Pierced By “Patmos”: Survivor Stories “Baxter”
I was born in a cult. My parents left when I was somewhere between 6 and 7 years old. They had found out that the leader had been embezzling funds from the church and that is what convinced my Dad to leave. I was also raised in an abusive home with a severely narcissistic mother. I have happy memories, but everything is clouded with fear and loneliness. I have also been dealing with depression for as long as I can remember.
All these things combined, made me a pretty decent target for others who seek to harm. And that is what happened. When I was a Senior in High school, I had a “mentor” who had attended the first class at Potter’s Field Ranch. I had heard about the school about a year before and thought it would be good to go there. She encouraged me in this and spoke the praises of the Director at that school, Pastor Chet Lowe. My relationship with my mentor became strained when I tried to abide by the scripture of “Take everything with a grain of salt”. She did not like this because it delayed my acquiesce to the challenges she gave me. She ended up dumping me as a mentee soon before I left for Potter’s Field because I was “too stubborn” and she just couldn’t do anything with me anymore.
My experience at Potter’s Field was not bad. Mike and Pam were only there for about a week or so, because they were touring during the summer. When I was done with Potter’s Field I was fine. I was done, I had no desire to go back and I moved on with life.
I continued an informal mentor/mentee relationship with my former mentor. A while after I got back she began to talk about how Potter’s Field really wasn’t the best program because Chet was no longer there, but luckily Chet had started a new program in the Bahamas called Patmos. She thought that I should go there. I didn’t think much of it at first. But then I contacted a classmate of my former mentor via Facebook with a friend request. He then began to sell me on the idea of Patmos and that it would be a great thing for me to check out, so I looked at their website. With both my former mentor, whom I still regarded as a mentor at the time, and this man who she vouched for, both encouraging me to go to Patmos, I decided to go for it.
During the interview process I was asked what is the sin I struggle with the most. I decided to tell them about my self-harm and suicidal tendencies. At that time in the church, depression was still a spiritual issue, not a biological one. So me, being the good Christian girl that I was, bought into that, and saw my self-harm as a sin rather than a symptom.
I was accepted and was able to get the money to go to the school (through a car accident settlement). When I got into Nassau, they picked us up at the airport, drove a little while away, then pulled over. They gave us, maybe, a pint of water each and a crudely drawn map (literally the amount of turns you are supposed to make with what we thought was a fountain on it and maybe some landmarks…maybe?) and left us there to make out own way to the property. We did make it, much later that night. We were then deprived of our possessions for a week. They had told us that we could take any medications we needed out of our luggage, but that was it. That first week was Hell week. I don’t know if that is what they call it but that is what it felt like. We worked out constantly, did team building exercises, were woken up constantly throughout the night and made to work out while they were drenching us with water.
That was when I had my very first panic attack. It happened the day we got assigned to our accountability partners. I woke up, got my things and went to morning prayer. I was completely out of it and barely knew what was happening. Someone looked at me and said I looked extremely pale and asked if I was ok. I said, I think I don’t feel well. They actually let me go back to the dorm to lay down. I barely made it there before I collapsed. I remember laying on my bunk, could barely move or breath and my heart was racing, and all I could think was, “If you know you aren’t dying, then it’s not a panic attack”. I said that to myself over and over until I finally came out of it. By the time I made it to the main campus, I had missed morning workout. I was on the verge of another panic attack all day. It was lurking in my head waiting for an opportunity to come out. That day after getting back from a challenge, I literally dragged my accountability partner off the bus (we were tied together) and threw up on the side of the road. I was then scolded by an intern for being weak and she said that maybe I should just go home if I couldn’t toughen up and handle it. So, I dealt with it.
Patmos was a constant barrage of sleepless nights, constant physical labor, intense workouts and ridicule. Their slogan is “Challenge for the purpose of change”. Their intention was to destroy who we were, so that we could be built back up on the foundation of Christ. But they spent all their time tearing us down, and never bothered to build us back up again.
We would have, what I now refer to as “public/private shaming sessions”. This is where a student is put in a “hot seat” and is berated by the staff and interns, and the students were sometimes made to participate as well. The person in the “hot seat” is told how they are sinning, screwing up, failing etc. They would bring up things from the past that we told them in interviews and confided in them and would treat it like it is something we were just caught doing. I cried a lot. I’m a crier. Chet HATED this about me. Near the end of the term, during one of these sessions, one of the staff members got up to comfort me during one of these sessions and Chet yelled at her. “No, don’t do that, that is what she wants”. Then he looked at me and told me that I’m a master manipulator and that I use my tears as a way to manipulate people into doing what I want.
This confused me. I knew from experience that if I suppress my emotions, then I would self-harm. I didn’t want to do that, so I felt I needed to let myself cry, even though I hate when I do it in public. But this “man of God” saw it as a manipulation, a trick. A few days later during a workout, I was in excruciating pain. My knees had been hurting worse and worse during my 4 months I was there. When he saw that I was sobbing during the work out he walked up to me and literally gave me a death glare. Then he started to circle me with that stare until I was able to get some control over my tears. The next burpee we did, my left knee completely collapsed and I couldn’t use it anymore. We still had one more to go, and since I know he is already mad I know that I, or one of my classmates, would be punished if I could not get through the workout. So I shifted my weight to my right leg and went down again. My right knee then collapsed and I couldn’t stand. I had to push myself off the edge of the veranda so that I could lock my knees and use my arms to get into a standing position. That night when I tried to get up to turn off a light in the middle of the night, I fell to the ground because my knees were too injured. I learned to walk by lifting my leg with my hip. I tried crutches for a few days but I still couldn’t get up stairs unless I dragged myself up with my arms, or unless one of my classmates gave me a piggy back ride. One day Chet was frustrated at my being injured and told someone to take me to a doctor, at which point I was in a wheelchair for the next three days. I still have severe knee pain. The doctor in the states said that it was probably a combination of how my bones formed and working out without proper form.
Even with that and the number of other things that happened at Patmos, the worst thing that I feel happened to me was when we were in Brazil. We were on a mini-mission trip around the country and we were staying at a church. The staff and interns were staying at the house next door while the students found a spot to sleep inside the church itself. The night we were there we all had to go next door individually to sit with Chet and the staff and interns. For some reason, I got it in my head that they were giving positive feedback. I went over there with so much hope that I would be able to learn what I was doing well and continue in that. That is not what happened. I got into the room and sat across from Chet. He looked at me, almost no expression on his face and said “So do you really want to kill yourself? Cause I can get a knife from the kitchen and you can slit your wrists right here.” I was frozen in place. We had only been there for maybe 6 or 7 weeks at that point and I could not think of a single time when I had mentioned or even thought of self-harm. As difficult as it had been up to that point, I hadn’t wanted to hurt myself, I was doing well. But he said I wasn’t. I wanted to say yes. In that moment, I was so filled with despair that I could not imagine going on. If this man of God said that it was ok for me to kill myself, then why shouldn’t I? I said no, because I knew it was the right answer. He started talking about how I was a negative person and how I needed to just stop being this way. He offered no help. No prayer. No encouragement. Only derision. I went back to the pew I had set up my sleeping bag on and tried my hardest not to cry myself to sleep. I was in a daze for a while. Basically blocked it out. It wasn’t for another week or two that it all came back up and I couldn’t handle it and I started to beat my hand against a brick wall trying to make the pain go away. Then I felt ashamed. I would have to tell them that I hurt myself again and they would hold it against me. When I confessed what I had done, luckily Chet wasn’t there, he had gone back to the states, and I was still in Brazil. The leader who was there told me to treat my self-harm like an addiction and to commit to being sober from it. It worked for a while, it got me through the rest of the program, but it fell apart after a while when I got home.
For years I didn’t really think about the bad things that happened there. I towed the party line, but I could never find anyone that I wanted to convince to go there as well. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I started therapy and confronting the memories from the cult that I was born into and the abuse of my childhood that I started talking about Patmos again. Then, about a year ago when Potter’s Field Ranch imploded, all the stories and the trauma from that place brought Patmos back to the surface for me. It was really difficult. It took me nearly a year to reach out to a few classmates after that.
I realize now that the reason I never pursued anyone about going to Patmos, was because I did not want them to go through what I went through. I did not want people to deal with that kind of pain. I regret giving my tithes to that place for so long, as if that would somehow make what happened ok. Though I am still struggling with what happened, and still walking through my own healing process, I have come to a place where I desire to stop any person from going through what I went through. And if that means telling my story than I will do it.