Everyone has that moment in life when it hits you: life is moving on. Whether from the death of a loved one, or a heartbreak, or some other kind of tragedy. I’ve been having that moment recently.
I have my first post-graduation job, with benefits and a salary. And it’s exactly in the field and position I wanted. With the extra money I’ve been making, I’ve been treating myself to better food and weekly self-care rituals. I’ve been keeping my promise to de-politicize my social life, with overall good results. Recently, my partner and I celebrated our 3rd beautiful year together, and our relationship is stronger than ever. I’ve got almost enough travel points saved up towards a trip to Arizona, about which I daydream constantly. And my 23rd birthday is in two months.
All this is to say: 5 years after Arachne’s one-on-one cult, I am doing mighty fine.
I used to DREAD this day. I didn’t want to join “the real world,” so to speak. Every up-and-coming adult may feel that way to a degree, but the feeling is particularly intense with recovering cultists.
For cultists who were physically held captive for any length of time, the challenges of joining The Real World are immense. Exiting members often have to start from scratch: learn how to drive, how to use the latest technology, rebuild their social life, and find a way to explain the long gaps in their work history during interviews. Oh, and this is all on top of navigating their post-cult trauma. For some, the task is simply impossible.
Take for instance my late friend Roman, who was born and raised into a family cult that left him so damaged he ultimately committed suicide. I remember once, during a Skype session, he broke down to me, ashamed of where he was in life. He didn’t have an education. He had little work experience and no career path. His severe PTSD and anxiety forced him to live on disability benefits — and spending most of his days at home, with no routine and nowhere to be, only exacerbated his depression and eating disorder behaviors. It was though he’d escaped his mother’s cult only to find that the tyranny of living with her was more stable than being on his own.
But in the case of cultists like myself, who weren’t held prisoner (at least not physically), our inhibitions about joining the Real World may be of a different nature. No point beating around the bush: living in a fantasy world is interesting. It can even be beautiful. And I’ll be embarrassingly honest with you: sometimes I want her delusions back.
In the past, when I have told this to trusted loved ones (except much more fervently, like, “I’D SELL MY SOUL, I SWEAR, I MISS HER SO BAD” — because, you know, I was still in denial that she had abused me) they’ve gawked. Why on Earth would I want to go back? Back to that crazy woman who scorched my mind to dust? Who left me with a myriad of psychological issues, like paranoia and dissociative spells?
Turn on your empathy, please, because what I’m about to say might be the most perplexingly senseless thing I’ve ever said on this blog, and you may even hate me for saying it. But I implore you to try to understand. Try to imagine what this is like:
Part of the beauty of being under Arachne’s spell was that she wove an entire fantasy world just for us. In Arachne’s world (the world that was her mental illness), we could speak telepathically to poppy flowers; we could have synchronized dreams at night, our souls meeting in the astral plane; every stray cat and spider and blackbird we encountered was a special messenger, sent from the Universe to impart either blessings or warnings; we could move objects with our minds and interact with the dead. Everything was magic —everything had a sparkle, a glow, a meaning.
Now, let’s put that in context: before meeting her, I was 16, underweight and malnourished from an extended battle with bulimia. That world was drab. My body was a mess. I felt like there was nothing to live for, until I met her and she dazzled me into “recovery” (read: subservience to her).
Being under her influence, my world came alive. I was 17 and everything was breathing, laughing, wild. Waking up was worthwhile again. She was the master weaver of a new life for me — this colorful tapestry that easily out-brillianced my prior, bone-thin-sick life — and I was hypnotized. She invited me into her delusions, which made me feel special and powerful by proxy.
But I don’t get to have that delusion anymore. Not only because Arachne eventually cut contact with me as a punishment for challenging her, but also because that’s just how Life works. You have to learn to accept what is, instead of pining for what-could-be. You have to grow up one day.
And that’s what I’ve done, and what I’m continuing to do. Grow up. Leaving not only Arachne, but also Roman, behind me. Ready or not, life goes on.
So, I’m moving forward. But what about Arachne?
Arachne: Three decades old. Dropped out of college, because she can’t tolerate authority figures or ‘the establishment’. Had never held down a job for more than four months before she stopped working altogether, in order to live off of other people’s money. Never learned to drive. Never had her own place. Claimed to have never had sex, either.
A 30-year old incompetent directionless immature virgin parasite who fancies herself to be God.
The last time Selene updated me about Arachne, I was told that, in the wake of cutting contact with me and her other victims, she took over an entire floor of her parents’ house. As in, she forced them to move their belongings to other floors of the house. Then she saran-wrapped everything that couldn’t be moved, such as large furniture and food in the shared refrigerator, so that ‘their energy couldn’t contaminate hers’. She spends all day screaming at her family. And apparently, her disabled sibling needs her permission before speaking or using the bathroom.
5 years after my cultic relationship with her, she’s now running a small dictatorship inside the walls of some home, somehow, somewhere, obscured from view. She is not a billion-dollar guru with her own TV channel and bestselling books. Yet all the same, in her obscurity, she damages people beyond repair.
(To be fair, that update was two years ago. Things could have changed since then for the better or worse. But my bet is on worse.)
In each and every way, she has failed at life. I, on the other hand, am thriving.
This is bittersweet. I want to be proud of myself, but in comparison to someone else? Even if that person is my abuser? It makes me feel selfish and spiteful merely to acknowledge how vastly different we turned out. Maybe that’s her conditioning of me: I still feel guilty for calling Reality like it is, for pointing out that The Empress has no clothes. No; stating facts was never my right as her victim.
And some part of me still feels bad for her. Wants her to get help. Believes she is capable of introspection. Wants to rescue her and her family, make them understand what is happening to all of them.
…I still see the good in her. Like the loyal kicked dog she made out of me.
More than that, though, it’s hard to accept my own capability. The whole personalized delusion she crafted for me depended on the belief that she was God and I was her disciple. That she was powerful and I was weak. That she was the arbiter of Reality, while my place was that of the recipient: passive, quiet, unquestioning. And she was right about everything! She was God! … wasn’t she?
So it’s hard to accept that it was me all along who was smart and brave and capable — and that my guru is actually the one with the serious, debilitating issues.
There’s also an element of fear. It’s nerve-wracking to accept this level of responsibility for building my life. That I create my world now is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. Now if I screw up, I can’t blame her. Or anyone. (If you ever wondered why people get sucked into cults, this is one common reason. Cults often take away the uncertainty and anxiety about managing your own affairs.)
Then again: what’s there to be afraid of? The world I’ve created without her is far more stable, healing and prosperous than any world she’s ever created, or could create. I’m clear-headed enough to see that now. Her delusions were pretty, but they were shallow. She could only hide her darkness, and my strength, behind the thin veil of fantasy for so long. And where she emerged from the veil a monster, I emerged a survivor.
Often, in surviving, we find that we were always far stronger than our abusers wanted us to know.