Leave, get disfellowshipped or fade away: Well, I guess I experience a triple whammy because I went through all three stages:
First I had the disagreements --They dealt with my expectation of what I considered Christian and right and theocratic. That started at Bethel and I couldn’t take it anymore and left there. Going back to the congregation left me very disappointed. I had already started questioning the organizational arrangements and how the elders arbitrated over things. I experienced a sort of boredom which later turned into an annoyance at hearing the same crappy tidbits of fourth-grade wisdom coming from the platform. Needing something to fill my void (even though I was barely still attending the meetings), I started going to college. That was very exciting but it further alienated me from everyone else, including my family. You could say that I was starting to “fade”, but that was not the biggest shove in that direction that I experienced. It wasn’t a complete and final exit, but I was essentially on my own.
By then, depression had set in. This was partly due to my nature and partly due to the guilt I experienced for leaving what I had come to accepted as true. I not only felt the loss of fellowship and the camaraderie I experienced at Bethel, but I couldn’t really talk to anyone in the congregation or my family about my curricular activities at college. Studying in a higher-learning institution was still frowned upon. Making friends in the “world” was not easy. I was a bit ashamed of my religious past and I had not completely gone over to the “other side”. You could say I was pretty screwed existing in a social and spiritual limbo.
Fading away -- Eventually, I left my home in the East and headed to the West Coast. With new surroundings, I expected a change. The change was worse, I didn’t know anyone, even though I manage to look up a local congregation and make acquaintances. That’s when I really started to fade. I found myself alone not willing to share my past with anyone, not being able to communicate with my Witness family and being in a new unfamiliar place with little money for entertainment. I had been so desperate that I decided to risk my venture alone without much help from anyone. Even though I eventually had stopped associating with the new congregation (it was easy because I barely knew anyone), I still had the guilt and kept telling myself that I would return to it someday.
After giving myself permission to “wander off”, I started to associate with some co-workers. That inevitably led to parties and some other stuff that I don’t regret but would rather not do again. With that came the women, the booze and some experimentation with certain other substances – I didn’t go sex-crazy or became a drunk or a drug addict. So, I feel lucky I came out of that OK. I credit my upbringing for having instilled in me some moral controls and to some serious evaluation on my part to keep me honest and not go off the deep end. I was still thinking that I would always go back to the JWs. I met a guy at a bar who turned out to be an ex. JW (we were both trying to pick up a lady). We felt kindred for being in the same situation. After some conversations in which I admitted to him that I would someday return, he emphatically stated that he would not. He said it in a way that revealed his hurt and disappointment. He apparently had some run-ins with the elders, especially with a few that had an unfair favoritism for someone else and antagonism for him. I didn't understand what he felt until much later.
Being disfellowshipped: Even though I wanted to return, I wasn’t quite ready. I had encountered another ex-Witness that I knew from my days back East and he told me about Ray Franz’s book “Crisis of Conscience”, several months after its publication. It was pretty devastating because I knew Ray (we attended the same congregation for a time and I also saw him while I was living at Brooklyn Bethel) but I had been so out of touch, I had no idea all of that had transpired. It prompted me to write a letter to the Society asking about the military situation with the brothers in Mexico. Even though they replied directly, they sent a copy to the local congregation, which prompted a couple of visits from the elders. It was unfortunate that the elders decided to pay me a visit and found a pack of cigarettes on my coffee table. Yes, I had started that habit again having smoked for a bit before I was baptized. They told me that I had to come back and quit right now, otherwise they wouldn’t accept my desire to be with “Jehovah’s People”. I told them that I’d like to do that but that it wasn’t so easy at this stage of my life. They left and then I got the letter several weeks later. I was DF’d. I was saddened at first, but then turn angrier with the years. By then I had discovered all their lies; that the world wasn’t so bad; that non-Witnesses were not the enemy; that there were good people everywhere. It was a fast and furious education that turned me into a relatively savvy worldly person from a sheltered innocent youth (which was mostly consumed by the WTBTS).
Yes, in many ways my pendulum swung to the other extreme, even to the point of questioning the fundamental belief in God. I then attacked those questions with all the intellectual intensity and honesty I could muster and have come to an unusual but comfortable conclusion. Leaving didn’t turn out to be just an unhappy thing. It was damned-right painful and quite devastating emotionally. My deception cut deep. However, I couldn’t be more fulfilled and secure because of it. I’m married, happy, non-smoking and have experienced many wonderful things. Even though I don’t talk much about it today, in a way I treasure that ugly past because it’s largely responsible for the person I am today. It’s like a guy at Bethel used to say to me: “I wouldn’t take a million dollars in exchange for this experience, but I would give a penny for any more of it.”