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If You Feel Like Your God Has Abandoned You, You're Not Alone
I don’t remember when exactly I stopped going to the church. I might have been 20 or 21 around that time. Growing up in a very religious family, I was shocked when I discovered some people really didn’t believe in God at all. I met my first boyfriend on a Catholic pilgrimage, the same one where my parents met some twenty years before. Less than a year later, my boyfriend left me to become a Catholic priest.
For the next couple years I was an emotional wreck. I moved to Warsaw for college and tried to find a new religious community that would have me. But I was depressed and utterly miserable. Living in a student dorm I tried to cure my depression with crazy amount of booze and weed. I felt super ashamed and guilty of all the things I did while drunk, and then did all of them again anyway. I thought I must be a terrible person for not being able to stop this.
When three consecutive priests shouted at me hearing my confessions, I just gave up. What’s the point of coming back there again when I’m clearly broken beyond repair? Heartbroken and terrified I left that whole religious business completely. If they wouldn’t have me there, I had to find some other way.
In the beginning, that other way was even more partying and booze. I’m still surprised they didn’t kick me out of college back then. I did the bare minimum just to get by, and wallowed in misery for the rest of the time. There were whole weeks where I didn’t leave my student dorm at all. I told my mom I might need to see a therapist because things aren’t going well with me. She told me I’d better go and confess my sins to a priest.
I still wonder sometimes how I got out of this mess. I never went to see that therapist, I was too overwhelmed to even know where to start. But eventually I found a boyfriend, and a job, completed my driving license and my long overdue bachelor’s degree, and for the first time I felt like I was at least a little bit in charge of my life.
When I stopped running away from my problems, I could finally take time to think what do I even want. Was I happy with how things were going for me so far? And the answer was no, I had no idea what exactly I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t this. So I moved to South Korea to figure out who I was.
This was the first time ever I lived all on my own, and the solitude was just impossible to bear. Even if I stayed for the whole day in the office, there were still long lonely evenings and weekends I had to spend with my own thoughts. That’s how I first discovered meditation and yoga, they both made sitting alone with my thoughts a little bit easier than before. I still went out to get drunk on most weekends though, the physical pain of hangover was somehow more manageable than dealing with the emotional pain.
In the last month of my stay in Korea I decided to spend a night in a Buddhist temple. After all these years, it still felt like the most rebellious act. I remember sitting there with everyone, chanting the mantras and thinking okay, I’m officially going to hell now, aren’t I? Even though I already hadn’t been in church for years around that time, and already had the abortion that would exclude me from the church anyway, praying at a foreign altar of a foreign god in a foreign language felt like the most damning thing I could ever do.
At that moment I realized Buddhism wasn’t the answer either. After discovering meditation, I thought Buddhism might give me solutions to my problems that my first church wouldn’t do. But to my surprise the monks at the temple weren’t any different than the Catholic priests back at home. Instead of some sort of enlightened beings I found the same flawed humans as everywhere else.
Why am I sharing all of this? Because I know I’m not the only one. Many of my friends grew up religious and then discovered that their religion couldn’t accept them for what they are. Some of them gave up on religion and all spiritual needs completely. Some others have put together a strange mix of rituals and practices from all around the world like I did.
After so many years of believing we’re terrible people who deserve eternal hell, we’re trying to find another way of relating to life, the world, and the Divine. We’re making it up as we go, guided by our feelings and gut sense, because who else can we trust to tell us what’s right or wrong? And yes, we’re making some very dumb mistakes that could have been easily avoided if we followed one of the already predefined paths - but if the predefined paths wouldn’t have us, then what else can we do?
It’s been many years since I first went to that Buddhist temple, and looking back it’s been quite a ride. I’ve been making it all up for the whole time and fooling myself in some spectacular ways. There are likely even more ways I am fooling myself still. But I’m glad I gave myself this chance to seek out the Divine on my own terms instead of giving up and believing that I am simply not good enough for this life, and definitely not good enough for the next one.
If that’s how you’re feeling right now, you’re not the only one. There’s a long, crazy, and impossibly beautiful road still ahead of you, if you give it a chance.
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