When I left the church, people predicted terrible things.
That I’d die, that I’d become a drug addict, that I’d end up homeless, maybe dead. And that I’d never fit in in the ‘world’ as God has marked me as his own.
The expectation of debauchery and failure followed me out of the door.
These predictions whispered in my ears when I woke from a night out, hair smelling of smoke, my tongue sticky with liquor.
They whispered in my ears when I found myself shivering in the corner of my bathroom, in the throes of a panic attack.
However, the reality is (mostly) a far cry from their predictions.
I’m quite alive, and I’ve yet to be homeless.
I’ve kicked my nicotine addiction.
I have a director-level job, my own home, an incredible community, and a college degree. But they were right about one thing— fitting in.
I was twenty-one the first time I wore a pair of pants. My legs looked so strange — oddly contorted and constrained.
My thighs looked so large, my knees so knobby.
I tried makeup a few times but felt sure that it made me stick out even more. I had no idea how to apply it.
I tried out curse words that felt heavy in my mouth.
I tried drinking, and I drank too much.
I tried smoking and promptly adopted it as my preferred vice.
I cried on strange shoulders in the corners of dimly-lit bars.
I had sex and wondered what the church made such a fuss about; it wasn’t that great. I went to parties with Normal People and laughed at jokes I didn’t understand.
I cut my knee-length hair and marveled at the lightness of my head for the first time in my life. I wore tight clothes that exposed my elbows, knees, and breasts.
I pierced my ears and bedazzled myself with jewelry.
I felt fabulous.
I felt like a fraud.
For a brief period, I tried to explain my history to my new Normal friends and lovers. I tried to explain why I didn’t recognize that movie quote and why I didn’t understand that pop-culture reference.
But I couldn’t simply say that I had a religious upbringing.
Often the response was:
“Oh yeah, I’m Catholic.”
“Oh yeah, my parents are conservative.”
And I would smile and nod and think:
Well, you don’t fucking get it.
And after a year or so of misunderstandings, sticking out, and asking questions that turned the heads of entire rooms, I shut up.
And I shut down.
I retreated into myself, and I just watched.
My single goal was to be inconspicuous, to emulate Normal People, to survive.
I studied Normal People. And I did my best to talk, behave, dance, walk, make love, communicate, drink, eat, live like them.
I found that if people asked questions, I could answer quickly and move on. My story became a stunted three-word sentence.
I grew up religious.
My mom passed away.
My family is pretty conservative.
Short, digestible content that wouldn’t bat an eye.
And I survived.
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Marlana (Mar) is a student, writer, and professional. She left the evangelical community ten years ago, after her mother’s death, and is committed to the lifelong process of deconstruction. Marlana is currently writing a memoir, All the Little Demons, a series of essays about deconstruction and moving away from Evangelical culture. The essays cover a range of topics from purity culture and queerness to mental health and suicidal ideation. The goal of the memoir is to make everyone feel a little less alone, and to let folks know that there is a life after leaving. To contact or get on her book interest list, you can reach out at: firstname.lastname@example.org