Author Diane Wilson speaks about her 'escape' from the Witnesses.
Thursday, April 24, 2003
Photo by Peg Jackson: Free At Last: Diane Wilson felt her life was not her own when she was a Jehovah''s Witness.
Jehovah''s Witnesses--those nicely dressed, excruciatingly polite men and women who knock on people''s doors and hand out literature--just want folks to know about the word of God, right?
Wrong, says Morgan Hill resident Diane Wilson, who spent 25 years as a Witness before ditching the group and writing a "tell-all" book about them. "Don''t let them in," she warns. "It can take only one or two visits before they hook you, and once you''re hooked, it''s very difficult to get out."
Wilson, who now works as a sign-language interpreter for the deaf at Gavilan College in Gilroy, left the Witnesses in 1993 after suffering what she describes as years of humiliation and mental and emotional manipulation at the hands of a group she calls a cult. She will talk about her experiences, and the years of therapy that gave her the strength to leave, this Saturday at Bookworks at a book-signing for Awakening of a Jehovah''s Witness: Escape From the Watchtower Society.
Wilson''s book is a harsh indictment of the Witnesses and their Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, which she accuses of theological obfuscation and doctrinal inconsistency. She says she left the group because she came to believe it promoted a false religion, but readers don''t have to share or even care much about Wilson''s theological disappointment in order to be fascinated by her analysis of the group''s allegedly cult-like operation. The lessons she learned about how cults work, and how they prey on certain types of people, give her story universal appeal.
In her book, Wilson describes physical and emotional abuse she says was heaped on her by a mentally unstable mother--key to understanding, Wilson says, how she grew into the kind of self-doubting adult that would join a cult. She writes about a lengthy illness, a too-early marriage, and coming under the spell of a friendly Witness couple.
Desperate for love and looking for answers, Wilson came to believe that if she didn''t accept the Watchtower Society''s increasingly strict control over her life, she would be killed by a vengeful God at the impending Armageddon, along with the rest of the world''s unbelievers.
On page 18, she writes: "I grew up feeling rejected and worthless: the feeling of rejection led to a compulsive desire to please others, hoping to win their approval; the feeling of worthlessness led to my thinking that I had nothing valuable to say, thus developing a dependency on the leadership of others...I developed a need for absolute answers, order, stability and rules."
Spurred on by her fear of eternal death, Wilson says, she spent 25 years obeying the group''s strictures, going door-to-door to "save" others, spending long hours every week in meetings and prayer services, avoiding anyone and anything outside the narrow Watchtower world. Plagued by doubts about the group almost from the beginning, she tormented herself for those doubts, leading to feelings of guilt, shame and anger. Her parents'' suicide, and the Society''s lack of compassion following her own rape eventually led Wilson to therapy and, finally, disassociation from the Witnesses.
"I really expose myself in this book, but it''s worth it if I can help others," she says, adding that she gets emails almost every day from people looking to leave the group. "I also wrote it as a tool to help my own healing and recovery."
Wilson''s book is filled with detailed examples of the Society''s doctrinal aberrations, its over-zealous discipline of children, its dangerous medical ideas and its self-righteous arrogance. She doesn''t seem to realize that many other religions also believe that only they have the key to salvation, that un-believers are "controlled by Satan," and that it''s a tragedy if a child marries outside the group.
Still, the extent to which Wilson felt her mind and life taken over by the Society''s elders is frightening. And again, even if the reader is not persuaded to take every one of her charges as gospel truth, her book documents how a co-dependent person with low self-esteem can come under the control of any leader or group with absolute answers.
Even her efforts to leave the organization were marred by lies and secrecy--she says she had to rent a post office box so her husband, a Society elder, wouldn''t see the anti-cult literature she was ordering. He stayed with her for ten years after she left the Witnesses, although she was no longer welcome, or even recognized, within the group.
Wilson says that when her book was published this January, her husband finally divorced her. He did not, she says, read any part of what she wrote. "Witnesses are forbidden," she says, "to read anything critical of the organization."
Diane Wilson will sign copies of Awakening of a Jehovah''s Witness on April 26 from 1-3pm at Bookworks, 667 Lighthouse Ave. in Pacific Grove.