Finding My Way Out of (and back into?) the Wellness Industry
Reconciling the deep disheartenment of this toxic new age industry, and a call to serve within it
I feel deeply disturbed by the current state of the new age "wellness" industry, and simultaneously, deeply called to serve within it.
This is an inner conflict I’ve been trying to reconcile for quite some time. Perhaps, if I share a little bit of my story it will make more sense as to why this is, and I’m guessing, you might even relate. (I’d love to know if you do)
Back in 2005 when I divorced my husband, sold my house, and forsook my white-picket-fence-life at the tender age of 27, I didn't know much about where I was going or what in the actual fuck I was doing. Still, I did know one thing - I knew that when I figured out how to live a life that felt authentic to me, I would then devote the rest of my days to helping others do the same.
It's now many many years later and, if I'm being honest with myself, I have to admit the calling to serve others in this way has never left me.
The problem is that after so many years of being tumbled around in the new age spin cycle, I'm left feeling not only weary but slightly jaded and skeptical of the industry at large.⠀
I use the words "new age" for lack of a better way to describe this industry I speak of - but really - I'm referring to the capitalization of any dogmatic thought system from self-help-y create-your-reality type empowerment teachings, to all manners of psychologies, philosophies, physics, and spiritualities; ancient, middle-aged or new.
Perhaps I've just been hanging out in the wrong corners of the industry (although I'm fairly certain I've traveled to every edge, and in between) but much of what I've seen, heard, and directly experienced is deeply problematic, to say the least.
I've had an awareness that something was "off" for several years, but wasn't able to put my finger on it until quite recently, and truthfully, I'm still feeling around for the words that accurately sum up what it is that's going on.
If you've ever been in a close relationship with someone who has a narcissistic personality disorder, you will know the complexity that I'm speaking of here. It's a miracle to even find your way out of the labrynth of deception in the first place, but then to attempt to explain it to someone else feels like trying to solve an incredibly complex math equation.
What I experienced within the new age space is reminiscent of the gaslighting and cognitive dissonance that kept me in a four-year relationship with said narcissist (whom I now call 'the Black Hole') without even comprehending that I was being psychologically and emotionally abused.
Another Side note:
It makes sense at this point that I ended up in that relationship because the teachings I'd been studying for a decade before I even met him had me gaslighting myself and disassociating from my reality in the name of personal growth. It was very convenient for him that I'd already groomed myself for his abuse... and now that I think of it, this isn't even a side note, but the actual cornerstone of what's gone terribly wrong with this industry.
Lately, I've been obsessed with studying cults and have learned that the same dynamics which ensnared me in the new age industry (as well as in a relationship with the Black Hole) are at play when someone gets swallowed up in a cult.
As Mark Vicente (former member of NXIVM) says - no one joins a cult, they join "a good thing".
Idealistic promises are the hook you swallow, and the teachings that encourage gaslighting (as well as other forms of self-denial in the name of enlightenment) keep you on the line until the day you manage to wriggle free
So how did I get sucked into a world (and subsequent relationship) that was so toxic and destructive? Are there redeeming qualities within the industry to pluck out and keep, or must I throw the baby out with the bathwater? And, is it possible for me to find a place in it that feels helpful... or am I better off just walking away, and abandoning the call to serve in this capacity?
These are the questions I've been asking myself lately…⠀
When I discovered the industry of new-age self-help and spirituality, I was deeply curious about the nature of existence, how to transcend my conditioning, and find the freedom that had always seemed to elude me.
The industry was not mainstream as it is today; it was off the beaten path, which made my little black sheep heart sing.
Within the walls of this gilded world, I discovered what appeared to be glimmering kingdoms of possibility more expansive than the lands I'd come from. They were tantalizing and undeniable to me.
I'd felt like I finally found my home. I'd discovered a whole world of people who were questioning the status quo and exploring alternative possibilities.
I jumped quickly and dove deeply...
and I lost myself down hypnotic rabbit hole after hypnotic rabbit hole, for the better part of two decades - all in the name of finding myself, and figuring out how to live an authentic life.
To me, the new age community was my saving grace during a time when I was feeling very lost and seeking answers. It became my life raft and my home, which I clung even more tightly to after I sold all my things and left my family, friends & everything I'd ever known, to go nomadic.
In hindsight, that was probably my downfall - but who else would such an industry be for, other than those who're seeking answers they don't feel they already have?
It's become very obvious to me that the industry at large capitalizes on the very normal human feeling of incompleteness, manufacturing an array of one-size-fits-all solutions that only ever seem to enhance the feeling of incompleteness.
Instead of providing me the answers I sought and helping me to create an authentic, liberated life as it promised - I was finding that the more years I spent devoted to these teachings, the more unanswered questions I ultimately had and the farther away from myself I felt.
So slowly I wasn't even aware it was happening, every aspect of my life stopped working.
It didn't even occur to me that my increasing feelings of unworthiness, dissatisfaction, and depression were a bi-product of what I was devoting myself to. I just assumed I was doing it all wrong, because it seemed to be working for so many others, and because that's the ongoing message I was receiving from the teachings I was blindly following.
I am the creator of and one with my reality; I can create anything, anytime that I want; my reality is nothing but a dream and if it's not working then it's all on me.
I took this to heart, I taught it and preached it.
There was no grey area or discernment for me... and this is where the gaslighting and disassociation began.
This is where I began bypassing my real-time truths, in favor of fantasies. This is where I bartered away my opinions, preferences, and unique perspectives in favor of spiritual platitudes. This is where I traded in my personality in favor of "calibrating to" and becoming a carbon copy of those whom I was learning from. This is where I disregarded the awarenesses I had concerning my creative process, in favor of what apparently was working for many others (<-- although, my gut feeling is that this is largely a ruse)
Perhaps had I come to the new age table as a more skeptical person, a less ideal person, or maybe even as a person who felt a little less incomplete and a little more whole - I'd have skated on the surface of the industry never diving into the depths, and never inflicting such trauma upon myself.
Maybe I'd have used some discernment in what I consumed; plucking out the truly useful things, and staying clear of toxic teachings. (There have been countless folks who've peripherally brushed up against cults, and walked away unscathed and with truly useful tools for their life.)
But perhaps, at the same time, without inflicting upon myself the trauma of new-age abuse, I might not have had the realization that's dawning upon me now, which is this:
there is nothing wrong with feeling incomplete, and in fact, it's normal. Every human feels it. It needs not to be filled with answers or teachings, nor eradicated with the bliss of enlightenment. It only requests to be embraced as part of the perfection and beauty of being a human.
I'm finding the more I earnestly accept the very real separate and incomplete condition of my humanity, the more that compassion, reverence, and humility is blooming all around me of their own accord.
Was this long and arduous journey through the underbelly of the new age world required for me in order to surrender my relentless efforts to "improve myself" and to see the beauty, perfection, and freedom that was within me, and around me all along? Was it required in order for me to stop gilding the lily?
Obviously, otherwise, it wouldn't have happened.
...but that still doesn't make what's happening within this industry okay with me.
I’m learning to hold, in simultaneity, the reality of my oneness with divinity, and also the reality of my separation from it. And in this very real dream of separation, there is a very problematic new age industry that begging for reform. I don't know if this is possible, or if I will ever be able to find my place within it.
Until that clarity dawns upon me, all I know to do is to continue telling my truth and finding my beauty in the only place it can be found - where it always was.
I guess you could say ‘the Lily’ is the baby I’m keeping (and sharing), as I dump the murky water from this gilded new age tub.
Xo Chandra Nicole