There are three basic ways to leave a cult. You can walk away. You can get thrown out or abandoned. Or you can be rescued. All three happened to me.
It was around this time of the year. Every holiday season, when I hear the Salvation Army bells ringing on the street corners, I am reminded of how I left the cult. Even though it’s been over twenty years, it’s as if it were yesterday.
I was standing in front of a quick-mart deli near a red-suited Santa, a recruiter for Salvation Army. I had nowhere to turn except to a pay phone. I dialed 211 and they directed me to a woman’s shelter. I ended up in the hospital, pregnant and suicidal. My cult “family” abandoned me there, thinking me possessed with devils. Then my mother came to visit and she took my children and me home.
But how do you leave a cult when you don’t even know you’re in one? Most emergency hotlines don’t have numbers for cult exit counseling services and even if they did, who would know to ask for it? Exit counselors are educators and therapists who know about cults and mind control. They can help you heal from the trauma of involvement with and departure from a cult.
Veterans of war with PTSD receive specialized counseling for what they’ve been through. So do victims of rape and sexual abuse. Cult survivors can receive help if they know where to look. But even the Internet doesn’t know a lot about exit counselors. If you Google “exit counselors,” you’ll come up with a list financial aid officers in universities!
But there are many resources available on the Internet if you know where to look. ICSA, the International Cultic Studies Association, is a good place to begin. They have excellent articles and links to exit counselors. Google alerts for “cults” are also helpful because you’ll come across websites and blogs of people who have successfully left cults and rebuilt their lives.
The bottom line here is that whether you walk away, are abandoned or rescued, leaving a cult or any abusive relationship is traumatic. The psychological and spiritual wounds are very real. If not properly attended to they can fester and infect the whole of your life, making it difficult to “move on.” The guilt and anger associated with leaving can linger for years, whether you’ve been out one year or twenty. It’s never too late to get help.