When I first started going 'off the derech' as they call it, or 'stopped practicing Judaism' as I call it, I was terrified that other people would find out. It was a secret part of me that I could not share with anyone. Eventually I shared it with a very select group of people, but for years at the beginning, after I had started eating at non kosher restaurants (vegetarian at first, then fish, then meat years and years later), and after I had stopped keeping shabbas, it was something only I knew about. From age 15 to age 17 I was completely in the closet about it. In college i would leave my parents house in a skirt and change into jeans at the train station- the one pair of jeans I owned, that I would wash secretly when I knew my mom was going to be running errands all day. By the time I got home I was in a skirt again.
As I got older and became more integrated into the non-jewish world, my situation reversed- now the weird thing to share with only close friends was that I had grown up orthodox jewish. It took a long time to get to here though.
Coming out to my parents as an atheist was still one of the hardest things I've gone through to date. Equally hard was telling them that I was dating someone not jewish, that we lived together, that we had gotten engaged. I guess I never told them I was married, since they had stopped talking to me by then. I anticipate more hard times in the future, when I get pregnant and will probably feel obligated to tell them, if I have a boy and won't have a bris, etc.
If it wasn't for social networking groups like facebook I probably could have gone off to live my life, and never talked to anyone I grew up with again. But facebook does exist, as does a facebook group for my old shul that no less than 5 people have invited me to join, and the people I grew up with and went to school with are all on there, sending me their friend requests. And why deny their requests? We do know each other. We grew up together. So what if we have different religious views in adulthood? My religious views are just as valid as theirs are...in fact, I personally believe mine are more valid and that their beliefs don't hold up to any scrutiny, although I would never say that to them since they didn't ask me, so it's just rude. But I also don't think I should be forced to stay in the closet with my beliefs, and that as a member of a group that is looked down upon (off the derech people) I have a moral obligation to come out to as many people as possible so that we can not be marginalized and forgotten about the way the still-religious people would like us to be.
It's one thing to say that though, and another thing to tell people who you know will disprove and look down on you that you are an atheist, and that you have married someone not jewish. Even if you know they are wrong, and that anyone who is a judgmental asshole is..well, a judgmental asshole, it's tough to face the constant rejection, and to constantly put something out there that you know will make people think less of you.
But I feel as if I'm getting better at it, and telling people about myself no longer carries the anxiety it used to. Today I got an email from S, someone I grew up with, who is now a rabbi (what? You can be a rabbi at my age?) and who presumably got my email address from my facebook page (since we are facebook friends) and added me to his "jewish newsletter" listserve. You know, those little newsletters some rabbis send out with a weekly dvar torah (mini sermon about the weekly torah reading) and some heartwarming story or something. I didn't read it thoroughly, I admit.
But I did write back- "Hey S. Nice to hear from you. However, I am an atheist and I no longer practice judaism, so I don't have any interest in receiving dvar torahs. Please remove my email from your list."
Turns out it does get easier with time.