The Lonely Recovery From Religion

My former faith is a constant source of conflict for my recovery efforts. It used to be an integral part to how I tried self-treating my growing problems with anxiety and depression. I could promise myself that my invisible savior would help out with the heavy lifting. I depended on this like most people would depend on their car starting.

Reminders of the promises my faith made – ones that an invisible, omnipotent deity never made good on – are all around me. I’ve learned a little bit over the years to deal with that, but sometimes the knife gets twisted a bit. Sometimes, I’ll go to therapy and I’ll get to look at some biblical quote or religious platitude. Because my therapist is at least somewhat religious, this is part of my recovery I can’t talk about.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

It can be a lonely road out of faith.
Even in the company of other people who don’t believe, the journey is isolating. Talking with many people who deconverted, there’s that point where people discuss what thing finally was the thought that stopped the mental gymnastics. Everyone’s process is different; nobody heard the same message and got out.

Inherent in this process is the fact that it gets done alone. Some people are fortunate enough that they have spouses or partners that are right there with them, understanding and welcoming. Too many times, there are people who don’t have anyone to turn to. I’m one of those people. There’s nobody I have who I can physically turn to and get help with.

If that’s not bad enough, I get reminded constantly on how people have a crowd of congregants ready to welcome someone to the new church. Deconverts don’t have a strip mall dedicated to those who have abandoned Christianity, or a renovated building to house those not wanting to go to Sunday school anymore. Where I live, such a place might be in physical danger. Hell, it might get picketed more often than the abortion clinic.

How is someone to cope in isolation?
Just like with my coping strategies for anxiety and depression, I’m having to apply those lessons on my own to the matter of recovering from Christianity. This is something that I’ve probably needed to write down for a while, if for no other reason than letting other people take what they can from it. At any rate, I think I’m at a point where I need to figure out how to accelerate the process.

My main goal with this is to get rid of the ongoing problems I have faced with regards to seeing religious messages. That is, I want to get to a point where religious iconography and platitudes will not precipitate depressed thinking or anxiety. This is going to involve unlearning all the triggers I developed over my almost three decades of faith, from my earliest memories to when I was 32. I’m going to need to discover what those triggers are, and defuse them.

Even with this brief synopsis, the task always seems daunting. There is a part of me that thinks I might not ever be able to complete this. It’s an ugly part of me, and it most likely will be painful. The fact remains that it’s still a cancer, and to get on with my life, it must be removed.

My goals.
My ultimate goal will be to not care about anything religious that people try to inflict on or around me. To some degree, I’ve already had minor successes here and there. Such small victories let me know that the greater goal might be attainable.

In the short term, I want to expand my indifference towards the negative runoff of behavior that my former religion encourages. I hope I will be at least moderately successful.

51 thoughts on “The Lonely Recovery From Religion

    • Arguably, the fact that the race is close speaks to the volume of Alabama voters that do not want to elect a pedophile. Evangelicals make up such a huge voting bloc here that they can wag the dog of state violently. If anything, this election is a testament to what I’ve been talking about.

      Evangelicals are holding this state hostage, even against their own interests.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. On a serious note, I too live in a very religious area. Mennonites, Sda’s JW’s are big in this area. I have one person to talk to and that is the science teacher at the school I work. He and I are open about everything and share ideas. Other than that we are pretty quiet about our beliefs. If everyone found out out heretical ways it could be trouble. Especially for him. He walks a tight rope every day. We talk everyday. It’s awesome. Can you find something like that? Would be nice.

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    • I’ve got a friend in Birmingham that I talk to on occasion. Even then, it’s still isolating. Deconversion involves making a bunch of decisions for the self, which runs counter to every instinct that gets encouraged within the faith. Christianity demands that everyone else approves of what you’re doing.

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  2. Great post as always. S.B. I notice you say deconverting is not the same for any two people. Could this be because the understandings of a religion also different for each person. Often on Nan’s or Ark’s blogs I have read christians defend their faith and it sounds almost like they are from different faiths while they are doing it, yet they all proclaim the same base. This leads me to think that for most religion is what they wanted it to be individually? Hugs

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  3. SB, are you certain that your somewhat religious therapist wouldn’t be supportive of you as you work to break free? My therapist is a spiritual person and completely supports my atheism. It’s their job, unless they advertise themselves as Christian counsellors. My childhood left me with PTSD, but I have realized my involvement in the Christian cult has left me equally damaged. How can you recover without an understanding, supportive therapist?

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    • My therapist is understanding and supportive, but my deconversion is something my therapist and I have left alone. I brought it up a few times in the first year I spoke with her, and it kept getting tabled. Thus, I determined it’s just not something she can help me with.

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      • Try searching online for a local Free Thinkers, or Atheist group. They may exist, but in the Bible Belt, they don’t openly advertise. The Free Thinkers group I occasionally attend is just 15/20 ‘friends’ who have a quiet Sunday brunch (isn’t that ironic?) at the back of an un-busy restaurant. Good Luck! 😀


  4. I read this as a positive post Sirius.

    I have experienced a lot of relief from religious triggering compared to several years ago. I felt like it would never get better. I did get to a point of understanding it might always be there to some degree and that I could live with that if that was the case. For some reason that helped me with my anxiety about never getting better long-term and I did start to see the small victories as victories. Hold to them Sirius. Even when you find you’re down try to remember those victories.

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  5. Would (ERP), a type of CBT therapy, be helpful for you, Siriuis? I’m not certain.

    I want to share that as a Christian, I would never want to add to someone’s pain who had deconverted, and I would still want to be an encouragement and support in my friend’s life.

    I think many people of faith, can not fully relate to some of the things you are sharing because for them personally their faith has been a source of joy and encouragement, so they don’t always understand how people would experience things so differently.

    And, I’m sure many deconverts are not always completely transparent in their experience and feelings for fear of causing offense, or not wanting to experience rejection.

    Every good thought, and best wishes for your continued recovery, Sirius. We all need to try to listen, and to understand each other more. I’m learning this, myself.

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      • Well, hang in there, Sirius.

        I have to agree with Zoe. I think even what seems like small progress can add up to something really significant over time. And, from what I’ve seen, recovery does take time. It’s just not something that can be accomplished easily in a hurry.


  6. I have been struggling with the topic addressed in this post for a long time. Can we recover from our religious trauma and start not caring about our religious triggers? By this I mean not just saying that we don’t care, but actually feeling like we don’t care. That seems like a very lofty goal to me, possibly one that can’t be achieved.

    I’m still being triggered to hell and back every day this december,as christmas really does me in. However, my son made an angel ornament in school (don’t even get me f’ing started on that) and wanted to put it on the tree. Last year I refused to have any religious symbols on our tree at all, but this year that angel has been sitting there in full view and I don’t give two shits about it all. So, maybe that does show some progress.

    I just need the progress to move faster and to be more complete than it currently is. I can’t continue to battle waves of panic while shopping at the mall and hearing O Holy Night over the loudspeaker. I can’t have an epic war with myself over controlling my tears when I drive by the 100 religious billboards in my city each day. I can’t be continually fighting the huge urge to flip out when my 6 year old tells me I’m going to hell because I don’t believe in jesus (he heard this at his public school).

    The question is from where will this magically healing come from? Fuck if I know.

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    • Progress is going to happen, although I don’t think it always happens at the speed one might like. It sounds like you’ve got something in not caring about the angel on the tree. Personally, I’d explore why that’s happening, and see if you can apply that elsewhere.

      With regards to hearing holiday music, is it just the abjectly religious songs that give you problems? Are there any Christmas songs that you don’t care about or like? For me, I never liked Christmas songs, so ignore all of them equally (except for John Lennon and Weird Al; go figure).

      Bottom line is that the healing never is magical. It’s going to be ugly, take some hard work, but the destination has to be kept in mind. You’re looking at a life where you’re not focused on death, or obsessed about what might appease an invisible mute deity. People are not a means to a spiritual end. And your life isn’t broken or miserable because two dumbasses picked fruit from the wrong tree.

      Believe it or not, you’re also going to have a profound influence on your son. It might feel terrible every time he accidentally sends you through the emotional ringer, but your courage and determination is showing him that he doesn’t have to be a slave to religion, either. Don’t give up on him, and he’ll be a fine human being that won’t go through the misery you have had to go through.

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  7. I have spent some time thinking about why I see that angel ornament as just a piece of paper on my tree. Thus far no answers have come to mind, but you’re correct, this should be examined more closely. For sure that angel is a striking example of how I successfully battled at least one trigger.

    As for Xmas music, only the specifically religious songs bother me. Unfortunately there is no such thing as secular Xmas music around here (like Frosty the Snowman, etc). Yesterday I was in Best Buy purchasing a vacuum cleaner and had to listen to the First Noel, Silent Night, and Little Town of Bethlehem while I sweated in a long checkout line.

    My son is a very complicated issue for me. If you recall, my church deemed him as demon possessed when he was a baby and an exorcism was suggested. When he was diagnosed with a neurological condition a few years later it precipitated my break from the church. Of course at 6 he’s too young to understand any of this. Now he’s coming home from school attempting to proselytize to me and says with conviction he believes in god/jeebus/holy spook.

    My husband tells me I can’t control whether he’s a believer or not and I should let it go. Plus there is the fear that if I attempt to make him an atheist like myself, he’ll suffer the same shunning I have suffered. So I try to remain neutral to his religious outbursts, though sometimes I do use very gentle challenges to his position delivered in the form of a question (“why do you think god would do that?/Is hell a loving thing to do to someone?”/ etc). Yet every single time he dismisses my questions and he regularly uses the phrase “it’s a holy mystery.” I deeply fear I’ll have no effect on his ability to use reason against religion. Everyone he knows, except for me, is religious…and it’s like a knife in my gut seeing him spout religious bullshit like it’s fact. 😦

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    • “A holy mystery,” huh? Jesus H. you-know-who! Bang your head against the wall.

      Seriously, I’ve never been in your position, but I would just keep asking questions. They may not mean much at his age, but you’ve placed them in his subconscious so hopefully one day when he’s older, he’ll be forced to consider them.

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      • I hope so, Nan. I hope one voice of dissent against a symphony of believers will be enough. All I can do is try…but I must accept I have no real control over the outcome. Which is frustrating as hell.


      • After your previous comment to me I was thinking about that exact issue…I was considering if one random voice of dissent would have been enough for *me* to resist the pull of religion. I don’t think it would have been, but then I was heavily indoctrinated by both parents.

        The difference is my son has a *parent* who is that one voice, and as you stated, that’s a stronger position. His peers and extended family may try to indoctrinate him but it’s not happening in his home. So I think you’re right, my position of influence is strong.

        Now I just have to remember this as my child tells me how he confesses his sins to god every night. Know what yesterday’s “sin” was? He “stole” a candy cane out of the cupboard when I wasn’t looking, and he’s worried he might go to hell for it. Gah!


    • Something I wanted to point out was a mention of this old study that Victoria sent me a while back that talked about how religion tends to hinder a child’s ability to tell between pretend and reality. While I’m not a parent or a developmental psychologist, I can tell from my own experience that I wish at least one of my parents took a firmer stand for reality. Getting your son to tell what’s real and pretend can help him immensely.

      Is he still afraid of unseen monsters lurking under beds or in closets? If not, you might be able to use that as an example for why he shouldn’t be afraid of hell.

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      • At 6 he still has trouble telling fantasy from reality, which is how religion gets it’s hooks in. Soon though, his ability to reason will kick in…psychological studies say the ability to reason starts to kick in at about age 7-8, and develops sloooooowly until the brain hits full maturity at age 25.

        So there is (hopefully) still time for me to help him kick the bullshit to the curb. It just scares the crap out of me when I hear him parroting phrases like “it’s a holy mystery.” The people putting that in his ear are trying to teach him not to question. Over my dead f’ing body will that stand unchallenged!

        I do though feel the need to wait until he’s a little older and has a better grasp on reality before I challenge him too much. Of course religious people have no problem filling his head with lies long before he reaches the age of reason.


  8. How awful for a six year old child to worry about going to Hell at all, let alone over taking a candy cane. Does he have a specific friend at school who is filling his head with this? Maybe you could talk to the parent or the school teacher.

    I realize that you are a non theist, but perhaps it would be better for your son to be exposed to a
    more progressive church kid’s group in the area to at least lose this fear of an angry God, judgment, and going to Hell.

    I can tell you from personal experience that your son will come to his own mind about this as he grows older. I”m a Christian believer, not a fundamentalist though, and I have kids and step kids that run the gamut from agnostic to committed Christian. As far as I’m concerned, every one of them is a blessing. I wouldn’t trade them for the world, theists or non theists.

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    • Violet,
      I, too, feel that you are the single most important person influencing your son. I really think he’ll make up his own mind and that you’ll find he listens to your good sense and remarkable intelligence.
      I also live in hopes that you can get out of the Bible Belt. . . I think it would do all of you the world of good.

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      • Thanks Carmen. ❤

        I have hopes that someday we'll be able to move to another area of the country. It can't happen now due to my husband's job, but at some point before I die I'd like to give somewhere else a try!


    • Just to give you an idea of what I’m up against Rebecca:

      My son is in first grade and enrolled in a public school. Last week the teacher gave a lesson on how the earth was made. My kid did not come home with stories of the big bang….he came home with “the earth was created in 7 days.”

      I live in a very religious part of the country where fundamentalism is the norm. There are different flavors of fundamentalism here (evangelical, catholic, even muslim), but essentially it’s all the same god-fearing lifestyle. People who do not live in the midwest or the southern states tend not to understand how religious these areas are, or understand how progressive christianity doesn’t really happen here (though there are pockets of reason if you happen to live in the largest cities). To be honest though I believe all of christianity, even the progressive kinds, send damaging messages to believers.

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    • I have her on my list of books to eventually read whenever I don’t live with hyper-religious people. Right now it’s complicated, but eventually I do intend to try the secular therapy buffet.


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