Recovery from Losses and Damages

Child going out into the world
Leaving the Assembly was the first step in getting free from its demands, but the full extent of its influence in your life unfolds over time. The Assembly was a Bible-based cult which exploited us and took a huge toll on our lives. This quote from Eugene Peterson is devastatingly apt:

The sheer quantity of wreckage around us is appalling...wrecked marriages, wrecked careers, wrecked plans, wrecked families, wrecked alliances, wrecked friendships, wrecked prosperity.

We avert our eyes. We try not to dwell on it. We whistle in the dark. We wake up in the morning hoping for health and love, justice and success, we build quick mental and emotional defenses...Are there any promises, any hopes that are exempt from the general carnage?
— "Working the Angles", Eugene Peterson

Not everyone will identify with all the issues mentioned here, depending on where you lived, how long you were a member, your age, your previous life experiences and other factors. Here is a summary of some of the issues. Recovery from a cult is a long process, but it is possible. Counseling with someone trained in trauma and cult issues is highly recommended.

• Emotional, Psychological & Cognitive Issues
• Social & Relational Losses
• Physical & Neurological Problems
• Spiritual Damages
• Letters to Wounded Pilgrims

Emotional, Psychological & Cognitive Issues

Elizabeth Esther's book, Girl at the End of the World:My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of faith with a Future and Lee Irons' review of it vividly describe the lasting intense effects on second-generation adults of growing up in the Assembly.

"Coming out of Cults", by famed cult expert Margaret Singer, identifies eleven common problems experienced by people leaving cults. Indecisiveness and the agonies of explaining are two that have particularly plagued former Assembly members.

Following the first "After the Cult" workshop sponsored by AFF (now ICSA) in 1994, Dr. Michael Langone wrote an insightful article, Reflections on Post Cult Recovery. He makes some very interesting observations and suggestions on the problem of trust, especially as it relates to God.

 A former member of the Legion of Christ wrote of the difficulties of re-entering normal life after a high-demand experience. Don't be discouraged if some of the issues listed are still a problem for you years after leaving the Assembly. As the writer says at the end, "Patience!"

In her article, "Repairing the Soul After a Cult Experience", Janja Lalich--cult survivor and university professor-- provides a definition of a cult that answers the question, "Was the Assembly a cult?" The Assembly exploited our faith in the possibility of a better church and a better Christian life. In a podcast interview with Dr. Ramani, "What Is a Cult?",Janja talks in more depth about how a cult affects people and how to recover.

Cognitive distortions are errors in thinking. Everyone experiences these once while, but in the thought reform process they become firmly entrenched. This brief article lists 10 cognitive distortions, and says, "The good news is, like any habit, these patterns of thinking can be broken and discarded through awareness and practice."

"Join Us - Better Felt than Telt", a prize-winning documentary premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2007. It follows twenty-one folks in real time as they leave their South Carolina Bible-based high-demand church and get help at Wellspring. The DVD is available on Amazon. Dave Sable reviewed the movie. He says, " certainly touches upon the list of characteristics of abusive churches – they are all there...But this is only secondary to what the movie is about. The movie is about people. It is about what abusive principles did to people emotionally."

There is a common misconception that if a Christian has been involved in an aberrational group, all they need for recovery is some good Bible teaching and warm Christian fellowship. In A Myth, Dr. Paul Martin, founder and director of Wellspring Retreat, wrote to correct this misunderstanding.

Social & Relational Losses

Couple Counseling in Violent Family Relationships, offers some direct advice in cases of domestic violence. Any wife who has experienced even one incident of violence should take heed. The situation would have been very different for Judy G. if the Leading Brothers had known and followed these warnings.

Mature Husbands and Fathers offers list of healthy characteristics. 

InternetmonkMichael Spencer, the Internet Monk, wrote a piece on Group Loyalty which complements Tom Maddux's article, Misplaced Loyalty, and will help people avoid repeating the same mistake.

Dr. Ron Burks counseled us in 1997 at Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center using a model from psychology to describe what goes wrong with personal interactions in a cult. A partial summary of his material is found in "A Guide to Healthy Communication." A great article on ending the Drama Triangle is linked at the end.

C. S. Lewis observes that the longing to be a part of the "inner ring " is one of the "great permanent mainsprings of human action". He warns that unless we take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of our lives.

A Real Marriage is excerpts from Chapter 7 of Families Where Grace Is in Place by Jeff VanVonderen (co-author of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse). The first half is about Eph.5:18-21, a great exposition of being filled with the Spirit, which applies to everyone, not just marriage. "Paul is actually presenting a major concept that empowers us to live the Christian life."

The fact that David Geftakys' spousal abuse went undetected for many years raises concern that there may have been other men in the Assembly who were perpetrating domestic violence. The blog, Sanctuary for the Abused, has a wealth of information, resources, and links, and also checklists to help you assess whether your situation is abusive.

Born or Raised in High-Demand Groups: Developmental Considerations, by Leona Furnari, LCSW, is an in-depth look at the effects on children in cults. Not all the issues apply to Assembly kids, but the ones that do are sobering.

Physical & Neurological Problems

High demand groups like the Assembly are very stressful, as we all know. An excerpt from the book Brain Longevity by Dr. D. S. Khalsa shows the destructive effects of chronic stress on the brain and the body.

Dr. Ron Burks' information on stress in a cult, together with Dr. Amen's work with SPECT scans, show the physiological effects of stress on the brain.

Chris and Mary were both very sick while they were in the Ottawa Assembly. They both improved amazingly after leaving. Their doctor told them he felt the reason they were so ill was that God had not designed our bodies to live under such a system as the Assembly. Eric Buchmann had a similar story.

Joe Sperling posted a very insightful piece on phobias people have as a result of their Assembly experience. There is a blog post on Post-Assembly Musings on this topic, as well.

Carol Giambolvo's website has a section on cult recovery. An article Coping With Triggers addresses an issue that most former Assembly members have to deal with at times. Carol was a retired exit counselor who sat on the board of ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association) and headed its recovery programs. She and her husband were involved in est and The Hunger Project, and their daughter was a devotee of ISKON.

Spiritual Damages

Excerpts from Recovering from Churches that Abuse by Dr. Ronald Enroth cover some of the common problems experienced by people who leave abusive groups. Several cases Dr. Enroth describes are drawn from interviews with former Assembly members. The complete book is now available online in PDF format.

Jeff VanVonderen, co-author of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, was interviewed by STEPS magazine on the subject of spiritual abuse. He makes this statement about the difficulty of recovery:

"I think that recovery from spiritual abuse is in some ways the most difficult of recovery journeys. One reason is that the person who has the greatest potential for helping us recover from spiritual abuse is the Person we feel most alienated from....So in recovery from spiritual abuse it is really important to give ourselves room to have little bits of faith. And also to learn to pay attention to our spiritual radar and to reconnect with our sense of blessing—and with the God who gives us that sense of blessing."

That is hopeful! But he is pessimistic about recovery for the perpetrators of spiritual abuse. He says, "I am aware of the track record and of how difficult it is for spiritually abusive people to see what’s real and to change that pattern."

The National Association of Christians in Recovery addresses spiritual issues that many former Assembly members are experiencing. See their insightful articles on bad religion and distorted images of God.

Brent T. describes the pharisaical spirit--an actor, appearing beautiful without, but actually filthy within.

Jeff VanVonderen has written an in-depth article entitled, "When You Are Ready To Try Again: Going Back To Church." He deals with the characteristics of hurtful churches and what he calls "grace-full churches." There is also a good section on learning to trust again.

Lee Irons highlights two facets of his doctrinal recovery from Assembly teaching in this excerpt from an April 2007 tribute to a mentor, Dr. Meredith Kline.

Tamilla P. shared this meditation about finding meaning in "being" rather than "having" and "doing" by Henri Nouwen from his book Out of Solitude.

In 1985 pastor Harold Bussell wrote about Why Evangelicals Are Vulnerable to Cults, that addresses something which still plagues many people who have left the Assembly-- the hankering for something better, something more. He says, "Evangelicals are seldom drawn to cults because of beliefs or doctrine but because in one of these areas, the cults offer something more," i.e. an ideal church, an ideal pastor, an ideal spirituality, etc.

Letters to Wounded Pilgrims

In 2006 Mark Campbell wrote a number of helpful and insightful responses on the Assembly bulletin board to questions and issues raised by the "wounded pilgrims" of the Assemblies. Mark's purpose in writing was to help wounded pilgrims recover their faith and to go on to healthy and prosperous lives in Christ. Mark uses the term "wounded pilgrim" to mean that as pilgrims having "sojourned" in the Assembly we should learn the valuable lesson that there is a True Friend who will take care of us after having been wounded and left half-dead. See Joe Sperling's comment below.

On Feelings

   Letter 1 – After all that's happened, is there any encouragement?
   Letter 2 – What's happened to my joy?

On Being Human

   Letter 3 – What is the "normal" Christian life? Is it okay to be "human"?

On Assembly Teaching

   Letter 4 – I am so confused.  I feel like I'm just barely holding on to my faith in  Christ.
   Letter 5 – Was the assembly teaching on the inheritance true?
   Letter 6 – It seems to me that George was "orthodox" in his view of salvation.  He does say after all that we are saved by faith, not works.  What's up with that?

On Reading the Bible

   Letter 7 – How can I recapture the joy of reading my Bible again?
   Letter 8 – Is it alright to interpret the Bible subjectively?
   Letter 9 – We were always seeking inner purity, preparing our hearts for God to speak to us. Isn't that Eastern mysticism?
   Letter 10 – Is there any one single overriding principle that I can use to understand the Bible?

On Prayer

   Letter 11 – What does it mean to have a quiet time, other than the assembly way?
   Letter 12 – I don't seem to know anything anymore, including my understanding of the Bible and how to pray.

On Deception

   Letter 13 – Who is deceived?
   Letter 14 – Isn't it better to have "heart knowledge" rather than "head knowledge"?

On Abuse

   Letter 15 – Can you recommend a book that will help me recognize when I'm being abused?
   Letter 16 – "I'm mad as heck, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"
   Letter 17 – Can the Assembly be called a "cult"?

On Being Honest

   Letter 18 – As I think about my past attitudes and behavior in the   assembly, I can't believe how proud I was.

On Grace

   Letter 19 – I am such a weak person. I feel sometimes that I'm beyond God's grace.
   Letter 20 –  Can I change my life by availing myself of God's grace?
   Letter 21 – Why do you say that the "Sinner Woman" in the Gospel accounts really understood grace?

On Spirituality

   Letter 22 – How does the Holy Spirit lead us?

On Staying in the Assembly

   Letter 23 – It's hard for me to give up the assembly because I've already invested a lot of time and energy in the assembly.

On Triggers

   Letter 24 – When I heard the phrase, 'The elders would like to meet with you', I experienced a moment of sheer terror.

Comment from Joe Sperling:

"I believe the "Wounded Pilgrims" thread has done a lot of good. And I'm sure no one denies that!!... Sometimes, the smallest thing can help one on the path to being free, and we never want to discount the value of one person to Jesus Christ. The Lord journeyed all the way across a lake to the Gadarenes to visit a man possessed by a demon just to free him. The Lord, through the BB and through the Wounded Pilgrims thread, has come to free and has freed souls from bondage.

Numbers aren't important---every soul is valuable to Him. That is actually one of the damaging aspects of the Assembly--there was so much talk about "corporate" identity, that many lost the belief in the extreme love the Lord has for each individual. I think that the Lord is out to bring back the wounded lambs, and part of that is definitely the Wounded Pilgrims thread."

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