MARR: 12-Step Program For Satanic Ritual Abuse Survivors

They come from near and far to gather each week in a decrepit meeting room in the depths of a liberal San Francisco church. Save for a total absence of yuppie designer wear and heavy metal t-shirts, the group's dozen-odd members are a cross section of San Francisco: the young, the old, the hip, the unfashionable. Yet they are united by a common faith, a common family heritage: a legacy of brutal torture, degrading sex and pagan rituals suffered at the hands of their parents. They are the self-proclaimed survivors of satanic ritual abuse.They are not alone. Starting in 1980 with Michelle Smith's book, Michelle Remembers, followed by magazine articles, numerous TV segments, most notably on 20/20 (1985) and Geraldo (1988), and, more recently, mainstream books like Margaret Smith's Ritual Abuse (Harper Collins, 1993), the media has spread the message. The United States has been engulfed by a wave of Satanic terror. Countless devil cults rampage unchecked, raping and sacrificing thousands of victims, many of them children, each year. And in their wake, the cults have left countless psychically shattered victims.These are not small, isolated groups of self-styled Satanists or stoned Ozzy Osbourne fans. Virtually all survivors claim their parents belonged to large, well organized "transgenerational" cults with dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of members. While their peers were being taken to little league games and family picnics, the survivors spent their childhoods being dragged by their parents to an endless succession of sex orgies, human sacrifices, and assorted blood rituals. Even though they have since broken free, the survivors claim that these same cults are still at work, victimizing a new generation of children.Yet, like the will o'the wisp, the cults themselves elude detection. There are no bodies, no evidence, no corroboration. The "survivors" are the only witnesses. Yet the horrors of all they witnessed -- the rapes, the torture, the murders -- somehow slip their minds. It is only years later, as adults, , that they suddenly "recover" memories of a childhood filled with suburban Satanism.The sad fact is, they are victims, not of the dreaded cults, but of themselves. If large, well-organized Satanic cults exist, they're not habitually torturing and sacrificing children. A recent National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect study at UC Davis looked at over 12,000 allegations of ritual abuse. Investigators found evidence that some children had been abused, but by individuals or couples dressed up in black robes. The investigators didn't uncover corroborating evidence for a single well-organized transgenerational cult.No one knows where the survivors get the idea they are ritual abuse victims. Some observers blame the super-heated self-help atmosphere of the more extreme 12-step programs where people engage in a subtle, unconscious competition for the title of "Most Screwed Up". Others chalk it up to the unfortunate combination of a therapist who devoutly believes in ritual abuse and a disturbed, suggestible patient. Whatever the source, the result is the same: a person who sincerely believes they have repressed memories of childhood suffering at the hands of a massive, secretive Satanic cult.Across the country, dozens, possibly hundreds, of groups of these self-identified survivors have banded together, seeking solace through unity. Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous or Codependent Anonymous, there is no national organization for ritual abuse victims yet. Many groups are independent. Others are affiliated with another nationally known 12-step program as sort of a special interest meeting.This meeting is conducted according to the conventional, informal ritual common to all 12-step programs. It begins with volunteers reading sacred writings: the 12 steps, the 12 traditions, and various other inspirational texts common to all 12-step programs. The first hint that this is the lunatic fringe of the recovery movement is when the meeting secretary reads the rules of safety. Most recovery programs are very touchy-feely -- recovering addicts of all stripes love to hug one another. Not ritual abuse victims. They are always in danger of "body memories". As the meeting secretary explains, the merest touch can trigger a fresh torrent of painful and perverse recovered memories. A handshake recalls a long forgotten torture session; a hug brings back memories of a sadistic rape at the hands of a trusted relative. Attendees are warned that uninvited physical contact, no matter how well-intended or gentle, is strictly forbidden.One can ask for a hug, but this can be refused. The plight of the survivor on a crowded city bus can only be imagined.With the ground rules laid down, the survivors quickly begin to "share".In classic recovery fashion, a volunteer takes the floor, introduces himself ("My name is John* and I'm a survivor of ritual abuse". The crowd responds "Hi, John", and "John" talks for a few minutes about whatever's on his mind. It can be anything, from their latest recovered memories to how their boss yelled at them last Thursday. After he finishes, another survivor volunteers and launches into their own self-centered monologue.While each survivor speaks, the others listen attentively and uncritically. The atmosphere is plainly sympathetic. Throughout the meeting, there is no discussion or the slightest hint of criticism. The mildest judgment of another survivor's tale ("crosstalk") is strictly forbidden. Getting up and saying, "You know, George, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. You're full of shit. And besides, who cares?" is absolutely unthinkable. If anyone is skeptical, they conceal it carefully. You couldn't invent a more fertile environment for nourishing bizarre delusions.The first speaker (We'll call him "Fred") is a painfully meek, bespectacled young man. He only cops to being a mere incest victim and admits no Satanic legacy -- yet. This isn't unusual. Ritual abuse memories are so horrific, so painful, they can only be dredged up slowly. It is not uncommon for a survivor to spend seven years in therapy and recovery group meetings before the first dim memory of Mom and Dad sacrificing baby brother emerge. Where else are they going to get their ideas?Fred is well on his way. His current project is cataloging each and every instance of conventional, non-ritual abuse heaped upon his innocent, pre-pubescent body. His only respite is watching TV. Lots of TV. However, even this innocent pastime offers no relief, as he finds himself in a fearful quandary involving the purchase of a vitally necessary color set.If only, he says, as his comrades in recovery listen intently, he could find a real mommy and daddy to see him through middle age and give him the parenting he never had.After Fred completes his tale of woe, the ritual abuse survivors start to chime in. "Mary", a slim woman in her early '30s carefully dressed in boho chic, tells a vague story, punctuated with frequent loud sighs, of surviving "body memories" and "programming". As an example of the latter, her mother recently sent her a greeting card "suspiciously close to Halloween". For outsiders, perhaps, it would be a meaningless bit of prefabricated holiday sentimentality. But innocent card was red -- blood red. As Mary tells the group, it "triggered" a new flood of recovered memories, memories too painful to share.But Mary can forgive. She realizes her mother, as a perpetrator of ritual abuse, is also a victim -- a victim of cult programming. Mary understands her mother has repressed the memories of being a victimizer, just as she herself repressed memories of being a victim. She remains under the unconscious sway of sophisticated cult mind control techniques, "programmed" to do the cult's will, such as "triggering" her daughter at every opportunity. This ability to suppress all memories of long period of suffering seems peculiar to ritual abuse survivors; other victims, such as concentration camps inmates, remember only all too well."Dolores", a twentyish Hispanic woman, introduces herself as a veteran of child abuse, child prostitution, and ritual abuse. For good measure, she also admits to being the fortunate possessor of multiple personalities. Multiple personality disorder is commonplace among ritual abuse survivors. Sympathizers claim it is only through the efforts of dozens, even thousands, of personalities that can survivors can deal with their pain.Cynics point to the almost competitive side, as patients seem to compete to see who has the most personalities.Dolores alternately clutches and strokes a cheap plush animal that miraculously retains some fur. She confesses that, for all her personalities, she "doesn't know how to make love -- only how to be raped". She describes her "teenager's" feelings with such vividness, it takes one several minutes to realize she's not talking about a real teenager, but only one of her many inner children. Fortunately, throughout her rambling talk, she manages to confine herself to a single personality. The spectacle of a personality crisis involving dozens, if not hundreds, of personalities, is too gruesome to contemplate.She is followed by "Suzanne", the youngest person at the meeting. To all outwards appearances, Suzanne is another lower Haight Street slacker, complete with tattoos and thrift store/ethnic clothes. But this is just a front. Her claimed litany of suffering includes incest, ritual abuse, and pornography. For someone with such a seemingly sordid past, her current troubles seem ordinary: lost jobs, failed relationships, bad drugs. But within the fellowship of the survivor, things are never what they seem. Behind her Generation X weltschmerz lurks an international Satanic cult who have pursued her relentlessly for years. Until now. To the great joy of her inner children, she announces, she has decided to stop running and make a stand in San Francisco. This revelation is greeted with smiles, rather than fear. No one thinks to check the corners for lurking agents of the dark brotherhood. Somehow, it just doesn't occur to anyone that the best place for these all-powerful cults to catch fugitive members is at a ritual abuse survivor's meeting.The meeting climaxes with "Bob", a young man who belies his preppy appearance by introducing himself as a survivor of "sexual, ritual, and medical abuse." Today, he wants to focus on the last of the three. And, unlike the others at this day's meeting, he describes his abuse in graphic, bloodcurdling detail. It happened when he was but a few days old, he miraculously recalls, before he could breathe properly. A doctor took him from his crib. With the blessing of his parents, he was bound to a board. As he screamed in terror, the doctor brutally sliced the foreskin from his diminutive penis without the benefit of anesthesia. In his child-like,innocent mind, he remembered this as a punishment for learning how to breathe. It is only now that, thanks to years of therapy and recovery, that he can breathe easier. An air of sympathy is palpable in the room, without the slightest sign of incredulity. No one seems to consider the opinion of modern cognitive psychology, which looks upon any memories that predate someone's second birthday by more than a few months with a jaundiced eye.And so they continue for 90 minutes, sometimes shouting, sometimes weeping as they share their tales of survival. Some are banal; some are brutal, but not once is the least note of doubt expressed. Every survivor seems to have unshakable fate in the veracity of their, and their companion's recovered memories, no matter how ridiculous, no matter how extreme. The meeting ends with the chanted group mantra: "Keep coming back -- it works." And the survivors depart, infused with the strength and inspiration to conjure up fresh memories of even more horrifying abuse during the coming week. They believe complete recovery can only come when they remember it all -- even if it never happened. They aren't wrong when they say they have problems. But their true enemy is not Satan, but themselves.* the people are real, the names are fake

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