In an attempt to find some relief for my Tourette's, I became involved with the self proclaimed self-help group NXIVM, unaware of the more harmful aspects of its practices and enviroment that have lead to it being more widely understood as a cult.
While finishing my undergraduate degree, I took a semester off on medical leave to participate in their experimental treatment for Tourette's and proceeded to live in their community for three years. I was able to leave after finding out about some of the more nefarious things occuring around me that had been lied about, skewed and justified to members.
Upon leaving I became involved with HBO's docuseries The Vow, and after a very intense period of gas lighting, strategic manipulation, and unhealthy practices, I found speaking about my experiences there to be healing and empowering. Though many challenges have continued to present themselves in the healing process, and it doesn't cover all of the difficulties involved, I think The Vow has distilled many parts of my journey with both Tourette's and my time in Nxivm.
The last few years have been intense and filled with adjusting to the many challenges of leaving a cult mentally and physically, and exasterbated by the ways my experience there and afterwards has been so intertwined with pre-existing conditions.
Dealing with the extreme stress and complex trauma from being a part of a cult has made it difficult to paint, difficult to feel present while creating, and difficult to feel genuinely connected to art in the ways I was before. My time in NXIVM has shifted what creativity looks like for me as well as my relationship to my art, and I am still learning how to move forward as an artist. But creativity and expression, like art, take many forms, and I am learning how to adjust my expectations of what I think this proccess should look like in this new period of my life and how to honor what I need.
These experiences have shaped my life in more ways than I can express, and I hope to use the knowledge and compassion I've gained to help others on their journeys.
A Little Bit Culty with Sarah and Nippy
Not your typical cult show.
As former NXIVM members featured in HBO's The Vow Sarah Edmondson and Anthony 'Nippy' Ames have burning questions to ask other ex-cult members, whistleblowers, and experts on everything from mind control to MLMs. Part rollicking coffee date, part deep dive into the expanding cultiverse, A Little Bit Culty offers up frank conversations, fresh insights, and a surprising number of laughs. It's not your typical cult show, but it might be your new favorite one.
NXIVM’s timeline unfolds like a (horror) film with its own subplots. One of the cult’s best known smaller mythologies was its ability to cure Tourette's Syndrome, which is a condition in the nervous system that causes tics like sudden and uncontrollable movements or vocal outbursts. It should be noted that while there are certainly various treatments for managing TS, there is still no known cure.
This explains why today’s guest, Isabella Constantino, was attracted to NXIVM and the extraordinary results they were boasting about with their TS study. Ultimately, Constantino wound up postponing her last semester of college and moving to Albany in order to engrain herself in the study and to pursue personal growth, both of which she did for a total of three years before finally escaping. Now, she’s spent half a decade recovering her “sense of self” and navigating life post-NXIVM.
But how did NXIVM actually approach this “scientific” study, and what abusive methods did they apply from their typical conditioning in order to combat Tourette’s? Lastly, did any of their techniques actually help with TS, and if so, at what cost?
Of the many subplots within the NXIVM story, one of the most unusual (and that says a lot) was the cult’s dance with Tourettes Syndrome and research surrounding it. TS for short, the syndrome involves involuntary tics and has no known cure.
On today’s episode, which is a continuation from last week, our guest Isabella Constantino discusses the final punctuation to her time with NXIVM after being brought in hoping that they cult could help with her TS—a claim NXIVM was boasting about without a ton of empirical scientific evidence to back it. This time, we’re focusing more on Constantino’s departure and the half-decade she’s spent recovering her “sense of self” and navigating life post-NXIVM.
As Seen On HBO's The Vow
Official Trailer for The Vow - Season 2
Mark Vicente discusses The Vow - Season 2, Episode 3 on his podcast "WTF Is On My Mind" (Spoiler Alert)