I feel like I am sitting back and witnessing a weird, ironic train-wreck in the cult I was raised in, but one that I feel useless to do anything about.
As a kid, I got so used to not being heard. From a very early age. I spoke up about being hungry and bored at the camps. Nothing. I spoke up about being beaten and punished at boarding school. Nothing. I spoke up about being dirty and hungry and bullied. Nothing. I (no, we) spoke up about the assaults by Nanak Dev. Nothing. I spoke up about being psychologically abused by Hari Kaur. Nothing. I spoke up about my fear of arranged marriage–one where I’d be chosen from a list and cornered into a life of servitude. Nothing.
I spoke up about wanting to just be heard without hearing excuses. Nothing. Only more excuses. Only more denial. And Still. Nothing.
This relationship… the one where I’m speaking, and not getting anything back? It’s like shouting into an empty well.
But… what is it about that empty well?
Why do I google things like “3HO abuse” or “Yogi Bhajan Rapist”. Why do I check the ssscresponse.org for updates? Why did I talk to AOB? Why do I even want to see what that AOB report has to say? Because let’s be real. No way will it cover the full scope of harm done by this community.
That harm is deep and forever lasting. The harm is a specter that carries on with its malevolence long after we are grown up. The harm stunted our development and prevented us from being truly free. Look at this way: Many of us are still overly cautious about speaking out publicly. It’s not surprising, really.
This caution is a symptom of the ongoing, lasting harm of abuse and neglect. Neglect can impose a forever need to be seen, heard and loved. It can impose a forever fear of being rejected if we upset those who were were supposed to love us and care for us. It can make us feel like no one will ever love us for who we are. This harm–the loss of attachment–strips from us our bodily and psychological autonomy.
I speak in the abstract, but also the personal. I happen to have a loving and stable with my spouse–one in which I am seen, heard and loved unconditionally. Yet there are times when I still manage to feel that this reality doesn’t match my inner experience. During times of stress (about this kind of stuff) especially, I can start to talk myself out of being loved, and instead I look to the place where I never got it and try to hope that it will maybe be there. So what happens? I go back to that well again, and I lower my bucket into it, and I pull it back up and it’s empty again.
And then I feel angry–at myself for having hope that there will be water there. And at my parents for leaving it dry. And then I feel sad that I’ll never get to experience a truly fundamental part of being human–that physical bond between parent and child. That unconditional, yet sometimes tense, bond with siblings. Sometimes I even feel a little sorry for myself, like, “Why me? Am i so flawed, ugly and useless that I had to be left alone like that? Is it me? Am I just stupid? Is that the reason they don’t want to hear me or see me?”
I know. I know. Pu-lease! Just… Stop for a second.
Stop for a second, and take the time to see that little, five-year old child who’s trying to say she is hungry. What would your reaction be? What would you do to help this child?
In normal circumstances, what would any normal person do?
Reflecting on that? How our parents reacted was not normal, or healthy or okay. Even when they thought they were doing the right thing. One camp when they came to pick me up I had lost so much weight they didn’t see me in the crowd. The following summer though, my mom enlisted to help cook the meals. And yeah, that summer I wasn’t too hungry, and I saw her everyday which was awesome. But then, after that same summer, someone told her to leave me and my sister at Ram Das Puri. And then, that’s what happened.
So then whatever small efforts were made were immediately unravelled by the machinations of the cult structure. Any parents tried to navigate as best they could someone more wealthy, more powerful and more connected to YB or his inner circle would interfere and ratchet-up the pressure. And because of that structure, my parents, and more and more parents became part of that pressure-chorus.
It’s not like that pressure wasn’t resisted by us, the second generation. After me and my siblings left in the mid-90’s, it’s not like we stopped speaking up. It’s not like we gave up on our pleas to be seen and heard. Oh no. We speak. Like fucking broken records. Unfortunately both of my parents chose to cover their ears and to settle into their habitual place of ignoring reality and ignoring our needs. And if we ever pushed it into too uncomfortable territory for them, they’d lash out and say unnecessarily cruel things.
This pattern–silence, denial, excuses, diminishment, gaslighting, defensiveness and combativeness–it isn’t unique to my parents. No way. And you know what? We don’t have to coddle them. If they want to continue on that route, we don’t have to enable it.
They may or may not change. It’s up to them. Set a boundary. Stick to it. It’s not comfortable but it is necessary. The void of our early childhood loss will never be filled by enabling their destructive patterns.