Shelby's Story

My parents were both JW's when I was born in 1962. I had two older brothers as well, so we were all raised as JW's from birth. Never really knew anything different. My father was an Elder, even Presiding Overseer as they rotated. My father was very strict and made sure that we followed the WT rules to the letter. To the point that he used his belt on us when necessary to keep us in line, telling us it hurt him more quoting all the while, "spare the rod, spoil the child". As a young child growing up I didn't know any different.

I got along well with the kids at school, though I was not able to become overly friendly with them. I could not join in extra curricular activities outside of school, which at times bothered me. Not being able to go to the local community rink to skate or play at the playground. Having to be excused for saluting the flag or reciting the Lords Prayer was not something that bothered me too much. I was with the same group of school students from grade 1 through 12. There were always several other JW children at my school as well. So though I didn't hang with the JW that much, they were always there just in case the other students snubs us for some reason or other, but that never seemed to happen.

Most of the kids just felt sorry for us that we didn't get Christmas/Birthday Presents etc. But I would always explain to them that I didn't have to wait till my birthday or Christmas to get a present from my parents. I would get just as many toys and things that I needed without waiting for special occasions. My parents would wait till after Easter was over and buy us a Chocolate Bunny or such, as long as it was after. Still to this day I hate it when I hear parents tell their kids that they have to wait for their birthday or Christmas to get something that they really want. We were able to play with the non-witness kids in the neighborhood. One family in particular was strong Catholic and we got along well with them. (Playing with the neighbor kids was allowed so as we could provide a witness to the neighbors by how we acted.)

There were times when I resented having to go to so many meetings a week when I just wanted to play with the neighbors who only seemed to go to church on Sunday. I felt that 5 meetings a week was a bit much. Falling asleep at the meeting was not permitted. We'd often get home late from the Theocratic Ministry School which meant you were in bed late and hard to get up for school the next day. Other than that I can't find much else to complain about in my young childhood as a witness.

When I reached my late teens, however I decided that this life of being a JW was not for me. I just hated all the time it was taking up going to five meetings a week plus the family study night, and all the preparation time too. Plus the fact that I could not get involved in any extra curricular activities, such as sports etc really upset me. The only thing that got me through it was my best friend (also raised as a JW with a Elder father and 4 siblings very strong in the JW faith). At least I had her to talk to and knew that she felt the same way I did. So it was rather difficult to put on pretence though my teenage years.

I didn't have much choice however while living under my fathers roof. He was very strict and made it very clear that as long as you lived under his roof you lived by his rules (WT rules). So I silently played along doing what was expected of me, even to the point of getting baptized at 14 to keep my family off my back, not really understanding the future consequences of my choice. (It was then that my Mother had a nervous breakdown, which I go into detail later on). How old was Jesus when he got baptized? I never understood the rush placed on one in their teens to be baptized. It looked bad if you over 16 and not baptized. Should we not follow the example Jesus set? Far be if from me to question that though.

My older brothers never seemed to mind the routine and to this day are both Elders and very strong in their faith. I felt crowded by my family, and was never allowed to go to any witness parties, functions alone. Only if my brothers were attending so I could be under their watchful eye. Though I was friendly with several witness boys I was never attracted to any of them for the pure fact that I never had any intentions of ever marrying a witness brother. While my brothers were able to find faithful sisters to date, I always had to tag along with them to chaperone them. What fun that was? Both my brothers were married two month apart while I was in my last year of high school in 1979/80. So once they left home it was not much fun, as I had no one left to chaperone me now.

As Witnesses you were not expected to go to University, or College but to get a part time job and hopefully pioneer. One of my brothers went to a Technology College to become an Electrician. However, he could not find work in that field when he was done. But did manage to use his skills on many weekend Kingdom Hall builds that he would travel around to.

In my youth we were always taught that Armageddon would come before we even finished school. 1980 I finished high school and had no trouble finding a full time job. One of the Elders in our Congregation hired me to work for an Oilfield Company that he worked for. This however made it difficult for me, as I had to act accordingly at work. About a year later I moved out on my own. What a feeling of freedom I felt. My parents were not pleased.

My Mother had always been a stay at home Mom, never worked outside the home. Her spare time was spent knocking on doors preaching to others. She wanted me to stay at home (pioneer) and wait to get married to a Witness boy. But I could not do that. I had no intentions of ever marrying a Witness boy anyway. I found out years later that most of the Witness brothers were afraid to talk to me because they were afraid of my father, as they new how strict he was. My Dad had even pointed out several faithful Witness boys and told me that if any of them ever asked me out that I didn’t have to ask his permission. Gee thanks! Nothing like being told here are four guys take your pick. Never mind that I didn't feel an attraction to any of them. Not that there was anything wrong with them. We got along fine, and one even took me to my Graduation. I would have preferred to attend with any boy from school instead. I just new I didn't want to pursue a JW lifestyle.

After I moved out on my own in 1981 I made sure that I moved clear across the city to get away from my parents watchful eye. There were about 16 congregations in the city. Our Family was well known in the city as my Father traveled to other Congregations giving Talks on Sunday, as well as major parts at the Circuit and District Conventions. Our family was quite often used for demonstrations on the stage at all the Conventions. So no matter which Congregation I choose I would be known. I just wanted to get away from my parents and brothers (who were both Ministerial Servants by this time). I also needed to get away from the Elder that I worked with too.

I started to miss more and more meetings. But it was difficult with my family still breathing down my neck. I eventually changed jobs in 1982, which lead me to being given the opportunity to transfer from Alberta to Ontario, which I jumped at in early 1985. I completely stopped going to meeting now. Never even looked up the congregation I was supposed to attend when I arrived in Ontario. I would lie to my parents when they would call. I knew it would upset them when they'd finally find out the truth. But I had to live my life for me. I was always taught from the Bible that Jehovah reads our hearts, and knows what our plans are. So if that was the case then why live a life of lies to please "man" if I was to be doomed by God anyway? What was the point? If the "truth" was not in my heart, which it wasn't, then why pretend? I knew the consequences that would befall me, but being that far away from my family on my own, it didn't seem to matter anyway.

I eventually started to date a Catholic boy seven years my senior. He was not a practicing Catholic, but his family was. We eventually got married in the Spring of 1986 (in a Catholic Church even though I was not Catholic and flatly told the Priest that I would never become one, if he wanted to marry us without the Mass then that was fine and if not oh well. We'd just go elsewhere. I knew that my parents would never attend the wedding anyway regardless of where we got married. So why not please my husband and get married where he wanted to.) The Priest agreed to marry us in St. Gabriel's Church. (Stunned me when the priest told me that even if I didn't want to become a Catholic that I should still have a faith, to the point of even telling me to stay a Witness). I eventually just told my parents that we got married at City Hall. They were not happy with me for marrying a Non Witness. My father even went so far as to right me a letter telling me that he no longer had a daughter and didn't want to know what I was doing with my life. It hurt for a bit, but I had my own life now and soon made our own family.

My brothers each had a son, so when I gave birth to the first granddaughter (on both sides of our family) in November of 1987. My parents were happy and my mother even came to visit to help me get on my feet with the new baby. It was at this time that I noticed that things were strained between my parents. My mother had contacted the local Kingdom Hall by us and arranged to be picked up for all the meetings while visiting us. She could never miss a meeting no matter where she was.

When I was 14 my mother had a nervous breakdown, while her body was going through Menopause. She was put on antidepressants and was on them till the day she died. My mother had trouble sleeping at night, so she began to drink alcohol at night to help her sleep. Even though one should never mix antidepressants and alcohol. While I was in the hospital giving birth to my first daughter and my mother came to visit. (this was the first time my husband met my mother), he asked me if my mother had a drinking problem. I didn't think so, but hadn't been around her for several years. When I spoke to my father about it he confirmed that she was doing the above mentioned and would not listen to him. At this point I noticed that their marriage was in trouble. With my mother everyone seemed to think there was no problem. My Father and myself seemed to be the only two people that saw the destruction she was causing. (Yet, although my father was still an Elder, my mother was never disfellowshipped for being unbalanced in her use of drugs and alcohol, which did not seem right to me).

When my first daughter was 10 months old my Maternal Grandmother died (who was also a JW) I went home for the funeral, and noticed that there was a real strain on my parent’s marriage. A few months later my parents separated and my Father stopped attending meetings altogether, while my mother continued in her faithful service to Jehovah. My Brothers tried to look for reasons to disfellowship my father once he stopped attending meetings. Camped down the street from his residence, in another brothers van, over night waiting to catch him with another women or some other good reason to have him disfellowshipped.

I had little contact with my father since the letter he wrote me disowning me. Especially so since he split with my mother. The words from his letter came back to haunt me and kept going though my head and I could not just accept his lifestyle for what it was when he could not accept mine when I left the organization. He kept saying "it's was all water under the bridge", which was okay for him. I didn't have anything to do with my father for for several years after that. My whole family pretty much distanced themselves from me after this time.

I was still living in Ontario while they were in Alberta. Distance seemed to make it easier. I had nothing in common with them anyway. Their whole life was serving Jehovah. Mine was making a new life with my new family as I had given birth to twin daughters in December 1989. My husband started his own travel business, which moved us to Central Florida in September of 1990. Although we had three healthy daughters, my husband wanted a son. Things were not going well with his new business with the onset of the Gulf War. There were no guarantees that we'd have a son if we tried again anyway. (Since Fraternal twins ran in my family and were hereditary. My great grandmother had four sets, [18 kids altogether] my luck we'd have another set or even triplets and they'd be all girls). I was so busy with 6 month old twins and a two and a half year old that having another was the furthest from my mind. I realized how badly my husband wanted a son when he saw an episode on Oprah about older children waiting to be adopted. People always wanted babies; no one wanted the older children. He suggested adopting an older boy to be a big brother for the girls. I was against it purely for the fact that we already had three mouths to fed and financially at that time we didn't need another one. It would not have been fair to the adopted child or our own. My husband and my relationship drifted, due to the fact that I was so tired looking after the kids. He was always busy with his business trying to get it off the ground.

By November 1991 things were not going well and we decided to move back to Canada. I wanted to be closer to my family and where I grew up. So we moved back to my home in Alberta, which proved to be a smart move on my part. My husband moved back three month before I did so he could get situated with a job and a home for us. I stayed behind to sell the house in Florida. When we caught up to him 3 months later it was then that I discovered his deep dark secret. The only reason he married me in the first place was to have a son. When he got three daughters, he was no longer interested in his family of females. I discovered he was working in a "Gay" nightclub. Which of course meant only one thing. Yes, he was "Gay" and the only reason he went though the marriage act was to produce a son. I should have suspected something was not right when we started dating, as he didn't want any premarital sex etc. I thought I'd found a rare gem in a 31 yr old guy who wanted to wait till he was married. It was basically a case of him not knowing what he really wanted until he started working in a gay nightclub which started the whole ball rolling.

Needless to say the marriage ended at this point and he wanted nothing to do with his daughters. It's been 12 years and not a word from him. He was heading back to Ontario and that's the last we've ever heard from him. Not a dime financially either to support his girls. I could have understood his being Gay, but to walk out on his daughters with no contact or support in all these years was what I had a hard time understanding. My family basically gave me that "I told you so attitude" and that if I'd married a Witness I would not be in this mess. Well what a crock that is, as so many of the young Witnesses that I knew growing up and were still Witnesses had marriage problems, and divorces too. No guarantee my life would have been any better. I would not have been happy that's for sure.

I was totally on my own now. My family would only help me if I began to attend meetings again. I could not go through that pretence once again. What was I to do? I didn't want to, but as a single mother with three very young children I didn't know what to do. So I did attend a few meetings with the help of my mother, going to her Congregation so she could help me with my girls. The Elders were not to keen on the idea that I was going to their congregation even though I lived outside its boundaries and should be attending the congregation within the boundaries I lived. It was only a matter of 10 blocks difference nonetheless. I just felt snubbed by the elders, as if I deserved this life I had created for myself. I was not given a Kingdom Ministry, which I felt slighted. Doesn’t the Bible say to look after widows and orphans? I spoke with one Elder in particular and told him how I felt about this treatment, to which he denied. I left in tears and decided I could not go back. It just was not in my heart anyway, and I could not pretend it was. God could read my heart and so therefore it was pointless to pretend any further.

I had complained to one of the Elder's wives, who were a good friend of my mothers. I mentioned to her about my mothers drinking Alcohol and mixing it with her antidepressants and no one was saying anything to her about it. It was noticeable, even to this other sister. She told me she would take care of it. It was her way of dealing with it so that my mother would not be disfellowshipped for being unbalanced in her use of drugs and alcohol. Even my own two Elder brothers turned the other cheek and looked the other way, pretending it was not a problem. This was wrong, when I saw other's who were disfellowshipped for smoking, or excessive drinking. Even a Circuit Overseer was drunk at a wedding. They overlooked that too at the time. (He later committed adultery with another sister and was disfellowshipped. But my mother's problem was just swept under the rug and kept quiet. Which I'm sure to this day was the start of her demise and would later claim her life at an early age.

I was so fed up with all the hypocrisy I could not stand to be part of this organization any more. I admitted to my oldest brother that I had in fact been married in a Catholic Church, to which he reported it to the elders in the congregation I was attending and I was disfellowshipped immediately. My family would have nothing to do with me unless I repented and got reinstated. No way that was ever going to happen. I was treated so badly, why would I want to be part of this organization anyway?

By early 1993 I was totally on my own with three little girls to support. The oldest just about to start Grade one. I got myself a job to support my family. I was getting no support at all from their father. My girls went to daycare & school and it was up to me to support my family now. At least I still had the listening ear and comfort from my best friend, who by this time was in the process of moving to B.C.(before she would return back here in 2001). It was lonely at first, but I made new friends through work and my children's school.

In 1994 in talking with a good friend I'd made I decided to contact my father. He had been disfellowshipped for four years already by this time, as he had re-married and since his divorce was not scripturally based, by re-marrying he was subject to disfellowshipped. Didn't seem to bother him, as he had no intention of returning to the religion anyway. I slowly began to re-grow my relationship with my father and new stepmother, and now two stepbrothers and a stepsister. So I kind of had a family once again.

However, still no contact from my mother or brothers. I would hear from my girlfriend about certain other witnesses whose marriages were splitting up and ones who were dying of cancer and other terrible diseases. I had heard that my mother's health was not well. She was having trouble with one leg making it difficult to walk. She was taken to several doctors and her muscles just seemed to progressively get worse.

After several years of tests my mother was finally diagnosed in 1999 with A.L.S. (Lou Gehrig's Disease). Her life expectancy was uncertain. My mother's sister came from B.C. to visit her in 2001. (A non-Witness yet familiar with the JW religion, as her parents were both JW's). I had to go to my mothers to pick up my Aunt, which required me to go inside her apartment. I took my three girls along with me so that they could meet their grandmother. They had not seen her in 8 years, so didn't have much recollection of her. She was in a wheelchair by this time. She invited us in and we visited with her for 3 hrs. I was surprised she would allow this. Perhaps she was doing it for her sister's sake, and not to create a scene. During the course of our visit, she turned to my oldest daughter and said, "I'll bet your mother forced you to come here". Imagine saying that to an innocent child. My girls were dumbfounded, and didn't know what to say. I knew she was happy to see her grand daughters (who were young teenagers now and she hadn't seen them since they were preschoolers).

She went on and on about her two grandsons who were both witnesses and were both progressing into fine young Brothers. Giving talks, going in Service and would one day be wonderful Ministerial Servants and Elders like their fathers. When we went to leave, I gave her a hug, said I loved her and thanked her for allowing us to visit, as I didn't think she would see us. She said, "You've never asked before". I stated that I've always stayed away out of respect for her wishes, as I knew she wanted nothing to do with me. However, my children were innocent in all this. It's not like she ever picked up the phone to call us (which she was perfectly able to). She was just irritable that day I told myself. The whole time we visited with her not once did she offer us anything to eat or drink. Wouldn't want to be seen eating or drinking with a disfellowshipped person. I was grateful that we were able to at least visit with her and so that my girls could at least meet their grandmother for themselves.

Though I was upset that my mother and brothers both choose to ignore me and have nothing to do with me, I could not understand how they could ignore my daughters. However it was for the best really, as I knew that the only way they could have a relationship with them, was to try to get them involved.

My brother would contact me to let me know when the Summer Conventions was coming up. Not sure why exactly, except that one time he even asked if he could take my girls. I flatly told him "No", I would never allow that. My brother could not understand why I would not allow my girls to choose for themselves. I had good reasons I told him. Now you realize that my Father, though he was disfellowshipped, wanted to have a relationship with his grandsons. However, my brothers denied him that privilege of course. So when I replied to my brother with my reason why I didn't want my children to associate with them it was plain enough. I told him " if you won't allow your son to associate with us because of bad associations etc, then it worked both ways. As far as I was concerned their lifestyle was bad association for my girls as well. We just didn't have anything in common to associate with each other anyway. So not having a relationship with my Mother and brothers seemed to hurt less and less. They were just too zealous and focused in their religion for me to want to have a relationship with them anyway.

However, knowing that my mother's health was deteriorating rapidly I still wanted to keep in contact with her if possible, not knowing how much time she actually had left. We were able to visit her a couple of time while she still lived on her own. December 2002 she had to be moved into a nursing care facility. So this made it easier for us to visit her actually. Her speech has deteriorating rapidly. It was getting harder and harder to understand her. My girls could not understand her at all. I was pretty good at figuring out what she was saying. My mother told me that my brothers and family had trouble understanding her, but I was the only one who was able to understand her the best. She was given a communication device to type into, but she found it rather difficult at her age of 66 to start to learn a keyboard. She would rather write on paper if one could not understand her speech. With A.L.S. your lose muscle control which basically just seize up eventually making it hard for her to swallow as well.

In December of 2003 my mother choked and was rushed to the hospital, to which they decided she would have to have a tube inserted for feeding from now on. She did not want this, as it would not be much of a life for her now to eat this way. Things went terribly wrong after the insertion of the tube and she developed an infection. I knew nothing about all this, as my brothers did not communicate with me. We were about to celebrate my twins 14th Birthday when my mother's sister in B.C. calls me to tell me that I had better get to the hospital as things didn't look good. I rushed up there on a Friday night, and there was my Brother and his Wife and her family (all Witnesses), as well as another Elder who was on the Blood Committee (my brother was also on this committee). I was told that she would not make it through the night. They were just keeping her on Morphine for the pain until my other brother could arrive (driving 8 hrs) from B.C.

I sat beside my mother's bed and held her hand. Talked to her, not knowing if she knew I was there. All the next day Witnesses came in droves to see her. Not acknowledging me. My own Brother's made it clear that I was not wanted. Even telling me that Mother would not want me there. "How would you know", I'd say. I had as much right to be there as they did. My brother started to chastise me for my lifestyle and that I had made my choice etc. The Witnesses there were there for support of my brothers and not for me. They were supporting each other, but not me. She was still my mother. Regardless of how she felt towards me, I still loved her. They could not stop me from being there. I was in tears due to his treatment and words. I went so far as to tell my brother that I didn't think "His God" was very happy with him at that moment. He hesitated and paused for a moment and didn't know what to say to that.

I went to use the phone to call my Father as well as my Best Friend for support and let them know how I was being treated. When I finished my calls my brother was waiting for me, and apparently he had had a little discussion with the other Elders present and "they" had decided that I could go and spend time in Mom's room and take as much time as I needed. Imagine that! It's a hospital, a public place and they are telling me whether I can see my own mother or not. What a crock. I wanted to deck him so badly, but what would that prove? Might make me feel better for the moment, but violence is not the answer. I proceeded to tell my brother he had no right to tell me what I could or couldn't do. "His" religion and "Their" rules had no hold on me. Come on, what were they going to do to stop me? I was going to sit by her bed with or without their permission.

I would be at the funeral at the Kingdom Hall, sitting in the front row with the rest of the family and there was not a thing they could do to stop me. While sitting in my mother’s room holding her hand, my daughters arrived so that they would be there for my support. They were cold towards my brothers for their treatment of me. Even though my brothers tried to be warm towards them. I found out days later, that my 14 year old had told my Brother that she wanted no part of a religion that treated it's family members the way they did her Mom. It made me feel good to know she had said that and put my brothers in their place, after the way they treated me while my own mother was dying. My mother finally took her last breath late afternoon on Sunday. I was the one sitting by her bed holding her hand, with my daughters. While all the other witnesses and family would just take turns poking their head into the room to see if she was still alive. They had taken over a small classroom at the end of the hallway and were actually having their Watchtower Study with about 10 of them. Pizza and donuts brought in. Quite the little party, while they waited for Mother to die. I know that for them it was not the end. As they believed that she would be better off and they would see her again in Paradise shortly. Whatever!

I was just sorry that things were left as they were between my mother, and I. I had hoped that she would understand that I was right and she was wrong in her choice to believe that this religion had all the answers. My Brother phoned me with all the details of the funeral. He agreed to let me sit in the front row but asked that I don't stay for the tea afterwards. Not like he could stop me anyway, but I told him I had no desire to attend the tea anyway. The tea is for support of the family members left behind, and I was not going to get any of that support, and didn't want it from those pompous Bible Thumpers anyway. Why would I want to spend any more time in their presence anyway? But imagine all these stipulations laid out for me.

My oldest daughter is 17 and the twins are 15 now. I think I’ve done a pretty good job raising them on my own. My brother even made that very comment while at the hospital when my mother was dying. Made me feel good, coming from him especially. I know that they are surprised that I was able to do such a good job raising them without the help of Jehovah’s organization. They never thought it possible I’m sure. So it made me feel good to know that they noticed how well I’d done.

Over the years I've passed by a number of Witnesses whom I recognize and that recognize me back. I make a point of looking them in the eye and saying hello, whether they acknowledge me or not. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I hold my head up and look directly at them. I can't make them talk to me if they don't want to. Some will say hello, or smile. Others just run away, or pretend they don't see me. That's their choice. But as far as I'm concerned "their rules" have no hold on me. What are they going to do to me if I don't go around telling them I'm disfellowshipped and they should not associate with me? I only have to abide by their rules if I choose to be reinstated again. Which will never happen. The JW's have no hold on me, which I proved while making my stand to attend my own Mother's Funeral. I only hope that my two brothers will one day start to question things as I did, and get out before it's too late, and that we will one day be able to embrace each other like a loving family should be able to do, and salvage our relationship.

I'm thankful for websites such as this as well as others like, and and others that are there for support for ones like me. To see that there are lots of others who have broken free and are finding comfort from others who are understanding of their plea for help. Only another EX JW can understand another EX JW and what they go through. No matter how you try to explain it to an outsider, they just don’t understand the anguish and pain this religion has caused. Thank you to the creators of these sights for providing the comfort and understanding to break free from a religion that truly brain washes its followers through the use of the Watchtower Magazine.