All that Sarah Edmondson wanted to do was self-improve as a human being and help others along the path. An aspiring actress from Vancouver, Canada, she was educated on self-improvement by her parents. And while she was struggling to get acting gigs, she came across an organization that seemed to align with her self-improvement mantra. That organization was NXIVM.
However, after 12 years of being a part of an organization that was aimed at changing the world, Sarah realized that she was living in a nightmare after she was branded (with a cauterizing pen) on her pelvic area with the initials of the Keith Raniere, the founder of NXIVM. And it is in the book, How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult that Bound My Life, she tells a story of her ordeal and her eventual emancipation from a cult.
After reading this book, I often forgot that I was reading a book. It was almost like reading a letter from a friend. And that was what I enjoyed about the book. I saw that Sarah’s writing voice is like that of someone genuinely writing to the reader. It is very personable and relatable. The writing style used by Sarah is a mixture of questioning, since she was a part of a cult that turned out to be an organization aimed at sex trafficking, and imagery, since it showed many person-to-person interactions with family, friends, and loved ones.
As Sarah writes, it seems like she is warning the reader of what can happen if someone ends up walking into a cult by explaining her joys and horrors while in NXIVM. One of those joys being that she thought she found her purpose in life after struggling as an actress and found love. However, the horrors she experienced were NXVIM pulling her away from her family, being told to strip naked for a photo, providing collateral (in the form of false damaging information about her), and her eventual branding.
There is one thing that got me to almost say “Thank you!” aloud while I was reading the book. It was the part where she beautifully, and somewhat hilariously, described Vanguard (the name NXVIM members called Rainiere) himself. One of the ways Edmondson described Raniere was that he talked in a way that reminded her of “word salad.” Word salad, according the Merriam Webster dictionary means “a string of empty, incoherent, unintelligible, or nonsensical words or comments. Before reading Scarred, I saw one of Rainiere’s conversations with Smallville actress, Allison Mack and I could barely keep up with what he was saying. I wondered if he was just trying to sound intelligent. Or was he just pontificating his opinions on the state of acting in a way that didn’t make any sense or perhaps to mind trick Allison Mack. Just check out that conversation here and you be the judge.
When her breaking point starts, we also see Sarah and her friend, Mark Vicente question Rainiere. Raineire was praised by many as one of the worlds smartest men and that he was a Judo champion, an excellent pianist, and among other accolades. Sarah and Mark questioned if Raineire really did accomplish those things. And if he really was smart, how come he lost so much money in the stock market? Money that he was given by Sara and Clare Bronfman, two heiress to Seagram Company and also a part of Rainere’s inner circle who would later get arrested along with Rainiere and Mack.
Another person that Sarah wrote a lot about was Lauren Salzman, the daughter of top NXIVM executive Nancy Salzman and also a member of Raniere’s inner circle. Sarah wrote that she saw her as an instant friend. Sarah was so close to Lauren that she made her a godmother to her newborn son and she was the maid of honor in her wedding. But when Lauren introduces Sarah to the women sorority DOS, an acronym for Dominus Obsequious Sororium (Latin term that translates to Master Over Slave Women), that was what led to the breaking point. To me, Salzman is seen as somewhat of a foil to Sarah. Both seemed to agree on the mission to make the world a better place by self-improvement. However, while one was genuine (Sarah), the other seemed to be corrupted (Lauren). But, even after Lauren had Sarah strip naked, provide her with collateral (one that could damage her reputation), and get branded, it can be seen by her writing that she hopes for Lauren to find peace and even seems to have started to forgive her.
In addition to reading this book, I have been following the NXVIM story for sometime through watching documentaries and reading Frank Parlato’s blog, The Frank Report. One of the things that got me interested in this story was Allison Mack’s involvement. As a Superman and Smallville fan, I was flabbergasted and I felt betrayed. I admired Allison Mack who beautifully played the intrepid and dauntless Chloe Sullivan, friend and confidant to Tom Welling’s Clark Kent. As I watch reruns of Smallville, I saw that Chloe was a reliable friend and someone who would go to bat for Clark. Perhaps, Allison went to bat for Raniere, a real-life supervillain that would make Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor seem like a choirboy.
I didn’t want to believe that it was Mack that joined DOS and was responsible for carrying out Raniere’s disgusting mission but, it was her. I even had a crush on her but after finding out what she did, I felt repulsed. In a sense, this was almost like a warped real-life episode of Smallville. I could picture poor Clark finding out that his friend did something so terrible and against everything they stood and fought for. Its very safe to say that Clark would be disgusted because I can tell you how I was feeling when I first learned the news.
The horror story of NXIVM reminded me of the time that years ago I almost joined an organization that was similar to NXIVM. It was when I was still living in Los Angeles and struggling to make ends meet as a writer. When I got a feel for the organization, I left at the very last second due to them trying to pressure me into purchasing one of their self-help curriculums which was a whooping $800 USD (Probably as cheap as rent would get in Westside Los Angeles). And after seeing Sarah’s account on an interview with ABC News, I feel that I might have dodged a bullet by not joining that organization and giving them my money.
In addition, I spoke to my pastor about NXVIM since he knew I was reading the Scarred. We talked about just how easy it can be for anyone to get ensnared into a cult despite intention or emotional state.
Sarah Edmondson wanted to help herself and anyone out. Even when she she began to detox from NXIVM, she did just that by helping people find a way out and being the very person who helped put Rainiere behind bars. She became like a North Star to those who were lost in the dark. To me, she is more of a hero than Allison Mack. She was intrepid and said no to Rainiere despite the collateral that he and his NXIVM cronies had on her. And many people who once carried the NXVIM flag followed suit and all that culminated to the arrests of Rainere, Mack, and the rest of the NXIVM inner circle.
As someone who once admired Allison Mack, and like Sarah, I too hope that Mack find peace and rebuilds herself to be a better person.
I definitely hope to meet Sarah Edmondson one day and just tell her how brave she was. She is a real superhero and one that even Clark Kent would praise for her mission to help others and seek justice.
I see this book not only as a warning but as a healing for Sarah and many others who had to endure the hell and torment NXVIM had put them through.
This book taught me that even people with the best intentions can get mind-tricked into something that is seemingly wholesome while in reality, sinister. I encourage anyone who is going through, or even suspects, a similar ordeal to read this book. You will learn about loving yourself, helping others, and forgiving yourself and others.
For those of you who are reading this, especially if you had went through the crap NXVIM dished out or something akin to it, please understand that you are not bad or evil. You are loved no matter what and to not be afraid to seek those who truly love you and want to help you. You have my support.
-Brian From Earth-16