I grew up in abject poverty. If you aren’t sure what American poverty looked like during the 80s, picture this: A child comes home from school, assuming they made it to school at all, and wipes away the roaches from the kitchen table to sit down and devour a snack of crackers and peanut butter, that was provided to them the day before from someone from the government. The food is tightly wrapped to keep it safe from the critters, and a child finishes homework, has kool-aid to hide the brown water coming from the faucets, and takes a bath with bubbles from shampoo, maybe, and goes to bed, knowing full well that they will have company throughout the night.
It’s a family waiting at the social services agency with hungry children who sometimes had not eaten in several days. Or maybe they had some cheese and cabbage. Children who cannot attend after school sports or activities either because either their parents don’t have the means or they can’t transport their kids. It’s horrific. But a kid usually doesn’t know any better. Until they get into upper grades at school and visit other houses. And eventually they learn of a life beyond this and the “American Dream” where they can do what they want, when they want, free from limitations, and be rich!
That was my early childhood. Filled with animosities, hunger, creatures, and as much imagination as I could muster to make the bad things go away. As a college graduate in my 20s, I was able to move slightly beyond my childhood with my degree, but I needed something that could fully take me beyond my origins, so I hunted down different jobs, activities, and experiences.
When I fell into the NXIVM community, I felt that I had found a solution to my poverty, and that I could do good for the world. What was the solution? Me. And You. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” was the number one quote in NXIVM. In order to be that change, all I had to do was break down everything about me and my personality and learn that everything was a choice, and all events and effects in my life were a direct result of something I did to cause them. One of the concepts that I took to the most was the idea that you can be in terrible circumstances and still choose to feel joy, which allows for solid decision making that is not based on reactivity. Mind blowing.
But in order to fully get to that point, or to be ‘unified’ or ‘integrated’ as the saying goes, we had to work through our inner deficiencies. ”You’re disintegrated on that topic,” we were told, “You can take x training to help you with that and get an EM.” When we complained about the cost, they would use manipulation such as “You said you were committed to your personal growth. If you really aren’t committed, then that’s fine, but don’t lie about it.”
This causes a person to have to make a choice between investing in themselves and be committed to their personal growth, or be a whole list of bad traits forever. Did I want to be right about it? Did I want to seem like I’m being controlling? Or should I let the control go and make it work?
I joined NXIVM at the urging of Allison Mack. She offered the opportunity to work for her if I would take the courses. I moved to Vancouver and subsequently to Albany. They began to break down who I was. Initially I was told that my style of communication was “parasitic.” In other words I was always looking for attention or using control tactics to cause a person to interact with me. I remember feeling confused, because they were great at breaking me down. No one defined what communication should look like. In their module called “Communication and being at cause” they suggested that communicating a concept is the sole responsibility of the person who is communicating. They must know exactly how to deliver the message to the listener so as to get past the listener’s fears and needs and inner deficiencies, so that they can hear the message as it was intended. They never demonstrated it though. It’s part of a larger pattern of breaking something and then walking away from it, without putting it back.
Over time, my understanding of personal growth and value was overhauled so that I would be okay dedicating over half of my income to more classes and EM’s. I was trained to spend money on my personal growth as an ‘investment’ – and for some, even their actual investments were spent on this mission. But since I grew up in poverty, the idea of an actual investment was not a real concept for me. My goal was to break out of poverty. I wanted to work through my ‘issues’ and ‘inner deficiencies’ to be able to make lots of money. Seriously, I think my ‘infinity goal state’ as they call it may have actually included a helicopter. But with a broken sense of self and upside-down understanding of value and investment, I was unable to meet those goals.
I spent years in NXIVM. Eventually, I left and joined the work force again. Only armed with a vague memory of working with an “outside world” company. I found it difficult to maintain the status quo. And, when the news broke out in October 2017, a piece of my will broke as well. What had I done? All of the trauma I had had in my lifetime did not prepare me for the realization that I spent years and so much of my hard-earned money for nothing. I struggled with the idea that I feel I am so broken that I will never amount to anything and never break away from the cycle of poverty in which I grew up.
Some days are better than others, but I have a lot of hope. I dedicate myself to true personal growth in the form of personal therapy sessions try to keep myself balanced and always seeking improvement. When something doesn’t work out or I fail at something, I hear “you can never keep a promise to yourself,” and “you aren’t dedicated enough to your personal growth.” With this and other such rhetoric in my head, I keep going.
I’ve had to file bankruptcy because of the debt I got into while I was involved with Nxivm, it was all too much for me. Some days I have a difficult time dealing with it. But nearly every day I get up, take care of my twin boys and love them to smithereens, ensure they have anything they need and much of what they want, and work the most that I can to earn an income. I am a resilient person. I will I just have to keep moving forward. Recovery is hard. Especially when you are recovering from having your sense of self and the world moved around like a Picasso painting. As beautiful as that mess is, it’s still a work in progress. I’m nearly done with my Masters degree, which will unlock a promising future.
Tabby is a Marriage and Family Therapist trainee and a Professional Clinical Counselor trainee, through Life Source Affordable Counseling Services.