If things are too good to be true, then they probably are…
Life is a journey, and most of the times it’s the people you encounter on that journey that make a significant or not-so significant impact in our lives. Whether the influence is “good” or not, it is of value. There are also times when you realize the people you thought were there were for you and had your best interest, really had their own twisted agenda and you were merely a pawn in their devilish game. When you come out of the cloud and begin to awaken, it can be a shocking reality…
Below chronicles my journey in and out of a “cult-like” atmosphere.
I started working for a small acupuncture school in the winter of 2006. When I first arrived to the campus, it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. There was a sense of peace in the air, a calming energy, and a serene and quiet landscape surrounded the place. The leaders of the school were very kind, sensitive, and passionate about health and alternative medicine. Their determination and dedication to help others was something I admired and wanted to align myself with. In my job interview, I was told in order to work there, I had to experience and receive acupuncture treatments. I had to be “on board” in a sense, because it would be easier for me to do my job and recruit students if I could speak from my own experience. I was young, enthusiastic, and had never tried it before, so I thought, “okay sure why not?” I thus made an appointment with the director (main leader) of the school (who later became my boss and teacher).
After three appointments, I received tremendous benefits. I actually quit smoking cigarettes! I had been a smoker for about 7 years, and after three treatments, my cravings went away and I decided to stop. I was amazed and instantly “on board.” I accepted a job at the school, and wore many administrative hats. I did everything: admissions, promotions, office work, events, non-profit board duties, and directly assisted the two main leaders. Basically, anything that needed to be done, I jumped in and did it. However, my primary duty was to recruit students for enrollment into the program. Without students and tuition money coming in, there would be no school. Within one year, I tripled the school’s student enrollment, secured a student loan program, and secured a financial partnership with a state agency. The school was growing rapidly, and I felt good being able to assist and be a part of a growing organization. Work days sometimes extended into the night and into the weekend. I started to feel over-worked, but nonetheless kept moving forward for the “greater good” and something I “believed” in.
During the entire time I was an employee, I was receiving acupuncture treatments by the main leader anywhere between once a week to once a month. Over time, lines and boundaries in reference to roles and responsibilities started to become blurred. In one moment, I was a professional employee, and then behind closed doors I was supposed to be a vulnerable patient with the ability to be open and “confiding” in my practitioner. Hmm…? Also, the leaders always proclaimed that the specific system of acupuncture they were teaching and practicing was better than “other” kinds. They exhibited superiority and shunned others that spoke of other styles of acupuncture or other systems of medicine. There was a lack of camaraderie with other professionals, and you weren’t validated and accepted unless you practiced the exact system they stood for in the exact way they taught it.
Fast forward about two and a half years later…
The economic crash started taking place nationwide, and the student loan program I managed became eliminated. This placed much stress on the school, and especially for me, as it became harder to recruit students with the lack of resources. The school did not have a reserve fund, had not established a substantial donor base in order to draw funds, and did not have a strategic overall financial plan for the future of the school. Instead I was blamed for not bringing in enough students and not working hard enough. In one meeting with the secondary leader, I was called incompetent. Almost everyday, the main leader would walk into my office pressuring me to bring in more students. How was I supposed to bring in students with no resources? They kept insisting that I find a way to bring in money. So I continued working, doing all that I could, while completely being stressed that at any given moment I could be let go for not bringing enough income for the school, or that the school was going to close. There were many times when my paycheck bounced, or I had to wait to get paid. While all my friends and family could see how stressed and tense I had become, I insisted that I was working for a “mission” of health and wellness, so I persisted through.
However, soon I started to become alarmed at some of the decisions and actions made by the leaders. There were many times when the student clinic would be in session, and there would be no licensed supervisor on the premise. One day the secondary leader joked about the main leader accidentally “forgetting” about a patient on the table. I did not think this was funny, and was appalled that she would take this so lightly. In terms of how the students were evaluated, sometimes the leaders did not even read the student assignments, or barely skimmed over them. The secondary leader said that as long as the students got the “basic concept” of the subject matter, they would be okay. I personally could not believe this! If I were a student, taking my education seriously, I would want as much feedback from my assignments as possible. Acupuncture is a medical profession and should be taken seriously.
I also witnessed the secondary leader getting in multiple verbal arguments with students, which included insults, yelling and name-calling. She also verbally abused her staff, lashing out and screaming if she did not get her way. There were many days when she would implode on me, I would be in complete tears, then the next day buy me coffee, an article of clothing, or take me out for a pedicure to try and make up for her extreme behavior. At the time, I always forgave her and felt bad for her because I knew she was under a lot of stress, however, now reflecting back, I see that this was all dysfunctional and manipulative.
There would also be times when I would come into work and not be in the best mood. I am naturally a cheery, positive person, but we are all human, and considering everything that was going on, some days you just can’t be perky all the time. On these particular days, I would be forced to get an acupuncture treatment from the main leader. I couldn’t say no. Because if I said no, then that meant I wasn’t “on board” or didn’t “believe” in the medicine anymore. I was bullied, questioned, pressured and ostracized. In fact, there was a lot of ostracization taking place, especially in terms of religion and “spirituality.” Many “new age” spiritual practices were integrated within the workplace and in the classroom. The leaders always spoke of having to “cultivate” each student’s “spirit.” Chanting rituals, meditation, prayer, pendulum dowsing, plant spirit shamanism, etc. were all taught and encouraged to be practiced. I had a few potential students who were interested in the school who were Christians. The secondary leader always said they would not do well here and encouraged me to NOT encourage them to come to school here. What does religion have to do with acupuncture? Why would someone be ostracized for believing in Jesus or God? Isn’t acupuncture a medical system? If so, then why does it matter what your religious beliefs are?
The school also had a few students who were being funded by the state. As part of the requirements, the school had to provide grade reports in order to show the student was making satisfactory progress in order to continue being funded. There was one particular student that started to not do so well on her assignments and was placed on a leave of absence.. However, the grade report sent in did not reflect this and it was not communicated to the state agency who was still providing funds for this student. This particular student unfortunately became terminally ill and landed in the hospital. But according to the grade reports sent in, this student was passing all her classes.
Despite all I was witnessing, I myself started attending some of the classes. I was so deeply entangled and eager to learn. I was informed that since I was an employee, I was allowed to attend classes as long as it didn’t interfere with my work hours. I thought this was a generous benefit, however, I felt unsettled that there was nothing in writing about this. The secondary leader would often joke that I needed to “sell my soul” to them, since they were “giving” me so much, and “letting” me attend classes. I wrote a letter to the leaders, asking if we could have an official meeting and put down some concrete details in writing. Now that I was juggling hats as an employee, a patient, and student, I wanted to be clear about everyone’s roles and responsibilities. Every time I tried to talk to them about my unsettledness, they ignored me.
In 2011, I received a pay-cut and reduced my work hours due to the school’s lack of funds. I was actually happy about the reduction in hours because I had become extremely restless and stressed in my work. The past few years were a complete struggle and full of turmoil. During all this strife, I started dating a fantastic man and the secondary leader always tried to convince me to not be with him, flame him or give me reasons why I would be better off with another “type.” I always had to defend my relationships and friendships, and finally realized that they did not like other people having “influence” over me. The leaders wanted to control and be involved in almost every aspect of my life. I became very disillusioned, and heartbroken at what I was witnessing “behind the scenes,” therefore, I began looking for another job.
I obtained a part time job working evenings. I decided that it would be ethical to inform the leaders of this. Therefore, I came in to work one day and told them my intention was not to quit the school, but I wanted to talk about the possibility of further reducing my hours. Before I could say anything else, she completely lashed out and starting yelling at me. She called me selfish, a b*tch, said that all I cared about was myself, saying “how could I do this to them?,” and that I was betraying them. I was trying to calm her down, when the main leader walked into the room to see what was going on. The main leader started yelling at me as well. I confirmed that this part time evening job was technically on my own off-time. They informed me that even though it was on my off-time, this implied that I did not have any “faith” in the school, and therefore they did not want anyone working for them that did not have “faith.” I replied that I had lost faith a long time ago, and sadly walked away. I could not take any more abuse, I had to walk away.
Two days later, the secondary leader called me in for a meeting. I was reluctant, but I agreed to meet anyway. She said she didn’t want me working there anymore, but wanted me to be a student. She said that the school could offer me a $6000 scholarship, and that I would have to come up with the remaining $30,000. I told her that I did not have the funds. I then proceeded to walk away, when she told me to come back and sit down. She said she had an idea. She suggested that I apply for state disability funds.
In 2003, prior to working at the school, I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel and tendonitis which I no longer have. She told me to go to the state disability office and tell them my carpal tunnel and tendonitis symptoms were coming back due to over-work on the computer. The school would write a letter on my behalf saying that that was the reason I had to quit. She also gave me a phone number to a doctor in order to make an appointment to have documentation about my “symptoms,” as well as to contact my previous health insurance company about documentation from my diagnosis in 2003. She then suggested that I apply for disability, and try to get tuition for $30,000 because I was unable to work in my current position and needed to go back to school and change careers. I could not believe what I was hearing. This person who teaches ethics classes, was asking me to commit fraud and do something completely unethical. I walked away and never returned. I have decided that there is no way I can be affiliated with this school or its leaders anymore. There is nothing more for me to learn from them. During this meeting, I also noticed that the secondary leader had placed voodoo dolls in her office, the classroom and in the hallway of the school.
After I walked out of the meeting, I continued to be harassed over the following months. I received emails, phone calls, and text messages from both leaders. They wanted me to come back for another meeting, they apologized, they threatened me saying that I owe them money from the classes I attended in the past. At one point when the school was struggling, and my paychecks were bouncing, they gave me extra money on the side to help pay my bills. They tried to come after me for the money they previously gave me, saying that I “owe” them. The main leader even came to my apartment one morning. I did not answer the door.
It was in summer 2011, when I walked away and never turned back. I am at a new job now across town, and about a month ago, they both appeared at my workplace and asked for me. How did they find out where I worked? They proceeded to sit and stare at me all night, posturing and positioning themselves. I did not speak to them. I’m not sure what they wanted. But who tracks down their former employee, shows up to their new workplace, and sits and stares at them all night without saying anything? Cult leaders do. It’s like a scene of a movie or a real-life scientology episode. Once you leave, they still come after you. I have unsubscribed to their mailing list over 5 times. They still continue to send me emails.
I am sharing my story, not to flame and place blame, but because I want to share the truth of my experience and to warn others about real life, cult-like scenarios. I have no one to blame but myself, because I willingly “drank the kool-aid.” I let myself become manipulated, and I idolized the school and its leaders. I became so career-oriented and wrapped up in attainment and “achievements” that it all crumbled in my face. I have thus come face to face with my own demons, and have now found a safe haven under the umbrella of Jesus Christ. Soon after I walked away, I realized I was in shambles. I had been under a “spell” for almost 5 years. I had no one to turn to, no one who could possibly understand the devilish influences and mind manipulation I was under. Then all of a sudden one Sunday morning, I landed myself in church. I was a complete wreck, crying, and had no idea how or why I had landed there, but I heard a voice inside saying.. “its okay, you are safe now, this is where you need to be.”
For more information on mind control and how cults work: www.howcultswork.com
by Kristin Bach