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Are You Successful?

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“From Waif to Warrior” by Vennie Kocsis – Available for Purchase at: vennie-kocsis.pixels.com

I was asked “Do you feel successful.”

Yes. I do.” I answered.

Their face squinched up.

But you don’t even own a house.”

I had to chuckle. I wasn’t offended. I actually welcome these conversations. It opens up perspective. I was able to explain that I have never wanted to be tied to a mortgage. I don’t like being tied to payments period. I have never had that desire. Anytime I was, it was a great struggle for me. I felt chained and inside of the humanoid mill.

I have always been a wanderer, a traveler, even at times, a runner, from situations I couldn’t handle. But I never have longed for riches or looked at that as a definition of success. If I ever longed for it, it was in a thought of how many people could be helped if wealth was in the hands of the compassionate. Yet, mainly, my mind is always ablaze with possible creations, projects, new ideas to filter in or let blow away in the wind.

You see, I am successful because I walked through fire, burning and scalded to now stand in the most authentic space I’ve ever felt. I am successful at owning the totality of my own life, shamelessly. I am successful because I wrote my story, years of aching and crying, vomiting into plastic bags, most often alone, in dark rooms, screaming out the childhood torture to expel it from my molecular structure.

I am successful for the songs which flowed through me to soothe my spirit and the poetry book so eloquently penned; that I found my gratitude and can look at four brilliant, independent publications. MY hands made those. MY DNA poured those timeless scrolls into tangible literary works. I am successful because they will remain forever, precious to someone.

I am successful because I get to be who I was born to be. I get to create art. I get to CREATE anything I wish. I get to call my own shots. I get to stand in a place of empowerment and not fear of loss. I am successful because I am at peace in this space.

Our definition of success could be defined the moment we are doing what we love, when we are healing and growing. Maybe therein is the critical switch, a word definition, away from accumulation and into inspiration.

I am successful.

Vennie Kocsis is the author of CULT CHILD and host of Survivor Voices Show, airing every Sunday @ 6PM PST. She is an advocate against child abuse and indoctrination. She is an artist and poet residing in the Pacific Northwest.

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“Dead, Insane or In Jail: A CEDU Memoir” by Zack Bonnie

 “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” Lily Tomlin

Let Me Be

art by Jonathan Weiner, San Francisco, CA 2015

Accented with unique and relevant art by Jonathan Weiner of San Francisco, CA,”Dead Insane or In Jail: A CEDU Memoir“, by Zack Bonnie, reveals with precision the mind bending abuse enacted inside of the youth reform industry. “The Cult That Spawned the Tough-Love Teen Industry”, by Mother Jones, explains the birth of this industry and provides the following graph.  CEDU had roots in Synanon and began in 1967.

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It was indeed an industry of profit as parents were indoctrinated with the belief that any slightly “off” behavior by their teenager was a sign of serious problems, resulting in parents not only giving away their children with the belief they were helping them, but additionally being swindled out of millions of dollars.

Dead, Insane or In Jail: A CEDU Memoir” opens with Bonnie taking a ski trip with his father. Subsequent events find a fourteen-year-old Bonnie checked into a youth reform facility in Idaho. He is tricked, and left there against his will. Thus begins the enactment of Bonnie’s mental shattering. Overnight, he joins the ranks of the large number of throwaway youth in the eighties, who eventually were labeled “Generation X“.

With every phone call monitored and Bonnie’s parents receiving false reports of his progress, he becomes trapped in an intricately woven scheme of abuse.  He has no means of escape.  He is unable to relay his alarming conditions to anyone.  Forced through bizarre, psychological techniques to become emotionally naked, Bonnie is often left confused about what is real in his mind.  The children are left unsure of what a right answer to staff questions should be.  They are love bombed, then verbally abused, with severely psychotic mind control rituals. The CEDU facilitators often use the children’s personal family dynamics to manipulate them.

“To not share would be to betray them and the confidences that they shared.  I said the most innermost things that made my voice tremble to admit, bringing an ancient anger and self-hatred to the surface.  It wasn’t just the situation; it was where it was taking me, inside myself.

I’m useless.”

Who used to say that to you?” Keith’s soft voice back at me.

My father.”

Your father called you useless?”

Yeah.

Had he really? Yes, he had.

Say it again. ‘My father said I’m useless.’ Good. It hurt you? Yeah. You can say that again, that’s riiiigth.”

Tess and Keith repeated what we said a lot. Just about every time a kid in my group said something, Jasper, Tess, or Keith was there to repeat it. This is how we always seemed to get roped into going deeper within ourselves.

Rituals involve teenagers verbally confronting themselves and each other.  Every detail of their life is invited to be shared as their overseeing handlers note them to use against the children later.  Rounded into groups, they are put through almost daily, mind bending sessions of unimaginable attacks as staff strategically controls the children into turning on one another.

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art by Jonathan Weiner, San Francisco, CA 2015

Zack describes session after session, as every part of the children’s emotions are controlled and manipulated.

Bianca, what do you remember about your mom? She used to have a name for you, too, didn’t she?”

I guess so.” Bianca Taylor picked up her cue from Tess.

Yeah. What was her favorite nickname for that beautiful little tyke? Can you remember for me?

She used to call me Rainbow...” Bianca started crying. I wanted to start crying from watching Bianca, who I’d never really even talked to. Seeing raw sadness like that felt like a punch to the solar plexus.

Toughen up.

The berating of kids is a carefully crafted tool.  Broken down into nothing, with their self-image lost and lacking any emotional worth, the children become easier for the staff to manipulate.  Using every piece of their fragile lives, the staff takes as many opportunities as possible to verbally abuse the children.

I can’t hear you, Bianca. A spoiled little bitch? Spoiled little bitch. LITTLE BITCH! Why did he call you that? That’s right, let me hear you.”

Go for it, Wally…GET IT OUT, PEOPLE. That’s RIGHT!”

A SLUT! Who said that to little Daphne? You really let that little girl down, didn’t you?

Yeah? When? After the abortion? Say that again, Narissa – you’ve got to stop being that girl with the reputation? Look at her!

Here’s some tissues, Bianca. Let it go.”

Catch terms such as “bans“, when children are forbidden to speak to one another, and “bad rapping“, children saying bad things about each other, are among a plethora of rituals used to manipulate the minds of vulnerable teenagers.  Meanwhile, the children are allowed to smoke cigarettes and other self-harming behaviors, geared to feed into their anxiety, which grows, the longer they are forced to remain inside of the program.

Bonnie’s writing style allows his reader to easily flow between what he is forced to witness happening to other children and the silent thoughts he is disallowed to ever let leave his lips lest there be intense punishment.  The children are trained to adhere to a system filled with mistrust and expected betrayal of one another.  They are strip searched upon admittance to the program.  They are heavily worked.  They are humiliated in front of one another.

Yet, even trapped inside such a sordid system of complicated tier goals, systematic punishments, humiliation and anger, Bonnie’s resilience becomes his counter weight as he journals.

“Guess what I went through my truth prophet August 9 & 10 and I found out that I basically I was a dick at home. I have been mulling it over in my mind and I know the point of raps and prophets.  Just to make you cry a lot so naturally being the way I am I didn’t cry. – Author journal entry, 11 August 1988 (one month at RMA)”

Through this writing, Bonnie brilliantly flows between descriptive enactment of the program and his attempt to retain a critical thinking mind.  Bonnie takes his reader’s hand and pulls them directly into the center of his deeply intense experiences.

Bonnie navigates the CEDU system until he can no longer withstand the thin line between the reality in his mind and the constant psychological belittlement he daily endures.  One day Bonnie decides to go on the run.  Will he make it out?

Dead, Insane or In Jail: A CEDU Memoir” reveals the sadistic truth of the youth reform’s use of mental and physical abuse to control children.  Never has a book had an impact on my own teenage memories since I was a young person reading “Run, Baby, Run” by Nicky Cruz. The detail through which Bonnie brings his story to life is exceptionally mapped out.

Dead, Insane or In Jail: A CEDU Memoir” is guaranteed to make you intensely feel. You will be outraged. You will ask why and how a human being can do such things to children. You will laugh, and you will cry. You will cheer for the incredible strength and courage Zack journeys into as he brings his teenage memories to life on the pages of this exceptional book.

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Zack Bonnie

Zack Bonnie is in the process of re-launching his website, complete with an audio-book of  DEAD, INSANE OR IN JAIL: A CEDU MEMOIR, which is available in paperback and e-book. Additionally, he is beginning the publishing submission process for the sequel, entitled: DIJ: OVERWRITTEN.   All of Zack’s work can be explored at his WEBSITE.

To subscribe and stay informed as Zack continues developing his literature, please sign up for his NEWSLETTER.  You may also follow Zack on Facebook and Twitter.

Personal Note: Sometimes a book is so well written, it sinks into the skin of a trauma survivor like me, who found incredible familiarity in the words I read.  This author touched my heart deeply when I met him. The ache in his eyes was familiar. The strength was admirable. The energy was filled with the passion for advocacy. So, dear Zack, please forgive my delay in this long overdue review of your book. I truly wanted to give you the honor you so rightly deserve. Love, Vennie Kocsis  

If We Have Rules Are We Free?

The first time I wore a two piece bathing suit I was fourteen years old. I recall the nakedness my stomach felt as it met sun and warmth. My skin tingled. I was shy. Yet, the more I fed my body with the light of the sun’s reflection, the more I embraced its glow.

I imagine this is how the woman feels who, for the first time, removes the hijab, or the long skirt, or the bonnet, or the many array of coverings that have been required for a woman to cover herself with, passed down through multiple years of differing doctrines and laws telling her how she must dress and behave in order to be desirable to a man and appropriate to others’ standards.

I imagine them all with their hair blowing in the wind, skin soaking in the kiss of breeze, free and respected in the true nature of her natural glory. She is me, once disallowed to feel sky on my thighs, told how to dress and what would make me wife material. Chained by my appearance to someone else’s ideal of what was proper, I drowned inside my clothing layers.

I’ll spend eternity alone if it means being free to be me, tattoos and dimension colored hair, making my own way, whatever that looks like. I dream of a day when women are honored for the uniqueness of who we are, not who people think we should be. When that day comes, and it is, I will hold hands with a long line of women, throwing off their chains and running, laughing, into the sea.

Vennie Kocsis
author, Cult Child

Born Crazy: A Video Poem

You’re crazy.”

How often have you heard this phrase thrown around, either flippantly, in jest or to victim blame someone who has overcome or is recovering from abuse?

I heard this often as a post-cult teenager and well into my adult years. While I was actually dealing with the behavioral aftermath of being an extremely abused child, instead of receiving support, caring and nurturing I was told that I was crazy. When a child is told enough times that they’re mind is insane, we begin to believe it.

This poetry piece is from my spoken word album, Dusted Shelves, which is available on Amazon in paperback and c.d. Written in 2013, it is a representation of a life by which I was conditioned to believe that I was crazy.

Some abuse survivor work is considered to be dark and oddly psychotic. This piece would fall under that theme.

**Trigger Warning for those who are sensitive to these themes**

Born Crazy

Hourglass

There’s a faded line
Between reality and time I
Catch myself remembering rejection
Straddling a log fence watching
Them play and laugh and shout
Odd girl out
Too loud

I used to be an expert at stilts
Stride the mud like a queen
I could do anything
If I just believed but
I never prayed hard enough to
Make God real and
It would be a version of
Drop Dead Fred who
Emerged the memories in my head

Do you know the flashes
That leave gashes behind your eyelids
Ask a soldier if he can forget
The blood of war then
Ask me if I can erase
The horror of flailing bodies
And belt straps stripping skin

No
We don’t forget

We learn to live occasionally laughing and
We hide the burning in our throat
The angst that never goes away
We become quiet
Learn to fake it
To not ruin moments
Become awkward
We pass the bread and wine
Close our eyes to the sighs
As we lose track of time

We hope we don’t carry on
The aftermath of our dysfunction
Watch our children struggle
As we cry in silence

To do it over, take the pain
Would I endure it again
The lashes and shunning
The fear and repentance for
Deeds confused and undone
Would I die again just to be here
Take the scourging of my flesh
To understand the depth
That loneliness can sink a soul
I don’t know

I am back walking paths
Running to escape shadows
Hiding behind trees and
The demons who will enter me
So they preach and I
Reach my arms to the moon

Take me home
I want to leave this place where
The babies cry and fathers weep as
Mothers scrape together meals
Where humans have forgotten to feel

Take me back
I want out of this mission
I am missing starlight and quiet
The soft green beneath my
Weeping willow tree
You promised me

I am watching sand fall slowly
Motion reversed I am poised
Rehearsed for the scene
But if I told you that
My ears can’t take the screams
And my heart can’t take the weight
Would you hold me

Would you softly kiss the spot
Above my heart and
Understand the sadness without
Judgement or coldness
Would you encase my face and
Tell me I’m safe

Because you see I am just
A little girl lost and
Sometimes I am tired, weak
Battle torn and worn
Longing for touch

So I sit beneath the pines
Write poetry lines and
Breathe in the rain because
Water washes pain and
I am an hourglass waiting it out
Until the last drop
Turns me on my end and
I restart this life again.

©VennieKocsis

When Writing Out Trauma Is Crippling

A wise person once said, “There are three things you should never share; your relationship, your finances and your next move.”

It has become a mantra for my life.   Years of being both vulnerable and held back at the wrong times have left me speculating my own judgment.  Being alone is safer, away from the possibility of re-victimization.

I learned harsh lessons as I grew up. With no boundaries to define danger or relationships I was tossed out of a childhood that had been riddled with abuse straight into the very society I had been trained to fear, hate and one day even war against in the name of God.

With blinders on, I ran towards everything I’d been taught was sin.  I bathed in it.  I dove inside of it like it was a swimming pool.  I became prey, a seal pup in an ocean full of sharks.

A couple of nights ago, while working on “Rise of Sila“, the sequel to “Cult Child“, I had to write a trauma memory.  I had to get into the details of it, part of them being a time my sister wore long sleeves to hide the bruises her rapist left on her upper arms.    When I was finished with the section, nausea swept through me quickly, suddenly and filled my mouth with water to the point I had to curl up on my bed and do focus breathing until it passed.

Fuck.”  I thought.  “It’s starting.”

This is what happened while I was writing “Cult Child“.  The trauma surfaced in waves, and with it came years of sporadic vomiting, night terrors, migraines, days in bed weeping, high peaks of anxiety and agoraphobia and a lot of deep isolation.

I smiled in selfies to post on the Internet. I spun on the positivity pole as if I was the poster child of survival, and I hid the reality of how crippling writing trauma is for me.

I thought I would feel some kind of relief after getting “Cult Child” out.   Yet, I didn’t.  I felt incredibly proud of myself that I had accomplished the project.  I also felt an extreme exhaustion that still lingers as I continue on.   I feel weakened.  I feel that I have only spilled out a sliver of the truth about the reality that was my childhood.

Last night I had a dream which rocked me. When I woke up this morning, the emotions of the dream came hazily with it bringing short, flash images of children milling about, a lot of confusion and an inability to grasp the rest of the images.  There are no worse dreams for me to have, than the ones which involve children.  They take the longest to shake from my eyes and the hardest to re-balance my heart from.   [Click here to visit my Dreamscape category where I document them.]

I am pushing myself, because this story must be told.  It has to be left behind so my sons and lineage will have documentation of their ancestral life.  I have to tell the truth for myself, hoping that maybe, just maybe, after I am finished, there will be some reprieve.

But, right now, in this moment, I just feel like avoiding.

What Happens To Good, Non-Religious People When They Die?

I asked a religious man once what happens when someone is a really good person, never hurts anyone, is kind and giving, but they don’t believe in God? What happens to them when they die?

Although I knew what the answer would most likely be, based on my own knowledge of religious doctrine, I was curious to see what his answer was.

“Unfortunately,” he replied, “they cannot get into the Kingdom of Heaven, because the only way into the Kingdom is to accept Jesus into your heart.

I feel dejected nonetheless. I was swept back into the past, a little girl riddled with fear of never being good enough for a man named God, a man who watched me always, with eyes that could see every move I made.

How better to control a human, than to make them believe that there is a celestial camera on them at all times, recording, taking notes, shelving and categorizing their actions, and the records will be used after they die so that the evidence of their life can be examined for qualification to get a ticket to Heaven,

Or a damnation to hell.

There’s a grief that sweeps through me as I observe the masses, arguing and killing each other over invisible ghosts and legends, old scrolls and dust riddled stories.

As the invisible eye watches the scattering, robotic human beings, earth and rock crumble from too much drilling, children cry, praying to the sky for daddy to stop touching them and mommy to stop yelling, for a meal that isn’t mixed with clay, a pair of shoes, not being forced to fold their hands to pray or a chance to play without hearing the sounds of war.

I stand riveted, holding onto hope that maybe we’re close to the end of suffering and the beginning of loving, but then I pass a street corner where parents force their children to stand with signs telling of the end of times,

And I cry, because tears are coming in sporatic waves these days, a hovering fog whispering the screams of the depraved.