When I left the Children of God in 1987 at twelve years old I had to start my life from scratch. In just one day my whole life had changed.
My newfound freedom was tainted by the fact that although I had escaped, other members of my family and childhood friends were still trapped in that world. What I had experienced was so extreme and so secret that there were times when I doubted myself that this dark world existed. Meeting other second generation ex-ers three years later who told similar stories, and who I could immediately relate to, was an important factor in doing what I could to somehow right the wrongs that were being committed against my generation every day.
I made a decision that I would not play ball and keep quiet. I have never regretted taking this position. Cult leaders demand 100 per cent loyalty and secrecy - in fact, they rely on it! My loyalty has always been to my family and to the truth. It was often stated by cult apologists and Family spokespersons that I was an isolated case. This was clearly not true, as can now be attested to through the cult's own literature and the accounts of thousands of other brave survivors who have been able to break free.
For many years, I was a lone voice speaking out against the abuse I suffered as a child, and even had to deal with my own father calling me a liar. I have consistently put my experience and knowledge to use by raising awareness about cults and never gave up hope that one day my family would be reunited. Revisiting the more traumatic memories from my childhood and hearing my sisters' stories have triggered some difficult emotions in me. But being re-united with and writing the book with Celeste and Juliana have gone a long way in enabling me to put to rest a very painful aspect of my life, and taught me that some dreams do come true.
From as early as I can remember, I never had a place I could call home. When I was ten months old our family left England for India. But soon I was not only separated from my extended family back in England, but my mother and father also separated, and I didn't see my mother, sister and baby brother again for fifteen years. My father told me that Jesus would reward me for sacrificing my family and that it would all be worth it in the end. The promise of a reward in Heaven was the carrot on the stick, the reason we were given for why we had to give up everything for the Family.
As a child, I believed everything I was told, just as a five-year-old accepts the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. But I also remember having questions as early as six. One afternoon I woke up from a nap with a burning feeling in my chest. I can still recall the dream I had vividly to this day. I dreamed that I had died and gone to Heaven. Amongst the clouds stood a tall, white statue. It was God, only he wasn't real, he was just a lump of stone, and a sense of disillusionment and anger overwhelmed me as I stood staring at it. The dream impacted me deeply and for the first time the thought entered my mind, `What if God doesn't really exist? What if everything I've been told isn't true? What if all this is just for nothing in the end?' Later on as an adolescent I questioned and at times rebelled, but after one too many knocks back, I shut down and stopped thinking.
It was only after I became a parent that I found the strength to take charge of my life and no longer let fear enslave me to a system of control that stripped me of my right to choose what was best for me and my daughter. Being reunited with my family, my brothers and sisters who were virtually strangers to me for most of my life, has been the biggest reward and source of happiness I could have ever imagined.
I always wished to fly. I used to stare up at the sky from the confines of the cult commune walls and imagine growing wings and flying away. When I finally broke free from the cult of the Children of God/the Family, I was released from my cage, but the freedom was frightening. When I needed to get a bank account, or register my existence in order to get a job, officials looked at me like an alien from the moon. Apart from my passport, there were no records of my existence.
The most common line the Family uses against the ex-members who try and pursue justice for the wrongs they have suffered is, `Why can't they just get over it and move on? They need to leave the past behind and look ahead to the future. Forgive and forget.' I was indoctrinated to think this way for so many years. Now at last on the other side, I understand the reality. You may be able to forgive, but you cannot just `forget', nor erase a lifetime of memories.
I wanted to make sense of my life, and so I sat down and started to write my story. It was through this cathartic process that I came to understand the full implications of the power that one human can hold over another, that one narcissistic man held over the lives of thousands. This is not just the story of my family; it is the story of many families trapped beneath the deceptive facade of the cult I grew up in. It is my hope that our story will be the knife that slashes away the weeds, freeing those caught within to kick their way to the surface and breathe the air of freedom.