• Athena Ives

Growing up in a Cult

Gathered from myself and several others that grew up in a cult.

The sound of spankings echoing out from the boiler room during hellfire and damnation sermons. That is where you were taken if you stepped out of line. Knowing this, I risked this punishment to avoid freezing in the gym where the services took place. They kept the AC on almost year-round, despite it being below zero in this miserable Michigan weather. That particular day I was fed up with being forced to wear skirts and dresses in the middle of winter, so I smuggled my comforter in our 10 seater tan van and wore it like a royal robe as I walked down the aisle to where my family seats. My warmth didn't last long as I was yanked out of my seat and dragged down the aisle to the boiler room.

"Sermons about women losing weight to please their husbands. The weigh-ins that followed". It was only the women and girls that were shamed. I was called fat and ugly by my entire family. We were forced to eat all the food on our plate. If the food was so disgusting you threw it up, you were forced to eat your vomit before being allowed to leave the table. Public shaming was common and many women developed eating disorders.

"Wives calling the parents of teenage girls to tell them that husbands were struggling with lust and said teenage girls should dress less provocatively." Every time that phone would ring on a Sunday afternoon I would cringe because it would usually be about me. I grew large breasts at an early age and had an athletic body so anything I wore was seen as provocative.

There was an active sex trafficking and child bride ring from the Dominican Republic. "Grown women writing their prayer requests down to be read by another man (or even her teenage son) because even the sound of her voice was sinful." Pastors not fulfilling their duties as mandated reporters in order to protect the men that were abusing their daughters or wives. Pastors requiring oversight meetings which included showing proof of income and their contributions to the church in tithes.

Taking in mentally disabled individuals to pocket money from the government. They would purchase large vans to transport them to and from work. At home, they were locked in the basement and treated like animals.

Sexual abuse and victims were never believed. Children being forced at 3 years old to sit still and quiet for hours. If fussed you were beaten. Extreme Racism. Isolation! We were not allowed to associate with other denominations. All other denominations were going to hell and if you associated with them you were going to hell, punished, forced to repent or excommunicated. We took vacations together to approved of places which usually were conferences that cost money that went to fill their pockets.  

"Not being able to question anything said by pastors or other church authority. You were the one who was sinning by questioning them and were in danger of going to hell-apostate. Breaking your children’s spirit to save them from sin by beating them into submission. You were just supposed to obey and not question. People who lacked any type of degree trying to diagnose genuine mental health concerns and treat them with prayer. The fear of teenagers, outsiders, the world in general. Anything that couldn’t be controlled inside of the walls of that church."

I was homeschooled until I was in 8th grade. We weren't allowed to associate with outsiders. This experience still impacts my life. Because of the extreme isolation and lack of proper medical care, I have vision issues, an extremely weak immune system, and my education level was significantly behind. There are still issues I struggle with and others I am still learning about. It is an ongoing battle but I am one of the lucky ones. I am one of the few that got out! Most did not.