In late May 2017, I told my parents how I really felt about the religion they had raised me in, and by early June I was out of their house. I've done a lot since then. I let my hair and beard grow out a bit. I've engaged in entertainment that is considered to be "inappropriate for a Witness." (Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and Mr. Robot are all fantastic TV shows) I've attended fan conventions and other events I never would have as a Witness. I've celebrated my birthday and a number of other major holidays. I've started working to improve the world instead of just waiting for some god to come along and fix all of my problems for me. I graduated with a technical degree in computer science and am set to pursue a Bachelor's in Electrical Engineering this fall. I participated in an internship for Physics/Math majors at a prestigious university. I've helped another person make the decision to leave the Watchtower behind. I reconnected with some of my cousins who were considered "bad association" and am so happy to have them back in my life. I fell in love with a girl and we moved into our own place together a few weeks ago. Her family has practically adopted me and are always happy to see me at their family gatherings.
I am happy. For a year I have lived as my true self without worrying about whether this is something "a Witness is supposed to do."
Yes, I miss my family, and yes I miss my old friends, but I am still so much happier having made the decision to unapologetically be my authentic self instead of trying to mask my true identity to hang on to those relationships because I've realized something. If I had lied about who I was for this past year then I still wouldn't have those relationships, rather, some fictional version of myself, some facade I had invented would have the relationships with "my" supposed friends. My true self would be so far removed from what they saw that if they ever saw the real me I would be a stranger to them, much as I am now I suppose.
To anyone who is contemplating staying in the religion to maintain an image and keep your friends, I ask you to please consider this: If you cannot be honest with someone about who are and what you want, are they really your friend anyway?