This is the fifth 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.
Pinching Candy, Doorbell Ditch, and Making Up for the Damage Done
I studied L Ron Hubbard’s Code of Honor on the Personal Integrity Course. Instead of the Ten Commandments and stoning your daughter to death because she slept with an Arab swineherd, you could apply, “Never Regret Yesterday. Life is in you today and You Make Your Tomorrow.” I know, the originality is extraordinary. Another chart-topper was, “Never Fear to Hurt Another in a Just Cause.” This was a favorite quote with the Ethics Officer who’d pull it out often.
Like that time an old friend of mine found out I was in Scientology. A friend of her family went through hell when her son vanished into Scientology and cut her out of his life. Near tears, my friend told me that Scientology was a frightening cult and she was scared for me. I told Lorna, who told the Ethics Officer, and I got the full grilling, on who this friend was and who this friend of the family was. I thought, the Ethics Officer wanted to help the lady get back in Communication with her son. Scientology was all about how Communication was the universal solvent and could melt stone hearts and sort out decades-old conflicts.
After the Ethics Officer pumped all the information from my helpful memory, he had me write examples of how to apply the Code of Honor point, “Never Fear to Hurt Another in a Just Cause.” I was a bit slow on the uptake and wrote lots of examples that got a lip curl. Oh. I get it. It’d hurt that friend if I quit our friendship, but it’s for the Just Cause of helping me reach my goals of eternal spiritual freedom. And the cherch would never have broken up a family. Cough. There are two sides to every argument and all that rot. Maybe the mom verbally abused her son and Scientology helped him escape her malign influence. That friend of mine did say bad things about Scientology. So, see ya.
But my favorite Code point was this one, “Be your Own Advisor, Keep Your Own Counsel and Select Your Own Decisions.” Subtext, use L Ron Hubbard’s wisdom to steer your ship of choices into the Scientological harbor.
Even though I hadn’t signed up for these Codes/Rules during my fraught teenage sexual journey, I needed to write down any transgressions against each point on the Code. The Code point, “Do Not Give or Receive Communication Unless You Yourself Desire it,” somehow morphed into the point where I was supposed to look and see if I’d really wanted to date/talk/have sex with this guy or that guy. It was excruciating to look back on times I felt pressured, either by a boy, or by my greater social circle, to spend time with some particular guy who I wasn’t interested in.
I’d emptied my entire savings account for this Personal Integrity Course. I hoped I’d find tools to sort out how to navigate my transition from irresponsible teenager into mature adult. I spent days writing up the creative and awful ways I’d violated my Integrity with each Code of Honor point. This translated into weeks of focusing on what a imperfect person I was. L Ron Hubbard has a quote that was repeated to me often during my weeks of dragging my tattered soul over high-intensity flame. “The Way Out is the Way Through.” This meant that if I was miserable and I was doing some horrid Scientology action, I needed to set the cattle prod on high. Cuz Scientology would get me through to the other side in a shiny state.
I have since discovered that bludgeoning myself down into my darkest memories does not necessarily mean I’ll pop up out of my river of despair like a three-day-old cadaver. I might nearly be held under by an incident that no one even cares about any more.
My shoulders rolled inward and my face flamed when I handed the stern-faced Scientology nerd my flaming pages of highly personal fuck-up write-ups. It was hard to feel worthy of love when my mind was on repeat, reminding me at odd hours of my past bad moves, blunders, and idiotic decisions. I don’t think anyone in my life shamed me as hard as I shamed myself. Writing all of my transgressions out on paper, put them outside of my body. I reread the pages and recognized that they were my past, and not who I would always be.
Even better than diminishing the daily self-shaming from my teenage lapses in judgement, these thoughtful write-ups helped me look at the many times I’d lied to my mom. The hours spent gripping and chewing my pen yielded an unexpected gift. I’d lied to my mom about where I was going, who I was going with, and what I was doing, uncountable times. The more I wrote the specifics of what a wretched teenager I’d been, the more I saw a true thing about my mom. Every time I snapped, yelled, or picked a fight with her, she always extended the hand of friendship to me afterward. She didn’t remind me of my past mistakes, spout back my litany of broken promises, or tie me to a bedpost.
After the mountain of fuck-up write-ups came the Responsibility portion. Ugg. Amends. Hours and hours of Amends. But, interesting factoid, I didn’t make Amends to the 711 store that I’d pinched candy bars from. Nope. All the Amends were to benefit Scientology. Probably because Scientology helped me see how wrong it was to take candy bars and torment my neighbors with doorbell ditch. As if I’d be doing that again. But since Scientology was helping me on my road to spiritual betterment, I guess I should bow and scrap (lime deposits) for them.
Treasure From the Ashes, Friendship
This would have been the perfect time to leave the Good Ship Scientology. After finishing the Personal Integrity Course, I took Mom out to lunch and did a truth dump. I shared the gory details of exactly what I’d done, right under her nose, that I’d successfully concealed from her for years. I had to stop; we were laughing so hard we risked snorting tea out our noses.
Mom shared her perspective of being a mother to her one greatest joy. She was looking at me. She was talking about me. Tears. Hugs. I found her then, and I’ve never let her go.
Sweating Like Dead People and Finding Best Friends Who Betray You
My new schedule and my new life were too full to leave much time for reflection. Let’s see, clean two houses a day, then go on course four nights a week and Saturday morning. I did this starting from partway through my Personal Integrity Course. I didn’t so much figure out what my Personal Integrity was, as get told what my Personal Integrity was. It seemed that the road to the Pearly Gates led through the Valley of the Shadow of Ethics. Cast off your old sinful self and follow Scientology’s fifteen Code of Honor points and embrace your true (boring-ass) spiritual self. I hung a framed Code of Honor on my wall. When tough questions plagued me, I’d find the Code of Honor point that seemed to apply and decide what to do based on that. Or ask Josh.
There was another plus to writing down my discreditable acts. In Scientology parlance, the Reactive Mind shame-screaming died down to a dull self-invalidating burble. The Reactive Mind was the irrational, stimulus response bad mind, an L Ron Hubbard innovation.
I completed my Personal Integrity Course and looked forward to some time off. The Registrar had other ideas. I marveled at my clean-slate calm and the uncharacteristic mellow vibe I floated in for a few days after finishing my course. The Registrar knew about this fun, new, happy state because in my Big Wins speech at graduation I crowed about the changes I’d made in my life and this wonderful new calm feeling. Registrars are well aware of the peak state one can reach when completing a goal and the natural high one experiences after making healthy changes. And how fleeting that euphoria can be.
In a repeat of Smiley Girl’s post-Communication-Course-graduation body-snatching, this time it was the Registrar herself who seized my shoulders after graduation and only let go when I was butt down, looking up into her face of perpetual persuasion. “Josh and I want to take a short romantic vacation.” “Lili, I’ve seen your finances. You have an opportunity here to take the Wins you’ve had and bolster them.” “But…” “Lili, it would be a mistake to take your foot off the gas now.” “But, Josh and I, well…” “Josh will understand. We’re talking about your eternity as a spiritual being here, not a transitory four or five days. This next step will fly by before you know it.”
The Registrar told me I needed to purify my body. Can’t be reliving those marijuana trips now, can we? Because nothing says cleanse your insides, like five hours a day, jogging to get the sweat going, then sitting in a sauna till you sweat some more. Since I’d just cleaned house in the integrity department, I caved. Uh, I spent my pathetic earnings after expenses on my next Scientology step. This miracle service was called the Purification Rundown. Ooh, so official sounding. They had a book you had to buy and everything.
We students studied a bunch of bulletins by L Ron Hubbard about drugs, the body, and vitamins. I understood that we were sweating to get the drug residues held in suspension within our cells membranes to exit through our skin.
I believed that this Purification Rundown was based on scientific research. BECAUSE THEY SAID SO. I didn’t realize at the time, that it was about as safe as this middle-aged guy I read about years later, building a sweat lodge like the Indians, and charging clueless spiritual seekers for the privilege of participating in his transcendent multi-hour sweat-fests. Yeah, people died. He went to jail.
Little Miss Gullible, ponied up, and sweated like a pig. I take that back. I don’t think pigs sweat that much. But on the plus side, I met my best friends in Scientology ever. Lorna and her husband, Deave. While we sweated and talked, to stave off death by boredom, we found all kinds of things in common. As one would tend to do, when forced to sit sweating with other people for hours on end with no TV. Scientology thought TV and going to the movies could Restimulate (stir up) your misbehaving Reactive Mind. Big surprise. If it was fun, like drugs and movies, it was bad. Good thing LRH didn’t hate Rock’ n Roll.
I introduced Lorna and Deave to Josh, and all four of us were compatible. Thirty-plus years later, after we’d vacationed together, become their two daughter’s god-parents, given money and jobs to their kids, spent Christmases, Thanksgivings, and birthdays together, you get the picture; we left Scientology and they Disconnected from us so fast, you’d think they were shot from a cannon.
Disconnection, like Disfellowship among the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Ex-Communication from the Catholics, is a full-on shunning. (More in the glossary) Oh, and nice bonus, they wrote Knowledge Reports about us, (reports that tattle on you and get you in deep shit with Ethics,) including bad stuff we didn’t even do. Ain’t friendship grand?
Inside the cherch’s cedarwood sauna, which squatted like a forgotten packing crate in the cavernous garage, I sweated out my drug impurities. For one and a half hellish weeks with no days off. By the end of my marathon of sweltering drippiness, I found myself pimple-free, (yay) and the owner of a baby’s-butt smooth body. While on this Purification Rundown I had ingested nausea-inducing quantities of random vitamins and dangerous levels of Niacin, which sent more than one Scientologist to the hospital. I also pinched my nose and downed Olympian amounts of olive oil. Groan. Water sluiced off my body in the shower afterward. Then left plump beads of gravity-defying H2O on my pure (oily) skin. I didn’t need moisturizer for weeks afterwards.
I’d expected four to five days max of life disruption on the Purification Rundown. My Drug History was minor. Nope. My poor planning resulted in schedule emergencies with my housecleaning gigs, which took frantic efforts and abject apologies to resolve. And I still wanted that short romantic getaway with Josh. I’d been saving up for it.
Then I found myself butt down in the Registrar’s chair. Now what? Time to get an Upstairs Course. I had successfully run the gauntlet of Scientology’s downstairs Course Room Introductory Services. Ooh. Big girl panties time. Lots of love bombing. I was sooo special. Yeah, don’t get too excited. I did. I signed up and found yet another way to challenge myself in justifying why this was such a great idea.
Between Smiley Girl, the Registrar, and tag-teamed encouragement from Lorna and Deave, I studied Scientology with barely a break for the better part of a year. The Registrar also got me a loan for some Auditing through the sketchiest loan company that ever was. Surprise, surprise, I could borrow five thousand dollars and use Blueberry, my eight-hundred-dollar VW bug and four dining chairs as collateral. My feet were now firmly planted on the Bridge to Total Freedom. (The Bridge)
Ah, the Bridge to Total Freedom. Because you wouldn’t want half freedom. The Bridge was the carrot we all chased after. It was the reason why, when study was a torturous grind, or Auditing was a soul-draining-grunt-fest, we persevered. We patted ourselves on the back for our Confront. Our Responsibility-Level. Our pioneering spirit. Oh, the hosannas they would sing for our martyred names, in the halls of honor, after our debt-riddled, rode-hard-and-put-away-wet corpses were stacked, like cordwood by the dumpster.
Years later, I discovered that the sketchy loan company belonged to the wealthy dude who was the Franchise Holder on our Scientology Center. A dude I never clapped eyes on.
Tag Team Treachery and How Registrars Aren’t Actually Psychic
My rational self would sometimes wonder why I was doing all this arduous and frankly frustrating study. I might plan to finish a Course and not sign up for the next one right away. For one thing, I had that damn sketchy loan I needed to pay down. But the Registrar really wanted me to start using credit cards to “establish my credit.” I resisted. But then, Josh and I were at dinner at Lorna and Deave’s house and my Registrar’s friend, a high-powered Los Angeles Registrar “dropped by.” You did not want to be caught alone in a room with a Los Angeles Registrar. They Drilled hard-sell-technique like the Marquis de Sade drilled how to use the Rack.
More predictable than a fairy tale ending, as inevitable as the moon’s influence on the tides, I found myself signing something in blood. Nah. But it felt like it. Bottom line top, I was borrowed up, scheduled up, and onto my next course before my head quit spinning. A tiny voice inside me screamed, “What the fuck are you doing?”
I remember a time a bit later on my Time Track. Because Scientology was all about Past Lives. According to L Ron Hubbard, our minds had Time Tracks, where movies of our past played out, made us commit murders, and say rude things to our spouses.
Anyhoo, I was in this Auditing Session, getting my spiritual shit on, and mentioned that I was interested in a particular Course. I told no one else. Auditing was supposed to be this sacrosanct, highly confidential activity. The next time I visited the Registrar, I got the full grape stomp, and I was the grape, about buying that same Course. The Registrar, with a straight face, said, “because I feel this particular Course was made for you.” If I’d darted the Registrar with truth serum, she’d have said, “the Auditor shared your ‘confidential,’ unless it means there’s money in it for us, desire to do this Course. So pay up little lamb, I have other sheep to shear.”
Another time, years later, I’d bragged to Lorna that my business was doing really well, and I’d paid off a bunch of debt. I was so happy. Why wouldn’t I humblebrag to my best friend? Oh, did I just say friend? Cough. My phone started ringing. At one point, four different Registrars were hounding me to buy something. I complained to Lorna, that I’d been forced to buy an answering machine, because every Registrar on the West Coast was calling me, like creeps call the number of someone’s ex, from the truck-stop men’s room.
Lorna turned beetroot red. As well as not being able to resist showing what a good and helpful snitch, I mean Scientologist she was, by throwing her bestie under the nearest semi, she couldn’t hide the truth that she’d tipped off the Registrar about my brag. Then she cried. I forgave her. Too bad it was a repeating pattern. Too bad I didn’t know that the definition of a friend is to stand up, strengthen your favorite person, and keep their secrets.
I Stop Taking Mom’s Good Advice
Nine months or so into me and Josh’s living-together bliss, I pressed him about where we were going as a couple. A woman I cleaned house for told me her fascinating and repellent tale about how she’d lived with her boyfriend for eight years. She’d worked to support them both while he spent the years pursuing his advanced degree. When he graduated, he wanted a change. He moved out and broke her heart. He also stole the eight years she’d planned to use figuring out her own life. She was bitter. She told me, don’t be the cow that gives free milk. I didn’t want to be that cow.
When I broached the question of the future direction of our relationship, Josh said, and he disputes this, that basically, one day he thought he might get married, but probably not to me. I ran off and tried not to drown in my floods of tears. I was quite the crier earlier in my life. So many skills.
At the same time, Josh was distracted by a visit from his middle brother. Middle Brother was a truth-talking, sore-spot-poker if ever there was one. Being an only child, I rose to the bait, time and time again like a hungry trout. I always regretted my conversion from Josh’s nice-girl – girlfriend into hissing and spitting pit viper. I’m sure Middle Brother thought Josh could do better.
After getting the wrong answer about my future as Josh’s milk cow, I located a bolt hole to crash into on the pronto and left our love nest behind. Josh was shocked. He didn’t know why I’d left. Okay, dude’s not perfect.