How long did it take you to decide to disassociate?
Well, that's hard to answer, but let's just say less than a year. It all kind of happened organically. We made the decision to travel and visit my disfellowshipped brother and took a stand which made both my family and my wife's distance themselves from us. You might say shun, especially on my wife's family's part. We visited him in May I think. We disassociated in September. We had talked about it before and just wanted the stench of the name Jehovah's Witnesses off of us the more we learned about the organization, and the more we learned about emotional and mental health and how detrimental that environment was for many, including us. We knew we didn't want to even be mistaken as a JW anymore.
So for us we didn't want to play games. We hadn't been to a meeting in over a year during the process of waking up more and more and made a pact that if elders started calling on us for any reason we'd just disassociate. They called, we didn't answer. They then came by the house. We disassociated. We took a stand when we got baptized and went in, and we took a stand when we left.
How has this impacted on you?
It's like instant freedom. You never have to look over your shoulder, can celebrate whatever you want, can be whoever you want, and you don't have to play their stupid games. No more pretending.
Has your mental health in any way been affected since you disassociated? Eg if being shunned by family.
Yes. I was a depressed and anxious JW and after disassociating that pretty much all went away. I still get anxious from time to time, as is my nature, but living in that JW environment and being inauthentic to keep up appearances and everything is mentally and emotionally unhealthy. My wife is much happier too. I remember a client of ours noticing my wife one day and he remarked that she just looked lighter, like she was carrying a heavy backpack and put it down.
Do any of your current JW relatives associate with you? And if so to what degree?
No. My dad died 6 months later. I was invited to see him one last time at hospice. JWs refused to be present if I was there and left when I arrived. I wanted to show my mom and dad a good example of real love and to be the better person. It felt good in the moment but as soon as I left that building I was instantly shunned again. I was not invited to the funeral service. In retrospect I regret going. It was just a mind fuck. My mom will die without my participation in any way. I'm dead to her already. So let's just call it what it is, it's over unless she wakes up someday.
I saw my brother and his wife at a concert. I walked up and said hi. He and his wife said "h", couldn't quite get the "i" part out, turned blood red, and then both turned their heads to the side. So yeah, total shunning.
My wife and I sent goodbye letters at the same time of our disassociation letters. My mom replied to mine in a pretty good way. Nobody else replied. My wife never heard one peep from her family since we saw my brother that one time. Nothing. No response to the letters she sent or anything.
Do you feel your life is better now that you are completely free of the watchtower?
Absolutely. Our lives are wonderful. Sure, there are new challenges. We both have to figure out who we are outside the cult, how that impacts our relationship, etc. But we get to be us. We get to be free to figure things out. We have so many friends we can't keep up. We've had so many people rally around us, so many beautiful experiences. I am a better person, and so is my wife. Just letting go of the judgment of being a JW, the constant chatter in your head about what you're doing and what others might think or that you might get in "trouble", etc. is so freeing. We can spend our weekends as we like, work when we like doing whatever we want, go on trips when we want, don't have to answer to pushy JW family for anything because they have no boundaries, and so much more.
I've also taken my experience and shared my story on one podcast, and now I started a second one where I help others to tell their stories of being shunned. I have a Facebook group with friends of the podcast in it and we encourage one another and help one another grow as people, and support people that are leaving. In fact, one member just disassociated over the weekend. We all celebrated with him. I'm looking at becoming a professional coach to help even more, and have people wanting me to look into starting a foundation to help more people, which I'm also looking into. I'm turning a negative into a positive.
Do you ever get panic attacks about Armageddon or that you left "the truth"?
I'll be honest here. When I disassociated I did so because of the organization, but on some level I still believed they had Biblical truth. Sites like this helped me to dissect that over the next 6 months. I'm now an atheist and I've been out 3 years. Anyway, so although I couldn't buy that Jehovah was going to destroy me in a fiery Armageddon because I thought they were a bit too strong on their perceptions of that, I still had those programmed fears in me. My first instinct was for my brain to ping and bring up fear when something like a situation with North Korea or something like that would happen. It was more the "what if they were right" phenomenon. Over time as I dissected the beliefs, then the Bible itself, all of that went away. As I said, I'm naturally an anxious person anyway, so I'll admit to having some instant twinges when something would happen but certainly not panic attacks, and they were just programmed responses that took a minute to get past. I no longer feel those whatsoever.
I'll finish with this. Disassociation is a bell that you cannot un-ring. In the end, I don't think that most people are ever truly ready when they do it, but it pays off immediately. Even when we did it the act was nerve wracking which is why most people won't do it. They use all kinds of reasoning to get around it, and I get it, not everyone can take that stand. Some would rather keep playing the game to keep family. If their families are that great and accepting of them then more power to them. If they're not, more power to them anyway. It's their life, their decision. This is your life, and it's your decision.
I am an advocate for disassociation unless your family is willing to accept you celebrating holidays and being you in every way as you explore life. If you have that rare breed of JW family, then by all means do your thing and fade away. Some can. Good for them. If your family can't tolerate you not being, or at least pretending to be, a carbon copy of them, they are toxic and you can't live your life for other people and be truly happy. Have no fear leaving them behind. It's not without pain, but neither are the benefits of exercise or a budget or many other things that are good for us ultimately.