I've been meaning to join an online ex-JW community for quite some time, and finally have made the effort to do so. I was raised in a small/mid size city in the Northeast United States. I am currently 27 years old, just about five years fully out of the organization (after about two years of "fading" away).
This post is simply to get my thoughts out when possible, chat with others and (if I am so fortunate) help others going through this process. I would like to be of greater aid to those just emerging from the JW culture. I was so fortunate enough to have a strong support system already in place - which included both family members and friends within "the world", a term which only just recently I can say aloud with complete positive energy.
I apologize if this is in the wrong thread - happy to re post if needed. I also apologize that this post doesn't quite have a firm direction, but I am so grateful for the chance to express myself openly and with a certain degree of anonymity.
I encourage you to read and comment - I'd LOVE to hear what things are similar to your experince! I am learning more and more that while we all share common themes, there are so many layers and unique ways this journey has unfolded for all of us,eager to learn and listen to all of you.
So, to begin, a bit about me -
My mother became a JW not long after marrying my father. While they are both still married, he never joined and (thankfully) has remained his own person, generally respectful of her right to practice her own faith. He practises a common blend of lax Irish Catholicism that is more of a social status then a creed (golfing is his mass and being a registered democrat his own priesthood). My mother was the closest thing to what one could call a "liberal Witness".
I know that, for all of you, that term is either nonexistent in your jargon or at worst - an oxymoron. Without too much detail, she was of the breed that lived by the understanding that you must "make the truth your own". The elders and "truly spiritual" people at the hall were not what we lived to please - but only God.
My mother is a reader. We were raised to love literature, theocratic and otherwise (though of course within tame content restrictions). The book of Jeremiah was discussed almost as much as those of Jane Austen. I grew up on My Book of Bible stories audio tapes just as much as I was with Nina Simone, The Beatles, Crowded House and Bach. I was raised to question EVERYTHING - though naturally, she assumed I would arrive at the same answers she did in the late 1970s.
I wonder, did anyone else have this unique blend of secular art, through a "Christian" lens?
I am one of three children, only one of which remains in this religion. However, my other wayward sibling was never baptized (unlike myself at the obviously mature age of 13) so they are not held to quite the same standard as I am. To be clear - I did not DF myself nor have I ever been summoned to a judicial meeting. I am one of the many who simply faded away.
I wrote my letter, and rewrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it. I had every intention of sending it in and finding true closure for myself - however I decided against it, and I still stand by this choice.
For main reason being that while I completely respect others who have done this (every path is different) my core departure involved coming to truly understand I no longer needed to justify my actions to anyone in my city, my state or even in Brooklyn NY. I owed no one anything in that sense, so sending a letter seemed redundant. I also must admit, that despite her more educated world view - my mother was and IS still a very committed individual to her congregation. Without ever having heard her say this, and of course she never would, I believe my mother uses the "loop hole" of having a non-believing husband (still "the man" of her household) as the defense of us having an overall lovely dynamic. Spiritual matters, except for the occasional jab or great tribulation warning - are often not discussed. In her mind, I am simply "inactive" and while I do not flaunt my "sins" in front of her, as any child wouldn't discuss the more adult elements of their life, I also do not hide who I am or what I believe (or DON'T believe). So, despite all of that (which I know is a BIG benefit many on this thread likely can't claim) - I didn't feel I needed to go out of my away to further drive myself from my mother OR my sibling (who is far more committed and likely to upholding the DF policy to the highest degree possible).
I grew up in a divided spiritual household - but not just in the way you might think common.
While my father was not a believer, he, for the most part, gave my mother full power to raise us as JW as long as we agreed to go. While I understand the weird place he found himself in, this is something I need to learn to forgive and come to terms with. I feel he turned a blind eye to us, clearly all being dragged into such a negative enviorment, to keep peace with his wife and to allow him the freedom to operate his life as he wanted as well. This is of course my own view and I'm sure not the complete truth, but I can only state what I saw and how it feels.
No, the real divide didn't come from my father's world view - but from my mothers. While a dedicated JW herself, in her own way as a grown woman, we as children weren't raised exactly as the typical pioneers in training most of my peers were.
Field service was strongly encouraged, though not set my example (Saturdays and one or two weekdays during the entire month at most). Study and being prepared to give great comments or parts in the school were vital (yet personal bible study wasn't policed). Our spiritual commitment to rigid family study or daily text readings came and went with fads.
She did her best. She raised us to have a detailed understanding of the text, to ask questions, to be independent - a trait that while valuable, created a massive disparity between me and my siblings and the other kids at the Kingdom Hall. In retrospect, I often think her inner narrative on many matters forced her to reason within herself.
Worldly school friends coming over our house ("Well, at least they can get a good witness"). Going to non-holiday / political related parties ("Well, they get left out of so much I think its only fair")
For many, this sounds like a dream - HOWEVER - please know, there was absolutely NO consistency or seemingly reasonable guidelines to live within.
Some action or idea would be fine one day - then forbidden and even punishment worthy the next.
One example keeps coming to mind. It may sound silly and minor, but I urge you to either imagine OR remember what it felt like to have limited contact with real friends, and so desperately wanting to make real connections with people that you chose to - not forced to. I had made a friend through, *GASP* an after school theatre workshop (very tame material) that I had begged my father to "encourage" my mother to let me.
This friend, several years older then I, was having a graduation party and invited me to attend. This was before I could drive and the party was taking place about 30 minutes away. My father agreed to drive me as long as I -
1. Kept a temporary cell phone on me my parents would give me for the day,
2. Got high grades on the soon-to-be-delivered report card for my last semester of classes
3.Got my own ride home from an adult at a decent hour
Easily done! One thing JW kids were good at were making plans and making them FAST (it also helped that at the time, I was a studious nerd)
My mother had, with clear reservation, gave her blessing for me to attend. It would only be for a few hours and, perhaps most importantly, the odds of anyone from the congregation finding out would be slim to none.
I RSVP'd to the party weeks ahead of time - I was SO excited! I remember I marked it down in the same little black notebook I kept my field service report in (I had the habit of using my own "codes" for events in case the book fell into enemy - AKA other JW - hands).
The days leading up to this party I remember my excitement was often met with sighs and odd glances from my mother. I knew deep down she didn't love the idea - but she has "let her yes mean yes" and I chose to focus on that. I had no doubt right after this party, a wave of recharged family spiritually will take over for a few weeks. I didn't care - I was prepared to handle daily family bible study AND lame theocratic video marathons if it meant I had these few hours of fun.
The day of the party came.
Less then a hour before my father was set to take me to the party - I heard my parents having a quiet, but clearly tense discussion in the kitchen. In a huff he left the house and under his breathe I heard him say "do what you want, but its not fair to kid".
My heart sank. I walked into the kitchen and put on a smile. My mother pulled me aside. I remember knowing exactly what was happening when she sat me down at the kitchen table, and with clear guilt on her face, looked me in the eyes and said something along the lines of "I'm very sorry - but I don't think you should go to this worldly party". I don't remember what she said next. I remember rage and sadness and my own guilt building up inside of me. I am sure I summoned up a bit of brat within myself, but by the end of our brief conversation, I accepted her request and I slowly marched up to my room to send an IM (times change quickly) to my friend to apologize. "Something came up" I said. My friend was understanding but clearly upset - we drifted apart soon after.
I remember, as stupid as it sounds, in the moment thinking it was a test from God - and I should be proud that I took the path "narrow and leading to salvation". This was of little comfort though as I cried myself to sleep early that night. God it seems so strange to visualize how I viewed the world then - but what I can easily remember is how crippling those feelings of loneliness were.
Feeling like a freak, a pathetic loser and social outcast were things I death with constantly - and in these rare moments where I thought I had a few hours to look forward to of escaping that identity, only for it all to be taken away from me by my mother (with my father abandoning me to handle it alone) - it all came flooding back ten fold.
If this was a once in a while situation, I could understand many who weren't raised as a JW thinking I am being silly for holding on to such mundane situations. However, things like this would happen all the time. I usually gave in to her demands, not only because I felt it was the "right" thing to do, but because I could see it created tension between my parents - and I took all that guilt on myself.
I gave up countless social and academic opportunities growing up to please this inconsistent and judgmental set of values.
I am still learning to accept and grow from these things (and so many others). But its hard. It's all a process. I am happy as an adult. I have grown, and tried so much (failure is also no longer something to be feared so deeply) - and will keep trying (and failing). I have a strong, albeit complicated dynamic with my parents. I know they love me - I suppose I've always known that.
They are imperfect people - and despite what I was raised to believe, I now understand that humanity will always be imperfect.
and that's OK.
(Would love to hear from you)