The Devastation of Lost Faith

“I lay in a bed of resistance
Chained to either side
I really wish I could, reset, rewind
Someone has clawed out my eyes

I don’t know what they told you
But this place is not what you think

Living inside a hole, they put me underground
Where they could never find me unless they dig me out
I search for the answers
‘Cause this is the end

God, it’s caving in on me
I feel them watching
But no one seems to care anymore.” -Underoath, In Division

They say to just sit down and write, but sometimes I go through dry spells in my emotions and writing. Sometimes the words pour out, each story in its vivid detail being told with fierce determination to practice the journalism I always dreamed to – telling the untold stories. Insights on Epic Living was a tagline I based on a Christian sermon series by a pastor named Chuck Swindoll. I’ve always wanted to keep the focus of my blog open, a place for people to get lost in interesting ideas and to feel welcomed in the darkness of my mind. This desire birthed many essays that resonated with my Christian friends, my justifications for the beliefs I’d known since early childhood.

I wrote in one essay, titled “Goth culture and why Christians are attracted to the dark,” published December 2012:

The Bible has a bunch of metaphors about the dark being connected to evil, so I was confused: I thought I’d gotten rid of my darkness. I had; the negativity was gone, but I still wanted to listen to heavy music, turn off all the lights, and pry into the hidden world of my mind with the Spirit’s help. It’s scary to discover the dark corners of my own mind, but prayer directs me toward this practice because a relationship with God who is love will always mean total vulnerability. It’s even rewarding: the things I hide from myself aren’t always bad things, and could be hidden talents or aspects I covered in unwarranted shame.

Dark and light is a good metaphor, but I think the Bible only uses it as a metaphor for evil, not that the dark itself is evil. Why else would God separate the light from the darkness, call the light day and the darkness night, and say that it was altogether good?

The dark is not evil, but contains evil because like vulnerability, it has been tainted. I define evil and hell as antimatter, the thing that attacks what exists. Black holes are what within the universe provide a metaphor for what hell is. It twists and tears away, but it cannot create. So when Christians, as they get more interested in God, get an urge to seek out the quiet of the night and to explore in the dark, destroying the evil they find there and treasuring the insights the darkness offers, they are confused because they’ve been taught the dark is evil.

Goth people quickly become outcasts, because they’ve fought battles those who avoid the dark can’t understand. Going to dark places of fear, to fight battles there and seek revelation, is far from a sin. It’s a necessity for the Christian life. David, Jesus, and the Prophets all participated in going to dark places, not the least of which was the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Christians are attracted to the dark because it is good. There is solace, beauty, and revelation there. Do not ignore the darkness. Enter it with courage, and you will gain experience and fight battles.

Many of the observations I made then were organized with a very us-vs-them, black-or-white, extreme-swinging way, while I still believe in what I was getting at. I still think the darkness of the mind is a valuable place to be, and I sit with my mind every day, catching it when I dissociate or get triggered and caught up in trauma. I observe my thought processes, and try to listen to myself when my emotions surface beneath the fog of depression and the whirlwind of anxiety.

Darkness is not something to be rid of. I once scrubbed all negativity from myself, leaving an empty vessel with room for positive thoughts and a cheery disposition. I called myself the happy fairy, because I believed that God wanted me to be pure and good, to encounter the darkness for the purpose of spiritual warfare, to battle with my demons. “With the Spirit’s help” meant I firmly believed that there was a being out there who was intimately acquainted with my thoughts – after all, the Book of Ultimate Truths that I’d been memorizing promises and facts from since I could barely read said so.

I still sit with my darkness, though. Prayer doesn’t direct me there, psychology does. I want to understand my own thoughts, and I know now that nobody is responsible for them but myself. Being vulnerable with myself is even more challenging than being vulnerable with a deity, because I can project whatever I like onto that deity. This is not an exclusively Christian experience, not by a long shot – we fear the darkness and the recesses of our minds simply because we are animals, having briefly woken up in a tiny window of time on a vast planet in a vaster universe.

The process of losing my faith was like being swept under by more and more evidence, a landslide of the mind. I was overcome with depression like nothing before, and I felt more like Jesus than ever, annoyingly – abandoned by a nonexistent God. It fucking hurt to learn that there isn’t someone out there who feels what I feel, who knows what I know, who knows what I think, and who can hear my prayers when I am concerned with anything, anything at all.

I clung to my faith through losing my family, through embracing my sexuality, and through many lost friends. I fear that people who still have these things to lose, who share their religion with their communities and professional connections, are even less likely to walk away from their faith than myself. In the end, I had to do my own dark work, and grieve the religion that had promised me everything if only I would love Jesus more than my father and mother, brothers and sisters, and myself. I was terrified, not of what the world beyond mine might hold, because I was already in it, but of the void inside my mind.

Realizing that God does not exist is not a moment of belief. It is a moment of realization, of a million puzzle pieces falling into place, with such brutal imagery in the mind that it is difficult to reconstruct the existence of God again. Yet many do just that, returning to religious roots after briefly playing the skeptic. I am baffled by this fact, but faith is enticing, so easy to fall back on, that I understand why some of my friends have returned to the faith. After all, it is easier to deal with family when you can have common ground about God.

I could go on for pages and pages with the details of how exactly my faith broke down – but that will have to be saved for the book, Music in the Dream House. In it, I’m talking about how when I competed in homeschool speech Apologetics (pretty much my only education throughout high school), I began researching both original sin and a doctrine called “inerrancy “(it basically means that the Bible can’t have any errors in it because God has made sure that would never happen). I quickly found that my own holy book had little integrity behind it at all. Six years later, when I had finally faced myself and could wrestle with the concept of God without the distractions of familial ties and reputation, I read “The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan, which made a highly memorable observation that God is not unlike an invisible dragon, whose existence cannot be proved. I also read my first Barbara Ehrenreich book, “Living With a Wild God,” where she pointed out that God might be a cop-out answer to, well, everything we can’t explain. Then in an astronomy class, for the first time in my life, someone pointed to the table of elements and said, “these elements that make up everything we need to exist – they are made by stars. We are star stuff.”

That was it for my faith – at last, I no longer needed a creator. But nobody hands you a salve for the devastation of lost faith. I’m still angry with how many assumptions I lived under, with how much of my life I feel like I lost. Can you be angry at God for not existing? Totally, if I’m any example, though I’ll admit I feel silly about it a lot.

The thing is, the past few years have shown me far more about religion than I ever cared to see while I was still clinging to it. I now recognize religion as a method for controlling the masses, and it breaks my heart that I know so many people who are still being swept under the current. Christianity took the hero’s journey and sold it as a salvation story. But what is so good about the so-called “good news” anyway? The essence of the gospel is this: “You were bought with blood. God owns your life now.”

And that’s a hell of a lot to recover from, to unravel from the depths of an already confusing childhood. The foundation for it all was something hidden away in thick books of theology, ones I wouldn’t explore until my late teens. Then it would take several years for my faith to finally break down. I know this, yet I am impatient and angry, seeing how desperately the world needs to see the damaging impacts of religion. I want for others to join me on this side of life, where the universe is massive and mysterious, and we are but tiny, lucky observers in it. Yet I know that the loss of faith is deeply personal, a process that demands profound patience.

Looking back, I realize that it was acknowledging the darkness in the first place that helped me to escape. Music was a huge part of this process, as well – a friend recommended that I listen to Eyedea, and I sank into a new low as The Dive resonated so strongly with me. It asked, “Have you ever felt yourself slipping away, where all you think about is your sanity and how it decayed?” I remember taking a long walk on a cold December night, letting that whole album play through, letting the tears freeze on my face. My fears were realized in the haunting, repeated words at the end of the song: “And with each foot you fall, the voice in your head starts to sound more and more like yours.”

Then came part 2 of the song, and I urge anyone who is struggling with their faith to listen carefully and consider that the world beyond the dive into the darkness – even in the face of a massive question like the existence of God – is worth going to.

Take a deep breath. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
What you just did was fall to the depths of existence.
The place the mind keeps you away from by its own process of building models for understanding.
This is not insanity, this is in fact the ultimate reality
The union you’ve achieved is only possible in thoughts no more
You never fall if you never fight
You found yourself fall into madness so you dove
The best thing you ever did was let go.

Only Human

“Enjoy the pain, it’s yours for a while, girl
Don’t run away, your fear, you’re getting older
We are relying on you and your emotion
And as you go, promise of being bright –
Where did you go, my dear, don’t slip away now
It’s going slow, unclear, but you’re alive now
Don’t be alone in the news, it’s mediocre
We’re going home, I promise, so go and try –
And then the symptom is that you want to be the best that you could be
Trust none and be no other than the way you seem when they’re looking
Outrun the system while you dry eyes and keep your knees from moving
High strung and innocent, moving worlds, barely.” –Veela

To be human is an irreconcilable experience. I tell myself that every day, but it doesn’t seem to make it any easier to deal with. The thing is, nobody put us humans here to experience this life. We’re just animals, and there are a lot of us, and we have delusions of grandeur that somehow we’ll save each other. But we won’t. And that irreconcilable notion – the one that ultimately, we are heading toward destruction as a planet, and will likely never interact with any species that may have evolved on other planets, much less communicate with the other animals that we share similar DNA with, much less solve the immediate problems facing humanity like war and poverty – makes it very difficult to write.

Each morning, I write a blog post. Each morning, I save it as a draft. That, or I work on my book or on the longer essays I have planned for the blog. Lately I’ve been so existential about the magnanimity of these things I’m passionate about, I can hardly get out a full sentence. I can blame my depression and anxiety and chronic pain, but these are common to the human experience as well. Helping each other get through this life, and stay alive against the crushing weight of life, is the whole point of creating anything, and that includes writing.

The song I opened this post with has been a comfort to me for many years now. It perfectly describes for me what my writing is about – people have heard my story, want to read it, want to read about the myriad of things I care about saying, and that, to me, means that my emotion is worth something. Processing my emotions has always led to improved writing. It just hurts a lot, and means a lot of crying. Even now, the words are halting and I’m struggling to develop each new thought. Why don’t I just go work on one of my bigger essays? Well, because I’ve been feeling existential about it all – and I’m stabbing around in the dark with making ends meet. I’m so grateful to my Patreon supporters for funding me so well this year, and I need that growth to keep up so that I can rely more heavily on my blog. If you would like to pledge a dollar or more per month, you can check out the Patreon here. Please, if you can’t spare anything, do not pledge – as always, I want to make sure people are giving out of excess instead of obligation.

Anyway. Back to the point of being human. Over the past few months, I’ve been meditating on my chronic pain, and it has significantly changed how I relate to myself. Meditation is a bit overrated, I must say, because the expectations of those who practice are often unrealistic. Over and over, the recording said not to expect freedom from pain, but a change in the mental relationship with pain. Now I don’t resist it as much, and can recognize that the pain is a part of me. Not separate from my being, but part of the body I’m inhabiting. So often we separate ourselves from the negative aspects of our experience, thinking “this isn’t real, this isn’t happening to me, it’s happening to somebody else.”

This is the essence of dissociation, and it’s something I’m so practiced in, I still dissociate dozens of times a day. It was what I used to tune out the the screams, to tune out my own small body when it was being spanked. It was what I used to survive. Now I’m unlearning the survival techniques that I developed in my most malleable stage of life. Accepting what is real, and what is actually happening, is a frustratingly infinitesimal change. Life does not welcome the mindful with open arms. It provides countless physical and emotional pains, pricking at the mindful practitioner to constantly remind them they can never escape life’s reality again.

I’m terrified of accepting reality. I’m more terrified, though, of bypassing it. That’s why I’ve taken to exploring the human experience – the psychology of recovery, understanding how this animal body emerged from an evolutionary tree spanning millions of years – and am challenging myself to accept facts. Even if they make me feel so deeply alone in the universe, even if it makes my pain seem small that nobody can feel it but me. Even if it takes me off the pedestal of what being human used to mean. I was taught that to be human is to be sinful and in need of a savior. That’s what I believed, because everyone in my whole world believed it and told me it was true. Now I know that to be human is to be in a constant state of need for compassion – not from God, but from ourselves.

I am only human, which means I am weak, a pain-wracked suit of flesh and bone, a trauma-damaged brain that reacts to red flags that aren’t there, and have very little control over my body. I am only human, which means I don’t have the power to singlehandedly fix the world. I’m not even sure if a group of very committed humans can pull it off, either. But it sure is easier to know that something isn’t out there, infinite and all-powerful, holding the solutions to human dissonance aloof. I am only human, which also means I can create whole worlds and write an almost endless number of books and essays. I don’t always feel that positive side of it, but I know it’s always there, because as I figure out how to express myself, the words will flow.

Accepting myself as human is hard. It is, after all, irreconcilable and was never meant to be any different. There was nothing “meant” about the existence of life on this planet at all, as far as we know. But accepting that life is unacceptable, that I can do. It is the only thing that makes sense. When I say that I am only human, and I struggle to write, and I struggle to make ends meet, and I struggle to make my emotions work right, and my words don’t always work, and my brain sometimes feels like it’s falling outside the side of my head, I am confessing to what I am trying to accept about myself.

It’s okay to be in pain. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay if the art doesn’t flow. It’s okay if the work is crushingly difficult, and I feel like things shouldn’t be as they are. That’s human. I’m only human.