Is it possible to be both not enough and too much at once? Because that is what I've been my entire life. Trapped between the desperate need to be kinder, more forgiving, more soft spoken, and the pressure to be less inquisitive, less open-minded, and - in reality - less of me.
I never felt fully at peace within Mormonism. It was a wild, oscillating dance of trying to temper parts of myself I was told were unacceptable and trying to pull from within me a meekness I simply did not possess. It was, in a word, exhausting. But that's what I was told life was supposed to be. A trial. A test. Full of hardships. Riddled with pain at every turn. My only sanctuary - they told me - was the church. And so I wholeheartedly threw myself into it.
I attended every meeting. I made all the right comments in class. I turned down a full-ride scholarship to the school I'd worked so hard to get into in favor of attending Brigham Young University, terrified to go anywhere else for fear of losing all the work I’d done and letting the grasp I held on my tedious balancing act slip. I threw myself into callings. I prayed every morning and night. I sang in church until my voice felt raw. I prayed again, my knees aching to lift me from the floor. I sang. I prayed. I cried. I sought out priesthood blessings and was told I needed to, “embrace and be grateful for this trial of faith.” I prayed. I sobbed. So long I forgot to attend classes, but never church. I attended therapy with an on-campus therapist, who assured me this “season of pain” would pass if I could only learn to see it for what it was: a blessing. I prayed. I struggled to eat. To sleep. To do anything other than cry. I beat my fists on the floor, my knees raw from rubbing against the rough carpet, and asked God why he would do this to me. What I was doing wrong. What on earth couldn't I be doing? I had done everything. I had given up so much to be the person he wanted me to be. Why? Why was he doing this? Why? I'd molded myself into the person he wanted me to be. Meticulously shaved away my loud voice and my passionate heart and drowned the voice in my head that told me I didn't belong. Why? Why?! WHY!
It wasn't until 3 years later, in the arms of my loving husband, that I realized why I was so unhappy. It wasn't the fault of any God. It was me. I had carved pieces of myself away - bit by bit - until all that remained was bone. And it dawned on me that no amount of pruning would ever make me the person Mormonism wanted me to be. Because that wasn't who I am. And with that realization, the path to freedom was unlocked for me.
I left Mormonism, and I was fortunate enough that my husband left with me. We were horrified to learn of all the harm our beloved church had caused. All the harm it continues to cause. It physically sickened me to hear about the many, many cases of women and children being abused sexually under the knowing eyes of church leaders. As a survivor of sexual assault, I cried for many days after learning this, as the horror of what I’d been a part of was slowly revealed to me. The truth that I’d somehow always known in the very back of my mind took shape, and the voice I’d stifled for so long began to re-emerge. The conscience I’d always written off as evil whispering doubts and falsehoods in my ear comforted me as every fear was confirmed. As everything I’d ever told myself to be quiet about was discovered to be true. It was unquestionably the most painful and pivotal few months in my life. But by walking through it, I gained the tools I would need to rebuild.
It’s all still very new: this power I have over my own identity. But I cannot express the joy it has brought me to restore myself as my own. I have learned to embrace how fiercely I love. How strong my voice can be when used to protect and defend those who matter most to me. The power I possess over my morality - which never aligned with the church I'd been told was a place of love. I am learning to love my ability to advocate for myself and assert my own needs. The capability to choose for myself what I believe is best. The freedom to see the world through my own eyes. Bit by bit, I am giving myself back the pieces I tore away. There are still moments of pain. Patches of bone that have yet to be renewed. But the privilege I have to decide who I am and what I will become is finally mine. For the first time in my life. My voice has been returned to me after decades of being drowned out. And I am finally learning to listen to it. That is the most awe-inspiring part of it all. The thousands of voices telling me what to do and who to be are gone. And in that silence, my own voice can be heard.
I am my own God. I am powerful and strong and divine. I can be bold and still be good. I can be fiery and still hold kindness in my heart. I no longer have to be ashamed of who I am. I am enough. And - most wonderfully - I AM MINE.