I will lose friends over what you are about to read. I know I will cause disappointment in some of the people involved in this story. Before I get into it, I want to tell you that Im doing very well. I have a cool job (plus 3 side gigs) and I live in Chicago. I'm 27 and I was born in California in 1991. I was raised in Mexico by a single mom. I have been to 16 countries so far. I'm into art history, fashion, design, green tea, dark chocolate and creativity in general.
I know many tried to help me and meant well during my time in the religion. I also know that for many people, being in the religion has brought happiness and helped them change their lives for good. I respect Jehovahs Witnesses and I am grateful for the things I learned and the discipline it promotes. Usually, people who have been disfellowshipped (expelled) are the ones who write about their experiences leaving the religion. People who are angry or hurt by what they went through will sometimes do videos and throw shade at the Jehovahs Witnesses but that's not what I subscribe to. Aside from that, people don't usually say or publish anything about what their struggles might be as part of being in the religion. This is because the Jehovahs Witnesses culture is meant to be insular and you just don't talk about anything you don't agree with because it is expected that you will agree with everything the bible teaches AND agree with how the JW organization promotes those bible teachings. You have to agree with both aspects. If you are struggling with that and you voice your opinion elsewhere besides the congregation (i.e. a blog like this) you can get in trouble. This is why It is encouraged to share anything that troubles you via prayer with God, and seek support from the elders in the organization. For me, it didn't work.
I've never shared something as personal as this before, so I'm kind of nervous but even though it is difficult, I'm not afraid to share why I decided to stop being involved in the religion.
It is 1996 and I live with my mom in a studio in Los Angeles, California. I begin to have anxiety attacks at the age of 4. At night, when my mom falls asleep, I put my finger under her nose to make sure she is still breathing. Once I make sure she is still alive, I fall asleep. Every day, when my mom walks me to kindergarden, I vomit on the street. It is not because I'm sick, it is because I am terrified of "La Migra" (immigration officials). Every day when she drops me off at school, I fear it could be the last time I see her. She is undocumented and because of this I panic that something will happen to her, that immigration officials are going to take her away from me. So I vomit every-single-day. I also hate being the very last one to be picked up from school. I cannot yet fully comprehend that as a single mom, her working so much to support us prevents my mom from picking me up on time, like the other kids.
Around this time my mom meets a lady who is one of the Jehovahs Witnesses. She begins to study the bible with her. We call her "Hermana Sosa", because in the religion the custom is to call each other "hermana" or "hermano" (brother or sister) and then you say the person's last name. I got my first bible stories book from la Hermana Sosa. We begin attending Jehovahs Witnesses meetings 3 times a week, we go to 3 day assemblies that last from 9 am-5pm and then start going out on "service" (preaching door to door). I actually liked the bible stories book because it had pictures but as far as the 2.5 hour meetings, never-ending assemblies and the door to door situation...I was pretty much ready to die of boredom right then and there. As a 5 year old, I dreaded attending meetings designed for adults.
Often times after "service" (door to door preaching), we would go to a restaurant or to a Dunkin Doughnuts. This was heaven for me because we did not have much money and suddenly we start going to these "fancy" places. I didn't realize how generous "La Hermana Sosa" was with us during that time and I'm grateful she did that for us, when she did not have to.
When I turned 6, we moved to Mazatlan, Mexico and that's when I first met my brother and my dad. My parents are divorced and were not in good terms back then, but they made plans so that I could meet my dad for the first time at a beach. I was 6 years old and about to meet my dad, whom I had no memory of whatsoever, someone I had never talked to before, someone who was literally a stranger and I was in a new country and I just wanted to go back to Los Angeles and why did my mom leave me here and oh my god... here he comes... what the heck do I say?? do I call him "dad"? why should I cal him "dad"?? is it too late to run away? this is uncomfortable! why did my mom leave me here!? I HATE THIS! AAAAAAAAH!! .....Wait!...thats it! I'll call him "A".
-"A!", I shouted.
-"Ay vieja chula! dame un abrazo!"
To this day, I refuse to call him "dad". I think it is too much for someone who I barely know. To me he'll always be "A".
In Mazatlan my mom continues her bible study with the Jehovahs Witnesses. I'm now 7 years old and I start getting a bible study as well. I never asked for a bible study, but there I was. If I had it my way I would have preferred to stay at home and skip those Jehovahs Witnesses meetings but that's how I learned something crucial about the religion. I could sense that it was not so much the idea of "spirituality" that made my mom snap at me every time I told her I did not want to go to those meetings, but rather, the concern for what people in the congregation might think if I didn't go. The culture in the religion reinforces a subtle yet extreme importance in attending the meetings. This is all based in bible teachings that focus being reminded that this world is evil, ruled by Satan and that following Jehovah and being spiritually strong is the way to go. The only way do to that is through attending JW meetings and being active in the congregation since the end of this wicked world is near and therefore we must not let our guard down. That was the spiritual reasoning behind why so much insistence in being at the meetings. Its like going to the gym every day if you want to see results. But it is one thing to go to the gym every day in order to reach your fitness goals and another to go to the gym so that people in the gym can see that you're going to the gym.
Since my mom was making progress and learning so much about the bible, if I did not go to the meetings with her it would make her look bad. It would seem as if she was not doing that good of a job in teaching me about Jehovah and instilling love for the organization and all of that. So I went and oh boy. I must have gotten the dozing-off award of the year. As a 7 yeard old, I came to realize that the whole culture and vibe was so different from what I thought God might be. I thought God would be this amazing energy-like being who is this massive force of positivity and warm hugs. Instead I was in a room several days a week, filled with men in business suits, women wearing long dresses, and hearing speech after speech. Reluctantly studying the bible when I wished I could have been doing something more engaging.
Everything stopped when someone in the religion betrayed my mom. My brother had bought a used car, but he became worried when he found out after the fact that the car may have been previously stolen. My mom was worried as well and she confided in a "sister" from the congregation about the car. This "sister" called the police on my brother who had nothing to do with the previous robbery. This hurt my mom very much.
We stopped going to meetings. We stopped studying. We stopped going door to door. It seemed like everything was over. For a while, it was.
To be continued.