“Why don’t you just move on?” I’d say I get this question more than any other. I get it from friends, from acquaintances, co-workers, even strangers. Anyone who has any knowledge of my past wonders aloud why I even bother with god, the Bible or belief in general. After all, I’ve left the theocentric life behind. So why don’t I “move on”?
At times, I’m sure those words are said with sincerity. If this “belief” stuff bothers me so, why not keep it squarely centered in the rearview mirror? Stop reading the bible, don’t pray or go to church and just generally abandon all thought of the supernatural, right? The sincere “move on” folks hope that by shaking the dust of belief off my feet that I will have an easier path to happiness.
Other times, the “move on” comes with less sincerity and more annoyance. If this “god” stuff bugs you so much, just “move on”, forget about that stuff. ‘Why are you wasting so much energy on something you don’t believe?’ Others still are bold enough to say that any continued brainpower spent on belief only goes to show the power of god and that he must exist. Is that true? Why haven’t I just “moved on”, no matter what the reason?
What does it mean to move on? What are things we move on from? A bad relationship. A job we lost or left. A family member or close friend who proves to be toxic. A horrible event or abuse that we suffered. What about a system of belief that composed your entire social, emotional and ideological identity? For each of these scenarios moving on means something different.
When I have a bad game of Call of Duty, I tell myself I need to shake that one off before the next one. When a friend breaks up with a significant other, he or she is also wanting to move forward with life. Now clearly, those are two different scenarios, and each will be left in the rearview in starkly different ways. A good game of Duty quickly erases getting pwn’ed the game prior. However, the grief and sadness over losing someone who was central to your life is a much more substantive and meaningful loss. No one will pretend that a video game shapes them (well, sadly not no one). But, we’ve all had our hearts broken. At one point or another, we’ve all told ourself to “move on”.
How does this equate to my adapting to life without the structured belief that I was ingrained with for nearly a quarter century? Is this the bad game of Duty or the bad breakup? Clearly, it’s neither. Every situation is unique. But much like that breakup, where friends are often divided like assets, I “lost” in my break from my former religion. People I had considered to be close friends vanished from my life. But, unlike that breakup where some stay loyal to each side, my breakup with god cost me everyone I was close to.
Wrapped up in all of this was more than just a peer group to identify with. I lost my own identity, I forfeited the larger portion of myself. Notice I didn’t say the greater portion of myself, just the biggest chunk. The best part of myself, the parts that could be salvaged and built upon, stayed in my heart. That core is what has been ever-present in the “move” of moving on.
The move is perpetual. I can’t ever hope to say, “I’ve moved on.” Like so many things in life, this is a process. Gone are the days of black and white in my former life when I would say that you have either gotten over something or you haven’t. Programming from that former life will continue to peek out until the day I breathe my last. I’m coming to terms with that. Any expectation to fully root out that indoctrination would lead me only to frustration and disappointment.
In the past, those in my life would not have tolerated that way of thinking. I had to conform, to fully evict those “worldly” ways. My choice now, though, is to surround myself with friends who recognize the process happening inside me, knowing they have a process, albeit a different one, happing in them as well. My best friend, my wife, has been my strongest support in this regard. She reminds me not to expect old ways to never blindside me, trying to sway me in an unhealthy way. She sees me cry when I miss my “friends”. She listens, knowing that sometimes there’s just nothing to say. Then she helps me build a life without that toxicity. That kind of support can’t be overvalued. Thanks, babe! (and sorry to the reader for the mushiness) 🙂
No one can show you how to move on. Recovering from a harmful event can be nearly impossible without a champion like Angie. It could be a friend, a cousin, a parent or maybe a therapist. This companion lends support, helps to maintain focus and will almost always refuse to let us give up on ourselves. What he or she can’t do, though, is the actually heavy lifting, the determination of where the path takes us. They might be a great First Officer, but we are both the Captains and Navigators of our own lives. For me, I came from an environment where the “path” was laid out for me. It was the same path as the person to my right and to my left. There was no autonomy, no dignity, no individuality. There could be no “moving on”, only advancing through hierarchy of their world. Thankfully, I jumped ship.
Now I’m on the “outside”, and the question I referenced at the outset comes up. So why not? Why bother with belief and gods and the like. Am I sabotaging my journey? Am I raking fiery coals into my bosom, as the bible says? (couldn’t resist, damn programming) Quite simply, no. I recognize what shaped me for all those years. I know how hard I argued in favor of god and salvation. When I talk about these things now, I’m not really talking to a Facebook friend or a co-worker or a family member. I’m talking to the me of several years ago. I’m reminding myself why I started my sojourn away from the Organization. Like the tattoo I have on my arm, talking about belief serves as a reminder for me: don’t betray what you believe, Eric. What you’ve given up is worth less that what you’re working for now. Stay the course, persevere. Don’t ever allow nostalgia of days with old “friends” to distract you from what that way of life really was.
I don’t expect many who read this fully “get” what I’m striving for in this post. I apologize for the fragmented way this article stumbles about. I’ve rewritten it so many times, and I’ve wanted to just scrap it even more. But I won’t. I need to post this for the old me. This is a signpost in my trek. Even without a single reader, this stands out for me, a written souvenir of a hard road. If you’ve read this far, thank you for traveling with me. Thank you for your empathy. Thank you for your patience.
I haven’t fully moved on from my years in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t expect to. But one by one, I’m rooting out each of the venomous habits they left behind in my brain. Rather than finding frustration in any relapse into their way of thinking, I find satisfaction in going down a more positive path. Like life, it’s the journey that makes moving on worthwhile, not the destination. I remember those whom I was close to when I was a Witness, but I refrain from hoping for a joyful reunion. They still have their own poison to move on from. I hope they do, I hope they find their own journey. In the meantime, my path is my own. For the first time, it’s my own. I am moving on.