From a Friend

The following blog entry was heisted, with permission from a very inspiring friend of mine from North Carolina.  She has been through a great deal of petty nonsense at the hands of the religious, but has also suffered some serious mistreatment as well.  Please feel free to leave a comment and I will see that she gets it 🙂

Here is her blog in her own words:

 

My first husband was a manic-depressive alcoholic.

If you have never experienced the manic side of a manic-depressive vying for your affection, you have missed out.  I had a partner who was focused on nothing but building me up and who enthusiastically promised me everything.  He followed through on that promise for a time, and it was a bliss I had never known.  The gullibility of my early 20’s left me unprepared for the fact that this situation could be anything other than the truth for eternity, even though my friends and family were baffled at my obviously poor choice.  They didn’t understand him like I did.  It was us against the world.  We were in love; we got married in Vegas; we had tattooed wedding rings; we moved two states away with no jobs, no plans, and no regrets.  Thankfully, I immediately got a very good job that I kept for years.  We were ready for “happily ever after”.

If you have never experienced the depressive side of a manic-depressive no longer vying for your affection, you have missed out.  And thankfully so.  I had a partner who was focused on the fact that I was the provider.  He was never able to hold a job for more than a few weeks (or days) at a time.  He thought the tables should be more balanced, so he tore me down with just enough truth that I started believing the 80% of lies and awful names hurled at me on a daily basis.  He escalated to threats of violence.  He followed through on those threats a few times (gotta love those whiskey nights).  My world crumbled.  How could this be my reality?  I made excuses for his behavior: maybe I provoked him, maybe I deserved it, maybe I could forgive him and he would be grateful (and change) and it would draw us closer together.  My gullibility, shame, and desire to believe any hope of reconciliation prepared me to accept each apology as a promise of reform, of better times ahead.  I had chosen him.  I had made vows.  We were married, for better or worse.  I had faith in him, and in us.
After nearly two years and one night of particularly irrational behavior, something snapped in me and I left.  I reached out to my estranged parents and they dropped everything in their lives to come rescue their prodigal daughter.  It was only through their overwhelming help and support that I was able to leave that marriage behind.

My post-divorce apartment came with a roommate who had also known an alcoholic’s abuse.  She had been involved with Al-Anon, a version of AA for those who have been affected by alcoholics in their lives, but were not alcoholics themselves.  She suggested I join her at a meeting, and I did.

My first, and only, meeting overwhelmed to me.  One woman’s words have stuck with me to this day.  She told of her alcoholic father with gut wrenching clarity.  His behavior was awful, manipulative, controlling, and pathetically transparent.  Each point ended with: “but he only does it because of the alcohol… he really actually loves me very much”.  There was a part of me that related strongly to her emotions, and to the crippling control that was applied by her father’s threat of “never speaking to her again” if she didn’t give him money for booze.  All she had to do was say no.  It was the healthiest option for both of them, but in their current conditions it would have crushed them both.  Even having lived through a much shorter version of this woman’s hell, it was still hard not to urge her to “just say no”, and “just set this single healthy boundary”.  Just do this seemingly trivial action that is, in actuality, not small and not “just” an isolated action.  It’s messy; it wrenches apart entire families; it “just” changes everything.  It’s still the healthiest choice.

That’s what happens when we live in a community where our reality is wrapped up not only in ourselves but also in those around us.  Anything that challenges that reality is never just as simple as applying a healthier outlook to our individual daily routine.  Our lives often aren’t the only ones affected by changes like this.  Now, after a decade of time has passed since that segment of my life ended, I face a new end with its own challenge.  This one has been a part of my reality for the entirety of my life.  Christianity.  Better put, my rejection of Christianity and religion as a whole.

For those who have never experienced this as part of your defining reality, you will likely not understand why I can’t “just” be out as an atheist.  I fully understand your criticism of me in this regard, and I heap it on myself in big dollops of internal judgement.  In my head I know the logic of this action.  I know that the gut-wrenching fear I have at the social losses it could possibly mean is (thankfully, somewhat) irrational.  Such a simple and healthy thing it is to be honest about one’s view of the world.

Like a manic-depressive’s lover, the religious highs and lows are utterly rapturous and completely depraved dichotomies as well.  You’ll hear Christians talk about basking in the warmth of a loving god; of complete reassurance in times of suffering because god is in control and has a purpose for their life; of the power of prayer.  They matter in a supernatural way, for a divine purpose of universal significance.  This is promised as truth for eternity.  You, feeble outsider, will never understand god without first accepting him and becoming a “real” Christian.  You don’t understand god like they do.  They are set apart from the world.  They have made professions of faith.  God’s name is written on their hearts, and he loves them.  Heaven is the promise of “happily ever after”.

When the lows hit and the world of the faithful is crushed by circumstances or doubt or personal failings in a way that leaves them feeling alone, they will reason desperately to make their faith fit their circumstances.  It must make sense.  There is a desperate focus on rejecting anything that challenges faith, because this is challenging a Christian’s entire world view.  They become an expert at focusing on any scrap of “truth” and goodness in faith and holy scripture as the overwhelming evidence that it simply must be real.  Even when faced with mounting evidence, it does not immediately convince someone to reject the myth, it often compels one to re-evaluate and criticize the evidence itself.  Because it is natural for a lover who desperately wants this eternal bond to be true to be hesitant to let that myth go.  In the eyes of the believer, god (like any typical abuser) is off the hook for any inflicted injuries, because he does it (allows it?) out of love.  Their pain, therefore, must be either deserved or justified, somehow, by a righteous love we will never understand.  Our human brains can’t see the fullness of it.  Sometimes we provoke his holy wrath by being too proud or self-reliant.  “Bride of Christ” takes on a personal meaning for me in this regard.  You, dear outsider, are likely baffled at the obviously poor rationalizations of the faithful.  But you don’t understand him like they do.  It’s them against the world.  They are promised better times ahead, in heaven.  They have chosen to accept the gift of salvation.  They have faith.
For those like me, who have taken a step back and truly evaluated the evidence on its own merits and have reached the conclusion that religion is not in line with reality, atheism becomes a state you find yourself in despite your best efforts at wishful thinking.   Somehow it still takes a conscious effort to convince your logical side to not only accept that this is true, but that this new-found truth is not some choice.  It is, rather, an acknowledgement of a reality that has always been there.
I have been lucky to be surrounded mostly by Christians who live in the “love thy neighbor” realm of moderate Christianity.  The handful of people who now know of my atheism have, more or less, reacted well.  While my parents technically know, the word ‘atheist’ has not passed anyone’s lips yet.  So far, not a single Christian I have shared this with has viewed my revelation as anything other than a phase I am going through.  I wonder daily if things will continue to go this smoothly once I am fully out, fully vocal, and fully reflecting on those closest to me.  What nasty things will people say about my parents for rearing, and my husband for remaining married to, a *gasp* atheist?  What prayers will be prayed?  What pity will they provide?  What gossip will they spread?
I have much more respect for those who have come out despite a family who rejected them outright since they now reject god.  They often lose relationships entirely, and their world is forever changed.  Their overwhelming bravery in the face of what they have lost makes my insecurities seem petty.  But it’s still a process for me, much like being comfortable with the stigma of divorce.   Even though I knew it was the healthiest option, it didn’t make the steps much easier to take, and it was still a long time before the shame left and the baggage was fully unpacked.
So if you don’t quite understand why I can’t “just” be out, please be patient with me.  It’s important, I know.  I think the best way we can show the world that atheists are a completely normal, moral, and let’s face it, fairly mundane and typical occurrence is for more of us to come out.  I’ll take those final steps soon enough.
And if you are a closet atheist, understand that you are not alone and you are not a necessarily a coward.  This is a big deal, and it is right to be cautious about the state you find yourself in.  As I read in a blog (here) recently:
“although I won’t be totally free until I come out of the closet, I can still experience freedom in my mind and heart, which are now, for the first time in my life, all mine.”
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