‘I’m sorry, I can no longer touch you.’ I cried. I was ‘unholy.’ They brainwashed you.’: Woman loses husband to religious cult, ‘I am mourning someone who is still alive’

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“Where do I even begin? My story is one of ongoing pain, shock, confusion, and hurt. It didn’t start that way. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The love of my life was swept away from me, and what hurts the most is the fact that I have to mourn someone who is still alive.

People envied us, Jake. We were meant to be; we said it from the start. You promised me forever. When I accepted your offer, sealed with a kiss and shiny new engagement ring, I didn’t know that ‘forever’ was only two more years. That is not what I signed up for. But let me rewind.

In 2011, I graduated college. Three months out, I landed a decent job at a marketing firm. With it, came paychecks, taxes, stability. Vacation days, sick days, overtime. I was navigating the word as a ‘real adult’ for the first time, and that meant something to me. I had it in my head that I wasn’t going to date until I had established myself in my field. For me, that meant making at least 70k a year, and counting. But you came right out of nowhere, a new hire, and knocked me right out of my world.

‘Hey, do you know where the vending machines are around here?’ Those first words, they weren’t special. But they would prove to be the beginning of us – even if we didn’t know it at the time. I replied with a ‘yes,’ and gave you a detailed, verbal schematic of the building. ‘Down the hall past the benches, left, right, right, straight. If you pass the bathroom you’re too far.’ You looked back, puzzled. Being the friendly person I am, I took the opportunity to escort you.

We made insignificant chatter on the way there and, by the time we arrived, I was already sold. Those eyes pierced my soul. That smile could light a room. You told me you were new to the area and was looking to make some new friends. You put your number in my phone. I smiled, twiddled my thumbs in a way only roaring young love can make you.

From there, things got serious. It wasn’t immediate or rushed. Something beautiful and organic, a slow but sure crescendo of romance. We talked about the world, our separates worlds. Our future, ideas, pains, and greatest joys. Then, out of nowhere, you became my greatest joy. And, suddenly, we talked about the world as one – a unit.

I still remember our first kiss at the movies. Cliché, I know, but the theatre was empty and dark, and our hearts were beating just a little faster. It was a magical moment that, even now, I can’t help but thank you for. You were my storm of firsts. First kiss, first date, first love. We built a home together. I felt safe there, you from your dysfunctional family, me from mine.

If it wasn’t for my struggle with infertility, we may have had our own child together. That is a first that pains me to think about most. Sometimes, I wonder, if we had gotten pregnant, would you have stuck around and not vanished in the way you did? Sometimes, it’s hard not to blame my own shortcomings.

It happened year six. We had been married for almost two years. You were battling depression, a fight you were all too familiar with, and grieving the loss of your mother. It was hard for you, I know. That is an understatement. It pained me to know that no matter how many times I kissed you, held you as you cry-screamed in pain, and wiped your tears, I couldn’t fix this for you. But I tried my best. Little did I know, there was someone else out there, trying their best, only with the worst of intentions.

Courtesy of Julia Michael

I convinced you to start seeing a therapist. There were stages of grief that I could love you through, but I could never truly understand myself. I thought it would be healthy to just talk it out with someone who specialized in these issues. I didn’t know that a cult member would be stationed outside of the mental health facility. They stationed themselves there, purposefully. They were looking for people like you. The broken, shattered, depressed, and hopeless. You were an easy target.

It started off when you brought home a Bible. ‘Some woman gave it to me on my way out from the shrink.’ You tossed it aside and didn’t think much of it. We were both raised Christian and kept faith and religion dear to our hearts. This was different. They hassled you. Begged you to visit their ‘church.’ You cracked. They baptized you the first day.

Throughout the following weeks, I saw you slipping away. You recited passages from the ‘Bible’ printed out on white paper and stapled together. They gave it to you and it struck a nerve in you. Only this wasn’t real scripture, meaning it was just recently written. I tried to tell you. You got angry. I was ‘raining on your parade.’ You were ‘just trying to pick up the pieces’ of your life.

Not before long, you were dissecting our every move. We couldn’t see family, we couldn’t see friends. I had to ‘convert.’ You told me I wouldn’t get into heaven if I didn’t. At least, that’s what they told you. They used fear tactics and threats of doomsday. It was a cult. At your lowest point, you got sucked in a cult.

‘I’m sorry, I can no longer touch you,’ you told me. I cried. We were husband and wife. Suddenly, I was ‘unholy.’ Everything I did was a ‘sin.’ I don’t blame you. They took control of your mind and brainwashed you. Then came the money. They told you the more money you paid, the more blessings you could get, and the more likely it would be that you could get into heaven. Next, the kindest man I ever know was now using racial and homophobic slurs. All in the name of some pseudo-Jesus. Now, I’m a tolerant person. I respect all religions – this was not one. Just pure hate.

When I suggested we try for a baby again, you told me you weren’t allowed to bring a baby into the world during ‘the end of days.’ In my head, that translates to your cult not wanting you to fund a newborn baby, but solely more ‘blessings’ for Heaven. They took all your money. It all made sense. It was at this next point I knew you were too far gone. When I tried and begged and pleased and you showed no remorse. In the span of three months, you were so far gone that you packed up your bags and moved out. To be more specific, you moved closer to this cult.

You stopped talking to me and all your friends and family. You didn’t even say a formal goodbye. All you said was, ‘I hope you join,’ and closed the door. I chased after you, desperate. I held onto your pant leg, grasping it with my fists. You shook me off. ‘Please, just read the verses. You’ll understand why I’m doing this.’ And just like that, I lost the love of my life.

It all happened this quickly. There was no stopping it, and the rise of it was exponential. I didn’t even know this was a thing until I sat in my room one night, sobbing, and researching ‘loved ones lost to a cult’ on Google. So many articles and videos came up. It felt good knowing that I was not the only one and that it wasn’t my fault. I still have to convince myself of that.

6 years we loved one another, and it was all out the window in 3 months. It’s a very unique pain to bear. Sometimes I almost wish I lost you in a more ‘normal’ or ‘common’ way like addiction or infidelity. I don’t wish these things on anyone, I know they are different battles, and battles indeed. But at least I would be able to find a support group to navigate the ruins. Someone to say, ‘I know what you’ve been through.’ Instead, I only have the internet and a handful of scholarly research papers and documentaries on how cults quickly ‘re-wire’ the brain. Science can’t heal my pain.

It’s been days, weeks, months without you. I spend each and every day praying you will simply snap out of it. But as each day passes, my wish becomes more and more unrealistic. I am mourning someone who is still alive. Mourning our love, our life, our future. And that’s what hurts the most.

These people station themselves and recruit outside of mental health facilities, addiction centers, low-income neighborhoods, and grief help centers. Please beware and be careful. I hope what happened to me and my husband never happens to you or someone you love.

Jake, we talked about the world. Our future, ideas, pains, and greatest joys. Then, out of nowhere, you became my greatest joy. And, suddenly, we talked about the world as one – a unit. Now, I am trying to make sense of our separate worlds.”

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Courtesy of Julia Michael

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Julia Michael. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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