Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Alone In a Corner

It is my great privilege to have the blogger ‘Witch’s Slave No More’ post his experience on the Cult Next Door.

I met this wonderful man on e-harmony and soon realized that he did indeed understand what it was to have your trust in God crushed and your belief in human beings trampled.

I have been truly blessed to have a mate that not only listens sympathetically but also empathizes with his whole heart.

Truly this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in my eyes.

I met this site's current head writer known as "Toxic Sheep No More" on eHarmony last year. One of the things that we quickly established was that we both were victims of spiritual abuse. She, however, has undergone a more classic case of cult abuse whereby a leader, of remarkable charisma, employs arsenals of altered scripture citing that runs inconsistently with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

My history of being spiritually abused comes from a place that is overlooked by most: I was the solitary victim.

After a painful and bitter divorce (which I am no longer bitter about), after a long and difficult battle with my desire to smoke tobacco and marijuana, and after a year solid of pure loneliness (lonely, as in not having even had a date of even just a PLATONIC nature), I met a woman who would take the next 3 and 1/2 years of my life and try to brainwash me into submission. I became a victim of a solitary cultist. You see, where a church cult targets a group of people, a solitary focuses on one victim. During this time, I was brainwashed out of my Fender bass guitar, several computer components, a car (which she traded in for $5,000) and what I estimate to be around $12,000 cash.

However, the money wasn't the worst part. I was conned out of my religion and convinced that faith was futile. At a very gradual rate, this person started to change my perception of God.

Let's start from the beginning. I was raised in a Church of Christ and was taught to love Jesus, Savior of all that put their faith in Him. My parents, as all good parents should do, encouraged me to grow my faith. For the first 3 years or so, they took me to church and I LOVED going to Sunday school, hearing about this "lamb of God", and hanging out with my church friends during service. Our pastor got very sick and my parents didn't like the new pastor so they stopped going and I had to as well. The new church they went to made me uncomfortable and I never quite found a church-home again like that little Church of Christ . Through my teenage years and my early 20's, I didn't fit in anywhere. In my mid-20's, for a short time, I found a Baptist preacher that really seemed to know what he was doing, but then my wife and I divorced and I had to move.

A year after the move, I met the woman that I will only refer to in pronouns. She began citing obscure Bible verses, ones that focuses on the wraith of God, instead of His love. For example, how God sent plagues onto Egypt , but she would conveniently leave out parts, saying that they were to be overlooked because they were a part of a different story. This didn't make sense to me, but she was someone who was willing to talk about God (even though she never listened or took my point of view into any consideration) and talking about God with someone, really felt good. She had an answer for everything, but nothing she said had any real basis of truth to it and after a while, I got sick of questioning what she thought was right. A lonely person like me, craving attention and a listening ear, anyone's ear, will listen to the silliest garbage and eventually accept the garbage as truth. After I stopped questioning her and started buying into her Biblical misdirection, she said that the Bible had no real basis for fact at all, since "it was written by man and it changed every couple of generations to keep up with the times." She had no real proof of this, of course, but she was still reeling me in, like a worm on a hook. I had started to believe that the Bible was pure lies. Then she started to tell me that the "real" god wants us to worship solstices and the equinox and light candles and chant and cast spells to "protect" others. It seemed far fetched, until I did it a few times and I invested a lot of good money for cheesy merchandise. Her next step was to tell me that there were two gods! One that was older than the God that I had believed in... that was pretty much a stumbling block on her part. I could start to see a little bit of light in the dark cavern that was my life and I started to pick the Bible back up again...

That story I will have to tell next time.
"Witch's Slave No More"

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Give Away

Breaking The Chains: Overcoming the Spiritual Abuse of a False Gospel is Shari Howerton’s account of life in a cult and the subsequent journey out of the mind control. Click here to read Shari ’s blog interview with the Cult Next Door.

Shari’s book is slated to be released mid-October and I am counting the days to get my hands on my copy.

In the spirit of sharing, I will be giving my copy to one fortunate reader, who hopefully will share it with another friend.

Two steps are required for the book drawing. First: tweet me @ toxicsheepnomore with the scripture, song, book, friend, movie, etc. that helped you ‘break the chains’ of toxic faith, a bad situation, a harmful relationship, etc.

For example: Shari speaks of Stephen Curtis Chapman’s song “Remember Your Chains” as being inspirational on her journey. Shannon on the blog Free Believers speaks of feeling like the character Rose in Titanic as she despairingly considers ending her life.
I recognized myself in the character of Penelope, a girl who has been cloistered all her life till she faces the world bravely, despite her pig snout nose. Several family members read Charles Swindoll’s book, Grace Awakening, and realized their bondage.
And the list goes on and on. Pick your favorite inspiration and tweet me. If you are a spiritual abuse survivor be sure to include those words in your tweet. That will cause the tweet to show up on the side bar.

Next e-mail me at toxicsheepnomore@yahoo.com the address you wish the book
sent to. I will put the addresses in a literal hat and pull out the winner on December 1st, 2009. I will post the winning tweeter unless you request not to be posted.

God Bless!

Halloween Post One: When You Want To Free the House Elves

When I escaped the emotional, mental, and physical slavery of a fundamental cult I spent the first year bouncing from exhilaration of unconstrained freedom to the depths of burning anger against the perpetrator of abuse and those that watched helplessly as she bullied with glee.

Talking with other ex-cult members helped put these wildly varying emotions into perspective. Talking with counselors affirmed that being verbal about the torrent of emotions was healthy and very necessary.

Methodically I rid myself of clothes, music, perfume- anything that defined the world in which I had existed.
This exercise (or exorcise?) proved enjoyable. Shredding the letters which were shoved under the door that read “What have I done? Why did you leave?” (click here and decided how long you would stay) Smashing perfume bottles (she wanted every woman in the church to smell like her) – that bit of fun did have a high price- we couldn’t walk in the back yard for days without getting a whiff of her.

And then I remembered. I had left behind a dear friend who must be as desperate for freedom as I had been.

When several family members had ‘defected’ a few years back (her term for those who refuse her dictatorial rule- and if she caught you communicating with defectors she would chastise you verbally for hours) one tried to reach me by leaving gifts and kind notes on the doorstep. While I didn’t respond by resuming communication, the knowledge that someone cared was a comfort.

“Ah!” I thought, “I will leave a trail of kindness that she will follow out of the madness.”

So I wrote a kind note and left it and a box of snacks on her porch.
This earned no response.
“Ah!” went the brilliant brain, “I have gotten my message of continued good will across.”

A month and a half went by and I left another gift and note. “More kindness crumbs that show the way out.”

And then! The bolt of lightening fell. One day she drove up to my house, jumped out of the car, curtly handed me a letter and left.
Essentially, the letter told me I was going to hell and keep my witchy self to myself.

Did I learn from this episode? Oh, no. I had to try once more- after all, she’s held against her will, right?

Wrong. The last card, which included a list of traits of a manipulator/narcissist, resulted in this old friend, with which I experienced decades of friendship, beating on the door and yelling for someone to come out to speak with her.

It was obvious that she didn’t plan to gush with thanksgiving at having the prison she was in pointed out to her, so the door was not opened.

And so I have come to realize that she is so controlled by a narcissist pastor that she would indeed drink the Kool-Aid if ordered to do so.
This fact troubles me greatly. Will Dade City be witness to another Jonestown? How insane has this abusive pastor become? Will she eventually demand the ultimate sacrifice to prove her follower’s loyalty?

I see in this experience a parallel to the house elves of J.K. Rowling’s creation.
Hermione Granger sees the house elves’ squelched existence, their lack of autonomy, and sets up an organization to free these pitiful slaves of the magical world.
Do the house elves respond eagerly to this movement?

No. They run away from Hermione and her ‘evil’ ideas, preferring to cling to the old ways of enslavement, proudly bearing the bondage of their masters. Simply put: The house elves enjoy their rotten lot.

So, I’ll learn from this house-elf experience. If you crave freedom, as Dobby did (see Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for details), you’ll find a way to be free.

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,Harry discovers the Mirror of Erised, a magical mirror that lets the viewer see himself with what he most desires.

Harry, an orphan, sees himself surrounded by family. He returns night after night, to experience the wonderful feeling of being surrounded by family.
One night, Professor Dumbledore is waiting for him by the mirror.
He admonishes:
"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that Harry."
For me, I’ve had my nose pressed against the glass of imaging my friend out of darkness, flourishing in freedom from fear. It has motivated me to pray and think of her often.
But I am seeing events as I want them to be, not as they truly are. She doesn’t want freedom; she may never refuse the abuse.

And I cannot live in dreams and forget to live.

I’ll still pray for her, but with acceptance, not resolve. I’ll think of her occasionally, with regret, not with frustrated determination.
She belongs to the mirror and I to the living.

Halloween Post Two: Some Days it is Just a Monster Mash

In an interview with Focus on the Family author Frank Peretti explained his motivation for writing about monsters. As a child he had a medical condition which turned his tongue an oozing black.

As children are often the cruelest beings on the planet, Peretti suffered through taunts of being a “monster”. Choosing the positive aspect of a bad situation, he decided to see monsters as “cool” and himself as special in being associated with them.

This post is in celebration of choosing the positive, and yes, even the humorous aspect of feeling like a freak.

After living in a fundamental cult for twenty plus years, I escaped into what I thought would be stress-free living. I survived hell on earth- now it was time to lay back and relax, right?

That might be right for some. And if you are part of that some, congratulations- you have the good life.

For me and many that I have spoken with, coming out of the cult is the easy part. Living outside of the cult is the true challenge.

For many, the challenge proves too great and they return to the cult, though it be harsh and unforgiving, at least they understand how it functions.

I grew up inside the cult, attended the cult’s school, and after graduation was told that I needed to volunteer my time in return for the all the cult had given me.

When I escaped, and left behind the twisted, haunted laboratory of mind control I discovered that, surprise! I had stunted social skills, an amputated sense of self, and a macabre understanding of what my future would be.

Like Frankenstein, I raged (mentally, at least) at the perverted mind that amputated my sense of self and hijacked my devotion to God to serve her evil empire.

I stomped about for a year, howling with anger at whoever I could. I hated parties; they reminded me of a “get-together” at her house. These often included being yelled at in her bedroom (if you were lucky) and in front of everyone (if you weren’t).

I hated searching for a job. How do you explain away a decade plus that you gave away? How you never finished college because you were too tired to think after forty hours of volunteering, five nights a week of church, and twelve plus hours a week of cleaning on her cleaning crew?

Honestly, I felt like a Picasso painting walking into a job interview that said, “This is me. My nose is on my chin and my eyes are in my forehead. I don’t know how to make decisions, I think my worth is below minimum wage, and I will never speak up for myself. So, please hire me (if it’s not too inconvenient) I know I’m a freak, just let me scuttle around in the background quietly.”

Here lies the dividing line. Some well meaning but utterly clueless soul might say that I should believe that God was ‘working a good work’ in my life and in the middle of it all and I should praise my way into joy at this knowledge.

This is foolish thinking. God did not and never will plan abuse to ‘work His good work in you’. What is at work here is the fact that humanity has free will and a pastor chose to use her position of leadership to satiate her need for control. She placed herself as a god and will, unless she has the good sense to repent, one day stand in judgment for deeds.

What I do know is that God gives ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning’.

And so for the Frank Peretti moment of deciding to embrace the experience (not the abuse), acknowledge where I am because of it, and take stock of skills I learned in the proverbial fire.

As for where I am:
I spent years wishing to know the joys of marriage, for as Luther said there is nothing more comforting than a marriage.
I met and married a wonderful man a year after leaving the cult. Our paths would not have crossed if I had lived a different life.

What I have learned:
I am resilient, having lived under extreme stress and oppression.
I have empathy for others who have experienced abuse or slavery.

The skills I have acquired:
Endurance in the workplace and a willingness to go the extra mile.

One ex-cult member showed beautiful perspective in dressing up as the pastor for Halloween. Their motivation was she was the scariest character they could think of.

It was a perfect statement. She is scary, she is monstrous, but it is she that is the monster, not me.

I think I will make my statement one Halloween by making a scarecrow that resembles her and hang a sign that reads “This would scare anything”.

Am I making light of the abuse or the fact that a pastor is in dire moral straits?

No. I am doing what many people do with Halloween: Put on a monster mask, confront what you fear, celebrate it for a day and then, move on.

Till next year. Maybe I’ll dress up as the witch she always accused me of being. After all, I know the hat fits and I’ll wear it.

On the other hand, is she brave enough to wear her hat?

read another excellent post on this subject by Provender

Halloween Post Three: There Are Zombies on the Loose

"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned."

-Matthew 23:15-

I highly recommend Stephen Arteburn’s book, Toxic Faith. In the course of describing faith that has gone from helpful to harmful, he lists signs of a toxic church.

Here are ten of those signs:

The leader must be in control of every aspect at all times
When problems arise, a guilty party must be found immediately to bear the blame.

No mistakes are allowed
Never point out the reality of the situation-[i.e. the leader is wrong, was unkind, etc.]
Never express your feelings unless they are positive
DON”T ASK QUESTIONS (capitals mine)
Don’t do anything outside of your role-[i.e. visiting a church member on your own, etc]
DON”T TRUST ANYONE (capitals mine)
Nothing is MORE IMPORTANT than giving money to the organization/and or pastor (capitals mine)
AT ALL COSTS, keep up the image of the organization [pastor] (capitals mine)

Having grown up in a fundamental cult, I can attest that each of these signs is a red flag that a church is metamorphosing into a cult.

A healthy church has no need to “make” followers. People are draw by healthy aspects of the church such as community service programs, fellowship, bible study groups, etc.

Cults create their followers. The cult leader recognizes a vulnerability or need in a prospective member and cultivates that area instead of strengthening the vulnerability or meeting the need.

When evaluating an existing church dynamic or determining a new church home, be critical of everything you feel and see. Does the congregation lavish unwarranted praise on the pastor/leader? Does the leader/pastor’s attention to new members seem excessive? Is the situation just a little too holy, a little too good to true.

Be careful. This too shiny, too perfect pastor may be a cult leader in disguise. In Halloween terms, he’s a zombie. And a zombie’s life achievement is to make other zombies.