I could start by telling you I have a Master’s Degree, am a certified professional life coach and an ESL Teacher-Trainer; as well as a published author and founder of an agency which provides life skills training for blind and visually impaired adults. That would satisfy the recruiters and head hunters but it doesn’t tell you who I am.
From Crisis to Victory
I’m Susan Gammage and I’m a Bahá’í.
At one time I labelled myself as an:
- Assistant Manager of a Convenience Store
- Orientation and Mobility Specialist
- Founder and Executive Director of a non-profit organization
- Coordinator of an area-wide social and economic development program
- Researcher, writer
- Life Coach
- English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and teacher-trainer
Later on I labelled myself as:
- An abuse survivor
- Suffering from anxiety and depression
- Having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of severe and prolonged childhood abuse
- A single mom
- Nearly bankrupt (3x)
- Single, alone and lonely
- Unloved and unlovable
But that doesn’t tell you who I am either. When I believed the labels I attached to myself, I was filled with:
The labels kept me trapped in the prison of self, veiled from God and separated from others.
But that doesn’t tell you who I am either.
I could tell you my story but I’ve learned that it’s the stories that separate us; and the reactions that unite us, and as a Bahá’í, I’m more interested in finding the points of unity, so let me introduce myself.
I’m Susan Gammage and I’m a Bahá’í.
I’ve been a Bahá’í since 1982.
I am a mine rich in gems of inestimable value and I’m a sinner.
I was created by a God who loves me and tells me His work is perfect, so I believe that even as a sinner, I’m still perfect.
We are all sinners, and Thou art the Forgiver of sins. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 176)
We don’t talk much about sin and repentance in the Bahá’í Faith, thinking those are “Christian topics” but Baha’u’llah didn’t cancel sin when He introduced us to our nobility.
Looking for Healing in All the Wrong Places
Over 25 years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and PTSD, but I’d probably been living with these conditions all of my life. Once I had the labels, though, I set out in search of healing, going first the medical route, including:
- anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication
When that didn’t improve the quality of my life, I went the alternative health route which included:
- Chinese herbs
- Natural health
- Core belief engineering
- Network chiropractic
- Spiritual counselling
- Health kinesiology
- Mindfulness meditation
- Body, mind and spirit integration
The list goes on and on!
- had the mercury amalgams removed from my teeth
- used full spectrum lights for Seasonal Affective Disorder
- changed my diet to correct nutritional imbalances
- attended support groups for adult children of alcoholics, ritual abuse, sexual abuse, anxiety and depression
I went to Hawaii to consult a healer, and even spent a year examining the potential for false memories!
All sins; because I was putting my belief in each of these modalities and healers and not in God!
Sure I felt a little better with each of these, but it was only symptomatic relief. None of them got at the root of the problem, because I was looking for healing in all the wrong places.
God is the Divine Physician and He alone has the power to give true healing:
The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 212)
God is the great compassionate Physician who alone has the power to give true healing. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 19)
I spent years with therapist specializing in everything from cognitive therapy to therapy which focused on ritual abuse and PTSD. I understood a lot more about what happened to me, but all of it left me feeling:
- overwhelming despair
- tired most of the time
- wanting to die
I was left with:
- Increased feelings of dissociation
- Frequent insomnia
- Anxiety and panic attacks during the day and waking me at night
- Difficulty getting out of bed
- Irritability and angry outbursts
- Exaggerated need for privacy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Negative thoughts about self and others
Repeating a pattern set by my parents, I moved on average every two years, searching for a better life.
Later on I learned why: I was approaching the stage of utter hopelessness because I’d given my power to unskilled practitioners, instead of turning to God for the remedy:
Its sickness is approaching the stage of utter hopelessness, inasmuch as the true Physician is debarred from administering the remedy, whilst unskilled practitioners are regarded with favor, and are accorded full freedom to act. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 39)
Finally, in desperation, I turned to the Bahá’í Writings, believing that if Baha’u’llah came with a blueprint to get humanity out of the mess it was in, He must have the blueprint to get me out of the mess that was my life.
Reading the Writings morning and night, I was amazed at how often I found quotes that answered my questions, and when I couldn’t find something more specific, I wrote to the House of Justice. Eventually I had so many quotes and was so excited by the blueprint, that I wanted to share it with the world and had it published under the title Abuse and Violence: Reasons and Remedies.
I had the blueprint and it was magnificent, but my house had not been built. The blueprint appealed to my head but it took awhile for the Creative Word of God to soften my heart and give me the funding I needed to build the house.
But even with the blueprint and the funding, I was still deeply mired down by anxiety, depression, and PTSD; still full of fear, self-pity, self-hatred, bitterness and despair, until I met the builders: Morty Lefkoe and Henry Wright.
Morty taught me that what happened to me as a child was only a series of events that had no meaning until I gave them meaning. As children we need to make sense of the world and most of us do it without anyone to teach us. We’re very “self” centred so whatever happens to us must be our fault. We believe this inherently and we may have been taught it too, by parents, teachers and other early influencers, who may have said things like:
- Look what you made me do
- It’s all your fault
- You’re so stupid, lazy, crazy . . . (fill in the blanks)
But most of us came to certain faulty conclusions ourselves:
- I’m not good enough.
- Nothing I do is good enough.
- What makes me good enough or important is having people think well of me.
- What makes me good enough or important is doing things perfectly.
- Change is difficult.
- Mistakes and failure are bad.
- I’m not important.
- I’m not capable.
- I’m not competent.
- I’m inadequate.
- If I make a mistake or fail I’ll be rejected.
- I’m a failure.
- I’m stupid.
- I’m not worthy.
- I’ll never get what I want.
- I’m powerless.
- What I have to say isn’t important.
- People aren’t interested in what I have to say.
- It’s dangerous to have people put their attention on me (something bad will happen).
Lies, all lies!
That’s not what God teaches, but what our lower natures would have us believe.
Morty taught me what the lies were; and Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and the House of Justice taught me what was true.
Now that I understood how to separate events from the lies I told myself about them; and I knew the truth from the Bahá’í Writings, the frame of my house was going up. It still didn’t have windows or doors, though, and it was still pretty hollow until I met Henry Wright, who taught me about sin and repentance.
We are All Sinners
I knew from my research into the Bahá’í Writings that I had a lower and higher nature, but until I met Henry, I didn’t know how my dual nature worked or how my lower nature kept me believing the lies.
Henry Wright is a Christian minister who has helped thousands of people recover from diseases the medical community said were incurable, including cancer and environmental illness (including multiple chemical sensitivity). He believes (as do the Bahá’í Writings) that about 80% of all disease is caused by sin, and he uses the bible to prove it.
It is certainly the case that sins are a potent cause of physical ailments. If humankind were free from the defilements of sin and waywardness, and lived according to a natural, inborn equilibrium, without following wherever their passions led, it is undeniable that diseases would no longer take the ascendant, nor diversify with such intensity. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 152)
Every page of his book A More Excellent Way is filled with quotes from the bible to back him up, and as I investigated his work closely, I found Bahá’í equivalents for most of what he was teaching.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us “We are all sinners”; and Henry taught me what this means.
Every single time God says “do this” and we don’t do it, it’s a sin.
Every minute of every day we all think, do and say things that are in direct contradiction to the life God wants us to live. How do we know this? The Báb teaches us the standard in this prayer:
I beg Thee to forgive me, O my Lord, for every mention but the mention of Thee, and for every praise but the praise of Thee, and for every delight but delight in Thy nearness, and for every pleasure but the pleasure of communion with Thee, and for every joy but the joy of Thy love and of Thy good-pleasure, and for all things pertaining unto me which bear no relationship unto Thee, O Thou Who art the Lord of lords, He Who provideth the means and unlocketh the doors. (The Bab, Baha’i Prayers, p. 79)
I can’t think of a single person who lives a life in which their:
- Only mention is of God
- Only praise is of God
- Only delight is in God’s nearness
- Only pleasure is in communing with God
Yet this is the standard we’re to strive for; and anything less is disobedience and sin.
Henry was very blunt as through his teachings I learned that as long as I held on to the labels of anxiety and depression, I would stay stuck in a medical model, trapped in the prison of self, which is exactly where I was.
When I changed the way I looked at them to “fear and self-pity”, they became sins and I could do something about them. He introduced me to God’s teachings on fear, self-pity, anger, bitterness and unforgiveness and I began to see the way out of my self-imposed prison.
I realized that as bad as my childhood abuse was; the abuse I’d perpetrated on myself (by believing the lies and being disobedient to injunctions I was unaware of) for more than 50 years was far worse!
He taught me the steps to forgiveness and repentance and as I followed his steps I became lighter and lighter; and started smiling for no reason. I went to bed smiling and woke up eager to embrace each day! I could literally feel the anxiety, depression and PTSD melt away! I’ve been clear of them since early 2010. For the first time in my life, I could honestly say “I love my life”! And I am grateful!
Baha’i–Inspired Life Coaching
My “house” has been built; I live in Muskoka, which I consider to be one of the most beautiful parts of Canada, surrounded by incredible beauty in an area blessed with an abundance of lakes, forests and rocks. National Geographic magazine has listed this as one of the top 10 places in the world to visit before you die, so it’s not just me who finds it beautiful!
I’ve had the bounty of living here since 2007, which is longer than I’ve lived anywhere; people love my smile and laugh and those who’ve watched my transformation have said:
- Susan’s life and healing journey shows incredible courage. It seems that the Baha’i Writings have truly given her the guidance and the courage to continue on the path of healing.
- I can see, even from your blog, that you’ve traveled a great distance since your work began.
- You’ve come a long way from the late 1980s summer school.
So I’m a real believer in sin and repentance and the power of this understanding to heal and I’ve dedicated the rest of my life to helping people understand the Bahá’í Writings through this lens.
I promised myself early on in my healing that if I made it through to the other side and there truly was light at the end of the tunnel, I would teach people about it and hopefully shorten the time people stayed stuck.
Everything I teach as a Bahá’í-inspired Life Coach is inspired by my understanding of the Bahá’í Writings at the moment of writing. We know there’s an ocean to Baha’u’llah’s Revelation and all I claim to have understood is less than a single drop from that Ocean.
I don’t provide medical advice; my coaching is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment or therapy; and my perspective does not in any way constitute official Baha’i policy.
There is no clergy in the Bahá’í Faith. Independent investigation of truth is a principle that is enshrined in our teachings, and all individuals are encouraged to read, study, meditate and ponder the meanings of the Words of God for themselves.
The Writings contain many apparent contradictions. Bahá’u’lláh tells us that:
We speak one word, and by it we intend one and seventy meanings. (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 255)
We are cautioned that:
The believers must guard against seizing upon any particular text which may appeal to them and which they may only partially or even incorrectly understand. (Universal House of Justice, Health and Healing, p. 50)
With this disclaimer in mind, I challenge readers to look to themselves as well as other sources for further education and assistance; and encourage you always, to come back to the Writings as the true source for healing.
If I come across in any way, through my writing or my coaching, as righteous, judgemental or insistent, please see it as enthusiasm for what I’ve learned; and a sincere desire to share it with you. What I’ve learned is that life works better when we “follow the instructions”.
I pray that my work helps you understand what they are, why they exist and how to follow them; and more than that, I pray that you’re inspired to make the changes in your life so that you too, can transform from:
- A gnat into an eagle
- A drop of water into rivers and seas
And that you will become:
- songsters that carol in fair gardens
- lions that couch in the thickets
- whales that plunge in the vasty deep
Or whatever image works best for you!
May God continue to bless and enrich your life as He has done mine, and may you collect all the grace streaming forth for you!
Many of you have asked that I keep the version of my story which I wrote in 1993, so for those of you who want more, here it is . . .
When I first discovered the Bahá’í Faith, Bahá’u’lláh’s version of a New World Order, with the family at the centre, as a nation in miniature was an exciting concept for me. I understood instantly the importance of shaping such a unit, but being able to implement it was quite another thing.
It made sense that many people who have experienced great injustice in their lives would be attracted to a Faith based on justice. However, once I became a Bahá’ís I noticed that no one talked about how to apply the Writings to personal problems or spoke aloud the questions which might arise from the deepest parts of their souls.
No one was saying out loud:
- My family didn’t look anything like the Bahá’í teachings and I don’t know how to implement these concepts
- I can’t trust so I can’t consult
- God has let me down – so why pray? – or Fast? _ or give to the Fund?
- Obeying loving parents resulted in injustice and oppression – so why should I obey laws that look oppressive?
- My behaviour is moderate, or acceptable under the law of the land, so surely this Bahá’í law doesn’t apply to me.
- I am angry and I can’t instantly forgive.
If these are questions you have pondered too, I want to honor you, and acknowledge your bravery for searching for answers. I found all the answers I was looking for (and more), from the Bahá’í Teachings and I know you will too.
I have been through a significant amount of trauma in my life but have found solutions, hope and healing when turning to the Bahá’í Writings and striving to apply them in my life. I would like to share my story so that you will better understand where I am coming from and why this topic is so significant to me. It originally appeared in “Parenting in the New World Order”, March 1993, and was published with the permission of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada.
I invite you to read it as a clear demonstration of the healing power of the Word of God and to witness the positive effects it has had in my life. I apologize if it is too explicit and warn you that it may be triggering for some people. If you think this is you, please make sure you have some support when reading it.
I grew up in a middle class, professional family, in an environment of alcoholism, neglect and physical, emotional and sexual abuse. My father was an alcoholic but had a responsible position in a Western Canadian city. In his industry, he was highly renowned and respected for his integrity and high moral standards. At home, he was a very volatile, violent man, who beat his wife and children, sexually abused my brothers and I and took us on camping trips, which involved satanic cult activities including bestiality, murder, rape and cannibalism.
My mother also held senior positions in the companies she worked for. She was also extremely violent, sexually abusive and active in preparing me for participating in cult activities. I was terrified of both of them, all the time.
I was sent to religious private schools for my education and was sexually abused by the female teachers at two of the schools I attended. I was brought up in the . . . church and the “Church of Satan” simultaneously. It was very confusing because many of the same people were involved in both places.
I was also sexually abused by an uncle, a grandfather and the husband of one of our baby-sitters. In one way, I was fortunate because I grew up distrusting men and women equally. So now, as I heal, I can see the need for all of us to work together to overcome the effects of such oppression and abuse.
As is typical of people who have experiences such trauma, I developed many coping mechanisms which kept me alive through experiences which no adult could survive.
I’ve envied the martyrs in the Bahá’í Faith, whose torture was relatively short-lived and ended in death for something they believed in. The torture I endured lasted for seventeen years, but the effects have lingered another eighteen and will be with me for the rest of my life.
Rest assured in the protection of God. He will preserve His own children under all circumstances. Be ye not afraid nor be ye agitated. He holds the scepter of power in His hand, and like unto a hen He gathereth His chickens under His wings. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Star of the West, vol. 22, p. 248)
I was close to being killed at least three times – once in fact I had been bound and gagged and placed on a stone alter, “chosen” to be “fed to the fire.” I was only four years old, and had already been raped and violated by men and women many times. I was prepared to die. I was ready to die, but at the last minute, as the flames were getting closer, somebody came and I was thrown off and rolled away as the adults pretended they were picnicking and playing volleyball.
I married when I was eighteen, to a man who was thirty-seven; a man who brought his gun and knife collection into our bedroom. He never had to get angry with me – I always did what I thought he wanted. The guns and knives were a silent threat.
Having a family was always my dream. Having a marriage last was another I wanted more than anything else to be “normal”.
Several miracles occurred out of my experiences. When I was a child, I had a strong relationship with God, I prayed frequently – especially for the abuse to stop. When it didn’t, I stopped believing in God. God knows how I became a Bahá’í – I certainly don’t – but my son is now eight years old and I am raising him as a Bahá’í, and not in the cult, and I am not sexually abusing him. I’ve broken two multi-generational patterns, so my prayers were answered, just not in the way or in the time frame I had imagined.
I have been in therapy for many years trying to sort out my experiences and trying to use the Bahá’í teachings in my recovery. I struggle daily to bring my life into the standards of the Faith.
Concepts such as institutions as “loving parents” are difficult for me to understand (what is a loving parent?!) – but I’ve tested the concept twice and I’m beginning to learn. I went to the Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly of . . . to request their input into the terms of my divorce, and I wrote to the Universal House of Justice, asking what my obligations were to my family. Both consultations were very powerful, and have been tremendous forces in my personal growth.
I love ‘Abdul-Bahá’s writing:
My home is the home of peace . . .
And I try to use it as a guideline, but I’m not always successful. It’s hard to live life in the present when anything can trigger a frightening memory.
I’ve come to realize that I have lived most of my life from the perspective of a terrified four-year-old, whose turn it is to die, wanting to die, and now it’s time to choose to live. Reclaiming memories of my childhood, committing myself to live life consciously, recognizing oppression when it is happening and choosing to deal with it head on instead of avoiding it, are all part of my healing process.
Much of the time I felt that my son was being parented by an adult body with the feelings and experiences of a four year old.
Many times I am confronted with situations that my role models simply didn’t prepare me to deal with – so when my son was little and I wanted to take out my frustrations on him, I took him in my arms and held him close and said or sang the prayer:
Is there any remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants and all abide by His bidding. (The Báb, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 28)
over and over while the feeling passed and an opportunity presented itself – and it always did.
So often I feel that my son is teaching me how to parent. He often can see a solution that just makes sense. Sometimes, when my self-esteem is low, I remind myself that the Bahá’í Writings are very clear that the parent is to be in charge, but I always trust the Bahá’u’lláh is guiding my life on the right path, and is teaching me through my son.
I pray for him and with him often, and although he has always vigorously opposed prayer and reading the Writings and calling himself to account daily, I’m hoping that these things will stay with him.
Recently I decided to write to the Universal House of Justice for their guidance. Their response has had a profound effect on my healing and I thought it might be of assistance to others in similar situations.
Holidays have always been difficult times for me, but since I confronted my parents with the sexual abuse, they’ve been especially difficult. They have chosen to deny their involvement and I have been unwilling to engage in a relationship with them that is not based on truth. I have no contact with them and until I got a letter from the Universal House of Justice, I assumed this meant that I was being a bad daughter, and an unforgiving Bahá’í. The Universal House of Justice wrote:
. . . being prudent in deciding upon the appropriate amount of contact with your parents, in reaching your decision, you should be guided by such factors as:
- their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past
- the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings and
- the level of vulnerability you perceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them.”
When I first started my healing journey, I went to the Bahá’í Writings for guidance and found:
Thy name is my healing . . .
God is sufficient . . .
Seek no other helper . . .
So I felt guilty looking for a therapist. God wasn’t sufficient in the sense I thought it meant, but He was sufficient in showing me the right people at the right time. The Universal House of Justice confirmed this in their letter, writing:
. . . you may well find it useful to seek the advice of experts such as your therapist.
I used to feel that I was a bad Bahá’í for not being able to instantly forgive my parents, but the Universal House of Justice wrote:
You are urged to strive to develop forgiveness in your heart toward your parents who have abused you in so disgraceful a manner, and to attain a level of insight which sees them as captives of their lower nature . . .
For me, this means that I may never get there, and as long as I continue to strive, I’m doing the right thing.
Nowhere in the letter from the Universal House of Justice does it say I should stop looking at the memories and dwelling on the past, as I have been told by many well-meaning friends. Instead, the Universal House of Justice writes:
You are truly blessed to have been enabled to accept Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God for this Age, and to have access to the limitless spiritual powers with which His life-giving Revelations is infused. You can draw on these powers by your prayers, as well as your participation in the work of the Faith and in the life of the Bahá’í community; through this effort and through your consultation with competent professionals having expertise in your area of need, you can promote your healing from the damaging effects of your past experiences, and can find happiness and tranquility.
So I’m not sure what this has to say to parents looking for ideas on raising their children – except I know that there are many people out there who are struggling with similar experiences and are wondering what the Bahá’í approach to recovery might be.
I’m sure that because of the shame and the need for perfectionism that many of us just struggle with, we will continue to find the Writings to “beat” ourselves with instead of the ones which will heal.
Having had such a clear letter from the Universal House of Justice has validated my struggle and helped me to know that I am on the right track – and I know that if I work on becoming a better person, my parenting sills are bound to improve too.
None of use grew up in the kind of families Bahá’u’lláh calls us to create, and as adults, we need to take a close look at who we are and where we came from. We need to make conscious decision to change the patterns we don’t like. And we need to trust the guidance we’ve been given in the Bahá’í Writings. Sometimes this may mean having to create a family of choice as we leave behind our family of anger. God will guide us and protect us on our parenting journey. All we have to do is ask.
I believe that all of the answers we need are in the Bahá’í Writings and that we just need to learn to use them to assist us. Particular assistance came to me from the letter from the Universal House of Justice, for example the ideas that:
- healing is not expected to be instantaneous or absolute, but can be “promoted”.
- I am not expected to instantly forgive my parents “To strive to develop forgiveness’ seems to acknowledge that it may never be achieved in this lifetime.
- I am not obligated to see, spend time with or take care of my parents in their old age. I am encouraged to be “prudent in the deciding upon the appropriate amount of contact with your parents.”
- It’s OK to feel vulnerable and “to seek the advice of experts such as your therapist”
The letter from the world Center closes with the following:
The House of Justice offers you its abundant sympathy at what you have suffered, it’s loving concern for your welfare, and its encouragement to you to look to the future with confidence and optimism. You are urged to ponder these reassuring words of Bahá’u’lláh: “O my Servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will no doubt, attain.”
I am happy to send copies of the Universal House of Justice letter to anyone who wants it, and I’m happy to share my journey with anyone who needs to talk about being a Bahá’í and having less than ‘Abdul-Bahá-like responses to the injustices thy have had.
I’ve put together a compilation of all the quotes which helped me. You can read more about it at: http://susangammage.com/Abuse-and-Violence-Reasons-and-Remedies
Local Assemblies who require guidance in dealing with cases involving abuse should contact their National Spiritual Assembly.
There is a great document put out by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, called: Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence which is helpful for anyone dealing with issues arising from violence and abuse of any kind. You can download it from: www.bahai.us/system/files/DVGuidelines.pdf