Sarah's Story

I didn't have the nightmare childhood that a lot of Witness children have.  I was lucky that way, I guess.  My parents raised us the best way they knew how, and I know they believed, and still do believe, that they were doing the right thing.  Of course, I don't agree with them now.  I missed out on a lot.  The Jehovah's Witnesses stole away my childhood before I could even begin to enjoy it.
          
I was born a third generation Jehovah's Witness, the oldest of three children.  Both my parents became Witnesses when they were children, when their parents became Witnesses.  Now, there are 5th and 6th generation Witnesses in my extended family.  My mother calls being a Jehovah's Witness part of our  family tradition; she says it is our heritage.  It is a heritage I am not proud of.  This heritage has done nothing but rip my family away and tear us apart.  All in the name of a false prophet called the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
     
As a child, I was very zealous for the "truth."  Even at that young age, I was brainwashed into thinking that I was better than everyone else.  I used to tell my teachers and my classmates about Jehovah, and told them that the only way they could survive Armageddon was by becoming a Jehovah's Witness.  I frequently incorporated scriptures about a paradise earth and about Jehovah's hope for humans into my schoolwork.
 
One year, when I was about 12 or 13, I won an essay contest about the problem of fair housing and how to solve it.  The Live Forever book was my primary reference.
          
I was naturally outgoing and friendly, but I soon discovered that kind of behavior was unacceptable, except at the doors when we went out in service.  I became withdrawn and isolated in school.  I soon realized that I was perceived as a bit of a weirdo.  My self-esteem plummeted.  As a Jehovah's Witness, I was told that I was "no part of the world."  I was encouraged to set myself apart from my classmates.  When parents would bring in cupcakes or special party favors for a holiday or birthday, I wasn't allowed to participate.  The same was true of holiday plays or recitals.  Every time such an event was scheduled, all the Jehovah's Witness children would either stay behind in their classrooms or trek over to the library while the rest of the school enjoyed themselves.
       
I remember one such holiday party when I was in the fourth grade.  After recess on Halloween, all the students came into the school to find that their teachers had dressed up in costumes.  My teacher dressed as a nun and served yellow and orange striped donuts and apple juice.  I remember refusing to take even a glass of juice, though my teacher persisted, trying to make me feel a part of the group.  In my heart, I found my refusal ridiculous, but knew that accepting the juice would be like giving into Satan.  I went home that day and told my mother what had happened in school.  She told me how proud she was that I had refused a simple glass of apple juice.  It wasn't long before I, too, was feeling proud over every birthday cupcake and holiday donut I refused.  I was no part of the world.  I was one of Jehovah's Witnesses, one of the chosen ones.  And I wasn't going to let Satan slip up my hopes of salvation by participating in worldly celebrations.
          
The brainwashing and the fear started at such an early age
          
As I got older, I started feeling uneasy about my religion.  I couldn't put my finger on it, but something just wasn't making sense.  I remember one occasion where I had a Watchtower publication open in front of me, and I was pleading with Jehovah to convince me that this was the truth, because I just couldn't understand.  I knew I wasn't stupid; I was at the top of my class, I excelled in school and I loved to learn.  The problem was that what the Witnesses were trying to convince me was the truth, simply wasn't.  I struggled more and more as I got older.  Every year, we would go to Natick for our yearly circuit assembly.  I knew something was very wrong with me, at least, when I went one year and felt so completely depressed and sad about everything.  I cried the whole time, and I didn't know what was wrong.  I couldn't pull myself out of it the entire weekend.  I came home and continued crying.  I realize now that I was getting very tired trying to accept everything I was hearing.  Unconsciously, I was allowing guilt and fear to eat away at me.  Doubting the Witnesses was a serious sin, a disfellowshipping offence, and I was definitely headed in that direction even if I couldn't admit it yet.  I was 17 at the time.
          
Because I loved school so much, I fought to remain at the top of my class, and was awarded the position of valedictorian my senior year.  My next big decision was whether I would go on to University or not.  It was clear to me that my father wanted me to forget school all together and become a regular pioneer instead.  Ever since I was a child, he told me that if I became a pioneer, he would provide me with a place to live and support me financially.  However, I knew in my heart that I didn't want to pioneer.  The truth was, I hated going door to door.  I felt I was invading people's privacy and trespassing where I didn't belong.  I am a shy person, and talking to strangers about the Bible was something that I really, really felt uncomfortable doing.  I wanted to continue my education, and my mother was very supportive of that.  My dad gave up fighting, and told me that I had one chance at going to school; if anything went wrong, if my spirituality suffered, I would have to leave.  I agreed to his conditions, and enrolled at the University of Rhode Island in the Journalism program.  I received a full scholarship because of my academic record in high school.  I got involved in the campus newspaper and was hired for a part-time position; I wrote two articles a week, and my writing talent was recognized and rewarded immediately.  I felt so great going to school.  This was what made sense to me, and I knew I could actually use the knowledge I was gaining in my everyday life.  I spent as much time as possible on campus, and before I knew it, I was forced to miss meetings because of the long commute or because I had a paper due or an article to write.
          
My father wasn't too pleased with how things were turning out.  I must say that I was surprised by how much support I received from fellow Witnesses; many of them seemed to be proud that I was actually doing something with my life, instead of working as a janitor part-time so I could pioneer during the day.  Of course, there were others who felt that I was making a big mistake by furthering my education.  Mostly, these were the old-schoolers; people who had been Witnesses for a number of years, and hadn't forgotten that the Society once forbade higher education.  They felt that education was only an excuse to associate with worldly people, and that I was being drawn away from Jehovah.  Being the daughter of an elder only made things worse; I was expected to be on my best behavior at all times, and I didn't seem to be doing a very good job of it.  I think my father was very disappointed with how things were working out, and he seemed to be looking for a reason to put an end to this education "nonsense."
          
Around the same time I was enrolling in school, I met a worldly man who I became infatuated with.  Originally, he and I were only friends, but he seemed to be leading me in a direction that pointed to something much more.  We kept our relationship secret for about 4 months, keeping in contact through e-mail and secret midnight phone calls.  I did like the excitement of it all, but keeping it secret was very difficult.  I was riddled with guilt and terrified that we would be found out.  I knew that if my parents discovered what was going on, they could take me to the elders and I might have been disfellowshipped.  I was in agony constantly.  The only people I could share what was happening with were my worldly school friends, and a male friend I had made on the Internet.  Even with all the guilt, I was happier than I had ever been before.  For the first time ever, I was tasting freedom; I was able to go to school and do whatever I wanted there, and I had a boyfriend.
          
It wasn't long before our relationship was found out, though.  I knew my brothers suspected something, and would snoop around the computer to find evidence of my wrongdoing.  One time, they even installed a keystroke recorder on the computer.  I was furious when I discovered it; the program allowed them to read everything I wrote while I was on the computer.  Fortunately, I discovered it just after they installed it and erased what it had recorded and the program itself.  I will never forget how violated I felt.  I told my good Internet friend, and he, too, was outraged.  The thing was, I wasn't doing anything that bad-I was just having a relationship, like any normal teenage girl.  Eventually, though, I was caught.  My mother confronted me with some damning evidence one afternoon.  My first response was: "I am not giving him up."  I think what I was trying to express was that I didn't want to give up my freedom.  Once you get a taste of freedom, it is pretty much impossible to go back to a restrictive, tied-up, chained life.  I knew that it really wasn't my boyfriend that I couldn't live without; it was my freedom.  My mother called my father at work, and he came home immediately.  They threw scriptures at me, Watchtowers, Awakes, Watchtower books, and a whole pile of guilt.  And then they told me that they wanted me to leave school.
          
PART 2
 
          I fought hard to keep myself in school.  I knew that when I was on campus, I was at my happiest.  I was surrounded by people my own age, surrounded by books, learning, and intelligence, and I loved it.  I was in heaven.  I had straight As in all my classes, was starting to make friends and make a name for myself as a reporter.  But I knew I would have to give it up the minute my parents told me to leave school.  My mother had even threatened to take away my car keys and lock me in the house.  I fought them for about a week, and then, feeling lonely, depressed, and suicidal, I stopped going.  My parents bought me a little Jack Russell Terrier puppy my father named Toby, in exchange.  I was devastated.  I stayed in bed for about three weeks, so sick and sad.  The only time I got up was to go to the meetings or talk to my friend on the computer.  The rest of the time I holed up in my room and cried or slept.   My parents recognized that I couldn't possibly go on like that, and arranged for me to get a job interview at the Bank of Newport.  There were a number of sisters in the congregation I attended who worked for the Bank, and they made sure that my interview developed into a part-time job as a teller.
          
Working at a bank was the last thing I wanted to do.  I've always hated math, so working with numbers every day seemed like a particularly cruel punishment.  For the first month of my new job, I would cry every morning because I didn't want to go.  I dreaded it.  Eventually my father told me to suck it up.  I was an adult now, and I had to work just like everyone else, even if I hated my job.  After he told me that, I held back my tears, and kept my fears to myself.  At one point, my mother tried to get me back into school.  She had even arranged an interview for me with the Dean.  My father refused to consider it.  This time, I didn't even attempt to fight him.  I continued to hole up in my room anytime I wasn't working or at the meeting.  Any relationship I had with my family vanished.  I continued to be plagued with guilt and believed that Jehovah hated me and wanted to destroy me in Armageddon.  I knew I didn't have a chance of surviving "Jehovah's day of anger."
          
There was a very good reason why I was still suffering from so much guilt.  Once again, I had gotten involved with a worldly man, and realized that this time I was falling in love.  The man was the friend I had made online.  His name was *(name has been changed)Thomas and he lived in Toronto, Canada.  He had listened to my heartache over having to leave school and was puzzled by my situation.  I had resolved not to tell him I was a Jehovah's Witness until I couldn't hide it anymore.  I realized for the first time that I was ashamed of the religion I was raised in and belonged to.  Never before had I felt so much shame for that part of my life.  It was a huge sign that I had serious doubts.  It wouldn't be long before I addressed them
          
Thomas and I met on a role-playing list based on the movie Titanic.  Both of us had been huge fans of the film, and it was no surprise why.  We both identified with the movie's theme, the struggle to overcome a seemingly hopeless situation and find true happiness.  At the time, Thomas was stuck in an unhappy and degrading marriage.  And I was stuck in a cult.  So, being that we were both writers at heart, we invented fictional characters and placed them on board Titanic.  It wasn't long before our characters met and fell in love.  We started writing privately off-list so we could plan our characters' next adventures.  As we started getting to know each other better, we realized we were falling for each other, and hard.  It wasn't long before we were sharing our hopes, dreams, fears and struggles in e-mails and then instant messages, and even a few secret, whispered phone calls.  There was an instant connection between us, and before long, we decided to meet.
        
Every other month or so, Thomas would travel to Rhode Island and stay at a nearby hotel for the weekend.  I would make up some kind of excuse, and meet him at his hotel Friday night and Saturday morning.  Those times we were together were like a breath of fresh air for me.  Even though I was terrified of getting found out and disfellowshipped, being with him was worth all that fear.  When we were together, I felt truly loved.  And that was something I was feeling for the first time.  Though I knew my family loved me, I recognized that they loved me only conditionally.  As long as I was doing the things I was supposed to spiritually, they would bestow their love upon me.  It wasn't that way with Thomas.  Eventually, I told him that I was a Jehovah's Witness, and I was surprised when he didn't withdraw his love from me.
          
Once I told Thomas about being a Witness, he started researching the organization so he could understand me better.  I remember having small arguments with him over something he had found on the Internet.  He was truly trying to understand, but I took them as attacks.  I knew he was reading apostate literature, and I was afraid it would taint my view of the Society.  I told him not to talk to me about the Witnesses.  However, Thomas continued researching the Society behind my back.  One day Thomas asked me to give him only a fraction of the time I was giving the Witnesses and listen to what he had to say.  Somehow that touched me, and I stopped fighting him.  He started talking to me about the things he was learning, and his words made sense to me.  The doubts I had for years surfaced for the first time ever, and I started acknowledging my concerns.  Thomas put me in touch with an ex-Bethelite by the name of Tom Cabeen.  Because I couldn't contact him by phone, Tom e-mailed me and told me his story.  I remember being struck by how normal he sounded.  He had said that he was going to church, and I couldn't understand how he could allow himself to walk into the hands of Babylon the Great.  But I was moved by the kind tone to his letter, and I saved it for future reference.  I started slowly to piece together the truth of the organization.  And though I wasn't ready to acknowledge that I had been raised in a cult, I recognized that there was something seriously wrong with the religion.  It was a huge step for me.
          
Soon it became very clear to Thomas and myself that we needed a solution to our long-distance relationship.  It was getting increasingly difficult for us to be apart, and seeing each other once a month was not acceptable.  Thomas' marriage had come to an end, and it was then that we started discussing my moving to Toronto to live with him, as his wife.  He had already asked me to marry him, and I had accepted.  I was terrified, and couldn't bring myself to tell my parents about what I wanted to do.  I envisioned all kinds of horrible consequences to my actions: my father dropping dead from grief, my mother having a nervous breakdown, my friends turning their backs on me, my entire family shunning me for good, and worst of all, having to go in front of a judicial committee and be disfellowshipped.   I feared I was making the biggest mistake of my life.  Jehovah was going to hate me and would relish killing me at Armageddon.  But at the same time, I realized that if I stayed in RI and stayed a Witness, I would probably end up killing myself.  I came to the point where I had two choices: leave with the man I love and find happiness and freedom, or stay in RI and die.  I chose to live.
          
I planned to leave with Thomas in mid-May.  I didn't breathe a word of my plans to anyone but a trusted confidante at work, and my journal.  My work friend was able to work behind the scenes and give my two-week notice.  Everything at work had to be kept very quiet because I worked with a sister from my congregation.  If she found out any of my plans, I knew she would go to the elders and then to my father, and I would be prevented from leaving.  Everything worked according to plan until one week before I planned to leave.  I had made my only mistake, and that was writing in my journal.
          
My mother had ransacked my room and found my journal, and then picked the lock in order to read it.  At the same time, my brothers were hacking into my e-mail accounts, and uncovering evidence of my plan.  Once again, my mother confronted me with the evidence, and lost it.  She called me evil, cruel things.  She cried.  She pleaded.  She called my father from work, and he came home only to repeat the same things my mother had said.  He begged me to stay.  He cried.  I stood there listening to them, letting them throw angry words at me, allowing them to tell me how worthless I was, and asking what they did wrong  There were tears rolling down my face, and yes, I felt ashamed and humiliated and sad.  But this time, I wasn't changing my mind.

Once they had finished berating me, I hid in my room for awhile.  The feeling in the house was tense and creepy.  Everyone was silent, their eyes averted, shocked.  I heard whispers from the room next to mine, my brothers' room, but couldn't hear what they were saying.  All I could think about was how I could contact Thomas.  To my surprise, the whole family left to go visit my grandmother that afternoon (my family was planning to move to her home in Massachusetts).  I will never know why they chose to do that after what had just happened, but it gave me the perfect opportunity to call Thomas.  The minute I knew they had gone, I ran downstairs to the phone and called him.  I was sobbing as I told him what had happened.  Alarmed, he vowed to be in Rhode Island by the next day.  I learned later that he left that night, after telling a few friends where he would be.  He decided to bring his laptop with him, and we arranged for him to send me an e-mail under the name of one of my friends, with the number of his room inserted somewhere in the text.  After we hung up, I went back to my room and went to bed.  My head was swimming with fear and pain.  I was hurting so badly I could barely breathe.  I heard my family come home, but none of them came to see me.  I was already being shunned, and I hadn't even left yet.  I was devastated.
          
The next morning I woke up to an empty house.  It was Sunday morning, but I didn't think my parents had gone to the meeting.  Immediately, I jumped out of bed and checked my e-mail.  The promised letter from Thomas was awaiting.  I called his hotel, dialed his room number, but no one picked up.  I was frantic.  I called about 10 times.  Still no answer.  I later learned that Thomas had accidentally left his laptop plugged into the phone line.  I decided to take matters into my own hands, and drive to the hotel myself.  But I was locked in the house, and my car keys had been taken away.  Not knowing what else to do, I went back to my room and began packing frantically.  I was so busy with my task that I didn't hear my mother come home and walk into my room.
 
When she saw what I was doing, she started screaming.  She sat me on the bed, and while I cried, she pleaded with me for 3 hours not to go.  She told me that Jehovah loved me after all, that I was not worthless in His eyes.  She told me how much my family loved me, how much my deceased grandfather had loved me, how special I was to her.  She quoted scriptures and Watchtower publications.  She told me that if I stayed, she would send me to live in Iowa with my aunt and uncle so I could recover.  She even promised that I could take it slow as far as being a Witness was concerned; I could start out by attending only one meeting a week until I felt better and stronger.  I nodded my head and cried as she spoke.  Nothing she said helped; it only made me feel worse.  My heart was still broken, I knew that Jehovah still didn't love me, and I was still in so much pain I found it hard to breathe.
          My father came to see me later that night.  He sat on the edge of my bed and calmly told me that I had 2 choices.  I could disassociate myself or get disfellowshipped.  I listened to him without saying a word.

After everyone had gone to bed, I was able to call Thomas and get in touch with him.  In a whispered, emotional phone call, I related all that had happened that day.  He asked me if I had come to a decision about what to do, and I told him the truth: I didn't know.  He pleaded to see me the next morning before I went to work, and I agreed.  I went to bed knowing that at least I would see him the next day.  It was the first happy thought I had had in 48 hours.

I never ended up going to work the next day.  I walked into Thomas' arms that morning and stayed there.  I called in sick at work, and my boss, worried about me, called my uncle, whom she knew.  My uncle called my mother and my mother tried to call Thomas.  Instead of reaching Thomas, she reached his ex-wife.  After Thomas' ex had attempted to calm my mother down for 20 minutes, she called us and told us to call my mother.  I couldn't bear to do it myself, so I asked Thomas to.  And he did.  He heard my mother tell him how horrible I was, how I didn't know what love was and I didn't love him, how I was selfish and hateful and spiteful.  Thank god Thomas didn't buy anything she said.  I talked to my father after my mother had finished with Thomas, and we agreed to all meet at the hotel room so we could talk things over.  At that point, I knew that I wouldn't be going home.  I was going to be leaving with Thomas.  Ten minutes later, Thomas and I sat side by side on the bed while my mother, father and brothers stood before us.  My father did all of the talking.  He told us how our marriage would never work because Thomas wasn't a Witness.  My mother walked out when Thomas tried to comfort me by gently touching my back.  My father continued talking, asked me if this is what I wanted, and then told me to contact the elders when I got to Toronto.  I lied and said I would.  And then I arranged to pick up some of my things at home.
        
It was fortunate that I had packed a few things the day before.  I filled one other backpack with some clothes, grabbed my Bible and some Watchtower publications and left everything else.  I found out later that my mother threw out anything that had belonged to me:  all my awards, my writings, the items of sentimental value, everything.  I walked down stairs, hugged my brothers and my parents goodbye, gave my dog one last kiss, and never looked back. 24 hours later, I was in a strange country, in a strange city, in a strange bed, feeling a bit shocked and broken.  But I was alive.  And I was free.  The thought of it brought a smile to my face.

PART 3

I think I was in shock the first few weeks after I arrived in Toronto.  Everything that happened in the first month or two is pretty much a blur.  I remember sleeping a lot, and telling everyone, including my new therapist, that I had never felt better.  Which turned out to be a lie.
          
I suffered from feelings of guilt for a very long time after I walked away from my past life.  It is something that tends to pop up even now, when I know that I have no reason to feel guilty.  I still believed that maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses had the truth, and mulled over the idea of going back to the Kingdom Hall half seriously.  My husband, though concerned by my statements, told me that he would support me in whatever I decided to do.
 
One day in June, I went on the Internet and started searching for online support groups via the mailing list website onelist, now yahoogroups.  I came across several sites for Ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, some Christian, some not.  With some apprehension, I joined a few, introduced myself, and sat back and listened.  From that point on, I began seriously questioning my beliefs as a JW.  I became interested in learning what the bible really had to say, as many of my new acquaintances online believed that the Witnesses distorted the bible.  Through lots of research, I found that to be the case.
          
Also at that time, I began looking into the origins and past of the Watchtower Society.  I was shocked when I learned the extent of the false prophecies and false teachings.  I found that suddenly I was thinking logically, able to reason and see that many of the WT's teachings made no real sense.  However, while I was beginning to think logically and use my brain, I was still extremely fearful of Satan, demons, and Armageddon.  And I suppose in the end that meant I was still very afraid of God.  As a result, I turned to fundamentalist Christianity for answers.
          
When I left the JWs, I still had unwavering faith in the Bible.  I believed that it was God's Word, without contradictions, errors, or mistakes.  I began to have many friends who were Christians, and who shared my faith.  They talked about accepting Jesus into your life and heart, thereby accepting the gift of salvation that Jesus died to give us all.  What they said made sense to me, and furthermore I found I could back it up with the bible.  In the fall of 1999, I attended an Ex-Jehovah's Witness convention in Pennsylvania called, "Witnesses Now for Jesus."  It was there that I felt moved to accept Jesus into my heart.
          
In December of 99, I began seriously considering officially disassociating myself from the Watchtower Society.  Not only was I disgusted by the religion in general, I was disgusted with how I was being treated by my family.  I found that my family wasn't interested in anything but my involvement with their religion.  Every conversation we had centered around my going back to meetings, and "returning to Jehovah."  I used to write them heartfelt letters about my life, about the things I was experiencing, about how I missed them and loved them.  Sadly, they chose to ignore these things, and instead continued to push me back to the religion.  I got extremely tired of reaching out to walking and talking Watchtowers  I wanted my family, I wanted to be loved for who I was.   After much thought and research, I sat down at my computer and penned the disassociation letter you see here at this site.  When I was finished, I sent it to my former congregations, and all JW friends and family I could reach.  I felt I had to defend myself against the gossip  I knew they were going to talk about why I left, and I wanted them to know the truth.
          
Immediately after I sent my disassociation letter to my parents by e-mail, I received a letter telling me goodbye.  I've been shunned since then.  Recently, I held out my hand and tried to compromise a bit, but they refuse.  I've come to accept the shunning at this point, and am ready to move on with my life minus my family.  Ultimately, it is their loss, and although it is very sad, there is not much I can do to change their point of view.
          
Not long after I sent my disassociation letter,  I started questioning Christianity and the bible, too.  I started having the same questions I had as a JW.  And what was worse, I started to see the same hypocrisy and intolerance that I had seen as a Witness.  The "I'm right and you're wrong" attitude bothered me.  I began to believe that there wasn't one true religion, and that all organized religion was wrong; it was used to control people, not help them.  I began doing research into the bible, discovered contradictions, and once again, began thinking logically.  It soon became clear to me that the bible was just a book, not God's Word, written by men only.  At this point in my life, I am beginning to question whether Jesus really existed and walked the earth.  I am still researching and learning, and I find it is something I am very happy and comfortable with.  I believe the journey to God is a personal one, one that cannot be dictated to you by another person, religion, or book.
          
I am able to look back at my time as a Jehovah's Witness and a Christian and be thankful that I have had those experiences.  They have taught me many things, one of which is to question everything.  That's my motto these days.  Question everything.   After doing much research and personal reflection, I no longer believe in Satan, demons, Armageddon, or religion.  However, I do believe in a loving God.  It isn't something I can prove scientifically or with a book.  It's a deep knowledge I have carried with me since birth, something I just KNOW.  And I am really happy with that.  As long as I continue questioning and exploring, I believe I'll remain at peace and happy with where I am.  Not knowing the answers and searching for them is much more rewarding and rich than believing you know it all and have the truth.

back to Recoverying Faith in Self

back to Main Page