During most of her 25 months as a student of self-improvement programs run by the Colonie-based NXIVM organization, Becca Friedman felt like she was in a dream, but, she said, it became a dreadful nightmare.
“It felt like a very safe, very safe environment,” she said. “It did not end well.”
Her story, she said, may be useful to people proposing to join or already studying at NXIVM, something she would not recommend. She is one of an estimated 12,000 people who have gone through programs offered by the business during its 13 years, about 500 of whom have become coaches, as Friedman was to become at the time she abruptly left.
“Yeah, I think it’s a cult,” Friedman said at the dinner table of the modest home she shares with her family and a few pets not far from the funky downtown of Woodstock. “I definitely acknowledge there are good parts to it. … You have to have a good hook. They had me hooked but not enough.”
Her traumatic break happened more than three years ago. It happened after Friedman, 41, packed her car and left her two daughters and husband in the spring of 2007 to move to Clifton Park to be closer to NXIVM, something many people from many parts of the United States and other countries have done. The organization is also known as Executive Success Programs. Friedman had been promoted after two years of wearing a white sash as a student to the next level, yellow sash, and was being trained to become an unpaid coach while continuing to pay the $182 monthly fees plus other assorted other costs for extra training, parenting classes and “intensives.”
With her yellow sash came more expectations for recruiting and new curriculum, she said, and more demands on her time. Sitting beside Adam Bush, 43, her husband of 14 years, and Katya, their 13-year-old daughter, Friedman, in a clear, serious narrative, described a tale about a group that became her family away from home. Many were awe-struck by the top leaders, who they believed possessed answers to issues in their lives. Most of the students, she said, were like her — dealing with problems of self-esteem.
Friedman was not about to leave, she explained, after two years of self-awareness training. She had bared her innermost fears with many others like herself. And she had endured scores of one-on-one counseling sessions that led her to believe that the most important thing in life was to find joy. She had come to believe that she was happiest in the midst of the like-minded people enrolled in NXIVM.
The program, she said, had improved her self-confidence and health. She wanted to immerse herself in the NXIVM community by moving to the Albany area, like so many others had done. So move she did, using a vague plan that involved moving into a bedroom in another NXIVM devotee’s home, a place set up like a hostel for NXIVM students from around the world, one of a several homes offering lodging owned and operated by NXIVM officials in Capital Region neighborhoods.
“It was like an addiction,” Friedman said of NXIVM. She quit after an emotional and psychologically draining 48 hours that climaxed when her husband drove to Colonie and confronted her with a file of news stories and Internet material about NXIVM and brainwashing techniques used by cults.