About 8 years ago, Lindsay got involved in the now famous cult, NIXVM, lead by Keith Raniere. In June of this year (2019) Keith was convicted of federal crimes including sex trafficking, conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit forced labor. His sentencing is at the end of October, 2019.
Lindsay got involved in the cult, NXIVM back in about 2012, right around the time of my wedding, I remember because she came to Toronto and was talking non-stop about this great new program she was involved in, called ESP (Executive Success Program). Lindsay got very involved in the work largely because of her connect with Sarah Edmonson, the high-ranking recruiter who became the Canadian whistleblower on the operation and who was recently the focus of the CBC podcast Uncover, season 1. I have had many conversations with Lindsay about her involvement over the years, and I have to admit, many of them were very emotional. At the beginning it was hard to watch her get pulled in and it was hard to resist her invitations to join the group, particularly because the work was so aligned with what I was doing with my own personal development group. But, as I have come to learn with many women in abusive relationships, cults being a version of that, my goal as a friend is always to remain a friend and someone who doesn’t judge and who the person feels they can speak freely to about their experiences. I don’t know if that’s the right method, but it has been one I have stood by. I am never the “he’s an asshole, get rid of him” type.
Lindsay and I have known each other since 2004 or 2005. We have been roommates a few times in Halifax. We have always stayed in contact, but it wasn’t frequent. Yet, I love her like a little sister and respect her seeker behaviour that calls her all over the place. Lindsay’s just been that type of person who is always off on adventures, so this ESP thing was kind of one of those. I think I always knew she would be ok. Or I hoped. After she left the cult, I got to talk to her about it as the cult that it was. Those conversations were very hard for me. I would come home to my partner crying with guilt and wishing I had done more than I did, which felt like nothing. It is nothing when your goal is to just be there for when it all crumbles and to remain the person who will never judge. But the pain that I feel is nothing compared to the trauma she has experienced and continues to experience in the form of PTSD. Lindsay is a strong (sometimes too strong), stubborn, intelligent, and wise woman. All of those defining characteristics are what ultimately led her out of the cult and into safety.
There will be several conversations with Lindsay to be shared. In the summer of 2019 we decided to start recording. The first two that I present are chopped up versions of our first conversation we recorded about this. It was very scattered and non-linear and I assured Lindsay at the time that it was inevitable. Trauma is not linear and the way we make sense of it changes how it unfolded in chronology. Lindsay is committed to sharing her story with others because she believes that cults are an epidemic and that cults permeate aspects of our life we don’t even realize, whether it’s religious groups, romantic relationships, or corporations.
The first episode we share is my edited version of her talking about how she feels having left the cult. It’s a very visceral description of PTSD, true to Linday style of being able to articulate what most people can’t even feel. Sharing her experience really draws the outsider into how something so traumatic can permeate your whole being and always hang over you. It affects every interaction that you have with people.
The next episode is her describing how she got in and out. We’ll continue the conversation in subsequent episodes as Lindsay reveals important elements of Keith’s personal development curriculum. I admit in one conversation that I feel uncomfortable by the parallel between what he does and what I do, as a Life Coach and a person who has developed a personal development community. I am reassured by the fact that my intentions are honourable yet Keith is a psychopath, which ultimately got the best of him. But I can’t help but wonder about cults and the many leaders we have seen who have fallen when their ego was strengthened instead of dissolved. I hope to explore this greater perspective on cults and personal development with Lindsay and I strive to support her healing and post-traumatic growth.
CBC Podcast Uncover: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/uncover/uncover-season-1-escaping-nxivm-1.4675949
Dan Shaw, Psychotherapist who specializes in Trauma: http://www.danielshawlcsw.com/