Some of that religion stays with me, no matter how hard I try to scrub it off. It’s sticky and stubborn. It’s like a virus transmitted by words – by endless lectures, sermons, and Watchtower readings that were crammed into my eyes and ears, smashed into my head and then plugged up with pages of my cheerful bible story book. Stories wrapped up in beautiful illustrations and pretty people, leaving an invisible oil sludge stain through my insides as the words crawled around my brain and heart, looking for any cracks, some way to invade and fester and grow. And they did.
I’ve been scrubbing it away for 15 years, and I still can’t get it all. I find remnants of that scared little girl, an automatic fear I can’t contain. I hear footsteps coming up the stairs, and even now I experience a split-second of terror. Not because I’m doing anything wrong, but because every single day growing up, I was terrified that the footsteps belonged to my mother, coming upstairs to accuse me of some inexcusable sin – I read a demonic book; I listened to terrible, offensive music; I talked for too long to the bad boy at church that morning; I didn’t spend enough time speaking the Truth to non-believers that week – or worse, maybe she opened my diary and found out what I monster I really was. To anyone else, my diary would’ve told a story of a normal, confused, emotional teenager. To the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was an obscenity they quickly weeded out of their flock of obedient sheep, but not soon enough to save me from the toxic effects of their fear-based indoctrination.
Until I was 31, I refused to allow a Stephen King book in my house: demonic words draw demonic spirits. Only in the last few years could I sleep alone in a house without the lights on, because if Satan and his demons were going to come for me, I was going to make damn sure I could see them. I was a 28-year-old afraid of the dark.
I still can’t watch horror movies with my friends because I’m afraid I might think it’s real.
I’ve still never given blood. I want to, more than anything. I tell myself every week I’m going to the Blood Bank and giving something of myself to someone who really needs it.
These are only the things I can see. Where’s the rest of it? The males in my life were a bunch of authoritative, domineering men who viewed me either as a suspicious temptation or a potential obedient, submissive wife. Where is that, inside of me? Where are the people I grew up with, the ones I called family and friends, who kicked me out of their life without a look back? Or the repeated teachings that family is not priority? Or being told that if I question anyone or second-guess the religion, I’m a stumbling block who should be eliminated?
It’s all seeped into my veins, into my brain, all of it. It’s infuriating. I can only scrub so fast, and sometimes it feels like it’s going to take the rest of my life. The anger against the reach these people still have on me doesn’t always win over the panic and tears that well up at the thought of violating one of these rules. Sometimes the only thing that lets me conquer the fear, that lets me rip the toxic sludge out of my veins, is hurling myself into it. Just fucking do it, Naomi.