It’s really hard to know where to start a story like this… So I guess I’ll start the only place that makes sense: The Beginning.
Born Into It
I was one of the few lucky ones (or so I was always told) to be born into “The Church”. I was raised in it from day one. I love my parents. They have always done their best to teach me to be a good person. The hardest part for me was that it was always withing the context of “The Church”. I was always worried about being good enough—read worthy—to be accepted. This lead to me always being scared to be honest. From a young age I developed the (bad) habit of lying about the things I did, liked, or didn’t like.
Baptized at 8
When I reached the ripe old age of 8 I was to be baptized. I was put in a room with a strange man I barely knew, asked a bunch of questions I didn’t really understand, and it was proclaimed that I was “worthy”, and “ready” to be baptized. I was really glad though, because I was worried that I would accidentally answer one of the questions wrong (a common theme through all the “worthiness” interviews I would have throughout my life).
Sadly, that wasn’t the end of my fear surrounding my baptism. When the day came for me to be dunked I was terrified. I kept thinking to myself, “I’m about to make a lifelong commitment. How can I do this when I’m only eight!?!”. I was all dressed up in my white jumpsuit, in the bathroom / dressing room of the local church building, freaking out. I refused to come out.
Two of my brothers (one older, one younger) came in to persuade me to come out. After some goading (I can’t remember exactly what was said), they convinced me to come out and be baptized. That was the beginning of me suppressing my true feelings in favor of what would make those around me happy. 19 years of sacrificing my happiness for others would not be kind to me.
Steady Progression Through the Ranks
Age 8 to 12 went by in pretty much a blur for me. I can’t really remember a lot from this time, other than I played a lot of baseball and had a crush on a cute girl from church. But boy oh boy was I nervous for 12. For Mormon boys, age 12 is when you are given the Aaronic priesthood and ordained to the office of Deacon. God that’s a mouthful.
So there I was, about to turn 12, and I’m freaking the fuck out again because I have another interview with the bishop. I am scared that I’m going to fail the interview. I’m worried that I’m going to somehow bring this shame down upon my family. So I go into this interview (all alone, with a strange man) just shitting bricks.
Amazingly I pass. I’m not a failure. Although, I’m not really sure about some of the answers I gave, I just said what I thought the Bishop wanted to hear so that I wouldn’t fail my interview.
I don’t really remember the day I was given the priesthood, but I do remember that it wasn’t long before I was in yet another interview. I quickly discovered in this interview that the Bishop was going to ask me to be the Deacons Quorum President.
I was asked all sorts of question, and again, gave the answers I thought the Bishop was looking for. Only, the difference was this time I had started to get curious about girls. That curiosity led to searching the internet. Those searches led me to pornography.
The LDS Church would have me believe that I was committing the most vile sin I could possibly commit. I was breaking the law of chastity. According to the Book of Mormon, this sin was second only to murder. On top of that, by viewing pornography once or twice a week for a few minutes at a time I was addicted to it, and this addiction would be harder for me to break than a hard drug habit.
This lead me to have incredibly low self-esteem. I hated myself every time I looked at Porn. I sometimes wanted to kill myself because I felt like I was so unworthy (worthless). From this time, until I was on my mission at age 19 were some of the worst years of my life. The guilt and shame I carried around every day was something that was incredibly hard to cope with, and because of it I lost nearly all of my ability to feel (which later nearly brought my marriage to a screeching halt, but we’ll get to that later).
From when I was 12 until the time I left on my mission at age 19, every time I went in for an interview I was filled with guilt and torment but was forced to lie to maintain the facade of the perfect mormon boy. I was forced by the social pressures of the church to pretend to be something I wasn’t. Something that for me was unnatural.
As a youth, I served in every possible leadership position. President of every age group, scout troop patrol leader, etc. I didn’t seek these positions out, but they came to me anyway. I didn’t want them, but they landed in my lap regardless. I hated the pressure they put on me to teach lessons and inspire me peers to be something that I wasn’t.
I had an older brother who went on his mission a year before I did. I knew it was something that would be expected of me. Honestly, it was something I was actually looking forward to. I ached for the chance to be away from home on some far-flung adventure. I had lied to myself for so many years about being okay with the church that by this point I think I really believed it.
I won’t deny that I had “spiritual experiences” growing up either. I’ll also point out that if you pray about something hard enough for a long enough period of time you’ll eventually get the answer you’re looking for. So yeah, I did really feel like I “knew” the church was true, even thought that knowledge was based purely in feeling.
I lied and lied my way through my mission interviews, because porn. Yep, I still liked it (and still do). Although according to most psychologists it wasn’t an addiction because it was moderate to low, and didn’t interfere with my daily life (meaning I could function without it), I felt as though I would never escape it. I was just going to have to hide this awful part of myself for the rest of my life.
I think thats another reason I was really looking forward to my mission though. Mormon missionaries then didn’t have easy access to computers, cell phones, etc. So looking at porn wasn’t going to be a problem for me for two years. I think I was hoping that deep down 2 years with little to no access would “cure” me of my natural inclinations.
God I was wrong. See, up to this point, I only ever masturbated when I was looking at porn (duh), so I thought that giving up the porn would lead to naturally not having to masturbate. Yeah, no.
I got to the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo and was okay for a few days. Then it hit me. The urge to masturbate had never been stronger. I needed a release. So I found the only alone time a missionary has—the bathroom. It didn’t take long and I was good to go for a few more days until the same thing happened. I felt terrible. I was falling into the same patterns of self-hate as before. I had no confidence, and just felt all around shitty about myself.
After about 3 or 4 months on my mission I caved. I couldn’t take the guilt any longer. I called up my mission president and told him everything that had been going on. I told him I had a “porn problem” (ha) before my mission that I never took care of with my Bishop or stake president. My mission president set up a call with my stake president from home, who had me write the most embarrassing letter of my life to my parents confessing the “sins” to them also.
I was allowed to stay on my mission, but was counseled to work twice as hard to erase the sins of my past. So that’s what I did. I was as obedient to the “White Handbook” as anyone could hope to be. I worked as hard as I possibly could. I had what most people would consider a “successful” mission.
I came home from my mission ready to be the good little mormon boy I thought I was meant to be. I got a job, then another. All the while I was doing everything I could to date as many girls as I could so I could find my eternal companion.
If there’s one thing I can thank my mission for it was that I was good at it, and that gave me confidence that I could be good at other things too. This gave me confidence that I never had to talk to girls, be charming, and ask them on dates. I was also quite used to rejection, so that was no problem for me either.
I spent an entire summer (I got home in March) dating every girl in singles ward, and then some. However, it was not all roses. I had once again started fighting internal battles.
I fell back into looking at porn. I felt like scum. I felt like a terrible person who was worthless. I felt worthless because I was unworthy. I couldn’t see it then but it’s one of the great tricks The Church uses to keep it’s members down. Your self worth is tied to your worthiness. If you can’t live up to the impossible standards of The Church you feel worthless, which makes you work harder to be more obedient and dedicated to The Church and it’s teachings. You give more money, you give more time, and you feed the machine.
That’s what I did. It drove me to outwardly be the best mormon I could possibly be. And I was living a lie again, just like before. Only this time I was more committed to it.
Dating and the Wedding
After my summer of dating I decided that I needed a break. So naturally it wasn’t long before I met Rachel. She was exactly the girl I was looking for. We seemed perfect for each other. So many common beliefs, interests, and passions. And just like me, she wasn’t perfect.
Rachel and I had sex not long after we began dating. I was devastated with myself. I decided I needed to confess to my Bishop what we’d done, so I did. I was told “you need to either break up with her, or marry her”. I loved (and still love) Rachel, so I decided to marry her.
The really sad part about our wedding comes next. Just like every mormon boy and girl who are honest and confess that they broke the law of chastity (let’s be honest, most do, but most lie about it) we wanted our Bishop to marry us. Though, he said that if he were to marry us it had to be done exactly as The Church Handbook of Instructions dictates. We were to have no march, it was to start and end with prayer, and it was to be like any other church meeting with a quick little marriage ceremony in the middle.
It was designed to be as shameful as possible. It was designed to let us know that we weren’t getting married correctly. We weren’t worthy of a real wedding. It was one more way The Church kept us in our place.
I can hear you saying it now though: “Hey, I wasn’t married in the temple! Our Bishop married us and it wasn’t at all like that”. Laddies and Gentlemen, I give you Local Leader Roulette.
The Actual Marriage
The first ward we lived in after we were married was very established. We only lived there for six months, but during that time we made absolutely no friends.
The second ward we lived in was a little better, but not much. It wasn’t very established, but it was dominated by one clique of women. Rachel was sort of in the clique, but always at the very edge. In enough to give her hope, but not enough to feel like she really fit in.
This is my exit story, but at the end of the day, in marriage the feelings of one affects the other. The fact that my wife felt as though she didn’t fit in meant that I felt like an outsider too. It was during that time that Rachel got pregnant with our first child. It was a rough pregnancy and she was put on bed rest for a good portion of it.
If you’ve ever been on bed rest you’d know that you watch a lot of Netflix. Rachel loves documentaries, and one day she watched one about the Free Masons. She knew Joseph Smith was a Mason, and what she learned really bothered her. She started coming to me with her questions. Questions about Polygamy, questions about Joseph Smith and the Free Masons, about the history of The Church.
I did my best to answer her questions. I could’ve earned a gold metal in mental gymnastics. I was the most apologetic apologist. But it was never ever enough. It never quelled Rachel’s questions. It would work for a time, but the questions would always come back.
How it came crashing down
We moved to a new house, and we never really became very active in our new ward. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. We tried. But too many things were working against us. Not the least of which were Rachel’s questions. It made it hard for her to have the motivation to want to go to Church. I didn’t want to be without my wife, so I would stay home with her also.
It’s not that we never went though. We probably went twice a month. Just not every week. Not enough to really get to know anyone in the ward. Not enough to really form a bond with anyone.
Rachel still had doubts, and I kept doing my best to ignore them, and not let them enter my mind. I couldn’t help it though, and my testimony was weakening little by little, day by day. One fateful dat Rachel asked me if I had heard of the CES Letter. I hadn’t.
She said “Please read it, if you read it and you still have a testimony I’ll never bother you about it again.” She knew. She knew what the CES Letter was. It was the truth. There were no lies. There was no hiding behind the wall of faith.
I would like to say that was the night I lost my testimony, but it took a couple months still for that to happen, but my shelf was damaged beyond repair that night. It was certain to crack, the cracking had already begun.
Over the next couple of months I prayed hard. I read my scriptures a ton. But I also started to let myself wonder, “what if it isn’t true? What if Joseph lied?”. This was a hard thing to come to terms with. I just had to let the facts sink in.
The things that really got to me were things like multiple accounts of the first vision, timelines in when revelations were recorded (first vision not recorded until 2 years after the Book of Mormon was published, Priesthood was restored 5 years before anything was written about it, Polygamy was practiced for years in secret before anything was said about it), and white-washing of church history. I wanted to believe my church was true, but it was becoming increasingly difficult when I felt like I was never told the truth about important events in it’s history.
It was probably about 2 months, give or take a couple weeks, from when I first read the CES Letter to when I decided I could no longer believe in the church. Up to that point I tried to read just my scriptures and official LDS endorsed material, and I still came to that conclusion. After though, I dove head first into “anti-mormon” literature. I read through a lot of what’s on Mormon Think. I listened to the Mormon Stories podcasts with Tom Phillips (seriously, one of my heros). I started taking copious notes.
It was only a mater of days from when I decided I didn’t believe to when I decided I wanted to remove my name from the records of the church. I wanted to resign my membership. And so I did, and Rachel followed suit. We also had our Children’s names removed as well. They weren’t baptised yet, but they had been blessed as babies. I didn’t want them to be a “child of record”, I wanted them to have the chance to really decide for themselves who they are and what they want to be.
Now that I’m here, writing this, my shelf is completely broken. The spot on the wall where my shelf used to be is blank, ready to be replaced with beautiful pictures and experiences from a whole new world. I am looking forward to doing things I never thought I’d do. I’m looking forward to learning who I am outside the moral confines of a church.
It hasn’t been an easy journey, but neither was life before I left the church. I have had to remind myself (and others) that bad things don’t happen to me because I’m no longer Mormon. Bad things happen every day, it’s part of life, regardless of what church you belong to.
What comes next? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out!