I was destroyed. I was remade in someone else’s image. Some may call it a relationship, but for me, it was a cult. My leader was not Charles Manson creepy-crawling through a sleeping stranger’s living room with blood in his beard. My leader was not Jim Jones sweating in South America with Flavor Aid and cyanide. My leader was a pretty girl with green eyes from class who loved Audrey Hepburn and the color pink. She was my girlfriend.
I met her in the fall of 2010, during my last semester at the University at Buffalo. We began dating in January 2011. It was beautiful in the beginning: dinners together and cigarettes by the window. We would spend lazy days and nights together in her “garden view” apartment. “Garden view” being a cute euphemism for basement bunker apartment. I can still remember how the place smelled, the scent of a fancy flower that no one’s ever held. It was her smell. I memorized it. It hit me heavy in the doorway. I was hooked. I was a dead man. My grave was that apartment, the one from which I couldn’t leave. The one from which I ran, only to be caught and returned to face windows that filled with dirt. Those close quarters with my captor, my other half. My main squeeze, the python wrapping around me. My barefoot girl chasing me through the parking lot. I made up my mind a million times to leave, but my mind was not mine. It belonged to her. I belonged to her. I was her boyfriend. I was property. I was bought and branded.
On some wasted night in her apartment, she once told me: “You are nothing special. You are just another guy. I hate you.” I took her words and went to bed. I pulled her awful pink bed sheets to my face. I was a garish corpse on a slab in the morgue. There was a pink tag on my big toe with her initials on it. She later woke me and fucked me in that hazy spell between sleep and consciousness.
Sex. There was always that. No matter what. No matter the brutal, hurtful words we exchanged. No matter the thrown furniture and scattered clothing. There was a time to shut up and head to bed. My face buried between her legs. A taste of her for her to taste. Then her turned around and calling. The things we did that I’d never done before, and may never do again. I learned the power of sex. Its control. Its hooks in me from the start. I was easy prey for sharp talons.
My girlfriend, my cult leader: she took me from my friends. Their faces in my memory. A flash of blonde hair in sunlight on my birthday. The drunken journey from bar to bar, shivers and laughter bundled in the night. The sweetness of a beer opened and handed to me. Winter bringing out the red in a beard. While I was trapped in that basement bunker of an apartment, I thought of my friends. I dreamed of them pulling me from twisted wreckage, carrying me away barely alive in their arms. My saviors. My good Samaritans with claw marks and bruises on their skin.
I wasn’t allowed to see my friends because they distracted me from the cult of a relationship. I was only to think of my girl. My time was hers. I was to ask permission to go out. I was expected to fill out the request-off form weeks in advance. My female friends were the main enemies of the cult. Somewhere in the small print of the rules and regulations of relationships, it must say that friends of the opposite sex are strictly prohibited. Silly me. Stupid dead man. I thought I could be a mature adult with all kinds of friends and freedoms. I should have studied more closely those fantasy documents which are signed and notarized at the start of every relationship in this modern era of love and ownership.
I was forced to sit at my leader’s computer and explain to her the true meaning behind any message or comment left on my social media pages. One ‘like’ on Facebook meant I was being groomed for the fucking of a lifetime by some insatiable force out in cyberspace. If I happened to ‘like’ a photo, I was accused of being a pervert. I was made out to be a snarling heathen with bloodshot eyes, a wagging tongue, and hairy palms. I was the fiend who could not help himself. Over and over again, I heard the questions: “Who is she? Why are you even friends with her?” No explanation was good enough. I could say I’d known a particular person for years, sharing countless memories and moments with them, but it still would not do. I was urged to make some cuts. I began discarding people like apple cores or cigarettes butts, gone like garbage. Then the day came when I deleted myself, deactivated all my accounts, and went away like a whisper from the world I loved.
Next to go was my cell phone, that bit of evil in my pocket. It was a piece of technology that I was taught to believe the Devil and Samsung had collaborated upon to create and destroy my relationship. Once again, I was advised to explain each incoming and outgoing message to my sweetheart. My dear leader would ask: “Who are you texting? What are you texting about?” There was never anything to hide, no secret lovers on the side. There were only casual messages between friends discussing plans to hang out, making small-talk. I was made to feel guilty nevertheless. Using my phone started to make me anxious and nervous. I quickly learned to keep my phone on silent at all times, to delete all my messages in a hurried flurry, and to act as though I never even owned such an ungodly device as a cell phone. Sometimes, I would sneak into the bathroom, turn on the fan and faucet, and quickly check my phone for messages. I felt like a starving addict in that bathroom, like a hungry junkie for contact with the outside world, with my friends and my life. I would even jump at the chance to walk my leader’s little dog just to take a peek at my phone, that menace that flipped open to evil. Each number was the Devil’s number, speed-dialing 666 to all my wicked contacts.
My former cult leader began to constantly point out the things she considered flaws in me: the way I used certain words or phrases too frequently, the way I ate my food too aggressively. I started to be self-conscious about everything I did. I couldn’t be myself around her because I was all flaws. It seemed like she discovered something new and appalling about me every day. I couldn’t be my natural and normal self anymore. I had it all wrong. To become a better me, I had to follow the guidance of my leader. I had to be gutted out and remodeled. I had to become someone else entirely to please my leader.
Soon, I went silent. I had lost the good fight. I gave in and got quiet. I resigned myself to my new life of living on eggshells, of making penance for the sins of my former life. I thought of dying. I cried daily. I hoped God would be there at the end, waiting for me in light. The beliefs I held all my life started to shake and crumble. I worried that there would be nothingness waiting for me in death, just the open mouth of a black abyss. It was getting harder and harder for me to function. Each time I would share these concerns with my supposed partner, she would only mock and question my beliefs, make me doubt them, and leave me in a heap on the floor. She would see me broken and tell me to get better quickly or we’d be through. I couldn’t find solace in my support system of friends and family because they were suddenly out of my reach. It would seem like endless days and days without sleeping in my own bed, without showering in my own shower, without enjoying my mother’s lentil soup, without seeing the latest silly styling of my father’s facial hair, without watching zombie movies with my little nephew. I was always in that basement, with never enough of sleep, waiting for permission to make my next move.
I couldn’t even find temporary peace while working a short shift at my job. I worked, and still do work, at a small art house movie theater in Buffalo. I loved it there. I loved movies: watching them, collecting them, being around them. I also loved the people I worked with. There was such a small staff at the theater that we couldn’t help but bond with one another. We shared meals together, spoke in a language of inside-jokes, and spent holidays together. It felt like I was being paid to hang out with a family of friends all day. It was magic. Going to work actually filled my heart with joy. I was excited to put on my uniform and shovel popcorn for strangers. Of course, my girlfriend wouldn’t allow that for very long. There wasn’t to be a single thing that to take me from her. There should be no smile across my face which she didn’t approve of first. Those moments were secrets that belonged only to her.
There was one main problem with me working at the theater: my female co-worker, an assistant manager during my time in the cult/relationship. She was a sweet friend who would give me the occasional ride home after work since I didn’t drive then and catching buses late at night was a hassle, especially in shitty weather. It was only a ride home, an innocent and generous act. A kind ride home would make my girlfriend/cult leader tailspin into a fit of rage and jealously. She would actually get upset each time I’d have to work with my female manager. I tried to explain that I couldn’t choose with whom I worked. It was my job, I had to go. I had to work. I didn’t write the schedule. That reasoning did me no good. Now going to work would cause me anxiety and worry. I stopped taking rides home from people altogether just to avoid having to answer to my former leader/girlfriend. I can remember going to a concert during my cult time, and the panic I felt when a good friend of mine showed up to join me. Naturally, my girlfriend lost it on me. After the show, my friend begged me to accept a ride home from her. She literally followed me in her car saying “Get in, get in,” as I walked away to the bus stop . I had to say no. That was my only option. I felt foolish. I still feel foolish now for what I became then.
When the theater hired a new employee who happened to be a young woman, I kept it a secret from my girlfriend for weeks. It made me nervous. I knew it wasn’t normal for me to feel that way, but the fear and worry instilled in me by the cult had fully stolen me from the life I knew. I cursed the theater for putting in this situation. When I finally told my girlfriend about my new co-worker, she took it as expected: with automatic judgment and accusations. In her mind, I was bound to throw down my mop, tear off my red polo shirt, and have a passionate affair with my co-worker right there in the lobby of the theater. So began the constant flood of text messages to check in on me. If I didn’t reply quickly enough: “Why didn’t you answer my texts? What were you doing?” I would reply “I’m working.” Not good enough. I was with that girl doing the worst possible things, obviously. All the while, my friends, family, and co-workers wondered why I seemed detached and distant. I couldn’t explain. I felt ashamed and stupid. If I told these people what was really happening to me, my girlfriend would accuse me of making her seem like a villain. She managed to distort and control nearly aspects of my life, including my hobbies.
My love for music and movies had to be stifled and silenced. Even these things I had a passion for became sources of anxiety for me. I would regularly buy movies to add to my collection, or go to the movies with my friends. Since I worked at a movie theater, I could get my friends and I in for free at all the theaters owned by the same local chain. It was a weekly tradition for us. I looked forward to it. That couldn’t last for long. Outside pleasures were not permitted in the cult/relationship. My girlfriend would ask me what movie I was going to see. Once I told her, she Google the film to find out what it was rated. If it was rated “R” for nudity or sexual content, I was through. I should expect my bags to be packed and waiting for me outside her apartment. She temporarily broke up with me once for having seen Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. She found out that Kirsten Dunst had some nude scenes in the film and blamed me for them. I was the sicko who wanted to see them. Nudity was never the selling point of a movie for me. I tried to tell her I loved movies of all kinds. She didn’t believe me and had all my clothes ready to go when I got to her place. A similar incident occurred when a co-worker loaned me the first season of the short-lived HBO series Carnivàle. I believe there were some topless dancers in the very first episode. I knew I was in trouble the moment I saw them.
I should’ve immediately taken cover. If I had had an ejector seat at the time, I would’ve deployed it and drifted off to safety. I attempted to explain to my girlfriend that I’d never seen the show before. I didn’t know there would be any nudity. She made me feel like I was sick and depraved for witnessing breasts on television. I didn’t feel like an adult who could handle a bit of nudity maturely. I should’ve closed my eyes and thought only of my undying devotion to the relationship I was in. Carnivàle was quickly turned off and I watched a few more episodes in secret when I could. She also sent me a text which ruined a major plot twist in Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In while on my way to the theater with a friend to see the film. I should’ve known better since the film was rated “R”. My depravity knew no bounds.
I also enjoyed buying movies to add to my collection. I had a job. I figured the money I earned was mine to do with what I chose. Wrong. My girlfriend/cult leader told me I bought far too many movies too often. Not only would all the perversions of cinema rot my brain, but I’d never be able to afford to buy a wedding ring, leave Buffalo, or someday pay our combined bills. These were things I never signed up for, or agreed to. These were fantasies of a life for me which I was expected to fulfill. There was a plan for me. I had a path to follow. My enlightenment was the life my lover made for me in her mind. I’d have to give up my love of movies for the greater good. I’d given up so much already, why not more? I could feel the parts of me, who I was–a sense of humor, a sense of hope–draining from me more and more each day.
I stopped writing and playing music. My guitar gathered dust, its bronze strings rotting like dying vines. I’d been performing under the name I Was The Scarecrow for years before I met my girlfriend/cult leader. I’d written songs about another relationship. They were personal and full of sentimental details. My leader knew I was a songwriter before we started dating. She even considered herself a fan at the time. Once she and I became serious, that changed. She would get upset if I played the songs too passionately at live shows because, to her, that meant I was not yet over the old relationship. I tried explaining to her that that wasn’t the case, that after a while, playing a song was only a matter of performance. I didn’t feel the same way playing the songs then as I did when I first wrote them. I told her that I’d written those songs long before I met her, which was no use. She’d get mad if I dedicated songs to my friends and not enough to her. I couldn’t talk to my friends for too long before or after the show because she’d be alone and fuming. I gave up playing those old songs and performing live. It wasn’t worth it to feel like I was babysitting and being constantly scrutinized. So music had to go. Something I loved wholeheartedly had to be erased. Music was the one thing that always got me through. It was the friend who was always there and knew exactly how I felt. My girlfriend thought was I was freak for saying that I was in love with music. I’d even have to keep some of the bands I listened to hidden if they were fronted by women. I was accused of listening to them solely because they were attractive.
The same thing happened with my poetry. During my cult days, I’d stopped writing poems. I used to scribble in my little journal every day, scraps of lines here and there, ideas to be fleshed out later. I’d gone months and months without finishing anything new. It was a terrible feeling. All my habits were different. I couldn’t write the things I wanted to write. I knew she would get suspicious of my scribbling. I wanted to write out my escape, peck at the walls of my cell with a pen. It was in my journal where I first wrote “love is a cult.” It was in those pages that I attempted to sort out all my feelings, all the thoughts of death and dying. When I had finally finished a new poem, I was elated. I’d written something new! It dealt with my vision of an afterlife full of rebellion, beauty, and forgiveness. I was so excited to share it with my other half. I should’ve known better. She tore it apart, specifically because it mentioned “dirty magazines”. She had a special hatred for that phrase and everything it implied. That hatred would reveal itself again. I was crushed after she ripped the poem to shreds. She was one of the only people with whom I shared it. I just wanted her to be supportive and positive. I wished she’d share some of the same excitement I did, or at least be happy for me. I put that poem away and didn’t look at it again for nearly two years.
The end of my days in the cult began with a trip to New York City in December 2011. I’d taken a deal at the theater to work both Christmas Eve and Day that year in order to take a ten-day vacation beginning on December 26. My girlfriend was staying with her family for the holidays in her hometown less than an hour outside of Manhattan. The plan was for me to take a train from Buffalo to Penn Station where she’d meet me and we’d then take a train together into her hometown. I packed my bags and headed to the station. I boarded the train with excitement since I couldn’t recall ever having been on one before, except for Buffalo’s single route subway system. All was well. I had my music and the view of a wintery landscape to occupy me. Then, just about midway through the trip, my girlfriend decided she wasn’t going to me meet at Penn Station anymore. My arrival time kept being delayed and she didn’t feel like taking the trip out to meet me. She wanted me to find my own way to her hometown, to just “figure it out”. When I became shocked and angry at this news, she suggested that as a man, I should want to get to her on my own without any help. I told her that it didn’t have anything to do with masculinity, I just wanted to stick to the plan we’d agreed upon weeks in advance. I was fed up and made up my mind to take the next train back to Buffalo as soon as I arrived at Penn Station. A friend of mine was even willing to drive from Buffalo to pick me up in New York City. It would be a rescue mission. I should’ve taken up the offer.
After a long, drawn out fight, my girlfriend decided she’d change her mind again and meet me at the station. She wasn’t happy about it though. By that time, I was too angry to try and reconcile. The situation was fucked and too far gone to save with any pity pick-up. When I finally reached my destination and found my girl, it was ugly. We fought all over Penn Station. It was a brutal underground marathon of name-calling through countless corridors and stairwells. The fighting spilled out onto the streets above which were completely foreign to me. She and I were a spectacle. I threatened to immediately go back to Buffalo, and she told me to go ahead. It went and forth like that for a bit until we both calmed down enough to end up taking the train together to her hometown. We sat in separate seats and were silent the entire ride. When we arrived at her family’s house late that night, we spat venom at one another from separate beds in her childhood room.
The days that followed passed like a roller coaster, moments of joy rapidly descended into moments of hate in a disorienting blur. We visited a beach one day and took photographs together on the rocks there. She wrote our initials in the sand that washed away. I spent New Year’s Eve in the basement of a stranger’s house, surrounded by more strangers. When a guitar started to be passed around, I was told not to play any of my old songs, only the sanctioned love songs which I wrote for my cult leader. I welcomed in the year 2012 hundreds of miles from home without any of my friends or family to hug or celebrate with. No kiss on cheek, no wish for a happy new year. I just wanted to survive the rest of this trip, get back to Buffalo in one piece, and never return to that island again. I tried my best to be a good boy and behave. I played nice for the most part and kept quiet. My silence only made my leader angry. If she wanted a fight, there better damn well be a fight.
It was decided that we should take a trip to the seaport mall in Lower Manhattan. I packed into a van with my leader and her family. She and I got into a fight involving something said about one of our fathers. I remember attempting to slide open the van door and make my escape while stopped at a red light. That didn’t happen, and I spent the remainder of the ride into Manhattan alone in the backseat of the van, quiet, as everyone else laughed and joked. I was the odd man out. I had nowhere to run. My vow of silence continued when we reached the seaport mall. Every silent moment that passed made my leader more and more upset with me, until she finally had enough and told me to go away and leave. She stormed out of the food court and onto the patio outside. She leaned sad against railings overlooking water. I sat at the table inside with her family, my eyes watering. I tried not to show my tears. I was completely alone. Where could I go away to? I told myself I was a fool for taking this trip. She was the reason I was here in the first place. I was stuck. At least the falafel was good.
Her family asked me to go talk to her, and I did. I chased her around that patio against a backdrop of the East River, trying to get her to talk to me. It was a scene from a soap opera. “Wait, sweetie. Talk to me. Please. I’m sorry.” We made peace enough to get through the next few days. That peace was broken one day while I was showering. My girlfriend/cult leader decided she would look through not only my cell phone then, but also my journal. Snooping through my journal was the bigger breach of privacy to me. My journal was the place I stored all my private thoughts and ideas. It wasn’t meant for anyone else to read. While scanning through my writing, she discovered that I felt our relationship was a cult. She found nothing in my phone. After I got out of the shower, she told what she’d done and I was seething with anger. My journal, my phone: they were my personal, private belongings. She promised to never do anything like that again. I put a password on my phone immediately. She discovered that I did so by once again looking through my phone, of course. So much for a promise.
Shortly afterward, the time to return to Buffalo had arrived. I said good bye to people I’d never see again. They treated me well and I was thankful for that. I loaded up my girlfriend’s car with our luggage and prepared myself for what I knew would be a painful drive home. We barely spoke during the first leg of the trip. I heard only the sound of the radio as I stared out from the passenger side. When we finally started speaking, she decided to bring up a Facebook status that I’d written at least a year before meeting her. She had a talent for memorizing each post of mine going deep into the past. This particular status mentioned how I’d picked up a Playboy and some pogs at a truck stop while on a road trip with a friend. She chastised me like a misbehaved child. She wouldn’t stop. She called me a loser and a pervert. She said I was disgusting. She wondered what my parents would think of me. She wanted to know if I’d done anything like that while we were together. She wanted to know what I thought about while masturbating and how often I did it. I couldn’t do anything but sit there and wait for her to stop. I fantasized about opening the car door and jumping out. I wondered how quickly I’d die. I wondered how the wind would feel on my skin in those last seconds of life. I could see my body tumbling down the highway, a slight smile barely visible on my face as my skull cracks open like an awful egg. I take a breath and snap back into focus. I look ahead to the road in front of me and remember that home isn’t too far off now. I’d just have to get through the next few hours in this car with her.
When we finally made it back to Buffalo, I had never been so happy to be there. It was my promised land. I wanted to kiss the ground and shake the hand of anyone I saw. My leader and I unloaded her car and went our separate ways. Not soon after, she broke up with me. I was hurt, but also excited to be able to see my friends again and try to lead the life I had before joining the cult/relationship. My leader still kept in touch during the break-up, with texts, phone calls, and emails that alternated between angry and sappy. We decided to attempt a reunion in May 2012. We met at the movies. She slapped hard across the face in the darkened theater that we had to ourselves. She slapped for seeing another girl during our break-up. After that night, we started seeing one another regularly again. It got to be just like old times. I’d walk to her apartment, we’d have dinner, and I’d drag her mattress from the bedroom out into the living room. We lay there and watch movies, eat bowls of ice cream, cuddle, have sex, and fall asleep together. There was always some sweet moment that kept me in the relationship. There could be a million horrible nights, and one beautiful night could make them all seemingly disappear. I swore that if things could just stay good, she and I could make it work. I kept holding on and hoping. My life with her was all that knew at this point. Who I was before the relationship didn’t exist anymore. I was a missing person.
Later that summer, my leader/girlfriend told me that the lease on her apartment was expiring, that she wouldn’t be renewing it, or looking for a new place. She was going to move back to her hometown. There would only be a couple of weeks to prepare and say our good byes. I was mortified. Things were starting to collapse again like they did at the beginning. The garden view apartment was starting to be filled with empty boxes. She was leaving me. How could I live without her? I didn’t know how to. For over a year, I was under her thumb, bending to her whims. It all seemed like chaos and upheaval to me. I would weep at the sight of those boxes filling up with her belongings. When moving day came, and the apartment became more and more empty, I lost it. I was devastated. I could seem the imprint of the couch left in the carpet, the memories it offered. I could see where the tables and chairs stood. Everywhere I looked, there were chalk outlines of a dying era in my life. I didn’t yet understand the freedom that newly emptied apartment signified.
The last time I saw her was Monday, July 30, 2012. She and I shared a cigarette in the parking lot outside of my apartment building. We held one another and kissed, and cried. We talked about the trip back east that lie ahead of her, how we’d keep in touch, and plan visits. We even talked about me possibly moving to her hometown to live with her. It was a good bye I’ll likely never forget. One of the last exchanges we had was when I told her: “Maybe I’ll have different glasses next time you see me.” She said “I like your glasses,” and started to slowly drive away.
Two weeks had passed when she told that she’d started seeing someone else and that we were through. I accepted it and started the process of moving on with my life. I learned that it was for the best that I didn’t move to the coast. If I had, I would’ve been a goner. Being completely separated from my support system, my home, my job, I would’ve been fully indoctrinated into the cult. I would’ve been a man forbidden to have a past, memories, a belief system of my own, or any history at all. No friends, no former lovers, no family, no hobbies, no hopes and dreams for a future—I’d be a blank slate to be written upon in a cruel language. I knew my cult leader wanted to see inside my head, inspect my thoughts, and shape them to her agenda. I was fortunate to get out when I did.
It took me a long time to adjust to my life outside of the cult/relationship. I had many complicated feelings to work through. I didn’t know how to write about it, whether in song or otherwise. I knew I needed to deal it though, so I waited. I looked through my journal I read the lines where I first wrote “Love is a cult.” I discovered there was a lot more to explore in that phrase. I started writing about my experience through the theme of love as a cult, and my significant other as the cult leader. Within that concept, songs started to sprout out and flourish. These songs eventually became the album Death To Self. I’d gotten rid of my former acoustic sound, and formed a three-piece electric band with two of my friends. It was just what I needed. Screaming wildly and playing distorted power chords were medicine to me. I was reminded of a lyric from the Velvet Underground song “Rock & Roll.” I felt my “life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll.”
I started to feel like myself again. During the process of writing the album, I read two books to help round out the relationship-as-cult concept: one was Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and the other was Cults In Our Midst by Margaret Thaler Singer. As I read Cults, I began to see the similarities between my relationship and the experiences of former cult members. It was like reading like the playbook to my relationship. I learned the methods in which a charismatic leader took advantage of a vulnerable person, how this leader slowly and systematically uprooted everything about the cult member, and reshaped them in his/her vision, until the cult member was a mere shadow of who they once were. People were stolen from the families and never heard from again. If I’d left Buffalo to join the First Church of the Coast United (the name I’d given my relationship-cult), I know my fate would be similar to those in Singer’s book. Reading her book made me feel less alone in my experience. I knew there many other people who had lost themselves along the way, caught under the influence of a charming person who promised better things ahead if they only followed. In a season of weakness, I became susceptible to outside influence. I followed and I fell, temporarily. The post-cult time I spent with my friends, family, and music were the exit counseling I needed. I could hardly believe I was free.
When the fog of my cult life had finally lifted, I began to understand that I am not anyone’s work-in-progress. I am not just someone’s boyfriend. I am a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend. I am a fully-formed person. My quirks and supposed flaws are wonderful and make me who I am. I learned that there could be balance in my life. It wasn’t a singular devotion to my relationship with a girl. My worth is not measured by the time spent in a relationship. I learned to stop wasting time on people who couldn’t accept me as I am. I learned to be more careful in choosing my partners, to tell the warning signs of a controlling relationship early on. There needn’t be constant jealously and lashing out. I discovered that I was not obligated to donate my time and life to anyone. I understood that a healthy relationship should facilitate self-growth, love, and positivity. A healthy relationship would encourage the need for time with friends, family, and time to be alone. I could be myself, and also be in a relationship. It didn’t need to be one thing or the other. I learned to stop making countless small compromises in order to please my partner. Those seemingly small compromises eventually add up to one large sacrifice. I am not willing to sacrifice any longer.
With the end of 2013 quickly approaching, I’ve learned to be thankful for a lot in this past year. I am thankful for the welcoming arms of my friends. They took me back after I disappeared completely. I am thankful for my family who nurtured me in my time of need. I am thankful to my co-workers who made that movie theater seem like a safe haven to me. I am thankful to my bandmates who understood and supported the vision I had for the record we made together. I am thankful for the beauty of music, movies, and books. I can finally finish watching Carnivàle and freely enjoy rated “R” movies without being reprimanded. I can “like” as many Facebook photos as I choose. I can buy stacks and stacks of Playboys. I can eat like a tornado unashamed now.
In Singer’s book, she explains that there are two kinds of people who leave cults: there are castaways and walkaways. A castaway is someone who is thrown out of a cult after they are all used up and drained, whether it be physically, emotionally, or financially. This person is no longer of any use to the cult; they are kicked to the curb and discarded. A walkaway is someone who chooses to leave the cult on their own, and with the help of a strong support system.
As I reflect on the year behind me, I am most thankful for having found freedom and a second chance to love myself as I am. In the end, I am thankful to be a walkaway.