I am sure that subject line, piqued your interest as it has over the past 30 years whenever I would mention that I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. Yes, true story and was until I was about 30. What was it like? Why did I leave? What was it like to leave? How long did it take to get through all that I had been taught since age 5? I am sure you have many questions!
Yes, I remember that day very clearly when my parents announced that we were no longer going to be celebrating Christmas. Initially I was quite sad, who wouldn’t be at age 5. My parents softened the blow though, by telling us that we were going to have a “Present Day” and we could pick out our present. After all, it was quite fun to think about what I would like as a gift!
In school, I found it quite difficult to have to be outside in the cloakroom while the Lord’s Prayer was being said and then when other kids would ask me what I got for Christmas, I would always tell them what I received on my “Present Day” and mom and dad often took us somewhere around Christmas – one year a skiing vacation, one year to Disneyland etc. This seemed to make it an easier response when kids at school asked about what I got for Christmas… “Oh we went to Disneyland”.
As years passed and the teenage years began, it became more and more difficult to “be a Jehovah’s Witness” and I would have to say more so for my brothers than myself. I was able to hide it a lot easier than my brothers due to their very short haircuts (we used to call it white walls) when long hair was in style in the 70’s. My brother, who is next in age to me, had the most difficulty and ended up in a few fights in school over it. Needless to say as a teen, being a JW was not the easiest thing. I eventually married into the religion as I knew nothing different. However, even that was an interesting scenario as I was not baptized, yet my fiancé was. Their term was we were “unevenly yoked” and thus would not marry us in the Kingdom Hall.
I have to admit though, that I was never a fan of doing the door to door service or giving speeches at the JW meetings… it just wasn’t who I was at all. While at the JW meetings (3 a week) I found myself thinking about what I was going to cook for dinner, what I was going to sew next, anything and everything except what was being said during the speeches. Eventually as I started to pull back from the religion, it started to cause problems in our marriage and it probably took two years of not having any feelings for my husband before I got the courage to leave, knowing what I would face during that time.
What do I mean by that? Well, I knew that pretty much every person who was important in my life, would no longer have anything to do with me, from my parents, to my brother, to all the friends I grew up with and pretty much everyone I associated with. Prior to actually leaving my husband he had even gone through my wallet and took out my cheque book and credit cards I had. He had never wanted me to work, so I had no credit rating of my own, making it pretty much impossible to leave… at that time.
So… I started a two year plan… I started college to get some training so I could get a job. After six months of college, I was offered a co-op student position. And with my first paycheque, that is actually when I ventured out on my own. I’m not going to go into all the details, but it was far from pleasant, not to mention my parents getting involved, asking for their house key back and not speaking to me for a period of time. I began to prepare myself for the way I would be treated and put a wall up towards all of them as a way of protecting myself from their “no contact” with me. If I walked past them as they were doing their street corner thing, I walked by not making any acknowledgement of them.
It took many, many years to work my way out of all the doctrines that had been brainwashed into me. My second oldest brother had said to me (he left it many years prior) that I would be surprised at the waves of guilt that would come over me. Wow! Was he ever right! I felt sick to my stomach when anyone would ask me about being a Jehovah’s Witness and didn’t even want to talk about it.
I have to admit, it was a bit of a “school of hard knocks” getting out into the “real world” and there were some big learning lessons. In many ways, it was kind of like a toddler learning to walk. I recall one of the elders of the JW congregation using an illustration about keeping within the “fold”. He said that it is kind of like being on a record, we want to keep close to the center of the record – if we get too close to the edge we may fly off. They didn’t even want you associating with people outside of the religion – “bad associations spoil useful habits”. Oh there are so many scriptures and quotes that I can still recall verbatim.
As Christmas approached, another brother (who had also left the religion) gave me some really great advice… he said, “Beth, why don’t you write a letter to the J.W. Religion and ask to be disassociated rather than them disfellowshipping you. It kinda saves face.” Great advice and it was done within days.
Just imagine, at 32, celebrating your first Christmas… or at least the first one I could remember! I was like a kid in the candy store when Christmas decorations came out! I always loved how people decorated their houses with lights and seeing their beautiful trees in their windows. So, across the street the kids and I went to buy our first Christmas tree… which did not come with instructions! You would think it would be quite simple right? No one told me to look for one with a straight trunk… then there is the question as to how to decorate it… was there a method? I didn’t know and it was before Google… so… I just wasn’t sure and kind of embarrassed to ask anyone. Then one day a girlfriend from college was over and she happened to mention that her and her hubby put on the lights and garland and the kids decorate it the tree. With a big smile on my face, I said, “Oh, so there is a method… I was too embarrassed to ask anyone”. She smiled and said, “Oh ya, I guess you wouldn’t know”. Well to make a long story short, we had to tie the tree to the curtain rod to stop it from falling over, but overall… it was a pretty special time for the kids and I.
Now, how did my kids handle the transition? Did I stop them from going to the JW meetings etc? How did they like their first Christmas? To be continued…
And I am sure you have a lot of questions, so ask away!