learning is in context

my life is a *trigger warning*

only what i need to know

“And, most of all, I want these groups to know that no matter how much torture they put us through, and no matter how many chains they put on our bodies, they cannot imprison our souls.”

– Stella Katz, A reversed Kabbalah trainer speaks in Healing the Unimaginable: Treating Ritual Abuse and Mind Control, p. 93

part two

learning is in context

several years ago i watched the tv series “the wire”. one of the main plot lines in season four is about the school system. “roland ‘prez’ pryzbylewski,” a former police officer has been hired as a teacher at a school that services mostly poor black people. at some point the character “howard ‘bunny’ colvin,” another retired police officer, is brought in to work with “troubled youth” and he says that the main reason that the predominantly black and poor children attending the school aren’t interested in class is that the school isn’t teaching them what they need to know in order to survive. the education that these school children were being provided was largely irrelevant to their social context. it’s a tv series, so take it for what it is worth, but the point that education must be relevant and be perceived to be relevant by students/learners in order to be valued is true. i mention it because as a child surviving ritual abuse i spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what it was i needed to know to survive, and not only to survive but to escape the cult and to be a good person.

i’ve been struggling to write this part of the essay as i want to use specific examples from my own life to illustrate what i mean when i say “only what i need to know”. the main difficulty that i’ve been having is that what i needed to know, like all knowledge, is tied to the context i was learning it in. it was tied to my life as a child growing up and surviving in a satanic cult that engaged in ritual abuse. i’ve decided that i’m first going to have to provide a broader overview of my life and the cult before i can get more specific.

surviving ritual abuse

for all children, the most important lessons they are learning are not that 2 + 2 = 4 and that paris is the capital of france, but how to care for, love, trust and respect themselves, others, animals and the natural world. i was not only not being taught to do this, i was being indoctrinated into doing the opposite, into harming myself, others, animals and the natural world – this was the primary goal of the ritual abuse. in addition to this i had to learn to pretend to be a normal child, to pretend that i was happy and that i wasn’t being abused.

those were the two main lessons the cult wanted me to learn: to be an obedient cult member and to pretend to be a normal child. i, of course, had my own objectives. i was going to learn how to be a good person, and how to escape the cult and i was going to be a happy child, which seemed better than just pretending.

i want to highlight the difference here between what i was being taught, and what i was learning. while the cult had it’s objectives, i had my own. i’m not going to say that i was always successful, because i wasn’t. i internalized massive amounts of shame and rage. i didn’t learn how to feel or express my feelings well. this was one of the main reasons that i was an alcoholic for close to 18 years. i could give a large number of examples of ways that i learned exactly what they were trying to teach me: that i was worthless and bad. but this wasn’t all i learned, and i did indeed learn to survive, be a good person and escape.

physical and psychological survival

physical survival was a real concern of mine. while i, and every other cult child was valued in terms of being a valuable human resource – and i mean that literally in the sense of a human that the cult owned and could use when needed – and no sensible resource owner discards their resources casually or without reason, neither do they let sentimental attachments prevent them from killing their human resources if necessary.

physical survival was not enough, though, if i survived only to be an obedient cult member. psychological survival was also essential. the adult cult members that i knew were basically dead inside, and their lives seemed to me to be no better than a living hell. growing up to be one of them would render my life, hard as it was, essentially meaningless.

psychological survival required taking risks, and it required me to resist the indoctrination.  resistance brought added risk, with the most dire risk being that i would die or be sold. to be clear, i was willing to do whatever it took to resist the indoctrination from literally kissing ass to defending my life as forcefully as possible. from total defiance to complete compliance, i tried whatever i thought would work, as long as i thought i could live with myself afterwards. finding the place where i was not simply reacting to what was being done to me, where i was both resisting the cult and living my own life in a good way was my goal. i can only say that i am really achieving it now with the help of my therapist and community, but i did my best all through my life.

i was almost as afraid of being sold as of being killed. one of the few points of leverage i had in terms of minimizing the abuse, rape and torture being done to me was the fact that i existed in the legal sense: i was born in a hospital, had a birth certificate, was a canadian citizen, was enrolled in school, etc.. it was not a simple matter for me to go missing, and, to be sure, part of the reason for this is that i was born into a a white, upper-middle class family.also, since i was in school, i couldn’t simply miss weeks of school, or be covered in bruises. my legal, normal life meant that there were limitations on what my parents, who were my primary abusers, and other cult members, could do to me. if i went “missing”, though, this would no longer be the case, and i was and am certain that if i had been disappeared the level of abuse would have intensified, maybe to such an extent that i would never have recovered. or perhaps i would just have been used and then killed when i was no longer valuable – probably on or near hitting puberty. these are some of the realities of growing up in a cult that engages in ritual abuse.


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