The old-timers here will know me and my journey from born-in Jehovah's Witness, pioneer and - latterly - elder. I've also written a couple of updates over the last 2 years or so, covering how I went from the JWs to a frantic need to hold onto the idea of an all-powerful Abrahamic god to a sceptic to an atheist.
However, I wanted to cover a couple of things to expect when you leave the Watchtower religion and its tentacle-like control over your life.
Birthdays and Xmas
If you've got kids, do it. Embrace these worldly and commercial traditions for what they are; the chance to have fun, to celebrate and give gifts. The "pagan" element isn't anything to worry about. Research what "pagan" actually means and realise that it isn't anything to be scared of.
By the same token, expect to be a little uncomfortable about participating in these celebrations. That's ok. It's normal. We've all felt that way. It doesn't last long.
It's all bollocks and corrupt as fuck, but get informed, have opinions - even if they aren't popular. But don't expect people to see eye-to-eye with you, and be careful bringing up the subject in company. I made this mistake a few times and dropped a few clangers due to my immaturity.
And vote. It's your right. Encourage your children to have an interest in politics, encourage them to vote when they're old enough.
Be proactive. Join clubs, seek out new hobbies and interests and find people who share them. Meetup.com can be a good place to start.
I didn't do any of this when I left, and as a result I'm don't have a social circle as such. But then I have joint custody of my three children, so that takes up a lot of my time, and I'm fortunate in that my girlfriend's friends and family circle is huge and they've taken me in with open arms, and are fully aware of my background.
The temptation is to get involved in another church setting, which is what I did. Yes, it will provide a ready-made social life, but it will be absolutely formed around acceptance of certain doctrines and beliefs. Sound familiar?
Religion and Faith
Once a mind has been open it should remain open, in my opinion. Much as you eventually took nothing from the Governing Body's table at face value, do not accept any belief pattern, religious or philosophical idea at face value.
Research. Analyse and keep your mind open.
Don't be afraid of not 100% believing anything. That's absolutely fine. Few things in life are absolute, especially in the genre of religion and faith.
Do, however, believe in yourself.
You are much stronger mentally and emotionally than the average man/woman in the street. Massively so. Place huge amounts of faith in you, in what you've achieved by freeing yourself from mental slavery and having the courage to act on it.
Few people can wrap their brains or imaginations around what it's like to have been part of a controlling religious cult and escaped from it. It boggles most peoples' minds. That's because survivors are amazing people.
Just like you are.
Enjoy the flavours and aromas of mental freedom. You've earned it. Experiment. Get a tattoo.
I've been out since 2008 and few weeks go by when I don't savour what I accomplished.