I am angry. And hurt. Some days I feel like crying for no apparent reason, and most days I feel like I have to defend myself and my beliefs, even just in my own head. I have had days where I look for arguments online just so I can defend my point of view. I’m not a mess all the time. In fact, I laugh a lot. I enjoy my life, listen to music, make art, etc. But there is a deep hurt and sadness deep within me that does come out fairly often right now.
If my family and some friends knew, they would say that this is a result of my decision to turn away from God. Although that’s partly true, it’s not for the reasons they think…
Here is why I am such a mess at this current moment.
Growing up I was the “golden child”. I always did what I was told, I loved going to church, my goal was to be a missionary. I was always encouraged to be myself and to always stand for what I believe in. I never went against the flow, didn’t really think for myself, I accepted what I was taught and blindly followed it.
Then I grew up and started thinking for myself. I stopped believing certain things, and eventually became an atheist. I no longer simply accepted what I was told, I actually had different opinions than the closest people around me.
When people close to me became aware of this, their attitude towards me totally changed. The very same people who once commended me for being myself and told me always stand for what I believe in either wouldn’t talk to me or treated me horribly. I was called a “terrible example”, people expressed their horror and shock about my opinions, and was ironically accused of “giving into peer pressure”. (I only knew a couple atheists at the time; my peer pressure was all from my Christian circles- and boy was it strong.) Someone in my family told me that they would rather I died as a believer than live to lose my faith, wondered if I’d been faking my entire Christian life, and said that it was my husband’s fault for not “guiding me back” (as though I’m not capable of making my own spiritual decisions!) And I was told by someone else in my family that I would become a murderer or otherwise become a horrible person because I wasn’t a Christian anymore. I was bullied on Facebook to the point of permanently deleting my account and withdrawing from the people who continued to hurt me.
I had NEVER been the target of such anger, judgment, and hurt. I knew that people wouldn’t all react nicely, but it was still nothing I could have prepared myself for. I went from being everyone’s favorite to being the outcast that everyone judged and mistreated. Most of these people are normally kind, loving people- but stop being a Christian or believe differently from them and all hell breaks loose.
My theological journey out of faith had some emotional moments, but it wasn’t that difficult of a change by itself. In fact, I found countless positive changes once I started using reason instead of blind faith. Rather, it was the incredibly hurtful reactions of my friends and family, the people I had trusted and loved the most, that tore me down and ripped me into little pieces, showing me that my opinions and beliefs were no better than shit to them when I no longer agreed.
I had my first panic attack when the worst of this was happening, something I never expected. I was really rough for a while. And in some ways it is still rough; I feel on edge a lot, I feel like I have to be ready to defend myself and prove that being myself is ok. But it’s getting better. Some of these wounds will take a very long time to fully heal (if they ever do); betrayal of this magnitude is hard for anyone to deal with. But I’m learning to cope with being the outsider, learning that even though some people don’t accept me as I am that I don’t have to feel like fighting all the time. It will take time- but I am healing.
So for any Christians who look at their ex-Christian friends and think “their sadness and turmoil is a result of not having God in their lives”, just remember that for many of us ex-Christians, we were treated in horrible ways after our deconversion by the people who once loved us. I’ll bet that you would be feeling the same way if your friends and family treated you like this.
I do want to clarify that I still have some Christian friends- these are kind, good people who were understanding and respectful of my change, friends who were capable of disagreeing respectfully and still treating me like a human being whose beliefs are valuable. I love these people and I know that the others do not represent all of Christianity. Me and those family members have also made amends and do very well as long as we avoid the topic of religion (and politics).