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.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Excerpt from Chapter 1

Then again, I wanted to make my father proud.  Growing up I never felt my father was as proud of me as he was my sister Susan.  High school was agonizingly painful for me as she racked up one award after another both academic and athletic.  She was truly gifted.  That I cannot deny.  I remember watching her play in basketball games wishing I could do that though my stumbling feet and complete lack of athletic prowess stunted my sports career almost as soon as it started in seventh grade.  Before it died in junior high school, my career as the family athlete lay in a deep coma since I first signed up for softball when I was about eight or nine.  I didn’t want to play, but my parents signed me up anyway because, to have worth, you must play sports…. and be good at them.  I hated—no despised—softball.  It was the biggest waste of my time.  I could have been reading a book or daydreaming.  Instead I was standing out in left field waiting for a ball to come my way….and they never did because everyone was too little to really hit the ball.  So I began daydreaming about being Laura on “Little House on the Prairie” or Pippi Longstocking with my red pigtails standing at attention or Ramona who drove her older sister absolutely crazy just by being a little sister.  I’d look at the ants crawling on the ground flirting with danger as I stepped aside at the very last moment lest they bite me.  Oh, and there were ugly, scraggly half-dead pink and white flowers on the field starving for water and attention, but to me they were the most fragrant and beautiful flowers of which to make a daisy crown….which is why when the occasional ball was hit my way I couldn’t catch it.  My glove was full of flowers. 
          My sister, three years older than me, would come home from her games tired and sweaty, a towel hanging about her neck, take off her shoes, and watch television before going to shower.  Man, she stunk!!!  She smelled like girl sweat and feet that hadn’t been washed since the last game.  But I didn’t mind and I kind of liked it.  I think I would die if she ever knew that.  I liked it because I wanted to smell like her, to play sports like her, to make good grades like her, to have my father proud of me the way he was proud of her.  I wanted to be her!  Why didn’t God grace me with all her talents?  Because obviously I had none.  I was just a screwed up kid who had screwed up friends in a godforsaken screwed up little bohunk town.  While my sister was floating through high school on a cloud of recognition and praise, I was busy devising ways of killing myself.  So many times I took handfuls of various pills.  I cut my legs, my face, my wrists, and got sent to a psychiatric hospital for my efforts.  However, I did well in school except for math.  I always did my homework before attempting suicide….just in case. 
     I have forgiven Susan for being the perfect athlete and scholar and for making my life a living hell because I know it was all a lie.  Not that she wasn’t smart and accomplished.  That’s not her fault.  It was mine for not accepting what I was (and wasn’t) and for trying to live up to a standard I could not possibly attain.  I’m sure I made her life hell by virtue of being her little sister and wanting to be just like her.  Really it was my dad who never really valued my accomplishments in band or theatre.  But I couldn’t be angry at my father and I didn’t really understand that it was wrong of him to never go to my band contests or football games when we marched at half-time or to my speech tournaments.  I think he went once to a football game.  Instead I aimed my flame-thrower of vengeance at Susan and unloaded on her for all I was worth….which was, apparently, not much.  In that family, you have to be good at sports to be something.  You can’t just be a troubled girl in black who listens to The Cure and plays the flute.
          So it flattered me when Father Will told me I was intelligent and witty and full of promise.  He was almost old enough to be my father—sixteen years my senior.  But, let’s get this straight…this is not about my father.  We all do the best we can when we parent and then we have the rest of our lives to look back over what we have done with our children and, with great sighs, say I wish I would have and I should have.  I’m sure I will heave great heavy breaths from my aging body when my children are older.  I only tell you this because I want you to understand that I grew up with a self-esteem that could only be viewed under an electron microscope on a sunny day.
Father Will told me I was a kindred soul and, to me, that was the best compliment of all. He was educated, charming with an acid wit, and, most importantly, he was a man of God with a growing church besides his career in academia. He was success. He was holy. He was as close to God as I was going to get considering my life of failures and out and out sins. Surely God could not love me. And if He did, it would be a pitying kind of love you have for a dog that tries really hard to be good, but always ends up making a mess on the living room floor…in front of company no less.

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