This is my story, of how I became involved in a modern day Christian cult, my journey in, through, and out of it, and how I have fared since leaving. I gave 40 years of my life to a work that I believed in. I started out idealistic, and willing to work hard, persevere, and give my all for a cause greater than myself. It is the story of the painful journey to realization that it was not what I wanted to believe it was, how I came to leave, and the wonderful amazing story of ongoing recovery. No matter the shocks that life can have for us, there is always hope, friends, love and the many possibilities of recovery, healing, and growth. This therefore is my story about living at The Community of Jesus in Orleans, MA.
I am living in the Convent as a sister, and I have gone through two years of agony. I am feeling more and more that decisions and attitudes about many things, family, music, band, daily inter-relationships, are wrong here. There is some fundamental element of care and love that is missing. During this time I feel I am in conflict with my vow of stability since I am thinking that I would be leaving God if I left here, and yet I can’t help but think that I need to get away for a while. I have had several times of explosive emotions where I felt I just could not live a life anymore where every conversation was designed to find fault in me.
Things were so bad the last year, I dreaded getting up and going through another day. No one showed any care except the sisterhood nurse. She asked me if I was depressed and when I said yes she gave me Melatonin to take. But I was offered no counseling, no one to talk with about my struggle, which was that I was more and more coming to see that our life wasn’t normal. I was beginning to disagree with the way we lived. It was focused on all work, production and image. There was no time for rest. There were lots of religious services, but no real application of the gospel. We went to a lot of services, but where were we helping anyone outside of our own place? The negation of everything individual made me feel like a non-person. My only value was in what I could give through work. I was losing my drive to be the hardest worker there, and could find no other value to our life.
Taking MegaBright fish oil and Vitamin B calmed my emotions, but actually clarified for me that the basic issues were still there. Once the emotions were calm, but I still had all the same questionings, it was clear that I wasn’t just losing my emotional stability, I really did have some questions that needed answering about the way we lived our life there. I had written two notes to the Mother Superior asking for a 6 month/1 year leave of absence, to sort things out for myself. They were both denied and I was told by her, face to face in front of a group of the older sisters, that she would never grant me a Leave of Absence. I was shocked speechless. It is written right in the Rule of Life that we can ask for a Leave of Absence for personal retreat and spiritual growth.
Every single day I was so depressed that I saw no purpose in doing anything. I lost my love for all the things I loved doing, such as gardening, knitting and weaving. Even the fun things were no longer joyful. It was daily agony. No matter how often I tried to talk about it, no one had any answers, suggestions, or help for me. They listened – and that was it.
After my daughter’s wedding, where I was so happy, I came back and as soon as I walked on the property I was plunged into depression again. That’s when I realized I could not continue. I was dying inside and had to take action before I died so much I would be incapable of taking action. At 63 it was now or never. I wrestled with this for a couple of weeks, and then wrote another note asking again for a three month Leave of Absence, a time for reflection and study, retreat, whatever. I said that if it was denied again, that I was afraid I was working up to being desperate enough to go AWOL. I handed this note in on Tuesday, 7/6/10.
7/8/10 Thursday: I am called to a meeting at 6:15 pm with two of the Deans, people in charge right under the leader of the Community. They tell me they have read my note and that the leader has told them about my being upset and they ask me how I feel. I explain my feelings of depression and desperation about any hope of resolution after two years of agonizing and talking, and that I feel I need to step aside for three months to work this out and get some perspective. I tell them about my two previous requests for 6-12 months Leave of Absence being denied. They do not ask me what they or I can do to resolve this. They do not offer alternatives. Their response is the standard one that I have heard so many times before – “In cases like this, it’s better if it happens quickly. Go up to Boston tomorrow and find a place to live.”
One of them says she will give me a ride to the bus in the morning. She asks me how much money I will need. I say I do not know, having not dealt with the world for 40 years. Having done a little research on Google, I thought maybe $800 would cover one month’s rent. (At that time I did not know about needing to pay first, last & security). She offers – says – that they (the Community of Jesus) will give me $1,000.
I am told to do this quickly, by the 11:40 bus tomorrow, and that she will have papers of exclaustration for me to sign. These are papers saying that I am requesting to be released from my monastic vows. I state emphatically that I do not want to sign any papers. I want this to be temporary.
My understanding as I left the meeting is that I am going for the day to find an apartment, and then will come back to arrange to move my stuff.
That same evening I call the Dean and ask who will pick me up on my return and how late should I think of returning. She acts surprised that I am asking this. She explains that I am expected to take only what I need for a short while, in one suitcase, and that I should find a room and stay in Boston. Once I have a job and a permanent apartment, my things can be brought up to me. I am shocked. I blurt out “I can’t do that!” She repeats that is what I am expected to do. I begin to panic, and try to think of how maybe I can do this; if I could find a Realtor or two to inquire at once I get there. I feel trapped and desperate to get out, so I foolishly say I will try to do this.
7/9/10 Friday: In the car before we leave, the Dean produces the papers. They say that I have requested dispensation from my vows. I refuse to sign it, as that is not the truth. I have requested a Leave of Absence, or sabbatical, or 3-month retreat, not dispensation. My goal at this point is still to try to resolve my conflict, and to return. She then says she will not give me a ride to the bus until I sign them, nor the bus fare, or any other money. I am stuck in this horrible in-between position until I do exactly as they are telling me to do, against my wishes, against the truth. At this point I still refuse. She calls the leader to report “we have a problem.” After she hangs up, I offer a compromise. I say that if the paper could be re-worded to say that I had requested a Leave of Absence, but having been denied that, I would accept as the second choice, the alternative, signing the dispensation, then I would sign it. But I would not sign that I had requested it. She said she would check. I then get out of the car, take my suitcase and violin out, and go back into the Convent. I go up to a guest room where I can be alone. I am aghast that I can not leave without signing the dispensation papers, and I am pacing in panic. I cannot think clearly, I feel trapped. I think about calling my oldest daughter, but do not want to drag her into this drama. I am not thinking clearly, and cannot think of any other options. I am afraid and literally out of my mind with the stress of all this.
Shortly after noon I call the Dean to ask if the re-wording was acceptable. She hasn’t gotten through to ask. I am suspicious that they are stalling until I capitulate, as I have seen this tactic used on others. I call again later. I finally do capitulate after asking her if she will give her word that my note requesting a Leave of Absence, a three month retreat, and stating that the Leave of Absence had been denied me, would be filed permanently with the signed dispensation form. She gives her word that it will be, therefore I agree to sign. I am desperate to get out of there, and time is running out to find a place to stay once I hit Boston. I sign that, and a legal document saying that the Community of Jesus is no longer responsible for me. I sign under duress, not really wanting to, but feeling it was the only way to get out of there. Otherwise I would have had to walk out with nowhere to go.
I ask and receive verbal confirmation from the Dean that the Community of Jesus would continue to pay for my Mass Health Insurance for one year. (I did not know at that time that there were no payments made to Mass Health, it is a free service). She tells me I need to call the head of the financial office at the end of July with my new address.
As I am getting to the car the second time, one of the older sisters comes up and blocks my path, telling me that I cannot take the violin with me. They will not let me borrow the violin that I have been playing for several years now. She actually stands in my path until I hand it over. I say how hateful and unnecessary this is. They know I will return it just as soon as I have saved enough to buy my own. I say that the leader is mad at me. This sister denies it, but I repeat that it is so, or she would not be doing such a hurtful thing. Since I know it does not belong to me, it belongs to the Community, I do hand it over, taking it out of the case and giving it to the sister, saying “get it out of my sight quickly before I change my mind and take it back.”. But it was so unnecessary, and hurtful, and spiteful. The case and bow do belong to me so I keep those. I think that surprises them, but nobody says anything.
Because of the late start, I arrive in Boston at 3:45 pm. I go first to Bank of America to open a checking account with the $500 check. We had stopped and cashed the other $500 before leaving Orleans.
The Bank process takes until 4:50 pm, so my calls to the rental agencies are too late. They are closed. I sit on a flower bed edge and call my daughter in tears and panic. She calms me down, tells me to find a hotel room and that they are coming to Boston tomorrow anyway, and we will work something out. YMCA has no rooms, but refers me to Chandler Inn where I get a room for $100+. I talk with my daughter on Saturday. I also call and talk with my other daughter. I decide to go down to CT and stay with her mother-in-law for a week or two while I try to find a job and a place to live.
To be continued…