The Survival Skills I Learned While Growing Up In a Cult

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Our Mother anywhere we wanted in the Angeles National Forest when we moved there as small children in 1976. She didn’t restrict where we went, and didn’t ask us what time we would return, but she did tell us what to do if we ran into trouble.

“Never put your hands or feet anywhere you can’t see. If you need to step over a log, step up on it, look, then step down.”

She told us to watch for rattlesnakes and when we encountered an animal that could hurt us, our options were to fight, flight, or freeze.

Our Mother taught me to be vigilant and cognizant of my environment, to look where we wanted to go, and how to find what we needed, wherever we were. She used the phrase “survive fear, survive with faith” (shelter, fire, signal, water, food), to prioritize the basic needs we should meet to survive in the wilderness.

Among the important things I learned out in the wild: Apex predators are omnivores and have lots of options. If they surmise you’ll put up a fight, they’ll likely opt for smaller prey. But if you encounter a black bear, don’t look it in the eye. Just back away slowly. If you encounter a brown bear, roll up in a ball. Either way, don’t be afraid, our Mother would say. Be competent.

To this day, I think of the way Mother froze around Dad, acting confident and unaffected when his anger flared. When the predator was significantly bigger than we were, we knew not to fight or run. Freezing would reduce the severity of injury.

We were told our group wasn’t a cult because we believed in the one, true God, not a human. But there was only one person in our community who had direct access to God, and that person, Grandpa, was the ultimate authority. All the children in our group, even those unrelated to us, called him Grandpa, because he was God’s appointed patriarch. He decided what the Bible meant, who was obeying and who wasn’t, who could stay in our group and who must leave. No one could work outside the Field without his permission; he determined who received money and who did not, and he punished non-compliance. When he kicked my little brother in the head for falling asleep during a sermon, no one questioned him.

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1 comment

  1. Survivor stories of children that grew up in cults vary about the tools used to survive and the recovery process, but many discuss lingering lifelong residual effects.

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