DOES THAT HAILSTONE HAVE MY NAME ON IT?
by Rachel McKaughan

    For me to have been able to start my long journey out of the “truth”, I had to face death. I had to be able to choose to keep going even though there was a hailstone coming with my name on it. But lucky for me, death was the lesser of two evils by the time I decided I had to go. I had wanted to die for over a year. I was severely depressed, asking friends and family and elders why I felt so horrible when I was doing absolutely everything in my power to be the perfect witness. My friends eventually said, “Just stop talking about that please. Read the bible or something. Pray.” One particular elder told me I could come over anytime day or night and talk about my issues. After a couple months of my exposing the wretched confused black hole of a spirit that was my personality, he said, “You have the strangest mind I’ve ever seen. Your thoughts are so weird.” He thought we were sharing a little joke, but I couldn’t laugh. I decided that winter that before I killed myself, I was going to try and have 30 days of being happy in a row. Then I would welcome the end, bring on Armageddon!

    I was born into the third generation of a Witness family. My dad was an elder, my parents went to pioneer school together, my 2 brothers went to Bethel. Then there was me. From a very young age, I figured out that I was bad. All my little girlfriends in the hall whom were the only friends I was allowed to have, had been molested by someone in their life. For some reason, my family didn’t have that problem. But from my earliest memories, our games involved masturbating each other while thinking of horrible kidnapping stories to go along with it. I have had some people say, “Aw! That’s just innocent exploring!” Well, for one there is no such thing as innocence as a Witness, we all ‘know better‘. How many times had I wished I’d never heard of the truth? I would have rather been a naked savage somewhere eating grubs instead of examining my motives and thoughts and always coming up horribly short and selfish and not wanting to do everything the way Jehovah likes it. And for another, I don’t think the average kid always dykes it out with all their grade school pals. So when I wasn’t hanging out with my dysfunctional friends, I had a masturbation problem since age 4. I would try not to do it and even ask Jehovah to kill me that instant or to not let me in the Paradise the next time I did. My mom tells me that I would always ask her to come pray for me at night because I knew God didn’t want to hear from this person who couldn’t stop sinning. I developed a complex and believed that I had no control over my negative tendencies.
    When I finally told my mom about all this stuff at the age of 8, she was shocked and upset that stuff like that had happened without her even being aware of it. But not upset enough to call any authorities or even curb my hanging out with these kids. I just continued to judge myself and feel bad about my “problem”. One of my friends ended up being caught molesting some of the kids she babysat. It was sort of a congregational embarrassment at the most, and to my knowledge, no professionals were brought in to deal with the aftermath.
    From these strange roots, sexual guilt became a focal point in my life. By the time I hit puberty, I decided I didn’t want to marry one of the idiotic brothers from my circuit, because I really couldn’t do the whole headship thing. So since I didn’t want to get married and I couldn’t face eternity without knowing what sex was like, I decided I would have sex, get disfellowshipped, and hope Armageddon didn’t come before I could get reinstated. I had also read “The Scarlet Letter” my junior year and the idea of working your way back into grace was appealing. I desperately wanted to have a clean slate, a time when I could start over and stop sinning once and for all, since baptism didn’t do the trick. Being disfellowshipped was eye-opening. For one thing the whole “spirit directed” elder body is a joke. I was outside the kingdom hall that night talking to Jehovah and I thought that my heart was good. But the elders decided differently based on a complex quadratic equation of sin variables, such as how many times who did what and how many committee meetings had already been called up by me ratting myself out, and who called who and was there music playing? (I listened to them through the wall). And 10 months later, when I was deemed repentant and worthy to be reinstated, I was wearing a turtle neck to hide a hickey from the night before.
    But during that time, I went to every meeting. I went outside and sat in the car afterwards until my dad was done with whatever elder business he had. The elders told me to stop talking to my mom during the meetings as it was stumbling the flock and to stop staring out the windows because it seemed like I wasn’t listening and being repentant. I stared out the windows (before they remodeled the hall into Noah’s ark) at the trees to keep from crying through the meetings. Also, since being raised in this hall, I had heard all the talks and reasoning points and questions and phrases and comments. I knew everyone’s voice and breathing pattern and when they cleared their throats and cadence. And being able to spell and pronounce Nebuchadnezzar from the age of five made me an above average student. I already knew everything that was going to be said. I lived for the random comments from our batty heavily medicated older sister that were totally irrelevant and sweet. She just kept her hand up and her eye contact strong until they called on her. I started to see the meetings from a different perspective. I would furtively look around the hall and I had this magic power that made it so no one could win a staring contest with me. I started to feel like a protective bubble and a psuedo-boundary was surrounding me (first time!). Part of me wanted to remain forever unable to communicate with my life-long family in the hall. The night they reinstated me, my bubble popped and everyone lined up to hug me and all of a sudden, they were able to gaze upon my face for longer than 3 seconds. I was angry and uncomfortable and really didn’t want to hug all these people. After the hug fest, they no longer knew how to talk to me or treat me, since the shy little obedient kid grew up to be the archetypal harlot woman so often depicted in the bible. I switched to another congregation in the same hall and things were ok for a while, but then I just felt very depressed and resentful of all the kids that could lead double lives and not care. It got to the point where I would start the meeting then I wanted to run out of there and run five miles across town. I felt crazy. When I decided to not go to a meeting one night, my dad’s hard drive almost had a melt-down. Does not compute… does not compute… he said, “You can’t just not go.”
    I stayed away from the hall for the next two years during dental hygiene school. The elders started to try and hunt me down near graduation time and harassed my parents to the point that I agreed to meet with them. They insisted on a certain week even though it was right before the boards and I asked them to leave me alone for another week or two. They came and told me how they’d heard through the grapevine (SS-JW informers) that I’d done some sinning and other kids in the hall were using my example to justify their own behavior and that I had a choice of disfellowshipping or disassociation because they needed to make an example out of me. At that time, I still hadn’t figured out what I believed, and I didn’t want to disassociate myself. So they came back the next night and told me they were disfellowshipping me, the night before my state board! Which, by the way, I got a 99.6 score on. Yay for me.
    Being raised as being different and apart from everyone in your reality makes it not that scary to be rejected by another group. Well, that’s not exactly true, since they were all I ever knew and I loved my family and I had the social skills of someone you want to get away from. I was insanely uncomfortable around worldly people and since the world of JWs is absolute black and white, I mistakenly believed all worldly people had an inherent knowledge of what they were doing here on this planet in their lives and that they all knew the same stuff and thought the same ways. I also thought there really was one correct way, even if the Witnesses didn’t have it. I was distraught to hear from patient after patient that, “I still haven’t figured it out.” “That’s something you have to figure out for yourself.” “You never figure it out,” “Well, I know Jesus loves me and he loves you too!” What the hell am I supposed to trust/believe/think? A lot of well-meaning people have tried to testify their truth to me and I get like an allergic pissed off reaction. They say “Well, you haven’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater, have you?” And I want to tell them, “My baby drowned.” I felt like I had overdosed on religion. And once you overdose, the tiniest hint of the offending chemical puts all your systems on high alert and you are ready to eject it from your environment.
    One of the funny things about being a Witness kid is how everything in life is put on the scales to see how it measures against paradise on earth. When I picture the planet on one scale, I see all the other stuff I tried to compare…. Birthday cupcake, soccer team, short skirt, school dance, taking music, learning tae kwon do, school friend, social life, my feelings, my desires, nice things, fun things, things that make a person feel good about themselves, trying not offend your nice friend and explain that your parents don’t like their family even though they’ve never met, and no I’ll never be able to come over or be in your club or give you a valentine or say happy birthday or vote for you for class president… none of it is heavy enough to compete with the paradise. But I decided my sanity was worth it. And I have renegotiated with the universe that I want more than 30 happy days, I want them all. I used to walk around the playground all the time and cry because I would recount all the bad things I’d done or thought in my memory. I’d go home and cry because the nice kids in my class were going to be killed in Armageddon because I was too shy to try and get them to bible study with me during lunch. I’d cry at night when I thought of how much I was disappointing Jehovah and how much I loved him. I cried when I got disfellowshipped and when I left my whole belief structure behind and faced my future with no guarantees and no future koala bear for a pet.
    My brain: when I left, I actually physically felt the stirrings of brain functions after not being to meetings for about 3 weeks. When I sought help with a very capable counselor, to whom I have recently returned, I tried to describe to her what it was like inside my head. She would present ideas or common standpoints and I could refute all of them, or at least just tell her she was a tool for the devil. Any deviation I attempted to entertain, let alone act upon had a counterpoint in my mind as to why it was wasn’t valid, put there by my upbringing as a Witness. It seemed as though all my neural pathways were coated by the Witness way and my synapses were programmed to have specific actions and outcomes. Then, as a second barrier to outside influence, there was a Jehovah’s Witness filter encapsulating my brain and cranial nerves servicing my eyes and ears, so that whatever info came streaming in had to fit within the picture of what the WT Society deemed reality. If anyone has had a chance to read the kid’s book series, “Animorphs”, the brain slugs are a good descriptor of the mentality found in the congregational authorities I grew up with.
    I remember living next to the kingdom hall from age 5 to 12 and at age 10 or 11, I was reaching a crisis point where my own thoughts and personality were getting me in trouble and weren’t compliant with Society direction. I was trying to figure out what to do and I reasoned that I had two choices (aren’t there always just 2 choices in the black and white world?). I could either continue to daydream of moving far away one day and feed my natural desires as a person, or I could kill whatever it was inside me making me disobedient and once and for all, submit all decision making over to those who knew better how to make in through Armageddon. I imagined when it came, I could run across the parking lot and hide in the basement and ride it out. Instead, I stood outside the door and got disfellowshipped, oops. I like how as I write this, my computer's word program keeps underlining disfellowshipped because it’s not really a word.
    As I read more and more of other people’s stories, I see that I am not so revolutionary in my discoveries after getting out, but I am also not alone. I guess one thing I haven’t seen much of is how weird I felt I was when I left. For one thing, I hated myself and anyone who tried to care about me, I thought they were deranged or just felt really sorry for me. I told my life story to everyone I saw and wanted to be super honest, so I would tell new acquaintances all my faults and stupid stuff I had done. My early social interactions after leaving were beyond painful, I don’t really like trying to remember them. I had a lot of practice being the odd duck out in school and in the kingdom hall after being disfellowshipped, so I figured I didn’t really mind being humiliated, and knowledge was what I really wanted. I felt I had missed out on so many years where I could have been reading books and getting developmental lessons, so I tried to take shortcuts and just ask whoever I was in physical proximity with whatever questions I had in my mind. Lucky for me, I was a dental hygienist. Having sharp instruments and having your hands in someone’s mouth while their head is in your lap, makes it easier than other social situations to talk about whatever it was I wanted to talk about. People were surprisingly nice and honest and thoughtful in their responses. They got frustrated that they couldn’t always respond, but hearing my life story took their mind off their throbbing gums for a little while. I know I took advantage of the situation for my own benefit, but I was on a rampage.
    I went to Barnes and Noble and read just about the entire self help section and half of the New Age section. Not an exaggeration. After a few years, I instinctively felt I had worked out somewhat of an inner core of a personality and wanted to test it. I sent myself to boot camp for 13 weeks of intense physical training. I was the hardest and best thing I’ve done for myself. It would be nice to be able to just do the boot camp without the 8 year contract; live and learn. But being there, I was on an island for 3 months in the winter and it was sunny and not too freezing most days. I wasn’t allowed to talk or recreate my sob story on anyone. I could only look at the head in front of me and when we went for runs, I had to connect to my body and make it go faster and not fall out. It was like Zen meditation for three months. People liked me because I could drink their canteens for them when we had to do it in a certain amount of time or because I could carry their rifles on our humps. It was the first time I got to be known for qualities I didn’t see or could impose on others before they got to know me. I felt good! And I got asked a few times how I could seem so calm when the drill instructor’s bugged out on us. I couldn’t really give anyone a reason, but being told you had to run extra or do push-ups until you die wasn’t as bad as having Jehovah hate you and dying at Armageddon. I had such a feeling of accomplishment at the end and I cried at the graduation like all those sissies in the videos. I was finally a man! Ha ha. But all the lessons you can learn in school, like try your best, you are part of a team, failing isn’t the end of the world, if you screw up, keep trying until you get it, you are no less or more important than the person next to you, you are needed by the people around you. These things were missing in my soul, and I got them there on Parris Island. I also loved stenciling all my military gear with my elder/pioneer/bethelite family’s last name.
    You might be a disfellowshipped redneck… (fun family memories). My mom said, “Don’t make me choose between my God and my daughter.” In the end, she chose neither, she chose the Watchtower. When my mom had a baby shower for my only niece, I asked her to hold the baby up to the window while I drove by on the street outside to try and see her. I couldn’t really see her, and I’m still not sure why I do these things. A couple years after I got DF’d the second time, my parents, my brothers, their wives and the first grandkid all went and got family pictures together. That’s a really weird feeling seeing your whole family minus you. It’s a pretty strong message. I wanted to photo-shop my head in there. And maybe I could photo-shop a working link between their hearts and brains. My dad told me he was going to miss me in the Paradise. For the first few years after I left, one brother would turn his head to the side when he saw me while continuing to walk forward. As if ignoring me and pretending I was invisible wasn’t faithful enough. He did it at the bank, in our parent’s driveway and even coming down a stairway once carrying his child at a cousin’s wedding. The other brother called after 8 years of silence and asked me all about my life and feelings and whatnot. I was really pleasantly surprised and told him it meant a lot that he wanted to know about my life. He told me not to expect it ever again, he just heard I was hanging out with my disassociated cousin and wanted to make sure I wasn’t being an apostate. He’s an elder now too, but I wish I would’ve known that was his intention.
    To be fair, there were good memories too. My mom always let me sleep on her side of the bed whenever I wanted, my dad took us camping and got us most things we wanted, one brother managed to get my barrette collection all in his hair and on his face nearly every family study, and the other brother liked to sing his own lyrics to the kingdom melodies during meetings. There was a lot of laughter in our family.
    Last year, I went to my grandmother’s funeral and because I sat next to my parents and talked with them, my dad was removed as an elder and my parents were essentially threatened with disfellowshipping if they continued breaking the rules. When my grandma was dying, I went to see her several times and since my car was seen (by Br. Noheart and Sis. Snoop) at my parent’s, that is why they were punished. My grandma knew where I was in my life and she told me that I was great the way I was and not to change anything and that she loved me. The other Witnesses thought they meant more to her because they went out in service with her. I like to imagine that when people die, they are floating around the KH at their funeral, thinking, “Whoa, dude, I was so wrong! Too bad I can’t tell my pioneer partner. Why is the speaker blabbing about having a Bible study? Is that the only impression I left with these people I spent my whole life with?“ Witnesses are so weird. They can be the rudest, most inconsiderate people without even knowing it and they think you are less than dust, but they have no idea how loving you are being to them by letting them say what they feel they need to say. It is so refreshing to learn how to truly be kind, patient, long-suffering and loving because you want to. I hated so many things at my peak as a Witness, myself included. I was so unhappy. I like letting people live their lives. The kinder I can be to others, the kinder I can be to myself.
    I think some things that help me be successful as I “drift” away from the WT and towards life are: I allow myself all the time I need to understand things and feel things naturally. I can’t be impatient with myself, I spent decades learning how to not think or feel how I naturally do. I am grateful for the little things: free meeting nights, being able to change my mind about things, trying on different belief structures and shedding them when they don’t fit anymore. I try everything- books, questioning, counseling, numerology, exercise, and take the pieces that work for me and incorporate it into my own belief paradigm. Six months ago, I married someone who is good for me. Experiencing unconditional love is the healthiest thing you can ever be privileged to bask in, and it starts with loving yourself. Love really is what it’s all about. My husband told my parents that their rigidity to rules preventing them from talking to me or coming to our wedding made them heartless, regardless of their intentions. They showed up to our wedding. My husband listens to all my stories and fears and doesn’t judge me. He has normal, healthy reactions and helps me feel that I have rights and don’t, and never did, deserve this bizarre treatment. He sticks up for me in every situation in my life. It’s revolutionary! I am so grateful every day that we are together in this life. My little balled up fearful heart is opening up and expanding daily as it realizes it’s finally in a safe place and is going to be taken care of and treated right. I finally feel like I’m really living and that life is good. I spent my whole life in unhealthy relationships and I had to change my mind about what I deserved and what I was willing to accept, namely all the good stuff in life. I’ve started reading “In Search of Christian Freedom” by Ray Franz, which helps sweep away all the fears hanging on in the dusty corners of my brain. There really is no personalized hailstone!
    Lately I’ve been thinking about my family and wanting to let them go for good. Trying to justify their behavior because I used to think like they do is really bad for my head. I have to step back and just honestly look at how misguided they are and decide not to accept the scraps they throw my way. They are missing out on my life and a relationship with my husband and his family. It’s their choice. They try and tell me I’m the reason we aren’t together, but I’ve told them that my beliefs include them and that their beliefs are the ones that keep us apart. There are too many other people that treat me with love and I want to spend my energy on them. Thank you so much to all the people out here who have shown me what real friendship and family means, thanks to my husband Justin for making my life worth living and giving me all the happy days I can handle.

Rachel McKaughan


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