I am one of 8 children. I also have one other brother who has permanently left the church. What prompted me to leave the church is that I'm gay. So is this younger brother of mine.
It's a difficult matter to explain to people the degree of psychological harm that can be done by such an organization because of its powerful influence and indoctrination asserted on unknowing children. Fear of eternal failure and separation from one's family are the most common tools used by the church to keep people in line. This is so effective on many people who were raised in Mormonism as children because it play's on a child's sense of dependency on his or her parents and community, causing a sense of separation anxiety at the thought of going against the system. In fact, it's almost unimaginable. This is overlaid with messages of Christian ethics and Godly love for us and our well-being. A sense of feeling good and "knowing" the church is true was set up all around me. It was as though awful consequences and fear was laid out in front of me, then in the same breath everything I needed to do in order to stay good with God were offered as antidotes. This is the very situation upon which I base my belief that Mormonism doesn't know the meaning of unconditional love and acceptance, some of the most important needs a child must experience in order to feel free and well adjusted as an adult.
It's been a real "trial" for me to come to terms with myself because of this super negative environment I was constantly exposed to, yet at the same time so dependent on. Between the constant sex negative messages I received (masturbation, etc.), the church's strict homophobic attitude, and my mother and father's own highly homophobic attitudes, I almost didn't survive leaving this system. I'm now in the process of sifting through my past and "resurrecting" long banished feelings that were forbidden and shamed nearly out of existence.
I'm now 28 and live in the Pacific Northwest. I'm a graphic designer by trade. I started questioning the Church when I was around 22 or 23. I knew from a fairly young age that I was different. I never really knew it was called homosexuality. I also became highly sensitive and easily shamed because of the church and its attitudes toward, well, much anything of spontaneity to be honest with you. My teenage years were hellish because of the priesthood expectations, church pressures, churning sexuality, complete lack of self esteem (which would haunt me for years) and crazy home life.
I remember being 12 and having to see a bishop to make sure I was both worthy to go do baptisms for the dead and become a deacon. I was completely frightened because I had already discovered masturbation not long before and knew I was in deep trouble (my father around that time had had the birds and the bees chat with my older brother and I and had warned us against "self abuse"). The weight really began to press on me. I remember sitting in that bishops office scared, absolutely scared. I knew he was going to go throughout the litany of questions and eventually come to the ones regarding sexual purity and morality. I knew I wasn't pure anymore (at 12!!) and knew there was no way I could lie to him. Lying would have heaped entirely too much guilt on me, so telling the truth was the only way of maintaining some sense of integrity I realize now.
When he did ask me, I somehow managed to get the courage to say I did have a problem (I look back now and wish I could have stood up and swore and cursed at that old man for being perverted). I was doubly damned because at the time my dad also happened to be the stake president. This bishop, stone faced and in deadly serious form, told me I needed to go home and talk with my father in order to become fully repentant with the Lord. My father, he said, would be able to help me overcome my "self abuse". Of course, like the good little "obedient" child I had been raised to be I did. I still can't believe I managed to muster the courage at 12 to wade through so much shame and talk to my dad about "my little problem".
He was so happy that I was able to come to him, to my proper priesthood authority, for help. He told me Heavenly Father was pleased with me. For years after that my father would periodically check in to see how "my problem" was going. I had a low level sense of anxiety whenever I drove in the car alone with dad because I was never quite sure when he would pop that one out. He was never overtly shaming about it of course. The shame was simply implicit in the whole situation.
Anyway, needless to say this set the stage for year after year of torment and pain. I prayed and prayed that God would help me stop masturbating. My god I prayed. I prayed that he would help me overcome my feelings. I felt a vague sense that whatever I wanted, what I felt must be against God. I learned to alienate myself from myself. I learned to suppress my feelings, to shut myself down emotionally. That's perhaps the thing I'm most angry about now as I try to reconnect to myself, to repair all those years of psychic abuse and emotional neglect. I could go on...
The most difficult thing I had to do was make the decision about going on a mission. I felt trapped and cornered for years leading up to that point of awful decision making. I could avoid the issue for only so long before the time would be staring me in the face, along with my family and church. I had been fed all the stories about how awful I would feel years later after having made the decision not to go. I would regret it for the rest of my life in other words. The thought of going depressed me but I felt guilt, awful guilt and alienation because I knew what I felt was against God. I knew I should feel happy and gleeful at the thought of serving Him, but I didn't. I felt like a failure because I was too weak to overcome my fears and do what was right. I'll make a long story short. I decided not to go. The thought of "serving" terrified me, absolutely terrified and depressed me. Just the thought of having to get up at 5:30 or 6:00 every morning for 2+ years alone depressed me, after all I'd been doing that for early morning seminary throughout high school. At least I could sleep in on Saturday and sometimes Sunday if church wasn't too early.
Anyway, the weight of this decision looming heavily in my face was not longer after my father had been a mission president in southern Texas, so I knew what being on a mission meant. It depressed me to go but I wondered what was so wrong with me that I wasn't thrilled to serve the Lord like my family and the other church members, the same ones who smiled with glazed eyes at those god awful General Conference speakers. Around this time when I was 18 or 19, I was living in Las Vegas with my family. There was large regional conference being held and Elder Scott from the Church hierarchy was coming down to preside. When the meeting was over, my father came up to me and told me that Elder Scott wanted to speak with me later that evening in a private meeting. I went and was anxious, but being an emotionally starved kit I was also glad that someone of such importance wanted to talk with me. Elder Scott was a nice man; soft spoken and kind. But the essence of the meeting was a pep talk on why I should go on a mission. He told me various faith promotion rumors about how either he or this or that person was hugely blessed with schooling and "worldly" affairs after having made the important decision doing the Lords work first. He tried to pry out of me reasons why I didn't want to go, but I stayed vague on the subject. The meeting ended by him giving me a blessing, promising me health and a wife and such if I followed the Lord's commandment of serving a mission. I still decided not to go. I look back now and am angry that my father would put me up to such a thing, such manipulation. During a time in my life when I should have been excited about life and wanting to begin exploring the world, I only felt fear and depression. The thought of going to school, working or doing anything left me depressed and anxious.
When I was about 21 or so I was eating dinner with my mother and several younger siblings. One of them asked my mom what would happen if a person didn't go on a mission. My mom shot back that that person would regret the decision for years to come. Right in my face. The only thing she could have done worse was to straddle up and bear her testimony as to what a failure I was.
I've kept almost all the letters my father and mother have ever written me over the years. I look back at them now and can't believe the religious atmosphere I was raised in. Just an example: "In moments of temptation, remember how Joseph in Egypt turned and ran. Remember to pray for the Lord's help, "for God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." (1 Cor. 10:13) Remember in those moments the consequences in yielding to temptation, the withdrawal of the Spirit, the emptiness and disparing that takes days of heart-felt prayer and repentence to replace with the sweetness of the Spirit". Jacob taught, "Remember the awfulness in transgressing against the Holy One..... Yikes!! This is one small passage from a 4 page typewritten letter, and only one letter from a bag full.
My father was (and still is needles to say) an incredible scriptorian. I've read these letters to my therapist and friends while there eyes widen. People looked up to my father and revered him. He was quite an eloquent speaker and I always felt proud and special when my father spoke in church, knowing that I was ....'s child.
The problems with the church were compounded by a difficult home life. My mother was an angry and depressed person. As children we were scared of her. I remember being 17 or 18 and my mother asking me if we were scared of her for some reason. I didn't know how to answer without hurting her so I made something up. Yet the truth remained. Even at that age I still flinched while around her. I usually felt a low level feeling of tension and uneasiness while in my mother's presence. As a young child living in Taylorsville, Utah, I remember feeling terrified and sickly as I heard my mother and father upstairs having the most horrendous arguments. Actually, it was usually my mother tearing my father apart. There were times I would lay in bed, listening very carefully to see if the voices I could barely hear from upstairs were the sound of simple conversation or angry arguing.
I've come to realize that the church has functioned as a great salve, a great aspirin that covered up the pain and awfulness of the home life. In many ways I empathize to a great degree with people who grew up in alcoholic families. The drug of choice with my family was religion.
I decided to break contact with my parents about 4 years ago. I needed the space to sort out my confused feelings and disorientation to life in general. It's been a time of depression as I've tried to come to terms with myself. My ability to seek the help I needed was severely hampered as any attempt at gaining a feeling of support from someone outside the church raised steep anxiety in me. It brought up that separation anxiety I spoke of earlier, ingrained in me since early childhood.
My parents say (and have always said) they love me unconditionally, but I've heard the things they've expressed about my life behind my back, revealing their true feelings. It's been ridiculously difficult trying to come to terms not only with my sexuality, but with the church and how everything fits together. It's as if the ladder you were raised on was suddenly pulled out from underneath you and you were still expected to be functional and somehow know how to go on living. My mother and I were once having a bit of a heated discussion because I was questioning the church leaders on something or other. She said just because I think they're wrong on one thing (homosexuality) doesn't mean I should suddenly question them on everything else!
I decided to break contact with my parents because I couldn't make any separation between church and parents. One didn't stop and the other start. There was no way I could be objective about anything I was reading or thinking or trying to explore with there powerful presence nearby. The gravity and pull of the system was so strong on me, especially in their presence. I was a confused and scared kid trying to leave the only system I had ever known. It's simply too painful still to try and be part of the family.
I'm angry because I've had to try and come to terms with the confusion that's been my life without the support of parents. I yearn for them at times, as any child would I suppose, but I won't allow myself to go back to a situation as unsupportive as that.
Even as I would start to question the church or various aspects of the church, my parents always came back to "people in the church may be imperfect, but the gospel (church) is nonetheless still true." The more I questioned and tried to make sense of my life, I would have these awful feelings of anxiety because I was sure Satan was slowly tempting me "into carnal security" and other such nonsense. The years of conditioning had solidified a great many anxieties in me. What angers me now is not what was conditioned into me, but what was not allowed to grow because of that conditioned and paranoid environment, namely a sense of well-being and security, a sense of true self, and self esteem. I've realized many years later now that much of my anxiety had little to do with Satan and a lot to do with defense mechanisms being shaken and pulled at. Defense mechanisms that shored up a great amount of turbulence and instability at home and in my young life, and years of cruel emotional treatment by this religion.
Some people I've spoken with can't understand why it's been so difficult. How do you explain to someone that something so thoroughly fed into you for so long, something you believed in so completely, could also be the thing that was ripping you apart? Yet to try and change that belief was like trying to wrestle an addiction to the ground.
I could go on and I intend to write a more cohesive, clear letter in the near future because there are many details and experience I'm leaving out. A friend of mine just happened to come across this site where you're story was posted while doing a job search on the Internet and thought I might be interested in it.
Thanks for your patience,
E-Mail: Author - Chris