Martha Kartaoui – RESILIENT A.F.: Stories of Resilience


I spent twenty-five years in a highly physically, spiritually, sexually, emotionally, and verbally abusive religious cult. The abuse started at age nine.

Dec 27, 2004, will always be a date in my life that represents courage, hope, strength, and resilience. That day is forever memorialized in my mind as the night that everything changed and I took my life back. It’s the night I physically escaped the religious cult that I had been born into.  I had been held in the leader’s compound for almost eight years prior, and it was my living hell.  

I had been praying, plotting, and planning my escape for about ten days. I didn’t know how I would manage this feat, but I felt the enormity of my situation in every fiber of my being because my every move was monitored!  

Growing up, I didn’t know our group was a cult. I thought we were part of a secret society; it was ingrained in us that the outside world was scary, evil, and dangerous, and we were safe because we were the chosen. We were taught that the outside world would not understand our ways, so we didn’t talk about it, and if we were questioned, our instinct was to lie.  

In 1975, my parents joined the group “The Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The leader, who we now call “cultman,” was intertwined in all aspects of our lives. He controlled everything, from what we ate to the children’s names, what we wore, what kind of job to take, and where and whether we would go to college. He made every decision for us.  

We did not celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays.  No chocolate, coffee, pasta, pizza, pork, tea, candy, soda, alcohol, etc. Rules and rituals changed at cultman’s whim, and we never questioned or asked for an explanation. 

At age 9, my sexual abuse began. There was so much fear and shame! I wish this were an isolated experience, but it was just the first of many to come within and outside the group. I became a pro at painting on a smile, covering my feelings, and overcompensating by being loud, obnoxious, and outrageous.  

Physical abuse at the hands of the cultman started at about age six and was ongoing. The smallest infraction would lead to calculated torture or beatings with 2x4s, metal switches, extension cords, 3ft wooden ladles, cattle prods, storage barrels, basically anything he could get his hands on. Manipulation, brainwashing, and verbal, spiritual, sexual, physical, and emotional abuse are all things that I recognize now were our everyday existence.  These things were exercised to keep us controlled, in fear, and isolated. 

At age 12, we moved from MN to NC. Families had their own homes, and we traveled each weekend to fellowship and work at the cultman’s compound in Northeastern WI, a sprawling 200+ acres.  Most families commuted 4-5 hours one way.   

Seven days after I graduated high school, I was instructed by cultman to move to the compound.  There, I was starved for five months, beaten routinely, many times so severely that I should have had medical attention. I attempted to run away and was caught, resulting in my head being shaved 18 times and all of my possessions burned.  

I managed the cult’s first public business. I worked seven days a week, 365 days a year, for over four years with zero compensation. 

I am ready to live out loud, be my authentic self, and share my truth to bring light, hope, and connection to others with shared experiences! My traumatic past does not define me. Instead, I am resilience, strength, hope, joy, love and healing. I am defined by the supernatural strength I found by reconnecting to SELF.  

Our circumstances, trauma, and personal hell may be different, but pain is pain. You feel lonely but are not alone. I see you, I was you! But, there is hope; focus on the small light within. Let it guide you and keep you focused. Healing is a process; it’s not always easy, but you are worth it!

Are you ready to share your story of RESILIENCE? You can do that HERE.