From the time I was conceived, it had been decided by everyone in my community that I would be better than everyone else due to the religion I would be born into. From day one, it was decided who I was and what my life was meant to be like. After I was born and with every developmental stage I hit, I became living proof of the perfection that the blessings of the gospel offers. I also observed people sharing, AT LEAST monthly, how much better their lives are because of the gospel. I became a marketing object for the church without my knowledge or consent. Nothing was mine, everything that goes well in my life is because of the LDS church and I am not allowed to struggle to further prove the narrative that the gospel blesses lives. (References to the gospel is referencing the LDS church’s gospel).
I get along with my older sister? It is because the gospel blesses families. My sister does something that bothers me? Well, too bad deal with it because the gospel blesses families. Anytime I am happy, it is because of the joy that the gospel provides. But I feel sad because it seems that no matter what I do I am never enough? Well, too bad you actually can’t feel that way because the gospel makes people happy. I get first place at a debate tournament and it is because I said a prayer before I gave my speech, not because I am actually a pretty intellectual and charismatic person that has a talent for public speaking. I am sexualized for developing boobs faster than anyone else? Well, that is probably because I am wearing or doing something that is making grown men look me up and down and make comments about my appearance.
I graduate high school with a 4.0 GPA and scholarships for achievement and grades and then I thank God for giving me the willpower to study hard and push myself past limits that no human being should ever be able to surpass. The crushing weight of obsessive perfectionism starts wearing me down more and more with each level of responsibility I gain? Well, have I been reading and praying my scriptures? Well, maybe I need to read them longer. Or more fervently. Or be more grateful in my prayers. Or fast for a full 24 hours. Or pay tithing on my scholarship money. Or become a temple worker. Or join volunteer groups. Or do family history. Or go to all church activities. Or transfer to a University where there are PowerPoints in your chemistry lectures on how chemistry proves something that Brigham Young said is true. Or have more pure thoughts. Or be more patient. Or be nicer to other people.
There is NO POSSIBLE WAY that everything I was feeling and experiencing actually makes a lot of sense due to the impossible standard I am being held to. There is no way that with each action item I do to try to get closer to achieving perfection, the worse that feeling would get and the more I would feel like I was being punished for not being perfect enough. There is no way that I am cracking from the pressure I am putting on myself to fit a certain mold.
How dare I burn out? How dare I decide I want to leave? How dare I feel like I was betrayed by the entity that was supposed to provide safety? How dare I want to defend the lifestyle I am living? How dare I still obsessively try to prove that I am still a good person? How dare I try to lend a safe space for people who felt the same soul-shattering experience that I did? How dare I tell people there are many paths to get to the same destination? How dare I try to promote people to be who they truly are regardless of any entity or external force?
And just like, the frame is switched. I explore my capacities and desires which leads me to drop my college courses because of the toll it is taking me, which proves why leaving the gospel makes people failures. I start eating regularly because I am deconstructing the negative beliefs I have engrained about myself due to growing up in a shame-inducing purity culture, and I will be proving the lack of self-control people who leave the church have. I realize that I do not need another human being and am in no urgency to get married, and it is because people who leave the church have a hard time finding people to marry. I have become the person that I have been terrified of becoming. Or, is it possible, that I am turning into the person I feared I would never allow myself to become?
And then I realize that the more authentic I am to my inner self, the more I find myself surrounded by people who adore the authentic me. I realize that as I start eating consistently I have more energy, can focus longer, don’t get frequent headaches/migraines, don’t have to sleep as much in a day, am able to find more joy in my life, and am able to be more present. I start rediscovering new hobbies and deciding day by day what I want my life to look like.
The more faith I develop in myself and my ability to choose a happy life regardless of what anyone else says, the less I feel the need to prove myself to others. I slowly stop interacting with anyone that makes me feel less than them for any reason. I start sticking up for myself in dating and saying goodbye to anyone that acts like I am a crazy person. I get high and paint pictures, write blog posts, and use my music to work through some of my major thinking errors. I disclose some of my deepest and darkest fears and my friend responds in a loving and supportive way. I am healing my inner self.
Despite all the evidence I have on the higher sense of peace from the lifestyle I am living now, I still have underlying factors that impact my ability to feel at peace at all times. I still have chemical imbalances that require medication and CBT/DBT skills. I still have fears and traumas that have been so deeply embedded in me from the LDS church and the people in it. I still have a desire to prove to all those people wrong who are constantly watching me and waiting for me to fail so that they can further their narrative.
It is completely understandable for anyone who ends up leaving the LDS church (or other extreme shame-based cultures) to have an overwhelming sense of religious PTSD. It is understandable that we will be working on not constantly falling back into other manipulative and gas-lighting situations. It makes sense that we will be carrying the shame of constantly trying to prove ourselves. The shame we feel from setting boundaries and discovering what makes us truly happy comes from being taught that our job in life was to be docile and people-pleasing. We were conditioned to feel this way.
“Oh I've been waitin' For something to change but I can't escape this Waterfall of doubt Oh my blood, sweat, and tears For twenty-some years All bottled up and broken
Let it all out
Let it all out
Let it all out
Let it all out
Let it all out”
-Let It All Out by Coin