My life there and afterwards

Archive for May, 2014

Comments from other ex-members

I’ve compiled some comments that have been made to me from other people who used to live at the Community of Jesus.

“I firmly know it is a cult. I firmly hate the place. I firmly am confused by it – how can it be good and bad?”

“I still am haunted by it. I did not spend the majority of my life there, and it has done the most damage to me. I resent most of the time I spent there. I did have some fairly decent times – but all in all I think the place is pretty evil.”

“Their main goal (it seems to me) is to tear people and families apart and make them solely dependent on CJ for everything. They use people for their money.”

“Your story shows me how much they control…control…control. Those vows are a farce. They aren’t real. I never took any vows, contrary to what they wanted. I was pressured lots to take vows of stability and vows in the sisterhood/brotherhood. They wanted me to be (a sister/brother). He/She was never meant to be and I am grateful every day that I am stubborn and hard headed enough to never let them pressure me into something I knew wasn’t right.”

“You know they tried to actually make me grateful for my (family member) being (dead/sick/killed)? They said – you know if (s)he had not been (dead/sick/killed) you would have never ended up here. Well, now I can see – that is clearly ridiculous.”

” With family members there I can’t close the door totally on it – if they weren’t there – I could truly move on. ”

“I wish I could add my voice, but with family/friends still there I do not want to risk having them close the door on my being able to write/call/visit.”

“Are visitors welcome? Yes, BUT!!! only on non-cloistered times – (at cloistered times the doors and homes of CJ people are closed to any outside people – even family members who don’t live there — and usually around major FAMILY holidays is a time they cloister themselves) and you are welcome IF you are deemed you are appropriately dressed — if not you are given clothing to put on before you are alowed inside the church. Guests, nonmembers sit in the back of the church — only vowed members (and their children) are allowed up close to the altar. Be prepared to be judged and scrutinized as you walk the loooong walk up to Communion. There are people assigned to welcome visitors — you’ll be ignored by everyone else.”

The Past is Not Silent

I am a Christian by virtue of trying to follow the teachings of Jesus. That is one reason that I feel compelled to speak out about the experiences I have had at The Community of Jesus. It is my opinion that although they have taken the name of Jesus into their title, they are not following his teachings.

They extended help to me back in the 1970’s at a time when I was looking for direction in my life. Over time, the help trickled away and then stopped. I ask: if you are being fed, and slowly over time chemicals and other poisons were added to your food that made your health deteriorate, and eventually you realized what was happening, and changed your diet, wouldn’t you think you would have a responsibility to speak out about those who had fed you the harmful food, even if some of the diet was OK?

Another analogue; do you agree with the Catholic Church’s stance in hiding and protecting from public accountability those priests who molested the young boys? I’m sure in other areas those priests did some good, and gave good advice to many people. But shouldn’t their crimes also be dealt with?

I am not bitter or vindictive. I stayed at the Community of Jesus as long as I did because I believed in the original vision, and worked as hard as I could, and sacrificed much, to live it and make it happen. But as time went on, the vision and the daily life diverged more and more, until eventually my spirit recognized the rift and I had the courage and conviction to leave. Yes, at this point I could just go on with my current, new life, and let my life at CJ become a part of the past, a silent past. I do not feel that is the right thing to do. Silence is the enemy of righteousness, and the willing enabler of those who do wrong.

It was once said to me that CJ exists because the members accept that way of life. That is true, but I am also learning that a high-control environment with charismatic leaders is a subtle and strong force that can blind a person to what is really going on. You can be conditioned to accept as “normal” that which is anything but normal. I have been lied to and when I questioned or had any “trouble” with anything that went on there, I was strongly “corrected” and made to feel that I was the “wrong” one, not that anything could be wrong with the people, teachings or situations I was reacting to.

I do not believe I am bad-mouthing them. I am speaking the truth about what I have lived through. There is a big difference between those two attitudes. I am not out to destroy the lives of those who live there. I do think the leadership should be held accountable for their methods and past and current actions. I think the membership should be given the freedom to talk, question, and search for a mutually agreeable way to live their life, using their ability to think critically, to voice their opinions, and to disagree.

Although that is the democratic way to live, and I assume most Americans take it for granted that they have these freedoms, freedom of speech and freedom to disagree, that was not my experience at the Community of Jesus. Obedience was taught as the supreme virtue, and disagreements were not allowed.

Jesus taught love of God and neighbor, not blind obedience. I care about my friends who are still at CJ, and wish for them to know the love of God also.

The Politics of Chapter Order

A lesson on how to use religiosity to keep people in line.

Because we liked to think of ourselves as a monastic order like the Benedictines, we all sat in what was called Chapter Order when we were at Chant services, or at Eucharist. Chapter Order was figured out by when you took your vows. There were different levels of vows, so they worked out a system. Being high up in Chapter Order meant you were closer to the front in processions, and sat up in the choir stalls in church. Status. It meant you had been there the longest and were really very very committed to the life.

It was also used as a punishment. You could be told to sit out of Chapter Order for spiritual or supposedly physical reasons. One sister I knew had to start using a cane. She could still get up the 3 stairs just fine, but the leader told us that she was “slowing down the procession and making it look awkward”, so she was told to sit in the back of the lowest section, behind the novices.

There was another sister, also, who did not need to use a cane, but for some “spiritual” reason was told to also sit behind the novices. Both of them felt humiliated by this. It made the rest of us toe the line out of fear, knowing that we also could be humiliated for any infraction. Anyone not sitting in their Chapter Order was known to be on discipline.

First Year flashback

When I first left the Community of Jesus in 2010, I wanted to be alone. I really just wanted to be alone and didn’t want anyone telling me what to do, not just religiously, but even in a secular sense. I knew I had to find a place to live, and I did. I knew I had to find a job, and I did. I did go to Boston Housing Authority, but they didn’t help me. I actually just rented a room on my own through Craig’s List, and I did stay with some friends one month between moves, but I did the housing bit on my own, completely on my own. (It isn’t that BHA didn’t want to help me. There were no openings.)

And with the job thing, I did the search on my own. A Senior program got me the internship, and then I was hired, but I made the effort to look, on my own. I wasn’t given housing, and I wasn’t given a job. I went out and got it. But as far as, like, going to church, asking people for help, getting counsel, I just wanted to be alone. I intuitively knew that I just needed some alone time. I didn’t want to jump into a group, even a support group. I didn’t look for help right away. I just needed to have my mind back to myself with no one telling me what to think.

I mean, I wasn’t silent. I did talk a bit, I did share my story with two good friends, but I was very uncomfortable going to their church. I would cry with grief and loneliness when I was there, and I wasn’t longing to go back, either. I wanted to please them, and it was very emotional ‘cause it just highlighted for me just how alone I was. But I wanted to be alone, I needed time to heal. I had been emotionally, psychologically beaten, and I needed to just crawl into my own little space and lick my wounds and heal.

When I finally decided to talk with a therapist, after I had been out a year, it was because I couldn’t get the Community out of my head. Every day I was thinking about them and the thoughts were intruding upon my daily life and I was beginning to get bugged by it. I didn’t want to be thinking about them all the time. I knew I needed to talk it out with somebody. So I went through a process and finally settled on someone who sounded very mature and professional on the phone and I went for a session. I was nervous, but in talking with him I realized he was mature, stable, steady, open and accepting.

So I started going once a week and I started talking, and it was really, really hard at first. I talked about everything. I talked about the Community, and then I talked about my childhood, and then I went back and talked more about the Community. It was so upsetting to talk about it. I was tense and shaking and I’d walk away and be upset. It wasn’t because I didn’t feel safe talking to him, it was just the talking, the saying things, adjusting my mind to reality.

You can kind of push the memories all down and think it’s not so bad, just like when you were living it, but when you actually tell the story to somebody, it makes it so real. You’re not just enduring it anymore; you’re not just shutting your mind off to numb yourself. You’re actually— to put it into words and to tell someone what you experienced and what you felt and what happened makes it very, very real and made me look at it in reality for what it truly was. There’s no excusing it or explaining it away, or saying, this is actually a good thing. No, this isn’t a good thing. It isn’t good to have to dream up places where I’m wrong every day, all the time. That’s crazy. It isn’t good to be told and to accept and to batter myself that all my motives are bad. They’re not all bad. It’s a terrible way to live, and to talk about it helps me to realize how bad it was.

And then there’s the whole pain of why did I stick with it. And then the dawning realization, and acceptance, that I didn’t do it, it was done to me. And then the process of wrapping my brain around that. We think we are so indestructible and not vulnerable, to find out I have been vulnerable and taken advantage of is an adjustment in itself. So he’s been really good in helping me to understand that I’m not stupid. There’s nothing wrong with me. I was brainwashed and that can happen.

It was really scary at first. I really, really, — I had to take my courage in hand and make myself go. I knew I had to, but it was so, so scary because in the Community, telling people everything that I’m thinking and feeling was a very negative experience. It was used against me, it was held over my head, and it was re-visited. I was told how bad I was because of how I felt, and telling my therapist was just so upsetting. But it became, like, OK, no matter how I feel, it’s OK. The things that I had been told were so horrible, in the Community, he’s like, “Of course you feel that way. Everybody does. It’s ok to hate, or be angry. It’s just what you decide to do with it. Everybody has those feelings.” In the Community I couldn’t even be annoyed at somebody. If I had a flash of annoyance cross my face, they told me how I hated them, and how terrible a sinner I was for hating. No emotion was small. If you disliked something, you hated it. If you didn’t want to do it, you were rebellious. There was no room for degrees. It was all extreme.

I’ve come a long way, baby, and have drained a lot of the poison out with the help of my therapist, my current support group and all the knowledge I have gained there, from my friends and from God.

Forward into the future, a bright and promising place.

A day in the life of a new survivor

For those who would like to know about some of the daily things survivors of high-control groups go through, here is one example.

Walk through a day with me. My alarm goes off at 6:00 am. That’s a little earlier than strictly necessary, but I am more of a morning person than a night person, and I like to take my time, puttering, picking up from the mess I left last night, maybe have a cup of tea, knit, look out the window. I don’t usually have time for much of that on a work day, but it is such a treat to not be rushed. I don’t have to throw on some clothes and go outside over to the church for a morning 1/2 hour service of Lauds, Gregorian chant in Latin, cold, sleepy, grumpy. Then back for a breakfast that is made for us (no choice in menu) then quickly make my bed and get to work. I relish having the time to wake up slowly and prepare for the day.

Now it’s Saturday, and I take a shower mid-morning. Again I relish the freedom to spend from 6-9 am puttering. Drink my cup ’a tea, write on my book, eat my cereal. You have no idea how such simple things mean so much to me. I am still awed by the fact that I have my own space, my own apartment, with my own things. There is no one to watch and criticize my actions. What a delicious freedom.

My shower: at the Community of Jesus we were taught in the Convent that we should take “submarine showers”. Get wet, turn off the water. Soap up; turn on the water to rinse. Turn off the water. Shampoo your hair. Turn on the water to rinse. This was not because we were in any kind of water shortage. It was a money saving device. We were 60 women living together in the Convent, and they kept telling us regularly how much money it cost to support us. I would always feel guilty that they were supporting us, and that I was a burden to them. Of course, I never considered the fact that I was free labor. I worked hard, from morn till night, with no pay. I created all kinds of artistic things; weaving, quilting, knitting, crochet, for use by the church and others, with no compensation. If they had had to pay for the multitude of services that the sisters and brothers provided, they would not have been able to stay in business.

But back to the shower; I learned that if you took a shower in the morning or the evening, there were always people coming in and out of the bathroom. It was a large public-type bathroom with 6 toilet stalls and 4 showers and 2 enclosed sinks and 2 open sinks. And there was always someone willing to rat on you if you took too long in the shower. I was never caught, but I heard others being tattled on, and harshly corrected. Showers were one place where I felt relaxed. The hot water relaxed my tense muscles and soothed my agitated mind. I would stretch them as long as I dared. I learned one day by chance that if I took a shower right after lunch, no one ever seemed to use the bathroom at that time, and I could get away with a longer shower. The whole time I would be listening to see if anyone came in, and if they did I would cut the shower short. I was aware of how much steam I was putting into the room, because if it was too much, they could tell you were taking too long a shower. At about 5 minutes, even I couldn’t push it any longer and would stop.

Now, I find myself feeling the same tension, and the urge to cut the shower short. Even though I know full well no one is watching or caring. I am still tense until I pass that 5 minute mark, and convince myself that it is OK to take a long shower if I want to. Really? Yes, really. Then I relax and exult in the freedom to make my own choice. I am not exaggerating. This is what I go through as I recover and work on re-evaluating my experience of the last 40 years.