NOTE: Up to now in this blog, I’ve changed the names of many people. I no longer choose to do that, so these are their real names.
“Here we go. I think we’ve got it nailed this time.”
I sure sounded confident when talking to my design team about our latest submission—such a good faker. I was the Director of Advertising and Promotion for International Scientology, which sounds super fancy until you get to the “cult” part.
My team and I had been up all night working on a new design for a super-important L. Ron Hubbard lecture series that had to be ready NOW NOW NOW. We were in the middle of preparing for a major relaunch of all his lectures, so that we could “bring the technology to millions around the world (i.e. bilk as many people as possible out of yet more money).”
Our designs needed to be approved by five different people on the way up to the “final approval terminal”, David Miscavige. He is the head of Scientology and, based on my experience, a complete psychopath. We always referred to him as COB, or Chairman of the Board.
COB had rejected our three previous designs—thrown one at me complete with expletives, as I recall—so this was an “or else” situation. This time, I felt sure we were on the right track. We’d studied everything L. Ron Hubbard had said and written about these lectures, we’d taken all of COB’s points of reject into consideration, and we knew this was a great design.
So, when one of his main minions, Lisa Schroer, sauntered through the door into our windowless office, I was ready. Lisa was the flavor of the month, since she pretty much did whatever COB wanted. She’d even adopted his holier-than-thou mannerisms and was the first one to punish you if you “deserved” it.
“Well? Where is it?” she said. “You’d better have it right this time, bitch.”
Yeah, that’s the way she talked to me. Or rather, rasped at me with her chain-smoky voice. I knew she was looking for a reason to fight. No surprise there—she was always ready to throw down.
“Here it is,” I said, trying as much as possible to pretend to be my usual “bubbly” self. I was the fun one, they all said. Yeah, even in a cult, I managed to make things as light as possible. But after a week of these all-nighters, there was nothing left in my fun tank.
Still, I gave it my best shot. “I think we nailed it this time,” I said, as I placed the submission on the long counter and stepped back.
“Are you kidding me?” Lisa said. “This is such a f***ing piece of sh**! I can’t believe you’d even show this to me!” She threw the whole submission down the counter, sending the carefully-pasted-up design flying through the air. Mind you, she had barely looked at it.
I didn’t really respond to her “comments”—which made her even more furious. “I have no idea why you’re still here,” she said. “They should have gotten rid of you months ago.”
If only I’d said something like, “You’re right—I’m outta here!” But I was still in my mind-controlled haze, so all I could eke out was a timid, “Yes, Sir.” Since I was a member of Scientology’s Sea Organization, everything we did was military-esque. Lisa was a few ranks above me, so I couldn’t speak to her without adding “Sir” at the end.
“”WELL??? Don’t you have anything else to say????”
She turned to her second in command, Katie Feshbach, who was her enforcer. “Katie, take her outside and slap her across the face. HARD.”
“Yes, Sir,” said Katie.
She grabbed me by the arm and led me outside. As we walked into the hallway, she stopped, looked at me, and said, “You know why I have to do this, right?”
I just nodded. Of course I did. We all got punished for the smallest infraction. Plus, if she didn’t do it to me, she’d be the one getting punished.
Katie pulled her arm back and brought her hand across my cheek so hard that my head jerked to the side. I didn’t cry or scream. I just stood there and looked at her, trying to figure out how things had gone so wrong. We used to be friends. I remembered how sweet she was just a year prior. Now, that sweetness had been replaced by a robot-like expression common among Sea Org members.
“I hope you’ve learned something from this,” Katie said, massaging her hand which was red from slapping me.
“Yes, Sir.” It was honestly the only thing I could say. Anything else would have been met with more punishment.
The slap may have been harsh, but looking back, I realize that it was the catalyst to the long process of snapping me out of my mind-controlled haze. Yet, it still took me another four years to become mentally, emotionally, and physically ready to escape.
“Why didn’t you hit her back?” you may ask. There was none of that in the Sea Org. If you hit a superior officer for any reason, the punishment would be far more severe than a slap. I had no intention of going to the Rehabilitation Project Force, or RPF, the Sea Org’s prison camp. Besides, I was well indoctrinated by that time; I truly believed that I deserved the slap because I’d done something to “pull it in.”
If I were to go back there now and replay this scenario, I wouldn’t have slapped Katie back. I wouldn’t have hurt Lisa either, no matter how cruel she was to me. We were all prisoners of the same cult mindset, after all. How could I fault them for doing what they felt they had to do? It saddens me that they’re both probably still there. And they’re most likely locked up somewhere, since you can’t be in David Miscavige’s orbit for too long without getting locked up. (More on that later.)
So, thanks, Lisa and Katie. You did me a solid after all. I only wish I could help you escape and find the same peace in your lives as I’ve found in mine.