Book Review and My Take On-Scarred:The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult that Bound My Life

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 is 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 (thankfully, I just said thank you in my head). 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, inchorent, 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. Even after Lauren had her strip naked, provide her with collateral (one that could damage her reputation), and get branded, it can be seen by Sarah’s 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 how Clark would react because, I can tell you how I was feeling when I first learned the news.

Years ago in Los Angeles, I almost joined an organization similar to NXIVM but, 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.

This past Sunday, 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 Mack and Rainere.

As someone who once admired Allison Mack, I 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 mindtricked 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

sarah
Sarah Edmonson: Survivor and the Real Superhero of the Story

 

 

 

A Decade of Fun and Self-Discovery

As 2019 draws to a close, I look back and realize how grateful I am. I live with people who support me and my aspirations. I have a flexible job. I live in the greatest country on the planet, the United States of America. I am in good health despite having to deal with Von Hippel Lindau Syndrome. I have a roof on top of my head and food to put on the table. I also have this awesome growing side hustle I am doing that lets me blog, vlog, and talk about comic books. Despite many twists and turns, I have to say, the 2010s was a a crazy decade but one of fun and self-discovery.

In the 2010s, I slowly but gradually developed a visceral view of the man I was becoming. During the time when the economy was in the crapper, and Justin Beiber was basically being seen and talked about as if he was the Second Coming, I wasn’t quite prepared for what this decade was going to throw at me. I was on a long road to self-acceptance, I was beginning to understand one of the true meanings of creative writing, I had to comprehend the trajectory of my purpose, experience living with a disease, meeting new people, trying new things,  moving to a different state, and learning self-love.

First off, I do not describe myself as an “Aspergian” or an “Austic” man. I see myself as someone who has to live with Aspergers or High Functioning Autism (HFA). I do not believe in the idea of labels. I am not Aspergers or Autism. Aspergers or Autism is not me. Some people who have Autism may not agree with me and may see themselves as an “Autistic” or “Aspergian” and that’s okay. I just don’t put the label before me. However, this notion has also gotten me to push aside that side of myself and even deny that I have Aspergers. I would barely tell even those who I was closest too outside my family that I had to deal with HFA. It was not until stress at my current job that the jig was up and I disclosed that I had autism. My disclosing was analagous to Superman revealing his identity in Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman #18. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and looking back, I should have done the same in college. I write that because the people that I work with were very understanding and supportive. I have no doubt that my peers and creative writing professors back in UC Riverside would have been just as supportive if I really let them know about me. I do suspect that some could tell that there was something about me but I regretably hid that part of me.

I originally studied creative writing to help me get a career in journalism. However, I look back and I am starting to understand why the field gravitated towards me. I don’t think that it was neccesarily the career aspects that drawn me to it. It was that it was just fun to not only write but create a universe or a view of a universe through one’s lense. Creative writing has had helped me develop a vicarious view of other people’s lives and to remind myself to not see things in black and white. Plus, another reason I did it was because in my first year, several of my hallmates were doing it and they had such joy in their faces discusing many aspects of a story: characterization, plot, imagery, style, voice, theme etc. And I have enjoyed taking part of the workshops where I learned from both the professors and peers. However, that all ended around 2011 after I graduated.

As a result, I abandoned my creative aspirations and tried out careers in the education, medical, and financial fields due to not getting an opportunities in the journalism field. I wanted to work in a “real job”  and just make money. And because of that notion, all endeavors had ended with little to no success.

In the year 2011, I worked as a substitute instructional assistant for children with special needs. While the position was rewarding, I knew that I wanted to do something creative. Although I was promoted to a full-time instructional assistant in 2012, I did not last long in the position since it was not really for me and got let go. I was back on as a substitute but left around 2013 to move back with my family in Los Angeles. However, the most reward aspect of that experience was that it, along with watching Smallville (mentioned from a previos blog post), had positioned me to slowly helped me accept my autism.

While working as an instructional assistant, I also decided to pursue a career in the medical field by studying sonography. However, I had zero interest in the filed and I failed physics, which was a pre-requisite for the program.  Apparently, I did learn my lesson from my previous experience taking chemisty from my first year in college; I was legitimately not a science guy. While I was in physics, I paid very little attention and bombed two midterms. I did do some studying, but I was not getting the material. I ultimately did not take the final and abandoned the class on June 2013, the same time I left to go back home in Los Angeles.

After struggling financially, I took several computer programming courses and decided to get back into journalism. I eventually found a job working at a credit union which was emjoyable since it was near the beautiful beach of Santa Monica. As a result of that, I thought I could pursue a career in accounting. While I did manage to get an accounting job in addition to taking several courses, I ended up getting fired due to incompetence on the job.

It did not take me too long to rebound back to employment. I have gotten a new job which is the place I currently work at now and it has been a good experience. There is a great amount of customer service involved in this job but it has also helped me learn how to communicate well with others in a tactful and vicarious manner. The position is also great since it allows me to leave earlier than 5pm. As a result, I have enough time to do my side hustle and pursue freelance journalism.

Those experiences, although most have lead to failure have taught me that I am a creative and that I needed to realize that the world owes me nothing. It did not matter if someone was chosen over me to get a position, if I had all the qualifcations under the sun, or if I was not liked for who I am. Only I owe myself all the love and support that I need; the rest can (or doesn’t have to) fall into place.

There were other experiences that had me take a hard look at who I was becoming. Around 2014, I joined a Toastmasters in Santa Monica called Club 21. I learned a great deal about public speaking and also the importance of listening. It was there that I slowly started to embrace my creativity and a sense of myself. I learned that I was not afraid to go infront of a crowd and speak.

Another huge moment in this decade was learning that I also had a rare condition called Von Hippel Lindau Disease. This disease can cause tumors to develop on the eyes, brain, spinal cord, pancreas, kidneys, and reproductive organs. So far, I have had several surgeries but I have been doign very well. I have doctors that look at my case periodically to make sure that I am on track. I also learned a valuable lesson when it came to worrying about this diease from a brain surgeon. He told me that I need to focus more on my “why,” or my purpose. It made a lot of sense. My purpose, my reason for living should be my focus over even the seemingly scary things in life.

Moving to Arizona was one of the craziest things that happened to me in this decade. I didn’t think I would ever move out of California but I did. If I were to steal the Doctor’s TARDIS and go back in time to tell myself from 2010 that six year from that year, he would be moving to Arizona, he’d laugh his ass off. And that move was amazing. It was a scenic drive as my family and I drove through the desert from Los Angeles and through Riverside County. Other experiences included going on several stops for food. One funny experience involved my cat crapping in her travel carrier and me having to clean her up as well as the carrier.

After settling in Arizona, I have also learned about self-love and how integral it is to ones life. This goes back to accepting myself for who I am: a man who has Aspergers and Von Hippel Lindau Disease and yet is creative, gregarious, intelligent, and awesome (did I mention handsome to all you ladies out there? *Laughs!*) But yes, I have been learning how to love myself more by listening to myself and even learning to say “no” to some people. Even as a Christian, I had to understand that if I am to love God and Jesus most high, I need to also love myself because God made me.  And self-love also taught me to not blame others or anything else for my failures or mistakes. I am the reason for my failures and mistakes. No one else.  Furthermore, self-love reminds me to never look back into the past but learn from it and move on.

And this decade was also where I discovered how much love and passion I have for comic books, Star Wars, pro-wrestling, and anime. I eventually ended up going to my first comic convention in Los Angeles where I met Hayley Atwell, the actress who played Agent Peggy Carter from Captain America, and got her autograph. Three years after moving to Arizona, I started to go to Pheonix Fan Fusion where in 2019 this year, I met Ray Park who played Darth Maul, Amy Jo Johnson, who played Kimberly the Pink Ranger, and comic book writer Christopher Priest. Later that year, I also met actress and gamer Felicia Day.  My passion for comics made me start this very blog, the Earth-16 Comics Wire (Previously known as the Boy Wonder Press) and the Flashcast podcast with the DC Comics Geeks Nation.

In closing, This decade was an adventure and one I would never forget. It was a helluva decade. I’ve started to learn how to accept myself for who I am. I have no idea what the 2020s will bring but I am certain that it is going to be full of adventures and happenings worth writing about. Heres to a good decade to all in the multiverse!

 

-Brian From Earth-16

Understanding Mike Bennett’s Decision to Ask for His Release From WWE

When we grow up, we all have dreams of being who we want to be. Growing up, my dreams had took on several forms. At first, I wanted to be a firefighter, then an archaeologist, then a teacher, and then I decided that I wanted to be a writer. As we reach adulthood, very few of us actually reach our goals. We begin to live the lie that our dreams are nothing more than dreams.

As Mickey Goldmill from the Rocky movies so eloquently puts it: we “become civilized!”

Fear kicks into overdrive when people from parents to other people outside our lives tell us that our dreams are ridiculous and to give them up before we suffer. We begin to put our dreams in the backbunner and we become realistic. Getting a “real job” or livng paycheck to paycheck becomes our dream while our creativity suffers for it.

One person who I feel is brave enough to express his angst with that sentiment of security over a dream is a pro-wrestler and WWE Superstar name Mike Bennett, also known as Mike Kanellis.

Today, Bennett did something brave and unprecedented of a WWE Superstar. He announced on social media that he asked for his release from WWE. From what I read from the post, Bennett did not say anything bad about the company. He only expressed frustration with not working “one day a week” which was “not going o cut it” for him. He noted that he only resigned with the WWE  because he though it was “best for my family, and maybe from a finanical standpoint it was.”

The one part of the post that caught me attention was when he mentioned the lack of work affecting his home life and family. Furthermore, he added that after battling drug addiction for four years, he had came to the epiphany that he wanted to work more wrestling matches and travel the world like he did when he was on the independent scene. Another part of the post that really hit me was the mention of wanting to be an example to his daughter of what it is like to earn a living doing what he loves rather than “collecting a pay check.”

What I read from this post is a man who wanted to do nothing more than become a pro-wrestler and entertain crowds.

And Mike Bennett, if you are reading this. I understand where you are coming from.

I too have been in too many situations where I have had to put my dreams on the back bunner due to financial security. Now don’t get me wrong, it is always good to earn gauranteed money but if you are not living your dream and you are working in a job that you don’t like or at the very least doens’t allow you to live your dream, then there’s something wrong. I’m currently in a job that allows me to leave early so that I could work on creative projects like this blog and go to evening writing or comic book events. I am very grateful for that job. However, in my previous job whch was at a civil service organization that must not be named (out of respect), it was the opposite. Like Mike, I was there just earning a paycheck and not happy but unlike Mike, I was not brave enough to get real with myself and tell my supervisor that I want to call it quits. Actually, the civil service job fired me and even though I was upset, deep down, I was free and my creativity was returning slowly but gradually.

Working in a job or place that does not align with your goals or mission can sap your creativity. It can also make you angry to the point where you may need to seek counseling.  I have Asperger’s Syndrome coupled with Anxiety. Every month, I make it an effort to see a counsellor while my family and my co-workers encourage me to embrace my Aspergers everyday. I still deal with some of the struggles but I know with dealing with it and having a great support system, I can learn to cope with it in a healthy way.

However, what is not okay is living paycheck to paycheck to the point where your mental and physical health is at risk. That’s how some otherwise healthy people end up getting cancer or some other sickness. This is because some people live in fear that they would end up in a bad place if they decided to attempt to live their dream. But there are some who look in the mirror and decide to seek help before its too late.

And Mike Bennett is doing a great job dealing with his struggles. As he mentioned in his post, he bravely fought drug addiction for four years and won. He won the battle not only for his wife, Maria Kanellis, his children, and his career, he won for him. This is a man who loves himself. Why else would he bravely ask for his release from one of the biggest wrestling companies in the world? Maybe he feels more comfortable working in the independent scene where he would have more opportunities and respect. If I had a promotion of my own, Bennett would be one of my top guys and his wife would be included.

I enjoyed his character the “Miracle” Mike Bennett in Impact Wrestling. The character was a scoundrel/swindler type with a suave personality that exuded confidence. Not to mention that thee character had the coolest taste in clothing: sneakers, a two-piece suit, with a fedora plus a gorgeous looking red head at his side…captial “A” awesome!  If Mike Bennett could pull it off, why couldn’t I? Maybe a certain girl I have a crush on might take notice…

But in all seriousness, I have a new respect for Mike Bennett for showing me what it is like for a man to love himself. I have been struggling with loving myself all these years until I decided to seek help and follow my goals at the behest of family and co-workers. Mike, if you are reading this, you have a fan and whereever you will go, I will follow your carreer because you have become one of the people to inspire me to love myself more and embrace my Aspergers.

I know wherever it is you go, you will be successful. Whether its here in the US, Europe, Japan, Sibera, Earth-2, the Moon, you’re going to be awesome.

I don’t know about anyone esle but, I can only speak for myself. Mike and Maria Bennett, I am right behind you peeps and I understand your reason to request your release from WWE.

Go on and live your dream and remember…never stop believing and fight and work for a better tomorrow!

Brian from Earth-16

Mike and Maria
Mike Bennet  and his wfe  Maria Kanellis. Credit: WWE