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[This account is from Victims of Memory: Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered Lives, by Mark Pendergrast. Upper Access Books, Hinesburg, Vt. Copyright (c) 1996. All rights reserved. For information to order this book, call Upper Access at 1-800-356-9315, or order it online at or Read our review or visit the Victims of Memory web site.]

Are you a retractor or affected family member? Would you like to share your story for online publication?  Click here.

Laura Pasley, Retractor

Laura Pasley, 39, is one of the first retractors to sue her former therapist successfully, though he settled out of court, so no precedent was set. A somewhat overweight, no-nonsense Southerner, Laura dropped out of college to work in a police station, where she has made a career.

I really was a sad kid, you know, with a real distorted view of myself. I felt invisible growing up. When I told my mother this, she said, "No, you didn't." [laughs] My counselor, Steve, was the first person who really heard me, my anger and need for acceptance. He would sit and listen no matter what, without boundaries, whether it was 3 A.M. or whatever. I could call him any time.

I went into counseling because I had an eating disorder. I'd been bulimic since I was ten, so I'd been throwing up for 22 years. I was desperate, and I'd read about Steve in a book, how this girl supposedly got healed by him in a four-month period. I went to my pastor, who was like my best friend, and he said, "Well, this man is a Christian counselor, so he must be all right." Steve had a masters of divinity. He was overweight and balding, like the perpetual nerd, someone you'd avoid in high school. My Dad tells me he can't believe all these women fell for this short, fat, balding, wimpy-looking guy. But he became my whole life.

At my first counseling session, in 1985, Steve asked if I'd ever been sexually abused. I told him I had. When I was nine, a boy, a stranger, inserted his finger in my vagina through my swimming suit under the water. The biggest trauma was that I couldn't tell anybody. I didn't feel comfortable. I was ashamed. So I told that to Steve, right up front, but it didn't matter to him, because I always remembered it. He told me I needed to find buried stuff with deeper roots. He told me that since I had an eating disorder, it automatically meant I was seriously abused. So we went to work trying to find buried memories.

From the second visit on, I closed my eyes every time. He'd say weird stuff which I couldn't understand. I would tell him I didn't understand him, and he'd say that was okay, that my subconscious caught it. He used big words like counter-super-autonomous. I tell you, he could use some big words!

You have to understand my mind state. I was desperate. It was like I was drowning and this person reached out a hand to me, and he was my only hope. It's like I sold my soul to this man. I became incredibly dependent on him, wouldn't make a move without him. I went to therapy constantly. It ruled my life. I had just bought a house when I met him. My insurance wouldn't cover him, so every penny I got my hands on went to him. I got into incredible debt, went a year and a half without a car.

I'm convinced that Steve didn't do it for the money. At the time, he really felt that he was anointed by God, he had a mission in life. He said it was his calling. It was a combination of ego and a personal mission to save the world.

He had me get a picture of myself as a little girl, and to imagine her as my inner child. I could close my eyes and just see her sitting on the floor, surrounded by toys, playing. She was a tiny little thing with big, sad eyes. Then, one day when I was vacuuming, I had a visualization of a three-year-old boy trying to smother an infant. I couldn't breathe, broke out into a terrible sweat. Steve kept badgering me the whole hour of our next session to get me to accept that my brother had tried to kill me. After that, I would usually have flashbacks either when I was hypnotized or right after the sessions.

At first, he had me relax while he counted backward to hypnotize me. But it got to a point where I could just go into an immediate trance by closing my eyes, and I was his. He had a very hypnotic voice.

Next I started having flashbacks of being in a bathtub, being abused by either my Mom or my brother. I kept having fingernails molest me, hurting my vagina. I couldn't put a face on it, but Steve said it had to be my mother. And it really did physically hurt, like it was happening right then. The focus came to be on my mother. Steve really hated her; I think he had a thing against mothers.

I never totally cut off from my parents. I'm a single mother, and they helped me with my daughter Jennifer. Steve tried to convince me that my parents were sexually abusing her, but I never bought it. My daughter was different from me, so bubbly and self-assured. And they seemed to be so good with her. Steve called a social worker once to evaluate the situation, and I was so scared I would lose my child. I had to take her to counseling, and the lady said, "I see no indication of sexual trauma, but just to be certain, she should have a gynecological exam." No way, I wouldn't do it, I thought it would be too traumatic for her. It's a good thing I didn't, or I might have lost her.

What I was going through was terrible for Jennifer. She loved my parents, and she loved me. And I just hated my mother through this whole thing—it confused Jennifer and tore her up. Jennifer was basically the mother in the family for a while. I would be in my room chain-smoking for days at a time, and she was pretty much left on her own. Also, when I would be having a flashback and would call Steve, he told me it was healthy to beat on the bed in front of her. He said it was a healthy way to exhibit rage.

Along about April 1986, I started having flashbacks of Mom sexually abusing me with a coat hanger. That went on for quite a few months. I would be like a little child, curled up in a ball screaming. It was still going on when we started the group. There were about ten of us. Steve brought in a co-leader, Dave, who had a Ph.D., but it was really Steve who was the leader. They were like Frick and Frack, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Dave wore this very obvious, gross toupee, and he had on real tight pants. He'd sit with his legs spread apart. Mostly, he was just a puppet for Steve.

At first, we just interchanged ideas and talked in the group, and it was kind of neat. I felt a camaraderie with these women. But it kept escalating. Late in 1987, I was really bad off, and I'd accidentally overdosed on Xanax and had nothing in my stomach. I went into the hospital on a Friday night for the first of two stays. They were both 30 days long. Oh, yeah, I was only sick for as long as my insurance lasted, 30 days per calendar year. [laughs] It turns out that Steve was the therapist for the psych ward at the hospital, so I saw him three days a week individually, every day in group, and  on Monday nights.  Plus, on Sundays he'd lead what he called a "spiritual rap session," and he'd wear this ridiculous motorcycle jacket for that.

Anyway, the following Monday night we had the group. Someone said, "You look tired; are you okay?" I lied and said, "Yeah," and Steve lit into me. For two hours, he screamed. He made me talk about my mother, have more flashbacks. It was a very loud, traumatic few hours. They put a coat hanger up on the clay wall for me to throw clods at. Did you see that TV show where those MPD women were doing that? They couldn't hold a candle to me. I had clay on my eyelashes. I was awful. I tell you, I could throw some clay! There's no doubt that I was angry, all right, but it wasn't "getting out" my anger. It was creating it. It just makes you madder. I was so mad by the time I left that group. I was in a rage for four consecutive years.

After that, the group got more like that all the time. The next week, some other girl would scream and carry on. It was like they all wanted to get into that, getting more loud and hysterical. We'd be sitting there tearing up phone books, beating on chairs with bataaka bats, and Steve or Dave would be screaming in our ears, reading aloud from the terrible things we had written about what we had "remembered."

Then the blood drinking and satanic abuse stuff started. First one girl had an alter, then she started cutting herself. That really got Steve's attention. Then it started with more horrific rapes, the whole nine yards. I had these horrible flashbacks of being given cold enemas and various objects inserted into my vagina. Another time, I remembered my brother and his friends hung me by my feet. It was only recently that I realized where those particular images came from. The enemas and insertion came from the book Sybil, and the upside down hanging came from a movie called Deranged, which I saw when I was 17. And I had incorporated some of a story I once wrote about identifying a prostitute's body in the morgue. So different pieces of my life that had nothing to do with me being abused became part of the flashbacks. It's amazing to me that my subconscious mind had served them up without my knowing where they came from.

I eventually came up with scenes of group sexual abuse and being raped by animals. After I had a vision of a dead man hanging from a rope, my grandfather, the murderer, got added to the abuser list. But it was mainly my mother who was the target of my anger. Steve convinced me that she had been trying to kill me for years. I interpreted everything she did that way, so when she bought cookies, it was to encourage my binges. Everybody in the group was encouraged to divorce their families and make the group their new family. If anybody expressed any doubts, Steve and Dave would goad them. "You're in denial." The rest of us would join in. "You want to stay sick for your family. You don't want to get well."

I got worse. I vomited more and more, and my life seemed out of control. Even though I landed twice in the hospital with overdoses, my doctor kept prescribing Xanax for me and pills for every other ailment—to sleep, to stop depression, to mellow out. Some of my friends at the police station where I worked saw me going through this. One officer told me, "This guy is a quack. You're turning into a pillhead." I pulled the phone out of the wall and threw it at him. I said, "You don't understand, I've got to get worse before I get better, and this man is going to save my life."

By 1989, my mind was so cluttered with cults and Satanism, I didn't know where I was half the time. In one of my last sessions, I actually started to talk about some of my real-life problems—money, my daughter, my job—and Steve just sat there with this big smirk on his face. I stopped and said, "What the fuck is your problem?" He said, "You're avoiding your real issues; you're not working." If you weren't screaming or having flashbacks, you weren't working. I just lost it. "Let me tell you something, asshole. Every single day of my life is work, just to stay alive." At that point, I would just sit in my room smoking and thinking of ways to kill my Mom.
All this time, Steve kept telling me I had to get worse before I got better. I was sick of hearing how you have to get worse. I was about as worse as you could get. By that time, I was about to lose my house. I had given every penny, every ounce of energy, to this therapy. I had used up all my sick time and vacation time. I was still horribly bulimic, but I had gained a hundred pounds during the four years of therapy. One day late in 1989, I called him, all excited about writing a book about my experiences at the police station. And you know what he said to me when I called? "You're not finished with the flashbacks." And something snapped. I thought, "Oh, yeah, asshole, I am. Four years of getting worse is enough."

So I quit and went to Linda, a woman therapist. She believed I had been an incest victim, all right, but she didn't egg it on. I couldn't deal with anything except grieving over the loss of Steve for a long time. I was so depressed, I didn't really accomplish anything. Then one day in 1991, I read an article in a local magazine about false memory syndrome, with an interview with parents who had lost their daughter. They sounded like nice people. I had been in the group with their daughter, and I'd heard all these horrible stories about them. So I sought them out and met them. They're no more Satanists than I am. One night Steve told us he had to call the police on them, that they had come to their daughter's house threatening her. It turns out they were bringing her Christmas presents.

It was like a light came on in my head. When I realized what had been done to me, I called a good psychologist. I told him, "These flashbacks seemed so real, I mean they were really real." He said, "They were real, honey, but not reality." I'll never forget those words. I like to fell off this bed, because I had put my life into a fantasy. After I realized that none of these flashbacks were true, I filed my lawsuit. I also went back to Linda, my good counselor. She accepted that I had made up all the abuse. Now, all of us from the group have called it quits except one girl, who is a tragic case. She accused her mother of satanic ritual abuse, of murdering her twin at birth. It didn't matter that there was a single child registered on the birth certificate. The coven had taken care of that.

I strongly recommend getting a good counselor to people coming out of this mess. They need to set boundaries and appropriate limits, to find a way to feel good about themselves—all the stuff these trauma counselors talk about but don't really do. My Mom and I really do have some problems to work out, but nothing about sexual abuse. It's getting better, not so bad. My bulimia is completely gone now. I don't really know why. In these last few months, I've really taken responsibility for my own life. No more playing the blame game. I realized that if anything was going to change in my life, I'd have to do the changing. I'm more assertive now, don't hold things in as much.


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