This piece by Mercy Survivor Chelsea was originally published on her personal blog, The Pink Propaganda, and can be viewed here.
This story sounds angry, but it isn’t out of anger. This is my story. This story reflects my sole opinion of Mercy and my time spent in the facility.
(This stories original date was January 7th 2010, I could update, and not leave it so raw and messy, but I think it takes away from the fact of where I was then and how far I’ve come.)
Mercy Ministries is a six month residential center that treats young women with “life controlling issues” such as self harm, eating disorders, victims of abuse, drug abuse, alcoholism, suicidal ideations. They are a multinational, popular, charismatic, Christianity based, residential treatment center, that I’d like to see shut down.
I stayed at Mercy Ministries America for four months in 2008 to deal with issues that had been affecting me for years. By the time I made it to Mercy I had been in a dozen or more psychiatric wards and all I wanted was to feel better. To feel ground under my feet. I was greeted with something far from that.
It was much more then just throwing me out the door. What they did to me was very wrong. They made me listen to tape after tape about how psychiatric medications weren’t useful. How God could heal your “inner demons”. Usually they were from the leader of the program, Nancy Alcorn. They took me to a psychiatrist, and didn’t allow me to talk to the doctor alone. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t have been able to tell them exactly how I felt. I wouldn’t have been able to speak my mind in front of them. It’s funny how much restraint a place can have mentally, when physically the doors are very unlocked. They went in there, sat beside me and reminded me I needed to keep dropping my medications down lower and lower.
They never directly told me “you need to come off your medications.” It was a much more underhanded thing to them. They would say things like, “you’re on so many medications you look like a zombie” or they would make us listen to how psychiatric illnesses were actually demons and didn’t need treated with drugs.
In general they refused us the right to speak to the outside at all. We had limited access to everything. Even what stores we went in, on the one day a week we went to the mall. Abercrombie was Satan and Hollister too and obviously victoria secret, and other stores like Torrid also, you know whatever stores they wanted to add to that list, Hot Topic, etc. I remember walking around the mall and without second thought, passing by stores I would have normally went in before, and thinking in my head, “those places are satanic”. We weren’t allowed to talk to anyone at the mall. It could land in dismissal from the program.
We had to keep all receipts. We came back, lined up in the “mall line” and waited for a staff member to check our purchases and if our leftover money matched what we bought. If we were even a dollar off. If the cashier messed up. If we dropped it in the parking lot, we received a discipline and missed the next outing. We were then subjected to pat downs and shoe removal. Turning our pockets inside out. I felt like a criminal. Nobody fought it. It was all for “our own good”. It was just Mercy rules. People cried loss of civil rights when air ports started pat downs and shoe removals. But Mercy girls were subjected to it on a weekly basis. We lost our civil rights when we showed up for help.
We had very limited access to phones. 30 minutes a week of outgoing calls and no television, radios or computers. We were told from the get go. “Make sure the portable CD player you bring doesn’t have a radio attached”. We were completely cut off from society. Another September 11th could have happened and we would have had no idea, unless we were told.
We were punished for seemingly everything. Not waking up right away. Going outside without permission, taking a shower at the wrong time, messing up a chore, leaving your laundry in too long and the one I struggled with the most, falling asleep during the day. For a place that was supposed to feel safe for someone like me, who suffered severely from PTSD, I spent much of my time scurrying about, trying to please. In fact I spent the first 3.5 months there without a discipline at all. A near impossible task. But I still felt dirty, wrong, shameful, bad. All very familiar feelings of somebody who had dealt with past traumatic issues. There are still times when I feel shameful or faulted for things that went on there. I keep repeating in my head. “You did what you had to do to survive. You are not evil. You are not manipulative or bad”. The intimidation tactics they used would make my skin crawl. Sometimes I don’t even know if some of the staff supported them. They just did as they were told.
And then four months into the program, when I was finally off all of my medication and literally couldn’t pull myself out of bed to function, they sent me home on a plane that same day, with four bottles of pills I never got to take, blaming me for it. “Well if you would have just obeyed”. “You’re manipulative”, “you just didn’t work the program”. They pulled me out of a mental health system where I spent much of my time in hospitals forsuicidality, and knowingly released me with no follow up care whatsoever.
As I packed to leave I was allowed no communication with the girls. “Mercy rules”. I was not allowed to say goodbye, or be in the same room as another resident alone. This happened often there. You were never allowed to know why they left, or whether they chose it. This was just protocol. I was given three or four hours, with no chance for rebuttal to pack my stuff and leave. I cried the whole time, certain they were sending me home to die. Terrified of being called a failure by my family.
At one point in my stay I was refused my mail for an entire month. Probation they call it. It caused me to loose my medical insurance, as I missed an important renewal letter in that time. I was put on probation after I was refused the right to call my parents, after a particularly harsh run in with staff, which left me sobbing and in shambles. They told me. “Sit down! You’re not calling your parents! You’re not special!” So I felt all I could do was go find a phone myself. I ran away. I knew I risked loosing my residency, I knew most of all that I risked getting in serious trouble and that terrified me more, but nothing mattered to me. I was so miserable.
It was the worst thing I could have done. I didn’t loose my residency. I was caught and brought back and I lost everything else. Including any footing I had. If anything came up the incident was used against me. Everything was. There was a time I begged them not to let me do certain chores with food, because I still had temptations to binge and purge. But they told me “let prayer lead you”. When I messed up, they blamed me. I blamed me. I don’t blame me anymore. They let me know that I disobeyed them and God and that I was a disappointment for taking a chocolate bar.
What I thought most odd there was that girls couldn’t lie. They wouldn’t. They were purely devoted to the staff and snitches were everywhere. If something went wrong it was a race to see who could find the closest staff member and let them know. For girls who used to wreak havoc, it seemed odd. But what about the ones like me? The ones who didn’t wreak havoc? The ones who spent the majority of their lives terrified of authority and spent most of their time in the shadows, trying to be perfect? We got the same ball and chain attached to us. It only ever reinforced thoughts about ones self as “not being good enough” or “being bad”.
Another thing I felt odd was the fact that we were never allowed to share our stories for entering the program, until the day we “graduated”. Any support group or treatment center will tell you that bonding together, supporting one another with like illnesses, is one of the biggest types of recoveries out there. One reason I believe Mercy did this was to stop lesbians from knowing who each other were.
When I landed back home nobody was pleased to see me. Mercy promised all of us the world. They told my family it was my fault. That I disobeyed. They say they can fix what no one else can. But it’s all a lie. My family wanted to see me happy, they wanted to see me like the girls in the promotional videos. But they got a very depressed and seriously suicidal girl back in their hands. And they weren’t happy with me.
The first smart thing I did in learning to distance myself from Mercy rules was drink Champagne on the plane ride home. 15 days after my 21st birthday, that I spent at Mercy. I had never drank alcohol in my life. I ordered a 7 dollar, 4 oz bottle of Champagne as my first drink ever, which tasted horribly awful. Drinking alcohol was a complete sin in Mercy’s eyes. I felt regretful and ashamed to be flying home, but something in me, part of my heart didn’t allow Mercy to completely destroy me and everything I was. They got rid of me, because of that. Because I wouldn’t let them have it.
After returning home, I spent four months abusing all the benzodiazepines they sent me home with, to numb the pain. To self medicate, because I had no health insurance. I had never abused drugs prior to Mercy. I don’t remember ninety percent of that time. When I think back to those months it was sort of like a dream like state. I existed within my body, but I had no soul. Then one day in February after speaking to them for the last time, I just gave up and had a serious suicide attempt with the remaining pills. Luckily my dad found me and my stomach was pumped and I was put in a medical hospital for two weeks to stabilize me, then sent to a psychiatric ward for two months.
Later I learned that Mercy’s Australia homes were shut down for the same stuff, but Mercy International denies that they had anything to do with it and won’t take credit for abuse of their residents in America or any other country.
They promised me psychiatrists, therapists, nutritionists and social workers and most of all, help. I never saw a nutritionist, therapist or social worker once. My “counselor” had no training whatsoever in therapy. I was consistently called overweight, and told I wasn’t allowed any desserts whatsoever. I was told to exercise more then everyone else. I was told to wake up an hour early and exercise. I was compared to other girls in the program. And to top it all off I came in there with an eating disorder already.
Here is a glimpse at the sort of stuff that they promise.
The girl says “When doctors tell you the only way you can live is ten pills a day and God proves them wrong, that’s a miracle”. As she happily plays with her dog. When you’re sick you want to be that miracle. They take advantage of that.
I asked for help and all I got was a Bible shoved in my face and a person without any type of counseling or psych degree, who forced me to pray when I didn’t want to and made me outcast past demons of my family, like homosexuality and premarital sex. She would say, “You know praying out loud is something we all have to do” When I would become too nervous to speak, due to my social anxiety, she would coax me along by telling me that praying out loud would please God. I also received the ability to “talk in tongues”, early on in my stay. This fortunately was a choice, which I choose to partake in because I wanted to please the staff
They influenced a person with a legitimate chemical imbalance to go off her medication, because “Satan created them”. And psychiatric illnesses are just demons. Mental illnesses is just as much a medical condition as diabetes. Would they tell them to go off their insulin? I feel like somebody messed up.
I used to pray and find peace in God. Whether you believe in God or not. It was an anxiety reliever for me. A sense of hope for the future. I was a Bible College student. Now that means nothing to me. It was twisted and perverted by lies and control.
The worst part of all was being threatened with dismissals. Dismissals certainly felt like death was knocking at your door. You came in there so broken, and you gave everything over to them. Because you were weak already. It was like “I want to leave, but I can’t I’ll die out there without them”. I was so confused. Did I want to be there or not?
I guess the main thing with Mercy is that they convince you they’re your last hope. They convince you again and again that only they can help you. And so when you come home and you fall down, like so many Mercy girls do. You are so silent about it. Your family is disappointed. You’re disappointed in yourself. You feel so incredibly helpless about the world in general, because they have convinced you over and over that they can and will help you. And so when Mercy can’t help you. Nobody can. You loose the fight you had before to keep moving forward. You mourn this loss of thinking that you have everything under control. And that you’ll turn out just like the girls in their videos. The 93% they can’t provide accurate evidence for. That you’ll be just like the girls on their website. It’s manipulation. It’s emotional abuse.
They use a one fits all approach. Cure the Lesbians the same as the Eating disorders. They use the excuse “you can leave when you want to”. But if you’re educated at all in cult behavior you know that this isn’t true. They tell you only they can save you. They say things that make them look special compared to other treatment centers. They actually make you believe, that without them you will die. And when you’re vulnerable, you believe it. When you’ve been through more then a dozen hospitals and all you want if relief from the pain, you believe it. You set your goals, your hopes, your entire future, on what plays out at Mercy Ministries. And when they send you packing, you believe it’s to your grave.
I believed that for a long time even after Mercy. When I got home I focused on being better, being a good girl so I could COME back to the place. I truly believed they were my only hope. I didn’t want to die. And I swore I would without them. It’s insane to think that I seriously thought that. That I was so obsessed and so devoted to them. It took a lot of therapy to get me to realize I would be okay without them. That I was not bound or labeled as a failed “Mercy girl”. That I could survive without them, without the graduation ring. That I could survive with having a mental illness and that nothing, nothing in this whole world is going to magically make the illness disappear into thin air, like Mercy portrayed,
They cut off contact with your family, the public, support, limit you immensely from the mental health system, most of all the cut off the sense of being you. They make you depend on them for everything. Even in a real sense whether you live and prosper or whether you’ll take a shallow plunge to your grave.
I want them to stop hurting other girls. I don’t want another person with a psychiatric illness to EVER have to go to a program like that, because she’s told it’s her last hope. That mainstream psychiatry is a crock. I don’t want another girl with a psychiatric illness to be brainwashed into believing the lies that I was told for so long. I would do anything to save even one girl from the pain I went through, from a facility who was supposed to help.
I was at Mercy in 2008 and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t find myself still thinking the way they taught me to. I have finally just now grasped that mental illness is not my fault, that surely a safe spot is one even I can create. I understand treatment providers should respect your boundaries. And I am slowly learning that I am an adult and equal to them and everybody around me. I still have issues trusting anyone at all, especially treatment providers. I constantly question their motives. It was hard afterward, it still is hard to work on past issues when you never really know what lies on the minds of people who are supposed to help.
Through years of therapy I no longer struggle with my eating disorders and the short term drug use is a thing of the past. I still struggle on a daily basis with PTSD, some of which they helped create. It takes a long time to get over issues I went in there with. There is no miracle cure. I know that now. I wish I knew that then.
If you would like to read more about Mercy Ministry Scandals. Here are a couple good links. First you can type Mercy Ministries into Google search and something will be on the front page. Wikipedia also has it on their site.
“Fleming checked into its residential counselling programme at a house in the village of Oxenhope, Yorkshire. Minimum stay is six months and contact with friends and family is limited. She found the experience so distressing, she calls it “Mercy Miseries”. (I like that).
The group, founded by Nancy Alcorn, an American Christian evangelist who blames psychiatric illnesses and homosexuality on “demonic activity”. “
I would also would like to make a note that Hillsong, TWLOHA and Gloria Jeans Coffee three of their most worthy sponsors have stopped sponsoring Mercy Ministries, as a result of Mercy’s actions.
Many people graduate from there in dying devotion to Mercy and show up years later just as torn and shattered as I was. Feeling alone, ashamed for messing up and being a failure to God. They never realize in order to heal, you have to work through the issues. Not pray them away. Eventually it will catch up to you. Some girls return to their lesbian lifestyle, get pregnant before marriage and start back to drugs. Those are all serious sins, worthy of punishment by Mercy. By Mercy, not God. God is forgiving. At least the God I know. When they turn to the treatment facility that they have devoted their lives to, they are not accepted, they are abandoned. It’s sad. I am surely not the only person claiming this has happened. In Australia, 2/3 of Mercy girls later came forward needing help for their time at Mercy.
However I do know that hopeless young girls, every day consider that place and never see the other side to the story, because they just want a way out of the pain. Like I did.
A member of the people’s temple cult once said…
“When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you’ve ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate and understanding person you’ve ever met, and then you learn the cause of the group is something you never dared hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be true-it probably is too good to be true! Don’t give up your education, your hopes and ambitions to follow a rainbow.”
I was lucky. I didn’t realize it at the time. And it felt sickening to me then, but I was lucky. I was lucky that I didn’t allow myself to become suggestive enough to allow them to take complete control of me. It would have been harder having graduated the program to realize all the wrong that happened there. I have no devotion to Mercy. It ended after I nearly died from a suicide attempt. Three months after the program they called me to ask me if I wished to come back. Maybe I was “ready” now. They would tell me “Yes you’ll get in” then “Well it’s not probable”. I told them I would do a phone interview the next day, but I never answered my phone. I was just picking myself up off the ground from them and why, so they could possibly reject me again? Or worse, bring me back to that place. I never talked to Mercy Ministries again. A few days later I attempted suicide.
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