One of the most important days to me, far more than my birthday, is the day I left religion.
This is the day, to borrow from fundamentalist religion, that I was born again.
For many people it’s a gradual process, but for me there was a day in mid-august 2015 when I made the decision to drop it all at once and walk away.
Fueled by anger at the sudden ending of a painful relationship, my transition was actually too abrupt, and years later I had to go back and process parts of it in a more mature way.
And so, this post is a reflection on the last seven years.
Seven fucking years.
It’s a very holy number, ask any Jew.
Every year, I feel the impact of time and the processes I have undertaken on my ex-religious journey, and this year is no exception.
Here’s what’s helped: Therapy.
What types of therapy? Trauma-informed therapy from an ex-religious therapist who became very acquainted with my entire family. Somatic experiencing. Hypnosis. EFT (tapping). Some EMDR.
Also: coaching, meditation, psychedelics, ecstatic dance, educating myself. About childhood trauma, ADHD, OCD, bible criticism, the origins of man.
So much crying.
I have processed endless amounts of pain from my upbringing: society, school, parents, siblings, life experiences. In the form of shame, guilt, anxiety, sadness, and more.
It gets better
I’m hear to tell you, especially if you’re recently out of religion, that it gets better.
I no longer twitch and froth at the mouth at the mention of religion.
I am able to have good memories from my past.
I can indulge in certain practices that are not inherently bad to me, like Jewish songs or Shabbat meals. I avoided these in the past because they reminded me of everything else.
I am better with people, feeling more like I’m part of society and not a weird foreigner.
More miraculously, I am better with romantic relationships, able to navigate the complex world of dating and sexuality with more nuance and understanding. There’s hope yet!
My story is not as big a part of me as it used to be, which is a very good thing. It used to be that everyone with a pulse heard about me being an ex-Orthodox rabbi within the first 3 seconds of us meeting. Now I wait a few minutes before dumping on them.
The pain of my past has lessened, to the point where it’s more anecdotal data and not an emotion fueled re-living of the experience. This is an important milestone in trauma healing.
Most recently, a new theme has emerged, which I am hugely surprised by, and take as a very positive sign: forgiveness.
Damn this one is hard, because to forgive, you’re forced to drop any defense mechanism that might be protecting you from your own pain.
Plus, sloppy forgiveness smacks of the shittiest parts of Judaism and Christianity. Of emotional bypassing and suppressing hurt. Of Instagram flavored spirituality.
But when done right, with honesty and processing, it can be the final frontier of moving on.
Of really checking if you’re over something.
Of not letting other people’s weaknesses, mistakes or flaws to continue to live within you.
Holding on to anger or resentment (my go-to moves) is perfectly understandable. At the same time, it creates a bond with my shitty past and prevents me from moving on. It gives more weight and substance to entities that don’t deserve the light of day.
I’m not here to tell you to get over yourself, like so many people told me online. “It’s the past, move on, why are you still angry?”. Fuck them, you can be angry for as long as you want. What was done to you deserves lifetimes of anger. It deserves setting fire to entire buildings.
But. For your own wellbeing, not for anyone else’s convenience, I invite you to check in occasionally and see where you stand relative to forgiveness. It’s a good milestone to check in for, the ultimate goal in healing, I would say.
And by the way, forgiving someone does not mean having a relationship with them, or condoling them in any way. Fuck those fuckers, you are way too good for them. Forgiveness is for you. By all means, keep fighting the fight, keep maintaining the distance, whatever you need that is best for you.
I don’t have a dramatic way to end this article. Healing has been a far more subtle gradient of growth than my abrupt leaving of religion was. If only we could snap our fingers and be cured.
It takes far more effort to build than to break. And to me religion has deeply entrenched systems that are dedicated to breaking you. So if you feel broken, it makes sense. It couldn’t have been any other way – you were born into it, and their collective brute force was far greater than you even realize.
You’re allowed. Give yourself time.