Eating disorders are a living hell. This disease will take everything from you-your potential, your friends, your education, your smile and your life. Families become desperate as they watch their loved ones wither away physically and mentally. My family’s desperation landed me at Castlewood in 2010.
I knew something was off immediately. First I met with the psychiatrist, Dr. J from Poland. After a 4 minute consult she put me on hefty doses of Valium, Ambien, and Seroquel. This medication regiment was meant to make me a pliable, docile patient. Next I met my therapist, Jim Gerber who seemed like an alright guy. I didn’t understand why he was asking me so many questions about childhood sexual trauma but whatever.
I am an extremely intelligent person which makes me skeptical of most intangible things. I have always been a pathological rebel, meaning I don’t do what everybody else is doing, and I’m not afraid to question authority. These characteristics shaped my personal experience at Castlewood. From the beginning the treatment team knew I would be a tough nut to crack and they were right.
I had no idea that Castlewood specialized in treating sexual trauma. I thought I was fortunate that I didn’t have a history of any abuse whatsoever. Everyday girls would divulge elaborate tales of unspeakable trauma and they were applauded and rewarded with privileges. Most of the groups took place in a second floor room with lots of windows and sunlight. We sat on blankets and cushions in a circle on the floor. One girl would read her narrative (a detailed account of horrific abuse) and everybody would cry and hug. It wasn’t even a group. It was a seance. Suddenly 45 year old Judy morphed into 9 year old Zachary who was one of many alters that she created to protect herself from ongoing abuse. We would treat her like a 9 year old boy until it was safe for Judy to return to her body.
Internal Family Systems therapy (IFS) was the cornerstone of Castlewood’s therapeutic philosophy. The idea was that we are all made up of different “parts” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/internal-family-systems-therapy).
My friend Rebecca used monkeys to describe her parts. She would sit and draw these monkeys for hours. Others would use alter personalities that were created to cope with trauma and abuse. I was having none of it. I hated the concept of parts and I wasn’t shy about it. Jim Gerber kept pushing me to develop my pre-existing parts and I told him I had no “parts” and this was a waste of time. He convinced me to let him hypnotize me so I could get to the core of my trauma. I let him try but it was futile. There was so much pressure to come up with stories of abuse. The only way to progress in the program was by uncovering “memories”. The more perverse the better.
Then there was the satanic ritual abuse. Girls cried as they confessed to being part of a satanic cult that murdered babies. Stories of men in capes taking girls into a cave to be raped and sacrificed became normal. I believed it. I thought these stories were true. I remember listening to these accounts with tears running down my face because I believed that these things actually happened. I began furiously researching satanic ritual abuse only to learn that there is no proof that any such thing ever existed.
I was trapped in east cupcake Missouri with a bunch of women who were alleging everything from gang rape to cannibalizing infants. My parents didn’t believe me but you can’t blame them. The whole thing is outrageous and preposterous.
My parents came to visit twice. I was sobbing and begging them to get me out of there but they had been duped by the man himself. Mark Schwartz convinced them that he was the only person who could help me. The three of us sat in Mark’s office as he told them that I would die if I was removed from his care. My parents thought he was the Messiah and bought every lie he told them.
I didn’t have much contact with Mark for the first few weeks I was there. He ran a group called “sexual healing” which was reserved for the most gut wrenching, most despicable sex abuse stories. I noticed that Mark would listen to these stories with his eyes closed. He would have this twisted little smile on his face. Then I realized that he was fully aroused by the stories told by my peers. Stories that included pedophilia, child pornography and extreme sexual violence. It’s 10 years later and rehashing this still makes me sick to my stomach. I never drank Mark’s Koolaid and my heart goes out to all of those who fell for it. Eating disorders are notorious for infecting vulnerable people-pleasing perfectionists. Mark cashed in on this. He had a group of “Mark’s girls” who had been in and out of Castlewood multiple times over several years. These girls who were so fragile, so lost, and so jaded by this “reality” they shared. They were unable to see that their “savior” was a perverted con artist who got off on their pain. They would stare up at him all starry eyed and enamored by his ability to “cure” them.
Not me. No way. As I started piecing things together I began “cheeking” my medication. I couldn’t afford to let my guard down- not for a second. My parents refused to believe me so I called my insurance company begging them to investigate. There were girls that had been at Castlewood for over 2 years. It was insurance fraud at its finest. Actually one of Mark’s “girls” is now an eating disorder therapist who did her internship at Castlewood.
Because of my noncompliance I started having regular sessions with Mark. His office was adorned with fertility statues and he had a library of sex books. He tried to coax me into being compliant. He even promised to let my dog come stay with me if I behaved. My dog was and still is the most important thing in the world to me. The thought of having her with me in treatment was so enticing that I did something pathetic and shameful. I told Mark and Jim Gerber that my father had hurt me. I absolutely adore my Dad and he never touched me. I was so desperate. I didn’t know what else to do. I am so sorry Dad. You know I love you with all of my heart.
Mark hugged me and he had me share my recovered memory with the group. I finally got to “level 2” (I can’t remember what the levels entailed) and the treatment team was finally pleased with my new progress. A few days later I recanted. I told them that they got played and I had proven my theory that the whole place was a sick circus based on lies.
Mark and Jim became incredible wary of me after that. I was dropped a level and they moved me out of the house that was a bit further away, to the main house where I could be better monitored.
I had been at Castlewood nine weeks when my roommate asked me to support her while she told Mark about her newest recovered “memory”. I went with her and she started telling this story about when she was 6 years old. She was at her friend Carrie’s house and Carrie’s step father made them give him oral sex while he was making hamburgers. He made the girls spit it in the pan he was using and then he made them eat the hamburgers. Right? I know. How does one even come with this?
My roommate and I were sitting on the couch. Mark was sitting in a chair facing us. After the disclosure he got up and sat between us on the couch. He started whispering how proud he was to my roommate and she started rubbing his crotch. Then Mark said “it’s time we show Lindsay how we do things”. He then grabbed my shoulders and tried pushing me down to give him oral sex. I bolted. Next day they sent me to a sober living house in northern LA for a drinking problem I’ve never had.
It’s been almost ten years since I left Castlewood and the memories still haunt me everyday. I have been on PTSD medication to stop the nightmares and flashbacks that plague me regularly. I have been in therapy but I can’t let my guard down and trust therapists. I was angry for many years. Angry at my parents for sending me there and believing Mark, angry that my friend from Castlewood died, angry at the Castlewood staff for allowing this to happen and of course- angry at Mark Schwartz for attempting to rape me in his office. I have been dead inside since Castlewood. That place crushed my soul, crushed my spirit and broke my heart.
For anyone who was there, please step up and share your experience. It’s not your fault. Mark is a narcissistic predator and we have to stop him for good. Please please find it within you to come forward- you will be met with nothing but empathy and support.