The Recovery Process Of Leaving The Watchtower

The emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical turmoil of being disfellowshipped or exiting JWs is very traumatic on an individual and their extended JW family. I once met a woman who went into an emotional/mental psychosis (a nervous breakdown) right in the disfellowshipping meeting. She begged the elders not to disfellowship her, all to no avail. She told me how she just fell to the floor in the fetal position in an age regressed state of a little girl. That night she attempted suicide by slashing her wrists but fortunately a friend found her bleeding and rushed her to a nearby hospital. I worked years ago with a middle-aged couple that was second and third generation JWs who at my urging, read Ray's book Crisis of Conscience. He had been a former elder and the effect it had on him literally made him sick. For one week this man lived in an emotional roller coaster of fear, dread, paranoia, clarity, anger, hurt, and vindictiveness. In my own personal experience I felt like my heart had been ripped out of me. I wanted to understand why and how God's people could be so cruel. What follows is an article that addresses some of the issues created from exiting.

Physical Issues:

  • You develop poor health from a poor diet and/or lack of appetite due to depression from your emotional pain or from emotional numbness, which affects your neuro-chemistry. You must realize that you are what you eat. If you eat greasy starches you will not have the proper nutrients for your body to produce the necessary neurotransmitters for you to have clarity of mind. You can educate yourself by going to the poor person's university the local library and read books on proper nutrition.
  • Neurochemical imbalance, due to altered chemistry, which results in thinking and emotional problems. This can produce such a panic that you may think Satan is attacking you, when in reality you may just need to supplement your neuro-transmitters such as dopamine and the like. You need to see a physician to prescribe medication for you to help your body as it repairs itself from the emotional shock.
  • Sleep disorders such as problems falling or staying asleep, sleeping too much or at inappropriate times, or stressful dreams/nightmares often related to the issues your unconscious mind is struggling with to reconcile. If this is the case you must seek professional help, because if you go without sleep for an extended period of time this can cause a nervous breakdown.
  • Physical coordination problems that make you feel clumsy, poorly balanced, dizziness and slow reflexes. You must be kind to your body and treat it as though it just had surgery. The body has an inner wisdom to heal and sometimes just letting rest is all it takes.
  • Stress sensitivity such as overreaction to stressful, hypersensitivity, and poor self-regulation or discipline. Again, just realize that this is quite normal after taking such a heavy emotional punch. For this a body massage is excellent to stimulate your lymphatic system to remove body toxins.

Mental Issues:

  • Denial. This is one of the most pervasive and powerful mental defenses we have. Its utility is avoidance and distortion of our painful reality, while this may protect us from painful feelings and appropriate behavior, if we don't face reality sooner or later we end up trading one spiritual lie for another one of our own making. An example of this is in my personal experience, is when I lied to myself thinking that this was not as bad as it was. The reality was, my experience was very very very cruel and ugly. These were not God's representatives but human monsters that were blindly following orders. I masked my pain by using humor, I remember telling my ex-wife all kinds of silly things to change the meaning of being disfellowshipped.
  • Rigid/Repetitive thinking. This in my case this produced inflexibility in my thinking and I got locked into running in my mind memories that lead up to my dfing. This is very counter productive and it produced unnecessary stress and confusion and difficulty leading to self-pity. If you suffer from this I highly recommend you journal your experience. This worked for me because it got my thoughts out of my head and into a neutral detached piece of paper.
  • Difficulty with concentration. In this stage you will have problems with concentration on tasks, instructions, conversations, and responsibilities. I remember being absent minded many a time in this stage. I was there in body but in spirit I was years away into the future. This in time became a problem because it was more comfortable to live in the future than in real time.
  • Impaired Judgment In this stage I had problems with decision-making, problem solving, and impulsive behavior. I made poor business decisions and this spiraled into a lack of integrity. I did not realize until recently the great damage I did to myself.
  • Memory problems. Problems with short term and/or long-term memory.

Emotional Issues:

  • Mood swings that cause you stress and difficulty functioning. It's not uncommon for you to feel good leaving the JWs in the morning and by the afternoon feel like you have made the greatest mistake in your life leading to your impending death. You need to understand that this is just a phase you need to go through.
  • Emotional numbness that makes you feel strange. You may experience problems expressing feelings and at times shutting down, this is just your unconscious mind running a defense mechanism.
  • Difficulty identifying/tolerating feelings, this often makes you feel lost, confused, fearful, hopeless, helpless, and many others. There are more than seven hundred fifty feelings that you are capable of experiencing and leaving the JWs will force you to at first, cycle through heavy and at times painful feelings. The good news is that in time you begin to recover all the positive light feelings and tremendous clarity.
  • Difficulty expressing feelings in contexts that in the past you had no problems with. You may find yourself unable to find the appropriate or accurate expression of your feelings. You may have difficulty in your relationships, you find that people don't understand you and you don't understand why people treat you the way they do.
  • Phobic response to ordinary feelings, this is due to a deep fear of experiencing painful feelings, which leads to avoidance anxiety. You need to understand that it will take time for you to open up emotionally. This is where a skilled therapist is invaluable in helping you sort out your feelings once you are ready to deal with them so you can open your heart.

Spiritual Issues:

  • Isolation that makes you feel separated from God, others and from life in general. In the JW environment you were conditioned to have "group think", now that you are alone you must learn to think for yourself and put your interests first ahead of others. You were told that you must put God and others ahead of yourself; this belief was useful to control your decisions and keep you enslaved.
  • Emptiness that makes you feel no sense of self. This often leads people to trade one group for another before they spend time alone discovering who they are and recovering the pieces they gave of themselves to the JW culture. Once you discover that a benevolent spiritual being resides in your body you are on your way to finding your place in the great divine plan.
  • Disconnection from the process of living that makes you feel "what's the use" of living. In the past your purpose for living was to promote the business interests of the Watchtower. Now, you must find your own purpose for living, this will take time and you can enjoy the exploration process. I have experienced first hand and in other ex JWs the need to help others as a purposive release of their painful emotions. This too needs to be transcended in your efforts to find your own mission in life. Once you do this, all your past experience will be understood and appreciated in the larger context of God's plan for you.
  • Fearful and angry at defining self in relation to life and others. As I write these words I am listening to the soundtrack from the movie Evita. I remember soon after being dfed seeing the movie and identifying with the benevolent self-serving tyrant that she was. In my mind I wanted to be like her with all the vast power to squash and incarcerate my former enemies while handing out help to my ex JW compatriots. In a way, I identified my own anger that I wanted and needed to vent out, the movie was useful for me to think about doing it in constructive and helpful ways. Give yourself permission to let your own mind use fantasy as a means of trying out different roles in an effort to discover who you are.
  • Lacking meaning or purpose to pick up the pieces and move forward. Ask yourself this question; "What is important to me about my life now that I am no longer a JW?" Or "What do I value about my life now?" It's a simple question but many will have difficulty answering it. Once you have identified your values next ask yourself, "What will having or attaining these values do for me?" Your mission in life will be strongly linked to these higher values. In my experience I valued freedom to think and do what I wanted, when I wanted, where I wanted, how I wanted and with whom I wanted. This gave me propulsion to move forward as a means to an end. Anytime I had thoughts of going back I remembered my mission, this quickly snapped back to reality.