I’m on a quest to improve myself.
For about 6 months now, I’ve been struggling with my connection to my past. I was dating a girl, whom I am no longer seeing, and the nature of our relationship was forcing me to address many things about my religion that I’ve sealed off in a box in the corner of my mind. There were some painful memories hidden in that box for obvious reason, but plenty of happy ones were stored there as well.
Skip to the present, and I’m finding it much harder to deal with the issues of my past than I had expected. I’ve found that in the last 5 years or so, I’ve begun to disassociate from my religious upbringing, and for the longest time, I just assumed it was a phase. Now I’m beginning to understand that I no longer wish to live the life I was taught to live. This has brought me to try to understand my life, and I’ve found some marvelous tools to help me with this.
The first is that I’m seeing a therapist. I’ve only just begun, so it doesn’t seem like I’ve really been progressing with her, but I’m being patient and completely believe in the process.
The second, the most recent, and the most influential, is a book called “Leaving the Fold,” by Marlene Winell, Ph.D. Its a “Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion,” and I’ve found it invaluable. I hadn’t really defined my upbringing as “fundamentalist” before reading this book, always finding a way to separate my religiosity from “those other crazy Jews,” you know, the Charedi. Turns out, I was exposed to a lot of that as a child, and especially during my year in Israel, when I was 18.
The third is that I have an older brother who is on a similar path, although definitely different, and he and I have been able to talk about these kinds of issues on a deep level for some time now. We usually tend to talk about how we’re upsetting our parents with every step we take on this journey. Its very helpful having each other’s support, where we don’t have our parents’.
I’ve discovered that I was taught to believe many dysfunctional things about myself that to this day I struggle with, and as I’m only near the beginning of this process, I’m learning that there are many more that I’m unaware of.
I have a low trust in myself, my emotions, my thoughts. I’m constantly worried that I don’t have what it takes to thrive in this world, though I will admit that I have a good sense that I can at least survive. I don’t like letting people into my life, and though I have some close friends, I’d say that we all share that same aversion to deep emotion, and we’re united in that front.
In this time of self-discovery, I’ve learned that some of these beliefs I have about myself were enforced by my religion, some by my family, some by my community, some by my friends, and most of them by a combination of all of these. While I did go though a period of blame, mostly at my parents, I am now in a place where I’m ready to destroy those unhelpful beliefs, and replace them with positive beliefs.
Dr. Winell has done a fantastic job in her book of expressing that it can be done and how. I have not yet finished the book, but I’m working through it on my own time. And by “on my own time” I mean that I’m pretty frantically trying to figure out “all the answers” to my life’s questions as quickly as possible.
I’ve also recently self-diagnosed myself with mild depression. I found myself reading books (“Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” by Jenny Lawson), watching movies (Demolition), and listening to podcasts (The Hilarious World of Depression) and being able to relate to characters with depression, and that is what got me started questioning whether I was depressed or not. I took an online quiz and scored a 10 out of 27. Meaning, its possible I have depression, but maybe not. I also did the same thing to see if I had an eating disorder, and I pretty much got the same response. I clearly have dysfunctional eating habits, and it could be a disorder, but also it might not be.
This has been a pattern with me, and I’m finding being in the middle a very difficult place to be. Its the same thing with my fundamentalist upbringing: My Rabbi was fundamentalist, and his teachings were fundamentalist, but his congregation was not. My parents started out not fundamentalist, and became more and more fundamentalist as I was growing up, so I was only partially growing up with it. And even then, they weren’t completely fundamentalist, just in some things. And in Dr. Winell’s book, she addresses Christian fundamentalism, and doesn’t even mention Jewish fundamentalism, so I’m having to adapt certain concepts, and see if they apply to me. And some do, and some don’t, and most fall in between.
I feel guilty for complaining that I don’t have it as bad as others, that I don’t have clean labels, but it does make it more difficult to express myself. I feel responsible for making sure I’m not just looking for pity, because if my issues aren’t full blown disorders, that could mean that I might be able to take care of my issues by myself, or maybe just with limited help. But, I don’t want to just “shake it off” and realize years later that I actually broke my finger, and if I had gotten it taken care of sooner, it would have healed in a healthy way (true story).
Also, my brother has just started reading the book. We’re meeting for coffee today, and I can only guess at what we’ll talk about. 🙂