Giving Up My Religion
I’ve talked a bit before about how I grew up Roman Catholic, going to church every Sunday, teaching Sunday School, being an altar server, and even reading the weekly readings. I actually looked forward to Sunday mornings because after church we would always go for lunch at this little greasy spoon down the street. It was one of my favorite parts of the week.
Church for me wasn’t a bad experience, it actually offered me some confidence. I don’t have a lot of bad memories of those years. One of the reasons I enjoyed church and lunch so much was that it was the only time I felt accepted. I was bullied in school every day and church allowed me to escape that. I was a recognizable face. Everybody knew who I was and at least I thought I was well-respected in that community.
I think I’ve talked before about why I stopped going, as well. I got pregnant at 20 years old and my mother, so I thought, didn’t want to be seen with her pregnant, unwed daughter so she asked me to stop going. When I lost the baby at 26-weeks gestation, she invited me back and I declined. I used to think that she was just ashamed of me, and maybe she was, but it took me a long time to understand that she probably protected me from what was likely a very judgmental group of people.
Beyond that protection, she gave me what I needed to drop the religion. Without that moment in time, I wouldn’t be here right now because I’d still be going to church every week. It took me 20 years after that before I’d find spirituality. For a long time I believed in a God, but not much else. I didn’t drop my belief in a higher power, but I did question some of the other beliefs of the religion.
My religion wasn’t traumatizing, it was just limiting. It reinforced this little path that I was supposed to stay on. Getting pregnant at 20 was an indicator of how well I was doing at navigating that path. I knew every week, especially as I hit 18, 19, and 20 years old that I wasn’t living anything close to the life this religion wanted me to live. It got less and less comfortable to go and increasingly I found it hypocritical. By that time I had also dropped the weekly duties that I had taken on. The religion was already starting to not make sense to me.
Truth be told, I probably needed the baby and my mother to get me to stop going because, my need to keep everybody happy, would have kept me going for years, even if I didn’t believe a word that was said. Religion would have become part of the life that I set up for myself so that everything would appear to be what it was supposed to be according to the outside world. It would have been part of the bubble where everything looked right but none of it honored what I wanted or believed.
Hanging on to my religion would have trapped me. My need to make everything look a certain way to appease the people around me meant I never would have given myself permission to do something differently. It never would have been possible for me to heal within the religion. I would never have given myself permission to do the work or change who I was. The healing process required me to be able to question my beliefs. I couldn’t do that in the Roman Catholic faith. The healing process required me to not be afraid of being punished for being who I was. When you go to church 2 or 3 times a year to beg forgiveness so you don’t get punished, it’s hard to believe that you wouldn’t be punished. I started to believe I was going to be hit by lightning eventually because my life was no longer in line with what my religion talked about.
What I want to point out in all of this is that back then I viewed it as my mother just being ashamed of me and punishing me. Maybe at the time in her mind, she was doing it because she was ashamed. But that’s not my wound, that’s hers and I don’t need to take that on. I don’t need to make myself feel bad for what she may or may not have been thinking back then. It’s not mine. It’s not my responsibility. It doesn’t matter.
My perception was very limited. I didn’t have control over my intuition. It was only just starting to show me it was there. I was only 20. I could never have imagined the way my life would turn out. If somebody had told me that those things were happening because I was going to be a spiritual teacher and author 25 years later, I would have told them they were nuts.
I saw myself as a victim back then, but I see very clearly now that I was being set up for a very specific purpose and I was far from being a victim. Holding onto that sense of victimization around all this would keep me in a loop unable to let go of my experience enough to allow me to heal. It would limit me drastically. Blaming my mother for my wounds or blaming her for her own wounds, helps nobody either.
Do you see how all experience is necessary? I’m reaching back into my childhood and my early adulthood talking about experiences that I had that were necessary in order for me to be where I am. The combination of my own wounds and outside expectations meant I never would have left my religion without outside intervention. The fact that it came through pain doesn’t matter.
When we are finished with a cycle or an experience and we need to guarantee ourselves that we won’t end up back there, the ending experience often needs to be painful. Humans are conditioned to avoid pain, so when we really need to have things end or break, they do it in a dramatic fashion because it plays into the human condition of needing pain to create the desire to change. I needed a dramatic event and enough pain that would allow me to walk away cleanly and not look back. I got what I needed and then some maybe. I didn’t even think about religion for another 20 years after that. It needed to be that dramatic.
The path to get here was not a straight line and there was a lot of pain along the way. All of it has been necessary for me to be where I am. I don’t regret anything that’s happened in my life. I’ve made peace with my life experience and that’s what I wish for you. As you are able to make peace with your own life experience, you will be able to clearly see how things connected together and what the purpose was of each experience that took place.
Healing serves more than one purpose. It’s not just about healing and releasing the pain, it’s about understanding the why behind the events in our lives. This isn’t the place where we beat ourselves up for what we didn’t know. This is the place where we accept our limited perceptions and understanding of things and acknowledge that our past self was simply doing the best they could.
The understanding comes later once the pain is processed and you’ve made peace with the experience. Why does it come later? Because it wouldn’t have made sense at the time even if you knew it. Think about it. If somebody had told me what I was being set up for back when I was 20, would that have changed my victimized perception of what was happening? Would that have helped me handle the pain better? Probably not because my 20-year-old self wouldn’t have cared about my future 46-year-old self. It wouldn’t have mattered. It was too far in the future. It wouldn’t have made a difference to me back then. Now though, I can look back at my 20-year-old self and give her a big old hug because I understand her and I accept her for who she was and how she served me both then and now.
It all serves a purpose, whether we can see it or not. The last week or so has been all about the different experiences of my life and the purpose that each of them has served. Every time I get a new awareness of something, I become even more grateful for it than I already was. My life worked out magically well. My awareness now of how all those pieces connected together is incredibly beautiful. I needed one to create the other so I could move on to the next thing. It really is magic if you can get out of it enough to see it.
I hope you do. I hope you do get out of it enough to see it. There is so much value in your life experience no matter how good or bad it was. I would love nothing more than for you to see that for yourself.
Love to all.