"You are so selfish," said the woman sitting beside me. She was verbally punching me in the stomach, stinging me with her syllables. I prayed she might look into my eyes and see what I felt every morning. Emptiness. "Hannah, you are being so selfish." Sometimes memories such as this one come back to me and decide to stay for a little while. I don't mind so much anymore, because I am a strong individual and I have found my way back. Found my way back.

This blog is not about me. I have said that on numerous occasions but I mean this. This blog is my hopes at sewing a common thread between all of us, to realize that we are all very different, yes, but also the same in that we are all searching every day. So why not search together?

But this is one of the first personal stories that I am choosing to share because I think that maybe someone will need to hear it.

In the fall of 2008 I came very close to becoming a member of a religious cult. The word "cult" has always lent a set of stereotypes to me: kool aid, Charles Manson, brain washed individuals. The list could go on. I never thought I would be susceptible to a cult and I am pretty sure no one else around me thought so either.

But I know now why I can wake up everyday and say that I am full, that I am vibrant, that I am happy. Because for the three months that I was wrapping myself up with this group I was feeling the exact opposite. Empty. Tired. Alone. Sick. I began studying the Bible with a group of these people because I was feeling unfulfilled in my everyday life. I was constantly thinking there had to be more. And these individuals offered me more. I was given no warning, heeded no yield signs, and went forward- despite what I should have seen as a dozen red lights.

I am not here to preach right from wrong or to denounce all I was taught. I am just here to share my experience. I learned of a God who I would never be good enough for, a God that expected perfection, a God that was unwilling to simply allow me into the light... This God would make crawl through the darkness first.

I was a victim to what is referred to  as a "spiritual tear down." I was told that I was worthless, that my previous faith practices were worthless, told that their way was the one way to be saved. I was called selfish for having other obligations. I was expected to give up all my past beliefs for this group. I was emotionally manipulated to feel guilty and fearful because of the person that I was. I watched scriptures that I had grown up with be twisted right in front of my eyes and I sat complacently with my hands by my side, not fighting the emptiness that came with each breath of silence. I disclosed information and sorrows that I had never shared with anyone before and watched as they were spat back into my face in the form of a word called "sin."

I told no one of my ventures. I drew a heavy line between my friends and I. They were in the darkness and I was headed towards the light. Someone was going to love me at last. That was my mentality, a hungry look in my eyes that would make anyone believe that I had never been loved before. I woke up each day and found no reason to get out of bed. I was empty and even God did not want to speak to me. I pulled away from normality more and more each day, caring less about my commitments, my school work or my writing and fixating on the happiness I could only achieve through surrendering myself to this group. Becoming baptized became my sole purpose; An Effort. To Feel. Something. Anything. At All. Brain. Wash.

You knew it all along God. That I was coming. That I was giving it all up for you. No turning back. You knew that even when I begged and pleaded that I did not want this, there was something more urgent in my selfish, selfish words. A girl who was crying out between every syllable, pleading with her father in a broken nature, "I don't want this. But I need this."

November 5, 2008. The day of the baptism.

I can speak today as someone who did not cross over to what many people deem to be a cult. I was saved from the destruction of my own self just 20 minutes before I was scheduled to be baptized in. I had a complete breakdown brought on by friends who were concerned with my behavior; crying, screaming, cursing. I screamed outwardly, inwardly. Screams that are still the saddest sounds to ever come from me. But then someone reached out a hand to stop me and then to save me. Saved. Saved by friends. Saved by family. Saved by ministers. Saved by strangers. People I had never even known before offered up a hand for me to hold and an ear to listen.

It has been more than a year since this dark period. Even after I was pulled away from the long hours of studying with the group and the beliefs that became my backbone, I was ashamed that I had been so vulnerable and manipulated, that I put so much faith in a group that I feel used me.

Today is a different story. Today I smile and I laugh and I no longer worry about emptiness. Today I pray and I live and I trust. Today I am thankful for even this dark road because it led me to a deeper understanding of fear and suffering. And today I know what great souls exist in this world. And so I walk around with a hand out stretched, to hold anyone's hand who needs it. Because once mine were held. And those hands saved me.

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