Ever since Mica asked me if I would like to take over the RA blog, I have been contemplating how to start my first post. In the past I have spontaneously and awkwardly contributed my story, as well as some thoughts about healing or lessons I learned at the Honor Academy. But taking over the blog is an entirely new chapter and I would like to approach the task thoughtfully.
There are thanks to be said to Mica, for speaking out and letting each of us know that we are not alone. For genuinely caring about the individuals in this community. This has been her passion for years but now our leader gets to move on–which I think is cause for celebration. We have this beautiful person among us who began a movement from her own wounds and spoke to the pain in all of us. And she’s healed to the point where she doesn’t have to lead this anymore. Her focus now rests on living her joyful life. For any survivor of abuse, that’s progress, and my heart shares in her happiness.
My name is Shannon Ashley and I was an intern in August 2000-2001. I worked as an administrative assistant in the New Business Department my first semester, where I usually worked with the ATF Music label, and then I was transferred to write for the Global Expeditions Marketing team. In addition to my GE tasks, I wrote online devotionals and correspondence or press copies on behalf of Ron Luce. I also went to Trinidad in 1999 with GE, and as an intern went to Amsterdam in 2001. My introduction to the TMM trifecta was an Acquire the Fire convention in Minneapolis when I was 14.
Going into Teen Mania and coming out, I heard the word cult repeatedly, but never believed that it could hold water. I fanatically insisted that TM was good and on-point–that it was the best thing to ever happen in my life. However, I rarely spoke of my experience beyond defending the ministry’s honor. The reality was such that by the end of my Teen Mania experience, I believed that I was useless to the Kingdom of God. My opinion was that I had proved myself to be a terrible Christian. That I had failed to live up to expectations as an intern, and that my life at 19 was worthless. I kept these thoughts secret (as best as I could), and I avoided thinking about my intern year. I found myself unable to maintain relationships with other alumni. And I continued down a very dark path of depression.
The RA blog was a catalyst to my own spiritual awakening. It got me to simply consider that perhaps everything which had happened at TM wasn’t okay. The Mind Over Mania documentary last year then took my journey further and allowed me to see that admitting I had been in a cult or a pseudo-Christian group didn’t mean I was a bad person. Nor did it mean I wasn’t a Christian. But my idea of Christianity has made a radical paradigm shift.
Something I want to be very clear about from the start, because it’s bound to affect my writing, is that I am a “Christian” after my TM experience. I don’t enjoy using the word. I’m certainly not a conventional Christian, and I don’t fit into any specific church or denomination. My on-going healing has revolved around the belief that God is Love. And I don’t believe that much of what I was taught at TM, nor what I experienced in most other Christian circles was love. Not by a long-shot. Therefore, speaking out and educating others about abuse–all forms–is one of my greatest passions in life because Love is what saved me. You may have heard the mantra that “Love is louder than any negative force in this world.” I completely agree with that.
Yet when I say I’ve been down a dark path, I mean it. I’ve never been, nor will I ever be anyone’s idea of a perfect Christian. After TM, I lived my life as if I had no needs. I gave myself to everyone around me in hopes that I could get love in return. This included staying in my dysfunctional family steeped in abuse–sexual, spiritual, substance, they cover it all. I gave up on my dreams and the belief that I deserved anything good. Shortly prior to my 21st birthday I entered an abusive, loveless marriage and was divorced at age 23. A couple of years later I decided that I was so damned imperfect, I was going to hell no matter what I did. I slept with two men “out of wedlock” and had an abortion when I was 25. At that point I carried crippling shame and guilt and became hardly able to function or survive. I had many thoughts of suicide. I struggled with eating disorders and self-harm habits. I was diagnosed with depression, social phobia, and eventually Bipolar II Disorder. Those are just some highlights of my past.
The reason I’m blurting all of that out is that I want everyone to know even though the words I write from a “Christian” viewpoint, I still know hell. I’m not a goody goody. And I respect every member of this RA community. I may be the new girl running the blog now, but I plan to continue to cultivate a safe place for all. I will never discount the views of another RA member. I want to be sensitive to the fact that there are a variety of faiths or beliefs represented here. I know that we are also all at different stages of healing. I want you to know there’s absolutely nothing you can say that will cause me to judge you, or that will shock me. I have no desire to make people agree with me. I aim for honesty. So please, feel free and be at home here.
Regardless what our different opinions may be, we are all here because we have experienced abuse in one way or another. We are bound together by that common thread of going through the Honor Academy, and it’s really a bittersweet connection. It’s so important to be able to come together and process some of the garbage–not just from TM but from any religion or spiritual abuse. There’s something special in how we can understand each other.
My vision for the future of recoveringalumni.com is simple: Love is louder. Love is louder than abuse. Love is louder than shame. Love is louder than religion. Whatever crap you’ve endured at or since leaving Teen Mania, love is absolutely louder, and I’d like to get that message out to new alumni, prospective interns, parents, and anyone in between.
So thank you for allowing me this opportunity to carry on Mica’s torch. Please be patient as I find my bearings. I’m extremely honored if you could continue to stand by the community here.