I’m not going to lie to you; the challenges when we leave a cult are myriad. And one reason it is so damn challenging is that by becoming free we are also asking ourselves to rebuild that which is at our very core. Our ‘self’ needs to be rebuilt and that is no small thing.
So first let me say, “Congratulations!” If you have left a cult you are one brave and strong individual. Leaving the cult was quite possibly the single-most challenging thing you have ever done or will do. The good news is that the cult experience is now behind you. The news you may not want to hear is that rebuilding yourself is going to take work. But wait! Before I lose you, know this; the rebuilding work is challenging but it is so rewarding and ultimately so fulfilling that you may eventually wonder why everyone doesn’t do it.
Here, then, is a very brief outline of some of what you might encounter in the process of cult recovery. (I’ve numbered these phases below, but they tend to overlap and also stop and start. Don’t take the numbering system literally.)
First, you need to take care of your physical needs. Do you have a job? Do you need a place to live? Are you safe from the cult or do you need to do something to ensure your safety (like moving to a different town/city)? Moving forward emotionally will not be possible until you have answers to these questions and have begun to feel that you know where your next meal is coming from and where you’ll sleep tonight.
When you have what feels like a stable physical foundation around you, the second phase of recovery might be asking yourself questions like, “What is true?” and “Who am I really?” and “Who can I trust?” Depending on the nature of the cult you were involved in questions about God may come up and you may need to think about rebuilding that relationship as well as the one with yourself.
These are deep and important questions and they take time and patience to answer. I encourage you to be especially patient and gentle with yourself at this time (which may be years, if not decades, long). It takes as long as it takes. Often cults instill in members a sense of urgency – that is one technique that contributes to thought-stopping, which is a key element of the control a cult places over its victims – and it may take some time for you to stop feeling like every question has to be answered and conquered now, Now, NOW! I am here to remind you, there is no urgency. Take all the time you want. The universe is in no hurry and it will wait for you.
A third phase you may encounter in cult recovery is what I call the “Information Gathering” phase. When I was a few years into my cult recovery, I came to a place emotionally where I had the strength to look back and think to myself, “What the hell was that?!” That’s when I started to look into the possibility that what I was involved in hadn’t just been a weird meditation group, but something more, something I could define and understand.
If you reach this phase, the internet is a great place to start (and you may be already there, since you’re reading this article. Information gathering in whatever form that takes, is in my experience, incredibly healing. By reading others’ stories of their cult involvement and by coming to understand how cults work and how you were drawn in you will realize you are not alone, you were not stupid or naïve, and that it is possible to heal and to actually benefit from that healing process.
Yes, it’s true, there are tremendous benefits involved in cult recovery. I wouldn’t trade my experience in cult recovery for anything. I encourage you to get the support you need (preferably from a therapist who is familiar with how cults work) and to give yourself the time and space to dive deeply into the process. You’re worth it!