Creating a New Identity

#9

[SB – I hope you find that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Your format is so much better.]

 

Hate the judgment, not the judgers.                                                                                                                           We’re familiar with the Christian phrase, “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” That we’re labeled “sinners” is somewhat offensive. There’s an essence of negative judgment, even in their attempt to be tolerant. However, I’ve noticed a similar trend among former Christians. It’s not uncommon to see terms thrown around like, Xtian, fundies and GAWD, apparent put downs of the Christians and faith we find abusive. My aim in this post is not to minimize the atrocities deconverts have suffered from the Christian faith, but to encourage deconverts not to replace the deficient identity we have escaped with a one that ties us to the old and inhibits our progress in recovery. I’m hoping you will see the connection as you read further.

A word of validation.                                                                                                                                                      Though I do not endorse disrespect of anyone, I’m not throwing any rocks, either. Sometimes deconversion is excruciating and anger is a normal step toward healing. Deconverts have suffered a ton of cruel brainwashing – feeling corrupt for having natural questions and doubts about their faith; experiencing rejection and criticism from church leaders, so-called friends and even family; and fearing themselves so deplorable to God they’re deserving of an eternity in the horrors of hell (I lack adequate words to describe the mental torture of that). It sometimes takes years to deprogram all the lies, so ingrained they become. Recovery is a process of going through the painful stages of loss, finding a new identity, purpose and new coping skills. Resentment is certainly understandable, even natural.

However, what is natural is not always healthy, productive or responsible.                                       Yes, responsible. If we carry a torch for the church, the faith, whatever – we’re looking back and not forward. I’m not talking of speaking out against the abuses of the church, the inaccuracies of the Bible or the absurd doctrines promoted. There is a way to assert one’s self with mutual respect. What I’m wanting to convey is that, regardless of what injustices we have suffered, ultimately each of us is responsible for our own well-being. If we tangle ourselves in petty arguments, condescension and mockery, have we moved from the stage of anger to recovery? Are we not still looking back? Do we dispense the type of judgment we’ve come to despise? Do we define ourselves by the pain we’ve suffered?

We are more than deconverts.                                                                                                                                                   At least, I am. I’m moving forward. I have a life, an identity and interests outside of my deconversion from Christianity. Yes, it was a big deal. I’m still dealing with the aftermath. However, I will not let it consume me or inhibit my current and future happiness, my wholeness anymore. My blog is about healing and moving forward. I invite others to join me. What have been the greatest challenges for you? What has helped you? How can we help each other heal and build our lives by our own design and values instead of having it molded for us into the image of an impossible standard? As we seek to recover, let us take the high road. Honor our truth. Honor our pain. And do it without getting stuck there, getting lost in it, making another dysfunctional identity of it. Let’s take responsibility for making recovery happen.

 

I’d love to hear your perspective in the comments.

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The Pain of Deconversion, Part II – Loss of Identity

A quick recap: Most of my experience as a Christian over the course of about 13 years seemed positive, but ended badly. When I went to the university to complete my upper division courses, I faced questions I thought I had resolved in my walk with God and new ones which poked holes in my certainty about the validity of the Christian God and authority of the Bible. Additionally, I started taking a medication prescribed for the depression that ensued the crisis of faith caused by my education. The med disallowed the mystical experiences I’d long perceived that God had his hand on my life. These two conditions combined led to my deconversion.

As an aside, it may offend Christians as it once did me that I use the word “mystical” to describe experiences of God personally intervening in my life and in the world around me. I use the term because I believe it adequately describes what happened from a more objective view. I no longer perceive that the biblical God supernaturally intervened in my life, related to me personally or imparted to me his Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the experiences were real to me and valid in their own right. “Mystical” implies “spiritual” which gives the experiences validity. The word is inclusive of all spiritual experiences of various religions and beliefs and this is the part that would be hard for a believer who views Christian experiences of God as in a league of their own – superior to any experiences had by people of other faith. That being said, there may be few of the Christian faith who would read this blog and acknowledge my experiences as genuine. It is more likely they would view my journey through the Christian faith as a counterfeit one (as I would have when held their belief systems). Such a conclusion would satisfy their inability to explain how one who had been a true Christian would desert the faith at all.

So, on to the point of this post: loss of identity and recovery from that aspect of deconversion from the Christian faith. In my own experience, my self-identity prior to my salvation experience was self-loathing. I felt particularly inferior to others and only escaped the pain of it in fantasizing about a life where others loved me. When I heard the gospel message that Easter Sunday of my 16th year, it made sense to me in a way it never had in all the times I’d heard it before. It was like God turned on the light and was telling me he loved me – me! He was calling me! He wanted me! He wanted to make me okay. He even wanted to make me good. I believed in the sacrifice of Christ to save me from my sins and invited him into my heart that night.

I had a new identity. I was a child of God. I was loved immeasurably. My entire self-concept wasn’t transformed instantly – that would come later as I grew in the knowledge of God’s infinite love. Nevertheless, the acceptance of God could never be fully internalized because, in and of myself, as the Bible asserts, I was nothing. My positive self-concept was entirely dependent on His love for me. You can see where the problem with identity came in when I lost belief in that love.

That wasn’t all, though. My identity as a child of God gave me a sense of meaning and purpose.  I grew in this perspective as I had countless experiences of perceiving God was using me to show his compassion through loving others and his faithfulness in answered prayer. I was what others called a prayer warrior. I often perceived that the Holy Spirit was giving me his words as I prayed and felt that God’s power was moving through me. Consistent experiences of this type and myriad others over years built one upon another, bolstering not only my faith, but my belief that I was fulfilling his divine call to expand his kingdom of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”[1]

As I lost faith in God, I had little else to instill in me a sense of meaning and purpose for living. I had a grown son who had just moved out and left me with an empty nest and a husband who loved me, but didn’t demonstrate it in the ways I most needed it. I numbed out on heavy doses of antidepressants and escaped through alcohol and gaming. It got much worse than that, but I’m not yet ready to disclose all of it.

In recovering a sense of identity apart from being a child of the one and only, all-powerful God, I focus on what’s important to me. What a freedom! No more self-chastising for wanting something selfish. I have values and I like them. I think they’re ethical and satisfy my conscience (a conscience which is not so damned demanding as it was before – freaking unrelenting!). I am developing a healthier self-concept of myself in that I count without God making me count anymore. As a Christian, it was not what I thought or believed that mattered – it was all God. Now I view my own perspectives as valid and I can internalize the acceptance I receive from me.

There are healthy things I am taking away from my Christian experience for my self-concept. One is that I believed life was “not about me.” I think this keeps me grounded. I am one of billions of humans in this world and no more important than anyone else. I do, however, see myself as having a part to play in my sphere of influence if I so choose to take it. I can have a positive impact. The difference now is I take responsibility for that contribution (and the credit) and allow myself some guilt-free self-interest along the journey. That’s a big perk.

[1] Romans 14:17