I am John and this is the tip-of-the iceberg of my story.

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My search for truth has taken me to places more bleak and terrifying than the Doré illustrations that are my constant companions. Now I am back in the place where I was born, trying to make sense of it all.

I was more than usually sensitive and empathic as a child, occasionally teased at school, constantly belittled by my father and certainly never cut out to be an alpha male. My mother could only seem to cope with a world where there were cosy explanations and happy outcomes. By the age of 12 I was having strange, seemingly otherworldly experiences and was already contemplating death and experiencing deep futility and depression. After my O levels I was suddenly sent to Exeter School, away from those I knew, to continue with the holy trinity of A levels: Maths, Chemistry and Biology; not exactly suited to someone who took a different language book home everyday from the library and studied ancient history by himself!

Only about a year ago did I find out that this had happened because my old school had convinced my parents on god-knows-what evidence that I was glue-sniffing; of course, no one ever thought to ask me. After this disaster I got my first job at London and Manchester assurance; very much to the thrill of my parents. I was now 18 and already sick of this world. I took alcohol and tablets and was admitted to hospital. When I went home – nothing. Nothing! It was as though it just never happened. I remember staring into the corner where the two walls of my bedroom met and looked into the abyss, as Nietzsche put it. I told my father that I was going back out into town and I made an even more serious attempt to end it all with more tablets and alcohol – I came round on a table at the Exeter A&E in a room on my own facing a cabinet of scalpels with a set of keys conveniently placed in the lock; I need say no more.

From there I was put in a room with bars on the windows at Wonford House. I cannot remember ever having any counselling, just the inevitable release back to my parents where again, it was as if nothing had happened.

But I could play the guitar and began to busk in Exeter. Never one to do things by half, I became a proficient flamenco player. I fell in love with a Costa Rican girl and we eventually moved to Costa Rica. There I was to play flamenco in concerts to large audiences, however my last one went so bad that I ended in a hut up in the hills, with darkness and leaks, scorpions and spiders that replaced my love of the animal world with a machete and here my depression started to become more psychotic; I also started to self-harm. However both myself and my girlfriend did make contact with a British film unit and I became driver to Ridley Scott on the set of ‘1492 The Conquest of Paradise’ with Gerard Depardieu. Later we were to follow the trail of Ridley Scott, trying to recreate the positivity of that experience but it petered out in failure. He seemed inaccessible.

After returning to London we then travelled to the USA to attend Endeavour Academy in Wisconsin; a ‘spiritual’ place that taught ‘A Course in Miracles’. Bottom line, it was a cult and traded in a terrifying manipulation of dark and light and this was to take up the next ten years of my life. Even my name was taken from me and I became Andrew. By the time they had finished with me and me with them, I could not decide whether I was on the side of God or the Devil. But I was so dedicated in my search for truth that I allowed any abuse, being told that all was for the love of God. I hate them and all that they did but I carry them with me as a large part of my story. My girlfriend had left for England but I remained and here I got married and after some years left for Nebraska, without my wife. Eventually I realised that I would lose her to a cult thus I pretended to see the error of my ways and went back in, essentially undercover, to get her out.

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As thoughts of suicide returned, I returned to the UK with my wife but the darkness never truly lifted and we went our separate ways. Again, not once was I asked about my experiences or what it was like to be part of a cult for 10 years or if I thought I needed deprogramming! Again, as if nothing had happened.

I had always loved animals in spite of my scorpion wars in Costa Rica and surprised even myself by landing a job with the RSPCA. I rose rapidly through the jobs on offer and became responsible for the local branch of the RSPCA with its large budget. From office management I went into uniform as an Animal Collection Officer and I was now hands on with the animals. However, this essentially came down to putting animals to sleep day after day after day and that was something that was tailor-made to take my depression to new depths.

So just as I was seemingly doing ’really well’ as my parents would term it, I walked and got a job as a chef in the Harvester. This led to more serious self harm and I signed off sick (first time ever!) I then started to starve myself and got down to about 9 stone.

One day, in a café on Mutley Plain in Plymouth, came an exhausted M, suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It was a moment of total recognition for us both. M had been through experiences as corrosive as my own, albeit set in a completely different culture. Like me she was a survivor. Perhaps I am still alive now because I could not imagine leaving her alone in this terrible place. Luckily though she is getting support and has found people who care enough to help her along the road she has yet to travel.

And me? I am 46 and now write poetry – dark angry poetry – and I wait for I know-not-what. Perhaps a grace that will help me to unravel all that has happened to me. Somewhere out there I hope there is a set of conversations that can help me to come to terms with what my life is and what I have become. I have never had any formal therapy or treatment but I have survived. And I want to tell my story, because someone needs to know.