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Leaving A Cult with Alli Mary Epp
Episode 2113th May 2022 • Radical Resilience • Blair Kaplan Venables
00:00:00 00:28:43

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Alli Mary Epp is a celebrated Ceremonial Artist, Clinical Hypnotherapist, mother of two and lover of the Every-Day Sacred.

Trigger Warning: The Resilience Project provides an open space for people to share their personal experiences. Some content in this podcast may include topics that you may find difficult. The listener’s discretion is advised.

About the Guest:

Alli's journey into her spiritual quest started with her love of the creative arts and acting, and then led to her being a hatha and kundalini yoga teacher for over 15 years.  Alli is always looking at ways to weave together healing modalities and the arts to help others connect  with their inner worlds and expand their sense of play and belonging. Alli runs her own Hypnotherapy studio in Comox, BC, as well as offering  monthly workshops and nature based rituals. Alli most recently created the "Dream Temple Sessions" in which she combines Lunar Kundalini and Breathwork with a guided Hypnosis Journey. Alli is thrilled to be a guest on this Podcast to share her story and spark new ideas!


Website: Www.allimaryepp.com

Social Media: @allimaryepp 

Resources: https://www.sarahedmondson.com/resources

Transcripts

Blair Kaplan Venables:

trigger warning, the Resilience Project provides an open space for people to share their personal experiences. Some content in this podcast may include topics that you may find difficult, the listeners discretion is advised.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Hello friends, welcome to radical resilience, a weekly show where I Blair Kaplan Venables have inspirational conversations with people who have survived life's most challenging times. We all have the ability to be resilient and bounce forward from a difficult experience. And these conversations prove just that, get ready to dive into these life changing moments while strengthening your resilience muscle and getting raw and real.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Welcome back to another episode of radical resilience. I'm your host, Blair Kaplan Venables, and today I'm here with a client, a friend, and a really special human. She actually started off as a friend and I became a client. Her name is Ali. Ali Mary app is a celebrated ceremonial artists Clinical Hypnotherapist, mother of two and lover of the everyday sacred. Alli's journey into her spiritual quest started with her love of the creative arts and acting, and then led her to being a Hatha and Kundalini yoga teacher for over 15 years. I met her when we lived in Vancouver, and she has been on quite the journey. And I'm so so honored, Alli, that you are here today to talk about it. Because, you know, it's interesting what we're about to talk about. That's actually how I met you. Yes. And it's so wild because So Alli and I, our paths have crossed multiple times. And we're here to talk about the time that Alli realized she was in a high control group, which is also known as a cult. And her journey from discovering she was in a cult to leaving it, and where she is now. And I actually met her because someone in this group reached out to me and I went to an info session. And I pray a group of you girls. Yeah, it's you know, honestly, if it was not for me, and my finances, I probably would have been in this group. It could have gone on I was your entrepreneur. But anyway. Hi,

Alli Mary Epp:

Well, hi, Blair, thank you so much for having me. I'm so yeah, I'm so thrilled to be here. Oh, my

Blair Kaplan Venables:

gosh, I'm so honored. And, you know, Ali, there's so much to her. So, you know, this is just a small piece of a puzzle. So I invite you to learn more about her her informations in the bio in the show notes in the bio of this show. But Ali, let's talk about your story. Like, oh, my God, yes. In a high control group. And you were in a yes,

Alli Mary Epp:

yes, I know. And it sounds crazy, even to me still, to say those words out loud. I definitely like to like choke over them a little bit, to be totally honest. And I think that there's so much connotations that we have around cults, when you think about the word cults like a lot of scary images come to mind. And a lot of those are actually probably accurate in some ways, and then a lot of them aren't. A lot of people have this, you know, when you say the word cult, they have crazy, scary visuals that come to mind. And there's a lot of obvious and like rightly so negative attribute ideas around that word and feelings that it brings up. So it's so interesting though, because there are so many different kinds of cults and different kinds of high control situations. And I'm not an expert in any right but all I know is from my experience and now I'm definitely more aware and I see more red flags and I'm able to Yeah, just see you know, see what's going on a little bit more when those types of situations present

Blair Kaplan Venables:

themselves but yeah, wow, it just so wild. Okay, I want to start like at the beginning, maybe you can let us know maybe around the timeframe of how you got into this call like how you got into it and the beginning of your journey in this group.

Alli Mary Epp:

Definitely so it wasn't that I you know, was like oh, look at this call this looks like something I want to be a part of at all it was actually at a point in my life where I was an actress slash waitress slash yoga teacher and really searching a really looking for myself and really wanting to be successful. I think that's what the big thing came down to. I was really looking around me trying to figure out what all these people seem to have around me. They were being able to, you know, they were buying houses, they were going on trips to Maui they were doing all the things and I just felt so lost and so unable to get up. Like I felt like I could never rise up to that level. I was always just kind of searching and a friend of mine. And she introduced me to this group at this time, and I felt like, okay, it, you know, it's presented as personal growth and working through your limiting beliefs, and becoming successful. And really, I wanted that more than anything at that point in my life. You know, this is my late 20s, I just wanted to be successful, I wanted to be successful in the eyes of the world. I wanted to prove myself that I could actually get, I think, just get what I want. And and have, I think it was a really, to be honest, a lot of status, I wanted to have the nice close, I wanted to do the fun things, and I wanted to have that level of freedom. So when I was introduced, you know, I said no, a bunch of times at first, but eventually, when I saw the people that were in the group, and that they were actually becoming successful, I saw that, okay, maybe this is something for me, maybe I can, you know, rise above and, and get on that train. And so I jumped in, and it I was in this group for about 12 years. And, to be honest, most of it, it was a very vanilla type Personal Growth program. You know, we were in a little basement suite, and we were talking about our issues and helping each other and there was, a lot of, there was actually a lot of beautiful things from it, there was a lot of camaraderie, there was a lot of community, there was a lot of, oh, this is a safe place to be vulnerable, and, you know, help each other out so that we can get more of what we want in our lives. And that was what I've learned is the outer circle, right? If there's an onion, if like the high control group are called as an onion, then the outer group is the part that's like, Yay, we'd love you be part of our group, like

Blair Kaplan Venables:

you're like, Yeah, so the outside layer of the onion was like, let's develop each other and get better. And more success. Yes.

Alli Mary Epp:

Which is totally, and I was on board for that. That was like this is yeah, that sounds amazing. And I definitely had my challenges with the group. And you often do, that's what, you know, what I've learned now is that red flags will come up, and you'll be like, Oh, this is really weird. This is really strange. But because I'm getting all of this other good things, like the things I want, you start to slowly be like, alright, well, I guess, you know, whatever. It's not that weird. And it's totally the, you know, the frog in the boiling pot of water. Like it's slowly being turned up until more and more things that normally you wouldn't say yes to. You've already said yes. To all these other things. And like, yeah, and everyone else is seems normal. And we're all friends now. And so you slowly go deeper and deeper and deeper. So yeah, so that's, that's kind of how I got in, it was really about, okay, I want to be successful. And if this is the way to do it, then sign me up. Because nothing I'm doing is working. Yeah,

Blair Kaplan Venables:

I think that's so like, as someone who is like a personal and professional development junkie, I have come, I completely understand what you're saying. Because we all want like, No, I shouldn't speak for the entirety of humanity. But like the people like us, we just want to be better and more successful. And yada, yada, yada. So you were in this group for 12 years? When did you start noticing in those 12 years red flags? And what were some of those red flags that started off so subtle that you were like, dismissive of them?

Alli Mary Epp:

Yeah, some, some of the red flags were just, for instance, you weren't allowed to if you had a question about something in the program, or something that didn't, something that didn't jive with you, you couldn't ask someone that was beside you, or below you, in your rank, because there was a whole ranking system that you had to work up to. So you'd always had to go up, you always had to go to your higher rank someone that was above you. And you couldn't, you know, you could discuss these things with people that were at the same level or lower. And so, you know, that's a little bit why, you know, why can I have these questions? And so little things like that. You started to feel and it's that intuition piece, where and that's really what I work on now is helping people really listen to their intuition because there's, there was lots of little things like that were like, that doesn't seem right. And there's something off about that. And it's really hard to put your finger on it because most of the things that you do question even to your upper it all becomes explained away and it turned and it's usually turned back to you and like this is a reflection of your issue. And this is you know, the only reason why you have a problem with this or why you're asking is because you have some inner deficiency around.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Wow. Okay, so how far into like your journey with this group did you start to recognize red flags?

Alli Mary Epp:

Well, right away, I would say actually, to be honest, like right away. And that's why it took me a while to get in is because right away when we were when we were looking into signing up and things like that, there was a lot of talk about this already being a cult, but because it's so, so programmed into you, right, right off the hop that that what is the code like, what are we doing? That's bad? That was the question that was often asked, like, what are we doing? That's bad? And because that was so ingrained, it was you right from the hub, even if there was that red flag? Well, who other people are saying like, this is sketchy. You're you get to you see their side? Oh, well, they're just upset because of their own issue. And that gets all dismissed away. So I would say there was red flags, like, to be honest, all throw out. But it's easier, obviously hindsight, looking back and being like, oh, yeah, that, that, that that. But there was constantly little things, and they all were just again, there were things that your people would say, well, that's just something for you to work on. Like, imagine if you can get through whatever that discomfort is around that thing, like how potent you will be in your life. So it was and really the reason I got out at the very end was really my friend, which I was very high up who she actually told me everything that was going on about this group, and really a lot of the deeply like criminal and insidious and damaging and abusive things that were happening. And it was, it was, it was a crazy wake up call. So it wasn't it wasn't just like, slowly, me piecing it together as other people had, it was, for me, it was like one big, this is happening. And it was almost as if, you know, it was like having your parent be like, we actually have another family or we have another child like it was, I was the first time I've ever experienced that full PTSD, like full body shock. And it took a long time to trust again, after that. So once I just, you know, discovered the truth of what was going on with this organization, I, my husband and I decided, well, first of all, I was also working in finance at the time, and that kind of I left that all around the same time. And there was a lot of community that we had around us all the time in this like 1012 years, that all kind of dissipated. It was like everything, just poof, overnight, almost. And we decided to move to the island and start kind of start fresh and, and give ourselves new space. And it was incredibly healing to be able to do that. And I were super privileged. I mean, and that's not what I would say to any answer for any problem was like just move to a whole new town. But it was actually such a gift for us. Yeah.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Wow. Oh, my gosh, your story. Yeah, you touched on so many things. And thank you so much for sharing all of that. And I know we don't have infinite amounts of time. But I want to kind of go back to that moment you realize like that your friend that was higher up, let you know, let you know that you were in a cult. How did you leave? Like I know it's in this day and age like you know, we're not like ancient times. We're all living on a commune. Well, maybe you were I'm not really too sure the details, but like, how did you leave the cult? Like, can you walk us through what leaving a cult looks like for you?

Alli Mary Epp:

Yeah, well, and it's so different for everyone. And again, I'm not an expert. And there's amazing resources that we should link as well.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Whoa, you are an expert, because you were first of all ally. I mean, I mean, I guess like something you never want to be as an expert in leaving cults, but you are. So Ali is an expert leaving cult. So if you feel like there are red flags, and that you're in an organization, that's maybe a high control group, maybe this is what you know, and you're thinking of leaving, listen to this, listen to this. Listen to these words.

Alli Mary Epp:

Yeah, well, and I'd say I'd say the first thing is to talk to someone that you trust that is not in the group, so that you have that outside support, and you have that safe grounding space. And again, it depends on what the situation is right? Like if it's something where you actually think you'll be harmed. Obviously, there's a whole other protocol for me, it was a slow backing away, it was like, and so much of this was just I was getting advice from all these different people who are also leaving at the same time. But really, there was a lot of secret question, I'm just trying to think back there was a lot of I was in a lot of shock, to be honest. And I slowly just started slowing down communication with anyone that was actually in the organization. And taking time, just to myself, and then really, I just started writing letters of why I was leaving, and putting that out there. And not getting into too much detail. But just being like, this is the right thing for me right now, just so I could have clear communication with like, this is ending, I am backing away. And really, I didn't do it in the way that some people did that I think is so brave, to be honest. And a lot of folks and a handful of folks and like my dear friend, like went to the media and went loud with it. Like they exited very loudly. And it's because of them and their whistleblowing that a lot of others are like, Okay, this is what's happening, like, the truth is out there. And I think that gave us courage to to leave, I was not that person. I was very in shock and ashamed. To be honest, like, there was a lot of shame, there was a lot of like, how could I have done this? Like, I am a smart person? What did I get myself into, and I didn't want to talk to anyone about it. To be honest, I left very quietly. And I really took a lot of time for self reflection about what just happened. Where am I now? Who am I now? Because there was so much identity tied up and being part of this group. Like this was so much of my friend group and social professional everything. And I really, yeah, I really just slowly packed out the door and and took some time. And then like physically, we were able to move and it wasn't we didn't move just because of that there was so many reasons that we moved. We wanted more space, more nature, slower pace, but all of those things just led hand in hand to giving myself the grace and time to just exhale.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Yeah, yeah. Wow, thank you so much for sharing. And, you know, I think it's more common in, in anything when someone's leaving to do a quiet exit, then, you know, be the whistleblower. And it's really amazing that people like the whistleblowers exist to save the other people. And you know, I think you do what you need to do. And you do, yeah, you do what you need to do, and you never know how you're doing. Yeah. Wow. And so, like, before we start recording, you said, you left a couple other groups around that. We talked about that briefly, because let's talk about characteristics of those groups, because, and the reason I want to get into is because like, I'm part of different groups, I'm part of business groups, I'm part of professional development groups, like, what's the difference between a group that's making my life better? And like a cult? Like, how do I know? How do I know?

Alli Mary Epp:

It's very interesting, fine line? And really, I think it comes down to, are they are they doing good? Is this group doing good in the world? And also, am I dependent on them? Am I like really looking at am I free to go? If I want, like, am I truly free?

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Can you talk to your friends in the group without talking to a higher up?

Alli Mary Epp:

Like, right, right? Yeah, right, exactly. My free to voice my opinions. If I were to, like, if you were in a group that you love, but if you just if you just imagine, you know, if I decided to leave next month, for whatever reason, would people ostracize me? Would they like publicly shamed me? Would I be financially ruined? Like thinking about those types of things will give you a pretty clear indication if you're dealing with something that's like high control. But again, there's so so so many layers and the other groups that I was in one was a yoga group and another was another spiritual group. Both again, have beautiful things like life changing things that I experienced through them and beautiful people. But it was right around the same time when it came to light that leaders in each of those groups had also there was tons of narcissistic abuse, sexual abuse, coming from a very coercive high level. And literally this was like months after this first group. So it was it was a good like, okay, Ally. What is what is the sign here? What is the what is the wisdom? Like why what first of all, why have you been attracted to this? And why is it all coming out right now? And I think partially it was just, it's the culture of these things, these types of abuses being exposed, and not getting thrown under the rug anymore. So part of it is just, you know, with the me to movement and you know, victims actually getting a voice, that I think that's partially why but it was also a really good inner reflection for me of like, well, first of all, why don't why don't I think I need these? Like, what did I ever need them? And, you know, what was that? What was the good? What was just me? And where do I go from here?

Blair Kaplan Venables:

So yeah, wow. And so it's so interesting, because obviously, like when you find a group that you feel connected to you that you think is doing good in the world. And then you find all this out, it's I can't imagine it's just extremely heartbreaking. Heart shattering, like, and I could just imagine this PTSD you have so like, how, how do you move forward from that? Like, how did you move? Yeah, besides moving? Like, let's talk about how you heal the band. I mean, no, not. Yes. Let's talk a bit about how you healed? Yeah, I don't want to it's not healing a bit. You're on a forever healing journey. And you totally, you've tied a lot of it into the work you're doing now.

Alli Mary Epp:

Yes, yes. So there's so many layers, again to the healing journey. But the one of the first things I did was actually get a therapist that is specifically trained in helping people leave cults. And that was all brought to my awareness. So that helped me hugely. And then the other part of my healing was, again, talking with other people staying connected with other people that were in the groups that I was in that have since also come out. Because there's this level of camaraderie where you're like, you get me like, we were in the thing. And now we're not in the thing. And we and we have that. And there's a real deep bond that feels very comforting and affirming. So I think that was really important. And then for me, I started to do things I hadn't done in years, I started to take pottery classes, dance classes, spend so much time wandering in nature, just like being present with my kids doing things that I wouldn't have done when I was, you know, in this group, because it was all about success, success, achieve, achieve, produce, produce, and so coming out and just being like, I'm just going to paint this afternoon or like, do silly things in the backyard, with bubbles with my kids like stuff that just felt in the moment and present was so healing for me. And recognizing that I can, I don't have to always be like ticking off some box or like achieving for the sake of achieving. So that that has been really a healing and then my healing practice now through hypnotherapy, I decided to go into a hypnotherapy training program. And now that's what I offer. Because I, I was so interested in the inner workings of my own wisdom, I always was, that's what led me into a lot of these organizations in groups. So being able to find a legit training program that was not that and start and have that like, Okay, what is it that I'm drawn to, and and feel like a reclaiming because I do love helping people. I do love personal growth. I do love you know, looking at all that inner wisdom but now I have a just different sense of compassion around it. And also a true honoring that everyone has what they need as a as my practice, I'm always just giving people back to themselves, like really holding the space the mirror for them to look within. So that was really healing to be able to go down that journey as well.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

I love that. Okay, so we're nearing the end. I feel like I can talk to you for hours. I just want to like maybe if someone's listening to this, and they're starting to think wow, I'm part of this group, but it might be high control. What are a couple things that someone you know, who has that intuition, that gut feeling that they might be in a cult? Like what are some of like, the biggest red flags they should look for?

Alli Mary Epp:

Yes, big is your opinion

Blair Kaplan Venables:

in your opinion? Ali's if opinion i mean like i You guys can Google it too. But just from Alec experience. What are some red flags besides the gut feeling that something's off?

Alli Mary Epp:

Yeah. Which is huge. Like really, that's number one. If you have a gut feeling that something's off like something seems icky or weird, and you don't even can't put your finger on it again, like that's number one. If you again, if you don't feel like you're allowed to ask question shins, if anytime you ask a question, it gets thrown back at you, or you get dismissed. That's a huge one. If, if you're asked to do something, I mean, this sounds obvious, but do something that goes against your value system. Like if you are pressured, if you feel a pressure, like for instance, a lot of them start as kind of that sales. Like if you had a good experience, go talk to five friends and, and that can be just a classic sales, you know, totally harmless. But if you're feeling really pressured, like it's a problem, if you don't do this thing, or hit this quota, or, you know, bring in your family. That's a red flag. And then, I mean, there's so many off the top of my head, though. And then also, yeah, if you ever feel like you're being separated from your family, or from your loved ones, if you feel like people are trying to divide you, like like that you are now in this special elite group. You're above this other group. Oh, that's a problem.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Yeah. Oh, my gosh, okay. Yeah, Ali, that's amazing. You know what we're going to put some resources in the shownotes. If you are thinking that you might be in the calls, or you're curious about this. What advice Let's just end on a piece of advice. What piece of advice do you have for someone who has just left their cult? Yeah, I

Alli Mary Epp:

would say the biggest thing on an emotional level is, you know, once you've really got the therapist got make, made sure that you're safe. And taking care of, I would say the biggest thing on emotional level is give yourself time, time, time to grieve, really, and time to feel the loss. Not that not because you were in something great, but because you thought you were, you know, time to give yourself. Give yourself time to process and release so that you have time to go back to your own sense of intuition and your own path. So it was really giving yourself yeah, space time. Grace and gentleness. Like really be tender with yourself. Yeah, that's big. So good.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Oh, my gosh, Alli, thank you so much for sharing your story.

Alli Mary Epp:

Blair. You're so resilient, you're such an inspiration.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

You know, I love getting to know you and watching your journey, and seeing where you're at and opening up to us. I know, this might be one of the first times you're publicly sharing this story. So I really, really want to honor that. And, you know, I, I appreciate you so much. And I'm glad you're safe. And out of all those groups. Yes. And eat your list. Yeah. And if you're listening and you you know, you want to connect with me or ally or you want to dive into the world of understanding if you're in a group, you know, please reach out or check out the resources in the shownotes. Just remember that you got this. You are resilient. And you're not alone.

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