All posts by Steph Le Gardener

Sometimes I Wish I Believed in a God

Today was one of those times I really wish I had a god belief.  I would love to scream and rail against that god for allowing all of life’s injustices. I would love to believe there was some devil that menacingly haunted people’s lives with gloom and destruction. Sometimes it’s difficult to walk the path of the unbeliever…looking life straight in the eye and knowing that what you see is what you get, for better or for worse.

A young woman who has been like a niece to me found out this week that the baby she is carrying (her first) has Downs Syndrome, a cleft palate, a jaw deformity, and cysts on its brain.  If she lives to term, she will only live a few hours to a day.  I was at this young woman’s wedding this past autumn, celebrating her life ahead.  My heart literally aches for the pain she is going through now.  It is a pain shared by many in her circle of family and friends.

This is when things are difficult to face as an unbeliever.  I know deep down that if there was any kind of loving god, these things wouldn’t happen.  There would not be children starving, nations murdering each other, child abuse, cancer, and a multitude of other horrors.  And, when I hear that “we’re never given more than we can bear,” I call bullshit. And, when I hear others say, “God needs her in heaven more,” I simply want to punch them in the face.  No, your god does NOT need anyone for anything…PERIOD!

When people say, “everything happens for a reason,” they are usually eluding to the fact that there is some mysterious force maneuvering the universe to create these heinous events in our lives.  I call fucking bullshit on that, too.  Yes, everything DOES happen for a reason–it’s called action and reaction–it’s quite scientific.  In this case, an extra chromosome created a deformed cell cluster, triggering a chain of catastrophic events. It’s no deep mystery, but it is fucking unfair and I can hate that it happens.

Yes, it’s days like this when I wish I believed in a god and/or a devil.  I’d love someone to blame.


Did leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses cover up child sex abuse?

Thousands of former Jehovah’s Witnesses have been trying to tell this story for years.  A few brave souls have taken their battle to the courts.  Finally, someone is listening.  Please watch this investigative report shared by PBS this week.

Did leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses cover up child sex abuse?.

Separation from a High Control Group: Dealing With the Fallout

How is one to rationally cope with the knowledge that others (close family members and long-time friends) view you as dead? And, not just dead, but murdered by the Almighty as punishment for sins so egregious that it would require this sort of punishment.  The sins that qualify for this punishment?  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, this list can include smoking, adultery, sex before wedlock, being homosexual, accepting a blood transfusion, and many more.  Seriously, they consider these sins as deserving of murder by the Almighty.  But, since He doesn’t strike down people every day, Jehovah’s Witnesses do their best to emulate a spiritual murder of sorts, by shunning these poor souls that have been tried in a kangaroo court of three lay elders (only men) in suits who have no formal counseling training, no formal theology training. These men pass judgments based on publications of dogma and rules set forth by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Inc.–a religious publishing company.

The fallout in these situations, as I can personally attest, normally leave the victim in a worse situation than when the sought out assistance and counseling from these supposed congregational shepherds.  Can you imagine having reached out with issues ranging from emotional breakdowns, drug issues, domestic abuse, or simply raging hormones, to find yourself being cast out from your only safety net, only to be shunned by family and friends?  It is no wonder that so many victims of this kind of religious abuse contemplate or actually succeed in suicide.

ResearchSo, if one finds themselves on the outside looking in, how can this grief, this tragic sense of loss of family, friends, and even one’s god, be healed?  Having been in an online ex-JW community for about nine years, I can say that the single biggest healing tool is research.  Research the organization’s structure, its beginnings, its policy changes over the decades. Read about court cases involving the Watchtower Society–these are public records, and completely verifiable. Even examine your personal spiritual beliefs, stripping away all of the dogma you’ve been taught, and examine texts and information without the Watchtower filters.  I took a world religions course that helped me in this regard, and helped me look at all religion from an analytical perspective.  It completely changed my worldview.

Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have the corner on high control environments.  There are a lot of cults out there that use emotional blackmail to coerce their members into falling in line.  One such group, The Worldwide Church of God, has its fair share of victims, too. A great site was set up for escapees, and they offer some wonderful information on recovering from the emotional trauma of being disfellowshipped from a high-control group.  Here’s a link to some of their info:

Another great online resource is Steven Hassan’s site, Freedom of Mind.  Not only have I read his books, but I had the unique opportunity to meet him in person.  He has a passionate heart when it comes to assisting people to not only escape high control groups, but provides wonderful tools for survivors.

Yet another thing that I found particularly useful in dealing with my grief and sense of loss was to get involved in local interest groups.  While online forums and groups are helpful, there is the missing piece of one-on-one human interaction. This was one of the hardest steps for me.  It’s easy to hide behind a computer screen, which you can walk away from or turn off.  It’s another thing to have to learn to trust people you have to look in the eye.  The first step is the hardest, and my first foray was to join a knitting group.  It was a safe place, and we all had a common goal–to bring comfort to others who had lost a loved one, were going through an illness, or other tragedy.  We made shawls for them, and added little cards, and delivered them.  It was a combination of doing good for others while doing good for myself.  Through the course of a couple of years, I made a few friends…and began to learn how to trust.

This is NOT, I repeat NOT, an overnight process.  It takes time to grieve our losses, and to create a new reality.  The key word is patience.  We have to be patient with ourselves and give ourselves the emotional space to heal.  Don’t be afraid to say yes to new opportunities and healthy experiences, and don’t be afraid to say no to things that may not be good for your recovery.  This journey is unique to each of us, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Though I’ve been out of the Watchtower’s environment for 23 years and have now been assimilated into relatively normal society, I still ran through a rough patch this past year.  I had to stop and take my own advice about having patience with myself and saying no to some things that were not emotionally healthy for me.  Now, I’m feeding my soul again with very positive things:  doing work I love (and now only part-time), using my creativity to craft new items for my Etsy store and to donate to chemo patients, cooking, reading copious amounts of material, and planning for this year’s garden.  I’m also enjoying “play dates” with friends where we co-create crafts.  This is my healing.

My wish is for all those who have been emotionally blackmailed, coerced, or dismissed from their former lives to find a path that brings peace and happiness.  And, please share your lessons learned along the way to help smooth the way for other survivors, so that they may thrive, too.



Born Again?

born againI often see, and sometimes meet, folks who have a zeal for their faith or particular world view that brooks absolutely no argument on a particular topic.  They know what they know, and that’s that.  Most often they refer to themselves as “born again.”  While it’s most common to hear the term as it relates to Christians, I have known many others who are “born again” atheists, Muslims, etc.  The key definer, as noted by Merriam-Webster, is “having returned to or newly adopted an activity, a conviction, or a persona especially with a proselytizing zeal.”

I would suggest that each of us, every day, are born again in some fashion.  Sometimes, we have epiphanies so profound (at least to us) that we want to tell the world!  I remember when I first came out of the cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and experiencing rapid-fire changes in my world view.  The first one, which seems like absolute common sense to me now, shattered my first long-held illusion about why I went in the door-to-door preaching work.  My entire world view shifted in a matter of moments.  Every time a paradigm shifted, I was born again.

I like to think of being born again as waking up to a new understanding.  This applies to anyone with or without a religious faith.  Coming to a new understanding does not make us better or special.  It does not require making others think like us. Why would I want to pressure someone into a new world view, depriving them of the journey themselves?  And, let me say this, not all of my epiphanies over the years have been accurate.  Certain ideas or philosophies might have fit me at a particular time in my life, but now they don’t fit my current thinking.  What once seemed like “be all, end all” thinking, has morphed yet again or been completely discarded. Born yet again.

When we realize that our world, our lives, and certainly our thoughts are constantly evolving, it’s hard to imagine why we would want to force our personal belief on anyone by proselytizing.  Should we warn folks when we see dangerous cults in action, who seek to take away a person’s free will? Certainly!  Should we encourage them to research and come to their own conclusions and beliefs? Absolutely!

A friend once shared a thought in his online bio about the mind being like a parachute–if it’s closed, it doesn’t do you much good.  And, it certainly won’t save you.  I encourage everyone to be born again every day, keeping an open mind to new information.  Test that information, knowing that no matter how true something seems today, there may be an update in your future 🙂

Happy “Another Mother’s” Day

Family is not about blood. It’s about who is willing to hold your hand when you need it the most.~anon

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past decade, you’ve probably heard the phrase “my brother by another mother.”  Well, I’m using that to designate a Mother’s Day alternative.  Why? I’m so glad you asked!

While Mother’s Day is normally a great sentiment to most folks in the world, for the ex-Jehovah’s Witness community it can be one of those things that acts as a pain trigger.  Due to the Watch Tower Society’s inhumane policy of shunning, many former members are virtual orphans.  Their parents have disowned them and treat them as if they are dead.  So, you can see why a holiday such as Mother’s  Day or Father’s Day can be loaded with mountains of emotional baggage.

However, within the exJW community there are literally thousands of surrogate parents who have taken others under their wings, providing love, encouragement, and at times a swift kick in the behind.  I have seen so many wise and loving people take others on as sons and daughters or siblings.  For these empathetic and loving souls I give my personal thanks.  Every time you offer an encouraging word, an offer of help, a listening ear, you are providing a healing balm to someone’s aching heart.

tulipsSo, I offer my gratitude and salute the many surrogate parents out there who are making a difference in the lives of so many in the exJW community.

Happy “Another Mother’s” Day!!!


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? Continue reading Learning Not to Fear the Watchtower Monster