only what i need to know
notes on surviving ritual abuse
“a test proving ‘family loyalty’ forced the dark blue alter to choose between letting my little brother get hurt and letting our pet rabbit suffer and die. These double-bind situations left me with crippling [sic], soul-deadening shame, guilt, powerlessness and helplessness.”
– Trish Fotheringham, Mind control as I experienced it in Healing the Unimaginable: Treating Ritual abuse and Mind Control, p.81
a core part of being ritually abused involves being constantly “tested,” although tortured is a more accurate word to describe what is done. the torture involves both the actions that one is coerced to participate in, or forced to witness, as well as the fact that it is primary caregivers that have created the situation, and that one is forced to harm the people, animals and plants one cares about the most. the goal is to create trauma and dissociated identities that can be programmed, with the goal of making obedient cult members. trish fortheringham gives one example of a test in the quote above. here’s another example:
“[Jodi] had memories of being forced to watch one of her friends being abused. And being told that unless she carried out an act she shrank from, such as killing an animal, or abusing another child, the abuse of her friend would continue, or they would be tortured. At times. she would be told that unless she tortured her friend, they would be killed.”
– Rachel Wingfield Schwartz. “An evil cradling”? Cult Practices and the manipulation of attachment needs in ritual abuse
i could provide any number of additional examples. one particularly clear memory is of being a young boy, maybe 6 years old, in a small room with a bunch of kittens. i especially loved cats and kittens. i was given time to play with them and to bond with them. i knew something bad was going to happen to them, but i refused to let that make me not care about them, and love them. i tried to make them as happy as i could by petting them, or letting them sleep, or playing with them. there wasn’t any food or water to give them. there wasn’t any escape, either, for them or for me. after a few hours i was told by c. and l. that they would kill all of the kittens unless i killed all but one of the kittens. i had to decide quickly. what should I do? i said, “yes” i would kill all but one of the kittens. i closed my eyes and picked one. then I killed the rest. i broke their necks.
of course it wasn’t over there. next i had to dismember the bodies of the dead kittens, or they would torture and kill the kitten i had saved. after that i had to drink the blood, or they would torture and kill the kitten. there was always something next, always, “one more thing”. at the end of it they didn’t kill the one kitten i’d saved. but i don’t know what happened to that kitten, if they lived a long happy life or were used in another cult “test”.
later in my life – like 8 years old – i refused to participate in these tests in any way. it didn’t stop the horrors from happening, but it meant that i wasn’t being made complicit in them. it was a difficult decision, and i don’t know that it was the “right” answer. rather, there weren’t any good answers, merely a series of different “least worse” answers. i had a purpose, though, and that was to get out of the cult. over time i realized that this meant being prepared to forgo relationships with anyone, human, animal or plant. it meant doing nothing when others were being hurt. it meant refusing to be coerced into participating in abuse.
relationships, in the cult, are, of course, another trap, another way for cult leaders to maintain control, in this instance using cult members human need and desire to relate to others, to be accepted and loved as a way to manipulate and dominate them. i figured this out at a young age, and i chose instead to try to find a way to relate to myself, to maintain my self-respect, while aiming, always, to get out of the cult. as my purpose was escape from the cult, all of the relationships that tied me to it were also fetters, not merely or only fetters, but also fetters, and i had to be ready to abandon them at any time.
tests and “choices”
as i was being constantly tested, it was important to me to figure out how to pass my tests. while i had decided at a young age there were many actions i would not participate in, i also realized that i wanted to avoid punishment or to limit the extent of it as much as possible, and this meant finding ways to pass my torture tests. this meant making a series of compromises, ones that i believed that i could live with. some examples include pretending to consent to the sexual abuse that was being done to me, providing support to people who were suffering, and explaining the rules (to the extent that i understood them).
probably the most important lesson i learned through this “testing” process was that the whole scheme was a set-up. while i might want to pass their test in order to avoid punishment, and maintain my self-respect, everything else about these situations was fraudulent. the purpose from beginning to end was designed to harm me and everyone else participating in them in order to create obedient cult members, and to ensure the continued obedience of cult members.
these abusive situations frequently involved “choices,” such as, for example, the “choice” to rape or be raped. there was more to it, though. as horrible as being presented with these so-called choices to be a perpetrator or a victim is, the context is worse indeed, as it is primary caregivers who force children to make this choice (in my case my biological parents) and the person to rape or be raped by is, for example, a best friend.
given these two “options”, to rape or be raped, i “chose” to be raped as this was the only possible ethical choice. i refused, however, to let myself be raped and chose instead to resist for as long as i could. i was, of course, doubly punished for my resistance, but it was important to try. it was essential to defend myself despite the negative consequences. in fact i’d say that, as much as anything else, it was this attitude that helped me most. in hockey they say, “you can’t score if you don’t shoot”. my goal was to maintain my self-respect and escape the cult, and i had to keep shooting: successfully protecting and defending myself in order to get free.
later, older and wiser, i refused to participate in the decision-making process itself as it had occurred to me that even the “choice” of being raped was potentially harmful to me, that “choosing” to be a victim would have negative long-term impacts on me. this didn’t stop me from being raped, but there was no pretence that anything other than rape, abuse and programming were going on – there was no longer any pretence of a “test”.
in the example of “choosing” to rape or be raped, there was also additional information being conveyed. in the hyper-patriarchal world of the cult, boys/men are strong, active, dominant and rape, while girls/women are weak, passive, submissive and get raped. i was constantly shamed for being girly and passive because i wouldn’t rape. they even decided i was gay for several years in the hopes that this might make me start to rape. i thought they were crazy – as if being called names was going to make me choose to rape!
in any case, the way they chose to try and shame me also illustrates the way that heterosexism and patriarchy overlap: boys/men are active, dominant and heterosexual, with gay boys/men being included with girls/women as weak, passive, submissive. actually the cult leaders determination that i was gay betray their profoundly heteropatriarchal anxieties about their own masculinity and heterosexuality, in addition, of course, to illuminating the absurd and obscene logic of a satanic cult.
from crisis to crisis
cult members are forced to handle crisis after crisis. this is a pattern that starts in infancy – the torture tests of childhood are also presented as crises, and cult members are set up to replicate this pattern as they age. in addition to the programming and internalized emotions and patterns, the cult also manufactures regular crises in cult members’ lives. the reasons for this are to keep cult members focused on immediate problems and crises and in order to test and maintain obedience to the cult. keeping cult member’s focused on a crisis keeps them locked into the fight to survive, and the feelings connected with it. this prevents them from thinking clearly about their lives, and what they want to do. it keeps them from thinking about, for example, how to get out of the cult. the other main aspect is that they are constantly participating, or being made complicit in wrong-doing, ensuring their continued obedience, or, at the very least, their continued silence.
creating crises for oppressed groups, traumatizing and mystifying the process is also a central to how the imperialist, white supremacist, heterpatriarchal canadian government and society operate. among the many examples i can think of is the lie that poor and racialized people commit more crimes, justifying their incarceration. incarceration then causes or accentuates trauma, increasing the likelihood that an individual will be targeted by the criminal injustice system again, rearrested, retraumatized, and so on. meanwhile politicians and the mainstream media repeat the lie that more police, more prisons and harsher sentences will keep us safer, despite the fact that all the evidence indicates that this is completely backwards. indeed, mass incarceration is an attempt to traumatize criminalized groups and to impose this pattern of crisis on them, with the goal of creating trauma and a self-replicating pattern of crisis in these groups of people. this self-replicating pattern of self-harm and anti-social behaviour then justifies the prison industrial complex, when, in actual fact the PIC existed before the pattern and is one of the main factors in creating it.
as i’ve said before, the satanic ritual abuse cult that i grew up in is not an aberration, it is an extreme version of the abuse and oppression of children and adults that exists in the broader society. euro-american and european societies are profoundly oppressive and hierarchical, and child abuse in many different forms is widespread.
indeed i think it is interesting to think about the boom and bust cycle of capitalism as being similar in some ways to how traumatized individuals live from crisis to crisis. capitalism is an economic system, not an individual, so the comparison isn’t exact, but there is a similarity that is worth noting. and, as in ritual abuse, there is a relatively small group of people who find ways to benefit from the hardships that others experience, hardships that they have a direct role in creating.