My Perspective of Rosanne Henry and Leona Furnari’s Presentation to the Annual SGA Workshop
First I should offer a little background on my perspective. I have been out of the group I was involved with almost a little longer now than I was in. My parents were part of a generation of Catholics that was attracted to what some people now view as cultic groups—the people who passed through our home were Hamish Frazier higher-ups, priests of Opus Dei, Pius X, and other Tridentine types. Many of these individuals were, I realized much later in life, devotees to the leadership and not the concepts or precepts of Catholicism. Eventually, as it turns out, my parents settled on one group based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They have clung to this group their entire lives.
When I was a mere 13 years old and just beginning to appreciate the opposite sex, a young lady named Bridget caught my eye and fancy (although she never knew). I mistakenly (in hindsight) told my parents about my new-found crush one evening on the way home from a parent/student/teacher event. They rushed home and called one of the stateside group leaders, who informed my parents that their only option was to send me to the group’s headquarters in Brazil because the laws in the United States would not tolerate them keeping me out of school.
Although my parents had already taken many steps to isolate me and my siblings from the rest of the world, what happened next was extreme. They emptied my bank account of money I had worked hard to earn and used it to purchase a one way airplane ticket to Sao Paulo, Brazil with a letter of parental custody pinned to my shirt so that one of the Brazilian leaders could act in my best interest. Despite numerous pleadings to allow me to return home, my parents literally turned their backs on me while sending me off to South America. I was left to spend the next 13 years abandoned and orphaned in what I much later realized was a destructive cult.
I was around 26 years old when, after having been sent back to the group’s Mt. Kisco, New York headquarters, I was able to gather all the courage I could muster and walk away. I had spent 13 years of my life in isolation, knowing nothing but the rules of the group my parents had abandoned me to. When I emerged, it was as if I entered a different world. I was an alien on my own planet. The others around me looked like me and talked like me, but that’s all I had in common with the rest of the planet. I floundered for years before accidentally stumbling upon an organization that at the time helped people who had been involved in cults.
Throughout my recovery, I realized that there was a strong difference between folks who joined cults in adulthood and left, and a child raised in such an environment. I attended many ICSA conferences, which were exceedingly informative and encouraging; yet a piece was always missing. I wasn’t recovering from an experience I had walked into, like most of the people at these conferences. Rather, my parents had placed me there, and I had desperately tried to survive.
It is my great fortune that at this time ICSA was beginning to recognize that people born or raised in cults face issues different from those who joined as adults, and that those issues are profound and complicated. From this realization was born the ICSA Second Generation Adult (SGA) workshops, now entering their seventh year.
At my first workshop, Rosanne Henry and Leona Furnari gave an early form of their presentation, which deals with the elements of healthy individual development, resiliency, and the differences between how children develop in a healthy family and how children develop in a dysfunctional environment.
As they began their presentation at this first workshop I attended, unfolding the layers of “normal” childhood development and environment, I lasted about fifteen minutes before I abruptly left the room, overwhelmed with… what? I later realized this concise presentation brought me face-to-face with the stark reality of my own childhood—with what it was not. I was horrified and shocked. When the presenters introduced the subject of resiliency, something I never saw in myself or, at that point, realized I even was capable of, I could take in only little snippets, with long breaks to catch my breath. I felt mentally sucker punched.
When the discussion turned toward the difference between healthy and dysfunctional families, I think I just abandoned the discourse completely and sank into a deep, dark depression. Ironically for me, this state was a radical catalyst in my brain. It is true: Knowledge is power. What I had survived in my life was so much more intense that this was easier to deal with; not easy, but easier.
I was not alone in being disturbed by the presentation. To ICSA’s, and both Rosanne and Leona’s credit, after having observed the reactions of the participants and listening to their (pretty stiff) criticism, they reworked their presentation. This was uncharted territory for all involved.
I have attended four workshops now, and this presentation has become a fluid tool of recovery. It flows from workshop to workshop, transforming and adjusting to the present attendees. It has evolved from a colder, clinical presentation to an interactive support session that I actually look forward to revisiting each year; I consider it a great piece of my own personal recovery arsenal.
My inner child, little “Ck,” heals as he sees what a parent should have been and tries to parent and nurse the injured soul within. A new awareness accompanies my day-to-day life as I struggle to discern healthy and unhealthy attachments. The attunement I was deprived of as a child is something I try to recreate while I parent myself. I have growing confidence that nurturing my own recovery and growth is not selfish. I am putting healthy building blocks in place of the virtually unstable foundation life meted out to me.
The description and unveiling of what constitutes a healthy family is pivotal to the recovery of everyone born or raised in a high-demand group. Yes, as we listen to the presentation, especially those of us hearing it for the first time, we swirl with emotions; but as we talk, we expand what I like to call the “fox-hole buddy” experience. My fox-hole buddy analogy is that all the participants, even though they may come from vastly different styles of destructive groups, share experiences that only those who have been there can truly grasp.
Resiliency is still probably one of the most difficult topics. Yet, as I write this, I am also overwhelmed with my own resiliency. So why is it so difficult? I think in part it is because we SGAs tend to be quite harsh on ourselves (what another facilitator calls “the harsh conscience of an SGA”), and also because oftentimes I just do not see the forest for the trees. As the concept and components of resiliency are presented to us, the process does tend to open my eyes and give me more hope.
The dictionary defines resiliency as follows:
“the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress”;
“an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”
Both of these definitions really do define my recovery. Rosanne and Leona, you are right.
About the Author
Patrick Rardin was born in California. At the age of 13 his parents signed over custody to a destructive cult based in Brazil. He remained involved with the cult in Brazil for several years and then in their US based compounds. He eventually walked away from the group at the age of 26. After pursuing several employment opportunities, he now runs his own technology consulting firm in upstate New York. Additionally he spends much of his time still recovering and helping others recover from similar childhood experiences.