Most days I don’t feel the effects of being a shunned exJW. Most days are actually better than I could have imagined- there is no fear of the impending doom of Armageddon on the horizon. I no longer wonder if I have done enough to gain God’s favor. I know that the ransom is a free gift that has been given to everyone, and no amount of good deeds (i.e. time spent preaching) can ever be enough to earn salvation. I don’t feel guilt that I haven’t done more. My gratitude for what I have moves me to do good for others. I don’t know all the answers but I’m OK with that. Overall I think I’m doing great. Most days.
It’s the nights that I have come to worry about.
At night it catches up with me. Most nights, as I sleep, I unconsciously clench my jaw. I experienced TMJ as a teenager but I haven’t had an episode until these past four months hit me full force. It’s been debilitating, to say the least. On good days I wake up with slight headaches and endure the day experiencing a 30% pain level; worse days I find myself waking with vomit inducing migraines that render me useless for the entirety of a day. Sometimes my jaw will be so tight that I can only open it halfway. That makes eating interesting. I’ve lost hearing in the ear on the affected side multiple times, sometimes lasting over an hour.
Yes, I’ve tried a mouth guard for the TMJ, and here’s a fun fact: I have to search for it the next morning. Not only do I take it out in my sleep, but apparently I fling it across the room. I’ve been seeing a chiro for the intensely painful treatment of fascial distortion.
On this past road trip to Florida I got a stiff neck and could barely turn my head, let alone hold my baby or help the kids in the back seat when they needed something. I made it through two days at the Magic Kingdom thanks to Salonpas and Ibuprofen. I walked around smelling like a menthol-drenched geriatric patient.
There are worse things, sure- but I just wish I could feel normal.
Turns out, there is nothing normal about being raised in a cult. Or exiting said cult.
In December we went back to California to visit our non-JW family. The closer we got to our small hometown the more anxious I felt. I had lived there for a decade of my life- and 99% of the people I had known were JWs. How would they treat me if I ran into them? I feel like the same person I’ve always been- yet I spoke out against their Organization. I said their leaders were wrong, and I proved it with reasoning and the Bible. There is just no way to leave the Jehovah’s Witness organization and keep your JW friends and family. That means if anyone has a change in beliefs or disagrees with their teachings it’s going to be messy. No one can leave gracefully. It’s a process meant to spread fear, to prevent others from questioning the leadership. They call anyone who disagrees an Apostate. By clever twisting of these scriptures, they are told to avoid me, quit mixing in company, and not even say a greeting. JWs are taught that “Jehovah discards the person like a piece of garbage”. It’s right in their official broadcast, found here. Would people I knew for over a decade physically turn their backs on me if we met face-to-face? Just typing that out makes me want to clench my jaw. Luckily I didn’t have to find out. We only ran into one JW, and she was working her shift at Starbucks- so she was required to be professional and polite, and she was.
I talked with some other exJWs to get their experiences of what it’s like to be shunned. One told me, “The town I lived in was pretty small so I saw everyone from the hall all the time. Even the service group would come by my house. They knew I lived there so they would skip over my house. Very awkward. I don’t speak with my family anymore. I haven’t spoken with my siblings for years now. I sometimes wonder if they even care how am doing. It’s probably the most painful thing I have experienced. There is nothing like someone you grew up with pretending you don’t exist.” Another was quoted on jwfacts.com as saying, “On one occasion, I attended an event with Witnesses present. As I stood holding my three year old child, an old friend walked up, and without catching my eye, or acknowledging my presence, started speaking to my son, and then walked away. It was as though I did not exist, an inanimate object supporting my child.” Others decide to keep their disagreements on doctrine to themselves and never speak out for fear of having loved ones turn their backs on them.
In my own experience, my parents and siblings don’t speak to me. Georgia just turned seven, and they never saw her as a six-year-old. Philippa has her first loose tooth, and she says the funniest things. She has been saying for months that she wants to be a pirate when she grows up. Judah always has a smile for anyone and everyone. It’s the cutest thing to watch her, her eyes intent on learning. All I know is… I can’t imagine ever turning my back on my children.
I found this quote from the July 2009 issue of Awake! (published by Jehovah’s Witnesses) noteworthy: “No one should be forced to worship in a way that he finds unacceptable or be made to choose between his beliefs and his family.”
If a JW comes to your door… please, be polite. They are someone’s mother, father, sister, brother. Maybe even mine. They are victims of mind control and willful ignorance, but they don’t mean to harm others. And For The Love Of God if you want to know what they believe, don’t invite them back. Everything you need to know and more can be found at www.jwfacts.com.
Writing down my thoughts helps me. It’s what cured me of TMJ as a teenager and I’m hoping it will help me again now. Publishing it, I hope, will help others. Maybe it will help someone decide they want to break free from mind control. Or maybe it will help just one person to know they aren’t alone.