I stopped going to meetings and moved out of home when I was 19. I can’t say it was due to a matter of belief or principle, I simply didn’t want to one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and never felt I was good enough to survive Armageddon anyway. Articles in the Watchtower talks at the meetings made me feel like I was never doing enough, never good enough. The elders found fault with the way I looked and behaved. My mother never held back from berating me. They made it clear that I needed to try harder to impress Jehovah, otherwise I was destined to slip into the world and become everything he hated. Which is exactly what happened. I had heard so many times that I wasn’t good enough, I believed it and gave up on myself.
I became the poster child of Watchtower’s disobedient youth – Jehovah’s Witness kid leaves home, lives immoral worldly life, is taken advantage of by worldly people, becomes addicted to drugs, falls pregnant, realises the Watchtower was right about how bad the world is and crawls back home begging for forgiveness.
When I left home, I didn’t have friends and the easiest people to meet are those at bars and clubs. They were the most outgoing and accepting, and I needed people to accept me. Unfortunately, they are also the most likely to be using illegal drugs, and I soon fell victim to drug abuse.
I started using cocaine, which is particularly costly and addictive. As the effect of cocaine wears off, it creates a driving desire for more. I would only stop when I ran out of money, or passed out asleep. Such a lifestyle is not maintainable. I attracted the attention of a dealer, and soon became his girlfriend. Suddenly there was an endless supply of cocaine, and my life became a blur. I was living the lifestyle that many crave; no shortage of money, parties, and coke. Cocaine delivers happiness, energy, and a scattered state that blocks out life’s pain. But coming down thoughts return stronger, harder, and coated in paranoia – the result of a brain depleted of serotonin. I chose not to come down by remaining high.
My boyfriend went to prison, and I soon became involved with another dealer.
It was only so long before my nose could no longer take the abuse. First it was nose bleeds, and sneezing as the cuts in my nostrils would scab over to heal. One day I blew my nose, filling the tissue with skin from the back of my throat. I could no longer do cocaine, but needed the high. My boyfriend introduced me to methamphetamine – ice. Ice takes addition to another level. The high is higher, the low lower, and withdrawal symptoms far stronger. I could not handle the withdrawals and constantly chased more.
I fell pregnant, and came to the realisation that I carried more than just the precious life inside me, but also a huge weight of responsibility. I checked myself into a rehabilitation center, as it would not be possible to stop using ice without help. My boyfriend agreed he would also stop using drugs, but after finding out that he was still using them, I decided that I had to leave him for the sake of our child.
I had never stopped thinking that Jehovah’s Witnesses were the truth, having left because I didn’t feel I could maintain the lifestyle. Now the survival of another life depended on me. I decided to return to my parents and the truth.
Moving back home was very difficult. I felt worthless, of which my mother regularly reminded me. I had brought shame upon her. I dove back into attending meetings, preaching and studying the publications. I needed to be distracted from my memories and emotions, but most of all, I needed to be a role model to my son, who depended on me for his survival at Armageddon. Life was as good as can be expected, and I believed I was doing the right thing.
The turning point came just one year after returning home.
I was sitting at the convention, with my young son. A video was played, it was the Great Tribulation, a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses were huddled together, cautious but not afraid knowing Jehovah is on their side. Close by were men guns getting ready to attack, powerful music adding to the emotion and suspense. It all just clicked. The Watchtower was controlling the audience with fear, the same fear that I had been raised with. I didn’t know if it was the truth or not, I just knew it was wrong, and more importantly, there was no way I wanted my son to be raised this way, the way I had been raised.
When young ones leave the protection of the Watchtower and Jehovah’s Witnesses, they suffer terrible consequences, but only because the Watchtower has created a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you leave, they take away your family and friends. They take away your self-esteem by convincing you that leaving the organization means you are weak for giving in to your fleshly desires. You are labelled a follower of Satan who has lost Jehovah’s blessing. Growing up, all your moral decisions are determined by the Watchtower, leading to under-developed critical thinking skills. You enter the broader community naive, lonely and wracked with guilt – the perfect formula for depression – vulnerable and an easy victim. When you hit rock bottom, you need your family, your very survival depends on it. Any loving parents would be there for their child, desperate to help them, but not yours, because the Watchtower has convinced them your everlasting life depends on their shunning of you. You crawl back, what other choice do you have, plead for their forgiveness. The congregation accepts you, though “I told you so” eyes betray their open arms, and the Watchtower has another success story to add to the collection. That is what happened to me, but it was not where my story ended.
It was only after I stopped going to meetings the second time around that I started to research Jehovah’s Witnesses, at first terrified of looking at apostate material. I quickly found that I was justified in my decision not to raise my son in a religion based on fear. I have now built a new life, with new friends that I can trust with my life. I have not touched illegal drugs since the birth of my son and hope my openness and love will protect him from what I went through as a teenager.