I know may people that left the religious life and community. Almost all of them have told me how they gradually started to try new things. They did not run right away and eat pork, rather they would eat kosher food in non-kosher restaurants at first. Over time most of them slowly worked their way up to a more secular life style. Almost all of them have that "one thing they could never bring themselves to do". For some it is eating pig meat, for others it is not fasting on Yom Kippur. To each their own.
I on the other hand tend to jump into the deep end of the pool. It was one Saturday in 2009 while staying at a friends house for the Sabbath that I finally admitted to myself that I was no longer religious. The following day, while talking to my mother who was visiting Israel at the time, the topic of different levels of religiosity in the family came up. When my mother asked me what my level of religiosity was, I admitted it was noting. She looked horrified but not surprised. She told me that we would discuss it further when my father arrived in Israel later that week.
Meanwhile I had a Vietnamese lesson the next morning with my friend Long. I called him up and told him to bring me "something yummy and not kosher to eat." After our lesson we went to the park and he gave me a Vietnamese pork dish called "xoi" (which I highly recommend). A few hours later, we went to McDonald's, the symbol of everything not kosher in the eyes of American Jews and I ate my first cheese burger (I would also recommend cheese burgers but not from McDonald's). This was all very new and exciting to me and I was enjoying the experience. But the whole time, in the back of my mind I knew I had a very difficult conversation with my family waiting for me at home.
My father arrived that Thursday and my whole family (including my sister, her husband and their baby daughter) were going to spend the Sabbath together. I was anxious and terrified. I kept waiting for the ax to fall. I did not know when my parents planned on talking to me about my change in life style. It did not end up happening until that Sunday.
To respect my family's privacy, I won't go into detail about the conversation. Needless to say it was very emotional, very difficult and full of tears. I knew I was breaking my parent's heart, but I knew I wasn't happy being religious. It seemed at the time that I had to choose between my happiness and my parent's happiness. This was a horrible position to be in.
Of course this all put quite a strain on my relationship with my family. But they love me very much and I love them. They did not disown me or stop talking to me, like I know happens to many children in similar situations. It was a big change and with time they have learned to live with it. Of course, I did not know it at the time, but this was just the first conversation that I was to have with my family that was to change their live's forever. But the next conversation was still another year away.