I'd like to give anyone who asks me for my story a place to turn to so here is my leaving Mormonism story:
I was born to a very Mormon family. I was the second of 7, raised never to drink caffeine, swear, do anything too crazy on a Sunday, etc. Little rules and big rules where followed by in my house. My parents were stern, but fair. I never really grew attached to religion, though. I just kind of went along with it because my family did. Seemed right to do. I always seemed to have an internal disconnect from the church. To me, it was a means to an end of what I really wanted: A wife and kids. In addition, my family is directly related to Joseph Smith and I reasoned that because he was family, I should follow this religion. My family wouldn't make things up... right? So, I followed along (loosely rebellious at points) and grew up in my little 3% Mormon area.
In my senior year of high school, though, my family moved to a 25-30% Mormon populated area. Suddenly it was just taken for granted that I would serve a mission. Because I was the oldest of the young men in my ward, it was expected I would go and set an example for them. It felt as if everyone's future was looking towards me. Two of the three older guys in our ward that had graduated before had decided not to go and it was expected that I would redeem their "mistakes" so that the younger guys would go as well. As my graduation grew closer and more Mormon girls than ever started paying attention and liking me, I decided that if I wanted to marry one of them, I would have to go on a mission...a necessary evil, if you will.
I dragged my feet through the whole process. The only thing really keeping me going was my parent's happiness and the thought of a beautiful family one day. I remember the bishop challenged me to read the Book of Mormon after I had just finished it. I thought this was unreasonable but I started again. By the time all my papers were ready, I wasn't done but I was a few books in. Instead of being reasonable, he said he would not send them in until I had finished again. I read through the rest of it in 2 days. Eventually, I got my mission call to the Philippines which wasn't what I expected at all. I delayed sending my letter to the Church agreeing to go and ended up writing a very short, insincere paragraph about how excited I was to finally serve a mission. I dragged my feet through setting up the temple endowments and pretty much every other step of leaving for the mission.
The MTC was not a fun experience. My companion, to his credit, was a fairly cool and laid back guy but I was a total mess. I ended up telling him one of my most personal secrets pretty early on in hopes that it would help him understand why it was so hard to me to focus, to which he ended up brushing off. I came to resent him a bit for that and did not open up much to him. During our talks with the branch president, he eventually became pretty aware I didn't want to be there but I kept trying to pretend I did. My group was full of would-be leaders and no followers, which annoyed me to no end because everyone wanted to try to tell me what to do when they were in no position to.
Fast forward several months and I'm out in the Philippines. Eventually, I got over the culture shock and I was left with a LOT of time to think. I began to realize more and more this wasn't what I wanted and I need to be who and what I wanted to be rather than be someone I'm not. I read and read and read. I got through the Book of Mormon once and started again, getting about halfway through in the 3 months I was trying to get a testimony. I prayed until my knees hurt from being on the laminate floor and I cried of all my tears, often going to bed completely drained. Nothing. The time came that I decided I needed to go home. My mission president tried to get me to stay. I asked him why I got nothing if the Lord wanted me out on a mission, let alone existed. He said I needed to decided I was going to stay, THEN I would get confirmation. I decided this seemed a little "fake-it-'til-you-make-it" to me. After a few more weeks of trying, crying, praying and pretending, I FINALLY, I got to go home.
The plane ride back was incredible, it was so smooth and I couldn't ask for a better trip back. I watched a few movies on the flight back, and in the airport I read some magazines, immersing myself back in my hobbies that I missed so much. The future seemed so open for the first time in my life. I remember thinking as I headed to the gate: "If only there were some free internet here, this would be perfect!" Lo and behold, right in front of my gate was a 15 minute internet station. I got on, wrote a few of my friends on Facebook, checked my emails, and got right on the plane. I slept, watched movies, and just got to enjoy myself for the first time in months. I LOVED not having a companion with me everywhere I went, being able to THINK for a moment without feeling guilty if it wasn't about Jesus.
Things were definitely different back home. People who had once been friendly now acted as if I wasn't even talking to them or existing. My parents immediately told me they were disappointed in me but in time things smoothed out. The most disappointing thing was that the bishop told the ward and others not in the ward about things I had told him confidentially in my return interview. It was about this time that I became "anti-Mormon", intent on tearing down the church and getting my family out.
Another growing issue with my "faith" was the treatment of homosexuals, something I never even considered until reading an amazing book, "Pedro and Me" which I highly recommend to anyone that loves good literature. It occurred to me that I had grown up not even THINKING that homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgendered persons were people JUST like me when in reality, there were few differences between us. I had been a bigot, I'm not going to lie. I was one of those stupid high schoolers that made fun of anyone even remotely homosexual. I vowed right then and there to change my ways in that regard.
Despite the intermittent good moments, eventually it (subconsciously) added up: Negativity, anger, isolation. The night before my 20th birthday, I seriously considered committing suicide. After seeing a therapist, I decided I needed to be happy with myself or I would never overcome this. I began my own search for personal truth and what made ME happy rather than trying to disprove the beliefs of others. To this day, I feel the growth I have accomplished and the happiness I truly I never would have experienced if I stayed in the Church. I dedicate myself to bringing others that love and happiness despite religion or gender or race or nationality or what have you. So, in closing, I thank you for reading my story, as convoluted as it is. I hope you will enjoy your day, nay, your LIFE to its fullest.