“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost
2014 was the year that I officially stepped away from the religious community of my youth. The break really happened long before but a lot of things happened this year to confirm to me that it was the best decision I could have made for me. The reactions to this decision have run the gamut but the only ones that have confused me have been people who felt it necessary to offer their hearty congratulations for my choice.
As if the decision were not the most wrenching and difficult of my life. One that took a solid decade of increasing frustration, heartache, painful doubt, and baffling alienation to accomplish. I was fortunate to actually have a supportive partner along every step of the way for the second half of that decade and I still managed to feel desperately lonely in the crumbling I felt going on internally and externally. There was nothing heroic about my decision to leave my religion. It signified that I had run out of any other options–faithful, emotional, cultural, or otherwise–and to be in that position is the most angry and emotionally exhausted I have ever been in my life.
Think it’s easy to walk away from your religion? Trust me, it is not. In one big go I opted out of a community, a culture, a language, a heritage, and a legacy precious to almost every member of my family and a significant chunk of my friends. I disappointed and confused a lot of people who’s good opinion I value deeply. I put peculiar strains on my friendships and my marriage that took holding on tight and communicating hard to navigate thoughtfully and intelligently. I turned my back on an entire cosmology and worldview without really having much solid in place to replace it with, and now have the task of building a new one after nearly 20 years of certainty and 10 of crippling doubt.
I don’t want to be congratulated. Honestly there are days that, in thinking about it, all I want is a hug!
I’m lucky I came out on the other side of my decision feeling as little damage as I do. I’ve had friends and acquaintances make similar decisions in the same or similar religious communities and pay horrible prices for it. But in spite of that laundry list of angst above this, I am actually in a more calm and steady place than I’ve been in years, emotionally or spiritually speaking. Uncertainty is not nearly has bad as I had been made to feel for most of my life. For years now I’ve felt like I was clinging to a rope desperately in the dark, knowing that the drop would kill me if it happened. The more my grasp tightened in panic, the more numb my fingers got, the more the strength gave out in my arms, the harder and harder I would cling, but still I would slip. Several months ago, the last slip happened and the final strands slid out of my clutch. And it turns out the floor was just inches beneath my feet the whole time.
It’s disorienting, to find your worldview gone but your own feet steady beneath you. It feels oddly like peace.