It’s happening again, right at this moment. I feel insatiably hollow. Even typing these words is taking tremendous effort.
I don’t write this to garner pity or seek cures. There is nothing you, or anyone, can do to fix this. I write this because I learned long ago that the only way to even manage these episodes of unrelenting grief — let alone feel better — is to articulate them. So here are the words:
I feel sad.
I feel empty.
I feel hopeless.
I’m afraid I’ll never find spiritual fulfillment again.
I miss the “high” I got from the cult.
I’ve been highly functional for a while now — a year, in fact. At any given moment, I’m juggling about 4 creative projects at once. My creativity has been sustained and productive.
But once in awhile, inevitably, I run out of steam and need to sit back for a bit. No one can work 24/7, even in a manic episode, even when it’s something they enjoy more than food or sex. So I sit back, like right now. I haven’t added to my writing projects (a stage play and a novel, in case you’re wondering) in days.
Without these distractions, a painful awareness creeps in. It’s becoming clear that I haven’t just been creating because it’s fun to write stuff. I’ve been creating because I want to fill my head with colors and characters and fantasies, good feelings. When they’re gone, all that’s left to think about is how empty I feel. I’ve been creating to fulfill, yes, but also to avoid. This feeling. Or this lack of feeling, really.
Ah, I think I’m dissociating.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell, because there are so many ways a dissociative episode can feel. Sometimes I am absolutely paralyzed by it, unable to speak or even have verbal thoughts; sometimes it makes me feel so far-away and out-of-touch that I walk into traffic without thinking; and sometimes, like now, I can still talk — quite eloquently, as you can see — but I feel like it’s not me writing. It’s somebody else. And god, I hate this somebody-else. She’s so annoying.
I am layers and layers, watching the outermost layer — my body — write pointless words.
Or I’m not layers, I’m fragments, all watching each other, like pieces of a broken mirror reflecting the other pieces.
I don’t know how to come back together.
I’m not talking split personalities. I’m talking instability and uncertainty. I can’t choose one focal point, one perspective.
I know for certain that I am alive and aware in the present moment. But I can’t connect with it.
I also know that I have options:
I could choose to experience Now through my body — feel my hands typing, drink tea and feel its warmth cascade down into my belly.
Or I could choose to experience Now through my mind — observe, analyze, articulate, think think think.
Or I could choose to experience Now through my feelings — sad, bored, hopeless, irritated, despondent.
But none of these ideas feel worth pursuing, because ultimately, it’s more than just not being able to connect to reality right now. It’s that I don’t want to.
Since Arachne’s cult, I have had to fight with every fiber of my being to feel like life is worth living. To not-sink into these defeated thoughts. But from time to time, there are lapses. Sometimes I don’t care. Sometimes I’m just bored as fuck and I want to go back. I used to tell people I would sell my soul to feel even half as good as I felt in the cult, and I was only half-joking.
You don’t get it. I know. You don’t see the appeal of a cult. I know, I know.
I’m young, that’s true, but I have had a plethora of extremely good experiences. I’ve had unbelievable tasty gourmet food; mind-blowing sex and orgasms that lasted hours; profoundly deep relationships and emotional experiences; I’ve traveled & seen impossible beauty in the world; and on, and on, and on. I’ve felt such indescribable goodness while sober that I’ve had drug users tell me they envy me.
But despite all this, nothing — and I mean nothing — I’ve ever experienced — comes close — to the satisfaction I felt in the cult.
You think I’m out of my mind. I know.
But if you’re open to it, please try to understand where I’m coming from.
Imagine you knew God personally. She had a human form, but she could walk into any room and make everyone turn around to look. She was magnet, she was alien, she was mega-charisma on steroids. Imagine that one day she took your hands and made you have a vision that literally saved your life — so now you’re convinced she’s God. Imagine she singled you out and wanted to talk to you; sometimes you stayed up talking until 5 in the morning. You became best friends with her. Imagine she spun wild, luscious fantasy worlds from her mouth. Imagine you were a character in her stories, and that this character was invincible, powerful, charismatic. Imagine that her delusions were dark and dangerous, and you knew it all along, but they were so much prettier than the lifetime of abuse you’d already experienced. Imagine that God Herself gave you all her attention, made you the Chosen One, shared her mystical secrets with you, showed her special powers to you… and in exchange for your obedience, made you powerful too.
Imagine having a direct connection to the most profound wisdom and beauty in the Universe.
This is not love or lust I am talking about.
This is something so much more than most people will ever experience.
And then imagine one day, you misspeak, you say something that angers her, and she punishes you with verbal abuse for 5 hours, first making you cry, then making you want to die, then leaves you there struggling to breathe… and then she disappears for good.
Imagine being cast out of Heaven by someone you believed to be God.
imagine trying to live a normal life after that.
After all of that.
Whatever that was.
As I mentioned above, there are plenty of good experiences in the world, and all of them can become their own addiction of sorts. When faced with this empty, dissatisfied feeling, some people abuse food, some people abuse sex, some people abuse relationships… etc. But for me, for some reason, my “drug” has always been spiritual experiences. I am prone to cult-hopping. To crave toxic group dynamics was programmed into me from birth. It’s been one full year since I last “hopped” into another cult, group or movement. I have not adhered to any labels, ideologies or spiritual regimens in all this time — I won’t even call myself a feminist anymore. This is the first time I’ve ever made a long-term concerted effort to recover from my “addiction.” Today, I’m being tempted. To just give in to the inevitable relapse. To turn off my brain and watch some guru’s YouTube videos, or meditate for two hours to try to feel high again. Whatever it takes to get that fix. And I don’t know who to turn to or how to oust this craving, except to ignore it. Write something. Like this.
The problem of being an ex-cultist is that we are such a rare kind of person. Sure, there are plenty of cultists in the world, but there are few spiritual cultists, and even fewer one-on-one cultists. And people try their best (really, they do, and it’s so sweet) to offer advice. They suggest yoga, and special diets, and books, and movies, to try to make you feel more alive.
But once you’ve been disconnected from God, no connection to anything else feels as intense, or pure, or worthy. Once you’ve been hyper-alive in the way that only a cult can make you feel, to continue living at a “normal level” feels about as exciting as being dead.
This is one Hell of a burden I’ve been forced to carry.
I have nothing else of value to say at the moment, except to reassure you all that I’m not suicidal or even passively suicidal. Please don’t worry. These episodes of total dissatisfaction with life are an unavoidable part of post-cult recovery, and the only way to get through them is to sit with the feeling. Right now, you might be reading this and thinking I sound beyond help. But I know me. I know how bad it’s gotten. I have been much worse than this. As bad as I feel right now, I can honestly say that I can’t imagine feeling as bad as I did when the trauma first happened. The recovery path has been rocky, but in the grand scheme of things, there have been more improvements than setbacks. Recovery does not always look like progress.
Since the cult awareness movement (and all its associated resources, like conferences, support groups and books) is historically a very new thing (only about a few decades old), there is little choice but to struggle for now. I hate to sound like a martyr but it’s literally true. I feel like a trailblazer against my will. I feel like I’m part of this wave of cult survivors who has to learn everything the hard way, so that everyone after us can learn a little more easily. That is what this blog is. I write my own experiences as a contribution to the recently-born and slowly-growing discourse surrounding cults and cultism. Here I am, in my ugly post-cult trauma, making a public display of my pain and all these embarrassing thoughts & internal workings. Some call it emotional exhibitionism, but others call it resourceful. Make of it what you will.
I would just like to think that if there’s any purpose to what I’m experiencing, it’s to make sense of things that don’t make sense. Maybe one day cult resources will be as abundantly available as resources for other types of traumas. So if it ever happens to you, you’ll know that people went through it before you, and they came out alive, and they got better.