A quick scroll through forums like Reddit r/exjw, or Jehovah’s Witness Discussion Forum, makes it really clear that one of the biggest obstacles to resolving the trauma of religious abuse, is the way Watchtower holds our friends and families hostage to their policies and doctrine. Many of us exiting cults, eventually find ourselves at a crossroads where we need to speak honestly with family about our priorities and concerns. Watchtower has inserted itself into the relationships in ways that unnaturally control the bonds of blood and friendship. Due to this, these conversations are impeded by the indoctrination of our loved ones, so we often need to talk with them in the form of a letter. While it may be easier in some ways to send a letter rather than speak face to face, writing a letter that says what you need to say, can seem like an overwhelming task.
This is a request for letters that you have shared with family or friends. It’s my aim to build a resource for exJWs and other people leaving cults, to use as a reference when constructing their own letters. You can contact me, if you have your own letter, or if you have a link to a letter that has been shared openly on the internet. Although other sorts of community and awareness raising content is planned for this website, the letters are the reason it exists.
My story of searching for letters follows below.
My husband and I left the JWs together, in 2003, in a way most people describe as a “fade.” We went inactive and made sure contact was inconvenient. As a result we were never disfellowshipped, and chose not to disassociate. For several years our parents continued to informal witness to us, as if by being subtle, they could spark or inspire us to come back to Jehovah. It obviously didn’t work, and in 2008 my mother ceased all contact with me. My father did not give up, he continued to preach to me at every opportunity.
One of my father’s reasons for converting was that he became convinced of creation, that nature was wondrous, and there was no way it came to be, without God’s direction. I think he was certain that this was the way to persuade me to return to “the truth.” If creation is true, and God is the Creator, and God is Jehovah, then the JWs must be true. So most of his preaching messages were of this type – amazing nature, amazing geology, amazing Jehovah!
I chose not to challenge him on his beliefs, usually just responding with a neutral “smile-and-nod” routine. It was distressing, and disheartening, but manageable for a while. Around the time my mother started shunning me, I started writing letters and emails to them, containing my thoughts and observations of the Watchtower and Jehovah’s Witnesses. I never sent any of them, even though it was becoming clear to me that I was heading for an emotional crisis.
One day in late 2014, my father sent me a text message, containing only a single photo. It was from the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii. We visited it on a family vacation when I was a child. I remember the museum had a massive model of a whale suspended from the ceiling in the main hall, very impressive!
I understood why he did this, he would sometimes send me a photo message trying to spark some memory of a happy family time. Unfortunately for both of us, this latest attempt backfired. Instead of making me feel nostalgic, I became agitated and angry at the ongoing manipulation. I recognized that he was motivated by love, but his type of love was hemmed in by Watchtower rules and was a very constrained form of contact, sort of a “soft” shunning. I believe he felt that all of his contact with me had to be built around his goal of encouraging me back to the JWs.
I emailed him back, telling him that he could no longer preach to me about his religion. In retrospect, the email response I sent was kind, but direct. At the time, it felt emotional and ill-considered. It was for sure, incomplete. There were so many things that I held back from saying, during the 12 years we had already been out of the Organization. He never responded to that email, so I felt like I had used my chance to ever say the things I needed to say.
That single email wasn’t enough closure for my mental health. Around that same time, I entered counseling with a qualified therapist, because I started having disabling anxiety, nightmares, insomnia, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Together we came to the conclusion that for my mental well-being, I needed to write him a letter that expanded the conversation, even if I never got any response.
My letter took me over six months to write, and went through many revisions. While I was writing it, I scoured the internet for examples of letters that JWs or Mormons had written to their still-believing family members, under similar circumstances. I was quite desperate to find anything that would help me figure out what I needed to say – letters to family, to congregation, to Headquarters, to friends. I knew over the 12 years or so since we had exited, I had seen many shared letters, on forums and in chatrooms, but it was very difficult to find any of them, scattered as they were into the ether of the internet.
I had this idea that there should be somewhere online, where there would be many examples, where a letter-writer could use ideas or pieces of the letters others had written, to help them discover and say the things that are important to them. If something like that had existed, it would have been easier and less painful to compose my own letter.
When I finally dropped that long letter in the mailbox, I felt a great weight lift from my mind and heart. But I kept thinking about that wish, that there existed some sort of central repository of letters that would turn up in a search. I decided that if I didn’t hear back from him in 12 months time, I would put my own letter on the internet for others to reference. The problem was, I couldn’t think of any way to do that, and not have the same thing happen, as with so many other shared letters.
About a year ago, a friend was telling me (again) that I should write a book. I thought nobody really needed a book from me, (and I didn’t want to write one,) there are so many stories out there, just like mine. But what about the letters? What if instead of somebody building a website of letters, I did it? I had my one letter, but so many exJWs have been so generous sharing their words with other people who struggle with their own words, maybe I could help just a little with connecting them.
Would you like to help?
I’m here today, reaching out to you, my reader, asking if you have letters to share. If you do, please contact me. If you can contact me openly, that’s fantastic. If you need to protect your identity, but still want to help, we can work together to create an abridged version of your letter that can be posted safely and anonymously.
Thank you for letting me share this story with you.
This post “Request for Letters” has been crossposted to Leaving Omelas.