I just turned my desk calendar to September and I am wearing shorts below and three layers on top. We haven’t broken 65 degrees in this part of VT for three days now, but I’m enjoying these shorts nonetheless. It feels a bit vain to say this, but I like wearing shorts right now because my legs are actually tan – a rare occurrence for this white-skinned northern Vermonter. Most years my legs are so white that I’m shy to wear shorts in public. Seeing some color on my legs is a warm affirmation of this extraordinary summer that ironically, I am so glad is over.
Last week I wrote in my journal something like “I have never had a summer of such fun, splendor and joy and I have never been so happy to be approaching September.” When I returned home from the annual Baggins Girls weekend in Cape May NJ on August 21st, which is always the most fun weekend of the entire year, I was concluding my sixth major trip or vacation this summer! In addition, I also went to my family reunion, buried my father’s ashes in the Adirondacks, made multiple trips to MA for family, pleasure and education, sent our daughter Sophie off to Kyrgyzstan and the list goes on. All this, while a part of me longed to simply be at home, to tend the chickens, the bees and the steady flow of guests in our Dream Haven cottage.
Sleeping in my own bed for this past week has been a delicious necessity. I have needed to be very close to home this week and my body has made darn sure that I don’t stray too far. Since the end of March, which is when our summer really began with our trip to Baja Mexico, I have been riding a rollercoaster of bodily … let’s call it sensations, for now.
In sharp contrast to my otherwise glorious summer of delight, the last 5 months have dished out some hearty doses of physical challenge: a recurring bronchial struggle that would simply not go away for more than a couple weeks, a hyper thyroid, a smashed elbow, a couple more private, shall we say, ‘conditions’ that were bizarre and then, right at the end of the summer… migraines! They started in Cape May, where I was relaxed, laughing and savoring the sun, wind and waves and continued right through to the end of August. Talk about intense! I have so much compassion now for my friends who get migraines. I also have compassion for myself and for my journey – inner and outer - this summer.
Part of me wants to linger with you, sharing each one of the many highlights of the summer of 2016. But for my blog, I am most interested in sharing the bigger picture – like why it is such a big deal for our family to take a vacation in the first place.
My husband, Bob and I have been together for over thirty years and until now; we were not good at taking vacations. Sure, we have had a few fantastic ones – but in truth, excluding this summer, I could count them on one hand. This is surely due in part to our choice to live modestly and our struggle to plan ahead. There is of course, another factor that weighs heavily here: our 19 year odyssey with CTL.
In addition to the weekly or bi-weekly individual therapy sessions, each level of membership in CTL required increasing levels of both volunteer hours and the number of required annual retreats. Because Doug is not licensed he cannot accept insurance and all therapy, events, retreats and travel were paid for out of pocket. As you can imagine, our pockets were continually being emptied for this work that we both were so devoted to and there was little left for family vacations. For years and years, Bob and I would leave our kids with friends, family, and paid babysitters to attend anywhere from two to five retreats a year. When we couldn’t afford a retreat, Doug was “generous” and allowed us (and others) to create a payment plan account. Our combined balance due grew to nearly 10K between us.
I need to pause. When I wrote that last sentence, about the payment plan being $10,000, I felt my stomach drop. I need to take a breath and ride some waves of shame, self-condemnation and anger that just rose up. Part of me wants to delete that sentence and move on, but I am learning that my healing process includes honesty and a lot of self-compassion. In this moment, I am aware of some nasty internal and external voices and the sting of shame – and I also feel a deeper stirring within me.
It is my passion to bring awareness of destructive groups into the world, for talking about the taboo subject of cults, for naming the personal loss that ensues from these all too pervasive dynamics and when I speak honestly, I feel empowered. And there is power in naming the specifics – like the $10,000 payment plan that kept me deeply indebted to Doug, ensuring a continued dynamic of power-over. And yes, I chose to attend each retreat and each class that I could not afford. What was unnamed however is that this ‘choice’ was imposed by a highly controlled, hierarchical system. I firmly and naively believed that each retreat or each class would bring me one step closer to the promised enlightenment that would allow me to someday enjoy the level of spiritual and financial freedom that Doug and the head teachers enjoyed. I was hooked in, line and sinker. I understand now that Doug, consciously or not, was promoting a relationship of dependency by his ‘generous’ offer to allow his clients to create a payment plan for services that they could not afford. I now know that this practice is illegal and is a tactic that narcissists use to ensure that their ‘subjects’ remain grateful and dependent on them. Learning to recognize this pattern is an essential tool for self-empowerment.
Bob saw the writing on the wall and left CTL and his work with Doug over a year before I did. We noticed a significant relief in our family budget then but I was still completely bought in and this extra breathing room only gave me greater license to increase my commitment to the group. It was not until I snapped out of my blind devotion on May 28, 2014 that I could begin to see the impact that my choices made on our family. As you can imagine, there are many, many layers here that I will explore through this blog.
I don’t know why the last 5 months have been riddled with physical complaints - perhaps it is all circumstance and just part of the post 50 woes. Or perhaps there is a link between the stressors of the past being finally catching up with me on a physical level. Or perhaps in some mysterious, homeopathic way, my ailments are actually part of my healing process. Or maybe it is a little of all of this. For today, I am deeply grateful for a week of feeling strong again, enjoying the brisk air of approaching autumn with vigorous walks, a great hike and even a little jogging through the woods!
For today, I am choosing compassion for myself and for my husband and our children in acknowledging why we had so few family vacations. It is painful and yet, we cannot change the past, only bring ourselves more fully into the present moment and bring more intention to our future. Based on our 2016 track record, I will raise a glass to cultivating rich life experiences more on the ecstasy spectrum and less of the agony. And I have reason to believe that I just might be savoring tan legs next summer too!
My blog is a place where I write what is rising to the top, like cream, and wants to be shared. Through writing, I am reclaiming a part of me that was left behind during a 18-year odyssey with a smart but destructive teacher and the high control group that developed around him. By sharing honestly, I hope to increase awareness of the prevalence of cultic dynamics both here in idyllic VT and worldwide. For the record, I am choosing to not name the group or the group leader. I refer to the group as “CTL” and the leader as “Doug”. Additionally, I change the names of family members, friends and acquaintances near and far to honor their privacy.