Fran's Story: Part VI
Disclaimer: The information presented and opinions expressed are solely the author's. Names have been changed to protect identities. The only names kept true are leadership.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
Exactly one year ago today, I was on my way to the airport in Missouri in order to catch my flight home. During the entire drive there, I had one of those, pardon my french, butt-clenching moments. I had already had such a stressful time just getting a ride, that I wasn’t entirely sure I’d actually make it to the airport in time to catch my flight. I wouldn’t fully relax until I stepped foot inside the airport, past security. It was then when the full extent of my exhaustion fully hit. During my flight back, relief filled the air, but I won’t pretend that I didn’t grieve leaving. This reality has been a struggle for me. Why was I grieving leaving a place that felt so chaotic and caused me trauma? That’s the thing with cults. Even when someone, like me, recognizes early on that they’re in one, there is still subtle brainwashing that happens. So, yes, in part, there was some brainwashing that I endured. Even though I knew there was an end date to my stay, and as intentional I was with my healing –I still felt guilty for leaving.
Even though my time on the Farm was short in comparison to others, I still had a hard time adjusting to the real world; my world. I cried in the car ride home from the airport, during my alone times, and felt out of place for a couple of weeks. Seeing my family and friends again was the most overwhelming experience, trying to answer their many questions, while trying to just exist in the same space as them. Everything felt so noisy and scary. There were fears that I’d never adapt again and for a moment, the Farm seemed safer when in reality, it wasn’t. None of what the Farm sold was real. The Farm is a dystopia guising itself as a utopia; a place where these girls could escape from the horrors of this world and find comfort in a place mirroring heaven led by a narcissistic individual. As I began to share my experience with others, I began to process, thus, starting my healing and adjustment back into normalcy. I felt an immense amount of doubt (and still sometimes do) about whether or not my time at the Farm was real or made up. I’ve had to process this emotion a ton in counseling. I’ve also had to remind myself that my reality and truth are mine and despite my experience seeming different than the other women, it happened. What I experienced was real and my fears were real.
I don’t want to wrap up my story and not include some of the positive experiences I had, because there were some. I lived on a farm, which in some weird way, fulfilled a childhood dream. That reality wasn’t fully how I dreamt it would be, but I got to live with horses, goats, and learn all there is to know about chickens. I got to see baby goats be born and interact with them. I can’t tell you how many goat kisses I gave, but I don’t have any regrets. These moments were so precious and tender for me. Let’s not forget that for 35 days, my landscape was filled with vast green fields, where the blades of grass were so high that you could see them dancing in the wind every day. One of my favorite things to do at night was to sit out on my porch and watch the golden light from the sunset kiss the Farm as it went down. You could even sometimes hear the horses from different parts of the Farm speaking to each other as the nightly bugs began to sing. I got to be wrapped in the silence that allowed me moments to process my pain and work with God to heal. My most favorite memory was getting the chance to ride my dream horse named Warrior who looked like the Black Beauty I grew up gawking over. I got to ride yet another horse through the fields and listen to the music nature makes. Let me tell you, nature makes so much noise and until you completely unplug and immerse yourself in it, you don’t even realize the beauty in its sound.
My fondest memories on the Farm were with the women. When things seemed almost normal and bearable, I laughed. And boy did I laugh with so many of these women. I’ll never forget the night that I was told to close chickens with Liz so I could learn the ropes and we were in the middle of a pretty bad storm. It was a scene straight outta Jurassic Park, except there was no T-Rex. We had to run and open gates and make sure we didn’t get electrified by the fence that kept the chicken contained, all the while trying to see as the rain poured over us. It was cold, dark, wet, and scary, but we giggled until our stomachs hurt. On my last day on the Farm, Betty let me work indoors and I got the chance to have one-on-one time with on my favorites, *Ally. Ally is fierce and goal oriented. I think she’d be a great CEO one day. On that day, I got to can some farm pears with her and we sliced, sang, canned, and shared stories. In addition to those memories, I got to bond with women that I get to call friends and sisters today. I also got to be loved by older, wise women, who had a lot to offer me. I felt encouraged by many of them and I was able to be transparent with some of them, in spite of them following Rhonda's teachings. I remember thinking, man, I wish these women didn’t live here because I’d come back to see them.
As far as my healing, I can say that despite the circumstances, I healed. I learned to forgive and to be compassionate. I think I grew in patience as well. I came home with a different heart than the one I left with. It’s weird to feel, at times, grateful for my time there, but then hate it all at once. A youth pastor recently told me that God works in the bad. It doesn’t take away the fact that there is bad in the world or that you’re going through something bad, but He still works. And He did. He worked with me and helped me heal in spite of all the things I was witnessing that weren’t biblical or even safe to some degree. It’s so hard to explain to people that in the middle of something so chaotic, my relationship with God strengthened. I know that I know who He is. He kept me safe and albeit, pretty sane during my stay.
Since leaving, I have reconnected with some of the lady’s from the Farm. I’ve reconnected with *Amanda, who wasn’t my housemate, but was a bright light for me. She is young, but wise beyond her years. She wrote me letters when I left that offered me hope that I could still make an impact on them while being far. In one of the last letters from Amanda, she shared with me that she had begun to question Rhonda and it wasn’t until I posted my first blog post that she reached out to finally process. I also processed with Liz for the first time since posting. It’s been a blessing, but it’s also reignited the anger in me. Amanda and Liz struggled with very similar things as me, but we were all afraid to fully share with one another. And it makes me wonder, are there other women who feel the same way, but are too afraid to admit and speak up?
The biggest question I still get is, “Why did you stay?” followed by, “if it were me…” And that’s it, it wasn’t you. I’d ask you to not judge my choices as I won’t judge yours. Truth is, I know what desperation feels like because it forced me to suck up all of my fears and discomfort to fight for something that mattered more than my comfort: my marriage. It’s the same desperation that forces some of us to do unthinkable acts. I stayed because I was strong enough to endure. I also want t o clarify that Adam had no part in my decision to go. He didn’t force me nor did he try to lure me into leaving. In fact, he was the most supportive he could have ever been. Before I left and got emotional on the way to the airport, he didn’t force me. He asked me what I wanted to do and that he’d support me either way. Before leaving, I didn’t cry out of fear because I didn’t know what to fear. I was sad to leave for so long, but I was grateful for the time and resources that allowed me to leave for such a long time. Adam and I also didn’t have any reason to question the Farm prior to my arrival. The women we knew who had been there were close to us. We trusted their judgment and their support of the Farm, hence my lack of hesitation. I had no reason to believe that this Farm was any different than a rehab facility. While there, I felt it strongly in my heart that I was supposed to stay. And maybe it was all for this moment right here: sharing my story and exposing the Farm in some capacity. There are women I left behind that I think about on a daily basis. I left them behind and I won’t rest until I know they’re safe. My hope is that at least one of them reads my posts and feels seen and heard. They are not forgotten.
I am proud of the journey that has brought me here. I have learned a lot about resilience and strength; what I am capable of. I try not to look at this experience as a waste in my life, but rather an experience that transformed me. I am shaped and molded by all of my experiences and this one will forever alter the course of my life. I wish I could give you a succinct answer to why I stayed, but the reality is, I did. I promise you this, I will continue to share my story and experience with others in hopes of shedding light to something I didn’t believe existed or only did in small towns of South Dakota. Cults are real, y’all, and they continue to quietly exist in a modern world. I am glad to be home, safe and surrounded by my loved ones. I wish for the same healing for my sisters who have since left the Farm. My prayer is that the girls left may find the courage to leave and start the life they were always meant to live.
You are not alone.