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Prolonged Exposure Therapy: Session 5

I think I'm learning to step out of numbness. I mentioned in my last post that I was angry. I explored that feeling in session five of my Prolonged Exposure Therapy, as I had thought about it quite a bit between sessions. I broke it down, distilled the cause of my anger to the least common denominator, and when everything else was gone the cult leaders stood alone in my mind's eye with one outstanding quality: greed.

I was angry. so, so angry.

I was so isolated, so alone. complete immersion in cultish culture was required. fear was cultivated by leaders, members were shamed into cult-approved behavior. interactions were controlled, friendships discouraged. we all lived in a group, emotionally isolated. we spoke in code; ex-members call it "wayspeak". it served to keep us culturally separate from our communities.

suddenly I was so angry about this. I was angry that my life was controlled by one individual. living in a rural area, the normal chain of command was shorter than average. in a city, there would have been a local leader called a branch coordinator in charge of the smaller household fellowships. the branch coordinator answered to the state coordinator, who answered to the region coordinator. in our case, living 100 miles from a city, our household coordinator answered directly to the region coordinator. this man, our spiritual leader, was also the employer for most of the men attending his household fellowship. it's possible that without exception, all of us lived there because the men had been offered jobs.

so this man had multiple levels of control over us. he was self-styled after the man who had founded the cult, and loved to tell stories of his experiences learning at the man's feet. as an employer, he used the men mercilessly, screamed at them when they made mistakes, refused to allow rest breaks and sometimes lunch breaks, provided no safety equipment, and required long hours while paying low wages, all for the privilege of working for such a "spiritual" company.

men were injured. the man I was married to was injured multiple times which required multiple surgeries. after I moved away, another man was killed. I was angry when I heard about it, because I remember how the men had been pressured to work quickly under dangerous circumstances.

none of us had private lives. we were all subject to provide answers to him on a moment's notice on any topic he decided he needed to know about, and he didn't hesitate to reveal information about other people during private conversations to lower their value to the group and to encourage distrust. he used gossip to bolster his control. as far as I know, that's what the bible refers to when it talks about backbiting.

while we scraped by on the low wages he paid, he used his company to build himself a house. his company paid for the materials, paid the wages of the men who built it, and paid for new furnishings. it was quite a corporate deduction. corporate meetings were held in Hawaii. he and his wife were the sole officers of the corporation, so it was just a way to get a family vacation out of corporate funds and reduce tax liability. the men who worked for him weren't provided with health insurance. he insisted the meager wage he paid was adequate to maintain a good lifestyle and buy our own insurance. his corporation provided health insurance for him and his wife, but for no one else. his justification for the low wages was "I could pay you more, but the government would just take it for taxes". as our spiritual leader, he pushed the wives to work outside the home no matter how young our children were. the only logical reason is that he could collect more tithes without paying his crew competitive wages, so while paying his men a poverty wage, the tithes sent into cult HQ looked like prosperity living.


there's even more, but I've already spent far more time describing the circumstances than I planned to and I hope it doesn't bore anyone to tears, but those were the things I was processing when I arrived at session five.

my therapist and I decided to follow an event arc focused on this local cult leader to help me work through the trauma of having my life controlled by this man. before moving on to focus on the cult leader as a traumatic "hot spot", I first re-experienced the traumatic event I'd been working through the previous two sessions, again with my eyes closed, speaking aloud in present tense.

as I progressed through the event, I felt sad. my SUDs level hadn't spiked above 20 or so, so my distress level was not high, but the significance of actually processing through anger and sadness was a unique feeling. in the recording of that session, my voice is quiet and it cracks a few times.

I felt sad because I didn't deserve to be hurt the way I was. I felt sad because I'm not a bad person, but I was treated like I was. I was sad because the only way I could survive was to turn my emotions off, to wrap myself in a cloak of numbness, because if I didn't speak and I didn't feel, I could scrape by without being noticed too much. for the most part, it worked. it didn't keep me safe from the man I was married to, but it kept me safe from the cult leaders.

after working through the unique experience of feeling sad over the inherent wrongness of the cult trap I was in, I was ready to experience an event centered around the "hot spot" of my local cult leader. the purpose of experiencing a "hot spot" is that it assists in the processing of whatever distress I'm currently feeling, which at this time was anger and sadness. the event I chose was not one where I was traumatized, but one where he verbally abused his wife in front of me until she was in tears. it was very distressing to me to watch him beat her with words until she was as frozen as I'd been in the closed-door session where the region coordinator's assistant had pronounced that I was a dangerous person.

I went through the "hot spot" event three times in quick succession. at the time I experienced it, I was afraid. I was initially unable to speak until he turned his wrath on his wife. for some reason, the drive to speak up for her was stronger than the drive to protect myself, so I spoke up and told him that the thing he was screaming at his wife for not telling him about was something she had told him about. I was there. I had heard her tell him. I had heard him acknowledge it. he stopped. after a few minutes, he said "I guess my memory isn't is good as I thought it was."

that was that. no apologies.

it was an ironic juxtaposition against the closed-door session where my memory had been erased, where I'd been declared a dangerous person. he had been there. no one had spoken up for me.

anger. sadness. now what was this new feeling?

disgust. they had betrayed me. they had failed to see my worth but instead declared me a threat. they had treated me like garbage.

I am not garbage.


My heart melted

Oh Mia. Your sharing isn't boring at all.

When I got to the part where you felt sad, my heart melted. As I read it, it reminded of the first time I acknowledged the part of me that had been my own scapegoat, the part of me that I would berate with self-hatred and shame, the part of me that I have now learned to love. She is my friend; she is not garbage or an emotional and verbal punching bag.

People now often say that The Way became kinder and gentler after the year 2000/2001. I take issue with that. One reason is that there is no accountability or little acknowledgment for past abuses; mostly those abuses are blamed on Martindale.

Thank you for continuing to share this journey.


A couple poems about my Nanna, the part of me that I used to beat.

shadow selves

have you heard of Jung's shadow selves? your Nanna sounds like a shadow self.

I was introduced to the concept of shadow selves when I started therapy prior to divorcing the man I was married to during my cult years. over time, I became acquainted with three of them. Rebekah was the damaged one who took all the pain and was covered with scars. she could never speak. she still doesn't speak. I don't think about my shadow selves these days, but they were very important to consider at the time since they were parts of myself that I'd split off from myself or hidden away. Rebekah is the part of me who needs to be held and loved the most, so I imagined myself holding her and sharing her pain. over time she's become less separate and more integrated as I accepted she is ME.

and I agree completely about The Way International. they didn't become kinder and gentler. no one talks about the family's dirty little secrets because ousting Martindale was supposed to instantly heal the ministry and everyone in it and Rivenbark's feminine touch was supposed to magically change The Way from the overtly controlling organization it was to a place of peace and safety. based on that, the leaders maintained there was no "profit" in rehashing the past because it was all different. what a laugh. it's still the same crap mish-mash of religious ideas Wierwille plagiarized and invented in the 50s and 60s. it's the SAME CULT. just because you don't talk about the elephant in the living room doesn't mean it's not there.

it was the day that it finally became crystal clear to me that there was no intention of addressing the abuses and that there was no accountability, only the continued expectation that true believers would follow blindly, that I decided to leave.

I left in 2006, so it only took five years to realize how unchanged the cult remained and what a spiritual wasteland it was and continues to be.

I have heard of Jung's shadow

I have heard of Jung's shadow selves, but never studied the concept.

I call the different parts of me 'personas,' which is a term a I decided upon. I've been able to accept myself more easily, or something, by personifying aspects of my self. I write about them here.

I hear you on the elephant.

Believe it or not, sometimes I think I miss "the ministry." I think the "it" is 'knowing that I know' though I never really knew. :-/ :-(

personas, yes!

my understanding of Jung's shadow selves are pretty much exactly what you write about. I first encountered one of mine in a dream as well. I was very scared to embrace them because of The Way International's dogmatic teachings about devil spirits. I was afraid that if I entertained the man in the dream, I would become possessed.

nothing could be further from the truth. he was the part of me that I had no faith in: my ability to decide and act on my own wisdom.

"knowing that I know" never really felt like knowing, to me. it was comfortable because I didn't have to weigh out the ethical aspects of a question based on my own sense of self-determined morality. it was already all decided for me, or if it wasn't, there was always someone with an opinion ready to give me "god's truth" and set me on the "right" path.

accepting responsibility for thinking out my own decisions can be really exhausting. but then, I realized I don't really need to know everything. I don't even need to know that god exists, at this time. there's a back burner in my mind I put things on sometimes because I'm not comfortable making snap decisions, even about things like "does god exist" as I'm slipping out of the cult hoping no one will notice. maybe someday I'll "know" like I was told I could "know" in the cult, but for now I'm really ok with not knowing :)

Hear hear...

You put into to words so well what is sometimes still foggy for me to delineate.

I too thought the same thing of the gentle giant in my dream.

And then later, when Abandonment appeared...Oh gawd. I wasn't dreaming that time; I was with a counselor and we were doing some grief work. But at that point I had recently left The Way. Still, it was hard to not think I was communing with devil spirits.

You probably tire of me sharing poems/links. *redface* But I have two poems about Abandonment that tell the story of how he and I met. (Gosh that sounds weird.)

Last year, at the suggestion of my counselor at that time, I thought of a ritual to honor these parts of me, my personas. When I was little I used to make cups out of clay at the creek behind our house. I'd let them sun dry and then "paint" them with polk berry juice.

I couldn't find a place where I currently live to throw any pottery, but did find a ceramic shop where I could paint a cup and saucer. So I painted a self-portrait depicting some of my different personas and then had the cup and saucer kiln-fired. Whenever I share tea with my self, I honor those parts of me that protected me, parts of me I buried. I want to paint one more cup and saucer with my other personas.

Someone recently wrote to me their concern for me, concerned that I had left God. I have no animosity toward the person and I understand their concern. Plus they weren't preachy toward me. They left The Way a few years before I left.

I responded to them that their phrasing caused me a chuckle and that I don't know if I've left God. I prefer to say (instead) that I'm on a Carol quest and if there is a god, s/he/it will understand that.

I might be on the Carol quest for the rest of my life.

The other day on a lone 6-mile hike in the woods, I caught myself speaking in tongues. It wasn't out of duty, but rather a simple gratitude for life. Parts of me still get warm fuzzies at times in regard to my 'relationship with god'...but perhaps it is more a relationship with me.

Oh my...what a ramble. *rolleyes*

btw: I now (almost) despise those words: "to know that I know that I know that I know." ...and the fog rolls in. *sigh*

Thanks Mia...

you rock, Carol!

I love the idea of sharing tea with and honoring the parts of yourself you hadn't been able to give a voice when you had to bury them. that is really awesome!

I don't tire of you sharing yourself. I'm very happy to hear about your Carol quest. I think that's a perfect title. I'm on a mia quest.

some day I'll write a post about my shadow selves, who they are and how I met them. they really do illustrate how barren my life in The Way International was (especially being the wife of a narcissist with delusions of grandeur), that each of them had to become so separate from me that they were merely shadows just so I could survive the stifling control of the cult.

warm heart..

Thanks mia...

((hugs to all of us ;-) ))