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Perfect Master or Perfect Psychopath


Perfect Master or Perfect Psychopath

Erica Toren


Abstract

The author describes how she got involved with a cultic group, the exit counseling intervention her parents had arranged, her anger at her parents and husband for arranging the deprogramming, and her eventual opening up to the messages they had been trying to impart to her. She also comments on aspects of her recovery after breaking with her group.
Part 1: Getting Hooked

In March of 1990, nine years ago, I met the most interesting man I have ever met in my life. I was living in Mexico City at the time, teaching private English classes and my new assignment was teaching conversational English to Mariano.

I had just graduated college the year before and had gone through a life-long process of looking for God and had ended up “almost atheist”. I say almost because I could not deny that there probably is a higher power, however, I was sure that “He” was not a he nor a she. God was definitely not in a church, temple or synagogue. However, if God does exist, God sure had a lot of explaining to do on world hunger, death, disease and all the other horribly unfair things that happen in this world. I wanted to help, but did not even know where to begin. First, I had to find some answers for my self.

So I fell back on some great advice I received from my father as a child: “if you cannot make a decision, don’t”. Since I did not know what to do with the rest of my life, I decided to take some time to think about it. My friends from my Junior-year-abroad program all wanted to move back to Mexico for a year of fun and sun. How could I turn down the opportunity to play and find myself?

We taught English illegally during a full academic year. Not to say that there wasn’t quite a bit of turn-over. We lost quite a few students due to hangovers, vacations, etc. Somehow, absenteeism did not bother Mariano.

My two roommates had actually already taught him a semester each and the stories they would tell each day upon arriving at home were fascinating. Because of the new age content of the conversations, he earned the household title of “the Hari Krishna”. It was a joke more than anything else just to imply how weird he was. None of us could deny how interesting his propaganda was nor could we ever deny that he did not consume many of our private lazy hours of conversation. “Do you think he is crazy?”, would be a typical starting point of our conversations. Someone would inevitably answer, “Sometimes I think so, but when he is explaining that stuff about meditation and telepathy to your face, he seems so normal; so convincing”.

I was the last one to give classes to Mariano. Like the saying goes, last but not least. The fact of the matter is that I was the only one who kept in touch with him. The stories of astral trips, telepathic communication, higher beings, the Perfect Master and extraterestials had me hooked in less than one month. Even as a child I had always been interested in the unseen.

I read the Bible front to back at age 9 and did my first big term paper on ESP when I was 16. In college the first elective course I took was on Existentialism which, of course I did not understand, but Buber and Kirkegard lead into a whole new realm of who and what and where is God. My favorite class of my college career was Greek and Latin Mythology. We could say that I was doomed/destined to fall in love with Mariano’s explanations of life.

Finally, I understood starvation, death and disease. The answers are all found in the philosophies of karma and reincarnation. Everything fell into place and fit like the pieces of a puzzle. I felt invigorated and calmer than I had been in years. I had proof that God did exist and felt secure in my conclusions. I was happy.

All I had to do to be like this incredible person was to find the perfect Master and meditate on the techniques that only He could give me. Then my soul would be saved. I could reach enlightenment in this lifetime if I was a good disciple and even save others by bringing them to the Master.

He offered to help me. Lil’ ole me. The training was simple. All I had to do was follow Mariano’s instructions and devote myself to the Master of the Age. Mariano told me where to find the Master and how to prepare to receive his gift.

That year in Mexico City was a roller coaster ride of fun and fear; fear of the “real world”. My parents called every week to find out what I would be in life when I finally grew up. That “final” part was always insinuating that I was a long way from acting like an adult with a college education.

I left Mexico and began the almighty job search that all modern youth must go through. “Real” life began once I started working, but I never lost track of Mariano because I knew he had the answers to a world I saw as unexplainable. My wonderful new job allowed me to travel throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. I considered myself to be graced by God to be able to see Mariano and have the company pay for my trips. I called him and wrote him every chance I got and visited him every time I was in Mexico.

Of course I started attending the videos about meditation which was the first step towards the path of spiritual enlightenment. This education was supplemented by books and more books on yogis, alternative healing techniques, vegetarianism, astral trips and you name what else. You’d think that in just one of those books they would have warned me of spiritual pitfalls.

Every time I called, his voice went up a couple of octaves out of sheer joy and he would drop everything he was doing just to get together. Sometimes we would have dinner out but usually I went to his apartment and we would easily spend two to eight hours talking. He bombarded me with new information, questions and philosophies. He would challenge my thinking and rationalize his every answer. He would make me doubt in my basic philosophies and then give me the correct answer. Everthing he said made such perfect sense. Not to mention how interesting everything was.

He told me that he had an alien double that he used when he had to go away on dangerous missions for his extraterrestrial friends. When I asked if anyone could help he said no and explained that he was a very highly evolved being and that he had been chosen. The closest I could get would be to stay close to him because in the future “they” (he would always point towards the ceiling) would let him choose a group of special people to train for similar missions. Those people would have to be special incarnations just like him, highly evolved just like him, and have the mark of the Savior in their aura, just like him.

Of course I had to be very careful of not just every word but every thought as he was telepathic and even if he did not catch my thoughts at that moment, he could always do an astral trip to find out if I was truly being honest. Although, the latter was not really necessary since he could see in my aura if I ever lied to him. Needless to say I was always uncomfortable around him. I was always on guard with my thoughts and feelings and felt small and unimportant compared to him, but thankful that he was spending so much time on me.

He was so convincing. I was overwhelmed, yet fascinated. He promised to show me how to do astral trips and develop telepathy. We all needed to prepare for the end of the world and quickly because there was very little time. But those of us who were close to the Guru would automatically be saved. There were five bases that “they” were constructing and would be ready to receive thousands of people with a high vibration. I was to be one of the guardians since I was a very evolved being.

This bit of information about me also being an evolved being did not escape his lips until later as he was protecting me from my own ego. The ego is the biggest pitfall of the spiritual path.

Carrots were dangled in front of my face for years. One after the other would be placed just out of reach for many months at a time and then he would let me have it. Sometimes the carrot would be top secret information that only I was allowed to have and only because I was special and had been doing well in my training. Sometimes it would be a new lesson for me to work on like humility or devotion.

The interesting part about this period in my life is that I actually received an invitation to a workshop on cults in the business world. I went to it and went up to the specialist at the podium to ask about my Guru. He confirmed that it was a cult but then the reason he gave was so bizarre that I did not know what to make of it. However, he did confirm that my Guru is a cult leader and one of the obvious factors is his very luxurious life style.

What did I do? Run home and call Mariano where he once again, as always, smoothed my fears. He explained that true believers did not question the Perfect Master’s lifestyle but rather supported it. Doubt is a big test to see if you really are devoted. Of course, everyone on the outside will call it a cult because they are ignorant. After all, Jesus was too poor to be the Master of the Age, Buddha was a prince and therefore could not be the Master at the same time, and our Guru was too rich. The point is that it is always more difficult to find the Master and walk the spiritual path than to criticize, and we have to be above the non-believers. Otherwise how can we help them?
Part 2: Getting Stuck

All these doubts did set me back quite a few months. Mariano did not give up, though. He patiently continued to mold me into the perfect devotee. He explained that doubts are normal and belong to the mind. The heart belongs to the Master.

I finally gave my heart to my Master on July 20, 1994.

Five years after meeting Mariano I was ready to prove my worth to him. I quit my job and moved to Mexico City. He had told me that he would not hire me until I was already there because that would be my first test. Once he had me in his home, he promised me a meager pay but bonuses every month that his business went well, and a future filled with spiritual mysticism and growth. His business was Reiki; therapies and courses. Since he was the first person to really advertise Reiki in Mexico, his business was booming but very disorganized.

The first thing I did in my new office, which was in my home using my telephone and computer, was to create a data base, mailing system, filing system and write and design what are probably still the best Reiki manuals to be found in the world today. All of this I did for what was the equivalent of $5.20USD/hour. The pay was small but I was very happy. I had total independence at work, Mariano’s full attention, free time to meditate more than ever before, and the best part was that Mariano gave me loans which I used to travel to see my guru and it was discounted monthly from my salary. Reiki was something that I loved and I was helping people.

Shortly after I started this job, Mariano made it clear to me that his main goal was to recruit people for our guru through the Reiki classes. After all, there was nothing higher in life than to bring someone to the type of inner peace that changed you inside and out. I wholeheartedly agreed and worked even harder to bring people to Reiki. I worked on new sales and marketing ideas. We advertised in more and more magazines and expanded our repertoire of classes and our business hours. My private phone became a 24-hour hot line for people wanting information on Reiki, meditation or anything else on spiritual growth.

During the three and a half years that I worked for Mariano I had time to reflect as much as my fragile ego would allow. My marriage was starting to go down the tubes due to my traveling and devotion to not just one but two other men (my Guru and my boss). Sharing me with two other men and my job was too much for any devoted husband. Not to mention that every time there was some extra cash and a holiday I would use my money and vacation days to go see my Guru. I had been instructed very clearly that to put the Master first was always correct behavior and if anyone got in the middle, getting rid of him or her was also appropriate even in the case of family, friends, and partners.

After about a year or so things didn’t look so pretty anymore. I could not figure out what was at the root of the problem but the answer was simple – I was the problem. Maybe it was ego or materialism, but I was definitely the problem.

I would arrive home everyday upset, angry, or depressed about something that had happened that day. Mariano had always been so attentive when we first met. He had been very involved when I first started working for him, but slowly new friends entered the scene and he devoted more time to them and less and less to me. When we did see each other it was tense and unpleasant. I felt unappreciated and at the same time immature for not being able to overcome this spiritual obstacle. After all, he was an incarnation of Buddha, John the Baptist, and a long line of eternal beings, so who was I to complain? Everything he did he did for a reason and sometimes it was to teach me a lesson and help me grow spiritually faster. I should be appreciative instead of whining.

I tried to rationalize the unfair treatment between his other close friends and myself. On the one hand, I felt that since I was his friend and employee, I deserved more care and attention. On the other hand, I believed I needed to be humble and let others have a chance to learn from this marvelous man. I started to see inconsistencies in his behavior and teachings, but quickly realized that that was his ability to adapt to each situation and each person’s needs.

Yet there were so many times when I would cry myself to sleep because of one foolish thing or another. For example, I could not understand why after so many years of friendship and devotion, he would not give me the keys to the office even though I was his employee while he did entrust a friend of his with the keys to his office and both houses! Day after day I was presented with new tests of faith and devotion.

He had entrusted me with so many special secrets that no one else knew and I had the responsibility to keep them secret. I was the selfish one for demanding his time when he had so little to spare for these people in need. Keeping all his secrets left me alone and lonely since I couldn’t talk to anyone without breaking some promise.

One day he told me that the reason he had so many women friends was because they could all sense in him his higher self - that part of him that was already an illuminated being. He was doing each and every one of them a favor by spending time with them and helping them in their spiritual growth. Even our gay friends were in love with him because of the same reason (according to him).

Everything that was good that happened to me, like being able to travel so much to see the Guru and always being lucky in finding a parking space was thanks to my devotion to the Guru. My job had turned into service for the Guru since our primary mission was recruiting, and on top of doing service, I got paid! I was one of those lucky few who got paid for doing service. I had very good karma from past lives. However, everything bad that happened to me was my fault; something I had done wrong and had to burn off bad karma.

All I could do was meditate more and ask my Guru to help me in my search for inner peace. I prayed and meditated and meditated and prayed. I was meditating an average of 3 hours a day on top of working 8 hours and running a home. I was constantly tired... no, exhausted.

Weird things started to happen. Actually, they probably did not just start to happen. I probably just started to notice them. Some days he could not remember what I had told him the day before. He would explain that that was because yesterday I had been talking to his double and he had been on a mission. Even though they shared perfect memories, there was such an overload of information that sometimes he would forget petty details. He was very spacey for being a God and very stupid for being an enlightened being.

He would often tell me other people’s secrets but first swear me to secrecy. This gave me an assurance that anything I said to him did get around, too. Once in a while he would say something that I knew was not true about a mutual friend. This gave me confidence that he was also telling lies about me. But I refused to see the truth. My reasoning was that he was doing these things because he had a higher, final purpose that I could not see.

Sometimes when he gave a Reiki course he would tell people one thing and in the next course he would explain it a totally different way. This of course was because in one course it was Mariano and in the other the double. We would have to have a talk with the double about these incongruencies.

I was having marvelous experiences with the meditation. Practicing, as we called it, was a very positive thing for me. Sometimes I would feel like I was floating or swinging yet I knew my body was right there. I would have complete lapses of time and place. I would see lights and hear music. I smelled flowers and tasted sweet things. Life was so beautiful after meditating. I was calm and joyful. And this is what kept me going.

I kept traveling more and more because that is where and when I became really blissed out. The highest moment in a human’s brief passing on this earth was that moment in the presence of the Master. So I spent all my time saving money to be with my Guru and all my money getting there. Mariano never raised an eyebrow when I wanted to see the Master... only if I wanted to go home on vacation or go someplace with my husband.
Part 3: Getting Out

In December of 1998, I went home for winter break. I had tried to talk to my family about the Master of the Time that summer and they had not listened to me. I was not going to push it and I was also not going to worry because I knew that if I reached enlightenment, my family would automatically be raised to a higher plane. It was therefore, more logical to try to dedicate my time to my own meditation. We had a wonderful week full of movies, dinners, and laughs. Christmas day was a beautiful day in our family history.

Then the day after Christmas, my dad gathered us all around the kitchen table and started a little speech about how much they loved all us kids and that they were concerned about this new group I was involved in, etc., etc.... I did not even hear the rest. I was the angriest I have ever been in my life and knew what he was getting at. He had said something that I heard through the fog of anger about some experts coming over to talk to all of us about new age religions and esoteric philosophies.

Just then the doorbell rang. If I had had something in my hands I would have thrown it out the window at the people standing on the doorstep or better yet at my dad. But all I could think about were the curlers in my hair and using them as the perfect excuse to get away.

In walked the wonder twins and the last drop of doubt that I could be way wrong, disappeared. They shook hands with everyone as if it was the first time they were to meet yet they both had their total of four eyes focused across the room at me. As they crossed the kitchen towards me the intensity of their stare was so high that I knew they were looking for signs of drug abuse or who knows what. I thought them pitifully stupid for being so obvious in what was supposed to be dubious deeds.

I took my escape and ran saying that I had to take my curlers out. I was upstairs in a flash and when I heard the phone ring, I dove for it hoping for another out. I picked up the receiver just as my dad told my best friend Bill that I was not home. Not only was the doubt gone, but I had proof positive.

The only reason that I went back downstairs that day was because my husband, whom I love dearly even though we were not getting along, convinced me that if I was right, it would look worse to cower upstairs. So I put on my bitch face, went downstairs and decided to confront them all.

Mom and Dad were asking questions about reincarnation and karma. I made a joke about the fact that we would need weeks to go over those topics and since our guests would not be staying that long that it was better not to start on that subject. Nobody laughed except for me. The dynamic duo continued for a while on little spiritual topics here and there when I ran out of patience. I turned to them (maybe the more correct wording would be turned on them) and asked them if they were aware of the real reason that they had been invited to this miraculously spontaneous lunch. They said that they were. I asked my parents if they had told them that the true reason that they were there, was because they were concerned that my spiritual involvement was a cultic group. They said that that was not the reason they had invited them to lunch. I looked my parents in the eyes again and told them that they were lying to either the men across the table or to me, or the other option was that they were Mormons and would try to recruit the whole family.

Needless to say the lunch ended quickly and the junior brigades excused themselves rather hastily and left.

I had never felt so violated – and by my own family! I was depressed and angry all night. The next morning though, was even worse. My father announced that the boys were coming back again that afternoon to talk to us all. I told my family that I would not be around to receive them properly. The big question was what the hell were they doing in Miami during the holidays and why were they such losers that they had nothing better to do than to spend their entire vacation talking to my family about new age religions, hypnosis, meditation, etc.? My parents assured me again and again that they were just really neat people that had been in touch with my family for months and they were delighted to give them information. I assured them that “neat” people have friends with whom to spend New Year’s Eve. I couldn’t avoid another snotty remark and reminded them that they were probably Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses and that they should be careful.

Again my husband convinced me that if I had nothing to hide then it would be better to be there and prove them all wrong. My brother had a hand in the game also and I decided to give it another chance. Little did I know that these men meant to come and meant to stay. Forever!

After four hours of talking about everything esoteric that one can talk about, I excused myself. I was red in the face and told them all that I spend eight hours a day talking about this crap and it is specifically when I am on vacation that I do not want to talk about astral trips and dejavu. I gave them leave to chat away but I was going over to a friend’s house.

The next morning my father announced that those two men would be coming over again and he wanted me to stick around because I was being rude. The day was more of the same old stuff with the exception of one exciting moment. At one point my dad mentioned the word “deprogramming” and John came right out and said that when they had talked about that on the phone... I saw my chance and sprung on him. I told him that he had just stuck his foot in his mouth in a major way and that now I had proof that someone was lying to somebody. John jumped back at me and became hostile and aggressive. I just sat there smirking and remembering how sad it was that he had stopped his spiritual path, but at least I now knew why. He was the least spiritual person in the room and therefore, had nothing to teach me. Talk about inner peace!

That night was when I decided I would be leaving the next day. I was 31 years old and married. No one could make me come or go and I was leaving. I did not care if my mom cried and my dad yelled. They had violated my privacy and my rights as an individual. No one was telling the truth nor would they get to the point. Twice I had to bring up the word cult and still no one wanted to talk about it. Then what the hell were these people doing in my house?! If they would not leave, then I would. Freedom of religion still exists in America. My own family had raped me.

I left on the next plane to Mexico City the following day. My husband followed me with the look of a puppy dog that had just been kicked – no, more like a car had run over him. As soon as we got home I called Mariano.

He had many words to the wise but I was furious. Why had he not returned my calls from Miami? I had called him and told him what was happening and cried into the phone saying that I needed him more than ever. Of course, he explained this all away. He had been very busy and reminded me that everything I needed was within. I told him that I had spent day and night asking the Master for help and meditating in the mornings before those marathon info sessions would begin and continued meditating in the Holy Name almost 24 hours a day. He said that it must be me – I was having a deep experience and was probably in the mind instead of the heart. Who the hell wouldn’t be in the mind during that kind of situation?!

His calm voice told me to take two days off and come in on Monday. He always was so kind to me.

I went in on Monday and he didn’t even ask how I was. So when he walked out of the office, I followed him. Right into the bathroom. I told him we needed to talk right then and there. We talked for about 45 minutes when he finally stood up ending our conversation. Before that though, he reminded me that anyone who gets in the way of a devotee shall be punished, reminding me that karmic justice would be done to my family. He also reminded me that my husband really was below me spiritually and that I needed to do what I knew to be right. Once I was free of all earthy ties, then I would really start to grow spiritually. But until then, I would be tied down by bags of bricks to this plane.

That evening I asked my husband for a separation. I was moving out the next weekend and expected his help. The whole week was a flood of tears and Mariano never again asked me how I was doing. We had one short conversation before the weekend. It was his birthday on Saturday and I did not want to spoil it for him. He was going to some ruins with one of his lady friends, but I needed help before he left.

I told him that I was moving out that weekend. Mariano was so kind and considerate. He even gave me the keys to an extra apartment that he had empty and would let me use it for a small sum. I told him during that tender moment that sometimes I also felt love for his higher self and that I understood why so many people were in love with him. He left me sitting at my desk in tears.

I started packing that Friday and started moving out on Saturday. My low-level husband was perfect that weekend. He took me to buy things for the new apartment and promised to install or fix anything I needed. I cried for a straight 72 hours. Sometimes he would look at me and ask if he had permission to hug me. He explained that he could not go on living with someone in a cult, but was sorry that it had come to this.

That Sunday, he made me breakfast. I cried through the entire event. He begged me to just think about what I was doing. I asked him what made him so sure that he was right and that my Guru was really a cult leader. He went into a beautiful, calm two-hour monologue about why he thought I was involved in a cult. Then he ended by saying, “If Mariano is so spiritually evolved, why doesn’t he call you this weekend knowing how badly off you are? And where is your guru now?” I had been asking myself that very same question for days. He had struck a nerve.

A couple of hours later I picked up one of the books that I had promised my parents that I would read. The very first chapter was on one-on-one cultic relations and had a list of 10 things that made a relationship cultic. I put an M next to all the things that applied to Mariano and 9 of 10 points had an M next to them when I finished.

Then I did it again and put a G for Guru next to the ones that applied to my Master. He got only 7 out of ten but was still a winner. I had a double whammy!

My jaw hit the floor. I had been bombarded with information in Miami but none of it had hit home. I had spent a horrible week planning my divorce but that hadn’t struck a core either. I had to hit rock bottom just to decide to listen to someone. Then my husband struck it rich with his observation on my idol. Now the book was staring back at me with the proof that everyone was trying to stuff down my throat.

I thought of the dynamic duo, of my parents, and of my brother. I wondered how they had been able to keep the exit counseling, as I learned it was called, such a secret and maintain those poker faces. I admired their courage and drive and cried when I realized how much they must love me to do what they did. I remembered the harsh words I said to my dad. I traumatized over what I had put my husband through.

Then I started reading. I read and read and read. There was no end to my thirst. Every book on cults and on cultic relationships that crossed my path was absorbed. I called my parents and asked if I could spend some time with them getting my act together. They were very cool on the phone, but later one of them told me that they hung up the phone and started to cry. It was all over and they had won. Their daughter was back.
Part 4: Getting Over It

The worst for me were the first couple of weeks. I would sleep well but have bad dreams and then wake up with this panicky feeling like I had forgotten something really important like leaving a baby out in the rain over night. It was awful. My mom actually slept on the sofa next to my room one night when I told her this.

The days were filled with gnawing doubt. I needed proof that my Master was a fraud and his group was soooooo subtle that no one had any hard core proof. I talked to ex-members who gave me the proof that I needed. I figured out that unless you are really close to the Guru, you wouldn’t see all the awful things that go on.

I did not believe the stories they had told me in Miami because I DID NOT WANT TO BELIEVE. I just chalked the rumors off to disgruntled ex-members that wanted to make the Perfect Master look imperfect. All groups have names for those who go AWOL and all groups have excuses for the rumors those deserters create. It’s a neat little package because the current members really don’t want to know the truth.

I learned more about thought reform, which helped me to understand how I got involved in the first place. All the books talk about what kind of people get involved and how. I realized that I was neither stupid nor alone. They also tell you what to expect during your recovery. Once I knew that both my Guru and my boss were both psychopaths, under the medical definition, and I understood what I had been through and why, I had a whole new set of emotions to deal with.

The process had involved two teams of exit-counselors (five people total), my parents and brother, a husband, a psychologist specialized in cults, and shelves of books and videos to make me see the truth. When I think about how rude I was to the first team of counselors, and when I think about how much my family must have loved me to do what they did and to go through what a family has to go through to do an intervention, it awes me. Then I think about how close I was to loosing my husband and throwing my life away. Finally, I think about the thousands of people who have thrown it all away and thousands more who will do it.

I think about those whom I have left behind. Other ex –members say that some of the nicest people they have ever met are those they left behind in the cult. I wholeheartedly agree. Like attracts like. I was idealistic, altruistic, and ready to help. Those I left behind are that same way and that is why I miss them and their friendships. The sense of helplessness is overwhelming sometimes, especially when I think that many of those people are involved in the group because I brought them to it.

A big problem for me was and still is how can a human being do something like this to another human being?! I needed to know if Mariano and my Master really believe the crap that leaks from their lying little mouths or do they say and do whatever they need to say and do to control people. Is my Guru really a perfect master or perfect psychopath or perfect liar? I know he is not a Perfect Master, but I still have not found the answer to the second part of the question.

Other pending issues are where my religious values lie now and what to do about the friends I left behind. Those famous books and experts say that this is very normal also. I don’t know if I will ever have the answer but I do know that today I do not have one and I am in no hurry. For me, God still exists and I still don’t know where. Maybe we are not supposed to know where, when, how, and why.

The first couple of months are supposedly the hardest. I cannot speak for others’ recoveries, but mine has been bumpy but beautiful. I have a new relationship with my family that I do not think we ever could have had without the cult experiences. My husband and I are on a second honeymoon, which is better than the first! And I cannot believe that changing one little thing can make such a big difference in all areas of my life. I read someplace the best revenge is success and I agree completely.

In the short time that I have been out I feel so free. I do not have to meditate or go to videos. I do not walk around feeling like everything bad is my karma. I have found a new job and we have bought a house. I have been busy, but it is fun. Just like life should be. Miracles really do happen...and without a Master.
Postscript

I have just re-read my essay for the first time in three years. That person seems many more years behind me. I am still the same person, but a bit more skeptical. This is a good and bad thing. As I read over my story, I realized that what still haunts me most is the loss of some very special friends. I have often thought about trying to write to them or call them. I did not contact them due to the knowledge that there is nothing I can say or do in one short conversation to teach them what I now know. Their conclusion would only be pity for me losing my spiritual path.

Life is sometimes good and sometimes not, and that is what is beautiful about being alive. I have a great job, a house, a fantastic husband, and I am still in awe of the love my family had/has for me to take the risks they did and to do what they did three years ago. But best of all is my daughter. She is the highlight of every moment of my day! I would not have a husband or a daughter if I had stayed with Mariano.

As I re-read my essay, perhaps my most troubling thought was how to explain a cult experience to my child so that she may learn from my mistakes. Someday.....