Tina Fey, creator and star of NBC’s 30 Rock, has a new show on Netflix called Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The sitcom features the titular young woman trying to rehabilitate herself after living in an apocalyptic-obsessed cult for 15 years.
Like all Tina Fey projects, Kimmy Schmidt is reliably funny and strangely hopeful, despite the dark subject matter. Unfortunately, actually being in a cult might not be such a barrel, as you will see from these real-life accounts published on Reddit by real cult survivors. The accounts are graphic, and should serve as warnings that cults are very real and very dangerous.
01938: “I want everyone to know that, [yeah], it was fucking crazy, but it all seemed so real. It WAS going to happen. We believed it with every breath we took and in every pulse we had.”
The Harold Camping cult was infamous for predicting the end of the world (and subsequently being wrong about it). Their leader, Harold Camping, died in 2013 at 92 years of age.
EasternShieldMaiden: “I was made to sit in the front and the ‘pastor’ was conducting the service specifically for me. I realized it when I looked around and saw that everyone was looking at me. I felt like I was in a horror movie. Wide eyed, silent stares.”
This account is from a Reddit user who was a Malaysian exchange student living with a family in Missouri in 2006. The family turned out to be part of a Christian cult, forcing her to attend their “prayer washes” and locking her in room for her “un-pure” actions. When the exchange program came to rescue her, the family members were in the midst of burning all of her belongings.
Leapercolony: “When my brother and I did speak about that time much later on, he told me that he wasn’t even allowed to live with our mom—and he was just 3 years old when we separated! I can’t even imagine how sad he must have felt to be taken from his entire family at such a young age.”
The person’s mother joined Tony Alamo’s religious cult when he was very young. His parents were divorced, but when his father realized his mother’s new friends were part of a cult that kidnapped children, he took custody of his son. The user’s half-brother wasn’t so lucky.
Newcycl: “For the girls…they had it worse. He would convince each one they had a sex problem (i.e. idolatry), and he would proceed to sexually abuse them.”
This user was homeschooled in the doctrine of a small cult (30 people). He managed to escape, but his parents are still in it. He says a relationship with them is “probably impossible.”
forever_gaijin: “Their leader genuinely believes that he is Jesus, so he is spreading his seed (having kids with as many women as possible). Their belief is that women are nothing but wombs…”
This user’s sister was in a cult that was a Rastafarian offshoot in South Africa. The leader wedded and impregnated several women and abused them. Children were forbidden to be hospitalized for fear that they would test positive for marijuana. Two of them died from diarrhea before the woman left.
cultchildthrowaway: “The cult leader was a man who believed that spirituality was closely tied to sexual freedom, and that even young children should be having sexual experiences.”
At it’s strongest, this late ’70s cult had over 200 members, but was eventually shut down due to drug charges and allegations of sexual abuse. cultchildthrowaway says that even after 20 years, it is too traumatizing for him to talk to his family.
MrMonitorMoniker: “The building itself was in terrible shape—infested with rats and cockroaches. I would wake up at night to find mouse droppings in my sheets.”
This account is from a woman who, at 17, joined an evangelical Christian in cult in Chicago. She was exiled for developing a crush on a another girl.
gatorpower: “A lot of things seemed to stress her out more than it would other people. She had problems with reality. Sometimes, it made her very moody and unpredictable. There was something off about her. It was tragic.”
This account from a friend of someone who had been in a cult shows the mental toll the brainwashing process can be even for people who have long escaped their organization.
nein_danke: “To this day, it is still difficult to convince myself that it is OK to have a firm opinion without asking someone else whether it is alright for me to do that. I left when I was fifteen, and I am now thirty-five.”
Again, being in a cult has intense psychological consequences.
ellveeghs: “Fast forward about 10 years and my dad pulls out a local paper showing the old ‘leader’ and his girlfriend who were having sex with and raping a 16-year-old girl (they were in their 40s, I believe).”
This user’s parents joined a cult when she was very young. Luckily, they left before things got out of hand.
bluelev: “One time, my brother befriended a black person at school and my dad physically assaulted the parent of the black kid. He was charged with assault and battery, and now he has left the Klan. Well, that’s what he tells me. I haven’t seen him in 2 years.”
His father was in the KKK. He may or may not still be in the organization.
Julie6100: “The worst thing about being in the cult was not being able to speak what was in our hearts. The freedom to act and speak in the way we personally feel is important and has been a beautiful experience.”
From a mother who escaped a cult with all of her children. The fallout from the cult ruined her marriage, and the emotional effects are severe, but she says it’s worth it to be able to search for the “real truth.”
The_Amazing_Chode: “Years later in high school, I met a childhood church friend who told me that the church became a cult and my dad pretty much claimed that he was God…I’m so thankful I had a strong and loving mother who raised me right.”
The church this user was in convinced his father to leave his mother. The two were exiled, but it seems like it was for the best.
It’s a tribute to the writing staff of Unbreakable that they deal with Kimmy’s cult-induced trauma realistically, yet still make the show hilarious and sunny. This was no easy task, given the darkness that surrounds some of these stories. It’s still incredible to hear these people’s grim and gritty stories, and amazing to hear just how they’re no longer involved in such terrible organizations.