I made a joke the other day, “If I spend my whole summer watching docuseries about cults, does that mean I am in a cult?”
But, of course, like most jokes, there was a tiny sliver of truth in my question. My husband and I, in our ultimate quest for distraction from real life, have watched all sorts of different people living through the experience of realizing they are in a cult.
Of course, it’s interesting in the way that we all stop and look at a car accident on the side of the road, but there is one main umbrella theme over all these shows and podcasts: pain.
Pain. When I think of it, I think of the moment I got home from the hospital with neither of my twin babies, and I sat in the bathtub and the most guttural, earth-splitting sound came out of me. My babies were dead. That was the worst moment of pain I’ve ever experienced. There is divorce and death and so much loss.
But then there are small, repeated moments of pain – a feeling of rejection, a loss, a pang of self-loathing. Feeling less-than, arguing, feeling not-good-enough.
The theme in all these shows – people like you and me, hurting so bad and looking for a way to feel better. To heal. To be seen. And so it’s not like they set out to join a cult. They set out to be understood. I recently watched one that had film clips of the leader in a giant venue, who said, “By raise of hands, who has thought they would be better off dead?”
And every last person in the theater raised their hand. And while of course, most of them found this person because they were suicidal in some form or another, it was so overwhelming to see hundreds (thousands) of people with their hands up.
On July 4th, my family and went to see a ski show on this teeny lake, something we’ve done every year for as long as I can remember. It was taking a while for the ski show to start, and people were beginning to sort of grumble about it, you know — what’s going on, what’s the holdup, let’s get this show on the road.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that there were several large adults holding onto a stretcher/chair kind of contraption. “I think there’s been an accident,” I said to my husband, as I watched them struggle to put an older man who clearly couldn’t stand or walk into this stretcher.
That nagging feeling of worry settled into my belly. I hate accidents and my brain often goes to the worst possible scenario. But then my husband nudged me, “Look, they’re putting him into a boat.”
As it turns out, this man was the founder of the ski team. He’d been skiing with them for 40+ years, but in the last year had developed ALS. And so the ski team members carried him down this difficult embankment to get him into a speed boat so he could be a part of the opening ceremony.
People all around me had tears in their eyes, as I imagined how painful it must be to watch something as horrible as ALS take hold of someone you love so much. I thought about that pain they are experiencing, and how just the whole human experience is just so impossible. We live through the worst, hardest shit. And that’s not even counting the basics of just food and shelter and health.
I’ve been asking myself a lot lately, “Why do I write?” Because, I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s difficult to find an answer. This is clearly not a great profession for me because it involves marketing myself and my words, and as a highly-sensitive person it completely conflates my already-there tendency to dislike myself. Just the other day, a woman I’ve connected with several times in a very positive way, unsubscribed from my newsletter and then left a super mean comment on a post I made. I felt that rejection so deeply, and my husband is like, “Who cares? It’s just someone from the internet.” But to me, it’s not. And to me, I wonder, always, what did I do wrong. Because as a child, I was always, always in the wrong. And that’s getting a little deep, okay, so forgive me.
My response? This is so stupid. Why am I doing this? Why do I put myself out there over and over to the same potential to be rejected? Why can’t I grow my following? Why aren’t people buying books? Clearly it’s what I knew all along: I’m not worthy of love.
Which is, of course, not true. Because I can’t tell everyone else they are worth of love and then turn around and say, “I mean, unless you’re me.”
But truly, I’m in a lot of pain. Life is hard. 20 times a day I think about how I’m not thin-that is disordered thinking, but it’s a part of our dumb society and I see it everything and I think it. 20 times a day I wonder if my friends still love me. 20 times a day, I feel guilt about my father and I miss my twins. On especially bad days, I think about how our family has rejected us, and what I did wrong, and blah blah blah, you all know the drill.
What I’ve learned is that no, it’s not exactly normal to feel that way, and yes, I’m very hard on myself. But, I was also traumatized and abused as a child. And while I’ll never let that be my excuse, I know it’s the reason for my pain. And so I write because it makes me feel better. And I write because I know so many people might be feeling the same way.
But I have to stop writing to get validation. I have to stop writing for the “likes” and “follows” because it, frankly, hurts. I feel like I beg: please share, please invite your friends, I want to reach more people!
And instead, I want you all to know that I don’t care how few people are here- you are my people and I see you. I see your pain and your joy and your struggles and I want you to know you’re not alone.
Just don’t join a cult, okay?