If I were reading this blog about one of my friends, the title would have made my heart sink. I was always sad when someone I knew left the church, if I'm honest I still am, this isn't an easy decision. I'm sad because I know what it must have taken to admit to oneself that this isn't the life or spiritual path for them. When I say "church" I mean The Church of Latter Day Saints. Everyone who leaves has a reason; it's rarely a sudden decision, and it's heart breaking for those involved along with family and friends.
I converted to the church when I was 18, at the time I needed guidance, fresh out of high school and madly in love with my best friend who was leaving for his mission (I had no idea what it was about), but he always seemed to have his life together. I admired him because not only was he handsome, but kind, funny, and completely different from what I was used to at home. At my house there were a lot of drugs, alcohol, arrests, unsavory people coming in and out of the house all day, and mental and physical abuse. It was literally all I knew. There, of course, were good times; my parents always made sure we had food, and utilities were paid on time; we always had a good Christmas. But I had to endure things like watching my dad get arrested a few times, even picking him up from jail. I'm pretty sure he's on a first name basis with the Kingman Police department at this point. My mother dealt with crippling (mostly untreated) mental illness along with all the problems of the family which she vocalized to me. My whole life I knew our financial situation, why my dad was in jail again, rumors about the family, etc... It was kind of a toxic environment. So when the church found me I needed it; I needed it to rise above my situation and become the person I am today.
After I was baptized, it was a whole new spiritual world and I thrived. I was a follower of the prophet, I knew God existed and I felt his unconditional love. Content with my new roles as future wife of a returned missionary (I was consistently told to not accept anything less) future homemaker, future child bearer, I got a carnation every mothers day celebrating my womb even though it was vacant, and would remain that way. I could do all these wonderful things all the while contributing to the household income with my "side business" but my family would come first of course. All these things are wonderful, righteous desires! My life was to be dedicated to my family and my place in one of heavens kingdoms was mine, if I followed all the rules and held on to the iron rod. I still have a little iron rod on my keychain I got from my baptism almost 20 years ago. Over the last 18+ years I have surrounded myself with mostly Mormons. I have a few friends that aren't LDS, some that are teetering on leaving, and some that are die hards forever. I love all of them regardless of where they are in life, and I think thats where the cracks in my foundation was started... Love ironically.
These last few years have been some of my most depressing years of my life. I believe it got much worse when my sweet friend Anne passing away a couple years ago, it was such a shock and we were close in age (and weight, which contributed to her passing) and it was a major wake up call. I wasn't depressed because she had passed away, not the whole time but it just started to make me look deeper in myself and figure out what was happening. Why was I so sad all the time? Why wasn't I working harder to be a better member of the church? I just kept procrastinating the inevitable.
This has nothing to do with Andrew, but with me. I have been unhappy with myself and in order to be happy with my spouse and life I had to make a life change.
I wasn't happy
The teachings of the church instilled a kind of thought process that if I apply all the teachings and church logic to every aspect of my life I will be happy, blessed and successful. If I pay tithes-I get blessings, if I go to the temple-I get blessings, if I go to church all 3 hours and embrace and fulfill my calling-I get blessings. If I don't do those things, I wont get blessings. Well I needed blessings so I did those things, and for most of my time in church it was great! I was getting blessings, more like seeing the positive in life but hey, if thats what it takes to tap into that happiness I'm all for it. I felt like I belonged and I had a great personality and a weird upbringing so I was interesting and different, which meant I made friends easily in my singles wards, as well as other wards I would visit. This block of time between ages 20-30 was magnificent, I was living the life of a good Mormon girl, and fulfilling all the requirements for living the gospel to the fullest.
The problem was when I wasn't living the gospel to it's fullest, I'm sure most of the members have been in this boat before. There are times where my faith wasn't good enough to pay tithes even though rent was due, or I hated my calling and was bitter about it, or I was depressed and couldn't make it to church functions and meetings. I started having a detrimental thought process of guilt, and worth issues. The more I fell away the more these thoughts would consistently run through my brain.
Things like-I'm not good enough to take the sacrament because I couldn't pay tithing this month, and I don't want to face the bishop so I wont go.
I confused happiness and success with worth, the culture teaches this unintentionally, though it's not doctrine it's definitely present. The idea that if you aren't living the gospel to it's fulness you aren't "worthless, just LESS WORTHY" seriously, I don't want to be considered less worthy because I'm making simple mistakes, it's my God given right! Think about it, if someone is having a hard time in life, don't you think..."I wonder if he/she is doing everything right spiritually?" I did initially but would try to change those thoughts to "we all have trials." But I know some people think that way, and it's hurtful. Also by that logic we are all less worthy because we are all sinners right? Right? I always heard "the Temple is for imperfect people" but the requirements to be able to attend were borderline perfection. So that was confusing sometimes.
I struggle with low self esteem in general, and because my entire identity centered around the church, every aspect of my life was hazed by these negative thoughts and spiritual interpretations. This is something I'm still working through and changing, I cannot feel guilty and cry every Sunday because I perceive I'm failing in life, God, family all these things only because I couldn't live up to the expectations of the church at that point in my life.
The idea that happiness will only come to you if you get married in the temple to a return missionary, have babies etc...as a woman this was my destiny regardless if I could have kids or not, I could always spend 30k and just adopt right? This is ludicrous and devalues women who can't have children, and who can't afford to adopt. Often I would feel disregarded and my opinions unvalued because I didn't have kids, because I didn't know how hard it was. I get it, I don't know what it's like, but I'm a woman and I needed to be valued in church even though I wasn't on the path to divine motherhood (I really respect mothers by the way, you guys are amazeballs.). Though I felt this way, it was probably my clouded perception. I had a lot of good women try to bring me back, visiting teachers that came every month and generally tried to lift me up.
For that I am grateful.
Social anxiety is a beast.
Saturday evenings consisted of keeping myself occupied by any means possible because I knew Sunday morning was going to be a battle. A battle of "I SHOULD GO, but I'm such a horrible person" and "I just can't today, I'm so weak" or " I can't pretend to be happy anymore, I'm so fake" or my personal favorite "I haven't prayed or read scriptures in a while, I'm not worthy".
When I did go it was agony for me, those of you who know me well know that I'm an empath. Empaths tend to be overstimulated by large groups of people simply because we absorb emotions. You know how sometimes you're really tired and grouchy, and the kid behind you is whiny and repeatedly kicking your pew, then the lady at the pulpit is having a emotional spiritual moment and you're desperate to know what she's saying but between the primary kids (which should be their own branch it's so big) and her sniffles you can't make it out. The older person in front of you is sleeping, another is coughing and I ALWAYS worry someone is going to vomit. Vomit is my worst fear. Anyway, all those emotions are just seeping in, this last ward was particularly difficult to me because we live in a heavily populated, low income area which is mostly new parents, students, etc. The social anxiety isn't considered a good enough excuse, I tried to get my temple recommend a year ago because I love the Temple! It was one of the few places I felt I could meditate and worship in peace. But my bishop required me to come to church every Sunday for all 3 meetings for 2 months, (even though we had been attending regularly, but would skip the last 2 hours because of my anxiety) before he'd even discuss getting an interview. I couldn't do that to myself, the prospect was daunting and I had to find another way.
The day we decided to just stop
It was a Sunday morning, and I was crying in the kitchen again, my heart breaking again and again every week. I looked at my husband and I said "Please, I can't do this anymore, I don't want to be LDS anymore" and he just hugged me and said "ok" it was that very moment months ago that my life changed and I was able to take control of my thoughts. Andrew has his own reasons for not wanting to go anymore, I've tried to get him to piece it out and figure out why but he isn't like that. He makes a decision and he sticks with it. I'm so emotionally directed in my life, everything I do is entwangled in my emotions, so even though we decided to stop going, I still had heartbreak for a long time.
Well telling family and friends was like coming out of the friggin closet. When I told my father in law it was less than timely, we were talking about my business and he asked about church, and I literally blurted it out. He was driving, and had to pull over, at one point he barked "WHAT ELSE ARE YOU DOING ON SUNDAYS? IS THE BOOK OF MORMON ALL OF A SUDDEN NOT TRUE?" Some of you might find this negative, but I found it sweet... awww he's mad! When someone is upset with you they love you. My father-in-law is a wonderful, kind man and an unexpected father to me personally. I love you dad! I appreciate the love and effort you put into Andrew and I, you do it for all your kids (8), he really is amazing.
Andrew and I had to make a decision on whether or not to stay married because so much of what we based our foundation on was the gospel. This might sound weird, but long before we ever tied the knot Andrew told me he was gay. It's why we never really "dated" all those years we were friends. When we decided to date and get married we just knew it was supposed to be. We have been together for 9 years, married 6. Being in a mixed orientation marriage is not easy, I do not recommend it. Though Andrew and I are very much in love, and have a wonderful time together, I have to admit that having a husband not sexually attracted to me has been difficult. The negative in the marriage mostly is in my own mind, I've had to adapt so that we can live happily. To be completely honest, the sexual orientation thing is not the biggest problem for us. Mental illness, life changes and learning to grow with one another is the hardest...so normal stuff.
Some of you may be wondering why I'm airing out my dirty laundry. It's because you invested in me, you invest in my life whether you're my best friend or even just an acquaintance. I invest my time into you as well, I love "stalking" people I haven't seen in ages, happy for my friends expanding families new jobs etc. I figured a blog would be the best to really get to disclose my reasons, and I'm not expecting too much.
I still love the church, I want to attend church things like baptisms and blessings. I respect that those I love have a spiritual truth that they uphold, even if I can't. I have so many friends and family that are advocates of change in the church, things like equality and gay rights. I don't feel bad for quitting, I needed to take control of my mental health, unfortunately, I had to give up a huge part of my identity in the process.
Andrew and I still believe in God, but we are just finding a different path. I'm trying new things and stretching myself spiritually and organically. I'm letting my own spiritual path unfold before me and finding my own truth. I have found that if the path feels loving and free thats the path for me. Love, unconditional love. That's all I can offer and it's all I can hope for.