Darkness into light

From Darkness into Light—Life After Leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses


Transcript of OnionUnlimited podcast episode 031


I’m thinking about how I exited Jehovah’s Witnesses and just how messy it was—and painful—not just for me, but for other people, people I loved, people I cared about. The cold, hard fact is that I cheated on my wife and got disfellowshipped for immorality. Then there was the fallout from that—being kicked out of my home by my wife, being homeless for a while, the inevitable shunning by family and friends, divorce and—something I never expected—parental alienation. All of this happening in a very short period of time resulted in a huge amount of trauma, depression, anxiety, and several attempts at suicide. Like I say it was messy. 

Sometimes, I think it needn’t have been. If I’d listened to myself, to how I was feeling within, and just been honest, I may still have ended my marriage and left Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it could have been less traumatic. I was unhappy, deeply unhappy—feeling trapped in my marriage and the cult I’d been in for 50 years. I felt stifled, suffocated. I was never going to be able to express or experience true love in my marriage, and I was never going to be able to find my true spiritual potential within Jehovah’s Witnesses. The only way I was going to be able to do either of those things would be to leave, my marriage and the religion, but that felt selfish, so I stayed for years, for decades, feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. 

But then a person came into my life, someone I was willing to give everything up for. I was willing to leave my marriage and my religion to be with this person. I knew doing so would affect my relationships with my children and my dad, but not to the extent that it has. In hindsight, I wish I’d just been honest about my feelings. I wish I’d told my wife that I wanted to end our marriage and be with someone else, and I wish I’d disassociated myself rather than surrender control to the elders who disfellowshipped me. That would have been the more courageous thing to do, but I was heavily indoctrinated as a Jehovah’s Witness. I was taught that separation and divorce were morally wrong, and there was a part of me that was just trying to keep the show on the road for the sake of my kids and my relationships with family and friends, and even my reputation among the only people I knew—fellow, indoctrinated, cult members.

The cognitive dissonance produced by trying to live two lives affected my mental health terribly and I started to have a breakdown. Ultimately, the whole thing came crashing down when I made the decision to leave my wife. The thing is, in the end, I felt compelled as if some external force was pushing me into walking away. At the time, due to my belief in God, it felt as if He was telling me to leave Jehovah’s Witnesses and even my marriage. It felt like He was giving me a “way out” in the form of a person I could love and sacrifice everything for, but that didn’t make sense. The God of the Bible, the God I knew, would surely never approve of ending a marriage, would he? Jehovah, I’d always been taught, hated divorce. He definitely hated adultery. He wanted you to stay together however thoroughly miserable you were—and yet, at that moment in my life, it didn’t feel like He did. It felt like he wanted me to leave my 25-year marriage and finally be happy. It felt like he wanted me to escape from the cult I’d been in for 50 years. It was weird. I didn’t feel in control. I felt like something higher was steering things, steering me.

In hindsight, and after therapy, I came to realise my subconscious was a driving force in things. I was unhappy, but I didn’t have the confidence to make the conscious decisions necessary for my happiness and spiritual freedom. I was locked into a life of appeasing other people, of appeasing a religious organisation’s standards of “right and wrong”. Ultimately, my subconscious took control and I made decisions, decisions I didn’t feel I was consciously making, and on the other side of those decisions was a landscape of desolation. I would have never chosen that consciously.

I found myself with no one in my life, shunned, outcast thanks to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ disfellowshipping policy. Yet somehow it felt like I was in the place I should be, and I never felt abandoned by God. Within a very short period of time, I found myself somewhere to live. I was able to reconnect with old friends, ones who had left Jehovah’s Witnesses, ones who were very supportive of me in the early days of my exit from the cult, and still are. Some helped me initially with food and money for rent. Others helped with my mental health struggles, taking me to the hospital when I was suicidal, checking in on me every day to make sure I was okay. I found myself just a few minutes walk away from an excellent doctor who understood my situation and confirmed that Jehovah’s Witnesses was, indeed, a cult. Just around the corner was the Samaritans’ main office where I would drop into and have a chat, and a cry, when I was missing my children and felt overwhelmed with sadness. Through all of this, I felt guided and protected by something higher than me. In time, I came to think of this guiding force not so much as God but as my true higher self—as Universal, Source Consciousness—the true “I Am” underpinning all reality, and creating my world. Through the blackest part of my life, too many saving things happened for me to think of it as a coincidence. Despite trying to take my life on several occasions I always found myself still here, but why? What purpose did I have? What was the point of my life anymore?

Friends used to tell me things would get better, and clearer—I’d start to feel better, to make sense of it all—but I didn’t believe them. I thought I’d be in this black hole of confusion forever, unable to escape into the light of day, but slowly and surely things improved. I became less depressed and anxious—I do still have times of deep depression and anxiety, but I’m no longer actively trying to commit suicide—that initial deep despair has subsided. I found a good therapist that helped me understand that even the poor decisions I’d made in my life were never made out of malice. I was just unhappy. I was looking for a way to end the sadness, but I was trapped in a cult. Being in a cult affects everything—what you think, what you say, what you do, the decisions you make. It prevents open, honest, conversation. It makes you feel like you must keep up appearances. It compromises your honesty and integrity, resulting in either no decision—a kind of stagnant stalemate situation—or implosion when subconsciously you finally make the decision necessary to break free from the unhappy, soul-destroying world you find yourself in. 

Of course, the other side of that decision is a blackness, a blackness so dark and deep that you wonder if you made the right decision. At first, I felt I needed to go back, back to my marriage, back to the cult. I felt that was the only way I would ever find happiness in my life again—a kind of “happiness in familiarity”—but I knew from experience that wouldn’t be the case, and so I felt trapped again, this time in a kind of limbo—somewhere between “in the truth” and “in the world”, but fitting into neither.

My friends were promising me a better life lay beyond this empty landscape, but I couldn’t see it. How could I ever be happy again when my children didn’t want me in their lives? How could I ever be happy when my own dad chose, to quote him, his “faith over my apostasy”? How could I even function in a world without the framework I was familiar with—meetings, field service, the structure that comes from knowing all the answers and being God’s only chosen people? How could I ever hope to find love in a world of 8 billion people—8 billion people who could never understand the life I’d lived? 

Yet slowly things began to piece together. At first, I spent my days laying on my bed staring at the ceiling or at the radiator at the end of my bed—hours of staring, just waiting to feel tired enough to fall off to sleep again, the only time the pain ended, but then I began to read—first of all the book by Bonnie Zieman called SHUNNED: A Survival Guide—then I bought myself a Kindle and started to read more books about healing and rebuilding after trauma. Next, I got myself a small television and started to watch movies and listen to Christian music again, things I’d not done for 18 months. Slowly, I made my immediate environment more comfortable. It was just an empty room, but I got myself a sheepskin rug to go next to my bed so that when I got out of bed in the morning my feet would thank me. Then I got myself a chair to sit in to drink my morning cup of tea, some comfortable cushions, and a snuggly blanket. I started to journal my thoughts and feelings. I began to write poetry again. Then I got myself a desk and a keyboard to write music, and finally a microphone to start recording my podcasts.

I told my story as honestly as I could, not hiding my mistakes. I told of my abuse, my unhappy marriage, my life of imprisonment as a cult member, my traumatic disfellowshippings, and my final, unceremonious exit from Jehovah’s Witnesses. I found it unusually cathartic. With every word, I felt like a burden was being lifted from my shoulders. I found my voice and was able to speak up without any repercussions. There were no elders coming around telling me what I could or couldn’t say. There were no Jehovah’s Witnesses in my life to be upset or offended—they’d all cut me off as if I was dead as if I no longer existed, so why should I care what they thought? It was just me in a room with a microphone telling my story. 

And then one evening, out of the blue, I received a message on Twitter. Someone had seen a tweet where I’d described myself as a Creator, a Spiritual Empath, a Thinker, an Introvert and somewhat of a Recluse. Their exact words were “This is like you’re in my head!” and I immediately knew—out of 8 billion people in the world I’d just found “the one”. I replied “Yup” and then I stood in my room shaking my head saying out loud “What the hell just happened?” Suddenly, everything made sense. I was here for a reason. My life wasn’t over, it was just beginning—my real life, my authentic life—and at that moment I knew everything would be okay.