response: ESOAL as preparation

Steph had a really good question in my comments that I’d like to answer:
“I’m curious as to what your response is to the ATF representative who spoke on their behalf in this video. More specifically in response to what he said about this preparing them for future emotional battles. Do you think what you went thru prepared you for future emotional hardships or do you think it hindered you emotionally?”

Like Jon Hasz mentioned in the KLTV video, Teen Mania markets the ESOAL event as a training opportunity to teach participants how to deal with difficult situations later on in life.  The idea is that once you get through day 2, you’re relying solely on God, rather than on yourself.  I honestly can’t say whether or not that was true for me in the end.  I knew I would make it through ESOAL.  In fact, I had several people tell me after the fact that they would have been very surprised if I had quit.  It was a mind game.  And I numbed myself sufficiently to endure until the end.  I knew the facilitators weren’t allowed to cut off my fingers or limbs.  I assumed that if I had seizures, they would have to call an ambulance.  Granted, one facilitator did have me hold a metal bell in my mouth while carrying two truck tires through the obstacle course–that was dangerously foolish.  And I could have been bitten by one of the mice in the coffin I was forced to climb in.  And I did end up with food poisoning from the raw oysters I was forced to eat.

But I didn’t die.  And that is the message they drill into you the entire time you’re out there.  “You’ll be cold and muddy and in pain, but we won’t let you die” (refer to minute 2:10 of KLTV’s part 1 of coverage).  From what I saw, I’m not so sure that they would actually take a stand to keep you from dying.  I literally carried one of my teammates to the bell to ring out because she could no longer move herself.

So ultimately, no, I don’t believe ESOAL has prepared me for facing future hardships.  Repeating mantras like “I am repulsively prideful!”* while somersaulting down a hill did little for strengthening my relationship with God.  Summoning a facilitator’s reminder that “It pays to be a winner, and you’re a loser”* has not been particularly helpful when dealing with difficult situations.  In fact, being inundated with the messages that I’m selfish and prideful and not good enough has left me floundering to figure out how to respond to my husband (and anyone else) when he offers to help me with something.  If I say yes, I immediately question myself, wondering if I’m being selfish for accepting assistance.  I feel guilty if I don’t take on more than half of the chores and emotional baggage in our marriage.  I feel like if I’m not constantly strong, I will let my “team” down, and it will be my fault alone.

Confusingly, it has been the encouragement from those around me, the love and support from family and friends, that has enabled me to face adversity over recent years.  This is the close-knit support system that the Honor Academy taught me not to trust by planting spies who emerged from our teams the first night of ESOAL, using incriminating personal information, and transforming respected corps leaders into cruel facilitators.  It’s no wonder many intern alumni think everyone, including God, is out to get them.  That’s how we were trained to cope with life.

But hey, at least I know that if my child dies, I am capable of numbing all emotion to get through it (see minute 3:12 of video 1).  Which is good because God is obviously anti-emotion.

* I read back through my journals during and following ESOAL, and these are direct quotes from my experience.  My own Brother Core Adviser left me with this message of “encouragement”:  “I don’t want to see you smile or cry for the rest of ESOAL.  Can you not control your emotions?!”
(A Core Adviser leads a unit/corps of 10-15 interns, and the unit is paired with an opposite gender corps)

3 thoughts on “response: ESOAL as preparation

  1. Thanks again for sharing this with the world, Lauren. We can only hope that light being shed on what is going on here will make it stop.

    It just makes me even more livid that while they were trying to “prepare you for future emotional battles” all they were doing was helping you to build walls and close others out. Relationship is an important part of Christianity and it just boggles my mind that they made you question even your most trusted family and friends; not to mention, yourself.

    I really can’t believe what they did to all of you; sadly, at the same time, I can. I’ve seen enough “Christians” do emotional damage to others in the name of Christ. I know enough people who were raised in the church turn completely from a loving God because of his representatives. To see it on such a harsh level is just appalling and I am sorry that you had to undure such crap at the expense of not only your physical well-being, but your emotional as well.

    You are truly and extraordinary person in spite of this experience and I feel blessed to call you my friend.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. Unfortunately, there are too many of us that have had similar experiences and TM doesn’t seem to care or doesn’t want to really address the issue.

    If you are not already a part of our community at please join us!

    Shannon Kish

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