sent in by Toni
I first became interested in religion when I was 15 because my parents felt the need for something more to their lives, so they dragged me along. When I finally felt the need to "accept Jesus into my life", it was the most amazingly liberating feeling I ever experienced in my life. I loved the sense of structure, warmth and family unity that I felt within the church. That, I felt, I had been missing my entire life. So, instead of dealing with life in my real home, God became my father and the church my extended family.
Of course, when it came time in my spiritual life to leave my "old ways" behind and start becoming a more dedicated follower of Christ, that gave me even more of a reason to abandon my family and even my old friends emotionally. Eventually, I found myself abandoning everything I ever loved about my own life and identity in the past for this "new life" in Christ. This did not go over well with my parents, as they had abandoned their faith not long after having converted. Pretty soon I felt that I had it so good with my new life that it became my duty to convert everybody. I had this idea that if I had enough faith, everything in my life would change...my family would grow closer together, we would all be whole emotionally and spiritually, and basically my ideal of the "perfect" life would be realized in time. Much to my surprise, no matter how hard I tried to get this to happen, I always went home to fighting, verbal abuse, etc. and I would just cry because I thought it was somehow my lack of faith that didn't change things. When it became too difficult to blame myself, my family then became the enemy.
Then, much to my relief, I eventually escaped my hellish family life and went to college. There with the conflict between rationality and faith, things began to become more complicated, yet very intriguing. I immediately plugged myself into one of the campus christian fellowships and became quite active. It was there I really developed a sense that "God" had called me to "change the world". I was always busy in prayer, tracting, bible studies, you name it. As a result, my academics suffered greatly. Then, the more I felt that I was progressing spiritually, the more I demanded of myself and others. I experimented with different groups and stuck with the ones I felt had more of a focus on "holiness" (mind you, not pure love and charity, but "holiness". In other words, those who could preach the loudest and recite the most Bible verses because that's what growing as a disciple was supposed to mean.) Well, I want to make a long story short, so let's just say this... I got tired of all the hypocrisy of these groups, but I didn't want to lose my firm faith in God, so I found myself in an alternative christian religion- Mormonism. It wasn't their indoctrination that impressed me, but their "family centeredness"-(yes, they are very pro-families as long as they are all Mormon families), and their belief that everything in life has a purpose. I won't get much into the subject of this church other than to say that through the church I finally realized that I had used religion as the ultimate form of escapism at the expense of those who deep down really love me and whom I love. It also cost me my ability to be my own person and to love myself as I am.
I consider myself a recovering religious addict because its effect on me has been very similar to what happens to those who are physically addicted to any substance. It has torn apart my life in the same way. Now I find myself not knowing exactly what I believe, but at least I know now that it was by myself that I got out of religion and it will be within myself that I will find the strength to find life hereafter. At least I know I can trust myself to rescue me when all else fails. I know that one day I will truly be free and able to be the person I want to be and yet still human. For those of you who are reading this, you too can have this same hope. Don't give up on yourself. You are an important and unique part of the universe. Don't let anyone define who you are or why you are here. You alone have the right to decide that for yourself. May you find joy in that journey.
Became a Christian: I was 15 at the time of my conversion
Ceased being a Christian: Became deconverted at age 26
Labels before: Fundamentalist, Pentecostal, Mormon
Labels now: Freethinker, Spiritual, Agnostic
Why I joined: I needed peace and hope in spite of my turbulent life
Why I left: The need to be set free from mind control and "spiritual" abuse