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Here is another account in my series of real-life deconversion stories. They are often painful, psychological affairs, as you can see from the various accounts. Thank you to Kirk M. here who has provided this very personal and difficult account. Please consider contributing your own, if you so desire.

Please also check out my book of deconversion accounts, edited with Tristan Vick, which can be bought from here (UK), or by clicking on the book cover. The previous accounts can be found here:

Over to Kirk:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story. I have had to overcome a great deal of trauma from religious thought and now have a life filled with joy, awe, and love for humanity.

How do you find freedom when the solution you are being offered is just another type of bondage? This is a question I have had to wrestle with numerous times in my life as I struggled to overcome addiction to chemicals and a dependency on the magical, delusional thinking of NA/AA (Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous) often proposed by medical professionals as the only way to overcome addiction. I come from a middle-class family in the United States that has been hit particularly hard by the opiate crisis. Both of my parents were prescribed numerous powerful drugs for chronic pain and other ailments. I had a pediatrician who prescribed opiate-based cold medicine for every sniffle I ever had, and when, as a teenager, I developed debilitating cluster headaches, both my doctor and mother began giving me OxyContin and Percocet.

As the headaches got worse, my school performance suffered, I began to get extremely depressed and I started using the pain killers to escape my emotional pain. My immediate family only went to church a few times and religion was never something my father considered important, but my extended family felt it necessary to lord their evangelical teachings over everyone.

When I was a teenager, I discovered a church that promoted what they called “Pagan Spiritualism”. I initially ate up the ideas of being special and having innate magical powers that I could access if I just did the right rituals and prayers. But as no effect could ever be seen, I soon started to feel like I was Live Action Role Playing. Instead, I started to see the Goddess and God as allegorical beings meant to represent that which we thought we should strive to emulate: the highest good. When I brought my newfound “truth” to the Reverend, I was told that I was completely wrong and that magic and the Goddess were really real, and that I likely just had some kind of block that kept me from seeing the Truth and accessing real magic.

My life at home, with weekly cluster headaches that would last for several days at a time, quickly deteriorated as my mother’s addiction also went out of control. In the course of using drugs with my mother, I experienced things that no human being should endure. These included, for example, her holding all the medication I was prescribed and using the withdrawal pain to order me to go steal items she wanted from stores. When I finally refused, she assaulted me with a hot frying pan, called the police, told them I threw her down a flight of stairs, and yet even without a mark on her and my head badly bruised and hair burned, the cops arrested me on her word.

I told my court-appointed lawyer what had happened and about the addiction I had developed, about taking pills and heroin with my mother. The court mandated me to 12-Step meetings and I was sent to a 180-day “hard concept” rehab. If I failed, I would have been sent to jail for three years. Every day, it was drilled into our heads that we were nothing without Godman Jesus. The methodology of Hard Concept Rehabs prescribed beating a person down completely and then “rebuilding them in Christ”. So they berate and abuse you endlessly for 90 days with exercises like singing “I’m a little teapot” while wearing a dress and being laughed at by everyone. Or making people wear large signs in public saying “I’m a scumbag addict, don’t trust me.”

Then, after 90 days, they start letting you have small freedoms again, as long as you remain their obedient pet.  We had to go over every single wrong we’d ever done and had to publicly admit it while lamenting our worthlessness and victimhood. My therapist, my doctor – all of them – told me that without God I would fail over and over.

I had completed the rehab program and set out, praying that I would be able to stay off the drugs. I went to the meetings and I did everything they recommended. I called myself an addict and went over all my “wrong-doings” and I asked and begged for God to remove my shortcomings. When I asked for help, I was always given one-line answers. I was told to just go to my loving God and he would lift the desire to use and fix all the pain. No matter how hard I wished and prayed and believed, I did not have the tools to deal with reality, and I would end up back on drugs.

Once back on drugs, it would only be a matter of time until I was back in jail for a drug-related offense. American Jail is a place thoroughly infected with nutty Christian rhetoric. Try getting a nonfiction or science book from the prison library and it’ll be 30 years old, but you could easily find multiple copies of such magnificent bullshit as Signature in The Cell, the complete works of Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Joyce Meyer, and The Secret and Purpose Driven Life. It was everywhere. They could take away everything from people except the religious services that had pastors coming to tell us how we were all victims, like the early Christians being persecuted.

I wanted to be free from the drugs that I had known since I was twelve. I was willing to “give my life and my will over to the care of God,” and yet every time I “let go and let God” or followed the other platitudes and deepities, it would lead me right back to where I started. Right back to addiction and homelessness. Was I not worthy of grace? Or was I just feeding a delusion, hoping that my guru would come find me and reveal the secret truth that I was special and meant for greatness?

Through my time as an addict, I had many chances to see how religious organizations manipulate and use people to their own ends. I found when seeking help from their drug program that The Salvation Army forces homeless people to work for 10 hours a day sorting donated clothing at 1.25 an hour, they mandate daily Bible study and church attendance and conversion to their specific form of Christianity. I found sober houses that are run by nondenominational preachers who write into their housing contracts that it is required that tenants be willing to leave real jobs to go help with the church when needed. #

Sober houses, in case you’re wondering, are an unregulated way for homeowners to rent otherwise unrentable units to people they can rip off and take advantage of, in most cases. Though there are well-run examples of sober houses that work their butts off to help their tenants build a productive life, they are few and far between, and also usually out of the price range of the average homeless person.

The one thing I am truly and forever grateful for is that while I was using drugs, I could always be found reading. If only fantasy novels, at least the reading helped keep my mind active. There was one series that I read numerous times. Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series. The idea that people will believe a lie because they want to believe it is true – or they fear it is – began to weigh on my mind and I started to feel like the only person who believed my lies was me. In order to get free, I had to face many many truths, though all were uncomfortable and disconcerting. But I knew I had to change everything. I started to understand that I had no idea who I was or what I believed, but I did know there was no way I could go on believing that an all-powerful all-loving god was just trying to guide me into his/her light.

After eleven years of using opiates, in 2014, while incarcerated, I discovered Aron Ra’s Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism. And then I began to read as many of the “New Atheists” as I could. After I found and read Richard Carrier’s Sense and Goodness without God and Dr. Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, I felt like it might be possible to achieve some measure of peace and freedom. I went back to school and got straight As in my first semester.

Unfortunately, mistakes from my past came back to haunt me in 2017 with some legal issues, but I have since worked to overcome them by facing them head-on and taking responsibility for my actions. My philosophy today is built on a foundation of love for life. I choose to build moral character through embracing personal responsibility, and I seek to learn about the world with the goal of knowing as many true things as possible and as few false things as possible. I feel exceptionally fortunate and grateful to still be alive, to not be broken beyond all hope. Yet, I don’t need a god to be thankful to. I have the great thinkers who have come before me. I didn’t need to give my will over to God. I needed to find something to care about more than escaping reality. I have found that in science and philosophy.

,I used to be obsessed with “Secret Truth or Knowledge” but the one secret I learned is that every pedaler of “Secret Wisdom” is grasping for the truth just as much as you or I but they are often looking for truth in all the wrong places.

Addiction is a bitch, and unless someone has experienced the hijacking of the brain that occurs when under the influence of the cravings that happen during acute withdrawal, it is nearly impossible to truly understand. Even when I did believe in God, the idea of demonic possession was always ridiculous to me, but addiction to opiates, crack, and meth can present in ways that seem like the closest real thing to actual possession by an entity outside your own will. Overcoming that chemical takeover of the brain required time in a safe place away from the chemicals and searching myself for something I loved more than chasing oblivion. I found that by making small goals and congratulating myself for completing them and building on those accomplishments by creating new habits gave me a reason every day to keep pushing forward.

I adopted the tools of Rational Behavior Therapy for myself thusly: Shit Happens, and is the way I see this shit happening gonna make more, even worse, shit happen? If Yes, then how can I change my perspective to make things less shitty?

I am often still plagued by doubts and feel like because I am starting at a terrible disadvantage, that maybe I don’t really have anything of value to add to the conversation but I have a need in me to help people who have been through similar situations. I am continuing my education and plan on working towards a degree in Science Communication and The Public, but even with the doubts I have regarding what “my purpose” may be, I love life today in a way that convinces me that the journey to learn and discover what life holds may just be all the purpose I need.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...