This is a summary outline I've come up with for recovering from authoritarian religions like fundamentalist Christianity. In my years of counseling experience, I've found that for a lot of people (not everyone), the leaving process takes time and has some important steps. This outline is not meant to be a formula or cover the issues in depth, but I hope it is useful for you to think about.
1. Get Real.
Be honest with yourself about whether your religion is working for you. Let go of trying to force it to make sense. Have a look at life and the world AS IT IS, and stop trying to live in a parallel universe. This world might not be perfect but facing reality will help you get your life on track. If you feel guilty, realize that the religion teaches you to feel responsible when it isn’t working and tells you to go back and try harder, just like an abusive relationship.
2. Get a Grip.
Don’t panic. The fear you feel is part of the indoctrination. All those messages about what will happen to you if you leave the religion are a self-serving part of the religion. If you calm down, you’ll be just fine. Many people have been through this.
3. Get Informed.
Do everything you can to educate yourself. You are free to read and expose yourself to all the knowledge in the world – history, philosophy, other religions, mythology, anthropology, biology, psychology, sociology, and more. In particular, read about how the Bible was put together and church history. Read authors who have explained why they deconverted. Many websites have deconversion stories and helpful reading lists.
4. Get Help.
Find support in any way you can. Explore online forums to discuss issues with others leaving their religion. Join a supportive group in your area. If necessary, find a therapist who understands or go to a recovery retreat. Do the work to heal the wounds of religious abuse.
5. Get a Life.
Rebuild your life around new values and engage fully with your choices. Develop your identity as you learn to love and trust yourself. Take responsibility and create the life that works for you – in work, family, leisure, social – all the areas of commitment that make a life structure. If you still want a spiritual life, define it for yourself. Venture into the “world” for new experiences and new friends. This will take time but you can do it.
6. Get With the Program.
Welcome to the human race. Accept the idea that Earth is your home and humanity is your true family. If you aren't part of a special group that is leaving, consider what that means for you. You may want to participating in larger concerns to make the world a better place, such as caring for the environment or working for social justice. Let go of expecting God to take care of all the problems. You can begin with knowing your neighbors.
7. Get Your Groove On.
Reclaim enjoyment of sensation and pleasure as you relax with the idea of being an animal like all the others on Earth. Learn to be present here and now. Discover all the ways to appreciate nature. Enjoy and love other people instead of judging. Reclaim your creativity and express yourself any way you like, not just to “glorify God.” Love your body and take care of it. Embrace this life instead of worrying about the next. Sing and dance and laugh for no reason except Being Alive.
Marlene Winell, Ph.D., is a psychologist who works in religious recovery, and the author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. Information about counseling services and weekend retreats can be found at marlenewinell.net.