— This piece is a further collection of posts I have been sharing on Instagram (@demetragray__) about my experience in a spiritual cult. To read the first collection click here.
Some straight facts about what has happened to people when they left the cult.
These are things that have happened to people so many times that they are not possible to trace to one person. The singular stories I am keeping private.
– Being messaged, emailed, texted, called by the leader over and over again, typically nonstop til the person blocks the leader, and sometimes even after
– Alternatively being told, but I love you so much and crying, and then the next moment yelled at and criticized
– Bodies wrecked for months/years afterwards. Multiple people have almost died (from their bodies/minds responses to their experience)
– The sensation that something dark is “feeding” off their energy and trying to get into their energy
– Even when leaving kindly at the end of their contract, they get a little passive aggressive jab thrown in .. “it’s too bad you’re leaving without having learned to trust the feminine.”
– People who leave often have many public posts made about them, and are analyzed behind the scenes for why they left and how they are wrong, as “teachings” for the community
– People have signed contracts saying they can’t say one bad word about anything to do with the leader
– People are threatened with lawsuits
– The leader will contact people sometimes for months & YEARS after they leave, making sure they are going to stay silent
– The leader will demean the character of people who left to the rest of the cult but then the next moment say “but I love her and I know she’ll come back.” The person never does.
It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that the reason people like this get away with what they do is because people are (understandably) traumatized into silence.
And often because of the public perception of the leader, people assume that they are the only ones it has happened to.
But they are not the only ones, and when people begin talking to one another, the patterns become very clear.
When I left I shut down my business. My baby, the thing I had cared for and grown for 5 years. I cannot overstate the level of confusion that I felt. Most of my world was shattering. I would sit on a chair outside and stare at the leaves on the trees and just cry and cry. Nothing made sense.
The person I thought I loved so much never existed. My friends lied to save themselves and used the beliefs of the cult against me. Everyone went into full defense of the cult. And I knew how this would play out; I had seen it so many times before. I had participated in it before.
I felt my whole world view collapse. Something I had thought so solid just crumbled. I didn’t know what I believed. I had no trust in myself.
I felt like I had no right to continue teaching and guiding others when I had somehow gotten so lost myself. And I couldn’t even see quite how I had gotten so lost. How could I have been deceived to such an extent all while thinking I was becoming more myself than ever?
And the cult beliefs had infiltrated so much of my work. I taught the same things. I taught things I had learned in the past 6 years of absorbing these teachings that I thought were coming from different places but were really coming from the same place (see my “cult” highlight for more details).
I taught it filtered through me, but it was all over my work with people. I had even adopted the cult leader’s intensity and certainty, in ways (two traits I will touch more on soon). People were afraid of me and I was told that was a good thing.
I closed down everything I had been holding. The work that was making me multi-six figures, the thing I had always wanted to build. I didn’t want any of it anymore, I was in no state to do it, and I knew that it all had to die. I loved my clients, but it all felt contaminated.
For a while I considered not coaching at all, ever again. I was sick of the flashy online world. I did not work at all, for months. This was the best decision I could have possibly made.
Slowly, though, it came back.
I work with people differently now. Less “this is the way” and trying to “nail” them with my sight. More gently walking together into the places they hold pain or stickiness and seeing what we discover. I find my work more powerful now, paradoxically, coming from this place of uncertainty and curiosity.
I have grown to understand very deeply that our sight can be used for manipulation or for love. I think coaches trained by cult leaders are manipulating unintentionally or without really understanding what they are doing. And I think some people do it intentionally.
I brought a lot of people into the cult. And I taught a decent amount of cult-like beliefs. This is not something I beat myself up over, but I do feel remorse for it. I think that is something that is healthy to feel. I was manipulated, and more people were manipulated through me. Still are. And they won’t see until they see. Some may never see.
People have asked me, what would you say to someone who is still in a cult? And I know this is not the answer anyone wants to hear, but there is absolutely nothing anyone could have ever said to me to convince me that I was in a cult. We build our minds around it, it becomes this self-protecting mechanism that lashes out and knows how to use the cult mindset to attack anything that tries to reveal it.
We protect our beliefs and the leader at all costs because that is the place we are getting what *appears to be* honesty and true love, this community that is all united around the same thing. We are taught that any part of us that is in resistance to the cult is bad and our own stuff to examine, which creates a cycle that keeps us trapped. I believed fully until I didn’t. This seeing of the truth happens for people in different ways.
One thing I will say, though, is that for all my loyalty, all my defensiveness, all the ways I was willing to tear everything down that was in opposition to my new world… every time I saw someone leave and speak about their experience, there was the tiniest little part of me that was still awake.
My intuition, my spirit (as someone put it to me recently), this little spark that had known from the beginning and was smothered and choked down over time.
I never would have admitted it even to myself, but every post about cults and abuse, every moment of something not feeling right, kept this little part of me alive.
And finally when the circumstances were right this little spark jumped into a flame, and that was the part of me that saved my life.
Perhaps the hardest belief for me to rewire has been the idea that I am responsible for everything that happens to me.
The idea that we are choosing our experiences, the sole creators of our own lives, that somehow everything in our existence is a direct reflection of us.
When I step outside of it, the idea seems absurd, and laughably self (and human)-centric. But it still sticks in my mind. I also wonder if the reason this is so pervasive in spiritual communities is because it gives us this sense of false power over everything. If somehow we are able to “get off” on all things, to believe that every single thing that happens is “for” us, then even when hard things happen, it means that if we could just shift ourselves, we would be back in control.
I believed “everything happened for a reason” until my brother was in his accident when I was 19. And even though I dropped that belief after that, somehow it crept back in, wearing different clothes. This time it looked like high-end coaches, talking about how every part of our experience could be alchemized for our benefit. How if we could just get to the perfect right place in our minds, then we will have what we want.
I do think that taking responsibility for my part in things has brought a lot of beauty into my life. And I think that this kind of self-examination is necessary for being in truly healthy relationship with others and with the world around us. There is so much nuance in this.
It can feel so empowering to decide we will no longer be victims to any part of life. To decide that no matter what occurs, we are the ones who are in control.
But the problem with wearing this belief like a blanket was that when something happened where I actually was a victim, it felt like I ran full speed, head first into a wall.
Because these things could no longer fit together. I either had my part in the experience, it was my fault somehow, I had done something wrong, I could not be trusted….. or … I was a victim.
And for a while I chose the first one. Even though I knew what I experienced was wrong, I still felt like it was my fault for being able to be deceived, for being naive enough to be manipulated, for somehow not knowing what was going to occur. How did I call it in, right?
It has been strange to come into a place of realizing that actually, I did not do anything wrong.
Instead I feel I was expertly manipulated and taken advantage of and used for someone else’s benefit.
I mean, it is kind of a disempowering stance to take, on the surface.
How powerful can I be, after all, if my mind is so malleable? If so easily, I turn against the people who really love me, and become a pawn in the cult mind game?
Someone came in my inbox the other day saying she felt bad for what I was going through, but really just felt like if I had more compassion and had a bigger heart, I would have not joined the cult. I somehow would have known, because my good heart would have told me that I was wrong. And when I mimicked the behavior of the leader, I would have known, if I actually cared, that this is not the way to treat others.
And I understand this thought process, because that is the way I used to think. And all I can say to that is that when you join a cult the cult beliefs become your own, and you learn to detach yourself from your emotions, all while thinking you are even more connected to your emotions.
I went back the other day to look at my texts between a close friend and me, our friendship ended about a year into my time in the cult. She had texted me something that bothered me because she was in pain, and instead of being with her, I went from 0 to 100. My tone was cold, jagged, cutting. How dare she try to rescue me, put her victimhood on me.
To me at the time, THAT was loving. Because that’s what I was being told, was love. I felt like I was having boundaries, and I was in the right. I felt like she was being gross for putting her feelings on me.
It was scary to read back now because I couldn’t believe that that was how I acted. But I remember how correct I felt writing it, like I was protecting myself, the leader, and the cult. We were the ones doing things the right way, and everybody else was wrong. Sam Vaknin talks about how narcissism can be contagious; people close to the narcissist often begin acting similarly.
I also think that it is natural for humans to think in this way, like this woman in my inbox. We all want to believe it cannot happen to us.
It’s why when someone dies we often want to know – but exactly how? Tell me what they were doing wrong so I know it could not have been me?
I learned a new, completely “sovereign” way of being. And it felt relieving at first, I think because it felt like I was in control. If I can “get off” on everything that happens, no one can have power over me, or so it seems.
Someone else in my inbox had a brilliant way of describing this, how it is like these cults teach spiritual self obsession that succeeds in keeping people more isolated. You would think that most helpful spiritual or psychological practices would help people feel and become more connected to one another, to their communities, to their in-person lives. But in cults what it ends up doing is the opposite.
People become more separate, more special, unrelateable, and feel like the only people they can hang out with are.. the other people in the cult.
I remember on an early call, I cried to the leader, because multiple friends of mine didn’t want to be my friend anymore, I think it was around a month or two after I had joined. “I feel like I don’t have any friends,” I said, sobbing.
And she smiled and said, none of us have any friends! And everybody laughed, nodding in agreement.
And it became reframed in my mind in this way – your energy is just so powerful that people can’t be around you, can’t deal with being friends with you. People like us, don’t get to have friends. That’s just the way that it is.
This was a new perspective for me and gave me an easy out. Oh, it’s just because I’m so powerful, that’s why, and so I get to be friends with these other equally special people instead. (What “friends” really means in this context is debatable, but I will save that for another time).
It has been quite humbling to realize that I am actually not in control of every single little thing that happens to me.
That my body, she has her own timeline. That there are ancestral patterns in my life that I might not ever have control over. That some events that happen, are simply not up to us.
When we die, whether we get sick, someone leaving us, someone else dying, life crises. Not fully up to us.
Maybe we have influence, maybe we don’t.
And that can be a scary thought.
It was alleged that my brother’s accident happened because a car company knew they should have recalled the car he had been driving and they did not.
I remember thinking at the time, did someone really choose this purposely? And deciding that no one could ever be that cruel, they must have just been doing what was best for them, and somehow not realizing what could happen. Shoving the question down, so I did not have to consider what that would mean about the world.
It’s interesting, somehow I think I have spent the last 12 years of my life grappling unconsciously with this question. And in a way everything that has happened to me this year has shown me the answer so clearly.
Yes, some people are truly horrible.
Yes, evil exists.
Yes, some people do not have a conscience.
And sometimes they cause things to happen that are out of our control.
I don’t know if I would say I feel more “powerful” being a victim. But I do know that realizing that I was a victim is something that has allowed me to actually begin to heal, rather than being stuck in this place of self-questioning and blame. It’s not like, oh now poor me forever and I can’t move on with my life.
To me it just feels like a fact: this happened and it wasn’t my fault. I feel at home in myself, I trust myself. I feel a very humbled sense of peace in life. And a sense of appreciation for how fragile we all are, in this strange way I don’t quite know how to explain.
I remember being teased at school when I was young for how gullible I was. How trusting.
I remember my father saying with love, Demetra really is not very street smart, I am worried about her safety.
And what I have realized is that being trusting, the innocence of life, is not the problem. People who take advantage of this, are the problem.
And a note on why I am using my Instagram – @demetragray__ – to document all of this:
If you haven’t noticed, I am currently using my Instagram to document my recovery from being in a spiritual cult.
I do not *want* to be doing this. I would love to go back off of social media, pretend the cult never existed, and focus on anything else. I am still frankly embarrassed for anyone to know I was in a cult. I would like to never have to say “I was in a cult” and watch people’s faces try to understand what that even means. I am a lot more interested in about 5000 other things than I am in sharing about cults.
I spent two years in this online spiritual cult. And one year out. And in this last year I did a lot of staying quiet, creating and rooting into a more nourishing in person life, and thinking about things.
And while that was necessary, something was missing for me that was preventing me from really healing. And what that was, was my voice.
Interestingly this is one of the things I feel the cult took away from me over time. Writing and sharing from my anger, my grief, pain, questions. This energy was all termed “being on the victim triangle” which was of course, the wrong way to be.
So I learned to be afraid of this feeling, this way that I want to share what I am going through from the feelings themselves and this obsessive kind of pull to uncover what happened.
As you might be able to imagine it has been immensely healing for me to speak.
Among many other things it gives me the chance to really start to make sense of what happened to me.
This is not my new business. I originally shut my business down last fall because so much of what I was teaching had become intertwined with cult language. And then I started working again with my husband earlier this year. We have a membership together, I make courses about grief and self love and do some 1:1 work. If you want to hear about that the place to go is my email list.
This account (for the time being) is not that.
Right now it is just a place for me to create something out of what has happened. To piece it all together.
I don’t know if I will be done sharing about this tomorrow or in months from now. What I do know is that I am learning so much and making sense of so much and I want a place to share it. As long as I have things I want to share that is what I will do.
And even through the pain and damage this has caused to me and many, what I am sensing also is just my natural sense of curiosity, really lit up. Because it is truly quite fascinating. How can people be this way? What makes cult leaders so attractive to others? How was it possible for me to be so manipulated by something for two years and have no idea what was happening? To be very convinced the whole time that I was only becoming more myself?
That’s what I’m doing here, working through this. So whether you are new here or have been here for a while & choose to stay, welcome.
— Click here to view my Instagram. There are additional stories on there and everything is collected in the “cult” highlight.