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Adulting Without A Safety Net




The post on a social media page for former fundies was as earnest and melancholy as a plaintive wail.


“It has been 8 years since I stopped attending meetings, but I’ve just moved to a new city, and I don’t know anyone. The urge is strong to go into a Kingdom Hall where I can find a community.”


The anonymous post triggered old feelings of loss and grief, and I remembered how I felt just a few weeks after I decided to leave my parents’ faith. Nearly two decades ago, I sat in a familiar nook of my public library and ruminated:


Wherever I was in the world, there were two places where I always felt at peace, the Kingdom Hall and the library. Now, that I’ve left my faith, I guess that only leaves the library.


What do you miss about your former life? The predictable routine? The instant yet insular community?


Do not let our tales of post-traumatic growth deceive you; leaving a high-control belief system that was a core part of your identity formation is not an easy process. And it isn’t always rational either. It is quite possible to understand that you have been manipulated and misled and at the same time to grieve and miss the order and familiarity of the belief system that oppressed you.


In Marlene Winell’s, Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion, she states that a craving for peace and security is natural, but life offers no guarantees. We all have to live with uncertainty.


Remember the absolute certainty that we had as Jehovah’s Witnesses? What happens after death? Why would a loving God allow evil? Should I take a blood transfusion to stay alive? Should I grow a beard? Is my skirt too short?


If we had nothing else, we had answers to tricky questions at our fingertips. And we were not dismayed if the Governing Body changed these answers every ten years or so. The important thing was to remain in lockstep with the mercurial Biblical interpretations of our self-appointed (mostly) white (always) male leaders who did not know our names. Even when their teachings are inexplicably contradictory as in, The generation that witnessed the beginning of Jesus’ reign in 1914 will not pass away before Armageddon begins. Except they’d now have to be around 120 years old. So now, the generations are overlapping. Or crisscrossed. Or upside down.


Out here in the real world, there are so many unknowables. We are all grappling with answering, Who am I? What do I believe to be good and right and true?


Do you miss having a ready-made community? Sure, the community was patriarchal and prescriptive. Top-down leadership was white-centered and misogynistic, but the rules were clear. And when you were a newcomer to a congregation, the love bombing felt nice.  As a Witness, if you voiced no dissent and followed the script: meetings, field service, conventions, rinse and repeat – you knew who you could count on for a ride to a meeting or to watch a movie, as long as the movie was theocratically approved.


Out here in the real world, building community is difficult especially for folks who have to overcome substantial social deficits. If someone hurts your feelings, step one is Not to report them to an elder and have them subjected to a judicial committee. You have to address issues in person. And it is frowned upon to advise adult coworkers that they are bad associates that might spoil your useful habits because they binged a John Wick Trilogy (rated R) or wore a miniskirt.


Learning who you are and how to live authentically is difficult. It is an iterative process; there will be lots of trial and error. Finding your people takes time and effort. However, learning to love and accept yourself and to find your place in the world-That Is Priceless.


Don’t you dare take a step backward just because it’s familiar.

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