I was raised in a home with a mormon-raised mother and a non-member father. My father was an alcoholic and both parents had serious drug addiction problems; mainly with cocaine. I spent a year living alone with my mother around the age of twelve and will never forget seeing her so high she could barely function. I remember vividly the night she tore apart the bathroom. There were toiletries and things everywhere, strewn across the floor, and all the cupboard doors were hanging wide open. When I found her she looked at me with pupils so dilated I could barely tell she had irises. I had never felt so scared and alone in my life. She disappeared behind the door of her bedroom as she so frequently had done and I stayed curled up on the couch with my cat in the living room. I held my cat close as my only source of comfort. I cried, and cried. The intensity of the helplessness and loneliness I felt that night cannot be fully described. My mother's abusive boyfriend showed up the next morning and told me to leave for school and that he would take care of her. I did as he said. This is just one of the terribly vivid memories of my experience growing up with addict parents.There were countless times where I would have to coax my high/drunk/overly-medicated father into his bed so he wouldn't fall over standing up. Despite the horrible things my parents put me through, I still loved them dearly growing up.
The point of my sharing that part of my upbringing is to show what led me to the mormon church. My mom introduced it to our family as she grew up with very strict mormon parents; although she obviously chose not to live by the teachings herself. I vowed to NEVER become like my parents and promised myself I would do whatever it took to become the opposite to just about everything they were. The instability of my childhood pushed me to cling to the mormon church for strength. It may have helped me stay away from the drugs and alcohol that had claimed my parents, but my religion became an obsession. Every little thing I did was under self-scrutiny. I would pray a hundred times a day to ask god to forgive me of any sort of "sin". If I simply thought a judgement of another person, I would ask forgiveness. If I felt angry at a friend or sibling, I would feel dirty and pray for forgiveness. I was literally seeking perfection by mormon standards. My sister once mentioned that I was somewhat of a religous fanatic; but I did not see it that way. I saw my religion as everything I was. My thoughts, actions, and feelings could all be dictated by it. I felt that if I stuck by the teachings I could never go wrong and I would never end screwing up my life the way I had seen my parents do. I did not see anything wrong with this manner of thinking; after all a devout mormon could never become an alcoholic or a drug addict... what never occurred to me was that I had become a "religion addict".
At the age of nineteen, I had a horrifying yet intriguing thought one night while working. It was literally the first time since the age of twelve that the thought had ever even crossed my mind; I wondered about the freedom I could feel as a non-mormon. My heart was beating fast as the idea expanded and I could not drop it. I went through months of internal anguish trying to decide if I should leave the church. I was scared yet excited. I wanted freedom. I knew I did. But I was so scared of life without religion. I finally realized that the thought would never leave; and if freedom was what I wanted then it was what I would have. I first told my friends, then my mother, who then told my grandma, who eventually questioned me about it about a year after I decided to leave the church. She thought I must have been offended by someone; but the truth was after holding myself prisoner to standards that somebody else wrote I had finally decided to make my own.
I will be honest, there are still times that I see something that reminds me of the church and I feel a deep fear that I may have made the wrong choice. I am still not sure of myself in this world and I am still trying to find my own identity; but at least I know that I don't need the church to stop me from becoming a drug addict or an alcoholic. I only need myself. I know that it is not me and I could never throw my life away like that. Trying to find my identity is a challenge. I envy those of you who say that you felt such happiness after leaving the church. For me, the church was all I felt I had for many years so it's been tough trying to live without it. But I know it's not right to be a part of something because I'm too scared to find my own way. I'd love to hear of others who have had difficulty developing their "after-mormon identities". Although I believe I am doing what I need to at this point in my life, it is and still continues to be a challenge for me.
Thank you for your story! I'm actually on the other side of the fence--my experiences with Mormonism led directly to a multiple drug addiction for me. Ill post my exit story tomorrow and you can see what I mean, as I realize that may sound like a strange cause-and-effect hypothesis.
I also struggle with my post-mormon identity, partially because I am only now gaining the courage to be the happy person I've always wanted to. I don't have the problem of being reminded of the church and then suddenly feeling guilt--rather, I feel strong anger. Very, very, intense anger. I am begining to realize that nothing productive is born out of anger though--if anything, I waste that much more time being angry instead of creating a happy life for myself.
I think it is natural for you to feel insecure about your decision once in a while. Maybe you should even look into religious conditioning and psychology--lots of it will evidence how psychologically traumatizing it can be for a person to leave their dominant social group. I did USED TO feel a type of guilt though--I felt halfway bound to my ward. Like...I wasn't a mormon persay, but the people in the church were "my family and always have and will be"--the ploy my parents used to get me to come to church. Even if they hadn't said that I still would have felt that way. Everyone in my ward had a hand in raising me. Our doctors, lawyers, car repairmen, therapists, etc. were all mormon. Everyone I owe any thanks to was Mormon, and so I felt guilt in that way.
I am curious as to more insight into your guilt--do you ever worry about the concept of a Hell, for instance? Also, how long have you been away from the church now? Thanks again for your story!
I admire you for telling your story. You are really brave to even have shared this, it shows how your are finding your own mind, strength and path in the world. For me, I found al anon to be a GREAT non lds support group. I found people who had the experience with what I was dealing with, who would not judge me and the experiences I was and had gone through. I went for a few years and got what I needed and do not feel the need to go anymore, but for a time it was a life saver. A sanity bringer. A reality check. Thank you again for writing this and know that you are not alone.