Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Story from start to now...

My deconversion, loss of faith, whatever you want to call it is still relatively new, just over a month ago.
I was previously a Catholic Christian for 40+ years and my faith and my god were the focal points of my life. All my family, my friends were centred in the church, my reading, outside activities also church based, my coping style in a difficulty has always been to pray first.
So in losing god I have somehow lost a base in which to stand, which (with British understatement mode on) is a little disconcerting.

So how did I lose god if I was so wrapped up in belief that I was unable to see all the things I see so clearly now?

I was born into a very Catholic family. My mother was a convert to Catholicism, my father “cradle” whose parents were sadly disappointed by his decision NOT to be a priest, as his brother and two uncles were. His sister was also a nun. I went to Catholic school and God “lived” in our house, his presence in our lives as real and matter of fact as anyone else who lived with us. We talked to him and prayed together and Church was our second home.

At the age of 12, I had read my way through the bible from start to finish. I prayed daily, the rosary, and meditated on Christ's life and kept him in the forefront of my mind and heart.Growing up there were difficulties, as in all lives.
My mother had a small stroke when I was about 10, but survived relatively unscathed, after a year where no one was sure whether she would or not. I was vaguely aware that every now and then my father was not happy, but didn’t realise for many years later that like his father and brothers before him, he suffered with recurring depression, that he bore and lived with and accepted as the cross he had to bear.

When I was about 14, a couple of things happened- one I won’t talk about.
The other was the start of my sister’s illness. Her epilepsy began to show itself and culminated in her admission to a hospital 100 miles away, to try and stop her several fits a day.
For the first time, my faith which had held me together all this time was tested.
God is good, God loves us, and God is all powerful.
How could this equate with what I saw, this 11 year old suffering so much?
I found it so hard to understand.
Still, despite it all, I continued to believe and to go regularly to Church and to pray for my sister. At this point, I came into contact with my aunt's order of nuns.
I visited them and became determined that I should join too, at 16.
My family, going through so much with my sister’s illness had no time for my na├»ve and somewhat dramatic pronouncements, and wisely told me in no uncertain terms that I was far too young and immature.
I responded, with typical teenage sulks and gradually, my faith began to be tested, more and more.
My questioning grew stronger and I started to examine the possibility that all I had believed in was false, that there was no God, no plan, just nothing. But that to me was unthinkable and I held on, albeit with difficulty.
The sicker my sister became, the harder it was for me to hold on and I had my first of several depressive dips. It went and I finished school and started off training to be a nurse, something that didn’t last long (I could never get the sheets straight) and went off to study at university instead.

But things got dark again.
My sister was developing a serious mental illness in addition to her epilepsy.
She became deluded, especially about my mother; she hallucinated and at times would attack my parents and threaten me too.
She was admitted several times to a mental hospital and things seemed very bleak. My brothers left home, they could not stand living with her and her unpredictability and my parents struggled alone. I fell once more into depression, but eventually, I crawled out of this deep hole I had fallen in, thanks to several people and ended up meeting and marrying my beloved husband, after a trip to Lourdes. I found many answers to the questions that ran through my mind on that trip, not through any miracle, but by observing and witnessing the way many of those who were suffering seemed to gain strength from their beliefs.
Life seemed so good after we married.
I became pregnant quickly, despite being told this might be difficult for me and son1 was born.
He nearly died and I rejoiced that he didn’t.
Three years later, after much trying and praying his brother arrived and that made up our family, despite our efforts to have a third.
As time went on, I began to see that son1 was different. In fact, it was the Health Visitor that noticed- a day imprinted on my mind.
Gradually, more and more assessments were done, and eventually he was found to have learning difficulties (mild) and an autistic spectrum disorder (also mild) probably arising out of brain damage at birth.
But despite this “mild” label, he couldn’t cope with ordinary school and was placed in a specialist unit, where he thrived.
Life seemed good again.
And then things went wrong again.
My husband’s job went, and with his disabilities, no chance of a new one. I crazily offered to return to work, but had to retrain as I had been so long in part time jobs.
I hated leaving the children and leaving my role as a mother.
I was on call every 5 days, had to study for exams.
Son1’s problems worsened and he developed new ones, hearing and seeing things that weren’t there, deluded and frightened. Tests showed him to have epileptic activity in his brain and he too needed medication to help him function. At the age of 12, he decided he wanted to die, “to give up his life”. He tried to stop breathing once and told me after mournfully that it didn’t work, he was (unhappily for him, he said,) still alive.
Life seemed bleak and God far away.
I alternated between anger and depression, grief and fury. I carried on going to church and however bad I felt, as long as I could hold on by a thread, I kept going, in somewhat of a desperate state.
God for me became someone who seemed cruel, who didn’t listen, and who just put his children through agony for no purpose, but still after raging and screaming at him every day, I would turn to him in prayer and faith. To reject him seemed unthinkable yet again.
Every evening was hard after work. I would spend time reassuring son1 that his arm hadn’t disappeared; that no one was coming to destroy him and the voices in his head weren’t real, just his “imagination playing tricks.” He’d go to sleep and I’d sit here, wondering whether God was far away or just gone.
All joy went from my belief; all that was left was an intellectual assent that he did exist and a necessity to believe that, because without that belief, all son1’s sufferings were for naught. At least with the Christian perspective he would one day get his reward, with “all being well.”
I searched for an answer, high and low, in books, TV (The “God” channel) and ended upon a Christian internet forum where I found distraction and other people struggling.
In the evenings, as I put son1 to bed and after he’d settle, I’d read and post and began to enjoy it there. I gradually began to integrate my ideas about suffering into what seemed a more realistic framework, based on the Book of Job.
My father had always said it was the only way to understand suffering, but I had not seen it that way before. For me, I had to have an answer and I would not be satisfied until I did. But in the Book of Job, I saw God was saying “trust” as an answer to my “Why” and finally, it seemed to satisfy me. As time went on, my anguish about son1 eased, to flare up every now and then, but in a manageable way, turning to God to ease the pain I felt.

After about 18 months on the forum, someone suggested I apply to be a mod. In typical Cat fashion, I decided to put it in god’s hand. I reckoned that seeing as how most of my posts were in fellowship rather than meaty debate, I wouldn’t be accepted, but to my surprise, I was.

I got finally allocated to mod the apologetics forum, where I hadn’t spent much time previously. The ethos there at that time was to mod quite firmly. That meant lots of reports to deal with, lots of posts to read and lots of information to be taken in that wasn’t exactly new, but hadn’t been prominent in my mind.

I didn’t enjoy it, in fact, I hated it. Giving out my first warnings as instructed brought back furious messages that I found hard to deal with, especially if I’d had a difficult day in work or with son1. But the more I dealt with them, the more I began to realise a lot of what I was reading and what was being said to me made far more sense than the things Christians were saying. The basis for my faith was being able to trust God. I had no absolute proof, but many of the pat answers I would give myself to difficult questions were undermined by what I was reading.
That shook me. My whole anchor for life was coming under attack, so I did the only thing a decent Christian woman of faith could do at this point.

I gave up moderating.

But the things that had been awoken in my mind wouldn’t go away.
Hell, this strange god of love who also tormented and tortured suffering, the historical nature of Jesus, and many more arguments all danced around my head to meet with no real answer.
I decided to put my faith to the test, confident that if I did that, God would send me an answer and I would be safe. I also knew that I could only trust if I was secure and at that point, I was anything but secure.

There started 4 months of reading and searching and thinking. The more I looked, the less reason I could find to trust in this God, who gradually was turning more and more into a mythical creature, built of human hands and human emotions, than the all powerful loving god I had also, in fact, created in my head. The historical basis for Jesus, though there in my opinion, was weak compared to what I had always thought, and when I sat down and seriously thought about hell and suffering and justice and all the big questions, nothing made sense any more.
The evidence was not there, all I had was a feeling that I wanted it to be, without any solid back up.
I realised more and more how my previous efforts at keeping and strengthening my faith had more to do with my need for a god than any actual reality.
One day, driving to work, I just looked in the sky, and everything I had thought came together with clarity. I realised I no longer believed in God, that the sky for me was empty.
I fell apart inside.
But I had no other choice, no other option.
I could not make myself believe because I wanted to; belief is not a choice.
I tried so hard, though, to change my mind.
But in vain.
So here I am, just over a month on, still without god but less in pieces than I first thought I would be.
Only time will tell what will happen next.
All I know is I sought the truth and I found it
It's just not what I thought it would be.


Annabel Lee said...

Cat dear, I'm here if you need a friend to talk to.
I stand in awe of your bravery and strength.
Your Friend,

b*unique said...

You know,I am glad you gave up on the human made cruel and petty vision of gods.
I hope we will get to talk about things,once you heal from the divorce a bit.