Recovering (From) Faith: Coming Out

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For the first month or so of my realization, I only told my atheist or agnostic friends. I had about 5 close Christian friends left, plus my brothers. I had no idea how to tell any of them. I had no idea what to tell any of them. I had barely managed to form coherent sentences without people asking me much in the way of questions. I still didn’t know what I thought, I had no cohesive structure for it. David told me he once went through the Bible and underlined all the parts he didn’t believe. I hadn’t done anything like that. I felt like I had just stumbled out of a basement I had been living in my whole life. Everything was sharp and bright and unfamiliar. I didn’t have words for a lot of what I was seeing and experiencing and a lot of what I had experienced in the basement was only barely coming together for me. I felt raw and cold and like too much questioning could unravel me. But I had to tell them.

I really did have to tell them. Honesty means different things to different people. To me it meant being truthful about where I was at with the people who mattered to me. That’s basically the definition I’ve developed over the past few years. I have a web of people who are the most important to me and for me to stay honest, for me to stay okay, I need to tell them the truth about where I’m at. It had been over a month and a handful of these people had no idea that I was turning my whole world upside-down. I felt like I was betraying them. These were people who had sheltered me, in more ways than one. People who had arguably saved my life, taken care of me when I was barely functional and what I was going to tell them was “You know that thing that we most share in common? Yeah, I’m walking away from that.” I didn’t feel like I was walking, of course. I felt like I had stumbled and fallen and found out there just wasn’t much I had been holding onto to begin with. But still, this was what we shared. I knew that if a year ago one of them had come to me and told me the same thing, I might have felt betrayed, I might have felt like they pulled the rug out from under what we had. Not that this was all we had, of course but it was central. One of my best friends was my former pastor and his wife, for heaven’s sake. I didn’t know what they would do, how they would respond. I thought it was possible I would lose friends over this. Still, what else could I do?

I told them all by email. My brothers I would wait a few months for various reasons, before telling them face to face but my friends I told by email. They were not well-written or particularly coherent emails. But they got the point across.

I don’t know what else to do.

I’m so sorry.

I’ve been afraid to tell you sooner. 

I will say that the responses I got were very loving. People in my life, as it turns out, care about me a lot. I cried when I got most of them. But I can’t say it didn’t make a difference, I can’t claim it didn’t change things. It did. Some of it I’m sure is because I am still raw, I’m still stumbling around, trying to make sense of what I came out of. I still feel easily damaged, hurt by things unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s just stray words, familiar phrases. Sometimes it’s realizations that seem to come all at once and knock me over. I don’t avoid church or God things because that would be pretty counter to who I am but I’ve been shy about being around people who really love those things because I know too much stings right now and I don’t want to take things personally or be the person trying to take away from what matters to them. I don’t know if it’s just me but I know I contribute to the change I feel in some of those relationships. It’s hard to rebuild when you tear a chunk out of things. I still wish there had been another way.

There’s also the problem of less crucial people that I find myself actively avoiding. People who I was friends with but who weren’t in my web of essential people before all this started. A girl in my class, a guy from my former small group, a couple others scattered here and there. People I really cared about but I just didn’t necessarily see them all the time and I didn’t tell them all the stuff. Now it’s coming to a point of “hey, we should hang out sometime” and I feel uncomfortable. I like these people, I’ve liked them for a long time. But what do I say when they ask me what’s been going on? Do I just leave out the biggest parts of my life right now? I mean, I can talk about school and practicum for quite a while but the truth is what I spend most of the rest of my time doing is hanging out with David and the Superhero. These are peripheral people who I don’t know as well as I knew my friends. I have no idea how they’d respond to “so I am not a Christian anymore, also I’m involved in a poly relationship.” A couple of them I have one or two thoughts (none of them great) and a couple of them I honestly have no idea. But it feels oddly like I’ve always imagined coming out must feel like. So I actually am in this kind-of socially unacceptable thing and I know you believe it’s wrong and probably can’t be happy for me exactly but I’m really happy so please don’t say anything terrible? I don’t think it’s exactly the same by any means, I just wonder if there are some parallels. Anyway. I don’t know what to do about those people. It turns out that changing your colors has all sorts of weird consequences that I didn’t see coming.

This is a new to me and I’m still going over what it is exactly that bothers me about it. Am I afraid to admit that I was wrong? Or that I think I was wrong? I don’t think that’s it. I don’t actually struggle too much with that. Is it tied to my overwhelming desire for people to like me? Possibly. I really do understand that there’s a level of betrayal in what I’ve done. I spent my whole life on board with this, really. It was one of the things that defined me. And then suddenly I don’t have that anymore. More than that, I don’t honestly know what I believe instead. I spent my entire life with a set belief system, with a set of things that I was absolutely positive were right and wrong. How many of those specific things I believed were absolute varied (okay, mostly went down) as the years progressed, but there was always a list. And now here I am and I don’t have a list. It’s one thing to my friends. I trust them enough to believe that they aren’t going to stone me for this. But to other people, I have no way of knowing. And not only do I no longer hold to the list, but I don’t have anything to replace it with. As crazy as the Christian culture made me for a lot of my life, it was a tie. It still is, but in a different way. It’s a shared past, not a shared present. And I can’t say “this is what I left for,” not really. Explaining why I had to leave is fairly deep, fairly dark, fairly hurtful. There are still a lot of things I trip over saying, still a lot of things that hurt to touch. I’m not ready to throw myself on the mercy of just anyone. Even when people mean well, I know how hurtful I’ve been in the past to people around these sorts of subjects. Maybe that’s the real problem – I’m too well aware of how I would have responded to something like this ten, or even five years ago. It doesn’t seem like a risk worth taking.

This takes us more or less to where I’m at right now. Most of what I’ll write in this series going forward will probably be looking backward. So, that’ll be exciting? Stay tuned, I guess.

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