The EXMNA Effect!
October 27, 2013:
Folks, please welcome Hina. Hina, please introduce yourself!
I’m so excited to be a part of this group, I attended my first meet-up last night in Toronto. I’ve been an ex-Muslim for about 7 years now and was mostly agnostic till recently. My father passed away in May of this year and I’ve been having a really tough time getting over it, mostly having to deal with questions of mortality.
It’s so easy to deal with death when you have a religion that can answer all those questions, but more and more I’m finding myself to be an atheist and it’s been a tough road to walk down without any support from my family. I don’t know anyone who’s an ex-Muslim, so meeting everyone last night was a Godsend (pardon the irony).
I want to thank everyone again who was there last night, speaking to you guys was very cathartic for me. I look forward to meeting you guys again, and all the other members as well!
March 13, 2014:
I just want to comment on the impact EXMNA has had on my life in the past 6 months. It’s gonna get cheesy, so get yo’ nachos ready!
I recently read the blog piece “What it is like to be an ex-Muslim woman” and this part really resonated with me: “I work from home now, fortunate enough to have skills in demand for freelance work… I also get plenty of loving, human interaction with my partner, who I live with. I go to therapy every week, as well, fortunate enough to have accessible healthcare available to me, and I am healing. I am growing. But I wonder how many other people surviving extreme trauma and dehumanization do not have the ability to create their own flexible working environment on their own time.”
I too work from home and have been doing so for the past 1 year. Last summer, I was working and I’d stay at home all day and I would end up feeling really sad and lonely at the end of the day. I didn’t know why! I loved my work and I knew I didn’t want to have a regular 9-5 job where I’d be required to feign interest in others’ soul-decaying stories. I’d have to make small talk and engage with others so I wasn’t labelled as being a bitch or too cold. But I didn’t want any of that. However, the isolated life I was living would creep up on me and I’d go into panic mode and start messaging my friends on Facebook and sending out texts and trying to set-up lunches and dinners; all things I didn’t really want but I felt I still needed to do so I would be considered a part of society. The only real interaction I’d have all day would be with my partner, who’d come home from work and we’d spend the rest of the evening together. I felt happy, but very alone.
And I’d go out with friends. Meet them, have dinner, and then we’d part ways and it’d feel like an empty victory. I always thought “Ugh, I left the house for THIS!” I’m not saying that people are boring or dumb, but it’s always been really difficult for me to connect with people because I can not talk about superficial things for too long. And the things I care about, many people think that stuff is too heavy and not appropriate for just “hanging out”. And meeting my family was not an option. The emotional drain I’d feel after seeing them would take weeks to subside. So with no other options, I continued having meaningless interactions with others, never really looking forward to going out, and falling deeper and deeper into my own world.
Enter EXMNA! Seriously, after attending my first meet-up last year, I had an existential crisis! I fell into the darkest circle of my spiralling depression, because after talking to everyone there and hearing what others had to say and what they felt, I realized that I felt a lot of the same things, but had never had an avenue for expressing it. I didn’t have ex-Muslim friends, and non-Muslims (like my partner) can not fully understand what life is like for us. So after meeting everyone and realizing I wasn’t crazy or alone, I had the strength to go all out on my emotions, feel all the hurt and pain and anger, and finally come out of it.
The stories of strength and resilience that some of the members have shared, I can honestly say that I never really imagined a person having to live through that. Through your stories, I have found a new appreciation for my own life. I have started finding more enjoyment in my work, because I no longer feel alone or isolated. I don’t go through the panic attacks I used to where I felt a need to connect with someone, anyone. You guys have no idea how much I look forward to the meet-ups every month. No exaggeration, it’s the only time in a month when I dress up and go out of the house and spend the weekend doing things I enjoy. And even though I haven’t met most of the people in this group, I feel like I still know everyone and that if I ever feel alone, I can reach out to you all and you will be there to offer support and encouragement. Every interaction I have with you all, virtually or in person, is meaningful to me, because I know that each one of you knows EXACTLY what I mean, because you have felt that and lived through it as well.
So I just want to thank everyone here for allowing me to be a part of this amazing movement and finally giving me the opportunity to feel like I belong somewhere. Now, I want everyone to give me a rating on my post’s cheese factor!”
I posted that a year and a half ago to a small, secret private forum of not even 200 people. Everyone knew everyone by first name, the cities they lived in, the struggles they had had, and the path they had taken in life that had brought them to EXMNA. When I wrote this, I was in a depression that seemed like it would engulf my life. The only reason it didn’t was EXMNA.
Today, exactly two years after joining EXMNA, it’s unbelievable for me to look back on the sad and lonely person who wrote that and recognize myself in her. Was that really me? Did I really feel that way? Yes, it was. And while I may have a hard time seeing her now, there were others who saw her and helped her when she didn’t even know she needed help. I owe my happiness today, in a huge part, to those people and those moments that we all shared as we unravelled our broken and confused selves to each other.
As an active member of EXMNA, I can’t overstate the profoundly positive effect the organization has had on me. I found myself in ways I never even imagined were possible. The limits of my mind and thoughts were stretched and built upon. I interacted with peers who I would consider intellectuals, and had the most stimulating and deep conversations on topics ranging from sex and intimacy, to politics, capitalism, and everything in between.
The EXMNA Effect, to me, is the space and environment fostered by the organization that allows all members to embark on a journey such as mine. Today, two years later, I have built myself up in ways that have not only contributed to my religious/spiritual beliefs, but to everything else worth experiencing in life. The value of a strong friendship; the happiness and relief that comes with finding acceptance for who you are and how you want to live your life; the realizations of your life’s limitations and how to overcome them; I found all this, and so much more, that would have probably taken me a whole lifetime’s worth of experiences to discover on my own had it not been for EXMNA.
As I’ve seen the organization grow over the past two years, I too have grown with it. There are more members, some of whom I don’t even know by name. The members come from over 28 different countries from all over the world. Everyone has a unique story and reason for seeking out and joining the organization. Everyone has their own battle they are struggling with: mental health, relationship issues, facing disownment by their family and loved ones, moving away from home, finding meaningful employment, coming to terms with a life void of the comfort and security that religion provides. I see some members struggling with what I had struggled with 2 years ago. I see the cycle of empowerment continue, seeing people grow from a position of needing support to a place where they can offer support. Seeing people take charge of their lives, and be unashamed of who they are and unapologetically live their lives to the fullest.
As for me, my work life, romantic relationships, and platonic interactions have all been enriched. I have come closer to finding my raison d’etre, have a renewed appreciation for life, and have developed a passion to live the way I had always imagined. I feel calm in my day-to-day life and have found a sort of inner peace that had eluded me for so long.
I feel as though I’m graduating from EXMNA today. My 2-year course in self-discovery is coming to a close. My journey in life isn’t over, that’ll go on, but I’m proud to say that I don’t need the support of EXMNA to continue with that anymore. EXMNA is a very special place in the world, and while I may not need it as I once did, there are others who do and many more who will as they discover what I did: it’s okay to need help, it’s okay to admit when you’re weak, it’s okay to want to let go of your pain, and it’s okay to want the things your heart desires in life. The ability to connect, to understand one’s pain, to be compassionate and gain the strength to move past it; to me that’s the EXMNA Effect.