Monica Bielanko
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Recovering Mormon

Recovering from Mormonism, or any religion I suppose, is akin to finding out you were adopted. Who am I? Where do I belong? My entire childhood was a lie. Yes it was a lie that helped make me who I am.

But still.

It's strange to think that every trusted adult... my parents, every beloved teacher, friends' parents, respected co-workers all believe in a history, a religion I find is an ongoing fabrication of man. All religions are. For the rest of my life I will walk the fine line of expressing my feelings, my truth, whilst trying not to offend the truths of those I love. It's a line I don't feel like walking, mostly because I just don't have the balance and probably never will. Sometimes I'm angry, sometimes I understand and even appreciate the structure and sense of right and wrong that Mormonism created in my life. More often than not it all makes my head spin like the possessed girl from the Exorcist, but the last thing I need is a priest. Or bishop.

Do I respect their beliefs? Yes. But not for the belief itself, only because it's their belief. There is a hole in my heart where religion used to dwell. Was I happier as a believer? Yes. I felt safer, cared for at all times. My religion taught me that the Holy Ghost is always with me and all I need do is pray to feel the spirit. Although I still feel spiritual, it's in a totally different, loose way. I miss that feeling of assuredness that everything was a part of God's Plan. That He would see fit to make it all right. That I would reside in a kingdom with my family forever. To believe is to give myself the happy ending I so desperately want. But this is life, right? Happy endings are creations of those with vivid imaginations. You know, folks like Ron Howard, Patty Marshall, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard...

My Mormon beliefs provided more comfort to me than a puffy parka in the dead of winter. And now, more often than not, I feel lost. Members would say it's because I've renounced the spirit. I say it's because I'm not deceiving myself with lies that make living in this world a little easier.

Nothing's wrong with placing all your eggs in the religious basket, those eggs will feed your soul during desperate times. Will provide structure to your life, meaning. Religion is basically a life map. It tells you what to value, how to behave when you may have been confused otherwise. Pacification. And that can be nice... dumbing maybe, but nice.

I'll never be over it. Mormonism and the accompanying beliefs are a part of my fucking DNA. Even while writing this I feel the heavy weight of a thousand friends and family members' disapproval pressing onto me. You are SO going to hell. Oh, they won't say that, of course. But the chasm is always there and regardless of who says what, it lurks there, darkly. Conversation sometimes stumbles near the edge and we nearly fall. Sometimes we do fall and arguments are had, but mostly we steer clear. The act of consciously steering clear is as uncomfortable as the falling.

Most Mormons I know unconciously have self-righteousness pumping through their blood. They KNOW their church is the ONLY true church on the planet.
"I know my church is true."
It's a phrase I've heard thousands of times in church meetings. Kids start saying it when they learn to talk, myself included. That kind of immersion is tough to overcome. Mormon guilt lives in my gut, coiled like a venomous snake, ready to release it's poison. The Mormon self-righteousness causes them to blindly behave in ways that would otherwise be out of character for their personality. They say rude things to you because secretly, they believe they are doing God's work. Most won't share it with you, but secretly they pity you, or genuinely mourn the fact that you've "lost your way". Similarly, your "downfall" reinforces their righteousness and that they're headed for the Celestial Kingdom because they wear garments and don't drink.

When I was Mormon, members used to talk about how following the religion was hard work and that's why so many fell by the wayside. I find that not believing is a lot harder. It's difficult to expand your mind. To attempt to resolve your place on the planet on your own without falling back on someone else's plan to make sense of it all. It was easier to have faith that it would be all right in the end. I'd give up liquor, cursing, coffee and whatever other grevious sin I'm currently committing for the assuredness that everything's gonna be all right. But I know better now. Faith is just a religious catchphrase folks toss your way when you start to ask too many questions. "But if it comes from God, how come the church didn't allow African Americans to hold the priesthood for more than a century after it's conception? Wouldn't the church have been on the forefront of the Civil Rights movement? Why did the church allow polygamy? Why does the church hate gay people?"
"You've just got to have faith it's the right thing."

Back when I worked at the local news stations in Salt Lake City, new reporters who'd move there from around the country often expressed amazement at the way Mormons handled the death of loved ones.
"They're so peaceful. So calm. I've never seen anything like it."
It's true. Mormons are certain that life after death exists. They are positive they will spend time and all eternity with loved ones and therefore, death is all a part of God's Plan.

Now, without the religious lullaby, I fear death. Struggle with the concept of losing my loved ones. Will I see them again? Is there anything beyond this life?

Dear God, I hope so.

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Reader Comments (33)

It is truly eerie how I completely understand every single thing you are saying. But for me, I always come back to the part that God knows what is in your heart and that you are truly a good person, despite the caffeine (which I don't quite understand), the alcohol, all the sexing, all the bad things we have done. Inside, we are still pretty good people. If someone wants to judge me b/c I don't believe like them, that I fell the wayside, then let them, nothing we can do.
I have one cousin in particular, I love her to death, but she has let religion put a huge divider between us. She moved away to Utah (not Mormon), and I haven't heard from her since. I would more then anything love to tell her how I have a wonderful man in my life, all the good things that are going on. I have tried to email her, and all she comes back with is "are you going to meetings?" you should do this and that, but she always ends it with I love you. I feel her judging me through her words, and she must think I am some heathen whore!
But you can't let all that get to you. You have to live your life for who you are.
Talking about God, how about loving someone who isn't sure god exists! How do ya handle that?
May 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJen
I've had such a hard time wiggling out from under religion and primarily the belief in the Bible, 'cause I just don't think the Bible was a story from God. I ignored the belief in a Greater Spirit for many years, and then I decided that I would pray again. I was lost because even the title 'God' felt wrong for me to say... so I decided to make my own rules; just for me. I didn't close my eyes or bow my head; I looked up, with my eyes open and the tears flowing and talked to The Great Spirit--> that's how I decided 'God' should be addressed!
May 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaren
Hey, I feel you. (something to lighten it up)

Few good quotes:

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" - Epicurus (c. 341-271 BCE)

"To you, I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the loyal opposition." - Sandy Bates

"Making fun of born-again Christians is like hunting dairy cows with a high powered rifle and scope." - P.J. O'Rourke

"The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals, and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. It's not that God doesn't love heterosexuals. It's just that they need more supervision." - Lynn Lavner

"I prayed to God for two weeks for a new bicycle, then I realized that God doesn't work that way. So I stole one and asked Him to forgive me." - Unknown

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones." -Marcus Aurelius

....and from the always insightful George Carlin:

"Religion has convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky... Who watches every thing you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of 10 specific things he doesn't want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you, and he needs money."

"I prayed to God for two weeks for a new bicycle, then I realized that God doesn't work that way. So I stole one and asked Him to forgive me." - Unknown

"Religion has convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky... Who watches every thing you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of 10 specific things he doesn't want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you, and he needs money."

Oh boy those are funny!
May 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAimee
i struggle with the same problem. when i first started thinking that all churches are a big joke, i began wondering, is there a god? is there a heaven? it's one of those things that has been ingrained in me and i really like the thought that we would all live on a cloud some day, it's hard to let go of ...

i hate not knowing what i believe. but i feel it's better than believing in an organization that hurts to feel superior.
May 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte
Took the words right out of my mouth! Was raised born again...double whammy born again...and every day I struggle with my lack of belief while other bash those very beliefs that sculpteed who I am today. Its hard! Bravo!
May 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay
I loved the balance you struck between appreciating the direction being a Mormon gave you growing up, yet resenting the blinders it put on your sense of place in the world. Good for you for thinking these thoughts, trying to work it all out and whether you meant to or not, striking just the right balance.
May 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGemma
step away from the computer slowly. quit thinking all these serious thoughts. take the subway to some place nice. walk your dog. breathe girl.
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJib
"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones." -Marcus Aurelius

This is totally one of the best quotes on religion I have ever seen...good advice!!
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteramy dee
Boy can I ever relate to this blog and these comments! Strange how strong an impression religion leaves on our lives. I'd be willing to bet there are as many people with religious issues as there are with Mommy issues and Father issues.

I'm a fallen away Catholic, 30 years recovering (I get a coin this year!) and I too was raised to believe ours was the One True Religion. (Sorry for all you doomed Mormons/Jews/Baptists/Methodists/insert-your-"not true"-religion-here. ESPECIALLY the Jews, they killed Christ you know...)

The problem with me and Catholicism goes back to about third grade when I began to question the teachings that made God seem so vengeful and malevolent while they preached he was so forgiving and loving. And as if the topic of the virgin birth wasn't confusing enough (I didn't even know what a virgin WAS), transubstantiation (the conversion of bread & wine into the body and blood of Christ) just blew my mind. It didn't make sense, even in my little, unworldly 8-year old head. I asked a lot of questions which seemed to elicit one of two responses:

1) "It's a great mystery;" or
2) "It is not our place to question God."

"Um... I wasn't questioning God, Sister Mary-Francis-George ... I was questioning YOU." Eventually, those responses failed to satisfy me and I couldn't wait to turn 18 when I fled my parent's home AND their religion, more the latter than the former. I'd like to say I've never looked back but it is indeed hard to let go.

To this day, some 30 years later, every time I'm in a plane barrelling down the runway, I still feel compelled to silently recite the "Act of Contrition" to erase the sins from my soul. Why do I do it? I guess it's insurance for a fast track to a heaven I'm not sure exists. Just in case, you know? I mean think about it: The pilot might be a Jew - and God might be finally seeking revenge... ;^)
This post saddens me. Not because I think you're going to hell and have fallen by the wayside and are a lost pathetic soul. But because religion has become synonymous with faith and people have put up blinders when most religions never require you to do that. I can only speak from a Christian perspective. The idea that all religion does is codify the masses is true in a sense. That's what's been passed down. But just because a pastor tells me something is a mystery of faith, doesn't mean that it is. I've found the deeper I get into faith, the more questions arise. But I rarely rely on the "just have faith" crutch. There's a bevy of information that exists on why we believe as we do. Empirical evidence, anthropological evidence, archaeological evidence. All types of evidence. And it's the type of evidence we don't know exists. So when someone tells me, my faith is a lie I don't have to rely on "God knows best" to refute that claim if I so chose.

I guess what bothers me the most is this idea that faith prevents people from thinking. That it's an either/or scenario. For some people, that's true. But for many others, it's the furthest thing from the truth.
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLiz
Looks like this hit home with alot of your readers, it certainly does for me. As a former Jehovah's Witness, my life has been affected by my decision to disassociate myself from that religion in more ways then I can even explain. Also, I live in utah, so I have a lot of experience with the "just believe" syndrome. You know, what bothers me most about that idea is that you can truely believe in something when your knowledge of it is so shallow. I know so many people who were raised in religious families who believe purely because that's how they were raised. Blind faith - what value can it have? Would you really want a god who's satisfied with people blindly following him/her/it? Surely the least you can do, if your going to devote your life to a religion, is do your research. Make sure it makes sense. The problem as I see it, is the deeper you dig, generally the less sense it makes. The more cracks appear. And so like us, you stop believing. It is a tenous position to be in. Leaves you a bit fazed for a long time. Me, I'm a big believer in who knows? People think they know, but clearly no one really does, so why spend life worrying about it. The one thing that troubles me most about religion is that it gives people reasons to not fully enjoy their life here. Why take full advantage of the life you have here on earth when you are clearly going to be living in paradisical conditions when you die? I think it's a copout, and if there is a god(s) that provided this planet for us, I bet they'd be pissed.
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterClint
In my opinon, it's what you place your faith IN rather than having faith.

IE: I have faith in myself.
IE: I have faith in Xmastime...I have faith that he will be doing A LOT of fucking this weekend.
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSicksadworld
<limbering up>
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterXmastime
I've sat back waiting to see everyone's opinions and I'm actually disappointed more people haven't posted.

I tend to agree with Clint and subscribe to the "who knows" theory. Although religion has provided an excellent life guide to many friends and relatives it has shamed just as many. Caused them to feel guilt for everything. Inhibited them from truly exploring all that life has to offer. I'd also have to disagree with Liz on the concept of faith. It's bandied about in religion so much and all it really means is "I don't really have an answer to that question."

May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSloopy
Xmastime, before you get your fuck on all weekend would you get to work on your own blog and post something funny. Please you big bastard, your site is my second favorite.

Talk about the Yankees and Sox
Hoffa? I know you got a take on that dumb shit

Deep breath and let your mind work some magic.
"second favorite." hmm.
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterXmastime
I (atheist) came to SLC in 92 and immediately set about reading, studying, and trying to understand the enigma that is the LDS church in Utah. I discovered what I believe is a simple truth.

It needs to be said, I have no agenda but to understand people and how to love them. In fact I recently won the $5000 Alliance for Unity Award for helping to bridge the divide between Mormons and non-Mormons.

One of the characteristics of a cult (and I hate to use that word, and it does NOT apply to all Mormons) is that membership is associated with increased status. Think country club, fraternal order, etc.

Your leaving the fold is seen as disapproval of those members closest to you and will pervade your relationships with them. As a never-been-a-member, I do not suffer that dynamic with my Mormon friends. My girlfriend; married in the Temple – disfellowship’d – reinstated, and married again in the Temple – continues to after four years of "inactivity".

Having attended worship services of almost every denomination and religion I can find, I have always been struck by the uniquely singular substance of Mormon meetings – the testimony that the church and book are true (as you point out). I have seen nothing comparable in any other church. Even the Catholic Church, while it positions itself as the only true church, it is rarely discussed publicly or in writings and it never held out as a test of one’s faith.

We recently attended a homecoming in which the entire ceremony was but a parade of kids giving their testimony. The book is true. Joseph’s vision was true. He did restore the priesthood. You know the routine. The amazing part is that my girlfriend had always denied this observation much to my surprise, so this time we counted the number of “statements of faith”. Over the course of an hour and half, there were more than one per minute. She was shocked that she had never noticed this while active.

Faith is a dangerous thing when expressed publicly. That is why the Jews made as a primary tenet of their religion, that one’s relationship with God is strictly personal, and NOT to be discussed much less directed or advised by ANYONE. In early Judaism and in some contemporary forms, it is/was forbidden to even utter her name.

Ask your Mormon friends two things.

1.If the apostasy spanned John’s death till Joseph’s restoration, how can the New Testament be acceptable to the LDS Church?
2.If you woke up tomorrow morning, and discovered the Church/BOM is NOT true, would you live your life differently? Would you go out and do bad things?
(Can you be a good person without a church? If the answer is no, then one is shit.)

Watch for Ed’s next letter at

Peace- Cliff
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCliff
Cliff, nice post. Question #1 would make any Mormons head explode with all the questions it would bring up, so it would quickly be discarded and you would hear these words, with eyes closed and heels clicking together three times. “I know the church is true, I know the church is true, I know the church is true”. Then that Mormon would magically wake up in their bedroom next to the lion, the tin man and a midget.

#2 on the other hand is what they all fear, and why you see such extremes with Mormons or ex-Mormons. Mormon belief is what holds their lives in place; they don’t do things because they are good or bad, but because it is on the list of things to “not do”. So when there is no list, they jump over the fucking cliff and drink, fuck and do whatever they can because there are no longer rules. Moderation is no longer a word with meaning to the ex-Mormon; because they were never taught “why” you don’t drink 18 beers in one hour through a bong, all you get is “don’t drink”. The same applies to sex, I will spare you the example, just apply the bong theory and you get the idea.

Xmastime, sorry, I can’t throw Monica under the bus. 2nd is a good place to be, everyone remembers who took second place.
"2nd is a good place to be, everyone remembers who took second place."

Like Michelle Kwan? She took second place a couple times, right?

May 25, 2006 | Registered CommenterEDW
Clay Aiken took second place.. and who the fuck knows where Ruben is now?
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMonica
Nice post Cliff - that is more like it. Love the religious discussions.
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSloopy
Mormons are so well trained to view any problem they may have with the church as their fault, since it could not possibly be the church's, that it is difficult to ever step out of that self-blame cycle. "If I were just a better person, if I just had more faith, etc. etc. I would have peace, I would be happy, etc. etc." Stepping out of that mindset took me several years.
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda
Sounds like your 'old religion' was never really yours. Just something someone put upon you. And that never works.

One on one. A personal relationship with what you know in your heart.

It's inside you. Not in a church full of pews.

Don't let the self-righteous put you off.
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBuffy
Amanda, great post. A point of view I never considered before.

With Catholics, in my experience, it's the opposite - but I think as a cradle Catholic that it's a much more cafeteria religion. Meaning, people pick and choose and still call themselves Catholic. Not that the church wants them to do that, but pretty much most people do without guilt. I have a friend in her 50's who thinks she has a right to be against certain things the church is for - no guilt there at all. And still, she feels Catholic and goes to church. Maybe that's not true for everyone, but it is common in my experience.
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEDW
ya know what monica, it all boils down to this.. Whether it has to do with any religion or not, we're here to have love. experience love give love receive love it's all about love. It may sound corny but if you love your fellow man you will be honest in all dealings with him. You'll have respect for all others and what they believe. Whether the ten commandments were written by God or man, they are good rules to live by. Love one another, honor your father and mother, adultry, etc.etc. If you know deep in your heart that you are truly trying to be a good human being to yourself and to others then what does it matter if there is a God or not? Or which religion is true or which one isn't. When you die, if you lived a good life and there is no god or hereafter, well then Good. That good flow of energy continues with the living. If when you die and there is a God then your one up because you lived a good life and have favor in Gods eyes. Men are that they might have joy, if thats a religious thing well it can work for anyone religious or not, and true joy is obtained by giving love and if you give it you will also receive it and it doesn't have to go any deeper than that. I love you Missy, relax, don't worry, be happy.
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermama
Wow, Monica. As someone who tried to fit into the Mormon lifestyle until my early 20s (I'm even a BYU grad), this post really hit home. Especially with regard to losing your sense of identity, never really being over it, and having to walk that fine line with family members who still believe.

I live in Seattle now and am rarely around other people who can relate to my upbringing, so thanks for writing about these things online.
May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSally Simpleton
Monica - I am the girlfriend Cliff talks about in his post. Today would have been the 24th anniversary of my 1st marriage in the temple. Another life. I was destined to live like my mother and after 10 years of marriage I got out and took my life in another direction only to fall to the pressure to come back. After my 2nd temple marriage and the subsequent divorce I have finally allowed myself to be who I really am.

Removing my thoughts and actions from the mormon way has been enlightening but also frightening. The guilt, the family feeling sorry for me, all of that continues to hit me daily. Thank you for the validation and encouragement.
May 27, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterldsnomore
The sad point about a religion is just when it stops people from thinking for themselves. You should never just blindly follow what someone - whether he is called a priest or a teacher or a lecturer - tells you. But of course that is not the easy way to go and it also includes many moments where you take wrong decisions that you ultimately have to stand up for - if you don't have the shield of a religion that protects you.

So I finally added my first post - not an easy topic to discuss when English is not your mothertongue. Monica, I like reading your blog - keep up the good work!
May 28, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkiaora
Monica, great post (sorry I've been away from the blog for a while...) I can really relate to what you feel.

I'm a return missionary, but only discovered the fraud that is mormonism in the last few years. What I've found is that the members were wrong when they told me that true joy was only found in the church; I've found much more joy outside of it. In my past life, I'd spend 3+ hours in meetings every Sunday, but often found myself bored to tears. Now, I spend the weekends golfing, hiking, spending time with my family, and through it all I find my experiences are much more spiritual than church ever was.

Every time I drive by a chapel on Sunday, I feel grateful that I no longer suck from Joseph Smith's teat. I find that I'm much happier now, and my life is so much more fulfilled. My friends who are still mormon find that hard to believe.

Every now and again, I have someone tell me, "Deep down, you know the church is true. You'll come back someday." To which I respond, "My secret temple name is Enoch." Always blows their mind, and gives me a good chuckle.

Thinking of happiness outside the church, I find that the best part is the lack of guilt, a topic upon which others have posted. Guilt is a great controlling mechanism, to which the church plays to it's full advantage. They control everything, from what you eat and drink, to what kind of underwear you wear, right to what happens in the bedroom. If you don't follow their laws to a "T," you feel deep guilt. I was on heavy antidepressants while I was in the church, and I now no longer take them. My apostacy has done wonders for my health.
June 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterUtahSpanky
Its funny how everyone has a different reaction to their decision to leave the Church. I am an Australian who grew up in the Church and left at around 18 after battles with the word of wisdom and chastity, thinking I was used goods and would never have the perfect mormon life I should have been destined to have. I am 29 now, married to a wonderful agnostic man who is very patient with me, and still cringe with guilt and shame that I am a bad person, that I am going to hell even. I know that the Mormon Church is NOT true, yet I can't seem to rationalise these old guilt feelings which seep into and taint every aspect of my life.
I wish I could be like Utahspanky who seems to have embraced his freedom.
August 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterwonder down under
two thoughts -

don't spend too much time worrying about what "IT" is, because it won't change what it is when you get there.

If ye speak of me, ye know me not, if ye know me, ye speak of me not.

I am a 45 year old recovering Utah mormon. I still live here, and both my husband and I have very visible public jobs. It's so difficult to make the change in a culture that views it as the only truth on the planet, and every meeting, church or not, is couched in the culture. I just want to scream some days at the arrogance of those around me. I have written the big letter to my bishop, but haven't really "come out" in a large scale public way. My rule for life - don't challenge, don't defend. It's not that I'm ashamed of my decision, I just don't feel the need to defend it, or get into a debate, or question what others believe. I do miss very much being a part of something, and having a community. I agree, believing, or pretending to believe, was much easier and much more comfortable. But once you move past the lie, how could you ever, ever, go back. Hey, Enoch, my secret temple name is Esther.
September 15, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdeb

"And the invisible man has a list of 10 specific things he doesn't want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you, and he needs money."

I suppose this guy didn't think this thing through. Doing those things will not deny you an entrance into Heaven. Those are earthly commandments. Jesus has two commandments. To love Him and to love thy neighbor. If you believe he died for your sins, you are going to Heaven and saved from Hell. Silly us Christians and our horrible beliefs.

June 9, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBryan

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