Every October 23rd, I take a few moments to reflect on the past year of my life and the twists and turns I’ve taken. Each year I feel more grateful than the last, but this October 23rd I feel particularly grateful. Last year I decided it was time to take the leap into a copywriting career; that career will be full-time as of January 1st, which thrills me to no end. More importantly, this was the year I was finally able to share my scientology story with an open heart, which makes my 58th year on Earth one to celebrate.
That being said, I’m also reflecting on how different my birthdays used to be compared to how they are now. When I was in the sea org, we didn’t really celebrate birthdays. In fact, we really didn’t celebrate any holidays. They were just a day like any other—a day to work 18 to 20 hours on some “urgent” project. Some years we’d get Christmas day off, but most often not. There were a couple of mornings a year where we got to go Christmas shopping with what little money we had, mostly because if we didn’t send anything to family for Christmas it would be “out-PR” for scientology.
But birthdays weren’t a thing: My birthday would come and go, and there would be no celebration. There were no calls from family because they couldn’t ever get through the “switchboard”. If I got birthday cards, I’d only receive them after they’d been opened by security and read through. You know, maybe there would be something “dangerous” in there…
There was never a cake or a party. Never a moment of joy. Just another day. After all, birthdays are no big deal in scientology, since you’ve supposedly had thousands of them over the tens of millions of years you’ve lived. I’m not saying that “public” scientologists don’t celebrate birthdays. Of course they do. But sea org members are doing more “important work” and can’t have any “distractions.”
So yes, birthdays weren’t a big deal in the sea org, except for two: l. ron hubbard’s birthday and david miscavige’s birthday.
l. ron hubbard’s birthday
This was always the biggest day of the year for scientologists: March 13th. To this day, when March 13 rolls around I think about the lrh birthday celebration, but thankfully those thoughts grow more fleeting as the years pass.
What I remember most about the lrh birthday was the pain and exhaustion. We’d be up day and night for at least a week or more, preparing for the international event that was held each year. As with all other scientology events, it was a way for david miscavige to preen onstage and show scientologists how much their “religion” was expanding. With this particular event, the message was always that we were giving ron the one thing he wanted for his birthday: expansion.
Of course, there was no real expansion. We spent hour upon hour writing speeches and reworking numbers to make things look more exciting than they actually were. I learned all about hyperbole working in scientology and I’m constantly having to catch myself when I write, so that it doesn’t sound too over-the-top. But with my scientology experience nothing is really over-the-top, so I’m safe there.
I don’t remember a birthday event that wasn’t just flat-out exhausting, because of how much preparation went into it: the videos, the speeches, the latest “new release” of some puff piece about hubbard that everyone was expected to sell until the wee hours of the morning after the event.
As to that puff piece, every birthday event featured a flowery speech given by dan sherman, the so-called “lrh biographer”. He’s a public scientologist who’s paid big bucks by miscavige to write speeches and magazines about hubbard, since he can’t complete the biography—even though he’s been “writing” it for 25 years. I mean, he can’t produce a biography without the actual facts of hubbard’s life, because anyone who can use Google would tear it to pieces.
I met dan when I was on clearances to go up to int management, and wrote with him—more of that to come when I talk about that time of my sea org career in future blog posts. But for now, I will say that dan always seemed to be hiding something, always somewhat withdrawn and keeping to himself. Well, of course he is! He knows everything about hubbard’s life and he’s paid to keep it a secret, and write crazy stuff about “ron the master mariner” or “ron the photographer” or “ron the humanitarian”… blah blah blah.
So yes, ron’s birthday was a crazy, exhausting time for all of us. But there was one birthday I think was unfortunately just as important for sea org members…
david miscavige’s birthday
miscavige, known as “COB” by all scientologists, has the title of “chairman of the board religious technology center”. He’s basically the capo di tutti capi, and you don’t mess with him. I imagine you know that by now.
It wasn’t until I got out of scientology that I discovered just how lavishly he lived while the rest of us got by on a crappy diet and an “allowance” of less than $40 a week (if we got paid at all). This “religious leader” drinks scotch every night and lives in the lap of luxury with the best of everything—food, clothing, cars, motorcycles, and all manner of other “toys”. I can’t imagine how much he laughs at those sea org members who are still there. My heart breaks for them.
Anyway, his birthday was always a BIG deal every year. The PR staff would be in charge of it, and we would be “requested” to “donate” for his birthday present. Let me give you an example:
One year, the big idea was to get him a custom Ducati motorcycle for his birthday. We all knew about it, because it was announced with much fanfare at the weekly staff meeting. The following Friday, we actually got paid for a change, so a bunch of us were standing in line at the treasury window to get our pay envelopes. Remember, this was a maximum of $45 BEFORE taxes—we usually got a bit under $40 for a week. With this money, we had to buy any necessities like shampoo, deodorant, etc., and there wasn’t much left over as you can imagine.
As we went up to the window, we were met by a PR staff member who asked us if we’d “like” to donate for cob’s birthday present, and how cool it was that “we” were getting him this amazing motorcycle as a gift. There was nobody who wouldn’t donate, since if we didn’t it would have been looked at like we had “evil intentions” towards him, and then we’d be interrogated. Think I’m kidding? That’s exactly what happened to a friend of mine who really needed the money to get some female hygiene products that week. She didn’t donate anything, and was pulled into “ethics” a day later.
So yeah, miscavige’s birthday was always a huge deal on the int base, and when I went to flag in clearwater it was just as big a deal. Disgusted doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings about this now.
The good news is that I’m no longer there, and I’ll never have to celebrate those birthdays again. Yippee!!!!!
Now I can just enjoy this birthday and every birthday to come. Bring on the celebrations!
Actually, when I really look at it, my greatest gift this birthday is you. I want to tell you how grateful I am that you’re reading this blog. I hope it’s been enlightening so far.
Thank you for taking this journey with me. It’s been an amazing 58th year. I can’t wait to see what the 59th will bring!