Many years ago, I started the Xanga blogring, “No, Teen Mania is not a cult.”
I was wrong.
Back when I first shared my Teen Mania experience, I was in a daze. It was the first time I admitted that my experience was not okay, but I also still felt very much to blame. I wanted to believe the leaders of the Honor Academy had no bad intentions and that it was more to do with me than them. However, I have realized that at the core of the spiritual damage I experienced is that same idea that I am always and only to blame.
Back in 2010, I shared particular experiences but stuck to the emotional ones. I think because at that time, I still felt to blame, I didn’t want to REALLY talk down the ministry by bringing up the physical issues. Looking back on it, I feel so foolish because I should have known it was wrong. In November 2000, I became very ill. I could feel that I had something going on and it was more than a cold or virus. But I was continually brushed off at the nurse’s office because I had no fever, and because I had no car of my own, I had to ask another intern to take me to a walk-in clinic. No staff member would take me when I told them I needed to go to the doctor. I was not permitted to miss our corporate exercise, even though the weather had turned cold. When I finally got to the clinic, I waited for hours to be told that I had some generic winter virus, and to get rest. I returned to campus with a note but was still not allowed to miss corporate exercise. When I was having what someone (perhaps my Core Advisor or Valencia) determined was too much trouble with coughing fits, I was given permission to stand on the sidelines. Still out in the cold of course. When I began to feel even worse a few days later, I got another ride from an intern and went back to the clinic. This time I saw a different doctor who took one look at me and said I must feel like I was “hit by a mack truck!” It turned out that I had bronchitis, pharyngitis, and an ear infection. I was MISERABLE. They prescribed me antibiotics and guess what happened when I returned to campus? I STILL had to stand outside in the cold and at least watch the corporate exercise! When I consider it now, I feel like a dummy for not speaking up and saying no. It took me weeks to recover, and I don’t believe my body ever fully did because for the following several years I caught pneumonia annually and struggled with chronic sinusitis, tonsillitis, ear infections and pharyngitis. I am convinced now that the overexertion, neglect and SAD diet of Teen Mania left me with a very compromised immune system.
Other things that continue to haunt me from that year were the cold remarks either said directly to me (especially by other girls) or the demeaning opinions spoken as truth by the leaders. I remember one class where Dave was talking about women and appearances. Regarding makeup, he stated that if the house needs painting, you paint the house. In my years following the internship, I have struggled with hormonal, cystic acne where I can’t wear makeup and I cannot even tell you how many times his words have echoed in my head. It might seem stupid, but the wound lasts and lasts. I spent a lot of time believing God must have cursed me with acne after the internship, so it was my fault. Or if I prayed about it and wasn’t healed, it was my fault for not having the Holy Spirit in me.
Yes, additionally some of my excess baggage is the GUILT over the Holy Spirit not wanting me, or not being able to reside in me because I’m not a good or real Christian. I don’t recall the name of the retreat but there was one that was all focused on the Holy Spirit, gifts of the Spirit and prayer. I was really excited for it but also apprehensive because I had been told before TM that proof of the Spirit dwelling inside of you was having the ability to speak in tongues. I was afraid that was true, even though the Bible actually states that not everyone will speak in tongues, and this retreat enforced that fear. I was not given the gift of speaking in tongues, and it was reiterated in the sessions that God wanted ALL His people to speak in tongues.