New Normal

My relatives had my life planned out for me before I was born: I was going to become either a nun or a doctor and spend every waking moment wondering WWJD. I’d seek all serious advice from priests or deacons. I’d attend mass on a regular basis, and if anyone I knew ever had serious mental health issues, I’d immediately seek out an exorcist. Simply put, my relatives just wanted my life to be normal.

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So for many years, I was normal. I lived my life as a good Catholic girl who went along with all the Church’s teachings and traditions. I never questioned anything because questions were abnormal. And anything abnormal was a terrible, terrible thing.

Then I hit about eleven years old, and I just couldn’t help it anymore. Instead of wondering WWJD (What Would Jesus Do), I started thinking WWJDT (Why Would Jesus Do That). Why would He threaten me with eternal torture if He really loved me? Why would He say the LGBTQ community was an evil influence when they seemed like perfectly good people? The list went on and on, and after a while, I realized I wasn’t the normal girl my relatives had raised me to be.

I was abnormal. I was terrible.

I spent years forcing myself to attend weekly mass and church groups, trying to let the Holy Bible get rid of all my abnormal tendencies. When that didn’t work, I thought maybe I could pray away all my abnormalities. So I prayed for hours upon hours and cried for even longer when none of the prayers worked. I still had all those doubts, and none of them were going away.

Then, one day, I just got sick of trying to be normal.

For the first day in my entire life, I didn’t say a single prayer. I decided to quit cold turkey. And when I wasn’t struck by lightning or swallowed by a black hole, I decided to not say a prayer the next day, either. Or the next. Or the next. Or the next.

Pretty soon, I’d gone months without praying. I stood up to my parents and refused to go to mass. When my relatives would talk about religion, I would politely change the topic. When I was given holy water or Catholic relics for my birthday, I’d thank the gifter and then tuck them away in a box shoved in the back of my closet.

I realized that for all those years I’d been religious, I was just doing it to please my family and go along with the crowd. While my family members felt a true love for their god, I’d only pretended to feel it. I’d been portraying a person who wasn’t actually me. I’d been a fake.

And, after a few months without religion, I started to feel… normal. No longer was I in constant turmoil or fear. No longer did I have to carry out traditions I didn’t understand or agree with. For the first time in my life, I could live as the real me, and not the fake me.

Pretty soon, I found a group of friends who were also atheists, and I didn’t feel so alone. We could openly talk about topics–any topic–without having to worry about rushing to Confession the next day. Most important, we could be ourselves. And that, to me, is the most beautiful and normal thing in the world.

I still live in a Catholic household, and we’ve come to a clear understanding: Their lifestyle isn’t for me, and my lifestyle isn’t for them. And don’t get me wrong; I still hold a deep respect for religious people–their values and dedication are very admirable. But I now realize religion just isn’t for me personally.

Today, I’m an atheist. More importantly, I’m the normal me and not a fake version. I’m a new kind of normal, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Olivia Rivers writes novels about bad boys and broken hearts, and is agented by Laurie McLean of Foreword Literary. She's a high school student, a wheelchair chick, and the epitome of a book-worm. Her indie-published books include the DUPLICITY and TORTURED ELEMENTS series. When she's not reading, Olivia can be found baking ridiculously fattening things, singing off-tune, and complaining to her cat about Doctor Who cliffhangers.

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