“What was it that made you leave Jehovah’s Witnesses?”
That is a question often asked by individuals who have just left the organization. At the time of my departure my answer would have included a laundry list of supposed reasons – absolutely none relating to the religion to which I was enslaved: marriage, my in-laws, work, too much pressure, and illness.
That was my programmed mind making up reasons that would reconcile with what I thought was “the truth.” I thought I must have been a “bad person,” someone “spiritually weak,” in order to have any of those things affect me to the point of experiencing an emotional breakdown.
Looking back, I now understand that I was unable to face the truth that my life was a lie every single day. When I finally couldn’t do it anymore I broke inside.
How Cognitive Dissonance really makes us do what we hate and know is wrong…
At my first meeting with a counselor I was determined to not let her get inside my head. I actually believed that if I allowed her in that demons would also get inside my brain! That’s what I had been taught and I struggled mightily with that concept. But my counselor was quite familiar with cults and she kept prodding me and poking at my intellect. She found ways to whip up my dissonance like eggs with a beater.
I would cry. I would yell. I’d stare into nothingness. She just kept prodding deeper into my mind.
One day during that tumultuous time, I walked to a canal and considered drowning myself. I figured that if my family was going to treat me like I was dead anyway – no one would even miss me. And then something happened…
A little voice in my head said, “If they already think you’re dead, then what have you got to lose by living?” At that very moment my “authentic self” began to overtake my “programmed self.” My critical thinking skills began to kick in.
Slowly, but surely, I climbed out of my emotional abyss.
Don’t get me wrong – it was not like a lightning bolt that suddenly “fixed” me. It took years of introspection and self-reflection – reading, talking, and most importantly exploring the world around me. I had a good counselor early on, and highly recommend counseling as a first step.
As an extremely empathetic person, I found it a bit overwhelming to be tossed into the big world after having lived in a cocoon all of my life. Jehovah’s Witnesses are constantly told that “the world is ruled by Satan” and that they have to remain separate – so it was a frightening place to me! However, once my “authentic self” began to emerge, I finally felt connected to the rest of the world from which I had always been separated. I began to understand how my actions affected others – both positively and negatively. I also understood that I had a responsibility to my fellow man that went far beyond knocking on doors and studying “Bible-based literature” with them. I discovered that the world was not so scary after all.
Like most JW “born-ins,” I was ill-prepared for life outside the confines of the Watch Tower Society. I stumbled through relationships, making a lot of mistakes as an adult that average people typically make while still in their teens. In spite of that, I kept at it – and still do 22 years later.
My unsolicited advice is this: Your “authentic self” is worth fighting for. The angst, anger, and nerves you will face are merely symptoms of your “real self” battling your “programmed self.” Keep at it and don’t give up even when things seem their bleakest. Eventually, those old “tapes” will play less often, and when they do you’ll recognize them for what they are – garbage. And what do we do with garbage? We toss it out – it’s of no use to us any longer.
If you would like to talk with folks who understand where you’ve been or where you are now, you might want to check out the AAWA forum. You will find a topic for just about anything you can think of relating to recovering from life as a Jehovah’s Witness.
Keep up the good fight. I can assure you that someday you’ll be glad you did!