An article by Chris Shelton
Looking at the ex-Scientology community, the blogs and video channels and Facebook groups, I would say that I have put out my fair share of articles and videos about the abuses and darker sides of the Scientology experience.
Frankly, there has been so much to say that I haven’t yet suffered from anything like writer’s block. Scientology is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to oppression, deception and abuse.
But there is a point to all this and it’s not just to be a critic for the rest of my life. These articles and the videos I make are a form of catharsis and as much as I’m informing and helping others, I’ve also been helping myself.
Given that my life is about to take a dramatic turn for the better, with yet another huge change taking place right now as I write this, I thought I’d take a few moments to talk about how my life has changed for the better since I left Scientology last year.
It can’t really be said enough, so let me start off by again saying that life is so much better now that I’m not a Scientologist. I’m writing this for those who may have also recently (or not so recently) come out of a cult-like environment. Maybe my experiences with this can help you too.
The Pressure Cooker
Being in a mass movement, like Scientology, is like being in a pressure cooker or a bubble world where things are just kind of different. If you’ve never been in a situation like that, it’s very difficult to describe.
The whole nature of reality and how I viewed the world was skewed. My world revolved around pieces of information which I thought were universally true in the same way that 2 + 2 = 4. The facade started to crack when it became apparent over time that these “universal truths” weren’t actually so universal. The carefully crafted way I was convinced the world was supposed to work, didn’t really work that way.
I was actually living in a house of lies. Once one lie was exposed, others started popping into view at an alarming rate. Soon I had a choice: either lie to myself to accept those lies, or start accepting information from other sources than the authority of the Church’s dogma. Like a hole in a dam, I would plug one hole only to find three more popping out. Since I’m not one to enjoy lying and I never have been, I opted to find out the real truth.
It was one of the best decisions of my life. I quickly found out that many of the things which I’d accepted as true were, in fact, totally made up lies. Some of it was true, but not enough to justify the outrageousness of what was going on or the lifestyle I was being forced to live.
Once I made the decision to get out, I thought that was it. I thought I was free and ready to move on with the rest of my life. I could just leave all that behind me.
Little did I know that it was only the beginning. I had to re-adjust to life in the real world, a place that was much different than I thought.
I didn’t have the words to describe what was happening to me. I found myself fascinated with all of the information available about Scientology on the internet. As I say now, I “went down the rabbit hole” and had no idea where that was going to take me.
I first heard the word “decompression” in a video interview with actor and ex-Scientologist Jason Beghe and I immediately latched on to it because it was just one of the perfect words to describe what I felt was going on with me. My head was adjusting to a whole new way of thinking and being. I was also discovering a far more pleasant and real world than the one I’d been in for so many years.
Someone asked on a message board recently “When do you know when you’re done decompressing?” and it’s funny how my answer to that has changed over the past year.
At first I would have said I was done in the first month out. The truth is that I was in denial about the whole thing. Recovery? Adjustment period? What are you talking about? I’m all good. In fact, I’ve never been better. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’ve put all that crazy behind me and I’ll never think about it again.
Well, that lasted for a couple of weeks. Yes, the world was brand new and fresh and alive but then things happened – awkwardness in relationships, mistakes at work – and it started dawning on me that maybe I didn’t have it all together. I wasn’t the Master of the Universe and everyone was not bowing and scraping at my command. I found out that there were some things about communication and relationships that I had to learn all over again. There’s more on this below, but let’s just say for now that it was not all gummy bears and clover.
While going through those adjustments, I would have said that decompression takes about six months.
Amongst the ex-Scientologist community, this phenomena has been referred to as “onion layers peeling off” and like the word “decompression” that is a very apt description. You have no idea when you first come out just how deep the layers go. So far in my experience, the next layer down was not usually within my ability to comprehend until I peeled off the one I was in.
Now I have to say that the decompression is never going to stop. It took me 27 years to dig myself in and there certainly isn’t any reason I can think of that it should take me any less time to dig all the way out.
So What Has Changed?
There have been so many changes and so much growth for me spiritually, emotionally and mentally, that I’d be hard put to even be able to remember them all. They just keep happening. Here are some of the bigger milestones in my recovery:
Probably the biggest change has been losing the anxiety and fear which was a part of my everyday life as a Sea Organization member. After so many years of it, it became normal to be jumpy, anxious, uncertain about my day-to-day existence. I didn’t know when I woke up each day whether at the end of that day, I was going to be in serious trouble warranting another round of disciplinary measures, or whether I was going to pull off some heroic “product” that would keep the Ethics Officer at bay or whether it was just going to be another routine day.
It took me months before I could even identify where this jumpiness was coming from. I had a compulsive need to be busy, to never “be slacking off”. I actually believed that this was a “good work ethic” when in fact it was a terror of the idea of being disciplined for not staying busy every minute of the day. I had to “stay productive” all the time and felt like a totally worthless slob if I took time out after work to watch TV or go play pool. I know there’s nothing wrong with working or with wanting to get things done, but I hope I’m making it clear that this went way beyond any of that.
Once I did finally identify this as actual anxiety, it’s not like it just went away. One of the things I learned is that in real life, just because you “spot” something, that doesn’t mean it just goes away. That’s just another one of Hubbard’s lies. However, I was able to start dealing with it for what it was and I started to purposefully take time to relax and practiced doing nothing important at all.
I’m sure it sounds crazy that I literally had to practice being lazy, but it was the only way I could learn to chill out and lose the anxiety. Then one day, I was sitting reading a novel and I looked up and realized that I was really okay with what I was doing. No one was looking over my shoulder, no one was calling me out for being a slacker and, best of all, no one ever was going to do that to me again.
Communication was another huge change. In Scientology, you are led to believe that Hubbard’s “Communication Formula” is one of the most ultimate truths in the universe. It was one of the first things I learned in Scientology and it was very important to me. I always thought of myself as an excellent communicator. So it was a big surprise when I ran into times where I was not able to “handle” someone through communication alone. It was an even bigger surprise when I had to learn how to just back off and leave someone alone for a while rather than continue prattling at them. That was not what I had been used to in Scientology.
For me, you never left on an ARC break (upset), you never left someone with BIs (bad indicators, meaning angry). But I’ve learned that it’s okay to have an argument with someone and just leave it alone. Sometimes that really is the best way to handle it. Maybe you revisit it later and maybe you don’t. People can actually get along without having to resolve every little thing.
The other major change in communication, of course, was dropping the Scientology words from my vocabulary. At first it was difficult, but I understood them well enough that it was easy to internally translate them and say what I meant in regular English. Mostly this was helpful for me to flush the Scientology thought processes out of my thinking. I’ve seen this advice on message boards and blogs and it’s good advice. Just stop talking like a Scientologist and it makes it a lot easier to stop thinking like one.
Critical Thinking and Tolerance
Finally, I knew I had to review all of my beliefs and all of my “stable data” to determine what actually made sense to me, versus what I had been told was true. In Scientology, there is so much information that is forced down your throat but it’s done in such a slow and pleasant way that it doesn’t feel like that. Anyone reading this who has been routinely flunked on clay demonstrations or star-rate checkouts until they finally got it right according to the materials instead of according to what they really thought, will know what I’m talking about.
This is when I happened upon critical thinking as a subject.
I was thoroughly trained in Hubbard’s Data Series, which is his version of logic. I thought, since Hubbard told me so, that anything having to do with logic and reason beyond the Data Series was completely obtuse, unlearnable and worthless. So imagine my surprise when I actually started looking into it and found that the Data Series “evaluation tech” is completely inadequate as a system of thought. I found out that those old guys Socrates and Plato and many other philosophers and masters of logic and rhetoric through the years actually did have some idea of what they were talking about.
It was when I found Carl Sagan’s “Baloney Detection Kit”, contained in his book The Demon-Haunted World, that my eyes opened wide to the undeniable fact that almost everything Hubbard wrote was, in fact, pseudo-science. In other words, there is no real science in anything Hubbard wrote or said. He simply claimed that his subjects were based in science and he used scientific-sounding words and phrases to impress his readers. This is especially true in the formative years of Dianetics and Scientology, when he was trying to convince engineers.
My point is not to convince anyone with this, I’m merely relating what I experienced during my own decompression. Perhaps some day I’ll do a more thorough analysis of this so I can make a real argument about the pseudo-science of Dianetics and Scientology. If you are reading this right now, and you think that I’m totally off on this and that Hubbard’s science is totally sound, I’m not going to take up debating you in the comments. We can save that for another time.
Through this education in critical thinking, I lost something which I now consider to have actually been a more valuable “gain” than anything else so far: I lost my blind certainty. I lost the false conviction that I knew it all, and with it the idea that any one man or one subject or one source is going to tell me everything I need to know. I learned that there is no one who has all the answers, and anyone claiming to be that is probably just trying to sell you something.
This was not a cynical lesson. Just the opposite. What I learned is that the entire universe is full of things to know and experiences to be had. I learned that I know hardly anything and the rest of my life can be spent finding my own answers. This was the day that I felt like I really “woke up”.
With Scientology, I had bought into the idea that I’d “done it all before” and that “Hubbard figured it all out”. I was doing nothing more than denying myself a life worth living. Blindly following anyone, never thinking and never questioning, is a great way to run into a lot of walls. I’m not going to live my life that way ever again.
Yet at the same time, I no longer look down on anyone’s beliefs or faith. Like I’ve said from the very beginning, people are free to believe whatever they want. I don’t care and why should I? It’s not my place to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t believe about anything. How do I know if there’s a God? How do I know if someone saw a UFO or not? The truth is I don’t have a clue and neither does anyone else. That’s why it’s called faith.
Critical thinking and science have given me guideposts so that I can rationally evaluate information and make my own decisions and come to my own conclusions. If I want to share my ideas with other people and they happen to agree with me, that’s awesome, but I’m never going to try to shove my beliefs down anyone’s throat.
I can provide evidence and explanations. I am more than happy to listen to other people’s evidence and explanations, and then come to my own conclusions.
When it comes to judging people, it’s their actions that count. It’s not their beliefs, it’s what they do with them.
A New Beginning
I can honestly say that my life has never been better than it is now. I have a freedom of thought and expression and movement that I never thought possible when I was in Scientology. I have a sense of hope about the future – one that I’m making in my own way – and I have never been happier.
I have real friends who will not abandon me or stop talking to me just because someone orders them to or because I choose to say what’s on my mind. There are no restrictions on what I can say to them or what they can say back to me.
And while everything I’ve been talking about here has basically been about me, that’s not what my life is all about. So much of what I have done in the past and what I do now is driven by my desire to help and that’s never going to stop. As they say in Scientology, life is lived on all eight dynamics, meaning across the entire vista of existence and not just for oneself. Now for the first time since I was a teenager, I really am able to live across all those dynamics and it feels wonderful.
I can’t recommend it enough.
Chris SheltonOur acknowledgement to Chris for allowing us to reproduce this article from his blog – if you’d like to read more articles by Chris you can do so at his blog: “Chris Shelton – Critical Thinker at Large”