This piece by Mercy Survivor Lily was originally published on her personal blog, La Petite Maman, and can be viewed here.
Here’s the deal: Everyone has a different background. They have different abilities to withstand pressure. Our struggles are different. We react in a myriad of ways…
And at Mercy Ministries, everyone is treated differently. Some people have horrible experiences, filled with abusive vicious staff members, nonstop disciplines, and restrictions galore. They may be lucky if they get kicked out before too much happens to them. Others have relatively “easy” stays at the home, with only subtle mind manipulation and the occasional “bad day.” And there are even those who are the “staff favourites”- they are generally coddled, and even when they act out of line, they get hardly a metaphorical slap on the wrist. They may end up being die-hard Mercy advocates for years, until finally, something triggers them to dig deeper into their experience.
In my case, I believe I had it easy. I never really understand when I hear about exorcisms or staff members flat-out refusing medications to residents…but I believe it.
Because although I did not experience it, I saw that staff treated every woman differently. And I don’t mean that they gave us individualised care – I just mean that certain staff members preferred certain residents. So while I was not exorcised, I was subtly scared into submitting to their “Godly authority” over time. I cannot tell you how many times I heard staff members spout this phrase, despite the fact that I was a married woman who was older than a few of those in charge!
Because I wrote a LOT of letters and received a lot of mail in return during my stay, I was once restricted from getting or writing letters…because the programme director thought that I was “involved in the occult again”! (I had briefly mentioned in the lengthy and personal application that I thought Wicca was cool as a teenager- it was NOT an issue I entered Mercy Ministries for.)
I began to believe that being a Christian woman free of an eating disorder meant I had to wear dresses, wear makeup, and give up my love for Hello Kitty. (They convinced me over time that my struggle with anorexia nervosa was due to wanting to look like a little boy; by getting all dressed up and made up while chucking a large portion of my awesome Hello Kitty collection, I was embracing my womanly curves.) If I wanted staff members to treat me like a person, I had to play the “fake it until you make it” game. And in the end, I came to believe that women should WANT their periods back (I hadn’t had one in a long time due to severe anorexia nervosa), because periods mean you can have a baby…
I came out of Mercy Ministries very jaded. I graduated from the Lincoln home in March 2010. I was glad to finally be free from the staff, and to not have to look over my shoulder constantly. I was just SO over the inconsistent rules and having to play dress up to prove that I was free of the eating disorder. I got home, immediately got an amazing job at the local hospital, raised $2,700 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and ran the Nike Women’s Marathon (26.2 miles) – all while staying healthy!
Although I didn’t really do all the Bible reading and going to church (and my “accountability person” that Mercy Ministries approved for me turned out to be a total bust!) that they insisted we do for aftercare, I was doing GREAT.
I felt guilty for feeling proud of myself – although I hated Mercy Ministries, I had this feeling like… there’s no way God is the only way I was saved from anorexia, right? It had to have been Mercy Ministries! And despite me gushing to staff members on my Facebook account about everything I had done, they either ignored my successes or minimised it by saying they thought I was still in the eating disorder because I trained/ran a marathon (for a very important cause, mind you)!
A few months after that, I emailed Nancy Alcorn (the founder of Mercy Ministries) to tell her of my success, because I never felt I had gotten respect from her or staff members.
Suddenly, because I had a baby, I became important. In May 2012, I agreed to them using my family’s photo which they had photoshopped, as well as my testimony which they had heavily edited and embellished. I was featured on Nancy’s radio show called Mercy Multiplied, where they once again, used elements of my story for shock value, asked very insensitive questions (like “what was your lowest weight?”), and had Mercy Ministries advocates call in with designated questions. It all felt very odd, but I was so thankful to finally be getting that pat on the back that I so desperately wanted.
As many of you reading know, recovery is HARD…and it’s nice to even get a little recognition from those who have supposedly seen how far you’ve come. Not only that, but who doesn’t want to somehow help women who are in the same situation you were in once? (I still believed Mercy Ministries was my last hope, which is something that many of us heard time and time again…)
But it wasn’t until they asked me to speak at a conference and give my Mercy testimony that I started to really question Mercy Ministries’ motives. Although I drove 10 hours total to get to the event (with my 8-month-old son and husband), they did not offer to pay for our hotel, our gas, or even our food. It was as if I was simply an after-thought for this fun women’s conference. However, I knew that wasn’t the case, as I had to go over the testimony rules and be coached on what I was going to say well in advance. The church that I spoke at was very sweet and gave me flowers and a $20 gift card though!
So I started slowly talking to a couple girls I trusted about their experiences. This has not been a fast or easy snap decision to somehow start a “smear campaign” against Mercy Ministries. Frankly, this is just me processing my experience and my issues with their programme, in the hope that maybe someone will say “Hey, that sounds like my time at Mercy!”… and maybe get a hold of someone to talk to about their feelings. And as you can see, I am STILL processing it all…
So yes! You may hear from women who say they LOVED their stay at Mercy Ministries. Maybe it was because they were a “staff pet” or because one of their issues is succumbing to peer pressure or because they recently graduated (so are still in the “Mercy bubble”). Maybe it’s their only experience with getting residential “care” for their issues, or maybe it’s because they are still living near one of the homes (so are still taking part of the Mercy routine by going to the local church, sharing their Mercy testimony locally, etc and hence, still under their subtle control). Or hey, maybe the staff while they were there were genuinely caring… though I doubt it because the employee turn-over rate for Mercy Ministries is so incredibly high.
Every single one of us is unique: our past, our genetics, our beliefs, our chemical make-up. It’s why some of us cling to Mercy Ministries’ promises, while others immediately dismiss it or even need further treatment to get over our time there.
And if you’ve read this far, I commend you… 😉 Here’s a little photo of Lucas from a couple days ago, at 21 months old. My son is a product of a mother and father who love him so deeply that they will do anything to give him the very best in life. And that’s that.