After having looked at this site for almost a year and recently made small replies to threads, I should introduce myself to you all and tell you how I got here:
I was raised as a JW. It didn't take long to figure out that to have more independence at home, I'd better be a stand-out JW. The thing is, it was like doing well in a class I didn't want to be in, but needed a good grade. I could spout scriptures and articulate everything that was needed, but it was only to impress the people around me. I'm sure a lot of them found me obnoxious. I never felt like "the truth" was something I felt, just that it was like a company that I could rise in. I believed enough, though, to know that I was going to die at Armageddon because my heart was so black.
After high school I started having real problems finding a job. I had cooked and waited tables, but had no marketable skills and of course no college. I got a low-paying office job and waited tables at night. Got married at 20. Lost the office job to a merger and re-entered the restaurant business full-time. I made up my mind that I would make a career of it despite my JW family telling me I'd miss too many meetings. They were right, by the way.
We moved to Birmingham, AL because I got a promotion, and our son was born there. I missed a ton of meetings and became inactive because I was working like holy hell to make something of myself. I remember clearly thinking, "I can either be somebody in the congregation or somebody at the store, and I feel better at the store". All the witnesses we knew started to really grate on me. They seemed unhappier than the worldly people I knew. Another couple of moves due to promotions and my wife left me. She was furious, mostly because I worked all the time and wasn't being any kind of JW or husband. I don't blame her, she had a leg to stand on there. We got married way too young and immature.
So I met with the elders and told them about my drinking heavily and smoking here and there, and they df'd me. I didn't bother going to the j.c., they had to track me down, I was df'd on my ex-wife's porch when I was picking up my son. I thought, if Armageddon's coming even in six months, by God I'm going to live life guilt-free for all six of them. So I bounced off the walls for about a year, then decided to come back to the hall and study like an "outsider", that maybe my emotional barrier keeping "the truth" out was somehow tied to being raised in it. I knew that my son would die at Armageddon if I wasn't a good JW and I couldn't bear that. For a year I went through the whole process, applied for reinstatement and was denied. They said come back in three months.
Right after that, I moved to Maine (yeah, work again). I was there maybe two months, sitting at the service meeting. I looked around, really looked, at all people sitting there, everyone looking so worn down, and it occurred to me that I never knew too many genuinely happy JWs. I thought for a while about what I wanted out of life, made a mental list, and being a Christian wasn't on it. I walked out of the hall, got all my literature, and threw it out. The thing is, I still thought it was the true religion, I was just a beaten man, I didn't have what it took.
So life went on, I moved around with my job some more, and settled on Long Island. I met my fiancee and she found freeminds.org and turned me on to it. I swear, I lost all last summer reading everything I could get a hold of. Ray Franz. Johnsson. The UN scandal. Silentlambs. All of these personal experiences, some of which are like mine and others so much more dramatic and gripping. After all this time, I understand that it wasn't so unusual for me to not "get it" as a witness, it's because the simpleness of Christianity has been made positively Mosaic by the unending rules and changes in doctrine.
I have plenty to be ashamed of in my past life as a witness, my hubris as the up-and-coming young pioneer, my hypocrisy in words versus actions, my utter failure as a husband to my wife. But life is long and amends can and have been made. My ex-wife is out of the org also, she actually goes to an ex-jw meetup in Michigan, thank god our son doesn't have to go through the same bullsh*t we did. He spends a lot of time out here and we get to share the holidays as a family now. I'm a much kinder person than I ever was as a "Christian", and am lucky to have people to care about. My decision to pursue a career way back when has totally paid off, I've done well with it. My younger sister left right before I did and we're very close. Our entire family shuns us, that's one thing that never gets easier. I've reunited with a couple old friends through ex-jw.net, that was really something. Talk about the ghosts of Christmas Past.
Anyway, this was really long I know, but thanks for reading and thanks for having this nifty site.