Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My big bad Mormon sins

I was chatting with Leigh over the weekend. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation arrive at the topic but I was trying to put into words what I had been like before leaving the church. I struggled to describe my thinking. I struggled to even put myself back into that mentality long enough to explain what the world had looked like the first 26 years of my life.

Having time to dwell on it a bit over the last few days I feel like I have recaptured it. My conclusion... The world inside of Mormonism was shallow and small... Ill-fitting like a sweater that had shrunk too much and chokes you at the neck every time you twist or turn in a funny way... Yep Mormonism was a choky sweater... Scratchy too.

In my church days I was a very binary thinker. I was completely consumed by and fixated on ideas of “right”, “worthy” and “perfect”. The church slogan “choose the right” was really all that I needed… Salvation, happiness, and immortality all came from choosing the right. It was so simple. The “right” way was to do what the church taught me to do. The “wrong” way was to stray from what the church taught.

This sort of world view meant that there was no room for error, patience, growth, or mistakes. Mistakes and errors induced so much guilt that growing from them and learning lessons from them was nearly impossible. The guilt was debilitating. Not to mention that my idea of “mistakes” or “errors” was very flawed too.

I had narrowed my biggest problems down to four. Four major sins that kept me from happiness, healing and perfection.

1. I drank caffeinated soda fairly regularly.
2. I occasionally liked to say “hell”, “damn” and “shit”. (“Fuck” was too scary… That would certainly send me to hell…)
3. I loved movies and would occasionally watch one that was rated R.
4. Of course girls don’t do this… There was masturbation.

I cringe a little bit when I remember the guilt I used to feel from these four things. The hours wasted pondering and planning on ways to do better. The sore knees from praying that I be able to withstand these temptations… Such a bad person… Clearly unfit for the Kingdom of Heaven…

Its not really these four “sins” that are sad. It was the perfection based mentality that was truly crippling. It is only when I look back at my old ways of thinking that the word “cult” comes to my mind. Strange that beliefs and teachings of the church could induce such thinking and exert such mind control. I really felt like a bad person…

Things have changed so much… Where my existence was so shallow before I now find that I have fully embraced life. The guilt I used to feel is foreign now and I am confused by why it was there in the first place.  I wake up each morning amazed by what I see around me and excited to interact with people. I revel in growth like I never did before and don’t waste my time on thoughts of “worthy”. I am glad that it took serious effort to remember my old thoughts and mentality. I am glad that it is further behind me than I realized…I am happy for the space to be me.

I burned that fucking sweater...

16 comments:

  1. I know what you mean. When I consider how often and how deeply I agonized over things that were, in hindsight, quite tiny--weeping prayers night after night, begging forgiveness for being jealous of friends or having sinful thoughts about guys...the church is so good at instilling self-hatred.

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    1. I have thought about this a lot and I wonder... Some people in the church do not seem to absorb or live by this brand of Mormonism that many of us adopted. I wonder if there were just characteristics in our personality or traits that we already possessed that Mormonism sort of brought out... Was I already a perfectionist and Mormonism just strengthened that? IDK... What do you think?

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    2. That is a good point. I knew a lot of Mormons who didn't seem to have this brand of self-loathing, shame, and guilt. I wonder if it is more likely to occur in women, people of color, people with non-standard sexual identities--people who may already perceive themselves as having to work harder to maintain the church's principles?

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    3. I wonder about this too. I am an active member of the church and I love it. I am also guilty of all the "sins" mentioned above. I don't experience much guilt over it though. However, my sister left the church about a year ago and the recurring theme for her seemed to be guilt. I have wondered if the guilt was really PTSD, I was diagnosed with it years ago and as I recall one of the symptoms is excessive guilt. I sometimes find myself feeling guilty without knowing why so have to take some time to analyze the situation and often find I don't really feel guilty after all.

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  2. It's insane how they twist your mind so that things that are perfectly normal turn into deep dark sins. Every now and again I'd decide that it was time for me to be perfect, so I got rid of all our R-rated movies and took them to Goodwill. But then I'd notice how many PG-13 movies were actually more offensive (in the language I'd have used then) than the R-rated movies, and started accumulating them again. And yes, the guilt over masturbation. My husband has no interest in sex, or at least not with me, and I've been sexually deprived for 20 years. He'd give it a nominal attempt once a month until I had my hysterectomy, at which point he quit. I was convinced the reason I never got pregnant was because I couldn't stop masturbating.

    I hate the church. I seriously hate it. Not the people, don't get me wrong. But the church itself I hate, and I have no respect for those in authority.

    Whew. Sorry. Mini-rant.

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    1. Don't apologize. Rant away! This is a safe space.

      I did the same thing with movies, music and books. I have bought like five copies of Interview with a Vampire, Amelie, and The Royal Tennenbaums... I love those movies. I would buy them, feel guilty that they were rated R and throw them away. All just to buy them again later...

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  3. Sulli, there is a great big world out there. The wonders of it far outweigh the dangers. If you get the chance to travel abroad take it. You will be amazed!

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    1. I served my mission in Spain and have crossed the borders into Canada and Mexico... I am sure you are right though. I should travel more.

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  4. That is a great description. You really captured the line of thought in Mormonism. That's how I felt too- it's great to be more free.

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    1. It takes a long time to shed the mindset but it is freeing. :)

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  5. I can deeply relate to the mentality and mind set of intense guilt that you describe here. Yes, truly a waste of time and life. I am learning that, slowly.

    Love the sweater analogy, it feels very right and yes, too tight and scratchy at times. I'm so glad that you have found freedom, growth and space to be happy and embrace life.

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    1. It is good to hear that others can relate. At times in the church I felt like I was the only one slowly suffocating under guilt.

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  6. Ugh, I so relate. I used to starve myself after every "lapse" on #4. And I used to do awful things like take ice cold baths when I did something I considered un-Christian, like the time I said this awful thing back to a guy about his family who was making fun of me about my family. I gave myself a 102 degree fever that night. :(

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  7. I very much relate to this. I was trying to think of what my "sins" were, and mostly my sins were thoughts. I WANTED to tell a dude to go to hell. I didn't want to say yes to the calling. I didn't want to clean the church, or go to the temple, or anything else... which meant that deep down I was a bad person: A GOOD person would want to do what I didn't want to do.

    I started self-harming when I was 7 or 8 to avoid #4. It worked. I avoided it, but then I beat myself up mentally for cutting... A good person wouldn't need to do that, they'd be able to just not do it...

    It makes me crazy just to think about how I used to think...

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  8. Oh... and on a completely different note: I'm LOVING the stories about Leigh, even when they aren't even really about her, but that this story started as a conversation with her... for some reason that just makes me unbelievably happy for you. :)

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  9. I am a nearly 70 year old woman, and until I married I masturbated. I repented over and over and knew that it was "wrong," but I kept doing it anyhow. Until fairly recently, thanks to our more open ways of discussing things, I thought I was the only female who indulged in such a heinous practice. You don't know how freeing that is to realize I was not the only one.

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