This episode discusses the subject of suicide and so listener discretion is advised.
LET ME SAY AT THE OUTSET that I shouldn’t be here. I don’t mean here delivering this podcast. I mean I shouldn’t be alive. I should be dead. After confessing to immorality, or “porneia” as Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to it, on December 10th, 2019, the judicial wheels were immediately set in motion. Things happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to think. The result? I was disfellowshipped by the elders even though they knew I was suicidal.
To set the scene, I sinned on Monday, December 9th, 2019. I confessed the following morning, Tuesday 10th, to a couple of elders at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Guess when my judicial hearing was held? Yes, the very next day, on the evening of Wednesday 11th! The bed sheets weren’t even cold. And a lot happened between Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening that meant my mental health was in shreds.
On the day of my confession to the elders, my entire life came crashing down. If you’ve listened to my podcast you’ll know that my marriage had been on the rocks for some time, but December 10th was the day my wife—my very angry wife—kicked me out of the house. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not asking for any sympathy. What I did was wrong and she had every right to tell me our marriage was over, and she did, in no uncertain terms.
On Tuesday, December 10th, 2019 I left home with a few bin bags of clothes in the boot of my car. I called my JW dad and asked if I could stay at his house that night. At first, he said yes, but then he rang back and said he’d changed his mind. I had nowhere to go. I was homeless. Fortunately, an ex-JW friend whom I had helped when he was disfellowshipped allowed me to sleep on his floor that night, otherwise, I would have ended up sleeping in my car or under a bush somewhere.
The next day, Wednesday the 11th was spent trying to find a rental accommodation. That was stressful enough but halfway through the day I received a phone call telling me my judicial hearing had been scheduled for 7 pm that evening, literally the day after my confession, and two days after my “sin”. That evening I turned up early at the Kingdom Hall and parked up in the car park. Then, I took the bin bags out of my boot and rummaged through them to find a shirt and tie. I changed clothes in the car park and when the elders turned up I went into the hall to await my judgement.
To be fair, there was no investigation needed. I confessed to everything. I admitted I was wrong. I offered to make amends as best I could, although there wasn’t much I could do. My marriage was over, that was certain. My wife didn’t want me back, and the relationship with my girlfriend was also over. It was now just me—a homeless guy, on his own, confessing all to the elders. The hearing went on for about three hours. I was exhausted by the end of it and just wanted it to be over. I expected to be given a decision that night as to whether I would be disfellowshipped or reproved, but they told me they would have to discuss things and get back to me in due course.
The next day, Thursday the 12th, I managed to get myself a bedsit and I spent most of the day driving back and forth from home picking up my personal belongings from a still very angry wife. Then on Friday the 13th, I crashed, mentally. The stress of everything finally got to me and I had a complete breakdown. I started talking about taking my life and my ex-JW friend was so worried that he took me to the local hospital. I checked myself into Crisis as it’s known and explained what had happened to a couple of therapists. I felt so ill I begged them to keep me in hospital overnight, but they said I would be better at home, home now being a crappy bedsit. So that was that. I headed back to my bedsit to stare at the ceiling and think of how best to kill myself.
As I left the hospital on that Friday, my phone rang. It was the elders. They asked where I was. I told them I was just leaving Crisis at the hospital. I thought they might offer some comfort, being that they’re supposed to be shepherds, but no. They glossed over the fact I’d just told them I was at the hospital and said they had come to a decision. I was to go to the Kingdom Hall again the next day. Just before they hung up they told me I should read an Awake! article entitled Why Go On?—Three Reasons to Keep Living. “Unbelievable!” I thought, “They realise I’m probably suicidal. This is probably insurance against getting sued if I actually go through with it!” Bear in mind that the elders knew I had a history of mental health problems. I’d had two mental breakdowns in the past, one caused by sexual abuse at school and the other when I was disfellowshipped on a charge of “apostasy” in 2006. They also knew that I had been treated for Bipolar Type II for over 7 years. It was only recently that I’d come off my medication, which may have contributed to me committing the “sin” I did—nothing illegal, nothing criminal, just bog-standard immorality, but nevertheless a “serious sin” by JW standards.
From the elder’s phone call, I deduced that they knew I was feeling suicidal. Nevertheless, the meeting went ahead as planned the next day, Saturday the 14th. The meeting itself was over pretty quickly. I walked in. They told me to sit. They said I was disfellowshipped and could appeal if I wanted to. I said there wasn’t any point. I’d done the sin. I’d do the time. I stood up to leave. I thanked them for being relatively kind, at least in comparison with my 2006 judicial hearing which was brutal. I asked if I could shake their hands. They said no. I left. That was it. I was disfellowshipped. I went back to my bedsit “no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses”. That was Saturday, December 14th, 2019.
The next day I was feeling so poorly that I rang the Samaritans. The suicidal feelings continued over the next few days. My business, a family-run company with a lot of connections to Jehovah’s Witnesses, collapsed that week. By the 20th I had been put back on medication by my doctor and signed off from work. The suicidal feelings continued to the end of December. Then, on December 31st at midnight I took an overdose of paracetamol to the sound of fireworks outside my bedsit window. The trigger was one of my children, who worked for my company, sending me an email requesting a reference addressed to “Dear Sir” and signed “Your ex-employee”. It was so cold that it just tipped me over the edge. I was so mentally crushed that I wrote suicide notes to my four children, my dad, and my sister. Then I took a massive dose of paracetamol and went to sleep waiting to die. The thing is, I didn’t. I woke up the next day feeling fine, physically, albeit still suicidal. Two days later I met up with an ex-JW friend and told them what I’d done. They insisted I go to the hospital. I did, and it was a horrendous experience. I was placed on an IV drip and pumped with glucose which made my head feel like it was going to explode. I was there until January 4th after which I was allowed to go home.
Throughout January and February 2020, I was depressed, and feeling suicidal, but didn’t act on my feelings. In fact, I even started making some progress. I reached out to old friends, reconnected with them, and made some great new ex-JW friends. I even managed to find myself a much nicer bedsit and moved, but then in March, I crashed again. Throughout March 2020 I was off-the-scales suicidal. I was so mentally screwed up that I kept trying to hang myself. I would take a belt, put it around my neck, and hang from a hook on the back of the bathroom door, but it wouldn’t work. It didn’t matter what I did, I just couldn’t get the belt tight enough to do the deed. Then, one day, I did. Using the belt from my dressing gown I managed to tie a noose that was sufficiently tight enough to make me go unconscious. I blacked out, but then the hook on the back of the door broke off. I lived to see another day.
Shortly after that, I started attending JW meetings again. This was pre-COVID. At one meeting I was feeling so bad that I actually tried to hang myself in the Kingdom Hall toilets. Again, I wasn’t successful and after realising what I’d done, or tried to do, I grabbed a couple of elders and took them outside during the meeting. I told them I’d just tried to commit suicide and begged them for help. One of them replied as follows: “What do you expect us to do? If you’re ill, see a doctor. Our job is to provide meetings for you to attend, but you’re just sitting there thinking about ending your life.” That’s word-for-word what he said and, honestly, I think that is sick. These are spiritual shepherds supposedly. Okay, I was no longer one of their “sheep”, but surely human decency would dictate that you would help someone who had just told you they were suicidal—but no, nothing, just a cold, callous remark to the effect that I “wasn’t their problem”.
I left the Kingdom Hall that morning and went back to my bedsit. Then COVID hit. We went into lockdown in the UK on March 26th, 2020. This did nothing for my mental health. Throughout April I continued trying to kill myself. Hanging turned into strangulation. I took a tourniquet, used for stopping blood flow in serious injuries, and tightened it around my neck. I kept trying this, but failing, until eventually, I was so desperate I was crying my eyes out laying on the floor, exhausted.
I should say that during all of this, my doctor was amazing. She assured me that what I was feeling was “normal” based on the “situational stressors” I’d been experiencing. She told me in no uncertain terms that Jehovah’s Witnesses were a cult and that the shunning I was being subjected to was a form of abuse. I also had help from Crisis, I could ring them whenever I wanted. The Samaritans were equally amazing. Eventually, I discovered another avenue of support, a website called C.A.L.M. (which stands for Campaign Against Living Miserably). They were incredible. I honestly can’t praise them enough. They offer a telephone helpline as well as a web chat. They go online at 5 pm each evening and you can chat for up to an hour. I started calling them every evening.
Eventually, I managed to get a therapist. She was great and we were making some good progress until June 2020 when I attempted suicide again, with another massive dose of paracetamol. I ended up in hospital again, this time for a week, but ultimately was checked out again. The general consensus was that my feelings were “normal” considering what I’d been through and that being admitted into the hospital long-term wouldn’t really help me. I needed medication and therapy, specifically abuse counselling. Shortly after that, I was referred to an abuse counselling service. It took a few months until someone was available to see me, but eventually, I got an appointment. I went on to have six months of abuse counselling which was life-changing. It really was.
Now here’s the thing: throughout all these suicide attempts, visits to the hospital, therapy sessions and so on, I had been trying to get reinstated. My doctor told me this was a terrible idea, but I didn’t listen. A number of ex-JW friends told me the same thing, but I insisted on logging into Zoom meetings in an attempt to get reinstated. I kept reaching out to the elders, but they were rubbish. Several times I texted them to say I was feeling suicidal and I needed their “pastoral help” as someone seeking to “return to Jehovah” but they totally ignored me. I guess I was hoping reinstatement would get my family back, my kids and my dad, but all it did was interfere with the therapy I was receiving.
I did finally get a reinstatement hearing, in April 2021 during a brief interval when lockdown was lifted, but the elders were so cruel I ended up walking out of that hearing and that was the last time I ever set foot in a Kingdom Hall or logged into a Zoom meeting. I came home and texted my dad, an elder in a nearby congregation. I told him I was never going back to Jehovah’s Witnesses. I didn’t even believe it was the truth anymore, so what was the point? That’s when he told me he was “choosing [his] faith over [my] apostasy.” That’s exactly what he said, and the rest is history I guess.
After 16 months of trying to kill myself numerous times, trying to get reinstated, going through therapy, and taking tons of meds, I finally came through the other side in April 2021. I wasn’t dead. I was battered, but I was still breathing. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my doctor, the Crisis Team, the Samaritans, C.A.L.M., and a handful of absolutely amazing ex-JW friends, I wouldn’t be here now writing this blog.
Were the elders right to disfellowship me? Maybe. Maybe not. I certainly think they should have slowed down a bit. Everything was processed so quickly and so coldly that I literally had no time to think. I was in no fit state at all to sit through a judicial hearing. The hearing and the subsequent shunning almost cost me my life. Maybe if they’d reproved me instead of disfellowshipped me I would still be a Jehovah’s Witness today. I don’t know if I would have ever had the courage to leave despite not having believed it was “the truth” since 2004. So maybe the elders, as cruel as they were, did me a favour. Who knows?
Before I finish I want to say this: If you are currently disfellowshipped; if you are being shunned by your family and former Witness friends; if you are at your wit’s end and feel that life isn’t worth living; if you are contemplating suicide because you think things won’t get better, I want to assure you, they do. People told me things would improve. I didn’t believe them. I thought would feel crap forever. I was absolutely desperate, to the point of actually trying to end it. But you know what? Things do get better. Slowly. You just have to trust the process:
Step 1: Don’t kill yourself.
Step 2: Get help—medication from the doctor, therapy, chat to the Samaritans or C.A.L.M.
Step 3: DO NOT go back to Jehovah’s Witnesses under any circumstances. Once you’re out you have to unplug otherwise it messes up any therapy you might be having.
Step 4: This is hard, but give yourself time, however painful it is.
Eventually, things work out. You might still be disfellowshipped. You may still be shunned. It may still hurt terribly, but gradually you will find the sting wears off somewhat. In time, you will even find a new path. I have. It’s taken me two-and-a-half years to get to where I am now and I still have tons of work to do. I still get terribly depressed, but I’m functioning. I’ve found a new purpose here on OnionUnlimited, helping other people who have left, or are thinking of leaving the cult. I’ve even found love again! So yes, things do get better. You just have to give it time and trust the process.
I hope this information has been of some help to you. If you’re struggling with depression after leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses, if you need to offload, feel free to Direct Message me on Twitter.