Know that phrase from the movie, The Matrix – "Tenet nosce" – Know Yourself? That's a healthy part of it. The departure of religion from your life may well have left you with at least a partial loss of identity which it was happy to provide, because that made you dependent on IT. Coming to understand who you are and what you want, independent of that boat anchor will also help provide you with the means to own yourself and your desires. Yes, it can be exceptionally difficult and more than a little scary, depending on how pervasive religion was in your life and how much of an absence it left. The neat thing is, though, YOU get to fill in that blank ... with YOU. And once YOU know and own YOU, YOU can take YOU anywhere YOU want to go and do what YOU want to do. Will you make mistakes? Almost certainly. Will you have successes? I wouldn't doubt it for a moment. The thing is that your choices and successes and failures and what you learn from all of that will all be YOURS.
Self-ownership. Believe me when I say, there is NO SUBSTITUTE.
There's life, love, friendship, art, music, learning, science, literature, awe inspired by nature, pets, beauty, laughter, learning and challenges.
We humans have so many ways of creating and sharing meaning, find those most important to you.
Don't feel bad about yourself because you wasted time on religion. Everybody makes mistakes. The key to happiness and success is to learn from your mistakes and grow.
Imagine you're answering a similar question from someone who had wasted the majority of their life on a religion different from yours. For example someone raised as a fervent Muslim, who'd wasted years praying every day and memorizing the Koran. How would you suggest he/she find happiness now, begin reinventing him/her self outside of that restrictive world view?
Reinventing yourself as a free person is an adventure. Continuing to hate the religion that hobbled you will only keep you shackled to it. That's like brooding in the cellar where you were held captive for years, instead of going up the stairs to sunlight and wide vistas.
image source (text mine)
There is no hell to fear. That's a con.
Find a supportive Atheist to talk about your nightmares. Just getting them out, having someone to listen, can help you articulate your fear. Once you look at a nightmare fear with adult reasoning, it's often easy to see where you learned that fear and to dismiss it as unrealistic.
I would also add that happiness is a by product of developing yourself and your life. You can't make yourself happy, you become happy when you set your goals and start to achieve them.
First of all, you reaching out to others on this platform shows me you care about life and are seeking a happy existence. That is a great sign. Change is scary and not easy; especially when it comes to your beliefs and lifestyle. You live in a time with so much information that can help answer questions you have about faith and religion. There's so many online resources to use to talk with like minded people. I think it may take you some time to regain your new identity, but it will happen.
Have you researched the idea of hell and it's origins? Here's a good YouTube video I found about the devil that shows how the idea evolved https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8XQbqZUkms It's just that too, an idea. Something used to instill fear and control people. Like the devil, there are many ideas in religions that were simply taken from what came before and twisted into something new and often more sinister. I think the more you learn about the evolution of religions you will feel less afraid.
I agree with Ruth, try to develop more of your hobbies. Or try some new hobbies. Take a class at a local community college or arts center. Give your self something to feed your soul/mind. Learning a new subject or skill will help you boost your self esteem. You're going to be ok!
Gotta say that for me, getting over the fear of hell was one of the hardest parts for me. They did a really good job of convincing me I was bad, and deserved to suffer forever, if I didn't choose to believe in their myths. It was hard to give it up, until I realized, giving up gave me the permission to be myself, and not see me as all bad.
This life is pretty good, and I can make it better by working to be my best, and to love people who are worthy of it. And there are a lot of them out there who are worthy. For me, trying new things, and learning something every day made it easier to get over the "what the heck do I do now?" feeling. I think my life has more meaning now that I am living for now, not some afterlife that there is no proof of.
Best of luck to you as you continue your journey. If you like, say hi to those of us who travel along with you here. Pick a flower, grow a garden, hug a puppy or kitten, or whatever it is you do that makes you feel happy. So many choices you can make to make this life amazing!!!
Hell was pretty easy for me to get away from. The reason is mostly because it is idiocy itself. The idea of hell comes from the ever burning fires outside the city in the garbage dump. Things that are dumped there do burn up, but the idea was incorporated into religion of the day and it became an ever burning fire in which you would burn forever for being bad. Where was hell in the OT? The idea became slowly formulated into what they teach today, but it wasn't always that way. You have to ask yourself if a "fear of hell" is justified in making you a good Christian. I would think a real god could see through that idea in a minute and would call you a fake if you were on his side simply because of this fear.
Well, perhaps you need to realize that nothing has changed. You still live in the same universe you did when you thought you lived in one with a creator. Only that belief has changed. Anything that made you happy outside that belief before is still true and unchanged.
What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn't make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn't make it go away.
And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn't there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.
Okay, I can't say I've been in your position. I wasn't raised to believe in anything other than evidence and I've always been a naturally happy person. BUT - I found this, which sounds like this person was in a similar spot to you?
And also, a quotation I find very cheerful in the face of the reality that there are no such things as souls or what have you.
"There is no justice in the laws of Nature, Headmaster, no term for fairness in the equations of motion. The universe is neither evil, nor good, it simply does not care. The stars don't care, or the Sun, or the sky. But they don't have to! We care! There is light in the world, and it is us! "
Jack, the one thing that I have lost by becoming atheist is my love of the supernatural even if it was not real or well founded in the first place. I have loved sci fi and horror stories my whole life and now they are nonsense to me. Usually I try to watch a movie of this type today and my mind says "these people are as silly as a goose." Of course, at my age a lot of things have changed and I think being atheist has had a lot to do with it, but maybe it's just me getting older and growing up. I. E. terms like "the fastest gun in the west." The very idea of this as any sort of reality strains the concept of reason. Hollywood oversteps and creates reality.
I think you're discovering something I've lived with (cheerfully) all my life. Things like how thumping someone on the head always just knocks them out. When it's far more likely to either just hurt them, or on the other end of the scale, actually kill them. I think you just need a bit of practice with "willing suspension of disbelief". I can still fully enjoy ridiculously unrealistic movies, a haunted house can still scare me etc.
I've had a lifetime of "suspension of belief" so I'm not going to practice going the other way with it now. Haunted houses or anything in the dark does not scare me any longer. I'm not afraid of gods or aliens, but I do watch shows like "The Flash" and still enjoy them. I no longer have that "what if?" type wonderment that I used to have as a child. I believe only in what can be demonstrated. I admit that we cannot see radio waves but this in no way means that we have ghosties or spirits watching us, or gods or demons either. Admittedly the only thing that changed in the world was ME and the way I viewed things.