The Light is Shining Through–Finding Faith Again After the Fall of a Spiritual Mentor: Repost from 2011
(This was originally posted October 4, 2011.)
Many months have passed since my “Fighting the Darkness” post. I believe I wrote it right after discovering that a friend of mine, who was also friends with Richard, had dropped me on Facebook, so I became paranoid and depressed, wondering why he dropped me, and what Richard had told him.
Things have come to light which I had no way of knowing when I wrote it.
In short, the ex-friend I spoke of, whom I’ll call “Richard,” whom I thought of as my best and dearest friend from 2006 to 2010, of whom I thought the world, has been charged with choking his own 9-year-old step-daughter until she passed out on September 21, 2010.
She told the police on September 22, 2010.
He admitted to the police that he did it because she was “not listening and cleaning up,” that he had “asphyxiated” her, and that he apologized to her when she woke up on a couch.
They summoned him to court and charged him on March 1, 2011.
The choking incident happened many months before my post, but for some reason he wasn’t officially charged until a few weeks after my post.
This devastated me as I began to realize the true character of this person I once put on a pedestal as an awesome man of God, the one who showed me the way to Orthodoxy, the one who answered my questions about Orthodoxy and helped me over the hurdles, the one I went to with questions and confessions about morality and spiritual struggles.
He was charged with intentional child abuse causing injury with high probability of great harm, and second degree recklessly endangering safety, both serious felonies that could have led to significant jail time.
But on October 3, 2011, he plea bargained it down to the child abuse charge being dismissed, but read into the record, and the reckless endangerment charge being amended to a class A misdemeanor of battery, with a year’s probation. Though if he screws up on probation, he could get 10 days in jail.
This showed me two things which I could no longer deny, even though on occasion I’d remember the old times and think maybe he wasn’t so bad, just a dupe of Stockholm Syndrome:
1) Richard’s own violent tendencies were not tamped down as I thought, but still there and capable of coming out, even to his own little 9-year-old girl.
2) He lied to me about the nature of the abuse in his household. I soon learned from mutual friend Todd that Richard had also beaten this same girl mercilessly when she was little.
Richard gave me the impression that his wife “Tracy” was the chief aggressor, that his own abusive episodes with the children happened a long time before and he had stopped them, that now he had to protect his children from his wife’s bullying moods.
But these charges showed that he himself was still an aggressor, that he was not reformed after all, that not only did the children need protection from his wife, but they also needed it from him.
He’s very tall and huge, so a slip of a girl would probably see it as being attacked by an ogre or a mountain she can’t escape from. Imagine the terror she must have felt!
He also told me once that Tracy didn’t like to get him angry because it scared her. It had happened before. He said he didn’t mean to scare her, but did anyway. That’s the trouble when someone as big as he is, doesn’t realize how physically intimidating he is.
I also began to realize that I was truly in the clutches of a narcissist. I had suspected it for a while, but thought he couldn’t really be that bad. But there were so many elements of narcissism that sounded very familiar….. (See here for details.)
Even though Richard was the one who brought me to Orthodoxy as an answer to my faith questions, and helped me all the way through, so that I looked to him as my mentor–Richard wasn’t the only reason I chose Orthodoxy.
That was also because of the influence of various Orthodox forums, such as The Ancient Way and OrthodoxChristianity.net (I was Nyssa). It was from reading Orthodox books and websites and the River of Fire, and speaking to the priest at the local Greek Orthodox Church, then attending there for more than two years before converting.
My former mentor Richard told me that I knew far more about Orthodoxy than he did when he joined.
While my faith has indeed taken a beating for the reasons I stated previously in Fighting the Darkness, I didn’t choose Orthodoxy to please him, but because I came to believe it.
Pulling it back again has been hard, but it’s slowly and steadily returning.
Ironically, it was his child abuse charges which helped me believe in God again.
Before, I was baffled why, if there truly was a God, He would go to so much trouble to get this person into my life, have him help me find my way to Orthodoxy, then yank him back out again in such horrible circumstances, leaving me a shell of myself, beaten down and battered emotionally.
In my limited sight, it made no sense at all, so I could only pray that this former mentor would repent of his many wrongs to my husband and me, get his wife to see the light as well, and the friendship would be restored.
I wondered how he could go so long without making any move whatsoever to restore a friendship which had provided him with so much help and love and moral support while his family was going through hard times, a friendship which he said was so dear to him.
But when I discovered these charges, that he could likely go to jail for many years for choking his own daughter, I realized that God had been there all along:
First, He put this person into my life for a time to help me find my way spiritually, but eventually I would have to “kill the Buddha” when I realized how screwed-up my mentor actually was, when I thought he was pious and righteous.
I was there to help him as well with various things, and influence him, try to pull him back from the brink of abuse and domestic violence. God wants him and his wife saved just as much as He wants me saved.
But ultimately the choice was his and his wife’s to choose abuse or salvation. They chose abuse.
And God pulled me out just in time, as the choking incident occurred just a little more than two and a half months after the blowup of the friendship proved to my husband and me just how selfish, self-centered and violent these two people are even to friends.
Now, I have killed the Buddha and gone on without him, but with my own church congregation still there. (No, Richard’s family normally does not go there, but to a different church, though they have visited on occasion even after the breakup.)
One day during Liturgy, while gazing at the icon of the Theotokos painted on the ceiling, I wondered again about reconciliation. I got the insight that No, not now, because they have their own problems which need to be resolved before I can even think about reconciling with them.
I can only hope that one day, Richard will repent and make amends. He needs to make them not just to me, but to my husband, and to his own children.
As for Tracy, she also needs to make amends, to Richard, to her children and to me, but it seems unlikely that she ever will, thanks to what seems to be a personality disorder (borderline, which her mother has, and/or narcissism).
I’ve now basically written her off as a lost cause, and taken everything she ever said about me and relegated it to the refuse pile as being cruel and ridiculous, not based in any sort of reality. Whenever my mind starts going there again, wondering if any of her words were true, I yank it back out again.
I think back over my college days and realize that, again and again, I was the dupe of narcissists. In those days, it was the search for romance that led me into their clutches; now, it was the search for friendship.
I read somewhere that narcissists are like a drug: You crave them, get high, feel drained afterwards, then when the drug is taken away from you, you have to go through detox. And that detox can be very long and painful.
I also realize that this is the second time I’ve been through this.
The first time was during my first Orthodox Lent, February 2007. My first spiritual mentor, from childhood and through college, was my dad. Then in 2007, my mom called me and began telling me some shocking things.
I won’t go into it, but a crisis nearly split the family, and things had been hidden from me (though not from my brothers) for my entire life.
I remember thinking then that if I didn’t have Orthodoxy (and, ironically, Richard, who was my spiritual mentor starting in 2006 and helped me through this crisis along with my priest), that my faith would have shattered. I was Nazarene for most of my life because of my dad.
On my favorite Orthodox forum is a common belief that when you convert to Orthodoxy, the Devil begins attacking you, trying to pull you out of it. Posters there talk about their own experiences with such things, such as car accidents and spiritual tests.
Maybe I am exactly where I belong, then, because if there is no God, or if there’s nothing of value in Orthodoxy, then why would the Devil so aggressively attack my faith?
It’s never gone through anything like this battering before. Before, any emotional or other crises only made my faith stronger. But now the core of that very faith is being attacked.
But now there is one thing I know: That I must stop mourning the loss of Richard’s friendship. That it wasn’t worth my grief. For a long time it seemed to be worth the work it took to keep it going, but that was an illusion.
I thought Richard was pious and righteous, but that, too, was an illusion. The time I grieved over the loss of his friendship, I was in denial over his own violence. I kept seeing the good in him, where others would have written him off long before.
But then I heard about the charges against him, and verified through his mug shot and address posted on the local newspaper’s website that it was, indeed, him. Through the newspaper website I also discovered what he had done.
Then I began to stop grieving over him, stop wishing he would repent and return to my husband and me.
I have been vindicated; my concerns over abuse have been confirmed. It has been proven to me and to the world that we were right to end the friendship, that the opinions of Richard and Tracy about me are not worth taking to heart, that my accusers were themselves the criminals.
It has been proven that Tracy has no business lecturing me about my behavior, because her own has been so egregiously bad and evil. I must consider the source every time my mind starts to ponder her words yet again, and reject them utterly as ridiculous.
Especially since the various things that she grabbed ahold of as being such foul behavior, are actually perfectly normal and acceptable behavior among my groups of friends.
I hoped that Richard would have a lot of time to think in jail, but now he won’t be going to jail. However, even if Richard does some day come to us, wanting to restore a friendship, he will have to not only be extremely contrite, but he will also have to prove that he has learned from his mistakes and has turned away from his violent, abusive ways.
He manipulated me into believing he already did this, but then proved that he had not, by doing something so horrible that his own daughter turned him in to the police to protect herself.
She was a very brave girl, and her actions have almost certainly drawn the attention of CPS (who knows about all these other things) as well as the police, so hopefully they will lead to positive changes.
Two years after I wrote this post, I still struggle with faith, but a few things came to mind today when I was supposed to be listening to Father’s sermon:
I don’t want to go into detail, but my husband and I have had some money disagreements in the past. I’m the “accountant” of the household, and he gave me authority to make financial decisions for reasons I also don’t want to go into. But there were disagreements about those decisions. Those disagreements were brought to a resolution.
Yesterday, he made some comments that made me think he was scolding me all over again, bringing up again what I thought had been settled. I let it pass without much comment, but poured out my frustrations to God last night, not knowing what to make of this.
Then today, out of the blue, my husband realized I took him seriously, and explained he was only teasing. I explained that the past disagreements caused me to take him seriously.
In short, it was a misunderstanding on my part, and now it was all resolved. This was a huge relief.
During the sermon, I realized that God had directly and swiftly answered my prayer. Then more things came to mind, times when God seemed to have abandoned me, but was right there all along:
1) My first breakup of a love relationship (not just a short puppy-love) was from Peter. He had used his own narcissistic webs to make me think we were meant for each other, so much so that we formed a mental Link with each other.
When he broke things off, he turned so cruel and changed so much from the person I fell in love with, that I actually wondered if demons had taken control of him. (I was very much influenced by Pat Robertson and Charismatic thinking about the spirit world, which is dramatized in This Present Darkness.)
I fell into a deep, dark depression that lasted for months. But as time proved, he and I would have been a terrible match: I wanted a clean-cut husband; he abandoned his clean-cut ways, and turned to drinking, smoking and weed. My beliefs demanded that I marry a fellow Christian; he also abandoned Christianity, and turned to Paganism.
2) My second major breakup was Phil, with whom I had exchanged marriage vows. Because we had gone so far, and because I had never been the outgoing kind of person who can easily find dates, I fell into another funk, believing that Phil and I were supposed to be together, that divorce would violate Christ’s command that the married stay married.
But he was emotionally, verbally and sexually abusive, manipulating my mind and heart. He could have destroyed me if I had legally married him.
Our beliefs demanded that we not have sex before marriage, so we exchanged vows. If we had not done this, if we had either stayed virgins (technically, though not really) or eloped to make our vows legal, his dark side may never have manifested until we got legally married, maybe even had a child together.
Often, abusers don’t show their true colors until after marriage. So I do not regret the path I chose with Phil, because it led to his true colors showing before I became legally bound to him. His wife was not so fortunate: He knocked her up, so they “had” to get married. Now they have been divorced for several years.
Now, I believe that Richard and Tracy were put into my life so I could play an important role: the one to confront them with their abuses, and to report them to Social Services.
It was important, but also extremely difficult. It took a year of reflection and research before I even reported them, only to find that their daughter had already reported Richard for choking her.
But my report means that Social Services has another perspective on their abuses, a separate voice confirming whatever they came up with as they investigated the choking incident. I don’t know if I told them anything they didn’t already know, but I am another witness.
However, my role has put me into a challenging and emotionally taxing position. I have been threatened by Richard and Tracy, and stalked for more than a year. I have had to face the fact that the one I once revered as a beloved and righteous spiritual mentor, has turned against me for speaking out and telling the truth.
I don’t know why it had to be me. (Why me? Why not somebody else?) Maybe they behaved themselves around their other friends. Maybe I was the only one, outside of Richard’s family, to whom he told Tracy’s abuses.
Todd stayed with them but didn’t see Tracy’s abuses, so maybe they behaved themselves around him, or maybe the children were too young to start receiving her abuses. (I noted that the babies would be babied, but children 3+ would start being abused verbally and physically.)
I don’t think Richard told Todd the things he told me about Tracy, even though they were close at the time. I don’t know why he did not tell Todd these things.
Maybe their other friends had similar parenting views and didn’t see a whack on the head as abuse. Maybe their friends who broke off relations with them (we were not the first), either did not witness the abuse, or chose not to report it.
All I know is that I was the one who had to do it. Well, I and the child who was choked. That is why this person was put in my life when I prayed for a friend.
If it were easy to do the right thing, anyone could have done it. I guess God decided I was the one capable of doing it.
My husband and I believe Richard and Tracy realized this as well. We believe this is why they began abusing me again in the spring of 2010, after they had been nice to me for a while.
That this is why they lied, screamed, and abused me in various ways over a misunderstanding, then refused to apologize or admit wrongdoing or my innocence.
That it’s because they knew I was capable of reporting them, and wanted me out, where I could no longer witness their abuses.
There is no way to conclusively prove that God exists. But if He does, then I see his work here, his hand, leading and guiding me even in the darkness. And the light is shining through.
This blog post freaked me out just now, because it sounded so much like what Richard put me through, that I wondered if it was about him–a man who befriends fragile women, makes them trust him, then begins to devalue and discard them.
I came across it while reading through a blog by a suicidal BPD woman, who does want treatment for her BPD but is finding it hard to come by:
We have to live today by what truth we can get today and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood
If someone with BPD admits to having this disorder and tries to get it treated, I am more inclined to compassion. It’s the person who destroys others but tells them it’s their fault, like I witnessed in Tracy, that I can’t abide.