Thanks again to everybody who has taken the time to read/reply to this thread. This has kind of become a little diary now, so I'll just briefly record some updates. It's a momentous stage in my life, so it just feels right to keep a record of it, in order to capture some of the whirlwind emotions I'm feeling. Plus, I guess the more I record, the more useful/inspirational this thread might be for anyone who finds themselves struggling in a family who won't accept their non-Muslimness, and who feels afraid that they will never be able to break free. Sending love to you if you're in that situation. It is possible to escape! Hang on in there!
Update 1 - this might be too much information, but I'm mentioning it because I feel it's important since it's such a taboo topic in the Muslim community. After years of being covered in public, and raised to think that even having conversations with non-mahrams (conversations not strictly necessary for work or education purposes) were something to be ashamed of and avoided, I went ahead and had completely guilt-free sex with a lovely guy. We both enjoyed ourselves and will be having plenty more of it. I've explained my home situation to him, and he knows we can only meet during the day and that we have keep things on the down low for now, so it's all good. But it sure feels beautiful to connect with another human being on a physical and emotional level without feeling like you are defiling yourself. Now that I know my morality is not governed by notions of sexual 'purity', and that my worth does not reside in abstinence, I'm enjoying exploring my sexuality and finding out what we both like, which I think is a really fun part of the human experience!
And to think that in the past, when I was still Muslim, I stopped talking to various guys whose company I enjoyed because I thought that by prolonging even talking to them, I was doing something sinful - since I would never be able to marry them. (In those days, I had resigned myself to the fact that my marriage choices would simply be governed by my parents, who would only accept offers through formal arranged marriage channels from people of my specific ethnic background... Turns out even that was a generous estimation on my part of what my parents would accept, since my father recently divulged that he can only ever see himself 'giving me' to my first cousin!...) Anyway, to cut a long story short, I feel like a changed person when it comes to my sexual life; I am loving it, am in no way ashamed of it, and see absolutely nothing morally wrong with what I am doing. I still have to lie about where I'm going all the time (I don't get permission to go out frequently or as long/as undisturbed as I'd like, even during the daytime, if it's not work or study-related) ... But all in all, I'm grateful. Life is much better now than it was before.
Mentally I'm also a lot better now than when I made my first post, because I know that once my two-year post at my new workplace finishes, the option of escape will be open to me, and I'm closer to coming to terms with the fact that I just have to take this escape route for my own happiness and freedom - even if it hurts my family
. I think that when the time to leave gets closer, the anxiety will come back again, and it will be a really intense, painful period of panic and struggle, but for now I am just staying quiet, and putting up and shutting up with whatever my parents want me to do at home, which is made easier by the fact that I know now that I won't have to put and shut up forever.
It is still difficult, sometimes, though. In the beginning, the fact that my views were so different from my parents' made me feel very guilty - in fact, I felt utterly, absolutely hopeless to the point of feeling suicidal - simply because I hadn't accepted that removing myself from the family environment, and living a life away from my parents and what they want, was actually a reasonable, viable and practicable option. Now that I've accepted that option as one I'll take, I look back on how strictly my life was, and continues to be, controlled by these views of my parents' which I don't share, and I actually start to feel a lot more angry. And I start to feel like I can't wait to leave. It is becoming much easier to emotionally detach myself from my parents than it was before. In itself, I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. I don't want to completely lose empathy for my parents and become a hard-hearted, unfeeling person who will just bulldoze them aside to get what she wants. But I also think that kind of self-critical, harsh description of my altered attitude right now comes from a subconscious part of me which is trying to guilt myself into submission again. At the end of the day, I am not bulldozing anyone. I don't lash out at my parents or speak rudely to them. I just don't consider sacrificing my whole life for my parents' religious values reasonable anymore, and my anger and frustration are simply natural responses to being forced to comply with religious practices against my will.
Nonetheless, knowing my time with my family is finite also does make it easier to appreciate the positive moments with them, too, like when we're talking about things that are nothing to do with religion. When we are watching a documentary together on TV, for example. (Although it is annoying, however, when we are watching something like Joanna Lumley's India, and my parents will start off on some speech about how civilised Islam is compared to 'these "bizzare" Hindu religious practices", and how grateful we should be for having such a perfect religion revealed to us while other people are worshipping stones and thinking Gods reside in cow urine. Now, to be perfectly blunt, I'm neither a fan nor a follower of either Islam or Hinduism, but this kind of 'our religion is superior' speech does grate on me quite a bit, when in reality all religions have many of the same core problems when it comes to how reasonable and rational their practices are.) I guess, because my parents are such deep believers, it's difficult for them to watch anything or talk about anything without bringing up some kind of adoring reference to Islam in every conversation, and that does really irritate me but I keep quiet, because, well... Each to their own. What can you do? I can't argue with them about religion 24/7.
I guess it's also easier to stay quiet about religion at home now because I have a consistent secret, part-time non-hijab life to keep me sane when I'm out and about. (And it's not just non-hijab... it involves wearing whatever the fuck I want... even shorts if the desire strikes me! I want to try a bikini and go beaching one of these days, not because I'm trying to impress anybody but because on principle, as a woman in a Muslim family, that is not something I am 'allowed' to do. So naturally I want to do it, particularly as it's not unhealthy or damaging in any way, like drugs or alcohol.
Also my body is on the curvier end of current Western beauty standards and I want to improve my own confidence and not be ashamed of it, even the soft parts. So it'll be a good way of practising that, too.)
That's the news for now. I will keep dropping in with changes/updates/progress!
Peace and love to you all.