Recently I had a conversation with a brave person I’ve known for some time. We discussed the memoir they were working on, recalling their years of involvement in a high-demand group. In it, they referred to feeling sick when they thought of the amount of money they had spent on the leader and their corrupt and useless programmes.
I asked if they would be willing and able to bear with that nausea enough to give readers some details. I suggested that hard numbers can really put things into perspective. They agreed, dug into their receipts, and pulled out a pretty nauseating number.
Staring at that number, so cold, so abstract, unleashed a flood of emotions about what this person lost that can’t be measured. And it brought to mind the intangible things I had lost in the six consecutive years I spent in two different cults.
I got out of the second one almost twenty years ago, so the accounting is lost. I remember dollars flowing through my hands like sand. I remember time and money feeling like a mirage to me, while I framed it as a source of love and source of service to the leaders.
I don’t have the numbers. So I remember many other things.
The conversation also reminded me of what other cult survivors have lost. I have conducted hundreds of interviews while investigating organizations like Shambhala Buddhism, Ashtanga Yoga, and Sivananda Yoga.
So here’s an incomplete list from memory, generalized and anonymized — except for my own anecdotes. It runs the gamut of intensities and wounds. I’ve spoken to people who have lost decades of their lives into emotional and sexual slavery, and to people who were sidetracked for a year or two by a charismatic charlatan. In all cases the impacts are meaningful and lasting.
I hope this list is useful for those who are recovering from cultic entanglements, and for their friends and family members. Perhaps getting very specific about what has been lost can provide a map for what can be regained.