I definitely plan on telling the story of how I got into Scientology and what I went through for nearly two decades. I promise.
But this post is dedicated to what I call my Freedom Day, August 3, 2007.
A bit of background: I was living at Scientology’s “Spiritual Headquarters” (makes me gag just writing this), the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida. By “living”, I mean working 18-20 hours a day, 7 days a week, as a Sea Org member.
If you don’t already know what the Sea Org is, I’ll explain as best I can. It’s a particular group within Scientology composed of the most dedicated Scientologists, who have to sign a billion-year contract to join. It’s about as military as you can get outside the military: You wear uniforms, you have ranks, you eat (crappy food), sleep in crew berthing (when you get to sleep), and work together all the time.
Unlike the military, however, you don’t get paid (sometimes a $40/week allowance if you’re lucky) and you can never leave to see your family (unless it’s a special circumstance in which they make you jump through hoops).
At Flag, I was the Director of Promotion and Marketing, responsible for all the hyperbolic bullshit they spewed out every week. Have you seen a copy of their “Source” magazine? You’ll know what I’m talking about.
Anyway, back to the escape story.
It was my parents’ 60th Wedding Anniversary and I really wanted to go, especially since I missed their 50th because I was an executive at Golden Era Productions, where Scientology International headquarters is located. I didn’t even get to call them at that time — but I’ll tell you more about that later.
In this case, since I was at Flag in Clearwater, I was only 50 miles away from my parents’ home in Lakeland, Florida. It would have been a “PR flap” for Scientology if I didn’t go. At least that’s how I played it so they’d let me loose.
The only way I got to go was to have my “statistics up” for the week, meaning produce more than the week before. Then I had to write a “CSW”—a sort of petition—which had to get approved by the executive structure. All this just to go see my family for one day. Seems crazy now, but it was completely normal at the time.
I guess I was convincing enough, because I got approved to go. Luckily the Clearwater branch of Enterprise Car Rental rented cars to Sea Org members from Flag even without a credit card — since most of us didn’t even have a bank account.
I drove out to Lakeland to attend the anniversary celebration. It was a beautiful occasion, and my entire family was there.
A bit of an aside here: You may be thinking, “Well, you were in a car, driving away. Why didn’t you just leave at that point?”
To do that, I’d have had to be of the opinion that I needed to escape. I wasn’t at that point yet. However, I got to that point pretty quickly.
Know what I noticed at the anniversary celebration? How kind everyone was. How much fun we were having. How happy they all were to see me. These were such foreign concepts to me at the time, I felt like I was in a completely different world.
In fact, I felt so good that I didn’t want to go back that night, even though I only had “leave” for a few hours. My older brother Al and his wife Lynn were staying at a local Holiday Inn, and asked me if I’d like to stay with them for the night. A good night’s sleep in a comfy bed? Oh, definitely.
The next morning I headed back to Clearwater, bright and early, so happy to have had the opportunity to be with my family for a few hours. I felt rejuvenated.
Little did I know what fresh hell awaited me.
My Exit, Phase I: Snapping out of my Coma
I got back in time for “Morning Muster”, so nobody had any idea I hadn’t been there all night. We had three musters every day, where we all gathered together, lined up, and were accounted for. Like I said, the Sea Org is as military as it gets.
After muster, I was immediately called into a meeting with one of my bosses, the Deputy Executive Director of the place. She started screaming at me almost immediately. I was used to this because I’d been screamed at a lot. But this time, I felt something different.
It was swelling up inside of me, like something had been brought back to life after laying dormant for many, many years. The thoughts were so strong: “What am I doing here?” “Why am I putting up with this?”
I don’t know what coming out of a coma would feel like, but I imagine this was pretty close. I realized I didn’t have to be there anymore and go through this. But I said nothing except, “Yes, Sir.” (That’s right, men and women officers in the Sea Org were all called “Sir”.)
She told me I had to stay up all night and finish the mail order campaign that was due. She made sure I knew that by not getting it done, I was causing the downfall of Scientology. (Oh, if only that were the case…)
I said I’d get it done. Then I went back to my office and told my staff to go home. I said that “This was my problem to deal with”. So off they went.
I spent the rest of the night deciding if I was really going to leave. I went back and forth in my head. It was excruciating.
I mean, if I left, I’d be leaving behind my entire world view and everything I’d spent nearly 20 years dedicating my life to. It was an admittance that I’d made a huge mistake. It also meant that I’d never see any of my friends again, because they wouldn’t be able to communicate with me. It meant I’d be declared an “SP” or Suppressive Person, i.e. an enemy of Scientology. Most importantly at the time, it meant that I would be forfeiting my spiritual eternity. Seriously, that’s what we were taught.
So this wasn’t a light decision. But I knew that I had to get out of there. Something inside me was saying, RUN.
I wrote a long letter, left it on my desk, and walked out with only the clothes on my back and whatever was in my purse. Everything else stayed behind. I didn’t care — I knew this was my chance, and that I had a very small window to get out of there before they found out I was gone.
Up Next: My Exit, Phase II: On the Road Again…