Below is a compilation of the writing that I have posted on my Instagram over the past few weeks, on the topic of spiritual cults. If you’d like to see the originals (with their photos & music), plus some additional things that are in the highlight on my profile, you can go to my Instagram by clicking here.
Joining a spiritual cult can shatter your trust in the world, in yourself, and in God – whatever you perceive that to be.
The recovery is not a quick fix, shove it to the side and pretend it didn’t occur – as much as I have wanted it to be.
There is a story in Women Who Run with the Wolves called Bluebeard, where a girl and her sisters are afraid of a man whose beard is tinted blue. Their initial reaction is to avoid him – their intuition being healthy and alive. But one of them, the youngest, she gives him another chance. Thinking, maybe it’s just me… I could have true love… look at all he is promising… maybe it’s just “my stuff” in the way.
She marries him, gives her life to him. And one day he goes away, and he gives her his keys. He says, you can go in any room in the castle, have all the riches and the most incredible time… you just can’t use this one key, can’t go in this door.
Her sisters come over and together they go through all the doors in the castle, and then they get to the final door. Their curiosity gets the best of them, and they open it. Inside the door is a room filled with blood and skulls, the bodies of all the previous wives he has killed.
She slams the door shut, but the key starts bleeding. The key bleeds and bleeds and no matter what she does with the key it will not stop spouting blood, all over everything.
The key, bound to tell the truth.
My body bled for a year and a half straight. Like the bleeding key, on the most significant day, the climax, it was like I was hemorrhaging out of my womb.
Our bodies always know the truth.
After leaving my nervous system was so shaken that I could not be alone in our home, alone in the dark, alone in places I traveled to – something that used to be my favorite thing to do. Things I had healed many years ago resurfaced. It took a very long time to learn that this is a normal response to a relationship with a narcissist.
It took so long because I kept thinking, I am not a victim, I do not need help.
I thought, I am so dumb, I am so stupid, so naive… how could I have..? .. I am being ridiculous, overreacting… how, how, how?
But the truth is:
I am pretty smart. I am also open-minded, trusting in nature, and idealistic.
What I lacked, was the life experience to know when to be discerning, and when to listen when the flags were bright red from the beginning.
See, after leaving the biggest question I had was: were any of these beliefs ever real in the first place?
It turns out that most spiritual cults have really similar teachings.
They often abhor victim consciousness, and spend quite a bit of energy teaching people how they are not victims.
They teach that everything in life is happening “for” us instead of “to” us.
They teach us to take 100% responsibility for everything.
They offer a new “roadmap” for reality.
They convince members that they know the truth, and that the members are making the world a better place by following the truth. The leader always claims to know the truth better than anybody else. The leader also often doesn’t really follow their own teachings unless convenient for them.
Gosh and it is so nourishing at first, because it feels like you have finally found “the way,” someone finally sees you, and you get to be part of a superior group, where you’re better than everyone else. It feels ground-breaking, and healing.
This isn’t special and unique to one cult nor is it information I made up, it’s all over the internet if you google “spiritual cults” and “mind control” and “bite model cults” and “narcissistic traits,” or watch something like “how to be a cult leader” on Netflix.
It got me thinking about how I found myself in the New Age world at the age of 19, going through severe loss – and how yoga saved my life, initially.
And then how all these teachings started to filter in, people started to tell me how my anger was just a projection, everything I was experiencing was because of me, not because anything was wrong in the world.
And I left at 22.. but then I found my way back a couple years later, without really realizing it at first.
I’ve had some really healthy teachers and profound experiences along the way. And I have also had some very unhealthy ones.
But when I think back… the ones who were healthy for me didn’t teach these beliefs.
I used to think that these teachings were good and useful, and it was just the fact that people abused them that was unfortunate.
Now I wonder how much is useful at all.
Is it a good thing if my core life beliefs are ones that people use to manipulate and abuse people with?
What does that say about my beliefs?
Are these beliefs even serving me, if I’m deeply honest?
Are they serving my health, my relationships, my joy?
And if I don’t have these beliefs anymore… then what is left?
What is left is the shimmers in the ocean and the sunlight.
What is left, is the plants that appear when I need them and the songs that arise from my womb, the loving touch of friends and the chatter of the birds, the instrument in my throat and my husband’s smiling eyes, the crabs crawling on the rocks and the fresh eggs delivered to my door.
What is left is me realizing I did nothing wrong. Stopping the doubting and spinning in my brain. And saying, I trust me.
I remember who I am.
We do form projections…. Sometimes.
It is useful to take responsibility…. Sometimes.
We create what is happening…. In some ways.
But black and white is a lot more flashy – and controllable – than endless shades of grey.
These days I hold a lot more questions than answers and I find a lot of peace in that.
I also find that my trust in life and spirit is sourced from my trust in myself and who I know myself to be.
When I have compassion and love for myself, it is like that trust never left.
Or perhaps, it is even deeper now that I have experienced forgetting it.
At first I felt seen, recognized, special. Like someone finally saw this thing in me that I have always felt.
And this thing I have always felt is real. In some ways it is the most real thing about my life, to me. This invisible knowing, the thing I have trusted most, this thing I had always referred to in my relationship to it as Life. The current of Life.
And what to do, when most people are wandering about their lives like they don’t even feel that at all? They don’t know it’s there. They are in what feels like a different reality. One I don’t fit in, because I talk to the trees and I follow this thread that life shows me.
So when someone came along that gave it language, gave it a name, told me what I was experiencing and that it was special and recognized, I felt so grateful that I did not give weight to anything else. And when I did notice things I ignored them, because I have always trusted this deeper thing that I feel and I thought that someone knew it better than I did.
And indoctrination in a cult happens slowly. It happens so slowly, so many little tests to see how you respond and what your loyalty is, that you don’t notice. And then by the time you start to notice you have learned to question everything you feel, and in this way you are shut out from yourself.
At some point I started to wonder: I am making so much money but why is my health deteriorating? And also, where did my creativity go? Not the creativity I could manufacture but the real one, the one that had birthed two books of poetry and the one that had previously led my life? Rapidly it felt like it started to disappear and I blamed this on myself.
It was the same with my sex, the thing that had opened so beautifully in the years prior and then that felt like it slowly shut down.
A fact I learned about cults: all cults will always give you a reason for why something you are experiencing is your fault, not a fault of the group.
The most cruel piece was that when I left I felt like it had ripped my connection to life away from me because suddenly for the first time I questioned: was any of what I have ever felt in my whole life, real?
Not just my time there – but any of it, ever?
Was I just absolutely crazy?
Like it took the most tender piece of my heart and pulled it out of my body and crumpled it on the floor, and I was lost without the connection to this.
And to be honest while I can’t say I am grateful to any of these people at all, I will say that I feel grateful to life, that I have learned so much more about the difference between what is real and what is a deception.
And even while I was so shaken and so confused in so many ways, I found my health begin to return. My s x blossomed, I remembered how it used to feel. My creativity, finally, has reappeared in the way I used to feel it.
And my connection to life did too.
I’m not saying that “everything is perfect and healed now,” there are still some repercussions I’m dealing with. Things that I think are from my profound disconnection from myself and blame of myself, both during my time there and stumbling along once I left. And who knows, I don’t think we are ever perfect and healed, anyway.
I remember someone else leaving before me and saying that the price she had to pay was high. I remember thinking, what could that mean? And I discounted it – in fact I tore apart what she wrote with the rest of my group.
Now I know what it means. And it’s true – for me the price was high and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
The word “narcissist” used to not mean anything to me. Honestly, I thought the people who used it were annoying – everyone is just calling everyone a narcissist nowadays, is what it felt like.
In retrospect this is because I had no idea that narcissists/sociopaths really existed. I had never (to my knowledge) met one. Sure I had heard of really terrible people who harm others but that was the movies to me. It wasn’t real life. I had led my life from a very trusting place. And I believed that people were good at heart.
I did not know that a sociopathic narcissist can present as your everyday human, with a convincing sense of grandeur. I did not know that they have a very brilliant way of seeing people and that is what draws other people in. I did not know that the connections in their brains literally do not get wired properly as children. I did not know what manipulation really meant. I thought I was too smart to be manipulated.
I had watched plenty of documentaries on cults. And I said, good thing someone didn’t find me earlier, because when I was younger I might have been susceptible. I thought the people who joined cults should be responsible for their choices. And this was because I didn’t understand what a cult was, either. In my cult, we talked often about how we were either not a cult, or else everything was a cult. Someone said, if this is a cult it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me!! And I agreed.
And you cannot see it on the inside. I think this is the most wild part and the thing that has taken me so long to really even begin to comprehend. When I started to see the entire web for what it was I was stunned. Because I had been so loyal. I was so convinced it was not happening to me.
The thing that’s important to understand about cults is that there are often levels of intense abuse that happen behind the scenes. Tiny bits can sometimes be seen from the outside. It might slip out every so often when someone leaves, or does something the leader doesn’t like.
But for the most part the worst is hidden, and only happens to certain people. Or in front of people who are so manipulated that they have learned to not experience abuse as abuse.
So when people come out and say I had a bad experience, other people in the cult think, this person is “being a victim” and is just crazy.
I thought lots of people were crazy.
I do think that when we have a foundation of real love in our lives, that can be part of what breaks the spell. I’m not saying it will prevent you from getting pulled in; it won’t. But I think it becomes part of what gets people out, because eventually, if they see enough, eventually what is being presented as “love” doesn’t match, and they will start to question.
I have been thinking a lot about victim consciousness. Obviously there are some useful things in victim consciousness teachings otherwise how would anyone believe it? I used to teach victim consciousness to everyone who worked with me. I thought it was the best.
But one of the things it does that is useful to the cult leader is it prevents victims from speaking, both at all and also to one another. When people leave they don’t speak because they don’t want to be seen as a victim. Often they are still terrified of the leader – heck, people inside and outside the cult are terrified of the leader. So nobody talks.
But the beautiful thing that does happen when someone is willing to speak is that other people who cannot speak, then start to speak to them. And that is when the whole web becomes entirely visible, entirely undone. Because there are patterns that match, and stories that are so much worse, and everything terribly, horrifically clicks into place.
I have never seen anything quite like this. A total twisting of truth. It masquerades as truth because it has hints of real truth, enough to feel real. But it is the opposite.
You will ask me again and again, who? What cult? But it doesn’t matter. The patterns are the same. Narcissists and spiritual cults across the board. That’s the best part. I thought what I was in was special, which is laughable when looking at the others, and seeing how they are just copies of the same thing, with different language.
A thing I want to elaborate on from my post is that there are many reasons someone might not speak up.
I wrote that fear of being a victim and fear of the cult leader are reasons people don’t speak. But those are just some reasons.
Other reasons people do not speak are because they are still too traumatized from their experience and do not feel strong enough. Or because they are exhausted from what happened and do not want to give it any more energy. Or because they are afraid of legal action. Or because they are afraid for their safety. Or because they are still using the beliefs of the cult against themselves. Or fear of retribution. Or so many other reasons.
I used to feel like people should always speak up and call things out when things happened to them.
I no longer feel this way. I mean I personally feel that I have to do it but it took me a long time because of a combination of these reasons. I completely understand why someone else wouldn’t.
When I started writing these posts it was because for the last year I have felt suffocated.
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, in some ways, to stay silent. To recognize after the backlash when I spoke last fall that I simply wasn’t strong enough yet. That I was still really disoriented, in shock, and confused. My nervous system was all over the place. I could not handle any more input or reactions from anyone. I needed to retreat and take care of myself. To spend a lot of time in quiet, in nature, and let myself gradually recover and see more clearly.
So many times this year I have written things, spoken things, I could not share. And I felt stifled every time. Because I knew that when I did share, there would be more backlash, and I wasn’t emotionally or energetically ready to experience it. I also knew that for me, it was not a matter of if, but a matter of when. When was I going to feel ready. When was it going to be time. So many times I said to my husband, but when? When will I be able to speak?
What I did not expect is that a lot would come to light from speaking publicly. One thing is that there does not seem to be limits for how evil some people are (“evil” is a word I will come back to another time). There is no “too low” for the lies they will make up or the way they will treat others, and they will do it all while pretending they are wonderful. There are no rules, in this world, where normal morals do not seem to exist.
This is a really hard thing to grasp, I think, maybe the hardest. To try to twist your brain around to fathom theirs. To still have to separate more pieces of your idea of who they were from who they actually are. It’s easier to not see it at all. And I’ve also received continuous validation and confirmation of my initial sense that something was very off. And, that it was so much worse than I thought.
When I first started sharing about this I thought I would just make one post and leave social media again. But then, it felt more like I pulled a dam away from a river. I don’t know where the end is at this point and I’m just along for the ride. I hope it’s soon, but it doesn’t seem like it is up to me.
It has been really healing and nourishing for me, to speak. Hard, too. But really freeing.
I think sometimes this is all we can do. To make art out of our pain, our grief. To grapple with questions by creating something from the grappling. Not for any purpose, other than creation itself. And whether we share it with one person or with the world, I think we allow ourselves to be seen in it through that creation. Through what we write, or speak, or sing, or dance, or paint, through the photos we take, the films we make, all of the ways we turn what we feel into something else. It allows it to nourish and connect us instead of it eating away at us.
And I feel that is part of both the beauty and the solace of living. To be able to create and experience it all, together. I value that a lot.