When big life changes happen – a new job, a new baby, a death in the family, a marriage – we usually have rituals to commemorate or memorialize them. When someone gets a new job, we go out for drinks. If someone close to a friend dies, you will probably go over to their house and bring them takeout. We have marriage ceremonies to celebrate relationships and baptisms for births. But as a society, we don’t really have any formal ways to deal with cataclysmic change in belief – and it’s no less of an earth shattering change than any of the above. Sometimes it even feels like somebody died, and that person is you.
When you’ve suddenly gone from caterpillar to cocoon in terms of your beliefs, it can feel very scary.
Like you’re all alone.
Like nobody else understands what you’re going through, and wouldn’t love you if they did.
Like nobody else in the world has ever had the doubts and the questions you have and lived to tell about it.
Me saying “You’re not alone” probably isn’t going to convince you right away. But it’s still worth saying because it’s very true. It might feel right now in this moment like you’re slowly pulling bricks out of a platform that constitutes the only thing standing between you and certain death… but when you pull enough bricks out you find that you were never in danger in the first place.
You’ve had everything you need to hold yourself up inside you all along.
If you’re still struggling to believe this, here are three self-care strategies to support yourself in the mean time as you move through the process of changing faith and belief.
1. Be gentle with yourself: this is a long process. Unlearning toxic patterns of belief and behavior is a life-long endeavor. Sometimes I think I have rooted out the last of my fear of hell, or my internalized shame from purity culture, and then something else happens and it all comes flooding back up and inside I feel like that frightened, misguided child again. In order to forgive others we must first practice self-forgiveness. There is no silver-bullet. New things you need to unlearn will present themselves when they are ready.
2. Surround yourself with people who want to see you flourish more than they want you to believe the same things you used to. This one is hard. Many people say they want to see you “flourish,” but they believe the only way for you to flourish is to stay trapped in toxic theologies and ideologies that you have rightly outgrown. Find folks you can swear and struggle and doubt and believe and question and cry with. We need each other. Ask yourself honestly what boundaries you may need to put in place to protect yourself during this vulnerable process. This might mean that people who used to have a big place in your life have a smaller one now – and that is self-care, too. P.S. Can’t think of anyone? My inbox is always open. I’ve also got online community opportunities coming down the pipeline.
3. Needs assessment. A lot of popular “self-care” talk on the internet includes things like getting regular mani-pedis and taking a day off work to go to the beach. And it’s great if you can do those things (mani-pedi’s are basically my love language and I’m not sorry). But y’all. At its basic level, I think self-care should mean meeting our needs. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or ashamed or struggling with my changing beliefs, I try to do what I call a “needs assessment.” More often than not, I find that I haven’t moved my body at all that day, or eaten a vegetable, or that my house is a wreck and it’s making it hard for my brain to relax. Do I need food? Water? Coffee? A beer? A nap? Before I decide that everything is pointless and I’m probably going to hell, I try to ask myself if my basic needs are met, and if they’re not, I try my best to meet them or do the hard, vulnerable work of asking somebody else to help me meet them. If “hangry” is a thing, then so is “hungrexistential crisis.”
We may never have a formal ceremony for upending your entire belief system, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it well and take care of each other and ourselves in the process.
You’re not alone.
The butterfly is on its way.
Need some help in the process of changing faith & belief? My brand-new journal Everything Must Burn: A Spiritual Guide to Starting Over just came out! It’s intended to be an 8-week loosely guided series of just a few questions a week to help you along in your journey. Plus I hand-painted the cover myself! Snag it right now by clicking the button below: