Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you grow up with religion? Was it central or peripheral to your life?
Dina Holford: My mother was baptized as one of Jehovah’s witnesses whilst heavily pregnant with me. She had been a regular recreational drug taker until she had a knock at the door and started a bible study.
My dad, however, although having studied with Jehovah’s witnesses on/off, was more inclined to Wicca and was still taking drugs after I was born before quitting when I was around the age of 7.
My father was initially opposed to my mother raising me as a witness, even having taken her to court over the blood issue, however gradually softened. I went to meetings on/off during my childhood before completely stopping before my teens.
I then underwent a moment of wanting spirituality and decided to have a bible study at the age of 15. I became an active member of the congregation and was baptized just weeks after my 17th birthday.
I would say, from the age of 15, this particular religion was my entire life. I was so absorbed in it, that I now realize my family was pushed out because it had taken over. It was the number one thing in my life.
Jacobsen: When did you first begin to have small doubts about the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Holford: I always had some niggle in the back of my mind, but I always pushed it aside and pretended it wasn’t there. Occasionally, I would come across what was deemed “apostate” words online, and naturally, I thought, why would there be so much hatred for a religion which was meant to be “the truth”?
Curiosity led me to read some of it, mainly relating to shunning, and you then try not to question why such kind loving people would treat people like they are dead.
Jacobsen: How did you begin to have strong doubts and even misgivings with the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Holford: the two big things that led to my serious doubts were when my mother was disfellowshipped, and then when I had begun pioneering. My mother was disfellowshipped when I was about 18.
She was an alcoholic, and the elders had met with her a few times, but after she was spotted out drinking and having a sneaky cigarette, they called for a judicial meeting. Instead of offering her any support, suggesting ways to get help, or even offering to go with her, they told her she was being disfellowshipped.
I remember the day clearly as she came home crying badly. At that moment, I hadn’t realized how serious it was. But then the elders came to speak with me (at that time, I was no longer living at home).
They told me that unless there was an emergency situation such as my dad having been rushed to hospital with something life-threatening, I would not be able to have any form of contact with her at all.
At the time, I couldn’t understand it. I was feeling very hurt, and they were pushing the thought into my head that my mother was a bad person who didn’t love “Jehovah” and was on “Satans side”. I became angry and would slam down the phone, not answer the door, or visit my family.
Then one day, my father spoke with me and told me that if I cut my mother off, my family would no longer have any sort of relationship with me. That is when I began to realize what I was doing to my own mother. I felt like suddenly I was thinking for myself.
My bubble burst and I began to realize that shunning isn’t loving and that I had caused more hurt and pain in a few months, than showing love and support which my mother needed. I then resumed my relationship with her secretly. Around this time, I was also pioneering.
This is also where I began to have major doubts. I could see pioneers being put on pedestals and there was this hierarchy I couldn’t understand. I remember a brother calling pioneers and above, “the elite”. It was as though you were better than those you were meant to be equal to.
Behind the scenes, there was so much pressure to be preaching, and to be the best. If you had more bible studies, you were better than the rest…it was this sort of thinking. Getting time in, though was one of the worst pressures.
I fell ill the year before I left, whilst still pioneering, and there was an immense pressure to get the hours in. Realising that I couldn’t do it and was severely depressed and in pain, I had a visit from the elders who decided to take me off pioneering (preaching for 70 hours a month).
I reluctantly agreed because of my health. Once this was announced, it was like they had announced I had leprosy. No one looked at me the same again. I wondered where the love was, and where my support was.
Jacobsen: What do those who leave gain and lose at the same time within the few years after leaving the JWs?
Holford: Unexpectedly for me, I fell in love with someone who wasn’t one of Jehovah’s witnesses and was accused of fornication and was disfellowshipped. I lost my home, I lost my friends, I lost what I thought was everything.
Being one of Jehovah’s witnesses puts you in some sort of untouchable bubble which is your entire life. You are cut off from the outside world. I didn’t know how to work, how to live, how to be happy…It was like being a baby all over again in a world which you had been brought up to believe was very scary and evil.
All of a sudden, you are treated like you have died, and you have to grovel for forgiveness. Then a group of men has to decide whether you are repentant enough! I couldn’t go back. Starting anew made me feel free.
I found love, I gained life skills and found work, rented my first house, had children…Being away from this religion has brought my family together, and made a massive difference to my mental health especially.
Although I still suffer from depression, I am happier than I ever have been. I am under no pressure from any human to please God in the way they dictate or to live up to any HUMAN standards. I have complete control over my own life, and finally feel like I am living and not just surviving.
Jacobsen: If you have any advice for those individuals who are thinking of leaving the religion, what would it be for them? How can they leave safely? Why should be concerned about it? Why should they be happy about it?
Holford: My advice would be to really really think about the basic teachings of this religion. The biggest principle they claim to live by is love. Does shunning really bring people back out of love for God, or out of fear and through guilt tripping? Is shunning really such a loving act?
And is there really enough internal support as they claim? If you have any doubts, then don’t ignore them. You have every right to happiness as the next person. It is definitely not going to be easy, and perhaps the easiest way is to slowly fade as many do, but do not deny yourself the chance to be free from pressure and negativity and man’s ideas of how you should live your life and how worthy you are to be a worshipper of God.
Do not allow your life to be dictated for you by a group of men. Plan ahead, and definitely find support groups…there are many online for ex-witnesses. They are a haven for people who have been through this before and who are still going through the heartache caused by these people.
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?
Holford: 2 years on, I realize leaving was the best thing that happened to me. I am free. Never deny yourself happiness, never live a lie.
We are only here for a tiny spec of time, and we should enjoy the time we are here. We don’t know what may happen tomorrow, we may not even wake up. So why waste time? Be happy be free.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dina.