I know this is not the case for many, and I respect everyone’s choice to live in a way that they believe to be True. But, in my case, religion has been caustic—eating me from the inside out. I don’t know why or how. I don’t really understand why other people born and raisde in similar circumstances to my own, have managed to just accept what they’ve been told and live their lives in peace, seemingly unencumbered by the massive amount of inner turmoil I have been experiencing my whole life.
I’m in my 30’s. I’ve been grappling with this issue since I was a preteen. I was never hurt or abused. My parents have always shown me nothing but love and understanding, always trying to work with me, to make being religious a more comfortable experience for me. But I’ve just never felt settled as an Orthodox Jew.
In practice, my pendulum has swung in both directions. I’ve tried being devout. I’ve tried learning mussar, halacha, Gemara, Chassidus. I’ve tried being secular. I’ve tried being a practicing Jew with a secular worldview, or “Orthoprax,” as it were. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit.
I’ve been twisting and turning myself like a puzzle piece, trying to squeeze myself into a space that was simply not cut to fit my shape, for over 20 years. Where is the point at which it is acceptable to just admit defeat? Where is the point where I can look at my parents and siblings, and parents-in-law, and siblings-in-law, and all my friends and neighbors, and even my own children and say, “I tried. I really did. I wanted this to work. I wanted to just fit in with the rest of you, not make problems, not make waves. But it is killing me to keep pretending I am something that I’m not. That I believe something that I don’t. Organized religion can be wonderful when it works for you. But it doesn’t work for me. It breaks me. And I don’t want to be broken anymore. I want to be a whole person.”
Because I don’t think I can say that without being judged in return, even (and especially) by the people who love me. They’re going to think I’m having a breakdown. Or that I’m too lazy to keep halacha. Or maybe that I’m going through a phase, and I’ll come crawling back when I get it out of my system.
And you know what? Maybe I am breaking down. Maybe I’m finally cracking under the pressure of living a life full of falsities. Maybe I am lazy. I don’t have the wherewithal to expend all the energy necessary in keeping up appearances anymore. I don’t want to struggle anymore. And maybe it is a phase, but it’s a phase that has been ongoing for 20 years, and shows no signs of changing in the near future.
I don’t even know where to go from here. I don’t want to be in the place where I am, but I am terrified of leaving it. I am not an outgoing person. It’s not easy for me to make new friends, and I’m afraid the friends I have now will not want to be part of my life if I am not religious. Will they eat at my house? Will they invite me for Shabbat? Will they let their children interact with mine? And I love my parents and my siblings, but I’m afraid of driving them away. I’m like a wild animal raised in captivity—out of place behind the glass, yet reliant on my keepers—unable to survive on my own in the wilderness.
It’s funny how we tell ourselves we have choices in life, without taking into account how our upbringing and our communities create mental prisons for us. There’s safety behind those bars, and there’s chaos on the outside. We are all taught that freedom comes at a price. So, I am now faced with a decision—is it a price I’m willing to pay?