My teammates and I were about to go onstage and deliver our introductions. We had two main types of memorized introductions for each other: short and long. Our long ones were set in stone, but the short ones changed. Sometimes we said our city and state, sometimes just city, sometimes first and last name, sometimes just first. Without fail, there were always a couple of us who did it one way, and a few who did it another. I wasn’t quite sure the right way to do it, so before we went on I raised my hand and said, “Since this is something we tend to get confused on, I just wanted to double check exactly what we’re supposed to say.” Next thing I knew Mrs. Moon was towering over me, harshly lecturing me about how I was the cause of all of my team’s problems, I’d destroyed all of the hard work they’d done, etc… I could feel my stomach drop, my spine went cold, and my eyes started burning with months of suppressed tears. This time, though, I wasn’t going to cry because I felt guilty or worthless, this time I was mad. As Mrs. Moon gradually ran out of ammunition it was the first time I think I saw clearly that she was actually… wrong… and when she asked me to explain myself the only thing I could choke out was an angry “What did I do wrong, I said ‘we,’ didn’t I?”
You see, on tour we weren’t allowed to say you or I. If you missed a class you were supposed to teach, we missed the class. If you did something particularly well, we all got the recognition. This was supposed to be team building, frankly it was confusing. But, let me back track, because this particular incident occurred in the last week in a half of a nationwide conference tour, and it had taken me several years to get there…
Telling people about my Institute for Cultural Communicators Experience (ICC) is something that I have a lot of practice doing. I was a member of the 2008 ICC touring team, and prior to that I had spent several years working my way through the alumni program, and serving in every possible student leadership role that they offered. I was completely supportive of ICC’s mission, the Moon family, and the organization’s structure and leadership. I fiercely defended ICC and the Moons against anyone who criticized them, and my mother and I supported them to our best ability, by organizing the facility and managing the advertising for their annual conference in Colorado. I firmly believe that without my mother’s efforts there wouldn’t have been an annual Colorado conference, nor would it have been as well attended as it was (my mother frequently paid student’s tuition out of her own pocket, calling it “scholarships” because she believed so strongly in Teresa Moon’s work).
There were few things I wanted more in high school than to be an intern, and I used this goal as my motivation to create the best possible resume I could to serve as student instructor. I volunteered hundreds of hours, won a national debate championship (so that I would have more credibility as a teacher), and started my own debate club so that I could practice teaching. I wanted to be the best intern I could be, because when Mrs. Moon said that Christians need to be good communicators, I believed her. To Mrs. Moon being a good communicator also meant being authentic and transparent, without hypocrisy. So, when Mrs. Moon banned me from spending any substantial time around my boyfriend who was also involved with her organization (even though both sets of parents were aware of and consenting to the relationship), I tried to obey as best as I could. When she told me that I needed longer skirts, I had my mom take my hems down. When she told me that in order to be modest I couldn’t gain weight as an intern, I obsessed over only eating salad. When she told me I was prideful, I spent countless hours self-destructing by contemplating my worthlessness.
I used to think that any negative feelings I had about my ICC experience were my own fault, for my bad, prideful attitude, and for not being mature enough to understand that what went on was for the greater good of ICC. Now, as a 22 year old, not a 17 year old, I’m ready to talk about the negative experience I had as an ICC intern. Having now worked in government and with other non-profit organizations, all with powerful missions, I’ve learned that a good mission doesn’t mean you can treat people however you want. Having now had a string of kind, gracious, consistent bosses, I can also say that people with large amounts of authority and stress are capable of controlling their emotions towards their employees and treating all employees fairly. The treatment I received as an “employee” for Mrs. Moon was not normal or acceptable. If you have been involved with ICC, and you were treated wonderfully, good for you. That doesn’t negate poor treatment that I received. If you are an ardent supporter of ICC, like I once was, being a true supporter doesn’t mean that criticism isn’t allowed, and that anyone complains has turned into a rebellious or ungodly person.
When I speak of the leadership problems I encountered, mainly from Teresa Moon, the best way that I can summarize them is a lack of consistency. Students who participated in ICC were held to an array of different standards, and it was hard to tell what standard you were being held to, or what it meant to be held to a particular standard. Some of my fellow interns could get away with almost anything, and some of us were constant scapegoats. It was nearly impossible to navigate what could be done, when, and by whom. I could go on writing in generalities about inconsistent treatment, however, there are few things that I find more frustrating than people who criticize, but can’t provide a single example to support their complaints.
Fortunately, my memory of my ICC experience is still quite vivid, so let me summarize what bad leadership looks like with a few examples:
Putting individuals on the team who had severe mental and emotional health problems, with no safety net or plan to give them the treatment that they needed to thrive: One of my fellow teammates, Krysi, wrote about her experience as an intern. You can read her story here, where she discusses a string of mental and emotional struggles she had experience prior or tour, which came to a head in the middle of her time as an intern. While I believe that Krysi should not be blamed for what happened, I have a question to ask of Mrs. Moon: who in there right mind puts young people with documented instances of depression, suicide attempts, and eating disorders in a high pressure environment with no access to therapists, no understanding of their medication, and no training in how to deal with and monitor destructive behaviors? Mrs. Moon knew many of the struggles Krysi was facing, and never thought to prepare a safety net. Instead, she put a vulnerable girl in a high pressure environment, and when Krysi began to struggle, she initially rushed to provide support and promised to help Krysi. However, she was not capable of providing the support she promised, and ended up letting down a girl who had been let down too many times before. You don’t promise to take care of someone, and then decide, with 2 weeks of a tour left, that all of the months of promises you made were just too much work after all. If someone was in too fragile and precarious a state to intern, and you weren’t prepared to help them, they shouldn’t have interned. If you thought that they could intern, you should have come prepared, and not quit at the last moment.
Jeopardizing team cohesion by giving interns secret assignments and unclear authority: I’m a natural workaholic, so on tour whenever I finished an assignment, I would go to Mrs. Moon and ask if there was anything else that I could do to help. She gradually increased my responsibilities on tour, without telling my teammates what was going on. She would give me secret jobs, such as corresponding with a Christian camp, Doe River Gorge, where we were going to be doing a brief in-service training. I was instructed not to tell anyone, as I gathered information and made a conference plan. Two days before the conference, Mrs. Moon’s son, Wendell, who was acting as tour manager told me to begin a staff meeting by telling my teammates about our conference at the camp. I began telling them what Wendell had instructed, when Mrs. Moon walked into the room and gave me her iciest glare. She pulled me into her office and harshly lectured me about how I was acting inappropriately and my pride was becoming a huge issue. I tried to explain that I hadn’t meant to act improperly, I was just following Wendell’s instructions. She ignored me, and Wendell refused to back my story up. Variations on this happened too frequently to count, and caused me to constantly be under an undue amount of stress.
Disrespecting labor laws, disregarding health: Before I interned I assisted at various conferences where my job was basically to act as a janitor and kitchen assistant. It was normal at these events to stay up until 1:00 and then get back up at 6:30. A person can keep such a schedule for a week or two, though it is not pleasant. The straining schedule I experienced as an assistant to ICC staff became almost unbearable when I served as a touring intern. I was frequently up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, finishing extra assignments that Mrs. Moon gave me, then back up at 6:30-6:45 to do full hair and makeup for the conference. I would teach classes almost all day long, with little to no break, and any break I did have was spent working on another list of assignments. Once the conference ended it was seemingly endless meetings and more work. In addition to this, since there were no real provisions to assist my struggling teammates, such as Krysi, I began trying to serve as a monitor, making sure that she was eating, that she wasn’t hurting herself. When we shared a room I would wake up multiple times throughout the night to make sure she was alright. When adults don’t take care of kids, kids have to take care of each other, even if they don’t have the emotional stamina or knowledge to fill the role. By the end of tour I was consumed with work and with trying to help Krysi, in addition, I was part of an inner circle that was informed of all that had happened in her family, and sworn to secrecy. Keeping that secret from my teammates and parents, was completely draining. By the end of tour I was physically and emotionally spent. When I got home I was constantly sick, and began having digestive problems, and minor panic attacks that lasted for months. When I had to leave home to go back and complete the last conference, called Masters (A two week long end of tour convention occurs after a month long break for the interns), I struggled with uncontrollable vomiting and what felt like fever sweats. I was terrified of getting on the plane to go back to the Moons home, of seeing my teammates, of having to teach again… I could barely keep food down the entire Masters conference, and all I wanted to do was leave. I can’t help but think that some of this was due to being completely and totally over worked. The schedule I kept, and the responsibility placed on me were too much for my age. I know that homeschooled kids are supposed to be more mature, but there are limits, and I don’t think ICC respects them.
Tying physical looks to appropriate conduct… but, only for the girls: I’ll never forget the girls only meeting that Mrs. Moon called together a month into tour. She gave us her most winning smile, and explained that some of us had put on some weight, and if we wanted our clothing to be appropriately modest, then weight gain was just not something that could happen. We were encouraged to keep each other accountable about our weight, either by telling our fellow teammates that they were looking heavier, so that they would be more cautious, or if they were too far gone, we were supposed to tell them to wear spanx. Mrs. Moon meant it, too, if she saw any bulge, any panty lines, she would take action. One of my teammates had gained a slight amount of weight (she was still incredibly tiny) that caused a very minor panty line to be visible in her evening gown. Mrs. Moon pulled her to the side when she stepped backstage in the middle of a performance, and made her take off her underwear. In addition to humiliating events like that, Mrs. Moon’s talk caused a general panic amongst many of the girls, which shouldn’t be a big surprise since Teresa gave this talk to a group of girls, knowing full well that at least 3 of them had struggled with eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Tying weight gain to modesty and morality only made many of these girl’s weight struggles worse.
Putting children in emotionally damaging situations: The Moons decided that my team had unity problems, and that any and all difficulties we faced were because we had not bonded enough. In retrospect, I think claiming that every thing that goes wrong is a result of a poor team dynamic, may just be an easy excuse to avoid having to examine leadership. However, the worst part of this judgment on my team was that Wendell, Mrs. Moon’s eldest son decided that he was going to institute some team building exercises. I don’t know where he came up with them, but the one I remember best was called the “hot seat.” Each of us had to sit in a chair in front of everyone, and each teammate took a turn telling the person in the chair a Criticism, a Confession, or a Compliment. Neither Wendell nor Mrs. Moon seemed to have anticipated that what they were really doing was giving interns a chance to be flat out mean to one another. I remember sitting in the chair while teammate after teammate described my personality and character in broad, crushing, negative terms. I was trying so hard not to cry, because I knew that the terrible things they were saying must be true, and that I needed to be mature about it, but another part of me was screaming that this wasn’t how people should treat each other. A few of my teammates were genuinely kind in their remarks, but it’s a lot easier to remember the negatives. After the Moons watched interns tear each other down, there was no rebuilding, no demands for apologies, no assistance in sorting out how to treat people who had basically just said that they hated you. After the hot seat activity I withdrew from my teammates for the rest of tour, finding any excuse I could to be alone. I figured this was what was best for the team, since I was so terrible to be around, and so deeply hated. Now, I know this isn’t true, but the fact that I was made to feel that way under the leadership of the Moons is not right.
Valuing anything to save face, rather than caring about other’s well being: This was perhaps the thing that was most difficult for me to deal with as an intern. Appearance really was treated as everything, which meant a lot of lying and a lot of coverups. However, there were some things too big to gloss over, like Krysi disappearing from tour, and then not showing up to the Masters conference, while all of her family did. Mrs. Moon was visibly stressed about how to explain Krysi’s absence at Masters, when right before the conference she got the perfect explanation. Krysi was hospitalized for viral meningitis. When we found out about it I overheard Mrs. Moon audibly sigh with relief, and turn to whoever was near her and say something along the lines of “thank God.” Wendell led a little prayer for Krysi at the conference and talked about how much they wished she could have come. I was so angry when I sat there watching him put on his most concerned face for the audience. Krysi wasn’t there because she had been kicked off, Krysi had been kicked off because she had been set up to fail, and her being in the hospital was not “convenient” it was frightening and sad. Appearances don’t matter more than people, and putting on public displays of concern as a cover for bad leadership is not authentic communication.
My last real interaction with ICC was June of 2009, when Mrs. Moon asked me to run a Flood the Five conference (a shortened version of the normal conference structure) in Colorado Springs. Both of my parents had undergone surgery that summer, so in addition to a full time job, I was also taking care of the house, and tending to their post-surgery needs. Despite how busy I was, I managed to create an entire conference plan, writing brand new classes and planning activities for the two day event. I showed up with barely a greeting from Teresa, and found out that I had basically no one to assist me, and that I would be teaching every class on my own. I stayed up until 3:00 in the morning preparing for the first day, and got up at 6:30 to arrive on time. I taught the entire day, and when I finally returned back to the place I was staying Teresa asked me to come and have a chat with her. She asked me what my tour experience was like, and I tried to explain to her how hard it had been to believe so firmly in an organization, and then have that slowly destroyed by watching hypocrisy every day. I told her my frustration that her son, and the other teammate involved in the drinking episode that Krysi mentioned did not receive any where near the same amount of punishment as Krysi. I tried to tell her how hurt I was by the months of “criticism” about my character, and how I’d never tried to be prideful, in fact, I had felt completely worthless all of tour, and had struggled with horrible depression in the months since tour ended.
She responded by telling me that my pride was the biggest problem that they encountered on tour, and that ICC wanted student leaders with “Competence and character, not just competence.” There was no understanding, no thank you for the years of dedication, the thousands of dollars my family had spent, the months of secrets I kept for her, and the sincere love and affection I had for her. I left her room and looked out the window at my car in the driveway. I though about just driving back home, and letting her handle the second day of the conference on her own, because I honestly didn’t know if I could get up on a stage and be a perfect intern again. Part of me wishes I had just driven away, but I didn’t. The next day I showed up with a big smile and taught each class as well as I could. I gave the closing speech about the wonders of ICC, and never lost face until I was in my car. Some would call that showing character, but to ICC, that’s just competence.
When I Recanted What I Truly Believed: Krysi Kovaka’s Thoughts
I was one of those renegades who affixed my signature (albeit electronically) to the Great BJU Protest of 2009. The reasoning behind this protest is listed in a prior post so I won’t go into the logic of it all. Suffice it to say, when it was announced that Nats 2009 would be held at Bob Jones University, there were quite a few dissenters; BJU is known for having a proud tradition of racism (among other things.)
When several NCFCA officials found out about the protest, there was a bit of a backlash. For me, this meant that I received an ominous email from Teresa Moon [of CFC/ICC] telling me that I should extricate myself from the protest. My mother was also involved, and she made it very clear that I needed to remove my name from the protest if I wanted to attend the tournament. Simply removing my name from the apology wasn’t sufficient though – Mrs. Moon emailed my mother and encouraged her to persuade me to write the following letter:
Dear NCFCA board,
I’m writing to you under the most exigent of circumstances; I’m writing to you concerning my recent participation in the Facebook group protesting the location of Nationals 2009. After much contemplation and lucubration I have come to the realization that my actions condoned discourteous, impertinent, and contemptuous behavior. For this I would like to extend a full apology to the NCFCA board and Bob Jones University.
In retrospect it occurs to me that my misdeeds were injurious not only to the NCFCA and Bob Jones University, but also to my reputation as a follower of Christ. We read in Hebrews 13:17 that we are to, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” This concept of respect for authority is further addressed in I Timothy 2:1-3 and Exodus 21:17.
My conduct in no way exemplified a Christian attitude and I understand that I did a tremendous disservice to the NCFCA by participating in this Facebook group.
I take full responsibility for my delinquent actions and present myself to the NCFCA board contrite and in need of forgiveness for my transgressions towards the NCFCA board, Bob Jones University, and any other party I might have inadvertently injured with my calloused and unthinking misdeeds. In future I hope to live up to the standards set forth in I Timothy 4:12 which reads, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
I appreciate the opportunity to heed correction and guidance as outlined in Proverbs 15:32, “He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.”
Please accept my apology for my actions.
Kristen Alyse Kovaka
I remember when I was told I needed to write the letter. I was furious.
I had spent years learning argumentation and how to think for myself, and when a situation occurred where I felt I needed to use those skills, I was reprimanded. I did my best to make sure my disdain and insincerity was evident in my apology, but that did little to make me less angry. I felt stifled and controlled — and this from a community that allegedly encouraged free thinkers.
At a post conference party in Texas, I met a man who used to be part of the NCFCA/CFC scene. He was well into his twenties and I was seventeen. We talked for a bit and ended up exchanging numbers. Our relationship happened mostly via text and IM, and it was a case of trouble attracting trouble. We never dated, but our relationship was really creepy and weird. One night after I had taken loads of my Xanax and other meds, he drunk texted me and over the course of several hours, ended up talking me into sending him naked pictures of myself. Despite this creepiness, I ended up disclosing a lot of my life’s story to him and I told him about my father abusing me. He really encouraged me to tell Mrs. Moon about the abuse. A few weeks later we ended up sexting again – eventually my mom found out about him and threatened to have him put behind bars if he ever talked to me again.
Towards the end of tour, I really started to fall apart (as if I wasn’t falling apart before.) I started to stress about having to return home. Things got so bad that I did end up telling Mrs. Moon and several of the other interns about my father molesting me. I don’t know what an appropriate reaction is when a teenager tells you that her father molested her, but what happened was far from a right response. We were at a conference in TN when I told Mrs. Moon about the abuse, and she had me tell my two younger brothers about the abuse, and then she had me tell my mother. My memory of this conference is pretty fragmented, but I remember crying a lot and feeling absolute horror about what was going on around me.
At the time, I really didn’t have words to describe the abuse. People kept badgering me and asking me questions about exactly what happened, but I was in no emotional state to talk about it. I felt like I was on the verge of having a mental breakdown. My behavior got more and more erratic and shortly after I told my family about the abuse, Mrs. Moon kicked me off tour.
We were in Pigeon Forge, TN and Mrs. Moon told me that she had asked my mother to drive down to TN to pick me up. I would not be able to finish the last two weeks of tour. Apparently, she had finally realized that I was in no condition to be on tour. The Moons had a goodbye breakfast for me at a little diner in Pigeon Forge. At this breakfast, I said goodbye to all the people who had been like family to me. The Moons promised that they would stay in touch with me and help me and that if I ever needed to talk about anything that I could call.
I was completely numb at that breakfast. I cried a lot and I remember several of the other interns crying. Very few of them really understood what was happening or why I had to leave. I hardly understood why I had to leave – in a way, I felt like I was being punished for speaking up about the abuse. I was on vacation last week, and I ended up driving through Pigeon Forge – to this day I hate that place.
After being kicked off the internship, I didn’t return home. I went to live with some family friends until my mom decided to divorce my father. Life got really rough after that. I attempted suicide again just a couple months after leaving tour. I also started drinking all the time and I started using more prescription drugs. I felt like my whole world had crumbled. The following is an excerpt from an email I wrote to Mrs. Moon the day I left tour:
“Saying goodbye to the team was the worst thing I think I’ve ever had to do. Arriving in North Carolina was even worse. It occurred to me that I might be stuck here for a long time. I really, really, really hate it here. I don’t know anyone. I’m lonely, depressed, teary, and scared out of my head. Life is so confusing right now. I hate this….All I want to do is go home. I have no clue what home is right now, but I know I want to be there. I just wish I could be somewhere where I knew people and where I felt safe and cared about. I’ve yet to see what that would look like in practice…”
I tried to keep in touch with the Moons and with the people I toured with, but shortly after leaving tour, one of the other interns told me that none of the people I interned with would be allowed to talk to me. As it was explained to me, Mrs. Moon felt like it was best that they not be in contact with me. I later contacted Mrs. Moon and received a similar answer from her. I can’t even begin to explain how much this devastated me. These people were my friends and support system and all of a sudden it was all yanked away from me. The Moons stopped talking to me shortly afterwards. On tour I was treated as a problem to be ignored – when that problem got too big to ignore, I was dismissed from tour. Once again, I could be ignored, as I was now someone else’s problem.
Needless to say, I was not invited to the annual Masters conference. A week before Masters I was diagnosed with meningitis and was hospitalized. I was told later that when Mrs. Moon heard I had meningitis, she was relieved because she would be able to use that as an explanation for why I wasn’t at the conference. When she heard I was in the hospital, I was told that her exact words were, “Oh thank God.”
Several months later, my mom emailed Mrs. Moon and asked if I could use her as a reference for another internship I was applying for. I should have known better. This was part of the reply she sent to my mom:
“I have not really had a chance to experience the Krysi that is dependable, trustworthy, honest, respecting of authority, a team player – many of the qualities I would expect an internship director to look for. I am optimistic that these character qualities can become a part of how Krysi is known. I currently have no real frame of reference for making that type of recommendation. I recall receiving only a few pieces of communication from Krysi shortly after she left the team complaining about her life and her options…”
The email to which the last sentence refers is the one I quoted previously. As to the rest of it… what did she expect? I was an emotionally traumatized teenager put in an impossible situation. Tour was one of the most stressful environments I’ve ever been in. Mrs. Moon knew I was unstable and she still allowed me to intern – when that didn’t work out, she took away the only support system I knew. I’m really not sure what other outcome she would have expected.
Six months after I left the internship, I sent an email to a friend and tried to explain to her how tour was for me. This was part of what I said:
“People put way too much pressure on 17 and 18 year olds. This was what damaged me the most, I think. Everyone expected all 13 of us to be absolutely perfect. On the platform and at conferences, we did a great job of meeting those expectations. After a while though, it become sort of soul killing. I’d go to a conference and feel absolutely dead – no one really knew me. They thought they did, but they had no idea about my life.”
That’s the thing, the one person who had an idea about my life (Mrs. Moon) accepted me to intern – being fully aware of my mental health problems – and then put me on a platform and expected me to act, look, and behave perfectly. When I didn’t measure up to those standards, I was rejected. I really don’t understand the reasoning behind any of it.
The last contact I had with the speech and debate world was during the spring of 2010 when I went to an NCFCA tournament to judge. I showed up with an orange juice bottle full of vodka. I was completely drunk and I gave alcohol to several of the competitors. After that I never went back.
I’m definitely not proud of all my actions over the years. I know I’ve made some mistakes, but then again, so have the responsible adults in my life. What happened on my CFC internship definitely messed with my head – I learned that nothing in life is permanent, that people will eventually abandon you, and that talking about trauma is unacceptable (and even punishable.)
Post tour, I got into a decent amount of trouble and did some crazy stuff (I was a wild one). I rejected Christian fundamentalism, in large part because of the hurt I experienced in the “Christian community.” About a year ago, I started to work on my trauma and substance abuse issues. It’s been a journey, but I’m finally in a good place. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, I have a great job, and I have people in my life who don’t abandon or reject me when I act a little crazy. It’s the first time I’ve ever known what stability looks like. I’ve re-embraced spirituality; I don’t consider myself a Christian – I’m just trying to figure out what it looks like to follow Jesus. I still screw up a lot and make mistakes, but I have people who love me through those mistakes rather than rejecting me.
I’m sure that there are people who will be angry for the things I’ve said about CFC/ICC, and I’m okay with that. I’m past the point in my life where I feel like I have to pretend everything is okay.
I’ve spent a long time trying to figure out what I would say about my CFC tour experience if ever given the chance. It’s a lot to try and put into words. CFC was one of the first places where I felt a sense of family and acceptance. It was also one of the first places where I experienced the rejection and hypocrisy that seem to go hand in hand with conservative homeschooling groups.
To give proper background to this story, I first have to explain a bit about my childhood. I grew up in a conservative Christian middleclass family. On the outside, everything about my childhood was perfect (albeit a bit unconventional.) My parents chose to homeschool me and my four siblings. I was given a great academic education, but school is really only a very small part of any discussion relating to homeschooling. My father molested me while I was growing up, and given the insular community of which I was a part, there were very few people who would have been able to spot any signs of abuse. Nobody found out about the abuse until much, much later.
When my public schooled peer group was playing sports, doing ballet, or marching band (or just being normal teenagers) I was busy doing competitive speech and debate. I started doing speech and debate when I was eleven and I went to my first CFC conference. After that, I spent the majority of my time going to NCFCA tournaments, researching debate resolutions, and attending CFC conferences.
The thing is, I never quite fit the mold of what a conservative homeschooled debater should look like. I was a bit different; I liked to dress differently, dye my hair weird colors, and do anything else I could think of to stand out from my homogenous peer group. I think part of this was personality (I’ve always been a bit quirky) and part of it was my attempt at a cry for help. I was a very troubled teenager; despite (or maybe because of) my Christian homeschooled upbringing, I had problems with cutting, eating disorders, depression, and substance abuse. Of course, when I was competing in NCFCA tournaments and attending CFC conferences, very few people had any idea about my problems.
To adequately explain what happened on my CFC internship, I have to rewind a bit and talk about the winter before I went on tour. Christmas break of 2007 I was put in a behavioral hospital for attempting to commit suicide. I was radically unhappy at home, so I tried to overdose on over the counter pain medicine. I was in the hospital for nearly two weeks before I was discharged, just a few days before Christmas.
Several weeks later (January 2008) my mom was hosting a CFC Masters conference in my hometown of Louisville, KY. Prior to my suicide attempt, I had been accepted to be an RSA (staff assistant/all-purpose slave) at this conference. For reasons that still baffle me, the adults in my life decided that I needed to attend the conference and pretend that everything was okay. While I should have been in therapy, I was busy cleaning bathrooms, setting up for banquets, and doing any other menial task that came my way. Child labor laws where never even talked about.
During this conference I spent a lot of time holed up in bathrooms either cutting myself or making myself throw up. It’s interesting now for me to look back at pictures of myself at that Masters conference – it was evident from looking at me that there was something deeply wrong. Still, no one talked about it or asked about it. Depression, suicide, and mental illness are not socially acceptable topics among conservative homeschoolers.
To illustrate the polarity that was my life, I was awarded the Raudy Bearden scholarship at this Masters; in one minute I would be in a bathroom trying to hold myself together and in the next, I would be up on a stage accepting an award or giving a speech. Prior to the awards ceremony where I was awarded the scholarship, I was in the bathroom making myself throw up.
It was also during this conference that I decided I wanted to apply for a CFC internship. It wasn’t so much that I loved CFC or that I loved public speaking – I just wanted to leave home and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. The week after Masters I filled out an application to intern – I was pretty sure that getting accepted would be easy since my sister had interned twice. Turns out that I was right. I had a phone interview with Mrs. Moon, and despite the fact that she knew all about my mental health background (including my recent suicide attempt) she accepted me to intern just a few weeks after the phone interview. I told her that I was on psych medication but that I would be fully competent to tour the country in a motorhome with a dozen other people. To this day, I’m not sure why she took my word for it.
That spring and summer was a blur – I remember a lot of emails and writing a lot of classes. I remember having to go shopping for tour clothes (all of us interns had to wear color coordinated outfits.) I remember feeling a lot of pressure to perform well at that year’s NCFCA national tournament.
August rolled around and it was time to go to prep week and start tour. Over that summer I had spent a lot of time at counseling and therapy, but I was still in no mental or emotional condition to be in such a stressful environment. On tour you are expected to look perfect at all times, teach multiple classes in a day, give speeches, and function on very little sleep. At this time I was still dealing with an eating disorder (which I tried to hide by saying I was a vegetarian), I cut myself regularly, I was very depressed, and I was starting to abuse alcohol. I tried to hide all of these problems and put on a brave face as I got up on countless stages and spoke about the benefits of communication training and homeschooling. I felt like a performing monkey.
My internship wasn’t all bad – I made some great friends and I felt a real sense of community with a few of my fellow interns. I got to see the country and I got to get away from home. I loved not being at home.
Tour was a very stressful environment though, and I started to crumple under the constant pressure to be perfect. I would get up on a stage to speak and the second I got off stage I would run to a bathroom (bathrooms were the only place I found privacy) and hurt myself. I started having really bad anxiety attacks during this time, so a doctor (who was a friend of the Moons) prescribed me Xanax over the phone. I promptly started abusing this medication and nobody attempted to monitor my use of the pills.
What really amazes me about all of this is how few people took notice of my troubling behavior. Of course, there were a couple of my fellow interns who knew that something was wrong, but they were only teenagers themselves. None of the adults in my life took any notice. I can only attribute this to the fact that I was in a homeschooled bubble – I assume that the people I was around were sheltered to the point where they didn’t know what to look for. The other explanation is that the people I was around purposefully didn’t take notice of my behavior.
During the second half of my internship I began self-medicating with alcohol more frequently. One night, me and one of the other interns separated from our group. We were in Boston and we decided to strike out on our own to explore the city. We found a couple of homeless men and we had a fascinating conversation with them about life and God. During this conversation, I shared their vodka. Yes, I did that. I really didn’t see a problem with sharing vodka with homeless people. When we got back to the group no one noticed that I was slightly inebriated (or they pretended not to notice.)
On another occasion, I and two other interns raided the liquor cabinet at our host family’s house. We got black out drunk that night and ended up playing a risqué game of truth or dare. That night was the first (but not the last) time that I got sloppy drunk with a boy and made decisions I regretted later. The next morning we three were nursing hangovers, but we drug ourselves to the motorhome and tried to pretend that we were fine. I’m sure that one or two of our fellow interns noticed, but no one said anything. That was the culture we lived in – pretend that everything is fine, don’t make waves, and ignore problems.