By the early 1990s years of over-work and lack of sleep were taking their toll on Maureen Bolstad’s health. Scientology’s solution was to force her to disconnect from her mother.
For everyone who worked in Scientology Sea Organization, particularly at the International Base, near Hemet, in California, the priority was to “make it go right”.
Every Sea Org member knew that their superiors did not want to hear about their problems: they only wanted solutions.
But this gung-ho, can-do attitude meant staff pushed themselves beyond their natural limits. This was as true for Maureen Bolstad as it was for any of the others.
On one occasion in 1988 she worked four days and four nights without sleep. She and her film crew colleagues had been told they could not go home until a job had been done.
She was on her fifth day up when she fell asleep at her computer terminal. A colleague tried to wake her up, she recalled in a posting to the Ex Scientologist Message Board.
“I heard his voice like it was coming from a tunnel and he was calling me from far away… [b]ut I was struggling to get myself to wake up and just get my eyes open.
“Everything was really fuzzy. When I woke up, I was gasping for air and my lungs and throat were burning.
“My whole body had this strange tingling feeling like a hand or a foot that had fallen asleep and was waking up, but it was all over my whole body.
“My head was throbbing and my chest and lower neck area felt like someone had punched me really really hard. It was all cramped up…”
While that was perhaps her longest period without sleep, pulling overnighters were fairly common at the base – and seven hours’ sleep a night was just a dream for most of the staff there.
A year later, in 1989, she was tidying up some video cables, cutting off the excess ends when one of her superiors took it upon himself to start bawling her out.
Flustered and distracted, she turned back to her work – and a wire from the cable went into her left eye.
But she still had to finish the job.
The next day, running a high temperature and with a splitting headache, she was given antibiotics and an eye patch and told to rest.
Within an hour – and despite being in a great deal of pain – she had been pulled back to work.
Although her eye eventually healed, she lost her 20/20 vision.
Like many of her colleagues Maureen Bolstad had for years soldiered on despite a crushing workload, little or no sleep and virtually no time off.
Then in 1991, when discipline at the base tightened, Bolstad started getting into trouble.
She was missing too many of the obligatory musters, the roll calls that had been introduced as part of the new “get tough” regime.
She was still a key member of film crew and her colleagues tried to cover for her, explaining that she was sick – which by this time was no more than the truth.
But that just generated more problems.
Rather than attribute her illness to overwork and lack of sleep, her superiors decided the real problem was “enturbulation” – a Hubbardism for commotion and upset – from the outside world.
They explained to her that her mentally ill mother’s constant depression, her chronic sickness, was a sure sign that she was “below 2.0” on the tone scale.
The tone scale is a chart of Hubbard’s devising – and so by definition infallible. It is supposed to chart the range of emotional states, assigning numerical values to each one: from “body death” at zero on the scale to “Serenity of Beingness” at 40.
Maureen’s superiors showed her passages from one of Hubbard’s early works, The Science of Survival (1951) to explain why being below 2.0 (“antagonism”) was so serious.
“I was shown chapters … about how terrible people are below that tone level,” she said. “It implied that she was indeed a suppressive person by virtue of the fact that she was chronically ill.”
Her superiors wanted her to break off contact from her mother.
But one of the main reasons she had got involved in Scientology was the recruiter's promise that the skills it offered might help her cure her mother’s mental illness.
For Scientology however, the fact that her mother was being treated by a psychiatrist – and taking psychiatric drugs – meant that she was beyond help. For only high-tone people were able to advance up Scientology’s Bridge to Total Freedom.
During her 18 years at the International Base, Maureen had managed to get clearance to visit her perhaps three times, each time for less than a week. “Because my mother was seeing a psychiatrist I was discouraged from seeing her at all.”
Now however she was being told to sever all links with her.
Bolstad had already had a taste of how devastating the disconnection process could be.
Early on in her Scientology career, she had been told to break contact from her step-father, who had been unhappy that her mother had let her join the Sea Org.
Bolstad was devoted to her step-father: he fixed her up when she messed up a knee skateboarding; he bought her first dictionaries for her; and his coaching in maths and science helped her shine at school. Her step-father had been there for her when she needed him.
But her superiors in Scientology had decided he was suppressive.
They gave her a draft of a letter and made her copy it out: in it, she said she told him she would have no more contact with him.
It was only later that her sister, who had followed her into Scientology, told her the effect the letter had had on him. He had been devastated, reduced to tears – something she had never imagined.
It was her first real taste of Scientology’s ethics system. And even if later, she had been permitted to re-establish contact with him, it left its mark.
Now she was being told to cut off contact with her mother.
“I was informed that disconnecting would be better for her too, because then she would not feel guilty for dragging me down with her,” she recalled.
In 1992, under pressure from her ethics officers, Maureen did as she was told and disconnected.
“I actually wrote her a formal letter,” she recalled. “I didn’t want to send it, I chickened out, but my sister had already sent hers and I thought, ‘Oh shoot, I guess I better send mine,’ and I did – and I so regretted it because it upset my mother so much...
“That just totally ruined everything: I disconnected from my mother, which is the whole reason I was there.”
Eventually however, the guilt proved too much.
By 1994 she was back in touch with her mother, writing letters and even managing to get one phone call past her supervisors. She wanted to make it up to her mother for having cut her out of her life. She even planned to visit.
Again, her superiors intervened.
This time they quoted Scientology’s ethic code, warning her that she could be expelled if she did not disconnect once and for all.
“…dispose of them…”
Since her mother was considered suppressive because of the psychiatric treatment she was receiving, Maureen had already been labelled PTS – a “potential trouble source” – for having resumed contact.
“I had all these restrictions placed on me … I was no longer allowed to make phone calls on my own or to come and go from work without an escort or special authorization.
“There was an Ethics Officer who said this was a serious matter. He showed me the Hubbard policies I was in violation of by being in touch with my mother.”
Hubbard, in his Introduction to Scientology Ethics, lists a series of “suppressive acts”, deeds which in themselves are enough to merit being cast out of the movement. One of them is Failure to handle or disavow or disconnect from a person demonstrably guilty of suppressive acts.
“The Ethics Officer put the dots together and the picture to him was that I was not just harming myself, but all of Scientology by remaining in communication with my mother.
“My mother wasn’t hurting anyone – she just wanted me to visit, that’s all. She never gave me a hard time about my involvement in Scientology – she could have but she didn’t. She just needed to see me, give me a hug and I needed to see her too.”
“I didn’t want to disconnect again, I didn’t think it was right, I tried to get my mother to stop taking psychiatric drugs and seeing a psychiatrist.
“I was shown other Hubbard references about how psychiatrists were evil, how mental illnesses are things that they make up and that the drugs my mother was taking were doing more harm than good. I had to get her to take vitamins instead.”
Since Maureen still believed that Scientology was the only true path to spiritual freedom, the threat of being cast out of the movement weighed heavily on her.
“I was being threatened with an SP [Suppressive Person] declare, and being barred from all future Scientology services... So I tried to ‘handle’ my mother and get her to stop her medications.”
As soon as her mother came off her lithium however, she started hearing voices again and was soon committed to a mental institution.
Maureen’s superiors never did manage to get her to make a definitive break with her mother, and this issue was one of factors in her eventual decision to quit her staff post in the movement.
“I felt let down by Scientology completely, because it had done nothing but cause my mother heartache and worsen her situation and life.
“The promises made to me in the beginning were just a bunch of lies to get me to work for them for nothing.”
But it had taken her years to realise that Scientology did not have the answer for her mother’s condition, despite what her recruiter had told her.
It took a little longer before she realised that Scientology did not have the answer to her own problems either.
In fact, Hubbard did set a solution for people like her mother who registered low on his tone scale. In The Science of Survival, he wrote that they should not have civil rights “of any kind”.
And since such people could not be reasoned with, there were only two other options, he argued.
One was to try to raise them up the tone scale through Hubbard’s Dianetics processing, he wrote. “The other is to dispose of them quietly and without sorrow.”