NXIVM Survivor Opens Up About Lasting Trauma From Sex Slave Cult: ‘Scars You Can’t See’

[Warning: Potentially Triggering Content]

India Oxenberg is pulling back the curtain on her time in the NXIVM cult — and the very lasting effect it’s left on her.

Three years after her initial interview with People, in which the daughter of actress Catherine Oxenberg described being lured in, groomed, physically and emotionally abused, and even branded by the sex cult, she’s back with a major update on her healing journey.

In a lengthy interview published on Wednesday, the 32-year-old told the outlet she’s working on developing a “who cares?” mindset after seven years of torture:

“I find myself having moments now where I let myself just enjoy being alive in this body. I feel free.”

But it’s certainly been no easy task getting to that place.

The Princess Protection Program actress was able to escape the terrifying cult in 2018, but not without a whole lot of baggage. She explained:

“These past five years have been heavy — and scary — but you can’t rush the healing.”

She continued:

“In NXIVM, so much energy was put toward self-hatred. My mind’s not consumed by that anymore, but it’s taken time to feel that I have value.”

How sad. Luckily, though, she was able to find love after breaking free — and she’s stuck with it. She met now-husband Patrick D’Ignazio just one month after her escape while working at a NYC restaurant, and slowly began to share details about her past with him as they grew closer and closer. In 2020, the two eloped, and have since built a wonderful life in Key West. Patrick told the outlet:

“She’s come a long way in believing in herself.”

That’s so great to hear after what she went through!

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India provided the FBI information about the cult and helped produce a documentary about it: Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult. However, she feels the intense focus on her terrifying experience — her own and the world’s — actually became unhealthy for her. She explained:

“It was 24/7, and it wasn’t healthy. People were saying, ‘You’re so brave.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t feel that inside.’ Shame will tell you that you aren’t worth loving.”

She added that for a while, she even battled feelings of suicidal ideation:

“It was easy for me to go from a trigger to ‘Now I want to die.’ It was scary how normal that felt — and it was so fast I couldn’t interrupt the thought process.”

Absolutely terrifying. She’d text her mother things like:

“‘I don’t want to be here anymore.’ ‘I want to disappear.’ All of those things, I would say on repeat.”

Thankfully, though, the support of loved ones helped tremendously. For instance, her mom, who “could see that I had a future when I couldn’t see it.” She said gratefully:

“To have people in my life that were able to ground me and say, ‘I want you here’ — that is what helped me.”

And THAT is exactly why support systems are so crucial. But still, the “scars you can’t see,” as her husband put it, remained. AND the triggers. The Noobz actress recalled:

“Anytime anybody raised their voice — even laughter — I’d go into a trauma response. I became infantile.”

Patrick recalled a time when her engagement ring disappeared, and it sent her into a spiral:

“India was curled up in the bed, unable to do anything, upset and crying. But even after I found it, [the upset] went on for another 24 hours.”

Wow. And that’s not the only area of her relationship that she struggled with…

NXIVM member human branding
Alleged branding on a NXIVM member. / (c) CBS News

Because of the sexual abuse she suffered for so many years, sex was associated with danger in her mind — even in the safety of her husband’s presence.

“As soon as I’d get remotely close, I’d start to freeze. With sexual trauma, your body and mind feel disconnected. You might know you’re safe, but your body still responds as if it’s reliving the old trauma.”

However, India shared that on a camping trip with her husband, and with the help of psychedelic drugs, she was able to overcome the terrifying association:

“We started to get intimate, and I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. This is how it should be!’ My body actually felt good during sex. It helped me get out of my head.”

Good for her! But sex wasn’t the only healthy part of her life forever endangered by her time in the cult…

Food and exercise also have been a sensitive area for India ever since, as she was forced to maintain a “thin, anorexic” look for cult leader Keith Raniere:

“There was a huge emphasis on weight, because Keith’s preference was to have people be very thin, anorexic.”

Apparently, Smallville’s Allison Mack, a notorious NXIVM leader and co-founder, even forced India into weigh-ins and made her report what food she’d consume. And cardio was turned into torture:

“I used exercise to punish myself: ‘I ate a lot, so now I have to walk 20 miles.”

WTF. As Perezcious readers know, Allison was convicted in 2021 — but was released earlier this summer. Despite her high position in the cult — and the things India and other victims revealed she did — the actress did not get the decades behind bars that Raniere did.

Allison Mack Apologizes To NXIVM Sex Cult Survivors & Asks For No Jail Time Days Before Case Sentencing
(c) Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Even after her escape, though, India continued exercising to an unhealthy degree:

“I’d over exercise like a crazy person because I couldn’t be with my own thoughts.”

So sad. But now, she’s developed a much better relationship with physical activity — taking up boxing “to feel strong and capable of protecting myself.” She explained:

“I felt so weak at a certain point in my life, and I was like, ‘What would it be like to feel physically strong?’ Even just the pull and response of punching, getting out of my own head, needing to be entirely focused on what’s in front of me was helping me retrain my brain.”

She also practices “low impact Pilates for 45 minutes” to be “gentle” on her body. And apparently, Patrick opened a restaurant, Eaton Good, which India says has helped her “learn to love food again.” Awww!

As for her suicidal thoughts, she’s been keeping up with the psychedelics and using ketamine to help rewire her mind:

“Psychedelics allow you to see that maybe the perspective you’ve been stuck in isn’t right.”

Now, she’s working alongside her mother’s nonprofit, Healix180, to help female sexual assault survivors grapple with their own trauma through ketamine treatment. She’s also working with trauma survivors and experts in her podcast, Still Learning, to turn her situation into something “positive.” She explained:

“I want to use this unfortunate circumstance for something positive. It’s about asking, ‘What are the nuggets of gold after you’ve experienced something traumatic?’ I want people to come away with hope.”

Wow. What a situation. We’re so glad India is doing the work to overcome it — at least as best she can. She has our support!

Thoughts, Perezcious readers? Let us know in the comments down below.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence and would like to learn more about resources, consider checking out https://www.rainn.org/resources

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, help is available. Consider contacting the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988, by calling, texting, or chatting, or go to 988lifeline.org.

[Image via ABC/YouTube/US Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of New York.]

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