Lessons on Leaving: Let Us Embark

Hello friends and kind strangers. After many years of writing about photography and marketing, I’ve decided to pivot and try writing about the more personal and relevant topics that have been rattling around in my brain. Hopefully getting them down onto the page/screen will help them coalesce into something useful/interesting or, at the very least, entertaining. In the meantime, I will use this post to help set some expectation and create a kind of “mission statement.”

If you’re here, you’re probably curious about one of a few things: who I am and what my work is about. Maybe you’ve been led here from social media, where I speak, in brief, about the origins of my fine artwork and you want to know more. Or perhaps you’re a fellow artist looking for kinship and some shared (virtual) studio time. Well, you’re in the right place for all of it.

Right now it’s not quite Spring in 2021, and we’re inches away from the anniversary of when the COVID pandemic shut things down in the state of New York. Plus, we are all only a few months past the riots at the US Capital. We are all a little shook, as the kids would say. This has me thinking about trauma, both collective and individual, healing and cults. These subjects are my jam (are the kids still saying that?), and I could jabber on about them at length.

So, that is what I will do here for the most part. I’ll also share art-y things too, but they will likely be about, you guessed it, trauma, healing and cults. In sharing these things I hope to create a safe space to talk about art, and the things that bring us to create as well. Because, in case you haven’t noticed, my work comes from a dark place. I use art, primarily, as a healing modality to explore and diffuse the traumas of my background.

But let’s touch on cults first, because that’s the topic we’ve all been clutching our collective pearls about lately.

A NOTE ON WHY I USE THE WORD CULT

The word cult has an extremely negative connotation, and some people feel it’s an insulting word that shouldn’t be used. Certainly people within the groups that are labeled as cults disagree with the term. Even some survivors that have left are uncomfortable using it.

In their book Escaping Utopia: Growing up in a Cult, Getting Out and Starting Over authors and social scientists Janja Lalich and Karla McLaren describe a cult as:

A […] group or relationship that stifles individuality and critical thinking, requires intense commitment and obedience to a person and/or an ideology, and restricts or eliminates personal autonomy in favor of it’s worldview and the leader’s wants and needs.

I was born and raised in the Unification Church (you might remember them as the Moonies), which is a group that experts and the popular media have defined as a primary example of a cult. It achieved notoriety in the 1970’s and 80’s during the height of the cult hysteria in the United States. Parents were terrified of losing their children to these extreme groups, and sometimes arranged extensive sting operations to kidnap and deprogram their children.

To tell the truth, for almost a decade after I left the Unification Church, I was uncomfortable calling it a cult. Sure, my friends and I referred to ourselves as “Moonies” to reclaim the word, and would jokingly use the term “cult” as a way to diffuse the word of its power. But as I have created distance from that world and healed, I have looked back on the way I was raised to see its isolation, trauma and despair. To me it has become important to use a word that potently and powerfully invokes those aspects of my background.

If you want to know more about my story, click on over to the page conveniently titled My Story and you can read some of the highlights. My sister and I also used to run a blog called The Summer of Cheesecake, where we shared essays about our past. Although we discontinued the project several years ago, you can still access the archives. Over the years we’ve heard from many people who escaped the Unification Church and found a kind of healing through seeing familiar stories reflected to them.

So while I’m no expert on cults, I have a little bit of personal perspective on the subject and I’d like to share some of that with you as we go along this journey. I’ll share more in-depth personal experiences here, like on the Summer of Cheesecake blog, and attempt make them relevant by tying to expert opinions, relevant news, or just cool artsy stuff.

TRAUMA, HEALING, AND ART

The trauma and healing topics are a little more universal. We have all experienced both to varying levels. For me, aside from growing up in a cult, for many years after I escaped, I didn’t share my background out of shame and fear of judgment. Slowly and selectively I began to trust the “outside world,” which I had always been taught to fear.

In safe, supportive spaces and relationships I began to share my story. It was through this process that I learned we need to share our stories. There is an inherent healing process that takes place when we acknowledge our history; we move out of shame and into a space of resilience and integration. I believe that when we share our stories, it gives others permission and a safe space to share their own. In our sharing, others find the words they needed to articulate their stories and begin their own course of healing.

Today my mission remains rooted in sharing my stories as a means of healing, and for others to discover their own inner authentic voice and permission to use it. My artwork, my writing and my mentoring all focus on helping others tell their stories and heal through their own creative practices. So, again, I’ll share stories that are relevant, as well as interesting resources, news and as well as art.

And that, my friends (we’re friends now, right?) is why I decided to try blogging again. I hope you’ll join me in exploring where this leads.

Originally published at https://www.jenkiaba.com on March 12, 2021.

Artist, Educator, Childhood Cult Survivor