Right. I need to get some shit out, so I'm turning to a mostly defunct Livejournal. My life has been a roller-coaster of experiences, but this last one almost broke me. Not "suicidal" broke me... worse. I almost lost myself. Who I am. Everything that... shit. Don't even know.
I spent May-October of 2014 in a Christian cult. Not my choice, per say, but a necessity. I was homeless, in the hospital, and I found a free bed, housing, food and whatnot. It was my only option that wouldn't include sleeping under a bridge in Little Rock, Arkansas. That option was Teen Challenge under Pastor Jarrod Flanagan.
I'm still recovering from the abuse, and it was so insideous that I'm grappling for words. Once I got there they wouldn't let me leave, even though I was very open about the fact that I'm not Christian. I worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for the "ministry." My superiors were former drug-gang enforcers and others who had just been completely manipulated. I "fundraised" 12 hours a day, 3 days a week (part of the job), with a cross in my arms, completely misrepresenting myself.
My best friend was a lesbian that they had "cured." I was her driver. We got split up when she broke. She was sent to another state. One month later they sent me there as well. I was interrogated more times than I can count. I fixed their computers. Did their weekly income reports. Called churches. Lied. Lied. Lied. All for their money. I know all their dirty fucking secrets, and I want to spill every one, but something keeps stopping me. Still under their thumbs.
But I'm out now. I'm "okay." I'm working. But fuck all if they aren't still in my head. I'm uncomfortable getting up from my computer at work to go on break without asking. I work with only four other people, approving/pending medicaid requests, and they're all cool as fuck. A lesbian with a husband, a militant athiest, a strong respect-worthy Christian gay ex-marine, our emo baby, and me. But sometimes I go silent when we're fucking around. Not because I don't have anything to say, but because I have too much. I love. I fucking love that when I break free I can have whatever opinions I want and I can TALK. I can VOICE THEM.
I can agree with the athiest and the Christian at the same time if I want to. Or I can dismiss them both.
And I can listen to music now. That whole time I was allowed no TV or secular radio. Jason Derulo "Trumpets" is on right now, and it's like life (which is sad). We were on the road all the time while Iwas there, and one time we went for five days to Mississippi. We got to go to "How to Train Your Dragon 2." (I was the only one who fist pumped in the church when they announced it...). I flinched when they called to Odin in the movie, because I was afraid they were going to make us leave. I remember that I got to call my mom that night (only got ten minutes twice a week, monitered, on speaker-phone, not allowed to talk about where we were) in the lobby of the theater. I hung up on her because Hiccup and Toothless! That's fucking wrong.
We weren't allowed to have any money (getting caught with a quarter could lead to a month of discipline). I ploted ways to get books from Wal-Mart when we were fundraising out front. If I tore the covers off and slotted it in something else then I could... I could be a fucking normal person! It's so wrong that in this country I was trying to figure out how to sneak and read something that's available in a fucking Wal-Mart.
I left quitely when I finally got out. Some girls a month before me had left and also stolen paper-work and things to shut them down. They'd been on a crusade to call churches and businesses to warn them not to give us money. I know this because I called some of them for money afterwards. XD My leaving was... so strange.
I was in the middle of a 12 hour fundraiser at a truck stop in Missouri three hours from our house. It was 40 degrees and raining. All I had was a thin coat and a couple crates of crosses and cheap jewelery. That morning I let a guy feel me up so I could get a free cup of hot coffee. I finally completely put my foot down and refused to continue. I'd refused before (when they made me drive a van with no insurance, when my leader forgot my license, and the van kept making me throw it into neutral then to drive while on the highway... when they told me to drive with cardboard covering my driver's side window... when I was told I had a demon in me...) But this time I seriously laid it all down and said, "No."
When my director realized I was serious she called her superiors. Then I got called back (well... my leader did. I wasn't allowed a phone and I technically wasn't supposed to be holding hers) and offered a fucking sweatshirt. Then they called my mom. Then they panicked. A woman that I had actually respected (and had previously fit into that "she's just manipulated" catagory) lied like a pro to my family.
I was lucky. So fucking lucky. It was going to be bad, though, because I had no place to go and obviously no money. But I was ready for bad at that point. I was ready to come out guns blazing. There was a trucker in the lot ready to take me with him, and I was seriously considering. He didn't even know that I was trying to get out.
And after all of that... Even after I knew I was free... I stayed. The leader that I was with wanted out just as bad as I did, but she had no way. And I couldn't offer her one. I should have... somehow... but I didn't. I was every girl for herself at that point. But I stayed. I stayed and I even sold some fucking shit off our table afterwards (did I mention that I made $300 at 8am that morning from one man? I made more money every week there then I've ever made before... but we still couldn't fucking afford... food?) I drove her the 3 hours back to our mouse-infested house... not knowing what was going to happen to me when I got back.
And do you know what? That leader that I was driving knew that my father was on his way to pick me up for the entire three hours I drove her home. Never fucking told me. I was contemplating walking off a bridge without even knowing that I was actually getting saved. I didn't fucking eat but all the time was wondering when the next time I was going to get food would be. Even when I got back to the house and checked all of our crafts in (no, we didn't steal any crosses), I still wasn't told. All my shit was packed and sitting by the front door. I was allowed to nap on a bare mattress until my da got there and I could finally take a deep breath. After five months.
While I was there, they convinced me that I was unemployable. Had this job within two days (had two other jobs that I turned down, too ). They seriously had me wondering if I had a demon in me... one girl went off on me in a hotel room about her excorcism when she came in... the arrows... and then there was the other girl that someone stopped at her table to warn her about the demons and she went off the deep end a couple days later... they lost her... that psychic in Branson touched my forehead and read me... the guy who did "something" to my shoulder in front of Wal-Mart one Friday... then again on Saturday at a different door... It fucks with your head, man, when all you're allowed to hear is what they tell you. The Buffy fan in me was about to make a stake, and the Game of Thrones fan was about to just lose my shit and start swinging.
This is just the tip. My education director tried to disprove me when I told her that Jesus was a Jew but Jews weren't Christian. A 35 year-old woman asked me if Protestants were the enemy. I screamed one day (literally... it got me fucking... a mess) that the place was only full of rich white girls, and the director told me "We're not racist. Some of these girls have mixed babies." (don't get me started on the white, dark chocolate, caramel conversations after that...).
Do you know what this is really about? I still want out. I'm still there in my head. And I'm fucking pissed.
I'm not spouting off against all Teen Challenge centers. What most people don't realize is that they're run like Subway franchises. This one might be a life saver, but that one's a pit of soul-crushing manipulation. I fell into a bad one. My center and my sister centers (there were four and I spent time at three). Were all run by a man named Pastor Jarrod Flanagan.
Now, a bit of boring finacials. I personally made at least $1000 a weekend (and I wasn't by far the best moneymaker). In Arkansas we made $14000 just on fundraising (not including choir services and telemarketing which I'm not even going to get into). We were one out of four centers... so... 56,000 a week... times four... $224,000 per month... so... That's how Pastor Jarrod got that Escalade and BMW. But I was told not to question.
One time we had a marketing meeting because girls were grumbling (they were feeling like liars because we went fundraising under three different groups, Teen Challenge, Lifeline, and Stay Smart so that if one group got banned from a business we could go back under a different name). We were told that they were seperate entities... Different tax IDs... Different bank accounts. But as a driver I've been out when we've been buying food/staples merchandise for all three. They all three payed from the same account. ? I questioned this and was fed a line about how I'm too smart and they... something something that didn't make any sense. I nodded and said, "Oh. Okay. I get it." but it was bullshit propaganda. The person explaining it to me didn't even know she had been fed a line.
That was another tell. I've been told all my life that I'm smart. Logical. Questioning. Scientific method and all that. Something. I don't really know or get. But this was the first place that I've ever been told that I'm "too smart." I remember being told that when I questioned the weekly income reports, the bank accounts, the interrogations. I was always sworn not to talk about these things with the other girls. Sometimes I fucking hate that I was so under their thumbs that I tried to be respectful and talk about these things with them in private.
They had a thing called "Word Fast." If you were on Word Fast then you weren't allowed to talk. Period. I remember one time when I'd been moved out of the center in Arkansas. I had to go back (sometimes twice a week... like I said, I was on the road a fucking lot). One of the girls who HATED me when I was there snagged my arm and said, "I love you. Sorry. I'm on Word Fast." The Fuck? I got her in trouble... I called her on shit... but she was so fucking desperate that she said THAT?!!? I was in the Missouri center at the time, and even though we were living at the Arkansas center for four days a week we weren't allowed to talk to them. That poor girl got off four weeks of discipline only to be put on it again within two hours.
That's all I can handle for tonight. I just want to... Honestly? I want to sit down with Pastor Jarrod face-to-face and have a talk (no pointy things involved, I promise). His minions didn't break me down, and I want to know if Daddy (what my director called him) can. I want to stand toe-to-toe and say, "You Fucking Bastard."
There are more women than me that want to speak up. But we still have friends in there. We don't want to bring this shit on them. I remember the waves someone cause by releasing a youtube video after she got out while I was in there... We coudn't admit that we'd seen it... we couldn't even admit that it had ever existed... But we were cheering. SCREAMING for someone to listen.
I'm going to fucking ROAR!!!!!!!!!!!!