It was the summer before my 24th birthday. The summer everything changed.
In nearby Lafayette parish, a Catholic priest had just been accused of molesting a young alter boy. The country wide scandal took several months to reach the Deep South, as most progressive things took longer to reach here, and the day it hit the news the pastor of our church preached an angry sermon on Catholics and how they were doing wrong not letting their priests marry. Our Pastor thought his church was the only one who did anything right, because he thought he was the only doing right in “the eyes of God” and that our church were the only Christians going to heaven. I think he was just trying to get members in his church, as Catholics were the largest religious majority in Louisiana, but that was neither here nor there. Pastor Daniel had a God-complex and a hideous ego. Although it was true that Catholic priests had been molesting young boys, and it was a scandal, no one found out about our church and our scandal that Pastor Daniel was leading. There were no physical marks of rape, no DNA evidence to make a case on, but there was plenty of psychological damage among those of us who left the cult before “they” said we could. We’d been mentally raped, brainwashed, made to “drink the Kool-aid” so to speak, and yet we didn’t have any physical markers to take to the courts, and technically we’d come there to the cult of our own free will.
None of us knew it was a cult when we went there, and few of us struck up the courage to leave. Those who did leave were made outsiders, and cut off from all their friends and all acquaintances. We were the “spawn of Satan” or “rebellious” if we left…if we disagreed with the Authority of God, our Pastors.
On the night I contemplated leaving, I replayed my dad’s words to leave. He called me a month after his trip to Louisiana to meet my boss, Pastor Daniel. My dad didn’t like Pastor Daniel. “Lisa, I don’t like the way he spoke to me about you—as if he’d assumed the role of father in your life. That’s just not right,” my dad’s anger could be heard through the phone line, “I mean, what right does that arrogant man have to tell me that he’s going to pick out my own daughter’s husband? He doesn’t have faith that you can meet someone decent on your own? I know I’ve never told you what to do in your life, but Lisa—you need to get out of there. Come home.”
My dad was right. Pastor Daniel just wasn’t right. But my life had become wrapped around these people, and saying good-bye prematurely meant ripping away seven years of my life’s history away and becoming invisible, or worse yet, rebellious and unfit.
I sat in the driver’s seat of my car, parked on the dirt road that was flanked with sugar cane and fireflies on either side of me. Tears poured down my cheeks as the thoughts ran through my mind. I knew I couldn’t get out of here, without my life falling apart, and I was afraid of the only other option—but it seemed like the only way out.
The frog-filled swamp stretched out long and ominous before me: calling my name, and beckoning me to enter. Just gun the car and drive into the swamp, the water spoke to me like an old friend who had my best intentions in mind. I reached for another Kleenex from the passenger seat, as my whole body shook violently with sobs and my head pounded with pain. I tried to search for any other options, but there just seemed to be no other way to escape.
I looked around for anyone in sight. To the south of the road where my car sat were the dorms where all the students slept. I was supposed to be asleep, as well, making sure there was someone responsible watching over them. My fellow staff members were there, tucked into their single beds and surrounded by the students in their bunks, peacefully resting, unaware of my desire to escape, and the misery staying here was causing me. I was the only one awake that piercing dark black night. I was the only one deliberating how I could rid myself from their negativity. I was the only one trying to get the hell out of there. I was also the only one sitting alone by the dense fields of sugar cane, under the dimly lit star-filled night sky, thinking about killing myself.
The term killing myself sounded so harsh, but I guess in reality it would be a harsh thing to do to my family and my friends, those I had left that is. My family, however, lived in California and I lived in the blasted mosquito infested hellhole of the U.S. Swamps and gators; frog legs and crawfish. Yes, the Deep South. Louisiana. The only good about Louisiana was Tim, and he wasn’t allowed to speak to me anymore because Pastor Daniel felt he was unfit for me to date, unfit to be a pastor and Pastor Daniel said God spoke to him that I should be a pastor’s wife.
My story obviously didn’t end here…but the concept of it was true. While I was in the cult, I did want to kill myself. I had reached the end of my rope and I’d asked the directors of my ministry group for vacation time to gather myself together after serving selflessly for about seven years with hardly a break. I was burnt out and breaking down. I’d never felt so low, so depressed, and never before that point felt suicidal.
When I finally made it out of the cult and home, I told my dad that story and he hugged me so tightly and said he was so sorry he didn’t get me out of that cult before, and that he’s sorry he let me stay there so long.
It wasn’t my parents fault. I’d become so tightly connected to the director of my ministry training group that I felt they were my family, my life, my friends.
I was wrong…when I needed them most, they let me down. More than that, their brainwashing, mind-control, yelling, belittling and abuse left me with PTSD and after effects that I’m still working on recovering from to this day.
As a 17 year old girl who was a high school honor student, 10th in her graduating class, active in her church youth group, never smoked, drank, done drugs with a real future in front of her to a nearly thirty year old woman who has to see a therapist who specializes in cults for the anxiety, depression, and fear that rules her life due to the abuse done from the directors who mentored her for years…it was not the transition I thought would happen when I first left home to join the ministry.