As of a few years ago I knew where I came from, I knew who I was and I knew where my life was headed. As long as I stuck to the script it would all work out as planned. It didn’t matter what hardships I might face in life because I knew God had a plan for me and that in the end it would all work out. I was raised out west in a very Mormon family. I have Mormon stock going back generations on both sides of my family so for me it was more than just a belief but a part of my identity. Being a Mormon was in my genes.
When I was 18 I enlisted in the Marine Corps and for the first time experienced life outside of the sheltered world I had grown up in. My rack mate was a Buddhist and the guy next to me was a black kid from LA. There was one kid who was a self proclaimed Wiccan and another guy who kept getting pictures of his sister in bikinis at mail call. One guy had lost so much weight just to get into the Marine Corps that he had extra folds of skin that the Drill Instructors made him lift up every night during hygiene inspection to make sure he cleaned under there. As far as I know I was the only Mormon in my platoon and for the first time in my life I felt like I was in the minority.
Soon after enlisting I married my high school sweetheart and started a family. We stayed busy having babies, working, going to school and staying active in our church. By 25 we had three kids and I was just finishing my undergrad in History. By this time I had already deployed to Iraq and a handful of other countries. I had accepted a commission and would soon leave the west for Virginia. I was happy and life was good.
Something had changed though. In school one of my classes, The History of the Biblical World, challenged how I saw things. For the final paper I was to research a story from the Bible and write on it from a historical perspective. I chose the Exodus thinking it would be easy to find evidence of such a major event in world history. As I began my research I came up with nothing. No real evidence that the Hebrews were ever in Egypt or that they wandered around the wilderness for 40 years. I though for sure I would get a horrible grade for coming to the conclusion that this was just another origin story passed down and embellished through the generations. I thought for sure I had missed something. But I ended up getting a good grade on the paper which left me with more questions than answers. It was at this point that I began to doubt the literalness of scripture.
While I shelved these doubts on my proverbial bookshelf, deciding not to really address them head on, they were still there. And as the years went on I only added more and more to the bookshelf. Eventually the bookshelf crashed and my doubts turned into disbelief and eventually into anger. Anger that I had lived my whole life according to the rules and doctrine of a church that I now believed to be a fraud.
In order to be a Mormon in good standing you have to live a very disciplined life. There are prohibitions on what you eat and drink (no coffee, tea, alcohol or tobacco), restrictions on premarital sex, no rated R movies, no cursing, and and you’re expected to give 10% of your income to the church among many other requirements. Faithful Mormons who have been through the temple even have special underwear they have to wear both day and night. Up until this point I had tried my best to keep all the rules. I wasn’t perfect but I tried and when I failed I did my best to make up for it.
When my bookshelf came crashing down I became angry that I had lived my whole life trying so hard to keep all these rules. I felt like I had missed out and I began to rebel. If the Church said something was prohibited and would lead to unhappiness I wanted to prove them wrong. As a result I began making really poor decisions. For almost two years I was lost and had no idea where I was going except as far away from the Church as possible. Alcohol, drugs, tattoos, even a string of affairs. It was a really dark period of my life and eventually it all caught up with me.
Finally everything I was doing came to light. I finally realized how destructive my actions had been not only to myself but to the people around me. I hurt the people that I loved more than anyone and made a few people really, really mad. I lost my family and the respect of a lot of people who had looked up to me. I lost a lot.
I now feel like I’m in a new chapter of my life. One in which I have to figure things out for myself instead of relying on a blueprint handed to me from on high. It’s not the life I expected but it’s the one I have and I’m doing my damnedest to make it the best one I can. I’ve made amends with the people I’ve hurt and tried my best to become a better person. Recently someone close to me asked if I’m happy with the way I’m living my life and I can honestly say that I am. I feel like I’m living a more authentic life than ever before. I certainly don’t have it all ‘figured out’ and I no longer feel the anger I once had toward the Mormon Church. I’m an adult and I accept responsibility for my actions. I learned a lot being a Mormon. I learned about service, hard work, honesty, integrity and loyalty. I threw a lot of that out the window along with the magical stuff. I’ve come to realize that that was a mistake and that leaving the church isn’t an all or nothing proposition. I’ve chosen to hang on to the things in which I find value. The things that make me a better person. I also understand now that I don’t have to let my past decisions define who I am today or who I will become tomorrow. It’s an exciting time in my life right now and I can’t wait to see what this next chapter will bring.