Catarina Pamnell

Another day in Scientology-land
by Catarina Pamnell

In 1981, when I was 18 years old, I first encountered Scientology. It was to be a major influence on my life for several years to come - unfortunately, more negative than positive. The reason I've written this down (apart from the glory and fame of seeing my name in glowing electrons ;-) ) is simply that writing it helped me to put things in perspective, and it's my small contribution to the increasing number of stories about Scientology life which are now becoming available. I was just a low-level scientologist. Other people have told what life was like for those who were more deeply involved.

When the friendly, confident young man insisted that I should at least try out one of their courses, it all seemed so reasonable. Yes, I'd heard something about Scientology being a cult, but I'd been around some pretty weird people before, and it never did hurt me one bit. This guy looked normal enough, and it didn't seem fair to knock a subject without giving it a chance. It wasn't as if he was asking me to sell my soul, was it? Yet, little by little, without really noticing the transformation, I allowed Scientology to control my actions, words and even my thoughts, in exchange for a wealth of empty promises.

Even though the first couple of courses didn't impress me all that much, I was getting caught up in the atmosphere of expectancy and urgency. These scientologists seemed so sure that they were on the right track. If I didn't show up for course, they would phone and write - all that attention was flattering. There were fantastic stories about what other people had achieved with Scientology methods.

I did some of their communication drills (TRs), where for example you had to practice sitting on a chair for a long period of time, without moving or reacting, or doing anything except to sit there, first with eyes closed and then facing another person, and then also to be able to hold your composure despite provocations. After this, I did feel a bit more confident. What if the Scientologists were right? What if they really had found answers to the workings of people's minds, on how to make us more intelligent and able, and eventually reduce evil and suffering in this world? Despite my initial hestitation, it seemed the least I could do to read some Scientology books and try it out for a little while more.

There was a program which was supposed to clean the body of stored toxins (the Purification Rundown). While doing it, I experienced various phenomena, which were explained as 'accumulated radiation and illness leaving the body'. (Wasn't it rather the combined side effects of extreme doses of vitamins, and 3-5 hours daily in a sauna? But at that time, I was far too willing to uncritically accept their claims.) After a couple of weeks of this strenous program, I felt unusually lightheaded and exhilarated - I could stand in the street for several minutes just looking at colors shifting on a parked car. In this 'high' state, it wasn't very hard to convince me to buy some more courses.

Then I got some therapy, called auditing, a kind of psychotherapy (though Scientologists wouldn't use that word) where a therapist, called an auditor, with a longer or shorter Scientology training (maybe only a couple of weeks) asks intimate personal questions of the person being audited, known as a preclear. The questions are already listed on set forms, and more often than not an E-meter is used - a kind of crude lie detector. In the auditing I experienced that I 'remembered' a past life - wow!

Sometimes I would encounter things that didn't make sense, and doubted the whole Scientology thing, but I was always convinced to keep going. 'Get more auditing, study more, contribute more, work harder; eventually you'll understand! Or don't you want to help in saving the planet?' Whenever the promised miraculous results didn't occur, I learned to blame myself for the failure. I was learning the secrets of the universe, yet my life was going down the drain.

By 1983, two years after reading my first Hubbard book, I had gone from a reasonably well-ordered life (steady job, friends, money in the bank, no drug or psychiatric problems, etc.) to a complete mess. I had quit my office job, and worked in the local Scientology organisation in Stockholm, Sweden, for 'wages' of around $10-15 a week. My money was all gone after paying over $10,000 for their courses. I had nowhere to live, as the person I had been renting a room from got kicked out of Scientology, which meant that other Scientologists were not allowed any contact with her. The organization's Ethics Officer told me I had to move out within 24 hours.

I didn't eat or sleep much, had practically no contact anymore with my family and former friends, and was becoming increasingly depressed and unstable. So why didn't I just quit?

By then, I had begun to accept the view that if any Scientology methods didn't work out very well for me, it was solely due to my own shortcomings. People who were not successful and healthy were considered less valuable as human beings, as it was believed that their own evil intentions and deeds caused all of their problems. The worse things got, the more I thought I had to stick to Scientology. Hubbard, the founder and 'guru' of Scientology, stated over and over that Scientology was the only way out, and only evil-minded people opposed it. The world outside was controlled by crazy psychiatrists, greedy bankers and corrupt governments. Paranoia? Oh no, just another day in Scientology-land...

In the early 1980s, Scientology went through a period of both external and internal problems. Several top ranking Scientologists got sentenced for theft of documents and infiltration of US government agencies. A network called the Guardian's Office (GO) had formerly wielded a lot of influence, led by Hubbard's wife Mary Sue. Now this group lost the power struggle to the present Scientology leader, David Miscavige. The GO staff had to 'reform' (i.e. learn loyalty to the new management). In Europe, the GO personnel were ordered to the European head quarters (FOLO EU - now called CLO EU) in Copenhagen, Denmark, to do a 'reform program' called the Deck Projects Force (DPF).

This was in the beginning of 1983, and later that year also many 'regular' church staff from all over Europe were sent to do the program. I was working in the department of personnel, communication and ethics in the Stockholm church, but was 'troublesome' - after maybe a couple of hundred of hours of Scientology auditing, I was experiencing severe anxiety attacks and starting to lose my grip on reality. Around October I was one of all those people sent to Copenhagen for correction.

At the FOLO EU, I was ordered into a small room. Two stern-looking women, dressed in the navy-style uniforms of Scientology management (the Sea Organization), started to interrogate me with the Scientology lie detector, the E-meter, screaming at me over and over to confess my misdeeds. One of them, a quite young girl ('CMO missionaire', a high ranking position) had been visiting Stockholm not long before, and we'd had a friendly chat while I showed her how to use the telex machine. Now she wore a stone cold expression. The situation seemed unreal.

Then I was taken to a crowded, dirty room in the basement, where DPFers had to sit for several hours every day and write lists of their 'sins'. According to Hubbard's ideas, a major reason why people are critical of something or somebody, is because they have committed bad acts towards that which they are criticising. By disclosing every immoral or discreditable thing we had ever done, no matter how small, we were supposed to become well-behaved, obedient, uncritical scientologists.(Of course we were not told that in those words, we were told it was our only chance to redeem ourselves from total spiritual disaster.) In this way you were trained into turning any critical thoughts inwards, at yourself, and look for your own mistakes whenever you were upset by something in the organization. Now and then, another person was to check the list, to make sure there was enough detail. Names, dates, places, everything must be included. After a a couple of weeks of this you were putting down things like how you stole an apple from your neighbor's tree as a kid, or simply inventing things so you could fill up those blank pages. As far as I know, Scientology still keeps the lists that I wrote, even though I'm no longer a member, and I have no control over how they may be used.

The rest of the time you had to work; mostly cleaning, kitchen work, painting, etc. Some jobs were especially unpleasant, such as jumping inside garbage containers, to make space for more. The rules were strict: no talking to people outside the DPF, no phone calls or letters without express permission, always run instead of walk, obey all orders from the person in charge of the DPF. Passports were to be handed over, to make it harder for people to escape. We were to watch each other around the clock, and report anyone breaking the rules.

There were all kinds of people there. Some had come from churches all over Europe. Others worked at the European head quarters in Copenhagen, and if they didn't pass the program, they risked being sent to an even tougher one which literally could last for years, the Rehabilitation Project Force (DPF). One day I worked together with a lady who looked to be around 60. We had to clean windows with ice cold water and some old newspapers. There were even pregnant women on the DPF. We did get some time off to sleep (maybe 5-6 hours per night) in overcrowded rooms in the old hotel, the Nordland, where the FOLO staff live, and had our meals in the hotel basement. There was usually some food - spaghetti, rice, sometimes even eggs - but you had to be quick to get some.

Despite the dreadful physical conditions, the worst part was easily the humiliation; we were basically treated like criminals. When I got there, I was in a pretty bad shape mentally, and the situation only got worse. It's hard to describe, but I seriously thought I was going to die. My body felt like a foreign object and sometimes I could not even walk or speak. People were trying to get me out of it by forcing me to walk or run around and look at things in the environment. It didn't help, but that's what Hubbard said would make confused persons calm down.

One day, two DPFers were ordered to take me outside and make me run. They were literally dragging me by the arms down the street outside of the FOLO. A passerby came up and started to yell at them in Danish to let me go, threatening to call the police. They quickly pulled me back inside. Why didn't I call for help from this woman? The outside world had more or less ceased to exist for me, it was inconceivable that non-scientologists could do anything for me. My only hope was to somehow make it through the program.

As I was losing my rationality, I was moved into a make-shift room with some kind of meshed wire door or wall, in the attic of the Nordland hotel, away from the rest of the DPF crowd except for one person always there to watch me. I have later heard those attic rooms referred to as the 'monkey gallery' and that they were used for persons who for some reason were considered a risk (due to their mental state or rebellious attitude) and had to be separated from the others.

One morning I just could not get myself out of bed. I vaguely heard somebody calling and shaking me hard, but it was impossible to gather enough strength to even open my eyes. For a while I seemed to drift in and out of dreams, unable to speak - I recall somebody pulling me down from the bed, I somehow knew my body had hit the floor but could not really feel it. Eventually I probably fell asleep, and some indeterminate time later I forced myself to get up again. I believe somebody brought me some Cal-Mag (a calcium-magnesium drink often used by Scientologists as a relaxant). The only thought I could hold on to was that someway somehow I had to get back to work.

One night I was told that I was going to be thrown out of Scientology and declared a 'Suppressive Person' - somebody who is an enemy of Scientology and humankind. This happened to several people on the DPF. It would mean getting out of that basement, but I just couldn't imagine life outside anymore. All I knew was that my eternal future was lost. Somebody who has been declared 'SP' is not allowed to have any further contact with scientologists, and may not do the courses that are supposed to be necessary to save you as a spiritual being - it's equivalent to eternal condemnation.

When they told me the next day that I could stay, I was immensely grateful. I thought my bosses were absolutely wonderful beings for saving me from the dark pit. (Why did they keep me on? According to a memo I've happened to see, I was in such a bad shape that they were afraid it would have caused Scientology a very embarrassing situation if I had gone back to my family in that state. To make Scientology look good is more important than anything else.)

For some weeks I was put on lighter jobs outside of the actual DPF, where I wouldn't get in people's way. Slowly, I was accepting the situation.
While running to work one day, I had a strange experience of all feeling suddenly shutting off. The piercing cold from snow melting in my thin shoes, the hunger, the fatigue, the physical and mental pain - everything went away. Nothing at all was important anymore. I could move like a robot.

Now and then, somebody would try to leave. I and another Swedish woman were sent to the railway station one day, to intercept a man from Stockholm who was missing. We found him, but could not convince him to return. He said he didn't believe in the secret OT3 story, which was supposed to be a very powerful course that could only be revealed to those who had done many preparatory courses and auditing steps, and paid tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege. I had no idea what the course was about, but for a moment I felt sympathy for him, and wanted to get on that train, too. But I quickly pushed those thoughts aside; he was wrong and we were right, and I had to believe that.

By January 1984, I was a 'reformed' scientologist. I had been commended for quality work in the Translations Unit, and was allowed to go back to Stockholm. But for years afterwards, I existed in a strangely numb state, with occasional emotional outbursts. My self-esteem was mostly gone, and I had changed from a person who was interested in new things and not afraid to stand out, to someone who unquestioningly let other people run my life completely.

I remained a staff member for another year or so, then I quit to take care of my newborn child and pay off debts. Somehow, I had lost most of my personal ambitions in life. The only thing that seemed worthwhile to dream about was getting enough money together to do the Scientology levels. I was then firmly convinced that I was a stupid, bad person with great problems (after all, the Scientology methods, which we were told always work, didn't seem to work very well on me), and badly needed the Scientology therapy.

After more than ten years, I decided to pick up on my education, to be able to get a better job. At college, I got access to the Internet on the student computers. Someone showed me how to use a search engine, and one day I got the idea to enter 'scientology', thinking the church might have some web site. To my surprise, the result was a loooong list of hits, and a closer look soon revealed that many of these sites were most certainly not approved by the church. There were critical stories from former members, some of whom had held high positions in the church hierarchy. There were horrifying tales of how Scientology was harassing critics, trying to stop them from speaking out. There was information about Hubbard's past that did not at all agree with the official story. And there were the 'secret levels', the ones I had been told contained the highest level of spiritual knowledge on this planet.

I hesitated for days before daring to look at these - just reading them was supposed to harm a person who wasn't properly prepared. But the other critical information was getting through to me, confirming the doubts that I had felt so many times during the years. It made me look at my life, and at the people around me - had we really become powerful, wise and ethical superbeings? I had to admit the answer was no. If anything, I was going in the opposite direction... Was this the wrong road? I had to know, so I took my chances.

A few minutes later I found myself laughing out loud in disbelief. The space emperor Xenu, alien spirits invading our bodies... this was what all that hype was about - just another silly science fiction story??? Even on lower Scientology levels one will encounter more or less fanciful space opera tales, but this one was more far-flung and rambling than anything else I had read so far. My eyes finally opened - I had been duped.

It probably sounds strange that for so many years I could ignore the negative information about Scientology that has been spread in newspaper articles and on TV shows. The level of self-imposed censorship I learned is hard to describe. We were told that all journalists were depraved, sinister characters who only wanted to make money by telling shocking lies. That reading the newspaper would only make you unhappy and was best avoided. Those who criticised Scientology were out to hide their own horrible crimes, and we often got to read internal newsletters describing how outspoken former members were just criminal misfits.

Behind it all was the international conspiracy of psychiatrists, who are the evil guys both on earth and - although this part isn't said aloud to non-scientologists - in many other space civilizations throughout the universe. They are seeking to obliterate Scientology since they hate the truth. A typical example of this propaganda is the Freedom magazine, where it's claimed that all sorts of problems and disasters, such as international terrorism, are really caused by psychiatry. It wasn't until I had been out of active involvement for a while, and started to again associate with non-members, that I could bring myself to take part of critical information.

It's not comfortable to critically examine your dearest beliefs, but there might be a high price to pay if you don't. Many, many of the Scientologists I met were wonderful, talented, idealistic people who were willing to give up their own comfort in order to help the world. So what did the organisation train and trick them into doing? Look at the people in Scientology's secret service (OSA) - did they really dream of spending their life spying on, and harassing people? Did the sales personnel (registrars) join Scientology because they liked squeezing the last penny out of others, and then convince them to go deeply into debt to pay for more courses? Those scientologists who watched Lisa McPherson during the final days of her life were most likely just trying to help her - but now she's dead! When you follow the path of blind belief, there is a risk you will end up doing things which are very, very much contrary to whatever good intentions you started out with.

With this in mind, I can't hate Scientologists - I know most of them basically mean well. One can only hope that one day they will wake up and realize what they are putting themselves and other people through.

Returning to a normal life again is not altogether simple. What do people think of somebody who has been a cult member? 'Stupid', 'weak', 'myself, I would never buy crap like that!' - and that is not very strange. Whoever has not seen the workings of a cult up close must find it incomprehensible. I also used to be pretty sure of my own invulnerability once. Yet I don't think that most of the Scientologists I have known were weak and stupid. The organization is not interested in recruits who are a burden - they preferably want people who can contribute lots of money, influence or hard work.

Another aspect is that I will always carry a black hole in my past - 'employed by the Church of Scientology' doesn't look too impressive in a C.V., does it? It's understandable that many former members prefer not to talk about it. And whoever speaks publicly about negative aspects of Scientology risks revenge actions from the church - this has happened to some of my personal friends.

I would not dream of claiming that every single person who was ever involved in Scientology must have suffered damage from the experience - that does not seem reasonable at all. Most people only involve themselves briefly before losing interest. Some probably feel very satisfied with what they gain from Scientology courses. What does concern me is that far, far too frequently when I get words about some old Scientology aquintance, it's in a negative setting - people who have been financially ruined, have run into trouble with the law, families broken up, they have become mentally unstable (like believe themselves to be speaking to the dead founder of Scientology or to have turned into space aliens), have fallen back into drug abuse or at worst, committed suicide.

Some have asked me if I consider it the fault of Scientology that I myself ended up in psychological difficulties. I believe there is rarely one single cause for such situations, that earlier experiences and biological factors always make up part of the reason why you react the way you do in any given situation. But I also believe that a non-empathic, blaming, controlling environment like the one I encountered within the Scientology organization will never assist a person to get better in a crisis situation, and may make matters worse.

Still, the whole experience has illuminated some vital points in life for me - the priceless value of compassion, humor, friendship, generosity and a humble attitude to life. The Church of Scientology ideals of grandiose, chilly, controlled, super-human perfection hold no attraction. Living like a robot really sucks.
Again, I'm not saying that there aren't people who are happy with Scientology, and who find it useful, in or outside of the Church of Scientology.

I can only speak for myself - I experienced things which were far removed from the glossy image presented in the organization's promotional pieces. Anybody who wants to get involved with Scientology should be warned that the organization will not tell you the whole story...

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