If I Can Break Free From a Cult After More Than 40 Years — So Can You

If I Can Break Free From a Cult After More Than 40 Years — So Can You March 6, 2019

On a cold January day in 1973 I was born into a mind controlling doomsday cult. Growing up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses you are not allowed to celebrate Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or Halloween.

A Child’s Life as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses

I remember one time when I was around 4 or 5, we were in the supermarket, and this sweet little old lady asked me, “What did Santa bring you for Christmas?” I yelled at her, “I don’t celebrate that! It’s pagan!”

Each time there was a birthday celebration in school, which was always at the end of the day, I was sent to the library which was already closed to sit in the dark by myself, listening to the festivities down the corridor.

For one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in school, if one is fortunate enough to go to public school and not be home-schooled, you cannot get involved in any extra-curricular activities (including sports/clubs) or participate in student government. Nor can you attend prom or any school sports events. You cannot salute the flag or say the pledge of allegiance, or associate with anyone in your school or neighborhood that is not a Witness.

When I was growing up in the 80’s, it was important to identify with a social group. We had jocks, preps, nerds, or stoners. I didn’t even fit in with the misfits so again it was a very isolating experience. I begged my mom to let me be home-schooled when I was 15. The anxiety and ostracism were too much, plus my life revolved around being a full-time pioneer, which, at that time, consisted of an average of 90 hours a month spent volunteering in the door-to-door work and conducting bible studies with interested persons.

The pursuit of higher education was highly discouraged so I wasn’t allowed to go to college. Most witnesses barely have a high-school education so they must work at menial jobs to squeak by; the entire purpose for your existence is to serve Jehovah and live through Armageddon into the new system, where the 8 million witnesses will make a paradise over the 8 billion cadavers of every man woman and child Jehovah has killed for not being one of his Witnesses.

I spent birth to age 28 being indoctrinated daily into this cult. As a JW you must dispense with all critical thinking so your life can be consumed by preparing for meetings, attending meetings, reading their publications, and dedicating as much time as possible proselytizing. If you have any spare moments, you can spend them worrying about how you are not doing enough in Jehovah’s service.

I absolutely loathed going door-to-door. I cringe every time I think about me as a 15-year-old girl going to people’s doors to tell them they are living their life all wrong and that I had the answers. Every day was 99% rejections. My entire identity was made up of being a JW so I took each rejection personally.


A few days after I turned 20 I was married. By 22 I had my daughter. At 25 I couldn’t take the abuse anymore so I filed for divorce but since it was not a scriptural divorce based on adultery, I could not be free. At 28 I was disfellowshipped. I lost my family, who has shunned me ever since, and every friend I ever had since I wasn’t allowed to make friends outside of the witnesses. Since I thought I was doomed to die at Armageddon and I didn’t want my daughter to suffer the same inevitable fate for my disobedience, I gave my daughter up for adoption to one of the congregation elders, so she would have the hope of everlasting life in a paradise earth. I lost virtually all contact with her from age 6 to 21.

Ever since I was disfellowshipped I felt inferior to practically everyone I encountered — if not for the lack of education, for missing out on so many life experiences. I left the only life I had ever known, and I didn’t know all the basic principles/protocols etc. especially in social situations. Like how to dance, the college experience, what are acceptable social interactions with the opposite sex, what to expect at a birthday party.

The first birthday I attended for a child was about 5 years ago. When it came time to eat the cake, the mom stripped the 1 year old down to his diaper, pulled out a little cake, set him on the table to let him make a mess of it eating with his hands. I just stood there in shock and disgust because I didn’t realize there was another cake the guests would get a piece of. I thought this was the only one and we had to eat around baby spit. The first time I said the pledge of allegiance, I placed my left hand on right heart and just mumbled along since I didn’t know the words. When I finally registered to vote back in 2012, I had to take a test online to determine what my political leanings were. I had no idea if I had Republican or Democratic or Libertarian leanings.

Fortunately, my daughter was also disfellowshipped late in 2016 so after 15 years I was reunited with her. But that isn’t even the best part. All this time that I have been disfellowshipped, I continued to believe it was the one true religion and I was broken because I couldn’t live up to their standards. One day my daughter came home from visiting friends. She asked me if I had heard of Reddit; I had not, so she sat down with me to show me this subreddit called exjw. Come to find out there is a vibrant exjw community on social media full of people who have had similar if not identical upbringings who have learned that it is a destructive cult. People wrote about the awkwardness of trying to assimilate in a world that we not only feared but was completely foreign to us. Emboldened by this discovery, I started researching it, and here is what I found out:

Growing up, I was taught God chose the Witnesses as his people and that everything else was false religion. I knew there were two men who picked up the thread that the first century Christians left, but everything the Witnesses taught was literally the God-given truth based on Bible principles.

Around this time in 2017, I gathered the courage to make the apostate move of looking up the first 2 presidents of The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Charles Taze Russel and Joseph Franklin Rutherford, on Wikipedia. They were not the God-fearing stalwarts of the faith I knew as a JW. Rutherford was a misogynistic, bigoted, self-aggrandizing, abusive man who had a mansion built in CA, deeding the property to the resurrected prophets Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, and Samuel. I was stunned. I felt so betrayed. I spent the best years of my life believing the madness these two men concocted. Doctrines that were 100% man-made with no relevance to the Bible. Even the Paradise that I so fervently believed in has no basis in the Bible.

A New Life

I was devastated by all the years wasted believing in and living a lie, not going to college and experiencing the traditional things a girl growing up in the US does like high school sports, prom, summer camp, celebrating birthdays, getting to know my extended family, going to bars with friends, dating, experimenting with drugs, having a career, and voting in political elections.

Since then, I have been on a quest to make up for lost time. I devoured every book I could get my hands on about evolution, The god Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins, god is not Great by Christopher Hitchins, The god Virus by Dr. Darrel Ray, Exiting the Jehovah’s Witness Cult by Bonnie Zieman, among many others. I found ExJW activist YouTubers and Podcasters and spent every waking moment listening to and watching them. All this reading, watching and listening created this need to talk to other real life people in person who have had similar experiences so I went on Meetup to find an EXJW Meetup in Colorado; there weren’t any, so I decided to create my own. I have a little over 30 people in my Meetup now and we have anywhere from 6-12 who attend each monthly meeting.

Someone who responded to my ExJW Meetup told me about the Recovering from Religion Meetup in Denver. I have been attending regularly for a couple years. Now I am the Volunteer Coordinator for RfR and the Database manager for Jefferson Humanist. The volunteer work I do now is a lot more fulfilling and meaningful than the ineffective door knocking of my childhood.

It’s a life-long process to uproot the damage that has been done to me but through regular therapy with a therapist whose expertise is in cult recovery, reading self-help books, taking anti-depressants, and practicing mindfulness and meditation, I have made a lot of progress in the last 2 years discovering who my true cult-free self is. It is really exciting to learn new things and see what the big bad Satanic world has to offer. I enjoy every minute of life now because I know it’s the only one I’ve got. There is no paradise “just around the corner” where I can spend eternity frolicking with pandas.

About Shana Rubio
Shana lives in a quiet suburb outside of Denver with her husband and daughter. She works for city government but her passion lies in her EXJW activism. You can read more about the author here.

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