According to wikipedia, culture shock "refers to the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, uncertainty, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within a different and unknown cultural or social environment, such as a foreign country. It grows out of the difficulties in assimilating the new culture, causing difficulty in knowing what is appropriate and what is not. This is often combined with a dislike for or even disgust (moral or aesthetical) with certain aspects of the new or different culture."
I am approaching the four year anniversary of having officially left the Jehovah's Witnesses. If you've read the blog here, you will know that it has been a long and winding road through deprogramming myself, integrating my experiences and attempting to assimilate the world that I was isolated from for most of my life. I have been a 'stranger in a strange land'. It has been scary and exhilarating. Maddening and freeing. And everything in between.
I have experienced culture shock in entering the world post-JW. I wish it were as simple as just integrating the external world around me. But the hardest battle has been conquering the 'foreign country' within my own psyche. Four years ago, when my friend J (also a JW at the time) asked me if there was anything I could find out about the JW beliefs that would make me believe it's not "the truth", he was really asking me the question that I have not been able to stop asking about everything I encounter: Is this true?
Perhaps it was a JW left-over that made me so voraciously want to know truth, to want to know what is real. I naively believed that (in my best Fox Mulder voice) 'the truth is out there'. Having entered this new world only at the age of 31, I sincerely believed that I had some catching up to do, that everyone around me knew what was going on, that they had the answers to life's questions, or at least that they were further ahead in finding the answers than I was.
So, I traversed lands far and wide. I threw myself into life, pushing my boundaries, choosing to experience first-hand the things that I judged others for as a JW. I needed to know, to understand, to feel with my own body and through my own mind what the experience of life is like. I took drugs. Smoked. Got drunk. I felt the pangs of addiction. I explored my sexuality and watched others explore theirs. I explored my concepts of love, relationship and gender. I pushed my body through pain, my heart through breaking and my psyche through splitting. I asked my questions, tested my theories, and lived my life as a social experiment.
When J and I left the JW's, he thought going to University would be a good thing for me, that it would give me an opportunity to find out what is true, what is real. I had no interest in this. Having had an unfulfilling educational experience in High School, whereby I learned that modern education is less about serious inquiry and more about regurgitating information to the end of maintaining the status quo, I preferred to handle my education directly. I followed my innate curiosity, allowing my inner questions to lead me. I have sought out a wide variety of views. I have read books, blogs, magazines, newspapers, listened to podcasts, attended lectures and workshops, and written copious notes and reflections. In the past year alone, I have read some 40 books on a variety of subjects. Always searching, searching, searching. Always asking: is this true?
And what are my conclusions? The universe is virtually unknowable. There will always be more questions than answers. It is not so easy to separate fact from fiction; perception is a large factor in constructing reality. I am content to say that life is a great mystery.
It seems though that every pursuit has a cost, even the noble search for truth. The exploration of my psyche has caused a bit of a rift in the internal chemistry of my brain. Or at least that's my sense of what's going on (there could be any other number of explanations or a combination of such...again the great mystery). Perhaps the brain, like any other body part, wearies with overuse. Frankly, mine feels a bit crispy fried these days. I am currently experiencing a hypomanic state, and teetering dangerously close to a full-blown manic episode. Since I have no desire to be found running naked through the streets of my downtown core (as fun as that would be) or worse yet, going all Unabomber on a society I both loathe and love (not fun at all), I have opted to explore a pharmaceutical intervention to bring me back into my body and bring some quiet to my mind. I'm giving myself a much-earned mental holiday.
Overall, looking back on what I've accomplished over the last four years, I am quite proud of myself. I gave myself a University education without spending $40,000. I have found a way to function in a new culture. And I have stripped myself bare. I have shed the skin of everyone I used to be. I am flesh and bones and a fractured, yet increasingly open and full, heart.
I can finally call myself human.