This month marks ten years since I officially stopped attending LDS church services. Sometime during the preceding year I'd decided I no longer believed, so I spent the summer miserably attending my parents' ward because I didn't know how to tell them how I felt. Then my bishop told me he was going to give me a home teaching assignment. As bad as it was to participate passively in church meetings, I couldn't stomach the thought of actually teaching false doctrinal principles to families. So at the next sacrament meeting, early in September of 2008, I was not in a pew. In an act that demonstrated a peculiar mixture of cowardice and courage, I had written a letter to my dad explaining my position, left it in his office during the week, and barricaded myself in my bedroom on Sunday morning. I've attended one solitary sacrament meeting since then, and that was only for one of my nephews' baby blessings.
A lot has changed in ten years.
I recently had to explain to a friend via text message why I don't drink alcohol, and I felt like my answer reflected my attitudes on a lot of things in my post-Mormon existence. "I like the idea of choosing my vices," I told her. "When I left Mormonism, I decided to try some things that were forbidden (tea, coffee, sex, working on Sundays, non-homophobia) and there are some previously forbidden things I decided I didn't want to try (cigarettes, alcohol, body piercing, meth). The whole point is that it's my choice now either way. Maybe someday I'll try some of those other things if I choose (not meth though) but for now I like that I've never had alcohol." I can take responsibility for policing my own behavior, whether it's about moral decisions or lifestyle options. That's something I never really felt I had the power to do within the constraints of the LDS church.
I relish the liberation that came with tearing up the road map of Mormonism. Life is more enjoyable when there isn't some pre-approved checklist of tasks for you to complete in some pre-approved order by some pre-approved means. You can make your own checklist or choose to operate without one. After all, men are free according to the flesh. They are free to choose the liberty of self-sovereignty or the captivity of conformity. It's surprising to look back on how hollow following each behavioral procedure of Mormonism was. It's bizarre to realize that I was utterly miserable but considered myself happy because of my belief that the only way of living I'd ever experienced was the only way to have joy. It's incredible to realize what potential for happiness really exists in the broader world of broader experience and broader investment.
Life isn't wonderful. I don't know that I'd say I'm happy without the church, but I'm certainly less unhappy. And I think it's an important distinction that, regardless of my current level of joy, I can now allow myself to become immersed in the full spectrum of emotion. I can be miserable when I'm miserable and happy when I'm happy instead of pretending to be happy when I'm miserable and pretending to be ashamed of myself when I'm happy—because, honestly, most of the times I felt any kind of abiding existential bliss as a Mormon were the times when I flirted with the temptation to defy my programming by actually being myself.
It's been a long decade. But I don't regret the changes I've made. And the fact that I am now required to look inward for moral direction and the fact that I can struggle with the weightier matters of life to come to my own conclusions and to pursue my own paths are both very empowering. Despite any ups and downs tempering my reality, my sense of emotional strength and my feeling of inherent worth are so much higher and so much steadier than they were when I considered myself a child of God and a follower of prophets.
My life is my own now. My choices are my own now. My triumphs and failures are my own now. It's a lifestyle that I find pure and delightsome. And I desire all to receive it.