HA note: The following story is written by Susan Young, the Communicators for Christ Executive Assistant from Summer 2005 until Spring 2007. While HA took care to verify the claims contained herein, it must be noted for potential legal reasons that the claims are the author’s and not HA’s.
We’d hit the bottom.
I thought it was my fault
And in a way I guess it was.
I’m just now finding out
What it was all about.
Those words from Ben Folds have rung true in multiple relationships in my life and none of them were healthy. The situation described, though, should never develop in your place of work. I realize now that there are things like labor laws and I know phrases like “hostile work environment.” At the time, I was naïve and far too old at the age of 23 to be so unaware of my own rights.
My rights weren’t exactly a big part of what I had been taught.
I was a good homeschooled girl. I had graduated with great test scores and had decided that college was completely unnecessary for my future. My plan for my life saw me at home with my parents until I would meet and marry a good, preferably homeschooled man. While all of this could bring up many other topics, suffice it to say that in many ways, I fit the profile of the community.
My younger brother had become something of an early rising star in the home school speech and debate community – an activity I had never participated in. Being eight years older, I had long since graduated and was working as a piano teacher. My family, however, was growing personally closer and closer to the Moon family and they were meeting up outside of Communicators for Christ conferences. Eventually, I was invited to attend a get together as well. It wasn’t long afterward that I was offered a part time job updating the CFC database and I accepted.
For the next few months, I was a strange, creepy person who called up random strangers from a spreadsheet asking them to verify and update all of their information for us including all of their children’s names and birthdays. It struck me as at least as weird and frightening as it did the people I was calling, but I was sold on CFC as a whole and would have done pretty much anything Teresa Moon told me to do. My parents believed in it, and therefore so did I.
I became more and more involved in the workings of CFC. Eventually, I gave up teaching piano, devoting more and more time. It was good timing for Teresa as her current administrative assistant was leaving for a new job opportunity. The role would soon fall to me.
The earliest clue I could look back on and recognize that should have told me something was badly wrong with my job was when the former administrative assistant was leaving. She took me aside, looked me right in the eye to make sure she had my full attention and said, “Guard your time.” I promised her I would, not really taking the warning very seriously.
Teresa told me that they wanted me to be an independent contractor, not an employee. She explained to me that we would both save money this way since my taxes wouldn’t be withheld. Even though I read the requirements from the IRS that made it clear my type of position wasn’t eligible for independent contractor status I believed her and was sure she wouldn’t do anything illegal, so I went along with it.
After all, why would she lie to me?
My second clue that this was all wrong bounced off my optimistic skull almost as easily as the first one. While going through customer emails, one came in that I didn’t know how to respond to. It was a warning directed to anyone involved with Communicators for Christ to stay away. The author of the email told whoever might possibly read her note before it was deleted that anyone who gets too involved or gets too close to the Moons ends up deeply hurt. I sent it on to Teresa not knowing what else to do. She told me to delete it and treated it like it was just something to be ignored from someone who was very bitter. Even then, I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to trigger such a dire warning.
Soon, my work load exploded. My days were a mushroom cloud of maintaining spreadsheets of all conference registrations for the entire tour, answering all phone calls and emails except a few directed specifically to Teresa, packing and shipping all of the orders for the online book store, running every credit card by typing the number manually into a terminal since we had no online shopping cart system, retrieving the mail from the company box, going over each bill with David Moon, taking care of payments for all bills, both business and personal, maintaining the records of all things financial in QuickBooks, and occasional random errands like picking up printing orders and dry cleaning.
At first I could manage it, but as tour season came closer and then launched, leaving me to manage alone in the office for months on end, it became more than one person could handle. After arriving at the office at 9 in the morning, I would get just barely caught up enough on my work to rush the day’s book order out of the door to the UPS store barely in time for pick up mid afternoon and grab lunch at a drive through on the way back to be consumed while sitting at the computer futilely attempting to catch up again. At 9 pm, I would trudge out of the office after the credit card terminal automatically closed the day’s batch to drive home, stopping at another drive through on the way. This would happen Monday through Saturday and I would sometimes slip in a few hours on Sunday.
David once laughingly told me it was a good thing I was on a salary because they couldn’t afford me otherwise.
Meanwhile, my mother and Teresa became closer and closer friends. They met up often and soon it became apparent that nothing was off limits in their discussions. Not my job performance, and not my personal struggles with my family. I don’t believe my mother was intentionally trying to cause problems at work, but in hindsight I’ve been given every reason to believe that Teresa stores up this type of information to use and get what she wants.
Those home issues could be a whole other series of articles, but for now, all that’s relevant is that living at home at the age of 23 was not going well. My battle with depression, which had already been off and on for nearly a decade, was a constant in my life at this point. Still, I was trying desperately hard to be the good girl and earn approval. That approval at home now seemed inseparably tied to my performance at work.
Several weeks into my 70+ hour per week work schedule is when it all spiraled into addiction. Due to a strange food allergy, I can get ridiculously high on a fairly common ingredient: artificial food coloring. Later after meeting people who were quite familiar with drugs, I described the symptoms and they told me it was exactly like crack. Obtaining it was as easy as my usual runs to the drive through on the way home. Taco Bell provided my dinner and my fix in the form of a burrito and a large pink lemonade that I would sneak up to my room frequently so I wouldn’t have to interact with anyone while under its influence.
Eventually, it became clear to Teresa that I wasn’t keeping up, so in response she turned up the pressure on me and began calling frequently from the road to check on what I was doing, obviously convinced I wasn’t doing anything. I would also receive phone calls from David who would berate me and scream at me because in my struggle to keep everything on track for the business, I would drop balls like one of their personal bills. I knew it was all going to hit the fan after tour. Before they came back, I took a vacation they approved during which I still checked in on phone messages, returned calls, answered emails, and shipped book orders. I had literally brought books with me so I could fill orders.
After they returned, it was like I had feared. I had not lived up to their expectations. I was a failure. They wanted to know what went wrong. Why had I taken that vacation when there was so much work? I hadn’t done the work they were paying me for. I wasn’t worth my $18,000 per year salary.
I couldn’t do it any more.
I got up, dressed, and got in the car as though to go to work at my usual time, pulled out of the driveway, and went in what appeared to be the right direction. At a crucial intersection, I took the opposite turn driving away from the CFC office. Without really remembering much about the trip there, I was sitting in the back of the Walmart parking lot fighting to get control of my frantic breathing. I had a plan.
It would be easy enough to walk in, buy a knife from either sporting goods or kitchen supplies, take it back to my car, and end my life at the back of the parking lot.
As a last ditch effort, I called a number my therapist had given me where they’re supposed to talk you out of killing yourself. They tried to get me to a hospital, but I couldn’t get there from their directions. I wasn’t incredibly motivated to find it considering my worst fear was and still is a hospital psychiatric ward. They talked me into calling a family member and said they were going to call back and check on me. They didn’t. I called my dad who convinced me to come home. Turns out that Teresa had already called them wondering where I was. I got home. No one said much. My parents sent me to bed.
Later that day, Teresa showed up at my house. My parents left me alone with her to talk. I remember she asked a lot of questions. She wanted to know why I had done what I did. I don’t remember what all I told her, but I do know she learned about my depression and ADHD. She acted like that explained a lot about me. What I didn’t realize was that she was collecting ammunition.
She liked to push me
And talk me back down
Until I believed I was the crazy one.
And in a way, I guess I was.
The following weeks, I was back at work, only now they knew. Under the guise of concern, Teresa monitored me, checking on what I was doing, and scrutinizing everything I ate. While she didn’t know about my allergy, I never brought colored food to work, so there was nothing to see there. She was convinced that something I ate had to be triggering my depression and my work failures. Somehow, the culprit was erroneously identified as carbohydrates and I began ordering grilled chicken salads every day to avoid her judgment on my lunch.
Eventually, I even switched to a therapist she recommended.
Teresa told me she was glad I wasn’t seeing my old therapist any more because “Every time you saw her you came back talking about your rights.”
Her opinions extended to the medications I tried and she didn’t hide her disappointment after I stopped a particular one due to its horrible side effects.
The annual Masters conference was where it all finally went to pieces. One of my jobs had been to drive some of the volunteer staff assistants from their host home to the conference and back every day. My driving style was a lot more cautious than it was aggressive, so I became the butt of their constant jokes and taunting about my driving skills every day morning and night. Eventually, it took its toll and an intern found me in a bathroom crying and asked what was wrong, so I told her. Maybe that was a mistake, but later that day I was called in front of a very angry Teresa after the story had made its way through the rumor mill up to her. All of these volunteers were hoping to become interns in the future and she had her eye on several of them for the position. If what I had said were true, it would disqualify all of them from interning, including my own brother, since people now knew about their disrespect. That is, unless I changed my story and made a point of telling anyone who asked about it that I had overreacted and they weren’t really teasing me so much.
Caving to the pressure, I made myself out to be the crazy one. I think the only people who didn’t really believe my modified story was the intern who had found me in tears and a select few of the kids I had been driving who knew what they did and realized how close they had come to losing their internships.
As if that weren’t enough, a flu epidemic swept through nearly all of the attendees and I was not spared. Despite the fact that I couldn’t stand without shaking, Teresa made no effort to hide her irritation at finding that I had involuntarily fallen asleep on a sofa in the staff room. The next day, I had to excuse myself from driving students for their own safety after collapsing on the floor.
And I twisted it wrong just to make it right.
Had to leave myself behind.
The week after the conference, Teresa sat me down across from her and grilled me about what went wrong. She said I had done a better job the year before when I hadn’t known what I was doing yet. I was also berated about the work that had fallen behind in recent months. In my effort not to miss bills and keep everything up to date for conferences, bookkeeping had suffered. There were implications that it traced back to my mental health and that I wasn’t fit for the job. I believed her. I was damaged and worthless. That’s when she told me, “You haven’t done the job we’ve been paying you to do. How are you going to make that up to me?” The same shaking, desperate girl that had sat in her car in the back of the Walmart parking lot fought for some form of redemption.
Teresa was finally satisfied when I told her that I would give back my paychecks for January, which I had not yet deposited, and I would work through February for free.
After that, I would resign. Teresa added the caveat that working through February would be enough if the work was caught up by that time. Once again, my lack of knowledge regarding labor laws and her experience with how to manipulate me allowed her to take advantage.
Over the next month and a half through the end of February, the slow season allowed me to catch up on the bookkeeping and prepare to leave the world that my family revolved around more each day. My mother came to the office frequently as she prepared to spearhead the new chapter program. My brother readied himself for his internship the following tour season.
I left the office for what I thought would be the last time at the end of February. I was called back again in March to train my replacement – for no pay of course. Tax season came around and Teresa’s deception about my “savings” as an independent contractor came to light and I was left with almost nothing not long before I would have to strike out on my own and support myself.
My home situation was crumbling as everyone but me, the now unemployed oldest child, practically orbited around the Moon family. To be clear, I don’t think that Teresa or CFC was the cause of our problems. But I don’t hesitate to say that our involvement accelerated the self destruct course we had already been travelling for years.
It wasn’t until much later that I fully “opened my eyes and walked out the door” of that world. Yes, I could have sued CFC and had I realized it before the statute of limitations was up, I probably would have. Looking back is a painful, nauseating experience.
The worst part is reading the stories of others who have been abused by Teresa and realizing that my work facilitated her behavior.
I ask myself how much longer it’s going to go on before someone still in a position to bring them to justice and hopefully put a stop to it will speak out. I’m not the only one who has been pushed to the point of harming themselves. How long do we have before someone is driven to another suicide attempt? What if it’s successful?
I’ve just passed the 7 year anniversary of when I resigned my position with CFC. Despite everything I’m sure Teresa still believes about me, I’m proven myself responsible and capable many times, which has lead to success in my career. Since then, I’ve learned some crucial things that would have drastically changed my experiences:
- Employers do not have the right to force, encourage, or even allow staff to work for free.
- Employers do not have the right to be privy to the details of their staff’s medical conditions. There are a few exceptions where it might affect their job or cause them to miss work, in which case they may require a doctor’s note. Situations in which an employer can require a doctor’s note vary by state.
- Employers have no say over the medical care of their staff. That is entirely up to the patient.
- If there is ever any question about whether an employer’s behavior is acceptable and you live in the US, each state has a department of labor that can clarify the law for the state you live in. There is also the National Labor Relations board, which covers different rights and has several offices throughout the US. There is a section on nrlb.gov that explains the particular rights they protect.
- I have the right to report any illegal activity by my employer to the appropriate government office without fear of retribution.
- Any therapist worth their fee will tell a patient to quit a job that is making them suicidal, even if it means living on unemployment for a while.
If I had known half of this, maybe I wouldn’t have taken the job. Perhaps I would have left sooner.
Maybe someone will learn from my mistakes and not allow their boss to take advantage of them.