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I remember when I was little and we learned about non-witnesses, and they were portrayed as children-eating, blood-drinking criminals. Okay, I exaggerate, but the connotations were there!

I'm 24, and I'm single, and I have been away for 3 years. My parents got married in 1975, and believed that Armageddon would come that year. In fact, my father was persuaded to drop out of university (he was taking hospital administration, which apparently "wouldn't be useful" in Armageddon) to take a job as a construction worker (which would be ever so useful in the new system). So you can imagine how our financial situation was growing up. Absolute hell. Mom worked as a secretary before my sisters and I were born, but they couldn't afford daycare on dad's salary so she stayed home. These are two people who were top of their class in high school (mom was voted "most likely to be successful), reduced to living on hardly anything.

Because we were poor, our wealthy congregation often snubbed us. Make that mostly snubbed us. I remember after the Memorial every year there would be masses of people going to some elder's house and we would not be invited. I still can't figure it out. What was wrong with us? I know now that there was nothing wrong with us, but we were just not part of that extensive group of families in our circuit whose companies fed off of each other; making them all extremely wealthy. There were many families in the 7-figure income bracket in our region, and everybody knew it. Mom and Dad both became depressed, because they felt that they were doing something wrong and so "Jehovah was not blessing them".

The trouble began when my older sister was about 12. She began to be bullied by the kids in our hall; they would laugh at her and make sure that she knew about the parties that were going on that she wasn't invited to. The congregations would put on those hellish dances and she would be the only one not asked to dance, in front of everyone and their parents. Naturally this contributed to her having immense self-esteem problems that have continued until today (she is 28 now). She tried through her teen years to fit in, and as I grew older I remember how absolutely used she would be by those kids, who would be chosen to give demonstrations and yet would drive by our house in cars and honk to let my sister know that she was not invited to whatever party they were on their way to.

When I was 19 or so, I finally began to date (I guess I was pretty enough to have my poor background overlooked, at first anyways). However, I made the mistake of breaking up with one guy and dating another one a few months later. That's right, I dated 2 guys. And I became known as the biggest slut in our circuit. I was screamed at, called a whore and a skank, shunned completely from social gatherings and the craziest stories about my "sexual misconduct" began to circulate. Going to the elders would have just made it worse for me, so I dumped the guy and kept my head down. The silly part is that the farthest I went with both of those guys was kissing. Why are JW girls so vicious?

At this point I decided to take the scholarship I won from University and go to school. The pinched faces of the elders and their wives at the hall made me feel awful, yet this seed of defiance in me was growing and I genuinely liked school. I was meeting normal people and they were amazing. They thought I was nice and smart and funny and didn't care about who my parents were or what my spiritual standing was. Best of all, they didn't think that I was a loser for not being married yet!

Then, I met my boyfriend. The second I saw him I knew that I was going to love him. And I do. Trouble is...he was Catholic. Not a practicing one, but a Catholic all the same. And that's when the trouble started. After a year, I slept with him because I loved him and I was...uh...normal? But i was trying to live both lives and it was killing me. So for some reason, I told my mother (who I am close to), and she insisted that I tell the elders. To her credit, I don't think that she thought the elders would react like they did. The Judicial Committee was awful. Horrible. The questions they asked... Were the lights on or off? Did you use a condom? You did? So you planned to have sex? Where were you? What position did you use? Where did he touch you? How many times did you do it? They asked me that one at least 3 or 4 times throughout the meetings, like they were trying to get me to admit that I'm a dirty whore who did it twice. Which we did. But I knew that while once was forgivable, twice meant you're out. My parents would have been heartbroken if I was Disfellowshipped. So I lied through my teeth through all those meetings with those men in suits, who glared at me and humiliated me in a locked, windowless conference room. They reproved me, as I knew they would, on the condition that I would dump my boyfriend. They made me promise it. I promised, walked out, and never went back.

Thanks to the Witnesses, I have parents who tell me repeatedly that they are disappointed in me and can never unconditionally love me, even though I've begged them for that so many times that at one point I drove myself to the ER because I knew I was going to kill myself. I am financially independent, have bailed them out financially, skipped grades, won a scholarship, have 2 degrees with honors, and I volunteer all over the community. And they still tell me they are disappointed in me. So I cry in the shower because I can't win; I can't be a JW and dead inside for them. I have to be myself. Do these feelings ever go away? Will I ever make them see that I'm a good person? Please help me.