Triggers and echoes

I have worked really hard to combat the negative self talk in my head. The echoes that say “you are not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, capable enough”. These are things I was told for years, and after much repetition I finally believed them. Most days, I am ready for war. Some days, I feel weak, and I fall prey to the echoes of the past. Something will trigger these feelings, and down I go. I slide down the slippery slope into negative self talk. “See? no one likes you. You are ugly, you are stupid. You will never be good enough.” I hear. I have learned to stop, then talk. I talk to trusted friends, and most importantly, Husband. Together, we bring the voices back to reality. The situation that triggered me today was a friend saying “maybe I should just date an ugly girl”. This is something that I have heard guy friends say in the past. I instantly felt triggered. This is what I was told by Ted. He chose me because I was ugly, and not “expected”. That if and when I told about what he was doing to me, that no one would believe me, because I was ugly. Because I wasn’t good enough. I shared with my friend today how his statement triggered these feelings inside me. Aside from the fact that I felt like it was categorizing and objectifying women. I was always told how beautiful everyone else was. All my friends, my Mom, I was told how they were beautiful and that I looked like my Dad. People still tell me this today, and that is a trigger as well. I felt like I was in the “ugly girl” category. As if we are not as good as the “pretty girls”. Husband is very patient with me, and has gotten me to the point now that I don’t argue with him when he gives me a compliment. It is hard to accept that I am beautiful. But I am working on it. I had a poem starting in my head after working through these issues. Although, I think I will write this as a story.

My conversation with the echoes

“You’re ugly” I hear. “Shut up!” I say. I thought you were gone, don’t you ever go away? Where did you come from? Stop coming around. I wish I could bury you deep in the ground. I know you are watching, waiting for me to let my guard down. As soon as you feel safe, you come around. Around and around, like an echo you fly. Around in my head. And with you you bring your friends: doubt, fear, and shame. I know you so well. And you know my name. You want me to look down, to close my eyes and listen. I rebel against you now. I look to the light. I look up to the sky, searching for help. There he is, my answer. He doesn’t hear you. He knows the truth. My beauty, my grace, my heart full of love. My brain, my worth. He changes the echo, from darkness to light. He’s the light in the forest, the thief in the night. He stole my heart, and he won’t give it back. You don’t own me anymore, you ugly echoes of the past. I know you will come around again, like echoes always do. You are fading with time. I choose not to listen to you.

~E

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Capable of Love

I am unloved, I am not capable of love. These are things I was told. Pastor W told me that my Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins didn’t truly love me. They may have told me they love me, but if they didn’t have God’s love inside them, then they didn’t truly love me. Only those who have Jesus’ love inside them are able to show love. But it is not truly our love, it is love from Him. This is what I was told repeatedly. I remember this feeling of revolt at first. “That’s not true” I would think, “my family does love me, I know it.” Over time, I started to believe the Pastor. I did not want to, it was subconscious. This lesson that I am in right now. I am supposed to see that I am a sinner in order to ask Jesus in to my heart. To be able to truly see the depth of my sin, I must confess every little thing that I do that is sin. They take all my confessions with a straight face and then send me back to work. I don’t know where I stand. The W Pastor also tells me that I need to have a picture of what it will be like in Hell. Dark, alone, forever. I am so afraid of this, but I know I need to be not only afraid, but I also need to see my sin. I am confused, I don’t know how to do this. I long for a hug from my Mom or Dad. I want to tell them that I love them. Last week I did tell them I loved them. They told me that was a lie. I am not capable of love because I don’t have Jesus. I feel everything slipping away. I have no friends at school. I am the outcast now. Because my will is too strong. I am not broken yet. I am stupid and can’t figure out how to see that I’m a sinner. I am arrogant, because I refuse to see the truth of my sin. That I am a sinner that is incapable of love. No one wants to talk to me and I don’t blame them. I feel like everything I learned about self esteem in elementary school was a lie.

It is not unusual for assemblies to be spontaneously announced. Today, Pastor W tells everyone to stop working and bring their chairs to the center of the room. He calls me to the front. Mom and Dad are not at school this day. I am afraid and feel completely alone. I walk to the front slowly. I know this will not be good. Pastor W starts asking me questions. I was not answering them correctly, and Pastor W was getting agitated. I was feeling desperate. I am tired of feeling this way, always wrong, always alone. The next question, next wrong answer. He slaps me on the back of the head. No one is shocked. No one will stand up for me, I know this now. I break down, I cry. I will not answer any more questions. This is what he wanted. He wanted me to give up. As long as I was answering, I was showing that I still thought I knew the answers. I was meant to see that I don’t know anything. To my surprise, He tells me that I am ready to ask Jesus in my heart. I go back to the nursery with Pastor W’s wife and another woman. There must always be witnesses. We say a prayer, and I feel so relieved.

The end of the day, Mom and Dad pick us up from school. They are very happy and proud. While I am telling them what happened (minus the slapping, I assumed they knew that) Edward walks in the room. He asks me why I am looking so pleased with myself. I told him the news, yet he did not seem happy. He is supposed to be my grandpa and he doesn’t seem happy about the fact that I secured my eternity in Heaven with him. I found out a few days later that he and Chris were leaving the church. They must have been unhappy with many things. I was relieved because I didn’t want them to be my replacement grandparents. On the drive home, Mom and Dad told us that we were going out to dinner to celebrate. A rare luxury. We went to Petosa’s in Monroe. Dad ordered me a slice of the Mile High Mud Pie that I shared with everyone. It was so good. I was happy to be a part of the family, together, happy, smiling, it is a perfect memory. I felt that Dad was proud of me, and that everything would be okay.

Author’s notes: I am a spiritual person. I do believe that God heard my prayer, and was with me. Throughout my time in the cult, I felt a presence by my side. Even when I felt completely alone and dark, I felt something, sometimes very small, by my side. I had faith that I was not alone. I still feel this way today. I do not have many religious guidelines, and it is very hard for me to go to a church. However, in my meditation and yoga I find peace and connection. With the universe and the spiritual world. I also still struggle at times with accepting love and acknowledging I am capable of loving others. I am learning to embrace love. I enjoy telling people that I love them, and really meaning it! I have to tell myself that I am lovable and worthy of love. A new affirmation is I am capable of love.

~E

Turning 13

I don’t know if I have shared about my past writing yet. I have: hand written in a journal, started an email chain, as well as a document on my computer. Each time, I have gotten to this point in my story. I have stopped. I don’t know how to write about this time in my life. This next phase is really hard to write about. These memories are dark, sad, and lonely. This is when the “bad” stuff started happening. I am twelve years old.

Suddenly, I am noticing changes. I am growing up, and getting more responsibility. I want to be in charge. I long to boss my brother around. He is always annoying me. Mom and Dad go to work, and Samantha is in charge, but she tells me it is really both of us. Which is really great. I am not too close with Jenn anymore. She is ignoring me a lot, and hanging out with the older girls. Our family visited them at the apartments, and she had a lot of new friends. They were all older. She said she was going to parties. I was envious of the way she seemed so grown up. Jenn was wearing belly shirts and baggy jeans. She had a cute stomach and was getting attention from guys. Anytime I wore anything like that I got in trouble for trying to act older. I want the attention that she is getting. At school, I am constantly getting in trouble for the way I dress. Every morning I would show Mom my clothes. I never wore anything without her approval. Even with Mom’s okay, I was getting in trouble. I was feeling more and more frustrated. I did not know what to do. I was running out of options for clothing, and Mom and Dad didn’t have money to buy more clothing. I was mad at Mom for telling me that my clothes were appropriate when clearly they weren’t because I kept getting in trouble about my clothes. I voiced these frustrations one day at school. I was fed up. It was then that two of the adult female teachers took me for a ride in a car. Maybe I was making a scene. We drove around for a long time and they bought me a mint milkshake. They talked to me about how it was normal to be mad at my Mom. And that it was sin. That I needed to confess to the sin, repent, and submit to authority. I found myself continuing to be confused and angry. When the car ride was over, the teachers decided that my will had not been broken. Their conclusion was that I must not be saved. The prayer that I had said when I was seven had been false. I didn’t really see that I was a sinner, so now I must be shown. This began the long process of having my sin pointed out, me confessing every little thing that I thought was sin, and them deciding whether or not I truly believed that I was a sinner. I was only allowed to wear skirts to the ground, and baggy shirts. I was not allowed to go to youth group with Jenn, I had to stay in kids group. Meanwhile, Jenn was getting her ears pierced, wearing makeup, and walking around in belly shirts. What I don’t understand is why they still had me helping with Sunday School. There was a church bus that drove around on Sunday morning picking up kids. Samantha and I would organize the games and songs. We would sing and play with the kids on the bus during pick up and drop off. If I was such a sinner, why was I being allowed to help in this way? I lived in constant fear that someone would find out what a fake I was. The woods at home were my solace. I would swing on the rope swing, and take long walks. I would pick apples from the trees and blackberries from the vines. I would take a book and sit on the front porch of the old house. That was my spot where no one could see me. There were no windows in the house or the trailers that pointed that way. I loved our dogs. They became my best friends. Mom and Dad bought a puppy and we named him Sam. He was a black fuzzy thing. I would sit and read while petting Sam or Lady. I would look out over the valley and breathe in the beauty. Then it was time to go sort trash.

For some reason, we didn’t have trash service. So Brother and I would, every night, go around to each house, gather up trash bags, and take them to the barn. Occasionally, Samantha’s brother Mike joins us. He helps a little. I think he has a nice smile. I feel him watching me. This is kind of the attention that I want from boys, but not so much from him. Samantha is my friend, and I feel weird getting attention from him. Once in the barn, we would open the bags and sort them according to: recyclables, food trash, and waste. Dad would take the piles to the dump when they were big enough. I would be so nervous each night walking around the trailers. M Pastor would sit by the window just above where the trash bag would lay. Most nights, he would have some choice words for me. Asking if I had confessed any sin that day. Or he had heard something I had said or done. If I had been acting too happy out of authorities presence, then someone would tattle on me. I had a big head I suppose, thought I could be sneaky. Brother would always say he had to go to the bathroom during the gathering time. This always pissed me off. One time I waited for him, but he was taking too long and I was afraid I would get in trouble for picking the trash up too late. I know he was avoiding M pastor, but I didn’t want to be the one to always get in trouble. I was losing my reserve. When Brother would finally come out to the barn, I would explode. I would yell at him in a way that was not fair. I was venting, letting out my anger at everyone, toward him. It was not fair, I would be blinded with rage. I love Brother. The anger split us apart.

The school moved upstairs at the church. Finally, no more basement. I loved the windows Dad had installed. So much light, I felt like I could breathe. Our desks were lined up against the walls. Younger kids on the right and older kids on the left. The teachers made sure to let me know that just because I was on the left, didn’t mean I was part of the “older” kids. I was still an immature sinner. An unrepentant one. I was sitting next to a W boy. Ted. I felt no threat with him. Until one day, he reached under the desk and grabbed my leg. At first, I did not know what was happening. I thought it was an accident. Maybe he had dropped his pencil. But then, no, he would really drop his pencil. Then look under the desk. I knew it was not an accident. He was trying to look up my skirt. He was grabbing my leg. I don’t understand this. Wasn’t I in enough trouble? What do I do? At first, it was quick. If I just sat still and didn’t draw attention to anything, then there would be no trouble. But after a week or two, his hand would linger. I was afraid. What was happening? Renee was the prettiest girl in school. Why did he want to do this to me? I was the one they were making wear ugly clothes. I was the evil sinner that would not submit to their ways. I am sure this is my fault somehow. Maybe I had smiled at him wrong. I would avoid him at all costs. Sometimes, the school kids would come to our house. Dad was leading a school project of restoring an old boat. The project was pretty cool, I did not like the way that Ted would look at me. He looked at me as if he was imagining what I looked like naked. This was not the attention I had wanted from guys. I didn’t want him at my house. I felt violated. He would sit next to me in the school van, and grab my leg. He was getting brave. I was afraid someone would see. I did not want to get in any more trouble.

It is my thirteenth birthday. I’m still in trouble. Mom and Dad had always told me that I would get my ears pierced when I turned 13. I have been excited to turn 13. I am telling everyone. I know I’m still in trouble, but I hoped that Mom and Dad would keep their promise of ear piercing. At the end of my thirteenth birthday, the two pastors along with Mom and Dad pulled me aside. They told me that I had a big head because I told everyone it was my birthday. I was still in a lot of trouble, and I shouldn’t forget that. “You are going to Hell because you don’t have Jesus in your heart. You need to figure it out.” I didn’t get my ears pierced. I went home with a heavy heart. Jenn had gotten her ears pierced a few months ago. I was so jealous. I am forgetting what birthdays used to be like. Planning slumber parties, cake, and presents. They are fading away. Mom and Dad don’t have time/money/energy for that anyway. If I had a party, I am sure I would get a big head for all the attention and presents I would receive. This way there was one less thing to get in trouble about.

I am under the microscope, being called back to the office at least once a day. Sometimes multiple times. The teachers feel like I am giving them attitude. Possibly I am. One good thing about the office, I don’t have to worry about Ted grabbing my leg under the desk. Going to the office is usually the same script: What am I mad about? I don’t know. Start naming things. I always say the wrong things. Eventually, they tell me what I am mad about. I apologize, I try to make it right. It can’t be made right, because I didn’t even see it, they had to tell me. I leave feeling frustrated and hopeless. I am weary. I head back to my desk, and Ted grabs my leg. His hand is starting to creep higher. I can’t take it anymore. The next time they call me back, I will tell them exactly why I am upset. The next day, this is it. The day I will tell the truth. Sure enough, I get called back to the office for saying “so” to a teacher when asking a question. (I should mention that my Mom and Dad were both teachers at the school. On this day, neither Mom nor Dad were volunteering.) As expected, they ask what I am mad about. I tell them, Ted is grabbing my leg under the desk. A teacher immediately leaves the room and returns with Ted. The principal (who is also the W pastor, Ted’s father) asks Ted if he is grabbing my leg under the desk. Ted laughs and says “no”. The M pastor enters the room. Someone must have told him what I said. They tell me that Ted is dating the prettiest girl in school, why would he grab my leg? They tell me that we are all going out into the school room. In the schoolroom, they tell me to stand in front of everyone. They ask Samantha to stand in front of everyone. Samantha’s desk is on the other side of Ted’s desk. I am immediately feeling awful. I feel like I am going to puke and my face feels tingly. I am standing on the left of the W pastor and Samantha on the right. W pastor asks everyone “Who here thinks that Samantha is prettier than Erica?” Everyone raises their hand, including Ted. “Who here thinks that Erica is prettier than Samantha?” No one raises their hand. Silence. “Thank you, back to work.” I am not allowed back to work. I am told to go back in the office. I am in big trouble. Everyone is yelling at me, I am crying. They tell me I am not breaking. I am lying about things. I am feeling like the worst type of sinner and there is no way out. I am feeling mad. I am frustrated. I feel betrayed. By everyone. I hear the downstairs door open. I hear footsteps on the stairs and then the rapid tap tap tap of heels and I know it’s Mom. They have called her from work to come get me. I am instantly overcome with guilt. Does this mean Mom won’t get her full paycheck? I am costing the family money with my problems now. Will this ever end? I am spiraling. I don’t hear what they say to Mom, I just want to leave.

The car ride home. Mom is silent. I don’t know what she is thinking. I have always cherished our car rides together. It is a time for us to talk one on one. Now it is different. My neck feels tingly. I don’t know what to say. I feel like crying but I have cried so much there is nothing left. We get home and Mom tells me to go to my room. I do not argue. I am exhausted. I hear Dad come home. Then Mom and Dad talking on the phone. I know they are talking to the pastors about the scene I caused today at school. Mom comes to my room and tells me to come out and talk with her and Dad. Mom and Dad didn’t spank me much. This time they did. Mom spanked me just a few times. I barely felt it. I felt numb inside and out. After the spanking, I went back in my room. I heard them talking on the phone again. That evening, I went silently about my chores and dinner. I went to bed feeling hopeless. I had no clear thoughts. I knew I couldn’t do anything right, and now it was affecting the family. I felt like a poisonous person and that I was destined for Hell. I looked over at my precious baby sister sleeping. I am over come with emotion. I think of Brother, and the terrible way I yell at him. I am the worst. What can I do?

~E

Family Reunion Pt. 2

Last night I stayed up chatting with my cousins. The ones closest to me, whom also live in Seattle. I had grabbed the box of leftovers and snacked on the homemade bread. The slices were double the size of a regular slice of bread. I looked down after snacking for a while, and saw that I had eaten three slices. I woke up Saturday morning feeling ready to walk with Aunt and Uncle. I didn’t want to eat anything except maybe a salad. On our walk we stopped to admire the architecture of the homes and churches around us. My favorite things to see was the different styles of stained glass. It was on most of the homes. I loved paying attention to the little things that made me feel connected to my family. Aunt and I were walking in front when I pointed out a spiral staircase fire escape. From about ten feet behind, I hear my Uncle saying “Look at that spiral staircase fire escape!” I smiled.

We all met for “breakfast” more like lunchtime. I had a salad, minus the croutons and cheese please. After brunch we headed to Grandma’s house. Today we were headed to the famous Junk Pile. Grandma and her sister love antiques. Grandma’s style is primitive. Her house is full of primitive dolls, furniture, and pictures. It is fun to walk around and look at all her treasures. One of her favorite places is the Junk Pile, it is an antique mall on the edge of town. I am not sure if I will find anything I want, I am excited to see where Grandma likes to spend time. I ride in the car with Grandma. She is not looking for anything in particular. She says she is always surprised when she gets there. Upon arrival, I am surprised to see it is a rather organized junk pile. There are a lot of old tools, kitchen items, gardening items, license plates, and much more. I love to see the unconventional items they use for price tags. In the garden section, it was all playing cards with the price written in permanent marker. Finally, someone is thinking about reusing and recycling. 11998850_10153611047064114_5538793255509260206_nI found a few items I thought might be interesting, but put them back. I had enjoyed my experience with Grandma, and the rest of the family. I loved seeing what caught each individual’s eye. It was always something different. Even my cousin’s husband, who is from Germany. He thinks that most of the American antiques are just “junk”. Even he found some things he liked.

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After the junk pile we headed back to the hotel. A cousin had rented a suite and we were having a potluck. Although only one person had made all the food. We brought all the drinks and ice. I was still appreciative for all the food having been prepared. We walked in and it smelled great. Barbecued meats, potato salad, and chips. It was a very relaxed atmosphere. We all rotated around the room, making sure no one was left out. I got talking to Great Uncle. He was feeling a little down this day, mostly because he was feeling old and tired. I was able to share with him something I had read in a book the d11999018_10153606111224114_1564632529813179401_nay before about aging. That we are not only the age we are now, but also all the other ages we have been. I’m paraphrasing. I asked him about his life. His education, jobs, and places they have lived. Even though he felt ordinary, I was fascinated. 11988669_10153608731099114_9129924832569837381_n (1)

Great Aunt came by, and we all took turns hugging her, and telling her how beautiful she is. It was awesome to see her face light up. Those closest to her told us that she has not been this happy in a long time. She has a little trouble with every day things like eating and talking. She is in a wheelchair and has a live in nurse. It meant a lot to me that she remembered me, and that I have three little boys. She says I need a little girl. I don’t think so! I gave her hugs and kisses on her cheek. It was a very special day.  11953089_10153606111219114_1955564595951135454_n

12003157_10153614773539114_700653127415856155_n11705377_10153614773529114_5339163490311868267_nAfter a few hours, I was starting to feel antsy. I had been sitting for a long time, and started feeling trapped in the room with a lot of people. I needed to walk. I wanted a few minutes to breathe. I sat down and worked on a few drawings, thinking if I kept my hands busy maybe that would help. It didn’t. I knew that Auntie wanted to get a t-shirt from JoeStock. I asked her if she wanted to take a walk and go get one now. Thankfully, she said yes. Auntie, her cousin, and I walked down to JoeStock.11990385_10153606111209114_8839696777353486518_n There was an Ozzie Osbourne cover band playing. I thought it was pretty great. When they started playing an original song (it wasn’t that great) we decided to walk back. A walk was what I had needed. Getting out and moving felt great. We saw a bookstore/bar that had live music inside and we decided to pop in for a drink. Auntie’s cousin bought me a beer. I smiled and said thank you. It was a cute little place with books lined up on the wall in different categories. We sat around talking for about fifteen minutes. I thought about buying a book, and then I remembered the huge pile next to my bed at home. Back at the hotel, the family had thinned a bit. A few of the great Aunts had gone home. It felt a little more relaxed. Grandma started telling stories of her life. This is what I had been waiting for. I pulled out my phone and recorded some conversations. I loved hearing about the greatest day of her life. The day her divorce from her abusive husband was final. A few others decided to go down to the bar. I stayed in the room with Grandma and Auntie. Grandma was going to stay the night at the hotel. I was sitting next to Grandma on the couch. This is what my heart had longed for all those years. To sit close to family, and listen to them speak. To have conversations with those who truly loved me and had known me from birth. I felt my heart becoming full. I will never forget staring at Grandma while she talked. Hearing her accent and admiring her beautiful skin. She is silly, smart, and brave. Stubborn as anything but loves her family the most. I laughed at the way Auntie treated me like her baby. She kept saying “I gotta take care of my baby girl”. I truly loved it. We are all dealing with this loss of time in our own way. To love and be loved now is the goal. I didn’t want to, but it was time for bed. Tomorrow is the last full day.

Sunday morning, I am laying in bed enjoying the fact that I am awake, but don’t have to move. No little ones prying me out of bed. I hear a loud “knock knock knock” on the door. I can tell from how loud the knocking is, that it must be someone with fake knuckles. My Grandma. I open the door. She is wearing the clothes from last night. She says she is going home and we will meet at her sister’s house later for a barbecue. I’m excited. We are all anticipating this day because it is an idoor/outdoor party, and the hottest day of the weekend. Also the highest humidity. Auntie decides she wants to eat out and I decide I was espresso. I am tired of the regular watered down coffee from the lobby. We head to Starbucks before picking up a cousin for some shopping at the mall. Cousin wants a wallet and I want some sandals. Auntie just loves to shop. Once again, I am just enjoying time with family. We shop rather quickly in three stores before heading to Great Aunt’s house.

I love walking up to the family. Everyone is smiles, hugs, and kisses. Everyone, including Great Aunt, was sitting in the driveway eating yummy looking barbecue under some shade tents. There was misters attached to hoses in an attempt to keep everyone cool. It was hot, but not too bad. It was really humid. I looked at Great Aunt, wondering how she was handling it. She looked just fine. I suppose she is accustomed to this heat and humidity. I enjoyed eating and talking with everyone. I did not necessarily enjoy sitting in a pool of sweat. I would stand up as much as possible. Eventually a bunch of us went inside to enjoy the air conditioning. It was not a very long barbecue since it was too hot for most

We all went home to shower and nap before dinner. Most of the relatives were flying out in the morning, so this would be our last meal together. I caught wind of some people going to the casino. The casino is another place where Grandma loves to go to have fun. While I don’t usually like casinos, I decide to go because I don’t want to miss out on family time. The casino was really smoky, I decide it’s too smoky for me, but I saw a nature preserve building just a short walk away. So I decide to take a walk along the Missouri river. I went over and kissed Grandma on the cheek before heading outside. I took a deep breath of fresh air and decided to call home. I had been so busy with family, that I hadn’t called home a lot. I walked

along the river and had a good conversation with Husband. Everything was good at home. He had taken the boys to the county fair because I wanted a picture of baby riding a pony. I told him about our adventures. I was starting to miss Husband and my children. I was looking forward to going home. The river was beautiful, and by the time I got to the nature preserve, it was closed. That was okay. I was enjoying some alone time to gain clarity and check in with family at home. 12003165_10153611047069114_3018214668635220273_n

Once back at the casino, I sat outside on a bench for a few minutes and waited for everyone. As much as I don’t like breathing smoke, I also really don’t like my clothes and hair to smell like smoke. I sat there watching out for bugs, and then I spotted the family slowly trickling out. They decided they wanted to walk along the river path. That was fine with me, I love to walk. A few of them had won some money inside, but they all had fun. Cousin and I walked down the dock, and I dipped my toes in the water. It was warm. I would have been tempted to jump in, except it was also muddy brown. We decided on air conditioned cars and dinner. 11986464_10153608731124114_6111847695831764682_n 12002300_10153614847654114_2914029980693843695_n

We drove to a pizza restaurant for dinner. It was so good. The cousins from New York said it was almost as good as their favorite pizza close to their house. I believe it. I sat next to my Dad’s cousin, and we talked of more visits. Telling each other we were welcome for visits at either of our homes. I was feeling a little sad that our time was almost done. Everyone was talking about going back to work, and our regular lives. I felt satisfied with the time we spent together this weekend. It was a beautiful beginning to the rest of our lives together. I feel the family bond forming. After dinner, we gathered in Aunt and Uncle’s hotel room. We needed to finish the beer and wine. No one was ready to say good-bye. We sat around talking for a long time. Before we knew it, bedtime had arrived. Most people had to get up early. Auntie, who had been my roommate, was going to stay at Grandma’s tonight, and I didn’t know if I would see them in the morning. More hugs and kisses, and most went to bed. I stayed up with cousins in their room for a little while. There was one more bottle of wine and three more beers to finish. We had a little trouble finding cups, so I d12004704_10153608731119114_1135775679804559696_numped out my fruit cups and we used those. It ended up looking like urine samples. We laughed and cheered with our fruit/wine cups.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        12002994_10153614858624114_4286833837657490753_n

The next morning, I woke up early. I had some serious figuring out to do. How was I going to fit everything in my carry on? I got a text from Cousin that we were going to Grandma’s for breakfast. Yay! It took me about an hour, but I got everything organized in my bags. I went down to the lobby for coffee before we all went to Grandma’s house. I have one memory from when I was a child, before the cult, of Grandma making pancakes for me. I went in the kitchen to see if breakfast was ready. She said “No, do you want some syrup?” I thought “yes” but this was before I knew that “syrup” meant a swat on the bottom. I told Grandma that story and she laughed. Grandma’s house smelled like bacon and pancakes. Even though my stomach was still full from the last few days, the smell was heavenly. I did not interfere with the cooking process. We all stayed in the living room while Grandma was busy in the kitchen. I sat next to Auntie and we enjoyed our last few moments together. We were both so tired. I got the feeling that she wanted to stay forever. I don’t think Auntie was looking forward to going home. If my kids and Husband were there, I wouldn’t want to go home either.1898244_10153608731114114_6321324435036626867_n Goodbye hugs and kisses for Auntie, and we noticed she was starting to cry. While the van was backing out of the driveway, we all went out to the front walk to wave. I could see Auntie’s hand waving back through the tinted glass. I wanted her to remember the smiles and the waves. I hoped they would carry her safely home. Back inside, Cousin took a nap while the rest of us took turns sneaking into the kitchen and cleaning little bits, so Grandma wouldn’t find out. She said she would clean it when we left, but we didn’t want to make her do that. We talked about Grandma’s favorite antiques, and some of her antiquing adventures. She loved Amish country. I learned that Amish restaurant’s don’t have much flavor, but Grandma loves their gooseberry pie. I want to lock all these things into my memory. We walked outside and looked at the garden one more time. We walked around the house one more time, saying our mental goodbyes. Pretty soon it was time to say our real goodbyes and promises of future visits. 11998835_10153608731339114_3262895589116174740_n 11990510_10153608731344114_5618479842758163972_n 12002054_10153608731359114_7193185484335994297_n We took a short detour through Kansas City, before realizing the store we were headed to was closed. Then it was off to the airport. At this point, I am anxious to see my children. I want the hugs and kisses. My lap feels empty without them. Cousin shares a movie with me on the plane, which helps to pass the time. I get so sad flying over the mountains, to see the air faded with smoke from the wildfires. Then I see Mount Rainier and know that I am almost home. The plane takes a wide circle over Seattle before heading for the runway. As soon as we touchdown, I am texting Husband. I am home! They have been tracking my flight, anxious for my arrival. I say my quick goodbyes to Aunt, Uncle, and Cousins before rushing out the doors to meet my family. I hear “honk!” And see the van. I opened the sliding door and see the most beautiful faces in the world. My boys. They are smiling and happy. I am home. My heart is a little more full than when I left. I am encouraged and peaceful. Husband and I hold hands the entire ride home. I cherish this family, and I love this family. I am loved and I am cherished.

~E

Family reunion Pt. 1

I was allowed to see very few family members during our time in the cult. However, I did not see my Dad’s side of the family for nearly 25 years. They would occasionally pop in for a surprise visit. These visits were always short. I would feel worried that I would get in trouble for family being at our house. As if I was responsible. I did not see Dad’s family for birthdays, Christmases, summer breaks, and even my wedding. In the years since leaving the cult, I have been in touch with the closest family members. Grandma, Grandpa, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins. Most of the family at the reunion I had not seen in at least 25 years, if at all. All this time we were in the cult, I was told that family didn’t love me. That they had forgotten about me. What I did not know was that my family would send my siblings and I presents and cards every year. I am not sure how those packages were intercepted. I am assuming since we always lived with some sort of leadership, that they were responsible for us not getting our presents. Also, my Aunt had hired a lawyer and private investigator. They were working the whole time to get us out of the cult. There was a plan to take my siblings and I to lunch one day and then just keep us after wards, but I ended up having to babysit the day of the lunch. They had to take us all, not just Brother and Sister. Knowing these facts helps to change my memories. All the times that I felt alone, that no one was thinking of me, that wasn’t true. They were working for us. They wanted us, and they never stopped caring. When I look back at the little girl in my memory, there is some light. She felt she was in darkness, but all along there was soldiers going to war for her. She is wanted and she is cherished. The little girl does not know this, but there is love waiting for her.

Five days in St. Joseph, Missouri. Thursday through Sunday away from my husband and children. I am looking forward to sleeping, eating, and spending time with family. I have never been away from my children for more than a night. In the weeks leading up to this trip I am finding myself having feelings similar to the nesting feelings I had when I was pregnant. I wanted to get the house “ready” for when I was gone. I was cleaning, shopping, and planning. I found myself feeling stressed. Then I looked at my actions and suddenly realized that I didn’t have to feel this way. I decided I would do a few things and trust Husband with the rest. The few things I chose to do was: get all the laundry done, the dishes caught up, and make sure the dog and cat food was fully stocked. I got my to do list done and I felt good. I made a few decisions before I left. 1) I was not going to get mad at Husband about the state of the house when I got back. I was going to trust that he would take care of the children and that everything would be okay. 2) I was going to approach my family with my arms wide open. I was going to live this experience to the fullest. I was going to give love and receive love. I was going to say thank you often. I would feel no guilt.

I felt peaceful when packing. I felt peaceful when riding to the airport. Until we took the exit and I saw the white airplane on the blue sign. Airport this way. I was overcome with a wave of emotions. Nervous, happy, worried, excited, unsure, and overjoyed. It was really happening. This was it. I spoke these feelings to Husband. He held my hand, the way he always does to reassure me. He understood and helped me to center myself. We said our goodbyes and I went to meet my family.

I met my family at a restaurant/bar one the other side of security. We all had drinks before getting on the plane. We raised a toast to Fricking Family Fun. I did not feel nervous. I felt happy. I felt that I was a part of the family. The flight was non-stop. I sat next to my cousin, and felt no anxiety.

We landed and set to work finding our bags and making our way to the rental cars. First opportunity for guilt: we were at the counter doing the paperwork for the car. I didn’t have enough money on my card for the amount they wanted to hold. We discussed it, and Aunt had a card she could use. I just said “thank you”. No guilt. We would all split the cost at the end of the trip. Time to drive to St Joseph. We were going to drive to the hotel first, then Grandma’s house. But Grandma was texting. Everyone was there, where were we? We laughed and drove to Grandma’s. No guilt. Upon arrival, we saw cars lined up on the street and we knew which house was Grandma’s. While we were walking up the sidewalk, the door opened, and we heard cheering. Our family was so happy to see us. Cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts, and Grandma. Hugs and kisses. Sweet embraces. I was welcome. I was wanted. I am cherished. I took it all in with open arms. Some I had never met, or it had been around 25 years. We sat around talking before deciding to go check in to the hotel, then meet back at Grandma’s for pizza and beverages. After checking in, we rushed to Grandma’s for eating, drinking, and talking. A few family members asked me some questions about my past, but mostly just about my family and current life. I am eagerly listening to everyone about their lives. After dinner Auntie and I drive over to Great Aunt’s house with Grandma’s sister and one of my cousins. We say goodnight to Great Aunt, with more kisses and hugs. She shows me a picture on the wall of the family house in Maryville, the town we are going to visit tomorrow.

11951974_10153608731104114_6715874895825348221_nWhen we get back from Great Aunt’s house, everyone decides to head for their beds. Auntie and I stop at Wal Mart on the way to the hotel so we can get breakfast items for the morning. While we are there, cousin sends me a text that there is a surprise at the bar. I wonder “is it my Dad?” Auntie wonders “is it my husband?” Her husband passed away earlier this year and she still hopes to see him. I love her so much. We drive eagerly to the hotel and walk by the bar. There is Grandma and her sister! We sit around having more drinks and talking. No one wants the day to end. 11987055_10153606111099114_7760317478922553372_n

Friday morning- I am glad that we bought breakfast items, and grateful for the free coffee in the lobby. What a great, uninterrupted, night of sleep. I haven’t had one of those in years. Auntie and I wake early and get ready for the day. We plan to go to Maryville! The town where Grandma and her family have their roots. In the car, Uncle tells me a story about my Great Grandpa. How he used to clean a bar in town, and when he was done he would always take a shot of Wild Turkey then head home. The caravan parks at the town square, and I am in love with the large brick building, and benches under the shady trees. Grandma gets out of her car, and tells us all to get out. She tells her kids and their cousins that they are supposed to find 823 N. Mulberry. On foot. We ask them if they remember which direction and they all point. 11892052_10153606111109114_8844825427387875512_n They start on foot and we all drive. They all found the correct house. It has been completely rebuilt. Different than the picture I saw on the wall. But Grandma and Uncle tell me all about how it used to look. I am using my imagination. We play at the park across the street.
I feel so happy and connected to my family. I am listening to stories of growing up in 11226178_10153606110764114_1643390047894466621_nthis town. Grandma went to college here. Uncle was born here. I am taking it all in. I never want to forget. It is a charming town. Best of all, it holds some of my roots. They told me where the water tower used to be, and all the stories of getting into mischief. Then it is time to head to the cemetery and see where my Great Grandparents are buried.11998850_10153606111484114_3174598685733954124_n If you have read my past blog posts, these are the ones I believe used to come visit me, as spirits, when I was little. The cemetery is beautiful. Featuring rolling hills, and a single dirt road winding through the grassy fields that contain the plots. We all disperse, eager to see the headstones of our relatives who have passed. Grandma finds the ones with our family names. She points to the headstones, explaining how we are connected with each one. I feel deep respect. The headstones are covered in grass, and partially grown over. Most of us get to work, on our hands and knees. Clearing away the overgrowth to reveal the beauty underneath. Three of the men work together to carry Great Aunt up to the headstone that marks her parent’s grave. Grandma says a few jokes about what she wants done with her ashes. I laugh, but I am not ready to think about that right now. 11986311_10153611046809114_7663435273072334909_n 12009709_10153611046804114_3926377188663290773_n When we finish cleaning up, we decide it’s off to the Saloon. Only a few of us want shots of Wild Turkey, the others have beer. We toast to family. We play pool and dance to music. We wash the dirt from our hands and forget about our knees. We smile and try to think of what life was like a few generations before us.10505568_10153611046904114_3639791729170279507_n   11990445_10153611046939114_7619785129653196623_nAfter the Palms, we head to a restaurant for lunch. Great Aunt surprises me when she says she will pay for my lunch. An opportunity to feel embarrassed, unworthy, or guilty. I smile and say “thank you”. I accept the gift, and let in the love. I am cherished. We decide that we need to buy memorabilia from this town. I decide to get shirts for my boys, a hat, and a water bottle. Great Aunt decides to buy a shirt for my oldest boy. I smile and say “thank you”. I am loved. Arms open with acceptance.

Back in St Joseph, we decide to rest a while before meeting for dinner. A few family members are walking down to a music festival called “JoeStock”. Featuring local musicians. I walk with them. I don’t want to miss a thing. Once there, we hear barking coming from a nearby car. We are all disgusted that a dog was left alone in a car on a ninety degree day. A few minutes goes by and we see the windows get rolled down. We are a little relieved, and then the dog jumps out the window and is running in the street. I decide it is my time to help this dog. I take off running across the street. The dog doesn’t want me to come close. She is barking and circling around the car, scared and unsure. I decide to sit on the sidewalk to let her know I am not a threat. She runs to the other side of the car and attempts a jump into the back window. Only her front half made it. She is hanging on, kicking with her back feet, trying to gain enough traction to hoist herself into the car. She needs my help to get back in. I walk up behind her, she is barking, letting me know she doesn’t want me to grab her. I tell her, “I am just going to scoop you in to the car.” I then push up on her rear, she pees on me, and jumps the rest of the way into the car. I am standing there looking at her, assessing the situation. Just then, the owner walks up. I am relieved. We exchanged a few words, then I walked away to wash my hands. When that excitement was through, I was ready for a nap. I walked back to the hotel with my family, we had enough of JoeStock.

Dinner on Friday. I know nothing about this restaurant. We are going to eat and we are going to be together. That’s all that matters. Even though I am still full from lunch. I am ready to spend more time with family. We walk in, it is cozy with dark wood accents and large dining tables. It is a family restaurant. Our family has a private dining room in the back. Two long tables are set up for us. Grandma and I decide to sit by each other near the door. As the family members arrive, we greet each other with smiles and holding hands. This is what I imagine Heaven will be. Walking through a door and greeting your loved ones waiting for you. It will be a joyous reunion. This experience is feeling surreal. I am floating on a cloud of love and happiness. The interesting thing about this restaurant is they have no menus. They will bring you the food. They specialize in fried chicken and the special of the evening is fresh baked bread. My anxiety sometimes centers around food. I am afraid of eating something to which I am allergic. I can get obsessed with knowing ingredients when this panic comes over me. Tonight, I am deciding to breathe deeply, and enjoy the evening. I let go of the food anxiety. They start with soup and salad. Then comes huge platters of fried chicken, bowls of corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, and of course bread. I eat everything except the bread. I am so stuffed I cannot eat another bite. The waiters wrap the leftover chicken in tinfoil the shape of birds, and we drive back to the hotel. 11954836_10153606111104114_6534640185671384857_nMy cousin from New York had arrived this morning with her husband. The family gathered at the hotel bar. She showed deep interest in my past life. This is the night that I spoke very openly with her and everyone about my experience in the cult. She shared some experiences about her life that were also difficult. I did not feel embarrassed or ashamed. My family told me how strong I am. I am believing them. They tell me they read my blog. I am happy about this. It helps me to share my experiences, and to know they are listening. Arms open, I accept the love. They tell me they thought about me the whole time I was gone. They talked about my siblings and I. They wanted to see us and show us love. I receive their embrace. 11954796_10153606111369114_4675813372436668737_n