For twenty years my life was defined by faith. I did not think I could go a single day without the belief in a god, a messenger, a book, etc. I grew up living my life according to a strict set of rules in which I prayed five times a day, fasted during the holy month, and read the holy book on a regular basis. There were times I was so, so grateful because I felt blessed to have something in my life that made me happy.But there was always something missing. I remember being in class (I went to a private faith-based school) and asking teachers year after year the same questions, and every single time I received less than adequate answers. It was years of beating around the bush and me getting frustrated because my brain could not comprehend some of the things I was told to believe in. I cannot believe blindly. I think I always knew this about myself, but only until just recently did I accept it. I could not stand to be told over and over growing up that “God knows best, so if you are unsure about such and such just believe that He knows what is right.” That never sat well with me. Overall, it was a gradual process. My doubts about religion and its teachings crept up in high school and never went away. I would watch as my childhood friends spoke about different issues and noticed that my stances were always completely different from theirs. I saw things differently, was frustrated, and eager to seek out someone who had the same confusion and doubt as I did, but this never happened. Finally, as a junior in college, I abandoned religion altogether — something I never thought I would do. It was extremely difficult telling my family. But what was even more difficult was the feeling that was eating me alive every single day I was living a lie. For two years I pretended to pray. I pretended to fast; I pretended to be part of something my heart was no longer into. And that was slowly killing me. What being honest about my lack of faith has taught me above anything else is that I undeniably have the best, most loving, kind, and understanding family in the universe. Not only have they shown their compassion and empathy, they’ve let me know they are always there for me and love me unconditionally. All the shame, all the guilt, and all the confusion I felt since my teenage days vanished the second they opened their arms, and their minds, to me. I think the reason I feel I need to speak out about my experience so direly is because I know that I am not alone in how I feel. I know there are others out there just like me going through the same exact thing and feeling the same way. When I was still quiet about my disbelief, I had never felt so alone in my life. I felt I had no one to talk to, especially from within my own community. I felt I would be ostracized, judged, or even extremely disliked because of my personal decision, and unfortunately this is reality for many people who distance themselves from religion and leave it behind. I got lucky with the hand I was given. Many are not. So I want to say that if you are in a similar situation, know that you are not alone. There are many people out there — like myself — who understand what it is to be lost. It is normal not to have all the answers. It is human. And there is no shame in that. Never in a million years did I think I would tell anyone, or have the ability to be myself in front of my family, most of whom practice religion. Not everyone knows yet, as I am afraid of being judged by many, but I think I’m slowly getting over it. I refuse to continue living a lie, as cliche as that sounds. I owe it to myself to live the life I want, and to go after it without anxiety, guilt, or doubt. I owe it to myself not to care what people think, and to do what I want and what I believe will make me happy. I deserve that.