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Offline Larissa238

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My Cult Story
« on: September 11, 2011, 07:06:53 PM »
Hey all... I know I've talked about being in a cult in the past, so here's my story. It's 6 chapters, so each chapter will get it's own post.

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Chapter 1: Meeting the ICOC, Chris and Kris (May 2000-November 2000)

   I first heard about the ICOC (International Church of Christ) in 2000. I had just gotten baptized by the church I was going to at the time, and my friend Chris asked me if I really knew what I was doing when I got baptized. I said of course I did. There was something different about Chris that made me want to get to know him better. I wasn't really attracted to him physically, but there was something in his personality that drew me to him. It could be that he was one of the realest people I knew in high school- everyone else was trying to be something they were not. Also, he was passionate about the ICOC, and I was passionate about God at the time and my own church.

He invited me to Bible studies and other events, but I didn't go since I had my own church. One day in April he asked me if I wanted to go to church with him (as he did for most major events in the ICOC) because they were having a service at Six Flags. Well, I love Six Flags, so it wasn't too big of a deal for me to go- I even got a discount on admission. I paid the price with my soul, though. The service was pretty ordinary to me- they talked about baptisms and how they wanted to reach a goal by the end of the year, and I wondered if my recent baptism by my other church could be counted. I met Kris, a woman, and Kathy, a teenager, who I was to “study the Bible” with.

   “Bible Studies” were a series of studies that had to be done in order and everything was pretty much scripted to get the proper response. I believe at the time it was 7 studies that were supposed to be done about a week apart or so to give each study time to sink in. Some people rushed through the studies, others (like me) took their time with them. I was in the Teen Ministry at the time since I was still in high school. Kris and I did a study here and a study there, and over time won me over to the church. The first study is designed to make you see you are not saved, then there is one about how the ICOC was the one true church, the sin study where they have you write down all the sins you can remember and you have to read them out loud to the people you are studying the Bible with to get you vulnerable. This is one of the make or break studies. If you go through with it, you pretty much have been brainwashed into revealing your darkest secrets to the church.

   I did my research on the church when I was studying the Bible with them (it took me from May to November) and I found out they were called a cult. I was 17 at the time so I thought I knew everything and that they weren't a cult. The ICOC was known for it's aggressive recruiting tactics- like those brainwashing Bible studies among other things. I didn't see any of that since I wasn't a member yet, so I just assumed that they didn't happen anymore. That's what I was told when I was asked, too. I should have been tipped off by the first Bible study with the “Great Commission” being the focal point- to go and make believers of all nations (Matt 28). My sister had heard more and knew they were a cult, and my brother tried to get me to not join by giving me a whole big stack of Biblical contradictions, but I was stubborn and refused to listen to anyone. I was 17 and already brainwashed by the ICOC at that point anyway. I gave the contradictions list to Kris, and she said she didn't know what to do with them, so she told me to give them to one of the Elders to look at. I did, and never saw that list again.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2011, 07:13:22 PM by Larissa238 »
On why Christians and non-Christians have the same rate of divorce:

He would rather it that they worship Him, instead of spending their time on family.

Offline Larissa238

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Re: My Cult Story
« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2011, 07:07:48 PM »
Chapter 2: Joining the ICOC and the Teen Ministry (November 2000-May 2001)

   On November 26th, 2000 I was baptized into the ICOC. I had gone through all the studies, including one for the Teen Ministry only- the “Prove It” study. Prove it was basically you sitting there and getting grilled by the leaders about what the church is, how well you knew how they interpreted the Bible, and just generally proving you were brainwashed enough to be in the ICOC. I heard a couple years later the Prove It study got removed due to controversy, but I'm not sure on that. I heard they made it a study to prove that Kingdom Kids (children who were born into the church) were ready to be baptized, but everyone had to do it to be fair. The LA church was the center of the wheel, so it wouldn't surprise me if other churches over the ICOC did the Prove It study for the teens as well.

   I had a reputation for being “on fire” even before I was baptized. I was “sharing my faith” with everyone and everything that moved, and my best friend, Elizabeth, got baptized before I did even though I brought her out. I guess that's why I didn't see the pressure put on other people to share their faith- I was doing it so much on my own that nobody needed to pressure me to do it. I fully believed in the ICOC 100% so sharing my faith came naturally to me. I went to malls with the teen leaders and shared my faith there too. That's where I met Brian. Brian came out because I approached him and his girlfriend in the mall, and he got baptized shortly after. His girlfriend didn't make it through the studies, and since they don't allow you to date someone who is not in the ICOC, they broke up. I started studying the Bible with Michelle shortly after, and she was almost baptized as well (she made it all the way to the Prove it study but didn't go through with it). When they thought Michelle was about to be baptized, they asked me if I wanted to be her discipler which was unheard of.

   A discipler was the person above you who you met with, confessed everything to and then got corrected by (also known as rebuking). Everyone had a discipler, all the way up to Kip McKean, who was the head of the church at the time. This was another way the church kept it's hold on people- you had someone you were accountable to for everything. If you were struggling and thinking about leaving the church, your discipler would talk to you and try and get you to stay, using the things you had confessed to them to keep you. It also gave you an automatic best friend. Sometimes the parings didn't work out (I will talk about mine later) but most of the time they did. Sometime in early 2001 I switched disciplers from Kris to Karen. Kris was very laid back (hence me taking so long to get baptized) while Karen was very hard-lined which suited my spirit better. One time after I insulted Karen pretty badly in front of a guest (insulting her was bad, to a guest was like blasphemy) she made me rebuke myself. She had me read a bunch of verse on pride and explain how what I did was bad and so on. It was the worst rebuke I ever got.

   The leaders in the teen ministry recognized that I was a natural born leader (including Arlene M. who I will talk about later) and asked me to be Michelle's discipler. Well, Michelle's dad didn't want her in the church, and the church wouldn't baptize her unless she stood up to her parents and convinced them that it was what she wanted. Note that if the parents fully objected, you could still get baptized. My mom didn't like that I was in the church, but she didn't want to stop it (and I don't think she could have changed my mind if she wanted to). I think the church liked that I was bringing so many people to church, and getting them baptized that they wanted me to teach others how to do it. For me, it just comes naturally. When there is something that I'm passionate about, I talk about it. I have always done that, and it doesn't matter if it's a store or a church, I talk about it. I talk about anything to anyone. Well Michelle didn't get baptized, and I moved on to the USC Campus ministry in June when I finished high school.
On why Christians and non-Christians have the same rate of divorce:

He would rather it that they worship Him, instead of spending their time on family.

Offline Larissa238

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Re: My Cult Story
« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2011, 07:08:44 PM »
Chapter 3: The USC Campus Ministry, Freshman Year (June 2001-June 2002)

   In June, I met Lori A, the women's ministry leader for both the Campus ministry and the Central Region. Her and her husband Jon lead the region and campus, with an emphasis on the USC ministry for them. When I met her, I knew that there was something wrong, but it took me years to figure out what. I was dressed how I normally dressed- jeans, t-shirt, hair back and in a ponytail, and no makeup. Maybe I looked a little tomboyish, but my clothes matched and it's not like anything was hanging out. Lori and I eat dinner, and then she asks me about makeup and such, do I wear it, etc. I did have some in my backpack that I used rarely, so I let her do my makeup and hair. She told me that if I looked the way I did that day at her house when I was at USC, nobody would respect me. Later, I figured out that it was her that wouldn't respect me, not the people at school. I had done just fine in the Teens looking the way I did, and they didn't seem to mind. This should have been the alarm bell going off that this Campus Ministry was not going to be the same as the teens.

   When I started with the Campus Ministry, they assigned me to be discipled by Kristen. Kristen and I didn't get along at all. We were night and day. I came from a poor Mexican family who barely had money to get food and pay rent, and she was spoiled rotten, rich, and lived in a huge house in the hills outside of LA. I was an experiment for her- they wanted to see how she would do with some responsibility, and she failed with me. I remember I was having severe money trouble, and she invited me to go to the mall and window shop for our d-time (discipleship time... the confession/rebuking time we spent with our disciplers). I said okay, knowing I didn't have any money to get anything, but just wanted to go out and I was trying to get along with her. She ended up buying over $100 at one store and I was shocked- I could have fed myself for a month on that. She said if I was tight for money, I could do her chores (aka clean her house) once a week for $100. I thought about it, and eventually I was insulted by it- not only was she trying to get me to be her maid, but to do her chores for her (and probably keep some of the money for herself). Kristen started struggling and eventually fell away (left the ICOC) and so I moved onto Machelle as my discipler.

   When school started in August, I moved into the Shrine House (named such because it was across the street from the Shrine Auditorium- all the households had names) with 7 other girls from the church. My roommate was Jenny, a pretty, half-Mexican scholarship girl just like me. I started getting pressure right away about my looks- what clothes I wore, that I didn't wear makeup, the same stuff I heard from Lori. I didn't think much about it, thinking that they wanted me to fit in at USC, so I tried to fit in with them. It turns out that I was basically living in a sorority house- just without the Greek letters. There was talk about getting fake Greek letters for the house, that's how much they all wanted to be sorority girls. If you shared your faith with a sorority girl, you were looked upon with respect. Nobody actually converted a sorority girl while the Shrine House existed, but that was their dream. I was not a sorority girl- I was a tomboy and a bisexual so in the closet that I didn't even know I liked women (which I will talk about later).

   This conflict of personalities lead me to try and be something I wasn't, and it didn't turn out well for me. I wasn't accepted for who I was, and instead I had to try and conform. The girls in the house didn't like that I slept past 9am on Saturdays when I didn't have class, so they would wake me up in the morning to make sure I didn't sleep too late. I let them go through my clothes and throw out anything they thought was “unacceptable” and would go shopping with them so I would get proper clothes. I tried wearing makeup when I would remember, but pretty much failed on that part. They watched what I ate, when I ate and would tell me stuff about my weight (I was around/under 200 pounds). I wasn't the sorority girl they wanted, but I tried to be. This “new” (read: fake) me didn't go well with the people I made friends with for the most part. Yeah, they were friends with me, but they saw I looked one way but acted another. I didn't convert anyone for the whole time I was in the Campus Ministry, and in fact, my friend Julio (baptized in late May 2001) was the last person I brought out who got baptized. I think it's because people saw that I was fake and they didn't want that. Remember that what brought me to the church was how real my friend Chris was.

   Not all the girls in the house were bad, though. I had 2 roommates the first year, Marianne and Lia, who were just wonderful. Marianne was the household mother, who took care of all the bills and bought all the household items, like toilet paper and laundry detergent. At the beginning of every month, she would put a post-it on our beds or computers and tell us how much she owed us for the previous month's bills. It was a great system for me... Just one bill at the beginning of the month when I got paid, and then it was all taken care of. She would help me out emotionally as well. When I was having a hard time in school and crying, I knew I could count on her to be there for me. Lia was wonderful, too. She has fibromyalgia and sleeping issues worse than mine, and the household understood and was quiet at night so she could sleep. Not only that, but Lia was a wonderful friend, very kind and giving. I could always count on Marianne and Lia if I needed to go to the store, to get a ride to church, or to go anywhere. I can't drive because I get blackouts, so I didn't have a car and needed help doing simple things like going to the store, and they were always there for me. I didn't know how bad things were going to be the next year. Had I known, I would have moved out then and there.
On why Christians and non-Christians have the same rate of divorce:

He would rather it that they worship Him, instead of spending their time on family.

Offline Larissa238

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Re: My Cult Story
« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2011, 07:09:48 PM »
Chapter 4: The USC Campus Ministry, Sophomore Year (July 2002-May 2003)

   Even though the first year they treated me like crap because I was different, I at least tried to fit in. I had no idea the hell that was waiting for me the second year. Marianne and Lia moved out, and then I didn't have my old allies in the house. Machelle still lived there (my disipler), but she wasn't on my side. I got a new roommate, Noreen, who was wonderful. Jenny knew I liked women (when I didn't know) and she would change in the bathroom and be standoffish to me. Noreen was nice, and if she knew I liked women she didn't care. When I was going through hell being unable to sleep with all the noise, Noreen would go out there when I woke her up (not like I was trying to) by crying in pain. I had a roommate, Jill, who was a bitch and just didn't care how much pain I was in. The rest of the girls in the house stood up for Jill, who was “one of them”, unlike me, the outside. I actually got told by Jenny that when Lia moved out, that was it for the quiet nights, that the girls were sick of having to be quiet, and if I couldn't sleep to just deal with it. That's when things started to get ugly.

   I've had sleeping problems for most of my life that I can remember. Some days, if it's not totally quiet, I can't fall asleep until it's quiet. The first year, with Lia being sick and a light sleeper, I didn't have much trouble. When Jill moved in and Lia moved out, it became hell. Jill didn't believe me when I said I couldn't sleep with the TV blasting in the living room, and when I offered to move the DVD player to her room every night so she could watch it and I could sleep, she refused. I couldn't sleep, and when I can't sleep, my muscles tense up so bad I can barely move. I would go out to Jill, crying in pain, telling her I couldn't sleep and to please move the DVD player, and she would refuse. Eventually my crying woke Noreen, and Noreen would go out there and Jill would turn off the TV when Noreen asked her. It became a nightly battle for about a month when my sleep was out of whack. I never respected Jill after what she did to me. I tried making up with her, and she apologized, but I don't think she knew how much she hurt me. She really is a self-absorbed bitch (and I don't use that word lightly). The girls in the household liked her because she was a leader.

   It was all about being a leader in the ICOC. Leaders got “internships” with the church where they were paid to disciple people and take care of Jon and Lori's kids. They also got the nice trips (I remember Machelle was given a free trip to Hong Kong to “share her faith” there one summer) and got special treatment. I asked Machelle if I could be a leader, and her official response was “You can be a leader when you lose weight and show repentance on it.” I don't know if it was some sort of test- to see if I could stand up to a non-Biblical rule (the Bible says nothing about being overweight, and I wasn't a glutton, especially not with the girls watching what I was eating all the time) and refuse, or if it was something from Lori about me not fitting in because I was heavy. In the Teens I was respected as a potential leader, in Campus everything was about my looks. It pisses me off to no end still. I'm pretty. I know that sounds arrogant, but I'm pretty. I don't like people telling me I don't look good with no makeup or in jeans and a tee-shirt. I think it's just because I was different and they knew it that they didn't like me. Being different scares people- especially in a cult where everyone is supposed to be the same. I couldn't be the same, though- I didn't confirm it until my sophomore year, but I was mentally ill.

   My sophomore year, I decided to stress myself out as much as possible to see if I could take the stress of medical school. I wanted to be a doctor, and I knew med school was killer, so I took the hardest classes- organic chemistry and biochemistry- as well as being active in the ICOC and the president of a club. The ICOC took up 6 nights a week- Sunday night household dinner, Monday night d-group (where the girls Machelle discipled met together and talked), Tuesday night we had off, Wednesday night Midweek, Thursday night d-time (one-on-one time with Machelle), Friday Night Devotional, and Saturday night “date night” which we had to keep open in case we got a date. Tuesday nights I spent time with my club (a medieval-themed club) doing sword-fighting, and Thursday after d-time I would have the club meetings. I also was helping mentor two girls who had bipolar (the same thing I had) and would be on the phone with them when they needed help. I was so busy and stressed out I had a mental breakdown. Things in the household were getting bad, Jill was treating me like crap, and I was pressured with my weight and looks all the time.

   After I had the breakdown, I became even more of the household outcast. I was depressed and crying all the time, and nobody knew what to do with me. I got even more bitter when Machelle's fiance, Mike, cheated on her and left her a month before the wedding and she got depressed (who wouldn't?) The household came around her and made her food, was always there to talk to her when she was sad, and everyone understood that Machelle was depressed since she just lost her high school sweetheart. Nobody understood why I was depressed, since I didn't have a reason other than being bipolar. Machelle got better and life went back to normal in the house. I wasn't doing great in school, either, since I was going through the breakdown. I dropped a class and decided to take a semester off. Since I was taking time off of school and didn't like the way the household was treating me, I moved out to be with my sister.
On why Christians and non-Christians have the same rate of divorce:

He would rather it that they worship Him, instead of spending their time on family.

Offline Larissa238

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Re: My Cult Story
« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2011, 07:11:51 PM »
Chapter 5: The Slow Decline of My Faith (May 2003-August 2004)

   The girls didn't want me moving out of the house because they knew that once I was out of the house, I was out of the reach of the controlling aspects of the cult. I didn't have a car, so it was almost impossible for me to get to church (since nobody would go out of their way to pick me up) and other church commitments. I moved to the Singles Ministry, since I was single and not in school. The Singles women were pretty nice to me and respected me a hell of a lot more than the Campus girls did, but the damage was already done. I fell into a deep depression and stopped going to church for a while just because I had anxiety leaving the house. I found Patty, another mentally ill woman, who helped me out and tried to get me to understand how the church doesn't really understand the mentally ill. In January 2004, I decided that staying with my sister doing nothing all day was not beneficial to me, and went back to school. Patty helped me so much by insisting that I not take 4 classes right away, to just take 3. This was some of the best advice I ever got. Had I taken 4 classes, it would have been too much and I would have freaked out and might have failed my classes.

   So I went back to school in January, and I thought that I would be going back to the Campus Ministry, since I was back in school. Jon and Lori had moved on, and it was now John and Arlene M leading the USC Campus (the same woman who wanted to make me a leader in the Teens). I made the mistake of thinking that things had changed, and that they would welcome me with open arms. I went to one of their midweeks, and was basically told as John and Arlene drove me home that going to both Campus and Singles events would be “too much stress” and that I should concentrate on the Singles now instead of Campus. In other words: “We don't want you here.” I guess I should have been happy, since Campus treated me like crap, but it still hurt like hell. The Singles Ministry was nice, the people were nice, but I wanted to be with people my own age, not people 10 years older than I, but I was not welcome in Campus anymore.

   The pushing away from Arlene became more and more evident. I would stay in the nursing area in the church we would use for services because it had speakers where you could hear the service but not be around all the people (which triggered my anxiety). Arlene gave birth to a baby, and she starte using the nursing area. I would stay down there with a friend (Anasheh or Gretchen, or both) who also had anxiety issues, and sometimes we would talk about what was going on in our lives and help each other spiritually between the different parts of the service. One Sunday, Arlene got mad that we were talking and told us to either go upstairs or leave. Gretchen and Anasheh were there with me when she said that, and both Gretchen and I knew that she meant “get out” since we couldn't go upstairs because of the anxiety. If she wanted us to just be quiet, she should have said so, not told us to get out. Gretchen (who was my roommate at the time) and I took the advice and stopped going to church (declared ourselves fall-aways).
On why Christians and non-Christians have the same rate of divorce:

He would rather it that they worship Him, instead of spending their time on family.

Offline Larissa238

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Re: My Cult Story
« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2011, 07:12:39 PM »
Chapter 6: Dating Gretchen and dealing with brainwashing (August 2004-May 2005)

   By this time, I had realized that I liked women, and I was casually dating a girl I met online. Well, it didn't work out with Kitty (the online girl), and when Gretchen and I left the church, we decided to hook up. It was from that point on that I realized that the church could never accept me for who I was- a woman who liked women. Not that being mentally ill was enough to discourage me, it was my bisexuality that made me realize I couldn't be one of them. Gretchen had grown up in the church, so it was weird for her as well, but we managed as well as two recently-freed people could. I was still brainwashed like crazy, and wanted to go back to the church all the time, but I knew as long as I was dating Gretchen they wouldn't accept me.

   I was having a hard time reconciling my love for women and the brainwashing from the church. I would tell myself that I loved women, and if God is love, then why would God deny me of love? I knew that the Bible was not kind to homosexuals (mainly gays, but also lesbians as well) and that what I was doing was not supported by the Bible but I couldn't conceive of dating a man at that time. I became active in the USC GLBTA and there learned to open my mind to alternative lifestyles. I accepted that there was nothing wrong with being gay, despite what the Bible said. That was a big step for me, since the ICOC is a fundamentalist church that took the Bible literally for the most part (they were not a Creationist church) and I would try and justify anything I did when I was in the ICOC with the Bible. That was one of the first steps I took in de-brainwashing myself.

   Getting over brainwashing like the ICOC takes years. It's currently August of 2011, and I'm still dealing with the brainwashing every now and then. It gets easier with time, but it's still hard. I am an atheist now, but I sometimes still think something like “Thank god” when something good happens. I'm trying to be more open-minded about things, and not be a staunch atheist like I was about a year ago, when I was out to deconvert like I was trying to convert in the ICOC. It just shows you that the brainwashing is still there... I want to convert as many as possible to my current beliefs, even if they have changed from what they were originally, a radical 180 degree turn. I don't know if it's something I will ever fully get over. I sure hope I do, but there's no guarantee.
On why Christians and non-Christians have the same rate of divorce:

He would rather it that they worship Him, instead of spending their time on family.

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Re: My Cult Story
« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2011, 09:29:53 AM »
I got this definition of cult off Urban Dictionary, which is always the first place I turn to get real information.

cult: Something you don't know you're in till the last ten minutes. Sitting in a circle of flame in a burning building Gee, I guess mom was right. It WAS a cult!!

Thankyou for sharing.

BTW, I find that rain on a tin roof makes me go to sleep. If it weren't for the fact that it would wake my partner up at 2am, I'd probably use a pink noise generator.

Humans, in general, don't waste any opportunity to be unfathomably stupid - Dr Cynical.