Transcript of OnionUnlimited podcast episode 008
HELLO AND WELCOME TO EPISODE 8 OF ONIONUNLIMITED—THE PODCAST. I’m your host Daniel Torridon. Just to recap on my story so far. I was born in 1969 to my parents who were Jehovah’s WItnesses. I was raised as a Witness, becoming an unbaptised publisher at the age of just four years old. Then I was sexually abused by a teacher when I was 11 years old and I had a full-on mental breakdown which then led to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder later in life.
I was baptised at 16 because I thought Jehovah’s Witnesses were “the truth”—that’s what my parents had taught me—and I signed up as a regular pioneer when I left school. At 23 years old I almost married my childhood sweetheart, but our relationship went south after she confessed to “wrongdoing” and was judicially reproved by the elders. I tried to keep our courtship going, but her parents wanted us to take a break while she rebuilt her reputation in the congregation.
I was an impatient young man. I was desperate to be in an intimate relationship, and on the rebound, I married the completely wrong person hoping that if we pioneered together we would fall in love and live happily ever after. That never happened and for the next 25 years, I found myself wishing I’d never married.
Despite that, we had four children, who I love to bits. Two of those disassociated from Jehovah’s Witnesses, which I’m pleased about, but because our family, at the time, obeyed the shunning rule, they, understandably were very upset and they now no longer have anything to do with us—even though I’m disfellowshipped myself now.
I was appointed as a ministerial servant in 1993 and then an elder in 1999. And then in 2004 I began an intensive study of Watch Tower history, chronology and so forth, and I determined that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not teaching “the truth” according to the Bible. I understood from my Bible study that Jesus intended all Christians to partake of the bread and wine, and so that I did at the memorial of 2005 which drew the attention of a power-hungry presiding overseer, and after speaking to the wrong people about my doubts, including him, I found myself in a judicial hearing being charged with apostasy.
After a 7 hour hearing, followed by a 7-hour appeal hearing, I was unceremoniously disfellowshipped as an apostate. Nevertheless, I continued to attend meetings, feeling that even though Jehovah’s Witnesses were not teaching 100% truth, that God was somehow still using the organisation to accomplish his purpose. Then, against all odds, I was reinstated in 2009 and over the next 10 years I was able to rebuild my shattered reputation—I became a regular pioneer again, I served in the foreign language territory, and I was gradually accepted by the congregation as being one of the anointed.
By 2019 I was even being reconsidered for reappointment as an elder. However, there was a big problem. My marriage. It wasn’t a happy one. I won’t go into all the details, but I was thoroughly miserable, really depressed, and I just wanted my marriage to end. But, of course, as a Jehovah’s Witness, divorce isn’t an option—at least that’s how you’re made to feel. So I suffered in silence.
In 2002, feeling unloved and unwanted in my marriage, I had developed feelings for a sister in the congregation other than my wife, but I hadn’t followed through. Instead, I confessed to my wife and the elders which put additional strain on my marriage. But then in 2019, after 25 years of feeling unhappy, I finally met someone and fell head over heels in love with her. This time, I did follow through with it. I told her how exactly I felt and she reciprocated. I was wrong. I was married. But, that is what happened. I’m not proud of breaking my marriage vows. I still view marriage as sacred, and what I did as sinful.
My wife suspected something was going on. I denied it. That was wrong too, and then everything came to a head—When pressed, I admitted to my wife that I didn’t love her. She was understandably not happy. She threw her wedding ring at me and said we were finished. And then a few days later, she found the evidence she needed to confirm that I had feelings for someone else. Up to then, our affair consisted of texting each other, and on a couple of occasions, we’d met secretly and held hands, but now, it was decision time. What to do?
My wife asked me to get help from the elders, but I was done. This time I refused. I jumped in my car and I drove off into the sunset to see my girlfriend and to figure out what we were going to do.
Despite both of us having family in the organisation who would shun us, my girlfriend and I planned there and then to disassociate ourselves from Jehovah’s Witnesses and start a new life together. We spent the night together and the next morning we set about writing our letters of disassociation to the elders. But then, my girlfriend dropped a bombshell on me. With tears in her eyes she said: “I love you, but I love Jehovah more.”
She couldn’t face the shame of being shunned by the congregation and her sister who was a Bethelite. I was absolutely devastated, but I had to respect her wishes. She wanted to remain a Jehovah’s Witness and so I accompanied her to see the elders. We confessed that we’d committed “sexual immorality” and that was that. I never saw her again. I was disfellowshipped. She was reproved. She shunned me. She chose Jehovah’s Witnesses over me.
My wife immediately said she wanted a divorce—understandably. If I’m honest, that is exactly what I wanted. But, even then, I asked my wife to forgive me and have me back. I don’t know what I was thinking. I felt obligated to “do the right thing”—the right thing—in the eyes of God I guess, but there was no discussion to be had. She’d made her mind up. I was history. I take full responsibility for my actions and do respect my wife’s right to a “scriptural divorce” as Jehovah’s Witnesses call it.
She was upset. She was angry. She forced me out of our marital home with just a few bin bags of clothes and personal items. With nowhere to live, I phoned my dad and asked if I could stay the night at his house. He said “Yes”, but then a few moments later he rang me back and said “No”. I don’t know what (or who) had changed his mind, but he said he couldn’t get involved. I had nowhere to go and so I rang an exJW—an ex Jehovah’s Witness, a friend who I had helped when he was disfellowshipped about a year earlier. He was now reinstated but faded, and he kindly let me spend the first few nights sleeping on his floor.
Now, you may say I deserved my comeuppance. I won’t disagree with that. I had cheated on my wife. She’d kicked me out, fair enough. Now I was homeless. But, was it right—was it right—that my judicial hearing was scheduled for the very next evening. I was not in a good state of mind. My marriage had just ended. I’d just lost the girl I loved. I was now homeless and once again, my mental health was quickly deteriorating.
Nevertheless, I attended my judicial hearing as requested by the elders the next day. I freely confessed to “sexual immorality”. I don’t really know what I was thinking at that stage. Did I want to be a Jehovah’s Witness or not? The day before, no. I was ready to disassociate and start a new life with someone I loved. But now—now I was in a situation where I was about to lose everything. I figured if I was honest about my sins the elders would view that as a good thing, maybe allow me to remain a Jehovah’s Witness. Then, maybe, at some future time, me and my girlfriend could get back together.
The elders decided to hold their decision in abeyance for a few days—I don’t know why. While I waited for the verdict I became suicidal and I ended up at the hospital and then a few days later the elders called me on the phone. I told them I was at the hospital and was in a really bad way, but they informed me they’d now reached their decision and told me to read the Awake! magazine of October 22, 2001 entitled “Life is Worth Living”—on the subject of suicide. I guessed immediately what their decision was. They were going to disfellowship me, and at this point I was thinking, yes, that’s probably the right thing. The Awake! article, I think, was insurance for them in case their decision caused me to end my life.
Anyway, I went and met with the judicial committee the next evening. The elders told me I’d been disfellowshipped and that I could appeal if I believed a mistake had been made, but I knew there would be no point appealing, so I thanked the three elders for being kind—at least compared to my 2006 judicial committee which had been brutal—and as I left I asked if I could shake their hands, but with folded arms, they said “No”. I was no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’d been judged “unrepentant” and therefore “wicked”. They wanted nothing further to do with me. So I left the Kingdom Hall and—I drove to see my 83-year old dad. I hugged him for the last time, and that was it—all over. I was 50 years old and I was disfellowshipped for the second time in fourteen years.
Now, I knew this time around it was unlikely I would ever return to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Although I felt terrible for hurting my wife and not honouring the sacredness of marriage, I wasn’t sorry that our marriage was finally over. Mentally it was crippling me. Knowing it was over was actually a relief. I don’t know if that makes me a bad person. But for the first time in 25 years I didn’t feel like I was walking on eggshells. There was no one shouting at me.
Moreover, I was now fully convinced that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not “the truth”. My marriage and my religion had been a pretence for decades. I’d been “believing the lie”—all my life. I no longer needed to pretend. Ironically, after so much deception—lies even—I could finally live with honesty and integrity, which is what I wanted to all along.
I wish I could say that no longer pretending was easy, but it wasn’t. I was conditioned for 50 years by a doomsday cult that literally controlled every single aspect of my life. Keeping up appearances and appeasing people had become second nature. It was how I stayed “safe” from the outside world, accepted and “protected” within the confines of the religious group. However, just as surely as my teacher had abused me while I was in his care, I feel the religion of my birth had abused me. From childhood, it had exposed me to images of people being slaughtered at Armageddon for their sins. It had made me feel unworthy, unlovable, unclean. Using fear and guilt, it had tried to silence my doubts so I just had to keep my thoughts to myself, which caused cognitive dissonance and mental health issues. Moreover, it had conditioned me to return again and again to be mistreated by elders and the judicial system thinking that somehow it was God’s will for me.
Even after I had been expelled and shunned, breaking free from the cult psychology was really difficult. Mentally, I still felt like a Jehovah’s Witness, and sometimes I still do. I hated knowing that people I loved would be thinking of me as “wicked”, “unrepentant”, and even “immoral” for breaking my marriage vows. I longed for their approval and acceptance, but was this enough to convince me I should return? I no longer believed it was “the truth”. I was convinced it was an abusive cult, so how could I go back a second time?
Despite wanting to be free from my unhappy marriage and the cult, I still wanted to maintain a relationship with my children, especially my youngest who was only thirteen years old and not yet a baptised Witness. I just assumed that as her dad I would continue to see her. What I wasn’t expecting was to experience parental alienation. I knew my wife would be angry at me—fair enough—but everything as a Jehovah’s Witness is perceived to be black or white. I was completely guilty. She was completely innocent. There was no possibility that she bore any responsibility for the breakdown of our marriage, despite her shouting, lack of intimacy, and constant threats to leave me. It was all, entirely, my fault because I was the one who finally cracked. I knew I could expect some serious fallout from her, but I honestly never suspected just how brutal divorce could be. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for my children—living at home with their mum—telling me that even if I got reinstated they never wanted to see me again. That really did break my heart.
On January 1st, 2020, after writing suicide notes to my dad and children, I took a massive overdose of paracetamol. Somehow, after two days I was still alive and happened to tell an ex-Witness what I’d done. They had the sense to get me to hospital and I spent the next few days on an IV drip.
As the weeks passed, desperate to see my children, I wrote a letter—to the elders—requesting reinstatement, and I started attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall again, but seeing my children at a distance and being shunned by them was just too much to bear. After that, I had another complete mental breakdown. I tried to hang myself on several occasions. I even took a noose to a meeting at the Kingdom Hall and planned to end my life in the restroom. I wasn’t thinking straight, but at the last minute, I did think about how that would affect my daughter, and so I sought help from the elders. I told them I was suicidal and their reply was: “What do you expect us to do? Our job is to provide meetings for you to attend, but all you’re doing is thinking of killing yourself instead of listening to the programme. If you’re ill, see a doctor.” That was it. After that, I decided, again, I was walking away from Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was not going back.
In February 2020 I wrote a letter to my ex-girlfriend. In it, I explained my reasons for no longer believing Jehovah’s Witnesses to be “the truth”. I explained the B.I.T.E. model and how Jehovah’s Witnesses match the definition of a cult. I told her how 1914 was wrong and encouraged her to watch the Australian Royal Commission videos. She never replied—no surprise there.
Then in March 2020, I wrote a second letter to the elders requesting reinstatement again. Mentally, I was just oscillating back and forth. Some days I wanted nothing to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Other days I felt my life was empty without it, and that I needed to go back. I can honestly say, I have never been so mentally confused and distressed. My doctor put me on medication to try and stabilise my depression and anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
And then the global COVID pandemic struck and a national lockdown was enforced. All of the meetings at the Kingdom Halls, including judicial hearings, reinstatement hearings, were suspended—indefinitely at the time and then from then on, weekly congregation meetings were to be held via Zoom, but as a disfellowshipped person I was initially told I was not allowed to attend.
By July 2020, I felt so isolated that I took another overdose of paracetamol tablets. This time I was extremely poorly and I ended up in hospital for a week. While on an intravenous drip, unsure if I was going to live or die, I sent flowers and a card to my ex-girlfriend telling her I still loved her. She refused delivery of my flowers, and unbeknown to me, the elders were made aware that I had tried contacting her.
Shortly after returning home from the hospital, I received a message from the elders telling me that I could join the Zoom meetings after all, but like a disfellowshipped person attending a meeting in real life I would continue to be shunned. So for the next ten months, week after week I logged in, but I found it too upsetting to show my face or really to listen to very much of the programme. Then in April 2021, after 16 months of being shunned, three letters to the elders requesting reinstatement, and several suicide attempts, I was finally granted a reinstatement hearing.
That’s all for this time. Join me next time as I tell you about my reinstatement hearing and how I finally broke free from Jehovah’s Witnesses.