My family has a deep-rooted connection to the Mormon faith, passed down from my polygamist ancestors who followed Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. They fervently prayed for the salvation of their descendants, and my familial line remained faithful through the outlaw of polygamy and the Black people receiving the priesthood.
My grandmother's grandmother remained a member during the rise of feminism and women's rights. My parents were married in the Albuquerque temple after my father completed his two-year mission to Minneapolis. In my family, the tradition of baptism and saving ordinances is a multigenerational tradition.
I grew up fully invested in the Mormon faith, as had my ancestors before me. My devotion to the religion was genuine, stemming from a deep love for what I believed to be the gospel of Jesus Christ.
My LDS history was exemplary, including my baptism at eight years old, attending BYU-Provo at eighteen, and holding leadership positions in various youth groups. Forever following the strict guidelines set by the church, such as avoiding R-rated movies and caffeine. I even served a mission in Denver, Colorado and later became a temple worker and teacher in the MTC.
At 24 years old, I married my husband, Jackson, in the Payson, Utah Temple. I had dreamed of this day for years; it was the culmination of a lifetime of preparation shaped by the teachings of chastity, finding a righteous priesthood holder, and understanding my divine purpose as a woman. I had read my patriarchal blessing over and over again, carefully highlighting sections about motherhood, marriage, and my future husband.
As I whispered my new name, Adah, into Jackson's ear, I felt as though I had finally fulfilled my purpose. But amidst the years of faith, there were moments of doubt and confusion that lingered in my mind. In my ward in Frankfort, the boys were allowed to play basketball while the girls were taught cooking. I couldn't help but feel envious of their freedom.
On the drive home after our reception, I noticed that many of the cards were addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Jackson Carpenter", causing me to feel as though my identity had been erased. I have also struggled with certain teachings, such as licked cupcake chastity lessons and a heated argument with an Elder in the MTC about whether or not polygamy was truly "over" or not.
These moments of uncertainty and frustration made me question my faith. In moments of difficulty, I would repeat in my mind over and over again: doubt your doubts, doubt your doubts.
My bishop asked me during our one on one worthiness interview: “Can you explain to me exactly where on your body your boyfriend touched you? How long did it last?” I was sixteen at the time, and though looking back I can say the touching was nonconsensual. At the time my guilt told me that it was all my fault, and I probably shouldn’t take the sacrament for a while.
Leaving the Mormon church was a heart-wrenching decision for me. My first year of marriage was also my first year in my career—a career I chose as a direct result of a blessing from my father. I hated it. My mental health was the worst it had been in a long time, and it felt as if God had abandoned me. All I ever wanted was to follow him. Faithful members chirped, "he is just testing you."
My job was making me suicidal, and I found it hard to sustain faith in a loving Father in heaven who would push me towards suicidality "to test me." That would not be a loving God, but a cruel and evil one. During this time, I stumbled upon the CES letter, and my doubts compounded.
As I was beginning to believe the spirit didn't exist, I was also realizing how little I knew about the history of the church. Despite serving a mission and a life full of attending the church, I was unfamiliar with many of the basic aspects of LDS church history.
Making the decision to leave the church was not easy. It felt like losing a part of myself. The gospel, the culture, and the history of the church were all deeply intertwined with my identity, and untangling them is a long and complex process.
As I stepped away from the church, I began to see the world in a new light, and it was more shattering than exciting at first. After years of struggle, I still know it was the right decision. And though I no longer believe in God, I have more happiness in my life than ever before.
The best part of leaving the church is realizing how much I love to make my own choices. Rather than pray to a God and hope for a feeling, I finally have permission to ask myself, "what do I want?" Instead of wondering if a "good Mormon" would get a tattoo, swear, drink coffee, or wear a tank top, I finally have the freedom to make my own choices. You might say I am the god of my own world.
Leaving a religion you love is terrifying. There's an urge to bury your head in the sand. When you're confronted with earth shattering information, you may want to run in the other direction. Our own desire to affirm our beliefs keeps us safe, but also creates a painful cognitive dissonance. It's hard to continue living a life you know is at odds with reality and the truth.
If you find yourself where I was—feeling doubtful after a lifelong commitment to a religion you love—pause. Give yourself space and time to investigate. Read everything you can get your hands on. Reflect on personal experiences, both the positive and negative, in the church. Do not be led by fear or losing your faith, rather, allow the truth to guide you.
It may be scary now, but I promise there is hope waiting on the other side of losing your faith. Your investigation into history and cultural practices of the church may lead you back to happy membership. If you're like me, you may find yourself without faith in God but happiness and freedom in your newfound identity.
Choosing my own life has brought me more fulfillment and joy than I ever found in the church. I have children because I deeply wanted them for myself, not because I felt I had a "duty" or "responsibility" to have kids. I dress in the way I choose. I no longer judge people when they choose a life different from the way I choose to live. It doesn't hurt to get that extra 10% back either.
Know whatever choice you make, make it for you. Not for family, friends, or God. You deserve to choose yourself—it's your life, and you are the one who must live it.