It has been many years since G. Geftakys was excommunicated in Fullerton and the Assembly began to crumble. Many folks have found that getting over it and getting on has been tough and discouraging. Jon Acuff has a blog post on hope. While he is mainly known for his Christian humor, in this post he is serious and insightful. He says,

Hope is one of the first things that disappears when you get lost. Your ability to see beyond your current circumstances is chased south by the shadows….And when you become a Christian, there’s the temptation to think you’re doing something wrong if you don’t feel hopeful 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But here’s the thing about hope, it takes time. And sometimes, I think our greatest frustrations are when we try to force hope into a stage it’s just not ready for. I don’t hear people talk about the stages that often, but I think hope is divided into three…”

Read Jon’s full post » »


Wish I could be there….

NotesFromPhobicLife2I’ve been reading Allen Shawn’s book, Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life. What piqued my interest in the topic was a comment made by an AK (Assembly kid) to another AK, “They made us afraid of everything.” That synched with my awareness that quite a few FAM’s (former Assembly members) experience “social phobia” to one degree or another, ranging from reluctance to make phone calls to full-on panic attacks–sweaty palms, racing heart, lightheadedness when in a room with a large group of people. Not to mention Bible triggers, hymn triggers, etc. Maybe some aspects of this guy’s life would shed some light. What I didn’t expect is that the treatment for phobias is the same as that recommended at Wellspring for “triggers”. We have phobias!! Who knew.

I thought this book would be more of a memoir than it turns out to be. The author does share quite a bit of his personal experience, but the book is packed with i-n-f-o-r-m-a-t-i-o-n about the disorder. Which is actually quite helpful. Here are a few tidbits.

“According to anxiety authority Dr. David Barlow, experiences of extreme stress, such as separation from the mother, experienced early on life, create ‘permanent alterations in brain function that make one particularly susceptible to depression and ‘chronic anxiety’ later on” (p 69).

I wonder if the many spankings AK’s received early in life might produce this kind of extreme stress. Also perhaps disciplinary intervention by people other than the parents, such as a Worker or an Assembly babysitter or a Cornerstone teacher.

Shawn quotes authors M. D. Zane and Harry Milt in their book, Your Phobia: “Parents who cannot tolerate uncertainty transmit to their children the attitude that nothing in life is safe, that unless they watch their every step and take absolutely no chances at all, they are likely to suffer some serious and irremediable harm. This sets these children on a course of trying to insure that everything that affects them is safe, that nothing should be done that might possibly harm them…Everything has to follow a definite pattern or a definite formula; any deviation is threatening. Control means certainty and certainty means absolute safety” (p 213). Shawn says, “In a way I had been raised to feel that the world was a kind of Pandora’s box that was simply too frightening to ever fully open” (p 220). Everyone in the Assembly was conditioned to take absolutely no chances–the consequences were too painful. Walk the straight and narrow, get counsel for every decision, do not stray from the norm of what everyone else in the Assembly is doing. Your eternal soul is at stake.

“There are…some convincing findings about which personality traits accompany phobias…According to those who have observed hundreds or even thousands of cases like mine, phobics tend to be perfectionists, they tend to have an exaggerated need to please others, they tend to seek certainty, and most interestingly of all, they tend to avoid showing certain kinds of emotions. Your Phobia has it that many of us have in common the ‘need and ability to present a relatively placid, untroubled appearance to others, while suffering extreme diestress on the inside'” (p 92). Does that describe how we were trained to be in the Assembly or what!!

Shawn talks about his own anger affects him: “After becoming angry, I always feel as if I have been racked by a terrible storm for which I should apologize. Accustomed as I am to having a ‘good reason’ for whatever I express, rage, when it erupts, is an awful, alien surprise; it feels as if it were coming from someone else. The price of remaining ‘rational’ about anger and not expressing it as it comes along is that it acummulates inside until it either implodes or explodes, or both. Like my father, I don’t seem to know how to express minor annoyance and irritation” (p 213).

It is out of this internal environment that phobias arise. You tend to avoid situations that will provoke conflicted emotions you can’t control. Shawn says, “When habits of avoidance and anxiety persist for a long time, they become a part of you like a chronic pain. The brain gets used to the connections, and they harden.” The good news is, “Even the adult brain can build entirely new connections. The old ones can become undone–if a person is ready to undo them, and eventually, with hard work, replaced” (p 194).

The beginning of recovery is recognizing that the avoidance impulse is a normal defense against perceived danger. In our case, the conditioning milieu of the Assembly, was dangerous, because it was laced through with manipulation, deceit, misinformation, etc. Outside the Assembly system the familiar elements of the Bible, hymns, Christians gathered together, etc. can be safe. “A mind that recognizes phobic fear symptoms….as distressing but benign, and that can address its own confusion and panicky feelings as parts of a natural process, can begin to tame the phobia” (p 87).

Although Shawn himself has not completely conquered his phobias, he describes various aspects of treatment that have helped to some degree. “The treatment approach is based on the premise that in order to get over serious phobias, one needs to start building up a new history of experiences with the phobic situations/triggers–experiences in which one endures them, copes better with them, or even eventually is not terribly disturbed by them. Imagine what it does to your brain and thought patterns when you spend years systematically avoiding something, reinforcing its power as an object of dread so terrible that it can kill you. A new experience in which you practice enduring what you once refused to do is a step toward revising your history in the situation, creating instead the kind of normal ambivalence we all have about things that are unpleasant but that we have learned to tolerate” (p.226).

He says, “As a first step I needed to learn that there was a psychological dimension to panic for everyone. Then, when faced with panic, I actually began to speak to myself out loud, to tell myself that I was still there, that I hadn’t come apart” (p 227), and then proceed to specifically note how this new situation differs from the conditioning situation. As someone learned at Wellspring, “Similar is not the same.”

Part of being phobic about something is the shame that goes with it. Shawn says, “…phobias can bring with them the fear of discovery and of becoming an outcast.” You may tend to avoid being with other Christians because you don’t want to reveal that you don’t read the Bible and you haven’t been to church in a long while. You don’t want to be taken unaware by a fit of weeping when you hear a hymn. It’s important to find safe places where you can begin to desensitize yourself. As might be expected, some churches are safer than others. What worked for me was a church where you could remain anonymous and not be noticed, no matter how many kleenexes you used. Others would prefer a church where people notice and really care. Business meetings, conferences, lectures and social events are also good for dismantling social phobia.

Denial tends to prevent us from being objective about our avoidances. Shawn says of himself, “I have never felt that my phobia problem suited me, and it often surises me. Despite being perpetually on guard, I sometimes walk into a phobic trap without thinking about it. My first coping mechanism when seized by the familiar symptoms of panic is to remind myself that I am in fact a phobic and that I tend to react this way. This already gives me some handle of objectivity on the true situation, which is not that I am in actual danger but that I have a pernicious learned response to many situations.

Still, I remain dumbfounded at how atuomatic, instantaneous, and severe my reactions are, not to mention how trivial the triggers can be.” For us, situations that might take us unaware may be weddings or funerals, where we didn’t think to expect the church-like atmosphere. But these events are useful in desentizing ourselves to the triggers, because they are obviously family events, nothing like pressured Assembly meetings.

It’s hard to make yourself start looking for ways to safely expose yourself to triggers, but it’s important to face the fact that just understanding the origins of your avoidance doesn’t cure the problem. “Simply discovering the experiential origins of the phobias does not free one from them, any more than discovering the reason why one resists practicing the piano would turn one suddenly into a better pianist. For that to occur, one would have to start practicing again. The same thing is true for phobias. The primary “cure” or help for them is in real-life practice…” (p. 120). That is, deliberately exposing yourself repeatedly to the triggers, and talking yourself through the panic to a place of objectivity.

Stepford wife…

We watched “The Stepford Wives” Saturday night. Definitely reminiscent of wifedom in the Ass’y. Easter Sunday music, “I know that my Redeemer liveth”, brought to mind another verse in Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” And then it all came flooding back to me – clutching that verse like a life preserver when the hammer came down and I was forced to give up my inner self.

For the first five years of the Assembly, I followed G & B Geftakys reluctantly and grudgingly, because the quality of our family life was eroding away alarmingly. My attitude hovered over me like a black cloud. By 1974 G & B had enough of it. I was sat down and sternly admonished to get on with the program. Even though I knew that resistance was legitimate, I also believed the “carnal vs. spiritual Christian” paradigm. Obviously, negative feelings were carnal. So I buckled under the avalanche of guilt, and let the robot self suffocate my true self, clinging to Job’s hope as I went down.
I wonder if other Assembly wives had a similar experience, or did the cult personality usually creep up more gradually?

So this is what stressed us out…

Time Magazine today has an article on “6 Ways to Handle Stress”.

We…have a lot of misconceptions about who gets stressed out and why. Twenty years ago, psychologists almost exclusively blamed job stress on high workloads or lack of control on the job. More recent studies, says Christina Maslach, a pioneer in burnout research at the University of California, Berkeley, show that unfairness and a mismatch in values between employees and their companies play an increasing role in triggering stress. “Probably one of the strongest predictors is when there’s a vacuum of information–silence about why decisions were made the way they were,” Maslach says. “Another is having to operate in conflict with your values. Do you need to shade the truth to get authorization from the insurance company? Are you selling things that you know people don’t really need?”

Number 1 = “Unfairness.” Number 2 = “Having to operate in conflict with your values.” Pretty interesting. I have thought of Assembly stress more in terms of the intolerable schedule. But these points suggest other considerations. How often in the Assembly were you treated unfairly–“stewardships,” consequences, decisions….? How often did you wince when someone else was treated unfairly? How often were you conflicted between ties to your family and Assembly obligations? Between schoolwork or job, and Assembly obligations? Between what you knew of someone and how you were instructed to deal with them? Between a meaningful conversation with someone and Assembly obligations? Between something you knew was going on in the Assembly and how you were required to spin it?………………

Read the rest of the article to see how this affected you.

Intensity addiction…

Someone returning recently from Wellspring Retreat sees that the Assembly produced intensity addiction. Insightful revelation! No wonder life often seems insipid now–no more great work of God, no more pressure to pray exalted prayers for it. No more frantic rushing around to get to worship, no more top-volume singing. No more seminar highs, no more consequence lows. (Someone should come up with lyrics to fit the Eagles song, “No more cloudy days”.)

Packing our schedules, operating at peak emotional intensity, and laboring under the pressure of the consequence system put us under constant stress. High stress produces an adrenaline rush that provides energy to cope. We came to rely on it all the time, because stress was always there. It became an addiction.


Our leftover intensity addiction makes us easily bored now. So we drink too much coffee. We keep ourselves too busy. In the Assembly, rushing around all the time substituted for intimacy. We tend to reproduce that pattern to get the adrenaline going. There are a bunch of other manifestations.Here is an article that gives some good insights. It begins, “Adrenaline addiction is the hidden cause of many of our time, balance and productivity challenges.” There is an accompanying questionnaire that is quite revealing. “The Painful Reality of Adrenaline Addiction” (PDF file) makes some good suggestions for recovery. The latter recommendation takes the subject so seriously–I mean, PDF file and all!–that you have to just laugh and let go and start breathing again. Which is the whole point.