If you were born and raised a Jehovah’s Witness, your mind has been altered. I don’t think you’re irreversible but I just think from my own experience at least, you’re taught this stuff early on. –Nadia Alexandra
Nadia Alexandra created and performed her first comedy show back in January of 2017. It was the story of her life growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, how it shaped her and why she decided to leave. Echo spoke to Alexandra about how the show came to be and serves a deeper glimpse into the religion that changed her relationship with herself and her body.
What is your show about?
I was working with a mentor from high school who was my drama teacher. There were actually shows that didn’t have my parents full approval to be in, so she kind of learned about that side of me. It was sort of a way for me to survive—just being a part of theater. She was really a huge influence on my life, and as I graduated, we still stayed in touch. Two years later, I was writing and brainstorming. She had been really helpful and giving me feedback but she lived in the suburbs and I lived in the city. I really wanted to get it up on its feet. I decided to work with one of my friends, Stephanie, who is a teacher at The Second City. That led to a two night run at the Annoyance Theater in January of 2017.
Your show is about your childhood experiences. Can you tell me about that and being a Jehovah’s Witness? Were you always raised that way?
I was born into it. [I] didn’t really have a choice there. My dad was really driven. I just remember there was a lot of stress around becoming a ministerial servant and eventually an elder. My dad was always an abusive figure, I would say. Even though I used to really look up to him when I was young, he was kind of like a double-edged sword. When I was in seventh grade, I sort of started—I wouldn’t say a total outward rebellion—but I made my own decision internally that I was not going to partake in this belief system forever. I think some of the abuse was so intense from my parents that I really just suffered a lot and it caused me post-traumatic stress disorder, which cultivated later on into depression and a lot of really difficult things. They basically knew at that point they didn’t have any control over me and finally just let it go.
Did growing up in this religion affect the way you thought about yourself and your body?
I was actually really dissociated from my body especially when I was older. Maybe in like seventh or eighth grade, it started because I was going through a lot of abuse, including sexual abuse in my home. There was that and then just in terms of the religion like the woman’s body especially is shameful. I mean, in my perspective all of it involved hiding women’s bodies. It was that thing where you had to hide the form of your body itself because of some crazy temptation that was going to take away from this power structure.
Did it take you a while to break away from that? Do you think it still affects you now?
I think it always affects you at some level even though I’m doing a lot of work, like therapy and stuff to just keep learning about how my mind works now. Definitely, your mind is altered. You can’t change that. If you were born and raised a Jehovah’s Witness, your mind has been altered. I don’t think you’re irreversible or anything but I just think from my own experience at least, you’re taught this stuff early on. Not only the body image thing but the other things like dying in Armageddon and all this other stuff. Your parents are the ones you’re hearing a lot of this stuff from and getting disciplined from so you think they’re kind of like God too and it messes up some of your personal relationships because of that and it takes you a really long time even after. Sometimes it still comes up. Noticing it is like winning because it’s not your fault, you didn’t ask for this, it just happened to you.
Did you ever think you would get to where you are now?
In my personal life, in my relationships and all that I’m extremely happy. I feel like I’ve conquered a lot in that department. I’m in a lot of healthy relationships right now and it makes me feel really good about myself. In terms of career and I guess “success,” I’m definitely still figuring it out. I’m definitely thinking about entrepreneurship and maybe helping underserved communities in Chicago through entrepreneurship and getting more communities that don’t have enough infrastructure or business just a place to gather and I’m just trying to learn more about that and the neighborhoods in Chicago that could use some more help with that. I think eventually I’ll get there but right now, I think it’s just about I’ve made it. I feel like I’ve made it with my relationships and my home life and that’s what’s most important to me. The other stuff is confusing but I think I’ll get there eventually.