Is it better to have believed and lost faith, or to have never believed at all?
My story is of the latter; I was born into the JW organization in 1976 to a devout mother. My father’s path to the religion is a little unclear for me; all I know is that he was not a Witness when I was born, since I clearly remember going to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets with him when I was younger.
Maybe it was these early memories that sowed young seeds of doubt toward the religion and faith, as I remember my father much happier before he was a Witness. Maybe I was always too inquisitive and curious about how the world worked. Whatever the case, I struggled with faith right from the beginning.
This obviously posed some challenges for one being raised in ‘the truth’. The strain on my psyche was intense. I remember having somewhat of a nervous breakdown when I was a teenager, for the angst that was in my head. I wanted so badly to please everyone, at the same time knowing I was living a lie that was only making me sicker and sadder.
However, that was not enough to dissuade me from baptism, at the relatively ‘long in the tooth’ age of 15 years old. My baptism was not without event: You see, I am 6’ 5” (196cm), and when I was a gangly youth, I was not the easiest body type for Brother Short to baptize in the makeshift inflatable pool. In fact, when I was first submerged in the cold water, the top of my head did not fully go under the surface of the water. I had this terrible flash of hope that maybe it didn’t count, that maybe I had an out! That thought was quickly squashed when Brother DryHairWatcher noticed and instructed them to dunk me again. I can still summon the sadness of realizing my 2-second-long hope was dashed. So close. I continued in the organization throughout my youth, battling the clanging alarms in my own brain. I never had a plan to leave, since it was all I ever knew. What if the world outside the Kingdom Hall is as bad as they say? What could a teenager living at home, even hope to accomplish by leaving? I hunkered down for the following decades and found ways to cope with my aching consciousness, some more harmful than others.
I was married at the tender age of 20 to a Witness. The years brought 3 children, and the challenges they bring. Our oldest was diagnosed with autism at a young age. He presented several challenges that such a diagnosis brings, mainly at the meetings and anything related to the ministry. This was a big struggle for me, as I was frustrated between the perceived need for discipline and my ongoing silent narrative of “Why are we even doing this?”. This struggle continued to manifest into me becoming somebody that I hated to my own core. I was angry and frustrated for much of my marriage and this sometimes boiled over to taking it out on my own kids: A crime for which I pay every day in my heart. My kids paid the price for me living a lie.
As you can imagine, the years also brought on long bouts of depression, for which my wife would excuse away as seasonal depression, but I knew it was so much more. All these external stresses and internal battles eventually led to substance abuse of alcohol and pain killers; I would take codeine pills before every meeting just to get through.
Finally, at age 40, with the second half of my life staring down the barrel at me, I broke. I could not do it any longer. I was disfellowshipped at age 40 after several months of inactivity. My marriage dissolved soon after.
So here I sit, 4 years later, putting together the pieces of a new life. I am shunned by my entire remaining family and struggle with this daily.
As I reflect on the first half of my life, I often wonder what, if any, a better course would have been. Would it have been better to swallow down my doubts and beliefs to live a more externally peaceful life? What would life have been like if I believed what I was being force fed? What would my life look like now, if I continued down the path of self-destruction. I also wonder of the trauma for those who ‘awaken’ from this organization. What must that be like, to have the whole worldwide rug ripped out from under your feet? Was my early cognitive dissonance actually a blessing and not a curse? Did it cushion my inevitable outcome?
Is it better to have believed and lost faith, or to have never believed at all? For me, I never believed, and I lost much more than my faith. I lost my family. I lost myself. I did my best, until I couldn’t any longer. Now my goal is to live the ‘real life’, with a peaceful heart and mind. I hope you join me on the journey.