SHEREEN – After a failed attempt at suicide from the harsh beatings she endured from her Jehovah’s Witness parents, she found help from a trained counselor.
Raised in the rigid environment of an abusive Jehovah’s Witness home, Shereen never experienced the freedom to grow as a child in the arms of loving parents. Hours and hours of meetings and door-to-door activity, along with harsh beatings at home over failing to live up to the smallest expectation of her parents left Shereen with no hope of surviving. After a failed attempt at suicide, Shereen finally found help in the hands of a trained counselor. Although she is currently out of the Watchtower organization, her journey for physical, emotional and spiritual healing is far from complete.
I’m a 23-year-old mother of two boys. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness: Five meetings a week, breakfast Bible study, tea Bible study, family Bible study, weekends spent knocking doors and hours of preparation for the meetings were a normality for me. The amount of daily time we spent “studying the Bible” through the Watchtower literature, I can only compare to nuns at a convent.
My father was an Elder, which meant we rarely saw our dad — let alone spent fun time with him. He would come home from work and eat his meal with us. Then, he’d disappear off to his room to do yet more religious study and preparation for meetings he would be leading. He rarely did anything in the house for my mother or us.
When I started school, my eyes saw happy, loved children with happy, loving parents. It was so opposite to my life. The children would laugh when I said my prayers. They cried and screamed when I told them that they would soon die at Armageddon because they worshipped Satan. (I caused a few problems for my parents for telling that Jehovah’s Witness belief at school.) As a child, my prepared speeches were designed to simulate knocking on the doors of adults, not the doors of 5- to 9-year-olds. Some of my teachers were afraid of me because they believed that I, as well as my parents, was “possessed” by some kind of evil power. Slowly, I learned to be different at school, to hide my family and lifestyle, and slowly, the bullying from my classmates faded.
Girls would ask if they could “call for me” and play at the park. I knew that I would not be allowed to go with them, as I was not allowed, as a Jehovah’s Witness child, to socialize with people they considered “worldly ones.” So, I told them that my mother would not let me go with them. Some of them disbelieved me and accused me of not liking them. Although I knew I would receive the “wooden spoon treatment” for giving them my address and allowing them to call for me, I invited them to see for themselves. When they did, my mother said “NO!” and she yelled at me and hit me.
It was hard trying to keep the acceptance of the other children when I was only allowed to associate with them at school. My parents were against me making friends with the children at school, let alone anyone else. My parents expected me to use “break times” as opportunities to preach Watchtower doctrines to my classmates. If no one would listen to me, I was instructed that I should sit by myself and study Watchtower literature on my own.
At the age of 5, I learned how to lie to my parents about my activities at school so that I could save myself from receiving more bruises. I once told them that I held a boy’s hand down to the Watchtower Assembly and that he was now my boyfriend. I paid for that bit of honesty.
From a young age, I remember having a strong dislike for my parents as well as a desperate need of their acceptance and love. I hated my life at home and the never-ending hours of studying.
When I was 14 years old, my dad had an affair with another Jehovah’s Witness married woman. By this time, my older siblings had left the home. Knowing that her actions would cause her to be disfellowshipped from the Watchtower organization, the woman who had the affair with my dad quickly disassociated herself. For his actions, my dad was asked to voluntarily step down from being an elder, which he did with grace. My siblings were not interested in the horrors at home.
The affair made my parents’ frequent, drunken, violent occasions worse. My mother was acting insane, and my father was walking around feeling extremely sorry for himself — all the while studying, attending meetings, knocking on doors and pretending to be the leader of a “perfect” Jehovah’s Witness family. I took over a lot of the care of my younger siblings (the youngest being only a few months old) as well as a lot of the housework, cooking, and school.
I cracked! I started to sneak out at midnight and hang around bunch of dossers (street people) who smoked dope. These men were my “saviors.” They treated me like someone normal. They knew my parents were totally oblivious to my whereabouts; yet they looked after me and were very good friends to me. They protected me from insane people who would have loved a young girl at night in my situation.
I decided to get baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness for two reasons. One, my parents were ecstatic when I mentioned it, and it improved things slightly at home. Two, because I knew in my parents’ eyes, I would now be answerable for my own actions to the elders instead of to them. My double life soon crossed paths. I ran away from home and went into foster care for a short while at age 15. I was disfellowshipped from the Watchtower at 15 because I refused to quit the cigarettes and because I had lost my virginity. My mother was irate about this. She tried her usual, “You need a good spanking, young lady!” routine. So, I reminded her that, when I was on the run, I did inform social services of the “wooden spoon treatment” and that if she marked me, it would be all the evidence social services needed to take us all away to someone who didn’t hit us. She then refused to acknowledge me and spent her time in bed when I was in the house. I had two or three nervous breakdowns that my mother coldly diagnosed as “attention seeking.” I had enough and begged my dad to let me live with my non-Jehovah’s Witness Nan, God rest her beautiful soul.
At age 15, I met my ex-husband (12 years older than me), got pregnant almost immediately, married him at age 16 and had his baby shortly after. My parents loved my ex-husband because he had made their “wayward daughter” a bit more respectful in the eyes of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Scared of life, I went back to the religion. I had to spend a year and a half attending meetings at which no one would acknowledge me at all or speak to me. I felt like I was being punished all over again for all the wrongs I had already been punished for. My ex-husband soon saw the good stuff in the religion and started using it to control me more. He loved how women were viewed as lower than men and how they were commanded to be “submissive” to their husbands and fathers, and do whatever they are told to do, as long as it doesn’t break the Jehovah’s Witness rules. When I showed my parents bruises from him, I was told it was my fault and that domestic abuse is when you are bruised in areas you can only show to your mother. At age 18, I had enough. I saw no way out and attempted suicide, which was extremely selfish as I had a little boy that would have been left to the “sharks.”
Thankfully, I got some sense and told my father about my suicide attempt and he took me to a hospital. Thanks to that hospital visit, I was assigned a brilliant counselor. She showed me the world outside my “hell” and explained how to get there. I found a brilliant solicitor (lawyer), thanks to the advice of my counselor, and my ex-husband got his just retribution in court. The court granted me an Injunction order and a Prohibited Steps Order to protect our son from his violence, too. I disassociated myself from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as they were against all my actions to protect myself and my son from this violent man. Instead, they supported him and so did my parents.
At the age of 19, I met my partner of now four years. He was and still is brilliant with my little boy. He didn’t assume that females were lower than him. He stuck with my non-trust and gave me full reins on how our relationship would go. Last year, I gave birth to his first son. But unfortunately, bad times were to come. A couple of weeks after his birth, one night I recalled something I immediately thought was a childish nightmare. The following day I recalled this memory to my partner and a friend. It went as follows: “Before I was school age, I used to have this kind of nightmare. Cold hands would touch and caress me. Then I’d wake to find my duvet (blanket) over my head and someone crushing me, then not crushing me, then crushing me over and over again. I couldn’t breathe so I turned my head to the side I could see my wardrobe and desk rocking back and forth, back and forth. As soon as I could, I would scream for my mommy, who would eventually arrive tell me it was a dream because I was hot and sweaty, and the rocking furniture was a high temperature. Did anything like that happen to you?”
Their replies were “no,” and they couldn’t hide the shock from their faces. They advised me to ring my mother and ask her. I felt sick but there was a big need in me to know the truth. I called her immediately. I repeated the above and asked her what caused it again. She replied calmly, “Yes, Shereen, it did happen, it was the drugs though.” I’ve read my records. So I asked her what drugs she was giving me at the age of three. She then said it was a demon abusing me. I told her it most definitely wasn’t, as she had been trained as a Jehovah’s Witness to stop demon attacks, but they didn’t work with this one. After more denials and more demanding, I knew who it was. She then passed me on to my father. I then had to repeat it all again to him. When I finished, he asked what room this happened in. I told him it was in the room I shared with my sister. He laughed. I eventually hung up and threw up. Later that day, my mother left a voice message telling me that after accusing my dad, I was no longer her daughter. When I asked her if she thought he was capable, she replied, “He was the only adult male in the house, wasn’t he?”
A few days later I rang my Aunt who had no idea about the abuse, but she did say she always felt there was a bad atmosphere in my home. I rang my 6-year-older sister as we shared bunk beds. She said she could remember something about a demon, and that she believed me when I told her this story, but she said she was a heavy sleeper and wouldn’t know. In reality, she actually was a lighter sleeper and complained a lot about my fidgeting keeping her awake, but somehow, she slept through my ordeals? I think not! It shocked me to acknowledge the abuse, but I told my doctor, who sent me in the right direction for therapy and for giving my statement to the police.
I’d lived up until this point with no awareness of the abuse, but when I did remember it, it felt like the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle. I finally had answers for a lot of things I didn’t understand about myself. I finally knew why I can only sleep with the duvet tightly tucked underneath me curled up like a ball, why I can’t stand to have any part of my body outside the duvet or near the edge of the bed. I understand my deep-rooted fear and hatred of male adults. I understand my obsession with bodily hygiene. I finally know why I can’t relax with my partner unless I have a drink or two, why I won’t ever hang my or my boys underwear outside to dry, why I hide it all from friends who come around, why I am so, so protective of my boys — especially at bath and bed times, why I can’t cuddle up in bed with my 6-year-old without having the duvet between us, why I screamed at a very trusted friend for entering my son’s room because he was crying without my being present, why, for the first six to nine months of my relationship with Graeme, I banned him completely from going in the bathroom when my 2-year-old son was in there, or going in his room without me or changing a nappy (diaper). In a strange way, remembering has helped me accept myself as normal. It has ridden me of the never-ending pressure that felt like lead behind my lower rib cage. It has ridden me of my guilt for hating my parents. It has helped me let go.
Obviously, I haven’t gotten away from the problems that remembering this sort of thing will bring, but the self-blame and hate has decreased. The scream in my head that I feared would send me insane if I didn’t cause myself harm to release it, has shut up completely. A whole year without hearing that scream, my inner child’s scream, my self-harming is now under my control, not the other way around. It hasn’t happened for at least a year.
I’m still waiting for the police to tell me if they have found enough evidence to take my parents to court. They still have an 8-year-old to vent on. I struggle to believe that any religion can hold so much power over one person; can tell its members to shun their own flesh and blood because they no longer wish to be one of them; can ask children as young as 9, in my experience, to commit themselves to a life-long decision, following their rules and way of living, which in my opinion, is an adult decision. No sane person would ask a 9-year-old to sign a contract committing them to a life long career or partner. Yet a 9-year-old, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, can totally understand the consequences of breaking that contract, losing their family’s communication, love and acceptance.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON HEALING FROM ABUSE IN JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES SEE: