Testimony and advice from another former JW
R: I really like your site and I feel your advice for new ex-JWs is very wise. It was a pleasure to find your site. I haven’t been a JW for 20 years or so. I was a third generation JW, raised in the religion. By my mid-20s I was seriously depressed, guilty, and aimless. One of the things that made me feel really guilty and like a failure was that I just couldn’t pray with any conviction. Also, I came from an abusive family – at least my father was a dangerous and violent alcoholic who frequently tried to kill us.
I went to massage school in my early 30s. Giving and receiving massage made me feel worthy, and even loved. Other things that helped me were maybe a little silly – a bumper sticker that said "since I gave up hope I feel better." That’s how I felt! Massage school gave me culture shock; I was exposed to all sorts of viewpoints and beliefs. I realized that much of what is taught by and to JWs is simply not true. Also, I realized that many many many JWs are leading dual lives – they are good JWs when with each other, but very worldly, even promiscuous when no one is watching. What a shock. I went to a psychologist for a year or so – and I highly recommend it. Talking with him, I realized that the root of my depression was something I felt strongly but couldn’t express – my deep sense of betrayal by my mother and the elders. The elders kept telling my mother it was her duty to stay with my father, because he was the head of the house, even though he was a non-believer, and extremely violent and dangerous. When I realized how I felt and expressed it, I felt much better. I was even able to forgive my mother for not protecting us. She really believed she was doing the right thing. And I began to realize what a sick religion it is.
Eventually I was able to tell another truth: I just plain don’t believe. I don’t believe the Bible or any of the other religious writings. I don’t believe in religion. There’s a lot going on the universe that we don’t know about or understand, and it doesn’t matter. I detached from having to have all the answers. I don’t think it’s important to know who made the world and who or what is running the show. We can’t know, therefore it doesn’t matter. What matters is trying to live a noble life. I checked out other religions, but I’m just not impressed. I just don’t believe. I did learn some useful ways of thinking from Buddhism, especially some of the books by Alexandra David Neel. I’m also not interested in discussing it. I don’t care what other people believe, and I feel I have the right to pursue my own beliefs without having to justify them, and I don’t have to put up with people who want to convince me I’m wrong. If there is a god, which I seriously doubt, I can’t see him/her/it rejecting 99 percent of his children and accepting only JWs. God, if he/she/it exists, could hardly be less loving than people in general are.
What I lacked in the first years after I quit being a JW was someone to talk with who could relate to my experience. My sisters don’t relate; although they are not JWs any more either. I finally ran across a wonderful woman in (deleted) who was a former JW also. She shared a great book with me, the first hand account of a former JW. I think it was called "Clouds of Glory," and I wish I could find another copy of it.& The author of that book expressed many of my feelings and reframed the whole experience for me.
When my mother died three years ago, I was immersed in the JW world again for a week, while my mother was in intensive care. I realized how far I had traveled. Now that she is gone, I don’t have to ever have anything to do with any of them ever again, which is a great relief.
I’m a lot happier, healthier, and more useful person now. And terribly grateful that I managed to get out of the JWs. And although I was never able to pray with any conviction as a JW, I learned how to meditate by doing massage, especially lymph drainage massage, which is very quiet, still, and repetitive, and requires that the therapist pay attention to his/her breathing.
Nice of you to provide a place where people like me can unload. I looked for a friendly website for ex-JWs for a long time. Most of the ones I found, though, were very angry and were bent on proving that JWs are wrong doctrinally, and I don’t really care about that. I don’t believe the Bible anyway, so what does it matter? I was very impressed by the wisdom and compassion in your advice. Thanks! I see from your web site that you get a lot of hate mail from JWs, and I really don’t want that. But if my experience would help anyone, it’s OK to share. Like you, I don’t want to make the past the center of my life, I don’t want to be bitter and focused on how I was harmed. I just want to leave it in the past and enjoy the life I have now.
I also liked your advice about overreacting to JWs when leaving the organization. I have seen a few others in the last 20 years or so that have left the organization. However, they seem driven to prove how bad they are: drug abuse, promiscuity, other risky behavior. Self-destructive behavior won’t help.
I would like to tell them: Nurture yourself, don’t destroy yourself. If you are leaving JWs, and you feel angry and guilty, just lie low for a while. Don’t talk about it all the time, although you may be tempted to do so. Don’t act like a victim. Look around and find people who are living lives you admire, and get close to them. Learn how to live a new way by hanging out with wise, compassionate people who are successful at living noble lives. You’ll get through the stage of feeling like a traveller from another universe, and you’ll find worthwhile friends and rewarding activities.
Heidi: What a wonderful treat to get your letter this morning – thank you, thank you. I too saw a therapist when, during two separate occasions in my life, I just felt that I had been ill-equipped to navigate the psychological terrain. It was a big big help to me, especially since in both cases it was short-term with limited goals. I didn’t want to turn into a narcissist, I just wanted to know how to get through to the next level. One of the things that was most enlightening to me was a very simple message that I had a choice – that I could decide for myself what was important to me among the conflicting voices inside. That somehow allowed me to shift and sort and to find more authentic paths. Sounds so simple, but it wasn’t something I had been allowing myself.
I am sorry about your family. There is an awful lot of this sort of thing. It took me until the year of my own father’s death to be able to forgive him – and then only because he was around a lot, being good to my son, and had overcome both the alcoholic and the post-alcoholic madness that had destroyed his own life.
It is so true that sometimes all it takes is exposure to other ways of being for some JWs to be able to realize at some level that their own way is somehow wrong. I think that is why (along with other authoritarian and controlling groups) that the JWs so discourage “worldly associations.” They framed it in such a way that we would think all outsiders are bad – some then seek out the badness as the only route out. But of course most of it isn’t bad at all – there is a lot of kindness and compassion and fun out there too! You were fortunate to have found a window that included a sense of healing and a respect and acceptance of the body.
I studied world religions, and that helped me a lot – but my own path of questioning is somewhat eclectic and I too see nothing but strife in arguing over doctrinal and interpretative matters. I have always found that if your focus is intellectual, learning to ask better questions promotes wisdom a lot more than the illusion of having the answers. In many ways, a breathing meditation accomplishes more – you get centered, attuning your spirit and body. I also like sound, attention, and compassion meditations – even just paying attention to how different bodily positions affect your emotional state – bowing, reaching up to the sky, etc. Ultimately your spiritual path is your own – between you and your sense of the cosmos/God/gods, whatever you like to think. Words are so misleading anyway.
For myself, I decided long ago that if God were really like the God of the JWs, then such a God was not worthy of my attention, much less my worship and obedience. I have since come to believe that this could not be God – I use in meditation Anselm’s thought that God is that “which none greater can be thought.” So I think of the best God I can possibly imagine, and then assume that God, or the cosmos energy of love, or what we label as these things, is much much better in ways that I just simply won’t be able to understand given the way we perceive the world in human terms of space and time. And, to quote the character Stuart Smalley, “that’s…… OK.”
R: So nice to hear from you – your point of view about JWs is so intelligent and realistic. I remember being surprised to find that non-JWs could be good friends, and weren’t all bad, which is what I believed for a long time. There’s a little superiority in that feeling, too – everyone outside the organization is evil, and we’re so good. A lot of narcissism too – look at how good we are, how holy, how superior. With distance I realize that JWs are a narcissistic group, and more afraid of demons than of god, which is interesting, isn’t it? Anyway, I have found many better friends outside the org. than I did inside it. I remember when my mother came to my wedding (she stood outside the church and watched through a window), she said with surprise at the end of the weekend "Ramona’s friends are nice!"
I don’t actually believe in Buddhist doctrine, but I have learned a lot from the writings of the Dalai Lama about how to live, which has made me a much happier person. I really respect the Dalai Lama. Another book that really helped me is "Women Saints East and West." I learned something really important from that book – that although the doctrines were very different (Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist), these women had very similar lives. They all had an experience of the divine, meditated or prayed about six hours a day, and lived lives of service to others. The modern example is Mother Teresa. I couldn’t agree with her doctrinal beliefs, but she lived that life – an experience of the divine, six hours a day of prayer, and a life of service. Evidently god spoke to her in a train when she was a young woman. Then I got the big Aha! from a book by Alexandra David Neel. She went to Tibet early in the 20th century to learn from Tibetan Buddhist mystics. She spent a lot of time there, learning really difficult meditation practices, the short path. At the end, she asked the monks a couple of good questions. She asked if all that she had learned wasn’t just in her mind, not real at all. The monk said yes. Then she asked about people who couldn’t do the short path meditations, which were really hard and didn’t allow time for a person to earn a living or live a normal life. The monk said "then they have to live noble lives." I really got that. We don’t need doctrines, special clothing, special buildings, special rituals or a church hierarchy. We just need to try to do the right thing on a daily basis. That’s actually tougher than going through the motions of religion, but it’s also more rewarding.
You know, I haven’t said this much about my beliefs to anyone before now. Do you have a lot of ex-JWs bending your ear and unloading like this? If so, you’re a really compassionate person. I have been toying with a book on spirituality for people who don’t believe anything. One of these days I’ll finish it.
H: Yes, I do get a lot of email on these topics, but although compassion is a major path for me I think it is healing all around. It is, as you say, beneficial to communicate with someone who understands the issues involved and has a certain kind of common ground of insights and experiences. And I need to hear it as much as anyone else. It fills me with joy to see others who have found (or rediscovered) their own path. Thank you for sharing your experience here for others to read.