I Was a Child Bride: Dr. Tamara MC on the Language of Manipulation (Part 1)

A Little Bit Culty

Sarah Edmondson & Anthony “Nippy” Ames


Anthony Nippy Ames: The views and opinions expressed by a little bit cultier. Those are the hosts and don’t reflect the official policy or position of the podcast, any of the quote fire content provided by our guests, bloggers, sponsors, or authors of the opinion and are not intended to malign a religion and group. A club, an organization, business individual, anyone or anything, unless, Sarah?

Sarah Edmondson: You’re a douchebag. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: Yeah. We’re not doctors, psychologists, therapists, licensed counselors, or shamans. Even though you kind of think you are sometimes. 

Sarah Edmondson: I’m like an urban shaman. Okay. Good talk.

Hey, everybody, Sarah Edmondson here, 

Anthony Nippy Ames: and I’m Anthony Ames, aka Nippy, Sarah’s husband, and you’re listening to A Little Bit Culty, aka ALBC, a podcast about what happens when devotion goes to the dark side. 

Sarah Edmondson: We’ve been there and back again, a little about us, true story. We met and. I fell in love in a cult, and then we woke up and got the hell out of Dodge.

Anthony Nippy Ames: And the whole thing was captured in the HBO docuseries The Vow, now in its second season. 

Sarah Edmondson: I also wrote about our experience in my memoir, Scarred, the true story of how I escaped NXIVM, the cult that bound my life. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: Look at us. A couple of married podcasters who just happen to have a weekly date night where we interview experts and advocates and things like cult awareness and mind control.

Sarah Edmondson: Wait, wait, wait, wait. This does not count toward date night, babe. We’ve got to schedule that. That’s separate. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: So there’s two days. We’ve got to hang. 

Sarah Edmondson: We do this podcast thing because we learned a lot on our exit ramp out of NXIVM, still on that journey. And we want to pay the lessons forward with the help of other cult survivors and whistleblowers.

We know 

Anthony Nippy Ames: all too well that culty things happen. It happens to people every day across every walk of life. So join us each week. Tackle these cult dynamics everywhere from online dating to mega churches and multi level market. 

Sarah Edmondson: This stuff really is everywhere. The cultiverse just keeps on expanding and so are we.

Welcome to season five of A Little Bit Culty, serving cult content and word salads weekly on your favorite podcast plus.

Anthony Nippy Ames: Welcome back to ALBC everyone. I am feeling better. My voice is back to honey. I know you guys were all very concerned, but more importantly, Sarah is back from Portland where she did a Ted talk, 

Sarah Edmondson: Ted X, Ted X to be clear. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: So like the ex wife for. 

Sarah Edmondson: So Ted’s like the mothership. TEDx is the side, any city can, like a curator can license, license TEDx and they can do their own TEDx performance.

Anthony Nippy Ames: So it’s like franchise. 

Sarah Edmondson: Yeah. It’s a franchise. So Portland apparently is in the top five of the thousands of TEDx is that exist around the world. I was honored to be flown in and taken care of. It was an incredible group of producers, volunteers. I mean, so many people, I think there’s like. Over 3000 people in the Keller auditorium in Portland, and a lot of people came out from the podcast.

So thanks everybody. That’s awesome. Not only did I get to do the talk, which by the way, it was very difficult to kind of summarize what my, you know, it’ll be on YouTube. Yeah. I will post it as soon as it’s there is a live version out there, but I’m going to get like an edited proper version and I will blast the shit out of it and please share it and get it out there.

Cause it’s kind of like, The cliff notes of a hundred episodes in terms of, you know, my story in an abridged version. And then what did I glean from it? I asked every person that I met afterwards, he said, they enjoyed it. Like, what did they learn? And a lot of people learn different things. I feel like my mission was accomplished.

Anthony Nippy Ames: Very good. 

Sarah Edmondson: Also shout out to Chronicle, my publisher who gave me a hundred bucks to give away, not sell, give away. I had to sign them and meet people. And a couple of people got some a little bit culty hats and some hashtag I got out pins. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: Well, I’m proud of my wife. That was great. Thank you. I thought the, uh, black outfit was superb with the white kicks and your arms looked ripped in it.

That’s what I saw. 

Sarah Edmondson: That was the most important.

Anthony Nippy Ames: I’ve heard the story a hundred times. I was just looking for the outfits and the ripped arms. It all came together. Pilates is paying off. 

Sarah Edmondson: Thanks. Appreciate that. The highlight also is that my family came, I have friends, Kenny and Yara came, and Devin, my brother came, and my mom came from Vancouver.

And then after it was all done and I was like decompressing in the audience, GZA from the Wu Tang Clan came up and did a private concert, pulled Devin up to the front row. We were like four feet from him and just like. Bouncing in the front row, Jizza, Jizza, Jizza, Jizza, Jizza, Jizza. He’s a badass. The concert was great.

Meeting everyone was great. And I’m a hundred percent have an emotional hangover right now, but I’m excited to introduce this guest that we recorded. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: That was a terrible segway. Okay. But I, well, I was wondering how you’re going to. Segway from Ted X to Tamara MC. 

Sarah Edmondson: Tamara MC is actually a guest that we recorded quite some time ago.

I remember when we recorded, we were coming up to an hour and I realized we’d barely covered her story. And I was like, Oh no, how are we going to cover? How did she get out? And how is she healing in six minutes? No, we had to go double platinum. So we had to go double platinum. And we ended up just with scheduling conflicts, waiting a couple months to finish.

So there’s a bit of a. Gap in between, but

Anthony Nippy Ames: you can tell we’ve aged between episodes. 

Sarah Edmondson: Yeah, he’s got a few more gray hairs.

Anthony Nippy Ames: I’m definitely grayer 

Sarah Edmondson: Stuff happened in that time period but she’s an incredible guest. She’s been through a lot So she was in a group that we’re actually not gonna you’ll notice you’ll probably be like, wait, what was the name of the group?

We actually specifically don’t say the name of the group because for her safety and she’s got friends and family that are still involved but I think the story still Has its merit in this, uh, in this podcast world. Tamara MC is actually a writer now and she went. One thing she wrote about in an article for Mother Well Meg, she wrote, Girls in my cult were drilled, above all else, to serve our communities, and to give up our nafs, the Arabic word for self.

In being forced to give up our identities, our bodies, minds, and spirits were unprotected. We completely lost our sense of self and didn’t know. Where our bodies stopped and where the perpetrators bodies began girls and fundamentalist communities are often given the same instructions to give up their essence, their very being, 

Anthony Nippy Ames: she goes on to mention how even girls outside of cults are taught by society to lose themselves, to quit their voices, to be obedient.

So this is great because she draws the parallels of boundaries and it’s the extremes. That go on in cults that allow you to go into society and see, this one’s more subtle, but it’s still getting people to compromise themselves. 

Sarah Edmondson: Yeah. And in Tamara’s case, growing up in this cult led to her having a secret marriage ceremony at the age of 12 conducted in the pitch black of her bedroom.

After a man had snuck in, and that went on for eight years, at which point Tamara finally loosened the cult’s grip on her. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: Now Tamara has a Ph. D. in Applied Linguistics, specifically researching how language can be used to manipulate vulnerable populations. We experienced some stuff like that recently, didn’t we, sir

Sarah Edmondson: I’ll be talking more about that later. She’s particularly interested in helping other girls and women who are far too often the victims of gender based violence. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: She’s also a mother of two and a grandmother of two feisty, but adorable puppies, a Boston Terrier and an Australian Shepard for those interested.

Sarah Edmondson: Tamara is with us today to share her story and more about the work she’s currently involved in. Again, we won’t be mentioning this cult or its leader by name. I’m sure you’ll start to get a gist of the origins of this cult as she shares her story. But yeah, if you think you missed that part, you haven’t.

We’re protecting everyone’s privacy and safety. So without further ado, Tamara MC.

So welcome Tamara, your story is wild and amazing, and I’m so grateful that you reached out to us to share it on a little bit culty. For our listeners who don’t know much about this story, we don’t know much about it either, because we’re not going to actually say the name of the group because the group doesn’t even have a name.

So it’s just a group. And we’re going to hear all about the details of how you got in and how you got out. Let’s start at the beginning. I know that you, you didn’t choose it. Your dad chose it, right?

Dr. Tamara MC: Right. Yes. Hi. Thank you so much for having me, Sarah and Nifea. It’s so wonderful to be here. Yeah. So I was actually brought into the group when I was five years old.

So I was super young. So I grew up in the group most of my life. So I was what’s called a second generation. So an SGA, so somebody that was actually born or brought up in a cult. So that’s kind of the term that’s to describe me. And I grew up in a. Sufi community. When I was five years old, my father found this community.

We were living in Arizona and my mother was traveling for the summer. She was backpacking through Europe and left me alone with my father, which seemed as innocent as it could be. And my dad. We had a spiritual bookstore and he went into the spiritual bookstore and was looking at books and he had already read the book of the spiritual teacher at that point.

And it was just crazy timing, but members of this leader happened to be in the bookstore at the exact moment my dad was in there. So it was just this crazy, like wherever you were, all the stars aligned at exactly. the right time. And this leader actually lived in England. So he didn’t even live in America.

So it was even like odd or like, why was he in Arizona? And so they started talking to my dad and then they invited my father to the community center and that was the beginning. 

Sarah Edmondson: Wow. It’s such a great example of what I’m sure you know, Janja Lalic’s work. Yes, I do. Yes. I know that she wrote, did write a book about getting out of.

A cult if you were raised in it escaping utopia, but she does talk about how like, you know, in terms of we all say it could happen to anybody, but just like the, the circumstances there, the lining up of those particular things are just like, I don’t, it’s so right for being exploited if you’re looking, 

Anthony Nippy Ames: you mean the coincidence of it and you can make it mean something.

Is that what you mean, sir sarrah ?

Sarah Edmondson: No, just, just that, like, okay. You know, if he, if he’d gone looking in the bookstore and the leader wasn’t there, he may not have been pulled in in the same way. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. They made, they make that mean something that it probably did.

Sarah Edmondson: Oh yeah, sure. That too. That wasn’t necessarily my point, but yeah.

And then it’s like, oh, and it’s meant to be because he’s there. And then it, like, it feels so. If you’re a stars aligned kind of person, which I am

Dr. Tamara MC: right. It was kind of like this divine revelation. Like, like, of course this was meant to be like, of course, God put all these people in this place at this moment.

And of course, I’m supposed to follow this path. This is the path I was meant to follow. How else could it not be? 

Sarah Edmondson: He went like full bore right away. 

Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. And I would say both of us went like full on because I was only five years old. I was alone with my dad. So he was watching me and it was the summer. So I wasn’t in school.

And my father also was not working at that time. So we went to the first community meeting and then we spent every day and night with the community thereafter. So we were there from like early morning until late at night. 

Sarah Edmondson: And what was the draw? Like what was, what was the pull for both of you? Was it different or overlapping?

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah, so think for my father, he said he was always searching for like spirituality and like spiritual meaning in his life and he grew up one religion, but he didn’t feel as aligned with it and he had studied Buddhism and Hinduism and all sorts of different spiritualities and so when he came upon this, he just felt that it was right in his heart.

That’s probably what he would say. Okay. And for you? For me, I don’t really know. Like, I, I have like memories of what my father said I said, which I kind of remember, but then I don’t even remember if it’s his memory or mine, which kind of happens when we’re children. But the story goes that the first night after we came back, I said, Daddy, I want to join this group and I want you to join it too.

Wow. Now, Who knows if he put those words in my mouth and that’s now my memory because now I think about it because it actually puts so much responsibility on me because this is a story he’s told me my whole life. So to think like here I was at five years old responsible for joining this because he said he hadn’t thought about it until his little daughter was like so wide eyed and was like, oh, daddy, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

But what five year old can really say that. 

Sarah Edmondson: That sounds like that was just part of the spiel. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: Yeah. It sounds like, and also you’re five, like, you know, Troy wants to be a fireman when he was five, you know? So it’s, 

Sarah Edmondson: I don’t know. I was playing with my little ponies. You still are sometimes, Sarah. Oh, yeah. Well, Tamara, I was actually just thinking about when I was like six or seven, there was a girl in my kindergarten, grade one, some, some time there that had just come out of the OSHA group, and.

In this would have been like the early eighties and she was still wearing her like head to toe orange and red and pink. And I remember thinking, and my mom explained it was their religion. And I remember thinking, that’s great. Like I wanted that because those are my favorite colors, right? In the eighties is a young girl.

And that was a real draw for me. What was, do you remember what you liked about it at that point?

Dr. Tamara MC: So, I think for me, I grew up as an only child and both of my parents are only children, and I came from a Holocaust survivor family as well, so I had all murdered families. So I grew up with so few people in my life that when I went to this community center, there were dozens of people and I think I just liked people.

Like I was like, I was used to being alone in my little house with my mom and my dad and we had a Weimaraner, and that was about it, and then my grandmother. And so there were so few people, so I think for me, it was really the community that drew me in and I’ve always felt very spiritual within and I did feel like, like this attention to spirituality and like in my family, I hadn’t experienced that.

My grandmother came out of the Holocaust and wasn’t religious. She very much identified with Judaism, but she. didn’t practice and didn’t have that spiritual connection, which is very common for Holocaust survivors, 

Sarah Edmondson: right? Yeah, 

Anthony Nippy Ames: let’s keep in mind. You’re five. You’re six. Like anyone that walks

 into a friendly environment is going to feel some sort of kinship.

If you’re, you know, and most five year olds in those environments do receive that because adults tend to In most cases, be nice to five, six year olds. So I don’t, I hope you’re not walking around with like, you were the one that led into this. Do you, does that the way you feel about it? You mean, cause you’re five, it kind of feels like it would have been a situation, even if you didn’t embrace it, you had to because of your father.

Is that fair to say?

Dr. Tamara MC: Yes, no, absolutely. And even though I had like, like these warm feelings, there were also very complicated feelings immediately. So. Immediately when we joined and we walked through the courtyard and I was holding my daddy’s hand and women came over to me and I would say almost grabbed me and took me and said, you’re coming with us.

And so I was separated from my father immediately and all of the men and women were separated. So I would actually spend that whole summer with women and not with my father. So that’s. summer. All is I was thinking about is like, where is my daddy? Why aren’t I with my daddy? I’m with strangers. And there were no other Children at that time.

So I was gonna ask. Yeah, yeah. So there were no other Children that I can remember. So I was the only child and it wasn’t as if they were giving me toys and playing with and talking with me. I was just following them around the community center doing chores like whatever it was, cooking, setting the table.

So it was not an environment for a child at all. 

Sarah Edmondson: What was the day to day? There was prayer, I’m imagining if it was Sufi, chore work. Can you paint the picture a little bit about what the community looked like? 

Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. So the community had many different iterations. So after I was five years old, my mother came back from, from her trip and my father was so excited to tell her that he had converted and he had this whole new way of life.

And he thought my mother was going to jump on the bandwagon and follow. And my mother came back as like a 1960s, like hippie flower child, daughter of Holocaust survivors and was like, no way, like I am not joining. And. So that caused problems within their, like, unofficial official marriage because they were never legally married because they didn’t believe in the institution of marriage, kind of as these flower children.

And within a few months, my dad came into my room and told me that he was leaving and that he was joining this community. They were leaving Arizona and he was following them and he had to leave. And so our leader, so, so that first, so we had three separate leaders, but the first leader was the leader in Arizona and all of the leaders followed the same pattern, but they would have revelations usually in the middle of the night that the community had to get up and move.

And so like out of nowhere, the whole community would have to pack up everything that they had and then caravan somewhere. So my father told me that and then was gone like within five minutes and I didn’t know where he was going and he didn’t know if he was coming back and he said that to me. And I also wanted to say that once we joined the community, we were also given brand new names.

So my dad had a new name and I had a new name. My father stopped calling me the name that I was born with, which was Tamara. And so like, again, when my mom came back, my dad was only calling me by this new name. So my mom now was like, my dad had a new name, I had a new name, this whole new religion. So it was very, very complicated for her.

And also my Father, I used to call him daddy, told me I couldn’t call him daddy anymore. And so I then had to call him, the translation is father of, so it’s not even father, but it was like that official, like he was no longer my daddy, but he was like this big father who was like, I don’t know, even like beyond a father, like he wasn’t close to me in that way anymore.

So my father left. I didn’t see him for a year. I didn’t really hear from him. And then our community moved. Eventually we settled in Texas. And that was where the day to day pretty much kind of settled in. But even within Texas, we had different homes.

Anthony Nippy Ames: Were there consequences for not using those names? And did you infer later on that maybe something legal was happening as the reason for the moves?

Like what have you pieced together since those times and how do you feel about it? Like. In hindsight, because reason I ask is it’s very similar to, like, you know, the Warren Jeff stuff and a lot of the other stuff that we’ve been seeing, like, all of a sudden they have to go do something. And it’s this explanation that’s nebulous at best.

Dr. Tamara MC: Right? So the name changes. We’re very much like, if you look at it. It’s name changes are used so much within like these closed communities as a way to completely change one’s identity. But that, but that wasn’t what I was told at the time. I was told that I was actually given the name Most Beloved and I was told by the leader that I was the most beloved of all.

And so again, it was also this huge pressure that now I was like the most beloved and I was told I was the most beloved child, which then gave me so much responsibility because I had. so much to live up to, so I think names are also aspirations, which also put a lot of pressure on the person that now they have to live up to this name.

And that was the case for me. And in terms of moving, I didn’t understand it at the time, like again, it was like these revelations that were brought down from God to the leader, but it absolutely were problems that like the government was finding out, the FBI, like whenever anything was going down that constituted a move, but it was never.

Like it wasn’t described at that. It was described as, oh my goodness, we’re going to this new place with all these new opportunities and this old place where we are is so horrible and we need to leave there now.

So after there were several moves in Texas, we moved to a commune that was actually built by the second leader. We now had a second leader and he was really, really rich. And so he came and he built like this huge complex that was going to be a teaching facility. So within this facility, there were multiple structures in there.

It was like built like a dorm and it was only supposed to be for men. There was a community kitchen and there were like a couple of community bathrooms as well. And women and children, it wasn’t a place that people were supposed to live, but the school actually failed. And then the women and children moved into the center.

Sarah Edmondson: So that was where I spent a majority of my childhood. Wow. And so the men and women and the boys and girls were totally separated the whole time. 

Dr. Tamara MC: So yes, so in this community, families were split apart. And so like, and by then my dad had married another woman. And so immediately, like when I was six years old, he married somebody else who already had four children.

And so life in the commune. We didn’t live with our parents, so my dad and stepmother lived across the courtyard. I lived in a room with my step sibling, so we had our own room. And that’s how it pretty much was, is that the children were all separated and living in different places. Now, within the community, the genders were very separated, and the men were with the men, the women were with the women, and they were also separated by age.

So the children were with the children. And the boy children and the girl children. And at that age, I was 11 years old when we actually joined, when we actually started living in the commune, like, full time. So at that point, I was like a tween girl. So the tween and teen girls, like, had their own little group of girls that they hung out with.

And we didn’t, like, associate with the boys or the men in any way.

Anthony Nippy Ames: As in you weren’t allowed to, or? 

Dr. Tamara MC: No, we were not allowed to. We couldn’t even look at the men. Like if we passed a man in the courtyard or a boy, like we had to keep our eyes down. Like our eyes were always down. We couldn’t look forward. We had to like look at their feet. And so there were so many rules around how we had to behave. 

Sarah Edmondson: My next question was going to be like, what were the red flags that you now understand as signs of a cult or course of control? What are the things I know you’ve educated yourself and. In all of this since leaving, what are the, the main things that you didn’t understand that you know now about the way this group was run?

Dr. Tamara MC: So we would have to wake up before sunrise. So usually around four or five, and we had like a religious center, like within, like on the commune, like a big dome building, and we would have to walk there and the walk was like a 10 or 15 minute walk, like in the dark. And this was like the woods of Texas with snakes and all of that.

So like we would have to be walking in the dark and in the cold and. We’d have to like clean ourselves before we prayed. So we were very wet and there was no heat or cooling kind of in the community and like in the buildings. So we were always cold. And so we’d then have to go to this building. We’d have to pray and we were always exhausted.

And then the prayers would like extend for like two or three hours. And then after that, the young girls would have to prepare breakfast and serve breakfast and then do all of the dishes. And there were about a hundred and. 50 people. Like, I mean, the numbers were all always fluctuating, but it could have been between like 30 to 150 people.

So we had a lot of cooking to do and a lot of cleaning. And in the community, the women put all of the responsibility on the young girls. So they did not cook and clean. So they just kind of made it the. That’s not what they were going to do. And of course the men didn’t cook and clean and the boys would like bring in dishes at the end of a meal, but they also weren’t washing the dishes or cooking as well.

So after breakfast was over, then we would have like chores that we’d have to do cleaning and all of that. Sometimes we had. Well, we always had religious schools, so we would usually have hours of learning language and learning about the religion and learning about the traditions and the rituals and all the different leaders.

And we also did a lot of memorization, so we would be memorizing the text. And so that would last several hours. And then if the other kids were lucky, they would have like traditional school, and I don’t mean traditional, but the children were supposedly homeschooled, which meant that if the women chose to school that day, they would like have maybe an hour of math and English.

But that was out of workbooks, and the women were usually angry when they were teaching, so it was really mostly just yelling at the children to, like, get it together and to, like, do their work and trying to chase the children. And then it would turn into lunch and the cooking and the cleaning, and then we’d also have prayer.

So we were just pretty much praying, cooking, cleaning, and the young girls did all of the child care as well. So, like, mothers would have babies, and then we would be taking care of their babies. So the girls were also in. charge of childcare. So from until about 4 a. m. until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, that’s what our days would look like.

Many times we would have all night chanting sessions where we would be at the religious center. We’d be in a circle and we’d be chanting all night and the leader wouldn’t let us sleep. And even as children, we’d have to sit up straight. And if we even showed a sign that we were tired. We would be punished.

So there were very long days, seven days a week. All the days looked alike. There was never a break. There wasn’t rest. There wasn’t any time for relaxation. 

Sarah Edmondson: And if I, if I recall correctly, you were doing this in the summer with your dad. And then when you went back to your mom, you’re back in like regular society. Is that right?

Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. So I, I was with my dad for summer holidays, which at that point were about three and a half months. They were much longer. And then for just over a month during the winter holidays. So I was going back and forth. So just after I would get used to being with my dad, I would then fly back to my mom.

And then I would be like with my mom who had her own set of rules for me. So I was living two distinctly separate lives.

Sarah Edmondson: I’m just imagining being split up and having my kids come back and having come from that, like, did she not? Notice that you, or like how did, how did, how did you keep that separate from her? What did, was she ever worried that you were living this very strict life or how did that play out? 

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. So my life and my dad’s was a secret and I was told that I had to keep it a secret. And so I never disclosed to anybody what was going on. Like I didn’t tell my mom, my mom would call me in the summer and be like, how are you doing tomorrow?

And she’d be all happy. And I’d be like, Oh, I’m fine. Everything is good. And that was like the extent of it, which I guess at the time doesn’t seem super weird because I mean, kids don’t really talk a lot and like. Teenage kids don’t really talk a lot, so I’m sure it didn’t seem particularly odd. When I went back to my mother, I didn’t disclose what happened to my dad.

It was like a huge secret that I just held within, so she wasn’t aware of what was going on. So that was pretty much the situation. 

Sarah Edmondson: This is the golden age of cult recovery. The more we speak up and share our stories, the more we realize we are not alone. Your voice and your story can empower others. This is Sarah, and I’m proud to be a founding collaborator of the hashtag.

I got out movement, learn more at, I got out. org.

Well, listen, we could do an eight part mini series on your life, right? So the main thing that we love to share with our audience is like, you know, what it was like, what the red flags were. Did you hear our episode with, uh, or do you know Jamila Chisholm who wrote The Community?

Dr. Tamara MC: Yes, I listened to the episode. I wasn’t familiar with her story, but I think our community overlapped with hers because our community was in the same place. Yeah. So I think that there was an overlapping of our parents were probably at the same place at the same time. 

Sarah Edmondson: No way. That’s so wild. We should connect you if you want. 

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah , because that’s where my dad went.

But yeah, no, yeah, definitely. Because she was, I think she said 1977. Was she born in 1976? I think. I don’t remember. Something like that. But I think, but she was only like one years old. Because she said it was 1970. She was super young. So I was kind of confused like how she, she was like one to three years old or something.

Sarah Edmondson: Yeah, she wasn’t there for very long. Yeah, so it was like really, really young. 

Dr. Tamara MC: So, but yes. Yeah. I would like to be connected with Jamila as well. Yeah, definitely. 

Sarah Edmondson: We’ll have a support group. So tell us what happened when you were 12. 

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. So when I was 12 years old, I flew to my dad’s, I had just completed seventh grade.

And right the day after I completed seventh grade, I flew to my dad’s as I always did. I flew alone on airplanes, like from the time I was like. Six years old. So it was the time like where a flight attendant, which were called stewardess at the time would like kind of hold my hand and take me into the next gate and all of that.

But I flew to my dad’s and right after, like I was driving, I think back with him back to the commune, which was like an hour away from the airport north of San Antonio. He told me that the leader. And now this was the second leader had requested that I come live with him at his residence. So the leader didn’t live with the people.

So the community lived separately. And then the leader lived an hour away and he owned a big hill where he had his three wives and his multiple children and his mother live with him. And the community members were not allowed on this hill except for like the very, very elite were then allowed on the hill.

Very few of them. My father worked very. closely with the leader. So my dad would go up onto the hill and my father told me that I would have to leave the next morning and go live with him. And it was truly an honor or that’s what it was. You know, my father thought it was a great honor that his daughter out of everybody had been chosen, like I was chosen.

And it goes back to my name, like the most beloved, like. The leader always thought that out of all the children by this point, like I said, there were quite a few children living in the community, that I was the most beloved of them all. And I was the most special. And so I was chosen to go up to this hill.

My dad drove me up and there was like a big gate at that point, like with an intercom system. And this was in the early eighties, which is like, nobody had that. So it was like really like. Like suspect that like there was like this big gate like only closed and open like with an intercom system And I just remember like my dad like speaking through the intercom and like saying we were there and then we were given access And then the gate opened I went to the second wife’s house So my dad let me like knocked on the door.

I arrived there and she was standing there and my dad like You know, they made small talk and said, here’s my daughter. And he then left and I didn’t see my dad for the rest of the summer. Or if I did, I don’t remember. Like he may have come a few times up to the hill to work for the leader, but I really did not speak with him.

So I was completely alone in this house. I hadn’t been there before. And right after arriving, I was put to work immediately. She had four children under five years old and a six month old baby. And there was a playroom that had no toys in it, only a futon mattress on the floor. And like the closet was completely empty.

There was nothing in this room. And she basically put me in the room with the baby and with these three other children. And I stayed in that room for the whole summer with the door closed. And I had to entertain four children by myself with no toys. And obviously I mean, I was only 12 years old, so it’s not as if I knew how to take care of children and I had any experience.

Sarah Edmondson: Wow. That sounds like a nightmare. No toys? Nothing? 

Dr. Tamara MC: No . So I used to keep the children busy by making up stories. I made up lots of stories. I made up lots of songs. So I would sing and I would dance and I would like act out skits for them and I would jump with them and I would have little exercises classes with them.

It was really, really hard to entertain these four children and, and I just didn’t have any support. I was just completely alone in this house. I didn’t really have anybody to talk to. We were also fasting at that point. So I wasn’t able to eat from like sunrise until sunset. And it was Texas where like the sun wasn’t going down until nine or 10 o’clock at night.

And we also were not allowed to drink water. So I wasn’t drinking water during all of this. So I had no food, no water and. all of this workload. And I was also, we would have like get togethers at like nine or 10 o’clock at night. And I was also then cleaning up the dishes for all of the get togethers and like serving all of the family.

And I would then get into my room at about 11 or midnight and then I’d have to wake up by four o’clock. That was sort of the schedule. Wow. It was a very intense schedule.

Sarah Edmondson: Did the kids fast also and have no water? 

Dr. Tamara MC: So usually children, I mean, it’s different according, but children can generally start fasting by nine years old.

So I was within the fasting age because I was 12 years old. 

Sarah Edmondson: Oh my goodness. Okay. I’m sorry I interrupted. Okay. So then you’re living in this life and is this when you. You get approached by the leader’s son?

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah, so I can go into that. So within like the first night or two, I mean, time periods can be a little bit off within days.

But I lived on the side of the playroom, which was like this converted shed. Now, the man I lived with was a multi millionaire, so the house was gorgeous. But then the playroom was like Not gorgeous at all. Like I said, there was nothing in it. Then right off to the side of the playroom was like a shed that they converted and they called it the servant quarters.

And that’s where I stayed. And again, there was just like a futon on the floor. There was nothing in the room, but there was a glass door that went outdoors that had no lock on it. So after I came back to my bedroom being completely exhausted, Somebody, there was like a knock on the glass door and then the glass door just opened and somebody was standing there and it was the leader’s adopted son who was several years older than me and he came into my room and there was absolutely nothing I could do.

Of course, this is like the middle of the night. I’m on the whole other end of the house. Nobody knows what’s happening to me and not as if like they were there to care for me anyways. So he began molesting me and that lasted several days and then one night he arrived and it was after like I’d been washing dishes and my sleeves were soaking wet.

I wore rags on the commune, all of the girls did, like we really didn’t have clothes. And so, The second wife of the leader like let me some clothes because we had to be covered from head to toe. And she was like 5’9 5’10 and like had four children. And I was 12 years old and I’m 4’11 now, so I’m still tiny.

And so I was probably like 70 pounds, like wearing like this woman’s clothes. So I just looked. Pretty much like a clown, like with these huge clothes, and he came in, this person, and he basically said that he wasn’t able to be with me without being married to me because we were part of like a purity culture where there couldn’t be any sexual relations or intimacy without marriage.

And so he said that he needed to marry me. I had never in my life thought about marriage. I had, I wasn’t like a girl that ever had a boyfriend, had even held a boy’s hand or kissed a boy. It was the furthest thing from my mind. I just had never even thought about that. And he told me to repeat after him, which was in a different language.

So I didn’t understand the words that I was saying, but he, the words that I said was that, I am married to you now. And so I basically repeated after him. And right after I did this little ceremony, I was considered married to him. Now, I was in a very specific type of marriage, which is called a temporary marriage.

And in a temporary marriage, there doesn’t need like, it’s not a forever marriage, which is like considered the opposite of that. So a forever marriage is kind of a more traditional marriage within kind of our community, but a temporary marriage. can last for an hour. It can last for 10 years. It’s just whatever the person decides is the time period.

And I’m not saying people because I had absolutely no decision in this. So he kind of decided that for like three months we were going to be married. So like the entire summer that I was there. So I was married for 90 days. Or, you know, I think something like that. So I basically said that in this language, and then I was considered married to him.

In this marriage, there do not need to be any witnesses, and also the man does not need to support the woman, whereas in a forever marriage, that is the case. And in this particular marriage, the real reason for it is so that if a child is conceived, it is not considered a bastard child. And I am not using my terminology when I say a bastard child.

Sarah Edmondson: Of course. This sounds like just so well convenient for somebody who wants to have sex. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: Well, if you can be married for an hour. 

Sarah Edmondson: Yeah. And no one’s around like, Oh, I’m just going to quickly perform. Wow. Okay. It’s the first I’ve ever heard of this. So what was that like? What was going through your mind? How did you, what was your day to day? How did you handle that? 

Dr. Tamara MC: I mean, it was really survival. I was overworked, hungry, thirsty, and not sleeping. And I did that for like, Three, three and a half months. My dad picked me up at the leader’s house the day before I was supposed to get on a flight back to Arizona. I did not tell my father what happened.

I went back to Arizona. I did not tell my mother what happened. I started eighth grade with the secret that nobody knew about. And at my mom’s, I just had started middle school. So I was just supposed to be this average middle school student. Which was clearly not at all what I was. So I did that. And within that time, my husband, I’m calling him my husband because that’s what he was considered.

My husband was told that he had to leave the country. So he left the country, ended up living in somewhere else. And then the leader, also the second leader, left as well, left the country, which I didn’t know at the time was because of all sorts of problems with the government and the IRS and all sorts of stuff.

So, but I was never told that story. So he left and that happened, I don’t know. Exactly, like maybe I came back Christmas and they were still there, but then I think the following summer, my husband was not there and the leader was not there. We had a third leader, who the second leader put in charge of the community, and that was where the abuse became the worst, and where the child abuse and sexual abuse and all of that really, like, It just skyrocketed at that point because he was very rigid and very fanatical and things really changed when he came and he brought a whole bunch of his community who was, I think, they were living all over the country as well.

And so they also joined us and they had kind of been part of our community too, but now they were living with us. So my relationship with my husband at that point was mostly through letters. He came back to visit several times and I would see him and After the new leader came most all of the girls all of my girlfriends were married off by the time they were 14 years old So there were many child marriages within the community I was the first one but almost all of the girls were married off and they were married off to much older men 10 20 30 years older 

Anthony Nippy Ames: jesus.

Sarah Edmondson: Hey there listen

hope you’re enjoying this episode and that you’re remembering to hydrate, stretch, and unclench your jaws. Sometimes listening to conversations about heavy topics can really make you tighten up, you know? And remember, a little bit culty loves you. Also come hang out with us on Patreon after you finish this episode.

It’s fun over there. Fun is good. And now here’s a brief message from our sponsors. Like I know from one of your essays, which are amazing by the way, and we’ll put those in our show notes. Like at the beginning, you weren’t even like looking for a boyfriend, let alone a husband, but it sounded like, and tell me if I have this right.

I mean, obviously he, you know, he molested you. There was no consent, but then there came a point where. It was something that you, because you’d been groomed and you were sleep deprived, he was sort of like your savior. Like he, he, he was, he became like something that you found, like it was a break from the abuse in that frame of mind.

Is that accurate? 

Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. So yeah. So within that summer when I was married, I mean, I was completely disassociating. I really didn’t know what was happening. But because I was working so hard, this person who came into my room, I had never been told I was beautiful. I’d never really been given a compliment. I didn’t think of myself in that way.

And I didn’t have my mother or my father. And when my father joined this community, he really stopped being my father. I just became one of the commune’s kids. And so I really didn’t have a father since the time I was five years old. And my mother was like a single mother and she was busy working and like busy trying to keep our lives together and my family also came over as refugees, so it wasn’t, my mother was a refugee as well, so it’s not, so it’s like she was also building her life for us to have a life in the United States, so when this person snuck into my room, of course, I mean, I really had no idea what was happening, but by the end of the summer, I really thought that I loved this person.

I thought that this was the person who I was going to, like, who was going to save me because he made me all sorts of promises, and he was very worldly. He’d already lived on three different continents. He spoke multiple languages. The adopted son of the leader, so he had all sorts of knowledge about the community.

And so now he was like a vessel, like he then became like my god, even though like in our religion there are people can’t be gods, but that’s what he became. Like he became the all knowing who would then teach me about our religion and would teach me about all the things I needed. So I became very dependent on him.

And so I began to think that I really loved him. So while he was away, I really thought that I missed him. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: He was three years older than you at the time, 

Dr. Tamara MC: is that right? Yeah, he was several years older than me at the time, but it was really a lifetime of difference. I was still playing with Barbies, and I was teeny, and he was like almost six feet tall, and I had a size 13 shoe, and was just like a man already, so we were very different.

Sarah Edmondson: And at some point the secret marriage was, was known in the community, correct?

Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. It wasn’t like directly spoken about because I was really the only one that had this type of marriage. Most of the other girls were married in forever marriages and because my husband wasn’t living in the United States, but it was known because he couldn’t have come back to Texas to be with me unless we were married because nobody could be together without marriage.

So of course we had to have been married. Right. Because if you’re to have any relations with somebody outside of marriage, you would go straight to hell. So definitely we were, we had to be married. 

Sarah Edmondson: Wow. And this, so this was this from the stage of 12 to I guess your whole teenage life, you were going back and forth between your parents still.

And how did you manage that? Like such, such strict, I mean, such a severe juxtaposed lifestyle. Like normal middle school, high school, and then child bride and a Sufi. Would you say fundamentalist? Is that a word that you use? 

Dr. Tamara MC: Sure. Yes, it was definitely fundamentalist. Yeah, an extremist community, definitely.

So the way that I coped was that I really, I mean, I was You know, having, I mean, I, I’m using the word brainwashed and some people don’t believe in that word. But I was being brainwashed every time I came in. I was the child that went back into the outside world, so, so much attention was put on me because their biggest fear was that I wasn’t going to come back or that I was gonna stay with my mother.

And so really the community worked really hard. Like all the other children were in the community full time. So they weren’t worried about them, but they were really worried about me. So I had lots of like, you know, I was spoken to the entire summer about like religion. And when I went back, I had to cover myself.

I still had to pray. So I would go back to my mom’s and even though I was with my mom and it seemed like I could have had like, A good life. I wasn’t having a good life because I was living within all of these restrictions within myself. Because for me, God saw everything and I was told that God knew everything that was happening within me, every one of my thoughts, every one of my feelings.

So I was always restricting and controlling those. so that I was good with God because my biggest fear was I was going to go to hell. And in the community, I was taught that if I did all these things, I was going to this eternal hell and I would never be able to get out. So I was so fearful of hell that when I went back to my mom’s, I still covered up.

I didn’t like, I was, you know, told that Western education was the devil. So I was told not to listen. And like, when. You know, when I had lessons, so I really was in school, but I was never really part of school. I was told that I wasn’t able to make friends with anybody within school or on the outside world.

So I was completely isolated and I was also told my mom was evil and that she was going to hell so that I couldn’t follow my mother. So all of this was going on that, like, I was struggling so much because I couldn’t just relax when I went back to my mom’s either.

Sarah Edmondson: I feel like if this was now, there would have been a school counselor that would have, like, intervened or something, but I feel like the 80s was a little looser in that way.

Did anybody, anybody try or notice or anything like that in that time? 

Dr. Tamara MC: No.

Sarah Edmondson: Ugh, man.

Nobody noticed, which is shocking to me. But it really was the 80s, and I think it would be different today, but maybe not so different because, I mean, there’s so many things that happen to kids all the time that nobody calls out, like, because I just, I don’t even think that there’s education, like, within schools for people to know, like, hey, when a kid’s acting like this, like, maybe you should look into this a little bit.

But I had every sign that if somebody was trained, they would be like, something is really going on with this girl. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: Well, it starts with the parents too. I think too, if your parents aren’t involved in your life, they’re not going to sense something is off. I mean, I can pick Troy up from school and kind of get what, you know, what happened.

So I’m, I’m in tune with it. You know, if your dad wasn’t around, I mean, yeah, I mean, it’s perfect, but normally, and especially you, Sarah, you detected as well too. So if, if we’re not involved with the kid’s life as much as, Okay. You’re not going to see it. 

Dr. Tamara MC: And my mom at that point was like picking up that something was wrong with me.

But she also thought that she was doing the right thing by sending me to my dad’s because she thought that like a child should have both of their parents in their life. And she wasn’t like this parent that was going to be like, Oh no, you can’t see your dad. Your dad’s bad. Like, she never wanted that.

She wanted me to have both parents in my life. So that was really important to her. She didn’t know the details of what was happening, but she knew something was. off. After my marriage, I became very rebellious against my mother. Like, I knew everything and this was my life. And I had asked my mom multiple times and so had my dad and the leaders to allow me to live in the community full time.

And that was her one rule that I could not live there full time. Like, I could visit, but I could not live there full time. And so I was really angry at my mom because I thought I had to be in this community, like, like, me being, like, in a Western school, like, our whole community was anti West, anti American, anti government, all of these things, so I thought that I was, like, living a life that was, like, really bad, so I had to get back to my dad’s.

So, my mom came up with this rule, like, okay, you can go live with your dads after you graduate high school. And I had no one, like, I never even wanted to graduate high school because all of my siblings didn’t go, nobody went to high school in the community. I was the only one. And so, I was really mad at her because I would have graduated high school, like, when I was 18 and that just seemed way too long to wait.

And so, I then just. somehow found out how I could graduate high school when I was 16. And this was way before like there were like AP classes and you could like get all of this. Like I didn’t know any of that, but I found out a way. And so I started taking classes in college my junior year so that I could graduate early.

So I was able to graduate high school when I was 16. And my mom didn’t realize like that she then had to stick by her promise. So I then ended up living with my dad full time from the time I was 16. So that’s how my life changed that I was now no longer going back and forth.

Anthony Nippy Ames: I mean, it’s good that your mom didn’t let you do it full time, you know, I mean, who knows and maybe you’d have gotten out sooner But it seems like there’s positive aspects if you, she hadn’t just said, okay 

Sarah Edmondson: But you found a loophole to the graduation.

So all of this, you know from our perspective obviously is very extreme and sounds It’s like, you know, horrendous from an outsider’s point of view, but obviously there’s always good things that keep people in. Share some of those, some of the positives of what was meaningful for you at the time. 

Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. So there were many things that were meaningful to me.

First of all, the property was so beautiful. It’s in the hill country of Texas and we had our own lake and we had a stream and we had a waterfall. And so whenever, like, first of all, the adults weren’t watching us except for to work. So we were cut, we were always being watched, but then there were these pockets of time where we weren’t being watched.

And so whenever we had a chance, like, me and the girls would go down to the waterfall. And, like, we had to wear so many clothes, but, like, my sister would, like, strip off all of her clothes, and she’d just go stand under the waterfall, and, like, the water would, like, pound on our heads, and it would give us these massages, and then we’d, like, and it was so hot, like, during the summer, and then we’d put on our clothing and run back, and nobody would ever know.

Like, we had this huge secret that nobody knew, that, like, we were naked under a waterfall, so that was kind of something beautiful. And then, in the lake, like, we’d also swim in the lake. But there were like water moccasins and all these really scary snakes, but still we weren’t afraid. We would just like swim, like swimming and water was like one of the greatest joys of the community.

And we would just stay there. And sometimes my stepmother would come with us as well. We also had a pool on the property and my stepmother would take us to the pool and in the pool we had to like swim with all of our clothes on. And so we’d still be swimming with all of our clothes, but it was just those moments of like being in water that were really special.

And other than that, it was just like, it was the friendships with the girls who were my age. And those are friendships that, in my life, I’ve always searched for, but I’ve never had that. Because with the girls, we prayed together, we ate together, we went to school together, we slept together, we were always hugging each other, like, we had a stoop.

And our arms were just always, like, around each other. Like, we had, like, our little girl gang. And it just seemed, like, The whole world just revolved around us and we would discuss everything that was happening to us, all of the bad things. But we would also just sit there for hours, like whatever we were doing when we were cooking or cleaning, but we were always dreaming.

We were always dreaming about what our lives were going to be like, what are our life’s going to be like when we leave here? Like, what are we going to do in careers? What are we going to do? Like all these dreams. And so, so I think in that way, those were just. The most beautiful moments I had my dad when he remarried I had a sister who was just a year younger than me And she taught me like the ways of how to do everything like when I would come to the commune She would like teach me how to wash myself like like in a religious way wash myself but she was my mentor and she was younger than me and she was even teenier than me, but she was just It’s such a firecracker.

She had so much life in her. And so that is really what I gained was like the best friend of my life. Like, she’s still like my best friend. It’s like I was an only child and now suddenly I had like this amazing little sister who was so strong and could pretty much, who still can do anything in the world, like can move mountains.

And so I really had those friendships. The girl friendships are what I had and like what I still so miss. And I wish I could go back to that time to where I could just, like, experience that love again. 

Sarah Edmondson: Totally get that. I feel like that’s such a through line with so many of our guests who were part of enriched communities.

That’s the good part. Almost always. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: You guys are still close? 

Dr. Tamara MC: We are. We both have different lives as you get older. So it’s not as if we’re not both living our lives, but, but there’s the bond, like, I’m in touch with most of the girls from the community. So we have that bond where it’s like, nobody knows what we’ve ever been through, except for us.

That’s good. So it’s the sisterhood. 

Sarah Edmondson: The sisterhood, yeah. Well, I relate to that one too. So Tamara, thank you for painting this picture of, of a group that we’ve, we’ve never deep dive before. And it’s obviously very complex with all its highs and lows and, and the, the good and the bad of it all. And we will.

Pick back up in part two with the red flags that you now know about that. You’ve done all this healing and how you eventually woke up and escaped and what you’ve done with your writing and your words and all your advocacy and your healing in part two. So we’ll see you next week. 

Dr. Tamara MC: Sounds great. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: This podcast is brought to you by Citizens of Sound, a podcast production agency committed to developing and launching shows with gravity and depth.

From conception to launch, Citizens will partner with you every step of the way, whether you’re an actor, business owner, doctor, fitness coach, hairstylist, or influencer. Connection is the future of communication. Jump on board with Citizens of Sound today and start your show. Go to citizensofsound. com and follow them on Instagram.

And trust me, it’ll be a really good decision for you.

Sarah Edmondson: Okay, y’all, we’re going to pause there. Take a breather, go do some non culti yoga, some stretching, go for a walk in the woods, do whatever you need to do to. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: And then tune in for part dos. Next week. That’s my misappropriation of the Spanish language to that person who doesn’t like it when I say huevos rancheros.

Sarah Edmondson: Yeah, and somebody wrote a really nasty review because Nippy loves huevos 


Anthony Nippy Ames: And it’s a nod to the Mexican community that I love. 

Sarah Edmondson: Right. No appropriation there. Just appreciation. See you next week. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: Buh bye. 

Hope you liked this episode. Let’s keep the conversation going and come hang out with us on Patreon, where we keep the tape rolling each week with special episodes just for Patreon subscribers, and where we get deep into the weeds of unpacking history. 

Sarah Edmondson: And if you’re looking for our show notes or some sweet, sweet swag or official ALBC podcast merch, or a list of our most recommended cult recovery resources, visit our website at a littlebitculti. com. 

Anthony Nippy Ames: And for more background on what brought us here, check out Sarah’s page turning memoir. It’s called Scarred, the true story of how I escaped NXIVM, the cult that bound my life. It’s available on Amazon, Audible, narrated by my wife, and at most bookstores. 

Sarah Edmondson: A Little Bit Culty is a Talkhouse podcast and a Trace 120 production.

We’re executive produced by Sarah Edmondson and Anthony Nippy Ames, with writing, research, and additional production support by senior producer Jess Tardy. We’re edited, mixed, and mastered by our rocking producer Will Rutherford of Citizens of Sound, and our amazing theme song, Cultivated, is by John Bryant.

And co written by Nigel Asselin. Thank you for listening.