“I abandoned everyone.
Therefore I felt abandoned.
Because I was.”
~ The Liberation of Sophia, David Hayward
This is the second installment in a three-part series. If you not yet read Part I, I encourage you to do so first. In this 3-part series, I will be talking about something that is very near and dear to my heart, with a special type of reader in mind. I want to speak to my brothers & sisters who have journeyed out of a religious structure and lived to tell. It is for you that I write.
As the foundations that I had established my identity upon disintegrated and the weight of my loss began to register, it was a deep, overarching, generalized grief that set in to my bones. I longed for the feeling of being supported, for the connection I used to have to God, for the simplicity of it all. What I had been taught my entire life did not coincide with my growing understanding of the world and I was reeling, feeling like I has been lied to while also desperately clinging to the hope that maybe I was the wrong one and one day my faith would be restored to that of years past when it was solid and unshakable.
I felt completely alone. It was difficult for me to understand the depth of my pain. I had never heard anyone talk about the grief that accompanies religious disillusionment.
While on one hand, the whole experience was like the shedding of a skin and I felt exhilaratingly light and free, things like guilt, shame and grief also began to take up new spaces in my heart.
My father did not take well to my departure from church. I knew how deeply he held his beliefs, and that he didn’t want his daughter ending up in the wrong place when all was said and done.
The truth is, as clear as I was on certain things that I did not believe, I was also unclear on what I did actually believe, other than the existence of an all-loving, ever-present Higher Power (who I also thought at the time wanted nothing to do with my backsliding ass). So instead of telling my family the truth, I made excuses, like being disillusioned with the church. This was easier to say than “Dad, I just don’t believe it anymore.” I began to pull away from them. So much of my identity had been tied up in this faith to the point where I was unsure of my role in my family in light of my evolution. I felt like the black sheep disappointing everyone.
As I moved through my young adulthood, the grief fed in to the deepening sense of the pointlessness of it all. My sorrow was not dissipating. Even after a decade it still hovered right beneath the surface. I found myself floating rather aimlessly through life. I shifted my energy and focus to work, the only thing that I really felt I had to hold on to. At least there I felt powerful. I felt like I had some control. I lost myself in my work which fed in to the deepening sense of the pointlessness of it all. I would still end the days feeling completely abandoned. As time went on, I became so disconnected from spiritual sustenance that I could literally feel my soul shriveling up.
My programming was deep though. While I couldn’t reconcile to the faith, a deep part of me still believed what had been implanted since childhood. I was convinced that I was going straight to hell. For years, many nights I would wake up in a cold sweat terrified that Satan would own my soul and I would burn for all eternity. I was terrified to die.
Even though there were moments when I truly felt God’s presence coming through to me, I was nonetheless convinced that, while I welcomed and wept into these rare, loving moments, these incidences were God trying to woo me back to Christianity. I was always left with such a deeper heaviness, in the belief that the relationship I had once known was lost to me forever and I was destined to walk the planet alone, disconnected. I did not yet understand the reality of how this Divine thing works. That I was loved, accepted and held just as I was, the whole time.
As I went through my journey of deconstruction, I had so many moments of envy for those who were able to accept the teachings of Christianity. How much easier it would have been to have the personality type that would allow me to continue on in it, even just for the insurance (as in: just in case they were right). And I tried. Over the years now and then I would visit a church service on a Sunday. I questioned. I fellowshipped. I conversed. I explored different denominations. I was desperate for some truth to cling to because it felt like I had punctured my raft and the storms of life did not seem to care whether or not I had a lifeline.
I agonized. My one and only prayer for years was “God, you created me with a mind to reason. Please make this make sense to me.” I wanted the miracle of whatever needed to click in to place so things could go back to the simplicity I once knew. So that I could go and take my rightful role in my family, in my church, in my life. And for years, this prayer was met with silence.
For the healing of all,
Special thanks to David Hayward who has given me permission to share some of his work throughout this series. His writing and drawings in his beautiful illustrated book “The Liberation of Sophia” have been a great source of comfort to me, reminding me that I’m not alone. He also gave me the gift of the terminology of “deconstruction.” Maybe it’s because I am a lover of words, but having verbiage around something that has been so difficult to explain is incredibly empowering. Follow him on Instagram @nakedpastor. His book “The Liberation of Sophia” can be purchased on Amazon and make sure to check out his Etsy store www.etsy.com/shop/nakedpastor.