Raised by Wolves
My brother says that we were raised by wolves. I don’t always agree with him, but I don’t have a more accurate description of our upbringing. A friend of my dad pointed out that wolves raise their young with more structure than our parents gave us.
At first I had no idea that anything was wrong with my childhood. Yeah, my dad was a hippie bartender who convinced my brother to smoke pot at the age of ten and who offered to sell me to his friends for drugs. (He was kidding.) Yeah, I was running the household when I was 11—shopping, cooking, cleaning—because at that point, both my parents were gone. Yeah, my brother and I were left to fend for ourselves way more than you might say is optimal. And yeah, I grew up in a cult. My mom was a Moonie, and therefore, so were my brother and I.
For those who don’t know what that means, the Moonies were members of the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity—simply known as the Unification Church—the cult of all cults in the American age of cults. Church members gave their faith, lives, and worldly possessions to a self-proclaimed messiah from South Korea. Some call it brainwashing. It was my life.
I knew it was weird, but I didn’t know it was bad. When it’s all you know, it’s all you know. You can’t even grasp that it could, or should, be different. I knew I could tell stories about my parents and people would laugh in disbelief, but I was oblivious to the fact that my stories covered up pain and emotional scars, and that much of what happened to me shouldn’t have happened at all.
I didn’t realize I was harmed or that I was on a path of harming myself as I got older. I ended up in abusive relationships, anorexia, and “mild” drug addiction (to name a few things), but it didn’t register that these were because I ached so much inside. I didn’t know that my psyche was bruised. Or that I despised myself.
As a kid, you misinterpret the nasty things that happen to and around you, and you somehow believe you’re to blame. As a young adult, I internalized this more and more. As an older adult, I still sometimes do. I can get lost in darkness and desperation. I can feel unworthy or damaged or hopeless. I have my scars and insecurities, my fears that feel like they’ll engulf me. I can be washed over with shame.
But they’re moments. As I said to my older child once when they struggled against their own demons, the waves of despair become less powerful and hit you less often over time.
I’ve learned to face my terrors and to allow myself joy. It wasn’t always an easy thing to do. I’ve learned that it’s up to each of us to create the life we desire. We have the ability to lessen the influences around us that we don’t want or don’t agree with. When we can’t lessen them, we have the ability to keep going despite them. Even when we think we don’t.