Well, we guarantee you haven’t read one like this.
Vance Woodward is a Bay Area lawyer who fell into Scientology at only 14, spent 22 years struggling through the church’s auditing, and handed over about $600,000 along the way.
And now, he’s gone deep into his own personal story in order to give the rest of us one of the most entertaining and penetrating descriptions of what it’s like to fall under L. Ron Hubbard’s spell in Addicted to Scientology: Overcoming the Ups & Downs of Scientoloholism.
At 350 pages, Woodward’s book may go into the ripoffs and redundancies and sheer inanities of life at the Winnipeg and San Francisco “orgs” in such detail that we wonder about the book’s appeal for a general reader. But for those of us fascinated with Scientology in its time of crisis, this book is a rollicking good time.
But don’t come to it expecting to learn about the secret plans of church leader David Miscavige, or the deprivations of the Sea Org, or the indignities of “disconnection” or “fair game.”
Woodward’s book is not an expose about those controversies that have threatened to split the church apart.
In some ways, Woodward’s book is even more worrisome for the Scientology project: it tells, in hilarity and frustration, what it can be like for a run-of-the-mill church member who simply wants to improve his life. For Woodward, it was a maddening series of experiences that had him mired for years in low-level auditing. After 22 years, he never finished the “Grades,” let alone went Clear or advanced to the OT levels.
From his struggles to get someone, anyone, at the church to give him a straight answer about anything, to his grim experiences being constantly interrogated about his most embarrassing personal foibles in the name of “ethics,” to the constant fleecing he went through as he attended one fundraiser after another — Woodward explains his inability to call a halt to the years of insanity by concluding, finally, that Scientology is a drug, and that he was an addict.
While getting to that conclusion, Woodward falls upon brilliant insights about the “technology” itself. There’s his study of Hubbard’s idea about “thetans” and past lives, for example: Woodward explains that a close reading shows that Hubbard never expected anyone to think that exploring past lives was anything but make believe.
After finishing his book, we sent Woodward some questions and then talked to him on the phone. Here’s how our e-mail exchange went…
You describe so many problems advancing up the Bridge and getting training — and in general we do hear complaints that this is a widespread issue as the focus has shifted to donations for things like IAS and library campaigns. Auditors are just not being created like they once were, we hear all the time. But on the other hand, there are stories like Brian Culkin’s. In only a year (2009-2010), he went Clear, and did quite a bit of training (and also got drained of $350,000). So the question is, do you have any sense for how typical your experience was, and how many others are having a hard time getting up the Bridge?
I’d say my experience is pretty typical in terms of Bridge progress over time…but atypical in terms of Bridge progress per dollar spent. I mean, most Scientologists don’t go up the Bridge, period. Most Scientologists aren’t particularly into studying Scientology. And most Scientologists are broke…or profess to be so. So those things all go together intuitively.
That said, most well-heeled Scientologists — say, dentists or whatever — do tend to make it up to the OT levels if they stick around long enough. Basically, everybody has a very difficult time getting up the Bridge, but nobody talks about the difficulties. So, when you look at others who have made it to Clear or beyond, it always just sort of seems like they must have had an easy time of it…even though with a little reflection one has to assume such was not the case. When you’re inside, it’s tough to gauge anything based on what people say because everything always has a positive spin on it. It would — no joke — be out-ethics to say anything that would discourage others from trying to go up the Bridge. Certainly, talking about difficulties or giving the impression that it’s difficult to get up the Bridge would be good for a trip to the Ethics Officer.
Anyhow, from 1989 to 2007, I’d say my progress was typical: on and off, redoing stuff, getting mostly nowhere in terms of Bridge progress. But, certainly in the 2007-2010 period, I was way beyond anybody else in SF as far as I know in terms of amount of auditing received and in terms of donating to the IAS (in SF).
In the case of Brian Culkin, it’s probably easier for a brand-new Scientologist to just fly up the Bridge. Once you’ve been in for a while and have rolled up some Ethics trouble and auditing upsets, they seem to keep coming back over and over to haunt one. Old timers spend a lot of time just being upset about having to have their upsets handled, which upsets them, which needs to be handled, which…It’s like a sick relationship that way.
I have another theory…even more speculative. Very social, normal people have an easier time going up the Bridge, period. You can think of going up the Bridge as more of a filtering process than a road of improvement. Culkin seems pretty social/normal/empathic. I’ve grown to suspect that I’m an aspy, or at least I’m like an aspy in many ways. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that aspies and autistics in general might react differently on the e-meter…uh-oh. Either way, they’re different from normal people, which will indeed cause trouble in auditing, especially when you consider that auditing benefits depend on open communication between the PC and auditor…not an aspy strong suit.
You do such a good job describing how you caved, time and time again, to requests for more money, and how you ended up getting outright ripped off. You provide a very entertaining internal dialogue about how you felt like such a sucker, but you’re writing this after the fact. At the time, were you really conscious of how badly you were being taken? And how do you feel about that now? Why were you such an easy mark?
It’s one thing to get suckered or manipulated by a Scientologist. Anybody can write that off as not reflecting Scientology in general. I never really felt like I was being ripped off by Scientology or the overall Church…until the end.
I was an easy mark because, for whatever reason — pride — I couldn’t make myself plead “no money” like so many other Scientologists would. On the other side, there were plenty of ballers who would give or had given as much as me…I looked up to them. I wanted to set a good example, too.
I tried to capture as best I could how I felt at the time that things were happening. Of course, that’s extremely difficult to do honestly for a number of reasons (faulty memory mixed with hindsight, rationalization, etc.). At the very least, I wanted to avoid that sounding self-righteous.
The thing that kept me going was the abiding faith that further breakthroughs would come my way if I kept motoring up the Bridge. I was convinced that Scientology had layered meanings and that, by continuing, I’d become more “causative,” and less sucker. So, getting suckered here and there only served to confirm for me that I needed more Scientology, not less, because here I am getting suckered by other Scientologists. Stating it slightly differently, I figured there were enough hidden gems waiting somewhere, hopefully, that it would all be worthwhile. And to the extent things were getting costly and for little gain, I figured that I had to mentally commit more in order to get more gains. Since I had more money than most others (and I envisioned myself as being a bigger, smarter, more able being than most others), the money I donated (dollar for dollar) meant less to me than it did to others. So, naturally I had to give more than the average impoverished Scientologist just to extract the same feeling of commitment. That theory — that I just needed to commit even more — pretty much was enough to drain my bank account.
How I feel now is pretty much the same as I described at the end of the book, more or less. I mean, I just feel like I need to suck it up (that I was WRONG WRONG WRONG!) and move on. Harboring hatred and resentment isn’t going to lead anywhere useful, just like it doesn’t lead anywhere useful to hate on drug addicts and dealers. Some people can use drugs socially and then stop no problem. Other can’t. I’m one of the others. Bummer.
We wondered how much this material would appeal to a more general audience, perhaps with an edit. What’s the history of this project as a book?
I sent it to, oh, 50 agents or so back in April, and got no bites. (One person did kindly write me an e-mail saying something to the effect that it wasn’t bad but that I needed a platform, which I sort of was expecting.) So, I let it sit for a few months while I worked on my other books, then came back to it, gave it some more edits and went ahead with the self-publishing route.
Just as I was going through the last edit, I decided to write a chapter on how I was feeling nowadays and that morphed into the This Is Scientology series that I put on my blog. I’d certainly love to get the book published mainstream … That’d be quite awesome!
I think the book is way different than anything else about Scientology on the market. Sure, there’s no Tom Cruise, no inner sanctum, no “harrowing escape.” It’s just about a high-IQ douchebag drug addict (kind of pedestrian as far as memoirs go). The upsides are that I try take you inside my head as best I can so that it can sort of seem logical and not just self-righteous. That and I’m pretty sure I had insights about what was going on in Ron’s mind that others haven’t articulated.
In our phone conversation, Woodward says that he still has $200,000 on account, and has already sent one letter asking the church for a refund. If he gets no response to further inquiries, he says he plans to file suit.
Something tells us the legal documents he files in that case will be a hoot.