5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare

We were normal, working class Scientologists. And our lives were terrifying nightmares.
5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare

My parents joined the Church of Scientology before I was born, and most of my earliest memories of life came from inside that world. My dad wasn't Tom Cruise, and my mom wasn't Priscilla Presley. We were normal, working class Scientologists. And our lives were fucking nightmares. Let me count the ways ...

The Church Ignores Children (At Best)

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare
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I first became aware of what the Church of Scientology was when I was 4. My friends would be playing outside, but my parents kept taking me to these meetings. They'd go off to do whatever adult Scientologists do, and us kids would be shuffled off to an empty room to play, but without any distracting "toys," "books," or "supervising adults" to get in the way. Yes, Scientology's answer to Sunday school is to lock all the kids up together. Even as a 4-year-old, I suspected that this wasn't the healthiest way to treat small children.

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

But ... they use the word "science."

The room seems foreboding in my memories: Only the barest amount of natural light graced us through the tiny windows, and the teenagers they left in charge weren't exactly child-care pros. They wouldn't even let my baby sister go to the bathroom. Also? No food. My mom had to hide food in our pockets so we didn't starve while she spent hours in their meeting.

Oh, and they actually locked all the doors into and out of these meetings. We had to leave early for a doctor's appointment once, and my mom realized this fact rather suddenly when she found she couldn't get out of the service. The whole congregation had been locked inside. So, you know, good thing there wasn't a fire.

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare

L. Ron had no fear of fire, for he was flame incarnate.

Scientology "schools" are another mess altogether. They place a lot of emphasis on something called word clearing. L. Ron Hubbard believed that misunderstood words were quite literally the only possible way for a child to lose interest in a subject at school. Nerdy kids who read during math class can attest to the absurdity of this claim, but it's a lynchpin of Scientologist tech ("tech" is Scientology's equivalent to scripture, crossed with the owner's manual for a 1994 Buick Century). So if you go to a Scientologist school, you can look forward to a lot of time with your dictionary.

One of the kids my family knew wasn't very good at his dictionary reading. He had trouble reading at all, or even making out diagrams on the blackboard. He was held back for three years because he just couldn't hack the coursework. Eventually his mom took him to the optometrist, and surprise, the kid was desperately in need of glasses. Somehow Hubbard's tech failed to account for that possibility.

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare
DJ Spiess, Fermentarium

E-meters make notoriously bad contact lenses.

And if you think that seems like a pretty gross oversight of a childhood health issue, well ...

They Treat Illness Via Groping and Neglect

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare
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Scientology's answer to first aid is something called touch assist. Imagine you're a little kid who just scraped your knee. They'll take you to a quiet room, lay you down, and touch you on various parts of your body. So they'll touch you with a finger and say "Feel my finger," and you'll say "I can feel it." Gradually that finger gets closer and closer to the injured spot. After like a half hour, they'll finally reach your knee. By that point, the injury should have healed.

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare
Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Look, everyone! It's creepy "uncle" Chet, the "healer."

For you see, Scientology doesn't believe in painkillers ... or in doctors, really. Scientologists aren't real big fans of modern medicine in general.

My little sister once got sick for two months. Since I was of age to be a guardian for her at that point, I took her to the doctor during one of the days my mom had custody. I lied and told her dad (my stepdad) I was taking her shopping. The whole time we were waiting at the hospital, my sister kept repeating, "Dad's going to be so angry."

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare

Because that's terribly sad, have this incredibly racist pulp illustration of an old Hubbard story.

The doctor prescribed penicillin, which she was supposed to take three times a day, but my sister insisted that her dad wasn't going to let her take it. She was crying her eyes out, because that's what sick kids do when they think someone's going to steal their medicine. My mom thought that was shit. She called my sister's dad and ... I don't really know what was said, but she put the fear of God Xenu in him. He didn't give my sister any shit for taking her pills, but he made damn sure to take me aside and let me know what an awful person I was for going behind his back like that.

Another time, I went to a friend's house for a play date. My friend wound up cutting her toe on a rake, and the family, who were Scientologists, just washed the cut out with water. It got severely infected, but none of the Scientologists around her would let her go to the doctor. It wasn't until the wound started to smell weird and she stopped being able to walk that they finally tried something besides touch assist.

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare
Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

Thankfully, "actual fucking medicine assist" proved moderately more useful.

The doctor took one look and declared her a day or two away from blood poisoning. This girl nearly lost her foot because none of the adults taking care of her thought to sterilize her wound. Jehovah's Witnesses won't take blood transfusions, but I'm pretty sure they're down with putting rubbing alcohol on a cut before it turns fucking septic.

They'll Ask You to Sign a Billion-Year Contract

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare
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When a close friend of our family turned 16, she joined the church group known as the Sea Org, so named because it was founded to, among other things, operate a series of naval vessels. Basically the Org exists to maintain church structures in exchange for free room and board and the chance to pretend you're a member of a space navy.

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare

"You got your Marine Corps recruitment ad in my shitty pulp sci-fi!"

As it turns out, being the thin line between the rest of the world and chaos doesn't net a great benefits package. The conditions for Org members are pretty messed up -- my friend got sick on their diet of rice and beans (and nothing else). She wound up too weak to move, or even eat. And if you read the previous entry, you know how this was handled.

See, Scientologists use something called the tone scale to determine your emotional state by your voice. Since my friend was "low" tone, no one was allowed to talk to her. They didn't even come to check on her when she was sick. So, a 16-year-old spent several days stuck on her bathroom floor, unable to move or cry for help. According to Scientology, the whole "being deathly ill" thing was her fault anyway -- if she'd been following her tech, she couldn't possibly have fallen ill, damn it!

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare
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Sadly, no one considered mixing this tech with some bed rest and antibiotics.

Another girl I knew joined the Sea Org at 14. She was shipped off to Florida near Flag, the Church of Scientology's headquarters. They put her to work on a construction project but refused to follow silly ol' rules about wearing hard hats or any kind of protective gear at all. My friend wound up getting knocked in her helmetless head and hospitalized. She was actually sort of lucky, because as you can guess, the Sea Org doesn't usually allow its members to see doctors.

When I was 7 or 8, the Sea Org tried to recruit me. This nice lady in a smart uniform asked me and a friend if we wanted to join the Org when we came of age. We said "Sure!" The recruiter took us into the back room and handed us a pair of billion-year contracts (seriously), set to begin in a few years. My friend and I signed with our left hands, operating on the child logic that our signatures wouldn't count if we didn't sign with our right hands. With our luck, our membership will finally expire just in time for us to see the sun go supernova and swallow the Earth.

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare

To think we gave up a chance to work as attendants on this cruise ship for free.

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare

You Stay, or You Say Goodbye to Your Family

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare
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The first question you probably have for somebody like me is "Why would any intelligent person stick with Scientology once they hear that crazy Xenu story about space aliens and volcanoes that South Park did a whole episode about?" Well, I never heard that story. Not while I was in the church, anyway. You don't learn about all that craziness until you've been with the church for years and reached OT3 ... which costs well over $100,000 in auditing and courses.

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare

Secret holy space navies don't fund themselves.

But even if you do hear the story, or think the whole Scientology thing is a bit weird in general, you have another reason to stay: knowing what happens to your family if you go.

For me, it wasn't long before my dad left the church, at which point my family was told we could no longer have any communication with him whatsoever. When I asked why I couldn't talk to my dad, they said it was because he was a "squirrel" ... someone who took tech without paying for it. Then they told me my dad didn't love me. I was 6 at the time.

See, the Church of Scientology has its members pay for regular auditing sessions. These are a little like Catholic confession, only without all that confidentiality nonsense. This means the church has a big fat blackmail file on every one of its members. If you leave, you're declared a suppressive person. They'll take the worst bits from your file -- that time you got caught shoplifting, or that dark sexual fetish you admitted to having -- and serve that to your family along with a side of straight-up lies.

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare
Wikipedia Commons

That flying space plane story sure is wacky, but it covers up something more terrible than Hubbard's writing.

And Hubbard help you if you happen to be a child with a parent who just left the faith. The Church of Scientology has a policy of interrogating children. The day after Daddy or Mommy leaves, they'll start prodding you for information. "Do you know where she's gone? Did you realize he had a criminal record? Did he ever hurt you?"

So leaving doesn't just mean saying goodbye to your family and friends forever. It also means subjecting them to hours of auditing and interrogation and years of being watched. It's like the diet version of fleeing from North Korea. So no, every member of the Church of Scientology isn't a brainwashed robot who thinks L. Ron Hubbard was sci-fi Jesus. Some of us either don't know the full story or just don't want to lose our family. But that brings me to the big point ...

Leaving Is Extremely Hazardous for Anyone

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare
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My mother was very smart about how she left. My little sister's dad was still in Scientology, so dropping out obviously would have cut us off from her ... and most of my mother's family. So we just moved and stopped going to services. They kept calling, trying to sell us new editions of the Holy Books (which they do every year) and asking when we planned to make another meeting. For a long time my mom just made excuses, but eventually she straight up told them, "STOP CALLING."

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare
Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com

This worked about as well as the Do Not Call Registry.

They didn't listen. So we stopped picking up and kept a low profile. We were very careful, and thus managed to avoid being attacked by the church. Well, so far at least. People who leave too loudly fall afoul of "fair game," a policy that authorizes Scientologists to break your stuff and hurt you "by any means" and "without any discipline." It basically authorizes all Scientologists to go full loose-cannon cop on any heretics.*

*The church claims that fair game was rescinded in 1968 by a memo written by L. Ron Hubbard. But all he really said was that the phrase "fair game" shouldn't appear on any more memos because it was bad PR.

5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare
Pierre-Phillipe Marcou / AFP / Getty

Good PR is hiding David Miscavige's shortness by only showing him behind podiums and Tom Cruise.

Even now, writing this article, I'm horrified that my identity might come out and get me declared a suppressive person. I still have people I love in the church. Unless they all decide to quit tomorrow, I can't be completely free. There are details I've censored and stories I've left out of this article because they'd clearly identify me. And if the Church of Scientology found out who I was, half the people I love might as well be dead to me.

Rank-and-file Scientologists aren't the enemy, not even Tom Cruise. We're little bitty fish, and the church is a giant sea anemone, immobilizing us with its tendrils and shitting L. Ron Hubbard books through its ever-gaping anus/mouth.

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Related Reading: L. Ron Hubbard had some other great ideas: click here to see what he had to say about nuclear physics. If you're more interested in a look at the world of legal prostitution, Cracked can help you. We've also talked with real-life spies and a white hat hacker.

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