Wednesday, May 22, 2013

First Slice

After 3.5 years living in New York City I finally broke free. In preparation for a move out west, a friend helped me move storage items from my NYC apartment to my parent's house upstate.

While passing through Kingston, NY towards the rotary circle, there's a Holiday Inn that sits on the side of the road leaving towards the exit to the Rhinecliff bridge. I no longer internally cringe passing the Holiday Inn,  but there are landmarks in my hometown area that quietly stand like large tombstones.

The Summer of Cheescake began as the year we spent living in Bridgeport came to a close. New Eden Academy would be closing as a boarding school for Unification Church kids, it would be absorbed by the University of Bridgeport and turned into a day school with open enrollment. After my sister's graduation, I remember staring at the refrigerator in my mother's apartment and recalling the pungent smell of the dish soap we used to scrub and scour every surface of the apartment upon our arrival a year prior. None of us knew where we were going to end up now that my mother didn't have a job and that we wouldn't have a home in a few days.

The furniture we'd brought from Arizona we moved out of the empty rooms at the end of the 3rd floor hall and into a storage unit, and with the help of our Grandfather and his friend in Pleasantville, my mother acquired a navy blue mercury villager mini van, which would become somewhat of our home base for the summer.

An 'aunt' of ours who lived in Yonkers offered us her home while she was away, a place for a single mother and her five kids to crash for a week or so while before we'd wander aimlessly to our next location. We never went outside much, parts of Yonkers wasn't safe, so I'd spend the hours of the day in the dark house perusing our 'aunt's' bookshelves or staring out the window. The window that let in the best light looked out to the driveway and the garbage cans, where an occasional rat would skitter to about. 

Eventually my mother was hired as a cook for a Unification Church owned camp on Bear Mountain called Camp Sunrise. She was given a cabin within a few hundred feet of the kitchen and dining area. It was tiny with orangeish-brown faux wood paneling walls, a few small rooms, and a closet that smelled of deceased chipmunk. I shared a room with my mother for the first few nights we were there, hoping I'd find some stability in the quietly snoring form of my mom, not understanding that she felt the same overwhelming fear and anxiety that I did. We were all adrift and every day was exhausting treading the disquietude.
Before the groups of Moonie children arrived for summer workshops, it was only our family and the families of staff members. The groundskeeper, Mr. B, a mentally disturbed vet who was discharged from the service had found a haven in the Unification Church. He didn't believe in the values or principles of the cult much, but it gave him a petite Japanese wife and a community in which to embed himself in. However, he wasn't much fond of other people,he was prone to bursts of anger manifesting in physical violence and verbal abuse. His inability to relate was often directed at us, once he exploded in anger at my brother Josh and threatened to beat him with a crowbar he had in his fist. For the weeks we spent on Bear Mountain we had a point of giving Mr. B a wide berth, and often hid in the under brush of the woods when he would pass by.

When the campers arrived it was easier to distance the panic attacks. I was placed in a cabin of girls my own age where we'd participate in a variety of camp-related activities like normal children; art, singing, sports, swimming, and hikes. Additionally, many hours of our days were spent in the hot meeting halls, attending workshops on The Divine Principle, maintaining purity, the blessing (our marriage ceremonies), and  Reverend Moon's mission for us. If we dozed in and out of consciousness during the lectures, we were encouraged to forcibly pat/knock ourselves or our sisters/brothers, as evil spirits were attacking us and dissuading us from God's path and his words with the sensation of sleepiness.
Aunt DJ, a loudmouthed Texan church member who was somewhat of an uncouth, church fundamentalist made herself known during our weeks at camp, as she would participate as a church elder and lecture from any available pulpit, doling out the black and white dogmatic laws God's will from her pointed fingers and flapping arms. She made herself popular among curious girl campers, reading their fortunes from their palms and filling their heads with projected preconceived notions. Many of the girls would later attend her boarding school out in Texas, a few she would shepard away from me after she caught wind of me loosing my purity many years later.
The trembling uneasiness creeped back in on the last day the campers left, the distractions from my anxiety in the form of my camp friends were leaving, and I would be left with the reality of a homeless family and an unforeseen future. My sister and I along with one of my brothers would sit on a concrete wall on the edge of the lake, where we'd attempt to fish with sticks, string, and clothes pins. One of the few safe havens from camp employees, we'd sit baking in the sun, contemplate our family's fate and retrace everything that had preceded Camp Sunrise.

Camp had to end, and we were evicted from the cabin and packed our mini van full of our possessions. The rest of the summer and early Autumn we would spend homeless, hoping from motel to hotel to motel, surviving on money our Grandfather would place in my mother's bank account. My mother would never mention to the check-in desk she had five children, so we were trained to split into groups, one who would attend my mother into the hotel with some luggage and hotel key cards, while the others would be snuck in through back entrances. 

We migrated north to the Hudson Valley, not because our father's mother resided in Wappingers Falls, but because there was a moderate community of church members who resided in upper Dutchess County near Barrytown where the Unification Theological Ceremony is. In that time we stayed in a motel in Fishkill, and an entire month at the Holiday Inn in Kingston, NY split up between times at other motels in the area. With no woods or lake to escape to, we had the jacuzzi near the pool, and the small restaurant within the hotel. 

If we had a tiny bit of money we could spare, our mother would either treat us or hand us cash so we could sit in the vinyl booths of the restaurant and split a piece of New York cheesecake. Drizzled in a red glaze, the    rich sweetness would eventually symbolize the one passable high point of a dark time in our lives. There would be nothing to do but ruminate over our family's situation between thin, rationed bites of cheesecake. 

Our childhoods were a constant exposure to crisis mode. The past two years had seen my family move into a scorpion filled house in Mesa where a convict had taken his own life, spattering the wallpaper in the kitchen with his blood and soaking the house in the smell of his death. It was in that house around my 8th grade graduation where my mother became convinced my father was sexually molesting our younger brothers, and where she slipped a 'Dear John' note into his briefcase before he left for Korea. In urgency she had us pack up all our belongings, split from my father, and flew across the country to Connecticut's great ghetto, landing us among the sharpest teeth of Reverend Moon's community. Now homeless, and packed into a hotel room, it felt as though there could be no bright future for the rejects of God's chosen people.

One morning in early September, my mother was away across the river in Red Hook house hunting. With all of the children more or less awake we flipped on the television, but found every station had images of two huge towers in New York City, one that was smoking at the top. We were all glued to the TV, watching headlines race across the screen, when another plane crashed into the second tower. By the time my mom returned to us hours later she was in hysterics. She had been terrified she wouldn't be able to return across the river to us, as many bridges had been shut down or blockaded by police once the WTC attacks were confirmed terrorism. 

It would take us almost a month more to find a house in Red Hook, and in the interim we moved into an apartment within a Unification Church family's house off 199. They were the most Christian of any the Barrytown families, as a majority of them shunned my mother for arriving on the scene without a husband, broke, and needing help. Broken families were like diseased people, and it was best to avoid them in case they could infect you with their bad spiritual atmosphere.
 Much like the time we spent in the hotels, our family all slept on the floor in one room, but I had gotten accustomed to the sound of our collective breathing as I fell asleep every night. Occasionally I would ask to borrow my sister's CD player, and lay down listening to *NYSNC's 'No Strings Attached' album. I had convinced my 15 year old self that if I really bought into the lyrics of 'Do Your Thing', I would be brave enough to accompany my mother to the local high school and enroll myself late.

While she filled out the necessary paperwork to enroll me at the main office, I watched the high school kids watching me as I stood awkwardly in the office outside the hallway. I unconsciously appeared like a homeless kid with my unruly bushy hair and mish-moshed clothes that happened with be clean, articles that were an eclectic mixture of the faux hip-hop lifestyle of New Eden kids and the camp t-shirts. A gaggle of girls studied me as they walked past and leaned in to whisper amongst themselves as they walked past to class. Hearing them giggle at a remark most certainly at my expense, it just confirmed that I couldn't handle being there. I had become to weird, too irrevocably fucked up and from a strange family to ever fit in. I couldn't even begin to imagine making it to class on the first day, much less making friends. Having a family that moved every year or two of my life made me paralyzed with fear upon entering a new school, knowing I would be an object of curiosity and ridicule as I had to find a lunch table to sit at. I couldn't do it. I never ended up attending Red Hook Highschool. I would end up in their year books "Chose Not to Pose" section that year, but I stayed home within the confines of our family's one-room apartment or would wander the grounds of the Unification Theological Seminary.

It's been more than ten years since then, but I still feel as though I live in a crisis-fueled gypsy whirlwind. Before I fling myself across the country to New Mexico, I ask myself; how long I will stay there? Where will I go after that? Will I ever feel stable enough to settle down and place down roots?

And can I ever look at a piece of cheesecake in an untainted way?

Monday, December 3, 2012

This is a test

Password protecting posts for a little while before we return to our regularly scheduled programming...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Rev. Moon: American women have inherited the lineage of prostitutes.

So in preparing to go through the next few chapters of this story, I've been doing a lot of exploring of the emotional terrain that these vignettes encompass. There is still a lot of pain, fear and shame associated with these memories. I've been asking myself "why" a lot: why am I so ashamed of something that I had so little control over? Why am I ashamed of how I survived?

In some ways I am overcoming the shame as I examine the memories, but it's still a bit of a ripping sensation to get them out of my heart and onto proverbial paper. It's a damn shame that our teenaged years were lost to these negative experiences, and the self-loathing that they induced. And there are a lot of things that I blame my parents for. But hot damn, then I read a little bit more about the actual structure of the world that I grew up in, and then I begin to seethe a bit.

The source of the shame is based in the culture and the theology. No one had to go through what my siblings and I went through to feel that same sour shame coating every single sensation of theirs.

For example, let's take this 1996 speech by Rev. Moon given in Tarrytown, Ny. He says "American women have inherited the lineage of prostitutes." If you read the speech, which is relatively incomprehensible, that line comes out of the fucking blue. The student in me screams "site your goddamn sources! Where in the world does it say that American women are descended from prostitutes? Where do you come up with a line like that??"

Here's a little more lovely context:

"Are you tempted by handsome men and beautiful women who pay attention to you? (No.) Actually, all manner of thoughts come and go through your minds. Father's conclusion is that many American women have inherited the lineage of prostitutes. But you don't feel badly about it. American women feel superior to and scorn prostitutes, but in reality these prostitutes are earning money, this is their job. However, American women are even worse because they practice free sex just because they enjoy it."

And yet people absolutely swallowed that.

I didn't attend that speech. I was 12. I was growing up in a culture governed by a man who arbitrarily  decided that American women were worse than prostitutes.

That explains a lot...I'm beginning to understand the origins of the shame.

Friday, November 2, 2012

"Ticket to Heaven"

Lately I've been doing a lot of reading and processing. We're getting to the point in this particular story that's really difficult to emotionally unearth.

In the process of getting to that storytelling juncture, I've been thinking a lot about my parents and their journey into the Unification Church. In my reading, I came across the 1981 Canadian Film "Ticket to Heaven." There is this little voice in the back of my head, saying that someone told me about this film growing up, defaming it and saying how grossly inaccurate it was.

I just finished watching it...the deprogramming scenes are a bit heart-wrenching for me. As I mentioned in a previous post, deprogramming is a really complicated topic and involves violating someone's free will and rights. BUT we could also discuss how many religious cults slowly hypnotize people into giving up their free will and surrendering their logical minds.

The scene where they talk about unselfish love was really painful, but it was also wonderful in a way. For the most part my relatives respected my parents' choice to raise their children in the Unification Church, but there are times that I look back and wish that someone had taken the time to ask us kids some of the more subversive questions (or to show us what unselfish, non-conditional love was).

Anyway I'd say about 90% of what I saw in this film rang true in terms of my own experience growing up in the church. Some things were more austere, some less. A lot of the worship and workshop scenes, singing in buses and living in vans were very familiar.

The wrist cutting was almost something we were quietly taught as second generation when we were fundraising, but never in so explicit a format - so I have no idea if that was something that our parents were taught. We were told it was better to kill yourself than to be raped while fundraising, for example, and so some parents did give their daughters "purity knives" to keep on their person while fundraising. And THAT is a whole other story...

So, most this is probably right on the money for someone who met the church in the 70's or 80's. Take a look (Kim Cattrall is in it!):

And here is the NY Times article written about the film:

Monday, October 29, 2012


 I lost my virginity right before I turned seventeen. The age my mother told me Eve and Adam fell. [The Unification Church believes that eating the apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was metaphorical for Adam and Eve sleeping together, resulting in their banishment from the Garden of Eden.]

One could theorize about my need for male affection stems from the lack of love my father gave to me, and I acknowledge the fact that I did often seek the shelter and love of emotionally fucked up intellectual men who were older than me. Honestly I feel no more wise or secure than I did when I was sixteen, I still make the same mistakes I made back when I met O.

Jen had graduated from high school at New Eden, and I was hovering in a purgatory between homeschooling/ just wasting time and refusing to go to public school with non-church kids. Our dad had moved back in with the family when we lived in a house on the edge of a cornfield in Red Hook, but now our family had squeezed into a grungy, tiny house in the village of Rhinebeck (which I used to swear was the only ugly house in town.) The house was too dark, small, and oppressive for our family. Fighting was constant, often the first thing we woke up to or heard as we fell asleep. At some point, Jennie and I decided to revisit one of our childhood activities by auditioning for a production of an Agatha Christie play that the local youth theater was producing.

Like many of the troupe members, O had been a consistent presence in the group since it's formation. I didn't much like him at first, he was tall and dark despite his pasty Anglo skin. He would rub his nose like a mouse when he laughed while grinning his rodent-like teeth. However, like so many other people I would meet in my life, I would entrust him with too much faith and prize his superior insight before trusting my own judgment.

O collected strange girls as friends. Some would have severe emotional disabilities, some eating disorders, others with terminal illnesses. My sister and I were no different, cryptic girls who didn't attend public school with a curious family. Jen being the mysterious one and I being the social retard. He reached out to us when we were cast in the production, and in his own way tried to include us in the tight knit circle that the bonds of theatre make. O befriended my sister first, as boys often do because I lack the alluring qualities she has. Instead, I possess gapped teeth, a Jewish nose, and an obnoxious personality.When he'd call the house and ask to speak to her, I remember the hateful looks my mother would give her (we didn't have cellphones yet, we assumed it economically impossible and disobedient.)

One snowy day during the winter, two of my younger brothers began to fight (one emotionally sensitive and one often an instigator) and as with many of their fights, without ever rationally working through how the row was caused, my father would burst through his bedroom shouting and my youngest brothers arm (the instigator) and begin to shake or hit him with his belt. I'd been witness to these events before, and this time my youngest brother had really done nothing wrong. Perhaps, he had entered the living room at in inopportune time when the middle brother was feeling emotionally unstable, causing him to screech at my younger brother's presence. Many times before I'd seen my youngest brother beaten for the noises in the house, and I would wonder if my father directed his hatred at him because he was an 'oops' child or simply was a dangerous vessel of the defiant genes that I too had been bestowed.

This time I couldn't sit by and watch him being beaten again, I intervened and shoved off my father. I hadn't learned to throw a punch yet (which he would be bestowed in the years to come) but I remember him turning his anger towards me and shaking me as I let my younger brother slip away. A bowl full of cereal and milk came flying towards my dad's head as my sister joined the fight. I wrenched myself from my dad's grasp. With flimsy shoes, slippers, and snows ill-fit for winter weather, she and I launched ourselves out into the snow from the front door and began walking to the center of the village.

It was freezing and most of the shops were closed. I remember the snow coasting down slowly, as if it was testing levitation before carpeting the roads. We made our way out of the center of town and up the hill to the library to see if it was still open. The heat of the library warmed my wet feet and stung them with prickles as they regained their feeling. We checked our emails and signed onto AIM, either to find momentary reprieve or to connect with someone outside our situation.

My sister either emailed or IMed O, and his land-boat car pulled into the parking lot of the library to pick us up. From the backseat I heard him tell my sister he would take us somewhere for a while. He pulled up to a house 2 streets away from our own, and rang the doorbell.

Liz would be one of the first friends I made in Rhinebeck. She gave Jen and I a wary eye as she held her front door open for three. Her parents were curious as to why O had brought us over, but had Liz offer us something to eat. Liz nuked us microwave burritos, and I watched my first few episodes of Beavis and Butthead, along with being shown a website she was building that hosted her flash animations based on inside jokes; such as one of O in an MS Paint likeness screaming “Books on TAPE!”
Eventually we turned down the invitation to stay the night, and were dropped off back at home when all the lights were off.

I retold this story years later, omitting O and the fight with my family at Liz's rehearsal dinner, and in a more positive spin recalled as a maid of honor my first connection with the bride.

After O rescued us from the library, I made a conscious effort to be friendlier and more open with him. I felt we could trust him. I opened up more about our family; the fighting, the church my family belongs to. Almost everyone in the area knew about 'the Moonies', as their theological seminary still remains in the nearby town of Barrytown. O eventually told his parents, even some of the cast members, which explained a lot to them why we came across as so reclusive and strange. One day, the phone calls he made to our house were no longer for my sister, but he asked for me. My sister glared at me the moment the phone was handed to me, but my mother had sensed the danger all along.

 Like in so many other religions, a woman's virtue is everything. During church workshops, girls (sisters) were often told that if we were attacked/about to be raped, it would be better to find a way to kill ourselves before being losing out purity. Such an incident happened to a young girl participating in the church's STF (fund raising for Reverend Moon while living out of mini-vans to build character) program, where the girl was sent with an arm full of products and a wad full of cash into a rough neighborhood to sell. She was raped and killed, a secret kept from the church public by the higher ups to dissuade panic, and it was said she simply had been suffocated and robbed.

To lose your virginity before marriage was the worst sin imaginable for a Blessed Child (a.k.a. 2nd gen.) probably above killing someone and drug use. Adam and Eve were supposedly banished to the darkest pits of hell for committing such a sin, and only pardoned when Reverend Moon performed a forgiveness/liberation ceremony for them, elevating them to a higher level of spirit world. For non-fictional people, this ceremony usually cost a hefty sum.

I don't remember how O and I started dating, I don't remember our first kiss. I do remember trusting every word he said, drawing him Cowboy BeBop inspired drawings of us, and sneaking out of my parent's house to walk over to his and watch movies. I even braved the high school registration office and began attending public high school just so I could be with him. I'd been touched by a boy before, my 8th grade boyfriend who was simply following is adolescent heterosexual instincts, but nothing incredibly serious as sex.

I'll omit the graphic details, as my sister is this blog's co-author and that I've been informed my mother now reads it as well.

Watching movies in O's room always resulted into being coerced to do something physical I didn't want to do. Besides the looming threat of hell's deepest depths, my sixteen year old self just knew I wasn't ready. But it happened. No longer a virgin, I sat on his bed and burst into tears and shook. Like any male on the planet, he was immediately freaked out, because when women cry that means they're crazy. - especially when in an intimate situation.

He dropped me at home, and I confused my sister with my hysterics. Eventually, I told my parents by email, and they reacted with silence. It was no shock that a situation like this could come about, but it was a complete disbelief that something this serious could happen to a Blessed Child. Least of all, their child.

To escape my parents and my own disappointment, I accompanied my sister on a trip across the state so she could nanny for a church family, and visit her beau S who lived out near SUNY Fredonia. I fluctuated between crying on the bed we shared, trying to distract myself with helping my sister feed the kids mac n' cheese, and catching her in moments we were alone to cry and gripe at her. I felt like if I could just keep talking at her, some lifeline would remain to keep me from impending insanity or the forces of spirit world looking to rip me away to hell. I remember returning home, attending church on God's Day [New Years Day] flanking my mother's side as we standing and bowing to pictures of True Parents, sobbing and feeling like the world's biggest failure.

My mother had told me that in Hell, Hitler is tied to a post where all the people he killed come at him and tear him apart again and again. I imagined something like that or a scene out of 'What Dreams May Come' awaited for me once I died.

Everything began to fall apart then. A boisterous, opinionated church member who ran a boarding school in Texas for 2nd Gen (I had visited to see two of my summer camp friends) informed the whole school of my mistake, particularly directing it at the two girls there who kept in contact with me. I was tainted, and now everyone in the church community knew.

O dumped me after three months. To be fair, I had pulled all the crazy students girls tend to pull when they've imprinted on their first real boyfriend; threatening to kill myself if he left me, calling all the time, being really needy etc. But to be fair: he was also a douche bag who continuously pursued new muses and would dump them after he'd lose interest.
It was during rehearsal for the school play, out by the gymatorium entrance where he ended it. I slumped against the lockers, pleading and verbally scraping for a reason for him to stay with me. He eventually excused himself from the crazy girl balled up into a hunched shape and walked away. I stumbled towards my locker and removed everything, and left the gym exit, walking across the field to my house.

The next day, either out of stupid resolve to survive or to win him back, I refilled my backpack and walked over to the school at 7am. I remember walking the halls and intentionally saying hello to the people in “our” group of friends, people I had never really spoken to before but I was set to prove to them I was a person apart from the barnacle I had been to O. One girl approached O in the cafeteria, completely bewildered as to why I had said hello to her.

It worked. I can say with pride that some of my closest friends to this day are the people I reached out to in highschool. Facebook is littered with pictures of the memories we all made, trophies of the times we lived a reckless youth. I've seen three of them married, one travel the world, one off to medical school, and two whose proximity to me in NYC I cherish daily. I love my friends, and despite being a generally horrible person, O is directly responsible for those friends I've made.

O never completely disappeared from my life. He and one of his emotionally disturbed muses drew a charicature of me as a paper doll, complete with food stamp accessories and hooked Jewish nose, posting it on DeviantArt for the public to see. Whenever we happened to be at the same social events, he'd motion to others miming the 'crazy' sign, while pointing to me. As a college drop out, he once was hired at the same haunted theme park I worked at seasonally, pretending to be cordial as we passed. He married a girl who he assumed was terminally ill, partially out of spite regarding her parent's disapproval to their marriage. Before he left for university, one of the last things he said to me was he imagined me one day needing his help, coming into his big-shot lawyers office wearing a cheap pink sweater.

I promised myself that one I made it rich, I would find where ever he lives and mail him a cheap pink sweater.

I don't give a fuck what he does now days, but I am still healing from the damage I did to myself.

A few weeks ago, I retold this story and the emotional anguish I endured when I thought I had done irreparable damage to my soul and God's heart by sleeping with a boy. I told of the nightmares I had and the unshakable panic attacks that consumed me when I thought Satan had me by the throat.

My therapist leaned back in his chair, hand over his mouth, processing for a few minutes. The silence was uncomfortable, and I couldn't help notice how strange it was that he was a visual mix of my uncle and Michael J. Fox. Finally, he opened his mouth and said; “I want you to understand that what you're coping with is trauma.”

Over the past few years, even up until recently, my mom would email me with information about upcoming forgiveness ceremonies for 2nd gen who had fallen (had sex with someone not their marriage partner.) And for a sum they would be elevated to somewhere near the 1st generation status of my parents, but still somewhat retain the pride of Reverend Moon's 'pure blood lineage'. Clearly, I am still tainted goods to my mother.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

TED Talk: Diane Benscoter on the Unification Church

Taking a moment to step out of the story to say: I really love TED talks. I saw the one given by Diane Benscoter on the Unification Church back in 2009, but I only just read the follow up Q&A with her on the TED Blog thanks to a post on How Well Do You Know Your Moon. I really recommend the talk and the Q&A, but I have to make some qualifying statements first.

After leaving the church, Benscoter became a deprogrammer. Deprogramming is a highly controversial practice; growing up we heard about deprogrammers like they were the boogiemen. One of my teachers at New Eden Academy told us that he had been kidnapped by a deprogrammer and tied to a bed in a hotel room. The story may or may not be embellished, and included a heroic escape out of a window, but it was something that stuck with me.

If you want to try comparing apples and oranges, deprogramming is sort of the reverse side of indoctrination - it seeks to break the mind of its self-inflicted illogic loop. I use the word break because I think can be very dangerous to a person's psychology. It takes a long time, a lot of mental and emotional work at self-actualization, and then a strong self belief and personal resolve to end that constriction. No one can and should do it for you (and on the obverse side,  no one should inflict the initiation of an illogic-loop, but that's a Whole Other Post.)

While Benscoter is no longer involved in deprogramming, she gives an interesting perspective on the "why" of it. I also think that it's fascinating that she refers to deprogramming as an "underground railroad, of sorts." I struggle with that term because, yes deprogramming was a conduit out, and hot damn do I wish that there was a modern-day Harriet Tubman that I could have called on back in the day. But what if someone had grabbed the 17-year old me off of the streets and tried to open up my brain and untangle it before I was ready to do that for myself? I cannot imagine.

In her talk she shows a slideshow; one picture is of Unification Church members and the other one is of Hitler Youth. Frankly it hurts to have your background compared to that of Hitler Youth, suicide bombers, and the participants of the Jonestown Massacre. There is something that doesn't sit well in the pit of your stomach when you hear your parents and childhood friends categorized like that. But the point that Benscoter is making is about how these types of groups inflict circular logic and how it fundamentally rewires the brain.

The question it brings up to me then is, what if Rev. Moon had told his followers to become armed insurrectionists. What if he had told people that on "Foundation Day" the "Cheon Il Gook" could only be achieved by ascending to another plane, so please drink the kool-aid Holy Wine. These are questions that any Unificationist would become incensed by, and I understand that. BUT the fundamental driving point that Benscoter is trying to make is that the brain is hardwired to begin to accept strong suggestion in that direction.

And then there's the Upstart Buisness Journal's article on Kook Jin Moon's firearm company, Kahr Arms, and Koon Jin's quote: "Religion’s whole thing is ‘Don’t hurt others; we want peace.’ But most religions understand that there are people who don’t want peace.” Yes, it's taken out of context, but it's still a little unnerving.

Anyway overall, the TED talk is good (although I wish it went into more depth). I recommend it, as well as the Q&A Blog, for an interesting perspective:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Learning to hide between the mirror and the wall

Flying over the Atlantic to Europe for the second half of the tour felt like physically disconnecting from my life and my problems. There was an entire ocean between my parents’ choices and me – the physical space also gave me the mental breathing room to think about who I was outside of the context of my mother’s accusations of my father.  Maybe I wasn’t doomed to be a social pariah, deemed untouchable by my community. Maybe…
 For the first time that summer on tour I was able to enjoy the company of others and keep my depression at bay. The sights and sounds of London elated me; waking up in Paris was a dream. I never wanted to go home. Then I reminded myself: I didn’t really have a home.

The two weeks passed by in a rush and as my departure date grew closer I began to asphyxiate on anxiety. My breathing would come in shallow gasps and my vision would sometimes blur as I thought about the great unknown of my future waiting back in the States. All too soon I touched down at JFK.
I have no memory of arriving at New Eden. It was likely late at night and I was sleep-deprived and jetlagged. Upon arriving in my mom’s apartment I passed out on a mattress on the floor. My sister watched over me as a slept, almost as a sentinel to guard me against the nature of the reality I had just entered. I must have slept fitfully, dreaming of nighttime beasts and glowing eyes. “Did you see The Midnight Carnival?” I asked her, sitting up but half dreaming. She giggled and helped me back to sleep.
After the hangover of grogginess passed, I awoke to a world of seemingly-endless cinderblock hallways. Walls were painted with marine-grade paint, as though each year the sins had to be pressure washed away. My sister told me about the urine smells, the fly infestation and the nighttime cleaning vigils.  I fed her European chocolate that I had brought home, hoping to help ease the pain.

Our first weeks at New Eden were solitary ones. There were only a few live-in staff members on the premises. While exploring my new horizons I met a former staff member who was moving out. He warned me of evil lurking in the halls. I raised an eyebrow at his superstitions. Long ago I had learned to suspect many First Gen and their grip on reality.
He saw my dubious expression and narrowed his eyes. “There is a dark spirit that hovers around here, like a cloud. When it descends like a storm, you’ll know.” He glanced up at the dorm buildings and gave a near-imperceptible shudder, as though he feared invoking the evil of which he spoke.
And the darkness did descend.
Students arrived and school began. The first few weeks were relatively peaceful and I used them as an opportunity to try to recover from the trauma of the previous summer. We had morning service each day, and I would arrive early to spend a few solitary moments in reflections. Service took place in the same basement where most of our classes were held. Though the place smelled as though a rot had firmly taken hold I would sit, cross-legged and barefoot, waiting for everyone else to arrive and trying to concentrate on my breathing.
Many times I could only get small gasps. My lungs ached for more air but could never seem to pull in enough before my throat would constrict. During the morning services I would search for words to hang onto – words that could be the calm in my storm or that could offer me a sense of peace. Despite my search, despite my internal pleas to God, I didn’t find those words.
After The Most Horrible Day, where I learned that there were no true allies to be found and no safe harbor of friendship, I stopped attending morning services. Instead I hid in my room. There was a small crawl space in my dorm closet, behind a built-in vanity mirror, that I learned I could fit myself into. Many mornings I would curl into that space and trycommune with the silence.

After the headmaster counted who was missing from morning service, the dorm mom would search our rooms. I would hear the knock on the door, and an inquiring voice from the other side. She would try the door and find it locked. Then there was the jingle of keys and the distinctive click as the master key allowed her entry into my sanctuary. She would look under my bed, in the closet and anywhere else she thought that a teenager could hide.
She never knew about that tiny space between the mirror and the wall. Nestled next to the cinderblock, it never occurred to me to consider the physical contortions that I put myself into in order to hide from these people. But hide I did. And there, with my nose nestled between my knees, I continued working on my breathing.

In and Out.

Each day became a survival game and every student found a way to rebel against the bondage of obedience that was prized over learning. I slept in the back of my American History class every morning, learning how to move my hand in a mimic of note-taking while dozing. I learned that my Oceanography teacher hated anything against dress code, so I wore Birkenstocks to class every day and flaunted my blue toenails, only to be dismissed from class regularly for my defiance.
Even with the bravado of defiance, many of us didn’t know how to protect ourselves from the insulated lifestyle of the school. Our schedules were regimented as though we were serving a sentence as opposed to seeking an education. Faculty members were suspicious of our every move, our every conversation and any kind of opposite-gender interaction. In true trickle-down form, that suspicion and pathos seeped down into the student body.
Instead of the school being a New Eden, it was a hotbed for our own dysfunctions to grow. Though the school was advertised as a haven for parents to send their children into, where the ideals of purity and heavenly-mindedness were upheld, most students struggled with one form of self-abuse or another. Sex, drugs, alcohol and food were all indulged in excessively. Everyone knew not to use the dorm restrooms in the morning, as they would usually reek of the night’s aftermath.
My depression often prevented me from being able to eat. I was never popular enough to be included in the drinking and the using, nor did anyone ever express sexual interest in me. If they had, I was too mentally wound up in a melodramatic emotional affair with “S” to notice. Instead, my excess was turned inward. Through that inward turn the darkness truly descended.

It was shortly after our 9pm curfew. There was screaming down the hall; someone’s fists were pounded in rhythmic slams against a door. The slams weren’t requests for entry; they were just another desperate prisoner’s pleas for release. Somehow the noise complimented the bass line of the Reggaeton that reverberated against the cinderblock walls.

I sat in the dark of my room, with only candles for light. My back was against the locked door and I had given up on breathing that night. I drew my air in ragged gasps through gritted teeth as I gazed down at the knife in in my hand.

Little rivulets of blood sprang up under the blade as I dragged it across my wrist. It was too dull to do any real damage. It was meant for sharpening my drawing pencils, but it did enough. Horrified and mesmerized, I continued digging as I found deeper relief with each slice.
That night an addiction was born and for years afterwards I turned to it for relief. I never dug deep enough to cause visible scars; breaking the skin and seeing blood was all I needed. Long sleeves and fingerless gloves covered the outward manifestation of my sickness, but I would still stare greedily at sharp objects when I felt the need to cut or keep stashes of safety pins and bottle caps around, just in case. Inside I admired other people’s cuts, accidental though they usually were – in my mind I would equate a form of relief with the physical injury.

My only takeaways from that year at New Eden were a barely-achieved degree, suspicion of every church member that I met, and an addiction to self-injury.

It took me years to stop cutting, and then many years after that of fighting the urge. But a moment finally came where I knew that I had to stop. I had been good during most of my first semester away at college, but returning home for winter break to the toxic environment of my parents sent me into a panicked downward spiral. I found a plastic bottle cap and dug incessantly into my wrist. By the time I was done, my arm looked mangled.
I returned to school with a bandage and a brace on my wrist, hoping I could pass it off as an accidental injury.

“What the hell happened?” My college roommate asked when she saw.
“I fell. On some ice,” I lied.
We looked at each other for a long time. She searched my eyes and seemed hurt by what she saw. Her shoulders fell in resignation and without another word she turned and left the room.
 She had been my first friend when I had come to college. She had helped me get a job at the college paper; she’d given me a copy of The Vagina Monologues to help me reframe my ideology of womanhood. She had shared with me that she was struggling with an eating disorder. I finally realized that my addiction was keeping me from being truthful, on so many levels, and that I would never be able to connect with another person until I stopped hurting myself.

I wish that I had been brave enough back then to seek help, but in the church we were discouraged from seeking “outside help.” Oftentimes denial of a problem was deemed a reasonable enough solution. If that didn’t work, then shaming a sufferer into silence often did.
Today, I hope that the young people in the church who are suffering from self-inflicted scars can find it in themselves to seek help. I hope that, with everything going on in the church right now and the institution crumbling from within, people can find it in their hearts to accept each other and not continue to shun and shame. And to any fellow sufferer: please, please, please do not feel ashamed for seeking help. It is the bravest thing that you can do.

Even in the darkest moments of our lives, there is love and acceptance in the Universe. You are beautiful, you are loved and you deserve to be healthy. Tell yourself that every day and eventually the pain will not be able to sustain its grip. One day you will wake up, and you will remember how to breathe.