It has been a year since I stopped attending meetings with the Jehovah's Witnesses.
As one year anniversary has passed, I thought it would be helpful to highlight some of the main events during this transition. It may help others that are going through the same experience. When I was going through this ordeal learning about other people was very helpful to know what to expect and to understand the kind of emotions and challenges that you have to deal with. So, here it is:
Documented transition from being an elder to being a free man (non-JW)
Note: Some of the links above are only accessible to members of the site, which need to be pre-approved by the administrators of the JWR forum.
Feb 22, 2009: Initial post on JWR, after weeks of lurking. Shared my experience and my plan to get out, and asked for feedback.
viewtopic.php?f=5&t=1935&p=26187#p26187 (Confession of an elder)
With many doubts in mind, I knew that this was not the truth, and so I wanted to find others in the same condition as I was.
I started learning about others, and exploring other belief systems. After researching and questioning many beliefs that we considered as the "The Truth" , and reading in the forum, I confirmed my worst fears, that everything was B.S.
Discovering so much fraud and lies about the Watchtower and the suffering experienced my many others like me, convinced me that leaving this cult was just a matter of time, but I needed to find the right strategy to get out along with my family. The forum was an excellent medium to find the support needed in order to accomplish this.
February - July, 2009: Started having the courage to share my discoveries about how we had been deceived by the Watchtower with my wife and other family. I slowly gained the confidence to be able to expose this cult. I was very fearful about how my wife and my family would react once I told them my true feelings about this religion. My wife eventually convinced herself that this was not the truth. My family, on the other hand, saw inconsistencies and agreed with me on some things, but decided to remain loyal to the cult. They actually started seeing me as an apostate. Through out this phase, I was exploring other ways of thinking, avoiding Jehovah Witnesses in social activities and trying to make friends outside; as well as reconnecting with non-JW family members.
Started going to concerts, changed music styles, being more laid back and reasonable with others in the congregation, encouraging kids to go to college, etc. My wife and I started socializing with more open-minded people within the congregation. Living a double life turned out to be complicated. I had a deep sense of hypocrisy, felt nausea when attending the meetings, and even more disgusted when I had to give talks and repeat all the bullshit, which at that point had become totally unbelievable to us. I could no longer fight the machine from within, it was killing me from the inside out. The cognitive dissonance was unbearable and living like this was unsustainable. It was just a matter of time when we had to stop this non-sense routine of being members of a cult. It was inevitable that we had to leave this cult, no matter what the consequences. Decided to remain inside a little longer to try to have a smooth transition out with the least trauma possible in order to help my family and to prepare psychologically for the huge challenges ahead.
July --October, 2009 - During our summer vacation, we decided not to attend any JW meetings, and avoided socializing or being with JWs. We visited non-JW family and convinced ourselves that worldly people were normal, even more kind and honest than JWs. We started hinting to friends that we will not continue holding "privileges" and that we were tired of all the responsibilities.
After coming back from vacation, made the determination to start fading. Went to the District convention only one day, and couldn't even stand being there for the entire day. Attended meetings only sporadically until we stopped attending altogether. It was too painful to continue.
September, 2009 - During this month, we did not go to a single meeting. Constant phone calls from friends started coming in. We avoided them and we stopped answering since they used emotional blackmail that was really affecting us. During this period, we attended ex-JW meetups and started interacting with other ex-JWs as well as learning about their transitions out of this cult.
Oct 9, 2009 - When the elders came to visit for the first time, after we faded, we knew they were up to something. This is when they start going after my wife and me in order to make a Judicial Committee so they could accuse us of apostasy and other unsubstantiated accusations. The demonization process to discredit us had started.
viewtopic.php?f=28&t=4880&p=63269#p63222 (The time has come to be FREE)
We were scared and confused, the elders still had power over us, but we were still resolved to ignore them for as much as possible. Many members of this forum helped us during those difficult days. We wanted to avoid getting DF'ed since we knew that it meant being shunned by everybody we know within the JWs's, but we knew that it was realistically very hard to avoid that. That was the cost for freedom.
October, 2009 - April, 2010: We started celebrating "pagan" holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas), including attending birthdays parties openly. Basically we did not see a problem with getting together with non-JW family for holidays and celebrations. My kids enjoyed being normal, celebrating their birthdays. We no longer had to force them to get up early for the meetings or push them to go preaching.
Started adjusting to a different life style. It felt awkward at first, but slowly became used to it and loved it.
I went back to college to pursue a Masters degree, however, after one semester, it became a very difficult thing to do with all the harassment and emotions going through.
We were relieved not to go to meetings or field service. We could sleep in on the weekends and finally was able to go to places such as museums, etc. without having to worry about missing the meetings.
In the mean time, we had many people trying to convince us to go back to the meetings, using fear and guilt as tactics to persuade us to come back to Jehovah.
We had open and frank conversations with close JW friends and shared our new beliefs, including an honest opinion of what we thought about the Watchtower. We had a chance to say good-bye to a lot of those friends, some of which begged us to continue even if we didn't believe.
During this time, a witch-hunt had started by the elders. We started hearing rumors, and hearsay about what we had done. They were harassing us with phone calls, emails, etc. The pressure gets really difficult and it starts clouding your judgment about how to proceed. At this point, we realize that the cult programming was still affecting us.
We ignored their calls as much as possible, but we got tired of it and decided to confront them in the Judicial Committee in order to stop the harassment. We decided to give closure to everything by attending and officially tell them about our new life.
April 29th, 2010 - When they officially disfellowship us.
viewtopic.php?f=28&t=6821&hilit=officially (Officially disfellowshipped)
Feeling anxiety and anguish from losing what you thought were friends and starting to experience the hurtful shunning from family. This was the most difficult thing about the whole transition. Somehow, we believed that our family was going to remain close to us, even though we knew better than that. The cult was more important than a brother, than a friend. Even in this difficult stage, we had a sense of relief, to say that it was finally over. You feel a big void, a sense of loss, and now basically try to discover who you really are and move on with life.
Started seeing a psychologist to help understand that major changes happening in our life. It helped to put everything into perspective and to cope with the changes taking place. It wasn't easy but with time it was very rewarding.
Oct, 2009 - April, 2010: Felt free, started exploring the world, being curious and fulfilling some long time repressed activities (smoked a cigar, visited a strip club, etc)
Also learned to define boundaries, set limits to prevent from falling into addictions. Determining what kind of friends to have, etc. It was a wonderful time, the sense of freedom and exploration was great. Being DF'ed somehow affected that momentum. Now family from both sides were being very difficult with us, coming from distant places trying to rescue us. It took months to get them to understand that we were no longer going to continue. We had to be firm and consistent until they got the message clear in their heads, once they understood that we were not coming back, they disappeared from our lives as way to punish us for wanting to be free from a cult. They rationalize and justify it in their heads by saying that they are simply being loyal to Jehovah's organization.
April - June, 2010: Going through a roller coaster of emotions and turmoil. The shunning affected us quite a bit even after preparing for more than a year. It's one of those things you think your understand. But the theory is different than the actual practice. We found ourselves pretty lonely for a while and wondering if we had made the right decision. But slowly regained our confidence and realized that it was all part of many years of indoctrination to make you feel guilty. We just needed to continue doing what we were doing, to believe in ourselves.
So, we continued trying to find our place in society, exploring churches, making new friends. Adjusting to life as a family, to define a new structure without any JWs in our life. Throughout this time, we got an idea of our true selves, without the influence of the cult. We learned that it is OK not to know the answers for everything.
Started going to therapy to try to help overcome the anxiety, and the sense of loss.
Learned to adjust with the daily life routine that we had for over 30 years, and adjusting relationships with family.
Basically setting boundaries with family (those that still talk to us) where they respect your position and accept the new reality.
July - Now, 2010: Family more stable emotionally, feeling calm with peace from within. Setting a distance with toxic relationships (JW family) turned out to be a big relief. Exploring different set of beliefs. Reading all kinds of books without feeling guilty about it. Pursuing our interests and being who we are without worrying who can see us or what people think about us. No longer hiding and being true to ourselves. Still meet with other ex-JWs on occasion and share our experiences. When possible to help others who are still stuck in the cult (currently at 1001th post at JWR).
No longer care if JWS see us, if they ignore us or pretend that we are not there, it doesn't matter. We are beyond them, and we truly feel sorry for them, for being slaves and not being able to be themselves!
Learning how to socialize with normal people and making new friends since we are still adapting and changing our way of thinking, trying to get rid of the prejudice from years of propaganda by a cult driven by judgment, fear and guilt. Have made some good friends along the way. Some of which are co-workers, ex-JWs, and people from school. Also have made friends by doing activities in the community.
Moving on with life, with less need of ex-JW support forums. But still try to participate and find myself needing occasional support when dealing with JW family or when we have those bad days when past memories affect your daily life. Finally becoming normal...and simply continue our journey of life with the joys and challenges that it presents!