Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Invisible Scars of a Forgiving Woman

Contributed by Christian Sparlock Freedom
I finally have enough courage to tell my story, but it still hurts to tell it.

I was in the organization called the Watchtower Society of Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs), from the time I was 2 years old, until I left at age 20 years.  I've been out for 28 years, but my past has left me with invisible scars.

My story begins with my mother from the Philippines.  She came to the United States after leaving all of her friends behind.  She was almost 20 years old, when she got married, because of me.  She gave birth to my sister not too much longer after that.   

My father worked a lot and was rarely at home.  Without much support and no friends, my mother was vulnerable when Jehovah's Witnesses knocked on our door.

My father never believed in their religion, but he allowed my mom to torture us with it, as long as we didn't embarrass him by going door-to-door in the field ministry.  That activity was done by us in secrecy.

Our upbringing was chaotic and without structure.  My mother welcomed the discipline and structure of the Jehovah's Witnesses.  She went from zealous to militant, on and off during our childhood.   We never knew when we would have "loving mother" or "scary mother," from one day to the next.
Some days I could be whipped, beaten, made to apologize and thrown down the stairs for playing a game with my friends and saying, "kiss my butt," which was part of a game called "kiss my... (insert body part), because I was running out of words.   Yes, that really happened.

Some days our mother would get mad at us, but we would never be told why she was mad.  We knew we were in trouble with her, because she wouldn't talk to us or look at us, sometimes for weeks.  Then "loving mother" would let us watch TV with her near bedtime on her bed and cuddle with us.

We had the typical childhood of JW children. We made all the meetings and weekend door-to-door field ministry, to get our required hours on our time card.  Our friends were all in "The Truth," as the organization of JWs was called.  We kept our distance, as much as possible from those "worldly" (non-JW) children at school, unless we were trying to convert them.  We were made to sit out during the Pledge of Allegiance and other patriotic activities. We were sent to the principal's office during holiday parties.   We read the Bible and Watchtower or the book for the mid-week meeting or we would rehearse to give our act in front of the Kingdom Hall and study other material on the other day in the week. The kids made fun of us, but we did have our secret "worldly" friends at school.
Because JWs don't celebrate holidays, including Easter.

I "let the cat out of the bag" and talked about "witnessing" in the field ministry on the weekends.  My parents argued and my father left the house to cool down.  I was whipped to the point of welts by my mother and got the silent treatment for 2 months.

I remember the Jonestown story when it made the news. My mother made us promise that if the Governing Body asked the same thing from us, we should be the first in line to prove our loyalty.

When my mother got a job, she sent us to various baby sitters.  One we had during a whole summer was one of her best friends.  Midway through the summer, she got a part time job and her unemployed husband was laid off. He watched us.  Looking back, I realize that he was grooming me from the beginning by asking me to help out with various tasks while my sister and his children were playing outside.  Tasks turned into touching.  Then one day he locked the basement door and the touching went to a place no child should suffer.   I was 9 years old when it began.

Even when school started, on weekends our friends and my sister and I would alternate sleeping at each other's houses and be brought to the Kingdom Hall on Sunday. Molesting became rape.  On and off, until I was age 15 years and he showed up unannounced at my door when I was home alone.  I had the chain on the door and told him to go away.   He kept trying to break through, but I closed the door on him and locked it.  He left and never tried to do that to me again.   I still have PTSD because of it.
After the first incident of being touched, I started cutting. An elder noticed the cuts and counseled me about the sin of those who made cuts and tattoos on their skin. He gave me a warning and said next time I would be disciplined. He never asked why I did it.

Then I began the questioning phase, because I had begun to have so many doubts about the religion.   I started requesting information from other religions.   

My mother found the information pamphlets from other religions and went hysterical.  She raided my bedroom, took my Mad and Cracked magazines, my records, and everything considered contraband, along with many religious tracts.  She confronted me with them in our basement and, because of what had already been happening to me at the baby sitter's house, I am scared of being in basements alone with one person, to this day.  She was crying and made me promise that no matter what happened, even if they threaten to torture and kill my family in front of me and then torture me that I wouldn't leave Jehovah.   I promised and was scared of her and leaving "The Truth."

By then, I was deeply brainwashed by the JWs' version of "The Truth."  I went through my perfection stage where my room was perfectly clean.   My schoolwork and homework was done perfectly.  I had my morning ritual starting at 4:00 AM with a very hot shower.  Then I would clean my face with very hot water and Noxzema, followed by ice cold water and a rinse with rubbing alcohol and oil from a vitamin A capsule.  I always had clear skin.  I would be ready for school early on weekdays or ready for chores on weekends by 6:00 AM. My chore schedule was timed to the minute of when I started and when I would finish. I would do long stretches of walking or running up to 5 miles.  And I was also anorexic.

By the time I was going into my Junior year of high school, my mother loosened the tight reins on us.  My anorexia escalated to bulimia, because my parents noticed I wasn't eating.   I joined the track team.  I told the secret that I was a member of the yearbook staff and editor of a school literary magazine since I started high school.   I also let them in on my secret "worldly" Catholic boy, who was a friend I spoke to on the phone every Friday, when they were at the store and we hung out at school during lunch.  I loved him very much, but wasn't allowed to date him, because it wasn't proper, since he was a non-JW.

My parents were planning on moving to another State, but they never knew about the incidents at the baby sitter's. I was in my senior year of high school and they gave me the option to finish school at the same high school, while they tried to sell the home or I could go ahead to the other State, where they were planning to move and have my Aunt take custody of me.  I chose the latter and my mother took offense, and gave me the 'cold shoulder' until I was leaving.  She wouldn't talk to me or look at me at all for a month.  After leaving them behind, at least I had my sister with me, during the first semester, but she became homesick and went back home.  

I was in a deep depression, because I had no friends there.  During Christmas vacation, I went to my parents' house for a visit.  They were actually celebrating the holiday.   I was shocked and too scared to participate.  My mother made me promise to keep it a secret and I did.   It only made me stronger when I went back. 

Feeling alone and sad, I studied and studied.  My teachers noticed my bizarre behavior and that I was not attending classes.   I made a few suicidal cries for help and my cutting was getting to be a daily thing.   In my psychology class, we had an assignment to draw a picture to represent our lives.  I drew a picture of a black hole.  He asked me in private to explain the drawing.  I told him, "If the world is going to end soon, as JWs drilled into our heads, then school wasn't important.  I was probably going to be killed, dying a horrible death, because I could never be good enough."


He sent me to the school psychologist who asked me straight out, after reading the teacher's note, if I were sexually molested.   I cringed and told her everything, including my eating disorders, cutting and suicidal actions.  She told my aunt, who sent me to an outside psychologist and counselor.  My aunt was not told the reason why I was requested to go.

I met another JW student at my school and found out about the other 3 JWs at our school.   I began studying with one of their mothers, to prepare myself for baptism.
My mother came to visit me for graduation.  I told her what happened with her best friend's husband.  She also found out I was studying for baptism.   She told me to think very carefully before I did that.  I didn't realize at that point she was having serious doubts.  She talked about it with the elders in her home congregation.  They said I should forgive him, not go to the police, and make amends for my part of these events.  She left "The Truth" and told me what the elders said.  I talked to the elders in a congregation where my aunt lived, and they agreed that I should make amends and even apologize to them for my role in being involved.

I was so far deep into it that I continued studying.  My father insisted, against the elder's wishes, that I go to college.  I was hooked up with a congregation near my college that the elders found for me.  I was assigned a loving couple who studied with me.  Far from the militant version my mother believed, they were kind and very devoted.  The congregation there was very loving and supportive. I was firmly committed because of that congregation.

Then in the college dorm, I was raped.  I was like a deer caught in the headlights.   I couldn't say anything.  I couldn't move.  The boy just followed me to my room as I was coming in from the library on campus.  He knew I was a JW and asked me for a magazine.  I thought it was a good time to witness to him, but he had other plans.  I didn't tell anyone about that for a long time.

I also got extremely drunk, like alcohol poison drunk. Two guys in my dorm picked me up, literally and took me to their room.  I was considered a prude on that floor and they were determined to make me loosen up.  They said they wouldn't let me leave unless I could drink a 48 ounce plastic cup of straight whiskey, without pause.  Halfway through, I paused.  They filled it to the top again and said they would keep topping it off, until I could chug it.  I finally drank it all, after a few tries.  They let me out and I walked back to my room.  I remember touching the door outside and then I passed out.  I was apparently put on my bed by the resident assistant, who wouldn't call the ER because they would get in trouble for allowing 20 year olds to get a 17-year-old drunk.  They had bought the liquor with a fake ID.

That happened a week before I was to be baptized. The elderly couple was notified about it by my roommate's friend, who spoke English.  The couple was disappointed in me.  Her husband was an elder and I was counseled by him.  He knew I was sorry and allowed me to go ahead with the baptism, because I agreed to move in with them, instead of remaining at the dorm.  At the end of the semester, I dropped out to become a full-time pioneer (special title given to those who participate for many hours in the field ministry) with plans to do service in Gilead.

I went home to visit my parents. My mother was clearly no longer a JW.  She was "loving mother," by that point.  She was also concerned that I was taking it too far, although never as far as she took it.  She insisted I move in with my grandmother and great-grandmother, instead of the couple's house where I was living.  I went to a local congregation and continued to pioneer.  This congregation was not as loving, but quite cold and militant.

There was an alpha-Pioneer (the pushy type of person) who started me on the path of doubt.  We were all in her shadow.  Her husband was an elder (and alcoholic behind closed doors).  What she said, goes.  If, during the meeting before field ministry, there was an unbaptized male child, she insisted we all had to put some form of head covering on.  If it were a blizzard and the temperature was below 10 degrees, we were pressured to doing field ministry, instead of opting out, including one sister with 3 children under the age of 7 years, who were with her.

One sister was a shut in, because her husband had COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and she had an adult child with Down's Syndrome with the mental capacity of a toddler.   When the sister's husband died, Alpha-Pioneer pressured her to put her child in an institute, so she could come back and do her service in the field ministry with the congregation.  She wouldn't abandon her son and left "The Truth" because Alpha-Pioneer pressed the issue with the Body of Elders to put her on reproof.  

Alpha-Pioneer pressured me to stop visiting her to help out.  Then she warned me of my bad behavior because I dared help a woman I didn't know with her two young children.  She was struggling, holding the baby and attempting to control her son.  No one else had any pity on her.  I didn't know she was disfellowshipped.
This is their ONLY form of "charity."

Then I told Alpha-Pioneer about being raped at college.  She told me that either I could tell the elders or she would.  I told the elders and they put me on reproof, because I did not scream.  They knew about my "adultery" when I was a child and looked at it, as if I were courting sin.  Had I not told them, they said that I would have been disfellowshipped.  It didn't matter to them that I was having flashbacks due to what happened before, and I was unable to react.
My grandmothers were concerned about my mental health decline and sent me back home to my parents.  My mother pressured me to leave the Watchtower Society, because she knew the damage they were doing to me.  I refused her efforts to get me out, because "The Truth" was all I knew and I was scared to leave it.  She tried to get me to go to her church, but I refused.  She tried to get me read "Crisis of Conscience," but I would not.

The last straw for me was when the elders told me not to have anything to do with my mother, because she was an apostate.  I was taught all my life to respect my parents and had Ephesians 6:1-4 memorized by heart.  I began to analyze and research about everything that I had been taught was true.  I felt betrayed by the organization and my mother for raising me in such a dysfunctional religion.  Yet at the same time, I couldn't accept that "The Truth" was actually "The Lie."

I was torn, but ended up writing my official letter of disassociation, because I was following their instructions by the book.  The elders met with me and accepted my leaving and told me they would announce it at the next meeting.

That hole in my heart of having to choose between "The Truth" and my mother's love which were the only thing I knew was true. I told my best friend that I was going to leave and she cried and said that it was as sad as if I had told her I was dying.   It had me bouncing in and out of mental institutions where there happened to be quite a few "on the fence" or recently left JWs.

Eventually, I straightened out my life and went on to do things I wouldn't have done, if I had remained in the organization.  I have resolved myself to the realization that JWs are all brainwashed by a group of (earthling) men with their own agendas.

I went through emotional, physical, and sexual abuse because of this religion with a wink and nod by the elders.  I was cut off from all my friends, who were as close as family, who would have nothing more to do with me.  The Body of Elders cared more about the rules than they cared about "the flock" they are supposed to shepherd.  I was hurt by the local elders personally and hurt by the rules of complete strangers.

I am still angry about it, but at the same time, I am glad I experienced what I did, because it only made me stronger and able to help others.   I forgave them all so I could move on.