Recovering from addiction, I told Deepak Chopra how men had exploited me. Then, he did the same.
Author's name withheld at her request
In my mid-twenties I became addicted to drugs and alcohol. This took me by surprise, because I had previously been deeply committed to a spiritual path. I went to a rehab program, but it was fruitless—I continued to use. I didn’t understand the disease yet, and I had not hit rock bottom. When I finally turned to my mother for help, I was in a downward spiral. Afraid for my life, she tried everything she could think of to help me, and then a family friend suggested The Chopra Center. The medical, nutritional, and holistic approach at the Center seemed promising, and we were hopeful it would be the key to my recovery. My mother put me on a plane to La Jolla, California.
When I arrived at The Chopra Center, I went through the usual intake process: I received my personal mantra, came to understand my “dosha” (an Ayurvedic body type), and was put on a meditation and nutritional plan to help me clean out and dry out. At the end of the first week, I met with the Center’s founder, Dr. Deepak Chopra, in his office. He had a very welcoming presence, and as he listened sympathetically through my flood of tears, I remember feeling as if I were finally safe—that someone understood my pain and I could have a chance at recovery. He seemed to understand how lost I was, and the shame I felt for having gone down this destructive path despite my deep devotion to God and Spirit. He assured me that I was on the right road now, and that by doing daily meditation and completing the program at the Center I would find my way again. I left his office reassured, and hopeful that this man could help me rebuild my life. I was excited to be immersed in Dr. Chopra’s method, and willing to do anything that was suggested.
My days at The Chopra Center were structured around health, mindfulness, and vitality. My addictions had been so isolating; it felt restorative to make connections with other female clients. A renewed sense of purpose was taking root within me, and a stability was starting to emerge. I explored local job possibilities in La Jolla, thinking I could move there to keep the Center as a touchstone once my program ended. The lights were coming back on inside of me. I hadn’t felt that in a long while.
Dr. Chopra met with me at least once each week. In these meetings, we had deep, wonderful conversations about God, Ayurvedic medicine, and the transformative power of meditation. He had a magnetic, compelling manner of listening that created a safe space for me to open up and share parts of my past. I told him about childhood trauma, including sexual abuse, the ways men in my life had violated me, and the pain of never having known my father. I had never gone this deep with any therapist in the past. He felt like more than a doctor—he was becoming my spiritual advisor, confessor, and high priest, a gatekeeper leading me back to the light. He exuded a benevolent, fatherly presence, and at the end of our sessions, he’d come out from behind his desk and give me a hug, reassuring me that I was making progress. It was the encouragement I needed.
I was well into the program when, after one of our sessions, he hugged me goodbye and kissed me on the cheek, near the corner of my mouth. I froze for a second, then continued out the door, acting as though nothing had happened. I reasoned with myself that he must have made an innocent mistake, perhaps awkwardly misjudging the space between us. I combed through our conversations and questioned whether I’d missed an attraction vibe from him. But I couldn’t fathom that it could be anything more than clumsiness on his part, so I put it out of my mind.
At the end of our next meeting, he hugged me as usual. And then he kissed me again. This time, it was unmistakably on the lips. My heart sank as he confessed that he was beginning to have feelings for me. I recall him saying that we were karmically connected—and that he was falling in love with me.
As he spoke, I heard a familiar voice in my head, reminding me: “This is all you’re good for, this is what you make men do.” I was flooded with shame. I wish I had pushed him away and walked out of his office, never to return; that would be the response of a healthy, whole woman, and it is the response I would have today. But Dr. Chopra had become my lifeline, my path out of addiction. I didn’t have the self-esteem to recognize his actions as transgressions, as violations of his position of power. Instead, I sat back down in the chair and listened to him tell me the ways that I was special. The broken part of me responded to his attention, awestruck that a man of his stature could see me that way. Despite my feelings of foreboding, I knew I would allow him to lead me down whatever road he chose.
Some time after that kiss, Dr. Chopra suggested we go for an afternoon drive. As we got farther away from the Center, I realized it was an unspoken search for a motel. I remember feeling somewhat uncomfortable and self-conscious. When he finally found a motel, he handed me his credit card, explaining that I would have to go to the front desk and book the room. He would sneak in the back way to avoid recognition. My stomach churned.
Once we were in the room, everything seemed surreal. I felt disconnected from what was unfolding, but went through the motions and had sex with him. I remember thinking that this intimacy might clarify my conflicted feelings. Perhaps this physical act might bring me to some sort of “spiritual knowing” that would reassure me we were indeed deeply connected, as he had said we were.
But on the drive back to the Center, I didn’t feel that way. Instead, I felt numb. I played the part, trying to act as if we were a couple to normalize this new relational status, ignoring a nagging feeling that I was unsafe and in turbulent waters. The feeling was unfortunately familiar to me, and I wondered whether it rang any bells for Dr. Chopra as well. I had told him in our sessions that several men had taken advantage of me from the time I was five years old, crossing boundaries in inappropriate ways. Many of these experiences are what had led me to question my value and turn to substance abuse in the first place. I remember looking over at him driving, thinking, “How did I end up here, with Deepak Chopra?” and “Did this just happen?”
The rendezvous with Dr. Chopra continued over the next weeks, and I slowly began to develop an emotional life centered around him. I reasoned that maybe this was the way back to God and self, that this intimate connection would give me the strength needed to overcome my addictions for good. I began adopting the belief he had voiced: that we were meant for each other, that ours was a “soul connection.” This twisted line of thinking led me to believe that I might be a “chosen one.” I found myself swinging between feeling happy, even giddy, to feeling down and lost. To stabilize my erratic mood swings, I was put on various medications by the doctors and therapists Dr. Chopra had referred me to. Never once did I tell them what was at the root of my emotional volatility at that time—namely, my relationship with Deepak.
I decided to extend my stay at the Center. My mother came to visit, and immediately intuited something was not right. She probed, asking me how I was really doing, if I was wanting to drink; she tried to get a sense of what was going on, but I was tight-lipped and dismissive, hiding my double-life as a Chopra Center client who was in a relationship with its founder.
My mother also expressed her concerns about me to Dr. Chopra. He responded by asking her if she was checking up on him. “Should I be?” she asked. He attempted to reassure her, telling her that I was doing well. My mom left the Center feeling very uncomfortable. She sensed that she was being kept in the dark about something, but she couldn’t put her finger on what it was.
I was now in a full-blown relationship with Deepak. My status as a client at the Center had become a pretense, and I attended fewer and fewer activities, distancing myself from the other clients I had been friendly with. He surprised me one day by inviting me to have dinner with his family at his home. He saw my hesitation and began discussing his marriage, explaining that he and his wife had an “understanding.” I immediately took this to mean there were other women—one only puts an “understanding” in place if something like this happens frequently. I couldn’t help but wonder, did he have a “soul connection” with these other women too? Setting aside this disappointing possibility, I believed him when he said his wife was okay with it, and I decided I could be too.
The evening I spent at the Chopra home was deeply uncomfortable. He presented me to his family as a lonely Chopra devotee, his honored guest. They seemed to be a warm, loving, close-knit family, and I felt like an imposter. The dinner table was dynamic, filled with laughter and interesting conversation. His wife was kind. His daughter was about the same age as me, confident and possessing an innate wisdom. I envied her relationship with her father, and as the evening wore on I found myself hoping that I too would continue to have his devotion and the wisdom of his counsel. I wanted to be her. I had begun to believe that without him, I had no chance of achieving happiness and stability. I thought that if I didn’t have him, I had nothing.
This dependence on him felt familiar—I was in the grips of an addiction again. A want had become a need. I needed him, and it scared me. My shaky spiritual progress was slipping away the further our relationship progressed, but I tried to reassure myself that Deepak must know better than me. This iconic man who had devoted his life to healing, spirituality, compassion, and medicine would never lead me astray for his own selfish, carnal ends. I had to believe that somehow there was a higher purpose; indeed, as he put it, a “karmic connection.” Confused and in pain, I began to think about drinking again.
A few more weeks had passed when I went on a Chopra Center Ayurvedic Purification retreat in Goa, India. “Purification” in a new setting seemed like a hopeful life raft. One night, during meditation, I was tapped on the shoulder by a handler and guided silently down a long path, to Dr. Chopra’s bungalow. It felt as if I was being taken to him like a concubine. I was beginning to understand that I had no real place in his life, and I felt inferior, dependent, unclean. I had told him I was going on the retreat in an attempt to immerse myself in spirituality. I’d voiced some confusion and sadness to him before I left for Goa. But he had sought me out here, even so.
In the morning, he awoke and began to get ready—he was leaving the country for his next speaking engagement. In an attempt at connection, I carefully voiced my insecurities. I told Deepak that I didn’t know what was next for me. I had run out of money, and I had no real plan going forward after this retreat ended. He told me to go back to La Jolla, spend time at the Center, and we would figure things out when he returned. He put some money on his side table and left. He was going about his big life, and I couldn’t even function in mine.
I made it back to La Jolla, where my program at The Chopra Center was winding down. My estrangement from the community I had previously felt connected to was complete. When I participated in the last few sessions, I was alone, feeling like a fraud among true seekers. I was also questioning the integrity of the entire program. My life now revolved around waiting to hear from Deepak. When we spoke on the phone, I pretended I was happy and at peace. I feared that if he sensed my insecurity, he would reject me. Feeling completely disconnected from my Higher Power, I tried to hide my spiritual bankruptcy from someone everyone saw as a spiritual mastermind. I was supposed to be stronger in my sobriety, spirituality, and life after my time at the Center. Instead I was sleeping with the program director, crashing in someone’s vacant apartment, and lost in a deep depression.
Suicidal thoughts crept in. I had finally hit my lowest point, and I felt hopeless and alone. A girlfriend called me, and sensing the depth of my distress and the precariousness of my situation, came to get me within an hour. I left La Jolla and The Chopra Center for good.
I went to Los Angeles with her, and tried to build a life by finding a temporary place to stay and employment. But with so much still unprocessed, coupled with the intense shame I felt about what had happened, I fell back into severe addiction. I didn’t reach out to my mother for fear she would find out what had happened with Deepak. The weight of that secret was isolating. Somewhere in that time frame, I spoke to him directly and told him that we were done. What stood out to me in that conversation was Deepak making sure I had not spoken of what had transpired between us to anyone.
Not long after that, I found my way to rehab, and by the grace of God, I got sober and remained so. I confessed what had happened between Dr. Chopra and me to the therapists he had referred me to, and I was subsequently told that the therapists confronted him directly. I know nothing more of what happened beyond that.
More than twenty years have passed since my time at The Chopra Center. My journey to becoming whole has been long and circuitous, but I now have a beautiful, fulfilled life with a wonderful husband and children. I have moved through the healing process with dedication, focus, and support. As I celebrate almost two decades of continued sobriety, I am proud to be a source of strength and wisdom in my recovery community and in working with others as a life/spiritual coach. Having transmuted this experience with Dr. Chopra into another chapter in my journey of personal growth, I have become a person who stands in her truth with confidence.
At the same time, I have deep and abiding compassion for the young woman in Dr. Chopra’s office that day. I am fiercely protective of that girl who felt she had no other options. I am coming forward to speak for that version of me, the one who was impaired and not “on duty” for herself. I am the person now I was seeking then to rescue me—Deepak Chopra could never have done that for me. I am also coming forward to speak for other young women who all too frequently find themselves in the position I found myself in with Dr. Chopra. This is an invitation for them to stand with me, just as previous accounts from other brave women have served as an invitation to me.
People in positions of authority and power must be held accountable. There are many men who, like Dr. Chopra, are revered, idolized, or held in high regard in our society, but whose actions are not in alignment with the image they project to the world. They abuse their positions of power, receiving gratification at the expense of someone else’s pain.
Forgiving myself for capitulating has been a big part of my healing. I’ve also made my peace with all the men in my life who overstepped their bounds, mistaking my vulnerability for an opportunity to dominate, no matter the cost to me.
I believe this is the time for old paradigms, old institutions, and the undue reverence of celebrities and others with power to crumble, and for us collectively to reconsider hierarchies of power that no longer serve the greater good.
To be clear, I am not coming forward with this story out of revenge or retaliation. I have done the inner work to release anger, resentment, and the harboring of ill will toward anyone. I am simply standing in my own truth and participating in a conversation that is well underway—and continues to be vital, by holding to account powerful people who abuse that power and in the process, hurt others.
Note: The editors have extensively fact-checked this account over the course of the past year, reading diary entries and interviewing people to whom she had provided near-concurrent retelling of the events she describes. Her story has remained consistent throughout this process.
Dr. Chopra denies the allegations.
Published September 16, 2021.
NFT AUCTION FUNDRAISER FOR LEGAL COSTS
The author of the above essay kept a diary of the events she reflects on today. Today, with the author’s permission, we have minted a page from that diary, dated March 1998, into the Ethereum blockchain. It will be on sale as a non-fungible token (NFT) to raise funds for legal costs. If you would like to bid on the NFT to show your support, it is now open for auction.
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By taking private pain and making it public, women everywhere have begun to reclaim their power. The act of bidding on this diary is a public act of support.
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