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Food is withheld for discipline

I have eating disorders that have been traced back directly to the Spirit Beings curriculum written by Steve and Kathy Gray. I have worked with a trauma therapist for years who has helped me overcome and cope with my disordered eating/body image issues.

I was 9 years old when they began enforcing the training.

After completing the training, we were no longer seen as children, we were “spirit beings” and there were extreme expectations on us to be perfect, happy, smiling, energetic, and physically performative at all times, but especially meetings and during Steve’s 1 hour sermons.

When we first arrived at Steve and Kathy’s church, my parents wanted to volunteer to help in the Child Care/Sunday school areas. Steve and Kathy looked down from the stage at our family and he said, “you’ll never be anything here with kids like that.”

He told my parents to buy his Spirit Beings curriculum and they began listening to the tapes the next day.

On the tape, Steve told a story about his daughter Bobbie wanting to go to the prom, but she wouldn’t “dance in church” so he told her, “You can’t go to prom to dance unless you dance in church for Jesus.”

He used this example to show you have to take away the things kids want in order to get them to do the things you want them to do in church. He kept saying that the punishments needed to fit the desires of each kid. He explained that food, fun, and entertainment dulled the “spirits” of children and in order to get children to comply, they needed to be deprived of food, fun, and entertainment.

These 3 words became SINS in our home. Absolutely forbidden.

We had every source of entertainment stripped from our lives – Books, our Nintendo, movies, music, etc.

If we were exhausted, if we expressed ANY emotion that wasn’t “joy,” we were punished and had even more taken from us, until the (once boring) church things became our only source of human contact, our only source of “entertainment” or something outside the school books/Bibles at home.

Using Food as a punishment and reward was detrimental to me as a child. We had food taken away if we were not perfect. We were rewarded with food if we WERE perfect.

It created neural cues and paths in my brain where food was weaponized. Being perfect was more important than being real. If we were hungry, frustrated, lonely, sad, angry… we could never express this or else we’d be deprived of what little we had left.

If we did not convulse, speak in tongues, fall on the floor, hold our hands in their air to the point of muscle failure, we were perceived as “dull” and not “hungry for God” and the deprivation would set in again.

This taught us that we had to be outwardly perfect, have perfect performances. We had no value, otherwise. Naturally, I began to associate eating with “being perfect.”

I began to associate a perfect outward appearance with being valued and being good. I was only rewarded with attention and love when I was perfect on the outside.

During the naturally tumultuous/emotional puberty years, my parents saw every negative emotion as “the devil” or “the spirit of the world” – any sign of tiredness or need to rest was viewed as lazy or sinful. Our parents used the Spirit Beings training to come up with a punishment for us.

They knew how much we valued our outward appearance in our pre-teen years, so they took away our clothing, toiletries, grooming products and left me with one play-clothes outfit, and one dress-clothes outfit. I was made to wear the same clothing for over 6 weeks.

The punishment was confirmed and approved of by Steve. Everyone noticed that we had not changed clothing and it was during a season-change. I was told to reply, “I’m ugly on the inside, so I have to be ugly on the outside until God changes my heart.”

One very concerned brand new member asked me why I had to do this, and I tried to lie and hide the fact that I was “ugly on the inside” but my mother found out. She made me tell this new member the truth, that I was ugly on the inside, so my outside had to show it too.

The punishment was extended because of this. Not once did Steve, Kathy, or other leaders sit my parents down and tell them this was too far. They were patted on the back for being so committed to the cause. I know now, that CPS is called in to investigate when children wear the same clothing for more than a couple days.

But no one cared. It broke me. It rewired my brain to believe that how I looked on the outside was a literal reflection of my inner-person, my soul, my value. It was one of the first of many detrimental instances of brainwashing that happened to me there as a child because of Steve and Kathy Gray’s abusive brainwashing curriculum for children, Spirit Beings.

Fortunately, EMDR works, and I’m truly able to affirm positive self-beliefs now. I can say, “I am good as I am” and actually believe it. There was a time when the only belief I could truthfully say was, “I’m not good enough yet.”.

That’s changed now. But it has taken years. I was lucky to find a psychologist who specializes in trauma and EMDR. I still have set backs every now and then where I can’t make myself even swallow my food. But instead of spiraling out of control and starving myself or going on a binge-eating bender, I have re-wired my brain to understand this is not the end of the world. I’m OK as I am. I can eat this food and be ok, or not eat it, and that’s OK too.

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