Me too. Breathe, it gets better, and welcome to your new life. I’m glad that we found each other.
Yup, that’s me.
I officially disassociated myself from Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2015 after years of research, prayer, and inquiry. I went from being a “seasoned” pioneer and being active and involved, to nothing. I had made my service to Jehovah my purpose for so many years, and now I was lost in the rabbit hole of reality. It took a harder toll on my psyche than I had imagined it would, and re-awoke a lot of repressed trauma from my rape and so many years of repression, control, and silence.
Since childhood Watchtower’s principles had been so deeply ingrained in me through strategic indoctrination that when I realized the truth of it all I pushed everything and everyone away. I needed space, I needed time, and honestly I needed to take back control of my life. I couldn’t listen to anyone or anything, so I just started running in every direction imaginable. I had no course, no center, and no coping skills. I’ve heard a lot of survivor’s experiences are similar and that it’s simply reactive trauma.
Taking a break, reclusing a bit, and losing your path is a normal part of the healing process after leaving a High Control Organization. However these actions are what cults like ours mislabel as “worldly/rebellious/infidel behavior”, and so when they heard I left instantly I was marked with labels such as “Apostate”, “Bad Association”, “Worldly”, “Mentally Diseased”, “Anathema”. They mourned me as if I was dead instead of reaching out to assist me, or simply continuing our relationships in spite of a change in religious affiliation. I am shunned, and you likely will be too. It will hurt, but this too shall pass, and the less power you give it early on the better. Realize this is simply a form of manipulation and has nothing to do with your value as a person. It is a psychological tactic, knowingly or unknowingly implemented to distance your loved ones from you. It is not your, or usually 100% their fault.
Shunning and labeling is a dehumanization tactic by High Control Organizations, and it has a long history in human culture (including psychological warfare in extreme conditions, such as labeling groups of people as inanimate objects in order to feel more permissive towards causing them injury or death.) In most cases though, such as the Watchtower’s use of “Apostasy”, it is a way for them to dehumanize you and make you a dangerous wrongdoer while covering their flaws in intentional misdirection. In reality you are just becoming whole and moving towards self-exploration and self-knowledge, which is essential in the healing process. They will mislabel it as mental derangement, degradation, and badness in order to discourage the flock from asking questions, seeking outside knowledge or education about the organization, or expressing themselves and having independent thought.
“You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
Like me, you may think you are well prepared to leave. You may have become mentally ready. You may have read every article, watched every movie, spoken to every tree, but you cannot and will not be able to properly perceive or quantify what lies ahead of you before you get out. You just can’t. There are so many variables, and the outside chaos combined with your inner chaos is going to eat at you and make you lash out for a bit. You’re going to get angry, you’re going to grieve, and because of shunning and other means you are going to BE GRIEVED by the community while you’re still alive… It’s going to get weird.
In this article I’ll be addressing this process, the weirdness within it, and encourage you to ask for help, find healthy coping skills, make new friendships, and find yourself again. Let’s get started.
When you’re in a cult you are told your purpose. They continuously encourage you to be your best self by giving service to the members/public/organization/company/enterprise/what have you, and that it is the ultimate path towards self-fulfillment. They provide you with ranks and accolades to achieve through service to the organization, and attribute any success you have as glory to God. That sense of accomplishment is a high no drug can touch for a while, but the crash is real. When you stop believing in the carrot dangling in your face, you realize you’ve been walking a treadmill for 10 years to nowhere, and you have nothing you can take with you when you go. Your community, friends, family, even jobs and homes completely vanish out of thin air.
Welcome to the cluster of life. Now you are stuck alone with yourself, and your purpose is gone. What do you have left? Who are you? That’s the question I was stuck with for quite some time. Suddenly I was Zoolander, rejecting the coal mining dream, suffering from the black lung, struggling with “who am I?”
Quod me nutrit me destruit
Your path will lie in finding yourself by blocking everything else out. It’s DE-programming.
You’re going to naturally reject everything everyone ever tells you, during a time when suddenly everyone is an expert with an opinion, too. The only things that might tickle your fancy are the things people say that go in line with what you’ve really, really, really always wanted. You’re looking for that forgiveness. You’re looking for those outlets, and you have no clue how to cope with yourself.
For the first time in your life you can do literally anything you ever wanted to do, but darling, you’re a balloon full of culty things. You have to let a little air out at a time and not let more in just yet, or you’ll explode. During this time period you may have a lot of experiences, some you’re not too proud of. You’re alone and have grown up “no part of the world”, so you may end up entertaining things that in the end you won’t want to keep doing forever, but during that time of survival they were necessary.
You are a process. This your evolution. This is your growth. You are finally beginning to find yourself and embark on your individual path. It takes time to find the will in yourself to be. It’s not pleasant, but it’s a beautiful transformation. You’re just metamorphosing out of tragedy, and it’s not pretty. Embrace that. Accept it. Forgive yourself. Love yourself.
Remember always to try to operate yourself on the basis of love. You’re experiencing trauma, and you have a lot of deeply repressed stuff inside of you. Just try to find a semblance of balance in every chaotic moment. This too shall pass.
Don’t get rid of everything from your past, there is always good mixed in with the bad. Perhaps you developed better public speaking skills, or organization, or the ability to see people with a needs/risk assessment. Through your experiences and transformation you have/will learn so many priceless and unique bits of knowledge and skill. Just try to keep your individuality intact, and realize that just because you escaped one hellscape doesn’t mean there aren’t others out there to recruit you. During this time of identity loss, try not to make any life altering decisions or join in any other groups until you really feel you are on steady ground emotionally. You could end up in another HCO, religious, political, or otherwise.
Remember, you now have all the power in your life now to become your own Hero (mine: Angelina Jolie or Michelle Rodriguez. You have to find your own inner badass.) or your worst demons (Marla Singer, or… myself 3 years ago.)
You may have been told when you were in the cult you were your own badass. You were special. You were unique. You were among the few and the proud. You were the elite group of humans that yada yada yada…
In reality, well, we know now.
So it’s up to you to be your best self, or your worst enemy.
Only YOU can prevent self-destruction.
Who are you, anyway?
As I mentioned before, when you’re in a HCO (cult) you are defined by what you say, do, hold allegiance to. The funny thing is, you are told what to say and do, and what to hold allegiance to. You are told you are “one of Jehovah’s Witnesses”, that you should “maintain fine conduct”, “be no part of the world”, record hours, go door to door, shun your friends and family, refuse blood transfusions, be a martyr for the cause, shall I go on?
This essentially removes your identity piece by piece in a very subversive way. It makes you apart of the whole instead of being your whole self. You must strive for perfection, because Jehovah is perfect. You must forgive your aggressors, even when it makes you uncomfortable. You must hug your rapist for the sake of unity in the congregation. So on and so forth. Savvy?
It’s really important for you to understand right now that you aren’t a martyr. You don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to keep it together all the time. In fact, it’s okay to take breaks. When is the last time you called in for a sick day? It’s probably been a while, and if it hasn’t you’ve probably crashed under all the weight and pressure from trying to conform to standards that are ever-changing and impossible to keep up with. I assure you there is no perfect witness, there never has been, and if Rutherford was alive today I’m sure he’d have a drink to that statement.
It’s important for you right now to take stalk in yourself. What do you like? What do you dislike? What have you always wanted to do? What are you PROUD of yourself for?
I am sure that like me, every time you accomplished something or something went right for you there was no recognition of your talents or efforts, instead there was praise made to Jehovah, and if it wasn’t related to witness culture you were cautioned to focus more on the “truth” because the time is nigh, correct? No time for soccer when there is field service to be done. You don’t want that blood guilt on your hands. Do you think that JW’s in the concentration camps in the 40’s would approve of your after school drama club? Shame on you little sister. There will be time for that in the real world. You need to sacrifice now to Jah…
So, like I said before, what did you love to do but never got the time to explore? Drama? Singing? Dancing? Painting? Sports? Writing?
Whatever it is, do it. Don’t get discouraged if it’s been a while and you don’t feel confident in your work, practice. Do what moves you. Find your happiness. Reclaim YOUR name.
Speaking of names…
Chesed: What’s in a name anyway?
My name is rather unique, and while searching for my own identity I began to look a lot into my own history, and I decided to learn more about it. The origin in Hebrew is Chesed. An incredibly simplified translation into English would be “Godlike mercy”. That’s a pretty accurate representation of my strengths and weaknesses, and my parents couldn’t have named me better. For many years I was a pushover, and I definitely possess that outright merciful kindness that lets every person, everything, and every place walk all over it without complaint.
In researching anthropologically I learned a bit about where the origin of Hebrew words like Chesed come from. I learned that on the Kabbalistic tree it has an opposite, and it struck home with me.
Gevurah simply translated means judgement and strictness. It is the epitome of boundaries, aka everything I naturally lack. It is something I have had to purposefully practice since leaving. Finding my true purpose, finding my boundaries, not being a doormat or a lemming. I think that’s something we all struggle with as survivors, and decisions involving mercy vs judgement comes into play in life a lot more than we give it credit for. Especially in the circumstances surrounding leaving a cult.
My father always told me that as an Elder you have to make a lot of decisions that affect people’s lives, and those decisions will always boil down to two paths. The loving way, or the judging way. “Always side on the path of love.” he said. I try to implement both now, skirting to the side of mercy as I go. Balance takes time.
In going through my de-programming I ended up hurting people I didn’t even know I was hurting, and probably still don’t know all of it. I was incredibly dissociative due to trauma, and I had little to no self-awareness or accountability because I wasn’t ready for it yet. I couldn’t process it. I was too raw.
I’m not squeaky clean now either. I’m still evolving. I am no one’s poster girl. I was told my whole life how to act, what to say, how to present myself and my life to the public, that presentable JW image. I’m not her anymore either. I’m a human who is deep in her humanity, and I’m okay with that. I’m beautiful with my scars, my flaws, my tattoos, and my unabashed character. None of those are unwholesome, or wrong. I am not marred nor corrupt. I am a wild, distinct, slightly feral, empowered membered of the human race, and you will be too.
Just find your balance.
Tiferet sits as a bridge on the tree below Chesed and Gevurah. It is the embodiment of beauty. This is what will manifest in you through finding your path, your true will, and that inner light inside you. That unique and special you, that universal seed of self. When you find that balance, when you move forward, and that’s when you get your mojo back.
By exploring your unique talents and skills, learning healthy coping skills, finding ways to constructively channel negativity into something powerful like self-expression or personal accomplishments, taking accountability by holding weight in EVERY decision you make, and yet still taking no half measures. (Heisenburg style)
Be your best self. Be YOU. Not anyone else. You may even find your future exceeds all expectations imaginable, life can take you on some crazy twists and turns. The difference is, now you call the shots. Make yourself proud, fulfill your purpose, and do something to improve the world around you in the process. You deserve it, and all the good things that can come from that.
Anything is possible, this is all just a transition.
One of the ways I am fulfilling my own purpose is by speaking out about what happened to me, taking back ownership of myself and my choices, growing with my new family, raising my beautiful child, loving my wonderful partner, expressing myself through artwork, charities, activism, and empowering others to find themselves again and become the beautiful, amazing, talented individuals I know they can be.
I would love to empower you, too.
I can’t wait to see what you can do. I’m always here for all of you who need help along the way. Don’t be afraid to reach out to me, anyone here at the VAA, therapists, counselors, whatever you need to get by. Seek higher education, seek a better life, pursue what you love, and find your happiness.
You have survived. You are powerful, raw, beautiful, wild, and you are going to do amazing things.
Never stop using your voice.
With all my love,
your Rad Associate.