We Escaped a Cult — But Lost Ourselves in the Process || Dissociative Identity Disorder
When you think of cults, you’re likely to think of one of three things:
- Those sitcom episodes where — whoopsie! — the characters went on a “retreat” that turned out to be a cult.
- Devil-worshipping hellfire circles of cloaked, chanting people. (The KKK?)
- Religious cults like the Jahovas Witnesses — confirmed a cult by those who escaped, by the way.
That’s what I always thought of as cults, too. There was a brief intermission where two friends of mine started a “Chicken Nugget and Celebrity Worship” cult, building statues of the man out of the nuggets while wearing robes and chanting. Luckily, it was satire.
They didn’t know they were already in a cult.
Before we get started, here’s something you should know about me: I have Dissociative Identity Disorder. You may know it better by its former name, “Multiple Personality Disorder.”
A brief explanation: multiple people living in one body.
The actual definition doesn’t state multiple “people” — more “dissociated states of one person/fragmented sense of self” and along those lines. But many people with the disorder experience it as multiple people, one body.
So call me crazy, but this is one body, with multiple people living inside it. Like Cat-dog, that cartoon. Or “one vessel with multiple demons inside,” as the cult liked to call it.
The story starts when one of the main personalities, the “host” as DID-havers call it in this case, returned from their travels in Europe.
Entering a Cult: The Beginning
Hannah, a bright young man with much he wanted to do, decided to return to visit the private boarding school in which three other alters (people in this same body) were educated. It was mainly for the theater department. And, lo and behold, what luck! The school was no longer a school, but an activity center!
The theater department was thriving with life and little money, in desperate need of a star. So Hannah dropped everything and spent several years playing leading men and women.
You may wonder how they played leading men and women — this body is intersex, and passes as both men and women, especially when singing. It has the entire range of a tenor, alto and soprano. And with training, we’re moving down towards baritone too.
It was the perfect life. Jean Van Jean one night. Eponine the next. A few weeks later, Tony, besotted with Maria, in West Side Story.
The next night, a Disney princess.
On top of it, not only was Hannah playing many leading roles, but he moved on to co-directing. And directing. And helping with costumes, set design and music production.
It was a measly theater full of professional actors, many of whom trained at leading schools such as RADA and LAMDA, others who trained solo but at the same quality level. But you know how it goes — the acting business is tough to break into, so sometimes, great talents are left performing on a small stage in a musky castle, with an audience that barely allows a profit.
Extras worked for no money and a bag of chips (fries, for the Americans). The unofficial theater head (Hannah) spent over £100,000 of savings on putting on fantastic shows — with no profits, because who’s going to come to shows in a castle in the middle of nowhere?
They were fun, though, and that was the focal point. And other people within this body came out to live their dreams.
John, in an original short musical that Hannah wrote about Casanova. Dean, in Blues Brothers. Dean’s Husband in Blood Brothers. SD came to help with music. Ariana with painting sets. Hannah did all of that, and more.
Then we ran out of money. The theater had none. It closed, and it looked as though the entire establishment would, too.
Entering a Cult: The Shifting Point
Then they showed up. Buyers. And the buyers wanted to keep us all on, but not in the theater. As teachers. After all, this was a former school. And now it would be a school for black magic and the paranormal.
Hannah said no thanks and was gone. But Dean? He said hell yes.
In brains with DID, alters form during times of deep trauma and stress.
The stress that happened to form Dean was the potential that the establishment was going to close. They’d been talking about it for ages, even when we were still putting on shows.
And Dean, SD and Dean’s Husband all formed mid-watching a coping mechanism at the time: a paranormal TV show.
Ariana formed when watching another show, but fell into the same group of alters, interested in the paranormal.
Dean was literally wired for paranormal things, in this old school building. So with Dean’s instruction, all four of those alters attended the training separately. And suddenly, we spent our days teaching dark-minded adults about the history of demonic possession, different types of ghosts, black magic and tulpas.
On the side, as a thank you to the new staff, they set up a music department. That was quite cool. Dean, his husband, Ariana and two new alters formed from the stress of being a teacher started a band.
Life seemed perfect. Dean adored being a teacher, especially a supernatural teacher. And he didn’t notice the weird stuff. Only the fun things, like that whole chicken nugget and celebrity worship cult.
And when our dear friend came to stay, lost their virginity as an adult in a ex-school common room, and was the talk of the place for weeks, he was head of the “hey, remember that time …” stories.
He was into the fun stuff.
But things weren’t as fun for everyone else.
Teachers who didn’t already have a background in the paranormal were punished for the slightest mistake. Skeptics were thrown out with no money, and nowhere to go most of the time. And everyone — except those who’d already seen it/them — were forced to watch several TV shows and/or movies and follow the paranormal teachings laid out in them.
This was called “mandatory viewing.” They rush force you, but they asked you if you were finished yet, daily. There were quizzes for those who claimed they were.
But things got really weird when they started forcing people to change their last name. Legally. I figured it wasn’t such a big ask, I found it fun and deed poles are cheap.
One friend — someone who’d come because of Dean — was ecstatic. They wept, saying it was like the family they’d never had. This was one of the “secret keepers” — basically people paid £40 a week to just sit there, observe and shut up while attending classes as training.
The secret keepers, or future paranormal investigators, had extra evening classes I didn’t know about, with the “buyers” of the whole establishment.
I later learned that these were sessions of brainwashing and hypnosis. They’d tell them they could never be good at anything outside of the “family business.” Never do anything other than investigate potential hauntings. It wasn’t worth their time dealing with any outside of it.
But the reason Dean didn’t see most of this was because he got close to the buyers. He got special privileges to leave, visit other people. Take pictures and videos.
Oh, and that’s something people weren’t allowed to do inside the cult. Take pictures or videos. When the buyers found out one of Dean’s friends had been taking pictures of the common rooms, they had internet privileges revoked for two weeks every month. All they did was take a picture of a couch and a box!
So whenever Dean left the cult area, other alters came out and had their lives. It was a good life. We did a lot outside the cult. But whenever we returned, Dean was faced with … that stuff.
With the internet privileges revoked, the forced name changes, mandatory viewing and several people disappearing every evening, Dean knew something wasn’t right and started doing some research on these buyers.
It turned out they were using fake identities. Dean consulted an old friend who had contacts working as detectives and got them on board, and that’s when we found out what was going on.
Exposing the Cult
A small group of men had been targeting clubs, schools, brothels and theaters for over 10 years across the world. Always in rural areas, always struggling for funds. Always converting and brainwashing the members, pupils and workers, bringing them into their family business.
You know the mafia, right? I don’t know much about them, but I know they exist. You’ve probably seen them in The Simpsons, with Fat Tony. My favorite portrayal of the Mafia is in a show called My Family, where this guy goes into a dentist surgery, pays cash, and starts giving the dentist gifts of meat, tires, fake watches and all this stuff. While being very threatening.
It’s probably not accurate, but whatever.
Anyway, these men? They started with the mafia and as they grew their paranormal family business, they gradually brought the members higher and higher, deeper and deeper into shit, converting them into … something to do with the mafia. We didn’t care enough to investigate further ourselves.
In fact, Dean didn’t care to be involved further. Nor did anyone else living in this body.
So they didn’t. And the DID brain did what it often does under times of extreme stress: split, creating a new alter, person, part, whatever.
A person created specifically to deal with escaping the cult and dealing with unpleasant activities that nobody else wanted to do.
For us, it was easy. Or for it. We call that alter It. It pretended to be Dean, going off on a trip to visit some people as usual. But It left notes for several friends who’d stuck around since the theater days only since they’d ended two or three years back.
The notes detailed the situation, told the trusted people to spread the message and run under the cover of night.
The Cult: End Result
I won’t go into detail about the consequences of the cult, and the dangerous men who now despise us. But I will say that it ruined lives. It brainwashed someone so much that they got stuck in Texas, earning $60 a week, living with abusive roommates, in another family paranormal business.
They committed suicide in 2019, after their only escape from a hellish life — the internet — became so toxic, giving them so little faith in humanity, they decided they were happy to die.
Others stayed as paranormal investigators. Some went into witness protection. Some escaped freely, but moved countries.
Dean? SD? Dean’s Husband? Ariana? Others, who came out towards the end of the ordeal? They went radio silent, then they got very ill. Mentally.
They’d post pictures taken years prior on Instagram, in chronological order, as if living those years in the new present.
Meanwhile, It was the main alter controlling this body. I call the It an alter, because it wasn’t a whole person. It didn’t have a name or an age or gender or a background, or a sense of self.
It was a fragment of being, as is present sometimes in DID. And instead, it fed off of others in the system.
It took us to a safe place and started to get our life back in some kind of order. We stayed with safe people in a place we despise, while they set up protections for us to be able to go solo again, and use the internet without detection.
The thing is, none of us in this body really liked the internet. And with Dean and his group gone, Hannah and John (me) came to the forefront to take control of the body’s life.
We could no longer be a traveling writer and artist like we had been in Europe. It wasn’t safe. But the internet was so depressing, that neither of us wanted to do anything on there, either. So It had an internet presence for a while, then It disappeared for a while.
When It was around, we were quiet, robotic and dead. But that’s not where the losing ourselves thing because of the cult lies.
Things started looking up. Hannah moved to LA and entered the adult industry. We started making more money than we did writing and creating art. Being intersex and interchangeable, we had a gimmick. And sex sells, especially if it’s niche.
We had several incredible clients, many of whom were from the EU and UK, traveling to the US on business.
But stuff inside out head made Hannah quit that lifestyle and go back to writing. We quickly found a client and started making enough to continue living in LA, but when that money started to dry up, we moved back to the UK.
Then the client got deathly ill (later dead) and we ended up extremely poor. We had no money for food. Barley enough for rent. We became severely underweight, and some mental/internal struggles cropped up, too.
We couldn’t find any decent writing or art clients online. And the people handing our case and protection said there’s no way we could work outside of our home in the UK. All we had was the internet, and it wasn’t helping with anything.
It became a thing that nobody wanted to deal with. Even years later, the cult was still controlling our lives.
Then the cult took away our identity. Because It came back, due to the cult’s consequences.
It was still nobody.
It worked doing odd jobs, having people come to the house while It would babysit, beautify the elderly and design tattoos. It used false names for this, a new name, age and background for every new job. And it didn’t even realize.
If you knew Belle, 24, makeup artist for the eldery, we’re sorry.
If you know David, 39, tattoo designer and dinosaur enthusiast, we’re sorry.
I don’t remember who it told people it was while babysitting. It wasn’t Victoria, a member of the system, who’d raised several children and helped friends out as a paid nanny. It was someone else who babysat that time.
This alter, this creature, It cycled through false identities like songs on shuffle, and every time, It thought that was its true identity.
It didn’t know who it was, and didn’t know that we have DID, or that other people, real living people, lived in this body.
We were trapped inside it, screaming.
It was an empty shell, powered only by basic needs and boredom. It barely ate, getting to the point it was too weak to do these physical jobs. So It didn’t know what to do next.
It reached out to an old friend, who was very confused and asked for a picture of who was messaging. Then the old friend understood something … not so good as happening. So the old friend engaged, trying to bring back those dwelling inside.
Hannah enjoyed gaming. John had an obsession with The Sims franchise. The old friend — who we’ll call Padfoot, as that was their nickname months later — suggested we (Padfoot and It) start a joint YouTube channel focused on The Sims.
Padfoot didn’t really know what to do. We hadn’t talked at all since the cult. And we hadn’t talked much between the cult and several years prior either. Since before the theater, and the travels.
But John was ecstatic enough about the YouTube thing that It felt his thoughts, mistaking them for its own. It said yes. We got heavily into The Sims 4.
Around this time for a very brief period, three other people in the body started coming out again. Harry, Alan and Diamond. With It busy having fun, Diamond was able to do a small amount of writing work. It had amnesia whenever these three came out.
With Diamond's help, Hannah was able to come forward and start working on a long-neglected book series he’d been working on since 2006. Things were getting better … but It was getting stronger.
It began thinking Hannah’s books were its own. Then it discovered books Diamond’s had been working on since 2010 and claimed those, too.
It started using a name online that Hannah had once used in the adult industry.
It looked around, saw the ages of Sims 4 YouTubers, and started claiming to be the same age — early 20s, just like those perky Sims people who did Let’s Plays and built houses on YouTube.
It felt confused, having men and women in the system screaming inside its head, and started going by they/them pronouns.
The pronouns triggered a name change, to an old nickname of Hannah’s, that modern humans would see as androgynous.
It became something of a person. But it still never had its own thoughts and feelings.
Me, and others who live inside this body, were now trapped inside the head of a 20-something non-binary thing called Billie, and it was hell. And disgusting. It makes my skin crawl to this day.
With Padfoot’s help, Billie ended up mixing with a group of Sims 4 players we’ll call the Snakes. They became friends. I adored them, even if I was just trapped in the head of a robot. So Hannah and I would send thoughts and feelings into It, send words into its mouth/fingers and memories too, hoping to break through. But we didn’t.
It started to work again, still underweight but remembering to eat and drink and was stronger. It made YouTube videos. It streamed on Twitch. It had friends and an identity it could cling to. It also had Padfoot, who tried to help those of us inside come out.
Padfoot would start telling stories of how every night, all these imaginary friends came into their head, with real, full lives. Almost like multiple people living in one body, it was so cool*, like a storyline …
*DID is not cool.
It didn’t work so Padfoot stopped trying. It seemed happy, did it not? It had something of a life again. It was safe.
I was miserable. Hannah was miserable. Harry, Alan, Diamond, Dean, SD, Dean’s Husband, Benedict, alters whose internet-names I can’t even remember, were miserable. It was torture, having friends you couldn’t be open and yourself with. Having to speak and act through someone else.
We grew intensely suicidal. But we adored our new friends so much. And that was the only thing It could feel. The love for these people, the adoration, the happiness.
Hannah didn’t even mind that they’re all women. And Hannah doesn’t like female friends and has always spent his time with men. (Sometimes Hannah’s aversion to women scares me, actually. But that’s a story for another time, and probably another place. Ps. Cyren and Oni/Robin specifically, you’re two women that Hannah never had an aversion to, and we view this as miraculous.)
The contrasting feelings were shaking us beyond what we could handle. There was no way we were going to reclaim our life and real identities. We were stuck. Lost. And all because of the cult that had made It and made us ill in the first place.
Becoming Ourselves Again
Then one day, we met an old friend. Hannah’s client. Let’s call him Lawyer, because he’s a lawyer.
Hannah was overjoyed — a familiar face! And one that was much more than just a client. Lawyer was a friend.
Lawyer, when Hannah first met him, came to us about adult services, but it progressed to friendship one day when he turned up early for an appointment and John and Eliza were out.
With our DID, we have the ability for two people to “front” — take control of the body — at one time. Not all people with DID have this. And our disorder is extremely overt and florid, and each person in the body very different — again, this is rare. We discuss it here.
Outside the apartment door, Lawyer could hear two distinctly different but somewhat similar voices and accents. But only one person opened the door when he knocked: me. John.
Naturally, lawyer had questions and we’ve never been secret about our DID and told him everything. He was fascinated.
From then on he became friends with me, John, while continuing the client relationship with Hannah, as well as becoming friends.
We lost contact when his business trips ended, and for good when we got rid of our adult-work phone.
But here he was, years later, while his friends were trapped in the head of an It we hate so much we call it It.
He knew something was wrong immediately. And luckily, It had Hannah and John’s memories of lawyer.
It had Hannah’s memories of being in the adult industry, actually.
So lawyer started working on a plan immediately. Getting to know It, or “Billie” and listening to what it had to say. Knowing something was very, very wrong. Eventually, it formulated a plan to get It back on its feet.
Its living place was disgusting, so It moved in with Lawyer in return for “sexual services.” Lawyer bought It things, like a new computer, in return for the “sexual services.” But the best part is — there was never any sex. That beautiful man knows when someone can’t really give consent.
Lawyer started taking It places, bringing up things that’d trigger me out, or Hannah. It wasn’t working very well, but it was nice.
He’d use “he” pronouns and pretend it was a mistake, to get me out. It just made me come closer to the front, and made It started erring more on the masculine side.
He’d reference music he’d listened to with Hannah. That was less effective.
But these things made It get closer to Lawyer.
The Final Escape
It started opening up to Lawyer. Talking about how it had been recently diagnosed with ASPD (an incorrect diagnosis from a stranger-psychiatrist, based on Its lack of own emotions or feelings). It started expressing how it didn’t think that diagnosis was correct, because It was having feelings for the lawyer.
That was Hannah. Feelings of gratitude and desperation that It thought were romantic feelings. So, lawyer played along. It made the pleased announcement to its friends that It and Lawyer were now a couple. Much to the disgust of the rest of us.
I was suffering. Everyone else was suffering. This wasn’t us.
Every person living in this body is aromantic to the outside world. We have no desire for external romantic love. We have no love for couples like It and the Lawyer and their (adorable) dog Summer.
It triggers me to think about it to this day. Nausea, shivers and pinpricks on my skin. But I couldn’t back down. None of us could. We were so close.
Finally, I managed to come out one day. It had full amnesia. And I told the lawyer everything I could become It came back and thought it’d been dreaming.
Then, It told lawyer about its imaginary friends. Me, Hannah and several others. The lawyer, of course, played along. He tried many tactics. Like, roleplay. He’d play me and ask It to play Hannah — it made sense, since It was always working on writing Hannah’s books.
It still wasn’t working. So lawyer created a new plan to free us.
We’d told lawyer the name and location of our diagnostician, back when we first knew lawyer. He contacted her, then invented a case. Something along the lines of “Hey, so, I’m working on a divorce and one of them has DID, and it sounds like your imaginary friend thing …” (It didn’t.)
Within days, we were meeting the diagnostician. We hadn’t seen her in more than a decade. And she was in on lawyer’s plan.
She diagnosed It with DID.
It immediately told its friends online.
I almost think it was meant to be, that It found out and told people that day. One friend had just had a DID-related video in her YouTube recommended. And another friend, as it turned out, has DID too!
That night, with It knowing about DID and having consumed a ton of media on it, I was able to start talking to It. Introducing myself. And others. Getting closer.
Over a few months, It started getting open online about having DID. And It learned that It was not real.
It wasn’t Billie. It wasn’t a 20-something non-binary person, the original and host with DID. It was an ageless, nameless fragment that had fed off of those around it to find its identity and had no relevance to the intersex, male, late-30-something body, or the real people trapped inside it.
In February of 2019, it allowed us to make a Sims 4 “machinima” — basically a movie using a video game — to tell part of the story of our life with DID, and that helped a ton.
Then, at last, the fragment realized what it was. Nothing. Nothing but a PA system for the rest of us, blocking us, embarrassing us, spreading misinformation about who we really are and how we’ve always lived.
It realized It had to go. So it fused.
Fusing is when two alters/parts/people in a DID system become one. Sometimes it’s something new, or a mix of the two that fused. “Final Fusion” is one healing path some take, where all the parts/alters form to make one person. We talk about our alternative healing journey here.
The other path to healing is Functional Multiplicity–living easily, functionally, with no amnesia between separate people/parts/alters. We had reached that before this whole mess started, and have had to work to reach it again since then.
It fused with the system at large. Everyone got its memories. But It didn’t have a personality or identity, so nobody was impacted in that way.
We got our lives back. We got our projects back. We got our friends to our true selves–some knowing more truth than others.
We got back to living openly with DID, like we had been before our diagnosis in 2005.
Sidenote: I’m really pissed off right now because today we typoed 2005 as 2006 once and I just noticed. We copied and pasted that into multiple un-editable captions. Damn it!
When we become ourselves again, I felt like we’d really escaped the cult at last.
I mean, we haven’t. Our letters and packages have to go through three addresses to reach us. We have to use two VPNs at all times. We can’t legally register our latest business, but we did (as of November 2020) manage to legally change our name back to System, from the cult’s garbage.
We can’t hold ID, we can’t give out addresses, we can’t do any of it.
But I am myself, and the rest of us are themselves again. We speak freely and the It the cult created is gone. And that’s all that matters.
We’re still underweight and have a number of other health issues. We still make measly money, but that’s the fault of the internet. We’ve been forced to take writing jobs paying one tenth of our previous minimum pay. Writing content we dislike. Working in environments we’re uncomfortable with. Dealing with editors, that’s a new thing for us. We were usually left alone to write unless actively seeking out an editor.
Quick note: we’re lucky the editors are fantastic, and Hannah and I enjoy most of our clients’ content — it’s just one client that makes me feel like death, that Hannah refuses to help with.
But we’re working on returning to our ultimate goals and are back to doing it as ourselves. I suppose everyone has their ups and downs, and we’re lucky to have survived our rock bottom.
Now, that’s kind of a weak ending line but we had a fantastic ending line earlier. So I’ll just repeat it, and we’ll pretend the three paragraphs after it were somewhere way back 2,000–4,000 words ago.
But I am myself, and the rest of us are themselves again. We speak freely and the It the cult created is gone. And that’s all that matters.