Imagine a time when you had unanswered questions. Was there a time when you felt lost, directionless, had trauma – physical, emotional maybe even sexual trauma? And all you feel is lonely, unloved and stuck. I’m not talking about having a bad day. I’m talking about true despair, which we so often try to hide because of fear of judgement.
And a friend, a close friend who you trust, keeps suggesting to you a group; a personal development group that will accept you as you are, help you through this and you will be coming out not only healed but successful and a good, joyful person with integrity and ethics.
That’s when I joined ESP (a part of NXIVM.)
We had to clap at the beginning and end of every class to thank our coaches and Keith Raniere; the founder and leader of the organization, also promoted as “the smartest man in the world.” We were thanking him for giving us these tools that would form our success – Executive Success Program. Joining in with the clap was defined by ESP as “being in rapport.” We were connecting.
I’m an actor, writer and comedian, and there were a lot of successful Hollywood people in NXIVM. I felt I was in the right place. I figured well if A-List people with numerous credits were doing that clap; why shouldn’t I? I certainly didn’t want to be diﬃcult, or in ESP terms “prideful” and “defiant” right away.
The indoctrination in hindsight was so delicate and very well packaged. There were some great tools I still use today. Some of the useful tools I learned were body and emotional awareness. On my very first day in ESP I was given an intake form, a long quiz with psychological questions. Right away I was asked to share my biggest fears, what I liked about myself and what I couldn’t stand, my secrets, and my biggest enemy and why. What’s the point in taking an expensive program if I’m not honest? So I poured my heart out, and very quickly they were able to pinpoint my issues. Responsibility, and being “at cause” were one of the biggest themes in ESP. In a nutshell it means that you are responsible for EVERYTHING – literally everything. “There are no ultimate victims – therefore I will not choose to be a victim” they would say. This should
build character and a sense of self. Sounds great – who doesn’t want that? I was open to it. Through their methods, they got me into a deeper state of vulnerability, literally grasping for anything that could give me relief. That’s when the indoctrination starts. Till this day they have all of this information about me and I have no knowledge where and whose hands it is in.
They all acted joyful, but it always felt kind of fake to me. Some of my worst experiences were when I went to VWeek. V stands for “Vanguard,” that’s how we were supposed to address Keith. At VWeek, I saw hundreds of people flock to upstate NY to celebrate Vanguard’s birthday. That was the first time I met Keith and Nancy Salzman. Nancy was his right hand in the organization. One afternoon we had a women’s class called Jness, where they taught women what it means to be a woman. It was then that Nancy yelled at me in front of everyone that I am a big middle finger walking around, and no wonder no man wants to talk to me. I believe that this was partial grooming, so that when the time came I would receive Keith with open arms.
I was approached to join DOS. It was presented to me as a very special, elite women’s group. But I instantly felt that something was very wrong when my former coach tried to enroll me in a secret society without telling me what it was, unless I gave her personally damaging “collateral.” I did go on to tell Mark Vicente, one of the highest ranking coaches in ESP and Keith’s personal close friend, what had happened, to me, which was part of what led Mark to leave the organization for good. With the help of many others who were leaving, the dominos started falling. But for the first time I was scared in broad daylight. I would check my surroundings if someone was following me. I was afraid of losing my work visa. I later found out that DOS was the slave-master group where women were branded with Keith’s initials.
For a very brief time after leaving ESP, I thought I should be a coach too. That was all I had been surrounding myself with. I stopped writing and acting during my time in ESP. That’s how disconnected I was from my heart and true passions. I am so glad I woke up from this spell that pleasure is bad, because it stems from an inner deficiency, and that love is pain. Those were things ESP promoted.
I was in ESP for a little more than 2.5 years, and it took me another 2 years to get back on my feet. Five years of my life. Most of the things I wanted to heal that led me to join ESP, weren’t healed and my career was still non existent. Leaving ESP forced me to heal myself; one of the biggest gifts in my life.
Now I live in LA, the mecca of personal development. The coaching epidemic is real. Every single day I see advertisements for how to live fully, be the goddess you truly are through tantra and how to be a money coach…when most of the time they have barely any! The focus is on you! What is going with you! And boy do people in LA love that… Instead of the other way around.
The majority of coaches aren’t certified therapists, and haven’t been through any screening whatsoever. I still love and practice personal development daily. I actually believe it should be a class in school on how to do life, how to deal with emotions and how to meditate. But coaches and organizations who make profit based on other peoples’ desire to grow and heal HAVE to go through a compliance screening, and should do it regularly, to avoid more harm and financial exploitation of others.
There are zero regulations in the coaching scene.
It is my intention to use my voice to set lawmakers and lawyers in motion; to shine light on a very dark corner in society, that when organized correctly can truly help everyone be more peaceful, successful and joyful.
Debora is an actress, writer, stand up comedian, and photographer. Fiery Italian parents raised Debora in a strict Swiss environment creating the perfect tension to influence a young artist.