Stay away from cults, Part 2

The following are illogical arguments:

“If you do not follow [____] (their guru), then the alternative is burning in hell forever.”

“If you do not follow [____] (their guru) then you will continue to suffer or be unhappy.”

“If you do not take what we are offering you, then you will never get anywhere in life.”

“If you do not get the program, the program will get to you.”

“If you do not pray for [___] (you name it) you will go to hell.”

“The Bible was written by God because it says so in the  Bible.” (This line will work for whatever the cult’s given text is.)

“Anyone who hasn’t read [insert name of cult’s text] isn’t very wise. These are the standards by which we judge others. All other education besides our specific teachings is meaningless.”

“You are a sinner, therefore, admit it, you need us.”

Ever notice you cannot engage in meaningful dialogue with cult members? They either try to convert you or they tell you they are super happy but you really wonder when you see that glazed over, drugged look in their eyes. They tend to not leave their cult. Know why? It would be far too scary for them. How could they turn their backs on what they believe in so passionately? I can only imagine it’s as painful as it was for me to walk out of the mental health system. You bet it was hard!

“If you do not follow our treatment plan, you’ll become unstable.” I’m waiting for that to happen. What the hell’s unstable, anyway? Pssst: It’s a meaningless scare tactic meant to keep you stuck in treatment and out of work forever. You don’t need to believe it.

Please, stay away from cults

You may think….

“But they’re so nice.”

Yes, they’re nice. They seem nice. Generous. Open. Caring. Or maybe even the ONLY ones that care. Please don’t fall for them. Even if they seem right now to be the only ones out there for you. Don’t grab onto that lifesaver because it doesn’t save. It takes.

“But being with them will do no harm.”

At first, it seems harmless. That’s how they operate. At first.  Little by little, they steal bits and bits more from you. “Won’t you try….” and you give a little more and a little more of yourself till suddenly, you are totally roped into it. Not all cult members shave everything or wear robes or paint themselves or run around saying stuff in Indian languages. Not all kidnap college students and keep them in secluded camps in the jungle. Not all keep underage girls in sex slavery and then do themselves in en masse via Kool Aid just cuz their leader said so.

“What they say seems so simple.”

Yes, they have their lines. They’ve learned these lines, practiced them since they are in the business of proselytizing. Some cults deny that they proselytize. They will say, “We don’t really do that.” But they do. Others will say, “Our religion is the only one. So why not do the right thing and spread the joy so there will be world peace?” Then, pass the basket.

Your donations into that basket will get higher and higher and you will be pressured to give more tan you can possibly give. You will give your soul. Someday, you will look back and see what a waste it has all been. Or, since looking back and seeing it all like that is probably far too painful, you’ll never ever see it like that and stay stuck in that damn cult forever, avoiding the truth, a life lost.

Lowered standards, changed life

And how did that happen?

I look back on a typical day for me as music student. What was a good day for me? I’d say a good day meant I spent most of the day working hard at whatever musical composition I was putting together. A good day was a productive day. I loved putting together musical sounds. I could do this in my head, while seated at a desk, or sometimes, I plunked notes out on a piano. I recall late nights in practice rooms, #2 pencil in hand, and a pad of music staff paper. Let’s not forget those erasers that came in handy, too. I tried not to let the eraser bits fall onto the piano keys. We composers got cursed out for that.

There were so many rehearsals to attend. I kept track in one of those “At a Glance” appointment books. A tiny one. I never lost it. I wasn’t late for rehearsals. I got frustrated if anyone else was unreliable, but I usually didn’t want to reveal how I felt. I’d say, “Okay, let’s get down to business. Does everyone have their parts?” If I feared that one or two people tended to forget theirs, I’d be all prepared with “just in case” copies.

I wrote all parts for my compositions myself, transposing for each instrument, all done by hand. Folks said I had good music handwriting. In addition to writing out my own scores and parts, I made money copying parts for other people, believe it or not. So someone would give me a full score, and I’d write out each part for each player. I’d get paid, too. People liked my work. I kept busy.

Occasionally I picked up an odd job playing trumpet. Usually this was in a local church. They’d need someone, so they’d call the college. I enjoyed feeling appreciated. I got thanked for what I did. That made my day.

I had classes to attend. Mostly music classes, but sometimes, a non-music class as well. I did well. In fact, I always did well, even if I feared at first that a class was way out of my league. I enjoyed working hard. I paced myself so that I never had to cram. Throughout college I had trouble understanding why other students crammed. This was a problem I never had a problem with, and I was glad of it.

That was my life. Not bad, eh?

Then, I entered the Mental Health System. I remember my instructor, my favorite instructor, telling me I was making a mistake. He watched me slip away. I find this sad. He must have felt like I was entering a religious cult. I guess he was waiting for a few years for me to come around. I didn’t. He must have been heartbroken.

In fact, the Mental Health System is just that. A cult-like organization. It’s not a religion, but what they do is precisely the same as the brainwashing techniques used by cults. They suck you in, suck you dry, steal your life.

I want to tell J.L. that I got out. Who knows if he even remembers me.

In the MH System, what was a “good day” like for me?

At first, that is, the first couple of years, a good day meant I did well in group. I had good coping skills, didn’t I? It was a good day if I did well in the “milieu.” Such a classy word. Or often, the “community.” I did well if I spoke up. If I spoke about my “issues.”

If I confessed. That got praised.

I told them I’d been to college. Oh, a college student. I said I’d had many rehearsals, that I’d been busy with music composing. They said, “So you worked hard and got good grades. You set your standards too high for yourself and you are at fault for being a perfectionist. It’s your fault you got sick. Your thinking is wrong. You need to listen to us and  learn a new way. You need help.”

“Sick”? What’s that? I never used that word to describe myself before.

It was a good day if I admitted I needed help. This pleased the therapists. They told us, “Come to staff if you need anything.” For the first few months I didn’t dare do that. No way would I bother them. One day, I figured since my parents were paying so much money, I’d ask the therapist if we could  meet. Wasn’t that the way things worked back in school? If you had a question, you went to see the instructor during office hours. Most instructors had these hours posted. Or you approached the instructor after class and asked for some time. They were always helpful and clarified any questions we had, or helped us with extra projects that we were involved in. Was that what therapists did?

I met with the therapist a few times. I had different individual ones. That’s because turnover was so high. I laugh now. One left, I think, because private practice was more lucrative. The next one burned out and became a chef. He was good!  He probably realized it was all a racket.  The third was a manipulator and should NEVER have become a therapist in the first place. People who haven’t worked out their control issues should work them out first before getting into the business.

So these individual sessions varied. I didn’t see much of the first two. They didn’t last long before they quit. The third definitely played favorites, and favorited me. I hated that. I felt so guilty. I wished she’d cut it out. A good day was when she didn’t say in group, “Let’s hear what Julie has to say,” when already she’d allowed me plenty of time. I found this favoriting embarrassing. The other “clients” resented me for it. I felt that it wasn’t my fault. I never said anything to the therapist, but it pissed me off. A good day was when I felt on even terms with everyone.

The manipulative one had a God Complex. I saw right through it. She didn’t have any clue what she was doing. It broke my heart, but I went along with it because to tell you the truth, I felt sorry for her, and secondly, I really wished her “techniques” would magically work, even though these methods were far-fetched, to say the least.  I knew she’d consulted with the other therapists, she was so clueless about eating disorders, grasping at straws.

A good day was when I didn’t let on that I knew that.

You know, it’s just the same when you’re in a class and you’re obliged to work on a group project with, say, three other students. Say you do most of the work. You present it as a group project. You’re so embarrassed to admit that the other students haven’t pulled their weight. Maybe they have excuses, or haven’t studied, or don’t give a shit. Either way, maybe you just don’t want to rat on them. It was like that. I didn’t want to rat on this therapist. I felt ashamed that she had no clue how to solve my problem.

I wondered if I would ever get better. If there was anyone in the world who knew about eating disorders. Maybe no one knew. Maybe what I had was rare. I hadn’t known anyone, had I?

A good day was when I didn’t binge eat. It was the single driving force in my life. I lived from day to day terrified of the next binge. Therapy had only made it worse. A lot worse.

I had forgotten about music. I had forgotten what a good composer I’d been. I’d forgotten I was once an outstanding student. I’d forgotten I had so much talent. I even forgot the sound of the trumpet.

Do you ever hear a trumpet playing in a church? What a glorious sound that is. That one by Vivaldi often played? Of course, I had that one memorized.

The Mental Health System destroyed all that. I barely noticed. Decades passed. Yep, decades.

You bet my parents noticed. They were furious. They saw their daughter change before them. What the heck was happening?

Get this: The therapists blamed my parents. I feel so sorry for Mom and Dad now. The Mental Health System stole the talented adult daughter of two very fine and responsible parents and then turned around and placed the blame on them.

Not only that, they turned the daughter against the parents. Of course, that’s what cults do. They steal children and convince them to turn against their parents.

In the name of “help.”

That was only the beginning.

I hear a trumpet now and then. I remember I’d hear one in Watertown. I guess a kid practiced at home somewhere. You could hear it out on the street, but not often. I’d recognized the lessons I’d used myself, from etude books we trumpet players knew well. We all had our favorites. And the scales, those too. I had my warmup routine. Forty-five minutes or so of that, daily. It was like brushing my teeth.

I was in Montevideo about a month ago and saw a trumpet in a store. Shiny. Oh my goodness, just sitting there. I checked out the mouthpiece. A screw-on type, I think, that is, the part that your lips touch screws onto a base. You choose the depth of the base and the width of the part that touches your lips. Makes it more “custom,” according to some.  They had two trumpets of the same model, differing only cosmetically. No, these weren’t cornets. These were real trumpets. I can tell because a trumpet is mostly cylindrical bore. Cornets have more conical bore. You can see it.

That trumpet sat there, like royalty. I know when a sign says you can’t pick something up in Spanish, but I saw no such sign. The store was crowded. I picked it up. I wondered if the store clerk noted I knew how to hold it. Perfectly, with no apology needed for perfection these days. Of course I did. I felt it in my hand.

Just like that.


I wrote the day treatment bit out in my memoir, which you can read in the chapters “At the Crossroads” and “Family Therapy.” I didn’t use any real names and I changed any identifying features. Another set of chapters is called “Graduation Day” I believe. There are a couple of conversations between me and J.L. in the book as well. One over the phone and one in person. These are written out verbatim, as I remember them. He was a terrific instructor. I hated disappointing him.

A basic pattern of brainwashing and abuse

This is a pattern I have seen again and again in my life that I would like to share.  I guess I was thinking right now just a bit more about Jenna’s comment from a few days ago about her unfortunate experience working with Shan Larter.

Shan’s two-hour freebee, which she did twice over the fall that I know of, was of course not an educational seminar but a promo for herself.  I knew this fairly soon into the “seminar.”  She claimed that the audio was not even working properly and she was not truly taking questions from listeners at all, but selling herself, which was I’m sure was the plan all along.  I meanwhile had typed into the “questions” box about five questions.  Silly me, thinking she would answer these questions.

I actually saved the questions I asked Shan, and put them onto a document, but instead of sharing them now, I will share them in a separate post because I feel that I would be straying too far from the topic at hand, as the questions are detailed.  Let me just say that if anyone else out there was foolish enough as I was to think that Shan was going to answer their questions, they, too, were sorely disappointed after listening with baited breath for the entire two hours.

Let me say this: Beware of any individual, group, religion, place of residence, hospital, therapist, doctor, or practitioner who tells you you are “exceptional” or “special” and then says they will make you a deal just for you.  This is a brainwashing technique I have seen used many times in my life over the years used very effectively by abusers, scammers, cults, and brainwashers. 

Yes, those of you who have been around my blog a while know that I had an experience back in 1979 in California when I was brainwashed by the Moonies.  I got out on my own.  In fact, before leaving, I tried to warn others and tried to get others that I believed were newcomers to also leave.  I tried to spread the word that we were being brainwashed.  I had to do this very secretly and I passed notes to people, trying not to have these notes seen by those that I believed were cult leaders.

Now listen to this parallel:  During my last hospitalization, this in July 2012, I attempted to speak up and tell as many patients as possible to read about the Five Fundamental Rights, which is a document about human rights in psychiatric settings.  The staff tried to break up these conversations and did everything they could to shut me up.  They wanted no talk of “rights” on their unit.  Why?  They were breaking the damn law, lots of laws, and they knew it.  They didn’t want the patients reading the documents they rightfully had access to.

Do you see what I am saying?

Of course, I did win my human rights case and the patients now have a private phone on the Alcott Unit.  I hear that only one of the phones has a phone booth built around it, but I of course have not been on the unit and have not seen it myself.

So anyway, I wanted to point out the parallel of my role in these settings.  It is glaringly obvious.

An abusive spouse will do the same.  Tell you you are exceptional.  Tell you you are the one and only.  And then they will dig in.  Because you are the one and only, the abuser has given you reasons why you are unable to leave.  So you are completely stuck.

An abusive therapist will also do this.   An abusive therapist may abuse their patients in many ways.  Of course we hear the stories about sexual abuse, but what isn’t recognized or reported is emotional abuse or sexual abuse that is done more covertly and can’t be reported because it can’t in fact be proven in to the legal folks.  This abuse is just as hurtful and these relationships can go on and on for years, with no recourse.  And no one believes you.  Because you were the crazy one.  Everyone says you are exaggerating or made it up, but you know you are right.

Please, hold onto what you know is right.  If nothing else, write it down.

The post I just posted a bit ago about what happened at Newton-Wellesley Hospital with the vomit odor room is an example of one such thing, when I was accused of being the “crazy” one, but in fact there was something very wrong with the air vents or something.  (Go back and read that post and if you were  the one smoking some weird weed downstairs, you owe me one.)

So anyway, I had to take a break from writing all this, and rush to the post office before they closed.  I have come back home and totally lost my train of thought.  While walking home I thought up another blog entry I want to write.  So I will write that one, too, soon, and also I will post those questions I told you about that I had stupidly thought Shan would answer “specially” for me.  Oh yeah, sure.  Beware when they tell you you are special.  You sucker.