My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: The Epilogue: Part 5

For part 4 of the epilogue, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
-Oscar Wilde

The day of my second appointment I was far less worried. The drive there still bothered me greatly as I hate long drives. We reached the office about a half an hour early and I sat down in the waiting room. Thoughts of my life passed through my mind.

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I remembered how hard childhood had been, never knowing what to say or how to take the things that others said to me. Making friends is difficult when you don’t recognize the difference between sarcasm and actual anger, or realize that you should offer comfort to someone who is sad. I remembered my teenage years, spent in part trying to do everything I could in order to be seen as “normal” and then spending the second part of those years doing everything I could to not be seen as anything close to normal.

AnarchyI remembered the first time Jennifer and I had been together, how much love I had felt for her in those early moments and how much deeper my love for her is now that weTexas have reconnected. I felt the pain of losing her go through my mind and the struggles I faced trying to put my life back together. All the times that I wanted to give up and yet still pushed forward regardless of the circumstances.

FightingI thought about my second marriage, how I had tried finding someone who was the exact opposite of Jennifer, somehow thinking that this would lead to happiness. Remembered all the pain I went through but all of the joy as well spending time with my two-step children from that marriage. Watching them grow has been one of the favorite parts of my life and it still is.

Storm cloudsI thought of my cousin, who had lived a parallel life as me. Had he been autistic? Were the struggles that he faced caused by the same source as my own battles in life? He had always seemed to be more outgoing but hearing stories from others around him, he was always distant, cold, and preferred to be alone. Would he still be here today if he had sought out the help of a psychologist instead of the dogmatic dog whistles of his cousins ministry?

autismI thought about my nephew, that small bundle of joy that had cleared the path to my own mental health and stability.  If he hadn’t existed would I ever have known the name to my own struggled? I know he has many struggles to face in life and it won’t be easy, but he is smart and loving, an absolute joy to be around, especially for the uncle who understands him so well. He is and always will be my hero.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the psychologist came and took me to a small room beside the reception area. I sat down behind a laptop computer and was explained the testing that I would be taking, a simple quiz of around 500 true/false questions. He told me that through the take home quiz and this one, he would be able to gauge exactly where on the spectrum I was.

I started taking the quiz and after about 100 questions the program crashed.  He restarted it and I had to restart from the beginning, about 100 questions in the program crashed once more. He started it up again and the same thing happened. Contacting the IT department, he found out that the virus scan software was what was crashing the program. He disabled that and asked me if I was willing to try it once more, if not I could return in two weeks and try it again.

Thinking about the trip it takes to get there, I decided to give it another shot. After about 120 questions it acted as if it was going to crash, an icon appeared on the screen and simply spun for a few seconds. I yelled at the top of my lungs, “GOD DAMN IT!” The program then went on to the next question and I realized the ass that I had just made of myself. No one came in but I’m sure the receptionist got a bit of a scare from my loud outburst.

I finished the quiz, which continued to act as if it was going to crash every 20 questions or so, and went back to the waiting room. A few minutes later the psychologist asked me to come into his office to talk just a bit more. I sat on his couch and he asked me about a couple of the answers on the quiz. I explained the answers and he then said that he thought he had enough to come up with a complete diagnosis. He told me that since I had brought him all the information about the struggles throughout my life, it had been easy to see that I had been correct. He said he was impressed by all the research that I had done before even approaching a psychiatrist and that i had made his job very easy. It would be a couple of weeks before I got my copy of his report but there would be no surprises in there for me to worry about.

I drove home happy to be done with the long trips to the psychologists office. I had been right. I have ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder. All the times that I had felt different from the outside world made sense to me now. All that I had been through in childhood and life in general were now clear. I wasn’t a failed human being, I was a whole human being, just one that happens to have ASD. My brain works in a wild and wonderful way that could never truly be understood by someone who does not also have autism.  I am perfect, just the way I am.


 

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If you’ve followed me throughout my entire journey and the epilogue, thank you. It might come as a shock to know this but outside of a few people close to me, you, the readers, are some of the first people to know about my journey towards a diagnosis with autism. Thank you so much for the kindness you have shown me.

My journey away from faith is fairly well-known in my community. I still live in the same area as I did when I was a minister. Initially, I had considered moving to a more suitable area for someone who lacks a faith. In the town where I live sits a gigantic mormon church, just on the outskirts of town there is a Jehovah’s Witness Temple, as well as several other churches. My own former church is just over 5 miles away from where i currently live. Moving away might have been an easy solution for me.

However, I want people to have that uncomfortable feeling they get when they avoid me in public. I want the former members of my church to see me, happy and healthy, while a growing sickness builds within their gut. I want their cognitive dissonance to be hit as hard as possible, they need to see that I am still the same person I was, just happier, not filled with hate, living a good life in their midst. It isn’t that these things bring me joy, in fact a lot of times they hurt, but I do think they serve a purpose.

Life experience led me away from faith, finding that faith lacked everything which I had believed it to hold. No comfort was found within the pages of the bible once my eyes had been opened. No strength was found in my faith to get me through the hardships I had to face. Religion is nothing more than a vast build-up of lies. We lie to ourselves enough that one day we find we believe those lies to be true, however, in many cases it doesn’t take much to tear that wall of lies down.

I love my life now. So much wonder and joy is found in the natural world that I question why I ever sought out a supernatural one to begin with. My indoctrination though had started long before I had actually reached an age to make my own decisions for me. I was taught that the world was a deeply sinful, scary and cold place; filled with evil does waiting to bring me down to their abyss. What I have found since leaving is that life is a wonderful thing, something that we only get to experience once. Religion had mad me hate this world and wish for the next…

As Christopher Hitchens is so famous for saying, “Religion poisons everything.”

 

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: The Epilogue: Part 4

To read part 3 of the epilogue, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done,” – Dr. Temple Grandin

As my appointment grew closer I became more and more stressed. Once again those same fears entered my mind. This is a specialist, what if I’m crazy. What if they lock me away or believe I am completely faking everything. What if they tell me I’m not autistic and that I’m just nuts. These worries filled my thoughts over the few days prior to the appointment.

What if they tell me I’m not autistic and that I’m just nuts.

One of the worst parts of this appointment was that it was over an hour away in a town that I am not familiar with. This fact alone caused my stress to fly through the roof. What if I am late? What happens if I can’t find the doctor’s office? The worst fear was, What if my car breaks down? Regardless of the trip I am always in constant fear that my car will break down. I’m not a handy person and know absolutely nothing about cars, a hilarious fact when you consider I work in the auto industry.

These fears stem from when I was a small child and my family went on vacation to my aunt’s house in Oklahoma. We got halfway there and the family car broke down. It was a horribly hot summer and I remember sitting on the side of the road, waiting for the tow truck to arrive and pull us the rest of the way to my aunts home. I thought they would never show up, my anxiety went to the worst of the worst scenarios. We were all going to die of exposure to the heat, we’d slowly die of dehydration or worse, murderers might show up and kill us all. That situation left me with so much fear that now I absolutely hate driving any more than within a 30 mile radius of my home.

We were all going to die of exposure to the heat, we’d slowly die of dehydration or worse, murderers might show up and kill us all.

The drive to the appointment was made worse by the fact that the road was horribly bumpy. Bumpy enough that it caused a horrible vibration to be felt throughout the entire car and at times made me believe we had blown a tire. This bumped the stress level up another few notches. I sat in my car, driving, with my wife sitting beside me, gripping the steering wheel and gritting my teeth. Every bump took my anxiety up another slight notch. When we finally made it to the appointment, I was a complete wreck. I sat in the waiting room trying to catch my breath and pull myself together.

The psychologist came out shortly after and introduced himself. He told me it would be a few more minutes and then he would call me into his office. The seconds ticked away like hours on the clock. Finally he called us back and once again I nearly fell apart.

He told me that he had read through all the notes from the psychiatrist and that he believed I was a fairly obvious example of someone who has grown up autistic without actually knowing it. We discussed all the same things that I had with the psychiatrist and a lot more. He asked if small things had a tendency to bug me and I pointed out a small spot on his baseboard that was a different color from the rest of his office. He laughed and said that he had never even noticed that.

At the end of the appointment he said the same thing as the psychiatrist, only this time with the backing of his specialization. “My preliminary diagnosis is high-functioning autism or what used to be known as Aspergers syndrome. I need you to come back in a couple of weeks to take some tests and find out exactly where on the spectrum you are but it shouldn’t take too long. Normally, I would want to set you up for a series of appointments but you’ve laid everything out so well and everything is so detailed that I think once more appointment should be enough.”

He gave my wife and I a quiz that each of us were to take before my next appointment. My wife took hers while I was at work and I took mine the following weekend. It was similar to many of the tests you find on-line but had some more confusing questions that really bothered me. One such question asked, “I have a good sense of humor and can understand jokes.” This question annoyed me greatly as I laugh all the time at what I find funny, people tell me I’m funny as well, however, someone has to actually tell me that they are saying a joke for me to be able to understand it as one. If I’m not told that what you are saying is a joke it will take me a huge amount of time to recognize it as one. Anyway, I just wanted to get that off my chest, that question still bugs me.

So we finished out exams and went back to waiting for the next appointment date to arrive. I hate waiting for anything and so that time passed by so damn slowly. What’s worse is that during this whole time I had also had a family issue weighing on me. My mother had cancer and had surgery to remove the cancer. She then found out that she still needed chemotherapy and on the same day that my next appointment was, she would be getting genetic testing done as well as starting her chemo. The genetic testing was to find out if our family carries certain genes that make us susceptible to cancer. Cancer has always been something that I greatly fear and so awaiting those results were just as stressful as awaiting my next appointment.

The day would finally arrive and we would once again make the trip to that office. The story of my second appointment however, will have to wait until tomorrow as I must head to work in just a few minutes. Thank you so much for reading my blog so far, I really appreciate it.

To continue on to part 5, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: The Epilogue: Part 3

For part 2 of the epilogue, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

The idea of seeking a diagnosis scared me to death. My family had been anti-psychiatry both for religious as well as personal reasons. The featured image today is the mental asylum in Missouri where my great-great uncle spent the vast majority of his life. My great-great uncle was said to be a loner, he despised other people, was prone to emotional outbursts, suffered from learning disabilities and had a strange gait to his walk; all of these point to him also being autistic but at the time he was simply labeled as insane and locked away remainder of his years. My grandfather loved his uncle and so any talk of mental health was shunned in my family for many years. Psychiatrists were evil men who were bent on sending good people to horrific asylums, where who knows what might take place.

So with all of that in mind, I was perfectly happy being self-diagnosed. My wife however continued to encourage me to seek a diagnosis, she didn’t try to force me into it, but attempted to show me how a diagnosis might help me and in helping me I might be able to help others like myself and my nephew. My nephew had no idea that I self-diagnosed, to him I was his cool uncle but also in his mind I was another neurotypical person who had no idea what his struggles were like. I thought to myself that by seeking a diagnosis I could be a better role model to my nephew, showing him that autism doesn’t have to be the limiting force that many people try to portray it as.

Throughout life I had always considered myself a failure.

Throughout life I had always considered myself a failure. I failed to make friends in school, failed to understand subjects that I had no interest in, failed to hold down a job for many years, failed to sustain a healthy marriage, failed as a minister; my whole life had seemed to be paved with one failure after another. For many years I felt as if I was born on the wrong planet, or that maybe I was mentally handicapped and everyone else could see it but me. Once I began researching autism, all of that went out the window.

I wasn’t a failure, I simply hadn’t recognized my shortcomings and my capabilities. I realized that I wasn’t actually a failed human being but was actually a fairly successful one, who happened to be an Aspie, that just hadn’t found my way in life yet. I graduated from college and found a great job as an accountant. I also believe that my autism is what makes me so well suited for that role. I can spot issues in patterns of numbers that others might not see right away. If something seems off, I will be the first to question it, while other people might stay quiet. I found my way and through finding my way I thought I might make a good example for my nephew of what someone with autism can achieve.

I found my way and through finding my way I thought I might make a good example for my nephew of what someone with autism can achieve.

So after several months of gentle prodding, I agreed to see a local psychiatrist. While my wife was happy that I was taking this step, I however was horrified.  I thought of my great-great uncle, I worried that something like that might happen to me. I worried that maybe I was wrong and that all of my research had simply been a form of confirmation bias, or looking for the facts that fit your opinion. In my mind I knew that this wasn’t the case but the worries were still there.

The night before my appointment, my wife and I decided to list everything that I could think of about the struggles that I had faced in life. My handwriting is horrible so I dictated everything to my wife as she wrote it all down in a notebook. In the end we had come up with nearly 4 paged worth of information, starting from early childhood, through adolescence, the teenage years, early adult life and my current mindset and issues. I went to bed confident that I was prepared and ready to face this fear.

The next morning I awoke and spent the morning having a horrible anxiety attack.  I felt like I couldn’t breathe, my stomach cramped in pain, my head ached and the world spun. I told my wife that I no longer wanted to go to the appointment. She assured me that everything would be fine and explained what was going to happen that day. She said I would just be meeting the psychiatrist and talking for a bit. I began to calm down after I got to work, the appointment was during my lunch break and I had plenty to keep me busy that morning. Lunch arrived and I drove home to pick up my wife, we then drove to the local clinic and I had my wife check me in because my anxiety was beginning to build again.

psychiatrist couchA few moments later, the psychiatrist came out and called us into her office. I sat down on her couch and she sat in a chair a few feet away. She asked, “So what brings you to my office today?” I immediately began to cry…

Pulling myself together I described my nephew and how I saw many things similar between him and I. After that I went into detail about all of the things that I had written down in my notebook. Told her how hard I struggle with social situations and how eye contact is nearly impossible. I described my childhood, schooling, adult life and all things in between.

She paused for a moment…

“If I were to give my professional opinion, I would say you show all the signs of Asperger’s, or what’s known as high-functioning autism today.” She then went on to say that autism was not her specialty and adult autism was even harder to diagnose. She said that she only knew of one psychologist in the area who was trained and specializes in adult autism and diagnosis. He had a very long waiting list, but if I wanted she would refer me and see about getting me an appointment with his office. I agreed that it was something I desperately wanted to do, so she gave me a referral and told me that his office would contact me.

That was the last thing I heard for nearly two months. I am not a patient man and constantly I would ask my wife, “Why is this taking so long?” Eventually I had annoyed her long enough that she called and asked what the wait was about, turns out I needed to sign some paperwork in order for the referral to go through. I signed the paperwork, left the office and a few days later was contacted by his office. The e-mailed me even more paperwork to fill out which I did as quickly as possible. After e-mailing back that paperwork I went back to waiting. Nearly two weeks later, the office called me to schedule an appointment. Finally the date was set and my anxiety once again hit in full force.

To continue on to part 4, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: The Epilogue: Part 2

For part 1 of the epilogue, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

 

I remember the first time I saw my nephew, from behind the window in the nursery at the hospital. He was so small and fragile, but so perfect in every way. I loved him from the first moment I laid eyes on him and as he has grown we have been close. Even today, if I see him from afar, he will scream at the top of his lungs, “Uncle Matt” and then come running to give me a hug.

When he was just a couple of months old, I took care of him for a night so that his parents could have a night out. He had such a cute smile and an inquisitive look on his face even at that age.  I knew that this kid was going to be something special, but I never realized the role that he would play in my own life.

Things took a downward turn when he was around a year old. My nephew seemed to not be developing at the rate that one would expect a boy his age to progress. At first doctors believed that he might suffer from some form of hearing loss, since he wouldn’t turn towards you if you were speaking to him. They ran a bunch of tests and could find nothing wrong with his ears, at least nothing physically wrong. He could hear it just seemed like his attention was always on something other than the person trying to get his attention.

By two he still hadn’t really began talking much. I’m very proud to say that the first two words that he put together were “Uncle” and “Matt”, but outside of that he could use a few simple words but definitely not the vocabulary of other children his age. He would also throw horrible fits with no apparent cause, failed to speak when spoken to and would fight making eye contact vigorously.

“I knew that this kid was going to be something special, but I never realized the role that he would play in my own life.”

By three he had began talking more but was showing some visible and verbal tics which was a cause for concern of his parents. He didn’t really play with his toys but would spend time lining them up or sorting them. He loved trains and we spent a lot of time watching Thomas the Train together any time I was around him. He wanted you to watch with him but not talk, talking while it was on could throw him into another fit.

I began doing my own research, as I do when something bothers me, and found many of his symptoms were related to autism. At first his parents were insulted but they did take him to the doctor and have him checked out. The doctor sent him on to a specialist and after a couple of sessions, the specialist gave his diagnosis: Moderate Autism.

I felt bad for my brother and sister-in-law, but worse for my nephew. I knew how cruel the world could be for someone who was “normal” like me and I decided to spend huge amounts of time looking up information, finding ways to communicate better with my nephew and ways that I might be able to help him avoid some of the bullying that I had experienced. I knew he was going to have to be tough in order to face the world as I had and so by looking up this stuff, I could give it to my brother and sister-in-law so that they might help him as well.

I was thrown way back to a time when I would wake up early, sneak into the kitchen and spend time playing in my mothers cabinets, sorting and stacking.

One day something clicked, I was watching my nephew stack things according to size shape, or just in a line making a train with them. I was thrown way back to a time when I would wake up early, sneak into the kitchen and spend time playing in my mothers cabinets, sorting and stacking. I then remembered my sticker collection, it was my favorite thing for several years as a child. I never used the stickers, never once did I put any of them on anything, all I did with them was sort them in various ways; size, shape, color, etc…

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I walked over and sat down beside my nephew. He kept playing, making loud “Choo-Choo” sounds as he built his train. When he wasn’t looking I switched out two of the pieces of the train, taking them out-of-order. When he looked back he instantly yelled, “NO!” He then went directly to the pieces that I had moved and put them back in the order that they been in before I had moved them.

My mind began to make connections, I saw much of myself in this small child with a few major exceptions. The similarities were his tantrums, getting easily overwhelmed, his stacking and sorting habit, his dislike of anyone new, and his seeming inability to make eye contact. The last one had actually struck me earlier, when it had first been mentioned before he had even gotten his diagnosis. When I had been a small child, I had gotten in trouble from teachers for not paying attention to me, and several had spoken to my parents about the fact that I didn’t make eye contact. One of my worst childhood memories is of a teacher grabbing me by the face and forcefully turning my head with both hands, making me look at her directly in the eyes. It terrified me then and still gives me chills today. Today I do a pretty good job at faking eye contact, looking at someone’s forehead or teeth instead of their eyes has been my technique and people only rarely notice.  Lastly, in the similarities, we both hated being touched, especially when we aren’t ready for it.

The exceptions were that I had been highly verbal at a very young age, I had never had trouble communicating with family and only had communication issues with those outside my family. Learning had come easy to me, for those things I was interested in, and had been considered gifted during my early years of school. Only when I got to the age that certain subjects really bothered me, or were advanced enough that I struggled to teach myself how to do them, did some consider me to have a slight learning disability. While I had displayed some tics as a child, flapping my hands when excited and spinning in circles, I had gotten in trouble for doing them so often that I had forced myself to stop. I still fidget constantly, but at the time didn’t see this as anything out of the ordinary.

My life at the time of these discoveries wasn’t the best and so I basically considered it as something interesting that I could look into at a later date. Several years later though, on the cusp of my second divorce, after leaving the ministry, did I remember these issues. My nephew has grown and has developed quite a bit, his vocabulary is much better, he is intensely into video games, and even considered gifted in math and science at school. Sadly, he is bullied almost constantly by certain kids and absolutely hates school. When my mother mentioned that he throws a tantrum every morning and cries his eyes out before he goes to school, another click occurred in my brain. It was just like me at his age. Around this same point I had begun watching “Parenthood” which features a male child with Aspergers, and an adult that comes to realize he has Asperger’s through interaction with the child. It was as if I was watching my own life on screen.

I went home and began researching autism. I google searched “different types of autism” and found links describing the spectrum and how different those people on the spectrum can be from one another. I found an article about Aspergers Syndrome and, as I read through the symptoms, it was as if I was reading something written specifically with me in mind. One of the things that really hit me discussed sensory issues and overloads. I had experienced this my entire life without ever having a name to put to it. It’s an awful experience and something that I can’t really be described in a good way. When people ask me what it is like, I tell them, it is like every one of my senses experiencing the feeling of nails on a chalkboard.

At the bottom of the article there was a link to a quiz which I followed and took.  It was an Autism Quotient quiz and I scored 45 out of 50, very high likelihood of autism. I took several other quizzes from various sources, and each one I landed in the very high likelihood range for autism. A new idea began to come into my mind, this is me…

My head swam with all of this new information. Everything suddenly made complete and perfect sense. All of the struggles, all of the bullying, all the times I had people pray over me to rid me of my shyness, and heartache I had experienced swirled around this fact that had remained hidden from me for so long, I had autism. I knew that my autism wasn’t quite the same as my nephews but that’s what it was. The only problem in my mind was what do I now do with this information?

Several sites that I found spoke of self diagnosis. This is where someone decides, through their own research and life experience, that they have autism and are happy to live out their life without ever getting a diagnosis. This worked for me for well over a year. I hated the idea of going to a psychiatrist or a psychologist. This stems from both my hatred of meeting and talking with new people and the fact that I had been raised to believe psychiatry was, more or less, evil. So I would self diagnose and be happy with that for the next couple of years…

To continue on to part 3 of the epilogue, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: The Epilogue: Part 1

For part 28 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

– “Alice In Wonderland” Lewis Carroll

We’re going way back in time today. Long before I became and Atheist. Back before I became a minister. Further back than my time in Texas or my first time preaching at twelve. We are going all the way back to my early childhood. A time before religion had even had a real chance to lay its talons into me yet.

I made my parents incredibly proud when I began talking not long after my first birthday. By three years old I had leaned all of my numbers and had taught myself to read simple books, through watching Sesame street for the most part. The only thing that caused my parents concern was how deeply shy I was.

At five years old they had attempted to put me into kindergarten, I have shrieked so loudly and for so long that the school decided it would be better if I waited another year and developed my social skills a bit better. Just prior to my sixth birthday, my parents took me to a doctor and asked him about my shyness. The doctor told my parents that my shyness was nothing to worry about, all they needed to do was encourage me to make friends, put me into social situations, and soon I would grow out of my shyness.

From the moment I started school, I absolutely hated it. Every morning, before getting on the bus, I would throw a horrific tantrum, bawl my eyes out, and then once on the bus I would bawl my entire way to school. I would continue throwing a fit well into the first couple of hours of class, by that time I would begin to get hungry and forget about the tantrum I had meant to throw throughout the entire day.

This lasted until I was in the third grade. I went to school on the first day and once again bawled my eyes out, the teacher walked over, bent down, and told me that third graders don’t cry about going to school because they are big kids now. That was the last day I cried before school but I never lost the feelings of terror being around other children.

Other children made no sense to me. They played games that I hated, they talked about stupid things with their stupid friends and pretended to be even more stupid things with their stupid friends. It wasn’t just my religious background that made me different. The strange thing that these kids enjoyed being around each other, I hated being around just about anyone. I got along with adults and would bug the teachers about everything. The kids recognized that I wasn’t like them at all and I was treated to bullying every day of my school years. I had very poor coordination, and even trying my best I couldn’t fight back well enough to keep people from picking on me and so I just went through it. I hated life and life seemed to hate me.

Every report card would say the exact same things. Doesn’t play well with others, doesn’t respond when spoken to, struggles to make eye contact. My grades were on both sides of the scale. In classes I enjoyed I got great grades and was seen as above average, in other classes that I didn’t enjoy, I was below average. I actually flunked gym class twice during my school years…I might actually be proud of that part…

By my teenage years I had finally made a handful of friends, but I didn’t seem to have friends like others around me did. I could go weeks without talking to a friend, not because I didn’t like them but because I didn’t have anything to say to them. My friends were mostly social outcasts themselves and so we were more or less people who the rest of the kids couldn’t stand so we accepted each other in some small strange way. One thing really separated me from my other friends and that was ideas of sex….

My friends seemingly loved talking about sex, I on the other hand had absolutely no interest in the topic. At 16 I would rather talk to someone about the latest episode of an anime or power rangers series that I had watched, than discuss sex.  I only became truly interested in the opposite sex at nearly 18, while my other friends had been interested since our early teens.

Another issue that followed me through life was work ethic, or more importantly my complete lack of work ethic. Finding a job was easy, keeping that job was very hard. I would have a job for a few months, get bored, and just stop showing up. I would have bosses call me and scream at me through the phone about being fired and I’d simply hang up and start looking for my next job.  What’s really strange is that I was generally well liked by bosses wherever I worked. It is just that i would become disinterested in something and I would just stop giving a damn, I knew I would lose my job and I knew this would cause me to go through the stress of finding another job, but I just could not make myself care enough to keep from losing a job.

I had always planned on going to college, but there were also some difficulties here. I had great difficulty with algebra, so much so that it would throw me into a tantrum that would last for hours and I also couldn’t write an essay for the life of me.  The problem is, that when I describe something, often times the first portion of what I am describing will come after the second or third items. I had an insane amount of difficulty putting things in the correct order, which led to poor grades in most of my English classes.

During one particular English class in high school, I submitted an essay final, that I had honestly worked on very hard, and received an F. The teacher even went out of her way to tell me that if I couldn’t write a better quality paper than that, I should just drop out of school and not even consider trying to get into college. So I did…I dropped out of school and decided that college wasn’t for me.

I got my GED with the help of Jennifer in Texas. She taught me how to write a proper essay, explaining exactly how to lay things out. The instructor said it was one of the best essay’s he had ever read. This made me feel pretty good but since I had barely passed the algebra portion of the exam, I decided that college still wasn’t for me. The rest is history…

As I have laid out in my blog I bounced from job to job, and finally settled on the ministry. Later I went back to college and did really well. My math instructor saw that I was struggling and talked to me before one class, she told me that math is nothing more than being able to recognize patterns and to try thinking of it that way. From that day on I was an A student in all of my math classes. Literally, i went from not understanding higher mathematics one day to helping tutor other students a few short weeks later.

Throughout my entire life, I had no idea why my mind worked the way it did, and why I was incapable of grasping many things, especially social cues, norms, and awareness.  I honestly figured that I had just been born broken and that there was something completely wrong with me. That is until I met a wonderful bundle of joy, my first nephew.  Shortly after his birth, my life began to make more and more sense. I saw myself in him but that story will have to wait til the next chapter.

To continue on to part two of the epilogue, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 28

For part 27 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Only I can change my life, no one can do it for me.” -Carol Burnett

Truth be told, from the day after I moved out of my house, I had I become outed as an atheist. My ex-wife went to my former church the next day and told everyone I had left the faith and that I had confided in her about my lack of belief almost a year earlier. The only ones that didn’t truly believe I was an atheist were my parents but I think even they had their own assumptions about my loss of faith.

Coming out entirely was a stressful situation for me and one that I was not quite ready to make. I still had the fact that the restraining order would be ending soon and I would once again be able to contact my kids again. A few days before the restraining order ended I was informed that child protective services had taken them in and they were not living with their biological father many states away. I was hurt that I wouldn’t be able to see them face to face but felt much more sorry for them, about why they had been uprooted from their childhood home.

“I was hurt that I wouldn’t be able to see them face to face but felt much more sorry for them, about why they had been uprooted from their childhood home.”

I won’t go into specifics but it turns out that my ex had abandoned them and moved in with her boyfriend several states away. They had been all alone for a couple of months surviving on the small amount of money my daughter was making at her fast food job. She was only 16 at the time and not ready for that amount of responsibility but I am proud of how well she dealt with being thrown in that situation. Word got around and one of her co-workers had contacted CPS. They were moved to be with their father the next day.

A few days later, the restraining order expired and I sat down at my computer for several hours, typing and then deleting immediately everything that I typed. I was so afraid that they still hated me and would want no part of me in their lives. Finally I types out something along the lines of, “Hi, how are you? I’ve missed you.” I contacted my daughter first as I had heard that my son was still quite angry about everything and wanted to ease into the conversation I would soon have with him.

“Hi, I’m good. I’ve missed you too.”

The response was more joyous than I could ever have imagined. “Hi, I’m good. I’ve missed you too.” I sat and shook crying tears of joy for one of the first times in my life. Those simple words took everything out of me and I struggled to come up with anything else to say. Eventually we began discussing how things had happened and how she had soon come to realize that I had not been the one at fault for the issues in mine and her mother’s marriage. We reconciled and ended the conversation on a very high note.

A few days later I contacted my son. He was definitely still very angry but did attempt his best to share with me how he no longer held me at fault for what had gone on and how he had missed me too. We discussed some of the new video games that were out and how he was doing at his new school. He hated it, but luckily he has come to really enjoy it now. We ended our conversation, not quite on the high note as my conversation had gone with my daughter but still on good terms. Over time this relationship has mended and I cherish my conversations with him.

He’s full of energy, 100% Tasmanian devil and I love him dearly.

With both of those conversations out-of-the-way, it was time to get things at home on a better path. We moved into a nice home a short drive away from the apartment we had been living in. My love, has made for us an excellent home over the last few years. Filled with warmth and love that was so lacking in years past. I am truly “blessed” to have the two of them in my life and to have my relationship with my other two kids mended.  Jennifer also has a son who lives with his father and I have a great relationship with him as well. He’s full of energy, 100% Tasmanian devil and I love him dearly. My life has become a wonderful experience and I am so happy to have found my real place within it.

A short time after moving into our new place, I purchased “The God Delusion,” by Richard Dawkins. Within it he lays out a 7 point scale describing 100% Theist to 100% Atheist. I found that I fit with his own idea of being a 6.9 Atheist. Not quite saying I have proof that god doesn’t exist but enough to say that the idea of a god is highly unlikely. At this point I decided what I really was is an atheist. Since that point I have read other books by various authors such as: Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dan Barker, Jerry Dewitt, Daniel Dennett, and many others.

When I finally came out as an atheist, I began posting on various groups discussing my journey away from faith. I was encouraged to contact “The Clergy Project” and see about membership there. I was also encouraged to share my story in a blog many times over those month. About a year later I joined “The Clergy Project” and considered starting my blog, but at the time I was far too angry.

Many people will speak of the anger they feel when they finally admit their lack of belief. Realizing how much of your life has been built around a pile of lies is a truly traumatic experience, and anger is something you must go through before finally settling in to a comfortable new normal. I needed to adjust my parents to the new me, thus I needed to figure out who the new me was.  Finally, I felt as if I could create this blog while keeping my emotions in check. I hope I have done well in describing my experience.

Another Journey awaited me in the few years just prior to admitting my atheism. I have always had a mind that I believed was very different from others around me, and have always wondered why. In the last few months I have finally had confirmed what I have assumed for so many years. I hope you will enjoy learning about my journey to that realization in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Thank you so much for following my journey up to this point. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to everyone who has shared this journey with me. You the readers are what have made this blog worth writing. Thank you!

To continue on to the epilogue and another journey I’ve been on the past several years, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 27

For part 26 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.” – The Enchiridion of Epictetus

As I read through the paperwork the officer had handed me, I fell deeper and deeper into depression. She accused me of being both physically and mentally abusive, claimed that I was mentally ill, and said that I would definitely be a harm to the children if allowed to interact with them. I decided that I would fight this and went to the courthouse prepared to give my side of the story.

“I never deny a restraining order that has been sought in my courtroom…”

The day of the hearing arrived and I stood as the judge came in to take his place. We all sat and the first thing out of the Judge’s mouth was, “I never deny a restraining order that has been sought in my courtroom. We can either sit here and discuss this til we are blue in the face or I can simply grant it and we can be done with this situation for the next year.” I realized no argument I could make would change the judges mind, and she was there crying and acting as if I was crazy. When the judge asked me my opinion, I simply said, if that meant a year of no contact with her, I would be more than happy to agree.

I drove home with deep feelings of despair and foreboding. How was I going to survive an entire year without any contact with the kids that had become such a crucial part of my life? I was crushed and sobbed much of the next few days. My life at home was bad but only because I was in such a deep depression. The love of my life felt the brunt of it and didn’t feel as if I wanted her there. Sadly our relationship almost ended in those first couple of days after the restraining order went into effect. In such a sad state, I considered putting things on hold and told my love about it. She burst into tears and told me I needed to figure out exactly what I wanted and fast. The second I saw the pain in her eyes, I knew I never wanted to see that pain again and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life bringing joy to those eyes.

StoicismHowever, getting out of a depression is not an easy matter, it isn’t like turning a light switch on and off and I had to find my own way out of it. Luckily, my love, had an idea that might just help me. She had been a psychology major in college and had studied philosophy as well, knowing my love of psychology, she encouraged me to look into some of the Stoic writers of the early first and second centuries AD. It was exactly what I had been looking for. For those that don’t know, modern CBT therapy is based on Stoic ideas.

Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics (Epictetus, Seneca, and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius) taught that some things are within our control and others are not. That’s a very basic explanation of their philosophy but it is enough to get the general idea across. Those things that are within our control should be the things we dwell upon and deal with, those things outside of our control are things that we shouldn’t spend much time, energy, or thinking on. I read several of the classics as well as modern stoic works written by non-believers.(Stoicism was not based on a belief in god and so it fits well with the atheist mindset) I found within these works that you can love someone who does not currently love you back and still be fine.

I knew I had a year that I couldn’t see those kids and the thought had crushed me, but being able to see them was completely outside of my control. Being able to love them, even though I wasn’t able to see them was still fully within my control. I also had a deep love for the woman I was with and a growing love for her daughter as well. I decided that for the next year I would dwell, not on what I couldn’t do, but only upon those things that I could do. It took some time but my depression began to gradually subside.

Over time, my happiness and tranquility increased to a point that I was able to beat my depression and move forward with my life.  The fact that god and faith played no role in overcoming this depression made the results twice as satisfying. Not only was I just living life but I was truly enjoying the life I was living.

One day I checked the mail and got notice that the final hearing for my divorce was coming up.  Also in the mail that day was a letter stating that I owed some $10,000 dollars in back child support for the daughter of Jennifer. Confused, I contacted child support services and asked them why they felt I owed this. Come to find out, since Jennifer had her daughter while we were still technically married, the state of Iowa considered her my legal daughter. When I explained that they were living at my residence and that I was back in a relationship with her mother, they told me I owed nothing and that I could put in a request to have her status as my legal daughter removed. They said if I did nothing, she would still be considered my legal daughter.

I thought about it for only a minute or two before deciding that I would give her the final say in what occurred. Jennifer agreed and when she got home from school that day we sat her down and talked it over with her. She instantly said that she always had wanted a “real” dad and was really happy to find out that I was her real dad. That settled it, she is my daughter and always will be. I love her so much and she acts so much like me it’s hilarious.

Anyway, the day of the final hearing arrived and the judge signed the decree, I was now divorced once again. I felt a deep sense of relief having that period of my life over with. I still missed the kids a great deal but was fully capable of loving them without being able to see them. We went home and I went to work where my coworkers had bought me a cake to celebrate the end of my divorce proceedings. All in all it was a great day.

Deadbeat

We spent the next year just enjoying being around each other. We learned a lot about one another and our relationship continued to deepen. My faith had been removed but I still claimed a deistic/agnostic style of belief, claiming that either god doesn’t exist or he created everything and then took off to avoid child support payments to his newly created beings. I did however begin to read some scientific journals, things that would have been considered taboo while I was in the faith, and found great enjoyment in learning about topics like physics, the big bang, and evolution. Life was good but I still wasn’t ready to call myself an atheist just yet.

 

To continue on to part 28, click here.