I watched the Friends reunion special on Thursday. And I cried through the whole thing. But not for the reasons you may think.
I’ve probably seen every episode of Friends at least three times, and this show holds a special place in my heart and always will.
To explain, I’m gonna backtrack to 2005. I was still in the Sea Org, at the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, working as the Director of Advertising and Promotion. I was working the normal 16- to 18-hour days, like we all were.
I’d helped make a lot of money for the organization through my promotion — I believe the income hit $3 million that particular week — so I got a brand-new iPod as a reward.
That’s how it worked at Flag: You makes the money, you gets the prizes. I mean, you don’t get a living wage, but I digress.
It was the brand-spanking-new, fifth generation iPod! You know, the one that had a teeny video screen on it. This was a big deal back then.
Of course, we weren’t allowed to watch videos unless we were approved to have time off, but even then, to have been caught with videos on this iPod would have meant severe punishment.
So I didn’t watch any videos, but I did download a ton of songs. In those days, it was all about converting your CDs to MP3 format and then downloading them to the iPod. Fortunately, I worked on an iMac so this was pretty easy to do.
The only time we were allowed to watch videos was if we were given specific approval to do so. And that rarely happened. But there was the occasional “award” when the organization had a good week and we got to watch a movie in the common area — the only location with a TV and DVD player. We certainly didn’t have TVs in our rooms! I mean, we could have seen something that they didn’t want us to see, right?
Anyway, one of my friends in the Sea Org, Carly, had a lot of DVD boxed sets that her parents had given her. She showed them to me one Sunday morning, during our once-a-week allotted four hours for cleaning our berthing and doing our laundry. She had them stashed away so that they couldn’t be taken from her, and she had a lot of shows on DVD, but her favorite was Friends — she had all 10 seasons.
I’d never even heard of Friends, but it looked cool. Carly said I could borrow her DVDs if I ever had time off wanted to watch them. So, I grabbed the first season, thinking I’d watch them the next time I had a day off. Unfortunately, that didn’t come for a while. And they were just sitting there. Staring at me. Begging me to watch.
I finally gave in and did the one thing that I wasn’t supposed to do — I mean, you knew that was coming, right? I grabbed the first DVD out of the case and popped it into my iMac when nobody was looking. Then I made an MP4 out of it and copied it to my iPod.
I knew there’d be hell to pay if anyone found out. But something deep inside of me was saying, “Do it!” And for the first time in a LONG time, I listened.
The only time I could watch an episode was at night when I should have been sleeping. I’d say goodnight to my roommate, pull the covers up over my head, plug in the headphone jack, and watch. Fortunately, she was on the top bunk so she couldn’t see what I was up to.
After the first episode, I was hooked. This show was a revelation! I couldn’t wait for each day to end — whenever that was — so I could get home and find out what shenanigans that crazy bunch of friends would get into next. Sure, this was cutting into my sleep time, but I wasn’t getting much anyway, so losing another 20 minutes couldn’t hurt.
As I continued to watch the show, small cracks began to develop in my culty armor. I started thinking that maybe there were other possibilities in life. I also started to remember that my life used to be fun before Scientology — and how un-fun it had become.
Friends became a security blanket of sorts, a place where my mind could rest when things got too heavy. I made it through all 10 seasons without anyone finding out what I was doing. Then I started watching them all over again.
It took two more years for me to finally wake up and leave Scientology. But I know that watching shows like Friends began my mental escape long before I was able to do it physically.
The Friends reunion special brought it all back. I looked at where my life is today, compared to where it was when I first started watching the show. And I broke down.
I’m so thankful that I get to live such a great life. And I have no idea how much longer I’d have remained in the cult if I hadn’t listened to my inner voice, as faint as it was, telling me to go ahead and break a few rules.
So, thanks, Friends. I’d also thank Carly, but she doesn’t talk to me anymore. Of course not — I’m an SP (Suppressive Person or enemy of Scientology) so she had to disconnect from me in order to stay in good standing with the “church”.
But maybe one day she’ll read this and know that she helped me. There’s always hope, right?