Two weeks ago marked one year over my disassociation. Time for an appraisal.
Quick summary of my story for those who came in lately: My mother brought me into the Witnesses when I was 4, grew up the role-model JW boy, baptized at 16, married a zealous Reg. Pio. Witness at 21, MS and Elder by 30 fathered a son at 25. Around 40 started to investigate the history of the Jehovah's Witnesses and found out many inconsistencies and from then on questioned JW doctrine, then the Bible, then the existence of God. I have found out Robert King's website first, then this forum, then JWFacts and read Franz's "Crisis of Conscience", and the rest is history. I progressively became agnostic, borderline atheist and apatheist.
During this process I have helped my son (baptized at 11) and my super-zealous wife to leave the Witnesses too. With a few dramatic set-backs and witch-hunts in the process, I was successful in helping my household family to exit this wretched cult. We all became faders, hoping we would fall into oblivion and keep family ties, but that was not to happen so smoothly. When my son turned 18 and was summoned to attend National Defense Day and refused to apply for Conscientious Objector status, he was disfellowshipped. Immediately, in protest, me and my wife turned in our letters of disassociation.
So, one year later, where are we?
My son is now 20 and just finished his 4th semester of university in Psychology with remarkable grades. He is a great kid overall, he has overcome his depression that he developed around 15, but struggles to build meaningful relationships with his colleagues, including dating.
My wife managed to improve her working conditions (now her boss pays for her social security and retirement, something she didn't bother about before because, you know, paradise ... now she knows she will have to eventually retire and need a pension....) and she has begun to establish some meaningful relationships outside the JW world, including a solid friendship with a former JW that she met through someone who is a member of the Portuguese ex-JW forum. She still struggles occasionally with the side effects of her bipolar condition, but overall she feels a lot better, less anxiety, she enjoys her freedom outside the JW world, and loathes her former religion and the life wasted slaving for this organization. She attempted to get involved with some charity work, but without much success.
As for me. I sometimes miss the friendships that I had inside the JW world, because I struggle to build up new relationships. I'm naturally an introvert (although superficially I may come across as an extrovert), and I live a rich inner life, so friendships and relationships aren't on top of my priorities, I guess. My business is very demanding and stressful, and doesn't lend itself to build up new relationships (except with fellow colleagues, but I tend to stay away from them because I don't usually like the average bloke in my line of business), and sadly I don't have much time for music, which would be a new way to make friends. I usually tell myself that I should do something about that, but my work usually takes the best, because ...well, putting food on the table is a priority.
I have expanded my business since I left the Witnesses, and I recently got a proposal to take on a management role on a larger business while keeping my own business running. I'm pondering that situation still, whether accept it or not, but having someone who believes on my skills is something that has a profound effect on me, because it is deeply ingrained into me that unless I give myself some credit for my own achievements, no one ever will (and that is a leftover of my upbringing in the Witnesses, where each one is a 'worthless slave' who cannot ever do enough...). In any case, while in the Witnesses, I would never even considered accepting that offer because then I might be considered materialistic and not enough focused on the Kingdom affairs. I have tried to establish some new ties with family members who we have neglected over the years, with some interesting results. Again, not easy ... but they have been awesome to understand where we are coming from.
I don't feel like leaving the Witnesses has turned my life around 360 degrees. Some personal challenges remain. I feel frustrated with the lack of time to dedicate to things I like. I simply feel free, I'm not tormented with guilt, I'm not concerned with my fate after I'm gone from this life, and I have come to terms with my own mortality and the fact that this is the only life I have to live, and I should live it as best as I can. Me and my wife now feel free to further explore our sexuality without guilt and fear, and that has had positive results to our marriage.
My JW side of the family hasn't shunned us, which is great. I have a great relationship with my sibling and her family, and through my experience they realized that there is something fundamentally wrong with this religion, and I know they have serious doubts about the GB and whatnot ....but they chose to stay in because their entire network of friends is in there and they keep taking my aging and progressively demented mother to the meetings, because ...well she has nothing else. (One thing we have noticed is that NO ONE from the congregation visits my mother, who is dealing with Lewy Bodies Dementia, and often skips meetings - so much love for someone who has been a devout JW for over 40 years...)
As for my wife's side of the family, it's a little bizarre. My uber zealous CO brother-in-law and wife shun me and my son, and my wife's sister only talks with her to take care of their JW aging father. But it is the strictly bare minimum necessary even avoiding saying "hello" on the phone. That's how picky prick they are. Her father doesn't shun us, and her aunt doesn't shun us either. Overall, in terms of family, we haven't lost much.
It just feels good to be "normal" and free to pursuit whatever I chose to, without fear nor religious guilt. I am still the same nice guy I was when I was a Witness, now maybe even a better guy. When I look at those poor creatures walking aimlessly in pairs on the street, walking their briefcases and literature pouches, or idly watching the literature carts, salivating at each world event as if the end was nigh, I feel sad for them, and grateful that I'm not wasting away my life like that anymore. I feel somewhat sorry for some choices in life I made because of the Witnesses, but I try to not lament them too much; I choose to deal with the now and the future and I look forward to keep improving my life.
Peace to you all, and much luck for your journey exiting this wretched cult. Many heartfelt thanks for many of you whose contributions helped me to get to where I am now. And many thanks Simon, for keeping this great forum running.