Mi Familia Es Su Iglesia

Part 1: The Family

Crazy Is A Common Language

If you start to get the feeling I’m describing my church instead of my family, you’re not wrong. But you’re not quite right either. In communities like ours, the church is the family, figuratively and literally.  The Bible describes the church as the “family of God”.  This gives families like mine the cover they need to encourage “true believers” to cut off their family, and accept an emotionally incestuous, enmeshed structure, where the church leader bears every possible authoritative label simultaneously: parent, mentor, employer, coach, creditor, pastor and even God, to mention a few. Everyone in the inner circle calls my parents every one of these. We don’t say the last one out loud, but to hear from them is to hear from God, and to disagree with them is to walk away from His will and to walk away from everything you hold dear. 

For those coming out of a spiritually abusive situation, I’m afraid you will hear stories that sound eerily familiar. They may even be triggering, and you may wonder if I’m actually talking about your exact situation. (People like us are paranoid like that.)  You’ll be tempted to consult a map or calendar, trying to figure out if we attended the same church.

Let me assure you: we did. It was the same church, because, while healthy communities are healthy in their own ways, unhealthy communities are usually unhealthy in the same ways: control, ingroups vs. outgroups, black-and-white thinking, and a strong undercurrent of fear.  The only differences are the talent of the leaders to expand their influence, and the degree to which they believe their own distortions.

To every one who hasn’t experienced such a community, it will be hard to believe that the world I describe, and these characters in it, exist in real life. You’ll think I must be exaggerating. But I assure you: I am not. If anything, I am under-selling it.  There are additional thousands of insane, true stories about the Collers, held in the memories of those who passed near the org leadership.  So far, I have gone out of my way not to collect these stories and just stick to my experience. 

And of the crazy stories I have that are my own, I’m only telling a fraction of them. This is partially for the sake of time, and partially because I’m constantly realizing that I literally can’t include all my insane stories.  I subconsciously normalized some pretty wild things.

That memory thing…is…a…bitch!

I’m not really a full supporter of “recovered memories”, but I’ve been shocked at how many things I just never remembered to remember. I have found it necessary to carry a pencil and pad with me constantly, so as not to seem inattentive to my friends and family as I make notes on my phone throughout my day.  My memory oozes the bizarre. I suddenly recall, and then find proof of, major life events that should have stuck out because of the amount of trauma, but were probably locked away for the same reason. 

Or I peel back the layers of “clean” memories where all the insanity had been filtered out. I remember an event, but forget the screaming match in the middle of it. Or I start to tell a funny story I’ve told a dozen times before, but this time, for some reason, I’m distracted part way through and wonder, “Huh…why did I think that was funny?  That should have been really embarrassing for me…” And then it hits me – “I didn’t laugh – I cried!  Holy cow! That’s right – I remember running out of the room and locking myself in a closet.  I bawled until I threw up.  That’s not a funny story.  How did my brain do that!?!  I’ve gotta write that down so I can research it later.

It’s like one of those weird dreams that feels totally normal while you’re in it, and then you wake up with sudden perspective and wonder, “Why was my mom yelling at a nursing home employee to force 11-year-old me into a recently smuggled, pink bunny costume, then threatening eternal damnation unless I sang and danced on a stage in front of all my friends and their families? That’s crazy!

Oof. I wish that one was a dream. I’m not sure it was totally accurate though…I might have actually been 12 or 13.  Fortunately, junior high isn’t already an awkward time for most people, right?

Al Capone and the Collers

Ted Bundy talked a lot of people out of killing themselves while volunteering on suicide hotlines.

The Hells Angels donate Walmart bikes and run toy drives for needy kids.

Al Capone’s soup kitchen provided free meals to the unemployed during the Great Depression.  350 loaves of bread, 100 dozen rolls, 50 pounds of sugar and 30 pounds of coffee. Every day.  No questions asked.

I wish my family was all bad or all good.  That would make a lot of things a whole lot simpler.  The truth is, I don’t even know if they were mostly bad or mostly good.  This isn’t that kind of story.  I mean, The KKK protests against the “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church.  Who are you supposed to root for?

My family did a lot of bad things to a lot of people.  People did bad things to my family.  And most everyone had good intentions!  Not all the Collers’ enemies are good people.  Not all their victims are innocent.  And like Capone’s soup kitchen patrons, I’m sure there were plenty of people whose only interactions with my family were positive and life-giving. I don’t need to negate that. This isn’t a story of judgement.  It’s a story of reality. And in reality, the Collers have some pretty dis-ordered personalities.

Up next:

A Summary Of Personality Disorders