This article from November 11 2001 appeared on the site members.aol.com/beyondjw/nowwhat.htm and was written by Timothy Campbell.
What Now? (DABDA) and Now What? (FUD)
Over the years that I have been offering assistance to ex-Witnesses, I have found that there are two fairly distinct situations that people go through. You might call them the "What Now?" situation and "Now What?" situation.
The "What Now?" situation is a series of small steps away from the Witnesses. I call this the "What Now?" situation because it's seldom clear where your doubts and thoughts have taken you. This process can be nicely described using what is called the "DABDA Model". This summarizes the phases commonly experienced by people who are working through a trauma or dealing with a great loss.
DABDA stands for "Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance". When we have to deal with a crisis, we may experience some or all of these stages. Typically they occur in the same order (that is, DABDA), but some people may skip some steps, or experience them in a different order.
Following the DABDA experience, people experience the "Now What?" situation: they've broken away from the Witnesses and wonder what they're supposed to do next. They also need to learn how to deal with the long-term effects of Watchtower conditioning. I find that many people experience "FUD" (a term I've borrowed from the world of advertising), which stands for "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt."
Moving Through DABDA
Let's take a hypothetical case to demonstrate how DABDA works. We'll follow the progress of a woman named Patricia.
When Patricia first begins to suspect that the Watchtower way is less than ideal, she tries not to think about it. This is the Denial phase of DABDA. Some people can live their entire lives in this phase; they feel there's something slightly wrong with the religion, but they can't bring themselves to delve deeper; the benefits they derive from being a Witness overwhelm their sense of doubt.
We should not be surprised that some people stop at the Denial phase. The whole "New Light" doctrine of the Witnesses is a kind of officially sanctioned denial. It says that even if things don't seem right now, don't worry about it for a while and things will be eventually turn out okay. This is known among Witnesses as "Waiting on Jehovah".
Patricia finds that she can't keep pushing her doubts aside, and has come to view the "New Light" doctrine as a stalling tactic. Now she enters the Anger phase. She might become angry at people in her congregation (usually the Elders) and find fault with other Witnesses. In this way, she deflects her doubts; she asserts that the problem is not the religion itself, but the individuals of which it is comprised.
As her anger grows, she may become angry at God for not helping her get over her 'weakness'. This kind of anger typically foreshadows the next phase of DABDA, which is "Bargaining".
Patricia may pray long and hard to be freed from her doubt. She may make 'offerings' by doing more and more preaching. (Some people become Pioneers at this point.) She may put more money in the contribution box. In a sense, she is desperately trying to buy God's help. But no matter how hard she tries, or how humbly she begs for God to erase her doubts, she gets no reprieve. Her faith in the Watchtower Society is not rejuvenated.
They say that "Depression is anger turned inwards". Patricia has now tried many different tactics to restore her faith, and becomes depressed. She may feel unworthy. She may think that she is so inherently bad that God has simply turned his back on her. This feeling of worthlessness starts to color everything in her life. Even simple tasks become difficult.
Some Witnesses at this stage become physically ill. They may not be able to hold down food, or they may stare at the wall for hours, unable to move. They may think they are losing their minds.
Patricia experiences all of these symptoms and feels that her life is over. And just when it seems that there's no point in trying any more, a light dawns. Patricia has reached the point of Acceptance.
She suddenly realizes that maybe -- just maybe -- what the Witnesses are saying isn't true. It seems like an incredible notion. Didn't they prove everything from the Bible? Don't millions of people believe what the Witnesses say? Doesn't God himself smile upon their efforts?
In a liberating flash, Patricia shouts out the word that has been hiding in her heart for so long: "No!" She is not quite sure how "No" could be possible, but deep down inside, she knows that she's on the right course. At the very least, "No" means that she will stop hurting herself. Moreover, the "No" brings forth a "Yes": she is starting to trust her own judgement.
Patricia has gone through the worst part of her recovery. She is now an ex-Witness. Even if she doesn't formally renounce her association with the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society -- even if she still goes to some of their meetings -- in her heart she is no longer a Witness.
But there are many questions left unanswered. She is left with "FUD" (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt). We'll discuss these in the following sections.
Ex-Witnesses frequently mention that they continue to fear Armageddon long after they have rejected all other Witness doctrines. They may also express the fear that God doesn't care about them.
It is important to remember the sheer intensity of Watchtower indoctrination. You are subjected to a constant barrage of ideas and images, and given little chance to reflect upon what you are told. You are explicitly told to avoid "independent thinking". Such things, they insist, are a sign of pride and impurity. Any defensive skepticism is stripped away until you acquire the focused gullibility that Witnesses call "having an open mind". You are kept busy with new literature and "New Light", never having the time to double-check anything. In the long run, you simply assume that if it's printed in the Watchtower, it's the truth (or as close to the truth as is humanly possible).
Constant repetition can implant ideas firmly in our subconscious, and it isn't easy to extricate them. What now?
It's time to harness your own intelligence and start asking questions for which there are no instant (Watchtower-approved) answers. You can read alternative ideas ('counter-programming'), or you can study the many times the Society has been wrong -- or changed its doctrines.
You will find these techniques helpful, but they do take time. There's no quick fix. It took you a long time to adopt the Watchtower way of thinking, so it's going to take a while to undo the conditioning. For example, you may find yourself continuing to refer to the Witnesses as "The Truth", even though that's not what you literally believe.
During the past few years, I have often been asked, "If the Witnesses don't have the truth, who does?" I've done my best not to preach, or even make any recommendations.
When people leave the Witnesses, they often think that they have to get out there and find the real True Religion. This is an ingrained habit of thinking that they get from having been Witnesses. I personally don't think there is a Real True Religion, just as there is no single shoe that fits every foot.
Different people have different needs, different skills, and look at the universe in different ways. What works for me probably won't work for you. (Indeed, what works for me doesn't always work for me, so who am I to tell people what they should believe?)
The Watchtower Society gives its members something that everybody wants: certainty. When you're a Jehovah's Witness, you're sure you have The Truth. That is a comforting feeling, and people who have lost it yearn to get it back. Some people leave the Witnesses and immediately join a similar group.
Our lives are filled with uncertainty. Will we keep our job? Will we stay healthy? Will some natural disaster sweep away all our possessions? Small wonder, then, that when the Watchtower Society offers certainty, many people are eager to grab it.
There is no constant in life except change. Perhaps you left the Witnesses precisely because they would not change. That is to say, you may have found them inflexible. If that's the case, do you want to join another rigid religion?
Uncertainty can be a heavy burden, and it goes hand in hand with doubt...
It's not a bad thing to second-guess our decisions. We know we're not always right. You may be thinking, "Was I right to leave the Witnesses?" The question may bother you, but it's healthy and sensible to think twice about important things.
People tend to see doubt as a negative thing. Yet if we do not doubt, how can we grow as individuals? Without doubt, there is only blind acceptance.
Doubt is not necessarily the opposite of faith -- a quality that many people say we should have. You can have faith that other people will obey traffic laws, but it would be reckless to conclude that it will always be so. A certain amount of faith is helpful when we're entering new intellectual or emotional territory, and faith can help us endure capricious feelings, but in the long run it's our responsibility to think things through.
Doubt is one of our best qualities. Animals, once trained, adhere to their training. They do not doubt. They do not question. They merely follow their conditioning.
We are human -- an animal of sorts, but a special kind of animal. We can think about things, and we can think that maybe our thinking needs to be reviewed. We are not dumb beasts and we are not robots. Why would we choose to squander our inate flexibility?
When people make an emotional break from the Witnesses, they are faced with that difficult question: "Now What?" There is no solution that fits all people, but there are certain actions you can take that will help you find appropriate answers.
The first thing is to take advantage of your new freedom. You can now investigate a wide range of subjects that were previously rejected as "stumbling blocks". You can study biology and seriously ponder whether evolution occurs in any way. You can read textual analyses of the Bible and come to your own conclusions about the nature of holy books. Speaking of which, you can read the Koran, the Apocrypha, the Vedas, the Sutras, the Talmud, the Book of Mormon, Norse Sagas, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Amerindian folklore, Greek mythology ... there are many writings that strongly motivate people. You don't have to believe in them, but you can gain a broader perspective about the meaning of religion and attain a better grasp of the many ways in which our spiritual life can be described.
You can visit different churches, synagogues, ashrams, temples and study centers. You can take your time and make up your own mind. There's no need to hurry; the "end" isn't "coming soon" (as you were told repeatedly when you were a Witness).
Just one word of warning: as you cast your net wide, remember that ideas that seem attractive aren't necessarily true. Remember how the Watchtower Society pleased you with the illusion of certainty. Your shield is your sense of doubt.
I'd like to emphasize that warning. Now that you've left the Witnesses ("detowered", as some people put it), you should keep in mind that there are countless charlatans, self-proclaimed wise men and would-be messiahs out there. Investigate things carefully and always try to hear both sides of any argument.
And don't forget to celebrate your new-found freedom to think for yourself.