|Posted by Sarah Rowan Dahl on May 13, 2018 at 10:50 PM|
Leaving 30 Years of Faith: Why and what it looks like for me.
It is one thing to walk from a 12 year heterosexual marriage and let the world know you are a lesbian. It is another thing to simultaneously walk from everything you have ever known and spiritually believed in the same process. Some people have said, “I can totally see why you left a marriage you were not happy in, however, why are you no longer a Christian?”
It has happened organically and not out of spite or resentment from those who have misrepresented the faith. I would have been the first to tell someone when hurt by the church…”people are people, and they will mess up and hurt you. But that is not a reflection of God, so why on earth turn your back on who created you just because His children can be shitheads sometimes?” How can someone, who stood unwavering to her faith during a challenging marriage appear to chuck the baby out with the bathwater?
I know all the arguments and persuasions. I was the one on panel discussions in university thrown the tough questions by the atheists and naysayers. I was the lover of the Bible who would hide under my sheets with a flashlight at the age of 12 devouring it after I was told to turn the lights out. I was the teased and mocked radical who studied ancient Hebrew and attended church at least 3 days a week. I was the Bible college student with a degree in worship and leadership. Preaching and leading worship were one of my greatest passions. I prophesied and laid my hands on the sick. I had more supernatural experiences with Jesus than you can shake a stick at…so how could I walk away?
Walking away from an unhealthy marriage has been the biggest act of bravery and self love I have ever done. And over the past three months of being told by some Christians that I am being a “selfish bitch”, I realised something about Christianity. It is phenomenal on teaching people how to love God. It is extraordinary at teaching people how to love others. But where there is a huge ball dropped, collectively speaking, is a lack of teaching on how to love yourself. Particularly if you are a homosexual.
In my twenties, I had come to grips with a God who had strict standards and laws not to be challenged…I had accepted that His ways were higher than mine. I had accepted that I had to change and align with His book not mine. I had even convinced myself of a mantra that I recited like something beautiful and powerful. “I love my husband more than my own sexuality.” It felt powerful and life altering. In hindsight, however, it was merely another brainwashing bandaid trying to hide a haemorrhaging soul.
What people didn’t see as I tried to be brave and holy, was how many times I begged God to take my life. I begged Him for a quick cancer to take me out. I pleaded for buses to hit me as I crossed the road. One time I remember a car almost got me and I didn’t flinch, I was only disappointed that it hadn’t. At the age of 19, I began blowing out my birthday candles and ask to be removed from the planet because I was gay and didn’t know how to reconcile it with my faith.
I need to step away. Take a breath. Look at myself, my kids, my career, life, everything. And not feel this pressure or need to submit anything to a higher power. It may look unhealthy, unwise, I have no idea how it may appear to thousands of people I have connection with in the Christian community. And for once in my life, I finally do not care. I need some space, and I know that if I come back around this mountain and decide I want to believe it all again, then that will be for another day, another season.
In my early 20s I submitted myself to church leadership and let them try to cast the “spirit of perversion” out of me as they called it. I attended 12 week courses on deliverance. Every year…for FIVE years. Fasting and prayer to rid myself of my natural human desires were the norm. I even tried beating myself like the monks of old. Sometimes I would almost black out from the punches I inflicted on myself.
These vulnerable aspects of my life are being shared, not for the purpose of attention or sympathy. Nor do I want any readers to have a negative attitude towards my upbringing or the circumstances that I placed myself in due to a lack of self love and my own decisions. The ONLY reason I share the brutal moments of my life is to give others hope that find themselves in a similar situation. After the release of my “Coming Out” video on YouTube, I was overwhelmed by the stories people shared with me of their own struggles to love themselves because of their sexuality and were afraid to leave their marriages. They said my story gave them hope. That is why I share my dark days. Because we all have them for different reasons, but in our darkness when we catch a ray of light from another soul it may be just what we need to lift up our heads and hope for better days for ourselves. This ramble is for you.
As the years progressed and I felt like I lived on a stage labelled Fake, as self hatred and depression devoured me alive. I started taking anti-depressants when my youngest daughter was born and when she was only 6 months old I woke up and my fingers were twice the size as normal. My entire body was swelled with fluid. Rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 30. Sometimes, I would rebuke the side effects of the injections I had to take… “liver problems, leukaemia, cancer, death”…and other times I would want the needles to hurry up and destroy me. I was no longer able to run or do any sports without pain. A long bush walk or a big day of work would knock me out for a couple days.
Then came the diagnosis of mental illness at age 35, though the symptoms were evident far longer. Bipolar II. Medications tried and tested to help me sleep and cope, reduce mood swings and panic attacks. On Christmas Eve 2016, I stayed up all night on a mania high creating a wonderland for my little girls to wake up to…streamers and decorations galore. I couldn’t imagine surviving one more year in my skin and wanted them to have one last memorable Christmas with me. After two hours of sleep, I popped enough pills to make me a zombie and could barely form sentences as I sat with 15 friends from church around a Christmas feast.
The following Christmas was the similar. Something about birthdays and Christmases always triggered the worst panic attacks and my drinking increased. Another year older and still dreading each day. Another calendar year gone by and still have no idea how to get out of a marriage when our faith told us “all things are possible”…”never grow weary in doing good”. So I drowned myself in alcohol and marijuana to numb the pain and turn into happy Sarah. In that state I could have great conversations with my husband because we could listen and speak openly.
But when it wore off, all I saw was how miserable I made him. Everyone deserves to be loved for who they are, and because of my sexuality I couldn’t love him fully and it slowly ate away at the small portion of self esteem I had remaining. He tried to have enough strength for both of us. He was remarkable. Honouring. Caring. Hard-working. Long suffering. Patient. Knowing prior to marriage of how I was “bent”…the church convinced us we were perfect for each other and that I would change. “It will come,” my mentors said. I was young and impressionable and though it is my fault for saying the vows, I did believe them. I did believe God.
Year after year, I told him he deserved better, he’s such a great bloke and I prayed that God would send him a beautiful straight woman to help pull him from me. How many wives pray when their husbands go to work, that they will meet someone more suited for them? The man can play a dozen instruments, cook up a storm, clean the house and fix cars. We were incredible friends and I know that in time we will be friends again.
So here I am on the other side of the bravest year of my life. I am like a young Aboriginal boy gone Walkabout. Undergoing a traditional rite of passage, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. I stare at the future like a blank canvas. If my faith of 30 years is what I find in the journey ahead, so be it. But I am no longer interested in looking at life through the same lens or filter as before. I need to step away from my faith and look at all its flaws and holes with the prospective of an outsider. It may seem drastic or extreme, but I think it is damn healthy and mature to let myself go “Walkabout”. If after my wanderings through the desert I decide that Christianity is right for me…so be it. But not today.
In the last 9 weeks of my marriage, I saw the movie, The Greatest Showman. It rocked my world. The soundtrack infused within my pulse each day as I listened to “The Is Me” and began to believe the lyrics, “I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be…This is me!” I thought, if all those other beautiful and unique misfits could stand on stage authentic and true, why not me? I opened up my heart to being worthy of a love that I felt comfortable with and attracted to…self worth and believing I had any was one of the hardest hurdles.
The past four months have been a blur. How did I go from such a dark state of mind, to finding the confidence to leave a marriage that for nearly 13 years we had managed to hold together?? I met an incredible catalyst. I knew when our eyes met that she was important to my life, and she helped me find my voice. I cannot fathom my life without this beautiful woman. Her support empowered me to take the final step and believe that I could love myself and grow up and move forward. Her love, wisdom and presence helped give me the voice I needed to stand up for myself, it was like a rebirth. Everything that held me trapped in fear of the future was broken off of me in an instant. I realised that I could love myself enough to be a gay mother rather than a depressed, alcohol/drug dependant shell of human. That by setting myself free, I was setting my children up for a better life long term and an ex partner that in time would find more happiness than I could ever provide.
I have prayed for hundreds of people in my lifetime. Yes, I saw miracles. But I have no grid for what it was like to love myself and open up my heart to a woman. I felt rheumatoid arthritis leave my body. Bipolar symptoms left too, and my medication has been reduced to a “baby level dosage” until six months have passed to prove that I am not in mania. Every addiction left my body. I haven’t needed a drink of coffee, much less alcohol or weed to make it through a day. Four months on and I only have a little wine from time to time and the occasional cuppa. Initially, I gave her most of the credit for the instantaneous healing, however, in her wisdom and humility, she reassured me it was inside of me all along, just waiting for me to love myself and follow my truth.
I used to have at least 2-3 drinks per day and panic when the fridge was low on beer. I used to ache to enter every bottle shop and pub I passed. There are so many aspects to being instantly healed of everything that I find fascinating. My racing brain slowed down and relaxed. I can eat whatever foods I want to eat and there is no swelling in any of my joints. After over 300 injections during the 7 years of arthritis I was instantly able to stop the medication and haven’t even needed prednisone! (common steroid for inflammation).
Though nothing of the future is mapped or set in stone. Though I don’t know how it will all work out, and what relationships will become in the future…I do know that I will never look at an oncoming truck again and urge to speed up and swerve into its path. And that, dear ones, is fucking liberating.
The power of living authentically is mind blowing.
The power of loving yourself as you are is life giving.
I hope you all have the most incredible lives, full of wonder, overflowing with joy, and enriched by the intoxicating beauty of being yourself.