Searching for Forgiveness after 23 Years in a Cult. ~ Angel DeSantis
I grew up in a cult.
They called themselves Children of God, though later changed their name to The Family International.
Lately, I’ve been feeling really frustrated about where I am in my life. I feel like I started life late, like I missed out on so many opportunities that I should have had. In a sense, I was robbed.
I’ve been procrastinating on filming my yoga project, even though I know it’s a good one and it’s my passion. I’ve been blaming everything, from being scared to being lazy, to not having enough time or money. I often make excuses for my behavior of cutting corners. I’m used to half-assing it.
Growing up in a cult will do that to you. You don’t actually want to be there, but you stay there because you’re taught not to think—-not to think so that others will do the thinking for you. They are the ones that act and react to whatever comes your way, and you take it like a robot following orders, never putting 100 percent into anything because you don’t actually care.
But it’s all you know.
I had an uncomfortable day; then decided to go to a 5:30 yoga class because one of my favorite teachers was teaching. I knew that it would be good and maybe I’d feel better afterward.
Then came Camel pose, we didn’t stay in it for longer than we usually do—five breaths—but the teacher said we were going to stay in it for longer and so my mind went crazy. I felt like I’d lost control over what I was allowed to do and someone was ripping my heart out of my chest. I panicked, my breath became fast and when I got out, I felt like crying. I had an uneasy shavasana; then cried in the shower.
That pose tore open a door inside me that I have been striving my whole life to keep shut. I couldn’t believe I was so destroyed by it. I started digging, which is something I don’t do that often but it seems like I had to because I was in the yoga studio crying in the shower. You’d think I’d wonder what was going on.
Like I said, it tore open a door.
I have so much anger. Sometimes during the day I’ll come up with a scenario in my head where I’m arguing with someone from my past, and they are wrong, and I am right, and I finally have all the words to say, and I win the argument. I get to say all the things that need to be said but no one will say.
Because they were all so sweet.
So sweet as they read us stories about a 14-year-old girl being gang raped in a lion cage before bed. So sweet as they sang, “can’t even walk without you holding my hand,” which as an adult and having it in context is all well and good, but as a child, all I heard was that I am incapable of anything.
So sweet…as they spanked us because they were angry and damaged themselves, or going through marriage trials because one of the spouses was sleeping with another and they were jealous so they took it out on their children because children is where it hurts the worst.
So, you’d think they would have seen that they were hurting us. You’d think that they would have seen the confusion in our eyes when we were told that we weren’t going to live very long because Jesus was coming back, when we would cry ourselves to sleep at the thought of not living past nine, or the fear in our eyes when we were told we would have to run from the anti-Christ and be split up from our families.
Or the shock when—as a seven year old—finding that the woman who was trying to steal your father away from your mother, had the right to force your mother to read “mo letters” about divorce while she was nine months pregnant.
How can you go for decades and not notice that something was wrong?
You can’t. You can’t, and so you knew what you were doing. You knew it! You didn’t grow up in it, you fooled yourself into thinking it was okay because it went along with your selfish desires and it made you feel good about yourself to never have any responsibilities.
The world was going to end so why not fuck everybody over while we were still alive? Why not live your best life deluding yourself that you were doing the world a favor to follow the teachings of a pedophile who you knew was a pedophile because he wrote about it! He wrote about touching his own daughter. There were letters about him beating his grandchild!
But no you say, “it was a different time.”
I don’t give a shit what time it was, there are things you never do.
You don’t tear down teenagers, beat them, send them to mini-concentrations camps because they have “bad attitudes” when really, all you were was threatened that they could shake up your way of life, and lift a mirror to your face so you would actually have to stop and see yourself for what you were.
I know the entire group was made up of hurt.
Everyone was hurting; everyone was running away and no one had enough courage to look inside themselves to see what needed to be fixed. You all ran like cowards. You were searching for that deep intrinsic knowledge of love and the fact that you are worth something. I know that, so I can’t blame them because that’s just what I need right now. That’s where I’m at and what I’m looking for. I just wish I didn’t have to look so hard.
Some things you should be taught growing up.
You shouldn’t be slapped across the face in front of all your friends for not smiling. You shouldn’t be spanked with a broomstick because your teacher didn’t like your father.
Why didn’t you protect us?
Why won’t you say sorry?
I can’t rely on anyone to ever say sorry or anything to ever change. I will just remove myself from associating with the kind of people that can delude themselves into thinking that making eight year olds dance naked for a camera is okay because “it was a different time and you don’t understand.”
I don’t understand and I hope I never will. I hope I will never be able to delude myself into thinking that’s okay.
I am so angry at myself most of all, for being a part of it. I feel like it’s a gross part of me, but there’s nothing I can do about it. There’s nothing I can do to change it. I feel like it’s a permanent black mark against me, like having a large red A on my chest.
I have great friends from it and many happy memories, yes. I am thankful that I got only a small part of the amount of abuse that went on. If I had more, there would have been a lot more hurt and confusion. If I had less, I would be like some of the people who say, “oh that’s just an exaggeration, they were always prone to embellishing their stories.” I get it, it’s a self-defense mechanism. Without it you would have to acknowledge that you were a part of something wrong, which is especially crushing when you had no choice in the matter and were born into it.
That’s where I am. That’s why I’m so upset. That’s why I nearly died in Camel, why my heart nearly beat out my chest. I was trying hard to not acknowledge 23 years of life.
I’m angry with myself for not knowing, for not seeing it earlier. Yes, I was raised to view the world a certain way, but there are still some things you just know are wrong. You know it.
I knew there were some things that were wrong. It’s why I never had a “sacrificial date” which was pretty much having sex with someone you did not want to have sex with. But you degrade yourself—or are shamed into doing it “for Jesus.” I’m pretty sure he says in the bible not to do that; I’m pretty sure Jesus was against premarital and extramarital sex.
But no. For you it was okay because you were special. You can ask young girls who have been degraded, and raised around sex their whole life for 30 minutes of sex, or an affair while you’re at it, while your wife is seven months pregnant, in the room crying her eyes out, and trying to get over it “for Jesus.”
No, you’re so special so you can do that. You are the exception to every single rule. Want to hurt childre? Go ahead; you’re so fucking special. Want to raise a whole crop of kids who will now do almost anything to get out of their own head, from thrill-seeking to suicide? Go right ahead—you’re the chosen one.
How dare you.
I forgive you.
Because I have nothing left to do. I’m angry at myself.
I need to forgive myself.
The cursor is blinking at me like it expects more. But this is as far as I’ve gotten. I know better than to direct my anger at something that I can’t change. No one can change the past. But I am in control of my future. I will try my best to be the best that I can be, and make a life where I am honest with myself, and surround myself with people who lift me up and who can tell me when I’m heading in the wrong direction.
I am free of you.
Now I just need to forgive myself for being so deluded for 23 years, and once I forgive, I can move forward with renewed self-love and the knowledge that I control what’s in front of me and I make the choice to find the courage to dig deep and to fight.
Angel Yamaguchi is a power yoga teacher in Austin, who was born and raised in a cult called the Children of God. After finding strength to break free with her husband, she has slowly started the long road of recovery and thankfully found yoga to be an incredible tool to help her journey into the self and to quiet the negative self-talk that is so prevalent due to her upbringing. She is cautiously optimistic about the fact that yoga and meditation can help you heal, no matter the back story. She hopes to one day own her story and offer the light of self-acceptance to others who are struggling with theirs. She believes that if everyone did yoga and had the courage to look inside themselves for love, the world would heal. You can creep about at www.thenormalyogi.com.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel
Assistant Ed. Rebecca Schwarz