In 1995, I lost my entire family. Mom, Dad, five brothers, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles. All gone. It wasn’t that they all died in a horrible accident or anything like that, it was more like I was the one who died. At least from their perspective.
I was born and raised, third generation, in a strict religious home of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I grew up as one of the often seen people, all dressed up, carrying briefcases, approaching homes with a Bible message. I was also raised to believe that celebrating holidays and birthdays were a pagan activity, and while attending school, I would have to sit and wait in the school hallway until the class had finished their various observances. I did not salute the flag, as I was taught not to. I did not recite the Pledge of Allegiance, as I was taught not to, and so on.
In August of 1977, just ten days prior to Elvis Presley’s death, I got married. I of course married a fellow “Witness”, and had hopes and dreams of a long and happy life with my “Christian” husband. I married very young, at the age of 17, as it was and continues to be “normal” within the religion to marry young, in order to avoid the “sins of the flesh.” Six months later, my “Christian” husband began being violent with me, with the abuse continuing and escalating over the course of our marriage.
Throughout our marriage, I continued to hope and pray that the abuse would stop and we could build a long-lasting, happy marriage. Immediately following violent episodes was a time of tenderness, kindness and repeated apologies, “It will never happen again, I promise.” It happened again and again, and for the most inconsequential, trivial matters. For example, I forgot to put his hot sauce on the dinner table one evening, and when he sat down to eat, the next thing I know he’s in my face, his fist preparing to swing.
Like most woman who have endured an abusive relationship, I left my husband a few different times until finally coming to the clear realization that I had to get out for good. The religion I was brought up in played a heavy role in my decision to leave the marriage, as I had by that point begun having serious doubts about how I was brought up as a “believer.”
Of the times that I left my husband, going and staying with friends, even my father (an Elder in the Congregation) showed up and, without missing a beat, adamantly told me to get my “butt home where you belong.” He never even asked me what was happening that I would leave my husband. It only mattered that I went right back to my husband, regardless of the problems.
1993 was a very good year. It was the year in which I exercised my personal conscience, separate and apart from the religious teachings I was brought up to believe, and left my fifteen year marriage for good. Being born and raised in the Jehovah’s Witness faith, the decision to leave my marriage was not an easy one to make. There were many personal, emotional, financial and spiritual roadblocks in my way. To save myself and my children from further abuse, would ultimately lead me to making a life-changing decision that would immediately lead to my “death” as far as my family and close friends were concerned.
1995 was a very good year. It was the year in which I stopped being a member of the Jehovah’s Witness religion. However, it was also the year that I “died” in the eyes of my immediate family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and close “witness” friends. Excommunicated. Shunned. Dead.