Catherine Oxenberg spent 7 years freeing her daughter from a cult. Then her body 'shut down'.

Catherine Oxenberg spent seven years desperately trying to rescue her daughter from a cult. Finally when her daughter was safe, Catherine breathed a sigh of relief - but the trauma took an extensive toll on her body.

It all started in 2011 when India Oxenberg attended a seminar with her mother, Catherine. 

Catherine Oxenberg had long been a fixture in Hollywood, starring in long-running TV shows like Dynasty and Acapulco H.E.A.T. She was also from a very wealthy and well-known family. 

India was 19, she had just dropped out of college, and she was looking for some direction in her life. On the recommendation of a friend Catherine trusted, the pair attended an introductory executive success program which was run by an organisation called 'NXIVM'. 

They had no idea that seminar would change the course of their lives forever. 

Watch: the trailer for The Vow NXIVM Documentary. Post continues below. 

Video via HBO.

It turns out that NXIVM was a cult. 

Catherine no longer continued going to the meetings after finding them very odd and concerning, but she couldn't convince her daughter to stop attending too. And as time went on, India became more and more entranced with the group, and further separated from her loved ones. 


Five years into India's time with the group, things became worse. India was invited to join the "DOS", NXIVM's ultra-secret society for women which operated as a pyramid scheme with levels of "slaves" and "masters".

India became Alison Mack's slave, Mack, probably the most famous member of the cult, is a former actress who starred in Smallville. As Mack's slave, India was branded, starved, raped and forced to perform degrading tasks. 

Mack ended up serving two years in prison for her role in the cult. She pleaded guilty to the crimes, meaning she avoided a significantly longer sentence of up to 17 years. 

Catherine would spend years on a crusade to save her daughter from NXIVM. She staged interventions, pleaded with authorities, informed media about NXIVM's criminal underbelly, and wrote a tell-all book in a bid to reach her daughter.

Catherine also made sure she planned a support team for her daughter once she decided to flee the cult. The team involved legal experts, a deprogrammer, and some FBI officials to help India understand what exactly had happened to her.

"For me this was a 24/7 quest to rescue my daughter," she said recently on a podcast interview.

In 2018, India officially left NXIVM. That same year, the head of the cult - Keith Raniere - was arrested after fleeing to Mexico following an exposé from New York Times

In 2019, Raniere was found guilty on all counts. Some of the charges included sexual exploitation, sex trafficking and forced labour, identity theft and more. He was sentenced to 120 years in prison. 


India has been on a healing journey since. 

She met a man named Patrick who treats her well, the pair now engaged. They live together in Venice with their two cats. 

India and her mother have also co-founded the Catherine Oxenberg Foundation. They have also created Healix180, a resource hub for healing and recovery. And last year, the pair were awarded The Colleagues' Champion of Children Award together for their advocacy for survivors. 

India decided that she would get a tattoo over her brand, rather than a plastic surgeon removing it - which can be an arduous process.


"I designed a tattoo around the brand. It's this mandala-type shape and an evil eye pointing outward. Around, it says 'en quora en para', which means 'still learning'," she said to Vanity Fair.

"For me, it's about reclaiming that part of my body so I didn't have to look at myself naked and see Keith's initials. I see something that I want, that I've placed on myself."

Interestingly, it was after India was rescued from the cult that Catherine's health drastically worsened.

She was experiencing debilitating Fibromyalgia and nerve pain.

Speaking on the podcast The Cure for Chronic Pain with Nicole Sachs, Catherine was told by medical professionals that her chronic pain was directly related to all the stress she had endured for years prior. Now that her daughter was safe, and Catherine was no longer in the fight or flight mode, it was like her body's defence walls had shut down.

"There's this connection between repressed rage and pain. One doctor told me, 'For somebody who's had the experiences you've had, you are a poster child for late-onset pain'," she explained. 

"In the beginning everything triggered me, my nerves were on fire. I was so dysregulated."

Personally what has worked for Catherine has been a doctor-approved intravenous dose of ketamine.

Ketamine clinics for mental health are expanding across America, and when legally administered the drug can be used as treatment for anxiety and drug-resistant depression.


"The trauma doesn't define me anymore. My life got so small so fast. I felt so ashamed of myself for becoming a 'problem person'. I want to help women who are survivors of sexual trauma or who are exhibiting symptoms of PTSD," she said. "Women are the largest population of people experiencing PTSD."

Catherine wants people to have empathy for those who have been impacted by cult-like ordeals.

"People go, 'Well, I'll never be sucked into a cult.' But quite frankly, the dynamic is very similar to a controlling, abusive relationship," she said to Vanity Fair.

"And Keith was not only a cult leader, he was a sexual predator. The more we bring light to this kind of predatory behavior and expose it, the safer it will be for young women."

Now, India is still on her journey to healing and Catherine is processing it all too.

"We've been through an absolutely horrendous ordeal together and we're both stronger for it. We both found an inner strength. The other gift is, I don't think I will ever take the connection that I have with my children for granted again."

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Feature Image: Instagram

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