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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Kelsie Chis Discovers Her True Self

I was born to parents, who were members of the Watchtower Society of Jehovah's Witnesses organization.  As a child, I was different from other kids due to the fact that I didn't celebrate holidays or stand up for O' Canada.  However, I grew up in a small community, and don't recall being bullied as a child for being different.  In fact, if we had a substitute teacher who didn't already know I didn't stand for the anthem, and when they would motion for me to stand, other kids would stick up for me before I had the chance to say anything. They would say things like, “She doesn't stand up.  It's her religion.” The teacher would usually look quite embarrassed, and apologize profusely to me afterwards.

I didn't feel like I was missing out on things as a child; my parents bought me presents and made me feel important as a person.  Also, I was the youngest of 4 kids, so since I was “the baby” I probably got spoiled for that.

Once I hit high school, things started to change a bit.  It was a bigger school, so I had to re-explain my beliefs to kids and teachers who didn't know me.  Since I was older, I started to feel like “it's because of my religion” wasn't a good enough excuse anymore, that more explanation was needed.  When I started to think more seriously about my beliefs, I wasn't really sure anymore if they were my beliefs, or someone else's.  I had grown up with this religion and I didn't know anything else.  I had considered leaving before I was baptized, but couldn't handle the thought of being under my parents roof and going against their wishes.  I never wanted to disappoint them; I loved my parents, and still do.  The last thing I wanted was for me to be the reason for their sadness.  My brother had been disfellowshipped when I was around 10 years old, and even though I didn't fully understand the situation, I did see the sadness from those in my family.  I didn't want to make them sad.  So I stayed.
Eventually, I got baptized. I was 16 years old.  Looking back, I know I was playing the part I was given.  I was expected to get baptized, that's what a “good Christian” would do, wanting to give their life in service to God.  Hey, everyone else my age was already baptized, why wasn't I?  Many had conversations with me about it, from elders to pioneer sisters to my parents.  I felt pressured to please everyone.  Since they believe “the end is coming soon” and you couldn't be “sitting on the fence”, I picked what I felt was the safe choice. I wasn't sure on my beliefs, but I knew nothing else.

There were a lot of ups and downs in life during my last couple years of high school.  My father was going through a bad bout of depression, along with a couple different cancers.  Alcohol seemed to be his crutch.  Life was difficult.  I felt as if I were walking on eggshells everyday, because I didn't know which version of my Dad I would encounter that day.  My Mum was a rock, but I don't know how she stayed so stable.  I was also dealing with my own depression, for which I didn't receive professional help, since we all thought it was just a “teenager phase.”  I didn't feel like I had a lot of places to turn.  The stuff that made me feel better also made me feel the most guilty.  For example, I found music to be very helpful, but I enjoyed hard rock and metal, things which were not necessarily “approved of” in our congregation. So whenever I listened to it, it would both ease my emotional pain, and add to it.  I also had a few long distance friends, which I relied upon – all male.  When I asked them for emotional help, they usually expected something physical in return.  This usually escalated into sexting, webcam chats, etc.  I would feel used and dirty afterwards, like my physicality was all I had to offer.  I also felt like I was being a bad Christian, and that God would be looking down on me disdainfully.  Surely I would be punished for this.  But hey, these guys were “brothers” in the congregation, not worldly.  Must be okay, right?

The next few years involved a lot of moving from place to place.  As soon as I was finished high school, I moved out of my parents house.  Over the next three years, I moved 7 times.  I was a member of 4 different congregations and I had 5 different roommates.  I was asked by a lot of different people why I moved so much.  I remember my father asking me once, “What are you running from?”  At the time, I didn't know the answer. Looking back, I can see that I was trying to run from myself.  

I knew that I did not want to be a Jehovah's Witness, but I knew that during those years, I was not yet strong enough to accept the alternative.  I had turned to many things to try to ease the pain; alcohol, masturbation and self-harm.  I even tried throwing myself further into the organization.  I thought to myself, maybe I'm just not doing enough. They are always preaching from the platform that you have to constantly be checking to see if you are doing your best.  I already had enough punishment about myself in my own head, so I didn't need anyone else telling me I wasn't doing a good enough job.  

I joined a foreign language group.  I enjoyed learning the language, but the message was still the same.  At another time, I was in a relationship with a brother in the congregation.  We eventually turned our “chaste courtship” into a sexual relationship.  He was my first, and I was his.  I felt like it was normal, natural, beautiful.  I loved him and of course, I wanted to share this experience with him.  But he felt guilty after every time.  Again this just made me feel dirty and worthless.  Why couldn't something like this be shared between two people who love each other?

At one point I got a new job and made friends at work and – gasp! - hung out with them outside of work.  By this time, I was no longer interested in being one of Jehovah's Witnesses, but I was too scared to leave because the repercussions of doing so were extremely terrifying.  It would mean losing my family, my friends I had known all my life, my roommate, my support system.  I felt so trapped. 
I started having a relationship with a guy from work – sex, drugs, alcohol.  I was a mess.  I didn't know who I was anymore, so I morphed into whoever I had to be depending on who I was around; a party animal when I went out, a good girl when I was at the meetings.
Eventually, I couldn't handle being a hypocrite anymore.  I was going out in service to tell people how to live their lives, the way I was supposedly living mine, but I was living a lie.  I was also starting to doubt a lot of things I was taught as a witness.  Topics like homosexuality, creation, and organized religion in general used to be something I just accepted.  When I started really thinking about it, I wasn't so sure I did anymore.  At this time in my life, I was confused, afraid, and felt utterly alone.
Eventually, I opened up about how I felt; first to my family, then to my friends.  I was talking about writing a letter to disassociate myself as a witness.  The elders wanted to have a meeting with me before I did that.  I met with a couple of them once or twice.  I told them about my doubts.  I said I was re-evaluating everything I was taught and seeing what I really felt and believed.  I said that I felt like I needed to take a step back from everything to really be able to have a clear and unbiased picture in my head.  What I got in return was scriptures read to me, when I had said that I wasn't sure I believed in the Bible or even God.  Why are scriptures being read to me to prove they themselves are true?

I was told after a week or two, after I had already been drafting a letter in my head, that they wanted to have a judicial meeting with me. I didn't understand at the time, since I was already deciding myself that I was leaving. Somehow information got to them about me and my previous Jehovah's Witness boyfriend.  He had been reproved just a few days earlier for it.  I went back and forth about whether I would meet with them or not.  In the end, I agreed.
Looking back, I think the reason I said yes was because my "worldly" boyfriend broke things off with me.  I had no one else to turn to, so I went back to the witnesses I had known all my life.  It was, honestly, the most embarrassing thing I have ever had to go through in my entire life.  Questions about when, where, why.  I was asked how I felt about him while the “intercourse” was happening.  I was asked about other sexual partners, about whether I had watched pornography, and what kind.  I honestly felt humiliated.  I was crying, something I hadn't done in months.  After it was over, they sent me out of the room while they “prayed to God for direction on how to discipline me”.  I waited for over an hour in a room by myself while they deliberated my fate, which was disfellowshipping.  Even though I was technically disfellowshipped and not disassociated, I still view it as my decision.  My heart might have been on the fence, but my mind was made up long before that meeting ever occurred.
The aftermath is, of course, bittersweet.  I miss the family that won't talk to me.  The family that will talk to me, the contact is limited.  Having been on the other side though, I do appreciate what contact I do receive.  I have been able to reconnect with my brother, which has been absolutely amazing.  I have also started a relationship with someone I have known since Grade 1.  He has known my ups and downs of my life since they started as a teenager.  I couldn't have a more perfect match for me.  Had I remained as a Jehovah's Witness, I would have missed out on the true love of my life.
There are so, so, SO many other factors about my life as a Witness than what I mentioned here, but really, how could I write about them all without it being a full novel, a memoir?  I'm keeping it short (ish) and sweet (ish) for now, maybe someday this will turn into more.  Bottom line, I hate no one, and I blame no one.  I am who I am because of my upbringing, my surroundings, and my genetics.  I don't believe that anger or regret will solve any pain I may deal with.  I believe in truly feeling emotions, but not allowing yourself to get swallowed by them.  I believe in love and trust.  These are two things I now use to guide my life.  I may not have it all figured out.  I may not know exactly what I do believe.  I may never be sure.  The one thing I am sure of, is that despite everything that has happened and what I have gone through, I know I will be okay.