Please Help! Confusion, Disturbing Nightmare, and Still Trying to Adjust to Life as an Atheist

I know that what I am about to talk about may not be pleasant to hear about, and I sincerely hope I don't make any of you angry (although I don't know why I should). But recent events have brought about an upsetting problem that I can't shake, and for reasons that will soon become obvious - but I will outline them below anyway - I can't confide in my theist family about this problem... they would not understand and would most likely gain false hope of me "returning to the fold" - I most certainly will not!

Let me begin this way:

I would have thought that after 7 years after I lost my faith, and after 3 years of being an admitted atheist, that I would have settled all the "adjusting period" emotional and social problems that I had... you know... dealing with the confusion of having the thing that you based your life on (devotion to God) disappear, dealing with confusion and uncertainty about what being an atheist would mean for me and my life (besides lacking belief in God - although that may be the most basic definition - we all know that being an atheist in the United States of America has far more practical issues and implications and hard choices about how you will go forward with your life), dealing with anxiety about who to "come out" to and when (if at all), dealing with confusion and new difficulties over how to live in a society that makes no room for non-believers and - even worse - rejects them and sometimes demonizes them, dealing with the friends and family that don't understand, may try to "win you back", may ask you (with that inevitable look of concern and worry) "What happened? Do you hate god? Did you stop coming to church/ stop believing in God because something bad happened? Are you depressed/ angry? Was it something I did? I REALLY want to know if I did something to hurt you so much that you took out your anger at me on God! Do you need someone to talk to, because I know a pastor/ priest/ rabbi/ etc. that I think you should talk to! He/she can REALLY help you in your time of darkness." (What I was thinking at the time: Ummm... my "time of darkness" is for an entirely different reason than you think! It's not something that anyone did! My faith just collapsed and my world is falling apart around me!), also... you have to deal with the friends and family that reject you because they can't deal with your atheism.

I thought I was through all that... now I'm not so sure.

You see... I have been going through a hard time... and sometimes I desperately wish that God was real and prayer worked so that I could have some relief from my pain... even though I am fully aware that all that is a fantasy.

But something happened last night that really got me to wondering whether I am REALLY over my period of darkness and confusion and made me desperate for some advice from fellow non-theists who wouldn't try to do what my theist friends and family would inevitably do - interpret it as a sign that I wanted/ needed God back.

You see, I had a rather disturbing nightmare that I can't shake. When my Christian mother asked what the dream was about, I couldn't tell her... so I lied and said that I didn't remember. In reality... how could I forget?

The nightmare took place at my old church that I grew up in. I haven't been there in a very long time although, the other day, I passed one of my old friends, a youth pastor, as I was driving down the road. She and her husband both smiled and waved at me.

In the dream, I remember that the old church that I had loved so much was decrepit. It was falling apart at the seams bricks missing, the steeple was gone, and the floors inside were dusty and bare. The main pastor and the rest of the staff was leaving the building through the back entrance with grim, pale, sad faces. Some were crying. The reverend told me that the church had gone bankrupt and that it had been sold to a local atheist group. - I didn't know what to make of that - As soon as they were gone, a group of atheists I had never met before - but that seemed to know me - entered the building and started partying, putting up anti-theistic signs and banners all over the church and leaving popped balloons and confetti on the floor. The place was a mess. Everyone was smiling and laughing and inviting me to join in. But I didn't want to. I remember that I sat on the floor of the sanctuary and cried. I was not crying about God, I was remembering all the friends I had made there, all the various fun activities I had participated in over the years, and all the broken, forlorn faces of my friends that had left in silence after emptying their offices. I felt like a piece of my childhood that I kept close to my heart had been destroyed. I wasn't angry at the atheists, I felt confused and sad. I had no desire to join in on the anti-theist party... I just wanted to cry. 

I woke up from the dream feeling disturbed and not knowing what it meant. Can any of you help me figure out what is going on? Have you had similar experiences? How have you dealt with them?

This was just a dream, but it also made me wonder why I would have a dream like that.

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From the face of it, it sounds like you are either lonely or just missing that connection in your past, nostalgia essentially. You seem to be want us to analyze your dreams, but that's only something you can truly discern. Unless you are willing to answer pointed questions about your personal life in an online and public forum, or even privately to another individual whom you may or may not know, then I'm not sure we can really be of any help.

First, in regards to your first sentence, you should never feel that you have to walk on pins and needles for someone else's feelings when it comes to expressing how you truly feel and the difficulties you're going through. You feel how you feel, and even if it's unpleasant, you shouldn't be ashamed.

Second, I know EXACTLY how you feel. Every word you said I can relate to entirely and I want to thank you for posting this. For what it's worth, your experiences are comforting to me because it reminds me that I'm not alone.

When I came out as an atheist I had to deal with rejection from friends and family and all the antagonizing questions, the answers to which I've had to repeat over and over again ("No, I'm not angry at God," "No, nothing tragic happened to make me lose my faith," "You did nothing wrong. It's not you; it's me," etc...). Nomatter how hard I tried to explain myself to them, nobody ever understood. But I think now it's because none of them really want to understand.

It can be very lonely when you're constantly surrounded by people who discourage you, constantly tell you you're wrong (or "stupid" as my mother put it), tell you not to join in family discussions (as my sister recently "requested" of me) because your opinion won't be valued, or when your friends flat-out tell you that they cannot associate themselves with an atheist.

I've met and had discussions with pastors, youth ministers, and had strangers from my parent's sunday school class write letters to me expressing their concern for me. I was even set up on a blind date once with a pastor's son who claimed to go through "a dark period of extreme doubt" and who, in the end, found his way back to "the truth."

During each discussion (besides the date setup) I didn't know why at the time, but I felt like crying, and I did a couple times. I hated it that I cried. It gave them the satisfaction of thinking they were getting through to me and that I was coming back to the faith, but it was actually the opposite. The emotions arose from frustration at their lack of understanding of me, and also from the loss of the stong authority figures that I used to once greatly admire and strived to imitate. Growing up I never once thought that I'd be on the other side of the argument. I think I went through a state of some sort of shock.

I think your dream may mean something similar to that. It's been a while since you've come out as an atheist, but there are parts of yourself that will always be soft spots to your earlier happy memories as a Christian. The same holds true for me. I had a good life as a Christian, I just simply later figured out I was wrong and that none of it had ever been true. It's been a couple years for me sinse my official coming out, but I still struggle with emotional pitfalls sometimes, but I always pick myself back up and tell myself that I am a strong, intelligant, and courageous person and I just keep doing what I'm doing and moving forward. It also helps to try to meet other atheists in your community. It helps a lot to have people who are there for you when your family doesn't understand.

In my humble opinion it is futile to try and understand your dreams. Your brain is bored and throws stuff together to entertain itself 'til you wake up. I have had a couple crazy ass dreams the last two nights in a row. Unlike some folks I can remember my dreams and thus far they have no connection with reality. 

The fact that you are currently experiencing some hard times has a tendency to make you feel vulnerable. A good friend with whom you trust and can dare to be yourself is irreplaceable.    

i think you miss your friends and your family .. miss the social activities related to being a believer .. you hate how your social circle reacts towards your atheism and you feel like a loner, like you don't belong to them anymore.

i have a similar situation however i'm used to being a loner and it doesn't bother me being alone most of my days.

you may have atheist friends but u don't have much in common like your old friends and family members you grew up with.

My advice may won't be very appealing but don't choose your friends according to their faith, but rather according to whom you feel comfortable around, i know of atheists who would pray only because it makes their social life better and spares them lots of tension and conflict with family members and childhood friends.

do whatever makes u happy .. you only live once

When I have disturbing dreams I try to consciously imagine a different plot or ending when I am awake.  After all, it is my brain!  I can direct it somewhat, at least when I'm awake.  The imagined new ending can help to get rid of some of those bad feelings with which you were left.  

It sounds weird, I know, but it can be very effective.

@ Diane - Works for me to. It takes practice, and it can be done :)

I'll analyze your dream for you, I'm good at this (I believe).  In no particular order: 

The church is now bankrupt for you - meaningless, no fun, no use, a pointless grim waste of time.  Atheism is where it's at for you, the way forward to a positive future.  However, the church is something you used to enjoy, it's a part of your past you remember with affection, along with the friends you had there who were good to you such as the pastor and her husband.  So you feel sad that this beautiful place and the people in it which you used to like have been rejected and replaced, even though you like what they have been replaced with.  This used to be your sanctuary, and now you feel you have no sanctuary. You feel sad for the people who are still there now in real life, who you feel are living an empty lie.  The atheists know you, but in real life, the church people mainly didn't. 

Something like that.  It's all about symbolism.  I think dreams are useful because they force us to see and acknowledge our deepest feelings. 

That's pretty damn good Simon!

Thank you very much Mabel! I hope it is useful.

I agree with Simon - (well put).

I too feel sad for 'believers' however my moments of sadness for them are fleeting. My reasoning being I will help them if they have an open mind, but only they can open their mind. If they are unwilling to open it - then they are beyond my help so I concentrate on those i can help - not those I can't.

I make a point to tell the people I care about, that I'm a proud atheist so they can understand me. I hope to convert (hating that word)....those I love to atheism, (with small amounts of success).

The problem is that some people are so far gone in their delusion that they don't want to be enlightened. Due to their deep connection that is all things religion.


Congratulations to skycomet for having the bravery to move on to a clearer way of thinking. In my opinion the only way to move on is to tell your family & friends.

those that truly love you will take the time to understand your decision & will respect you for it. Those that are full of false love or conditional love will probably scorn are better off without people like that in your life anyhow.

Skycomment I recommend you read the book "Godless"

I don't feel sad for believers, a lot of them seem like a pretty happy bunch to me.  There are a couple I know personally whom I admire and respect deeply, and it's their faith/practices/beliefs that drive and assist their admirable qualities.  I wouldn't want them to give up their Christianity. 

I feel sad for a certain set of believers nearly all the time. My family has only one other "godless" individual (a Jewish agnostic in my extended family). I live with my mother and father and sister and I watch them go through their religious rituals every day and every once in a while (usually twice a month or so) my mother will ask me if I want to come to church with her with a hopeful expression on her face. I feel sad and frustrated for them because I can see that they are in pain, but I can't do anything about it. My sister actually burst into hysterical sobs once because she was so scared of her "sin." When my father lost his job I watched the whole lot of them praying to the ceiling for the sky fairy to save us and becoming upset, sad, and anxious as the months went by and he remained unemployed... I couldn't do anything but watch in my own personal agony as they asked their imaginary friend what they had done to displease him or why he had willed their fate this way. I guess the biggest heart-wrenching thing for me is watching the people I love the most impose great suffering upon themselves from their delusions and not being able to do anything to help.


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