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E! ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Bethany Joy Lenz Details How She Escaped a Cult and Found Herself

Ahead of her memoir’s release about her 10-year experience in a cult, Bethany Joy Lenz told E! News how her One Tree Hill costars and “vivid dreams” helped her escape.

Having spent nine seasons as Haley Scott in the coming-of-age drama series One Tree Hill and another two years recounting her time on the CW hit, Bethany Joy Lenz knows the importance of good content.


“I love stories,” she explained in an exclusive interview with E! News’ Francesca Amiker, sharing her methods for crafting music like her latest single “Strawberries” or Modern Vintage Life, her broadsheet newspaper for women. “It comes out in that, in multiple ways, whether it’s something that’s I’m going through and feels like I want to share it or whether it’s just a story that I empathize with and want to tell or I hear and feel like that is a story that should be told. What’s the best format for it? Is that a script? Is that a book? Is that a short story? Is it a poem? Is it a song?”

Is it a memoir? Because that was the idea the 42-year-old was tooling around with even before she let casually slip during an episode of Drama Queens that she had spent ten years in a unnamed cult. 

While Lenz was initially “terrified” to publicly open up about her involvement in the sect, she’s now ready to detail the experience in length on her own terms.

“A memoir only comes, I think, when you’ve been through enough that you feel like you have something to share that would be meaningful for other people,” Lenz explained. “So after having spent 10 years in this high demand group, I went through another 10 years of trauma therapy and recovery and figuring out how to heal from a lot of that. And in that time, part of my catharsis was writing.”

With more than 20 years of experience in the industry as an actor, songwriter and producer, Lenz knows the value of storytelling, posing, “What good are my stories if I can’t find a way to share them in a way that is meaningful and helps people?”

She was admittedly unprepared for the reaction to revelation she made while chatting with former costars Sophia Bush and Hilarie Burton. To her, it was just a way to explain why she wasn’t actually present in so many of their behind-the-scenes stories.

“I just made an offhand comment,” she noted, “and it was no different than anything I’d said in the last six months.”

Still, Lenz saw an opportunity.

“Look, if suddenly everybody’s interested, I have the material to share.”

While fans will have to wait for the memoir’s release to get all of the details on Lenz’s decade-long participation in the group that started as a casual Wednesday bible study, she revealed that there were “several instances” that lead her to leave the cult. One major factor was Lenz’s One Tree Hill co-stars expressing their worries for her, which initially caused her to retreat from them.

“When people say they’re concerned for you and then you go into isolation? It’s because you don’t have enough confidence,” Lenz explained. “It’s an incredible amount of insecurity in what you believe, because you don’t have enough confidence to stand on what you believe is the evidence for your belief system.”

That isolation and the fear of having “your mind changed,” she noted, were two things that Lenz experienced during her time and what she cautions others to recognize as “bad signs” in their own lives.

“I see it a lot in abusive relationships or in cult-ish group followings that we see popping up all over culture,” she said. “If you’re too afraid to really empathize and hear someone else’s perspective, there’s something fundamentally unsettled about your theology or philosophy. You have to be able to listen and empathize because a truth is truth.”

Ultimately, Lenz “hit a breaking point” within the high demand group.

“There’s lots of highs and lots of lows and at some point, you just are like, ‘Can I get off this ride, please? What’s wrong with me? Why am I so up and down all the time?'” she explained. “And sometimes it just takes a few people at the right moment saying, “It might not be anything wrong with you.’ And that can be a relief.”

Also reassuring were the “wild, vivid dreams” Lenz experienced as she began thinking about her exit from the cult. 

“I was very frustrated in my faith and I had lost a lot of it along the way,” she detailed. “And one of my prayers was just sort of like, ‘You have to just meet me where I am because I don’t even know if I know who you are anymore,’ And that’s how God just kept showing up for me in spite of the fact that I was thrusting a middle finger up into the air and being like, ‘Screw you!'” 

While she’s “looking forward to detailing all those specific moments” in her memoir, Lenz, mom to 12-year-old Maria, is also sharing her personal evolution through her songwriting—including “Strawberries,” a country anthem about body acceptance inspired by her friend’s enviable “skinny little ankles.”

She joked that she wished “I was extremely thoughtful about wanting to put something into society that had to do with the positive body image, but this song was honestly just an authentic moment of pure jealousy.”

But Lenz was able to take that feeling and spin it into “something that felt a lot more empowering and hopefully relatable,” she explained, “in the way that we all feel jealous about lots of different things in our life. But how can we turn it around and be really happy with what we have?”

As for her, she’s content knowing her next chapter has yet to be written.

“We evolve as people constantly, so I don’t know that I’ll ever feel I’ve arrived at a conclusion about my identity,” Lenz said. “But I’m definitely a lot closer to the real me. I feel much more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have.”