts. Then one night inviting me to masturbate with him (I passed). Then at a party he propositioned my gay cousin, who immediately told me. Obviously I have nothing against LGBTQ people, but I felt very creeped out. He was behind on paying me because he had run up huge debts for services at the Church. I left and we haven't spoken since.
9. Former member here.
I was a part of a "Christian" cult. They referred to it as a discipleship program. Whenever we did something wrong, they made us work-out as form of punishment.
The year I was in there, I made a new friend in the program/cult; he was a chain smoker. About 7 months into the year, he got caught smoking. They woke him up at around 5 AM to run. Later on in the day one of the leaders there took him to an abandoned prison and made him run around it several times, amounting up to about 6-8 miles of running.
All this happened because he got caught smoking a single cigarette.
10. I was married to a Scientologist (Scn).
Well, Scientology is weird. It's all consuming, as most cults are. My ex-husband only knew and associated with people in Scn. However, all his friends were actually very very nice and really cool to me. I never felt outwardly pressured to join Scn, but the insidiousness was absolutely there. I'll get to that.
Ex-husband was raised in it, you could say he was a second generation Scientologist. His parents joined up back in the L Ron Hubbard days and they were IN IT. They both worked for the church, as auditors. They were dirt poor; all of their money went to the church. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. They were deep in debt. They had no health insurance, and no money for anything except rent for their tiny, run down apartment. That part made me the saddest. They were nice people.
Now, I married him back when I was younger, more idealistic and willing to overlook major differences. I was a bit lost myself and really just looking to connect with anyone. I was always atheist, and actually really against organized religion, but he always assured me that Scn was not something he was active in and that it wouldn't be a problem. He wasn't taking any courses all the time we dated and were engaged, so I believed him that Scn was more like his parents thing, than his.
After we got engaged, he started telling me how a friend of his needs some "help". She was training to become an auditor (that e-meter thing you hear about) and needed someone to practice on. I declined.
He kept asking and insisted that its just for her practice, it doesn't mean I'm "doing Scn" and that it would mean a lot to him. So I did it, and (Continued)
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So I did it, and ...What a silly experience! You sit in a room with the auditor, hold these cans. Let me tell you- the rigamarole they use to get the "cans" set right so they pick up your wavelegnths (or whatever they call it) is laughable.
Lotion on the hands, squeeze the cans--that didn't work? Go for a walk, drink some water. Lotion again, squeeze the stupid cans ...all this over and over, until something on the auditor's end says it's all working now, and then you're good to go.
I lied though the whole thing. They acted like I made some amazing breakthroughs, (I got a "floating needle"!) and then that was it.
However, I was then called over and over and over to come back in. What the hell? I thought this was a one time thing to help this chick out?? Nope they were all over me. They wanted 3 hour sessions, days in a row, on weekdays! No wonder Scientologists are all poor- they want you in constantly, during work days! I became so disagreeable to them that they actually gave up calling me to get me in. I guess they figured me being married to one was enough to eventually get me.
The overriding insidiousness I saw was the learned ability to scam people. I witnessed a Scientologist owned business get taken down by the feds for fraud on their clients.
The reason I divorced him was because he stole a large sum of money from my account that was not to be touched. It just vanished and he had nothing to say for it. He opened TWO credit cards in my name and maxed them. He put me into financial ruin. It was a disaster.
11. I'm surprised there aren't more former Children of God/The Family International babies posting on this thread.
I was born and raised in the COG/TFI and I'm convinced it is/was one of the most detrimental cults out there because of the way their doctrines were weaved into every tiny area of people's lives. Everything was dictated by leadership and controlled by peer pressure (it was a communal cult; hive mentality was rampant). The type of food you ate, the way you dressed, who you lived with, the education you received, the movies you watched, the music you listened to, who you had sex with, who you married...EVERYTHING was controlled. There was absolutely no real free will allowed and very minimal contact with the outside world happened, except if you were asking people for money or trying to convert them to Christianity/the cult.
I left when I was in my early 20's and it's only been a few years since then so I'm still trying to unlearn a lot of things. I decided to go to college and get an education and I'm so miserable because basic things like "how to study for an exam" or "how to interact with your professor" are completely foreign concepts to me. I didn't find out till college that I'm pretty good at science and math - subjects that were highly discouraged in the group, or if taught at all were either very simplistic (math only went up to basic algebra, if you were lucky) or taught with such a religious/creationist spin that it's unrecognizable as science. (Someone actually posted excerpts from the biology textbook I had in "high school" on reddit a while ago, and everyone was commenting "haha, those are all lies and not real science!" And I'm all "well...damn...")
I like to imagine that if I'd had regular schooling when I was younger maybe I could have been an engineer or an astronaut or something awesome.
Forget dating. I have more sexual knowledge and experience under my belt (hurhurhur) than most people my age, and I don't have a clue what normal dating looks like. To me, sex is synonymous with intimacy is synonymous with control. I am terrified of getting into a relationship because I know that it would be so ridiculously easy for someone to abuse their power over me. When you're raised to always say yes, you have no idea what a struggle it is to say no.
When people find out about this cult the thing that usually gets focused on the most is the sex aspect of it (it was literally a sex cult) but for me the worst part is just having no frame of reference for connecting with other people outside the group. I can forget the bad things that happened and just get on with my life, but it's difficult knowing how to make new friends and build a life outside of TFI. I just don't GET most of what people talk about (I've only got a few years of movies/music/pop culture history in my brain), and can't really relate to how other people act/react to things. I didn't have any of those "normal" experiences like high school, dating, going to prom, etc. My best friends are former TFI people because I can't seem to make real friends out here in the great wide jungle of a world. I wonder how I will ever be able to get close to people when they will never be able to comprehend the experiences I've gone through, and at the same time I can't relate to their experiences either. "Real life" things that most people take for granted like graduating college, buying a house, having a successful job, etc. seem like fairy tales to me because nobody in my life growing up did those things. I don't have anybody who can give me advice on how to accomplish those normal life tasks because nobody I grew up with (or our parents) did any of those things.
I feel pretty lost. I'm still picking pieces of this cult out of my identity and it's exhausting.
I went to see Hunger Games: Catching Fire recently and I broke down crying in the middle of it because I had a sudden realization that I grew up believing that the sort of apocalyptic, depressing scenario played out in the Hunger Games was an inevitable outcome in my future. Not the actual hunger games, obviously, but the extreme government control, oppression of the people, dire social circumstances, etc. It made me feel very alone in that moment, sitting with the knowledge that I was viewing the very thing my childhood nightmares were made of and knowing that nobody around me could possibly comprehend the reason for my tears.
Breaking up is hard to do.
And when you get the law involved, it's even worse. But sometimes people don't need the law's help to make things overcomplicated, they just have a grand ole time making that happen themselves.
People on the front lines of human cruelty include divorce lawyers. These are their stories.