Who am I?
I am a 30 year old woman. I was born in 1967 to a multi-generational mormon family. My great grandfather had many wives - 13 I am told. My parents migrated to California from Utah just before I was born. I think they believe that my decision to leave the church was, in part, due to growing up in liberal California. Perhaps it was.
When did I leave the church?
Leaving the church was somewhat gradual for me. It all started when I was about 16.
I was indoctrinated thoroughly. I believed and, naturally, enjoyed believing that I was unique, special, "chosen." I met a young man when I was sixteen and fell in love with him. He was not Mormon, but he tried diligently to respect my strong feelings about the church at the time. I was committed to converting him when the time was right.
Our relationship grew steamier and steamier, despite my guilt about it all, until one year later on the eve of our Senior Prom, we consummated our relationship at his parents house in the den. It just happened. By the time I truly realized it was happening, I could not prevent it. It was done and I felt I was no longer whole. I cried openly and persuaded him to kneel with me beside the desk and pray for forgiveness. He did.
But our secret sexual relationship continued. I began to justify my actions by convincing myself it was okay because he would become a member of the church and we would be married someday soon.
Then, while working at a local restaurant when I was just 18, I met an older guy out of high school who I became very attracted to. I guess I had fallen completely off the chastity wagon because when he and I became friends and then went out together one evening, I slept with him, too. This time I cried as well, telling him that my high school boyfriend, my first love, my chosen soul mate... could never know that this had happened. That we should never do it again.
I am now married to that man.
But that's another story.
I broke it off immediately with my high school sweetheart. How could I sin twice-fold? Pre-marital sex and adultery of sorts, as I saw it. But I could not stay away from my new love interest. We began dating casually, though we both later discovered that we were mutually exclusive.
Now here's the real soap-opera part of the story, and there's no way to de-sugar coat the drama of it, so hang in there. My well-meaning younger sister (as I learned later by reading this in her diary while snooping) had known that I was on the pill because she read it in my diary. Ironically, Mormon girls are encouraged to keep diaries. She decided, like me, that it was okay as long as I stayed with my high school sweetheart, whom I intended to marry. When she learned of the new fellow, she decided it was time to report my sinful behavior to my parents.
My parents were immediately and extremely disapproving, of course. I came home from a date and my father sat in the dark, staring at the TV with a dull expression on his face. I said hello, and he did not respond. I went to my mother's room and was greeted with tears. She told me she knew I was having sex and that I should be ashamed of myself for sinning before the eyes of our Lord. What about my salvation? Did I not care that I wouldn't be worthy to be with my family in the next life?
Still being the patriarchal indoctrinated young woman that I was, I simply asked, "Does Dad know?"
She said, "Yes."
Well, I slept at my parents home for the evening, but I packed my things and moved out the very next day. I just could not stand looking at them and dealing with the guilt. However, I was not ready to discontinue my sexual relationship and ask for forgiveness for something that was seeming increasingly okay to me.
It was on that day, and it was a Sunday, that I stopped going to church.
What happened after I stopped going?
Over the next three to five years, I began to grow as a human being. With the help of my then-boyfriend-now-husband, I learned that:
By the time I was 25, I had put myself through college, despite my poor high school grades. My parents did not support me financially. They were putting my brother on a mission, and then paying for his college education at BYU. As a girl, education was not promoted as an important endeavor for me. Oh, I was encouraged to go to Provo to meet a BYU student or returned missionary, but not to go to school. I should say, though, that my parents didn't dissuade me from going to college. They just didn't encourage me or fork over money. And I didn't feel worthy to ask.
By the time I was 25, I had escaped nearly entirely from the oppression of Mormonism. I liked myself and knew I had something to offer. I no longer felt guilty or longed to return to the pseudo-safety of the church. I determined my own values and goals, based on experience and loads of new information I finally opened my mind to digesting.
By the time I was 25, I told my parents how I felt. I faced them and told them I did not have a testimony, and that I was sorry to disappoint them, but I was not prepared to live a lie. I know that I hurt them. It hurt me, too.
What is happening now?
Now I am married and about to have my first child in just a couple of weeks. I am ambitious, professionally, and have a satisfying career. Neither my husband or I participate in any organized religion. I consider myself agnostic -- I do not know if there is a God, and I am comfortable waiting to find out. I believe a person named Jesus Christ probably lived, but I believe he may or may not have been anything more than a very enlightened person.
I am open-minded to lots of things. I guess some little Mormon scars I carry around make me extremely sensitive to dogma and authority, however. I do not think, for this reason, I will ever be able to participate in organized religion again, despite the good things many have to offer.
I am a loner in my family. The first of many generations to slip away. However, my parents and I are closer than we have ever been, I think. We are truly friends. They know who I am and they may not like all of my choices, but they love me as their daughter and I believe they respect me as a person. I am proud of how much they have grown.
My brother is no longer active, but does not wish anyone important to him to ever know. He criticizes and defends the church at the same time. He is still escaping.
My sister is an active member. She did go to Provo to meet a man and married him very quickly. I was the maid of honor, but sat outside of the temple on a bench that may as well have been marked "Waiting Area for the Unworthy." My sister has three children now. She is sadly tolerant of a low-self image of herself. I don't know how to help her when she is still confined by church doctrine that says she should be happy because she is married to a priesthood holder and is pleasing him most of the time, therefore ensuring a spot in the Kingdom of Heaven. Maybe she is happy and I should be happy for her.
I still wonder, sometimes, how my life would be different had I never escaped. Only now when I ponder these things, I do not feel a pit of sadness in my heart. Instead, I feel a wave of relief.