What it's Like to Escape a Cult with Jessie Shedden - E029
It's not easy to escape a cult.
Welcome to another episode of the What We're NOT Talking about podcast. Today I have with me Jessie Shedden, a British- Australian chicken-loving, cult-escaping badass woman, who has become an inspirational author, and consultant. She has been featured on the BBC, Channel 4, and she's the author of Tomorrow's Not Promised.
She shares her experience and the healing process of what it takes to overcome escaping a cult, how she defines unconditional love, and how we can learn not to be judgemental and try loving unconditionally. We also talk about the pressure our parents have put on us, even though they believed it might be based in a protective and loving environment, as well as the challenges Jessie has faced in order to live the life she knew she deserved.
So if you're interested in learning how loving unconditionally can change your life and perspective, go ahead and listen to this episode and then message me with your biggest takeaway.
TODAY'S GUEST: JESSIE SHEDDEN
Jessie's Book: https://pages.jessieshedden.com/book/
Jessie's Website: https://www.jessieshedden.com
> How Jessie's childhood looked like (03:00)
> The relationship with her mother and how the life looked like when she was alive (09:57)
> How's Jessie's relationship with faith and how spirituality fits into this (23:00)
> There's a lot of judgment in human society. How Judgement can relate to respect and unconditional love (25:10)
> What's something that Jessie, living in a cult, views as something that she can take forward into her cult-free life (34:31)
E029: What it's Like to Escape a Cult with Jessie Shedden
What is it like to escape a cult?
Today’s episode is amazing. It’s one of my most favorite episodes I’ve recorded thus far. Jessie and I sit down and she shares her experience and her healing process of what it takes to overcome escaping a cult.
We talk about unconditional love, the pressures our parents have put on us (even though they wanted to protect us), and the challenges it takes from defying a culture and upbringing that was forced upon you in order to live the life she knew she inherently deserved and needed to live.
I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I do. Thank you for listening
Amy: [00:01:28] Are you ready for this episode of What We're Not Talking About to blow your mind today? I sit down with Jessica Shedden, a British Australian, chicken-loving, cult-escaping, bad-ass woman who has been featured in the BBC, the Sun, and Channel Four. She's a sought after speaker, consultant, and inspirational author of “Tomorrow's Not Promised.”
And, yes, you did hear that right. Cult-escaping bad-ass. Welcome to the show, Jessie.
Jessie: [00:02:00] Thank you so much for having me here, Amy.
Amy: [00:02:02] I’m very excited to chat with you. And honestly, I don't even know where to begin because I am so excited to hear your story. So, I'm just going to hand it over to you and I'm sure I'll have a million questions, and I will do my best not to interrupt. But I will definitely be taking notes.
So, let us hear what your cult-escape bad-ass story is.
Jessie: [00:02:29] Thank you. I just want to say thank you. I love the title of your podcast because seeing that felt like, “You've totally nailed it.” 2020 has forced me to stop hiding that I was brought up in a cult and to own that part of my life. Funnily enough? No, one's actually looked at me like I've got three heads yet.
So, I have to say I survived actually coming out and telling the story. So that's the first survival ship.
Amy: [00:02:55] Yeah, absolutely.
Jessie: [00:02:57] Stop hiding those stories. No one's going to go running away from you. I guess for me, my journey goes back to around the age of eight where I was consciously aware that I was different from those around me and just knew I didn't really fit in.
And at that point I had been inducted into the cult when I was about a week old because I was the fourth generation. There was no consideration of me not being part of it. I had been in mainstream schooling for the first two years, and then I was taken out of the age of seven and I started homeschooling for my education.
So, I had my social circles at that point, consisting of my family and there's the a church.
Because there were a lot of things that were not allowed in that cult. Which consisted of socializing with those outside of it, eating or drinking with those outside of it. For women, no wearing of jeans or pants, no makeup, no jewelry. No women worked if they were married, which was the only way of being in a relationship.
There were no holidays, no visiting to clubs, ups, bars, no attending sports events, or many other recreational things like that. So, there were a lot of things we didn't do, which meant that we lived in quite a tight bubble. Hence why there were not many around me apart from those in that group.
And I just really didn't feel like one of them. That continued all the way up till I was 16. At that point, I was unfortunately sexually abused by somebody outside of it. It wasn't seen as that, it was seen as my fault. And then at the age of 18, when I was now working in my father's business, I fell for one of the suppliers who was coming into work and started to get into a relationship with him. This was before I had to escape a cult.
Obviously, that was a total no-no and that compounded the house arrest I'd been put under previously for the sexual assault.
It just added to it and got tighter.
Then began... And I'm good. I'm really pressing here... but then began a period of time where I felt very, very suppressed. I couldn't really reveal any of who I was because I just felt the only way to survive this is just to conform. You're under constant supervision for all of that time. Every minute of the day was accounted for, and it just got to an untenable state after eight years of trying really hard to conform.
2016, I was doing some self-development work. And one of the questions was, “What is it that you would like to have achieved when you're lying on your deathbed?” And I just realized that I'd never let go of this man I'd been in a relationship with. I'd always emotionally felt a connection even through the dark times that I'd kind of held gone back to that as a way to get through.
I had to reach out and make a connection there, which I did. It was very clear that we both still felt very strongly towards each other. Unfortunately he was already in another relationship, but it was hard for me to sever that tie because he was my only hope at that point, but also he didn't want to let go of me either.
And, before I went to escape a cult, then on the 14th of February, 2017, my mother was suddenly diagnosed with cancer at the age of 66. You never plan for cancer, right? But we certainly didn't plan for her passing at that point in time, she wasn't a sick person, nothing like that.
And it said, “Jessie, if you don't do something soon to make your life a happy life, you don't know how long you've got.”
Amy: [00:06:45] Wow. Wow. I just… How? There's so many questions I have, and I don't even know where to start. Well, first of all, thank you for sharing that. That must've been incredibly difficult, with the climax almost of everything being with the death of your mother.
Jessie: [00:07:00] Totally. I just felt like a pressure cooker. I thought I would, and I did. Something would trip me and I would go off. I would explode because I couldn't. There was so much bottled up inside that just wasn't being answered, wasn't being dealt with. Before I went to escape a cult.
Amy: [00:07:14] So, when you say explode, do you mean it was anger or was it a variety of different emotions?
Jessie: [00:07:21] A variety, but there's definitely a lot of resentment and frustration in the,
Amy: [00:07:25] Absolutely.
Jessie: [00:07:27] When you're 13 and every minute of your day is being watched.
Amy: [00:07:30] I mean, I have trouble when my mother asks me when I'm going to come over to her house. I would like to say, “Please, just stop bothering me!”
Wow. So, how long has it been since you decided that you were not gonna stay in that place anymore?
Jessie: [00:07:52] I knew by the age of 16, I wasn't ever going to be in a relationship with someone inside there. I had already figured that, but I maybe thought I could bring someone into it. And I tried at the age of 18, it wasn't a non-starter. I never actually wanted to...
I would look wistfully at lives, like we're looking into shop windows.
I'd look wistfully at the life on the outside, but I never dared actually think about taking that step because not only was it doing the unthinkable, but it was major. You’re leaving behind all your family, you're leaving behind, you know, you had to move out of the house. You'd lost your job. You lost, everybody had ever known when I went to escape a cult.
I can only really equate it to asking you now to go and join the animal kingdom and never come back. You've lived beside them. You live in the same world as them, you've seen them, but you haven't had their restrictions and you haven't had their freedoms.
Amy: [00:08:52] Yeah. I mean, sometimes I don't know, this is me just processing this with a joke, but sometimes I think about escaping to the animal kingdom.
I'd like to talk about the passing of your mother to start with. And all of the internalized emotions when it comes to a matriarch in your family, not only imposing these rules and regulations on you, but also loving you and probably wanting the best for you. Can you talk about your struggle with that? Because I can only imagine if inside you feel, you know... You mentioned that 16, that you knew you weren't going to end up being in a relationship with someone in that, knowing that that would by then end up disappointing your family. But also loving your mother and knowing that she did want good for you.
Jessie: [00:09:57] It's a hard one.
It's a really hard one because I loved her.
We had a really close connection, actually. Both of my parents and I. But then at the same time she had had traumas in her past, which weren't processed. Before I escaped a cult, I wasn't in an environment in which you could address and process those things.
It just wasn't the support or… There wasn't unconditional love and acceptance. There was a lot of judgment. And you know, you think there's a lot of judgment in the world and there is, but you get reprieve from that in the sense that you can stay in your own home. You can turn off your electronic devices. Nobody does anything. You don't have to be subjected to that.
But when you're in this kind of community, you're at church every single day, amongst people who are judging you. That's not a place in which you can heal. So it was kind of understanding that she had her own demons and I knew, as you say, she totally wanted it. She thought and believed wholeheartedly that this was the best for me.
And, so did my father.
At the same time, when I look back on it, she did a lot of things that were not strictly approved of.
And, you know, she was the powerhouse in the family and women weren't really looked at like that at all. They were meant to be submissive. She constantly would remind us that she aspired to being a brain surgeon and those opportunities really weren't open to us at all, but she never gave up that.
My mom created her own business, and I worked with her in that. She did really well. Again, it's not something she should have done. She had a husband who could earn money for her. It wasn't like she didn't drop me breadcrumbs to suggest another path. She didn’t know that the path was to escape a cult.
Amy: [00:11:41] It sounds like she started to, maybe not break the mold, but start manipulating it to show you that there is space within this that you're able to exert female autonomy.
Jessie: [00:11:56] Yeah, I think I do. I think so. It was something she was, I mean, the part of her had disowned certain parts of... I know she would have been incredible as an interior designer. She declined. She denied herself the opportunity to be that. But there were other parts where she just couldn't deny who she was.
And that was an example for me, in terms of not being prepared to just sit by and let things happen.
And standing up for what I wanted. When it came to leaving, she didn't pass until six months after I'd left. So escaping in the face of knowing that her life hung in the balance was incredibly hard. It was something I definitely carried guilt about and felt very selfish for.
But at the same time she respected my decision to escape a cult and that meant so much.
Amy: [00:12:46] Yeah. So how, how did your father deal with your exiting?
Jessie: [00:12:53] Well, there was no anger. There was just enormous mass sorrow. He was someone that I had seen go from a vibrant, generous, caring personality to being completely trodden on and basically going through a nervous breakdown because of this treatment we had been subjected to as a family. And I already knew he was very fragile.
He was losing his soulmate, who was his backbone. And he was also losing me, who was his right hand in a lot of his business decisions. I had been throughout the various businesses he had had. And in many other major decisions in life in general. So it was, it was massive for him.
Amy: [00:13:39] I bet. Do you, do you have siblings?
Jessie: [00:13:41] yes, I do. There were eight of us.
Amy: [00:13:43] Oh, wow. Okay.
Jessie: [00:13:45] Yeah.
Amy: [00:13:46] And are all of them still actively involved in the cult?
Jessie: [00:13:52] Oh, absolutely. Yeah
Amy: [00:13:54] So, you're the black sheep.
How has that been for your relationship with your siblings?
I know it's hard to generalize because they're each their individual person.
Jessie: [00:14:07] I don't have any contact after I went to escape a cult.
Amy: [00:14:10] With anyone
Jessie: [00:14:12] No. I had contact with my father and a little bit with my brother. Because I only have one brother. And that was few and far between. I've had two phone calls this year. I've chosen not to have contact with the others. Two, three of them were not particularly pleasant, putting it politely.
I have had a very nasty email off one of them with a whole lot of stuff being thrown at me. And another one was 50% of the bullying that I was subjected to for 23 years.
It's a choice. I felt like a black sheep.
I still feel a black sheep, and I can actually remove myself from unhealthy influences that are just very damaging to me, trying to build myself back up.
Amy: [00:15:00] And that's so important. It's a struggle with so many people that haven't been in these types of situations. They have a really hard time removing themselves from the environment, which causes so much of their strife and depression.
I just want to honor you like, wow. That is such a huge decision to make knowing what's at stake, knowing what relationships are basically gone.
Jessie: [00:15:34] Thank you.
Amy: [00:15:35]You're welcome. Wow.
Jessie: [00:15:40] Yeah, it's, it's an interesting one. For me, I felt like I was pushed to the wire until I didn't know anywhere else to go.
But to make that decision, I was looking at suicide or a chance a new life.
And I told myself, “Well, I want to. I've got to give this a shot. I can't try it the other way round. If it doesn't work out, I've still got the second option to go to.” But I couldn't try it the other way round. And I said, “I've been pushed to this point now where I don't have choices in my mind.” I also couldn't know fully what was ahead. I knew some of it, but I couldn't know all of it. It does vary person to person. There are others who have left, not many. The previous one to me leaving in the church in which I was, was 23 years prior.
Amy: [00:16:27] Oh, wow.
Jessie: [00:16:29] Yeah. But I have since been in contact this year, since I brought out my memoir with others who have left. You realize that each of us has a very unique story. They will have a common thread. But as to how much contact you have, as to how poorly you're treated after you leave, or how well you're treated after you escape a fult.
And some have left children in there.
Some have left husbands and wives. Some have left businesses, as in they've owned the business and it's been taken off them. So, we've each had a very different journey. So, you don't a hundred percent know.
Now I'm sitting here three years on and I have received a photograph of my father and my brother this year. But for many people that have left 20, 30 years on, they have no photographs just to remember their family by that are current. They've not seen them face to face. And I don't know how that yet will feel because I've not got there. You lose so much when you escape a cult.
Amy: [00:17:27] Absolutely. How is the health of your father? I mean, maybe not the emotional health, but the physical health.
Jessie: [00:17:35] Sadly, just to add to it, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's as my mother was passing away.
Amy: [00:17:42] Oh, no.
Jessie: [00:17:43] Yeah. I mean, once it was expected, we had wondered what things were. He’s really been quite frail. And yeah, that's definitely slowed him down a lot. He has, since he was based in the UK, he's moved out to Australia this year. I'm really, really pleased about that because it... Well, it's where he's wanted to be. He wants to be back with his family and he's got that now. So, I couldn't be more happy for him. And he certainly sounds happier out there.
Amy: [00:18:10] That's wonderful.
How does that work though?
So, he didn't leave the... do we call it a religion? If I'm not using the word cult? So, religion. How does that work with him being geographically distanced from the church in which he would have spent a lot of his, the physical church in which he would have spent a lot of his life.
Jessie: [00:18:34] Oh, I apologize. It's an international church religion.
Amy: [00:18:36] Oh, okay. So, there are many churches around.
Jessie: [00:18:40] Yes. There were about 50,000 globally. Not churches, people.
Amy: [00:18:45] Okay. I was like, “Well, that's a lot of churches.”
Jessie: [00:18:48] Members. And Australia, New Zealand. There's across the US, there's Canada, there's Arjun time across Europe. So, that's a good spread.
Amy: [00:18:58] Did you say the name of the church? Are you allowed to say the name after you went to escape a cult?
Jessie: [00:19:03] Yeah, yeah.
Amy: [00:19:04] Okay.
Jessie: [00:19:05] They’re known now as a Plymouth Brethren Christian Church,
Amy: [00:19:10] Okay. Interesting. I was wondering if I had heard of it, but I,
Jessie: [00:19:15] Give me a region again? Give me your region as to where you're based again. I'm sorry. I should-
Amy: [00:19:20] It's okay. I am in Eastern Canada.
Jessie: [00:19:22] Okay.
Amy: [00:19:23] I'm in the city Halifax, which is very East.
Jessie: [00:19:29] I'm not good at my geography at all. But Canada, there was this Saskatchewan. We had... My mother... Not my mother.
My aunt is actually based in Woodstock, Ontario.
There's a few in Canada. It's not nowhere near as populated as the US.
Amy: [00:19:44] Not to talk about where I live in a negative light, but we're very, like... I don't think that would be something that would be that popular in this area. We're all like pirates and sailors and swear. We just like to drink and smoke weed, so I can swear. But I used to live in Ontario, so I do know there. And I've been to the Woodstock area, so maybe I would have come across something like that.
Jessie: [00:20:16] I'm trying to think who, yeah. I wouldn't know where your closest is. I mean, there was Oxford, Regina. Yeah.
Amy: [00:20:23] Probably Ontario which is quite far away. So.
Jessie: [00:20:28] You’re safe.
Amy: [00:20:30] Yeah, it's so interesting. I actually have a friend who grew up in, not the exact same structure, but a very similar mentality among her family and her religion. And she has not... It's like a much more muted version than your story. But she as well is seen as the black sheep. I mean, she works for me, so she has to. Or she's like friends, so she has to be.
It's fascinating because it's something that, for me, I am so the op… I've just never really been subject to that. My grandmother or my great grandfather who I never knew was a minister. So that's the closest thing.
I grew up with part of the church being impactful in my life.
But my mother was born in the fifties. She's a hippie. She was part of that movement. So, she broke that. Almost similar to how your mother was taking away the... I don't know what the right word... The expectations, if you will, of the female in the household, slowly and slowly.
So, I think it's just so interesting how it passes down through generations. How did your parents end up? Were they born into this religion as well? Or was it something that they sought it out?
Jessie: [00:22:00] No, no. It's multi-generational so it goes, it goes right back to my great-grandfather. I wonder if he knew that anyone in his family would escape a cult.
Amy: [00:22:07] And do you know why he decided that this was his path?
Jessie: [00:22:14] No. I don’t actually. And that's one of the things that's, when you're inducted at such a young age, you don't have to find out a lot of things. You just take them as a given. So, there were a lot of the rules I've told you already. I don't know the basis for a lot of those, because we didn't have to look into them. Until after I went to escape the cult.
It was just, that's what it was. We didn't have to take an exam or anything.
For me, true Christianity, which was the basis of it, requires having a genuine conversion and knowing the Lord is your savior.
Well, I couldn't have really put my finger on when I had a conversion or when a lot of the others did because you just grew up amongst it. You didn't need to.
Amy: [00:22:58] So, how is your relationship with faith? What does that look like now?
Jessie: [00:23:07] Oh, it's all over the place.
Amy: [00:23:08] Yeah, I imagine. Yeah.
Jessie: [00:23:10] It's shot to pieces at the minute. I'm exploring things I couldn't have explored before. And I have been very burnt by what I've been brought up amongst. Then a number of other “Christians” that I've met since I've left. And I think that it's just got to the point now where I call it slapping some burnt skin since I went to escape a cult.
It's like, if you're going to say to me, “We'll pray for you,” you'll probably never hear from me again. Because I'm just throwing up my hands saying, “Get away from me.” And I feel like it's imposing and it's giving me a certain amount of guilt that I've left what I had when I went to escape a cult.
I don't feel that I'm not a Christian.
Because I still know that was my upbringing. I know that I probably normally am. I mean, I have a cross around my neck. Not that it means a lot, but it means I haven't thrown it completely out.
But I'm also looking at things like spirituality. I'm not “woo-woo,” but I'm probably more word adjacent or practical single “woo.” I'm very interested in mediums. And definitely open to manifesting and law of attraction, that kind of thing, or just exploring. I knew when I left, I was absolutely not ready to trust another congregation because of so much hypocrisy and damage had been done.
I received quite a lot of judgments. The first Christian that I met when I went to escape a cult and had contact with has been very judgy of my stumblings and my attempts to find my feet in a world I didn't know. Then I met others who were equally judging, not necessarily of me, but of those around them.
And I just thought, “You know what? If there's one thing that’s been my biggest healer and the most important thing to me, it's been that unconditional love. And when you're judging somebody as hard to give that.”
Amy: [00:25:04] Yeah. And I find it so interesting that you continually mentioned like judgment and judging, because that's really what I have lately perceived a lot, not all, but a lot of the Christian faith. It's very based in that.
And I know, obviously, like the... I forgot, I don't really know the terms, but like the idea that like, you will be judged at your death, then you will go to heaven or hell it just seems like… See, I have a really hard time understanding religion because of that. If it was really like, “We are all in this together and you can be a good person.”
Shouldn't there be an element of unconditional love?
Jessie: [00:25:51] It is fascinating. I've grown up knowing that people felt exactly what you've just described towards us. I'm thinking, you know, I feel this resentment from people out who aren't Christian going, why do they have to shove it down everybody's necks? And it is a sign of evangelical everybody. They think it's a good thing to do.
And I've got to this point now where I'm thinking, “I get how it feels now to be on the other side of it.” Since I went to escape a cult.
An experience I had earlier in the year was going away on a team event and there was a Christian there who I'd never met before, my aunt, and there was a non-Christian there who had had a horrific childhood and she was trying to parent her child having not been parented haven't been given up and then abused.
And the judgment from this person who called themselves a Christian toward her was totally inappropriate.
It was like, “You think you're doing good by helping an X, Y, and Z, and saying to her, you know, ‘Why haven't you done this? And why haven't you done that?’” And I'm like, “Well, if you could, understand how much judgment is coming through in those words, when all that woman wants is to be loved and accepted by somebody because she never has been.”
It just drove me even further away. At the same time, I was just getting to know my fiance, who I'm with now. And, yes, he had been to Sunday school, but he doesn't consider himself practicing of anything.
Yet, he constantly told me, “Jessie, just love her. Just love her. All she wants and love her child who was acting up as well. Just all they want is they are crying out to be loved.” And I said, “Well, this person who doesn't have, isn't all faith. It's showing me a kind of route to people than somebody who is.” What feels right for me and what feels right for me is love. Because it wasn't until I met my fiance that I really felt unconditional love without judgment. And because he's given me that safe space, I am now healing. So would I not want to pass it onto others? And I learned all this when I went to escape a cult.
Amy: [00:27:59] Exactly. And I think that's so beautiful. I, yes. Yes. Just, yes. Well, congratulations on your engagement.
Is this with the man that you met when you were 16 or is it someone different?
Jessie: [00:28:14] No, somebody very different. Yeah.
Amy: [00:28:16] How, how did you meet.
Jessie: [00:28:18] I keep chickens and he is into pest control and I had an issue with rodents at the time.
Amy: [00:28:25] I love how that works, you know, so beautiful.
Jessie: [00:28:29] Yeah, you can't make some of this stuff up. Yeah. You can't plan for some things. I’m sure my cult didn’t plan for my time when I went to escape a cult.
Amy: [00:28:36] Absolutely. And I really like how you have talked about the unconditional love because I am a account... or I'm in school for counseling psychology. So, I am becoming a psychotherapist. And one of the most important aspects of childhood development is having family members that demonstrate unconditional love. And that's something that, I mean, I know I didn't get it and I did not grow up in a cult. I got it from... Well, I mean, it is hard in fairness because unconditional loves means if you murder someone, they still love you. You know? We think of it in a more muted fashion, but it does mean this big, extreme as well.
I am working on practicing unconditional love for myself as well as for many other people. And it's hard. It’s so hard
Jessie: [00:29:32] You're right. Yeah, you're right. It is.
I think another thing that's been really key in our whole relationship is you can respect somebody without loving them.
But you can't love someone without respecting them.
And when you couple respect with unconditional love, you create a very, very safe space.
Because how can you... Judgment is a disrespect. There's often so much more behind things than a flippant judgment would allow for.
Amy: [00:30:14] It's really interesting because we do take the cult aspect out of it. Unfortunately, we live in a society that is very judgmental. A lot of industry is built on that too. I have recently... First of all, I wanted to comment on this. I forgot, but I wrote it down. I love the term that you used earlier, where you said “woo” adjacent.
I'd never heard of that. And I am someone who used to identify as woo-hoo. Now, I believe that I'm on my spiritual journey and it has evolved to be very close to what you're talking about. Especially where it comes to like just sitting and unconditional love for everyone. And that's hard, especially when in the society we live in there are, I believe, certain morals that are right and wrong. But being able to see past that and love that individual or animal or whatever for what it actually is, is one of the hardest teachings I have ever been through. And it encourages us... Well, not encourage us. It requires us to drop our most trusted advisor, which is the ego.
Jessie: [00:31:38] Yes. Yes,
Amy: [00:31:39] And it's it...
I'm going to swear for a second.
It's a mind fuck.
Jessie: [00:31:43] Yes, yes. Yes it is. Because-
Amy: [00:31:44] Yeah. And yeah. It's really. Sorry, go on.
Jessie: [00:31:49] What was I going to say? It might sound completely at odds with unconditional love, but I do still practice protecting my energy. So, I will let people go if I don't feel that they're good to be around, but that's not because I think that they've got no good in them.
It's just that I don't find that environment helpful for me at the moment as to where I need to be. I wish them well, but things will turn out brilliant for them. So, I feel that might sound like it's in judgment, but I feel that if you don't protect your energy, you're leaving yourself open to everything.
And malevolence. I’ve learned this since I went to escape a cult.
Amy: [00:32:32] Yeah. And I would say that that is actually an extension of unconditional love. Because if you were to allow them into your space, then you're not showing yourself unconditional love either. I believe that a lot of this philosophy and stuff that we're talking about, it's contradictory. But it's very relevant and it's really hard for certain individuals that are not ready to hear these things to really process and understand it.
Because it goes against everything that we've been taught.
Jessie: [00:33:15] Yes. Yes.
Amy: [00:33:17] And it's fun to process.
Jessie: [00:33:22] And yeah, but it's also one of those things that would be super, super handy if it was actually taught in school because these are life skills.
Amy: [00:33:29] Yeah. And I… Actually, this is a perfect segue because this is what I was going to ask you next. So, a lot of my healing process... and I recognize that it all looks different for so many individuals... But a lot of my healing process was looking back, creating a narrative, coming to understand it in a way that didn't make me feel like a victim of my circumstance. And I didn’t have to escape a cult.
It was a little bit different because a lot of what I went through was self-imposed. Being able to process it and then use those lessons to move forward in a way that felt good and to demonstrate unconditional love to myself and people.
Now, what, in your experience, do you view your time living in the cult as something that you can take forward into your now cult-free life?
Jessie: [00:34:30] It’s interesting. It was just an interesting question and it was very interesting to see what came up for me when you were saying what you were. Because I've done quite a number of things after leaving that were what I would not call mistakes anymore, but life lessons. And it's been much easier to reframe that and see good from that, that I might have say brought on myself or that where my, where my path has meant to unfold versus what was done to you.
So, yes, it's a fascinating question to look at. I think there's definitely good I can take away from it. There was a lot of business development side. There's a lot of thirst for. So, definitely, I'm always grateful for good morals in the sense of manners and, in the overall, how you treat people.
I never came up doing drugs or smoking. Actually, can't touch alcohol cause I'm allergic, so that’s different. But I had a pretty decent life in that sense, in terms of a kind life. I wasn't thrown out on the street, I wasn't from a broken family. So, I've had a lot of that in my favor. You might say that's very protected.
But at the same time, I haven't got traumas to heal from.
So, in that regard I'm very grateful for that. For the adults, I spent time amongst who I was able to learn things like empathy from and wisdom from. I think one of the common things I'm told by those I come in contact with is, “Wow, you've got wisdom for your age.”
And I can only say that's just because I didn't have peers of my own age. I was socializing amongst those a lot older. So, you get to learn those things, and if you absorbed them, then you can carry that forward for your own benefit. So I'm very grateful for a lot of that. Even though I had to escape a cult.
Amy: [00:36:14] Absolutely. And one thing that I always find is a common factor in a lot of conversations is that, especially among the women that I talked to about that, have grown up in very impactful and traumatic childhoods. They have been deemed old souls. To speak to what you just said, it's incredibly accurate where a lot of people are required to either step up to that level because it's necessary for their survival, or it's a way to understand and help create empathy within. So again, we can survive the way in which we are brought up.
Our brains are very intelligent and most of it is done unconsciously.
And it's funny because, for me, I fought with that element of myself for so long where I felt very angry that I went into these coping mechanisms because I found as an adult, it was so hard to deal with them and thrive instead of just survive, before I had to escape a cult.
Jessie: [00:37:31] and I hear you. And I think, yeah, I've definitely done that. I mean, I used to, I was the youngest of eight and there was a six year age gap between me and the next one up. Then there were, you know, nieces and nephews underneath. I was actually as close to my first niece as I was to my sibling and there are six years both ways. But I didn't really have children to play with in that sense, when I was young before I had to escape a cult.
I would say I was dragged up, you know, I had to go through my childhood quickly, but now I'm grateful for it. But at the same time, there was no time. I never consumed anything like comics, for instance. I really missed out on that fun element and because we had no TV, no radio. There was a lot of that joy that wasn't there in the same way, but I read incredible books and often books with much deeper meanings than people saw on the surface.
And I wouldn't have regret that
Amy: [00:38:28] I love that. Yeah. That's exactly how I... I mean, we had radio and TV and stuff. But I found so much love and support through novels and other non-fictional works that I don't think that if I had not been into reading, I don't know if I would be who I am right now.
Jessie: [00:38:51] Yes. Yeah. Couldn't agree more. I wasn't able to have novels because that was another thing we weren't allowed before I went to escape a cult, but I read autobiographies. So, I would read about somebody who had been born limbless, for instance. And I'd see, “Look, if that person can get through in life and get through positively, then there's hope for me.”
So, it was constantly trying to keep that hope alive. And reading Ben Carson, who I love. And read a lot of his books, but I was reading his book, “Take the Risk” when I actually escaped. But he talks a lot about what the brain is capable of as a top neurosurgeon
Amy: [00:39:21] Yeah. And I mean, that would be incredibly powerful to have those very real scientific based books as well. Because you're like, “Well, if they're saying it's possible, then what's stopping me?”
Jessie: [00:39:34] And he came from abject poverty, and then he was the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins.
And you think, “Well, he's gone somewhere as a Black person as well in the world. There's hope.”
Amy: [00:39:50] Yes. And that's a lot of what so many of us need to hear because we’re really good at giving information and we're not that great at demonstrating hope. I mean, we're getting a lot better, like a lot better. But, yeah.
Jessie: [00:40:08] Little word with a big meaning.
Amy: [00:40:11] Exactly. Yes. Well, I have a hundred more questions, but we're nearing the end of this.
So I do want to ask two more before we end this time together. Since you had to escape a cult, now in your quote, unquote, “new life,” what do you struggle with the most?
Jessie: [00:40:34] Well, it's interesting because I think that depends on… That's a fluid thing.
Amy: [00:40:38] Of course. Yeah.
Jessie: [00:40:39] Obviously, having no contact with those that I've known. At the same time, some of that's healthy. It's good for me not to. The first couple of years after I left, I just stuffed everything from the past into box and left it there, metaphorically.
I didn't tell anyone about my past. I was trying to start friendships from scratch. And I was very worried that people would look at me and think I had three heads if I started telling them I'd never had a TV and a radio, I hadn't grown up with any of that.
And I wanted to be taken for who I was now, not to have any of that judgment.
I didn't want to think about any of it. So, I spent those years really still actually trying to survive. Not thriving. You don't just flop out and everything goes amazingly, and it was painful, very painful. And it wasn't until this year that, as I say, I'm now in this safe space, I can start to heal.
And for me, the hardest thing at the moment is looking at some of those raw things from when I had to escape a cult. Now, that I've opened Pandora's box, it's actually starting to work through them. And I think one of the biggest things that's helped in that is actually documenting that in the memoir and saying, “Okay, I'm ready to take full ownership of what my past was.” And to let people know that it's to make myself whole again, to let people know that this is who I was.
Amy: [00:41:58] And that's so beautiful, and I'm so happy that you're able to have this perspective on your experience because a lot of people just sit in disgust toward themselves for a numerous, numerous reasons. The way that our brain likes to make us feel bad. So thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
And I think it's beautiful that you're able to have the outlook of, or not outlook, output of your emotions and processing and healing through writing.
Jessie: [00:42:37] Yeah, it's been... I set a lot. I've done fully nude photo shoots as a model, but I've never felt as naked as when I released my memoir because there's nowhere to hide anymore. You're bearing your soul. You're sharing that with everybody.
Amy: [00:42:51] Absolutely.
Well, thank you so much, Jessie, for being on this episode.
For everyone that wants to get in contact with her follow along, there will be a link to the show notes in this description, and you'll be able to access all of that on the web page. So again, thank you so much.
Jessie: [00:43:13] You are so welcome.
Amy: [00:43:28] I always get the guest to end off the show with some words of advice, but I'm going to be a little bit more narrowed with what I ask you. And that is, “What advice do you have for individuals that are in the process of making a very big life-changing decision in which they need to shed a previous identity and take on something that is new and scary and unknown, but they know that it's the right move?”
Jessie: [00:43:55] If they know that it's the right move, and their gut is telling them that, which is the most important place to listen for, don't hesitate. Because you're delaying your pain and you will only thank yourself on the other side that you didn't hesitate. The longer you wait, the more you look back and go, “If only I had done it earlier.” If you know in your gut that it's the right thing to do, do it. And almost do it so fast that you haven't got time to think through how scary it is.