Here’s the short of it:
From birth to age 18, I was raised in my mother’s Pentecostal church, as the goddaughter of the Pastor. I’m spoon-fed “the rapture is coming!” and “everything is demonic!” paranoia for the entirety of my childhood. The slightest hint of a doubt about Pentecostalism earns you a public-shaming session in front of the church. All the while, the church exploits my talent for singing as a means of accruing donations.
I decide to be an atheist at 16. Still had to go to church until I turned 18. Mom’s house, Mom’s rules.
At age 16, my best friend Selene* introduces me to her cousin, Arachne*. One day, Arachne orchestrates an intense spiritual experience that makes me believe she’s endowed with special powers. She makes me keep her powers a secret, and assumes her rightful place as my new God. The year that follows is a nonstop succession of mind games, interrogations, gaslighting, power trips, and a steady string of more supernatural events to keep me mesmerized and pacified. By the end of it, I believe she is watching me at all times, monitoring my thoughts, and capable of killing me with a single thought if I anger her too much.
Finally, shortly before my 18th birthday, she fucks my head for five hours over a slight disagreement and vanishes from my life. Selene darkly jokes that now my head must be pregnant. My mind, pregnant with God’s baby. Little baby Beast.
I spend year 18 floating. No more Arachne. No more church. Unsure of why I feel so lost, and so confused, and so nothing.
I am 19 when I first learn the definition of “cult.” It describes me, my relationship with Arachne, my childhood, everything, perfectly. I don’t want to believe it. But the more I read, the truth becomes more and more difficult to deny.
Everything I’d been certain was true, suddenly wasn’t. Who I’d thought I was, suddenly didn’t exist.
I am 19 and my reality just collapsed.
I am 19 and I don’t know what to do.
I am 19, when I meet Roman.
He’s a cult survivor too. His mom systematically starved him, infiltrating him with the belief that hunger was a demonic desire. To eat was to sin.
I help him with his eating disorder recovery. He helps me with my cult recovery. We are each other’s safe haven.
For the first time in my life, I know what it means to have a friend who doesn’t belittle or dominate you. A friend who would do anything to see you shine and grow. This is what it must feel like to find your soulmate. Everything is going to be okay.
But I am 21 and Roman is 28 when he can’t cope with living anymore. I am the last person he speaks to. I get to tell him that I love him one last time. Then he goes to the Amtrak station and jumps in front of a train.
The cult ate him alive, from the inside out.
I am a cultist. A grieving, struggling, ever-evolving cultist.
I may call myself an “ex-cultist,” but that’s not entirely true. Cultism will always be a part of me. Like a recovering alcoholic who must be careful around alcohol, or an abused girl damned to find abusive men attractive for the rest of her life, I must be mindful not to fall into dangerous groups and relationships.
Most people know me now as Alicen Grey, the writer. And while that persona is an important part of my life, that’s not all there is to me. Thus, I’ve decided to start this more personal blog, to talk about my experiences in cults, navigating the challenges of cult recovery, and why cult-awareness needs to be taken more seriously by society at large. There’s so little information out there about what we, as cult survivors, endure on a regular basis. So I want to challenge this collective silence surrounding cultism.
Thank you for taking the time to hear me.
It’s time to give birth to this Beast.