This is the fifteenth installment of the account of a journey into and out of scientology — written by one of our long-term readers. I hope you enjoy her insights, humor and style.
Lili also provided a glossary of terms.
Through the Bubble – Lili’s Adventures in Scientologyland
This is my quirky recollection of events. Others may remember things differently. Lingo is italicized on the first mention, capitalized after that. I’ve compressed complexities in the cult to simplify your reading pleasure.
Cinderella Pays the Staff More Than the Cherch’s Finance Division
Our house cleaning business grew. At one point a quarter of my housecleaning business employee roster listed the cherch of Scientology as their other employer. A good number of the shitty-pay problems down at the Org were being papered over in a poorly concealed pipeline from their maintenance-deferred building to the growing number of lovely homes we cleaned.
Various local Org executives called me on the down-low to offer up their Junior as a potential housecleaner in hopes of keeping them on Org staff. It was understood that the Exec’s phone call would never be divulged. I dodged the Course Room for about a year so I could work twelve-hour days and keep our business functioning, disguising my own misbehavior with scrupulous attendance and cheerleader rah-rah clapping at every dreadful Event.
I remember playing with fire in my neighbor’s garage. We were six or seven. And very bored. We found a selection of burnables, starting with one match and ending up with a crumpled-up ball of newspaper. A tall flame exploded around the newspaper ball. (We might have put lighter fluid on it.) The fire crackled, licked upward, engulfed a few tools, and curled paint. The wall appeared to be on fire. We stood rooted to the spot, near pissing ourselves, and watched it climb higher. It paused, then burnt itself out. A large black scar, mid-leap up the wall, told the tale of our activities, which no cross-blame, teary-snot, or shouted denials could absolve. I was no longer welcome on my neighbor’s property. I never played with fire again. Well, until that summer in Gridley. But we were really bored. No buildings were burned down.
This whole hiring of Moonlighters thing was like lighting matches. For months. The flaming, crumpled-up-newspaper moment finally came. Two part-time staff at the org quit their Posts within days of each other and asked me for jobs. I provided. Lady Bountiful here. Was it even legal for the Org to call dibs on these dishonestly underpaid staff? They’d been recruited as Org staff right out of the Communication Course and didn’t know L. Ron Hubbard from Jim Jones. They walked off Post when their pay packet continued to clock in at around $17.00 a week. Not yet devoted to the cherch, they didn’t see the big deal in taking their working selves elsewhere.
In the eyes of the Org Execs, if these ungrateful wretches couldn’t be shamed into remaining on Post for the good of a soon-to-be-grateful planet, a vengeful cherch could turn on the enabler. Ah, that’d be me. Josh was surprised it took so long for someone at the Org to sharpen the pike and burn my name onto it. He dodged the invitation to place my head on said pike.
Modern Technology and High Control Groups Don’t Mix
Josh was on his last nerve. A telex from Upper Management had arrived during the arrow-slinging, back and forth, about me enabling staff Moonlighting. The Sea Org didn’t do faxes, telephone calls, or letters about important news like whatever was in that telex. That would be Out-Security. In Scientologese, you could put the word ‘out’ in front of different words to indicate wrongness. For example, Out-Ethics, Out-Communication, Out-Reality, or Out-PR.
Speaking of Out-Security, have I mentioned the rampant paranoia, like mold, that proliferated inside the walls of the cherch? The cherch was secrecy mad. They only used telexes for confidential communications. A clunky machine-heavy method of communication in use from post-WWII.
In the Sea Org’s zeal to apply 100% Standard L Ron Hubbard wisdom, if LRH said telexes were the modern thing in the sixties in one of his bloviating Bulletins, you could count on the cherch still using the damn things in the eighties. Good thing he didn’t suggest carbon paper for copies.
The Sword of Damocles Whispers by my Head
The telex that radiated deranged desperation throughout the Org was news that a Sea Org Mission was firing to Santa Barbara in seven days to do a Sort-Out Mission. Not good. Any regular business sending a few staff members to another branch of their business for a few days would call that a business trip. Even if it was to handle a problem. But not the deadly serious members of Scientology’s Upper Management. Nope. They Fired Missions to put Heads-on-Pikes. Or pull multiple all-nighters. Or Shatter Suppression. These Sort-Out missions never ended well.
Whichever staff members had down-trending Statistics the week before the Sort-Out Mission showed up would get the full magnifier up the butt routine. Every Division buried the bodies, bartered cigarettes for favors, and used the Power of Postulates (Scientology’s convoluted version of goal setting) to goose their sorry scuttling-along-the-bottom-of-the-graph Statistics.
Various Santa Barbara Upper Execs wanted to see me figuratively burnt at the stake. However, a more significant problem than my profiting from their insistence on indentured-servitude-wages loomed large. Which luckless staff member would be fed to the lions for their lackluster efforts to boom the stats? Whose neck would break on the gallows for failing to implement L Ron Hubbard’s towering genius vision for expansion?
Well, it wouldn’t be the Division Head over the Course Room. He’d sent several excellent part-time staff members my way. And just like magic, I went from dipped in shit to solution to a problem. I returned from my long Leave-of-Absence and provided serious student points in the Course Room.
The Generosity of Women, Networking, and Scientology’s Concept of Out-Exchange
A lovely woman on the Upper Eastside we cleaned house for called me up one day. I cringed, grabbed my pen, and my stomach cramped. I got excited when a new person called because they probably wanted to use our services. But when an existing customer called, it could mean a complaint.
Criticism was a lash I couldn’t dodge. I hated to disappoint people, like in a pathological way. We didn’t get a lot of complaints, but when they came, the words pounded me like uppercuts. My mom’s brilliant advice-giving friend Georgie would have said, don’t take it so personally; it’s just business. But personal or not, I’d rather curl up in a ball down a dirt hole than listen to someone who was unhappy with me.
Eastside Woman said she was calling me to give me feedback. My resting heart rate spiked. Maybe instead of blasting with a full load of buckshot, she’d couch her displeasure as constructive criticism. She started with how she liked that we’d kept her shower doors lime-deposit free. And followed with noticing her chrome fixtures sparkled. So, she wasn’t going to complain? Then why would she call? I waited for the hammer to fall.
Eastside Woman said she spoke to her assigned cleaner and was told that the training stressed specific skills, prioritized certain problems in most homes, and I’d gone on a bit much about not wasting cleaning products. Since she’d paid for those products, she’d liked that answer. My impatient mind kept jumping ahead to the awful things this woman could say.
“I understand you inspect the houses regularly. And I just think you have a nice system going,” she’d finished. I did that fish opening its mouth thing. No words. Then I remembered the smile and say thank you advice I’d gotten at Peace House, my first commune.
“Thank you,” I croaked.
“Seeing a young woman in business pleases me. Can I invite you to a networking meeting?”
I’d never heard of networking, but that’s how I ended up a week later at the Holiday Inn Conference Room. I was surrounded by mostly middle-aged women, all dressed better than me. Eastside Woman found me by the table covered with everyone’s business cards. I’d found a small space and put my ten cards down in a stack. She introduced me to a few fellow businesswomen and sang the praises of my housecleaning business. Blushing occurred. A couple oohed and ahhed about me starting the business when I was nineteen.
This group was called the South Coast Business Network, SCBN. I saw two men there, but this was all about the women. I was electrified to see all these confident ladies. The group’s leader wanted us to go around a circle, and each give a piece of advice that they wish they’d heard as their younger selves. I sponged up the rich bites of wisdom. I’d never heard of finding your tribe, but I didn’t care if I had to put in Course Times on Sunday mornings, I was going to those meetings.
Eastside Woman wanted to see me succeed. She always involved me at the meetings and referred neighboring women to our housecleaning business. I remained confused as to why she would be so nice to me. I worried that because I made money off her referrals, I was Out-Exchange with her and that she’d soon resent me.
Out-Exchange is a word-vention of L Ron Hubbard’s, which says that you need to give value when you get value or bad shit happens. It was a don’t owe people favors, kind of thing. And don’t let others suck your productivity for nothing, deal. Reading that, I thought of Dad, always doing the favors, dropping paying gigs to sort out someone else’s disaster. Except, that often involved drinking, smoking, and talking, which didn’t seem that helpful to me. I also took in that I couldn’t inconvenience people because that could hurt their productivity.
There’s more to L Ron Hubbard’s definition, but when I soaked it in at eighteen, that’s what stuck. Learning about Out-Exchange saddled me with this deep, drag-me-down anchor of zero baseline value as a person. I started to see life as very transactional. Being lazy became a hidden shame thing.
Why Scientologists Don’t Take Mental Health Days and Turtling
I had this weakness that I wouldn’t have noticed before Scientology. I turtled. Turtling was this word I invented after I got into Scientology to describe my urge to dive into do-nothingness and hide in my bed. In my march away from breaking agreements and toward becoming a better me, I obsessed about accountability. I competed with myself. I used increased productivity to pave my way to the table of acceptance.
One teensy problem, if you improve your ability to do whatever you say you’ll do, but don’t learn to say no, your future road is always uphill. Every month I’d reach a point where I’d meet my income target for the month. This hard-won beachhead was conquered after weeks of Reactive Mind fail-talk. As the month progressed, I’d be reminded multiple times a day that we’d never make it, and Josh and I would end up bankrupt. Oh yeah, and then he’d leave me.
As the stress-vise tightened its grip on my lungs, I’d finally reach the target with only a day or two left in the month. I’d dive into my bed in full turtle mode, with some bogus lie, like I was sick or had a headache. I couldn’t say that I needed a mental health day. That’s because there’s no mental illness in Scientology. Stress wasn’t real in the Scientology universe either. L Ron Hubbard said the whole Mental Health Industrial Complex and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was an invention of Psychiatry’s Marketing arm designed to keep Psychiatrists and Psychologists fully employed.
I’d emerge from the bedroom like a bear mid-hibernation when the house was empty to forage for food and scuttle back to bed. I’d read or take naps. I’d tell the answering service I’d return calls in one or two days. I’d hear the phone ringing and cringe, then ignore it. To admit this appalling weakness would be to admit that I was an unworthy, unethical, selfish turd.
Scientology Guilt and Lessons From a New Tribe
I’d dodged Granny’s Catholic guilt and landed in the far worse, self-punishing, no-win, strive-to-overcome-your-endless-Ruins, cherch of Scientology guilt. SCBN was this lighthouse on the hill, a bright, positive beam that built me up instead of reminding me how far I had yet to go. It was my first experience as a businesswoman with women proactively lifting each other up.
I’d previously held the idea that business was this cut-throat competition. I was not hard on my competitors, but if you were shit at returning phone calls, I got the job. (Except when I turtled.) Eastside Woman’s active referring and adding high-value customers to my client list was this unicorn anomaly in my life. I loved her for helping me, but I didn’t know what to do with my hands when her face smiled in my mind.
I didn’t feel successful, even though the Registrar and other Scientologists crowed about my accomplishments. Hearing the stories from the SCBN women, who had scraped along barely making it, who expanded and rose to success by persevering, lifted me up. Like finding water after crawling in the desert, their stories framed my struggle as this essential reality for building a business with no financial backing. According to the financial advisor in the group during the advice-giving segment, you’re supposed to have money in the bank when you start a new business. Yeah, missed that step.
No one in SCBN invented the internet. They were tax preparers, financial advisors, window covering specialists, and landscape architects. But they were also homeowners, breadwinners, mothers, and supporters of each other as women in business. They were women who gave me a priceless gift.
The Idiocy of Monetarily Rewarding a Gift of Kindness
I mailed Eastside Woman a gift certificate for a free housecleaning. I enclosed a note telling her how much I appreciated her help and referrals. I felt all big-girl-grown up to figure out how to pay her back for her help. Once it was in the mail, my gnawing guilt about being Out-Exchange with her went away. After a couple of months, I noticed she hadn’t used it. At the next SCBN meeting, I wandered over to her. I anticipated she’d say, hey, excellent marketing idea with the gift certificates. But she didn’t look happy to see me.
Our conversation started out stiff and rocky. I knew I’d done something wrong. In desperation, I said, “I don’t know what I did wrong.”
“I helped you because I like you. If you pay me for my help, it robs me of the joy of helping you.” She looked sorrowful. Unsaid was, if I paid her, I didn’t care about her in return.
That broke the ice, and I got no more networking done that night. She told me how her volunteer work gave her energy and how that differed from the rewards of running her business. She thought more young people should connect to networking groups for support and that she chose to help me because she admired me.
My lips parted. No words even formed in my brain. Heat radiated across my chest. When my brain came back online, I had a wrong-o urge to defend myself for hurting her. The knowledge that I could and did harm this big-hearted woman made me weep inside, which warred with the fiery sword of strength that her admiration ignited. My first impulse was to explain the Scientology Out-Exchange concept to her. I’d point to it as the reason for giving her the wretched gift certificate in the first place.
My mental back and forth caused a waterfall of raging endocrine juices to invade my body. I felt compelled to jump, hide, run, or jitter in my immobile indecision. It was like I was in school again and had listened to my limit of teacher talk, and my body needed a recess, or I’d just explode. Or do something to get sent to the principal’s office. I clenched my fists tight to control the misbehaving reactions that quivered around my body. So much for the eyeballs-to-eyeballs Training Routines; my Confront was shot to hell.
A part of me knew this intelligent woman might tell me that the Out-Exchange idea was a steaming load of bull crap. And if Eastside Woman told me with facts that Scientology was terrible news, I’d have listened. But I couldn’t risk rocking my wobbly Scientology boat. So, I bit back my justification for sending the gift certificate.
I wrestled myself back to normal and thanked her for explaining why I’d almost ruined things between us. My Big Win was that I did it without bursting into tears. In the language I use today, I’d say she filled my bucket of love to overflowing.