She reads her bible every night, gleaning what affirmation she can about the path she’s on. She has Watchtower illustrations framed and hanging where her kids’ pictures used to be – except the daughter who married an Elder. Her smiling family is framed and hanging on the wall, next to the pictures of how paradise earth will be after Armageddon.
Twenty-five years ago, she had no pictures to hang on the wall. Her kids were still young, from two to nine years old. Instead of reading the bible every night, she was at the bar shooting tequila. She’d go on three-day benders and come home covered in hickeys, red-eyed and mean. She never took it out on her children, just her husband. Once, she tried to attack him, so he duct-taped her to a chair.
It got worse. He gave her an ultimatum, finally. It should’ve come earlier. She gets sober, or he takes the kids. The next day, she started studying with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
She’s been sober for 25 years now. She is clean. She is on a path of righteousness. She’s on her way to the new system, where alcoholism doesn’t exist and she won’t have to make the choice to be clean. Her kids, though, they’re all damaged. She sucked up all of the strength she needed for herself and left nothing for them. She will survive, but they might not.
By all appearances, they’re fine. They all have jobs. They all have families. They work, they play, they live. But they’ve all got a seed of doubt in their hearts that they’re not really worth loving. The religion that saved her tore them apart. It clenched their hearts with an icy hand, whispering in their ears, “You’re not good enough to love. You’ll never be good enough.”
The religion gave her the strength to bottle all of her pain and seal it in her heart. Day after day, it lends her strength to keep a tight lid on it. The kids all witnessed it slip, occasionally, growing up. Sometimes it was released in a small, slow hiss and sometimes it was an explosion. Maybe she’ll be strong enough to keep it inside forever, but is that really strength? Maybe she’s the weak one, for refusing to greet her pain. She stuffs it inside until it leaks onto everyone around her.
It’s easy for her to blame the kids for the dysfunction in the family; it’s what the Elders tell her to do. They made the choice to walk away and destroy their lives in the World. They abandoned her. She’s alone on her island of Truth, desperately wishing they would acknowledge their mistakes and join her. Can’t they see that she needed someone to give her a box to fit in, a set of rules to follow? She would’ve spiraled into an alcoholic destruction, had it not been for the rigidity and rules. She doesn’t have to think; she just follows. She hasn’t touched a drop in 25 years. Doesn’t that count for something?
It doesn’t matter what they think. She has a body of ten Elders, a congregation of hundreds, a worldwide community of 8 million validating her choices. They’re in her head, constantly congratulating her for accomplishing God’s will. Meanwhile, those kids are still trying to catch the crumbling bits of their hearts where that icy hand still lingers, watching her spiral into a kind of destruction she can’t even see.
One day, she’ll look at her wall of bible pictures instead of family, and she’ll realize she let everything that mattered go.