When does faith become unhealthy? For those who seek a higher purpose, the cost of entry might be too high, as was the case for these “cult survivors” who shared their stories on Reddit. To our surprise, even non-religious organizations—from business to even too tightly-knit friend groups—could trigger that moment where one has to realize, “Oh no, I’m in a cult!” Escape into these harrowing stories from folks who learned they were in too deep.
1. This Isn’t High Heaven
A college friend invited me to a service at her new church. Later told me that the “church” met in a barn, and they spent their last service literally vomiting up their demons. 50 or so people holy-vomiting all at once.
2. Dodged a High-Profile Bullet
I went to my 20th reunion five years ago, and I’ve known the woman who organized it since 3rd grade. Very nice, smart, charismatic, etc. and she told me about her self-help/life coaching company. I said that sounds cool and maybe I could benefit, so she said she would hook it up later. I live in LA and when I got back, I had an email introducing me to her colleague.
The email domain was esplosangeles.com, which sounded weird. A quick trip to their web page and a Google search, and I find out she was trying to get me to join NXIVM, which is now all over the news. I got right outta there, and glad I did, as a bunch of them are going to jail now. Not sure about her status in the whole thing, though.
3. No Education Would Be Better to This One
I went to a “therapeutic” boarding school. The first night I got there, everyone told me how I’d “get used to everything.” And I did, I fell right into their trap. I didn’t even realize how messed up it was until the school got shut down by the FBI and the owner got charged with child endangerment and abusing a student.
4. Bad to Mix Friendship With Business
I got invited to a “business meeting” for a life insurance company. My wife was looking for business connections, trying to get referrals to her company, so we went. It was a life insurance company. It was such a creepy, cultish place. Everyone with fake serial-killer smiles, constantly talking about how much money they’re making.
That wasn’t even the worst part. The other “guests” around us were nodding their heads in agreement, taking it in hook, line, and sinker. My wife and I just looked at each other, left, and stopped answering that guy’s phone calls. We had actually signed up for some insurance through them when we thought it was a normal company. We immediately canceled and signed up with a real, big-name insurance company.
5. The Steep Cost of Believing
I was looking into franchise businesses a while back, and one place offered me the chance to buy in and become a “business coach.” They had me take aptitude tests, went over my work history, and said that I’d be perfect with my business background. I went to meet them with a group of other potential franchisees at a presentation in a hotel. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Immediately I was like “What the heck? This is a multi-level marketing scheme.” The other people there had next to no business experience, and all they were telling us was that we had to find our clients to coach, and then read them a script off on iPad app. What’s scary is that they’re an actual registered franchise business.
Every other franchise I spoke to and turned down was extremely polite and said, “Best of luck to you.” When I said no to these people, it was just the beginning of a nightmare. These guys just cut off all contact with me, and I heard later through my franchise broker that they were really angry and threatening about it.
6. Raising the Company Spirits
I had a pretty bad sales position selling TV and internet in retail stores. It was impulse sales, meaning you’re trying to get people to sign up for two years of something they just learned about five minutes ago. Anyway, there was a ton of rejection, but it was a full commission gig, so you stayed in the field until you closed.
Therefore, it required a ton of effort and seemingly unending optimism/confidence. Every morning you’d get “fired up” with cheers and chants and other activities that involved yelling and team building. This also resulted in there being 10,000 sayings recycled on the daily about sticking through it and taking control of your destiny, etc.
You buy into the system and the energy and that’s how they get you. One night, I was driving home a coworker and he finds an article: “Why (our company) is like a cult.” And though he was laughing on the outside, this dude 100% brought it up to be like—”this stuff is crazy right?” Needless to say, the article was spot on, and he didn’t last much longer. I quit soon after that.
7. When It Rains, It Pours
My parents were part of Amway. It is a pyramid scheme, of course, but it’s also extremely religious. I would even classify it as its own denomination of Christianity. They used to have to do “meetings” where they tried to rope friends and family and total strangers they met at work into doing it too.
They would literally pray for money and wealth. Amway worked like a private country within America; it even had its own movies, music, and celebrities. You don’t see all that from the outside. It’s not until you’re deep into it that you realize how disturbing it is. How hard they pound this garbage into people. It’s a miracle my parents decided to give it up.
8. Welcome to the Family
I was having a crisis of faith in college, and my friend invited me to a megachurch her family sometimes visited. She was singing its praises, talking about how supportive, friendly and progressive it was. She swore this place would speak to me. One of the issues I had with religion was how old-fashioned it was, so it sounded great.
We got there for the 11 am service (there were like five services throughout the day to accommodate their massive congregation), and my friend took me to the door for new worshipers/visitors. I was already kind of put off by this. I didn’t want to go through the visitor’s door—I don’t like having special attention drawn to me especially in a new place.
I tried to get my friend to let me go through the regular door since I just wanted to check the place out, no reason to make a big deal out of it. She insisted that this was how things were done and I HAD to go. At this point, I am about to balk. Why is there a separate entrance? Why can’t I use the normal door? Are they going to baptize me before they let me in?
I finally let her drag me in there. Inside there were several staff members all smiling too-big smiles in the welcoming area waiting on us newbies. We went up to one lady, who gave me a super chipper rendition of the welcome speech that was echoing almost verbatim around us to other newcomers. It was really eerie.
She gave me a free T-shirt (super comfy if I’m being honest) and a coupon for a free smoothie from the CAFE IN THE CHURCH right outside the sanctuary/stadium. Now, I grew up Southern Baptist, and the concept of having to pay for something in a church besides what went in the offering plate was completely foreign and just this side of blasphemous.
Still, free is free, so I took it. We go in and the music was…honestly something else. They took popular songs from the time but changed the lyrics to fit the religious theme. That was super creepy too. After that, they had a bunch of people come out and start telling us how the church helped fix their awful paths of sin.
There were alleged addicts who lost everything but turned it around at the church. There were people talking about how giving to the church helped them out of their financial struggles—excuse me? The minister came out and told us, if we were having a rough time mentally, physically, financially, personally, etc., that giving money to the church would make it better.
This is where it all went off the rails.
If it didn’t work at first, try giving more. You try giving 10%, but no results? God just wants you to give more to spread the word. Try giving 20%! He made it clear that giving your time to the church was not as valuable as giving money. Talked about giving massive donations that no normal person could ever afford without losing everything.
One guy said that doing this cured him of his gambling. I mean, yeah, because you don’t have anything to gamble. Not really a cure, just an alternative displacement of funds. By the time we left, I felt worse about religion than before. Told my friend that the place felt more like a cult or a really smiley mafia. She disagreed and just said I was jaded.
9. The Mother of All Groupthink
Joined a mom group when I was having my first child. It was a “crunchy” mom group. For those who don’t know, a crunchy mom is kind of like a hipster mom. Mom groups can get pretty cult-like. I joined the group because of shared ideas. Bedsharing, extended breastfeeding, cloth diapering, and other stuff like that.
Well, I gave up on cloth diapering, and those moms went nuts. They staged an intervention with me and pretty much wouldn’t let me leave until I put my kid in a cloth. And that’s only some of the things.
10. No Debate About That
I went to high school orientation with my son. There was a presentation phase, where electives and clubs got to talk and tell everyone what they were about. A group of really excited kids get up on stage and start talking about all the great places their club goes to and all of the competitions without ever saying anything about what they actually do.
Before they get done talking, my son watches me pull my phone out and search: “Is DECA a cult?” When typing “is DECA”, “a cult” was the top recommended search. I don’t think he is going to join.
11. Fake Worlds, Real Weird
I was part of a Second Life roleplay years ago that was really dark and abusive, even though people swore it wasn’t, and people kept going back even though they’d leave even more battered than they already were. Everyone was convinced it had once been a wonderful place and if they just tried a little, they could “make it great again.” It only got worse.
After going back and leaving a few times myself, I finally left for good. But something always bothered me that I could never explain. Why did everyone there feel like the city was theirs, like they somehow owned a stake in the city, like somehow the city had become a part of their very soul, even though it was just a stupid RP sim?
Years later, I was researching abuse psychology and found a list of cult traits. I was able to check off just about every single box. The goddarned place was run like a cult. Turns out most SL RP sims are. Forget that trash.
12. Hate Isn’t Faith
I was an edgy teenager. I got bullied a lot. I didn’t have someone to give me any wisdom. So, I turned to people who sympathized with me and looked out for me. Look, it called itself the “Church Of Creativity.” That hardly sounds like a hate group’s name. They constantly said that they were a peaceful religion and not a hate group.
It was based on science, and evolution, not hate, right? It was mostly just talking about movies or hunting or school with other, kind white people. Except you were recommended to refuse to associate with “muds.” If the cashier at a store was black, you’d go to a different register. If the person serving you was Mexican, you’d eat somewhere else.
It was constantly hammered in that the church didn’t hate them, it pitied them. They didn’t choose to be inferior, right? It’s just nature. Sure, the founder of the organization built a compound where he trained young boys to survive after the apocalypse. But that’s just about being a man, right? Totally not preparation for racial holy war.
Thankfully, I broke away from those people when I was about 16. And then my only real friend in Basic Training was a black Buddhist. It kind of made me reconsider my views of people. I am not ashamed of my involvement in that organization. They used predatory tactics to bring in young men and slowly turn them toward hate.
I walked away before I did something stupid. Being ashamed of it won’t mean it didn’t happen, so I might as well own up to it and make sure other people are aware that organizations like this exist. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I actually realized how cultish their practices were. Parents, if your kids start talking about Ben Klassen, take away their computer.
13. All Fours Isn’t Always More Fun
My friend told me it was a small singing concert. Went there, listened to two songs about Jesus. Watched a 30-minute video of how Jesus sacrificed himself, etc. Until this part it was OK, I guess, despite the fact that I wasn’t even told the concert was religiously related. But then they turned off the lights and the real nightmare started.
They hustled a huge two-meter-long cross to the middle of the room, lit candles around it, and started chanting, “We are sinners.” Then everyone started kneeling on the floor, and a guy was talking about redemption. At this point, the people in the room were all sobbing and wailing. And then some said, “If you believe of his existence, show yourself at the feet of the cross.”
And the people in the room got onto all fours, screaming and wailing and crying. I got right out of the room.
14. The Real Art Is Believing in Someone
My friend and I came upon the International Art Museum of America one day while roaming around San Francisco. It was free admission and we had time to kill. While we were looking at the decent art, we noticed that most of the art was by a dude who called himself the Third Buddha. A lot of the descriptions spoke very highly of the art piece and of him.
Too highly. That’s when we realized that we were in a museum dedicated to a cult leader.
15. Can’t Take the Fire, Stay Out of the Line
So, I’m a Christian, for context, but I had a friend who was a bit of a wacky over-the-top Christian. We were hanging out one day, and he wanted us to hang with this new group he met that was trying to start a church up. I shrugged it off and said sure, figuring it would be cool. Spoiler alert: it was not cool at all, it was truly disturbing.
We meet at one of the people’s houses and first impression they all seemed chill, no big deal just small talk, the house was a bit hot though and it was in the middle of summer in a humid state. One suggested we listen to some music and I didn’t think much of it. Little did I realize that wasn’t as easy as it sounded. They started blaring Christian music very loud.
Then they got up and started praying and lifting their hands, old Pentecostal style, in their house. It only seemed to keep getting hotter, I was just hanging in the back, not really much for the stuff. This went on for a bit, and then they said we should start a “fire line” At that point was thinking of an escape route, but I was in the middle of nowhere.
I then found out the fire line was basically everyone would line up in two equal lines surrounding one person and they would all lay hands on someone and pray for them. I was uncomfortable as can be, but they encouraged me to do it, so I rolled with it thinking it would be no big deal It went on for two hours. Two!
I was sweating horribly and didn’t feel right as most of them started speaking in tongues around me. Finally, it was my turn, and I felt I was on fire at that point and not in a good way. I thought I would make an excuse to step out after I was done. Yeah, I didn’t make it to that I passed out somehow in the middle of it.
When I came to, two of my friends had dragged me out of there. Now for context, I was very healthy at the time and did construction work, so I was used to intense heat. I don’t think that’s why I passed out, so to this day I don’t know what happened to me. I avoided that crowd after that because that garbage went on for probably five hours total.
16. The Worst Pitch Comes From Those You Love
My ex did Landmark. I had researched and told her it seemed sort of cultish. She ignored me and did it anyway, and as I was trying to be supportive, that was fine. I was super busy, but she told me it was really important to her that I come to her graduation at the end of the course. Again, trying to be supportive, I said I would go for her.
About five minutes into the “ceremony” all the graduates were told to go to another room. I started to get uncomfortable and angry. The graduation was an excuse to bring all your friends to a Landmark pitch while they abandoned you. I sat through that stuff, and I sat through the plants trying to be cool afterward, asking me if I was going to sign up.
I felt lied to, violated, and emotionally abused, but the thing is, she didn’t get it, or understand why I felt betrayed. That is the power of these kinds of things. People who “don’t get it” are labeled negative and unsupportive. I couldn’t have done more to be supportive except join their dumb cult, which I wasn’t going to do.
When things went downhill later in the relationship, I should have seen the signs. We’re still friends and she is doing well and is no longer involved with them, as far as I know.
17. Bait and Switch
I was in one of those Christian groups at UC Berkeley. They offered me free food like twice a week at their gatherings. As a starving student, couldn’t really say no. I honestly didn’t even know it was a religious organization until they were planning my baptism. Without my consent. I got the heck out of there after that.
18. Give Our God Some Credit
I had break the news to a work colleague and tell her she was in a cult. She was a “bright young thing” at work, team manager, very self-entitled. She’d done some “courses” wanted to get reimbursed for them. I had to tell her that our company only recognized nationally accredited training courses and unfortunately, the Church of Scientology did not fall under this umbrella.
19. Keep Them on Ice
When my roommate and I first moved into our apartment a group of people were hosting an ice cream social in the lot next door, so we went down to get free ice cream. They were really nice people but then slowly started trying to convince us to join their church. We stayed and listened to their pitch, because free ice cream.
20. Two for Tea and More?
It was the Moonies. Two fairly attractive women just started chatting me up at the transit station. I knew something was fishy. They invited me for tea, then told me about the fellowship dinners they had. After about 15 minutes of this, I said, “So this is religion, right?” They said, “Uh, yeah…” I said thanks for the tea, but I had to go.
21. Pay Your Own Way to a Higher Cause
Watching my grandma, who is the matriarch of my extended family and our family’s glue, struggle to pay tithes AND offerings every week, regardless of how much of a difference it would have made to her vs. our rather large church. My grandma paid for her meds in change on a Monday while I watched our preacher get into a brand new, black and chrome Yukon Denali the Sunday prior. It didn’t make sense.
22. We Swiped Right for You
I realized it when they said I was going to marry someone from Korea. When I said no, they said they had already bought the plane tickets.
23. Take a Left Turn at Lustville
One of the leaders said that we shouldn’t watch any TV or read any material that wasn’t published by the church. I said, “Well I just like Road & Track magazine, I don’t think that’s anti-religious.” He replied, “That material will cause you to lust after material things and you shouldn’t read it.” It was at that point I knew I had to get the heck out of there.
24. That’s Not Good Karma
When the leader snapped a crying toddler on the side of the head to get him to shut up. He then demanded that children be kept out of earshot, a thousand yards away. Great compassion my butt. Not to mention he got drunk every night while he taught. I got out of there as quickly as a could once I realized what was going on.
25. We Don’t Do That Part of the Bible
My parents joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses for a few years when I was a kid. One Saturday, I stayed the night at a friend’s house and went to church with them on Sunday. The minister at my friends’ church talked about “The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.” I was confused. Next Sunday at the Kingdom Hall, I asked our minister about it after services.
He said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Even at 11 years old, I knew he was lying. If he’d simply said, “That’s a concept that we don’t believe in,” I wouldn’t have lost respect in him, nor would have decided that everything coming out of his mouth was suspect, but I did. I spent decades as an agnostic as a result.
26. The Church of Plastics
I was accidentally in a religious cult. I would see how the pastor would treat nonmembers and members that didn’t comply with what he wanted, and I would think “I hope he doesn’t start acting this way towards me.” He would berate people, gossip, expect us to stay at his house until late hours, and forbid us to hang out with nonmembers. Then the worst came.
He actually asked me to move in there when I already had my own place. I noticed it was a cult when I told them I was hanging out with an old friend and they preceded to ask why I was doing that and that they were my friends. I came to a service that following Sunday. The pastor saw me and immediately started berating me.
The whole service was pretty much him talking smack about me and making rude jokes. I knew this sermon was about me when he kept referencing the “person” hanging out with other people and saying it was sinful. I’ve never felt so embarrassed in my life than at that moment with everyone laughing at me. I sat through that entire service just embarrassed.
Once I left, several of the members attempted to contact me with a few of them trying to “go to the movies” with me at midnight when they knew darn well the closest movie theater was an hour away. What movie theater shows movies at midnight. After I stopped going to that church, a few of the members completely stopped talking to me despite us being “friends.”
27. Miracles Happen in Increments
I was actually in a church that transformed slowly into a cult. They just slowly started doing more and more miracle things and being open more and more days open with encouragement to be there for those days. Tithes became incredibly important, and the priest’s family became more and more important. I left, thankfully.
28. A Faith Worth Fighting for
I used to practice Kung Fu at what was basically the most McDojo place ever. On top of all the usual money grabbing stuff, the grand master changed his title to something like “His Celestial Holiness” and started getting his students to travel to the woods to build his temple. It was definitely turning into a cult by the time I left.
29. The Real Magic Is Finding Better Friends Than Family
Three things happened: A person died from suspicious circumstances (loosely tied to the group), and none of the adults would listen to me when I said that he did not die by suicide. Then, I started to meet those back-parking lot kids at school who were into free thinking and questioning religion—most are artists and successful loving parents now.
Couple those things with the fact that the youth group weekly bible study leader thought she could actually see demons, and the head youth leader was backing her up on her claims, I was pretty ready to leave when I turned 18. I did not go back. My mother tried to exorcize demons from me when I was 18 because I came home late—at 11:30 pm.
I was an A/B student, had maybe smoked pot like twice, was a virgin, and all in all a pretty good kid. I had no language or education at that point to argue that I was, in fact, not possessed by the devil, because you can’t argue with crazy. She kicked me out a few weeks later and I stayed with a family of Wiccans before I moved to my first shared apartment.
30. Only Cool Kids Go to Heaven
When I wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t enough that I showed up, paid money and contributed to the group—there was always this hint of disappointment that I couldn’t bring in more people, through subtle hints like, “You can bring other people if you’d like! We’d love to be able to save your loved ones,” to, “Why don’t you ever bring people in? Your loved ones deserve to be saved!”
And people who were social and outgoing were described as the most desirable people to invite into the church. My pastor straight out said, “We aren’t going for the loners you see sitting alone at lunch. We need to go for social kids with groups of friends all around them. It’s our goal to save as many people as possible so we need to go for them!”
31. It Doesn’t Take Rocket Science To See That’s Messed Up
When I realized ever since I was a kid, I had been railroaded towards getting married and having more kids in the organization. Everything I was ever taught was how to be a good wife with sewing and quiet journaling and crafts, with no encouragement for my dreams of being a scientist. They were absolutely horrible to me.
Once when I was about 14, I said to a leader that I didn’t want kids and wanted to be a scientist, and I remember the exact words: “Well, when you decide you do want to have kids remember that that’s the greatest calling you can have.” When I got older, I found a lot of lies and cover-ups they taught and found the truth disgusting.
32. The Cost of Acceptance
My parents were in this religious cult that always asks for a crazy amount of donations. It even sends families out to pioneer for the religion. We were one of the family. Then coming to Canada, we had financial/immigration issue. The organization immediately distanced themselves from us. Only then did we realize this was not what we thought it was.
33. The Man Behind the White Cloak
My friend’s grandfather was a farmer growing up, think the 1940s or 50s. It was kind of a remote town, but he would talk to other farmers and buyers when he went down to the market. One day, an acquaintance of his tells him that they’re having a meeting with a whole bunch of other farmers and farmhands and that he should come and join.
My friend’s grandfather, thinking it’s some sort of farmer’s alliance, is like “Sure, why not.” My friend’s grandpa goes to the meeting and is a bit confused when it’s not about farming at all. It’s a KKK meeting. He has an “Oh crap, I’m in a cult,” moment, but waits until it’s over because he doesn’t know what will happen if someone sees him trying to leave.
34. From the Small Screen to Your Nightmares
My church when they showed us this trippy video. We had this weird resurrection play. Honestly freaked me the heck out. Also, my parents make me go to church but I’m not really into the whole thing.
35. Just Not Feeling the Chemistry
I was interested in joining a chemistry fraternity and the moment I knocked on the door at their house I had a hood placed over my head and was walked into their basement. Apparently, my interest was enough to try and induct me into their fraternity, and I had to walk around their basement blindfolded to say an oath…needless to say, I never went back to the chemistry frat.
36. Wait for the Plot Twist
I used to work for this company that turned out to be very cultish. I probably should have known better, but I was young and naive. The first red flag was on my first day I had to take an “oath” and repeat after this guy leading it in a room full of strangers, but I just chalked it up to being an old but slightly weird tradition—it is a pretty old organization.
After that, we had a mandatory orientation. That’s when things got really weird. First of all, it was being held in practically the middle of nowhere. Like legitimately out in the woods. When we got there, we were totally isolated and then they took our phones, made us all dress the same and walk in a certain way.
But they were just getting started. We also had to only respond in a certain way, follow directions, and memorize a bunch of company stuff. They used to not feed us until we could chant back the company mission statement without messing it up. They also shaved all our heads on the first day and constantly made us do physical exercises as punishment.
After that things got better, but it was still a very weird place to work. They preferred to have employees living only around other employees and would even offer to help cover the cost of living if we moved into company sponsored buildings together. We still did a lot of weird company retreats where we could go back out into secluded areas and do “company training.”
It was really just glorified camping on company time. We also still had to know the mission statement and company guidelines and would get reprimanded if we didn’t. I saw people getting into trouble over little things like haircuts and dirty shoes. Anyway, the Army wasn’t so bad overall, but I’m glad to be in college now.
37. Spanx This Hate Right out the Door
I was sitting in the audience listening to the equivalent of the pope at a religious service. I’d been in this religion since birth, 35 years at the time. This guy proceeds to go on a rant about Spanx and tight pants, and how wearing that clothing is immodest. He said that tight pants were designed by homosexuals because they want to see men wearing tight pants.
He then said that “you’re not a spiritual person” if you’ve visited a theme park but hadn’t yet visited the world headquarters for this religion. I woke up completely that day. Within eight months I successfully extracted myself, my wife, and kids from the cult and left it behind for good. The organization I’m talking about is the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
38. Taking Fandom Too Far
I was the worst kind of Naruto fan growing up. The worst. And I had an outlet on the internet. At 13 years old, I started a chat room for other Naruto fans. Specifically centered around Jashinism. For those of you who never went through a Naruto phase, Jashinism is a fake religion, based on an idea of voodoo, centered around slaughter.
As an edgy 13-year-old with no sense of social boundaries, of course, this drew my attention. I wanted to share it with the world. So, I made a fake prayer, and some fake commandments, and centered my take on Jashinism around the balance of life and death and understanding pain, as much as a traumatized 13-year-old can.
Well, it gained traction. Like. A lot of traction. People made a website. They started asking me for spiritual advice. Wanted to donate money. Wanted to build an actual church. It started to get kind of scary so I got out. I backed way off and pretended it never happened. I can’t find the website anymore, so I’m pretty sure it got taken down by whoever made it.
Anyway, I was thinking about that chat room after I’d grown up and gone to therapy. I realized I kind of started a cult-centered around a Naruto-based, fictional religion. Whoops. Never promoted the idea of hurting yourself or others though. Made it very clear I wasn’t about that. But people got really into the idea of understanding pain and being understood.
39. It’s Not In Your Head
I went to a small women’s college in Virginia. I only stayed a semester because of the group mentality. They would constantly perform rituals that were not “mandatory,” but you were weird if you didn’t go. One alone wasn’t weird, but collectively it was too much. Example: One founders’ day, everyone wore white.
We went to the chapel for the ceremony and then walked two miles to the graveyard, where the founders were buried. We all had to lay roses on the graves and sing the school’s song. Four girls in my class tried to die by suicide in the first semester. My class only had 64 girls. It was an epidemic, but everyone was trying to keep it hushed up.
If you discussed transferring, the dean of students and the school’s counselor would threaten to have you put in a mental hospital for 72 hours. I transferred in secret so no one would find out. I didn’t even tell my friends. I would wake up at 4 am and transfer stuff from my dorm room to be shipped home. It was terrifying.
40. Jehovah’s Honeypot
When I was in middle school, a Jehovah’s Witness family showed up and enrolled their kids in public school. One of them, a fairly attractive boy, started flirting with me. I’d always been that “weird” girl in school, so I obviously fell for him. He told me he wasn’t allowed to “date,” per se, but he was allowed to invite people to his church. It was a huge mistake.
He told if I went with him, we could hang out and it would be just like a date. So I did, and that day they were talking about how if you join the church, you cannot speak with anyone not in the Witnesses. I knew enough about cults to know what was going on. I was still interested in him, though, so I came up with an ingenious plan.
When he asked me to go again, I politely declined. Instead, I suggested we sneak out one night and meet. He did, and I used my allowance to get us tickets to some movie. I didn’t see him for years after that. His family just vanished. The next time I saw him, it was in a mall. I went up and said hi, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened.
Suddenly, his grandmother yanked him away, snarling not to speak with “that filthy girl.” Not to be a conspiracy theorist, but I think he was only allowed to flirt with me because they were trying to convert me and my family. In my community, we were pretty well known—my father was the fire chief and in a small town like this, that’s a big deal.
41. I Got the Devil Inside Me
I was young at the time, so I didn’t realize until after my family had left. Looking back on it, the way the community practically worshipped the leader, hanging on his every word whether it was what they should name their new baby or what movies were evil and would bring the devil into their lives really should have tipped me off.
The biggest red flag I can’t believe I didn’t realize at the time was when he decided one of the kids in the community was possessed and needed an exorcism. That kid was me. I won’t bore you with the details, but remembering that years later is what made me finally realize “holy moly, that was a cult.” I’m glad I got out.
42. One Man Down
It was an “intentional community” I joined when I was 19. There were a bunch of hippies living in tents on a piece of land. A charming, shirtless dude was the leader, the group included several young women—although there were a few other dudes and an older woman involved as well. After I moved in, I discovered their dark secret.
I learned that one of the other guys had gone missing after having a disagreement with the leader. He packed up his car full of all his belongings, and then…was nowhere to be found. They searched the property for his body, contemplated calling the police, but decided not to. Instead, they decided to just hold hands around the fire. I left.