I want to be careful not to sound overly cheerful, about my de-conversion, since in reality it was one of the toughest things I've ever been through. It's true that I feel peaceful about it now, as I discussed last time, but while it was still going on my emotional life was anything but peaceful.
In the fall of 2009 I had one of those rare "eureka" moments, while reading an article online. Frankly, I can't even remember what the article was about but, for whatever reason, it made reference to the famed "5 stages of grief". It hit me, in that moment, that I myself was in the latter stages of a grieving experience. Oddly enough, I hadn't even contemplated this possibility prior to that very moment. I guess I had always just assumed that a grieving process was only meant for those dealing with a physical death. Not so.
Here's how the five stages of grief manifested themselves in my own de-conversion...
In numerous posts I've mentioned the fact that, initially, I set out on this investigation with the express purpose of deepening my faith. What I discovered shocked me to my core, but even still I went through a very long period of denial about the implications of these various discoveries. I still remember re-assuring my wife, as I shared with her about what I was reading, "don't worry honey, I may wind up with a more liberal version of the faith but I'll still be a Christian!". This was a conversation I grew to regret, mostly because my wife actually believed me. As such, it was an even bigger shock to her system when I ultimately revealed that I could no longer consider myself a Christian. (She cried the first night I told her.)
I never intentionally deceived my wife, I was simply in denial.
For me, the anger phase centered around this general feeling that I had been lied to all of my life. What do you mean there are unreconcilable contradictions in the Bible? Actual historical errors? In the Bible?!? You've got to be kidding me! Why didn't I know about this? The evidence for evolution is conclusive? The "creationist" arguments have long ago been soundly de-bunked? Why hadn't I previously been aware? And you mean to say my "relationship with Jesus" has been imaginary the whole time?? Mixed in with all of this was an anger toward myself. I was beginning to realize that all of this information had been "out there", all along, but I had simply never taken the time to seek it out. Why had I been so content, to swallow the Christian worldview without really investigating it properly?
I also found myself having new problems at home, and at work, because things were getting to me in a way that I would never normally allow them to. It took me a while to make the connection between what was happening in those other areas (work/home) and what was happening inside of me.
I've written before about the bargaining phase, at this link, so I won't repeat myself here. Suffice it to say, I wanted desperately to have some sort of supernatural experience that would confirm the truth of Christianity.
I'm still waiting.
I have a confession to make...I've always been a believer in the power of positive thinking. Not in some corny new age-ish "name it and claim it" sort of way, but in the simple sense of believing that what we say to ourselves matters. I even read a Tony Robbins book once and, at the time, it actually helped me out of a funk that I was in. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but it's true.
Having said that, no amount of positive thinking was enough to hold off intermittent bouts of depression during my de-conversion. Coming to grips with the fact that Christianity is actually false was almost more than I could bear. Everyone in my family was/is Christian, as I've already talked about, I work for a Christian company (a situation I have yet been unable to remedy), and my very identity itself has always been inexorably tied up in the Christian faith.
Who am I? What am I supposed to do now? How can I ever tell my family & friends about this? These sorts of questions, when experienced simultaneously, are almost enough to lead anyone to the edges of despair. It was while I was in the midst of this on again/off again depression phase (and still struggling with anger too) that I stumbled into the aforementioned article on the five stages of grief. I realized then that many of the problems were actually of my own making; a direct result of my stubborn refusal to move on to the final stage of the process...
It was almost exactly two years ago that I finally accepted the fact that I am an atheist. I can still remember repeating it to myself over and over...not as a mantra, but out of shock and to get used to the feeling of those words in my mouth. "I am an atheist." "I am an atheist." Holy crap, I am an atheist!!" It felt weird. In many ways, it still does. Atheists aren't like I used to think they were. Sure, I guess it's true that some of them are "angry", but not at all for the reasons I had always assumed (ie. that they're "rebelling against God", or some such nonsense).
Has anyone else, atheist or otherwise, gone through a similar grieving process? How long did it take you to fully accept your change of heart? What was the trigger that moved you on to the acceptance phase?