Finding Freedom from My Demons: Nicholas Ducote’s Story, Part Two

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By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

< Part One

You’re just “spiritually sensitive,” they told me at six years old, my young mind racing with anxiety. As my parents entered further into the labyrinthian maze of fundamentalism, they took my mind with them.  My parents were convinced that Gothardism held the solution to my issues. If religious options and doctrines were a grocery store, my parents plopped down on the Gothard Aisle and expected me to also enjoy their strict diet of Gothardism.  Instead, the doctrines on spiritual warfare, the Umbrella of Authority, and Strongholds increased my anxieties – sending me into a state of hyper-vigilance at night as I waited for the demons.

For years, I confused invasive thoughts, which everyone has, with a Satanic assault on my mind.

I began conceptualizing my mental illness as spiritual warfare very early on, probably by the time I was 7 or 8. Recently converted, it was the only paradigm my parents accepted so they explained things to me through that lens. When I had nightmares night after night, my parents told me it was the rock music I could hear through the walls that my sister listened to – certainly not our rapidly changing family dynamic as my parents tried to apply fundamentalism to my older sisters when they had already begun high school.

I remember one night, perhaps after attending the Basic Seminar a second time, my parents decided we should burn all the things in our house that possessed “demons” or a “demonic influence.”  This included books and movies and music – especially my dad’s vast collection of rock and roll from his youth.   We had to purge our home.  As time went on, I was sucked further into this idea of spiritual warfare causing mental, and even spiritual, issues.  My education in creationism only further complicated science and confused me about how my body worked.  It was not until college at a public university that I began to understand how the brain worked.  I slowly realized that many “mysterious” feelings and thoughts, which supposedly originated from God or Satan, were really my own brain simply working.

There were a number of Gothard’s doctrines that caused a great deal of fear.

One of the most problematic doctrines is the Umbrella of Authority. 

In this model of communication with God, divine inspiration and guidance flows from God, to the male parent, then to the female parent. It’s clear in this model that wives are subordinate to their husbands and ATI leaders preach that a woman’s first duty is to submit to the male leadership in her life. For wives, that means their husband. For daughters it means their fathers. In this model, the father is the only person in the family unit that has a sort of “direct connection with God.”  By this, I mean that if a child believed God was calling them in a certain direction, the child could only pursue that option if their father “confirmed” it with God. This model profoundly impacts a child’s conception of themselves.

If you disagree with your parents, you are disobeying God.

If you are outside of your parents’ Umbrella of Authority, then you are literally opening your mind to Satan and demons.

This brings me to what, in my life, was the most abusive and damaging belief. Gothard rejected the idea of mental illness and replaced it with a concept of “Strongholds” in your mind. Gothard preached that when humans disobeyed God, or their earthly authorities, they allowed Satan to “build a stronghold in your mind.”  From this Stronghold, Satan could tempt you and further lead you down the path to darkness and evil. One of the most common weaknesses for teenagers was rock music and dating, which Gothard believed was one of the fundamental reasons why teenagers rebelled and became perverse. In another giant leap of logic, Gothard argued that physical ailments could be caused by Strongholds. Literally almost every cause in your universe stemmed from your spirituality, which included everything from Christian Contemporary music, to apparently demonic Cabbage Patch dolls, and of course Disney.

So over my teenage years, I gradually developed intense anxiety, insomnia, and panic attacks. I would lay awake in my bed, staring at my door waiting for demons to come and get me.  This very real fear was stoked by Jim Logan, who would tell his Real Life Ghost Stories. Logan would preach about his many exorcisms, how African masks would literally scream and cry out if lit on fire, and how children’s misdeeds attracted demons into a Christian home. Especially rock music! I prayed incessantly, sometimes screaming with eyes filled with tears, for God to take away my fear and anxiety – but nothing ever happened.

It was because the cause of my mental anguish was not demons and spiritual warfare.

In fact, the further I get away from my internalized fear of demons and possession (taught to me exclusively through ATI), the better I sleep, the less afraid I am of what’s behind the shower curtain, the more confident I am to walk through a room with the light off, and it is because my brain no longer feels like its survival is threatened by the invisible forces of evil.

In my teenage years, some of the only relief I could manage to muster came from listening to a local modern rock radio station.  First, it connected me with the outside world and gave me hope that one day I could be in that world and not the one I was trapped in.  Second, it allowed me to enter all the conversations my peers had about their favorite music. Third, it gave me something to focus on that took my mind off spiritual warfare, demons, etc.  Unfortunately, I was also taught to believe that rock music would open my mind to Satan. I struggled with the cognitive dissonance for a year or two until I decided that the peace I received from rock music was far more important than risking demonic possession (which I was starting to believe less and less).  I figured, with all my rebelling as a teenager, if I hadn’t been attacked by demons yet I was probably alright.

It’s not uncommon for precocious, smart children to develop anxiety – as I now know my “sensitivity” is really just anxiety – but my parents only worsened it by focusing on solely spiritual causes and solutions.  When we prayed, when I prayed, when we “cried out” – whatever Gothardist ritual we preformed – it never made me feel any less anxious.  As a result, I felt like I must not be a real Christian or must have some sin in my life stopping God from helping me.  I don’t know how many times I prayed the sinner’s prayer, afraid that whatever I had done before wasn’t “sticking.”   I started finding a way out of the anxiety, and sometimes intense panic attacks, by learning about my brain. Not from fundamentalists, but from scientists who studied the brain – neuroscientists.

In the back of my mind, after I left the house, was always a voice warning me that my actions would attract Satan – that he would ruin my life because I chose to live outside my father’s Umbrella, to reject the concept of Strongholds, and I listened to rock music.  For quite awhile, I struggled to find out who I was, beyond my fearful subordination to a fundamentalist God.

I now know that I have a form of complex PTSD, which is triggered by my parents and their fundamentalism, especially when they judge my “sinful lifestyle.” 

For the longest time, I didn’t know why certain things they said or did would “launch” me into an irrational, emotional state.  Sometimes it was something inanimate, like the American flag covering my old bedroom wall or the library of fundamentalist literature I was pressured to read and apply to my life.  It doesn’t affect my life much anymore, but it did quite a bit into my early-20s.  Part of the reason is because I rarely communicate with my parents anymore.  Despite my best efforts, most of our interactions end with me being triggered by their lack of acceptance or the cultic doctrines they still try to evangelize me about.  This isn’t a story that takes place wholly in my past.

The third and final part of my story discusses how (as a 25 year old) I am still impacted by my parents’ fundamentalism.

Part Three >

17 comments

  • Pingback: Finding Freedom from My Demons: Nicholas Ducote’s Story, Part One | H . A

  • wow – you have no idea how this speaks to me – I am 56 and have spent the last 30 odd years daring to walk the journey into freedom from fundamentalism – I experienced so much of what you talk about. My mother was bi-polar but whenever she went into depression the elders came and cast demons out of her – OMG that was so scary and so cruel – my poor mother – what she needed was compassion and what she got was condemnation for having “weak faith and allowing demons in”. what a load of crap!!! my last 5 years have been the happiest of my life as i continue to dare to let go of fundamentalism

    • It is so inspiring to see people leaving fundamentalism at all ages and in all places in their personal journey. Adults and parents were victimized by these sort of crazy beliefs, as you explained with your mom

  • Your story resonates a lot. Thanks for sharing.

    I do have to ask, though…I was raised YEC and never had any trouble conceptualizing science. Not a connection I would make.

    • What curriculum did you use? We used Jay Wyle and I’ve spoken to others that used it and they had a similar experience. I wonder if my confusion was more connected to my curriculum. However, I do think YEC completely mauls the concept of science, rational inquiry, and the scientific method. Yes, they teach it, but it really confused my understanding of what science was supposed to be – I.e. Not just about confirming your preexisting beliefs. I also think that YEC sets up a lot of straw men about evolution, instead of explaining the real story. In a way, they act like there have been no advances in evolutionary science since Darwin.

  • My parents didn’t use Gothardism, but your story is practically a mirror image of my own. We were required to read “He Came to Set the Captives Free” by Rebecca Brown which dealt with demonic possession and satanic influence. It was some over-the-top reading besides being completely age – inappropriate (I believe I was about 12 when I read it and my siblings were younger). Everything in the world was terrifying in the sense that even the most innocent seeming toy could be used as a tool by Satan. What a way to live.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Nicholas, Puzagirl:

      There is a known Heresy called “Attributing Too Much Power to the Devil”, and the Spiritual Warfare types are swimming in its deep end. They have made the Devil so omnipotent and omnipresent that the Devil is more powerful than God and Satan will win if it weren’t for the Mighty Spiritual Warriors (guess who?) and their Mighty Magick. Maybe the reason Spiritual Warfare Types are so shrill is that they have made the Devil so powerful that deep down inside they’re afraid they picked the losing side.

      And to all the rest of us who are NOT player-characters in their Live Role-Playing Game, the side effect is mind-numbing, pee-your-pants terror, hiding under our beds for fear Satan will slip his Woopee Cushion under our butts if we so much as sit down.

      Been there, done that.
      Where is the Freedom we were promised in Christ?

    • I had to read that when I was 8-9 and wholeheartedly believed it until I began to question things after managing to get out.

      This essay resonates with me on so many levels. I can’t count how many times I have sobbed out the Sinner’s Prayer or laid in bed waiting for the demons after another fight. Smashing ‘idols’ and burning ‘evil’ items, believing that I’m not a real Christian because prayer didn’t cure my autosomal dominant joint condition, overanalysing everything to avoid demonic influences, and the incredible guilt for stepping out from under that umbrella.

    • Is it specifically the ideas about spiritual warfare that make our stories so similar? Do you think that was a major defining ideology of your childhood? I think it was central to a lot of my struggles, as a child and adult, with anxiety.

      • I believe that the way I was raised definitely contributed to my anxiety disorder. Not only were we raised to be fearful of constant spiritual warfare, but there was also the rapture that could happen at any given moment. Plus there were also actual live, practicing Satanists in our community- although I don’t know who was more delusional about it, us or them. So we felt as though we were constantly under attack in some way, shape, or form. As if that anxiety wasn’t enough, I never felt that “personal relationship” with Jesus that everyone talked about. I can’t even tell you how many times I prayed only to think I must not have been sincere enough. If I did something wrong, it was Satan using me. I remember being busted with “Satanic music”- you know how evil INXS and Duran Duran were. Oh it was a huge ordeal because i had allowed Satan and demons to enter our home. The whole fundamentalist movement thrives on instilling fear, and when you’re homeschooled on top of that-there are no other opinions or theories. There is only the Bible and whoever’s interpretation of it.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    For the longest time, I didn’t know why certain things they said or did would “launch” me into an irrational, emotional state. Sometimes it was something inanimate, like the American flag covering my old bedroom wall or the library of fundamentalist literature I was pressured to read and apply to my life. It doesn’t affect my life much anymore, but it did quite a bit into my early-20s.

    Once you have been Assimilated into the Borg Collective, it takes a long time to come back. Just ask Captain Picard and Seven of Nine.

    • Ironic that you reference Star Trek because it was one of my dad’s and my favorite shows (TNG that is) He always read into the geopolitical messages (which he oversimplified as anti-Soviet, I suppose remembering the original). When I rewatched all of TNG this year I realized how freaking liberal it is! Not just liberal but very socialist, one-world governmenty and cosmopolitan. I also realized its what first gave me an interest in diplomacy and international relations, which opened me up to studying Islam and drawing the conclusion that fundamentalist Christianity and Orthodox Islam are very similar.

  • I’m singing the umbrella song in my mind right now and just getting mad, so I better stop.

    • I could not read that post, or listen to the songs, that someone (it was you I think?) posted from CHildrens Institute. I went to probably five or six as a child and then worked three or four. Once at a CHEF of LA conference. Music was a big part of my life and my mom pushed me into a lot of choir and then I led things like CI songs because I was a guy with a decent voice.

      The only one I really remember, because I refuse to let them back in!, is the 10 Unchangables. Because I always thought it was weird that they included hair color and name changing when that happened all the time.

  • Pingback: ATI, Children’s Institute, and Me | Wide Open Ground

  • Pingback: Finding Freedom from My Demons: Nicholas Ducote’s Story, Part Three | H . A

  • Pingback: The Umbrella Song and The Children’s Institute: Lana Hope’s Thoughts, Part One | H . A

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