No One Talks About Leaving
No, really. No one talks about leaving. Maybe it’s taboo. Maybe it’s because people are afraid that if they talk about it, it’ll happen more. We don’t talk about leaving church because we’re scared people will actually leave church. We don’t talk about leaving marriages or long-term relationships because we’re scared that people will start to leave them more often. And, because we don’t talk about it, no one ever knows how to navigate it. It becomes taboo, dirty, something to fear. People don’t know how to navigate when our friends and family members leave. Leaders in churches don’t know how to navigate conversations and relationships when people they have been leading, leave. Individuals don’t know how to navigate leaving because they’ve never had a healthy relationship with leaving, they’ve never known how to leave. It’s always been a fearful, avoided topic. It’s always been something to steer clear of. It’s always been a topic of shame.
Our culture has equated leaving with failure, and therefore: leaving with shame.
I never knew what leaving meant, how it would feel, what it would look like — I never knew all the nuanced ways it would effect me. I never knew how it would hurt. I never learned that the hurt would come in cycles, in stages. I never knew the ways it would heal me, that I would heal from leaving. Not learning about leaving meant I didn’t know when leaving was safe, when leaving was good. Not talking about leaving, meant I stayed in places too long, despite unhealthy relationships and disconnection with myself. I stayed because all I knew about leaving, was that we shouldn’t talk about it, and we definitely shouldn’t do it.
No one talks about the ebbs and flows that come with leaving your faith community, your church, your religion. No one talks about the ostracism. No one talks about the struggle. No one talks about the after effects, the ways the ripples keep spreading further and further out. So often, the pendulum swings between ‘Christianity is redeemable’ and ‘let it burn’. The pendulum swings between “I miss you” and “fuck you”. Or, at least, it has in the people I’ve spoken to about leaving.
Leaving is hard. I won’t sugar coat it. Leaving is hard. It encompasses so much in its essence, a movement from one place to another. Intentional outward steps away from places that have often been a tense balance of comfy and painful. Leaving is hard and it doesn’t really happen the way we think we will. We leave a relationship, but it is not just a one-moment leaving event. We leave a relationship and we feel the loss, even if it was our choice. We leave and we realise we haven’t left one person, but many, when our texts continue to go unanswered and we realise that our friends are their friends, now. We leave a relationship and we leave our furniture and our cat and our memories and familiarity. We leave a church and we come to realise that we are leaving it over and over again every time we choose to not go back. We leave a belief system and we realise that we need to leave it each time we intentionally unlearn something we used to hold dear.
Perhaps that is the hardest part, realising that leaving keeps happening, we don’t just quit cold turkey and never have to choose to leave again… Leaving may continually be a choice you make.
Leaving happens in many moments. Leaving is an ongoing process.
Leaving didn’t happen in just one moment for me. I left over and over again in a multitude of tiny moments. Leaving happened in many boulder-sized rocks falling and crashing over that which I thought was safe and secure. When the dust cleared, hundreds of small pebbles followed them. The pebbles fall less and less. Occasionally, the dust still rises. There are some things I am still leaving. There likely will be for a while.
Leaving happened in strong, decisive moments. It happened when I handed in my resignation in at the Christian organisation that was burning me out and breaking my heart. It happened when I sat him down and said “I’m not coming home with you. I can’t.” It happened when I decided not to go back to my church. It happened when I woke up one day and the words “I’m not a Christian” settled in my heart and gently stroked my hair as I felt the empty space they carved out in me. But leaving happened also in quiet, smaller moments — the ones that are harder to give language to. Leaving happened when I knew in my heart I had to leave, when I worked up the courage to say it and deliberated for weeks, when I had the phone call a week later to ensure they knew that yes, I fucking meant it. Leaving happened when I first went to send a meme and realised I needed a new person to send them to. Leaving happened when I healed a new scar over. It happened when I met my old pastors and they told me I didn’t have enough faith and I drove home, body wracked with sobs. It happened when I journaled about how sad I was, when I wrote poems about my aching soul, and couldn’t find a way to bring those journaled words into my real life setting. Leaving happened when I finally found language for my discontent. Leaving happened when I found safe spaces and I realised I didn’t have to always be running, that pausing, resting, and being were safe.
Leaving has been a continual choice. A continual letting go of the old ways of being, old ways of thinking. A constant leaving behind of that which no longer is true to me.
I have left and I am leaving and I am arriving. All of these things are true, and I can exist with all of these at once. I have left my church, and I am still leaving it. I have left my religion, and I am still leaving it. I am arriving in new, beautiful places of self-knowledge each day. Leaving does not cancel out arriving. Leaving allows us to arrive anew.