On the one hand, I have lost all motivation to move forward in life in any direction except straight down, several hundred feet through the air, from the top of a very tall building. On the other, I stopped counting the people I knew who went out like that at around seven when I was twenty-one, when I got the news that my best friend from Junior High had blown his head off in the shed behind his mom’s trailer. I think it was around seven at that point, as I’d been keeping track. After that, I stopped paying attention. The town I grew up in is seriously diseased with people committing suicide. It’s super weird.
When people you know kill themselves and you get to feel that deep down burn in the pit of your stomach that happens when you know someone you care about has left this world early, in excruciating emotional pain…it sort of ruins the idea that anything beneficial could possibly come from you doing it yourself, no matter how bad life starts to hurt.
Jessi and I were basically in love a few months after we met.
Brad, seeing the potential for him to be able to sink his hooks deeper into my mind, began manipulating the situation. It’s hard to describe because I still don’t really understand what the it was that he did or how he did it. He just had a way of convincing people that they had two options in life: believe in what he said, and obey him implicitly, or wind up a complete and total failure in life and then be tortured forever with fire by a God who thought that your eternal pain was the fulfilment of his own glory. Don’t ask me how the hell it was that he did that, but he did it, and it happened to a lot of people.
I guess I’m using the term ‘a lot’ loosely here. There were about ten or twelve of us, I suppose, at any given time, not counting whoever it was that was exiled at the moment. People used to be forced out of the group from time to time, and told that they needed to “get right with God,” or accomplish some other such feat of spiritual enlightenment. The thing was that there was never a specific catalyst preceding such ‘shunnings,’ and the people that it happened to never had any idea what they were doing wrong. It was just some mysterious deficiency in your ‘walk with the Lord’ that you would have to pray more, fast more, or study the Bible more in order to discover, whereupon you would, of course, gain the strength necessary to obey God in this matter (whatever it was) and make it that much further along the long, hard road which, out of hell, leads up to life.
To this day it’s very embarrassing to me that I spent five years getting ground up in the blades of that abattoir of a worldview before I finally packed up my family and hobbled away. As insane as the whole thing is, however, it’s not altogether uncommon. Since leaving, I’ve studied quite a bit about cults and they are surprisingly ubiquitous throughout human culture and history. They are just another form of addiction, which shows up throughout the world, everywhere you look.
A lot of people are in pain at some level, and they are afraid. They want to feel safe. If you can convince them that they will be safe, and then put some sort of a condition on their safety that involves you benefiting in some way, you can basically form a cult and become financially successful through the exploitation of others’ insecurities.
I’m totally getting off topic, though.
Brad would repeatedly say that we had to ‘cut ties’ with Jessi because she ‘wasn’t getting it.’ Once we were married, this meant that I would have to keep her at arms’ length and withhold personal affection from her because ‘God needed to deal with her.’ The anguish I watched her go through would lacerate my heart and my mind, but I was too afraid to go against the grain. I was brainwashed.
I feel like I should back the truck up here and explain how exactly I ended up getting so brainwashed, but everything is still sort of a jumble, and I need to sort it out. I mean, I guess this is what I started this blog for, though so let me do my best to try to lay the events end to end, and come up with a narrative of that piece…
I’m going to separate it into another post, though, because this one is just getting to be too much.