I Survived A Cult. Now I’m Using My Voice to Make a Difference

I ran from trauma for so long. It wasn't until I faced it head on that I began to heal.

Escrito por Meaghan Richter

I Survived A Cult. Now I’m Using My Voice to Make a Difference

01 Meg grew up with divorced parents and a tough home life. This drove her to rebel as a teenager.

02 Her father eventually brought her to a “Military Christian Reform School.” In reality, it was a cult.

03 After five years, she managed to escape. However, life was difficult and she struggled with a cancer diagnosis, interpersonal challenges and PTSD.

04 With time, Meg was able to start her recovery and become an outspoken mental health advocate.

When people ask how you’re doing, you’re never really sure if they want the truth. 

For most of my life, I listened to people promote emotional suppression. So much so, that I thought the world wanted me to hide my pain. I pushed my trauma down and focused on being a great mom and friend. But I was constantly reminded of what I'd endured, whether it be through a triggering interaction or vivid nightmare.

I no longer live in silence. Here's my story.

Early Years 

I grew up in South Florida with an ex-military accountant for a father and a mother who was a former police detective and director of a sexual assault treatment center. They had been married over ten years before I came along, and only made it a few more years after that. 

When my dad remarried shortly after the divorce, Cinderella became less of a fairy tale and more of my real life. My step-mom had two daughters, and was expecting one more with my dad. I went from having my own room, to sharing it with a baby and an older step-sister. I never felt like I belonged and was constantly walking on eggshells. My friends refused to come over and referred to my dad’s place as the Richter House of Hell.

Meanwhile, my mom’s job at the sexual assault treatment center meant I was exposed to quite a bit at a young age, hearing and seeing things that most adults couldn't handle. Sleeping on the conference table and being watched by employees became a regular thing until I became old enough to be by myself. This taught me to be very independent at a young age. The downside was that the blinders were off, and once that happens as a kid, there is no longer an illusion of the world being a good place. 

I spent a lot of time around older people and started living a fast paced lifestyle.

I was drinking and going to parties before the age of 13. This led to bad grades, detentions, and being cut from sports teams. My stepmom became concerned that I would influence her kids and gave my dad an ultimatum. A few hours later, I got a call telling me my belongings were in bags on the front porch. 

By the time high school rolled around, I had unlimited financial resources and drugs, with very little adult supervision. I'd been kicked out of one school and dropped out of another. I pretty much did whatever I wanted.

The Betrayal 

My dad heard about a host of scenarios I'd gotten myself into - including a bank fraud incident and run-ins with the police - and suggested we get out of town for a few days to see my grandma. Even though it had been months since we'd spoken, I was excited. My grandma was the one person who understood me. 

We landed in St. Louis and headed to my cousin's house where my grandma was staying. It was a long drive so I slept most of the way. When we arrived, my dad told me to leave my belongings in the car. We approached an unfamiliar building and went in. As I entered, a door slammed behind me. I looked up and noticed a group of girls standing in front of me. My dad disappeared into another room as I began yelling. 

I tried to open the door but the doorknob just kept spinning. There was a man in the corner who grabbed my shoulders and turned me around. He called me “young lady” in a strange voice and told me I was going with these girls willingly or by force. I began to fight and they threw me to the ground. By force it was. 

I was taken to a basement where they set up a circle of chairs. They sat me in the center and listed out a bunch of rules. I had a million thoughts and feelings going through my mind, but the main one was, there was no way in hell I was staying here.

After six hours, I saw my dad emerge. The group of girls held me as he approached and told me that this was my new home. I begged and pleaded, telling him that these people were weird and we needed to go. I promised to be the best girl possible if he let me leave.

My pleading fell on deaf ears. I started screaming at the top of my lungs, telling him how much I hated him and that I’d never forgive him. He turned and walked away as I fell to the ground, begging for him to come back.

I'd barely processed what had happened when the girls started to rip my clothing off and remove my piercings. They put me in the shower, deloused me, made me drink worm medicine, gave me a nightgown, and told me to get on the top bunk and go to sleep.

I spent two and a half years enduring physical and mental torture at Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Patterson, Missouri, and two and a half at their sister school Palm Lane Academy in Arcadia, Florida. They were Military Christian Reform Schools for troubled teens and have been proven since their shut downs - and several lawsuits - to have been a cult. 

At both "schools", myself and other young women were constantly brainwashed by horrific religious and racist teachings.

Corporal punishment was inflicted often and talking about anything outside of our fundamentalist studies was cause for consequence. All phone calls were incoming, limited and monitored. There were giant barbed wire fences, locked doors and alarms set at night. We were teenagers in the middle of the Ozarks with no way out and nowhere to run. For the few that did try escaping, it didn’t end well.

Those in charge told us repeatedly that we were the rejects of the world. That our parents didn’t want us, even when they knew everything that was happening to us. After hearing it so many times, you begin to believe it is true. 

Eventually, there was talk of a sister school opening up a few hours away from my home. I made it my goal to get selected. I thought this new place would be better, but I was completely wrong. The rules were worse, and with less students, every thing we did was under a microscope. I'd worked so hard to be selected, but it turned out to be another nightmare.  

My senior year, I started getting hives and experiencing intense vomiting. I spent over eight months undergoing medical testing and enduring physical and mental torture before being diagnosed with cancer. I stayed on as staff for another year while handling my cancer treatment and recovery. For over four years, it had been drilled in my head to stay, and with nowhere to go, it seemed like my only option.

As the year went on and I wanted to become more independent, I began to be treated differently. I was secluded from the students and from my best friend, who also stayed after graduation. They made me feel unwanted and that I had strayed from God’s Will. 

After being isolated for five years, I finally found the courage to leave.

A New Life

I was accepted to a Christian College and decided to go. But when I got there, I didn’t feel like I fit in and had trouble adjusting. Within a few months, I'd dropped out of college, gotten married and was pregnant.

By this time, I'd been diagnosed with PTSD and Stockholm Syndrome. Even with these diagnoses, it was made clear that my past should remain private. I was forbidden to speak about the things I'd been through. I feared losing my son and freedom if I pushed back, so once again, I fell in line and swept my trauma under the rug.

My marriage eventually fell apart. I left my ex-husband, sold my belongings, and did everything I could to give my son the life he deserved. Trying to survive as a single parent didn’t leave me time to think about myself, much less my past. The free time I did get, I didn't want to spend reliving my trauma.

After a few years of struggling and working hard, we were finally on a great path. I met someone new and allowed myself to experience life for the first time since getting sent away.

Unfortunately, it was short lived. A series of challenging life events sent me into a spiral.

I was diagnosed with a brain condition that forced me to be stuck at home after numerous surgeries. I found out I was involved in a lawsuit related to the cult, and had to spend time reading in-depth details about that traumatic period of my life.

My nightmares reappeared and amplified to a level I'd never experienced. The realization of all that I'd been through was hitting me hard. To make matters worse, I was in a terrible car accident that left me with serious injuries.

Embracing Advocacy

After spending years in physical recovery, I finally had a chance to find myself and process what I went through. I was afraid and unsure of where to begin, but with the encouragement of my partner, I started a photography Instagram account and began to put my story out into the world and face my trauma.  

One day, I was on my local Instagram feed and saw someone doing a Raw Storytelling Slam. I reached out and was on stage the next month, sharing my story publicly for the first time.

It felt incredibly liberating to take control of my narrative and reclaim what I'd been through. I'd never had so many people validate my pain and reassure me that I didn't deserve my traumas.

A few months after sharing my story, the shooting at Stoneman Douglas occurred in my community. This brought back feelings of guilt and imposter syndrome. How could I have PTSD but not be a veteran, or have Stockholm syndrome despite never being kidnapped?

Counseling was being offered to high schools in the area and made me realize how important it was to talk about traumatic events. Although our scenarios were different, the impact felt the same.

There were so many behaviors I had to realize weren't normal, but instead, were coping mechanisms I'd developed because of intense trauma. For the first ten years after I escaped the cult, I moved every six months because I was afraid of being taken. I realized my fears were still holding me in captivity. To be truly free, I had to trust again. I wanted to share my story and find a way to embrace this trauma head on. 

I began speaking at live events and recording with podcasts. This led me to come up with my project, Meg’s Law of Positivity. I now work hard to share my story not only for myself but for anyone who has gone through something similar. I want people who are suffering to know that someone cares, and that their trauma is valid. 

Life isn't easy, but it's been incredible to see what I've accomplished through personal resiliency and a persevering attitude. I've finally found what works for me and makes me happy. 

I've found a new-found passion and purpose in sharing my story and helping other survivors reclaim their voice.

Sobre el autor

Meaghan is a fantastic mom of two, cult survivor and cancer survivor. She is a Mental Motivational Trauma SuperHero and founder of Meg's Law of Positivity — a movement that has allowed her to use the trauma and pain she’s endured to teach others how to strive for a full life happiness while overcoming physical and/or emotional pain.

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