Sarah Edmondson escaped from the cult NXIVM. She shares her journey in the memoir, Scarred
NXIVM branded itself as a self-help group and, for over a decade, Sarah Edmondson was one of its most devoted members. The Canadian actor ran its Vancouver branch and indirectly recruited about 1,000 followers. Then she went public, exposing the group as a cult. Earlier this year, in the U.S., the founder of the group and leader, Keith Raniere, was convicted of seven charges, including sex trafficking.
Edmondson describes what happened in the CBC podcast Escaping NXIVM and in her new memoir Scarred. She was interviewed by Matt Galloway about her book on CBC Toronto's Metro Morning on Sept. 24, 2019. Here's an abridged version of the interview.
Do you recognize the person you wrote about in the book?
In some ways I do. In others I don't. I recognize the person that wanted to help people, working hard — naively maybe — to make the world a better place. But I don't recognize the person who was drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid. Some of the beliefs that I had about that organization is hard to wrap my head around.
What was it that drew you in?
The hook I think came from the filmmaker who I trusted, who told me about this community, this group of people, these humanitarians, who were trying to change the world. That really appealed to me — the community, purpose and meaning.
When in your journey did you start to see the red flags?
On day one. The very first day there was lots of red flags — the sashes, the bowing, calling Keith "vanguard." But all of that was pre-empted with the trainers saying, "Things are going to happen in this program and you're going to feel uncomfortable. When you feel uncomfortable, it means there's something inside you to work on. If you don't like the sashes, it means you have authority issues." I stuck with it because I was very passionate about self-development. I thought that was the path.
I stuck with it because I was very passionate about self-development. I thought that was the path.- Sarah Edmondson
What was the moment for you when you saw that backdoor and thought, 'I can get out of this'?
The final moment where I could get out of it was when Mark Vicente — the man who brought me in and also brought me out — and I compared notes. He shared what he knew and I shared what I knew. Together, we had a good picture of what was actually going on, which up until that point we'd been very siloed and all of us were being kept in the dark.
Is that how these things continue, that they keep people in siloes?
One hand doesn't know what the other hand is doing. They're very good at keeping people in the dark and they can't see everything until you see it. Then when we saw it, it was a very quick instant of, "Oh my gosh. Everyone's been right all these years. I'm in a cult and I need to get out."
Part of the mess is helping to recruit other people. How do you reconcile that?
That is hard to reconcile and I have to keep going back to my own heart and knowing that I was trying to help. I know that I did help, but part of cleaning up the mess is continuing to help — helping people get into therapy, helping people to educate themselves, read the right books, know what happened to them and get their lives back on track.
Do you feel guilt?
Absolutely. I inadvertently put people into a situation that put people into great harm and harm for their families. That's hard on a day-to-day basis.
To talk about this in the podcast is one thing. To write a book about it, then to go out and go on a book tour and talk about again and again is another. Does that help?
Writing the book was helpful. To be honest, talking about it again and doing the press around it has been difficult. I'm ready to stop. I feel like the story is there. The template is there. I hope it helps people either get out of groups like this or help people who know people in groups like this. Not just cults, but anywhere where there's abuses of power. It's incredibly difficult.
I hope [the book] helps people either get out of groups like this or help people who know people in groups like this.- Sarah Edmondson
I really thought that writing the book would heal me and then I'd be done, but talking about it is definitely re-traumatizing.
How are you today?
I'm OK. I'm looking forward to the end. I'm looking forward to just being a mom and being normal.
Matt Galloway and Sarah Edmondson's comments have been edited for length and clarity.