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Midweek Memory #1
On teenage hopelessness and religious punishment
This is a series I'm starting with the intent of having others contribute their memoirs over time and will be a weekly publication. Topics covered will be memories, dreams, reflections, insanity, drugs, sex, debauchery, religion, magic, abuse, manipulation, death, and desperation, to name a few. The series will focus on the soul's dark night, the path out, and the wisdom gained therein. Best summed up by Dante: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso.
For those who venture through, your reward will be an intimate look at the extremes of human experience. This first dispatch is one of my personal experiences, a time when I was lost and seeking answers.
My personal history has a bearing on who I am today; this is natural. What's not natural is the ostracization, manipulation, and insanity I have been through over time. In my 26 years, I have had a few dark nights of the soul, and the one I'm speaking on today is one of the most pivotal.
I was raised a devout Jehovah's Witness. I'll spare you the details of that experience and give an overview of the essential bits for this to make sense.
They are a Christian religion and view themselves as the one true Christian Faith. Jehovah's Witnesses fear the world outside their religion and, on one level or another, forbid their members to develop personal ties with people, places, and things outside the organization. It is essential to mention that Jehovah's Witnesses practice a form of ostracization as punishment, called disfellowshipment
I was disfellowshipped at 17 years old, right before I was to graduate high school in 2014. One night, my JW membership was publicly revoked in front of the church my family attended. I never spoke to anyone besides family and church leaders I grew up with again. For the next year, I spent my time between work, sitting alone, and occasionally seeing one or two friends from school. Every time I saw a friend, I felt intense remorse for it. This is by design, programmed by the church leaders to keep people in the religion.
Reinstatement is a word Jehovah's Witnesses use for the process of getting back into the church after disfellowshipment. Something I was striving for, which I'm infinitely grateful I did not attain.
Why not make sure you don’t miss the next one?
January 10, 2015
Thoughts on reinstatement:
I know that the Jehovah's Witnesses have the truth.
I still deal with temptation and cave in at times.
Have not smoked cannabis for five months.
Haven't been drunk for 2.5 months.
Have not smoked cigarettes for 3.5 months
Have not smoked a cigar for one month
Recent relapses have been from loneliness and boredom.
The one time I smoked weed was out of (50% of) frustration (anger at my situation); the rest of my motivation was from not caring and thinking it wouldn't matter. In fact, that's the reason why I've ended up doing anything I ever have.
Where am I supposed to be?
How long do they think those things went on for?
What does it mean to have my relationship back with Jehovah?
What kind of person do you think I am?
For precisely what reason was I disfellowshipped in the first place?
Kevin: how come you haven't spoken to me?
I don't think I'm ready yet, and I still don't know what ready is. If I could have some good association, it would fix or, at least, help fix some issues. I get bored quickly, and boredom is what leads to problems.
Loneliness = problems. Boredom = problems. Bad association = problems.
Good association =/= problems, encouragement =/= problems
I feel used, unappreciated, lonely, weak, sad, scared, over-exerted and under-replenished, stagnant, irritated, frustrated, angry (at myself and Satan), sick, tired, and done with it all.
Isaiah 55:3: Incline my ear and come to Jehovah. Listen.
What am I scared of? Rejection, my emotions, vulnerability, myself, the future, intimacy, failure, feeling, my dad, my friends, stress, depression, and being scared.
What am I not scared of? Labor, metal music, figuring out how things work, not being afraid.
What I shouldn't be scared of: myself, my emotions, vulnerability, rejection, the future, intimacy, failure, feeling, my dad, my friends, depression.
Wallowing in my aching numbness is the closest to my emotions I can get. When tears come, they reveal only the agony I'm aware of, the only feeling I feel by not feeling.
Oh merciful God Jehovah, teach me to regret. Teach me to love with my heart and soul as one, for my calculations are cold.
Psalm 119:104: By your orders, I act with understanding. That is why I hate every false path.
I started swearing a lot in middle school. Why? To be cool? That was, most likely, a large part of it.
I began to drink at 15. Why? To rebel and be cool.
I first tried Marijuana when I was 15. Why? To be cool. I remember vowing that it would only be a social thing. I vowed to never purchase it.
I quit putting all those things in my body for my sophomore year. Why? I had plenty of friends (worldly and otherwise).
I started to do it all again (and then some) for a six-month bender at the end of 2013. Daily smoking a lot of weed, frequent tobacco use, had a girlfriend, had sex with her, sneaking out every night (not usually with other people), going to parties occasionally, occasional drinking, and lots of wordly association (but honestly, I was probably a bad influence on them). Eventually, I smoked weed twice daily and looked for more parties to attend.
Difference: I tried to keep it all hidden during those six months, even from others at school. So, I was doing it partially for another reason: to gain friends and be cool. I remember thinking at one point that I wanted weed to make me dumber than before so that I could be normal, not necessarily fit in.
Why do it lately? Big picture, I don't know! It has something to do with frustration; it was partially an escape, not only from the world but also from my hyperactive mind. My ideas about my parents played a part. I don't know how big, though. All of it felt so good. It wasn't exactly for the friends or parties; those were more of a by-product than anything else.
I started like the kid in the paragraph, but something changed and became far worse. Much more visceral issues came up.
For years I grappled with my experience of being disfellowshipped, and I can only be grateful that it continued for less than a decade; others are not so lucky. This journal entry exemplifies my early experience through that time well. I was confused, lonely, grappling with God, and struggling to not lash out self-destructively. The biggest issue I faced was trying to understand why God would allow, even sanction, this kind of punishment. Especially since I believed Jehovah’s Witnesses were the true religion.
There are many entries in my journals that write out scripture and try to apply them to my experience. Most of them were a biblical direction I found, which I believed, once applied, would guide me down the right path and make the journey to reinstatement easier. There are even times I wrote a scripture out verbatim many times over to pin the point down. This was all to no avail. It took me many years to discover that disfellowshipment was not a biblical teaching and that the biblical God was most likely a fiction. In other words, trying to navigate a problem with an instruction/troubleshooting manual with no opinion on the matter is a lost cause.
What I find appalling about this practice of disfellowshipment is that one believes it is the correct way of dealing with things. If one does not think so, it has little effect, and one would simply go out searching for a new social group to associate with. When one believes it is the right course of action, they think they are not supposed to have friends, not do anything but work, and feel sorry for themselves. This path will lead to nothing but madness. I spent time in the state of religious agitation exemplified above; the only saving grace I found was going down the path of drug-fueled insanity. I found no salvation in God, but I did find salvation in drugs, beginning a few months after this entry.
This section of my personal history is one where I see how far I've come since writing it. I started as a Jehovah's Witness, became an excommunicated member of that church, wallowed in drug-laced aimlessness for years, and now I have a future. Through each stage, I learned about myself. Eventually realizing I'm one of the select few that have an approximation of what they would like to do with themselves. Reviewing the past has helped me a lot in that regard.
I gain a lot going through my old journals. Some have good ideas, others have bad ideas, and others still have incomprehensible ideas. But more important than the quality of ideas contained therein, plenty of entries act as mile markers in my life. I can look back at a time, get a close approximation of what was going on in my mind, and see if I've made steps in the right direction. I encourage everyone I speak with to keep a diary.
Finally, to the boy suffocating himself with incense and listening to Behemoth on blast in a set of headphones: you can go further than you think in this world. The money you want, the women you desire, the fulfillment you need, and the books you'll write are all there. Sitting someplace in the future is a version of yourself you will become. The final form will continually change until discarded into the past. Banished to be remembered only by the people there and diary pages. This is a beautiful thing; you're at the fulcrum of a war between the past and future. On one end lies stagnation, on the other possibility. You are responsible for reconciling them in the present and finding joy in doing so.