After leaving the motel where my deprogramming had taken place, my mother and I, along with Virginia, Doug, and a pilot friend of theirs, flew in a private six-seat propeller craft to Tucson, Arizona. There I became the first guest at Rancho Libertad, a center for recovering cult members, and received the information, food, rest, recreation, and friendships I needed to begin picking up the pieces of my broken life. My counselors were Virginia and another former Moonie named Chris.
I have twice lost all or nearly all of my possessions. The first time was in 1973 when I moved into the temple. I gave most of my money, letters, mementos, musical instruments, and cooking utensils to the cult or to friends, and simply abandoned the rest. The only items I kept with me were my driver's license and my sleeping bag. I even gave up my precious long hair. The cult provided me with clothes and other necessities.
The second time I lost my possessions was during my rescue from the cult five years later. This time I lost everything. In the confusion I lost my japa-mala as well as my driver's license and other identification. At the motel, the deprogrammers wisely took away my clothes, sandals, neck beads, and sika. My mother bought me a new set of clothes including shoes and underwear.
At first, I had difficulty conversing with ordinary people, eating ordinary food, sleeping more than five or six hours a night, making decisions, big or small, and simply relaxing and having fun without feeling guilty about doing so.
After a couple of days at the ranch, my mother prepared to return home. Before leaving, she embraced me for the first time in years, but I felt little or no emotion.
On one occasion, Chris and I went to do some errands in the ranch's pickup truck. We stopped at a convenience store. Chris asked me, "Would you like anything?" I was overwhelmed. I could have whatever I wanted. I thought awhile and then asked for an ice cream sandwich.
Upon my arrival at the ranch, I weighed 120 pounds, about fifteen pounds under my usual weight. People told me I looked pale and thin. Everyone insisted that I take vitamins and put on a few pounds, which I did. Toward the end of the first week, I cautiously ate a boiled egg. My fear that it would make me sick, as we had been told in the cult, proved unfounded. A few days later, I ate chicken and tuna, and then nearly everything in sight, without adverse effects. Each new protein source give me a rush of energy. The protein-rich animal foods made me feel more grounded and less ethereal. I had by then broken two of the cult's four regulative principles — no meat eating and no mental speculation.
At first I disliked Buster, the dog who lived at the ranch. In the cult, dogs were the dirtiest and lowest of animals. Perhaps it was true that most Indian dogs lived in the street, carried diseases, and had bad tempers. Nevertheless, I asked myself if this attitude toward dogs were mine or if it were something the cult had taught me to believe. After a few days, Buster and I became friends. This method of isolating bits of programming — and there were thousands of them in my head — and examining them in the light of information coming from outside the cult, was useful in "deprogramming" myself.
George visited me at the ranch. We went to a San Francisco Giants spring-training baseball game, where we did more talking about non-baseball subjects than spectating.
The first time I went to a shopping mall, the parking lot posed a problem for me. It reminded me of the lots I had worked as a cult member. In addition, the shoppers inside the mall looked demonic to me. I tried not to panic, but it was good that Chris and Virginia were with me that day. It seemed that everyone nowadays shopped in indoor malls. The main reason for the proliferation of clothing stores in the malls seemed to be so that people could have many clothes to wear as they walked around the mall.
I perhaps best enjoyed the physical activities at the ranch, such as weight training, dipping in the pool, and hiking in the desert or mountains surrounding Tucson.
I saw a dentist and a doctor for my first checkups in nearly a decade. The former found two small cavities and the latter gave me a clean bill of health, despite my leanness.
I began to read books other than those published by ISKCON. At first, however, I was unable to do so for more than about fifteen minutes at a time, and I understood little of what I was reading. Containing none of the words or phrases I had grown accustomed to reading and hearing in the cult, these books seemed to be written in a foreign language. It seemed that my cognitive skills had atrophied in the cult in much the same way that my leg muscles had atrophied recently inside my cast. Flexing mental muscles that had lain idle for years proved to be hard work indeed. Thinking did become easier, however, after I began to make a habit of forcing myself to use of my mind, especially the part of it that involves discrimination and decision-making.
The newspaper carried comic strips about cats. I had always liked cats, but I had never before found them particularly funny. I found a political cartoon strip neither humorous nor politically perceptive. The title of the column "Miss Manners" made me laugh. For the first time in my life, however, I read the newspaper thoroughly every day. News, sports, business, weather, gossip, everything. I was as voracious and omnivorous in my reading as I was at the dinner table. I had much catching up to do.
Nevertheless, the mindlessness of television continued to appall me. I laughed and cried with commercials showing people being born, marrying, and dying, all within thirty seconds. These blatant, unsubtle attempts by advertisers to sell junk by distorting reality and manipulating the viewer's emotions struck an all-too-familiar and troubling chord in me. In addition, I began to wonder whether the great number of commercials were meant to fill the gaps between the program segments, or vice versa. Most worrisome, however, was the mesmerized, glazed-over look that appeared on the faces of the TV watchers around me. It bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the characteristic faraway stare I had seen so often in the Krishna devotees.
During the Vietnam War, the military had drafted men up to the age of thirty-six. Still just thirty-one, I feared being drafted into alternative military service. To my relief, however, I learned that President Carter had ended the forcible draft and had even offered a form of amnesty to expatriated draft resisters.
I realized at rehab that, if only for self-preservation, I needed to try to understand what had happened to me. I was most grateful for the help of others, but I knew that my recovery was now my responsibility, and my responsibility alone. It was quite a challenge to face the many unflattering truths I was learning about myself as I read about cults. I realized that the leaders had lied to me and taken advantage of me. What was worse, I knew that to some degree I had participated in my own destruction, even though at the time I did not know what I was doing.
My first co-rehabber was a woman from Long Island, New York, named Lona. She had been in the Children of God cult for seven years with her husband and their young children. Getting down to the real business of rehab, we read and discussed Chapter 22 of Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, in which the author Robert Jay Lifton describes the psychological symptoms of brainwashing. We found the many connections between our experiences in contemporary cults and those of the victims of Chinese Communist thought reform to be uncanny and eye-opening. For examples, the strict environmental controls, the demand for perfection, the manipulation of language, and the elevation of a doctrine above human dignity. [See Appendix.]
Besides the Lifton book, I read everything I could get my hands on concerning mind control and destructive cults. My readings confirmed what I was feeling, namely that without my knowledge or consent the cult had subjected me to a structured and destructive program of what one might call "mind control." It became clear to me that without unfettered access to uncensored information, there was no question of achieving mental or emotional health. I discovered many excellent books written by former cult members like me. I also found poorly written ones by third parties such as journalists, academics, and members of the helping professions.
To my eyes, most of the journalism on the subject failed to convey the feel of a cult and its particular and peculiar group dynamics. It failed to accurately describe the mental and emotional states of its members. It quickly became clear to me whether a piece was written by a person who had spent time in a cult. Similarly, most of the academic literature, with its distant, sterile, and disembodied language, failed to address the important personal and interpersonal issues raised by cult involvement. To their credit, most journalists were reasonably competent when it came to answering the gross questions of who, what, and where, but few of them had the courage to address the subtler and more troublesome questions of how and why.
I learned that in the 1970s and late 1960s the media had not hesitated to report the lurid and sensationalistic details of several tragedies involving destructive cults. In 1969, a loved and feared cult leader named Charles Manson had ordered his young followers to kill Hollywood actor Sharon Tate and six others. Convicted Manson Family member Susan Atkins later wrote, "You have to have a real love in your heart to do this for people" (Atkins, p. 99). Having also lived in a group that interchanged love with hate and good with evil, I had little difficulty understanding her statement. It was painfully clear, however, that the meaning of her statement had escaped the general public.
In February 1974, about three months after I joined the Krishna cult, the press reported that a political cult called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) had kidnapped Patricia Hearst. She was then a nineteen-year-old sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley. The cult held her captive in a closet for fifty-seven days, during which time they repeatedly raped her and subjected her to near-constant indoctrination and threats of further violence (Hearst, Ch. 2-5). Again, I had little trouble understanding how, given the circumstances of her kidnapping and imprisonment, the SLA had managed to manipulate and coerce Patty into committing various crimes.
In November 1978, while I was stationed in Laguna Beach, over 900 members of the Reverend Jim Jones' Peoples Temple died in a mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. I am afraid to think of what I may have done if my cult leaders had ordered me to kill others or myself. I know that at the depth of my involvement, I would have done almost anything, no matter how depraved.
The press vilified the Manson murderers, Ms Hearst, and the members of the Peoples Temple. To me, however, they seemed like ordinary people whom others had succeeded in manipulating. The powerful forces involved in such assaults are stronger than any of us are able to resist alone. To assert otherwise is to deny our fallibility, our finitude as individuals, and ultimately, our humanity.
Back at the ranch, we rehabbers each received some spending money to assist us in the process of reentering the real world. I soon discovered that the prices of consumer goods had at least doubled while I was in the cult. A friend who had been recruited in the early 1970s and deprogrammed in the early 1980s had experienced a trebling of prices. Inflation aside, I had trouble handling money — I was like a child, spending with great abandon and with little thought of tomorrow. One of my first and best purchases, however, was a guitar, the same Japanese-made acoustic model I had owned in British Columbia. Within a month, I had relearned the songs I had known before the cult, and Virginia had taught me some new ones.
Movies about the war in Vietnam and futuristic wars in outer space played at the local theaters. We went to see The China Syndrome, the movie I had seen advertised on a billboard in Los Angeles a few weeks before. It was about a meltdown at a fictitious nuclear power plant. While I was at rehab, the coincidental news arrived that a real nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania had partially melted down.
Virginia and Chris told me about how as Moonies they had accepted the Reverend Moon as the Second Coming of Christ, and had worked tirelessly to save the world from what Moon saw as godless communism. They loved to reminisce about their days of "fund-raising" — that is, hustling the public, in much the same way I had while on sankirtan. The parallels between their experiences and mine were uncanny, but when they chanted their Moonie slogans, my blood boiled. At times, they seemed to think that Moon's "Divine Kingdom" was paradise lost, not hell gained. I realized later that they, like me, were in the relatively early stages of recovery from a cult experience.
I had heard so much about the Moonies from my counselors that one night I even had a nightmare about Moon. In it, I was shouting, "NEVER GIVE UP YOUR FREEDOM!" to several faceless, sheep-like people whom Moon had succeeded in intimidating.
After I had been at the ranch for a few weeks, the number of guests reached four or five. I objected when Virginia segregated the sexes and conducted "consciousness-raising" sessions with the women. I had had enough of forced sex segregation and the manipulation of consciousness in the name of a higher ideological purpose. My objections changed nothing, but it was comforting to know that, unlike in the cult, I was able at least to voice my objection to what I viewed as corrupt institutional policy.
One evening, Doug's wife Elaine cooked a special roast beef dinner for the staff and guests, including the family of a new guest. I remembered that the Krishna cult had said that one who ate meat would become violent or physically ill. After eating the beef without adverse reaction, I realized that, in a tangible sense, the Krishna-conscious chapter of my life was over — I had crossed the finish line.
In mid-April, after seven weeks of rehabilitation, I left the ranch and boarded a commercial flight to the East Coast, where I would meet the rest of my family. After takeoff, while gazing out the window at the flat desert below, I felt like Rip Van Winkle or the Phoenix.
§ § §
Having been out of touch with mainstream culture, I found it hard to understand how certain events of the 1970s could have happened. How, for example, could a former officer of the Nazi Party, perhaps the most violently racist organization in modern history, have been chosen Secretary-General of the United Nations, an institution that was dedicated, or so I had thought, to peace and understanding among peoples?
How could the Nobel committee have awarded its prestigious Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger, a man who had supported and helped to perpetrate and expand the genocidal US war in Southeast Asia, along with numerous other human rights outrages around the world?
After learning that Nixon had reestablished diplomatic relations with China, I remembered that in the 1960s the US government had said that we young people needed to die to stop the evil, expansionist Chinese. Now Nixon was having drinks with the top Chinese leaders. The press praised his moves, but they only deepened my conviction that Nixon and the press had cynically used my generation as pawns in their global chess games.
I learned that Nixon's egocentric habit of keeping audiotapes of his official conversations had helped to precipitate his downfall. This episode reminded me of Prabhupada's habit of taping all of his speeches and talks.
Much to my dismay, Christian supremacists had begun to assert themselves in national politics. Such was their influence in 1980 that each of the three major candidates for the presidency — Carter, Ronald Reagan, and John Anderson — maintained that he had been "born again." To one extent or another, each made a public show of his private beliefs. To me, being born once was quite enough. In addition, we former cult members had already seen at close range the monster that a coupling of religion and politics can produce. We feared the use by the religious right of the machinery of modern social and political engineering, including mass mailings, automated phone banks, think tanks, and political image-making.
While I was in the cult, a new brand of so-called conservatives whose chief spokesperson was Reagan had hijacked the national agenda. These individuals had abandoned the historical conservative commitments to the rule of law, to a small, weak, and decentralized government, to tough-minded fiscal responsibility, to learning and the Academy, and to the conservation of the natural resources and natural beauty of the continent that has given us all so much.
It confused and saddened me to learn that the government had passed a Superfund bill for the management of toxic waste dumps across the country. Someone had apparently found a way to pass most of the bill onto the taxpayer, instead of to the companies who had polluted the environment.
In popular music, disco had been the rage while I was in the cult, but to me its mechanical beat lacked feeling. To my delight, however, blues and classically influenced talents such as Mark Knofler of the group Dire Straits and Eddie Van Halen of the group Van Halen had emerged as two of the top rock guitarists of their generation.
On the linguistic front, certain scientific words and phrases, like "clone" and "black hole," had found their way into common language. Some new words in the social sphere included "macho" (I had previously heard the word "machismo") and "hunk," an old word with a new meaning. Ms had become the preferred title for women who did not want others to think of them only by their marital status. In addition, some words from the counterculture of the late 1960s had entered mainstream English. It seemed ironic to me that many of those words, such as "bummer" and "freak out," had to do with drugs. This was happening in a culture that was escalating its war on drugs with about the same amount of success it had had with the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s.
In publishing, some serious writers like David Halberstam, one of the first mainstream reporters to write critically about the Vietnam War, were now writing about sports, of all subjects. Women, enraged at the crass exploitation of their bodies by magazines like Playboy, were now ogling men's bodies in a magazine called Playgirl.
I was bemused the first time I heard the word "fairness" used to describe the sagging trade position of the United States in the world. What on earth, I wondered, did fairness have to do with cutthroat capitalist competition? For decades, when the US was winning the international capitalist game, I never once heard the word "fairness." Not even where US business practices were blatantly exploitative, such as in Central and South America. Now grown men who liked to think of themselves free marketeers were weeping about a lack of "fairness."
Concerning race relations, I discovered that whites in Boston and other Northern cities had succeeded where their Southern counterparts had failed in reversing the historical trend toward the integration of public schools. For the most part, the press had given them a free pass, apparently believing in a self-serving way that Northerners cannot be racists or segregationists.
People took seriously the idea of sex change operations. Although I was not morally opposed to this, I did find it insulting to women to suggest that a man without his penis is a woman.
In sports, baseball players wearing clownish uniforms were playing on what looked like oversized billiard tables. I did not care how many home runs a player hit; if he were hitting under .250, then as far as I was concerned he was a lousy hitter. I guess that I was spoiled growing up in the era of Musial, Mays, and Aaron, home run hitters who each hit at least .300 lifetime.
Tennis, my favorite sport as a youth, had at last been professionalized, ending decades of sham amateurism. Young stars like Borg, Austin, Connors, Evert-Lloyd, and McEnroe now dominated the game. I read with astonishment that a few years before, millions of people had taken seriously a match between a current female champion and a paunchy, over-the-hill former male champ and notorious hustler, as if the outcome proved anything at all about the sexes. The only lesson the match taught me was that PT Barnum was right when he said, "There's a sucker born every minute."
Everywhere I saw people jogging in the streets. Some looked as though they had not run a step in twenty or thirty years, as indeed they probably had not. While growing up, the only time I saw anyone running in public was if he had just robbed a bank. I learned that a former cross-country runner at my school had died of heart failure at the age of thirty while running in Central Park in New York City. Thirty is too young to die. Meanwhile, other long-distance runners my age had gained international fame.
I saw the health craze as an unfortunate expression of our Calvinist heritage. Some people seemed to think that running was good simply because it was more painful than sitting on a couch. For me, it was important to enjoy — or at least not dislike — the basic functions of living, including exercise.
Everyone I met believed in the advisability of cutting down on dietary salt. This puzzled me, as I rarely ate junk food and for years had done my own cooking, moderate on the salt. They all must have been living on sodium-saturated cheese whizzies, I thought.
After having followed restricted diets for nearly a decade, I now tried to eat sensibly and healthfully, but this time without rejecting entire food groups. I now feel that in moderation I can eat almost anything. I'm not wise enough to fathom dietary absolutes. I have difficulty being dogmatic about anything, not just diet and health, but religion, philosophy, and politics, as well.
My cult involvement and my recovery from it have forced me to confront my former drug use. I lived in the cult without my mind and my sanity. Therefore, the idea of sobriety — which to me in its broad sense means freedom from all kinds of dependencies — appeals to me powerfully. Knowing well what the alternative is, I now believe in chemical as well as ideological sobriety. Nevertheless, Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign against drugs struck me as simplistic and naive, but typical of the times. I had learned that addictive behaviors were complex and hard to change.
I read in my school's alumni magazine that most of my classmates had already established themselves in their careers and were married with one or two children, a house in the suburbs, and so on. This made me feel as if I were from another planet.
While I was becoming "Krishna conscious," others were rediscovering their ethnic "Roots." Rather than delve narrowly into my own family's past, I preferred to broaden my horizons. As someone once said, it is wonderful to be well descended, but the glory belongs to our ancestors, not to us. I believe that the challenge is to do something that would make them proud, not to try to live your life in the reflected glory of their accomplishments.
In short, I viewed the events of the mid to late-1970s with jaundiced eyes. I was unable to buy into any of the smiley-faced fads. I objected neither to temperance (I don't drink or smoke) nor to fitness (I walk about twenty to forty miles a week). I did, however, object to the assertion that one can reduce complex, multidimensional issues like politics, religion, health, or happiness to moronically simplistic formulas. I also objected to the element of moralization in the propaganda. Smoking was bad; jogging was good. There was little in the way of balance and proportion.
§ § §
I read voraciously about destructive cults, but I also read about other related topics, such as emotional dependency, substance abuse, child and spousal abuse, and the recent history of religious and political extremism. To discover what others had written on the subject of freedom of the mind, I read Bartlett's Quotations and other reference sources. It was gratifying to learn how many people throughout history have been passionate and eloquent on the subject of human rights and human dignity. Their statements gave me confidence that my opposition to destructive cultism stood on firm historical and intellectual ground.
We Americans are heirs to a long tradition of resolute and determined opposition to tyranny in all its forms. Nevertheless, I was saddened to discover that there is also ample precedent in the literature for the view that people want and need someone to tell them what to do, what to think, and what their rights are.
One delightful byproduct of my reading is that I have learned many things that have nothing to do with cults.
A few months after I left rehab, a friend asked me to participate in the deprogramming of another Krishna member, which I did. Deprogramming gave me an opportunity to communicate to others what I had learned about cults, and in the process to solidify my own understanding of the techniques of mind control. Over the next two years, I received many calls from families of cult victims from all over the country, as well as a few from overseas. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to help about a dozen people to leave the Krishna cult and other destructive cults.
After rehab, I began keeping a notebook of thoughts about my life during and after the cult. At first, I could barely read my own writing, because I had done so little of it while in the cult. Knowing that the cult had programmed me to believe that those who spoke out against it would go to hell, I felt guilty about writing anything critical of the cult. In time, however, I was able to overcome these obstacles.
A little more than a year after leaving rehab, during a break between deprogramming jobs, I felt that I was now ready to fully debrief myself on my cult experience. After many discussions with other former members and with people who specialize in anti-cult matters, and after much reading, I felt that it was now my turn to ask the questions that needed asking, and to try to answer them in my own way. I also did not want to forget the details of my years in the cult. Speaking from a few pages of handwritten notes into a recorder and working nearly around the clock, I made about fifty hours of tapes over the next few days.
A few months later, a friend who is a former member of the Unification Church asked me to write a short essay about my life in the cult for a collection of case histories he was editing. I sent him a draft, which he returned for revisions. I rewrote the essay several times over the next year during breaks in my schedule. My friend never published his collection, but my story summary, along with the tapes, formed the basis of this book.
I felt an obligation to help the media, the mental health profession, and the public to learn more about cults. I believed that if people knew the facts, they would change their attitudes of indifference and denial, and their tendency to blame the victims. While I still welcome opportunities to share my experiences with others, I now feel less responsibility for others' lack of understanding.
It would be months before I was again comfortable with an ordinary life without feeling the need for a supercharged, sensory overloaded, ideologically weighty existence. I was eventually able to enjoy such simple pleasures as going to the park and watching the children play, watching the rain outside my window, or going to a movie — things I could never do while in the cult. Nevertheless, what the Krishnas called the "mundane" world often seemed commonplace and I remained impatient with many of the more trivial aspects of daily life, such as the numbing routines of an ordinary job or the petty games people play.
For the first few years after my exit, most of my friends were other former cult members. I was eventually able, however, to make friends with people who knew little or nothing about cults. At some point in each such friendship, I felt the need to raise the issue of my cult past. For better or worse, my cult experience remains an important part of who I am. It is a delight to meet those rare individuals who are flexible enough in their thinking and who care enough about others to understand the pain of a cult involvement, even though they themselves may have had no such experience.
Relationships continue to frustrate me, however. I have tried to overcome the hatred of people the cult instilled in me, but I continue to struggle with the issues of trusting others and feeling like a valuable and productive member of the larger society. I have also had trouble letting go of the more seductive aspects of the cult, such as the emotional highs and the artificial feelings of togetherness and security in a tightly knit group.
I now know that the cult was corrupt long before it recruited me. At times, however, I still feel, in spite of the evidence, that its excesses were examples of tainted goodness, or that the corruption could not have reached the leaders I once admired.
I have wrestled with the loss of the friendship of my fellow cult members. I would like to believe that most of them were decent, idealistic, and hardworking people before joining the cult. The cult manipulated their thoughts and emotions, however, and their friendship toward me was superficial and conditional.
While in the cult, I rarely thought of leaving it, and I never made a serious attempt to do so. Conversely, since leaving the cult, I have never thought of rejoining it.
When in an airport, I sometimes see the Krishnas wearing their civilian clothes, wigs, and big, fake smiles. I know immediately who they are, even if I have never met them. I remember how distressed I was as a devotee that some people — demons, that is — could spot us at a distance, despite our disguises. I now know that a sankirtan devotee does little more than hustle the public for money, rarely if ever giving anything back to the whole upon which we all depend.
Before entering the sect, I had few well-developed ideas about religion. I can honestly say that I learned nothing about God or spirituality during my half-decade as a monk in the Hare Krishna Movement. One might say that rather than learning who God is, I learned who God is not. At present, I am not a seeker, at least, not outwardly so. I rarely talk about the Truth, or Enlightenment, or such ideas. Although I take as seriously as ever my private search for meaning in my life, I am careful to speak with my actions as well as my words and to direct my energies toward this world, not to the mirage-like promise of a next world.
I confess that, even as a strong supporter of freedom of religious expression, I have little respect for people who advertise their religious faith, make a public show of prayer, or use religion to gain wealth, fame, or influence over others. Twisted words and sick ideologies — what the Old Testament in its simplicity calls "false witness" — have hurt me badly.
I now know that some people of low or absent morality see me as nothing more than a mind, a body, or a wallet to exploit, and will go to almost any length to abuse me. Such persons are not necessarily distant enemies who play the caricatured role of villains. On the contrary, they may appear at first glance to be among the most generous and caring people in the world.
In a way, I hope I never fully accept this frightening reality. One of the challenges facing a former cult member is to learn how to continue to trust and give — but in appropriate ways this time — even if we have lost everything we once held dear. The words of Anne Frank inspire me: "I still believe that people are basically good at heart" (July 15, 1944).
I have lost my innocence, and the world will never again be the way I was taught it was at home, in school, and in church. Some people are evil and some supposedly respectable institutions care little about the people they are charged with serving. In my moment of greatest and most urgent need, no member of any of our public institutions — including the legal, judicial, medical, mental health, law enforcement, social service, religious, and educational communities, as well as elected officials at any level — offered me a helping hand. Inasmuch as any of them had anything to say about the matter, most denied the abuse, and some even went so far as to defend what they believed were the "rights" of my tormentors.
A generous explanation for such behavior might be that, as bureaucracies, our public institutions are too inflexible to deal effectively with situations that appear to be nonstandard or out-of-the-ordinary. A less generous explanation might be that these institutions have failed to resolve their own issues of organizational control, and have allowed themselves to become excessively comfortable with the power imbalances embedded within the status quo.
All professions bear responsibility for the current state of affairs — as indeed we all do — but let me say this about the once-proud trade of journalism. Even today, after so many decades of widespread destructive cult activity in this country and around the world, there is still no regular cult beat in the mainstream press. Such coverage as there is happens only at times of crisis, controversy, or tragedy. That is, after the fact, when it's too late. In addition, the coverage seems to get continually less reflective and freer of context. We need to remember that the phenomenon of destructive cultism is deeply rooted in the human experience — no matter how disturbing that notion may be to some — and that cults affect us all in one way or another.
Forgive me for sounding nostalgic, but journalism was once seen as a keeper, however imperfect, of our culture, our democracy, and our values. Today, too many journalists are little more than the equivalent of emergency telephone operators or gossip columnists.
It saddens me to reflect that my own recovery, which is the ongoing process of reading, writing, study, and reflection that allows me to stay alive and thrive today, has happened at the periphery of, or even outside of, our public institutions and our collective, public lives. Meaningful discussion of these critically important issues is almost nonexistent.
Nevertheless, I would like to think that my experiences have allowed me to become more empathetic toward others and more conscious of the need for a strong but fair and compassionate code of ethics in the conduct of human affairs. I have little or no patience with official secrecy, censorship, or other interruptions in the free flow of information, whether perpetrated by individuals, groups, or governments.
Since leaving the cult, I have had a recurring nightmare in which I am in the Krishna cult, secretly wanting to leave and secretly planning an escape. To obtain the mental and physical space I need for such an escape, however, I must first earn the group's trust. That is, I must submit, or at least pretend to submit, to their program of activities. If my actions or words are in any way suspicious, I will surely attract unwanted attention, which will in turn be followed by lectures and guilt trips from the cult leaders.
To buy some much sought-after privacy, I must pretend to be — and, indeed, be — a good devotee. Every act of submission, however, only involves, implicates, and commits me more, making any further attempts at resistance that much more difficult — and so on, in a vicious circle. Such is life in a cult.
My family has helped me by opening their homes and by giving generously of themselves in many ways. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to complete my college education, to record some of my thoughts, and to plan for a better future.