Learning Not to Fear the Watchtower Monster

We fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal, private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict.~Jim Morrison

The fear Jim Morrison spoke of is a real thing; it can be debilitating to those of us who normally exhibit courageous behavior.  I’ve read a lot of comments lately from former Jehovah’s Witnesses who are terrified when the Witnesses come knocking on their door. I remember my own journey through this paralyzing fear–cowering deep within the recesses of my bedroom, bathroom, or closet if I saw them working in my apartment complex, begging my husband to keep them away from me.  Even to my own ears this sounds irrational.  But, is it?

After doing research on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I came to realize that what many of us experience is actually quite understandable.  When we go through the excruciating and intrusive exercise of judicial committees where intimate and personal details are pried out of us, or when we are publicly humiliated in front of a congregation of members, or when we are being shunned by our closest family and friends–this is traumatic! We are made to feel guilt and shame for actions that have little or no impact on others in the congregation.

Mayo Clinic says:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Many people who go through traumatic events have difficulty adjusting and coping for a while. But with time and taking care of yourself, such traumatic reactions usually get better. In some cases, though, the symptoms can get worse or last for months or even years. Sometimes they may completely shake up your life. In a case such as this, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder.

hidingIn my own case, it took a few years to get over the terror that the Witnesses would come to my door and try to guilt and pressure me into returning to the fold.  I didn’t feel I was strong enough to resist them, and had recurring JW-themed nightmares for many more years. I didn’t know how to stop my reactions, and never shared this with anyone.

About 8 years ago, I began searching online for JW info, trying to find stories of other former members who would understand my personal experience.  It was about this time I found the newly formed ex-Jehovah’s Witness Recovery Group on MySpace (now on Facebook).  While I had done a lot of personal recovery up until this point, I was stunned at the connection I felt with the folks there.  Being a natural extrovert, I immediately began sharing my story and listening to others.  What I didn’t realize was that this was the missing piece to my own recovery–realizing that the boogeyman (the Watchtower) was no longer in control, and that I WAS NOT ALONE!

I began pouring my fears and feelings into poetry since there was so much emotion that was now surfacing.  My anxieties and fears were right in my face…but, now I had other folks that could understand.  We shared our triumphs and struggles.

During this short period of time (about 4 months) I stopped having those nightmares.  Talk about a relief!  I began facing my fears head on (with my new friends at my back) and it was liberating.  To be honest, even with the majority of my fears at bay, I still get butterflies in my stomach when they come to my door.  But, I no longer hide away.  I know now that they cannot hurt me any more than they already have.  I realize that at some point they could be walking the same journey as me, which allows me to have some measure of compassion for them.  I do not, however, let them intimidate, guilt, or shame me any longer.

To this day I’ve been an active member of the recovery group.  It serves as a reminder of how far I’ve come, but more importantly, I’m able to share tips and tricks to help others remove this fear from their lives a little faster.  It’s a wonderful thing to have groups out there that provide emotional support while dealing with the monster that is the Watchtower.  If one group doesn’t fit your needs, keep looking.  Additionally, I highly encourage former Witnesses to find a good counselor, particularly one trained in cult or religious trauma. Dealing with the emotional upheaval early on will give you a leg up in your own recovery.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basics/definition/con-20022540

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3 thoughts on “Learning Not to Fear the Watchtower Monster

  1. Love you, Steph! You have played such an important role in the recovery of so many of us. Thank you for being there for so long. Your support and assistance as a fellow administrator has been invaluable,.

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  2. A wonderful article, Steph! You are an indispensable part of our recovery group, and it is a privilege to know you!

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  3. I studied, got pregnant, continued to study, got baptized turned 18 & had my son. All in 1974. Had no prior religious training but was at a place in life where I realized there had to be something more. Was in a very loving & caring congregation with loving brothers & sisters. Everybody looked out for each other. When my 2 month old son & I had to move out on our own from my dad’s home(religious conflict!) I was living in a small dump, very little heat & no tub or shower, just a toilet & kitchen sink. I don’t know how but it was found out how I was living because out of the blue, some sisters showed up & 1 asked if I’d like to room with her & her daughter. So, I did & my 1st year as a witness was rich & rewarding. Then a brother I went to school with invited me to supper with his wife & a friend. This friend(brother) was nice enough but I was happy & content with my life as it was. But a few days later, he showed up asking me to marry him! I was in shock, I liked my life fine. Marriage never crossed my mind. I told him marriage was something very serious & much thought needed to go into it. He said with “puppy-dog” eyes that it was ok, that he’d been turned down before. Well, I thought about it & thought about it & prayed & decided that this must be part of Jehovah’s plan for me. This ended up being the end for me. We married & moved to his congregation. His family I knew took an immediate dislike of me. They were from Poland & Germany & survived ww 2. I was 5 years younger than my husband & very young & naïve. All his parents saw was a kid with a kid, with long hair(bible mentioned something about long hair being a disgrace) & wearing a maxi-coat. They didn’t like the fact their son married someone who’d been in the world & had a child out of wedlock. My husband was raised a witness. We lived out in the boondocks & our closest neighbor were his parents. I was all alone with disapproving in-laws, a congregation that was not all that welcoming & a husband who thought a wife meant “maid” & baby-maker. I begged him to move us back home & after promising to be a VERY submissive wife, he agreed. Once back home I thought things would be better but I was wrong. My husband worked long hours & once home expected supper & then bedtime activities. He was not a gentle person & I started to avoid bedtime at all cost. I started drinking heavily & found that there were drugs that could make my mind numb. I started associating with bad people. Due to guilt, I went to the elders & confessed my sins (there was no summoning as I’ve heard from others today.) I was “privately reproved”. It happened again & like I was taught to do…I called the elders & met & confessed my sins. I was publically reproved in front of the congregation. My home congregation knew of my past before I came into the “truth” & gossip started. By that time, things were so bad that my marriage was like enslavement. So, I went out & sinned again, this time I was Disfd. I still went to meetings & I could feel the love from my sisters & knew they were praying for me to be reinstated. During this time, my husband took full advantage of my needing to be a submissive wife & demanded I perform wifely duties in bed any time he requested it. When I didn’t, he went & told the elders which delayed my reinstatement, but I went to the elders & questioned whether some of the sexual duties were in accordance with God’ law, which they were not. That got me out of a bad situation & caused me to have some doubts as to whether I’d gotten into something that I wasn’t sure about anymore. I was reinstated within 4 months. But, the elders said we should move away from my temptations which meant back to his congregation. I started to see our overseer “Lording it over the Flock” (I did learn a few things). I saw brothers caught up in getting supped-up cars & driving around town(including my husband) at night instead of being home with their families. I saw many people being very materialistic & expecting of me that which they were not even doing. My husband & I started to drift apart, I did my thing, he did his & finally I just moved back with my dad. I became very “worldly” as did my husband. I knew I had been disfd. again in 1978 but I knew this time I could not go back. I drank, drugged & every “worldly” thing I could do for a few years & finally got myself together & got my H.S. diploma which my husband would not let me do & saying I wouldn’t need one in the new system of things. Well, not only did I do that but I went on to get an associate degree & then a bachelor’s degree & found myself a career. I started to live a clean decent life & was a respected member of my community. It was a good life but every once in a while I would get some bad feelings. I’d go through periods of fear & anxiety. Things went great until 1996 when I was treated for depression & put on meds. It got so bad that in1996, I had to quit my job & lost almost everything I had. Friends pulled me through some of the toughest times but then I started losing friends. A whole handful died of cancer & everybody else moved away. By 2000, I was in & out of the hospital for 4 years & then things calmed down, but I was alone…alone with my thoughts…thoughts of all my sins. There was constant guilt, fear, anxiety that just haunted my waking hours. I started over medicating so I didn’t have to think anymore. Somehow, someway, my life changed again. I began to live a more “Christ” like life & began praying again & I was doing well until I met a neighbor in my complex & we chatted away & things she talked about (religious) started to sound familiar & she told me she was a JW & I told her I was an ex. She continued to talk at great length about how so much had changed since 1978 & gave me #’s of brothers I should call.I don’t know why but I called & met with them. They gave me books & literature said I needed to attend meetings.(suffering from severe anxiety would make that a little hard). They said when I felt repentant, I could write a letter to the elders requesting reinstatement.(I thought I already was repentant because I came back). When I asked about reinstatement, they said it could be up to 5 years. I was shocked! I knew if judgement day came & I was disfd. that I would not gain everlasting life. So, I left & didn’t go back. What I did do was get on the internet to do as much research as I could. I found out that my loving congregation was gone & in it’s place were people who didn’t seem like loving brothers & sisters. The more searching I did, the more I found that I had not been apart of Jehovah’s flock but possibly the Watchtower flock.
    Well, that’s my story. In1974, I believed I was being taught about my Heavenly Father & now, it seems more likely that I was being taught about the teachings of the Watchtower Society. I look back & realize I really don’t know a lot about God, His Son or his word. Now I have to start learning about things that I was taught was Apostasy. I have enjoyed being a person who is loving, caring, kind, & most importantly…truthful. But in order to be truthful…I need to find out what the truth really is. So, I’ve been searching different sites & watching youtube videos. I already heard from someone that gave me a list of books to read starting with Ray Franz. I’m trying to figure out what questions I need to ask to get the answers I need.
    So, my search begins.

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