I am valuable just because I'm alive.
I know how to decide what is right and what is wrong for myself.
I said this to myself over and over one night as I was curled up in bed, sobbing. This was the moment I realized it. All of this shame? This heart-wrenching, soul-crushing guilt? It was all in my head.
I had focused on the humanizing Mormon scriptures when I was a believer:
"The worth of souls is great in the sight of God" - D&C 18:10
"Men are, that they might have joy" - 2 Nephi 2:25
I thought Mormonism viewed everyone this way. God loves everyone, and we are all meant to be happy! But what I didn't realize until I left is that in Mormonism, that happiness only comes to good, obedient members. And if you CHOOSE to walk out of the church like I did? Well, see you in hell, you family-wrecker. You have no business taking part in happiness now because you just wanted to sin, you were just offended, you're influenced by the devil, or you weren't trying hard enough to be faithful. Your marriage will be sub-par because it's not in the temple. Any bad things that happen to you will be because you left the protection of "the one true church", and you will deserve them. And any happiness you have? Well, that's just the world's happiness. Church members will pity you and feel bad for how naive you are in thinking you could ever possibly be happy as an apostate. Some of these things were said to me literally. Others were expressed through social pressure and implications of the doctrine. But the emotional gut punch was real to me, no matter how it came.
I was weighed down by so much unnecessary guilt when I left the church. I don't need that guilt. I don't deserve it. No one deserves it! To feel like nothing you do is good enough or that everything is all your fault? That's no way to live. I don't need to believe that I'm damned because I left "the one true church". I don't need to believe that my life is going to be less beautiful or enriching because I've chosen a different path. I don't have to be a Mormon to be a good and happy person who likes learning and growing and trying to make the world a better, happier, more welcoming place.
The rest of this blog will be posts to help me keep "unpacking" as I try to unload the weight of Mormonism and as I bring my authentic identity, which Mormonism shamed me into hiding, up to the surface. I hope to do this by discussing why leaving the church was the right thing for me to do and why I can never go back. I'll talk about the information and thinking that led me to that decision and about why I don't need to carry the pain of leaving anymore.
My family relationships will never be the same again. They say they miss the person that I was like I've died. People call me disingenuous, ungrateful, a disappointment. They want me to stop talking, they don't want to listen.
I didn't try hard enough. I wasn't good enough. They feel pain, and it is all my fault.
Gasping for air between sobs.
Everything is my fault. It's all my fault.
They could have said, "Wow, this must have been a really hard decision for you. How are you doing?" No. Instead, it's questions like, "Don't you know that you are just being deceived? Don't you now that you are hurting all the people you love?" Heap on the guilt, pile up the shame, tell me that I am causing So. Much. Pain. And it's all my fault.
This post is hard to write, so it's short. I don't like rehashing these thoughts in my mind, but I wanted to try and convey how much emotional weight I've carried, for months, because of leaving the church.
I've been carrying around a lot of emotional baggage ever since I left the church a year and a half ago. I think it's time to for me to unpack it.
First, I have to wonder. Why does leaving a religion come with so much emotional weight?
My parents are Mormon. My extended family is Mormon. My grandparents are Mormon. Many of their parents before that were Mormon. The polygamist Thomas E. Ricks, the founder of Rexburg, Idaho, was my great-great-great-grandpa. Mormonism has been a part of my family for generations.
I have lived in Rigby, Idaho most of my life, and went to college in Provo, Utah, the city where I was born. Mormons make up over 70% of the populations in these small towns.
Church activities have been a huge part of my life:
3 hours of regular church every week
8 hours on conference weekends
Weekly youth activities starting at age 8
Regular 6-month bishopric interviews starting at age 12
Callings (church lingo for leading, teaching, or service positions within the organization):
Counselor or president in young women's presidencies
Visiting teaching coordinator
Second counselor in a relief society presidency
The culture and doctrine were ingrained in who I was. I was taught to believe that God is my heavenly father and that Jesus died for me. I was taught that the choices I make now will last forever. I still remember how mind boggling it was as a child trying to comprehend the vastness of eternity, and struggling to understand why anyone would do anything bad if consequences last forever. I was taught that I promised to have children before I was born. If I broke my promises to God or chose bad things, then I was being influenced by Satan, who would lead me down to hell. I should choose to do good things. When Sunday school teachers ask students what good things they should do, the answers are repeated so frequently that they are known as "the Sunday school answers":
Go to church.
Read your scriptures.
Say your prayers.
Do these things so you will be worthy of the next steps in the plan of salvation:
Get baptized at 8 years old.
Go on a mission (for males).
Marry in the temple (you have to pay your tithing to be worthy of this).
Have children (for females).
Don't slip up or it will be easier for Satan to grab you. Listen to the leaders who guide you. They are God's mouthpiece and have authority over you. And don't question them. In fact, don't question at all unless it's the kind of faith promoting questions that the leaders like. Anything that seriously questions the truth claims of the church will be considered out of line.
It was more than just ingrained in who I was. I was being indoctrinated.
The indoctrination in Mormonism is strong. I accepted the beliefs so fully that my identity became entangled in what Mormonism wanted for me. I never liked wearing makeup. But I pushed my real self under, gave into the social pressure to be my Mormon identity, and wore make-up. I seriously doubted the existence of god in high school and even told a friend, "if I weren't Mormon, I'd be atheist." But I hid that part of me deep down, and the weight of Mormonism settled in to keep it there. I loved science in school. I was good at it and wanted to study it in college. But then came the time to pick a college major. People started talking to me about how I needed to pick a degree that would let me have a part time career while I became what was really important for women in Mormonism: a stay at home mom. I didn't question. I didn't wonder what was best for me, because I believed that, of course, these people knew what was best for me. My love of science didn't matter. I got a degree in accounting.
The grip of the Mormon church is suffocating. The cult-like regimen of activities and self-reporting of deviant thoughts and doubts leads to self-suppression and hijacks a person's sense of self to serve the church's programs. Missionaries for the church are given a badge that replaces their real names with "Elder" or "Sister". I didn't have a badge to signify it, but I feel like the real Amanda, whoever she was, was replaced by good-little-church-girl Amanda. The pressure to conform was pushing my authentic identity deeper and deeper downwards. Even now, after a year and a half of not attending, this mind control still weighs on me. Time to unpack it.