John Duignan, 45
Interview by Charlotte Philby
Saturday, 21 February 2009
Mine was an uneasy childhood. My father was schizophrenic and had bouts of manic depression. He and my mother both died when I was 10 years old, and my siblings and I moved from Scotland to Ireland, to live with my mother’s relatives.
As a teenager, I started to find the idea of an all-encompassing God and protector alluring, and in 1984, moved to a small village in Germany. Here, I discovered Scientology. I was in a bad way one afternoon, walking the streets of Stuttgart, when a young lady approached me: “Do you have a good memory?” she asked. I agreed to join her at the local Scientology centre, to find out.
The centre was filled with friendly, efficient people. It all seemed very official and scientific. I took tests which revealed I needed counselling, or “auditing”. I found the “science” aspect very seductive, and quickly became involved in the group.
After two weeks, I was taken with the teachings of [Scientology’s founder] L Ron Hubbard. He was my guru, and I started to see less of my girlfriend and friends.
I worked for the Scientologists from 9am to 11pm, for the equivalent of £15 per week. Within months of that first meeting, I was recruited to the Sea Organisation – a central management group within the association. My work for them included administration and PR.
I lived in a commune in Los Angeles with the Sea Org for a while. It was a highly disciplined, enclosed environment. We were self-sufficient: building our own computers, growing our own food – we had very little contact with the outside world. I was transferred all over the world, and in 2000 was living in Dorset when I made a discovery.
Scientology works on a strictly hierarchical basis. All through my membership, I was told there was a revelation I was being built up to, Hubbard’s theory of creation. When I became privy to the details of the story, I was shocked that this was the carrot on a stick that had kept me with the organisation for so long. His ideas seemed ludicrous, and when I stumbled upon other details of Hubbard’s biography, I was appalled.
It took five more years to gather the courage to leave. For two decades this had been my life. I had no skills, no cultural references; I’d become institutionalised. In 2005, I made my escape in the middle of the night. Facing the outside world was terrifying. But slowly, I began to rebuild my life. I went back to Ireland and got to grips with the basics: how to cook and shop. Now I have a wonderful partner, I’m enrolled at university, and I’m learning to be a human for the first time ever. It’s like having a new lease of life.
‘The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology’ by John Duignan, published by Merlin, £9.99. To order a copy (with free p&p) call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897