Republishing My Memoir

Brenda T
7 min readNov 5, 2022

Several years ago, I published the story of my life growing up in the Jehovah’s Witness religion and marrying and abuser. Last year, after a traumatic event, I unpublished it along with some other works. Recently, I made the decision to update and republish and I will admit that I am unsure why I decided to do so. I guess the reminder that several people told me that it helped them through their journey might be the reason why. I know that I appreciate any help that comes my way when dealing with trauma. Below is an excerpt. My book can be found on Amazon.

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I feel that I should make clear to everyone who reads this story that My Short-Lived Life at Being Perfect is strictly a memoir about my personal life as a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW’s). Because of the direction I’ve chosen to take with my story, it is not meant to be a book used to teach others what the JW’s believe. If you are interested in learning specifically about their beliefs then I recommend studying with actual members of this group.

This story is written from my personal point of view and my personal experiences. Although I have had many readers express how they have experienced similar situations to mine, it stands to reason that not every single member had the same encounters.

Recently I’ve had several comments from readers informing me that what I have written in regards to Jehovah’s Witness teachings are incomplete or inaccurate. Please be advised that I’ve been gone from the organization for over twenty years. Every so often, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS) makes adjustments to their beliefs. (For example, research their multiple definitions of “this generation” and their stand on blood transfusions.)

Regardless, I do not go into explicit detail about their beliefs in my story. I touch on the very basics: they do not celebrate holidays or birthdays, they do not associate with people who have been. disfellowshipped. or dissociated. In addition, they do not believe that non-members will be saved regardless of that person’s personal relationship with God. As of this writing, I have been disfellowshipped for. over twenty-five years. According to their beliefs, I will not be saved unless I go back to the JW organization, confess my sins to the elders, and work my way back to getting reinstated. If you would like to learn more about this, please contact your local Kingdom Hall and discuss it with one of their members. As everything ends up being a game of semantics, I will probably get called out on how I worded that last part about being saved but, ultimately, what I just stated is true no matter what phraseology is used.

If you like reading memoirs and are looking for an easy read then you’ve come to the right place. If you want to learn more about the JW’s, contact them. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to them, there are many websites you can turn to that will answer any questions you have.

Thank you, my amazing readers!

Chapter 1

Being raised a Jehovah’s Witness (JW), you have some big responsibilities placed on your shoulders. You are expected be a good example to the non-JW kids (aka, worldly kids) you go to school with and who live in your neighborhood. Your attendance and exemplary behavior at meetings (what they call their church services) is mandatory as well as participation in the door-to-door preaching work with your parents. The preaching work or door-to-door work is referred to by JW’s as “service” or “field service.” Your mission in life is to make your parents and, most importantly, the JW organization happy, while following its strict rules of not celebrating holidays, birthdays, etc.

As a third-generation JW, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, home of the famed headquarters of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, the umbrella corporation that directs the work of JW’s worldwide. Not only was I born close to their headquarters — affectionately referred to as Bethel — but I also had family members and friends that lived and worked there. In the JW world, that is the equivalent of royalty. With that pedigree, I always felt even more was expected of me.

As a kid, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that I would grow up to be a big success…that is, a success within the weirdly insulated world of the JW’s. If you are a female JW, this means getting married as soon as possible, preferably to someone with status in the congregation, and becoming a pioneer. A pioneer commits their life to full time preaching work. The quota has since changed, but for many years “regular pioneers” served ninety hours in preaching work, “auxiliary pioneers” served sixty per month. If a single JW girl could snag herself someone who lived and worked at Bethel, in the envious eyes of every other female JW, she hit the jackpot.

The majority of members that are accepted to live and work at Bethel are typically young men straight out of high school. Working at Bethel is not a requirement of the JW’s; it is a personal choice as to whether or not a person applies. The workers at Bethel, who are called Bethelites, are provided with room and board and very meager pay for which they work long hours mostly in the factories that manufacture JW literature. Since we lived in Brooklyn, there were many young Bethelites that attended our congregation, most whom arrived from all over the country, especially small towns in the Midwest. When these young men are accepted to Bethel, they are assigned to congregations by the JW headquarters. Sometimes I got the feeling that the higher-ups in Bethel didn’t leave their cocoon very often and as a result didn’t have much of a clue what some of New York was like, especially in the 1980’s. It wasn’t unusual to see these young, naïve boys walking the streets of Bedford Stuyvesant or Harlem, wearing a suit one size too big for them, carrying a book bag, trying to make their way from the subway station to the local Kingdom Hall.

My congregation consisted of many of these Bethelites. One would think that when I hit my teen years I was living the dream. Not particularly. But the other girls in my congregation who I was friendly with…they were another story. The gatherings and parties thrown which the Bethelites just happened to be invited to were non-stop. And in my opinion, no fun. Although, watching my Kingdom Hall peers preen and swoon and make fools of themselves was entertainment in and of itself. Most of the time, when one of these boys marries a non-Bethelite girl, he gets to bring her to Bethel with him. I’m sure there are qualifications she needs to meet, but the majority of the time that is the case. And what could be a higher honor than to work and live at ‘Jehovah’s headquarters?’

I honestly had no interest. No interest in the Bethelites nor in Bethel itself. I was being raised in an extremist religion that I already didn’t care for or believe in, why would I voluntarily choose to work for and live within the headquarters? They worked long hours for almost no pay and along with the five meetings a week all members are required to attend at their assigned congregations, they also had meetings within Bethel. In regards to their meager wages, it wasn’t uncommon for them to wear hand-me-down clothes donated from people in various congregations. Bethel has an onsite barber shop/salon with mostly untrained stylists who are taught very basic haircuts: the bowl cut that can be swept to the side for the men and the shoulder length cut with bangs for the women.

Keeping the Peace

For a short time I let my family believe that I was all about Bethel — but that was for a very short time. In my mid-teens I made it known, in no uncertain terms, that I wasn’t interested in being a JW. Boy, did the proverbial shit hit the fan! My relationship, not only with my parents, but with my extremely devout pioneer extended family, was very ugly. So, after much name-calling and being ripped up one side and down the other for not wanting to embrace my family’s religion, I finally relented and started playing the good little JW girl to get everyone off my back. For now, living my own life was something that would need to be placed on the back burner.

Eventually, my parents and I moved across the country to Southern California. One of the reasons they did this was to start over and put the nightmare I had put them through behind them. It wasn’t completely behind us, though. When you move to a new congregation, the records from your old congregation follow you. This means, if you caused any type of trouble, whatsoever, your new elders will know about it and you will now be under their microscope.

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To read more, download for free with Kindle Unlimited at: https://www.amazon.com/My-Short-Lived-Life-Being-Perfect-ebook/dp/B01GXJQWHG/ref=sr_1_1?crid=11RYDW4EV2GQY&keywords=brenda+thornlow&qid=1667599629&qu=eyJxc2MiOiIxLjY3IiwicXNhIjoiMC4wMCIsInFzcCI6IjAuMDAifQ%3D%3D&sprefix=%2Caps%2C54&sr=8-1

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Brenda T

Brenda Thornlow is an author, animal advocate, and certified Reiki Master from New York. Her books can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.