On Faith and Religion, Part 1
On Faith and Religion, Part 2
I left off at the point where i had no desire to live anymore. I cannot attribute this solely to my issues with spirituality. But, I feel it necessary to discuss my mindset at all junctures of this journey.
After a year of virtually being shutdown, I finally convinced my mother to let me see a psychiatrist. She was pretty much the only person I was interacting with at that point. I say “let” because for some reason, even though I was 20 years old by this point, I felt like I needed my parents permission. I had always been taught that issues/problems were taken to the elders of the congregation to be solved, if they even made it outside the family. It never occurred to me on my own.
It was at 20 years old that I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (a diagnosis that’s evolved to Severe, Recurrent). I remember my father asking if it was because there was something wrong with me (chemical imbalance) or if it was because I didn’t like my life. I thought that it didn’t really matter in that moment; I just needed help. That relationship continued to deteriorate, of course (we currently do not speak).
I moved away from home three weeks shy of turning 21. A few days before that, I recall being yelled at for wearing a shirt that said “bad girl.” What would people think of me? Don’t ever wear that outside the house again! See what I mean about not feeling like a person.
In case you were wondering, my brother never came back home. Just wandered from one place to another making bad decisions. We had different methods of coping.
I remember the first Thursday night living on my own, well, on campus the summer before my last year of college. Thursdays were always reserved for meetings. I remember being annoyed at having to dedicate so much time to this religion. I had homework to do, friends I wanted to hang out with (but, I couldn’t do that anyway), other things I wanted to do that weren’t this. That first Thursday, I didn’t go. It felt weird. And I actually felt kind of guilty, but I continued to not go and I was ok with it.
Fast forward a bit to me trying to find a job after school. Due to my severe depression and, were I to hazard a retrospective guess, living at home, my grades were shit. I managed to get on the Dean’s list my fourth year, but it wasn’t enough for a decent GPA. So, there came the prospect of having to move back home. A prospect that terrified me because it would mean having to go back to what I now considered to be an oppressive religion that I had no desire to be a part of. Oh, and one of the stipulations was, “none of that head stuff.” Because it’s really that easy.
Luckily, I got offered a job as a DoD contractor. It never occurred to me that this would be a problem, despite the reservations my mother expressed. A job is a job, right? When I decided to take the job, I was informed that I was not allowed to come home. A job supporting the military was not in harmony with God’s principles. Why would congratulations be in order? Why didn’t I ever listen? I kept trying to maintain a relationship with my father (and I would for ten more years), but for the next three months, he wouldn’t answer the phone. This would be an ongoing cycle. For some reason, I decided to attend a meeting one Sunday, of my own volition. Oh, it’s not that there wasn’t pressure from the family. Just something in me wanted to go. I met a very kind sister who didn’t judge me and invited me to her home and parties. I went on Sundays for a few months. I don’t really know why, but I think I need to try one more time to make sure I was making the right decision.
Eventually, I got a job as a federal employee working directly supporting the military. I moved to North Carolina. Things were strained once again. As it turned out, I wasn’t living very far from a Kingdom Hall, again. I decided I would go. I usually went home when I visited my parents. Then, I thought… why? This was the first moment, at 23 years old, that I realized that I wasn’t doing it for me. I was still doing it for everyone else. I had lost interest in it long ago. So, I didn’t go. I’ve been minimal times since.
Enter onto the chaotic path of a journey still ongoing. I tried to convince myself that I was still a spiritual person. I don’t know if this was because I really believed it or if it was out of a need to prove the separation between religion and spirituality. I would try to pray, but was never sure what to say. I couldn’t even focus long enough to say a decent prayer. I would only think to pray in the worst of times, so I felt selfish. I couldn’t imagine that God would listen. I kept all my literature (I was always made to take some when I got home). I would try to read it from a solely Biblical standpoint. I would try to read my Bible. But, none of it felt right. Of course, some were already convinced that my rejection of religion equated to my being an evolutionist, atheist, apostate, or all of the above. I lost friends. There was a void between me and people I had known my whole life. There was judgment from family. There was disappointment and shame. There was sadness.
During this time, I moved to Florida with my job. I was still trying to be a “spiritual” person, but I had realized (and been told) that my religious experience had traumatized me. If someone even mentioned church to me, invited me to visit theirs, anything relatively religious, I would cringe. I would change the subject. I would emphatically, but politely, decline. I would rarely talk about religion outside of therapy and if I did, I couldn’t do it without crying and/or falling into deep depression. I still had a fear of entering churches – we weren’t supposed to do this. I still feared even being around a cross, because those are Pagan symbols – Jesus died on a singular stake with arms above the head. Over time, though, these are the types of things I realized I didn’t care about. Let’s say Jesus died for our sins. Does it matter what he died on? Or is it his sacrifice that matters? Does it matter what we call where we worship as long as it’s in accordance with the Bible? There were things that had been so deeply ingrained in my head that caused me to pass judgment against people and ideas, when in fact, when I actually thought about it, my feelings were completely different. I don’t care what color anyone’s hair is. I don’t think facial hair is a sign of unprofessionalism and unkemptness (did you notice JWs don’t have beards?) I don’t care who you sleep with at night as long as you are good and decent people.
And then one day, I walked out of my apartment into the Florida heat, 27 or 28 years old, and had a life-altering epiphany. It occurred to me that I wasn’t even sure that I believed in God. His existence had been another notion shoved down my throat, something I could recite from rote memory. Not something out of faith. Not something out of my heart. Just another thing on the list of beliefs I was supposed to have, of what was good and evil, of what was right and proper.