Shepherds of the Flock

Shepherds of the Flock

I’ve realised that what first triggered me along the path of awakening. It was the attitudes of the elders toward me. They’d always treated me well, until my late teens when I became a “troubled youth”. This was when I truly became disillusioned with the organisation. I’d expected that in such circumstances, the elders would gather around, take a personal interest, try to reach this wayward sheep. No sir! They removed my “privileges” without reason, treated me with contempt and told my friends to avoid me. At the very time I needed them most, they abandoned me.

And I hadn’t done anything against the rules. I was just “troubled”, as brooding teens may be.

I’m not saying that I expected a pity-party, but I had issues, and I’d been led to believe that these men were responsible of taking care of such people. Many have been advised not to seek professional help; instead to rely on “Jehovah’s arrangement”.

Nobody cared. That was a hard life lesson, but one learned well.

I went off on my own, sorted myself out, discovered a love of life, but I’d lost all respect for the elders. When I finally did break the rules, these would be the last people I’d turn to. If they treated me with such ill-regard when I was a sheep who’d wandered a little off the road, how much less would they care to shepherd when I approached them a little battered?

These were not men who forsook the flock to search for the precious, lost sheep Jesus spoke of in Luke 15. These men watched the animal wander astray, turning their attention back to the flock to ensure none followed. These men watched the sheep slipping away and scorned it for daring step out on its own. Should it ever return, they wouldn’t welcome it back like the prodigal son, but would make sure it suffered further still.

Should that little sheep ever find his way back, wishing only to gather among his family for love and warmth, these shepherds would sneer at his bruises and blood-caked fleece. They would nudge him to the back of the flock, to walk behind the others so that no one could pay him any attention. The little sheep would limp after the others for months and years without medical attention, constantly fearful, the most likely to be picked off by wolves. Should he survive through tenacity alone, become healthy again despite being ignored by the ones he holds most dear, then maybe, just maybe, he would be allowed back into the flock. But he’d be made to suffer well.

The little sheep would go through his life, never quite treated the same. He’d be regarded with suspicion from the flock and the shepherds alike. Eventually he would wander away to fend for himself in the fields, to be beaten and bruised, if only to escape those who disparaged him. Again, the shepherds wouldn’t trouble themselves to stop him. The flock would jeer and mock the tainted sheep. They would nudge each other and say, ‘See, the dog who goes back to its vomit? He was never to be trusted. We always knew he was no good.’

Throughout the years that followed, the shepherds would occasionally go out into the field, seek out the little sheep where he hid in caves, shaking, black with mud and blood and abandonment. They would make a show of welcoming him back, but the invitation was never true. He would be welcomed back, but only to walk behind the others, as they whispered, kicking dirt up in his face.

He’d prefer to take his chances alone.

Sheep and Goat.jpg
Yes, I saw how the elders treated wayward sheep and it had no representation in Luke 15. If you’ve wandered once, even dared to place a single hoof off the trail, you will never see freedom from the shepherds’ persecution and suspicion. You are tainted.

This little sheep will find his

love among the goats.

Calum

Ex-JWs: We Are Fish

Many Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot understand the angst of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses. They can’t understand the anger, the malcontent, the outrage at the way we’ve been treated. Many, current Jehovah’s Witnesses perceive ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses as liars, over-exaggerators, and monsters.

Why?

Why is it that we, as ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, can have such an entirely different perspective on our experiences with the religion than those currently living it? How can we say it was horrible, whilst they say that it is the most wonderful way to live? I believe that it’s because the greatest damage is done, or at least noticed when you l ve.

We are fish.

We are fish with hooks in our brains.

Some fish swim about their lives, eating morsels, when one day a hook sinks deep into their brain. Other fish have a hook in their brain the second they’re free from their egg, a hook brought into them by their parents; already hooked.

The fisherman is a silly old bastard, half drunk and sleepy in the afternoon sun. He doesn’t always know when he has a fish on the line. So, the fish go about their days with hooks in their brains. They’re quite unlike the other fish, who look at them suspiciously—with great shining rods sticking up out of their heads—but, for the most part, they feel as though their lives are somewhat ordinary.

You are a Jehovah’s Witness, with hooks in your brain. You swim about your day. You eat like the other fish. You sleep like the other fish. You defecate like the other fish. But you have hooks in your brain. You just don’t know it.

The true damage of being a Jehovah’s Witness is when one day you wake up, or at least, the fisherman does. He yanks hard on the rod and you are reeled in. Chunks of your brain are torn out as your flesh splits and scales spiral into the grey sea. Your family scatters, hooks in their brains, praying that they aren’t too, reeled in.

On your journey to the surface, you are waking up. It’s not something you can control or undo. Oh, how much easier it would be if you could have just kept on swimming with hooks in your brain. You’d never be free, but you could have functioned. You would have appeared slightly odd to the un-hooked fish, but you’d have felt normal.

But now . . .  Oh, now the real damage is done.

Everything you thought you knew is torn out. Chunks of your brain go missing. Your school of family and friends; lost. Yes, a great deal of damage was done when you were a fish with a hook in your brain, but you only truly appreciate it when you’re torn to the surface; when you wake up.

That’s why ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses see so much more than current Jehovah’s Witnesses, because the true horror of what has occurred is amplified exponentially when the hooks are torn out.

The fisherman only fishes for sport, so he throws you back. Your face is haggard, your head is half collapsed. The fish with hooks won’t come anywhere near you, repulsed by your appearance and fearful of a shared fate. The free fish stare at you in wonder and bewilderment, wondering how you ever allowed yourself to become hooked in the first place. You hide away.

You hide under rocks.

Your head is half collapsed. You wonder how you will ever be a normal fish, whilst knowing that you never will.

You hide under rocks. Occasionally, you glimpse out your disfigurement to the black sea, hoping for your father, praying for your mother; a friendly face . . . anyone? But you have been discarded, your deformities too great for the ones you hold most dear to lay eyes upon you. They know the rock beneath which you hide, but have already decided you’re dead. They blame you for the damage the hook did, the hook they guided you toward to begin with. They condemn you for the calamity you remind them could be theirs, should they ever wake up the fisherman.

But.

Yes . . . but, you smile.

Although you hide beneath rocks and swim in deep shadow, you smile. For you are free.

Suicide Salve

I sat on my bedroom floor. It was dark, but for candles flickering: dancing shadows, praying demons.

My special knife sat before me, its blade painted red. I’d made it that way. I coloured it with my special brand of human paint. My arms–hidden always from the family outside, laughing at whatever stupid program was now on TV–bore scabs and scars and fresh lines that oozed red atop clear plasma. Bundles of toilet paper surrounded me. I used it to keep the blood off the carpet. I couldn’t leave a sign. On this occasion, I did it more out of habit, really, as it was no longer a necessity. After tonight I wouldn’t exist, so why did it matter if I painted the carpet too?

Nobody wondered what I was doing in the pitch gloom of my room, the sorrow of existence. Recent months had rendered me a shadow. Before me: two boxes of painkillers. They would be my mechanism, my suicide salve. They would send me into that horror sleep, the one through which I’d reach the other side and be granted all the answers. Whatever was next, I was ready to embrace it. I was done with this world. I was done with this place.

I would wake up in heaven, or hell, or a paradise Earth (I hoped). Or I would never wake at all. I didn’t really believe that that would be the case though, so why not push on to the next world? I’d gotten everything I was going to from this one.

I opened the boxes of painkillers and popped every last pill out of its blister-seal. But I wasn’t ready yet. My eyes slid, shifting their focus. I needed more. I needed the rush to help me do this.

The knife was in my hand before I could stop it. Cold steel bit into my flesh. Shivers of pain . . . and pleasure. It’d used the damn thing so much that it had somewhat blunted. These days, it wasn’t enough to slide it across my flesh, but I had to kind of shake and wiggle it side to side as I went. This made it more painful, but that was okay with me.

I checked the wound, parted it hard with my fingers, looking to see if I’d gone deep enough. It was important not just to break the skin, but also the weird white layer of stuff beneath it. It was a testament to my accomplishment. I was about to run the blade back across the fresh wound as I was accustomed, but something bumped outside and I jumped in nervous fright. It was now or never.

I scooped up a handful of pills, threw them into my dry mouth, raised a glass of water and swallowed hard. My eyes watered and I gagged, but I managed another handful. A couple more and I’d gotten most of them. A few rolled beneath my bedside table, but that was okay. You were only supposed to take two of these every two to four hours. Surely, I’d taken enough.

I laid there listening to my breathing. I rested my head back against the bed and then made a few new cuts. I lay back again wondering how many thoughts I had left. But more than anything I wondered, how had it come to this?

Now I laugh at that naïve little boy with his puny concerns. It was beyond his wildest imaginings to dream up the creature he would inevitably become.

A Brief Review of my Parents

I don’t know why it was me. To this day, it’s still a point of contemplation. I endured no more or less of the indoctrination every single living relative I have was subjected to. So why is it that I alone woke up? Why me?

I don’t regret it. How could I? Of course, I lost my entire family and everyone who ever mattered to me. That’s the way it goes. It’s kind of like living your entire life in a sewer and then someone shows you that there’s a better way up top. You try telling your family to join you in the sunlight, but they refuse to believe you and keep hiding in the dark. You have no choice but to leave without them. They don’t trust you anymore. They won’t speak to you. They call you a liar and wallow in the perceived safety of their filth. So, you go alone. That’s how shunning works. Still … I regret nothing.

My father may as well have been a born-in, as he was only two years old when his parents became Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s the only life he’s ever known, so I’m not sure how accountable he should be held for staying stuck. No more or less than of the born-ins. Mind you, I too, was born-in … so.

Father was an authoritative disciplinarian. That’s the only role I remember him playing. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that he was never in good humour. I’m just saying that whenever he was, it was tenaciously balanced.

‘While you live under my roof, you follow my rules,’ was one of his go-to expressions.

I’m not sure what he hoped to accomplish with such rigidity. It doesn’t exactly open up the discourse. He never learned the motivation behind any “misbehaviour” his children had engaged in. The only purpose it served was to encourage me to bite my tongue and bide my time. I would wait. The day would come when I would be able to support myself. Then I wouldn’t be “under his roof”, and I would do as I pleased. That doesn’t seem like a sensible approach to parenting. Surely, you don’t simply wish to postpone undesirable behaviour, but rather, to change it. Of course, my parents never expected me to reach adulthood in this world. By the time I was an adult, we would be living on a paradise Earth.

Unlike Father, my mother was a fountain of warmth and love. I loved her dreadfully. “Loved” … I must apologise to my readers. When you’ve been shunned as long as I have, people who mean the world to you become subjects of past tense. I love my mother, I suppose. It just seems a strange thing to say; foreign. I don’t know her anymore.

An Introduction to Me

I’m using a fake name [No I’m not, I now go by my real name, Cael]. It’s the name I’ve used in secret times of my life. It’s the name I was almost called by my parents. I’m not so naïve as to think that people won’t start to figure out who I am eventually [They did, much more quickly than I anticipated]. When it happens, I’ll deal with it. But this story needs to be told [And so I’m still telling it, as my true self, Cael].

I’m an ex-Jehovah’s Witness. What does that mean? It means that my entire family and social network, developed from birth until I was about nineteen, are shunning me. I’ve not heard my mother’s voice in over ten years.

I’m alone. Well … when you’ve got no one to turn to and shit goes wrong, you’re left in a situation where you’ve got to make some pretty dusty choices. Nothing gets given to you. You’ve got to fight for your place in the world. That, or lay down and die. I’ve never been one for dying.

So here I am. Here, I will write my darkest truth; words written, never spoken.

How did I fall from grace? God, it sounds pretentious, written out like that. It’s not something that happens by accident. Still, the question needs to be asked. How did I, Calum [Cael], go from being a polished Jehovah’s Witness to … to whatever the hell I am now?

I suppose we should start at the beginning. Come with me, back to the life of a Jehovah’s Witness boy. Let’s learn how a child of innocence, became a monster.

This is my story.