Steps in Recovery

In my years of experience, I’ve found that for a lot of people, the leaving process takes time and has some important steps. This outline is not meant to be a formula or cover the issues in depth, but I hope it is useful for you to think about.

1.   Get real (recognizing problems)

This is when you start to get it that your religion is not really working for you.  It’s not making sense intellectually, it’s not paying off emotionally, or you see moral problems with it.

This early stage is hard because dogmatic systems do not let go easily and there is a cycle of abuse as you get blamed for the problems.

Your doubts and questions feel dangerous because you haven’t been allowed to think for yourself.  Yet you have to start getting honest.

Be honest with yourself about whether your religion is working for you. Let go of trying to force it to make sense.

Have a look at life and the world AS IT IS, and stop trying to live in a parallel universe. This world might not be perfect but facing reality will help you get your life on track.

If you feel guilty, realize that the religion teaches you to feel responsible when it isn’t working and tells you to go back and try harder, just like an abusive relationship.

2.   Get a Grip (considering deconversion)

Eventually, the problems get to be too much and you want to stop forcing everything to fit.  Don’t panic.  It’s important to understand that the fear is just part of the phobia indoctrination.

Phobia indoctrination is a self-serving part of the religion that tells you that terrible things will happen to you if you leave.

If you calm down, you’ll be just fine. Many people have been through this. So read some deconversion stories and calm down.  You will be fine.

When you look at the world as it really is, facing reality will help you get your life on track.

3.   Get Informed (getting new information)

Do everything you can to educate yourself.  You are free to read, watch videos, and expose yourself to all the knowledge in the world – history, philosophy, other religions, mythology, science, psychology, biology, and more.

Read authors who have explained why they deconverted. In particular, learn about the origins of your religion and scripture, such as how the Bible was put together and early church history.

Having a look from an unbiased viewpoint can be pretty eye-opening. Enjoy letting your brain breathe.

4.   Get Support (finding emotional help)

Healing from toxic religion is not just intellectual.  It goes deep into your emotional and psychological make-up, especially if you were taught as a child.

So don’t be surprised if you have a gap between what you know in your head and what you feel in your gut.

You can reject a belief in hell, for example, and still have nightmares.  Get support in any way you can – from online forums, local groups, a therapist who understands, or go to a recovery retreat.

Do the work to heal the wounds of religious abuse.  And be careful about what you may have been told about the evils of psychology or getting secular help.

5.   Get well (finding healing)

It’s important to give yourself time to process your feelings and learn how to trust yourself.  You will probably need to deal with many emotions, such as anxiety, anger, depression, loneliness, and grief.

You will also need to regain trust in your thinking abilities, practice expressing your own views, and develop critical thinking, creativity, and decision-making.

If you do the work to get healthy and mature, eventually your wounds will heal.  You will feel stronger and able to love and take care of yourself.

6.   Get a Life (building a new life)

Letting go of a religious worldview means you have to rethink who you are and what life is about.  You also have to rebuild most of your life structure such as social networks, work, and family relationships.

In general, you will have to take responsibility for your own choices instead of depending on the religion or God’s will for guiding your life.   This is exciting of course, because you are now in the world with many options, but it may be a little daunting as well.

But it is up to you to reclaim your life, construct your identity, and make commitments to new values. Rebuild your life around new values and engage fully with your choices. Develop your identity as you learn to love and trust yourself.

Take responsibility and create the life that works for you – in work, family, leisure, social – all the areas of commitment that make a life structure. If you still want a spiritual life, define it for yourself.

Venture into the “world” for new experiences and new friends. This will take time but you can do it.

7.  Get Clear (coming out to others)

At some stage, you will need to let other people know about your change in views.  For many this feels like coming out of the closet and has serious implications.  Family and friends who are still believers may react in negative ways, especially at first.

You may go through some challenging adjustments in your relationships.  But for most people, this honesty is eventually necessary in order to have personal integrity.

It can be hard to let other people go through their own feelings and to deal with all the issues, but in the end, it’s worth it.

8.   Get With The Program (joining the world)

Welcome to the human race.  Accept the idea that Earth is your home and humanity is your true family.   If you aren’t part of a special group that is leaving, consider what that means for you.

You may want to participating in larger concerns to make the world a better place, such as caring for the environment or working for social justice.

Let go of expecting God to take care of all the problems and join others to make the world a better place here and now.  You can see that we are all interconnected and you can enjoy relationships with other people.

9.   Get Your Groove On (reclaiming joy and self-expression)

As you relax about being part of this earth, you reclaim enjoyment of sensation and pleasure. You realize you don’t have to earn the right to exist.  You are just like other animals.

Your sensory experiences are delightful, your body is great, and sex is good.  You find all the ways to appreciate nature.

It’s ok to simply enjoy being alive.  Learn to be present here and now. Enjoy and love other people instead of judging. Reclaim your creativity and express yourself any way you like, not just to “glorify God.”

Love your body and take care of it. Embrace this life instead of worrying about the next. Sing and dance and laugh for no reason except Being Alive.