Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness —basically a Cult?
For most of my life, I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness — And I hated it. From the age of 2–17 I lived my life trying to please everyone else but myself. Here is an inside look at what it was like to be a Jehovah’s Witness. Let’s get one thing straight before you keep reading, everything forward is my own experience and own opinions from the way that I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and may not be the same for others within the religion.
Before becoming one of those weird kids, I can barely remember what it was like to celebrate my birthday or holidays (of course at the age of 1, do you really remember anything?). But looking back at old photographs, I looked my happiest as a bright orange pumpkin in between my dad and my mom.
My parents divorced when I was around the age of 4, not entirely due to my mom completely doing a 180 and dropping all her beliefs of catholicism for the JW lifestyle, but I can guess that was part of the reason. I lived with my mom, 3 younger siblings, both grandparents, even great grandmother (for awhile), and 3 uncles in one house. My mother raised me and my siblings as die hard Jehovah’s Witnesses while everyone else in my family was catholic. We couldn’t go to any birthday parties, no christmas dinners or fourth of July gatherings. I can even recall my mom making us wait in the car outside of the catholic church that my grandfather’s funeral was being held in because she believed that going in any church besides ours was bad.
I didn’t understand it, but that became my life. I didn’t get to celebrate any of my birthdays, no Christmas gifts or Thanksgiving dinners. No easter egg hunts or fireworks on fourth of July or New Years. No candy on Halloween or Valentine’s day, not even mothers/fathers day was allowed to be celebrated. We were not allowed to celebrate any holiday that had any “Pagen” roots, and for birthdays, we weren’t allowed to celebrate that because it was “selfish” . We couldn’t have blood transfusions, even if we were dying in the hospital since blood was seen as sacred. We had to go the the kingdom hall (what was known as our church) twice a week for meetings and once a week for preaching (you know, knocking on your door at 9 in the morning), as well as having our own bible study at home as a family and another bible study with someone older from the congregation to grow and learn individually. Assembly days were when multiple congregations would come together for a day long meeting, usually from 8–5, including a lunch break. Honestly, it was cult-y.
We couldn’t have friends outside of the religion. I remember specifically one of the ladies from my kingdom hall correcting me when I told her I carpooled with one of my friends to school, to one of my “acquaintances” because everyone else is “worldly” and we weren’t allowed to have friends that were “worldy”.
If you were someone who was baptized a Jehovah’s Witness (which is a lengthy 3 day process, basically a 3 day exam where the “elders” would test you on your knowledge, and not until you pass can you be baptized to become a full Jehovah’s Witness) and you broke a rule and the elders believed that you could no longer be apart of the religion, you would become “unbaptized” where you were not allowed back. None of the friends that you made could contact or see you, and here is where it gets cult-y, your family who were still apart of the religion, could no longer talk or see you either. IF THATS NOT CRAZY, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS. Those ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses would be excommunicated from their loved ones. “We tear families apart if you believe anything other than what we teach!” — What I think their motto should be.
The whole belief that Jehovah’s Witnesses have, the reason that they go knocking on your door and stand on corners, the big reason they do and believe what they believe — Armageddon is coming and only those who know the truth will be saved and will gain EVER LASTING LIFE!!!!! again, it sounds insane because it is. The world is going to end by some crazy natural disaster where everyone who isn’t a Jehovah’s Witness will die and everyone who is, will survive and be immortal. They will get to have pet lions and elephants and Moses and Abraham and all those people you read about in the bible as a child will be alive again and your late loved ones will rise. And every person with disabilities will no longer be disabled. The blind will see and the deaf will hear. Basically, everything will be perfect. Yeah, I call BS too.
On dating and relationships, we were told that we could only date someone of the opposite sex, within the religion, once we were old enough (so in your late 20s or early 30s) and when we believed that they were the one we were going to marry. You couldn’t date them to get to know them, you would begin dating them once you knew that you were going to get engaged soon. How does that make sense? I have no clue. As a child though, we were not to date or have any sort of sexual feelings towards anyone. I was so sheltered that I couldn’t even think of a boy without feeling a tremendous amount of guilt. We were told to suppress any sexual feelings, to pray to god to help us and clean us of our sins. Let me tell you how sex was portrayed and all the rules that followed:
So first off, no sex until marriage, obviously. There is this book that the teenagers get to read called “Young People Ask” which is basically just a book about the teaching told in a way that could relate better to young adults. In this book, sex was only to be in missionary position. Everything else was forbidden, including oral sex or masturbation. Okay, let me just say how dumb this is. Not only is sex to be in the most boring way possible but you can’t even masturbate?? Masturbation being a healthy way to learn your body and know yourself was seen as such a big sin, i’m telling you I don’t even know where the rule of no masturbation started from. Anyways, second, sex was between man and woman, i’m so over this.
Every prayer was thanking Jehovah for everything he has given us (i’m not sure what that is, food and shelter?) and for forgiveness from our sin and “worldy” feelings (everything was a sin apparently). I would ask for forgiveness about 3+ times a day. I don’t know what I was asking God to forgive but thats what I was told to do. Basically everything I did was “worldy” and I needed to apologize for my sins. Wake up, immediately pray and ask for forgiveness. What did I do in my sleep?? Not sure but I needed to be forgiven. It sounds crazy, I know.
At school I didn’t know how to explain to the other kids that “I’m sorry but I can’t say happy birthday to you”. Trying to explain to others that I was a Jehovah’s Witness was embarrassing all on it’s own. It was like marking yourself with a big target on your back. We were those people who knocked your door early in the morning, waking you up and trying to teach you about Jesus. I never liked it and I never understood it. Once I got to middle school, I stopped telling people who I was, I pretended that I celebrated holidays and that I was just a normal kid. Even through high school, I didn’t tell anyone. High school kids are judgy and there was no way that I wanted to become more of an outsider since I already was the new kid at this private school that most kids have been at since 6th grade. Since higher education was looked down upon in the religion, going through the process of college applications felt pointless. My mom and everyone in the congregation encouraged me not to go, but I wanted to, so badly. Going to college for JWs was frowned upon not only because it was full of worldy people, but also because of their belief that there was no point in getting a higher education when the world was going to end soon anyways!
So yeah, if we went to high school together, surprise! I was a Jehovah’s Witness for most of it.
Junior year of high school, a lot of shit went down with my mom. I ended up leaving her home, and moving in with my dad. Also ending my relationship as a JW (best decision of my life). I no longer had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t and worship a god that I never truly believed in. I didn’t have to be a photo copy of every other Jehovah’s Witness out there. I don’t wanna completely shit on this religion, I will say that I gained a lot of ethics and morals from the people I grew up around. I learned how to be respectful of those older than me and how to share and spread love and kindness. Because they weren’t mean people (for the most part, I have many stories that I could share but this post is long enough), they cared for each other and loved one another. I missed out on a lot of my childhood growing up the way I did, but I wouldn’t change it because I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I thank the JW community for that.
If you have any questions about the religion or anything about my experience go ahead and ask! I’m definitely open to answering anything I can with the knowledge that I have!