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I was groomed into following an abusive leader, sound familiar?

I was groomed into following an abusive leader, sound familiar?

For those who seek to abuse power, victims must be kept scared to question and to research too far from their leader's narratives. It's amazing how a sense of belonging can override our sense and seek of truth. Here's my story. I hope you don't just read it and think 'gosh what an awful thing to have happened', I hope you read it and reflect on how it may mirror back elements of our own society and relationships with those in power, and how by deepening our relationship with ourselves, our own personal truths, we can protect our society from being lead astray.

I was nineteen. I lived in university halls and walked to East15 Acting School (uni) every day through Southend High Street. Every walk to uni I saw the gaunt desperate faces of people in sleeping bags staring up at the world of people walking by. Most people walked past without looking. I couldn’t not look. That didn’t even occur to me as a choice. I was transfixed by the need for care and nurture I saw in those people huddled in shop windows. I was transfixed by the image of people walking by and ignoring that need. I was shell-shocked by it all. I’ve got to do something to help, I thought. I signed up to attend a local ‘help the homeless’ evening. I asked my flatmates if anyone wanted to come with me and one person did. I baked flapjacks and brought them with me.

It was dark. We walked to the car park where a streetlamp dimly lit up the area where there was a plastic table assembled with hot drinks and food being served from it by volunteers to the homeless community. A couple of the homeless-looking men spoke to me. I felt shy and tried to engage in some interaction, but I internally felt scared as a young woman amongst older, bigger men, some of whom seemed to be struggling with their mental health or would talk in constant streams of consciousness that felt overwhelming for me at the time. My friend and I walked back, and I felt guilty going home to my warm flat in university halls knowing the others would be sleeping rough. My friend didn’t want to come with me next time, so I went alone. This time I felt even more scared walking there and back in the dark and not having my friend there as company. No one else would go with me so I decided not to go anymore. I was angry that no one would come. I felt alone. I didn’t know how to express anything other than a random angry rant and then just isolating myself even more from my friends by staying in my room and going on long nature walks.

On the way to uni or whilst out at the weekend I started to talk to the local lady who sold the Big Issue. Her name was Anna. She was beautiful and warm to speak to. It made me sad to leave her and go to uni. I could see the desperation and pain in her eyes. I could see the struggle she had every day to travel to sell the big issue and I could see the worry she had for her children. When I asked her if she needed anything she’d ask me for a sandwich, sanitary items, and nappies for her children. I would regularly speak to Anna and get her bits. When I arrived at uni for class, I felt disconnected from it all. How can I focus on getting the right grade knowing Anna and everyone else outside is just trying to survive day by day? The course began to feel purposeless to me. I couldn’t disconnect myself from the pain of my local community and carry on fulfilling their criteria boxes for good marks. One day I felt so overwhelmed by emotion in class that I ran out and just walked towards the nature spot near the sea. I didn’t know why, I just needed to be in nature and look out at the sea. Whilst out I saw Anna and we spoke as usual. I couldn’t bear the pain in her eyes, so I walked her to a cash point and withdrew one hundred pounds just to see her smile and eyes filled with happiness. That felt better than any good grade or feedback from a teacher.

Around this time, my friend introduced me to B. He introduced him as iB3 – I Be Free – but said we could just call him B. He said he was a free spirit, aligned with his true nature. He would spend time walking down the high street talking to the homeless community. He told me about his plans to run a local youth music club to help the local young people come off the streets and express themselves. We spoke about a shared dream of running a café and using the proceeds and facilities to support the local homeless community. He also introduced himself as a Martial Arts Sensei and said he could train me and my friend back to our true natures where we would be of optimal well-being and service to our community. We signed up and paid for a two-week IB3 martial arts crash course. We ran miles together, stretched, worked out, played fitness games, and meditated, cooked, and ate together every day for two weeks. B would give long lectures to pass on his spiritual and worldly knowledge that he said was more valuable than anything we’d ever hear anywhere else. He presented himself as a spiritual master and Guru and treated us as his students and inferiors. I looked up to him like he was the answer to all my pain and confusion. I idolized him in a fatherly god-like way. I identified with him and wanted to follow in his footsteps of being a free being, aligned with my true nature and of service to this world. Something felt incredibly right about that. I couldn’t see how attending university, or following in the footsteps of my family or friends was going to change the pain in the eyes of the homeless people I saw every day. But I saw in B a man committed to ‘being the change we wish to see in the world’, standing out of the apathetic conformity of people walking past homelessness and stopping. Stopping in the hamster wheel of normalized neglect of the vulnerable in our community. I was already stopping. But now I didn’t have to stop alone. And now I didn’t have to stop without a plan. He had a plan for how we could nurture our community. The sense of belonging I felt was like a warm bath after the ice-y outsider feeling I’d been feeling around friends and family in my seemingly isolated outrage and desperation at the scene of people walking past ignoring our homeless vulnerable people. (I say seemingly because now (years later) that I have honed the craft of expressing myself vulnerably I am able to see a whole world of people who relate and connect with my deepest feelings and thoughts & I think there were a lot of people I could have related with if only I'd had the tools at the time.)

Years later my therapist suggested to me that the reason I was so affected/triggered by this homeless scene was because something emotionally/mentally within myself felt very neglected and uncared for. The scene was a mirror of what was going on within me. A part of me was in emotional pain, but I was ignoring it because I didn’t know how to express it or nurture that part of myself. Hindsight is a fine thing.

I didn’t know I was being groomed by B. I didn’t know he was using his imposed position of guru to brainwash me. I didn’t realize that he was slowly chipping away at my ability to think for myself and slowly gaining dominance over my mind. All I knew was that he was the only person who understood me. He was the only person who understood my feelings and thoughts. He was the only person who cared, who listened, and who didn’t make me feel different. He made me feel normal and included. I didn’t even have to speak, and he would notice how I was feeling. I was good at hiding my deepest feelings and avoiding talking about it. But he had a way of getting me to open up. In a world where I felt confused and hurt he made me feel safe, assured, understood, and purposeful. Little did I know that later down the line, violence, and sexual abuse would be his way of ‘teaching and healing me’ and that by this point I would be so brainwashed into his control and mental dominance that I would verbally consent to all of it and protect him from being found out for years whilst I lost almost everything and underwent trauma I wish on no one.

I have written this blog to describe the context of my experience of being groomed. I write to heal and process but also in the hope my story will help others escape such an experience or help others support someone going through this or recovering. I also write to connect to people who have experienced this so we can connect over our shared trauma and heal in unity.

I also think this chapter of my story shows the fragility of human nature in being vulnerable to false leaders in our times of desperation and need for belonging. It’s a call to action to encourage people to look out for each other deeply and intimately, to not let those who are in deep internal pain but ‘seem okay’ pass us by, and to not be afraid to seek advice on how to genuinely help someone you’re worried and care about.

Journaling and poetry help me enormously to validate my internal emotions and thereby not be in desperate need of someone else to validate or 'solve' them. In writing out my innermost thoughts and feelings, I’m also able to understand myself so that I do not need someone else to make sense of my world for me. I immensely enjoy talking and learning from other people too, but always with the awareness that my relationship with myself through journaling and informal meditations helps me stay connected to my inner guidance and direction, core principles, truths, and conscience in a world where leaders would happily have us out of touch with such things.

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