becoming whatever became of me

(the following is adapted from “How Synthaetica got this way,” first published on ThinkAtheist.com on January 9, 2009. significant editing has occurred to make it more readable, to fill in the gaps, and to set the record straight on some people/events in my life.)


I’ve never been great at putting things into concise terms when it comes to telling a story. I can manage sometimes not to ramble, but I have an eye and a mind for details, and as a result, the details are important to me.

My story is probably not functionally different from anyone else who was raised religiously and who later stepped away from delusional thinking, but I hope that in writing this, I can offer some insight and perspectives that some of you who are just now, or just recently going through this, may not have. It’s been over twenty years since I started the process of stepping away. Those insights are probably not all that unique, for what it’s worth, but they’re mine, so I relate them. 😉


I was adopted at birth under a different name and raised by a loving family who were only slightly left of the “fundigelicals” of today {i have no real way to prove it, but “fundigelical” is a Synthaetica original. so is “clowngina”. you’re welcome!}. Basically, if you didn’t go to their congregation, you were going to Hell. An inherent irony never discussed when they changed congregations, by the way. I was adopted because my adoptive mother couldn’t bear children anymore. We had a lot of physical similarities nonetheless, and I don’t recall there being public mention of my adoption, but inside our family, I was told about it early enough that I don’t remember a singular, pivotal moment of being told; I just always knew. Unfortunately, tied to that was a clear expectation that I “live up to the standards of their bloodline”, and my personal failings as a youth were continually interpreted as offenses against those standards.

I was hyperactive, probably of that very finite set of individuals who are legitimately hyperactive and not just maladjusted and poorly parented. While I happened to look a lot like my adoptive mother, our personalities definitely clashed. I learned the word “bastard” directly from her mouth. The arguments between us were screeching scream-fests. I ran away the first time at 12, again at 14, and moved out at 16 and lived with various friends until I finished high school. The one thing I sincerely thank them for was not putting me on Ritalin. We dealt with my hyperactivity as best as we could, although that was rarely “well”.

Through it all, I maintained an adamant faith in Christianity. Their particular form of it was actually somewhat liberal in comparison to other Protestant denominations, but that’s fairly relative in terms of a purely conservative dogma. I kept trying to please them, kept failing miserably, and was continually reminded that everything I did dragged their name through the mud. It was, yes, all about them, and basically only about me when I screwed up. Everything bad thing I got caught at, brought grave offense to their name and was apparently committed with the sole interest of offending their pride.

Nevertheless, I stuck with the dogma, it having been given to me as a “first truth”, and at the age of 18, I entered a ministry school. Ironically, this was actually the beginning of my wild ride away from delusion. The most profound experience was that first week away from “home”, when it became readily apparent just how woefully untrained I was for living on my own. My adoptive parents had failed me miserably. They admittedly had a tough row to hoe with me, as by the time I was old enough to start preparing for life in the big, wide world, I was listening to them the least and I literally didn’t give a damn for their hypocritical actions. The end result of our mutual distrust and disdain was that I was not half as self-sufficient as I should have been at that age. I was forced to learn life-lessons all the way through the age of 25 which my peers had mastered in their early teens.

I really had no idea how to function sociologically. My way of thinking was incredibly limited, and my ability to interact positively (read “positively” here as “not so insularly as I was raised”) was fundamentally lacking. Pardon the pun. I was, in the most classic sense of the word, a “user”. My “friends” and girlfriends of that time in my life all had something in common: I needed something from them, and that was the limit of it. I was a horrible person at that point.

I was, in other words, quite a bit like most other fully brainwashed, fundigelical girls and boys of the same age, and hyperactive, to boot.

And then, in my second semester at ministry school, the way in which I understood the world suddenly unraveled. I don’t recall the exact date, but early on this day, in our language class, Koiné (biblical) Greek (I was in advanced classes for that because I had studied Koiné prior to attending the ministry school), we 12 students were sitting around a large conference table with several different versions of the Book of Mark open: several different, self-contradictory and mutually-exclusive versions of the Book of Mark.

I asked our instructor, “So with all these different versions of Mark, how do we know which one is the right one?” And his response was, “Well, that’s the beauty of faith.”

Something just clicked in my head, right then and there. I swallowed my instinctive response, which was along the lines of “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me”, finished class, and dropped out of school that same day. An impetuous act, yes, but one which I’ve never truly personally regretted. The first person I called was my girlfriend, of course. And after I was done with my little story, she had one for me: she was pregnant.

There was, at that point in our relationship, no question at all about my role in that particular endeavor.

I spent the next few weeks trying to figure out with my girlfriend what the best thing for us to do was, and ultimately, I let my adoptive dad talk me into enlisting in the Army. I passed various entrance exams with flying colors, had a career path lined up for me, complete with foreknowledge of where I’d be stationed for training and when, and I was even almost excited about starting a family as well as a new career.

Of course, Murphy’s Law had some ironies to toss my way before I left for basic training. My first love in life had been music. I had started playing percussion at the age of eight (private lessons) and had a very musical middle school and high school life that included band, orchestra, choir, madrigal singers, and music theory. In fact, in my original college entrance exams, I had placed into my sophomore year in composition and theory. Ministry school had been a secondary thing for me on a chance, but very-well forced, scholarship, and I had surreptitiously applied to several universities and music schools across the country several weeks prior, including scholarship applications. In the three weeks before I left for Basic Training, I received acceptance letters from five universities and scholarships from three of them. Joining the Army, I forwent full-ride scholarships to the Berkley College of Music in Boston, Northwestern University, and the University of Texas at Austin.

But leaving what could have been a very promising life behind me and “doing the right thing” by my girlfriend wasn’t enough. No, my adoptive parents weren’t really through with me yet. I was lucky enough to get a free week’s worth of leave between Basic Training and my Advanced Individual Training due to a class being put on hold, and when I came back home, I had adoption papers to sign. My adoptive parents and my girlfriend’s parents had convinced her to give up the baby for adoption, despite the fact that I had tested for, and been awarded a highly predictable career track in the Army. My adoptive father, who was a Brigadier General in the Army Reserves, contrived to have me sign the release of my right to my child at Fifth Army Headquarters, in San Antonio, our home town. It was definitively presented as a no-option thing.

There were two MPs outside the door.

Because, you know, having gone off and done the right thing by my girlfriend at very large expense to myself, I obviously had trust issues.

I served for two years, including during our incursion into Panama, then applied for and received an ROTC scholarship. I originally applied for and been accepted at Georgetown University, but wound up taking the scholarship at Abilene Christian University, because that same girlfriend and I were still trying to do the right thing by each other. Abilene, Texas happens to be the town I was born in, and where I was adopted from. So, during my first semester there, I went natural-parent hunting.

My time at ACU was painful on several levels. My girlfriend had become someone different in my absence, and no doubt as a result of having gone through childbirth essentially alone and having been forced to give up her baby, or at least coerced into thinking that doing so was the right thing to do. I didn’t really consider myself an atheist at the time, but neither did I consider myself a Christian. I was exceptionally irked at having to take courses in religious studies, be at chapel every morning, and those types of things. Adding to that the search for my natural parents created all sorts of instability.

Apparently, I was supposed to be my natural mother’s ticket out of the house at the time, but I was born a month early, so her parents had forced her to place me for adoption. It’s funny how history repeats itself, isn’t it? Nevertheless, she had married my natural father, and I had a full-blooded little brother and sister. The meeting was strange and joyous. My girlfriend, with whom I’d basically been together, off-and-on now, for almost five years, met them of course, but given their lifestyle (considerably more liberal) saw the writing on the wall; she was afraid she was going to “lose me”. So, she told my little sister after about a month that she had gotten pregnant again “to keep me”.

This is where Dawnne refrains from a lot of social commentary regarding religious conservatism and the inherent sense of entitlement experienced by the vast majority of its practitioners.

By then, my thinking was clear enough to smell just how bad that stank. As much as I felt I was ready by then to settle down and all that, there was no way I could continue on in a relationship with her. I couldn’t really fathom how a “Christian” could do such a thing to someone else, let alone her own child. The moral duplicity of that act simply stank of a level of disregard that I couldn’t force myself to condone. Of course, my counselors at ACU didn’t give a whit about that. They just expected me to “do right by her”. But, I couldn’t. It wasn’t that I was suddenly incapable of doing the right thing. It was that condoning that behavior, that duplicity, and in fact fundamentally redefining my life by virtue of it, sank somewhere below my ability to tolerate. So there was a second child that I wouldn’t get to raise, and since my girlfriend was adamant about raising her herself (and who could blame her), not only that, but this child would be raised to hate me. And ultimately, she was.

I dropped out of ROTC, re-enlisted, and served through to several months after my unit returned from Desert Shield and Desert Storm. I didn’t re-enlist after that, because I’d noticed another pattern in my life, which was the epitome of “third time’s a charm”, and I’d already been in combat twice. Credit it with what you will, but the unit I would have been assigned to, had I stayed in, was the one that was shot up in Haiti.

It was during those last years in the Army that I completed my separation from the church and delusional thinking as a whole. I was an Intelligence analyst and forward-area observation specialist, which honed my critical thinking and decision-making skills, and organized religion quite quickly began failing all sorts of “smell tests”.

I don’t blame the Army on my free-thinking, not by any measure. It just so happened that my military occupational specialties lent themselves quite well to developing an organized, rational mind.

When I left the Army, I found it very easy to gain employment and even finish my education, because I had taught myself how to think, how to adapt, and how work with limited resources. I worked actively to make myself into a responsible adult, and I have by and large succeeded at that. Of course, I still learn, I still strive to make myself better, and I raise my children to do the same.

My adoptive parents disowned me (literally, legally, and actively) when I found my natural parents, fairly proving the fallacy of the “unconditional love” under which they had purported to raise me. My last attempt to contact them was responded to by a friend of the family who instructed me, curtly, not to attempt to contact them again. That was in 1993. I have violated that from time to time by mailing photos of our kids to them anonymously, but with a return address. There have never been any responses.

I’ve never heard from my eldest child, the one who was placed for adoption. Part of the criteria his mother chose was that whomever adopted him subscribe to the same religious fallacies that we did at the time. I have no idea if he even knows he was adopted, or if he’s even alive, for that matter. All I do know is that he is male, and if his adoptive parents kept his given names, he was named for a long-time friend of his mother’s family.

When she turned eighteen, my daughter (the second child) opened communications with me, and even spends a couple of weeks each summer up here now. We have a good relationship, despite the fact that she’s a missionary, and I love her very much. I even put her on our phone plan and we txt/pix-message almost every day. She has been a great addition to my life, and while I certainly respect and love her for who she is, she also represents a closure of most of the circles that were opened around the time of her birth.

And that, is the story of all that.

4 thoughts on “becoming whatever became of me

    • thank you, Amy. i haven’t been through half as much as so many others. yourself included. damn straight i’ll keep going. you inspire me as well.

  1. You are such an unbelievably good person. Really. I mean that with all my heart. You went through quite a lot and came out a very classy and well-adjusted atheist 🙂

  2. classy? you’re way too generous. i’ve been through more than some, and far less than most. thank you very much, Renee. it means quite a bit, coming from you.

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