Relief at Finding

First let me say how much of a relief it is for me to have found this website. Never before had I felt truly understood in this world, but hearing these stories has made me realize that I'm not alone. Thank you so much.

Let me start by explaining that my life as a Mormon was anything but typical. I was three years old when my older sister started attending LDS services with a friend from school. Eventually, my older brother and my mother (who had been wrongfully excommunicated from the Jehovah's Witnesses before I was born) began attending meetings, as well. My father showed no interest whatsoever, but did not discourage us from attending, though he never did himself. Looking back, I'm sure that part of the reason he did not join us was because he does not find religion to be of utmost importance, though he is spiritual. He also enjoyed taking part in "worldly" experiences. He was a heavy coffee drinker, a smoker, drank alcohol from time to time and every once in a great while would smoke marijuana with his college buddies (though I only recently discovered this). I know that my dad never felt that these activities were condemnable, so why would he join a faith that told him they were?

My sister was soon baptized, followed by my mother and my brother. But not too long after his baptism, my brother stopped attending and eventually became somewhat of a delinquent (skipping school, smoking pot, getting involved in a variety of illegal activities with his friends) and found himself getting into all kinds of legal trouble. I recall my parents receiving more than one late night phone call from the police regarding my brother. I believe that the church did try and reach out to him on several occasions, but he made it clear that he was not interested. He did eventually clean up his act and enlisted in the Army before being sent to Iraq. But he has never returned to the church.

It was also around this same time that my sister stopped attending. She too began participating in questionable activities, though she never had brushes with the law like our brother did. But it only lasted about a year or two before the missionaries began talking her into coming back. By the time she was 20, at our mother's urging, she'd moved out to Provo and began attending BYU. A year later she was attending a mission in Bolivia. When she came home, she was the epitome of a "Molly Mormon". She finished nursing school at BYU and found herself a nice returned missionary to marry. They now have the most perfect and ideal little LDS family and she's expecting baby #3.

And then there's me.

It didn't take too long before I started noticing the differences between myself and the other kids my age in the congregation. My best friend at the time was the bishop's daughter and the youngest of seven children. She was a very moody and impetuous child and I often received the brunt of her sour attitudes. She would constantly make me feel bad about the fact that I was nine years old and still not baptized or that my father wasn't a member of the church. Of course, there were good things about our friendship too, but in looking back, I struggle to remember what those things were.

I also recall all of the other kids my age and older looking at me with a kind of disdain, like I wasn't Mormon enough or something. For example, I might make a somewhat off beat joke and everyone would stare at me as if I had just renounced the Church's gospel and was devoting my life to Satan. I remember I constantly felt different and generally disliked and misunderstood.

To add insult to injury, I was also tormented by my peers in school for being chubby (among other things), so to go from ostracism in school to being given the cold shoulder by fellow church members, I felt that I had no place to turn.

Then around the age of thirteen, I started questioning church teachings and doctrine. I would ask my mother, my bishop "Why does the church discourage women from having careers?", "Why is there so much pressure to serve a mission, get married right away and start having a bunch of babies?", "Why are there no black bishops outside of the Genesis ward?" or my personal favorite: "Why does God not recognize marriages outside of the Church? Does He think a Lutheran couple, for example, is less deserving of being together forever in the afterlife than a Mormon couple? Aren't we all equal in His eyes?". These were questions that I only ever received convoluted and vague answers to and this frustrated me infinitely.

By the time I was fourteen, a series of events unfolded that made attending church services and activities low on my list of priorities. I had lost a friend of mine to suicide, experienced rejection from my first ever serious crush and found myself becoming fascinated by Wicca, paganism and the occult in general, the practice of which was forbidden. I remember my parents finding me wearing a pentacle necklace and accusing me of devil worship, forbidding me from even so much as learning about witchcraft and the like. Of course, anyone who has truly done their homework on the subject knows that Wicca and paganism both have nothing to do with Satan and that the association of it to Satanism stems from a propaganda campaign started by the Roman Catholic Church.

Anyway, I digress.

By high school, I had almost completely stopped going to church. My depression had finally taken over and I had dedicated my life to the punk rock lifestyle, smoking cigarettes and weed whenever either one was available to me and exploring my newly realized bisexuality. I even went so far as to get myself expelled from school (which I still maintain was a little too harsh, considering the circumstances that conspired) and spent the rest of the school year surfing the internet and wallowing in my own self pity.

The new bishop tried reaching out to me, saying that he was concerned I was going down a bad path (though anyone with half a brain could've seen that). I explained to him that I was no longer interested in the church and that I had long since questioned it's teachings as well as my faith in the existence of God and Jesus Christ. What if there was no God and everything I'd ever been taught was b.s.? It seemed entirely possible to me. And in addition to that, I had grown tired of the treatment I received from the other girls in Young Womens and even some of the older church members, his own daughters being some of the most judgmental among them.

And then on my fifteenth birthday, a Young Women's advisor stopped by the house with a birthday cake and a new girl who had just moved to the ward. She, too, dressed in the punk rock style and was friends with many of my friends at school. We hit it off instantly and she convinced me to attend Girl's Camp the next week. I was thrilled! A girl with the same attitude and worldly demeanor as me, and yet, she's a Mormon!

At camp, my friend, her sister and another rocker-type girl we'd met there wreaked havoc and apparently were a frequent topic of discussion, though we ourselves were never confronted. Even the times that I attended church services after that I felt like everyone in the congregation was staring daggers at us.

Looking back, I do admit that my behavior in church became disrespectful towards the end and I am embarrassed about that. I suppose the only thing I can say in my defense is that only one person made me aware of my behavior and that was my former best friend, but by then she'd proved to have been one of the most judgmental and unsympathetic girls there, so I always took what she said with a grain of salt.

I can still recall the last time I attended a service. The teacher was talking about the consequences of pre-marital sex and told us that those who stayed chaste until marriage would continue to have the privilege of taking part in the sexual act in the Celestial Kingdom, but all others would lose their ability to do so in the afterlife. I was highly skeptical and somewhat offended. And then I was informed that the lesson was taught with my friend and myself as the focus, that we were obviously promiscuous. That was the day that I had had enough and I have not stepped foot in an LDS church since that day.

Through the rest of high school and for the first year or so after I moved out of my parents' house, I went off the deep end. I started drinking often, smoking weed on a daily basis, delving into deviant behavior and just all around making unbelievably stupid decisions. I couldn't hold down a job, I dropped out of college, I wasn't paying my rent, I couldn't afford to put gas in my tank and what little money I did have went to my marijuana addiction or any other drug I was offered. My depression was out of control.

After about a year, I was ready to gain control of my life. I forbade myself from buying weed and all other illicit substances aside from cigarettes and cleaned up my act. However, I had become of the opinion (and I still do feel this way) that there is nothing morally wrong with drinking, doing drugs or having sex. In moderation, of course. But my body is my body and what I choose to put in it should not decide whether or not I'm a bad person. In my opinion, the only things that are truly wrong and immoral are anything that hurts someone else, cheating, lying or any other kind of action that has malicious intent. But there was something still gnawing at the back of my mind, something that told me that God was unhappy with me.

From time to time I considered going back to church. Perhaps I just needed to write off all of my friends, end my lifestyle and start going back to church and then that guilty feeling would go away, but the more I really considered it, the more I knew that I could never actually be happy that way. I wasn't happy at church when I was younger and I'd be even less happy there now. I'm not a "Molly Mormon", nor will I ever be.

So I considered other faiths. I was intrigued by Buddhism, but felt that the only belief I could get behind was the concept of reincarnation. And then I realized what the problem was and it wasn't just with the LDS faith, but with all religions.

There is no proof that a higher power exists and there is much evidence to support the theory of evolution and the Big Bang. Perhaps there is no God at all? Or perhaps the reason he has not revealed himself is because we're not meant to know? Or perhaps life is just some kind of experiment created by intelligent life forms?

Or perhaps it just doesn't matter and the important thing is to just enjoy our lives while we can because this may be the only chance we get to do so.

At the moment, I consider myself an Atheist and you know what? For the first time in my life I'm happy. For the first time, I don't feel like I'm being watched by some omnipotent being that will strike me down the second I do something naughty. I feel free at last!

I don't rule out the possibility of a higher power, but I have decided to stop concerning myself with it. If the time comes that a religion truly speaks to me, then maybe I'll join. But for now, I've stopped worrying about it because truthfully, it's just not that important.