It’s been over 8 months since the last time I engaged in the door-to-door ministry. Over 6 months since my last meeting at the Kingdom Hall. And now – 10 days since my official disassociation from the Watchtower organization. Let’s recap:
I’ve gained a more profound and deep spirituality that I never had while I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ve learned and developed a greater love and compassion for people – all people, with differing viewpoints and beliefs. I grew a beard, have my first tattoo, registered to vote and attended my first political rally. I’ve been attending a church that actually focuses on helping their community, such as with food pantries and feeding local university students. I’ve reconnected with my sister (also an ex-JW) who I had a hand in shunning for the past 20+ years. The enormous burden and guilt, with the constant pressure to do more, I suffered through while in the organization is gone. Replaced with with a more personal relationship with God.
Despite the immense benefits mentioned above, I find myself wanting back in the repressive organization I grew up in. This isn’t a fleeting nostalgic feeling that I have now that I am officially out. No, I have felt this way for months. Do I believe that they have the ‘truth’? Not by a long shot. I could list here several beliefs and policies that I vehemently disagree with. Points of contention that nobody in the congregation or in my family could justify with the Bible (Not that they tried very hard. Once you raise doubts you are not worth even trying to help apparently.) However, as I look back and take stock of my life since my awakening I can’t in good conscience say that everything has been great. In fact, in some respects, I have been though and am still going through the worst period of stress and depression in my life. First I lost my sense of self. My security blanket of absolute certainty of belief. I miss being right all the time about everything. Or at least thinking I was. I lost the sense of belonging to a group of like minded people. Sure I didn’t have a lot of friends in the congregation, nor was I in any position of responsibility there. But while apart of this closed off people, you have a real sense of purpose and feel you are making a real difference in the grand scheme of things. The feeling of having wasted the first 32 years of your life is a hard pill to swallow. That is something I will never get back. Even if I were to beg them to forget everything and reinstate me into the organization (which would take years probably) I would never again recapture the ‘magic’ of it. I would never again feel that way about things. I would be a life of screaming behind my eyes as I followed along with the talks, Watchtower studies, and convention parts. Plus the idea of me going door-to-door and trying to recruit others into an organization I myself disagreed with is so hypocritical it makes me sick. On top of that, there would be the endless ‘friendly’ conversations with fellow Witnesses before and after the meetings or out in field service extolling what they read in a Watchtower, or how wonderful being in the organization is, all the while biting my tongue about the real truth of things.
So why would I ever want to put myself back there? Because of what leaving has done to me. Depression, suicidal urges, loneliness, feelings of rejection and worthlessness have become my constant companion along with all the great things I have gained that I mention at the beginning. I miss all my fake ‘friends’ I had (even though I didn’t get a single call or text in the 6 months I didn’t go to the meetings). My only real friend I had, or ever had, George Featherstone (yes that’s his real name, because fuck him that’s why) threw over 20 years of friendship in the trash one sunny Tuesday afternoon after just a few text messages from me about how I had a problem with the idea of shunning people. 2 hours is all it took for him to forget 20 years. I never even got to speak with him in person. I miss him. For my part, I am and always shall be his friend.
I lost my parents. Now, I was never that close to them as compared to how more normal families are with each other. But it is a completely unnatural feeling to feel rejected and abandoned by the people who were responsible for your birth and raised you. Humans were not meant to feel those emotions, and to go through that just because you disagree with some of their religious beliefs, is almost impossible to take. I knew I would be shunned when I started out on this path, but I severely underestimated how much it would hurt. If my child was on a path that I sincerely thought would bring about his ultimate demise, I would not stop trying to help him or her. I would constantly be trying to reach out to him and help. And in the end, if he decided he did not want my help and was fine going his own way, I would always be there for him, because I would know that my active love and concern for him, my very presence in his life, might make a difference. I got no such treatment from my parents. My dad didn’t even try to help, his only concern was that I didn’t infect his other son from my dangerous ideas. My mom eventually just stopped answering my texts, even before I was dissociated. It took her over a week after it was announced at the Kingdom Hall to text my wife (who is still in) that she was ‘Sorry for Jon’. But I miss them, especially my mom. To her I would just say that I’m sorry. I didn’t do this to cause you pain, or to just be able to do what I wanted to. There is only one and only reason why I would ever put everyone through this: It’s not true. I don’t believe it anymore. I’m sorry but I can’t go along with something that I fundamentally disagree with.
I lost my in-laws. For most people this would be in the benefits column. My in-laws are different. They have always been there for me when my own parents weren’t. The reality was shattered when I finally came out in the open that I was leaving the organization. They both came over to talk with me about it. What I had hoped was a compassionate conversation about my problems turned right from the beginning into a loud condescending monologue from my father-in-law about how I was turning my back on ‘God’s organization’. All my mother-in-law said was that I had a lot of things to apologize about and that I wasn’t a good son-in-law because……reasons. I miss them.
I lost my confidence in the future. Will my kids be okay? Will they get into a university? Will I have enough money to retire on in say 40 years? Most concerning of all is my concern with my marriage. Will we last? Will we grow apart after a few years of this? We’ve already become such different people in the last few months. Will I survive all this turmoil emotionally or will I eventually succumb to it a be only a statistic in yearly suicide rates?
So……now what? I have no idea. I just know that if given the chance I would wipe away the last 7 months from my mind and forget about ever awakening to the truth about ‘the truth’. I would just like to go back to the way things were. I tried so hard to believe everything for the sake of others, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t want to leave and have everyone I loved and cared about turn there back on me. But I cannot unlearn what I have learned. For some, my words here is just an example of the very real danger of looking outside ‘Jehovah’s arrangement’. But please also consider this: If the voluntary leaving of your religion leaves your life in tatters, and your family destroyed, what does that say about you religion in the first place and the control it has on people?
As a character in the Matrix says when trying to get his memory erased and plugged back in by the machines: “Ignorance is bliss.”