Some things have a way of staying close to us for longer than we’d like. Events, things we did, things others did, along with many other experiences, both good and bad, settle in and become part of our being. We can’t choose what we remember, our brains an infinite hard drive on which to keep recording every second that passes in our lives. When winter comes, I can’t help but reflect on a very painful, tender spot in my memory bank, the time I self-destructed and ripped off a part of me that was all but permanently attached, leaving an ugly, pitted scar of a soul that almost never healed.
It was the winter of early 1987. I had been living a lie for nearly nine months, ever since I returned from “Bethel,” the world headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in Brooklyn, New York. I had seen things there I had wished I had never seen. Prior to my arrival, I, like so many before me, looked forward to going to “God’s House,” to what I thought was the epicenter of the entire universe, the penultimate chapter in my life story, the place where I would come closer to God’s Holy Spirit than I could have ever imagined. Perhaps I was addicted to my own psychological hyperbole, imagining it to be so much more than it could ever hope to be. I may have been doomed from the moment I first set foot there, a victim of a letdown so spectacular that once I started falling I didn’t know how to stop.
Once free of my association with Bethel, I no longer had anything to look forward to. My only goal as a young Jehovah’s Witness was to spend the rest of my life serving God’s “Earthly Organization” to the fullest, rising to become the “Spiritual Giant” that so many encouraging and well meaning “Brothers and Sisters” had seen me becoming. I had large shoes to fill. When I began to question my beliefs as a result of juxtaposing what I had witnessed against what I expected, the spirit within me shriveled up and died, and left my body like cold, foul excrement. A part of me died. A part of me had to die so another part of me could live.
After I left Bethel, I went on a tear. Lost and disillusioned like a sheep who wandered away from the flock, I resumed my “worldly” ways. I found willing associates who would enable me as I sought an escape at every turn, filling the newfound void within me with alcohol and pot. No one knew the real me, including me, or at least I don’t believe they did. There may have been a few who had suspected but quickly put any such thoughts aside, remembering how loyal and faithful I had been. So convincing I must have been, that in that fateful early part of 1987 I was offered not one but two parts in the local circuit assembly (a large area gathering of JWs). One part was a straightforward talk based on a short bible passage. The other was a part in a short skit or “drama,” about a “brother” who was secretly smoking pot. For some reason the part was cancelled at the last minute, which was simply too bad, as I would have done an excellent job of “acting” like the pot-smoking brother. The talk was another matter. I never prepared for it, unless you were to count my going out to the bar the night before and pounding down about a half dozen beers before returning to the hotel room I was sharing with several other young brothers.
By this point I was becoming less guarded, and the brothers I was staying with knew full well that I had too much to drink. They were shocked and didn’t know how to respond. The next morning I gave the talk, without any preparation, in front of a crowd of just over 1,000. To this day it is the largest audience I have ever spoken in front of. After I was done, many came up to congratulate me on the fine job I did. It was the last talk I would ever give as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Freefall continued. Several weeks later, I took a job about two hours away. I told my “Congregation Overseer” (CO) about the move, and he just asked that I give him my new congregation’s information so he could transfer my “publisher card,” the personal record kept within the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization. Once I started the new job I made new friends, friends who introduced me to dance clubs, more pot, and new diversions like cocaine and mushrooms. I never looked back. I didn’t even try to find where the Kingdom Hall was in my new town. I visited my old Hall two weeks later, the last time I would ever set foot in a Kingdom Hall for the rest of my life, and delivered the shocking news to my CO, the news that I hadn’t gone to a new meeting in my new location. He was beyond flabbergasted. We wouldn’t speak again until he received my letter of confession two weeks later.
In my mind, I was cornered. I was past the point of no return. My faith in the JW teachings lost, I carried a big empty hole inside of me, which I sought at every turn to fill with pleasure seeking. There was no way I was going back, admitting what I had done and being shamed for it. Alone in my temporary lodgings in an old hotel room on the west side of town, I sat in the bathroom drinking bourbon and listening to Led Zeppelin until I could feel no more. I didn’t care about me and I didn’t believe any God did either. I don’t even know how I managed to work while all this was going on. I was so intently focused on destroying everything I had known, on erasing every memory of my recent past.
I’ve certainly come a long way since those dark days. I know peace now and I have learned much. If you struggle as I once did, know I share my story so you can see your struggle is not yours alone. If you have never been a part of a controlling and authoritarian religion, then please understand that there are many who are, and who need our empathy and assistance should they be willing to receive it. Thank you for sharing part of my personal journey with me.