I have just been reading some of your articles, particularly the one on disfellowshipping and was moved to write to you.
If I may be so bold, I would like to share my story with you. I was born into a large extended witness family: uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, we were the "model" witness family you could say: - Dad was the Presiding Overseer, mum a regular pioneer. And I went along with it, why wouldn't I? That was where all of my friends where and I wouldn't have dared question it. When I was 19, I met my husband. I was young and so incredibly naive. Whilst I was dating my husband he hit me for the first time. I told my parents and they advised me to split up from him, which I did for about a week. But he came back crying and begging me to take him back. And so I did, because I felt guilty for making him cry. Great reasoning!
I married him just after turning 21. I knew on the day of my wedding I shouldn't have married him, I knew I should have stopped it, but didn't want to cause controversy in our perfect little life. So I went ahead. I knew my dad didn't want me to, but he didn't say anything.
The abuse started about 6 weeks after we got back from our honeymoon. It was only ever physical another two times. But his mental abuse was extreme. I started off married life as a regular pioneer, vivacious and outgoing ,and on the outside we looked like the perfect couple. But behind closed doors he would belittle me and make me feel worthless. I put on a brave face for a long time - as long as everything looks good, right? As long as you turn up at the meeting with a smile on your face, then everything must be ok right? After 3 years, I was reduced to a person I didn't recognise, a shadow of my former self, unable to leave the house because of panic attacks. When I could face the meetings, I would sit in the second school to avoid the stares. He used the religion in his twisted game. He was suddenly the dependable loving husband helping out his wife. He started telling me I was mentally ill. But I would never let myself believe him. When it got to the point where I couldn't get out of bed anymore, my parents snapped and called the elders. They had tried to remain neutral but couldn't handle my deterioration any longer. The elders told me I had grounds to leave him but that I would never be free to marry again. Understandably this caused my depression to further. Suddenly they were wiping out my entire future for me. My choices were to stay with this person or live the rest of my life alone, no children, no-one to love. People at the meeting started avoiding me, embarrassed to watch this ugly situation being played out in front of them. Because everything has to be played out in front of everyone, like a fish in a fishbowl. They stood back and watched a bright, happy outgoing young girl be reduced to a shadow.
I snapped one day after a particular gruelling bout of abuse and ran away. I stole his car, said goodbye to my precious dog, my house, everything I knew and ran away. I ran away where I hoped he couldn't find me. Because I had to get out of his game. I was terrified of him. And yet the only people I knew where other witnesses. So I went to stay with sisters in another city and explained I was having problems. But I had to go to meetings if I wanted to stay with them - otherwise I wasn't welcome. And of course the elders there became interested, I flagged up on their radar straight away!
I am not proud of myself but I eventually cheated on my husband. If I could have done it any other way, believe me I would have. But I had to cut off ties with him otherwise he would have reeled me back eventually with his mind games, and I don't know how much I could have taken. A judicial committee was formed, and I was forced, a young 24 year old girl to sit in front of 3 strange men and describe exactly what I had done with this other man, never have I felt so exposed or humiliated. It was at that time I overdosed. I only took a very small amount purely as a cry for help. I wanted people to see how desperate I was. So when the elders found out about my actions they were lenient, or so I thought.
I stopped going to meetings, began to get counselling to deal with dramatic aftereffects of years of abuse and began to try and re-build my life in the new city, in my own flat, completely from scratch. During this time I maintained contact with my family. Six months later I received a phone call from the elders, asking me to attend a judicial meeting. I was still very delicate at this point and absolutely terrified to attend. I had lost so much weight from stress, they commented on how ill I looked. I sat with them for nearly 2 hours in floods of tears as they tried to convince me to come back to meetings. And here was my mistake, I told them there were things I couldn't believe anymore, that I had become disillusioned. That I was sorry for what I had done but still had panic attacks going into a kingdom hall and that I couldn't show my repentance by going to meetings. I was HONEST. And that was my downfall. A week later I got a call from the elder telling me they had no choice but to disfellowship me, that I was an apostate and that I was unrepentant.And that was that.
I had no contact with my family for 2 years. During that time I went through a divorce on my own, went through surgery on my own, and through so much pain, alone. And yet during that time I became so strong, 2 years of counselling, of living in the real world, of enrolling in university, of standing on my own two feet reinstalled my faith in myself. My ex-husband? Well he moved country as people back home had started to figure him out, got a fresh start and got the wonderful privilege of becoming a regular pioneer. He got to keep his reputation in tact. I am not bitter about this, I am not angry, I will not allow myself to waste anymore anger about my situation. But I am still perplexed that this organisation can continue to act in this way.
Whilst I was disfellowshipped, my cousin stopped going to meetings and begun a relationship with a man. Eventually it was reported to the elders and they came to see her. They asked her directly had she had sex with this man and she LIED and said no, knowing full well from my experiences what the consequences would be. She also lied on the suggestion of her dad (who is an elder) as he didn't want her to be disfellowshipped. This was my uncle who had stopped talking to me 2 years previously - to keep the congregation clean. She then commenced another relationship with a drug dealer which my whole family were fully aware of. I ended up living with her and would have to leave the house if the family came to see her - or would I see the cards and presents she would be sent and I yet had no contact for something I had done 2 years previously. She was rewarded for lying, I was punished for telling the truth. I was made to pay the price for honesty. It is beyond my comprehension.
I missed my family terribly and decided to play the game. That was how I viewed it, there were rules, I had been stung by them, now I had to bend them. I went back to the meetings. That first day was the hardest thing I have ever done, walking through those doors but I did it for my family. So i could see them. The only reason. And I felt guilty for giving up my integrity, yet I felt I had no choice. I went back to the meetings for a year before I was reinstated. That was toughest year of my life by far! The testimony in your article sums it up perfectly. So many nights I would go to the car and cry my eyes out.
That was 3 months ago and i haven't been to a meeting since. I do not feel happy that I had to do things that way, but I have got my family back. Though its hard not to feel frustration with them. They know what happened to me was so unfair, but can't explain their reasons, other than their loyalty to Jehovah and his organisation. They can't explain why they continued contact with my cousin and not me, other than I was df'd and she wasn't. I know that part of them knows how wrong it was, but their are too firmly set in their ways to even acknowledge it. My relationship will never be the same with them though. And that is why I wanted to thank you for your article. It is so logical and reasonable and written in a non-dogmatic way. It's all the things I want to say to my family and can't. But it was cathartic just reading it. It was the voice of reason.
I feel I am a different person now and I have grown so much. I have met a wonderful man who has taught me to trust again. But there are things that I just can't shake. I haven't prayed in a long time and that makes me sad. I ask my boyfriend to pray for me because I want to but can't. I still feel somewhere I am not deserving. I want to know how other people manage to move on. I have seen other things on the internet about ex-witnesses, but they always seem filled with bitterness and anger and I don't empathise with what they are saying. There was something about what you wrote and the way you wrote it that touched me. Thank you very much. I am sorry for my very very very long essay!!