You fall asleep one night, and wake up in an unfamiliar bedroom. You step outside your house, and don’t recognize anything. As you hurry down the street, desperately searching for familiar markings you notice all the signs are written in a language you’ve never seen in your life. You pull out your wallet only to find a currency you’ve never seen before. You hurry back home but it has disappeared. It was there a few moments ago, but now it’s gone. In its place is an unfamiliar home. A note is left on your door. As you unfold it, a key falls to the ground. Thank goddess the letter is written in English. You pick up the keys as you read the letter.
It went on to explain that your previous life no longer exists, neither does anyone that you knew before reading the note. That includes family, friends, acquaintances..etc. “…The key is for your new home. And good luck starting your new life, in a new land, that speaks a new language, where you don’t know anyone…as you learn to navigate your new life alone. And your existence depends totally on your ability to survive…”
This is what it felt like the day after escaping the cult. Leaving didn’t happen over night because I knew the consequences included being excommunicated from my own life. It meant existence in isolation: roaming the world as an alien nomad. It took several years to finally build up the nerve to do it. And then one night, it happened…
I was running late for the Theocratic Ministry school, at the Kingdom Hall. It was the fourth weekly congregational meeting, and I had already missed two. It was hard to motivate myself into going. And this particular night was no differ. By the time I arrived to the Kingdom Hall’s parking lot, the meeting was already in progress. I rushed to the building, but hesitated to open the door, after I peered inside. The entrance was located at the back of the hall. So I could see the back of the audience, but they didn’t see me. Their heads were down, as they scribbled on their Written Review. (Written Review was a quarterly test from the elders, given to all members. Its was a self-examination test about everything we had been taught for the past six months.) I had forgotten to prepare for the test. Even though they weren’t officially graded, I still felt inadequate. I knew it was going to reveal how little I had learned at the Kingdom Hall. I hadn’t been doing my personal Bible studies at home, and I hadn’t been paying much attention at the meetings. Of course, serving god was the right thing to do, but my heart wasn’t in it. As the Bible said, I had “a form of godly devotion”. I was instantly disappointed in myself. I had failed myself, in front of my god.
Too ashamed to go in, I rushed backed to my car, before anyone could notice me. I was conflicted on if I should drive off, or go inside. No matter how much I tried, I simply couldn’t live up to the standards set out by god. But if I wanted to live forever with my friends and family in paradise on Earth, I MUST keep attending meetings to gain god’s approval. On the other hand, removing myself from god’s people would be the loving thing to do. “Bad association spoils useful habits” the congregation elders always said. Though I was not worthy enough to be approved by god, I didn’t want to ruin the chance of anyone else to live forever. I also knew that if I left the cult, my family and friends would cut me out their life, and never speak to me again.
Since the day I was born, Thursday night was dedicated to The Theocratic Ministry school and Bible Study for the congregation. As a child I would arrive home from secular school at 4pm, and have just enough time to eat, change, and arrive to the Kingdom Hall at 7pm. From 7pm to 9pm, I listened and participated in biblical discussions with the rest of the congregation. I always came to the meetings well prepared and ready to contribute to the discussion, because that’s what exemplary christians did. But as I began to feel distant from the church’s teachings, I began to slack on my biblical studies.
So this is what the rest of the world looks like on a Thursday night, I jokingly laughed in my head as I drove away from the Kingdom Hall. I eventually found myself in a fast-food-drive thru. I couldn’t believe I was actually sitting in a parking lot, with my face buried in a cheeseburger, instead of sitting in the KH with my head buried in a Bible. I felt so guilty…but in a pleasurably strange way… dare I say naughty? I was doing the wrong thing, but I was enjoying it. According to the teachings, when a person enjoys sin, god doesn’t love them. I was a sinner eating in a fast food parking lot, instead of giving praise to the most high… The destructive battle between my guilty conscience and misguided heart was born.
As I cursed myself for skipping the meeting, and made vows to never do it again, little did I know that evening was my last time ever going to another meeting.