What have you lost?
If you were reared in a Jehovah’s Witness family, you were denied normal childhood experiences - birthday parties, Easter egg hunts, Christmas presents, class Valentine exchanges, trick-or-treating, competitive sports, and if you were particularly unlucky, medically necessary blood transfusions. Furthermore, you were conditioned to view even wanting those “worldly” things as sinful.
If you reject the restrictive Witness tenets, your losses can be compounded. Are you now shunned by former friends or family? If you left during adulthood, at midlife or even later, do you grieve for the missed educational opportunities or the romantic relationships or the career paths that you were persuaded to forsake? Me too. You are not alone.
Chronicling losses is part and parcel of documenting your personal narrative. In Exiting the JW Cult, A Healing Handbook, psychotherapist Bonnie Zieman posits that writing about your specific fundamentalist experiences can be a helpful form of psychological debriefing.
There is a difference, however, between relating your experience and allowing your suffering to define you. We can and should be so much more than the sum total of our losses.
Whenever my grief or anger becomes as seductively comfortable as a security blanket, I reflect on Toni Morrison’s exhortation in Song of Solomon, ‘Stop sniveling. Stop picking around the edges of the world. Take advantage, and if you can’t take advantage, take disadvantage.”
Case in point, 2020 was rough. For everyone. For me personally, I was trying to adjust to becoming a single mom, acclimating to a career change, and regrouping after a chaotic downsizing from a home that I loved. Then came the shelter-in-place orders, America’s “racial reckoning” and the ensuing protests, and a bitterly partisan presidential election. It was overwhelming. How could I stop picking around the edges and become a person who makes things happen and not simply a person who has things happen to her? It was time to reshape my disadvantages.
Fiction has always been my escape. It has also helped me to make sense of the world. I am both a reader and a writer. When 2020 gave me the unexpected gift of downtime and isolation, I revisited a novel idea that I had started and abandoned.
Wait, doesn’t everyone have chapters of planned novels and screenplays scribbled on Post-its and on the backs of grocery store receipts? No? Just me?
A narrative began to develop, a story about a fundamentalist sect, True Antioch Believers, who live in a rural North Carolina hamlet. True Antioch Believers reject all portals to the Devil: stylish clothing; social media; secular music; and college education. And they take 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 very, very seriously.
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
To adhere to Paul’s edict, Antioch women take a vow of silence when they marry. From that point on, only their husbands and children will ever hear their voices.
Yes, I spent the greater part of 2020 creating a batshit religious cult. If Charles Taze Russell and Joseph Rutherford could make up bovine residue, why couldn't I? I created a religion’s origin story, its doctrines, and even some hymns. The experience was oddly empowering. Developing characters was even more cathartic as I began to bring some intriguing women to life:
· Ellen, a single teen mom of a biracial infant, Cara Grace. Ellen converts to the Antioch faith and marries a prominent Elder, Joseph Dupree.
· Cara Grace, now a precocious teen who would rather leave Antioch and attend college than marry and become an obedient and silent wife.
· Juanita Boston, a social worker who bonds with Cara Grace and who crosses boundaries to introduce the young woman to life beyond the rigid confines in Antioch.
I had been the precocious teen, the dutiful wife, and the driven advocate at various points in my life. Telling my characters’ stories helped me to understand my own journey.
And now, gentle readers, I am so excited to introduce these characters to you. My pandemic project, my novel, Sunless and Silent and Deep, will be published by Moonshine Cove Publishing in October 2022. Stay tuned to learn more about my publishing journey!