D.R.’s Deconversion Story – thanks to Jehovah’s Witnesses!

Author: DR (Anonymous) / Age: 23 / Sex: Male / Occupation: Student/IT Clerk

I guess I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to tell my story, and this is as good a place as any. It’s long-winded, I know, but I usually tell people the short version. This is the long version.

Before I begin, you should be familiar with the religion I’m going to discuss. [Jehovah's Witnesses](http://www.watchtower.org/). There are about 7 million of them worldwide. I’m going to come right out and call the religion what it is- a cult. I was a JW from birth until the age of 20, so I speak from experience. I was baptized and was active in the congregation for a long time.

For those who didn’t click the link, I’ll give you a quick rundown of what JWs do that most religions don’t.

**-They don’t celebrate holidays and birthdays.** My parents converted to JW when I was about two. That means that prior to my 21st birthday, I don’t remember ever celebrating my birthday or any holidays.

**-They don’t allow dating outside of the religion.** I didn’t start dating until I was 20. Thank god I wasn’t socially awkward or warped in the head.

**-They strongly discourage having friends and a social life with those friends if they’re “worldly”, or not part of the religion**

**-They strongly discourage their followers going to college (I’ll give you two guesses why)**

**-They actively preach, knocking on your door on Saturday morning and wherever else they can find you**

**-They don’t accept blood transfusions, believe that only 144,000 people are going to heaven, and a lot of other weird things. ** Suffice it to say that fun in general and anything that would make you believe in them less was discouraged

**-By the way, if you’re baptized and encroach on one too many of these things, you get disfellowshipped. This means that you can’t speak or interact with anyone from the church for about a year, until one of the elders deems you worthy, at which point you spend about two years trying to crawl back up the JW social ladder to wherever you ranked.**

I’m not quite sure how to describe the time I spent going to church, preaching, and generally being deprived of a lot of fun that most kids have. I had to go to church 3 times a week. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Saturdays amounted to two hours of preaching, which I dreaded. Saturday preaching was always in the mornings, which meant that my brother and I never got to watch cartoons. While other kids were watching Batman, we were out in the cold passing out magazines. Tuesday bible study lasted 1 hour. Thursday was 2 hours, Sunday was 2 hours.

Take a second and think about that. On top of “preparing” for meetings (extensive study of the Watchtower publications), you had 7 hours of your week sliced out. Preparation included, it was probably about 14 hours. This was for 20 years. Imagine how much time I lost. Twice a year, we had conventions. They were the **worst**. Imagine being around 7,000 other JWs for a whole weekend. 8 hours in a convention center listening to old men talk about how great Jehovah is.

As a kid, I tried so hard to convince myself that I *enjoyed* church and preaching, since that was how I was *told* to feel about everything. That’s the thing. I remember them telling us so often that we should enjoy the time we spent serving God, but my brother and I never really had fun doing that stuff. They brainwash their followers to feel a certain way, and to think a certain way.

They even went so far as to tell us (constantly) that we shouldn’t play engage in any form of entertainment that was too violent/evil/sexual/magical/fun.

My brother and I mostly ignored this advice, which was what kept us sane. To this day, I am glad that my aunt never really enforced the entertainment laws on us. We were able to feed our imaginations with vid games and books and movies. The kind of stuff that makes you dream about what life could be like. It’s all making sense to me now. If you’re running a cult, you don’t want people to have fun and dream about doing stuff that isn’t going to church.

What was worse than losing massive amounts of time and being told not to have fun in the name of God was the *people*.

Being a JW is like living in a fucked up utopia. Everyone’s smiling and pretending to be happy, but they really aren’t. The adults willingly signed up for the cult, but their kids didn’t. The kids are forced into this world. Many JWs were hypocritical and judgemental. Even when you were in the religion, there was an implied hierarchy of “holiness”. Some people just weren’t great JWs because they didn’t preach enough, or made too much money. They were a bit too “worldly”. A bit too “free thinking”. I think my brother and I fell into that category. We were bad cattle, because we were too smart. JWs have a passive-aggressive way of arguing and fighting with each other, and it’s nauseating.

I started having doubts when I was in the ninth grade. I started questioning things internally. I wondered “what would I do if I was in a car accident and needed a blood transfusion? What’s going to happen when I become a senior in high school and wanna go to college? What kind of job am I going to have? Who will I marry? I don’t want to marry one of these frigid bitches who will be about as interesting in bed as a potato sack.”

They didn’t want us to go to college. It would make us think for ourselves, and that’s bad, right? You wanna know what the alternative to college? Bethel service. It’s basically a place where you go and spend about 3 months up in New Jersey around other JWs praying and packaging Watchtower publications into boxes or cleaning toilets. That’s supposed to be the best thing a young man can do to serve god.

My brother was a senior in high school when I was a sophomore. He decided he was going to go to the best university in the area. I encouraged him, and was really excited when he started attending. The congregation wasn’t too pleased. I remember some of the congregation making backhanded insults and jokes at him, as if he wouldn’t understand. I don’t think anyone in our congregation ever went to college. My brother and I were the first in our immediate family to go to college.

When my brother started in college, he started to talk to me about his doubts. I remember the day he just came out and said it. We were preaching, and it was cold out. We would do what we usually did whilst preaching. Knock on the door. *Pray* that no one comes to the door. If someone comes to the door, bullshit until they shut the door. My brother confirmed suspicions and doubts I’d been having too. I was scared when my brother started telling me his doubts. I was still sort of scared of god, but I was more scared that he’d get kicked out of the house and be disfellowshipped from the church (as if that matters).

My brother’s plan to leave the church was to fade out of existence. He left our church to transfer to another one, then slowly stopped going to meetings. Around this time, he moved out.

I mustered up the courage to leave a year later. I told my aunt about how I felt about God. I told her that I believed in an energy source creating the universe, but I didn’t believe that he was personified. I don’t think she understood what I meant. I love her to death, but I don’t think she can even fathom why I don’t believe anymore. She took it well in the beginning, and then the arguments started. I’ve learned since then just to smile and nod whenever she challenges me with her weak arguments. Once she burst into my bedroom and yelled at me about how I should change my mind, or “I’ll be sorry”.

“What’s that, a threat?” I thought. “That’s a GREAT way to get me to come back to the church, thanks!”

I have never felt better in my whole life. I will be 23 years old in about a month. That means I’ve been out for almost three years. I can’t describe to you how good it feels to be me, and not under some invisible being’s grip.

My 21st birthday was the first I ever celebrated. My brother bought me a drink as a present, and I’ll always cherish that. I celebrated my first thanksgiving this past November, and I just celebrated my first Christmas last week. It was great.

I have so much more to talk about, but I think I’ll just end with these thoughts:

I learned a lot of good core values from JW. I also gained a lot of reading and writing skills that most people don’t have. I met a lot of great people, and I appreciate that.

Right now, I’m well on my way to graduating from a local university. I play, read, [draw](http://i.imgur.com/8ebc1.jpg), watch, and write what I want. I feel proud of how I turned out, but I’m still afraid to admit to myself that I’m probably an atheist. I’m pretty much an atheist pretending to be an agnostic so that people won’t judge me. Weird, right? I think that’s whatever JW is left in me trying to maintain peace.

I have recurring nightmares about being locked in JW churches against my will. It happens maybe once every two months. I wish there were more “recovering JW” support groups, because we really need it.

Whenever I tell people this story, they know why I feel the way I do about god and religion. I wasn’t raised an atheist, but Jehovah’s Witnesses gave me a nice, firm shove in that direction.

  • http://www.skeptict.org Sean

    Dominick, http://recoveringreligionists.com/ Not quite JW specific, but hope that helps. There are groups in different areas.

    Local freethinker groups are a great place to look as well.

  • Wendy Brown

    Hi, DR —

    I just wanted to thank you for having the courage to tell your story. I admire your articulate and thorough description of what it was to be a JW, and what your childhood was like. I also admire your courage in breaking away from the JWs — that can be really, really tough, and lonely. The fact that you're so happy, to me, shows that you're finally on the path that resonates with your core.

    I too was raised as a Witness, although I have to admit, I really enjoyed going out in service! (Oh yeah, I was THAT kid!) I even took the preaching thing a step further and would hold bible study sessions with my classmates on the playground when I was in elementary school. So, yeah, I was into it. I wasn't so much into the religion itself — looking back, I can see now that I really loved teaching and public speaking more than anything else.

    Meetings and book study, etc., SUCKED. It sounds like you and your brother avoided my brother and my most hated aspect of Sunday meetings — getting dragged out back and spanked for fidgeting. The fact that the Witnesses literally said "If you don't discipline (read: hit) your children, you don't love them."

    I too believe that the universe was created by an organizing force, a thread that ties us all together as one. This source goes beyond any religion — it is as pure and explicable as math and physics and chemistry.

    The nature of this creative force may be unknowable in its entirety, but it is possible to feel it moving through you, inspiring you, guiding you, and healing you.

    There are more choices in the world of faith than JW, anything Christian/Muslim/Jewish, agnostic, or free-thinker. It is possible to create a personal relationship with the source that you feel, without having religion get in the way.

    I hope your healing continues. Congratulations! And again, I salute your bravery!

    Sincerely,

    Wendy

  • BenB

    I left when I was 16. Best thing I ever did. The effects that having JW parents can have on kids can be devastating. I am convinced that I would not have self-harmed or attempted suicide had I been raised secularly. being a gay man made things substantially harder to cope with. I still live at home with my JW mother, stepdad and brother. It's agonizing, both to have to listen to their bullshit, to be punished for having different opinions, and to see them ruin their lives. I know it's commonly considered that being processed through the social services and adoption services can be traumatic, but I can't say for sure that it's worse than being raised as a JW. My brother is lucky, there are kids his age in the congregation to socialize with. All my childhood memories are of sitting alone in classrooms whilst the other kids were in assembly or making christmas or easter or mothers' or fathers' day cards. Hearing my peers talk about the things they'd been given for their birthday. Standing forlornly on doorsteps in the drizzle reciting parrot-fashion the contents of some tract or another. Everyone thought I was doing so well in the religion, but it doesn't take the slightest bit of intelligence to repeat on demand the wisdom and edicts of the mighty Governing Body. I don't think I ever believed in a god. Not YHWH, not anyone. I couldn't picture it. To this day, my mother is petrified of discussing my viewpoint, or my relationships, or anything she doesn't agree with. I try to make conversation, and am met with silence. I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive her for what she has done to me, deluded best intentions or otherwise. The last thing that I needed as a clinically depressed child with confusing and isolating feelings was to be raised in a cult. I am determined to adopt eventually, one reason for that being because I cannot bear the thought of any child being raised in the circumstances I was.

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  • http://www.youtube.com/user/lhverriet Heather

    sadly this is a common story not just in JW, but many religions. They are all cults when you think about it. Does anyone ask the kid hey do you want to learn about this and go to church NO, they just make the kid do it and force them to believe. If they are good they just do as they are told and believe. Many pretend for years until they get out of the house and then do what they like. Many are still pretending because some small part of them still believes the fear based garbage that was brain washed into them, ie. if you don't do this you will go to hell. And still many are brave like you were and walk away.

    My upbringing was different, church was not brought to me in any way. I had friends that were doing it, and because I was curious I asked if I could go too. What I found was a bunch of BS. I thought it was silly.

    Now that I'm grown up I see it for what it really is a form of brainwashing, manipulation, and mind control.

    I'm now spiritual, which involves learning about my self, and the universe around me and my place in that universe. I choose what to believe and no one tells me what to do, what to believe, and who to be. I still have my values, you don't need church to learn that, just common sense, and a good heart.

  • Gypsy

    DR, you sound like someone who has found peace in following your own path, and I congratulate you on your success.

    My son is almost 20 yrs old, and I made a conscious effort to raise him without the religious indoctrination and brainwashing to which I was subjected as a child. (I was raised Roman Catholic. I like to say that as an atheist, I'm a 'recovered' Catholic.) However, I did not denigrate religion to him, only explained it honestly as a myth system that certain people use to help them feel secure and make sense of the world. As a result, his did his share of dabbling in religions, including christian religions and Buddhism, mostly out of curiosity. I encouraged him to learn more and to respect the beliefs of others, but eventually, reason led him to atheism.