My story starts in 1979.
My parents had fallen in love with one another at work. Mum was a devout Catholic and my Father a Protestant. Mum was raised in an abusive household, where often she was physically abused, as were her siblings. My Grandfather was an alcoholic and Grandma only stayed with him for the sake of keeping her family together. If she spoke out she would get beaten. My Father on the other hand was raised in a broken home, were my Paternal Grandfather had left when he was 6 years old, leaving my Paternal Grandmother to care for 4 children by herself. Times were tough in the 50’s through to the 70’s. I admire her efforts.
Mum constantly rebelled against her Father, so to find out she was pregnant with me came as a bit of a shock and then outright anger welled up within my Grandfather. He told her to abort me, that I was just a foetus. Mum argued no, and then went out and got married to my Father late 1979.
Around March/April 1980 my Father was visited by two of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Whilst I was still in the womb, he was offered a free home bible study. Dad was interested in this because the only bible he had ever looked at had old style English language, which he failed to comprehend at times. (I think it was the King James although I cannot be 100% sure). So to be shown this new JW version intrigued my father as it was written in plain English! Finally he could get to know God he mused. But the two JW’s failed to call on him until 6 months later.
I was born the Summer of 1980 so I’d have been 2 months old or less. Dad became more intrigued with the idea of these Jehovah’s Witnesses who claimed to have “the truth”. He decided in wasting no time, so after we had my first Christmas, he decided he would get baptised. Mum got baptised in 1982. So that was that, practically everything I would learn from that moment on would be a life of misery which I will explain in more detail shortly.
We lived in a big city, small apartment. It was a single room and a kitchen, and a bathroom. Eventually my sister came along, I was happy as now I would have someone for me to play games with! (Within the JW organisation outside influences are strongly opposed). So, my sister and I would play endlessly in our own communal garden, and in our house. We very rarely got to see grandparents, Aunts and Uncles. We knew know different so we never noticed, and I remember those times being absolutely brilliant, such a close knit family. We had a TV and mum would sit on nights watching her recorded episodes of her ‘Soaps’. She had to record these programs because they were shown on at nights when we would be away at JW meetings.
After some years my father was appointed as a Ministerial servant (This is just in effect a trainee Elder who ‘shepherd the flock’). As a family we were overjoyed that Dad had become an ‘MS’ Mum was so pleased, you could see it in her eyes.
Witnessing or preaching is a BIG part of the JW life and my Father liked to talk a lot, especially to his brother. Eventually my Uncle after years of controlled ear-bashing and brainwashing, and seeing the ways my father was following, decided to join too.
This caused uproar in his already made family! My Auntie was not so keen, in fact, she hated Jehovah’s Witnesses! The only way for my Uncle to divorce her and be free (scripturally) was if she committed adultery. To which she promptly went and did simply because she did not want to be affiliated with Jehovah’s Witnesses at all! After hours of Family Courts, they parted ways with my Uncle was appointed custody taking of my cousin by the Court, and my Aunt had custody of my other cousin, a girl who was just a year older than me. So before his life had even started in the cult, his life had already been torn apart.
Pressure from my Uncle meant that eventually my Dad decided that TV had to go. Why? Well, TV was a bad influence on us. Dad had a very smart mind, so he removed the channel receiving part of the TV and so in effect it became a monitor for just watching videos – cheaper too as no more TV Licence to pay out for! Wow that hit us kids hard. No more CBBC or CITV to rush home from school for! I was about 7 years old when this one happened. I started to hate my Uncle for his part in that, but even more so I began to hate the JW’s, if having Christmas, Birthday’s, Halloween and Easter taken away from us was not enough, this just tipped me over the edge. At the age of 7 though, even knowing that I did not want to continue down this path, I carried on. I wanted my parents to be proud of me, especially my Mum. She felt sorry for me on many an occasions but was only doing what was expected of her. To obey the rules of the master of the household.
We moved from the little apartment to a two bedroom apartment, just a mile down the road. A house right next to my Uncle, who had remarried at this point, to a devout JW sister. By devout I mean this woman’s brother had been disfellowshipped. Her Father (an Elder) disagreed with the Disfellowshipping, and so did the rest of the family apart from my new Aunt. So the whole family apart from her received the same punishment, they were all disfellowshipped!
My father would take one very special sister out in the door-to-door preaching. Her name was Susan. I didn’t like Susan, wondering why Dad always took her out. But as I grew up I realised it was because of her intellect. She was a bio-chemist, and she pretty much joined the JW’s after going to college and university. She liked to associate strongly with one of our anointed members. To which she said that she was anointed also, she partook of the symbolic emblems (only the anointed were allowed) and being clearly un-repentant she was then disfellowshipped. Eventually this woman committed suicide by throwing herself from atop a four storey apartment.
For our little family things were ok for a while in the new house, I got to play with my new baby cousin, and got to see my big cousin too. I also got to go out on my bike as long as I was with just my big cousin and my sister, no outside influences. It was 1 year from reaching high school when it happened.
Something sinister happens in my life
This is the part of my story that starts my exit from the JW’s and out in to the world on my own. It does not make pleasant reading.
Whilst in my bed one night, I awoke to feel something cold touch me. Awakening from my sleep with a start I saw my Dad. He was touching me in places that no one should, especially their own flesh and blood. I can remember vividly what I felt at the time. I remember feeling totally numb “Is this right I asked myself?” “Are you meant to have these kinds of relations with your Dad?” For a while I did actually think that. To this day I don’t understand how I came to that conclusion as a child, but being so young, unable to defend myself and so naive about the ways of the world.
Of course, I was also told never to reveal this information to anyone or I would be ripped apart. This continued for about 5 years more, before I turned 16. We then moved again, to a small village along a beach coast. It was lovely, so peaceful and quiet. I carefully hid the truth from my sister and my mother but I did eventually confide in my best friend (also a JW).
I could no longer keep this heavy secret after finding out from peers at school that, relations were meant to be for you and your partner. I never went to the police; it never occurred to me, the thought never crossed my mind. So when my best friend’s father (an Elder) phoned to break the news that he knew what had been going on, my heart skipped a beat. I was petrified, I thought “Oh my god, he is going to kill me” and I shut my eyes waiting and saying to myself “I’m dead, I’m dead” but I thankfully he never went that far, he let me live. I saw my Mum after that, and to look at her was hard. She was so upset, I kept thinking ‘this is my fault’ – why did I let my Dad touch me there. I can remember clearly the way I felt.
Still I kept up the pretence of family life, even going to the Doctors with Dad and Mum to discuss our problem. It now became Mum’s problem, and then my problem, when obviously it was his fault. The Elders then stripped my father of his Ministerial Servant privileges. To which I must admit I took pleasure in. Well he was bad so he deserved it! Alas, I did not realise that this would cause more problems later on.
Time went by, and when asked by my parents what I wanted to do with my life when I left school, I said I would like to become a nurse. After role playing it for many years as a little girl I thought I wanted to help others and make them well again. My father laughed and said “We won’t be needing nurses in the new system maybe you should think of something that would be more valuable than a nurse. Remember the new system is just around the corner.” I ended up in a training course for Admin. Don’t ask me how my father thought Admin would be great in the New World! I also poured myself into pioneering work, so I was out pretty much any spare moment from work, “bible thumping.”
Eventually though I could no longer keep up pretences.
I had tried leaving already; I had got my own house, explaining to the council that I needed somewhere to stay, that I needed to move out because of my Father’s abuse. So I was given a house. Right up the street from the bloody Kingdom Hall! Mum said it must be Jehovah working in mysterious ways. But I was not too far from my training course which helped. I never actually left “the truth” then. I sort of faded slightly for all of about 2 months. I loved this newfound freedom. I met my 2nd boyfriend (as my first was in high school) and found a female lodger. Obviously as JW rules go bringing in someone from the world to lodge with me was not good! I was reproved for that, and then advised to remove her from my lodgings! To which I never bothered with because although I was happy to be free, I missed my mum and my sister. I was worried you see, without the extra money coming in I would lose the place, and if I was not there then how could I protect my sister from a paedophile? Eventually, I moved back in with them in January 1999, truly repenting or so I thought.
Then I had another shock. My best friend left “the JW’s,” I couldn’t understand this; I thought this was totally out of character, considering her father was an elder and in good standing. But true enough it was. She told them she needed time to get herself together. On the way home from visiting my friend (which was 2 hours drive), I got into an argument with my father. I can’t remember why we were arguing, probably something to do with my behaviour again. The way he would go on would be a lecture, quoting scripture after scripture, to justify his lecture and try to quell my behaviour. With each lecture the angrier I would get. So this particular time I remember I was clenching my teeth together, 18 years old and getting angrier the more he went on and on and on. I snapped, saying “WELL MAYBE I DON’T WANT TO BE A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS ANYMORE!” Cue total silence all the way home. I vomited. I knew what I had done when I said that.
My final exit
I was kicked out of the home, obviously scripturally based. I had nowhere to go. Not even a council house as I had left those lodgings 6 months previously and the lodger I had brought in to lodge with me had not bothered to pay the rent. This left me banned from having a house from the Council for a further two years.
I was cut off from family. I was not allowed to speak to them, and they were not allowed to speak to me. It was hard, but I felt more pain from being cut off from my sister. Not my father, I hated that man. I have never hated anyone as much as I hated that man at that time.
I was lucky though, I knew people in the area and after hearing my plight, I ended up staying with a family up the street. Things were OK for a while, and then some money went missing from a purse. I got accused instantly “I never did anything of the sort I wailed.” But these people would not listen to me. Why would I jeopardise my lodgings, with these kind friendly people who took me in? I ended up staying next door to her, with another family, who had children this time. It worked well as I babysat whilst she went on nights out, meaning I could earn a bit more money than jobseekers allowance. Then one night I had my own plans so I just could not do, to which she was upset about. Off I go again.
A kind middle aged woman then took me in. She had a horrible story of her own. Her husband had kicked her out few years previous, and she was not allowed to have the kids. (Looking back I can see the guys point). She was an alcoholic, I didn’t care, I was happy with her and her new found lover. They treated me, took me to fete’s, carnivals, it was as if I had adopted a mother. I loved this woman in the way a daughter loves her mum. I was also treated as an adult, so I could go to friends’ houses and drink, do drugs etc. Then, one morning I came home and went to my bed. I woke up late, expecting to hear this woman up pottering around in the kitchen. I checked upstairs to see if she had maybe decided to have a long lie in. I gently shook her to see if she was awake, and to let her know I would be popping out but that I wouldn’t be long. She was stone cold. I looked at her legs and they were greyish blue. She was dead. I screamed, and her new found lover who was lying beside her woke up with a start. I went running to her friend’s house, tears streaming down my face.
I eventually ended up in a bedsit, after being moved about all over the place until I found my partner in the wake of 2000. The millennium year, I thought the end of the world was coming! But no Armageddon. I picked myself up, at the request of my Partner of nearly 13 years, to which we have 4 children. I have no contact with my Father; he was jailed and I have not seen him since. I have had contact with my mother since she finally left “the truth” a few years ago and have met my step-father. I was shunned by her for being disfellowshipped and now an apostate. But I did not care at the time. I was an angry rebellious teenager, almost adult but not quite. I was not too happy with her anyway for failing to protect me from my incestuous father, who eventually had turned to my sister and done things to her as well.
That’s my story. I will not say it is not tough because at times it is. There have been times where I thought I had damned my children to death. But after reading a lot about the JW’s, I realised this was not to be the case. I have battled depression, twice and nearly lost my life due to having my 4th child. But thankfully I saw sense and a blood transfusion saved our lives.
All my family are now free from the cult, the organisation known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
AR’s story can also be seen on the Videos page which was part of the BBC’s Panorama series.
Visit silentlambs.org for more information, on those that are standing up against abuse.
A truly moving story AR, thank you for sharing – Chris