Telling the story of my departure and return to the LDS church is difficult, not because it is hard to express in plain language or it is overly complex; the difficulty lies in telling a story that is so intimately tied to the lives of so many I love and care for. It would be callous to bring up their past trespasses as they have changed or are seeking to change and improve their lives. Let me paraphrase the preface to my leaving the church: I was raised in a typical Mormon family, except I was not. We, for all outward appearances, were pious and integral members of the local ward. My parents held callings and did their duties. Internally we were rife with trouble, pain, and many of the more difficult complications that plague broken homes who are just barely keeping together. But we did keep together for better or worse, and in that I felt the touch of what Mormons call the spirit, during one of our bouts of “family scripture study” reading 3 Nephi 11 as an eleven year old. That will have to suffice as background.
I first experienced difficulties with the church in my adolescence. I would like to classify my troubles as rebellion, but they were actually more a function of depression. Around the age of sixteen or seventeen I began a personal struggle with clinical depression. That combined with the circumstances of my family made it very hard to believe in a loving God, or celestial happiness or anything of the sort. I stopped attending my meetings regularly and began having serious doubts. So much of my experience and conviction as a Mormon was based on the “still small voice” and the warm feelings of the spirit I had once felt. As I and anyone who has dealt with depression knows, in the midst of depression feelings of warmth and comfort, are the most alien of emotions. That aspect combined with a lack of example of a “forever family” aided in my exit from the Mormon faith. That being said, I didn’t really leave the church as a seventeen year old. I stopped attending for a month or so; breathed out threats of leaving or suicide or whatever irrational depressed teenage banter I could muster to my parents and then return for a week or so, and repeat. In my final return I even went as far as taking the full missionary discussions to try to figure out what the church was all about and I came back “for good”. What probably kept me from leaving the church was really, probably a cute girl or two who were Mormons. Cute girls are one of Mormonism greatest activation and conversion tools.
As time progressed I got my depression in check and prepared to serve an LDS mission. My missionary experience was not atypical other than perhaps my initial attitude going into my mission. I didn’t serve a mission believing it was going to be fun, enjoyable or “the best two years of my life.” I served a mission because I felt connected to-and some form of conviction for-a church and principle I believed to be true; that being said I fully believed a mission to be a terribly large sacrifice and didn’t expect a very pleasant time. My actual missionary service was not easy but not as bad as I expected and I’m ultimately glad I went. I will not bother with the further details as it’s an aside to an already long story.
It was when I returned home from my mission that my troubles began. I rented a small apartment with a friend of mine in Ogden Utah, and began attending the local university. From what I understood about the way God blesses returned missionaries I assumed I would come home, find a girl, get married while going to college for some reasonable career based degree, get a job, pop out a few kids and that would be that. Things did not go that way. On my mission the girl I really liked expressed she wasn’t interested in me, and the small group of women I knew who were datable I either scared off by post-mission weirdness or were also taken. I felt lonely and left to myself.
Schooling didn’t go as planned either. I quickly found I had no direction in school. College just felt like a bad fit. In the depths of my heart I was still set on forming a band and making music. I dropped out and felt a certain sense of failure at the Mormon plan for life. That being said I still attended my meetings somewhat regularly. The real schism between me and the church took place as I was making a second attempt at college. I was drawing political cartoons for the campus newspaper, my political leaning was toward the left and this was the height of the Bush years. There were a lot of easy targets and I took a few cheap shots, but nothing beyond the standard political cartoon rhetoric of the day. A few of my cartoons were quite well respected and syndicated. Anyway, my political views got me a lot of heat at the mostly conservative LDS church. Mostly just people asking why I’d criticize the president and things like that, but eventually the negativity started to weigh on me. It all came to a fountainhead when a particularly outspoken sister heard me accidentally drop a “DAMN!” at a church activity. An argument ensued that somehow led to politics and she said something to the effect of “I don’t think you belong in the church with views like that.” I decided I agreed and I quit my spotty attendance altogether.
Over the following years my anger towards the LDS church grew. Logic is also a great tool at punching holes in faith and I did my best to cast off my once held beliefs as silly and irrational. That being said, some part of me always felt like something was missing and some deep part of me always wanted someone to come and “save” me and bring me back. Once again this came in the form of a girl. I began dating a girl who was shaky in her faith, but certainly trying to be a good member. She got me attending pretty regularly, and our relationship progressed. We eventually got engaged.
This would be a perfect happy Mormon ending, but it didn’t happen that way again. In my time away from the church I had picked up and exacerbated some bad habits. The drinking went away pretty easily, but a porn addiction did not. My fiance knew about this problem and was supportive and helped me a lot in this but it still flared up from time to time. Each time I’d view porn I could see how incredibly hurt she was, I tried to stop and was marginally successful. The time of our wedding fast approached. A few weeks before my fiance expressed some doubts, really nothing more than cold feet, but it rocked my world. We worked through them one late evening after watching a movie but I was still visibly shaken. My go-to release for stress was still porn, and I expressed a fear that I would go home and indulge. She comforted me but warned me. She said she didn’t know if she could take another relapse this close to the wedding. I went home terrified. When I arrived home I tried to call her but didn’t get through. I relapsed.
The next day tears came with my confession to her. She said she didn’t know if she could trust me. She said we should take a break. I was heart broken, but talking with her and her mom, we all got the impression that we just needed to work things out and in the end it would all be okay. It wasn’t. A night or two following my confession my fiance went out with a group of friends to seek consolation. After eating dinner, she followed them back to a “friends” house. Others left except for one guy. She was raped by him.
The pain and the injustice experienced by her in this experience pushed her away from not just me, but the church as well. I was equally devastated. I began to seek out relief in any form. I began drinking again, and seriously questioned not just the church but God and his goodness in general. How could he allow things like this to happen, and was it really all my fault? After all if I hadn’t relapsed, she wouldn’t have been in that situation. Things got worse. A friend I worked with committed suicide around this time as well. I was surrounded by darkness. It was a late summer afternoon a few weeks after my friends suicide that I decided I didn’t want to live anymore either. I drove to a deserted stretch of road about a mile from my parents house where once my ex and I had made out and I took out a razor blade. I began cutting into my upper arm; a test to see if I could do it. I could. Then I remembered a promise. I had promised my fiance’s mother a few days after everything hit the fan that if I ever was in a life threatening situation I would call her. I stayed true to my word. The conversation I don’t recall very well, but I remember as I hung up the phone, the warm glow of the gloaming and a feeling that I had to survive. Not a hope, but a need for survival.
A few days passed. I was in my basement that was my music room playing guitar. Once again the gloaming light shown through the high windows. I was strumming some chords on a guitar and cooing ahs and ohs. Soon I found myself singing. The words that formed out of my mouth were these. “I promise you, Oh God I wont give up on love” I felt that comfort and warmth again, among the most real and sincere I ever had. I wept as I continued to pray and sing and repeat my promise.
After a long session of writing music that day I wrote those words down. Accompanying them I wrote down another phrase: “I will glory in the darkness and marvel in the light,” that and my promise not to give up on love have become my mantra for my life. I soon quit drinking and reactivated in church. I consider myself a recovering porn-addict, (much like recovering from alcoholism, I feel it is a process of a lifetime) and feel like I have a pretty good handle on it now.
As for doubts, of course I still have some. The logic of religion is not. Religion doesn’t seek to answer questions through reasoning but through appeals to something higher and greater than understanding. I, as a reasonable human being, am okay with that because there is so very little I understand, but I do know I have felt something bigger than me. That being said I don’t reject science. I believe in evolution and astral-physics and the like, I feel science and religion aren’t out to answer the same questions. Science answers the when, what and how, religion is out to answer the who and the why. As for incongruencies and the fantastic and bizarre I think W.B. Yeats said it best, “Let us go forth, tellers of tales, and seize whatever the heart longs for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.”
By being open to possibilities beyond me, I feel I keep open to greater truth and greater gifts. That being said I don’t blindly follow my faith, I use the intellect God gave me to judge and decide. I have issues with certain things but they aren’t big enough to turn me away anymore. At the end of the day the reason I’m still a Mormon is I found reason to believe and I do.