It is impossible to overstate the cost of leaving the Christian faith. Departing my belief system has been devastating. Almost ten years later, I still experience intense anger and inception-like dreams about the abuse of growing up in a world of lies. I feel robbed of a normal childhood and was deprived of accurate information. I had no opportunity to develop normally.
I am bitter for being taught I was worthless (none is good, no not one) and that I was in desperate need of salvation from a burning hell. My childhood religion was never able to assure me that I could be good enough to make it to heaven. To this day, my parents believe that after a lifetime in ministry, if they slipped up and sinned once before they died, they would go to hell for eternity.
I have anger about the horrors of hell, the ‘rapture’ (a thief in the night), demon possession, abandonment, unforgivable sins, and the evils of the world, the flesh, and the devil. I resent not being able to ever feel good about my self or safe from punishment. I am horrified to realize I was taught racist, sexist, and white supremacist ideals as Christian values.
I am sad because I dedicated the first fifty years of my life and gave up everything to serve God. I am confused about losing my family and friends. They publicly say that I have “gone off the deep end.” I feel enormously betrayed. I watch in disgust as they angrily defend the indefensible in their support of Trump.
Yes, I can hear you say, “Oh my, you have anger issues,” and you may be right. For the first time in my life, I moved my repressed and denied emotions out of the unconscious and into the conscious. Several tools helped me gain the courage to do this. I’m writing about them in my latest book, “The Quest.”
I realize now that I have experienced “Religious Trauma Syndrome” (RTS). Psychologist Marlene Winell says,
“RTS is entirely different from other trauma recovery situations. Natural disaster experiences, childhood sexual abuse, or family violence, are all understandable to friends and professionals who are likely to be sympathetic and supportive.
But in religious abuse, a person is often hounded by family and church members to return and reminded in many ways that they are condemned and ostracized otherwise. In essence, they are pressured to return to the perpetrator of their abuse. Their suffering is not seen. In fact, they are made pariahs when they do not return. This social rejection is an added layer of serious injury absent from other varieties of trauma.”
One of the most vital paths to healing for me is verbalizing and honestly expressing these raw emotions. This post, my art, my writings, my five-year escape to the wilderness, gradually returning to society, and my ever-increasing enjoyment of life have enabled me to do so. My life, at last, is characterized by the essentials of who I am: freedom, intimacy, sensuality, and curiosity. All things that my former faith controlled, regulated, forbade and censored.
Leaving the faith has cost me:
—Holidays (such as Christmas, Easter, and Father’s Day)
—My heavenly father
—Most of my friends
—My first marriage
These are just a few of my devastating losses. Leaving the faith has exacted a high cost. Does it hurt? Yes, worse than anything in my life. But will I return to the faith? Not in my life. I’m finding that nothing is more satisfying and enjoyable than being who I really am. Nothing. It’s been a long time coming.
I recently had this defining moment when I had to reconcile the fact that losing these things was always going to be a part of the narrative of who I am. You learn how to get up in the morning, you learn how to live without them, but your life is fundamentally and dramatically changed forever.
This existential crisis has been enormous and long-lasting (over ten years). At first, my life was shattered, but I intuitively knew I had to start over. As I am healing and recovering, I am unlearning many dysfunctional ways of thinking and behaving. It is a time of slow rebuilding. I am developing a new sense of self and accepting personal responsibility for my life decisions.
I am reconstructing reality. The old world is gone, and a new one is being built. And you know, the cost pales in comparison to the fulfillment and joy of being who I am. A life of enjoyment cannot be without times of loss, and the word joy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sorrow.