Personal experience: how I escaped from the monastery after 12 years of monasticism, realizing that God was not there
Florencia Luce, a girl from a prosperous large family, lived in the monastery for 12 years, leaving there as a teenager. She escaped from a secluded monastery due to control and psychological manipulation and began a new life, reports with the BBC.
One morning, without asking permission, Florencia Luce picked up the phone and called the family. “Wait for me at home. I need to talk to you,” she said into the phone.
She gathered her things and went outside.
This decision has been brewing in her head for many years. And one December morning, she decided to run away from the secluded monastery, where she spent 12 years.
In the monastery, Florencia was not kept by force. But the control and psychological manipulation she said she experienced there kept her from leaving sooner.
She grew up in a middle-class family in Buenos Aires and today perceives her experience as the result of her own confusion and need to find herself in a large family.
She also believes that his own idealism and bad advice from a spiritual mentor led him astray.
Florencia admits that there were “beautiful moments” in monasticism, but they were overshadowed by petty problems, far from the spiritual life that she aspired to when she went to the monastery.
However, to break with this life, it took her more than ten years.
She now lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughter.
Here is her story.
Childhood and youth
Florencia grew up in Buenos Aires in a middle-class family with five children. The family attended church, but it was not religious. Florencia went to a regular school. At the age of 19, she began to think about a religious vocation.
While studying agriculture at the Catholic University, she felt the call.
“It was very sudden and fast. I remember the moment when I had a clear feeling that God was calling me - I just physically felt it, ”she says.
Her spiritual guide spoke about the convent and assured Florencia that she was ideal for the contemplative monastic life.
“When I think about it now, I realize that that “religious call” was partly my youthful ecstasy, a search for myself. I threw myself into religion in part because I felt the need to leave my parental home,” she says.
Some of her friends got married at 20 to escape parental control, and Florencia got the opportunity to become a nun.
Her family lived together, but there were always a lot of people in the house, and Florencia did not have enough personal space. Besides, the idealist inside of her wanted to do something for the world.
It was a mistake, an impulse.
Her parents did not understand her decision, and her brothers and sisters told Florencia that she was crazy. Before her monastic life, she had many friends. She was a sociable person, loved sports, met a guy.
But when Florencia talked to the abbess of the monastery, she didn’t think about anything else. She was accepted immediately - they were not advised to wait, think, or graduate from the university first.
“My weak faith was also beyond doubt. When I heard about the monastic life, it seemed ideal to me,” the woman says.
In the monastery, communication with the outside world is cut off. Florencia brought with her only the simplest clothes - no books, radio and personal items.
She was directed to a young woman who guided and explained the order and the rules that had to be followed - this is how the monastic world works. For example, there is a rule of silence: while you are cooking, cleaning or going to class, you cannot talk.
A nun's day consists of liturgy, meditation, study, work, and prayer.
“We prayed for family or conflict resolution. Today, for example, it would be a war in Ukraine. What to pray for was decided by the abbess. Every day she received a fresh newspaper, cut out the articles she thought were of interest and left them in the room where we could read them,” says Florencia. - The information was filtered, there was no other access: the source was only the abbess or the family (but their visits became less and less frequent). All this should have brought me closer to God.”
Florencia says she is very fond of her sisters. “These were spiritual people who became my family. But there were many conflicts with them. The monastery is an extremely closed environment with many rules being broken,” she recalls.
Florencia says nuns are expected to be spiritually pure and devoted. According to her, this is such an ambitious goal that few people can achieve it. “I also saw a lot of people who shouldn't be there. And I realized that this is a world of envy and competition, where there are groups and people who want to “make a career”, like in a business company,” says Florencia.
The monastery is a vertical organization, where the abbess is the spiritual mentor of each nun. She is the only one with whom conflicts are allowed to be discussed, and she herself often finds herself at the epicenter of them, as the nuns seek her attention and compete for her favor.
Florencia says that it was the same with the likes and dislikes of other nuns - this is how unhealthy relationships arose.
“We lived by these connections, sought to attract attention. Life in the name of God gradually turned into life in the name of the abbess. All this led to mental problems that manifested themselves in various diseases. Many sisters suffered from stomach problems and headaches, but when they were examined by a doctor, nothing was found,” the woman says.
The girls lived in a closed space. According to Florencia, they perceived a small problem as a disaster, constantly making an elephant out of a fly. And since they were forbidden to speak, they were stuck in constant thoughts about insignificant things.
In addition, the woman says, they lacked physical activity and sports.
“The monastery was full of confused young women. This environment was mentally and emotionally very draining, and one day I asked myself: what am I doing there anyway? Florencia says.
Already in the first year, she began to doubt whether she really had a religious vocation. But at first she liked life in the monastery - she loved to study and sing.
There were certain difficulties, but the abbess explained that this happens to all nuns. She also told Florencia that she had adapted very well and had a real calling.
“When I started talking about wanting to leave, she cried and that always made me stay. I do not think that she had bad intentions, rather she wanted more educated girls in the monastery. The abbess took us under her wing because she hoped she could shape us for a monastic future,” the woman says.
Since Florencia knew how to drive a car, the abbess took her to her mother, to cafes or to shop for shopping.
It was officially forbidden, and Florencia could not tell anyone anything.
At first she liked all this, but then it caused an internal crisis.
“The moment came when I realized that by choosing life in a monastery, I wanted to change myself and help change the world, but I have to take care of the little things,” says Florencia. “I prayed, but the most important thing was to establish good relationships with other nuns so that they would give better work than cleaning toilets.”
However, the trigger was a trip to a monastery in France, where Florencia was sent to help. When she returned, she felt that the attitude towards her had changed.
Then her grandmother died, with whom they were very close. She was not allowed to attend the funeral, but was allowed to have tea with the Mother Superior.
This helped Florencia see things more clearly. She doubted her calling even more, and most importantly, she realized that she was becoming mentally ill.
So after 12 years, she finally decided to break with that life.
She tried many times to leave, but the Mother Superior always urged her to stay. Therefore, Florencia stopped talking to her, decided everything herself and one day simply left a letter on her desk.
The girl took her things and, pretending to be on business, asked to open the door for her.
“I don't see it as an escape. It was the only way to get out of psychological and emotional slavery. But in the monastery I was criticized for such an act. I didn’t have a plan of action, but I knew that I had to leave there and that I would receive the support of my family,” the woman says.
It was a very touching meeting. Many years passed, and the family was unaware of the internal conflicts of Florencia. They talked, cried and were very happy.
When Florencia came out, she was pale, thin and hardly ate anything. It took weeks to physically recover. Gradually, she began to study, got a job. She met a man whom she later married.
“Therapy and support from family and friends helped me get over my anguish. I was very lucky,” the woman says. - Back in the real world, I easily adapted - it was like returning a fish to the water. I thought a lot about why I spent so many years in the monastery. I have not fully answered this question yet.
“I liked the life there, the time that was given for studying or reading, but I think that the main factor was the influence of the abbess, a very charismatic woman who had great power over everyone,” recalls Florencia.
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The same question arises for people who remain in a sect or in a marriage that destroys them. The woman says that she does not regret anything, that it was an important experience. She regrets only that she devoted too much time to this.
Reflections and advice
“My experience has not broken my faith in God or in the spiritual life, but now I find it in literary texts or while listening to a concert, and not in the institution of the church, whose orders, disagreements and hypocrisy I do not accept,” says Florencia.
She advises anyone thinking about the monastic life not to rush into another experience before choosing this path.
“I would ask priests not to involve young people. Give them time to think, because when they are vulnerable, they believe 100% that the word of the priest is the word of God,” says Florencia.
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