I grew up in "the truth", as my parents converted a few years before I was born. I was the youngest of four siblings: twin brothers one year my senior, and a sister six years older than I. My father was an elder for as long as I could remember. While I never had a zeal for "the truth", I figured that most "worldly" kids probably felt the same way about church, and that it was just something we had to go through. Only as I became older and wiser did I start to notice the hypocrisies within the organization.
My father was a tyrannical ruler of our household. Physical punishment was meted out arbitrarily and unjustly. After all, "spare the rod, spoil the child", right? (We were never severely beaten, and whippings are prevalent in the African-American community, so I wouldn't call it extreme child abuse per se, but we were definitely whipped almost daily and for inane reasons). We were also yelled at and belittled. My father was a power freak, which is why he loved being an elder so much. My family was never very close-knit. We never showed any kind of affection, like hugging or kissing, and we never ever said "I love you" to each other. (I cannot remember receiving a hug or being told that I was loved by my parents any time after the age of 5. To this day, I have a hard time showing emotion and affection in relationships). I think it was the way my parents were raised, as they both had issues with their own parents and weren't especially close to them either. But what really hurt was seeing my father go to the meetings and hug "the friends" and show them so much affection, and then do a complete 180 at home.
I was also a bit of a burgeoning feminist as I grew older, not that I was reading feminist literature or anything, but that I noticed the discrepancy in treatment between men and women in the cong, and a desire to "keep women in their place," and I didn't like that at all. There was far more "concern" about regulating what the women were wearing, which was demeaning in my opinion. Also, things such as going to conventions and finding the mirrors in the women's restroom covered (but not in the men's), so that we wouldn't waste time "primping" Are you kidding???? Of course, I was a good little witness and never dared say anything derogatory about the society, or the governing body, or the faithful and discreet slave class, or whatever entity we were holding on high that week.
I got baptized when I was about 10 or 11, mainly so I could get my dad off my back about when I was going to do it. Things only went downhill after that. At my baptism, I wore a leotard and some P.E. shorts. (I took gymnastics class at school, so it was just my P.E. outfit that I wore in class every day). As I was waiting in the line to get dunked, I was pulled aside by a man I didn't know (presumably an elder), and told that I would have to wait for someone to determine whether or not they would let me get baptized, because my clothes were "improper." I stood next to that man while I watched everyone pass by in the line and get baptized, and I cried because, 1) I didn't understand what was going on and what I had done wrong, and 2) I was afraid that if they didn't let me get baptized, my father would never forgive me. Eventually, it became ordained from on high that they would let the little Jezebel take the dunk, so someone brought me a wet t-shirt that somebody else had used, threw it on me and took me under. I never told my parents this story. (What's funny is that while I stood there crying next to the line, the people who were in line actually thought that I was crying tears of joy, and they would smile at me as they walked by. It makes me sick to my stomach today).
Things got progressively worse after that day. I was a painfully shy child, and I hated going out in field service, raising my hand in meetings or giving demonstrations. I saw a lot of the familiar hypocrisies in the cong., (regarding deferential treatment towards people who were 3rd generations or higher, or people who were wealthy), and I wondered how we were any different from the so-called Christendom. I thought that we just hid our shortcomings better, but now I'm not so sure that we even did that. (I know my favorite part of the meeting was the Announcements part, so I could find out who was being reproved or disfellowshipped, and I could speculate about what they'd done I know, so sick). And I felt stifled because I couldn't talk to anyone about my concerns, not even my siblings, lest I be hauled before a tribunal of elders. So I sucked it up until one day when I was about 15, and my dad pushed me too far He came home from work one morning at about 5 a.m., woke me from my sleep, and yelled at me for forgetting to do some silly chore that was related to the dog's food dish. I was utterly fed up, and at some point in my ensuing tirade against my father, I yelled that I hated being a witness! We all know what came next
This is how naïve I was: I was actually glad that I was getting the "opportunity" to meet with the elders and the CO, because now I could tell about all of the things that my father did to us at home, the whippings, the verbal abuse, everything!! I was going to air all the dirty laundry and we were finally going to get some family counseling and have some peace at home!! I couldn't have been more wrong! During the meeting, I acquiesced that I had not been getting along with my father, that I had been disrespectful, and that yes, I had said that I didn't want to be a witness, but it was all a culmination of my frustration at how we were treated at home. Every single time I mentioned anything about my dad, I was cut off with an abrupt, "We're not here to talk about him. We're here to talk about you." Oh really? I thought we were here to solve a problem, of which my father's behavior is a big friggin part!! They didn't care about anything that was going on in our home. They only wanted confirmation that I didn't really mean what I said about not wanting to be a witness. So I said all the right things, and right before we left, I dared to ask whether I could say some things about how my father treated us. The CO looked me in the eye and said, "Somebody needs to bend you over their knee and whip all that rebellion out of you." I walked out before they could offer me a closing prayer, and I vowed then and there that as soon as I was old enough, I was OUT!
At age 18, I announced that I was going to university. Of course I was discouraged from doing so, but I was prepared for that. I was going to the local university, so I could still stay at home with my parents, and I was majoring in Social Work, so my motives were actually philanthropic. So despite their objections, I enrolled at the local university. One semester later, I ran off with the first young worldly man who showed me some attention. He drove me to my parents' home one day when they were away, and I packed up all that I could carry. My sister called my mother, who was at work at the time, and reported that her youngest daughter had lost her mind. I calmly received the phone from my sister, told my mother that indeed I was packing up and moving out. I didn't speak to my parents or siblings again for a year after that. I refused to even acknowledge the elders who kept trying to call me and have me meet with them, so I don't know exactly when I was disfellowshipped.
There were some rough times during that year, but I finally got the freedom that I had longed for all of my life, and I grew up a lot. It didn't work out with the young man, so eventually I moved into my own place. My family re-entered my life when I got a phone call from my mom one day asking if my brother, who had also been disfellowshipped, could move in with me. My brother moved in with me, my family never discussed the previous year, and everything progressed as if nothing had ever happened. Eventually, I got pregnant and then moved back home with my parents. They rarely tried to preach to me and never tried to force me to attend meetings, and to this day, I don't know why they suddenly decided to stop shunning me. I also noticed that my mother hardly ever attended meetings anymore, and my father was no longer an elder, so maybe they had become disenchanted with the organization as well. I enjoyed a relationship with them like I never had before. After I had my daughter, I enrolled in law school, and everything was going fine. Then came The Worst Day of My Life
My brother who was still in "the truth" (We'll call him the Truth Brother) was getting married to an old friend of mine from childhood. This woman had actually lived a "worldly" life, and had only recently gotten baptized. She wasn't as strict an adherent to the rules of the organization, so she was actually kind to me. My Truth brother and sister were still mindless drones for the organization, and what little familial ties we'd had in the past were virtually nonexistent at this time. Still, he was my brother, and I loved him and wanted to celebrate this happy time with him. Before the ceremony, my parents hinted to me that there would be mostly witnesses at the wedding reception, and that I probably wouldn't be welcome. Still being naïve, I interpreted their comments to mean that the witnesses would rather I not attend, but that my brother would be fine with it. Since my Truth Brother had never expressed to me that he didn't want me there, and I didn't care what the witnesses preferred, my Other Brother and I made plans to attend.
On the wedding day, my Other Brother and I planned to drive an hour to the small town where the wedding was held. We ended up being delayed when my 1 year old daughter locked herself and my brother's 1 year old son in my car. Once we remedied that situation, we finally got to the wedding as it was ending. So we followed everyone from the Kingdom Hall to a small reception hall nearby. Upon entering, my Other Brother and I were met at the door by my Truth Brother and his wife. My Truth Brother, flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood, said to me, "You can't come in."
I was floored. After reading all of your stories, it sounds like I shouldn't have been surprised. But like I said earlier, for one, I was very naïve, and secondly, my family wasn't shunning me in the traditional jw manner. Anyway, my daughter was full of poop and hungry, so I asked him could I please come in and change her and feed her, and then I'd leave. He refused. His wife told him not to make a scene and to let us in to change and feed the baby. So I came in and went to the restroom. I don't think my Other Brother ever even came in to his twin brother's wedding reception. As I'm changing my daughter in the bathroom, I am struggling to keep my composure. I just want to leave and forget that this day ever happened.
When I come out of the restroom, I am met by a few non-jw members of my family who have gotten word of what happened. I tell them that I am leaving, but they insist that I at least feed my baby before I get back on the road for an hour. We all get in the serving line. After a few seconds, my brother and an elder come up to me, and the elder says, "If you don't leave, we are going to call the police and have you escorted out." I absolutely could not believe what I was hearing!!! It was like I was in the Twilight Zone or something! I looked at my brother and asked, "Are you going to let them call the police on me?" They just walked away.
By this point, I am in tears, and my non-jw family is trying to console me. They assure me that my brother would never do that, but I am not so sure. A few minutes later, my mother comes up to me with a plate of food for me and my daughter, and tells us to get out of the line and ushers us to a table where we sit and begin to eat. I can tell that she is trying to rush me. Sure enough, moments later, two police officers show up at the door. My non-jw family is in shock, but by this point, I am not surprised. The officers never approach me, so I finish feeding my daughter and then I leave. All of my non-jw family that was present leaves with me in protest.
The blinders came off that day. I'd never really thought of the organization as a cult before, but it became all too real to me on that day. I wasn't considered an apostate back then; before then, I'd never even perused this type of website or spoken out against the jw's. So I was shocked by the lengths that they went to in order to keep me out. But of course I didn't fit neatly into their description of a disfellowshipped person. The "world" hadn't used me and abused me, as they like to proclaim. I wasn't strung out on drugs or whoring in the streets or begging for my next meal. I was a law student working for a successful and prominent law firm, and I was doing well for myself. Maybe they didn't want their members to see me and start thinking that it's not so bad "out there" after all. If my parents had shunned me "properly", then my life would have been a lot more difficult, which leads me to believe that shunning ex-members also serves that unspoken purpose for them. Once you take away a person's entire support system, when he falls destitute because of it, they can point and say, "Look at what happens to you out in the world."
After the wedding, I quickly moved into my own place, because I did not and do not want my daughter anywhere near that cult. True to form, no one in my family ever mentioned that day again. I learned that my jw family behaves one way in front of the "friends", and totally different any other time, as is typical of jw's. For a while I didn't speak to my brother, but I've forgiven him now. I know that he is a victim as well, and I pity him.
Thank you to all of those who have taken the time to read my story. I don't think I've ever told it in its entirety to anyone before. But more than anything, I hope it helps someone else.