Part VII – Not The End Or The Beginning
As mentioned previously I was starting to travel more frequently to the US on business, specifically Los Angeles. The CEO and I had casually discussed me relocating from London to somewhere ‘interesting’. I mentioned Shanghai as we had just opened an office there, and I always liked Chinese food so it seemed the perfect choice. Sam was not enthusiastic about the idea of living in a tower block in Shanghai and my boss was not convinced I had the required diplomatic skills for the Chinese, but he did ask whether Los Angeles might work for us. Erm yes….I had seen the bikini-clad beach volleyball enthusiasts hard at work in November and I was sure I could adapt to LA. The only problem was timing. We were desperate to leave London, as at that point we were still un-disfellowshipped and felt that a move to LA could help us disappear of the JW radar, while still maintaining a civil relationship with my family. However, the wheels turned slowly and it took about a year to finally get there. By this time we had been disfellowshipped and any hope of fading into the ether had been extinguished. It was sad to leave London - I had spent 10 happy years there – and Sam and I had some great friends (non-JW) who we wanted to put in our suitcases, but the chance to live and work on another continent does not come around every day.
In 1977 I was a young boy leaving the Outer Hebridean islands of Scotland for a new life, whilst 5000 miles away The Eagles released Hotel California. Over 30 years later I was once again setting off for a new life, this time to California, and would discover the truth of their lyric - I had checked out but could never leave, and unlike Don Henley we hadn’t yet experienced the madness of LA, but we had the madness of JW etched deep.
A cult will try and classify all people as either ‘us’ or ‘them’. Separating the followers from the doomed in this manner is essential to maintaining control. If you can make people believe they are somehow superior to their misguided and lost brethren then all manner of unconscionable behavior becomes palatable. For example doomed relatives can be semi-shunned, safe in the knowledge they are ultimately destined for massive and everlasting justice. I believe this to be at the root of the toxic relationship between Jehovah’s Witnesses and their ‘worldly relatives’. How can you hope to form a close family bond with people that you truly believe to be at least misguided or possibly wicked and that are earmarked for destruction by Jesus ‘soon’? This is part of the psychological and social separation that differentiates high control groups from mainstream religion. Of course the core believers that work for free at the Bethels homes around the world are also physically separated from society in a monastery-like environment.
As it stands my relationship with my mother and brother is non-existent. I know my mother is heartbroken by my decision to leave the group, but she has made her dedication to Jehovah/WTS and will stick to it. This is where Steve Hassan’s book – Combating Cult Mind Control – proved to be a tremendous help to me. Understanding that cult members have a ‘real’ personality and a ‘cult’ personality and the role of cognitive dissonance makes her dilemma understandable for me. However it doesn’t lessen the pain of rejection by your own family and the knowledge that if I didn’t have children it is unlikely she would be in touch at all. So right now I’m still conflicted as to whether to keep in contact with Mum or not. It feels like I should be the better person and do the right thing, but also I have limited interest in an ultimately toxic relationship with someone who sincerely believes I’m murdering my children by not bringing them up as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Perhaps you can see my dilemma.
The reason I mention all this is that after being disfellowshipped I discovered a lost family I never knew I had. Of course I knew my aunts, uncles and cousins, but I never knew them as people. Real people that had their own hopes, fears, dreams and aspirations. People that would die of natural causes (later rather than sooner I sincerely hope), people that were not going to be assassinated en masse by a vengeful man from the sky. And for the sympathy, kindness and encouragement given to me by my aunts in the UK and my large extended family in New Zealand I am truly grateful. Over the decades they have had an extended look into the Jehovah’s Witness world and they know the price paid to exit is not insignificant. We took advantage of being a mere 5000 miles from New Zealand to spend a few weeks with my family over there in December last year. Of course Xmas was part of that and it was a privilege to be part of the family for what is ultimately an enjoyable way to spend time together as family and friends. Over the 2 weeks I got to know my cousins, their partners and children a whole lot better and hopefully the love and respect is mutual. Ahhhh – I got all soppy for a moment there.
We had a free hand to decide where in LA we wanted to live. I only knew one person there – a business contact – and we had become good friends – I had taken care of him a little bit in London and he had looked after me in LA. And because he and his wife lived in Hermosa Beach they persuaded us to look in the area for a house – it really didn’t take much persuasion. So we ended up in nearby Manhattan Beach. The series of beach towns that make the South Bay are perfect for families – great climate, very safe, near the ocean, high quality schools and housing – what more could we ask for? Nothing really – we felt like we had arrived in heaven without the usual intermediary journey. Except our one friend left town for a bigger house about 40 miles away just before we moved over. Now we were going to be all alone in LA. This is where a vivacious wife with young children really comes into their own. Sam was soon making new friends left right and center. And so we have a rag-tag eclectic bunch of friends whom we love dearly – and they are all characters with plenty to say and stories to tell. Socializing here is very informal and there are no airs and graces, no grand dinner parties or stuck-up staff to deal with – perfect. There is a big ex-pat community so no problem finding English friends but we have also managed to add a few Americans onto our iPhones.
Particularly our American friends that we found via JWN. (Thank you to our fellow Brit adventurers Simon and Angharad) On a trip over here to look for a house we had a little party night with three people - dogpatch, dagney and aude sapere - and we have stayed friends with all of them, and also met new people through them. That’s how it works. We had a great time at the Tahoe meetup last summer – flipper, kudra, pec, barbie doll, eliveleth and many more – it was great to meet you all. Also via JWN Sam spotted a new poster by the name of whoknows and sent them a message wondering if they would like to meet up with us. We did meet up and became great friends with Frank and Barbara Kavelin – they have recently been disfellowshipped and so have been able to tell just a little part of their amazing story. Frank was not the first but the second ex-PO who I have shared a cigar with. Barbara is rediscovering her amazing artistic ability and a long lost love affair with Xmas – if anyone can tastefully incorporate a naked man into a Xmas card scene it will be Barbara. dogpatch – who you may know better as Randy Watters - lives very close to us, just five or ten minutes and we have become buddies really. Randy is a complex character with a huge story and a heart of gold – I have been privileged recently to be helping him with his website freeminds.org – please visit the site and contribute to his work – he has spent 28 years helping people that are looking to leave high-control groups such as the Watchtower Society. Randy is due to our place for margaritas – the door is open my friend – well if you can press harder on the bell this time as I know you didn’t get an answer last time you were here. dagney and tinker you know you are – come round and smoke a fat Cuban any time – and bring some more of that bourbon – you drank the last lot before you left.
And so I’d like to indulge myself with a few more words about me.
My name is Paul Morrison and I’m an apostate ex-Jehovah’s Witness, but current member of the human race. I’m happily married to Sam and have two beautiful boys, Archie and Bertie. I enjoy laughing and the company of my fellows, including smoking cigars, drinking liquor and occasionally coarse language. I’m interested in the future and believe technology, not God, will save us from ourselves. I have straight, gay and one bi-lonely friend - you know who you are, you crazy chick. I hold certain political opinions. I am neither spiritual nor religious. I understand that Jehovah’s Witnesses may be individually moral and good, but collectively are part of a destructive high control group that has cost many thousands of innocent children’s lives.
Thanks for reading my story – it has been a pleasure to write it – I hope it made you laugh and made you think. I encourage all ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses to write their story, not anonymously if possible. Individually we can remove the power of the Watchtower Society from our own lives - together we may just achieve a lot more.
We live 50 yards from the ocean – I might just go for a beer and watch the sun set in its final destination.