I lost my faith when I was sixteen. I lived in secret for a full year, afraid of the consequences of leaving. When I did muster the courage to leave Mormonism, the fall-out was even worse than I feared. The activities and obligations of Mormonism are all-consuming; between the restrictions that publicly marked me as Mormon and the time-intensive church activities, Mormonism was an identity, a community, and a way of life. Where I grew up, Mormons were a minority; at school, I was the non-drinking, non-swearing Mormon girl who woke up at 5:30 every morning to attend an early-morning seminary class.
Then I left and the community I was raised in crumbled around me. I grew up with Mormons; they were my family friends, my school-mates and comrades. I saw them on a daily or weekly basis; we shared the common bond of being a minority group. I knew that leaving would cause a rift but little did I know just how much. My conversations with people I had known for a lifetime suddenly became missionary-based. In spite of a lifetime of faithful church attendance – and being respected as a good teenager – the conversations became about assessing my level of knowledge and my worthiness. The perception is that members only leave because they are sinful, prideful, deluded by Satan, or ignorant of the Gospel. After leaving, the questions I was asked indicated that members were trying to assess which category I fit into. I was never asked my reasons for leaving; I was merely asked to come back into the fold.
Sometimes I miss being a part of a community. Mormonism, for all of its flaws, has the benefit of being a strong community. Members look after each other; if someone is in trouble, people will volunteer their time and effort to help out. When my brother was building a house, the missionaries and members were there every Saturday, volunteering their time to help out. I have seen my brothers volunteer their time to help members move. I have a lot of respect for the hard-work and dedication of Mormons.
But leaving – and dealing with the associated consequences – has left me with a slew of trust issues. I never dreamed that I would lose lifelong relationships so quickly after leaving. I never dreamed that the people who had known me a life-time would make such quick assumptions about my character, simply because I left. I never dreamed that I would lose the respect of my parents so quickly, in spite of an abundance of evidence that indicated I was a good kid. Mormonism is an all-consuming identity; you are either all-in or all-out. Issues are phrased in black and white – you are either pro-Mormon or anti-Mormon. By crossing that divide, I was forced to abandon Mormonism altogether. This experience has left me skittish about communities at large. Perhaps this fear is logical. Perhaps it isn’t. Either way, the fear is still there.
There is a grieving process associated with losing a community. At first I was angry. On some level, I still am, as Mormon teachings have an “us versus them” mentality that makes interfaith relationships tricky, if not impossible. But most of all, I am sad. I am sad that I no longer have anything in common with the people I grew up with. I grieve that there is a divide between us that I cannot cross.