Lisa Kohn is the author of her award-winning memoir to the moon and back: a childhood under the influence. Born in NJ to hippie parents and raised in New York City’s East Village in the 1970s, Lisa’s early years were a mixture of encounter groups, primal screams, macrobiotic diets, communes, Indian ashrams, Jefferson Airplane concerts in Central Park, and watching naked actors on off-Broadway stages during the musical HAIR. By the time her older brother was ten, Lisa’s father had him smoking pot. By the time Lisa was ten, Lisa’s mother had them pledging their lives to the Unification Church, also called the “Moonies,” and the Moonies’ self-appointed Messiah, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
Listen to the podcast here
Lisa Kohn: “The Best Seats I Ever Had At Madison Square Garden Were At My Mother’s Wedding, And The Best Cocaine I Ever Had Was From My Father’s Friend, The Judge.”
I’m delighted to have this opportunity to interview Lisa Kohn, the author of both The Power of Thoughtful Leadership and her award-winning memoir To the Moon and Back: A Childhood Under The Influence. Lisa will be speaking to us from Wayne, Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband, Bruce, and their two children. Lisa, who has an MBA, is an accomplished leadership consultant, executive coach, and keynote speaker with a creative approach to business. Her creative business approach incorporates what she learned along her life journey through what was her bizarre and way out childhood, as well as the leadership best practices she has gleaned from her many years in business.
Born in New Jersey to hippie parents and raised in New York City’s East Village in the 1970s, Lisa’s early years were a mixture of encounter groups, primal screams, macrobiotic diets, communes, Indian ashrams, Jefferson airplane concerts in Central Park, and watching naked actors on off-Broadway stages during the musical hair. By the time her older brother was ten, Lisa’s father had him smoking pot.
By the time Lisa was ten, Lisa’s mother had them pledging their lives to the Unification Church, also called the Moonies, and the Moonies self-appointed Messiah, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. I’m looking forward to talking with Lisa about her inspiring message of hope for those who feel hopeless and beyond repair, about staying out of and getting out of extremist situations, and why we as a species need a huge dose of self-love and self-compassion. This is surely going to be a riveting interview that illumines how healing can lead to rebirth. Lisa, a warm, truly heartfelt welcome to the show. Your book is amazing.
Thank you so much. It’s wonderful to meet you and to be with you. Thank you for having me here.
It’s my pleasure and my honor. Lisa, your book To the Moon and Back: A Childhood Under The Influence is remarkable. Please describe the ecstatic comfort of inclusion in a cult that you experienced when you were a child and the torment of rebelling against the cult as a teenager. Nothing unexciting or colorful about your life.
What I tried to explain to people is that by the time we joined the cult, the Unification Church, it was a haven for my brother and me because life was chaotic. My parents split when I was three. It was all those things you described. I was terrified. I was afraid my mom would leave too. My brother is smoking pot. It was all this insanity. We were hippie kids. It was the early and mid-’60s. When we joined, my mom stopped cursing. She started wearing a bra. There were rules. It’s hard to say normal but she became more normal.
Moonies dressed conservatively. We were surrounded by members, brothers, and sisters who loved and adored us. There’s nothing more intoxicating than having a messiah, an absolute truth, even when it’s not true. It is the most powerful intoxicating drug ever, and I’ve done a couple of them. Growing up in that, when you know that God has chosen you and has been suffering for 6,000 years, if you give your blood, sweat and tears, you can help ease God’s heart.
You’re blessed beyond belief to know the Messiah. I was blessed beyond belief to be friends with his kids. When you’re on the inside, it is a powerful and wonderful experience, as horrific as it is. Extremist situations are terrifying, but we are drawn to them as human animals. We crave certainty and purpose in the community. It gives you absolute certainty, a purpose you’ll never replicate, and a community beyond belief as long as you follow the rules.
You felt safe there.
Yes, because I was a terrified kid before all this happened with all my dad’s rage, my mom’s behavior, and all the craziness that happened. We had this weird experience of being members of the church but living with my dad. We lived with Satan, sex, drugs, and squalor. He used to offer to sell me to his friends for cocaine. It was a crazy existence. That was terrifying. The church felt safe. It felt true parents, Messiah, children, the truth, and whole as not safe and not whole as it was.
What made Sun Myung Moon decide he was the Messiah?
He didn’t decide. When he was fifteen years old, he was praying in the mountains in Korea. Jesus appeared to him and said that Jesus had not fulfilled his mission. Jesus was supposed to come to Earth, marry and bring the kingdom of heaven on Earth. Bring Adam and Eve, supposed to grow to fruition, and bring the kingdom of heaven on Earth. They failed then everybody failed along the years and centuries.
It feels like he had a psychotic episode while he was praying.
He was supposed to do the same. He came to Moon and said, “Please fulfill my mission.” Moon supposedly refused him three times and then finally said, “Yes, I will.” That’s one version. That’s the church’s version. I get the chronology messed up and confused because when you’re in the church, none of this. The research I’ve done, and not necessarily since leaving the church, but since the book came out in 2018 and being involved in the cult survivor community, is Moon founded a religious sex cult.
There’s a lot of practice in Korea of purification through sex. If I am ordained by God, I sleep with all the people around me, and then they are ordained by God. He got put into the communist prison camps, where he learned a lot of indoctrination and mind control practices. He learned a lot of the practices he used when he decided to make this a religious cult and declare himself the Messiah. He and Hak Ja Han, his wife, were crowned emperor and empress of the universe by Congress people. Jesus came to him. He had all these practices. When the book came out, I was on the Megyn Kelly Show. I was interviewed for the backstory. They said, “Do you think he believed he was the Messiah?” I said, “If enough people bow to you for long enough, you start to believe it.” I do think, at some point, he did believe it.
What happened when you rebelled against all of this? I know what triggered it, but tell everyone what triggered that.
To start over, my parents got married young. They split. We live with my mom. I’m terrified. We’re supposed to go move on to a commune. Instead, we moved in with my grandparents because my grandmother was sick. My grandmother passes. We are staying with my grandfather. My mom finally meets Moon. Here’s Moon speak, and starts to get involved and gets heavily involved. Six months after she got involved after she brought us up to meet in Barry town and see Moon and all of that. She sat us down and said, “I feel like I need to be more involved. What do you think I should do?” My older brother and I said, “You should go and leave.” She left and moved into the church, ironically, to help the group, which was for people who had kids and couldn’t move in.
More ironically, she spent almost all her time in the church raising other people’s children. To this day, I meet people who say, “Your mother loved me much.” That’s her life. We’re living with my dad and we’re going there every weekend and every holiday. Even when she wasn’t around, I would go to the church. It was only where I wanted to be.
The summer between my junior and senior year of high school, my father, Danny, sent me away to music camp. I’m convinced to this day to keep me away from the church because I spent all my time there and he never spent any money on me. He sent me to a music camp. I became friends with people who, for the first time, knew me we were queer, which is a huge sin in my church. Homosexuality and all of that are huge sins. I read to my mom and say, “What should I do?” She says, “They’re evil and sinful. You can convert them or stay away from them.”
What was your mother’s first name?
Mimi. Not Mommy and Daddy but Danny and Mimi. When we joined the church, I started calling her mother because that’s the right way to be. I wrote to Mother and she says, “Stay away from them. They’re evil.” For the first time, I don’t agree because I love these people. They’re wonderful people. I’m confused. You have to understand. We were literally taught that if we ever questioned anything, it’s Satan in evil spirits inside us trying to win us back from God. As soon as you question any doctrine, anything Moon says, or what you’re told to do, you’re terrified because you know Satan is in you.
You don’t let yourself think those things. It’s control. In an absolutely ultimate way, I still have a hard time thinking for myself. I am 58 years old. I left when I was 18 to 20. It’s still difficult 40 years later for me to do this. I didn’t agree. I came home from music camp knowing that I was sinful and evil, which I always knew anyway and that Satan was inside me. I alluded to this before. I’m not in the church, but I’m best friends With Moon’s children. They’re called the true children because they’re the children of the Messiah.
They are blessed children. The blessed children are the children who are born without original sin. They’re very special. They’re born to the people in these huge mass weddings that Moon presided over. The best seats they ever had at Madison Square Garden and my mother’s wedding because my mom got married on July 1, 1982, with 2,075 other couples. I had red seats on the floor. There are the true and the blessed children, and then there’s sinful me. I’m the sinful and awful child.
You are the sinful child even though your mother is giving her life to the church. It doesn’t matter.
It still doesn’t matter. I am sinful. I do not deserve to be friends with these true or blessed children. I come home from music camp. One of my blessed friends, my sixteen-year-old friend, had been seduced by our Sunday school teacher. She’s having an affair with him. He does get her pregnant. I know none of this. In order to keep anyone from noticing, she spreads rumors about me as she says that I want to have sex with all the brothers, which is the hugest sin. It’s the cause of the fall of man premarital sex. Moon hears these rumors, believes these rumors, and makes a decree that only blessed children can be with the true children to keep me away.
What happened to her when she was pregnant and all that her secret came out?
It was awful. I was not there at that time, but I have reconnected with her. She was made to have a very late-term abortion. Her father beat her and made her older brother beat her. He got sent off to Alaska and she got blamed.
I am very enlightened with Mr. Moon.
I come back from music camp. I find this out. The Messiah banished me. I went to my senior year of high school knowing Satan was inside me and knowing the Messiah. I think, “I followed my mother into the church at the age of ten. I wasn’t an adult. Now at the age of seventeen, I’m going to pull back a little bit and then make an adult decision to come back and never question.” I start hanging out with people more and having friends outside the church. I get drunk at a party. A boy kisses me and I kiss him back. I have a boyfriend and all hell breaks loose because that’s a sin.
Long story short, I go off to college. He stays in New York City. I go off up to Ithaca, New York. I determine I will break up with him, and I don’t. I slowly start to pull away, but it takes me years. When I left, I knew Moon was the Messiah, and I was a failure. I self-punished beyond belief. It took me years to even realize anything. I spent most of my life like this. It must have been unbelievably traumatizing for us to go back and forth between the cult and my dad. We literally went back and forth.
He was the antithesis of Moon.
I don’t know. I wasn’t there.
I’m glad you’re spilling it out. It’s an amazing story. In your book To The Moon And Back, you state that forgiveness is giving up all hope of a different past. Your mother’s world was the fanatical, puritanical cult of the Moonies. Your father’s world was faced with sex, drugs, and the squalor of life in New York City’s East Village in the ‘70s. If you were able to accept and forgive your parents, anyone can. What is your relationship with each of them like now?
I do believe that’s an Anne Lamott and it’s a beautiful quote whereas, “I wouldn’t wish my past on anyone. I wouldn’t wish trauma on anyone. I do know that it has given me. I am who I am in spite of and because of owning all of that. It’s a hell of a journey. The journey with my parents has been a long journey. My brother and I joke that my mother is often easier for him and my father is often easier for me, but neither one is easy.
I’ll start with my father, Danny, and this is going to sound weird. I started healing when someone when I did get engaged to an active alcoholic who was quite abusive. Someone pointed me to Al-Anon, the twelve-step program for those of us with our arms class around the alcoholic. One of the things they say is you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, which is great, but that means that the other people are exactly where they’re supposed to be, which I didn’t like that part.
I do believe that my parents did the best they could. Sometimes that’s hard to accept, but it is the truth. I start with Danny. I do believe that he did everything that he did, including having my brother smoke pot at the age of ten because it would be fun with our best interest in mind, thinking he was given, “This is an open free and wonderful experience.” He had a stroke many years ago. I’ve been his primary caregiver the whole time. He is now about fifteen minutes away in a very rollercoaster, slow process of dying or not dying.
He started dying the way he lived.
That’s what one of my friends said. I took a weekend away because I do see him every day. He came back and told me that he missed me and that I was gone too long. I probably shouldn’t say this out loud, but I will. He said, “I’m falling in love with you more, but sometimes it’s not as a daughter. It’s more as a lover.” My high school friends said, “People die as they live.” That’s my father completely inappropriate, but with my ability to forgive him, I am graced with the ability to have a lot of love and to hold dualities. I’ve had to learn to have anger. That has had to be a learning for me, but the ability to hold the space as hard and as much as it hurts, he did the best he could.
He never did it malevolently. He didn’t do anything to harm us, even though it harmed us. I know why he’s as limited as he is because I know what his parental situation was. The last dying or not dying, literally declared actively dying and then not on hospice. He has said things that I never thought he’d say. It’s like his heart finally cracked open. He’s finally able to admit love and feel the love that never did I ever know my father loved me. I never knew my dad loved me because Danny was not that kind.
How do I find forgiveness? I am graced with the ability to love, perhaps to a fault. It is who I am. I lead with love. I am love and body. That’s the name I was given in my Positive Psychology course. It’s the only thing that I know that heals, and I choose to love. That’s Danny. I have a relationship with him. I’m going to get off his show and drive the fifteen minutes, give him a pint of ice cream, and see if he’s responsive or not responsive, where he is today and cry.
The blessing of him taking long and saying all the things he has to say to you is that it’s giving you both closure. He’s eventually going to go to the other side and get a life review the loving part will be very healing for him.
Thank God for him. What breaks my heart most is that he has not been able to express this. He is only 78 years old. He’s been in a nursing home for many years since he was in his 60s, but to be able to express love, he’s never been able to do that. It’s a blessing. Even my mom will say I did that. I helped him crack open so he could finally express and feel the love. When we first started, I said, “I love you. Do you know that?” He says, “I know that.” I know he loves me. He said, “I loved you when I was a kid.” “I never knew that you loved me when I was a kid, but now I do.” It’s a gift. It’s a horrific hard wearying tiring, and heartbreaking in a different way, everyday gift. That’s my dad.
Let’s talk about Mimi.
My mom left the church in ‘96 when my young older child was born. It’s harder because my dad, I know why he’s that way. My mother, other than the fact that she was brainwashed, was not of her own mind. We are all susceptible. The only way I can wrap my head around the fact my mom left us and many other things she did along the way is because when you are in that situation, you have no choice but to do what you’re told and to believe what you’re told.
It’s how your brain works. Over the years, we’ve worked on it. We’re still in the process of ironing it out. Even when the book came out, my mom didn’t even realize the impact of what she did. I don’t think until very recently. She would say things like, “I hope you get over this soon. Why are you still upset about that?” Things that I would never do or act towards me in a way I would never act to my children, but she’s different. Both my parents are better grandparents than they were parents.
She basically abandoned you throughout your childhood.
Also, adulthood. Literally, she’d say, “When are you going to get over this?” My therapist would say, “Tell her that when she stops still doing it, you’ll get over,” because she still has a pattern of if things get too much from her if she runs. One of my biggest scars is my mom leaving, not just leaving, but asking us what we should do so we could tell her to leave. We were always told how lucky we were that she left and that we could live without her because we were suffering for God. You could never miss her.
They denied your feelings and your emotions.
I had no emotions. I was only lucky. She would never be alone with us. She would say something when my father had a stroke, disheveled, and his assisted living room was awful and gross. She was like, “How can he be like this?” We’re like, “He’s always like this. You just never came. You weren’t there.”
What was her childhood like? Did she have a stable childhood to be able to in be influenced like this?
She did have a stable childhood. What dawned on me, and as you look for reasons when she was three years old, she was running and carrying a cat piggy bank like a ceramic cat. She fell and sliced the tendons in her right hand and is now left-handed. She can’t use her right hand. If you stop and think about the early ‘40s, what that must have done, how she must have been terrified, how they must have treated her, and how they probably never told her what was going on. To this day, she has a hard time with anything medical. She had this untreated trauma. My grandfather was a judge. He was very strict and very conservative.
I have the choice of not having them in my life or finding a way to have them in my life. I often do it with big buffers. Danny always had a big buffer. Now it’s much less as he’s chained. My mom never had a buffer, and then there was a while there was a big buffer somewhat recently because I’m like, “You keep doing these things and saying these things that cut me to the core so I can’t be around you. I can be around you, but I can’t let you close.” Sometimes I let her closer and then it happens. We have the conversation again and then we work it out. It’s like always, this workout. It’s very hard to navigate an adult relationship when this traumatized child in you says, “You left. You did this.”
You do traumatize children who are dealing with each other because she hasn’t healed her part either.
She has owned the impact. She once said, “I never felt like I left you because you were always in my heart.” I’m like, “Let’s be clear. You left and you never came back.” She’s owned it more and more. That is also a grace from the universe when it feels validating or less invalidating until I can be more open to it. It’s a lot of trauma therapy. It’s a choice to have her in my kids’ lives, but it’s an absolute choice to protect myself when necessary and open my heart because I would rather have it. I do love my parents.
Their genes put together a stellar person. They were not cool about how they applied.
They had my brother when they were 18 and me when they were 20. They didn’t know what they were doing. It was the ‘60s.
Now I’m going to have you give a mind-boggling review of the abuse, scars, addictions, and inner demons you struggled with that led you to almost jump off a bridge, become anorexic, take lots of cocaine, and get into dysfunctional relationships, including the one with the act of an alcoholic. Where would you like to begin?
By the time we got to the church, there was already a lot of trauma. I probably was molested at a very young age. There was trauma with my mom and my dad. I already knew there was something inherently wrong with me, and I was terrified. We got into a cult where it was reinforced that there was a lot wrong with me, the sexual trauma and all this stuff about sex. I was mistreated by many brothers and older men in the church. There were a lot of bad forces around me who were also my anchors and inappropriate mix-messages. I was such a goodie, two-shoes little kid. When I left, I still knew he was the Messiah. I just didn’t want to do it.
I have a dear friend who said to me, “What if it’s right but it’s not right for you?” For whatever, I clunk to that. I knew that I was failing. I was breaking God’s heart. I was causing mankind to suffer for thousands of years more. None of this is true, but this is exactly what we were told. The moment on the bridge, it’s my freshman year. I went to Cornell. They romanticized the bridges and the jumping. I remember standing on the bridge and knowing it would be a better choice to die than to leave.
Luckily, I didn’t. I don’t know why. The thing is I always look functional on the outside because I’m an overachiever. Those are some of my scars, perfectionism, overachieving, pleasing, sweetness, and my coping mechanisms. That was freshman year. In sophomore year, I had sex with my boyfriend. I proceeded to stop eating. I was 35 pounds less than I am now because it was something I could control. I was punishing myself for the sin of leaving. I went into therapy, never mentioning the church, because I knew that if I mentioned the church, the therapist would judge me. In junior year, Adam, my boyfriend, started dealing cocaine and doing cocaine which was the drug of choice because it made you thin, smart, and powerful. I did a hell of a lot of that.
Did you do cocaine with your father, also?
Yes. The best seats I ever had at Madison Square Garden at my mother’s wedding and the best cocaine I ever had was for my father’s friend, who literally was a judge of a town that we have talked about that I won’t mention. I’m at a book reading once and Adam is my high school boyfriend. I say that, and this decades ago. Adam and I are hanging out and this judge is going out with Danny. He goes, “Kids, are you doing anything tonight?” We’re like, “No, we’re just hanging out.” He takes up this huge bag and a huge tablespoon. He puts these two heaping mounds of cocaine on a block and walks out. We tried to finish it and we couldn’t.
How old were you this time?
Nineteen. Adam, from the back goes, “It was a good cocaine.” I used to do cocaine with Danny. It was the closest I’d ever been with him. We’d do all his blow, and then he’d take me out to dinner and yell at me for night eating because of my anorexia. It was whatever. That was junior year. In senior year, I started getting into more abusive relationships until I became an active alcoholic because I didn’t even know it. When I got engaged to this active alcoholic, I had a cousin who sent me to Al-Anon. I go to my first meeting and I think, “Tell me if he’s an alcoholic. There’s no way I would ever be with an alcoholic because I’m way too smart for that.”
Danny drank and took drug every day of my life. There’s an addiction all over my father’s family. I grew up in a cult. When I left, if I thought about it, I had to die so I didn’t. I had no concept. It’s a feeling of self-loathing and self-revulsion that there are no words that are powerful enough to describe. It is this feeling of revulsion and loathing of myself that I did not even know I felt. Honestly, I used to think my biggest harmful tape was, “I’m not enough.” My biggest harmful tape, the one that goes through my head at my deepest, darkest moments, is, “You should have died. You should have jumped. You deserved to die.”
Let’s fast forward. I am happy, healthy, whole, and functional, and I have much joy and love in my life. I have problems like everybody, but there are these deeply carved into my brain and my psyche by the cult. It is intentionally carved into my brain and my psyche to control me. That is my deepest and darkest moments are there. They’re much less than they are now. Normally when they hit, I can now breathe through them and know what they are. When I first found them, I can’t even describe the depth of pain and self-revulsion.
How did you heal this stuff? Tell us about your journey of healing that helped you purge your pain, the who changed those thought patterns, some of which are still there and search your soul for a sense of self-worth. That’s some assignments.
It started in Al-Anon, the twelve-step program. Thank God for those. They were my lifesaver for a long time and more therapy.
You took yourself into therapy.
I took myself into trauma therapy specifically for me, EMDR, Eye, Movement, Desensitization Reprocessing therapy. I’ve done a lot of different kinds of therapy. I have a certification in Positive Psychology. I have embraced anything that can ease the ability, pain, and what was in there. Since the book came out in 2018 and I found the Cult Survivor Community, specifically, it’s called the Second Gens.
Is it nationwide or local?
Nationwide, international and local. I’ve gone to Scotland to speak. There are many people and those of us who are born under raised are called Second Gens. Intentionally what is done to our brain is very specific things and carves you in very specific ways. The more I am able to look at that face that recognizes it, call it out, the power of words. I learned to say things like, “That’s the cult talking. That’s what was done to me.” I still remember the day when my therapist said, “Do you think you should stop calling him the Messiah.” Now I call him Moon. I will say the Messiah when I’m telling the story, but it’s a lot of meditation, which doesn’t work for some people with trauma. I walk around with my hand on my heart all day long. Thank you, Tara Brock. I’m loving myself.
I’m telling myself I love myself every single day, taking care of myself, finding ways I’m looking out the window at the sky and feeling joy. I do anything that eases this. Meditation allowed me to have the space to see. The more I can see what was done, how it was done, how it affects me, and know that I’m not it. Before the book came out, I used to think I was still damaged. I’m not damaged. I have damaged. My older kid read it years ago and then read it. We were going through it because they annotated it all over the place. They came to this part where I talked about meeting their dad and I’ll talk about our relationship.
I said something like, “In any relationship, we drive each other crazy. I know the scars from my childhood are difficult and drive him crazy. My kid is like, “What the?” I didn’t realize that. I wrote that long ago. I would never say that now. For a long time, I did look at I’m damaged. I have problems because of everything that happened. That is not true. The truth is, like everyone else, I’m glorious and wonderful, spectacular and magnificent. I have scars. How could I not have scars?
I would love to be a fly on the wall over there and find out why you planned this and what lessons. Look at the lessons you’ve learned from it. Now you’re inspiring people. You’re becoming a role model. It’s interesting.
I know I didn’t think it all through when I wrote the book. I’m a person who does things, but since the book has come out, I have touched people. I have changed lives. The Cult Community, the Second Generation Community, I know that I’m reaching them. My story is unique, but the themes are universal. Many of my scars, challenges, and insight muck. You don’t need to have grown up in a cult to have this.
People have way different, worse, but not as bad, whatever experiences and have that same thing. If I can spread a message of hope, self-love, and self-compassion, then it’s all worth it. A young kid called me at one point, and I was like, “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but it gives you an appreciation for life that people who have not experienced or not realized they’ve experienced. Don’t have that same appreciation for the simple joys in life.” My story helps. I’m lucky.”
I feel the same way. I’ve been abandoned by my family. I had a lot of trauma in my childhood. It took me a lot to be able to tell people, “This is what happened to me.” I was embarrassed for a long time. I felt shame. I find that, to be more honest, I become warm. I’m helping other people. We are role models to show you can move through it. You don’t have to stay in your swamp of suffering. You can make lemonade out of this these lemons. Here we are.
A couple of days after the book came out, I was on Macon Kelly’s show. That night there was a book reading in the little town in which I live. I was sitting on my side porch in the middle of the day. my neighbor walks by and goes, “What’s going on today?” I said, “Funny, you should ask.” I tell him the story because I didn’t share my story because when you say I grew up in a cult, it sucks energy out of the room. I tell the story and three weeks later, I get an email from his wife, “Thank you for giving us all the courage to tell our childhood stories because many people are walking around with this shame that they don’t need. That’s not theirs. That’s not true.”
You were born a beautiful person. It was their stuff that was foisted on you.
If I can share my secrets, help other people share their secrets, and feel less alone, then it’s all worth it.
I’m sure that there are readers who have kids. Please share your wisdom about extremist situations, how to stay out of them, or how to get out of them.
The first thing I’m going to say is we are all susceptible. I was watching one of the documentaries about Nexium. They end it with saying, “We are all susceptible. In fact, if you think you’re not susceptible, you’re the most susceptible. All it takes is being in the wrong place at the wrong time and the wrong situation.” Start with this. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If it blames all of the right and wrongs on this group and all of the rights on this person, it’s not a good place to be.
When people tell you they have the answers, that’s what it is. It had to stay out. It takes the awareness that we’re susceptible. Years ago, we were in Charleston and I saw Harry Krishna. They weren’t explaining in street clothes, but Harry Krishna was talking to someone. I was like, “That’s what that is,” and I walked the other way. Now I would go up and be like, “Don’t talk to these people.”
When people come up to you on the street or when you’re in any situation and start selling you these goods, telling you again, all right, all wrong, all truth, us versus them, extremist situations, it’s called the BITE Model created by think by Steven Hassan. It’s when they want to control your behavior, the information you get, your thinking, and your emotions. If you’re told what to do, what to think, how to feel, or if you think that’s Satan, in the self-help groups or If you think that that’s your monkey mind, all those ways. Be aware and reach out to someone. If you know someone you think is involved or getting involved, do not tell them it’s a bad thing because they will only push back.
They’ll defend it.
They used to kidnap and deprogram people.
That happened to a friend of mine. She had her daughter kidnapped.
They did it. It was horrific. Now what they say is to stay in contact. If your kid gets involved, stay in contact. If you know someone in QAnon, don’t scream at them. Find a way to stay close to them. Find a way to find humanity with someone and stay with them so that they can begin to have a conversation with you. As soon as you told me that Moon was wrong and evil, you would’ve lost me. To my Danny’s credit, he never spoke evil about the church. Only now do I realize how hard that was. He’s like, “Maybe I should have.” I said, “If you had ever said anything evil like negative about Moon or our mother, you would’ve lost us even more.”
It’s about being aware and staying in close contact with someone who you think might be in trouble. There are people who do that. Now if you go and you Google Cult Survivor, there’s an organization called ICSA or International Cultic Studies Association. They have names of therapists who can deal with people in cults of interventionists who can help you. If your kids or parents are getting caught in a cult, they get help. There is much help that there wasn’t help back when I was there.
For that information alone, this is a special interview because this can help many people. Thank you, Lisa. What is your advice for anyone who feels hopeless or damaged beyond repair? Many people do.
There is hope and you are not damaged. Those are the lies in our brains. For my work as an executive coach and a leadership consultant, and for my life, stuff happens when we’re kids and we make up lies. We interpret the world in ways that save our lives and protect us. When we’re adults, they literally are working against us. If you feel hopeless, reach out and talk to someone. If you feel damaged beyond repair, find a therapist, self-help group, and other people who can go, “I know what you like. I feel the same way.”
There is always hope. I walk around with my hand on my heart all the time. I say, “As a species, we’re way too hard on ourselves.” We’re self-critical, judging, lambasting, and we’re mean. Be nice to yourself. Take care of yourself. Get yourself a glass of water and a cup of tea. Reach out and talk to a friend. Find someone to connect with. Find someone to talk to. Reach out to me for God’s sake. I’m not the end-all-be-all for anyway but I have a lot of resources to share with people. There is hope.
If you’ve been beaten up, you don’t have to it by beating yourself up.
It is what we do. You beat yourself up for beating yourself up. No stop. One of the most amazing things I’ve learned to say to myself and my clients, “I react that way. I have trauma triggers. I may always have trauma triggers. How could I not?” My first response might be fight, flight, or freeze. How could it not? It’s in my body. Take a breath.
I would like to give kudos to your husband because he must be very supportive, very special, understanding, and love you a lot. Why were you inspired? What inspired you to share this story? I’m glad you did. How has this background helped your leadership, consulting, and coaching work and helped you to create this life of intention and joy?
I don’t think I thought it through when I wrote the book. I crawled into Al-Anon and I would tell my story as my brother says, “When you’re in this room of like hundreds of people, all of these stories and you tell your story and their jaws all drop, you go, ‘Something weird.’” People kept saying, “You should write it.” I started writing it, and in the beginning, it was a half self-helf and half memoir. I got great rejections that said I couldn’t write.
The agent said, “Write it and I’ll represent you.” I wrote it and she couldn’t, then I kept going. I put it out there because when you put something in front of me, I will do it. I loved to write. It was a wonderful experience to write. With that said, now I know why it’s out there. I can spread my message that extremist situations exist. They’re dangerous, prevalent, and intoxicating. For anyone who feels hopeless or damaged beyond repair, there is hope, and you’re not damaged. We all need a huge dose of self-love and self-compassion.
Those are my messages. If my story can help, it’s amazing. and my work. I own a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. I’ve been doing this since 1995. I love what I do. I’m very lucky, but I would always keep it separate from my past and my work because if I told my story, it would suck all the energy. It would make everything about me and take over. When the book came out and clients started reading it or I would walk into a meeting with someone for the first time as a prospect and they’d say, “I Googled you,” because if you Google me, I think I’m still the first three pages. If you Google my brother, I’m still on the first page because I got a lot of publicity.
I’m out there. I complete my bio now. I don’t know if my business partner is approved or not, but I’m using it anyway. My bio starts with my line, “The best seats I ever had and the best cocaine I ever had,” because we all have secrets, shame, and something. By sharing my story, I allow people to look at the craziness in their heads, the wacky things they’ve learned, and what they’ve done to cope and survive. It gives a sense of hope. My coaching and my consulting work have gone to a much deeper level of what our brains do and why our brains do it.
Our brain is clearly not a muscle, but I like to talk about it as a muscle because we have the ability to take it and move it, so all we do all day long is makeup stories about ourselves and other people. That’s the way our brains work. We have no other choice, but we can be like, “Maybe that’s a story. Let me figure out something else.” We have more power to be nicer to ourselves, the world, and others than we think we do.
My business partner, her name is Robin, and we’re coaching this group. She was working with the senior leaders of a not-for-profit one of them. The one I’m coaching is like, “My coach keeps telling me to be nicer to myself and take care of myself.” One of the people that Robin’s coaching goes, “My coach doesn’t say that.” I preach what I’ve learned like, “This happened to me. Here are the tools from Al-Anon, Positive Psychology, therapy, mindfulness, or whatever the heck it is.” For the first time, I know to myself coaching someone who grew up in a cult.
She’s like, “You understand what I mean when I say this.” I’m like, “I completely understand.” It’s the ability to be honest and authentic. I’ve always been mildly authentic, but to be completely authentic about all of it is such a gift I think my work is much deeper. I have one client who, when he read the book, very nicely posted on LinkedIn, “We always knew you were amazing at what you did. Now we know why.”
The other part that I think is you’ve become a role model to show people that no matter what you’ve experienced, no matter how bad it was, you can heal and move through it. You can find space and joy in your life. I know people who are damaged and think they have joy, but their story weighs them down. They’re still carrying it like a backpack everywhere they go. You’re a role model for that. After a lot of work, you can drop that backpack.
You can drop it, pick it up, and drop it again.
We’ve been talking about the importance of self-love and self-compassion when it comes to healing. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about healing with our audience? Why should people go to all this trouble with all the pain to confront their pain?
I was in a little town in the coffee shop. It’s a great coffee shop, having coffee with someone, a friend in a neighborhood, who revealed to me. He said something offhand about being molested when he was a kid. I was like, “What? I’m not a good person to talk to about trauma because I will talk to you about trauma. Trauma changes our bodies, minds, and DNA. Trauma affects us in a lot of deep ways.” Not like, “My trauma will never affect me.” It’s part of me, but the light, joy, possibility, hope, beauty, and love that can fill our hearts that I didn’t even know I was missing, that I thought I had even many years ago.
I’m like, “I’m good.” My therapist came to the book reading, and I was like, “Let’s have lunch.” A couple of months later, I was like, “Nevermind. Let’s go back into therapy.” The joy and possibility when you do the work and can show up. When I can show up and look at the things in my brain and be able to know them or know where they come from, know I don’t have to believe them, and when I can’t help but believe them. I can still reach out to someone or take care of myself or it’ll pass. It is such light, love, and joy.
That’s a possibility. It’s a lot of work. I knew my childhood was weird, clearly. It’s all you know. You don’t know it’s bad. You don’t know if it’s hurt you or any of that. You don’t know what could or should be different. When you go through the therapy or the work or whatever you do to heal, you’re like, “I didn’t even know.” I’ve been at this for decades and I thought I was great. I still was not allowing myself to have wants, needs, boundaries, say no, or own my space.A all those things I was never allowed to do and had to never do in order to survive, I’m still cracking it open. The possibilities and the freedom is the ability to love with all my heart, connect with strangers, family and friends, and heal with my parents.
For me, it’s clear seeing and feeling because of all the healing I’ve done. It’s amazing because you don’t have all this cloudiness, fogginess, the pain, the trauma sitting between you. You don’t realize it until you heal it. What a feeling it is for those things not to be standing in the way of all your experiences and sensations. How can the readers connect with you? Do you have an offer for those who are part of book clubs? Would she be a great person to interview in a book club? Let it rip. Tell everybody all about you.
My writing website is LisaKohnWrites.com. That is my writing personal social media @LisakohnWrites at Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. If you Google Lisa Kohn, you will find me. I love when people reach out to me. Clearly, I am passionate about this. I love talking about this. I do a lot of keynote speeches. I do a lot of teaching about it, and I will come to any book club. COVID aside, if you’re local, I’m there, and I’ll Zoom anywhere. I have Zoomed different countries.
I will answer almost any question if not any question you ask me as long as it’s not about my current immediate family. I’m all yours. You can ask me anything and I will tell you the truth as weird as it is. Please reach out, share, and let me know. Please invite me to your book club if. If you go on my website, there’s a link to go to the bookstore in town. They call me and are like, “Come and sign another one.” I will autograph a book. It’s an indie bookstore. It’s personalized. I’m on Amazon. I’m free on Kindle. If you grew up in a cult, I would send you an electric copy of my book for free. I’m doing it to spread a message and reach people. That’s why I’m out here doing it.
It sounds like you found the joy in life. Do you have any tips for joy in life that you’d like to share with our readers?
Joy is a choice. It is sometimes more accessible than others. What I highly suggest to my clients, myself, and everyone I know is that I find the things that bring me joy. I’m looking out the window for whatever reason, the sky, the trees against the sky, and if I’m having a hard day, that works. In the right seasons, those don’t even know me. It’s the yellow birds and golden finch. I know the way they sound, fly and look. I look for things. I create things. When I was traveling to Minneapolis, where my older child is, and there were no yellow birds, I thought, “I need something red. It’ll be like red apples and red hearts or something.” I was biking every day and every single person that passed me had something red. The universe is sending me joy.
I actively go out and create things to make my mind find joy. It sounds wacky, but it works. I do walk around with my hand. I skied into a tree right before COVID. I broke my sternum. My younger child said, “Now you have an excuse to have your hand on your heart all the time.” I walk around with my hand on my heart. I tell myself I love myself every morning. I actively love people. I’m the one who hugs people. I’m the one who’s gushy, mushy, whatever. I do anything to live and love and joy about.
To The Moon and Back: A Childhood Under The Influence is beyond inspiring as it shares the ways you overcame your upbringing to become the happy and successful person you are. Your amazing story about overcoming parental abandonment, substance abuse, and emotional trauma while coming of age in New York City is truly well-written and compelling, as it reveals that it is indeed possible for a person to leave absurdity and horror behind and create a life of intention and joy.
Thank you from my heart for this riveting interview, which has surely provided much food for thought to readers, especially those who continue to let their childhoods hold them back. I applaud you for the many ways you chose healing and rebirth. You’re a tremendous role model. Thank you again. Here’s a reminder to everyone. Make sure to follow us and like us on social at @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as I like to say to be continued, many blessings, and bye for now.
- Lisa Kohn’s book: The Power of Thoughtful Leadership
- Lisa Kohn’s book: To the Moon and Back: A Childhood Under The Influence
- Lisa Kohn’s website: LisaKohnWrites.com
- Connect with Lisa Kohn on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
- Irene Weinberg on Instagram
- Irene Weinberg on Facebook
- Irene Weinberg on Twitter
- Irene Weinberg – Grief, Rebirth + Healing Podcast on YouTube