Tell us about your early life as a JW.
Life was pretty boring.
Due to a combination of a lack of people my age in the halls, and not being able to have “bad associations”, I spent a lot of my time alone.
There was always this feeling at school that I was different, not least of all because I’d grown up being told that (“no part of this world”) but also because I was excluded from religious assemblies and religious education classes, that was more time that I ended up spending alone, usually in the School library with my head in a book.
I remember kids talking about what they’d got for birthdays and Christmas and feeling very sad when they asked me what I’d got, as I got older I’d usually make something up so that I didn’t have to go through the process of explaining.
I grew up lying a lot to a lot of people, that’s probably one of the big themes of my life as a Witness.
How would you describe your family life while you were a JW?
We were a pretty close family.
My biological father left for reasons unrelated to the Witnesses, he never believed, and I vaguely recall him being slightly opposed; however he wasn’t a good person by any standards so his departure was the best thing for everyone. So for a few years it was just my mother, my sister, and I. We were a pretty poor family at that time, and there were a few occasions where money that was given to us by Elders was the only reason we got to eat.
My mother eventually remarried a guy who converted so that they could be together, and he ended up shaping a lot of the person that I am today.
So yeah, my family life was pretty good at that point.
How would you describe your level of devotion to the organization prior to waking?
I was a pretty liberal witness.
From around fifteen I’d got a pretty good idea in my head that I didn’t believe these things that I was being taught. I’ve always had a pretty critical mind, so when presented with scientific facts that contradicted what I’d grown up being taught it drove me to start questioning a lot of things.
I also drank quite a lot more than I should with the couple of friends that I did have, and when I started work we’d often go to the pub and have a couple of pints with lunch.
Unfortunately (as it turns out) this was also when I met my girlfriend who was an elders daughter. She was the first witness girl that had ever really showed an interest in me, and she was someone I had known all my life, so we started dating, which meant that I had squash down any doubts I might have had.
We ended up doing a lot of things we shouldn’t have during our courtship but my lack of guilt and ability to reason her out of guilt “well we’re going to get married anyway so what does it matter” meant that this went unnoticed by the elders, aside from (the) one time her father read her phone and found some reasonably explicit messages. We both got a lecture on the dangers of that and nothing more was said. I think he was in denial for the most part.
I did get called in to the back room for a few other things growing up though, but nothing ever came of them, likely due to whose daughter I was dating and then later married to.
When I got married at 19, my general devotion to the organisation dropped quite a lot, personal study went out the window, I played a lot of violent video games, and watched whatever I wanted. For the sake of my relationship, I went to the hall and out on the service, but largely it was going through the motions.
If baptized, why did you decide to take that step? If not, why not?
I got baptized at 15 for a number of reasons, but mostly because I was told that I couldn’t start dating until I was baptized, (that) nobody would want to go out with an unbaptized publisher. And because a few people told me I was getting to an age where I should be baptized.
If born-in, what kind of Jehovah’s Witnesses were / are your family?
My family weren’t the strongest of Witnesses, but they fully believed. Occasionally we’d skip meetings because my parents were tired.
I’d get away with watching some stuff that most people couldn’t, but not everything. Personal study was pretty irregular, we’d do our watchtower study (underlining) every week but that was about it.
Field-service wise we almost always only went out on Saturdays as both my parents worked full time, and by the time Sunday got around they wanted the time to do other things.
Are there any particular experiences or circumstances while you were a believer that come to mind now that you’re awake?
Whilst I was in, I ended up with a few “privileges”, I suspect largely because my at the time father-in-law was a pretty high ranking elder, (HLC, ran the conventions, city overseer, that kind of thing), so I did the sound desk and microphones.
I was also pretty good at giving talks. People would always comment on how much they enjoyed the talks I gave and how much it was evident I believed, even at times when I knew that I didn’t believe. Mostly my talks would be at best tangentially related to the subject material.
I guess I should mention that I rarely ever prayed. The only prayers I said were for the congregation, or because my wife insisted that I should be saying them for meals and stuff like that. Even when I was really young it wasn’t something I really did. I tried it and it felt silly, so I didn’t do it, except for the rare time I was feeling guilty about something, and even then, nothing really changed after I prayed, so I just stopped feeling guilty.
Was your waking up journey sudden or gradual? Describe it for us.
As I’ve touched on it was a pretty gradual thing. It took me eight years from the point I started questioning things to when I’d left. I’d say it was 5 years after I started questioning (just after I got married) when I knew for a certainty that I didn’t believe in the organisation or in god at all.
At the point I left I was in a pretty bad place. It had turned out that me and my wife weren’t exactly suited to living with each other. We both had very differing opinions on not just the organisation, but just about everything. We argued a lot, and she was pretty abusive. I hung around because I felt worthless, like there was nobody I could go to, and nothing I could do to change the situation. Leaving her meant losing my family, so I stuck it out.
The end of that relationship was also the end of my time associated with the Witnesses. I was lucky I guess in that for a couple of months (until it was realized that I really wasn’t going to be attending meetings) my parents let me move back in with them.
After they kicked me out I was couch surfing and spent a lot of time sleeping around and partying. I grew a lot as a person during that time, not that I’d recommend it as such.
I made the decision to officially disassociate myself once the divorce came through, so that if she wished my ex could re-marry, as if I were happy. I wanted to give her the opportunity, no matter what we’d been through. The letter I wrote was pretty explicit in detailing both the things I’d done since leaving, and how much I no longer wished for the Witnesses to contact me.
That seemed to do the trick as I’ve never heard from any of them since.
Did you ever have so-called “doubts”? If so, what were they?
The biggest of my doubts came from things like evolution, historical inaccuracies in the bible, proven scientific facts that the Witnesses insisted were wrong.
Also the hypocrisy that was reasonably evident in the elders. I’d see people give talks about “living a simpler life” that drove home in expensive cars, to massive houses.
Did you share your so-called “doubts” with anyone, and if so, how did it turn out?
There were only two people I ever shared my doubts with. My ex-wife who would, in spite of my very balanced reasoning, reply with “well how can you know,” and a pioneer who I was close to whilst we were in. We’d talk a lot and share questions, he’d try to reason with me and explain the organisations views on them, he left a few years before I did.
Are you currently being shunned / ostracized by any Jehovah’s Witnesses?
As a result of the letter I wrote I’m DA/DF I haven’t been contacted to know exactly how that fell, so I’m shunned by all Witnesses, including my family.
My sister and her family have blanked me in the street, and I’ve had people that helped raise me cross the road to avoid me like I was ground zero for some horrific contagious disease.
What has changed in your life since waking up?
I was going through suicidal depression, severe anxiety, and a number of other things toward the end of my time as a witness. Since leaving I’m a different person.
I am grateful every day that I get to live life as myself, and that I have in my life people who love me for who I am, rather than for a facade.
A couple of years ago I was introduced to the most wonderful person I have ever known, she’s kind, funny, generous and loving to anyone that she knows. Not long after we met we started dating, and I can honestly say that I’m happier than I ever was as a witness, we make each other happier and make each other better people.
I’ve gained confidence and a sense of self-worth that I didn’t think I would ever have. I find myself thinking of the person I used to be as a Witness with an odd level of detachment because I’ve changed so much.
What does the future hold for you now that you’re awake?
My partner and I have been talking about starting a family recently, so that’s probably going to be a big part of my life going forward. I intend to be the kind of parent that teaches their kids to think for themselves, to love the world around them, and to respect other people. These are the things I wish I’d been taught, rather than having to figure out for myself.
Mostly I’m going to stay happy, and keep doing my best to make others happy, it’s about the only thing that really matters.
What would you like to say to doubting or questioning JWs who might be reading this?
Never stop questioning, read everything, not just WTS material, read outside sources, take those doubts and questions and find every answer you can, because as soon as you do everything the witnesses teach just falls apart.
I could tell you a hundred reasons why they’re wrong, but until you look into it for yourself it will probably never sink in.
And if you’ve already done that; don’t let fear rule your life. A life lived for somebody else at the cost of being who you are is deeply damaging.
That fear of losing loved ones, and fear of the unknown can be intense, but my life has only ever been better since getting out. Do I miss my family? Yes. Would I trade my happiness now, and the love I have for and from the people in my life (now), for the love of people who only love me for as long as I share their beliefs? Never.
What would you like to say to still-in believing-JW family and or friends who might come across this?
To my family: Thank you. You raised me to be critical enough that I managed to get free. If we never talk again I still love you for contributing to who I am now.
To my ex-wife: I hope you’ve found a life where you don’t have to be so angry at the world.
To anyone else: Think about what you’re taught, research everything, don’t just take claims at face value. The Watch Tower Society is made up of liars and bigots.
Do you have anything else to share?
To anyone that’s read all of this, thanks.
My experience isn’t one that I would consider unique. It seems to be a pretty common exit path, though I’ve left a few details out that I thought were perhaps a touch too unpleasant and that wouldn’t be especially helpful. This isn’t an autobiography after all.
I hope that someday someone can read this and feel encouraged, or start questioning their beliefs.
I’m usually floating around in /r/exjw on Reddit, so if anyone wants to talk to me I’m /u/F7oraColossus.