Rape Victim: Who Me?

I simply couldn’t believe the seven years of my life I’d devoted to God was actually devoted to a destructive group–a cult.

I sat on the couch across from my therapist during one session in 2005. She worked out of the California State University, Bakersfield campus Counseling Center and she was free, which was in my budget at the time.

I’d decided to see her after being referred to her by two professors: one professor witnessed me break down in front of a lecture class of over 100 students during my Freshman year when he asked me why I was attending college. He had no idea that for me, I was attending college fresh from a cult where I was brainwashed and taught that I was less of a human being because I was a woman. After my sob-fest in Freshman Shakespeare class, my professor kindly suggested I see a therapist. I took him up on his suggestion, and am happy I did.

I met with her once a week, on Thursdays. I went through about half her box of Kleenex and left with a runny nose and puffy, red eyes. One hour a week was enough to bring up enough pain to bring me into hysterical fits of crying. Sometimes I couldn’t even talk about my memories or pain.

Sitting across from her one day, she went to her desk and she pulled up the Counseling Center website. She gave me links to the resources to Cults that I have listed on this website. It was only the second time I’d ever heard anyone tell me that they thought my ministry experience sounded like a cult. I was shocked. I was horrified. I felt cheated. If this was true, then how could I have been so stupid? What about those people I loved? There was no way they’d run a cult!

I simply couldn’t believe the seven years of my life I’d devoted to God was actually devoted to a destructive group–a cult.

Years prior, a good friend of the family from our home church in Taft, CA had come to visit me on a motorcycle road trip through Texas. He stopped in our church in Austin and took me to lunch. He visited the offices of Master’s Commission there. When he went home, he told my parents, “I think the place Lisa is in is a cult.” This coming from a life-long church member and deacon shocked my parents and me.

The next thing my therapist told me was even more shocking, though. As if notifying me that she thought I’d been in a cult wasn’t shocking enough, she then told me, “I’ve counseled many, many rape victims and you sound exactly like a rape victim. You have many of the same symptoms. I don’t know if it’s possible to get spiritually or mentally raped, but that’s exactly what I think has happened.”

Suicidal Tendencies

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.

 

 

Spiritual Abuse is Abuse

I went on a job interview a few weeks ago and my blog ended up in the conversation. When asked what I wrote about I said “Spiritual Abuse” which is the sort of standard term we use for what cult survivors and general survivors of abuse from pastors.

The man interviewing me asked what that meant and in an attempt to explain it, I listed some of what has happened to myself and others I know. He said, “Oh, real abuse.”

Lesson learned: rape, physical maltreatment, being hit, verbal abuse–these are all ABUSE. Maybe we shouldn’t use the term spiritual in front of them. It seems that some people (even ourselves) don’t take it seriously.

Lighten Up, Everyone

My friend wrote this article about Daniel Tosh/Rape Jokes/Feminists who can’t laugh. I feel I should link it here because a) I’m quoted it in it (yay!) and b) I got a bit critical of feminism over the past few weeks and found that people were assholes about it.

Here’s my official statement about the whole issue:

There’s been a LOT of communication breakdown between myself and the feminists who reside as my ‘friends’ on Facebook and many of them have become very reactionary and angry when I started
questioning parts of the feminist movement/ideology. Please understand some things: If feminism, like any other theory or ideology, can’t be critiqued by feminists or non-feminists or the logic or illogic of our weaker arguments can’t be sliced and diced and torn apart so they can become stronger, then I will continue my critiques. Being critical of parts of feminism doesn’t make one a “neo-con”, or unsupportive. To reject women like me and others is to tragically bring truth to the argument that we are exclusionary or irrational or angry.

I do remain “feminist” but some of you have questioned that, which oddly, feels like the fundamentalist Christians response to people who call themselves Christian. “You are only Christian if you do X, or believe in X.” Please recognize that theories and movements have a long line of historical criticism behind them-critics who have bashed arguments and theories and sometimes new theories emerge. I’m a humanities major and we spent years studying theories are arguing them. This is how you learn, but it’s also how you become a critical thinker. For those of you who don’t KNOW my background, I was in a fundamentalist Christian cult for seven years. To say that critical thinking (or the ability to think for myself) and rejecting lumped ideology is important to me would be a gross understatement. Part of my habit is to dissect that which I find weak or unsupportable or flawed. It’s important to me-because no one can take away your ability to think for yourself. YOU give it up. You relinquish it.

Also “random” commented on the Street Carnage article above and I liked what they had to say:

“Good article. This is really all a result of people taking certain academic theories about language too seriously. No one but the bloggers actually believe this shit.”

Except…unfortunately people do take this shit way too seriously–not just bloggers. Let’s lighten up.

Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid

In 1978, Jim Jones’ group of over 900 people, The People’s Temple, committed group suicide by drinking a grape drink laced with cyanide and a number of sedatives, including liquid Valium, Penegram and chloral hydrate.

What does Jim Jones have to do with My Cult Life? Eerily enough,

“Jones kept his commission so busy they were often in a state of exhaustion.

Jones exercised the powers of suggestion, persuasion and manipulation to create a kind of alternative social universe amongst his followers. By 1975 the Chaikins and others were conditioned to accept without question public punishment and humiliation at group meetings…Jones’ dismissed the nuclear family as “noxious” and did everything possible to undermine traditional family ties. There could be only one “Dad” for everyone. (Quoted from Rick Ross’ site: http://www.rickross.com/reference/jonestown/jonestown61.html)

“What Jones did was try to break all ties that were not to him,” said former believer Vernon Gosney. “Transfer all that loyalty, all that bonding to him. And so families were broken apart. Relationships were divided…Jones deftly justified his actions to his followers by saying that what he did to them was actually for their own benefit, or the benefit of making the church a stronger, tighter-knit organization.” http://www.rickross.com/reference/jonestown/jonestown63.html

Everything above is similar to my experience in Master’s Commission and working at Our Savior’s Church in Lafayette, LA.

I’ve spent time lining out these specific moments and traits of my leaders, but more than anything, we were kept in a constant state of exhaustion, and all ties with the outside world and family were cut off or highly discouraged. We were to accept things without question or risk the shame of humiliation in front of everyone, or the embarrassment that went along with getting kicked out of the group and no one speaking to us for fear that they’d get kicked out too.

My Second Therapist’s Diagnosis: PTSD

After my first therapist, I got health insurance that covered another therapist. My first meeting with her, she spent an hour going over my family history, my recent history, and any mental health conditions or symptoms I had. I’d recently developed anxiety and depression after leaving the cult in 2005. I spent all of 2005 and 2006 in bed crying–and intermittently going to class. When I was in class, I felt anxiety attacks coming on. My chest would start pounding and I’d feel out of breath for no reason. If I had to turn in a paper, or felt extra pressure of perfection from certain professors, I’d be unable to write my essays and classwork. I was terrified of what people thought of me and who was judging me everywhere I went.

This second therapist sat with me and ended the session asking me if I’d ever heard of post traumatic stress disorder.

“Sure,” I told her. “That’s what all the Vietnam War Veterans got when they came back, right? They get nightmares and stuff.”

She explained that war victims did, in fact get post traumatic stress disorder, but many other people also got PTSD. Rape victims and many other people could get it. She said she believed I had PTSD based on the symptoms I described to her. A lot of what she explained made sense. I would become afraid at loud noises; would wake up terrified from nightmares of getting yelled at by old pastors; and would shy away from relationships of all types.

For more information on PTSD, Depression or Anxiety, please look at the Resources I posted. I’ve included some great links. I’d also like to encourage you, if you or someone you know has suffered from spiritual or emotional abuse, please see a non-religious, professional therapist or psychiatrist for assessment. There are a lot of resources available. If you’d like to share your own story with me, please email me at mycultlife at gmail.com