S2 Ep.26: Dr. Tamara MC (P2) on the Sufi based cult she grew up in which has led her to advocacy work & writing on Child Marriage, & Human Trafficking.

Project Hope Podcast

Jennifer French


Jennifer French: Welcome to Season 2 of the Project Hope Podcast. I’m your host, Jennifer. As many of you know, I am a cult survivor myself. For anyone interested, you can hear the story of how I got in and how I got out in Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2. The beginning of this year, 2023, actually marks my 11 years of being out.

And I am so super grateful for the ways my life has unfolded since. I now work with survivors of coercive control, and I’m going to take a moment here to define this term as one of my heart’s desires is to help society at large better understand coercive control in cases that are not just culty, but across the globe, I view coercive control as a social issue.

It’s at the heart of cases where women and girls are murdered. We find coercive control in one to one relationships that are intimate, in gangs, sex trafficking, and cults of all types. I have a master’s in the psychology of coercive control, and I’m just beginning a new element of my career as an expert witness for legal cases that involve coercive control.

As a certified clinical trauma professional, I work with survivors. I’m especially excited to be offering a group survivor program for cult and religious abuse recovery. So this is not a support group, but rather a healing program. It’s based on my certification in the incredible work of Dr. Jilly Jenkinson, who gathered decades of research on survivors.

to create a body of work that I would consider to be the most comprehensive and flexible approach I’ve come across in this field. We will meet every other week for six months and registration will open in February of 2023 for those interested. Lastly, I am also a research associate at Salford University and explore topics related to coercive control.

So let’s jump back in to a basic understanding of coercive control before I introduce the next episode. Coercive control is a strategic pattern of behavior designed to exploit, control, create dependency, and dominate. The victim’s everyday existence is micromanaged and their space for action, as well as potential as a human being, is limited and controlled by the abuser.

Initially, the victim may be drawn into the relationship with love bombing and charm. Then gaslighting, isolation, economic control, and financial abuse can take place alongside rules and regulations. that are gradually introduced over time and change at the whim of the abuser. The victim knows there are consequences if rules are broken, and they apply to the victim rather than the perpetrator, creating a double standard.

Over time, coercively controlling behavior erodes the victim’s sense of self, their confidence, self esteem, agency, and autonomy. The abuser creates an unreal world of contradiction, confusion, and fear. It may be helpful to know that 51 percent of victims do not even know that they are being abused, manipulated, and controlled.

Coercive control correlates significantly to serious harm, and in many cases, In intimate partner violence, it precedes homicide. These can be difficult topics to grapple with. So I truly hope that this podcast helps to protect you and those you love with helpful voices and information. If you appreciate the podcast, please let us know by subscribing and comment with kindness.

And always think critically, trust your intuition, and be free.

Dr. Tamara MC is a cult, child marriage, and human trafficking survivor. She advocates worldwide for girls and women to live free from gender based violence. Her PhD is in applied linguistics, and she researches how language manipulates vulnerable populations. She’s published in prestigious outlets such as the New York Times, New York Magazine, and Salon.

She’s currently revising her debut memoir, Child Bride, My Marriage at Twelve. You’ll hear us refer to this project during our two part interview, and I certainly hope that I get to promote her memoir as it comes out. Tamara’s story is just incredible. You will hear about her life in a Sufi based cult, a group she became part of as a young child with a father who was devoted to the group or mission of the group.

I feel grateful to Tamara for sharing so much of her life with us, as you will hear her refer to different life phases. The internal division that going between mom and dad caused her. The devoted servitude she experienced with the cult leader and his family, now acknowledged as labor trafficking. And her marriage as a child, and all of the confusing messages and experiences surrounding this.

Tamara’s story is one that I certainly view with deep respect, and, well, triumph, frankly. As you will hear the incredible things Tamara has accomplished and the ways she currently uses her words and voice to advocate for others and make our world a better place. We have links in the show notes to all things Tamara MC.

PhD. Please be sure to visit her website because it also has some of her published works, amidst which is her article in Ms. Magazine about the cult she grew up in, and her Motherwell article about girls staying sweet, a reference I’m sure many of you will recognize. Without further delay, we welcome you to our part two of this two part discussion.

Dr. Tamara MC: I mean, it’s even just not even just my mom and my grandma. Like when I would, when I went back to middle school, my friends didn’t know, like, so there’s. So many friends of mine who just assumed I was kind of an average middle school child. And even like in elementary school, when I went to live with my dad, my friends didn’t really know where I was going.

They just knew, Oh, you know, tomorrow leaves the day after school ends and goes to stay with her dad in Texas. They had no idea what was happening. And I still have so many of my childhood friends. And, you know, I’ve told a couple of, you know, a couple of them now know about my story because they’ve read my essays or they’ve, they’ve, you know, heard my podcast.

But they had no idea, and it’s so shocking to them. But then when they kind of put together pieces, they can see parts of me that didn’t make sense, that, that they didn’t have words for then either.

Jennifer French: Oh, wow. Yeah. I remember, uh, for me, Tamara, when I left my group, I was working at a company, and so a woman that, I had befriended at this company, knew me both when I was in and she, you know, just knew me from that state.

And then she, it was so wonderful to have her friendship to also reflect back to me where she kind of went, Oh yeah, like now there’s just an openness and a flow between us. That’s different because I was supposed to be acting a certain way. Um, although I probably opened up to her more than I should have according to my group.

Um, but then getting out, she really noticed the difference. And it’s fun to have someone currently who’s a part of my life. Travel those traverse those worlds with me.

Dr. Tamara MC: I think like just even an elementary school like my friends. I just stopped being good friends with you know, I I would just back away.

Like I was always very distant in a way that I didn’t used to be. So I would distance myself. I We lived in Arizona. I stopped wearing shorts, for example, and I would wear really long pants and I’d be covered in the heat, which like none of the other kids were dressed like that, you know, um, I just became very quiet.

I stopped talking, um, for many years. I became a selective mute. So I just wouldn’t even talk. And that’s also like a reason why I didn’t share is I just stopped talking. I stopped talking to my mom. I just stopped talking all together. And that was for so many years. Uh, so I think it was just becoming quiet.

You know, I didn’t care about school. Like they could tell. I just didn’t have an interest in school. I started wearing black after I got married. So by eighth grade, I started wearing all black.

Jennifer French: Wow. Interesting. Have you concluded anything from that?

Dr. Tamara MC: I think I wanted to disappear. I just didn’t want to be seen.

I didn’t want to be noticed and it felt like with black, I could just kind of fall into the background. Like I didn’t stand out and didn’t want anybody to notice me or to see me.

Jennifer French: Yes. Thank you for sharing that. When I have conversations with survivors, I often, at particular moments, feel like I’m taking a gift from somebody’s story that maybe will be used to help someone else.

And this makes me think about, I always say to parents, Really, keep your eyes open, because when kids are acting weird This may be a child that you can really help, you know, that they can find sanctuary in your home if they’re not okay in their regular environment. And, you know, we see this so much, right, with kids that were born into these groups, and maybe they do go to public school, and one teacher pays attention to them.

Your story is making me think about The signs also, it’s maybe not necessarily the dirty kid or the kid that doesn’t have manners. It may also be the kid that’s trying to disappear wearing all black all the time, you know? Yeah.

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. And. Like none of the teachers ever noticed anything about me and really by eighth grade and high school.

I mean, somebody should have said something like somebody should have noticed and said something, but they didn’t. And at that point, I was writing research papers, you know, As you have to do and the topics I were would write about were really intense and pretty crazy and I would get all these red lines on my papers and the teachers couldn’t understand what I was writing about or why I was writing about it.

But they would almost, like, be, like, almost yelling at me in their remarks. Whereas, like, now I’m a writing teacher, so if I were to see that, for example, in somebody’s writing, I would, like, that would be a wonderful time to have a dialogue with this person and to ask questions and to understand, like, like, where did they get this idea?

Like, where did this, like, like, that would have been the point. So many teachers could have stepped in through my writing. Because All, everything was in my writing. It was cloaked in my writing at that point. So it was there for somebody to find.

Jennifer French: Wow. And I think about, um, uh, Dr. Marlene Wienel shared on the podcast this element to her story that part of her, um, becoming free from these kind of shackles of her fundamentalist.

thinking was actually writing an essay in college where her argument was all about, I’ll go out and preach, preach the Lord and people will be saved. And that was kind of the grand conclusion, you know, something like that, that people, that that was the solution to whatever problem that she was solving for.

And the teacher literally sat her down and kind of said, let’s think through this. You know, and it was really kind of that that started to open her mind to other things and not everybody thinks this way and maybe this isn’t actually what I believe it’s what I’ve been told, you know, so it does happen that we saved in it.

Institutions where people actually care and are paying attention.

Dr. Tamara MC: And this was also like in the 1980s. So it was a totally different time. And so, so teachers wouldn’t have known to look for these signs necessarily. Like today, I feel like a teacher that is part of their job. And so now it would seem as if like, it wouldn’t be acceptable at all for a child to just.

Go under the radar like that in the 80s. I could see it being much more plausible. Yeah. So, so I think it is part of it.

Jennifer French: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I love Tamara that your muted voice was already coming out on the page and through writing, um, which seems very symbolic with where you’ve landed today. So you go to your grandmother.

At this very kind of significant time and what kind of transpires from there.

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah, so I came back to Arizona. I had to support myself. So I started waitressing and within like four months or so I was just. I just hated waitressing and I’m using that word very intentionally, the word hate, but I’ve been serving people for so many years.

I had been serving food and taking away their food. And it’s just like, I was back in this cycle, whereas now I was getting tips and before I was working for free. So like, that was definitely an upgrade. Yeah, definitely an upgrade, but it was just building in me. I was like, I cannot waitress for the rest of my life.

I just cannot, I cannot serve people because I would sit there and as I serve them, I would have this same aching as when I was in my cult, but like when I would serve somebody a coffee. I would want to be the one sitting there drinking the coffee because I had never been the one on the other end of the table where I could just sit down and get a plate of toast and somebody would give me a plate of toast and I could just like chew into this toast and feel happy like the people I was serving.

So I just, I was always wanting the life that the other side of the tape, like I wanted to be sitting at the table for once. And so, so that was. That was it. Like, like when I live with the leader, I assumed like I was family and I was going to be eating with them, but not once was I allowed to sit at their table.

They had a kitchen table and I wasn’t allowed to sit at it. I had a special like servant table, I guess it was like they sat in the dining room and I served them all and they would eat. And then I would have to eat with the kids when they came home from school. And there was like a little table, like in the kitchen, like in a little kitchen nook, and I would either eat by myself or eat with the kids, but that was the only place I was allowed to eat.

Jennifer French: Well, Tamara, when you come over to L. A., my husband and I will cook you an incredible meal, and you will sit in our home, and I will give you a little blankie, and you will have an incredible served meal from us.

Dr. Tamara MC: Oh, that’s so beautiful. Thank you.

Jennifer French: That would bring me such joy. And my husband’s an incredible cook.

So he’s, he’s kind of the better, the better one of the two of us around that stuff. But

Dr. Tamara MC: that’s wonderful. so much. So, yeah. So I just think that it just started like Just this discontent in me. It’s like, I knew that I had to do something different.

Jennifer French: I asked, sorry, at this time now, had you actually processed I’m leaving the group or were you thinking, Oh, I’ll probably go back.

This is a tiny break and I’m just going to

Dr. Tamara MC: readjust. I did not think I was leaving the group. Like I thought it was a break. I don’t think that I ever really officially said I’m leaving the group. Yeah. Just, it didn’t happen that way for me. I just, as I, when I moved away and I was an ocean away, and then as my life just kept changing and changing, it was just, I was moving apart, but it wasn’t as if I was like making this conscious decision in that way.

Um, and also my dad and the family and the community was still in the United States, and so I was still seeing my dad and I was still part of the community in that way. So I wasn’t really. Leaving the community fully. I just wasn’t living with the cult leader. Yep. Yeah. Um, so I was still part of it in many ways.

I found out about university and how I could enroll. I didn’t even plan to go to school because I had just planned to be a mother, but there was a class that interested me. That interested me. And so I found out how I could enroll in university. I did my first semester. I took six credits, like, which was part time and.

I loved it. I just loved it. And then the next semester I took 12 credits, which was like the equivalent of a full time class, you know, class load. But then the next year I just dove right in and I started taking 27 to 33 credits a semester. So that’s like. Oh my gosh. Well, that’s like three full time loads of like,

Jennifer French: Tamara, you’re basically like, let me cram all the years of education that I actually need into my brain.

Dr. Tamara MC: No, I was so excited. I just started just researching everything that I had wanted to know for so many years. Oh. Like when I went to public school with my, when I lived with my mom, even though I was in school, like my brain was shut down because I was told Western education was the devil. I was told not to learn anything.

So when I would go to my dad’s, they would make sure that when I went back to Arizona, that even though I, my body was sitting in a classroom that I wasn’t actually absorbing any of the knowledge. So I. I shut off my mind. So I wasn’t actually listening in school. So I don’t really know what happened all of those years.

So it maybe sounds like I went to school, but I didn’t really go to school in the same way. You know, it’s just a very different experience. But then when I finally got to college, I was like, Oh, I was so in love with learning and I was learning what I wanted to learn. I was in political science courses. I was in history courses.

I was in language courses. And then I started taking women’s studies courses. And that was where my whole world just opened up. And

Jennifer French: this is, this is just such fun for me to receive this because. I similarly, you know, have just felt the incredible depth of joy in learning and educating when you get to do it yourself and also get to choose what you’re, you know, focused on and just how exciting that is.

how expanding it is and coming out of this world that you’ve been in or these two worlds that you’ve been in. How amazing. I mean, it also just shows you, it’s like you’re kind of true nature emerging right from the girl that’s in, um, in school and not speaking and wanting to disappear, but having to have the voice come out in some way through the written word.

And then it’s like, As you get set free, you are able to really find your own passions. Okay, and then the women’s studies.

Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. And that was just that, you know, pretty much those were the courses that, that changed the trajectory of my life. And like, I think in women’s studies, I was being forced to think critically, which I hadn’t yet had to do.

Like in history classes, I just memorized dates. I memorized people, political science, that was easy. But in women’s studies, like this was later. This wasn’t my first women’s studies course, but I had. an incredible professor in one of my women’s studies courses, and she had a whole conversation with me about the word truth.

And she said, there’s small truth and there’s big truth, but that there’s really truths that there is no truth. There is no one truth. And I, I just remember sitting with that because I was always taught. There is only one story. There is only one truth. There is only one God. There is only one of all of these things.

And she had pluralized the word truth. And I just remember, like, my, my brain exploding.

Jennifer French: Oh, yes.

Dr. Tamara MC: Just exploding. And I just remember sitting with that and thinking, like, Are there multiple truths? Like, what, what, what, what are truths? Like, like, what does that mean for me now? What does that mean for everything I learn?

What does that mean for the universe? So. Yes. So I think like those concepts were the one that just like broke everything down. Like there was no returning. Like after, after, you know, a person is given some sort of knowledge that, that it hits them, right. It resonates with them because somebody else, maybe that wouldn’t resonate with.

But for me, that was like one of those huge aha moments in my life.

Jennifer French: Yes. That’s amazing. I had kind of a similar moment when I came across this idea called personal integrity, that we each get to choose our integrity, and that there are, it’s kind of like the idea of what is a truth, right? What is Yeah.

Yeah. good, if you’re looking at your own integrity. Well, what’s good to me may not be the same spectrum for somebody else. And so for me, it sort of gave me this permission post cult to really expand my mind. Into a freedom of considering what is my integrity? What does that look like? What does it look like for me?

Because my line of that might be different than somebody else’s line. And that’s okay. And, and I love it as just kind of a touch point for myself, right? It helps me return to myself to consider, wait a second. What truly do I feel and think about this? Oh, that’s wonderful. Oh, neat. I love that.

Dr. Tamara MC: So, yeah, so I, I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in just over three years.

It didn’t even take me four years. I just sped through, like, from a girl who had no education that just was, like, eating it up, like, I couldn’t get enough. I didn’t get enough and I then found out I could go on for a master’s degree. I applied and I got into the program and I just loved it. And then I wanted more after the master’s.

And I was like, what can I do now? What can I do now? You know.

Jennifer French: And what did you do the master’s in?

Dr. Tamara MC: I did it in English Language and Linguistics and teaching E Excel.

Jennifer French: Oh, oh wow. Neat.

Dr. Tamara MC: So I was always really interested in language in, in the commune where I grew up, we learned multiple languages. My grandmother spoke seven languages, so I grew up with language and I grew up with teaching.

I taught my grandmother. how to read and write in English from a very young age, like as soon as I learned to read and write. So I taught her, um, and then in the community, because I was the one person who was educated, like who was being educated publicly, the, you know, one of the children, I became a teacher for the other children.

So at such a young age, I had just become a teacher. So I then went to to like become an English teacher, which makes complete sense.

Jennifer French: It’s amazing, oh my gosh, love it.

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah, and I think like that’s just like the beauty of like, you know, there’s, like we were talking about the magical moments and like not everything bad, like not everything is bad in these communities at all.

If it was, like nobody would even stay, like if everything was bad. So it’s just not, there is so much goodness. And like. That part of the beauty was our community was so international and people came from all over the world and I learned about people from such a young age. I learned so many different languages.

I learned so many different types of food. I, I became like. I mean, we, we don’t have the word chef, but I mean, I became a true chef by such a young age, but I was cooking so many different types of food. I knew my spices. Uh, I knew how to teach. I knew about natural medicine. Like, like there were so many things that I learned that People my age would never know.

Like people in my school wouldn’t even have an understanding of whatsoever that still guide me today. You know, even then, like we were doing yoga and we were doing so many things that people weren’t even doing at that point, that wasn’t even popular in any way. So there were so many positive things as well that now are still used in my life because I still do have so many of those loves in my life.

Like I still love language. I still love culture. I still love. Like, I mean, I love cuisine in a certain way. Um, you know, I became a natural, you know, I got into natural medicine and have several degrees in that after I left. So all of that just kind of like follows and it just kind of transforms into, into kind of new passions.

But it’s kind of like, it’s always there. It’s kind of that foundation that is still there.

Jennifer French: Yes. Yeah, that is so neat. So tell us a little bit about, um, life beyond.

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. So after I left and my, when I was in my bachelor’s degree before I graduated year, before I graduated, I met who would then become my husband in university.

We had a class that like. He, we were in the same class. Well, we were in the same class, but we’re a different level. So he had it right before me. And then I would come in cause I was in the more advanced language class. And so we would see each other and then we were both in the international student association.

I became the international student association president and he was part of that, and then we just kind of grew this friendship and I was like fluent in different languages and he’s like, who are you, where are you from? Funny. I’m American. He’s like, you can’t be American,

Jennifer French: right? Because Americans maybe know one extra language, but

Dr. Tamara MC: you know what I mean?

At that point, yeah, he just couldn’t quite understand. And so, so we did fall in love. We got married before we even graduated and. We both graduated together from, from university. He was an international student. And after graduating, after we’d been married a year, I got pregnant with my first child. And then a year after that, I got pregnant with my second child.

And so I had these, I had two kids as I went through with my masters and my PhD. I did it all with babies. Started. My master’s degree when I was, had a six month and he was still nursing and would be nursing until he was two and I had a two year old. So, oh gosh, that’s kind of amazing because I had the six month and this two year old and that’s actually like, that was like how I began taking care of a six month and a two year old and then a six month and a two year old later.

That was ages, I guess, just followed me that I was going to be like, it’s some of the most difficult times of my lives with these like.

Jennifer French: You were like, I’ve already done this before alongside a master’s is fine. At least there aren’t five other children hanging on me.

Dr. Tamara MC: No. And so I had my boys and then really.

My boys were everything to me. They were absolutely everything. I didn’t want them to have the life that I had even remotely. I just wanted to give them everything, you know, and that’s exactly what I did. We, both my, my husband and myself, like we worked super hard, um, you know, just to. Just have a really good life for ourselves and I just became completely absorbed in my kids lives and taking them to school and being the room mom and being the PTA mom and becoming, um, you know, doing all of their extracurricular activities and doing all of their sports.

And so that became my life really for years and years. And I. I was still, you know, my dad was still part of the community, so we’d still visit my dad. And, you know, my husband would come along and he like knew what I grew up with. He didn’t know all the details. I don’t even, it’s something I’ve been thinking about.

I don’t even know if he knew about my first husband. I don’t even know if that was like a detail that I included, like, like in who I was. I’m sure I did, but I don’t like at this moment have a recollection of it, a clear recollection of it. But. But that was just our lives. And, you know, my father didn’t live with us.

So we would just visit him maybe once or twice a year. So it wasn’t like a big deal. And. But then after 17 years, I was married for 17 years. My husband asked for a divorce, kind of what seemed like out of the blue. Um, which of course is more complicated than that. Like divorces don’t just happen out of the blue, but, but they can sometimes, you know, or it can feel that way.

It can feel that way. Yeah. So I wasn’t planning on that at that point. I still hadn’t completed my PhD. And that was like a time when my life just. Again, blew apart and I was back down to what felt like I was starting all over again. You know, I still didn’t have a career because I had followed his career.

He had been working and he traveled five days a week. So I had to be the stay at home mom, even though I was in school and stuff, I was like in school, but then taking care of kids and taking care of the house and like, Managing our entire home life. So I wasn’t like out at that point, like with my career yet.

I was expecting that to happen after I graduated with my PhD. I wanted to become a professor and teach. So, so, so that was my plan, but I also never wanted to not be home for my kids. So that was a reason that I wasn’t working outside of the home is that every day I brought them to school every day. I picked them up from school.

Like the only time I. Was gone was when they were gone, so they didn’t even know that I was missing. But growing up as I did, I just wanted to be in their lives like 100%.

Jennifer French: That’s so amazing, Tamara. And I do feel like, um, with individuals that have these experiences, I often find with women in particular, if they end up having children.

The impact is kind of huge, you know, not that it isn’t anyway, of course, but there’s something about having a child and kind of protecting it and thinking about how you grew up and what, what you were told and what messages you received. And now what you’re giving to these little innocent people, you know, that you’re responsible for.

And I think there’s really something about that time in a woman’s life that. makes us more reflective or, you know, just that the Children shift something in our perspective about our history. So it makes so much sense to me, you know, that you would be kind of vigilant around, um, What you want with those children and wanting to engage and be involved and, and love them the best you can, you know?

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. And I mean, I didn’t even, I don’t think I once hired a babysitter really to take care of my kids because I wouldn’t let them out of my eye. Like, I didn’t trust anybody with my children. It was me or like my mom or like, there was just only a few people who I’d be like, okay, you know, my grandmother, you know.

So I was very careful about that. And because of my crazy education and the crazy education of all the other children, it’s like my children’s education was number one. I couldn’t have hobbies or extracurricular activities. So I made sure that they had every single extracurricular activity they ever could dream up.

They were in. You know, soccer and basketball and whatever wrestling, whatever it was, you know, every classes like every, you know, every year it’s like, so that became the real purpose in my life was giving these two boys like the most extraordinary life I could give them. And during that time, I didn’t really.

Think about how I’d grown up because I was so absorbed in, in these two boys that I now had, and that’s all I put my attention into. So I hadn’t really addressed me yet.

Jennifer French: Yeah, no, I did. I did think I was wondering when you mentioned that you would, that you kind of continued to see your father. On the property on kind of a yearly basis.

What was that like for you? Did it kind of bring stuff up when you would go there or yeah, just what was your experience?

Dr. Tamara MC: So the property was no, like we no longer had the property. So I wasn’t returning to the actual property. Okay. So we lost that property. I think when I was about 17. Okay. So that property no longer existed.

So when I visit my father, he was living independently. He wasn’t living. In a commune, there were still members that were like living in separate houses, so it was a very different situation, so it wasn’t like I was returning to my past in the same way.

Jennifer French: Yeah. Yeah. Okay.

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. So then with the divorce, my ex husband asked for a divorce and now was when I had two teenagers.

My sons were like, how old were they? Like 17 and 15. So they were already grown at that point. And. I just didn’t even know where to begin. Like I had this PhD to finish, but I didn’t have money. I didn’t have housing, proper housing. Um, my ex husband left the house and then stopped paying on it. So my house got foreclosed on.

So our family home, so I didn’t even have a home now.

Um, I was just really, you know, just, just really, really struggling. And now I had two boys who were in high school and like the heat of high school when everything is when boys kind of lose their minds, regardless for children doing

Jennifer French: right. Oh my gosh,

Dr. Tamara MC: when their parents are getting divorced. So now my kids are like.

You know, so, so they began having a hard time for a while. So I was having to manage them and make sure that they’re okay and, and that they’re safe. And so, so it was a really scary time. So I was about to graduate with my PhD, but then I wasn’t able to graduate because I had so much other personal stuff happening that it actually probably took me an extra three years to graduate with my PhD because of all of that.

Like I put it on hold because I had so much else to do. So, eventually I graduated with my PhD, which was probably one of the happiest moments of my life, other than having my two sons.

Jennifer French: That’s amazing.

Dr. Tamara MC: It was something I just couldn’t even imagine possible and, um, you know, with the time, but I just worked so, so hard, like, like I earned that degree, like nobody gave me that degree.

I’m going to give you this PhD, I’m going to, you know.

Jennifer French: Yeah. The PhD is no joke.

Dr. Tamara MC: No. And so I was so proud at that moment and I graduated and, you know, life still wasn’t easy at all. I had so many things I had to still deal with. I began working for the university soon after, which was good. Um, but really it’s that happened.

So I’m 12 years out of my Approximately 10 to 12 years, um, you know, single and so this is when really in the past. I’d say, you know, initially I was just so busy dealing with my divorce and dealing with my kids, but in the past several years is the first time that I’ve been able to go back to what happened to me as a child.

What happened in this child marriage? What happened when I was working in this house? I didn’t even think, like I knew that I worked for free and I did all of this, but I hadn’t thought like, Oh, I was human trafficked wasn’t even a term I could have thought of for myself is I began researching because then I really, I wrote my memoir, and I think that’s kind of where, where this really began I was accepted into a year long memoir program.

And I spent the entire year writing the story from start until finished, finished meaning when I was 20 and I left and it was 400, 000 words, which is the equivalent of four long novels. So it was incredibly long.

Jennifer French: And I know how, how long that is because I just graduated from my master’s program and you know, we’re all doing papers all the time.

I was like counting the words and that’s for tomorrow. I know. Passion for the topic and going in some different directions or

Dr. Tamara MC: no, it was just really the details of what’s happened from when my father converted until the time when I left when I was 20 and it was just the details of every year and going through the marriage and going through through all the things that happened to me.

And it was really then. That like I started noticing these themes coming up, like why was I working for this person? What is it called when somebody works for free? And that’s when I started then going into research, like is this sidebar? It’s not part of my memoir at all, but I then would just spend hours like looking up like, Oh wow, I was human trafficked.

And I didn’t even know like the word, which seems silly because so many people may know this now, but like, I didn’t really understand like child marriage. I knew I was married as a child. I knew that my. You know, my, my commune sisters were married, you know, by 14, but I didn’t know that there were organizations that are like fighting against child and forced marriage.

I didn’t know that I was a forced marriage survivor. Like there was so much that I didn’t really have the vocabulary for until very recently. And it was really only through writing down my story that I was able to come back. And to really look at it like differently, like with an adult eyes.

Jennifer French: Yes. Yes. And how empowering also to do it with this newfound lens that you have.

Of critical thinking and education, you know, to really be diving into what these phenomenons actually are. It is, it’s incredibly helpful to have the explanations.

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. And I think like with the critical thinking part, like I had become critical of like understanding belief and religion and history and like, like all of these beliefs that I was taught in the community, but maybe what I hadn’t learned to be critical of until recently Was like critical of my actual personal experience.

Like critical of like child marriage. Like I hadn’t even gone into that yet. Like I just hadn’t, yeah, I, I, I mean, I didn’t have the opportunity. Like, so now it’s like, there’s a whole new critical part of me that has now stepped in that is different than I was like. When I first got into college, I wrote my first paper, I think the first year on what is a cult, like nobody had done that yet.

And I, I was like determined to find out like, what is a cult? Because I didn’t really know what a cult was. But then when I did this cult paper, I was like, Oh yeah, I was in a cult. Yep. I was in a cult, you know. And it was scary because people weren’t really researching it at that point. And I didn’t like have scholars to turn to, and it wasn’t part of my program either.

It was just something that I had decided to do. So I didn’t have support from anybody that was like. Telling me what to read or, and, you know, there was no internet then. It was like I was going to the bottom of the library to like at the microfiche and like figure these things out.

Jennifer French: Right. Of course. That is so wild.

I mean, yeah. And just placing, placing it in time and the literature that’s out there. I mean, really even it’s like the research. Was just first coming out probably with like lifting vitamins stuff. I mean, that’s Margaret Singer, you know, it’s like you were hitting it right when things were just kind of emerging, you know, that people were considering these things, right?

Dr. Tamara MC: I was only like 20, you know, I was like during my bachelor’s degree. So it wasn’t even like during an advanced degree. So. It was just me alone trying to work through these things. And really, you know, how could I have necessarily known about child marriage? I think some of the first child marriage organizations have just been like created in the past decade at the most.

So it’s not as if this was like a topic that was even being discussed before in the same way that it is now. So, um, so yes. And I guess during the beginning, maybe no, no, I was probably just, yeah. And I guess. Like maybe when, you know, these organizations were starting to pop up more, I was going through a divorce right at that moment.

So it was kind of like, so I wasn’t really involved at that, you know, at that part of my life and I wasn’t even ready to explore that. So really there is a time and a place for everything. It seems like, like I couldn’t have done the work that I’m doing now before. I had to wait until now. I had to wait.

Jennifer French: Yeah, it’s really quite an amazing thing, I think, to watch people grow and journey in the quote unquote kind of healing process, right, which we’re always doing kind of to some degree or another and then there are these sort of times where all of that magnifies, you know, and there’s a real focus, I think, but it needs to be a particular time and we need to be ready and willing, you know, you.

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah, I mean, and I just think in history, it has to be a particular time like we can’t forget about. The significance of like where we are in time and place, like the 80s, for example, the 90s, the 70s, like each of those eras means so much in terms of cult research and in terms of cults themselves. And in terms of healing, I mean, for example.

I had joined a cult recently, for example, you know, as a young 20 something and I had to get out the resources that would be available to me would be huge, like huge like I could listen to podcasts I could read essays like there’s so much that I could find. But like somebody who grew up many years ago, that was not at all available.

So the time to get out, the healing that had to take place is going to be very different than somebody, for instance, who’s able to get out now.

Jennifer French: Absolutely. And I think also, you know, I was grateful I realized on your website, um, you did include the term, uh, coercive control in your language where I think also as we’re understanding that it really is providing this language and understanding of the repeated, you know, psychological manipulation that’s taking place for the purpose of control and power and, you know, Domination, but without that link, it’s like now things make so much more sense, you know, and I know we’re still working our way out of some old thinking, of course, but it’s quite amazing that we are able to even begin through the lens of course of control to serve turn these tables.

To go, let’s actually look at what the problem is, you know, and it really shifts the lens so we can address that I think in new ways, whereas we just couldn’t before, you know, we’d go, we’d ask questions like, well, what was she wearing? Well, why was she out so late at night drinking, you know, and now we can actually start focusing where we need to focus and go, it’s not okay.

That people hurt other people and we have laws against that and people need to be held to account because of that. But even our, you know, systems have not really served us again because we’re just beginning to understand some of these things that hopefully will provide serious. change in terms of protecting, especially women and girls, you know, and children and of course, men too.

But yeah.

Dr. Tamara MC: And I think it’s so systemic at like, like, I think like before it was like asking. You know, of the individual, these questions, but it’s so beyond the individual. It’s like what systems are in place now, so it’s really looking at the systems versus like, like putting, putting the pressure on the system instead of on the individual, and that is so important with domestic violence cases with so many cases with coercive control cases with all of this.

That’s what we need to be focusing on.

Jennifer French: Yes. Yeah. It’s a huge area of passion of mine, really. It’s, it’s so exciting. Yeah. Yeah. I think we’re in store for some good changes in the future.

Dr. Tamara MC: I think so. And I especially think because so many of us are now coming out with our stories and there are programs Salford University.

There are teaching, coercive control, and, um, There’s just such incredible podcasts like yours and so many others out there, and there’s just such, so many wonderful people that are coming up that are really ready to like, not only share their stories, but like change laws and like change thinking.

Jennifer French: Absolutely. Yeah. Well, and I’m assuming that your book will also kind of be a part of that. Do we have that to look forward to at some point?

Dr. Tamara MC: Sure, yes, I’m still, so now I have this, this monstrosity of, of a manuscript, my monster manuscript that I am working on getting down to, you know, 80, 000 words, which is a very normal number for a memoir.

So I have to cut it down by like, it needs to be a quarter of what it is now. So I’ve been working on that for quite some time. Um, I’m really excited to send out hopefully my book proposal soon and to get an agent. Um, I’m really I’ve been working on this, you know, even, you know, before I wrote out the entire memoir.

I’ve been working on this project for so many years. It began in my master’s program. I was already telling stories and putting it out there. So it’s something that’s definitely going to come into the world. And it’s something that I’m. That I’m excited for, but it is, it is a couple, two to three to four years away, but that’s okay.

I’m patient.

Jennifer French: That’s great. That’s great. I love it when we have creative projects, especially like a memoir that’s actually personal content about your life. When we have these creative projects where we can actually take time, you know, where we can make it and sculpt it the way we want to. Yeah.

Dr. Tamara MC: And I think for me, it wasn’t just telling my story.

I wanted to learn how to become a writer and to become a good storyteller. So after my PhD, I actually was accepted for an MFA in creative writing at Columbia University in New York City. So I went there and studied creative writing. Oh my gosh. And I’ve taken so I’ve been in so many different writing programs.

So really for. The past many years, my focus has been on learning to become a writer. So when I bring my book into the world, I don’t just want it to be my story. I want it to be my craft of writing that comes into the world.

Jennifer French: Oh, amazing, Tamara. Well, give me a little heads up because I would love to support you in any way that I can and maybe come to a book launch or host you in LA or, you know, we’ll, we’ll collaborate.

Dr. Tamara MC: I just wanted to say, like, I, you know, I’ve listened to your podcast where you tell your story. Um, so it was episodes one and two, and I know that you wrote it out and you read it, but I just, as I was listening, I just thought you are such a beautiful, incredible storyteller. So I was just awed by that. So you, I just felt like you have such a special gift in writing.

So I’m.

Jennifer French: Thank you. Thank you so much, Tamara.

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. You just. You used all of the senses. You brought me there. You know, I just loved your choice of words and I just thought it was really beautiful how you told your story.

Jennifer French: Oh, thank you. I appreciate that.

Dr. Tamara MC: Do you have any background in writing?

Jennifer French: No, you know, just my own, you know, exploration, I think growing up and yeah, so, so maybe if you end up doing something where you’re offering writing to people, um, it would be nice to know about that too.

And I’d be happy to, you know, promote things like that as well.

Dr. Tamara MC: Sure, yeah. Eventually, I do want to teach, like, memoir writing classes for, like,

Jennifer French: I’m like, what a natural fit. I mean, you’ve done all this incredible work.

Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah, but I do want to teach it, like, specifically for us as survivors, like, groups that are geared towards us.

Cause I think we are very, very unique stories and needs in terms of writing that I feel like a lot of times when I’m in writing classes, I haven’t been understood. And so it has been very challenging. And so I think having somebody that’s skilled to kind of understand that these stories we have to tell sometimes are going to be disassociated when we write sometimes, like there’s so many things that come up and it’s just really having trauma based writing classes that I think are so important.

Jennifer French: Amazing. That’s so wonderful because it is interesting. It feels very spot on, um, and timely because I just had a conversation with somebody who had taken a writing who is a survivor and had done some sort of writing thing. And they said to me, um, You know that their feedback was just that again as a survivor that they felt like there wasn’t real space or real holding of the feelings that are coming up or the emotions that are happening there and.

I just, you know, it was very interesting to receive that feedback. It’s obviously exactly what you’re considering and what likely through your lived experience, you know,

Dr. Tamara MC: right, right, exactly. Well, thank you so much. I’m so glad that, you know, I’ve known about you in the community for a while. So I’m just so glad that we were able to have this one on one time.

And I know the audience can’t see, but we’re actually looking at each other through video. It’s not just sound. So we’re each, you know, observing each other’s facial expressions and, and so, so it’s, it feels very intimate and very, very wonderful. So thank you.

Jennifer French: Thank you so much, Tamara. Such a pleasure to have you here.

We so hope that you enjoyed this episode and please stay tuned for part of Leaving the Cult. The season two song written by Jaya Suri. And for all things related to Jaya, her music, ways that you can support her, check out the show notes.


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