Addition to Chapter 41
PTSD, Recovery, and Full Circle Anecdotes
From print pg. 371
THERE WAS NO WAY I was going to be another casualty of Scientology with a life down the tubes from inability to recover from trauma incurred during my Scientology years. Just as there had been signs leading to my unhealthy relationship with “religion,” there have also been signs that pointed to a road of recovery.
For me, recovery has been possible—and even accelerated by— relationships with family, new friends, and empowering connections on the outside, such as getting a college education, being a lifelong learner, doing creative work, getting some therapy, loving others and being loved back, traveling, and building healthy relationships with critical thinkers. Because of all this, I built competence, regained my autonomy and initiative, and experience trust and intimacy with friends and loved ones again.
I sought mental wellness therapy, where I was diagnosed with PTSD. I share some of what I’ve learned and how all this played out for me, in hopes that it may help you or someone you know who could benefit from reading this:
RECOGNIZING SYNDROMES AND PHOBIAS AFTER SCIENTOLOGY
I read many books that empowered me to think for myself and reconstruct my critical thinking skills, everything from historic and modern day slavery, captivity and institutionalization, to stories about other cults and religious practices, thought control, undue influence, social psychology, and cult-related syndromes and phobias. Opening myself up to new ideas that could help me heal, also helped me to overcome the phobia Scientology had implanted against seeking mental health assistance, which I now refer to as wellness therapy. This helped me to deal with the deepest repercussions.
I’ve learned that there are various syndromes that identify some of the harm a cult can cause, such as Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and possibly Stockholm Syndrome, to name a few. RTS is a condition experienced by people who have left an authoritarian religion and cope with the damage of indoctrination. This can involve the shattering of faith, a complete change in one’s locus of control, and recovery from any kind of abuse inflicted by religious leaders. PTSD is a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress characterized by the inability to recover after experiencing or witnessing traumatic events.
Stockholm syndrome is more closely related to kidnapping, where a captive tends to become sympathetic to their captors, forming a psychological alliance with them as a survival strategy. The term was coined after a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, when four hostages were held for more than 100 hours; the hostages ended up seeing the police as enemies, with positive feelings toward their captors. Often associated with Stockholm syndrome is the case of Patty Hearst, who was kidnapped by members of a terrorist group, the Symbionese Liberation Army. After her abduction and isolation, she supported the SLA cause and took part in some of their illegal activities. I’ve discussed Stockholm syndrome with Steven Hassan, who pointed out that Scientologists see themselves as willing participants, having joined voluntarily, and are not physically abducted initially; although there are plenty of reports of being kept against their will after they chose to enter the group. They could experience PTSD or other emotional and psychological complications.
I used to associate PTSD only with military people who have been in combat. Dr. Judith Herman’s book, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (Basic Books, 1992) helped me understand PTSD as a condition and helped me make excellent progress healing from it. I learned that PTSD could be found in individuals who have endured trauma such as domestic violence, child abuse, rape, sex slavery, and imprisonment within groups and institutions.
Through wellness therapy, I learned that traumatic events, such as the mental and physical abuses I’ve described in this story, overwhelm ordinary adaptations to life. Just as soldiers in combat share a common denominator of psychological trauma from the feelings of “intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and threat of annihilation,” so did I as a cult member in the Sea Org. Certain experiences can increase the likelihood of harm, such as traumatic events that include physical violence or injury, exposure to extreme social violence, or witnessing grotesque events such as abuse of others, or even death.
WHAT DO PTSD SYMPTOMS LOOK LIKE?
Traumatic events can disable the synthesizing effects normally produced in the mind through life events. A traumatized person can feel and act as if one’s nervous system is disconnected from the present. For example, a former soldier could suddenly react to daily life as if he was still in the trenches, mentally and nervously organized for combat. Similarly, I sometimes reacted to times in life as if I were in the IMPR office when I’d hear Miscavige stomp down the Del Sol hallway with his entourage and grab Ray Mithoff by the neck to choke him while his face turned purple. With PTSD, something happens in life that disables the normal synthesizing effects produced in the mind. It was as if I was mentally and nervously organized for defense of my survival and safety. For another example, I have experienced stressful situations at work that might be easily handled by my co-workers, but for me, it put me right back at the Int base as if I had to prepare myself for another verbal lashing or some undue punishment.
Some people reading this story may have been traumatized either by Scientology, another cult, or some other traumatic experience, or might know someone who has. So I want to explain some of the symptoms of PTSD that may help you or enable you to help others with this. I am not a mental health counselor, and am not representing myself as one, nor am I trying to provide medical advice. I am passing on helpful information I’ve learned, which you can explore further on your own or with a counselor.
The symptoms of PTSD fall into three main categories: Hyper-arousal, intrusion, and constriction.
HYPER-AROUSAL: PERSISTENT EXPECTATION OF DANGER
Dr. Martin describes “hyper-arousal” as “reflecting the persistent expectation of danger.” For several years after I escaped Scientology, I had symptoms that showed that I had remained in hyper-arousal. I used to look at my environment as if I was on permanent alert, as if the perpetrator might return at any moment.
Being in hyper-arousal directly affected my temperament. I startled easily, reacted irritably to small provocations from other people, and had trouble dealing with flaws that were bound to draw criticism. The most effective action I had already taken to get out of this hyper-arousal condition was to remove myself from the traumatic environment of the Int base, specifically from David Miscavige as the primary perpetrator, but also from Peter, since he took on David Miscavige’s persona.
I had a lot of trouble trusting people, specifically people in authority positions, but also people who tend to be dominating or highly aggressive or extroverted, because these characteristics mirrored perpetrators from the Int base. I dealt with this by summoning courage and reminding myself that the Int base was in the past and I had survived it, so I put this behind me. It was a mind-over-matter solution.
Another symptom of being in hyper-arousal was having trouble sleeping. It took me hours to fall asleep, and then I slept poorly. I had chronic nightmares, to the point that I dreaded going to sleep where I was always in danger. Even sleep aids didn’t help me sleep. I describe sleep problems in more detail under “intrusion.”
INTRUSION: IMPRINTS OF TRAUMATIC MOMENTS
The next symptom is “intrusion,” which “reflects the indelible imprint of the traumatic moment.” These are the mental images connected to traumatic moments that may feel nearly impossible to get rid of. I had so many indelible imprints of physical and verbal abuse and heavy criticisms and nullifying faultfinding. At such times, threats to my safety (mental or physical) could evoke profound and lasting changes in physiological arousal, emotion, cognition and memory. Traumatic events can sever normal events in daily living, and can take on a life of their own. A person like me could experience intense emotion such as fear or anger, but without clear memory of the event; or, I could remember everything about an incident in detail, but without any emotion at all. This explains why I drew blanks during many interviews with journalists when asked about David Miscavige or someone who had traumatized me.
A vivid storyboard of images lived in my memories as imprints of the Int base, depicting its cruel and sadistic culture. Sometimes these images had a life of their own, just popping up in my thoughts at unpredictable times; other times, something someone said or did would trigger them: executives screaming, yelling, pounding, pushing, slamming; scenes of humiliation, debasement, physical skirmishes. Frothing, spitting mouths, twisted faces, mocking laughter, reveling in power exercised over others’ weaknesses. Roaring motorcycles holding uniformed men who storm. Staff held against their will in debilitating conditions. Punishment for non-compliance or for work poorly done. A female executive has a psychotic break in one room, carried off by her hands and feet, she is placated, sent to the prison camp. Staff go for days without sleep. Sleep-deprived staff are subject to psychological pressure until breaking. Peter retreats. A staff member is pushed up against a wall by an angry leader. Screams of vulgarities and accusations. Staff choked, slapped in the head, punched. A senior exec is on his hands and knees in front of a crowd, lampooned for errors. Staff disconnect from mothers, fathers, siblings. Desperate women with wild eyes begging money for abortions. Murdering babies to please the group. Sad faces reveal regret. Peter’s hair is matted, dingy, no sleep. Work nonstop under inhumane deadlines. Haul rocks in a canal in desert heat. Hard labor in prison camp. Black clothes, dehumanized by rules. No speaking to others, never walking but running everywhere. Treated like criminals, black arm bands, degraded. Being a non-person. Peter is invisible.
Although triggers sometimes caused me flashbacks, they usually happened in my sleep. None of these imprints immobilize me anymore, and I can think about these things if and when I want to. They no longer have a life of their own.
Specific writing exercises also helped me to deal with these imprints; I would pick one and describe it in detail. This helped to diffuse the power it held in my mind. While taking classes for my Master of Arts degree in Writing, I explored the healing powers of writing, and developed a workbook, Coming to Terms With Your Story: Writing to Heal. My workbook offers about 90 pages of exercises and writing samples based on research of composition scholars and mental health professionals about how the writing process helps people work through traumatic events by describing images and memories. As you do these exercises, you diffuse the power of the memory.
Before I became aware of the healing power of writing, the triggers had enough power to cause arouse irrational emotions: Occasionally, I felt an urge to be part of that group again. This was the weirdest and most frightening one; I missed the solidarity of the group, even though the group’s solidarity had been harmful to me.
Sleep was my most troubling problem. I used to fear and even dread going to sleep where the memories replayed. I sometimes didn’t even like going into my bedroom at night because I dreaded laying there with memories filling my mind. Though I had come to terms with so much of my experiences, sleep still represented that one place where Miscavige’s voice crept in and echoed in the night. Like when a soldier traumatized by combat finds shells bursting on his bed at night, I sometimes found myself hearing Miscavige’s voice telling me I could not leave. I found myself struggling with mental captivity, breaking free of it, but repeatedly going back to search for what I had lost. I think I held onto the hope that I could change the outcome of the traumatic events.
Peter’s survival and well being plagued me for years after I escaped, so deep that his captivity plagued my dreams. I think that anyone who has had to make a Sophie’s choice, of making a choice between a loved one and seemingly impossible circumstances, might understand. This narrative replayed during my sleeping hours:
I wander the property, looking for Peter, looking for the self I left behind. They keep inviting me to come back, sometimes telling me that I have to come back because nowhere else is the right place for me. They draw me to them because I am one of them even though I have been gone for years. They get me to thinking I am one of them when I never really was one of them at all. I never know how long I’ve been away from them before I come back again. Sometimes they escort me there. Other times they’re with me in a car that I drive. Sometimes I go alone and I get inside the property because I have a remote control to the gate. Other times I am just there as if I’ve never left. Sometimes I sneak in through a spot at the end of the property where there are no fences for a moment. I find myself in an abandoned out-building. They let me stay where no one else will see me. I walk the moist, grassy areas surrounding the buildings where the others are mustered. I show up in a crowd where people look through me. Sometimes nobody notices my presence until someone nods as if to say, finally you’re back. Aye, sir. Present, sir. I feel good to my bones. I’m back where I belong, to join the self that I left behind. I stand in lines with them and it feels good as I move in harmony with them, like sailors running a tight ship. Many people have no faces, or do they have them and I can only see the backs of their heads and still know who they are? I move with others through the motions, as if doing a job that matters, when nothing anybody is doing matters. We’re all there pretending that it matters, and this fits like a comfortable shoe. I can’t find Peter. Where is Peter? Is he dead? Did he leave since the last time I was there? What did they do with his pianos? I slip away and security sees me and wonders where I’m going. They follow me on a silent motorcycle. They watch me as I check in every building and outside and behind them in case Peter is tied up out there, hauling rocks with the lid to his Rhodes piano. I’m in the middle of a group of people again, some smile, all have vacant eyes. She’s back, their eyes say. Oh, there he is, I hear his voice, his hair is still curly but short, still brown but ashen, his eyes still blue but they don’t sparkle, they’re grayish now, dusty, like his skin. His eyes fall on me, he knows it’s me, but he can’t talk to me, so he looks through me. I have fulfilled the promise, I’m there with the rest of them, now he knows it. His body blends into the rest as the group moves out the door as one. He’s safe. I can go. I want to start running so I can breathe. I’m magnetized by a draw so strong that I can’t move my body, as if I’m being pulled into the center of the earth by a force that I can’t measure. You’re not leaving, DM says. I need you here, you do good work, DM says. He owns my will and runs my mind from a distance, I know. He sends his thoughts into my head and I can hear his voice, his menacing tone, there’s no other voice like it. You’ll never be happy outside, DM says. You can’t leave!
Nooooooo—I try to scream but no sound leaves my throat. I scream louder. I must hear myself to know I’m alive. I can’t hear—I’m suffocating—My legs thrash the covers. I gasp for air—I feel Greg’s body next to mine. He comforts me, gives me a glass of cool water, and says “It’s okay, honey.” He knows what happened. He covers me back up. I feel the warm bed, his love, my home. I’m safe. I sleep.
The re-occurrences of this repeating dream started to lessen about five years after I left, but didn’t stop completely until I had been gone almost 10 years. My worst nightmare repeated the same scenario of being pulled back to the Int base, as if it was a giant magnet or a gravitational force that I had to resist. It’s Summer 2017 as I edit this, and I can say that I haven’t had these repeating dreams or any nightmares about being pulled back to the base since about 2009.
Regarding my irrational urge to be part of the group that I mentioned, I can only liken that urge to stories I’ve read about cravings during drug withdrawal. I’ve never been addicted to a drug, but knew others who have. My boyfriend who I married right out of high school had been sniffing glue before I met him, which escalated into different drugs until he committed himself to a live-in drug rehab center that he drifted in and out of. I’ve had numerous other friends who struggled with substance abuse. So I have enough descriptions to draw my own analogy. But my craving to be part of that group—after all that I had gone through—was a craving for solidarity, the kind of solidarity I found in Scientology, albeit irrational, where members are unified by collective beliefs protected by an unrelenting fortress. That fortress is the members’ perceived power of the Scientology system created by L. Ron Hubbard, enforced by the Sea Org, instilled through the tech, probably all a black magic scheme. Considering what I had been through, it was totally irrational to feel any urge to be a part of that again. So I can only say that continuing to want any part of it is like giving up an addictive drug. Even though the drug might have been ruining my life, I kept wanting it from time to time because I was once dependent on it. That urge has long since dissipated.
CONSTRICTION: THE NUMBING RESPONSE OF THE SURRENDER
The third and most troublesome PTSD symptom I struggled with was “constriction.” Constriction reflects “the numbing response of the surrender.” Signs of constriction include indifference, emotional detachment, and profound passivity in which the person relinquishes all initiative and struggle. Dr. Judith Martin describes this as “self-protection against unbearable pain.” This is similar to a hypnotic trance state. It’s like the response of captured prey to a predator, or of a defeated contestant in a battle. It’s an alteration of consciousness, sometimes displaying itself as a state of detached calm in which, paradoxically, terror, rage and pain exist.
Events register in people’s awareness, but it’s as though those events have been disconnected from their ordinary meanings. Once I learned about all this, I recalled the conversation I had had with Shelley Miscavige, who once asked me about the tone level of the Int base staff. She had described them as being in apathy; I had said they were numb. I believe that the above description fits the Int base crew—defeated contestants in the battle of Miscavige who could do everything better than everyone, so the staff relinquish all initiative and struggle, like captured prey.
I believe that many of the Sea Org members at the Int base were experiencing PTSD like this as well. When I felt powerless and thought that any form of resistance was futile, I went into a state of surrender, a state of numbness. I can think of dozens of times when this happened to me, such as: repeatedly being assigned lower conditions that were wrong, and then being made to take on the identity of a group that could never do well (Cine staff; Gold staff; Int base Sea Org in general); going to the RPF; coming back to the Int base after each of the times I escaped and was coerced into coming back; the uproar invoked by Miscavige after my report; seeing people choked at the neck; being at that final staff meeting (and many others before it) and seeing the look of numbness of staff member’s faces; being denigrated by Miscavige who was in such control over our lives that we felt powerless in comparison. I really fought against going numb years before I ever left the Sea Org because I had seen so many people at the Int base like this and refused to allow myself to become like them.
The night I had my breaking point at the Int base, July 31, 1998, after the staff meeting when I had seen all those numb Sea Org members with expressionless faces not reacting to the horrific news in the meeting, I believe this was emotional detachment at play, a self-protection against pain. Now I am able to understand why they sat there, expressionless and immobile. They weren’t able to do anything else.
According to Dr. Martin, a person with constriction may also feel as though she is observing the event from outside her body. For a long time, I felt like I was just going through the motions of living someone else’s life while I was at the Int base. I felt like a part of me had died, until I realized that if I didn’t keep my secret self (my authentic self) alive I would have either gone crazy or possibly taken my own life. The survival of my authentic self, separate from my cult personality of the Sea Org self, is what kept me going and enabled me to escape.
Other life events and activities were key in my recovery. I earlier wrote about the power of language in Scientology and how it is used in thought and behavior control of Scientologists as well as Sea Org members.
DISARMING THE POWER OF SCIENTOLOGY WORDS
For me to fully escape Scientology, I wanted to purge all remnants of it from my language, thought processes and behavior, although this happened in degrees. Those degrees have been influenced, and even held in place by memories, some that once felt as charged as sticking a wet finger into a live electrical socket. To that degree, words can be connected to PTSD. I’ve been in situations where I was reminded of a term that triggered some bad reaction. One powerful example is when Andrew Morton was interviewing me in 2005 and he simply asked the question, “What do you think of David Miscavige?” Those last two words caused me to draw a complete blank with no immediate access to memories.
Other times, I’ve been at a loss for standard English language words when I could only think of Scientology words to fit what I was trying to say. My old language, my old catchphrases would sometimes tumble out of my mouth, didn’t fit and sounded downright incomprehensible. Things like, “I’m so keyed out!” or “I’m so keyed in!” “That guy just really jacked up my TA! He’s got such BPC about something, he needs to go write up his O-dubs.” While none of these things make sense to a non-Scientologist, being outside the Scientology world required a total overhaul in my common everyday language and thinking. It was not easy to drop every Scientology term I had used, and took a lot of work to break the language habit. I literally had to stop and rethink certain concepts in a middle of a sentence to come up with alternate words.
Purging Scientology language from myself was a major reason why I cold turkey severed my connections with Scientology’s writings, teachings, vocabulary, or anyone that had anything to do with it. The paradoxical arrangement of my Scientology life slowly dismantled. It was hard to stop the thinking processes that included Scientology definitions of words, such as “cause” and “effect.” As a Scientologist, I had believed that life was a “cause-effect” existence. Being “cause” meant being the source of action, being responsible for everything, and being in control of everything that happened. “Being cause” can be more egotistical, narcissistic, and even megalomaniacal than I had ever realized. Being “effect” meant being the recipient of problems from others, and being dominated or manipulated by others. While Scientology materials appear to teach followers how to be “cause,” the opposite is true. Scientology is very much “cause” over its followers. Scientology management and policies control the lives of every Sea Org member and every serious Scientologist through its totalitarian system. Hubbard was cause over each follower’s life because followers believe that Scientology holds the keys to their immortality. While being taught that we were on a journey of spiritual freedom, I concluded that the opposite is true. The deeper one goes into Scientology, the deeper the spiritual hold it has on the follower, a spiritual bondage. I concluded that Scientology, the very thing that taught me how not to be “effect” in life, is the very thing I had become the effect of.
These sorts of realizations enabled me to purge those terms from my language and thinking.
The power of words is a noticeable influence that is easier to do something about. Detecting other types of influence is sometimes tougher to achieve.
DISARMING SCIENTOLOGY’S UNDUE INFLUENCE
My story provides multiple examples of how the Scientology organization exercises undue influence through excessive insistence, physical power, mental and moral domination, pressure applied through authoritative leaders, use of fear and threats, and on. A major step of breaking free of Scientology has been realizing that I have been able to disarm Scientology’s undue influence from my mindset and behavior. I took the time to learn about coercion and undue influence exerted by cultic groups, and how that ties to thought control.
Dr. Margaret Singer, a clinical psychologist and long-time “enemy” of Scientology had been studying the nature of cults, thought control and undue influence since the 1960s. She was exposing Scientology’s tactics of undue influence through books, articles and speeches. It’s no wonder why she became a target for David Miscavige, who publicly labeled her an SP. Fortunately, on the outside I read some of her books as well as books by other experts on this topic, including Dr. Janja Lalich and Steven Hassan. They teach and write extensively to inform people about undue influence exerted by cultic groups, as do Dr. Judith Martin and Dr. Robert Lipton.
Before I understood any of this, I had focused only on how I had been complicit in my own entrapment, and blamed myself for making a bad choice to join Scientology. But there is so much more that must be taken into account about being in a cult, such as what can happen to a person from levels of persuasion through deception that overcome one’s free will and judgment, as well as through duress, coercion, captivity, and institutionalization.
There were more than 800 witnesses of the Int base environment during my era of 1989 – 1998. As of this writing, an estimated less than 1/3 of that number remains at the Int base. The few remaining in are the ones that would say in front of a burning fire, “There is no smoke” when the rest of us assert, “There is smoke” when we see fire. I used to tell Peter about the abusive tactics used by David Miscavige, and Peter would tell me it wasn’t that way. This partially explains why he is still there and I am out, and I’m sorry to say Peter Schless didn’t see smoke when I did.
Learning about coercion and thought control, how it can be subtle or blatant, helped me to identify so many instances of it, and helped diffuse my own PTSD condition. A major product of undue influence at the Int base was relationship poisoning, evidenced through divorces, abortions, disconnections, authority abuse, and physical and verbal abuse that normalized these things in the Sea Org. The overall enforced lifestyle at the Int base had been a blatant use of behavioral and thought control. It can also be slipped in by someone in a powerful position who takes advantage of a person whose free will to negotiate has become constricted. The time I “agreed” to come back to the Int base after I escaped; the time I “agreed” go to the RPF; the time I “agreed” to take the IMPR post, are a few examples of things done under coercion with trauma.
HANDLING INSULTS IN THE AFTERMATH
I share Leah Remini’s views that she expressed in her Aftermath Season One show, that people who had been in the Sea Org or Scientology should not be mocked for it, because they joined with the worthwhile purpose to help mankind. I am sure most of us were unaware of the undue influence or radicalization involved. I’ll add that there is a big difference between harmful and healthy belief systems (religions, cults, whatever) and not all people who have religious beliefs are trapped or are being psychologically or physically harmed, as are people involved in Scientology and other harmful cults.
Steve Hassan, Janja Lalich, Margaret Singer, Robert Lifton and many other experts say that anyone is subject to deception and coercion, regardless of intelligence level, personality type, or street savvyness. I’ve met many people who have never been in a cult who seem to think they are impervious to undue influence, and who talk down to people who have been in those circumstances. In fact, I discovered that part of recovering after Scientology involves dealing with some pretty surprising questions and comments from people, and preparing yourself for ridicule and condescension.
Some of the most disturbing conversations I’ve had with people on this topic have been with highly religious people who say they cannot understand how or why someone could believe in something like Scientology. For example, I’ve spoken in churches where I’ve been asked, “How could someone like you who seems quite intelligent get involved in Scientology?” While that’s a fair question, it’s the incredulous attitude and the condescending tone of voice that has been so disconcerting to deal with. After I get past feeling that I am being looked down upon by this self-righteous individual asking the question, this conversation goes into play, starting with me asking:
“Well, have you ever in your life been deceived? Have you ever been lied to?”
Of course they have to answer yes.
“Well, did you know you were being deceived while someone was deceiving you?”
“Well no, because if I knew it, then I wouldn’t have been deceived…Oh, I see where you are going with this…”
“OK, good. Do you ever worry about your husband being lured into porno, or your kids being coerced into doing drugs?”
These questions generally stop the questioner in her tracks. “Well I suppose so…” she replies.
I would ask, “Is your husband intelligent? What about your kids, are they smart overall?”
They would say, “Well yes…”
And I say, “Well then, perhaps you can understand how I got lured into this group. I thought it was one thing and discovered the truth about it after I was already involved and it was hard to get out.” “Oh, well when you put it that way, that makes sense…I’m sorry…I didn’t mean…”
ESTABLISHING TRUSTWORTHY RELATIONSHIPS ON THE OUTSIDE
The 9-year long event that I call my life at the Int base, with 12 years total in the Sea Org, and the 16-year overall active membership in Scientology, calls into scrutiny Scientology’s destructive role in basic human relationships. The church’s fanatical degree of control over the most important human relationships of love, marriage, and family breach the most important attachments we have in life. The Int base is rife with divorces, abortions, neglected Sea Org kids, child abuse, obstruction of the ability to marry at all, and general prevention of sex or perversion of it. All these things are forms of undue influence that also affect one’s ability to have healthy personal and working relationships on the outside.
I have learned so much by reading the work of Dr. Martin. She explains how our sense of safety in the world, or basic trust, is acquired through our love relationships that start with our early caretakers. This includes Mom and Dad, and spreads to partners, spouses, children and family. So to do things such as relegate Sea Org children to a remote ranch where kids are raised not by loving parents but by Sea Org staff, built no sense of trust and safety for the child that will sustain him or her throughout their life cycle. I didn’t have children, but many of my friends did, and many of my staff at CC did. In an environment deprived of healthy, loving relationships, where relationships were controlled and monitored, an individual’s identity is defiled, control over these important life functions is lost, and the individual’s point of view counts as nothing.
Whether in Sea Org children or Sea Org couples, Sea Org life obliterates loving relationships, where it’s less possible for people to envisage a world hospitable to human life, a loving world in which they belong. A secure sense of connection with caring people is the foundation of healthy personality development. According to Dr. Martin, when this connection is shattered, the traumatized person loses his/her basic sense of self. Developmental conflicts abound, and trauma forces “struggles with autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy.”
Since so many former Int base staff have been speaking in public, giving media interviews, writing books, posting their experiences on Internet message boards or blogs, and filing lawsuits, I think it’s safe to say that this group of exes, including me, honor conscience and the desire to survive with integrity over blind obedience to a leader. Escaping the ways of Scientology has prompted me to seek loving relationships that I can trust, although that’s been a very challenging process for me.
In the case of Int base leadership, we had some people who were either already psychologically damaged before they got there, or some who became that way as a result of Scientology and the Int base corrosive culture. I knew many people in leadership roles from David Miscavige on down who used their authority for self-gratification by manipulating others, enjoying having power over others, enjoying the suffering of others, and promoting their own indispensability that demeaned everyone else and increased their influence over others. Much of that was done while the leaders put the Int base staff into weakened mental conditions through sleep deprivation, financial deprivation, moral debasement, and psychological abuse. There is no sense of trust between seniors and juniors in this type of environment.
I’ve saved a story about the single-most powerful person (next to my mother) who made the greatest difference in my ability to build a new life: I rekindled the desire to love and be loved again. Greg Pressley came into my life in perfect timing. We became friends through church in late 1999. As we got to know each other, we told each other everything about our pasts, and I mean everything. Greg quickly learned that I was not healed from the trauma of my experiences as our relationship progressed. And I was not healed over Peter. I wondered how long it would take me to be free of the past, and thought I should stay out of a new relationship. We both could see that it would take quite some time to peel all the layers of the onion regarding my personal restoration. At first, I was afraid to even have a close relationship with anyone, and I even surprised myself that I would try. The single-greatest part of our new relationship was our ability to talk with each other and be very transparent. It was through our ability to share our most intimate fears, concerns and hopes that we grew together. Greg proposed to me in late December 1999, and we got married April 2000. All my family living in Atlanta were in our wedding.
Some of Greg’s most endearing qualities include his old-fashioned values about marriage, like my parents had—that marriage is based on loyalty and unconditional love, ‘til death do we part. This has empowered me with a secure and loving relationship with a man who didn’t need me to be his fan, but wanted me to be his wife and love him back. This has helped me to rebuild my sense of self and restore my ability to trust others. I’m the lucky one to be married to a veteran of the US Marine Corps, who is ultimately persistent and resilient—and almost as tenacious as my mother.
Learning to deal with each other’s issues is what has enabled us to really grow this relationship. He had never been in Scientology, but he has learned a lot about it from listening to me, reading my books and articles, and sitting in the audience during various speaking engagements. He watches television specials about Scientology with me, and he’s a great listener when I vent to him about past experiences as they come to mind. He’s also been a major supporter for me as we navigated through the highs and lows of having book contracts that didn’t come to fruition because of Scientology’s suppression. Greg has boldly faced fair game actions against me, helping me get through it. We recently celebrated our 17th year of marriage.
Apart from Greg never having been in Scientology, he and I have been on similar journeys through religion, and we have explored our spirituality together.
Once out of Scientology, I wanted nothing to do with any organization that calls itself a religion, especially one that I thought was a fraud or had cultish characteristics. I did return to my Christian roots for the first ten years after I got out. My spiritual journey seems to be moving in a series of spiritual loops. As a young girl with Catholic parents, I started out being told what to believe, but left this at age 11; I moved on to wandering in a wilderness independently seeking answers; to finding Scientology and leaving with total disillusionment sixteen years later; to having a divine encounter July 31, 1998, aware of God as love and having nothing to do with a denomination or particular religion; to returning to Christian roots only to discover certain similarities between Christianity and Scientology; to where I am now, with my belief in God but not sharing my specific beliefs publicly.
That night of July 31, 1998 before I left the Int base the next day, raised the question: Was that experience a divine encounter? The restoration of my life and freedom that started a few moments after that experience, disabuses me of the psychotic break option. It has been impossible for me to deny a divine presence in my life since then. Why I returned to my Christian roots in 1998 after Scientology is explained in part by my mother’s story, which fits with mine like an adjoining puzzle piece: In 1996, when she was 74, Mom moved to Georgia with my brother and sister-in-law, and started attending a Protestant church—a total change for her as a lifelong Catholic. For the first time in her life, she said she had always known about God, but never actually knew God personally as suggested by this Baptist pastor. This realization opened a personal relationship for her with God, and she made a decision about her beliefs that changed her life. She gained a belief in the power of prayer, not something she had ever given much credibility. She joined a class for seniors at her church, and began to tell them of my involvement in Scientology. She enlisted people to pray for my break from Scientology. You might remember that it was 1997 when a series of things happened to me that caused me to decide that I was done with Scientology: I broke the commitment I had made to stay in the Sea Org after the Miscavige for nothing incident, after that last leave of absence, and after those final breaking points. I knew nothing about my mother’s beliefs or actions at the time. One year later, I was out. And have stayed out.
My mother shared her beliefs about God with me once I moved in with her, but I rejected them for myself while respecting her right to believe what she wanted to believe. I started going to her church with her that Christmas, and met many people who talked about God’s love, which resonated with my experience. But I also found several churches I visited to be quite legalistic, and recalled my frustration with Christianity as a child, when I simply wanted to know God without having to go through rules and regulations. For nearly ten years, I felt a fresh passion about my belief in God; and while I wasn’t sure about the denominational connection, this relationship provided a comfort that carried me through the most troubled time of my life.
In 2004, my college education opened more new ways of thinking that I wanted to explore. I had had two devastating experiences with Christian publishers that disillusioned me about their ministry. I had had some rough experiences with several religious-extremist Christians that led me into an era of disillusionment about Christianity and a deep questioning of my beliefs. One of the cappers was once being greeted at the altar when I had gone up to pray, and was met by an altar counselor who also introduced himself as a member of Quixtar, a pyramid marketing scheme business. The juxtaposition of these two didn’t work for me and I didn’t want to be there anymore.
The sum total led me to discover many similarities between Scientologists, and people who I would describe as extremist believers of any religious or spiritual system. I know that I am ultra-sensitive to signs of cultic milieus, and this statement may step on some toes of many Christian friends, but I discovered that the Christian community includes cultic denominations and churches, legalistic leaders, and followers who repel outsiders through being judgmental or controlling.
I disengaged myself from any specific denomination around 2008, but have never ceased believing that I had been touched by God’s love, and this has carried me through the most difficult times. However, I rarely discuss my beliefs about God in group settings, and am willing to share them only discreetly, in the interest of not being analyzed, evaluated, judged, scorned, criticized. I do enjoy talking about God with people outside of dogmatic or legalistic denominations. I will never again give anyone the reigns to my beliefs, as they are not available to be monitored, regulated, or controlled by any external authority.
Just as there have been signs leading to my unhealthy relationships with religions, there have also been signs that pointed to a road of recovery, many of which I’ve already described. While I have seen the Church of Scientology launch their Golden Age of Tech I and II and Golden Age of Knowledge, I have never observed their golden ages bring about anything close to what happened in my “Golden Age of Post-Scientology Life” that started for me in 1998. This has been the most elevated era of my life in thought and action, awakened talents, and especially creativity.
CREATIVITY AND WELLNESS
A healthy self-identity and the freed-up ability to be creative may seem less important for recovery than dealing with the wanton disregard of basic human freedoms that I experienced as a Scientologist. But I’ve learned that the importance of creativity in life should not be underestimated. Creativity is defined as “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations; originality, progressiveness, imagination.” Creativity fuels an attitude of “anything is possible” and cultivates the belief that solutions are always within reach.
For me, recovery from a heavy control group like Scientology has been highly dependent on empowerment that comes from others through new connections in various aspects of life, such as education, creative work, new relationships with critical thinkers, and on. Creative thinking plays a strong role in this recovery, particularly as Dr. Herman wrote, “the recreation of basic capacities for trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy.”
In a healthy environment, such as in my pre-Scientology days when I was blooming as a designer, I could harness my idea-generating powers and problem-solving abilities to make my life my own masterpiece. But while under the control of a perpetrator—Miscavige as a cult leader, or Peter in his persona—prolonged contact results in one of coercive control that oppresses creativity. I didn’t thrive in the Sea Org when made to do a post I had no interest in. Once I got back into an artistic design post, which actually suited me, I did well in my job, although I was still miserable with the authoritarian lifestyle of the Sea Org.
My new life is not the only one that has entered its renaissance. It’s been great watching other ex-Sea Org members discover their talents and rebuild their lives, far surpassing what they ever accomplished within Sea Org ranks. Many of my ex-Sea Org friends have gone on to write books, start their own business, build a successful company, finish a college degree, or enter a new marriage and have a beautiful family. Those are the same people who had been told by David Miscavige that they were a suppressive person or pieces of shit, ineffective or couldn’t accomplish anything, and by L. Ron Hubbard who said that people who leave the Sea Org are degraded beings and can never make it on the outside. I sincerely feel pleasure and even joy when I learn about another ex-Sea Org member’s accomplishments; this gives me a sense of some kind of a collective victory over Scientology’s attempts to nullify ex-members.
EDUCATION AND RENAISSANCE
In 2004, Greg and I went back to college at the same time. We had each started college years prior, but neither one of us had finished. For me, getting my education had been a lifelong dream. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta, Georgia, and completed an additional Honors College program. As a middle-aged adult, I attended classes with people from the ages of 18 to 45 or so, in classrooms filled with new ideas where I experienced profound changes in my worldview. Courses in sociology, political science, communication, English literature, creative writing, history, journalism, religious studies, philosophy and others helped me to reconstruct my connections with the real world, helped me re-build critical thinking skills, and helped me make sense of my life in Scientology. I graduated magna cum laude (3.8)—not bad for someone who hadn’t been in school in 30 years.
Reading books on my own while also getting a formal education gave me insights into Scientology’s methods of control, use of power through communication, and treatment of people that I probably would not have otherwise discovered. Imagine my surprise when I discovered ideas and statements that Hubbard had copied in his works but never attributed these sources in his writings.
I learned concepts, theories, and facts within so many specialized topics that sometimes leapt off the pages of books I was reading when they explained some aspect of Scientology beliefs. Whenever I read a book, I would keep a spiral notebook on my lap and write the book title, author, page number, and concept down, just to keep track of insights I gained while reading. I accumulated about 40 pages of notes while reading Robert Lifton’s Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of ‘Brainwashing’ in China. For years, I wrote Post-It notes on every book and article that illuminated the meaning behind some Scientology concept. I even kept a file box on my desk where I stored and tabbed articles and excerpts, with the plan to some day compile it all into a book.
For one tiny example, while studying political science and the term “clear and present danger,” I thought of the Church of Scientology International’s central command system, and tight control not only of worker’s labor, but of communication. I wondered, does anyone else see this as a growing threat to freedom within a corner of society besides me? Though not extreme enough to be considered an imminent threat to national security, isn’t this how dangers begin, and grow, and multiply exponentially, become increasingly tolerated, and eventually become overlooked or ignored? I liken it to the threatening situation of terrorism, where terrorists live among us with undetected hidden motives until it’s too late. That’s how I think about the Scientology organization and its vigilante justice practices.
In courses on sociology, political science and communication, I exposed myself to different views about hate speech. I remember hearing Miscavige rant during several Int base briefings about hate speech used by Dr. Margaret Singer, author of Cults in Our Midst, also the “suppressive person” who served as an expert witness in various court cases against Scientology, and Cynthia Kisser, the former head of the Cult Awareness Network (CAN). He projected Singer’s and Kisser’s pictures onto a big screen at Int base briefings with an ugly distortion of their true image, to make them look evil, twisted and distorted. The whole point was to remove their humanity and objectify them to make them targets for hate. In the ‘90s, Singer and Kisser were two of the most hated declared SPs in the Scientology world, identified from a Scientology perspective for their hate speech. CAN was a non-profit organization that provided information to general public about groups that it considered to be cults, set up around 1978, after the deaths of the People’s Temple and assassination of Congressman Leo Ryan in Jonestown, Guyana.
At that time, I was steeped in Scientology’s groupthink and believed authors like Singer and Kisser were our arch-enemies, evildoers out to suppress our religion. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with them. In classic Scientology paranoia, I thought, why are they trying to do us in? And what crimes had they committed against us? Our group’s defensiveness was about blaming and finger pointing, the self-appointed judges and authorities as we were, certain without a doubt that they had committed hidden crimes of magnitude against us. We would exhaust all financial, legal and personnel capabilities to dig to the bottom of their muck and find the truth, stop their hate speech, and hopefully ruin them in the process. At our base briefings, we heard about the results of the attacks and our overthrow of CAN, that Scientology vigilantes engineered through fair game tactics and lawsuits that bankrupted the group. CAN was finally taken over and reorganized by Scientologists. When the Cult Awareness Network phone rings, a Scientologist answers to give help.
The point is that Scientology authorities use hate speech and hate tactics to stop others who they accuse of doing the same but they don’t see their own hypocrisy. See Scientology’s Freedom Magazine, for example, along with the hate websites created for each major critic of Scientology.
I hadn’t met Dr. Singer, but had connected with one of her co-authors, Dr. Janja Lalich, with whom she wrote Cults in Our Midst. Janja Lalich’s books, Bounded Choice and Take Back Your Life offer incredible concepts that helped me heal in my recovery. My professors and mentor, Dr. Miriam Boeri, introduced me to Janja Lalich and other authors in the field of cultic studies. She and I also became good friends outside the classroom. I wrote about Miriam in the “Merchants of Fear” chapter, section “Late 2000s.”
Education had a cathartic effect on me. I realized that I no longer had to keep living my life with the limited identity or stigma of being a degraded ex-Sea Org member (Hubbard’s words for people who leave), or just an ex-Scientologist. My view of myself changed from a confused, struggling divorced woman to a person who had found a meaningful place in the world with a credible identity and a wealth of experiences that others might learn from. I found my place as a writer and speaker with a voice, and could express my knowledge through scholarship that others might find valuable.
Scholarship carved another path for me: the desire to teach adults communication and writing skills. I had observed fellow students with difficulties organizing their thoughts and saying what they wanted to say while taking college courses. This ignited my desire to help others acquire a greater freedom of thought and expression, like I had gained.
I went to graduate school in 2009 to pursue my desire to teach writing, and earned a Master of Arts in Professional Writing (MAPW) degree at Kennesaw State University. I pursued two concentrations in English: Composition and Rhetoric, that equipped me to teach writing at college level; and Applied Writing, that helped me to develop writing skills in different genres. Another truly special professor, Dr. Anne Richards, took me under her wing in the first master’s level class I took from her, and she mentored me as a writer for two years in the program and then outside the program. We also became close personal friends, and formed a writer’s group of five talented MAPW students, who sustained each of our works in an incubator of friendship throughout the years since. Anne’s excellent teaching skills also inspired me to help others by taking the time to listen to students, get involved in their work and go the extra mile with people who want to invest in themselves and achieve their goals.
I graduated with honors in May 2011. In August 2011, Southern Polytechnic State University hired me as an adjunct English Composition instructor. My first teaching job brought me the amazing opportunity to teach English composition to two classrooms filled largely with international students, many from Beijing, getting their college education in a second language. I learned as much from those students about culture and the learning process as they probably learned from me about English. In December 2011, I was hired as an adjunct instructor for the Communication Department at KSU, teaching a range of Communication courses since then, particularly writing, through 2015.
I was living the dream that started in my childhood when I wanted to go to college and become a teacher. Coming to terms with my life in the aftermath of Scientology and its afterclap has been the richest aspect of escaping Scientology and freeing myself of it.
From print pg. 372, “Full Circle Anecdotes”:
WE STAND TALL
I recently ran across a copy of the “We Stand Tall” video. Going Clear had also shown clips of that video, and Saturday Night Live had even parodied it. In the aftermath of Scientology’s diaspora, I looked at the faces of so many in the video who I knew were no longer at the Int base or even in Scientology. The words “forever strong, we’ll live on” gave me goose bumps as I watched the expressions of people who had once loved Scientology and the purpose of the Sea Org, but who had since escaped versus remained in David Miscavige’s prison. He had long since decimated that entire executive group at the Int base. What an outcome for the leader of a “religion” who promised the one true way from clear to eternity. But this is the same man who had personally told me, “We can’t get people to pay for Scientology services. But we can get them to give plenty of money to the International Association of Scientologists for nothing.” When he said that to me 20 years ago, who would have known this would become his self-fulfilling prophecy. Today, he appears to be in the business of flipping real estate in the Scientology Ideal Org world instead of getting on with Hubbard’s business of making clears and OTs.
DISCONNECTION OF RAVEN KANE AND ROGER WELLER
I earlier wrote about a disconnection that involved a family breaking up—the story of my close friend, Raven Kane Weller, who had just had a daughter, Alyssa, with her husband, Roger Weller. The pieces have finally fit together on this story. Peter and I had met Raven and Roger at a Valentine’s party held at Chick Corea and Gayle Moran’s home in Los Angeles. Raven and Peter were musicians; Roger and I were both in the apparel business, he as a leather shop owner and me as a fashion designer. That night, Roger never told us that he was heading into the revolving door, spinning him out of Scientology. He didn’t want to jeopardize his relationship with Raven, or my friendship with her. Later, when Raven told me he was leaving Scientology and was going to disconnect from him, I had queried her love for her husband versus his choice to change beliefs. Their disconnection caused a separation between Alyssa and her father. I never talked with Roger again until we connected on Facebook 30 years later. While Greg and I were transitioning from Atlanta to the Tampa Bay area, and then moved near Sarasota, I didn’t know Roger’s location. Who would have guessed that the neighborhood we moved into was right down the road from Roger in his zip code. Since then, we have become good friends and talk often. As of July 2017, Roger has not seen Alyssa in 19 years. He has also explained that the night we met at Chick and Gayle’s, he had recognized an overabundance of “4th dynamic enthusiasm” in us, and wanted to forewarn Peter and I against getting so deeply involved that we would let Scientology sweep us away from our careers. He had actually felt bad about leaving Scientology back then, particularly because of how that choice would affect his family. But he had realized that it was no longer the right spiritual path for him, and had been very turned off by Scientology’s focus on money, making money, getting money. He’s got many stories about high-pressure incidents with staff trying to get huge amounts of money from him, including being held in a room with people pressuring him to give them $250,000. Scientology greed for money overcame any spirituality he was seeking through it. Not until the Reconnect event did I realize how this relationship had come full circle.
THE SPECTER, MARTY RATHBUN
I can’t avoid a paragraph about Mark “Marty” Rathbun. As of June 2017, it appears that this Scientology warrior who had criticized Miscavige and Scientology since he escaped in 2004, and who helped many others after they left Scientology, has not escaped Scientology after all. Instead, he has become an apotheosis of a turncoat. He seems to be exerting great effort to un-write his history as a critic, including his extensive contributions to Lawrence Wright’s book and Alex Gibney’s HBO Documentary, Going Clear through counter-claims, thus undoing any credibility he has on either side. Marty’s videos pose counter-claims against nearly all the Scientology critics that he had aligned with. These videos pose an opposite story of Aftermath, giving Scientologists contradictions to ponder. His counterclaims, though, are a futile effort, considering his many legal depositions, blog posts and media interviews that will forever document his original statements. This is a perfect case study for how the Scientology PR machine is directed inward to its captive audience, because his videos will be seen by the Scientologists within the bubble. John Duignan and I agreed (through Facebook dialogue) that this serves to keep the membership “brainwashed, fearful and directing the gaze away from the firsthand accounts of those that have suffered loss, abuse and unconscionable treatment under auspices of the Scientology regime” (private group FB post, 7/15/17). Rathbun is distracting critics and deflecting from more major issues going on such as the organization’s fear of losing their tax-exempt status, and Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath going into its second season, and receiving an Emmy nomination for Season One. Rathbun’s precise reasons for being flipped back into Scientology’s control are arcane. Rathbun is only a specter to Scientology critics now, as well as in the Scientology world. I did not delete his quotes in this book because they serve as good examples of him as a product of Scientology, and how Scientology does everything in their power to keep its members within its grip.
THE IRONY OF THE IRS “FOR NOTHING” EVENTS
My earlier descriptions of the International Management events that I had once been responsible for, either as an executive, an assistant art director, or a costumer, included the Maiden Voyage Anniversary event at the Freewinds, occurring annually in May. The International Association of Scientologists (IAS) has always played a significant role in this event, particularly with having its headquarters located on the Freewinds for years. In May 2017, event attendees received a booklet with a rather apocalyptic message from the Chairman of the Board RTC, which I read on Tony Ortega’s Underground Bunker at tonyortega.org (7/12/17). He wrote, “Tonight, we celebrate the IAS at the moment when the IAS means everything: global survival, long-term survival, elemental survival—for seven billion human beings. Lets face it, without the International Association of Scientologists, this planet is damned.” I recalled his statement to me in 1997: “We can’t get people to pay for Scientology services. But we can get them to give plenty of money to the International Association of Scientologists for nothing.” Back then, in the comforts of his own office, he had made it clear that IAS donations were far easier to collect than money paid for Scientology auditing and classes. Twenty years have passed since he said that to me. His membership has dwindled; reports say that his organizations are empty, but his wealth is straight up and vertical, with an estimated personal net worth of more than $50 million. And it looks like donations to the IAS are defining what it is to be a Scientologist under David Miscavige.
MIKE RINDER AND JEFFERSON HAWKINS
Two of the most special and cathartic moments involved in the production of this book have been coming full circle with Mike Rinder and Jefferson Hawkins.
My story is filled with mentions of Mike Rinder, who had once been a necessary but threatening evil-doer as head of the dirty deeds department in Scientology, where he worked as David Miscavige’s henchman, wingman, whatever-man against enemies of Scientology. I escaped Scientology about nine years before he did, so while I was out there doing media interviews and trying to publish books about my experiences, Mike was doing his job as the organization’s spokesman and nullifying my commentary, stopping my books from being published, and running a dead agent campaign on me through OSA. Once Mike had had enough of Miscavige’s abuse and made his own Sophie’s Choice about getting out of that madness but at the loss of his wife and children, he redirected his power, skills and energy to expose Scientology’s abuses. As I write this, Leah & Mike’s show on A&E, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath just received an Emmy nomination. The fact that Mike wrote the foreword to this book that supports my story, and says that doing this was ironic and karmic, satisfying and cathartic, in light of all past events, is also all of that for me, and I truly appreciate Mike.
As the brains behind the successful Dianetics campaign of the 1980s that used the volcano on the cover of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, Jefferson Hawkins had a hand in luring me into Dianetics and Scientology through his influential marketing materials. Of course I had no idea about the man behind the volcano in those early days. I had finally met Jeff in the early 1990s when I landed at the Int base. Jeff’s Central Marketing Unit produced the International Scientology News magazine that emanated from my office while I was the Int Management Public Relations Officer in 1995, and I occasionally worked on all-hands projects to market and advertise Scientology in his division at Golden Era Productions over the years. Jeff left Scientology in 2005 and established Skyhawk Studios in Portland, OR. Today, I am enjoying the striking cover design that Jeff has created for Escaping Scientology: An Insider’s True Story. He has also designed this beautiful website www.escapingscientology.com. The man whose creative work influenced me into Scientology originally is also now the one who is now helping me deliver my message about escaping from it.
THE RECONNECT EVENT, JUNE 2017
I was finally able to end this book after the “Reconnect” event organized by Janis Gillham Grady and my weekend in Los Angeles. Greg treated me to an oceanfront hotel stay in Santa Monica for my birthday, when I enjoyed great food and sunshine at the pool overlooking the Pacific. The next morning, I tracked down my friend Chaz, my accomplice who enabled me to get out of Los Angeles to return to my family. We chatted at the old table in his office, sharing stories and catching up. Greg was so happy that I had reconnected with Chaz that he spoke with him on the phone and thanked him profusely for helping me years ago to make my escape. Chaz and I now have a photo together that I will always treasure, but most importantly, we have reconnected.
From June 23 – 25, 2017, I relished every moment of the Reconnect event organized by Janis at a park in Burbank. Janis’s goal was for ex-Sea Org members and ex-Scientologists to get together, see old friends and make new friends, and not impose “religious” beliefs on each other. This was my first experience with a large group of people who had left the Int base that I hadn’t seen in 20 years, and who Scientology calls critics, enemies, SPs. I realized that not connecting with these exes over the years has been a huge missed opportunity. It became stunningly clear to me that the people who managed to escape the Int base, the ship, and other areas of the Sea Org also escaped the negative cult attitudes that seemed to enshroud members—the meanness, the nasty temperaments—that had become normal with the Sea Org mindset. I met one person after another whose true self shined through, who I hugged and smiled with, as if the negativity from the past and the old Scientology/Sea Org personality had long since dissipated.
One particularly meaningful example is when I saw the former Int Base Security Chief, Gary “Jackson” Morehead, who had been responsible for the way I had been tracked down and treated harshly after I blew and came back the first two times, and went to the RPF. I had seen him during media interviews on TV or Facebook, but had not seen him in person. The first words out of his mouth to me were an apology for any and all things he had ever done that had hurt me. I never even thought about asking him for an apology; he just gave it naturally, and I accepted it wholeheartedly. We hugged as if years of negativity had fallen away. He is the most sincere, jovial man who seeks peace and meaningful friendships, as do I. Our hug and sincere conversation began the fresh start. I was also able to hear his personal escape story that occurred one year before mine. He also filled me in on some details about how, after I blew, Peter was programmed how to respond to me when I called in, and gave scripted responses to me depending on what I said to him. As I suspected, Mike Sutter from RTC and either Jackson or another security guard all listened in on Peter’s and my conversations. Jackson also told me that Peter never received all the letters I sent him; that he was only shown enough for Security to be able to say that “Peter read Karen’s letters.”
This type of reconnection happened between many people throughout that wonderful weekend. I saw my former senior, Stefan (Lewis) Castle, who I had thought of as a prick years ago because he acted as one to get his job done. The moment we met at the event, we each broke into huge smiles and gave strong hugs, with the old crap long gone. Same for seeing Mark Fisher. He had made a similar Sophie’s Choice as me—leave his beloved wife Julie Caetano Fisher, or escape the brutality of Miscavige and regain his freedom. Mark and I share the circumstances of leaving the Sea Org without our spouses—who ended up marrying each other.
Meeting my friend Valerie Schomer Page’s estranged father, Homer Schomer, was amazing. I had only heard of him as a major enemy of the church and through Val. When I approached Homer and told him I had been close friends with his daughter, his eyes lit up. We shared stories, and I left his side hoping that I would help Homer reconnect with his daughter.
I made new friends with people I had heard of in the early days of Celebrity Centre, but had never met, such as Spanky Taylor. It’s truly a small world. Peter and I had been at Mickey Gilley’s club in Galveston, Texas during the production of the film Urban Cowboy in the late 1970s, starring John Travolta and Debra Winger, when Peter played piano and keyboards on the movie soundtrack. It wasn’t until I saw the HBO Documentary Going Clear in 2015 that I learned that Spanky Taylor, who had been Yvonne Gillham’s assistant at the Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, had been very close to Travolta as his “handler.” Spanky had been sent out to Gilley’s Studio in Houston while Travolta was filming Urban Cowboy, with the goal to recover him. How crazy to learn that she and I had probably been within each other’s orbit there in 1978 and never met; nor had we met at the Celebrity Centre when I succeeded Yvonne Gillham on her post there in the late 1980s—but Spanky and I finally met at this event. She hosted get-togethers at her home, and we have become good friends.
I finally met Terri Gillham Gamboa, who had left the Sea Org with her husband Fernando in 1990—the couple whom Peter used as the model for whom he didn’t want to be like whenever I talked to him about leaving. Terri and I shared stories about our lives on the outside. I absorbed details that I was able to add to this book, and I had made a new friend.
Continue to the print chapter….