Synopsis of “Armageddon Never Comes”
© Denise Wise - Biography
I trace my life from entry into and subsequent escape from a religious cult. I was the tender age of ten and my sister eight when my mother radically changed religious persuasion from devout Church of England to the much more controlling and all encompassing Jehovah’s Witnesses, a world-wide movement with its grip around millions of hearts. This is a fundamentalist Christian cult, masquerading as a religion.
Being sensitive and shy children it was both an easy and a difficult way of life. Easy because there were hundreds of ready-made friends in this new “extended family” and difficult because even the young ones were expected to accompany their parents in the door to door preaching work, which if you are working in the same area as your school colleagues, has the potential for being excruciatingly embarrassing, not taking into account the amount of doors that are closed in your face before you even say a word! I have to say I never adopted the “foot in the doorstep” method to keep it open though, as some have the reputation for.
A certain amount of this sales schooling coupled with training in the three compulsory meetings a week might at first seem to be harmless character strengthening stuff but combine it with being outright discouraged to further one’s education in any form, or better oneself in a “worldly” career, using the powerful emotions of fear and guilt to control and you have a recipe for disaster.
The result is my sister and I were two young women with no qualifications other than a handful of basic CSE’s and O’Levels as they were called at that time, “deserted” (or so we were led to believe by our mother) by our biological father and encouraged by her and our step-father to dedicate ourselves to a life of biblical service, contrition and devotion, the ultimate goal becoming a full-time pioneer, preaching 90 hours a month. I chose this path and my sister chose the other option of marrying young and becoming a subservient wife, the man being the rightful “head of the house” according to the bible. Neither was much of a choice, in fact it was like living in Victorian England.
The other thing they omit to tell you is once you’re hooked in it’s a very painful process to get out, typical of all cult behaviour. If you leave and commit a disfellowshipping sin of some kind, i.e. adultery, fornication (that’s normal sex to you), smoking, having a blood transfusion, you are ostracised from the group, including close family. In other words, my parents were forbidden to have anything but absolutely necessary contact with us, so no socialising and eating together. I have a daughter of twenty four who lives in Switzerland, but when I used to drop her off to visit her grandmother as a younger child, I was made to stand on the front doorstep. This was painful for everyone involved and the conflict this caused in my mother brought on ulcerative colitis in her. Well, thoughts become things don’t they, no religion should ever dictate you sever your natural instincts as a mother from her children, in the same of God! If they do, ask yourself what kind of God would want that and do you even want to get to know him, let-alone obey him?
Eventually my daughter decided for herself in her late teens that she no longer wanted to go through with the visits to her Grandparents. Although it was extremely difficult to walk away from everything I had known, including my flesh and blood, my freedom and that of my daughter, was worth more to me than anything else and still is. Besides it would have been a waste of good therapy which I had undertaken in Switzerland before I left the religion and subsequently as a consequence, my husband. Hard won freedom.
Sex before marriage is forbidden and there is a whole back-up system of SAS type Elders who patrol to control. Many of the Witnesses children marry young as a result, like my sister. It’s either that or celibacy and we all know how difficult and unpopular a concept that is in today’s world. That is unless you manage to sever yourself from your animal desires and remain a virgin as I did till my marriage at twenty eight. Some may think this is very admirable and shows an amazing amount of self-control but the reality is, if you cut off your sexual thoughts and inclinations for long enough believing that God can see your every move, it becomes quite easy in a numb sort of way. No rummaging under the bedclothes for me, not even a bit of solo activity. This led to disastrous results in the nuptial chamber, where ignorance is not bliss by any stroke of the imagination (excuse the pun). In fact there wasn’t much imagination or stroking on my wedding night, just fear, pain and massive disappointment. They had proudly held my virginity up as a beacon to the wayward and here I was for the next five years of marriage, struggling to enjoy sex at all. I thought there was something wrong with me, maybe I was frigid?
Detached and standing almost outside of myself as an observer, I was seething with anger inside but due to my excellently developed skills of suppression we managed to appear to be just like any other happy couple. Well we got along on certain levels, as we still do. I could devote a whole chapter to it and to the many lovers I have had since I walked away aged 34. It will be a bit like the scene in “Four Weddings and a Funeral” where Andy MacDowell recounts her succession of amorous encounters to a flabbergasted Hugh Grant, who rather than think her a slapper, is dumbfounded with admiration and wonders why he has wasted so much time having so little fun himself all these years. The pendulum swings! Right now, it’s landed somewhere in the middle and I find myself finally free of so many tempting distractions, away from the big city of London and living in the beautiful provincial city of Norwich.
I am finally putting pen to paper again and making some sense out of this journey I call my life. Well to be honest, it’s been seven years since I last added a line to this story, writers block, lack of inspiration and lack of motivation had set in, and a good dose of depression back then when I started to open up the wounds and look at the way life had taken me. I somehow feel less of a victim these days and so gathered the strength to carry on with my story, understanding a little more about my part in forgiving those who played their part in my suppression and my responsibility to ensure that it doesn't keep coming around to smack me in the face. Standing in my own power I guess would be the term to use, owning the ground I stand on, believing I have a right to think, say and feel how I want to.
There is a lot of repressed frustration and bitterness in the congregation of the Witnesses, where they feel unable to voice their true opinions and feelings, leading to some being hyper critical of each other. Projection. It particularly used to disturb me when my mother would start to run other members down on the way home from the meetings. A strong woman of character, a teacher, intelligent with an enquiring mind in her younger years, it was disappointing to see her capitulate more and more to the pressures of subjugation and lash out at others, particularly my stepfather, as a result.
Also amazing was her ability to completely justify my stepfather defaulting on my grandfather’s will a decade ago. As we were adopted by him, his parents kindly viewed us the same as their own, our step cousins, and verbally promised us each £3,000 on his death. His sister, not a Christian, but nevertheless an upstanding citizen, gave each of her children their £3,000. Our devoted Christian parents on the other hand, kept it a secret. Little did they know that our Aunty had already primed us about it long before Granddad’s death and again straight afterward. She had a sneaking suspicion her brother would want to hang on to the money as he always was tight-fisted, and she was right! A few months after the funeral my sister made a phonecall to Mum and enquired if the estate and will had been resolved as she was aware that we were promised this money. After Mum initially trying to pretend that she didn’t know what she was talking about, her only comments were that as we had disowned them and walked away they didn’t feel we deserved the money or knew what we were doing with our lives.
This also applied to my half brother who left the Witnesses around the same time as I did, although completely independently of me. It still shocks me to think of the sentence that then fell out of my mother’s mouth. When my sister questioned this decision she replied “well your Grandfather is not coming back from the grave to prove it is he”. In any good JW or indeed Christian book, this is pretty blasphemous and disrespecting of the dead at best and is tantamount to stealing, a sin in the bible - if I am correct! So they needed the £9,000 more than their three children, and we were to wait as they had to, until their death, before we would inherit.
Being cynical, I see it is to do with the fact that Armageddon, God’s war to ethnically cleanse the earth of anyone who wasn’t a Witness, still hadn’t come. They were now retired and realising what it meant to survive on a meagre pension, as they hadn’t been career conscious due to their piety and self denying lifestyle. They did the sensible thing with the money and used it to buy a flat to rent out. I wrote a very angry song about this called “Shame on You”. It helped me to express my anger to a certain extent. Our relationship was sorely strained before this but became more or less irreparable. It’s their Karma though, not mine, I refuse to hold on to the anger of this. Breathe. Exhale.
As far as escaping a cult is concerned, I know that many things helped me of which the first was having and loving a child, my beautiful daughter. Learning to paint on silk and express my emotions through colour, that was very healing too. I had read a lot about psychology over the years but really geared up during my marriage as I was still trying to work out what the hell was going on. This led me to searching out a suitable Bioenergetic therapist, in the line of Jung and Reich. The therapy was developed by Alexander Lowen. A combination of body and mind psychotherapy.
For two years I went to see the psychologist who practised this method of releasing trapped emotions stored in the body. I felt a sense of self gradually building and a book she lent me called “Women and Religion” by Marjella Franzmann, a clergy woman, finally tipped the scales for me. I had an epiphany, I suddenly saw so clearly how ridiculous the Adam and Eve story was. How much suffering had occurred at the hands of a patriarchal society who believed that God had cursed Eve and her offspring eternally for her sin, given her pain in child birth, saying she would be dominated by her husband thence forth. What utter tosh!!! How many millions of women through thousands of years of history both Christian and Muslim had been repressed as a result of this archaic sham story? At best meant as a parable, at worst taken as literal by the fundamentalists.
How convenient a teaching it was for the patriarchal men in our congregation, but one that both my mother and I riled against. She is actually a bit of a feminist if the truth were known. I won the battle, which she has unfortunately given in to. Both my sister, brother and other close friends have their own reasons for leaving the JWs, each different from each other but the common theme being, to be able to think and make decisions for oneself at long last and think of oneself as a citizen with equal rights. To feel good enough. To be free.
Since leaving the ranks, my sister and I have had to rebuild our lives completely from finding a roof over our heads, working our way up the food chain, to making completely new friends. It helps that our biological father left my mother just before she joined the JWs, as it was like having a ready made family to go to all those twenty years later, in light of our being cut off from our mother.
It was of course difficult to bond with our father immediately, as we hadn’t known him at all in that long time. My mother had sensed that he was going to be a bad influence on us all those years ago, he would have encouraged us to make something of ourselves and go out into the world and that isn’t what she wanted, so she slapped an injunction on him banning him from any contact with us on very flimsy pretences. If you strip it down it was bribery, if my father refused to pay further maintenance any more then he would lose all rights to see us. He had been paying and not been allowed to see us for quite a while, so she knew she could swing it. He and his new love were ready to start a new family and couldn’t afford to do both. In those days it was easy for a woman to work the injunction card.
She may have thought she was replacing him with a much better model father for us, an upstanding member of the congregation, but it was one of the worst of a string of mistakes which led to emotional disaster. Once she was married to my stepfather she hated his guts and would rant and rave at him constantly for being a failure in every way, turning us against him. So now we were estranged from both our fathers, one physically and the other emotionally.
My sister and I still try to make sense of the damage that has been done by not having a close and loving father to look to for unconditional support and to encourage us to deal with our lack of trust and insecurity issues. We wish to move on and enjoy fulfilling relationships with men we can respect and trust but it’s an ongoing process of learning to love oneself, easier than it sounds, but not impossible as we are slowly discovering.
My sister has taken a City and Guilds course in Interior Design and I have been attending creative writing and self development workshops which led me to start writing songs and now finally, a book and ultimately to train as an energy healer, so who knows what else I will turn my hand to.
The world is now my oyster, with no sign of Armageddon on the horizon to dull my exploration of life with its hopes and dreams. I will no longer be a victim to my circumstances but forgive and forget and empower myself to take full responsibility for all that I want, need and desire in my life. I won’t dance to anyone else’s tune except my own! A free spirit, set to wander the inner and outer landscapes in search of adventure and learning new secrets, satisfying my hunger for knowledge and understanding of the world around me both seen and unseen. I have regained the sense of magic that is available to anyone who is prepared to open their mind and their eyes to see it.
I find myself presently in the depths of the winter, January 2015. Fast forward twenty years from my departure from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, my husband and my whole life prior. Here I am 53 years old, having lived out a fun and adventurous couple of decades in the exciting City of London, I find myself in the lovely, no beautiful, Norwich, also a City but a very different one indeed. Here everything is mellow, the harsh edges shaved off, slower, without the irritation and so it’s easier to reflect on my journey, sigh a breath of relief from the clean, fresh air, ground myself. In order to achieve a work/life balance I have undertaken training as an energy healer, left my lucrative position in Universal Pictures and taken a big leap into the unknown.
My network of London friends, still dear to me, are working in my favour and introduced me to a nurse, who lives a short walk from my quaint attic home in the old quarter. She is inspirational, having been forced to take time out for a damaged shoulder and retrained as a Reiki healer. She also ended a non productive relationship of three years, which was the very reason she came to Norwich from Essex in the first place. We talked about our development and the various trials and challenges we had been through in the last year and during the conversation she mentioned a project she thought I would be very interested in. It’s an old hospital in Mundesley that had lain derelict for five years and has been bought by an entrepreneur. It’s now being transformed into a mental health hospital offering NHS patients a range of alternative additions to the drugs and psychiatrists of the mainsteam. I read the online news article with avid interest and Googled the man in the article, Mark Wentworth who turned out to be a renowned colour therapist of 25 years experience.
After reading Mark’s profile I became convinced that I would like to know more and I found his email address and wrote to him. A week later we met and so many connections were made and questions answered that he invited me to visit the hospital and take a look around what is still a work-in-progress building site and hive of activity, although nearing completion. It’s a fascinating contrast to where I am currently working, in an NHS Mental Health Hospital and is what the country is crying out for right now. A disturbingly high amount of people are being admitted, especially young people suffering what is often a spiritual crisis our system doesn’t understand and stands by watching helplessly as more and more fall victim to deep depression.
Two days later a dear friend, a Shiatsu practitioner and I were excitedly driving up to the Coast to visit this historic old hospital originally built in 1899. The first of its kind in England, it opened as a tuberculosis sanatorium with verandas and wooden cabins dotted around the premises for allowing the air to the patients’ lungs. After being purchased by a private company, it underwent a refurbishment in 1997 and was re-opened as the Princess Diana of Wales Treatment Centre for drugs and alcohol recovery for twelve years but then closed in 2009 and has lain empty for five years.
Recently, a successful businessman in the building trade, looked at the property and decided to buy and run it with other investors, in order to transform it into a combined mental health hospital and holistic centre. This is what I mean when I say I seek to find the magic, despite what the news would have us all believe. There are amazing people out there doing brave and inclusive things to make this a better world to live in. You just have to look in the right places!
Who knows whether I may be part of this project or just watch it grow and flourish, but I am very sure of what I want and what I am capable of now and I want to thrive, make the transition from PA to healer and light worker and feel that I am part of a brave new world, clearing a pathway to shine where I can. To heal both myself and others in the process.
Long ago I had a utopian dream of a thriving community of alternative health practitioners, also an education centre for the arts in beautiful rural surroundings, where my friends would gravitate and settle. Who knows where I will find myself on this great journey.
It certainly feels like a long twenty years since I first had that dream, my own dream after leaving the oppression of a mind controlling cult and not someone else’s vision for me, but maybe it happened in the twinkling of an eye, after all there is no such thing as time and space in the spiritual world they say, just multiple dimensions and layers for us to traverse in the search for the ultimate Nirvana. Bring it on. Armageddon isn’t coming and it never was. Namaste!
Denise has created a book around her experience of breaking free from a religious cult, get in touch to find out more
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