Sandra's Story

I never thought of writing stories, or looking up anything about the JW's on the internet. My personal experience was enough to turn me away all on its own. It wasn’t until I undertook therapy to address a number of issues that the idea came up.

I grew up in a family steeped in the JW religion. Most of my family remains JW’s and I've never seen anything divide a family like this religion did. I'm the youngest of four girls and the first to leave the religion. As I was growing up, I tried to convince my mother to let me to stop going to meetings. Everyone at the Kingdom hall avoided me for much the same reasons as I see in other stories- I refused to visibly conform to all the rules for behavior and thought. I didn't do this just to rebel at first- it just seemed too restrictive, judgmental and not very loving. Worse, at school, I stood out and was shunned- no saying the pledge of allegiance- no Christmas videos or parties. My parents were so into the JW religion and my not being part of “the world” that I was not allowed to participate in sports or other team or group events (despite calls fro coaches and many tears). I wasn't allowed to spend time with friends, or basically not allowed out of the house. This resulted in a severe sense of isolation and disconnectedness from others (I'm about to turn 34 and I'm just beginning to learn to get past this).

I’m also discovering as I research that there was great variance in the rules from time to time and among congregations of JW’s- but it seemed in ours, the role of girls and women were severely regulated. I was told that I would never go to college- that I was to get married and until then- learn the things I needed to learn to be a good wife. Looking back, I feel like I was trained like a geisha. Relegated to the kitchen, and not allowed to believe I deserved to decide anything for myself, it’s amazing I’m not in worse condition today. Some of the restrictions included not being allowed to wear pants (mostly to meetings) and we (women and girls) were subjected to all sorts of additional silly rituals that confirmed our position as the lesser sex. For example, If there was not a man in the room available to pray, an older woman would have to cover her head (I’m remembering my aunt with a doily perched on her head) in order to say the prayer. I was trained to cook, to sing, to entertain and maintain a household. I was told that education for me was not only a waste of time, but not necessary seeing that “the end of times,” or “Armageddon” was coming soon anyway.

In our congregation the rule was ‘marry them off as quick as possible’ and that’s essentially what happened to my sisters and I. Between 1962 and 1987 we were each married off from either a combination of religious pressure (no contact with boys unless we were to marry) and desires to exit my parents house. We were between the ages of 15 years and 19 years old when we were each married. I was the one who was 15 and was pregnant by the time the wedding took place. While that certainly wasn’t what was expected of me, I learned not to care, but to sacrifice my body and mind to the organization, to it’s men, to this man, because I was the “weaker vessel” and was taught to be submissive and stay in my place. I also vividly remember my father telling me- get married or get out.

Within a year my former husband had not only hurt me, but hurt my son in a way he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life, and I was out on my own. I was sixteen going on seventeen then. There was no one to turn to because I was told I was to stay with my husband by the leaders in the organization, and I didn’t listen. The men and women who counseled me gave examples from the literature that depicted women who, even having been thrown out by their husbands, returned to clean house and cook meals. After doing this duty they silently disappeared and prayed that the men would take them back and see their love as good- ever the faithful and humble ‘slaves’ of Jehovah and his men. (Writing that last sentence caused refrains from the song “Shulamite Remnant” to play in my head- how unpleasant!) This is what was expected from me- even though my son’s neuromuscular development was permanently impaired by this man.

During this time, my oldest sister left the religion and moved to Canada (in which order, I’m not sure). For ten years or more she was aggressively pursued by members of the organization. They waited for her outside of work, they followed her to shopping malls; their activities contributed to the near breakup of her marriage to a non Jehovah ’s Witness man.

When I finally created a life for myself and my son and met a new man, I had no idea how to be a normal (50%) partner in a relationship. In addition, he was very Catholic, and our views sometimes clashed. When a family member of his- that I dearly loved- died, I desperately wanted to attend the funeral. In contemplating this, I was faced with all the fears fed to me over the years. I had been told that to go into a Catholic church was as good as spitting into the face of God. Some how I did it, and I ended up passing out – I had never seen the inside- all stained glass, incense and robes. It was overwhelming. I did learn, through the patience and kindness of the church and it’s people, that there was love and kindness to be found there.

So, now I’m 34 and I’ve lived through several painful relationship endings. It wasn’t until now that I fully understood that my ability to be an equal partner in a relationship is severely curtailed and underdeveloped. I choose men who are most comfortable controlling, making all the decisions. These men have essentially replaced the organization for me. Unfortunately, I’ve added to the stress of future generations in that my son has not had a male role model in his life and I’ve not been the best teacher of how to be in a relationship. At 34 the full impact of my ‘programming,’ even though I’ve been out of the religion from about the time I was about 17 has really just hit me. As a result, I’m aggressively seeking to grow in the ways other girls and women might expect to if they lived a non-cult life.

I must tell you also that another of my sisters suffered sexual abuse by a member of the congregation. Several times my strong sister has returned to the organization (as recently as 2 years ago) and asked them to take action against this man. At the last meeting, the man admitted what he did to my sister. The elders counseled him to write a letter of apology, and that was it. There was no further action taken because he is a respected member of the congregation. This man has repeated counts against him for sexual molestation through the judicial system. He is, to this day, allowed access to children and minors by the congregation.

My Mom, after years of concern and fear, began to withdraw from the religion a few years ago. Unfortunately, my Mom and Dad moved to another state to be closer to family and to go where it was warmer. Suddenly my Mother found herself in a new town and her only sources of support are relatives and others who are members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. My Mother says she’s thinking of going back and ‘faking’ it just because her local family won’t openly spend time with her and she has very little support. A tight spot she’s found herself in is that the supposed ‘apostate’ members of the family (three of four daughters and several of her nieces) have drawn close to her now they she is more accepting and less entwined in the religion. So, my Mom has a tough choice. Her choices are: loneliness in order to be there for three of her daughters and their children, nieces and nephews or; choose a tight (read suffocating) group of family and friends to support her. I don’t envy her position.

My Mother’s generation didn’t grow up with the signals that being a strong and independent woman is okay. Perhaps the rub of that thought was the seed of my (and my sister’s) escape from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’d love to believe that we were smart enough to see the other inconsistencies- that every time a thunderstorm struck from 1984-1994 Armageddon didn’t happen- however, I’m not sure that’s true. Whatever it was, I’m thankful and still on the path to deprogramming.