Tell us about your early life as a JW.
It was different during the various phases of my life. Everything before 10 years old I remember through the lens of a very devout JW girl. We lived in the ‘burbs of western Washington. Even had a big house with a private driveway – my parents ran a successful real estate practice before 2007 kicked their asses. I was spared some of the more intense religiosity because my parents worked too much to be good Witness parents. Money was important to them. No matter how hard they tried, the organization always came after family and their paychecks.
That aside, making meetings was important to my mom, so we did. Usually. On a good stretch, we made all three meetings (before they merged the midweek meetings), went out in service on Saturday morning and studied the Watchtower as a family on Saturday night. I hated the meetings, the bone-dry talks, but I liked drawing in my notepads and staring at people. My mother always made a point of having us answer one time.
When I got older, into my teens, we moved to eastern WA. The religion changed into less of a backdrop and more of something that affected my life. I took the church seriously, did a bible study with my Mom, got baptized at 14 and daydreamed about becoming a circuit overseer’s wife. I had friends, other young JW girls my age, but my friendships were forced and by proximity. What I really wanted was to be accepted by my older brothers into their circle- they were always taking off on whimsical adventures to the lakes with sketchy “worldly” teenagers, and nobody ever wanted me along because I was sort of a narc.
How would you describe your family life while you were a JW?
I have a big family, so it was always fun and dramatic. I have 5 older half-brothers, all from my parents’ first marriages. Never saw it as a shameful thing growing up, but I guess my parents felt like we were the skeletons prancing out of their closet, so we relocated to Okanogan Valley when I was 11. The new-town anonymity didn’t last, though; my half-brothers sprang up into their teenage years and started fooling around with girls and getting into car accidents from racing and smoking weed; and just like before, my parents looked like bad people in front of everyone in the new town, so they moved us to Arizona.
By then, they made a full recovery from 2007 and we rented a veritable mansion in Tucson. This time, they pulled out all the stops to make us come across as the perfect, outgoing JW family, a vision which I begrudgingly took part in while I hid out as an atheist in the last few years before I defected.
How would you describe your level of devotion to the organization prior to waking?
Hindsight is 20/20, and I’ll be honest. I was a crazy devout fundamentalist, no way around it. When I was nine or ten, I read a Watchtower article about serious sinning and it scared me so much that I routinely admitted my sins to my mother for about two years, a la confessional. I think she tried to make me stop, but I did it to feel absolved. I thought it was the only way to show I was really repentant.
If baptized, why did you decide to take that step? If not, why not?
I was 14 and had been studying volumes of JW literature on and off with my mom for two years “in preparation”. I guess I wanted that to stop. I also just wasn’t feeling the zeal and enthusiasm for The Truth as I was supposed to, and I figured it would help me master my fleshly tendencies.
Plus, it’s a family tradition to throw a big party when you get baptized. Presents and everything. I got jipped, though, because a family friend got baptized on the same day and I had to share my party.
If born-in, what kind of Jehovah’s Witnesses were / are your family?
Our meeting attendance oscillated my entire life. Our family isn’t quite “Jack-Jehovah” but nobody was calling our robes snowy-white, if you know what I mean. Even today, the statistics run like that. 2/3 of my practicing brothers are social Witnesses, doing their share of pot-smoking and hardcore drinking in the dark while showing up for every meeting and convention just to get another hit of social reinforcement. The other still practicing brother is pioneering with his wife and hasn’t spoken to me since I came out. Any my parents? Like I said, never could put their faith first. They can walk like dubs and quack like them, too, but they’re jack-Johos all the same.
Are there any particular experiences or circumstances while you were a believer that come to mind now that you’re awake?
Yeah. I remember sitting up in bed one night. I was a kid. Couldn’t have been older than 9. And a weird thought struck me as I contemplated the amount of religions in the world.
I thought, how do we know we have the truth? There are so many, some of them are a lot older than us.
After I was so ashamed I buried my face in my blanket and prayed to Jehovah over and over, begging for forgiveness. If that isn’t some kind of indicator that this is a crazy psycho cult, I don’t know what else to tell you.
Was your waking up journey sudden or gradual? Describe it for us.
Sitting in meeting one day when I came across a Watchtower citation that troubled me. I can only paraphrase. Something like, “We must remember to keep our independent thinking in check if we want to keep Satan at bay.” I remember thinking, that can’t be right. That sounds wrong. That sounds BAD. It really peeved me.
I was homeschooled at the time. Besides the alternative school trailer I visited once a week to meet my teacher, I didn’t have a lot of outside exposure to new ideas, so I’m not sure how the seeds of liberal thinking sprouted in my mind, but I was irked by the dig at independent thinking.
Not long after I enrolled in public high school, the biggest game changer of all. I took my first course in biology and learned that everything I knew about evolution had been taught to me wrong, on purpose, to look bad. It turns out it is a beautiful, intricate theory supported by science across a multitude of fields. My new high school friends called themselves agnostic, and I immediately resonated with the idea of life without God. It just made so much more sense.
Did you ever have so-called “doubts”? If so, what were they?
As soon as I was old enough to understand romantic relationships, the taboo against gay people really bothered me. Why sanction certain types of love? If the urge is there, it’s natural. If it’s natural, God made it. If it’s the result of sin “genetically modifying” our human DNA, then evil has a lot more power than you’re letting on, Jehovah.
Of course it also infuriated me when I heard talks about evolution in meetings. After I got a real education, I could see the way they manipulated the theory to bind it with social Darwinism in the minds of the JWs. They can’t separate the physical theory of evolution with the 19th-century invention of social darwinism, which was conceived in philosophic circles.
Did you share your so-called “doubts” with anyone, and if so, how did it turn out?
I did. I got caught hanging out with my friends one day, which prompted me to confront my parents about the rule against homosexuality. They were awkward and but tried to counter by saying we have to trust Jehovah. It was the kind of answer that elders in my hall are not supposed to give to people who bring them questions from the bible, and I couldn’t help but notice.
I also tried in vain several times over the years to point out the flaws of creationism to my parents, but it only made them emotional. I had them read Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne, and Dad told me it “just sounded like a lot of crazy talk.” Mom vaguely criticized the book by saying it “had a lot of implications,” and they both went into hysterics trying to end my atheist-talk until I finally gave in.
Are you currently being shunned / ostracized by any Jehovah’s Witnesses?
I’m being shunned by all the Witnesses I used to know except my parents and two of my still-in brothers, along with their wives. Unfortunately my pioneer brother and sister feel it necessary to shun me. My extended family is shunning me, the close group of friends I had up to two months ago will probably never speak to me again.
What has changed in your life since waking up?
I live on my own now, I’m supporting myself and rooming with four others back in the same mountain town my parents relocated us to back in 2008. I live on my own terms now. I “walk at my own pace, in my own direction, for my own reasons.”
What does the future hold for you now that you’re awake?
My goal is simply to treasure my individual experience. I decided against university after I graduated high school because of inflated tuition rates, but self-education is important to me. I’d like to teach someday. But more than anything, I want to inspire people with the written word. If I can reach large audiences with my message, whatever that is, I feel like I can instill the same powerful feeling in them that I got when I escaped a Doomsday cult and decided to write my own future.
What would you like to say to doubting or questioning JWs who might be reading this?
Don’t be scared. The universe is 13.8 billion years old. Life is 3.6 billion years old. We have 3,500 years of recorded history even though behaviorally modern humans date back to 30,000 B.C. The widely-celebrated soaring heights in scientific advancement occurred within the last thousand years, for the most part.
WE KNOW NOTHING. There is so much left to learn about the universe. To discredit the potential of the natural world by demanding that an immortal spirit-human did everything is a shame. Keep an open mind and chase your curiosity. Reality will mystify and amaze you.
What would you like to say to still-in believing-JW family and or friends who might come across this?
I’m sorry my relationship with you is conditional on me being the same as you. Humans live such a relatively short time frame, dragged around by our reality tunnels, and a lot of people never escape the reality that was handed to them by the society around them. If you dare to write your own reality through a life of experiences, you don’t have to be afraid of what their reality will do to you. Armageddon can’t get you. I’m sorry you can’t understand that, not even if you read this. I know it. It’s up to you to see the doctrine in its true light, and nobody else. Nobody else could do it if they tried.
Do you have anything else to share?
No, thanks for giving me a place to speak my mind. I’m not sure this makes sense to anyone except me, but it was a very therapeutic exercise.