About me

I'm just a believer that is recovering from my experience at Teen Mania's Honor Academy and I would like to share my journey of healing with you.

March 25, 2013

Youth Without Youth

"Hangman we played double dutch with a hand grenade
Behind the church, hiding place. Apathetic to the devil's
Face. Wear the sheriff's badge put your toys away
They let us go saying let us pray!"

Time passes at an individual pace but offers us--the individuals--absolutely no negotiation. We do not get a say, nor can we decide how much or how little time we might take to recover from our wounds. Sure, we may have the ability to try to take on a more positive outlook. We may make choices to support our healing process through therapy or taking a stronger interest in our personal needs, but we ultimately live with bound hands at the mercy of an invisible force. Waiting for the day when our triggers fade into some tolerable distance. Hoping to smile once again without that nagging pressure poking at our souls and telling us something isn't right. Or calling us damaged goods. We live with the hope that one day, other people won't notice something is off about us, or that people will quit accusing us of being bitter, negative and slanderous.

We long for the day when we will quit hearing: "Let it go. Forget about it and move on."

This is the nature of the beast. Spiritual abuse leaves a visible mark on the psyche, on the soul, and it is damned near impossible to explain this to someone who is unable or unwilling to hear it. Three years ago, Mica posted about the aftermath of spiritual abuse and post-cult trauma. Less than two years ago, I read her words and finally realized that Yes, Teen Mania Is A Cult.
In 2005, around the height of alumni Xanga usage, I began a blog ring called "No, Teen Mania is Not a Cult."
Since then, I've shared much of my personal story on the blog--my failures, experience with depression and small recovery wins. I've shared my hope and vision for healing in the RA community, along with my belief that Love is the point and Love is stronger than any of the crap cards we've been dealt. I've written a bit about my recovery. It seems to be an appropriate time, with the news that former Honor Academy director Dave Hasz has accepted a position in my neck of the woods, to talk about recovery once again.

The hard truth is that at least a pretty big chunk of recovery from spiritual abuse sucks. There's no way around it. Sometimes it just seems that I'm constantly taking two baby steps forward and eight giant leaps back. My age--being 30--is constantly at the front of my mind while wasting my 20s--or having been stunted at 18 and 19--is constantly at the back of it.

Sometimes (read most days), I look at all the work ahead of me for the day and I cry. No, I literally cry. I get so overwhelmed with the fact that there are nowhere near enough hours in the day to go to work, nurture relationships, get my basic chores done, get my blogs written, work on my book, exercise, do what I want to do, and eat or sleep. It's impossible and I think to myself that something has got to give because a life lived in frustration really is not living. Or maybe not worth living? I never make up my mind, but I think about it for a few hours and stress myself out some more. Or attempt to ignore the deadlines hanging above my shoulders and pretend that I think everything is fine.

Then I look at my life and see so many improvements. In a sense I know I'm a million years ahead of where I was even one year ago. But I don't know if that's good enough. I still want to talk about spiritual abuse everyday. I think about the fact that I have friends who are parents and I just don't believe I will have my own children and I wonder if that's alright. Or more like, will I ever actually grow up and quit feeling (as well as behaving) like a child?

The truth about my healing is that I spent my 20s with my brain steeped in religious, abusive Teen Mania jargon. To the point where I was unable to sail my own ship. I allowed guilt, obligation and fear dictate my life until I was so far away from myself that I didn't know how I would make a return. The good news is that I did return. But I know... I had to sort of pick up where I left off. In my own way I had to make up for lost time.

I touched upon this in my Filmspiration post. Regularly now, I test the boundaries of my freedom in pursuit of joy. What I didn't add was that I'm a full decade (at least) behind most of my peers. Emotionally, mentally, financially, perhaps even spiritually... I am very childish. "Child-like heart" has come up several times in my friendships and relationships--and not always in a positive way. But frankly at this point I'm resigned to this idea that I need to be a child for at least a little longer. Though I suspect I may always live with one foot in the clouds of Never Never Land.

At this point, I believe this is a natural response. When I was 18 I had very adult responsibilities for a ministry that was saving the world. Minus the paycheck and affirmation of a job well-done. I was gritting my teeth to get through the physical challenges and pain.. not to mention the terror of Gauntlet and various other retreats. In beating my body and making it my slave, I learned to disassociate my mind from my body so effectively that I am still struggling to quit living inside my head. My personal soundtrack--though immensely improved since beginning therapy--still upon occasion plays from Dave or Ron's Greatest Hits: "You can sleep when you're dead. Embrace adversity. God hates liars and those who break their commitments. This is okay sexually when you're married and this is NEVER okay even when you are married..." And I still have nightmares where I'm being confronted for doing something wrong but no one believes me that I didn't do it. Or I get hit with "fight or flight" terrors when I go to church or have to speak to new people. I had flashbacks to the internship and panic attacks when I read The Hunger Games trilogy.  

Everything that happened in the red dirt of Texas still affects me to this day. Though I wish it didn't. And I wish it didn't affect you, though I know it's rather unlikely. A trigger can lie dormant for years and then flare up without warning. I don't say this to scare anyone or be a negative Nancy. I say it to be honest and to call attention to the fact that we all need some room to grow and mend. Let's be gentle with each other here and gentle with our own selves. We may all be at different places in our healing and faiths/non-faith, but we are still unique in that we know what happened and we know how it affects us now.

If you're up to sharing with the group, let's discuss some of the triggers or symptoms of spiritual abuse that have gotten in the way of simply enjoying your life.


Thank you Shannon Ashley.
I have become much more aware of some of my triggers lately.
I used to be all about Leadership; up for any task and ready to lead any group. Recently I have found myself repulsed and almost downright nauseated when I've been dragged into management circles at my work. I refuse to apply for a management position; I don't want to have anything to do with leading people. I don't want to be even close to the decision-makers.
I am petrified that someone in leadership is going to stab me in the back.
I KNOW this is because of my abuse history.
Thankfully I feel like I have people from this group I can be honest with this about.

Wanderer, you bring up a great (I think often unexpected) trigger. Working in a corporate office setting, I find myself frequently triggered. My company's mantra is "do more with less." I am probably very sensitive to feeling abused when I am being overworked. But there are many types of jargon they use that sounds too much like TM for my taste. What you say about leadership resonates with me.

One of my triggers is men in authority positions. In any type of position that can be seen as authoritative that most people wont think of as being a position of authority. A few examples are men that are doctors, chiropractors, and so on. Then we have the positions of authority that most everyone is familiar with: coaches, pastors, bosses, etc. One could say that I have a problem with MEN and not their position. I could agree with this except I dont get the sudden overwhelming urge to go running out of the building when its just a man that is working on my car who works FOR Chevron gas station, or the man that is ringing me up at the cash register in Walmart. No, its the man that is in a position of authority...or as you both defined as leadership. (And I want to clarify that women are also in authority positions but the abuse given out by men is at a much higher rate). I get emotions that teeter back and forth from rage to anxiety the entire time I am "exposed" to the authority figure. I would say the biggest threat for me is a man that is in an authority position of a church. My anxiety levels and anger are higher and more intense just thinking about being in the presence of a pastor or even being in a church and its probably because the standard is set, and should be set, at a higher place. Its a church and should be a place of peace, friendship, safety, and comfort and its nothing but the complete opposite and it just infuriates me because its not...and its getting worse. My history started many years back and here is a link to my blog about it all...just so one can get the full definition of why I the way I am towards certain "people of position..."
Back to your post Shannon...I still struggle with these emotions; anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, hatred, loathing, sadness, etc. When visiting with a doc or even my paddling coach I struggle. So far the coach hasnt played the "I am the authority here and you will do as I command" attitude so he is still walking...lol. But I wait for it everyday for his 3 heads to come out. The doc is a different story. He was my chiro and also a pastor. He asked me what I do for a living...and I told him that I had just graduated with my Bach of Science in Psychology in Crisis Counseling...Straight away he put my degree down by saying, "I dont believe in crisis counseling...I believe in Christ counseling..." So I said, "I dont like you. I dont like you because you are a man and you are a pastor. Tell me when and where you are going to adjust or I will go psycho on you..." Well, at least he told me when and where but then he wanted me to lie on my insurance forms by saying I hurt in places that I didnt hurt. And I am thinking, "and you are a pastor representing Christ? Are you freaking serious? Oh hell no!" I left, reported him to my insurance, and never looked back. The only reason I lasted 5 sessions is because I am stubborn and wont go down without a fight...the only reason I did leave is because I didnt want to go jail because I stabbed him in the heart with his stupid anatomical spine he had on display...He, and all the others, are not worth it to me =) And I have so many stories to share like this one...!!!
Shannon I am on the Occupy Jesus FB page and that is how I followed your link to your blog and I just want to say...thank you for sharing your story. I will be looking through your blog and want you to know....you have my friendship and never will you be judged by me. <<>>

Katt, thank you for sharing. Also your friendship. I believe the male authoritative figure issue will resonate with many who read this post. I admire your boldness--mine makes an occasional appearance but I generally come across as meekly gentle to many in authority. I'll be checking out your blog :-)

I have a lot of triggers or simply things that make me stop in my tracks, a lot. My relationship is one area that I am stopped in my tracks a lot. I feel like I can't be me at times because the me I know was taught that I am not good enough to be loved by God, so how can I possibly be good enough to be loved by a man. And so, I am not me, the real me, most of the times, for fear of losing love.

Shannon, I too struggle with my relationships. I feel like when he gets to know the real me, he will see I'm not good enough or I'm not worthy of love. I understand that fear is not unique to TM. But I do feel that the HA ingrained this sense of self-worth coming from how perfect we are. Like are we "the standard"? Are we a Proverbs 31 woman, are we above reproach? Are we model Christian trophy wife material?

Personally, for me, my whole life I believed that I need to be with a man who's in ministry--like a youth pastor, or some other relevant and honest mission to show people the "real" Jesus. Not the white-washed Eurocentric I only give a crap about America and unborn fetuses but not world hunger and economic disadvantages... the Jesus who throws the money changers out of the temple, who feeds the hungry, and who meets people wherever they are at without judgment.

But Teen Mania gave me this complex that I wasn't good enough for the kind of Christian man I desired. I truly believed that I would have to settle the rest of my life for someone who loved me, but not someone who wanted to change the world with me.

That was a HUGE mistake that led to a failed marriage and a 5+year engagement with someone who contributed to my depression and propensity to be a recluse. I stayed in relationships out of sheer guilt and the idea that no one else could ever love me.

I don't "believe" it anymore. But the issue still comes up. It still haunts me and I find myself begging my boyfriend for proof that he really loves me and will not leave me. Or I spaz out when we're apart and actually assume that he's figured out I'm not worth loving.

I think that's all a spiritual abuse thing. Like with TM, we still remember all the rules and guidelines and even if we disagree with them now, there are accountability cards in our head ticking off all the areas where we've failed. For me, TM turned fasting once a week and exercising 4 times a week into a moral failing if I didn't do those things. I have a very abusive relationship with my body that bleeds into my relationships because I'm not actually lovable if I'm not anorexic and working out like crazy. I became very "pro-Ana" as a result of TM due to the control of my "flesh", the whole beat my body and make it my slave thing, and the embracing adversity/no pain no gain thing.

So if I overeat or have a binge. If I gain 5 pounds, I get this idea in my head that my boyfriend is going to reject me because I've proven myself to be weak and unworthy.

I'm really glad you shared that trigger because I never would have thought to share it myself even though it's a significant problem in my life.

Shannon, this was a very moving and thoughtful post. Thank you for your transparency. I think many of us have struggled with the idea of losing so much time in our lives. I know I have. I feel that my 20s were by and large wasted - thanks, Teen Mania. I think if you are robbed of your youth - whether childhood or early adulthood - its only natural to revert to that stage until you've completed it...

As for triggers...any pastor that insists the congregation submit their will to his makes me froth with rage!

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