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.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
“Something small falls out of your mouth...
a prayer for something better.”—R. Smith
I had served Father Will for many months at the altar by the time I packed up and joined Brian in Alpine in June 2004. I went there with a laundry list of grievances with no solution other than to remain in Sealy. The town was too remote. I would not be able to pursue my career. I would become stagnant in my personal growth because there is no culture in West Texas. Brian is just a macho law enforcement type who wants to keep his woman at home to raise children and clean for him. Brian and I had no real relationship because the social penetration stopped whilst he was at the Academy. I would waste my potential on my children. All these thoughts came directly from Father Will. During our talks he had a way of finding a weakness or doubt and exploding that into a full-scale terrifying fear. Thus, I was unhappy with Brian, with the town, and my role as mother to my two daughters.
Brian and I sought counseling in August of 2004. In our first meeting with Adrian Bera, I walked away very unimpressed. “This guy is a quack. I don’t want to see him.” “He’s our only option,” Brian replied. “Yeah, well I think I need to tell him how to counsel us—me at least.” Arrogant, so arrogant, that I thought I had to teach the counselor to counsel. I had no faith in this small-town therapist especially when he told me he was reared in Alpine. He was either too scared to leave the city or he was one of those good ol’ boys who return home to do good. Either way, I didn’t like him….except I did. I liked his personality. He seemed to be someone I could, maybe, someday actually talk to about what was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just liked him.
And, he was smart although it would take me years to admit this to myself having already judged him as a quack. I hated that he was smart because that meant that the therapy would be productive. Productivity means change and change is painful. I really didn’t know if I wanted to stay with Brian. I think I wanted Adrian to say the same things as Father Will—divorce, pursue your dreams, the children will be okay, move back to Houston where life teems in the world of art and theatre. But he didn’t because he recognized our marriage as one worth saving.
Adrian and I worked together for several months before I decided that I was defective. Surely every cell in my body was rotting. I was bad. A slow dying flower. My flesh eaten by the dread decomposers of time and sadness. I thought this because I came to the realization that my life wasn’t bad. I had a husband who loved me and had a job that allowed me to be a mother full-time. I had two lovely daughters. Everyone was healthy. Alexis was making friends in school. I had formed some fragile and very superficial friendships. Everything seemed to be going as it should. So why was I so desperately unhappy? It was a mystery both Adrian and I could not solve apart or together.
We are sitting in a meeting room at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church. I have just told Adrian that I plan to kill myself when I visit Houston for Thanksgiving. My legs curled under me in the folding chair, my head bowed, I look embryonic. Adrian sitting two chairs away from me looks concerned. He should. I mean it. I will overdose and slit my wrists to make sure the job gets done. I look at him with helplessness, wanting him to reach inside me and take out all the bad feelings, to rearrange whatever parts of me are misaligned so that I can feel normal again. Of course, he cannot fix me that way. Instead he looks back at me and very quietly says, “Lucie, I promise you one thing. I promise you that you will get better.” And so it was that some of the burden I carried was transferred to him. I no longer had to figure things out by myself. I had help. I think this was the beginning of trust in our relationship. He had promised me that I would get better. He was, as far as I knew, a man of his word. It was this promise that I clung to in my darkest hours. I believed him.
During that same meeting, Adrian advised me to talk things over with Father Will when I was in Houston. He said that he would be interested in what a priest had to say. I think Adrian wanted assurance that he was on the right track. The whole mess was confusing. I could not make my cognitive thoughts match what my heart felt. What was the missing piece and how do we put it back? This was an answer we sought for years until March of 2008 when everything tragically fell into place.
When I returned home to Sealy for Thanksgiving, Father Will and I had several meetings. During this time he gave me an assignment—a penance—to do. I was to meditate on his sermon every day until Christmas and to journal about what I had surmised from it. We would meet again at Christmas time to discuss what I had written. There were also mini-assignments during this time. I told Adrian nothing about this as I had returned to thinking he didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t have to know what was going on with me because I was under the care of a priest, friend, and mentor. Surely that was better than being counseled by someone I had only known for a few months.
Adrian encouraged me to talk with Father Will, but every time I did, the gap between my cognitive thinking and what I was feeling grew more cavernous. I felt I was sinking into the depths of earth. I was falling and the only thing I could grasp was the slim promise from Adrian that I would get better. Then on the other hand, when I did talk to Father Will, I felt everything was perfect. He really got me in a way no one else did. He was uniquely in tune with my needs and desires….but, it was strange….I would talk to him and then not feel confused, as if I had all the pieces and they fit perfectly. But I would return to my husband and children and therapy with Adrian, and nothing would make sense. I came to believe that I was a prisoner of my own defective mind. It was a hellish existence because everywhere I turned, no matter who I talked to, I was wrong. Some part of me screamed “no, I don’t want this!” whatever “this” was at the moment. I was conflicted at every turn. I loved my husband—but he was a macho law enforcement guy. I loved my children—but they were keeping me from pursuing my dreams. I liked being at home—but I was wasting my potential on children. Every aspect of my thinking had a counterpoint so much so that I couldn’t really begin to know what it was that I—Lucie—wanted and what Father Will wanted. I began to question if I had lost myself in my search for peace.
This part I call unbecoming.
It is once again a cold March day. I am talking to Father Will on the phone. I am desperate. My daughter is cutting herself again and we have decided to take her to a treatment facility. Father Will suggested the Menninger Clinic in Houston. “I’ll keep an eye on her for you,” he reassures me. But she does not go to Houston for treatment because the Menninger Clinic wants payment upfront and will not take our insurance. Instead we take her to Midland. It is only two and a half hours away, but I feel as if I am abandoning her as we drive away. I am empty. I have thrown my baby to the wolves that prey upon troubled minds. Really I know it’s for the best, but I too remember the sound of the lock of the door closing off the outside world of friends and family and life. It is one of the loneliest feelings in the world.
Alexis had been having problems with cutting for several months now. She and her father clashed over seemingly everything from school to clothes to leaving the cap off the toothpaste. I thought it was because Brian was unrealistic in his expectations of her. He wanted her to be a good child with no exception—no room for mistakes. After all, he had been a good child. He never did drugs, made good grades, never got into major trouble, and always had a job. I also felt that since Alexis was not his biological daughter, he loved her less. Certainly he could not love her as he would a flesh and blood daughter. Father Will had told me so many years ago.
Father Will had also told me to parent Alexis by myself without Brian’s approval or input. In doing so, I created a split family where I was pulled in two opposite directions. I was wife and mother to Brian and Claire and a single mother to Alexis. It didn’t work and the chasm forged between Alexis and Brian widened. She rejected him. She would only talk to me or be disciplined by me. When he did try to enter her world, he was met with anger and more rejection. Perhaps to assuage his wounds, he rejected her to some degree by deferring to me and throwing his hands up in the air in frustration. He was not allowed to parent his own daughter. As the schism grew and threatened to divide our family forever, my relationship with Brian suffered as well. By taking Father Will’s advice to shut Brian out of the parenting process with Alexis, our worlds became polarized. Brian and I became cold and distant as our views of childrearing and everything else diverged. I had too many roles to play and too many worlds of which to be part.
Since her birth, I have always felt I had to protect Alexis. She was born to me—a struggling single mother—and it was my duty to make her life one of comfort and joy and safety. The guilt that burdened me because of my single parent status would haunt Alexis as she grew up because I protected her too much. I had a different sort of relationship with her than I ever will with my other children. We were mother/daughter, big sister/little sister, and (most unhealthy) friends. If I could go back and do it again, I would change quite a lot. I thought I knew how to be a mother, but it turns out I didn’t know squat. I began to rely on Father Will’s parenting advice as early as 2002 when I became pregnant with Claire. It was simple advice that I could’ve gleaned from the pages of any parenting magazine. Don’t let Alexis get lost in the excitement over the impending arrival of her sister. Pay special attention to her too. Common sense that even my stumbling maternal instinct knew. But then he went on to tell me that Alexis needed special attention because Brian would love the new baby more than Alexis because the baby was biologically his. I asked Brian about this and he told me “I never needed any other child than Alexis. She is my daughter and I love her just as I will love this one.”
I believed him for a moment but that doubt—that seed of doubt that had been planted in my first meeting with Father Will in February 2001—began to take root and grow. It was up to me to protect her from Brian’s rejection—the rejection that would have never taken place had I not shut him out of our lives. I jumped the gun and let my fears control me when I should’ve just trusted in Brian’s love for Alexis. But I was never alone in my thoughts. There was always Father Will’s voice telling me that Alexis was being cheated because Brian was not her real father. So, I found Alexis’ biological father, Jeremy. They met and talked on the phone and all was well for a time. Alexis began to resent him because she felt he didn’t care about her enough—the way a father should. It took many years of working through those feelings of anger and rejection and “am I defective, why didn’t he want me?” to get to the point we’re at now which is this: Brian is her father and her dad and Jeremy is her biological father from whom she apparently gets all of her DNA since she looks just like him. Jeremy is a special part of our family. He does not try to usurp Brian’s role as father, but we also feel it’s important that Alexis know him and spend time with him. Jeremy has a different family now and that has caused Alexis to feel wistful for the years she didn’t spend with him; however, that has also caused the momentum to shift restoring her to our family instead of drifting in and out of worlds that she could never really be a part of. Father Will didn’t think it was necessary to find Jeremy. I would only be screwing up her life. Lucky for Alexis and Jeremy—and all of us, really—I had no trouble finding him. It all happened within twenty-four hours of starting my search. I hadn’t the time to consult Father Will.
Alexis was special. I felt a burden of guilt for not having started Alexis’ life off the right way. This and a priest’s collar were more than enough to give Father Will the opening he needed to sneak into my marriage bed and lop off the head of my perceived tormentor, to separate me from my life partner, to destroy my family, to rob me of my faith. Slowly, stealthily like the protagonist in Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart”, he moved by degrees of trust. Year after year he moved protected by his holy robes, into a position in which he could pluck from me those most precious and that which can never be replaced.