Thought Reform?

Thought reform or mind control seems like something that only happens in a movie or a novel, but it is prevalent in our society today. One only has to look as far as the Catholic Church to find victims of spiritual abuse. While the stories of altar boys molested by priests have made headlines, countless victims are still suffering in silence. Whenever there is a power imbalance in a relationship, there is a danger that the person who holds more authority will abuse his or her power. It can occur on a large scale as with the Unification Church (the Moonies) or in smaller groups such as Heaven's Gate (39 members) or even in one-on-one relationships such as a priest and parishioner or a professor and a student. Victims of mind control are not crazy cult followers. They are people like me and you who have fallen into a trap set by a predatory leader. In my experience, the trap was built with trust and words and compassion which lured me into thinking that I was safe until it snapped down on me. Victims of mind control are robbed of time. Sometimes years or decades are lost while in the group or relationship. Victims of mind control lose family and friends. Most are told to end contact with outsiders. Many who are able to return to their families find the relationships fractured. Victims of mind control lose their identities. It's difficult to know who you are after being told by someone else how to feel, how to dress, how to act. It's one of the darkest and most frightening feelings in the world. There are very few facilities that treat these victims or therapists who are equipped to handle these cases. It makes for a long, lonely journey for these victims. Compassionate understanding and education by society is lacking. This novel is dedicated to raising awareness and giving a face to victims of mind control.

1. Every person should have the right to his or her own thoughts, ideology, and identity.

2. Thought reform does not simply exist in cults that are on the news. It can occur in one-on-one relationships and in small groups in your neighborhood

3. In any situation where there is an imbalance of power (priest/parishioner, therapist/client), there is potential for abuse.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chapter 3

“Bodies may be made of fire,
but souls are made of ice”—R. Smith
Chapter 3

It is cold. The wind chaps my lips and face as I walk to the church with the Father. We have been walking and talking because I am troubled that my husband has been away from home for several months at the Border Patrol Academy for training. It is unfair for me to have to deal with all things domestic while he starts his career. I had just completed graduate school and was ready to conquer the world—or at least high school English—but Brian left me with two children to take care of, one only 10 months old. Worse, our ten month old daughter, Claire, was very high maintenance. I was not a first time mother with her so I knew a bit about infants I thought…until I met Claire. She was the most difficult baby I have ever met or heard of in war stories of motherhood. I think maybe I was so anxious to start my career so I could have a vacation from Claire. Oh, I love her all right, but every mother needs a break even from good babies.
When I was pregnant with Claire, the doctor noticed she wasn’t growing correctly. The decision had to be made whether or not to let her continue to try to grow inside my body or whether she would thrive outside of my womb. Finally, they induced labor and she was ushered into this world in comfort and peace—perhaps God’s consolation prize for what she was to become—the difficult one. But something wasn’t quite right. She had jaundice. Not the kind that most babies get but the kind caused by a blood incompatibility. We worried when her bilirubin levels climbed to the critical level and past. Father Will came to the hospital to bless her though he refused to wear a gown and wash hands as was the neo-natal ICU’s policy. He blessed her as she lay in her incubator which was supposed to be accessed only by parents, nurses, doctors, and very briefly her sister.
“This outfit opens a lot of doors for me. They see the collar and they cooperate,” he told me as we stood in the hallway between the NICU and my room. I was discharged without Claire and, at the time, I thought it was the loneliest feeling in the world—a part of me left behind as I was driven away.
We are discussing Claire once again on this cold day in February 2004 because she has had bronchitis and a broken leg all in the last several weeks. It was just all too much for me to handle and with Brian’s impending graduation, we would all be reunited and did I really want that? I resented him for not being around especially in the last weeks when Claire wasn’t feeling well. Simple solution you might say—suck it up! That’s what you signed up for when you decided to marry and have children. Part of me knew this but there was another part that felt like I was wasting my life by being a mother. I had all this education and wasn’t doing anything with it. I was a failure because of my wasted potential. Father Will had on many occasions told me I was wasting my life by staying at home and raising my children. He told me countless times that I was a career minded woman who needed the big city to be stimulated. I needed culture and art and people who were on the same intellectual plane as I was. Of course, that did not include Brian who he felt was inferior to both of us because he did not finish college.
We are rounding the last corner to the walkway of the church. Father Will wraps his coat tighter around him hunching down against the wind. “Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. It makes the heart grow colder,” he said. “And you have to realize that Brian may not feel the same way about you. You have been apart for a while now, and social penetration has stopped. Once it stops, the relationship becomes stagnant and people go their separate ways.”
What? I just wanted to hear that everything was going to be okay as long as I had faith in God. Isn’t that what a priest is supposed to say?  A priest isn’t supposed to tell a woman that she is unhappy in her marriage because she isn’t working. A priest is supposed to encourage the man and wife to maintain the family unit. What the hell was he saying? That Brian has another woman since his heart has grown cold? And I guess mine has too, and the only person I can really trust is the priest because my own husband doesn’t feel for me what he used to. Does this mean I shouldn’t join Brian in Alpine when he graduates? Should I stay here and work? What am I supposed to do with the kids? And why do the words social penetration seem weirdly sexual and inappropriate for this conversation?
I really don’t know what to say. I am flabbergasted so I don’t say much for several minutes. Inside the warmth of the church, I feel the prickling sensation as the feeling comes back to my hands. The air is heavy in here—so heavy and warm I could fall asleep. It is safe here in the house of the Lord with my good friend and mentor, Father Will. And so I decide that he is right. Hearts do grow cold.
This was a sentiment that would be echoed in later years along with the misperception that I was wasting my life as a mother. To some it may seem that I had wasted the better part of my adult life in college only to turn my back on the working world at the first opportunity. After graduating with a master’s degree, I never held a teaching position for any length of time. At first I blamed it on the fact that we were to move soon to Alpine. I didn’t want to break my contract with a school district, nor did I want to remain behind in Sealy when Brian graduated and moved to Alpine for his job with the Border Patrol. I wrote countless letters and made phone calls trying to secure a teaching position in Alpine before we relocated; however, I was not privy to the “good ol’ boy” system in which the school operates. You have to be somebody or know somebody to be hired—neither of which applied to me since I had never set foot in the small mountain town. After moving I justified my unemployment by figuring that the ratio of childcare to the paltry sum called teacher’s pay was not advantageous to our family. We struggled financially but we were okay. Besides not enough mothers have the opportunity to stay at home in this consumer mad world. The truth was that I liked being a mom. I wanted to stay at home with Claire while I could. I had missed out on much of my oldest daughter’s life because I was a student and a single parent as well as working full-time. In some ways, I wanted to make it up to her by being at home when she returned from school. Staying at home meant that I could be more involved with her school. I wanted to make our home the one the kids went to after school to hang out. At least that way I could keep an eye on what Alexis was up to. More than that, I wanted to be the mom who was easily accessible to her children when they needed me for help with schoolwork or to talk about boys or sex or just nothing at all. My maternal instinct kicked into high gear as the desire to be the nurturer and caregiver grew stronger as I watched my children grow.
That terrible question that one is asked upon meeting someone for the first time or old acquaintances after a period of absence haunted me. “What do you do?” or its sister query “Are you working now?” was always met with a sense of guilt as I sputtered “No, I’m not. I’m just at home.” Many years of hard work and forty thousand dollars worth of student loans and this was the best I could do? Nothing. To be honest the fleeting guilt that I felt when talking to others was banished once I told myself that I was doing the right thing for my children….except when I talked with Father Will. His earnest eyes pleaded with me to be true to myself and my vocational calling. “You have a superior intellect. It’s a shame to waste it by staying home. You need to find your way in the academic world” he would tell me. And if a priest was advising me of this, certainly it was true. He knew better than me my problems having counseling experience not to mention vast knowledge of my personal life, goals, feelings, dreams. He was a man of God. He was the person I served with at the altar Sunday after Sunday for months on end. He was my friend and mentor and confidante. And I was his confessor as he was mine. Yes, I decided. I was wasting my life on my children and so began the downward spiral of unhappiness.
Throughout high school and the first part of college I never planned to have children. I didn’t want them. They were in my opinion the noisy, illogical harbingers of germs and unearthly messes issued from every bodily orifice. Nasty beings. In my sophomore year of college I became pregnant unexpectedly. I panicked. How could I support a child with no education and a meager income from working as a checkout girl in the local grocery store? And more selfishly—do I give up my dreams for this child? Sacrifice myself for the baby? I considered adoption and even met with a prospective couple who assured me that my child would have every material need granted. They bragged that their other adopted children had the latest sneakers and electronics. That did it for me. No one was going to raise my child but me. To hell with these hillbillies from Arkansas who could assure me that my child would never want for toys or clothes. Didn’t they forget to mention love and affection? What about building self-esteem or a good education? Never did they once mention caring for my baby and their focus on materialism made me wonder if they wanted my child so that they could abuse or molest him or her. Were they running a child pornography racket in which they plied their young charges with gifts to quiet them? There was that maternal instinct revving up. I didn’t even know this child, but I began to love her with a ferocity that rivals a wild animal protecting its young. I told them that they could absolutely not adopt my child. I would raise her myself. I didn’t know how, but she was off the market so to speak.
I also considered abortion. I was neither pro-life nor pro-choice at the time having no desire to think of babies or the women who have them. I went to the outpatient clinic of the hospital to have the procedure done. The ultrasound technician moved the wand back and forth over my flat belly to determine how many weeks pregnant I was. She had to leave the room for a moment. While she was gone, I heard a sound like a vacuum or blow dryer—definitely something mechanical. In that moment I knew that it was the sound of an abortion. It was the sound of a baby dying a terrible death for absolutely no reason at all except that his mother did not want him. He was an inconvenience to her. In my mind I could hear tiny baby screams as flesh was torn and mutilated. It is murder not unlike the atrocities that took place in concentration camps during World War II except this murder is clinical and legal. I looked at the ultrasound screen where an image had been saved. I’ll never know what I was looking at—a heart, a head, five toes. It didn’t matter because the black, white, and gray image on the screen was my child—not an inconvenience or a problem that needed to be fixed or even an accident. So I got dressed, told the receptionist to forget it, and boogied on home where my mother was waiting for me… happy that I was still pregnant.
A few days before Christmas that same year, I gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby girl with the most gorgeous brown eyes I had ever seen. She looked at me as if she knew me when I held her in my arms the first time. Already an unbreakable bond had formed. She was my daughter, my Alexis, whom I would cherish until the day I died. I continued to attend college, and we scraped by with a lot of hard work on my part and much family support. I never had to worry too much about money although it was in short supply. It always seemed to work out that I had enough for a car payment or rent or diapers. When I was making the decision to keep Alexis or give her up for adoption—this was after I met the hillbillies but needed to make sure I was making the right choice—I prayed one night alone in my apartment. I didn’t just pray—I pleaded for God to hear me and to guide me. Mostly it was a prayer born of insecurity of how I would make ends meet with a baby in the midst of work and school. I remember sitting on the living room floor with torrents of words interrupted only by the occasional need to wipe the tears and snot on my sleeve. So impassioned was my prayer, I couldn’t waste time to search for a tissue. Then I heard it—the voice of God. He did not manifest himself to me as with my mother. I just heard His voice gently assuring me that if I trusted Him, He would take care of both the baby and me. I never doubted from that moment on that Alexis and I would be okay.
And we were. Once when I had no money in my checking account or cash or credit cards, I needed to buy diapers for Alexis. It had turned cold that day so I put on a jacket to go to the store to write a check for diapers hoping that my paycheck would somehow magically arrive before my check cleared. I put my hand into the pocket of the coat and felt a bit of paper. Probably scribbled notes from school or a reminder of something I have forgotten to do. I pulled it out and it was a twenty-dollar bill. Alexis would have diapers and applesauce to boot! Things like that tended to happen to me—like the time I found fifty dollars in my Shakespeare book or ten in my book of Poe’s poems. Yeah, we were all right. Then along came Brian who was to make our lives even better. Brian and I married when Alexis was six, and he adopted her a year later. Our family was complete. We were all Pawlaks.
Some say that a piece of paper doesn’t matter, but to me the fact that Brian adopted Alexis instead of being just a step-father meant that he was more committed—more willing to take on the role of father. It was an outward and public promise that he would love her like his own. Father Will didn’t see it this way. He told me at that first proclamatory lunch that Brian would never love Alexis as his own. He was a stepfather after all, and a man cannot love another man’s child the way he would love his own. This was one of my biggest fears. Especially if Brian and I had other children, I didn’t want Alexis to feel that she was loved any less by either Brian or me. It was simply not true, but the seed of doubt that Brian could not love her as he did his other children was firmly planted.
Brian and I added to our family with the arrival of Claire in January 2003.  It was during this time that the seeds of darkness planted in my first encounter with Father Will began to sprout.  After our talk on that cold February day in 2004, Father Will sent me this e-mail.

     It seems you have veered beyond the consolation of virtually everyone who may tell you from a theoretical position that things will really be OK if you just "hang in there". You and Brian had very little time to reestablish a "connection" after your separation of six months. I'm sure he returned expecting "marriage as usual" not realizing all the changes that may have taken place in both of you during that time. In this, he may have been somewhat naive, but he is still a very good man who, I think, is very typical in that he shows his love through action rather than emotion. It could be that Brian doesn't understand how to deal with sensitive issues like death or separation. If he is a typical guy, he either doesn't know how to deal with emotion, or has been taught the misguided principle that emotions are for women, not men. This is quite common.
During Brian's absence at academy, social penetration stopped for both of you. Consequently, there's no more sharing of hopes and dreams, admissions of fear and angst and how to deal with them or sharing of personal identities and core values. The dyadic relational tension seems to reside in the dialectic of connectedness-separateness. And now, because you are weighing the costs and benefits of remaining in this relationship, your interest in the relationship generally and in Brian as a husband specifically, is put on hold until you make a decision to continue or withdraw from it. This is why I said, "Absence makes the heart grow colder". The truth of that statement reveals the changes that take place in people during relatively lengthy periods of separation. It's what a lot of military families go through as well when their spouses return home after 14 months in a foreign country.
     So now, what are you going to do? There are two perspectives - the first is theological, the second is practical.
From a theological perspective, marriage is the eternal union of man and woman determined to be for mutual satisfaction in a lifelong relationship of love and trust for the purpose of bearing and rearing children, if God wills. Given this perspective, it would seem that divorce is out of the question. Therefore, couples who experience relational tension either resolve it or tough it out -- for life! Also from this perspective, counseling is spiritual in nature, meant to help solve occasional relational tension so that the couple may remain mutually happy with each other throughout their life together. This type of counseling is not designed for the kind of relational tension you are experiencing.
     From a practical perspective, once social penetration stops, uncertainty about the relationship increases and one begins to weigh the costs and benefits of remaining in the relationship. There is only two ways relational tension can be resolved - either by stepping away from the relationship and re-evaluating it or withdrawing from it completely. In stepping away from the relationship, counseling becomes a mediation process where the couple remains together re-create the relationship by recasting it and seeking win-win strategies. The affirmation here is that relationships are messy at best, yet working through them can be fun and rewarding. If given the proper help, you and Brian could learn what is unique about each other and your relationship and focus rebuilding the relationship around the paradoxical theme of interdependence/independence. But learning about each other, then devising strategies for dealing with needs (in your case, the connectedness-separateness dialectic) so as to reduce relational tension takes a lot of time and commitment. Usually, if these measures fail to produce coherence and coordination between the parties, the relationship fails.
     Those are two perspectives. My guess is you are torn between your religious convictions on the one hand and your desire for self-preservation on the other. So there are two things I advise you to do:
1. *MEDICAL TREATMENT: *Your persistent thoughts about harming yourself are cause for great concern. If the level of unhappiness in your marriage is causing you to think these types of thoughts, you must seek medical help, even if it means taking anti-depressants for a short while until you decide either to remain in the relationship or withdraw from it completely. I don't think you have an option to deny medication that may help relax you and think more clearly in making what may be a life-changing decision. This doesn't mean that you have to become a pill-popping freak because you need a little help just now. It probably does mean that an altered state of existence may engender less thoughts about self-inflicted harm and more thoughts about how to resolve this problem rationally.
2. *ADMIT YOUR FEELINGS:* Step number 2 is that you must tell Brian how you are feeling about the relationship. Know that for his part, he feels inferior to you because of your education so you must be straight with him and speak from the heart. Putting on a facade to hide your true feelings is nothing less than deception. As a pathology, deception requires much mental effort in order to maintain the appearance that things are alright when they really are not. The bad thing about it is that, in the long run, the deceiver becomes false to herself and sacrifices her needs in order to maintain homeostasis in your marriage -- not a good situation. Finally, deceivers always display leakage (either verbal or nonverbal) which ultimately gives them away. Know that, at some point, the truth will out. So, be as honest with Brian about your feelings as you are with me. Be sensitive to him about how he's feeling as well. Together, both of you must make a decision.
     Now, Lucie, you must know that whatever decision you and Brian make with regard to your marriage, I will stand by you. That shouldn't even be a concern for you right now. Neither of you will ever lose my love for you, whatever you decide. I do think it’s best not to tell Judy and others who may call you about your relational concerns. I'm glad you and I are able to talk and exchange emails and if this helps, I urge you to continue to call and email me.
     My hope is that you will follow these two steps outlined above and come to a resolution of this problem with Brian. As always, know that I am thinking about you and praying for you.

It seemed to me that Father Will regarded my marriage as a failure.  One type of counseling would not work for us, and the other strategy was not hopeful.  I began to doubt myself as I read and re-read Father’s e-mail scouring the lines for a bit of hope.  Maybe I was lying to myself.  Maybe I wasn’t in love with Brian after all.  Maybe I needed to leave him…and, if I did, Father Will would be there to help me make my way in the world again.  He was my best friend and priest, my mentor and confidante.  Of course I shouldn’t be sharing my concerns with Judy or anyone else but him.  Father Will would show me the way.  He would, with his clever analytical mind, surmise the situation and advise me well.  He would, with his superior emotional intelligence, enclose me in a wall of protection safe from the thoughts and opinions of others…safe from my own mendacious thoughts…until he could emerge as my Imago Dei.

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