I've struggled with writing (and rewriting) this post. I'm not sure that I should. I'm not sure how specific I can be. I'm not sure this is the right place or the right time. I'm not sure if there's much point to it. I'm embarrassed and discouraged by my own failure and inadequacy, even as I wish I could avoid having to change. I know I don't belong in my current life, but it's hard to imagine finding a place of belonging outside of it either. I don't have a story of deep trauma or abuse or misfortune, but I'm living a stilted half-life of wasted potential. It feels self-indulgent to elevate my own hardship amidst so much other privilege and in comparison to what others have experienced. Even with accommodating internet strangers, I'm afraid to be honest because the reflection is something I don't want to confront. Part of me understands that I probably need to seek counseling or therapy, but that's the start of a journey that I'm afraid to begin (and a tangent to what I really need to do). Meanwhile I'm stuck in my own head writing self-exploratory pablum to try to break the paralysis.
I'm a closeted non-believer working faithlessly at a well-known fundamentalist Christian institution in the bible belt. I've been here for many years, but I'm single, socially isolated and have had very little responsibility or direct expectation in spiritual matters in my role which has made my apostasy practical to conceal and the cognitive burden of my deception and hypocrisy easier to compartmentalize and avoid. I came as a student because I had no ambition or direction in my life and it satisfied the expectations of my family and church community. I remained as an employee because it was an effortless transition that continued a vocational purpose I'd already established through internship and was the easiest way to maintain a religious facade for my geographically-distant home life when in my heart the struggle with the cycle of sin, guilt and repentance was all but abandoned. I didn't find a personal relationship with god here, but in maintaining the lie I didn't find myself either. I stayed through the years that followed because it's what I knew, even as local friends moved away leaving me in an improbable but stable position as someone who is diligent, valued and trusted, but spends most of the rest of their time in deliberate obscurity and isolation pursuing private secular interests.
I'm in my 40s. I have a technical degree and many years of experience applying those skills in a strategically important role for a commercial subsidiary of this place. But my longevity has become a liability. I'm gifted and dedicated with incomparable knowledge in my area, but that uniqueness makes me dangerous because I would be disastrously expensive to have to suddenly replace. And for my part, the mental and emotional toll of leaving my life's work and a position of agency and facility has reached a point that is profoundly intimidating. I can't do exactly what I'm doing here anywhere else, and it will take significant time and effort to rebuild myself professionally. That's assuming my unaccredited degree is worth a damn, I have any sort of reputation (this is the only meaningful thing on a resume that I've never actually had to use) and that I have the acuity in my middle years to retool and adapt. I have confidence in what I've achieved, but I've always felt a sense of impostor's syndrome in my field, and I know the weight what I have now exerts in my sense of day-to-day purpose and emotional stability.
But moving on is unavoidable. Whatever influences lodged me here, the decision to stay so long is my own. Every year I sign a statement of faith I don't believe, and though it rarely comes up in a practical way, I'm misrepresenting myself and creating an operational risk. (I'm not bitter against this place and don't want to hurt it.) The last few years I've become more politically conscious, and I can't avoid the fact that I'm working (sacrificially no less) for a creationist, pro-life, conservative organization when my own beliefs are diametrically opposed. Finally, it's likely that my ability to fly under the radar with my lack of personal religious observance is going to end soon forcing me to double down on hypocrisy and impersonation of a persona I'm deeply uncomfortable with if I want to remain. Ethically, mentally and professionally, this was never okay and can't continue in its current form. I still have time (months, perhaps) to make the move on my own terms, but it's surreal and difficult to even begin to confront. At some point, I'm going to have to sit in someone's office and explain how in this one, stupid, irrelevant area of my life I've been a fraud and a traitor.
I no longer struggle meaningfully with faith. I was raised in this culture and believed (in fear) through my adolescent and college years. I made public professions. I sought a relationship with god. But I'm also an introvert, and guilt over my failings as a sinner always included guilt that I didn't want to be seen, didn't love the company of other believers (or people in general) and was afraid of discipleship, accountability and integration. Following the teachings of Christ goes against not just my human nature but my individual one, and I never found the spiritual connection or psycho-social reinforcement to make it work, even though it might be easier in so many ways if I had. But it's difficult to exorcise such an established part of your upbringing and education and circumstances. My rejection of the dogma is a reaction, not successful replacement of it. And fundamentalist thinking is so disciplined and refined that I'm never going to be completely free of the viewpoint. This background adds its own complexity to the prospect of having to decouple my life from this place. Even in my disbelief and distance, I find comfort in the known and familiar and fear leaving it.
I don't have many significant human relationships, and they're all tainted by this lie and by the insulation it creates. My father has passed, but my mother is devout, even more so since she retired. She's perceived that I'm disengaged from faith, but it's different to be non-confrontational and still serving than to actively walk away. Explaining whatever happens is going to be hard. I know it will hurt her if she becomes convinced that I'm going to burn for eternity in hell, and I don't know if I can ultimately spare her that. My best friend lives hours away and still clings to faith even as his life is imploding due to unemployment, alcoholism and domestic dysfunction. I can't challenge his hope in the hereafter when the rest of his life is going to shit. So I'm alone as I confront this decision, though it tests the limits of my independence and self-reliance. One of the sad things about fundamentalism is that the doctrine of separation discourages honesty; there is help and forgiveness for the contrite, but what you admit has consequences that may lead to exclusion, so there is no counseling that isn't adversarial and no truth that isn't also potentially punitive.
Ultimately, I don't know what I hope for in life. I enjoy entertainments and distractions, but I know they don't ultimately satisfy. I'm typical in my sexual orientation, but I've never had a serious relationship or wanted children. I'm not incapable of empathy or socialization, but I don't have a well-developed social life or presence and feel more comfortable on my own. I'm not wealthy, but I'm established enough that I can get by until I figure out what's next, wherever that ends up being. I know the universe doesn't owe me anything, but I'd like to think that the next chapter can be more than a joyless, purposeless slog to retirement. I've experienced radical lifestyle change (a decade ago when I realized that if life was worth living then it was worth not being morbidly obese), but there's a difference between the practical solution to a physical crisis and an existential one. Stepping out into the world, I don't know where I fit in, and I've managed to avoid so much life experience (good and bad) while sheltered in this unnatural bubble.
I kind of hate every word of this, and I'm not sure what I'm hoping to accomplish. I'm going to go back to work tomorrow and spend another week trying to avoid thinking about this problem. And then another weekend is going to come when I'll be left alone with my thoughts. It's going to take me time to figure this out and accept what I need to accept, but I need to stop whining to myself and take some constructive steps, which hopefully this will be one of. So "hi", I guess. This is where I am. I appreciate anyone with criticism, constructive or otherwise. I have a hard time engaging online sometimes because I wonder what the point is and feel self-conscious even in anonymous interactions. But I recognize the gift that it is to show kindness to someone else, and I've been impressed by the examples of that that I've seen in this community.