I believe that I know pretty much how you feel, and I believe that Tom and Randy and Warren and others also know how you feel. I think a lot of us former Bethelites still come across as a little too enamored with their own life as a Bethelite. We are "unrepentant". It still sounds like we are proud of our relationships and friendships with some of the same people that we can also see as "evil" from another perspective. So how can we still "revel" in the memories?
I'm responding mostly to these comments by sf:
"As you men all recall your glory days, has it dawned on you the horror and confusion so many of us as innocent and helpless children, were going through and/ or ABOUT TO GO THROUGH, as a direct result of twisted doctrine and lethal policies, due to our parents FOLLOWING YOU?"
For me, these were my days of growing up. I grew up in Bethel, a dysfunctional family. I was naive. I was too easily impressed by those I believed were spiritual leaders. But I survived. And I look back on "how I survived" without remorse. I lost nearly all my friends. I was heartbroken about so many people I loved that I couldn't speak to anymore. During that time I had a JW literally spit at my feet even though we were formerly close in our congregation.
My own parents, of course, stopped speaking to me for about a decade. I mean completely stopped! Years after leaving the JWs, I was nearly killed once when a car ran up on a sidewalk to throw me across the intersection. A year or so after recovery, I attended a funeral for a non-JW uncle, and when one of my parents started to apologize for their silence during that terrible episode, the other parent shot a scolding look that kept BOTH parents out of my life again for another few years.
I also know that, like many others, I lost several years of normal social growth and educational opportunities. I quit High School when I was still 15, to begin pioneering for a few years in advance of 1975. I missed education terribly and didn't start up again until a year after I left Bethel - 8 years of my life that I'd never get back. Raised as a JW I could probably count another 20 years mostly lost in service to an organization. I also helped bring several families into the organization that I can never help back out. I tried, by calling a couple of them and it just seemed to make it worse. Someday, I might hear that one of their children died from the organization's myopic view of medical treatment. Or, almost as bad, they live their life wasted in service to the "machine" that built itself up around a magazine (and vice versa).
But Bethel is a lot like serving tours in the army. Impressionable kids who think too little of their sergeants (and too much of the generals and presidents who got them there) STILL have many great memories of their time with the friends they made. Kids may end up going into the service of some imperialist and/or fear-mongering national organization, or it might always be a "just war", but the kids don't know the difference. And more importantly, does even the murder and mayhem of war erase all the good memories of what we did and how we coped with our own naive incompetence? Or how some were fortunate enough to be put in circumstances that helped us find our way out? Does it change the people we knew as friends?
I am still thrilled every time I hear of another Bethelite who makes it out of that place with few visible scars. I know what they and all other former JWs lost. Some Bethelites may appear to have lost very little from the time they spent there. But a lot of them more obviously lost much more because Bethel represented a path of a "life investment" that precluded other careers. Many cases were much worse than mine, but I know how close I came to disaster. I didn't use my spare time at Bethel to prepare for a life outside, because I thought it was my life's career. I ended up attending all the meetings of TWO congregations, and I used my spare nights to finish the Aid Book and a hundred other Wt publications. When I thought that this still left me enough free time, I auxiliary pioneered a time or two. Fortunately, this stupidity burned me out soon enough. It made me look elsewhere for spirituality.
That said, I agree with the danger of seeing these days as "glory days", when we were in the heady height of our youth. It's possible to forget that it was all "loss". I don't actually forget that it was loss, but it's probably not easy to convince others. Still, I don't fret over it. What's done is done. I'm sorry for supporting it, but I didn't know any better and I'm not beating myself up for it. I choose to remember the good times along with the bad, accentuating the good times.
I'm not saying we don't filter our own memories, consciously or otherwise. But I didn't become a different person after leaving. When I was in Bethel, this caged bird "sang" in there, too. Maya Angelou might have said it was a coping mechanism that would have caused difficulties for others to interpret. ("I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." 1969.) But I think, for me, it's a lot simpler. I'm like the "Bird Man of Alcatraz" remembering BOTH the birds and the cage, but I choose to LIVE with the better memories.
Betty Botter is my true literary hero. I like to repeat the following to myself (5 times, fast):
Betty Botter bought a bit of bitter butter. But, said Betty Botter, if I use this bitter butter, it will make my batter bitter. So Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter and it made her batter better.