One of the perhaps surprising elements of rejecting the tenets of a religion that I have ardently believed all of my life is that I have felt a little lost lately. I find it difficult if I try to discuss this with anyone, since almost everyone I know well enough to have deeply personal discussions like this is a member of the religion that I abandoned, and at any sign of potential weakness, they seem quick to jump on me about how they knew I would eventually come to regret my decision. I want to be honest and sincere with them, but I hate to feel I am giving them ammunition that they are only too happy to use against me.
In addition, I’m not entirely sure myself of how I feel. I have known my entire life how I was supposed to view the world, how I was supposed to think about sin and righteousness, how I was supposed to act in just about any situation. I no longer have that understanding. I no longer know at a glance what to think about things, and that often includes what to think about myself.
The problem, I think, is that my self image was wrapped up with my religion. I didn’t have many friends as a child, and rather than feeling worthless, I found self-worth in following the admonitions of my religion. I may not have been valuable socially. I may have been an outcast among my peers. I may not have been the smartest kid in the class or the fastest kid on the field. But I was good. I followed God to the best of my ability, and conformed my life to His laws. Who was I? I was the child who read the Bible, memorized scripture passages, prayed at meals, even in public. I avoided social situations that my parents and religious leaders told me might be damaging. I never went to parties. I walked out of movies if the subject matter wasn’t uplifting.
When the time came, I wanted to serve a mission, even though I was a timid, shy, awkward little kid who had never ventured out into the world alone. Who was I? I was good. That was the mental image I had of myself. The one who followed the rules, not because he had to, but because he wanted to.
And now? Even though I have mentally rejected many of the rules that have always dictated my life, I still have some sort of emotional connection to those rules. Don’t drink. Don’t watch bad movies. Don’t swear. Respect the institution of marriage. Don’t even think about extramarital sex. If I violate those rules, those stalwart companions that have given me purpose and value my entire life, will I even know who I am anymore? Will I still be me? Or will I be someone else, someone I no longer recognize?
I have hidden my entire life behind this mask of righteousness. Not that I was being hypocritical. I became the mask as fully as I could. But it wasn’t me. It was a mask. Recently I’ve been pulling off the mask, and allowing myself to show. I am making choices that make sense to me. Choices that coincide with my current beliefs about the world. Choices based on logic rather than superstition. Those choices often contradict the rules that I have always observed. And when I look in the mirror of my mind, I don’t recognize the unmasked face looking back at me.
I don’t know if it’s merely my shyness, or if some intrinsic part of me recognized all along that the real me had to remain perpetually hidden, but I’ve always been afraid of being in the spotlight. I don’t feel comfortable exposing my true self to the world. Even on this blog, where I am trying to be as open as possible, I hide behind anonymity. I don’t enjoy attention. I don’t enjoy the idea of critical eyes being on me.
Lately I have been hiding. I don’t think I recognized it until this morning when Girlfriend asked me about why I haven’t posted anything lately. I realized that I felt way too exposed. I am afraid of letting people see who I really am. What if I’m not good enough? What if I really am worthless, as I feared all those years as a child with no friends? What if I don’t even have religion to fall back on to tell me that I’m a good person, that if nothing else, at least God still loves me?
And now, today, even more than ever there are people who would love to know more about me. Not for the purpose of getting to know me, but to find my flaws, my weaknesses, to find a reason to dismiss me and to warn against me. Yesterday, you see, Girlfriend’s family and Mr. Wonderful’s family found out how much I’m a part of her life. How much I mean to her. And, of course, none of them see me as a positive in her life; they see me instead as a threat and an interloper, a scourge or infestation that needs to be eradicated; removed and scrubbed clean. It is only too easy to want to hide, to disappear, to put on my mask.
For the past week or so, I had even been mulling the idea of deleting poetry, blogs, posts, anything about me that was on the web that I could delete. I had been mulling the idea of hiding again. How attractive that idea is, especially today!
In the spirit of growth, however, I need to learn to remove the mask, to appear in sincerity and with all my flaws, and stand proudly and say, this is who I am.
So here I am. Critique me if you must. Hate me if it makes you feel better. I am not my religion. I am not my society. I am not your idea of what I should be. I am just me. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how my life will turn out. I don’t know that I won’t end up hurting everyone I love. I don’t know what course my life should take or how to achieve happiness for myself. Sometimes I feel like I don’t even know who I am. I only know what I want, and I can only live one day at a time.
Here I am. Get used to me. Or don’t. But I’m not leaving and I’m not changing just to suit you. I am willing, finally, to be me.