This message discusses the experience of growing up in an extremely religious, closed community and later leaving to join the outside world. I'll first discuss the Laestadian experience, and next draw attention to some resources from the experiences of two other groups. This is intended to describe the "typical" experience of those leaving, but since we know there is no such thing as one typical experience, please forgive me if my description doesn't match your experience.
Growing up in the Laestadian community, you feel a deep sense of belonging. There are strict rules, and these rules clearly delineate how you should live your life. You know what is good and what is bad and strive to make your life conform to the rules, at least publicly.
The outside world is filled with atheists and dead faith churches. These people are on a lower plane of value because they are not part of the community. They are going to hell. You feel as if the community is a refuge from a cold outside world, filled with ravening wolves. The people who make up the outside world are not diverse; instead they are an undistinguishable mass of people "in the world."
There are many community mechanisms to keep you in the group. The fear of those worldly wolves is drilled into your head from childhood. You fear losing your sense of community and belonging. You know that if you leave, you will be tarred as a rebellious sinner who wants to pursue money and pleasure instead of remain faithful to God.
Despite these incentives to remain, you decide to leave. Perhaps, the central tenets of the community no longer seem true. If the community is based on a lie, it becomes empty to you. Or maybe you are driven out from being constantly repressed in how you choose to dress. Regardless of why you leave, the outside world appears to be a place where you can best live as your true self. Upon leaving, you feel the sudden loss of community. As a typical Laestadian, the community was your world. You likely didn't take part in outside social groups such as sports or student groups, and your friends were all from the church. Now, the community is gone. In addition to losing the community, you lose the rules. No longer do you have a clear roadmap that tells you how to be holy and how to live your life. You must create this roadmap on your own. You often feel resentment at having missed out on the many things you learn others did in their childhoods. You are suddenly eighteen or more years behind in learning the rules of how to behave in the wider world. You may find another church to attend or perhaps you just swear off religion entirely.
On the positive side, you learn the world has some decent people, and is not made up entirely of ravening wolves, as you were taught. Nonetheless, the outside world often cannot understand your experience. Although they offer sympathy and express amazement when they hear your story, they cannot understand what you feel. Some even go so far as to question why you ever left, thinking you simply succumbed to outside peer pressure to conform and denied your unique cultural heritage.
Laestadians are not the only ones to go through the feelings of leaving. Another group to experience these feelings are people who left the strict, closed form of Judaism known as Hasidism. Like in the Laestadian community, there is a strong sense of community in the Hasid community, but there is also fighting for power, and factionalism. Elimelekh Kohn grew up in this community, and later left to enter a profession forbidden to him as a child.
Another person who left was Malkie Schwartz, whose experiences were included in the book Unchosen : The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels. Realizing the difficulties people go through upon leaving the Hasidic community, Ms. Schwartz founded the group Footsteps to help others who had recently left. A similar group, Xlubi, can be found here.
The last group I'd like to discuss is the Amish. When the Amish leave, they often experience social ostracism as bad or even worse than what some former Laestadians experience. Some make the most of leaving and take the good while leaving the bad. Others try to help those left behind in abusive situations or try to help those now leaving.
From the experiences of the former Hasid and Amish, former Laestadians can realize their experiences are not unique and are often easier than the experiences of many from other similar groups. Former Laestadians are usually able to earn a living in the wider world and can eventually re-define themselves as successful and free, even if worldly.
I would add that to the positive side:
You learn that while others may not have had identical experiences, many people (especially racial and sexual minorities) have also experienced being a "stranger in a strange land." You find that your understanding and empathy for the dispossessed makes you a trusted friend and natural advocate. Having found the courage to leave, very little can frighten you, least of all the social opprobrium of others. You are confident and able to connect easily with people regardless of socio-economic barriers. You have a high regard for reason, honesty, compassion, and inclusion, and attempt to model these values in your relationships. Your intellectual and spiritual curiosity never allows you to stagnate. You find life rich and exciting. While sometimes you are nostalgic for the close-knit community you left, you find incomparable satisfaction in being authentic, and in being a citizen of the world.