Depression, Mental Illness, and Suicide in the Mormon Corridor

M.O.R.E.

Early this year, I heard a vlogger decry the many suicides in Utah that happen as a direct result of LDS church policies, teachings, and doctrines. I was curious to know if this was true or not, so I did some research. I didn’t actually find anything to concretely tie the suicides directly to the church, but I did discover some interesting statistics.

In an article from the LA Times, a study was shared in which Utah was found to be the state with the most antidepressant use in America. The author states, “Antidepressant drugs are prescribed in Utah more often than in any other state, at a rate nearly twice the national average.” To be fair, this study was conducted in 2002 and things may have improved since then, but there doesn’t seem to have been any follow up study.

In 2020, Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization…

View original post 818 more words

Black Lives Matter – Apology Overdue

A couple of days ago, I drove through an intersection where I saw a young protester standing on the corner with a sign. His sign only read “BLM”, but I still felt quite impressed. He was a pasty white kid that looked to be around 18 years old, showing his support for the black community and the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Seeing him there gave me some small hope for the future. There are a lot of young people in my area that really get it and are doing what they can to promote positive change in our communities and in the world.

From other corners, I’ve seen people posting things like “White Lives Matter” or “Every Life Matters.” Although these statements are certainly true, they show a complete lack of empathy for the people that are suffering most right now. When someone is in pain and in need of support and understanding, it is incredibly callous to shout out distracting messages in support of people that don’t need it right now. All lives do matter, so let’s give our love and support to those who need it most right now.

The very next day after seeing the boy on the corner, I saw another couple of white protesters in support of Black Lives Matter. I absolutely love the fact that I live in a predominantly white community that still feels the need to show their support in any way they can. I love the way that the people who drive past wave or honk their horns to show that they also support the movement. In case I haven’t made it clear yet, I am also in complete support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

As a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I want to apologize for the historic institutionalized racism of the church and the extremely racist comments and teachings of its leaders, especially by Brigham Young and other early presidents of the church. I doubt the church will ever apologize for its racism, so I hope that its members will make it clear that they fully reject the racist teachings of these prophets. 

The church has been the direct and indirect cause of incredible pain and suffering over the years, and it has apologized for none of it. I, for one, am sorry. I’m especially sorry that I even believed some of these statements growing up. I was taught racism in my youth, and it took me too long to realize that these teachings were completely false. At least now I can say that I categorically reject all of Brigham Young’s and other church leader’s racist teachings.

In recent weeks, months, and even years, current church leaders have spoken out against racism, but they have neglected to offer the apology that is warranted. For me, it is the same as if a man were abusive to his spouse. At some point, he realizes that maltreating his wife is having negative effects on his goals and direction in life, so he stops. Later, he sees another person abusing their spouse, and he tells the other person that they are despicable and should repent. He preaches that spousal abuse is a terrible sin, never mentioning his own infractions. When confronted about it, he blames his parents. They told me to act that way, he says. I was only following orders. I don’t know why they told me to do it, but I had to obey. Never an apology. Not ever.

When I saw that young man on the street corner the other day, I felt my eyes become teary. I felt mixed emotions as I felt great admiration for what the boy was doing to make the world a better place but also sad for what I was not doing. Over the past few months, I have written at least a dozen blog posts that I have not published. I just keep thinking that nobody really cares. What I write doesn’t matter to anyone. I’m not making any kind of positive impact. 

And maybe all of that is true, but is it really an excuse to say nothing, to stop trying? I wish to apologize yet again for giving up. Maybe, dear reader, you are among those that would prefer that I just stay quiet. However, my personal integrity compels me to speak the truth, even when it hurts or isn’t popular. You can expect more from me moving forward.

Small Families Are Best

As the third of eleven children, I know what it’s like to be part of a big family. And as with most things, it’s not all good nor all bad. I can’t imagine giving up any one of my siblings. I care about them, and I am glad they were brought into existence. In fact, the sibling I am closest to is actually the last of the bunch, number eleven. Without him, I’m not sure I would have survived 2018, the absolute worst year of my life. In large part due to him, 2020 has been comparatively wonderful. There is no way I would want to go back in time and tell my parents that they really should have stopped after me, number three. No way!

Having said that, when I imagine what my life might have been like if there were only two or three of us, I feel like a lot of my life’s biggest struggles could have been either avoided or mitigated to some degree.

Every child has their own unique challenges and needs. They don’t all need the same rules or amount of personal attention. They don’t need hugs to the same degree of frequency. They don’t all need to be told that they are loved every day to feel that they are loved. Some can be left alone for long periods of time without harm. Others need constant social interaction from their parents.

When I raised my own two children, I recognized that treating them both in exactly the same way would be a mistake. So, I treated them differently. I learned how they each feel love, and I did what I could to make sure they both felt loved by me. I taught them to read, differently. I taught them arithmetic, differently. My son, though he does value fairness, was able to understand when I explained why the penalties for breaking rules could not be the same for both of them. Even the rules could not be exactly the same. They were two different people with different needs. Maybe schools and governments have to treat everyone the same, but a family shouldn’t have to. What was important to me was that each child felt loved in the way they needed and that their opportunities for individual growth and life success were maximized.

The more children there are though, the more difficult this approach becomes. I think that, out of necessity, most parents of large families use the much simpler strategy of treating every child the same. They try to show the children that they are being fair and that they love each child the same. At least, this is the approach my own parents seemed to employ. One positive benefit of this approach is that I never got the feeling that they were playing favorites. 

Unfortunately, what all of this fairness also meant was that my own unique individual needs weren’t quite being met. For example, I was not a happy child, but my parents never took any real action to discover why I was struggling. On those occasions where I felt a need to talk to them about some concern, I often had to wait in line. I can remember multiple occasions where I simply gave up and went off to be by myself elsewhere. 

Sure. My parents loved me…, but unless I did something drastic, I could never get the attention I needed. Among the things I tried when I was young were screaming at the top of my lungs, walking out and being gone for hours at a time, breaking walls, doors, and mirrors, getting F’s in classes, stealing, and even getting physically violent with siblings. I was awful, and I needed help. But did I get the help I needed? I got punishments. I got put in time out. I got extra chores. I lost privileges and access to things I enjoyed. They tried to control my behavior by meting out punishments. I don’t remember any time being spent to find out what was really wrong.

Of course, I didn’t know what was wrong either, but I was the kid. I was too young and inexperienced in life to understand my own psyche. I remember the phrase being often used in my house, “they just want attention,” whenever a child acted out. As if wanting or needing attention was a bad thing! In my mind, I was just an awful person, and all of the punishments and parental admonitions just supported that belief.

In middle school, things got especially bad. I heard about the possibility of homeschooling, and begged my mom to let me try. I needed something to change. My mom actually arranged a meeting with my principal to discuss the option, but he told my mom that I would just be running away from my problems. According to him, I needed to face them in order to overcome them. The logic doesn’t sound bad, and I don’t blame my mom for listening to him, but the choice was still wrong for me. Going home at that time wouldn’t have been running away from my problems. It would have been giving my mom a chance to figure out what the problems were, away from so many other distractions. 

A year or two later, my mom let my younger sister stay home to be home-schooled while I attended my first year of high school. High school was a lot better than middle school though, and I started to have some hope for the future. The next year though, in my sophomore year of high school, my mom decided to home-school everyone at home. For the family as a whole, this might have been a good decision, but I’m not sure it’s what was best for me personally. As just one in a crowd, my parents never really understood my own personal individual needs. 

The point of this post is not to criticize my parents though. I believe they did the best they could given the circumstances. If there had only been one or two of us, I’m sure they would have spent more time with me. They would have come to understand me more, and they would have been able to meet my needs better. If they weren’t able to understand what was going on with me or didn’t know how to help me, they would have had more money to spend on a child therapist or psychologist. Perhaps, I would not have had so many suicidal thoughts, a fact my parents never knew about me until I wrote it out in a blog post just a few years ago.

More recently, I have had some unpleasant interactions with my mom that I feel are caused, at least in part, by the sheer number of children she has. I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has caused great harm to me and millions of others, and I have written much about this. Until recently, my mom refused to admit that this could be even a little bit true. She finally did acknowledge that the “attitudes of members and the policies of the church have caused [me] pain,” and that “perhaps if [she] had [gone through what I did, her] perspective would be different.”

This partial acknowledgement made me both happy and sad. I was happy that she was starting to see, just a little bit, what I’d been going through all of these years and how the church was a part of that. I was sad that it made no difference to her. Now, this may have nothing to do with the number of children she has, but I can see how it might. If I came to believe that one of my children had been hurt by the members and policies of an organization that I loved, and that that organization was continuing to hurt others without apology, I would want to rethink my relationship with that organization. Even if I couldn’t give it up, I would want to keep my relationship with it a lot more low-key.

However, if I had many similarly devoted children and grandchildren that looked up to me and would see if I wavered in my dedication to this organization, I might hesitate changing any of my behaviors. I think that my mother believes that the church helps and blesses the lives of her and almost all the rest of her family, and I am just one sad exception. In her mind, changing her attitude toward the church might help her relationship with me but hurt many others. She can’t afford that, regardless of how it might affect me. 

To me, it seems pretty clear that numbers matter. What a parent will do for one child alone, they might not be willing to do for that same one child out of a great number. Imagine if all eleven of my mother’s children felt hurt by the church. Would all of her family-directed emails then be full of worshipful statements about the church? Would she then continue to exclaim her great joy that the church is true? Would it permeate all of her communication both public and private? No matter how much she believed the church to be true, even to the point of certainty, I think she would more carefully evaluate whether she needed to affirm that confidence at every step, destroying family relationships in the process.

And so, back to my original point, I think small families are best. When schools, governments, etc. have to treat all the same, regardless of personality differences, psychology, etc., parents should be able to do what’s right for the good of each individual. Parents, especially, should not have to choose between the good of many and the good of one child with unmet needs.

Unity of Mind

As a graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder, I took two classes which I enjoyed more than all the rest: Cognitive Neuroscience and Philosophy of Mind. These classes presented many studies that challenged what I thought I knew about perception, free will, unity of mind, and so on. I was sure that my religion had it right, but I wondered how these studies and the evidence they presented fit into it all.

One of these studies involved individuals that had had their corpus callosum (the nerve fibers that connect the two brain hemispheres) severed. In this study, the patients exhibited a phenomenon that is now called alien hand syndrome which is where one hand, typically the left, seems to act on its own, independent of conscious control. One example of this could be where an individual goes to the closet to pick out a shirt, reaches for the one they want with their right hand, and their left hand slaps or pushes their right hand away and tries to grab a different shirt. There have been several theories presented for why this might happen, but none have been proven, as far as I know. I don’t know what is actually happening here, but it certainly leads one to imagine that consciousness may not be so neatly unified as we tend to think.

In our day to day lives, we seem to have one, and only one, consciousness that makes decisions and directs our actions. But what if there were more than one consciousness within us that shared our perceptions and experiences? Perhaps, consciousness isn’t even something that can be counted at all, but flows and ebbs like water. I have no idea what the reality is, but I think it’s an interesting idea.

If such were the case that our minds are not a single unified entity, a lot could be explained. For example, the other day, I was waiting for a student that often skips class. A part of me really wanted him to come so that we could do the work that needed to be done. At the same time, I also hoped he wouldn’t come so that I could relax and not have to stress over him. I know there are other explanations for being two-minded about things, but the idea that I could literally be “two” minded at times is interesting. What if every time I have mixed feelings about something, my mind is actually divided in the moment.

In the past, I have often talked about the various “voices” that speak to us, enticing us to go one way or another. In religion, this is often depicted as a demon and angel over each shoulder, whispering into our ears. Indeed, I used to believe that these voices came from without. These voices came from the Holy Ghost, angels, servants of Satan, spirits of the deceased, and so on. 

But what if all of these voices were just me all along? When I pray and calm my soul, what if the feeling of peace that can come is just all of my internal voices coalescing into one? Or what if that peace I feel is just another part of me, telling myself that what I want to believe is good to believe. A part of myself wants something to be true, and I can feel that when I pray or meditate. I sense this feeling as if it comes from the outside, but does it have to be?

In our day to day lives, we hear and see much more than that which we are consciously aware of. For example, each day, I drive to work. My mind is often busy thinking about various things, but somehow, I always arrive at my destination without issue. I see all of the other cars, and I carefully avoid hitting any of them. I don’t run over any pedestrians. I know when the light is red or green, and I go when I’m supposed to. But I feel like I do much of this at a subconscious level. Or perhaps “other-conscious” level? I’m not actively thinking about all of the things that I see and hear, but they still enter my brain and have an effect on my actions. 

To give more examples, I could see thousands of faces in a crowd, but not be able to consciously focus on any of them. But I still saw them, and much of that information made it into my brain. I could hear 10 or more conversations happening at once and only be able to focus on one of them, if that. But I still heard them all. Much of that information also worked its way into my brain. In a later moment, I may even be able to recall some of what I saw or heard and make connections that I couldn’t make at the time. What this all means to me is that I, at some level, know considerably more than what I can consciously bring to mind.

So, if there is so much more knowledge in my head than what I am consciously aware of, and I have some important issue that I’m trying to figure out, wouldn’t it make some amount of sense to want to access that hidden information if it were relevant to the issue I was facing? This is what I think may often happen when a person prays for answers to questions they may have. The answers don’t have to come from outside themselves. They simply need to quiet their mind and allow their subconscious or “other-conscious” to make the relevant connections and allow the information to surface.

I don’t know if this is how consciousness actually works, but it seems to fit the facts as I see them. People often get warm peaceful feelings when they pray or meditate on something they want to believe. People can also receive knowledge that they didn’t know they had or suddenly remember something that they had forgotten. 

What makes me think this is all just the subconscious or another side of our own consciousness and not an omniscient god is that although listening to these voices is generally beneficial, people get things wrong all the time. People are told to go right when they should go left. They have warm peaceful feelings that they believe come from the Holy Spirit, but then discover that what they thought was right was actually wrong. The story I usually hear from these individuals is that they misinterpreted their own feelings as being the Holy Spirit, or that God had some other plan and needed them to go in what only seemed to be the wrong direction for His own purposes. It makes a lot more sense to me that these feelings did not come from an omniscient god at all. It was all them all along, doing the best they could with what was available to their own inner selves.

In short, I believe it is beneficial to pray or meditate and listen for answers. I don’t understand the process (unconscious, subconscious, multiple consciousnesses, fluid consciousness, etc.), but I believe that the answers that may come are generally right and benefit the supplicant. However, because these answers are human in origin, they can be wrong, and people who enjoy this process should be aware of this possibility. No matter how “right” something may feel, there is always the possibility of error. In consequence, people should be open to changing their minds when they are presented with new information or contrasting views.

“I Know”

Sometimes, because of all my writings on uncertainty, I get the feeling that many people have the false impression that I’m just wishy washy, uncertain, and full of doubt all the time. This is not the case. I could be 99.9999% certain about something, but then focus on the 0.0001% uncertainty in order to demonstrate a point. No matter how sure about something I am, there is always a chance that I could be wrong. That chance could be very small, but it’s always there, no matter what I think or believe. The refusal to acknowledge the possibility of my own human fallibility is pride, arrogance, and extreme foolishness.

EarthHaving said that, there are some things I believe to a very high degree of certainty. For example, I’m pretty sure that the Earth is not flat. I have seen pictures of the Earth from space. I have seen the curvature of the Earth from airplanes and high mountains. I have traveled a great distance around the Earth, from Hungary to China. Even if I did not have my own personal experiences, there seems to be enough evidence out there to dispel all doubt. I could almost be willing to say I know the Earth is not flat, but what would be the point? When do people really use those words anyway? My complaints about the phrase – “I know” –  come from the feeling that it implies absolute certainty, but perhaps this is only in certain contexts.

Generally speaking, I think most people will simply say, “the Earth is not flat,” and then move on. There is no need to add an emphatic “I know” to the start of it. However, if someone comes up and claims that the Earth is flat and an argument ensues, a person, without sufficient ability to explain how or why the Earth is not flat, may feel pressure to assert their knowledge. “I know the Earth is not flat. It’s just not. I can’t say how I know; I just do.” 

To me, the above case is most like religious expressions of surety. People understand that their views are not universally accepted, but they lack the ability to coherently express their reasons for their beliefs. Therefore, they feel the pressure to fall back on, “I know.” If a person has confidence in their beliefs and clear reasons for those beliefs, they should be able to just say it. “This is the case because…” To me, adding “I know” to the start of an assertion is giving up on trying to reason with someone and trying instead to appeal to faith. It gives the message, “just trust me”. I know this.

Now, having said all that, I find myself in that very situation that I have just described. I am not the expert that can explain everything perfectly, but I am quite sure about certain things. I have tried to express my views for several years and have not been believed or understood. I often feel incapable of explaining all of my reasoning to those who will not or cannot understand. Perhaps it is time to fall back to “I know.”

A long time ago, it was common knowledge that the Earth was flat. This was the reality that the people experienced, and to believe otherwise would have seemed foolish. As time went on though, more and more evidence came to light to prove that the Earth was not actually flat. Gradually, people were forced to reconstruct their reality. The Earth was not flat, and this became knowledge. What would it take for people today to go back to believing that the Earth is flat without forgetting everything we have learned in the interim? I could probably come up with a number of possibilities, but I would not place any of them above a 0.00001% chance of being correct. With confidence, I can say that the Earth is not flat, and if backed into a corner, “I know the Earth is not flat.” This is not absolute, 100% certainty though. I refuse to go there.

When I believed in the LDS church, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and so on, I knew these things were true to a high degree of certainty. I had no real reason to doubt any of them, and I can remember saying that I knew they were true. Since then, I have gained new knowledge and come to new understanding. I have had to reconstruct my reality, and like those that learned the Earth is not flat, I can no longer go back to believing as I once did. How could I? The new knowledge supersedes the old completely.

Friends and family members that still believe seem to think that I have only lost something that can be regained. This is not the case. Because I have gained new knowledge, I can’t go back and believe as I once did. I have moved on. I am in a new place, and there is no going back. Here are some of the things that I have learned and know to be true (with varying degrees of certainty):

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is built on lies, deception, and fraud. Even with my gift for creativity, I struggle to save it. It is more likely that the Earth is flat than that the church is true.
  • Moroni 10:5 “By the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.” – This is a lie which takes advantage of people’s deepest hopes and desires. Belief in such a principle discourages rational thought and encourages acceptance of things one only wishes were true.
  • Church teachings about family, temples, and the celestial kingdom are manipulative and do more to harm family relationships than to help.

That list could be broken down into many other points or expanded, but I think the point has been made. I did not just lose my testimony. I gained knowledge. I did not just casually walk away from the church. I made discoveries. These were not happy and uplifting discoveries, and so people that are taught to follow the Holy Ghost through feelings of peace, joy, etc. can rarely accept them. These things can be traumatic, and do not bring peace or joy, but they are true anyway.

I believe in the considerable value of uncertainty, but I also believe in continuously increasing my knowledge and understanding to lessen that uncertainty whenever possible. The church is false. I know this to the greatest degree of certainty I allow myself. Like the flat Earther that finally discovers the truth, there is no real way to go back. And why would I want to? I only want to believe what is true. My only regret is that I did not learn these things sooner. The greatest mistakes of my life are a direct result of my belief in the church and its teachings. So much heartache, depression, and misery could have been avoided if only I’d seen the truth earlier.

But… could I be wrong about everything I’m so sure about? I will never close the door completely on my uncertainty, but I have been openly expressing my thoughts and feelings about this for seven years now, and it seems nobody is able to refute a single part of it, assuming that’s what the silence means. Or perhaps, I’m just not capable of adequately explaining my position. So today, I have to fall back to “I know.”

Positivity

I think I am naturally a very positive person. I like to be optimistic and to look on the bright side of things. I like to smile and enjoy positive interactions with people. I’m friendly and easygoing, and I try to quickly forgive people that offend me and move on. If there is someone that seems antagonistic or otherwise unfriendly toward me, I will generally smile and get out of their way quickly. I don’t deal well at all with confrontation and avoid it the best I can. Perhaps I’ll try and send an email later to try and smooth things over, especially if this is with a person that I will need to interact with regularly like a boss, coworker, roommate, or family member.

But what can a person like me do when the abuse feels constant? When the unfriendly attitudes seem never ending? I tried to express my feelings in private emails. I tried posting to my blog, hinting publicly about some of the interpersonal issues that I’m experiencing. The result was that many people stopped reading my blog. Other people told me to stop complaining and feeling sorry for myself. Now, people think that this is who I am.

It kills me that many people now think of me as a complainer, a whiner, a negative person. I want to write positive blog posts again. I want to move on. I don’t want to write about the negative, but I feel trapped. The negative has become an ever intrusive part of my daily existence. It feels like poison in my heart, eating away at me every day. 

So what do I do now? There are some people that you just can’t cut out of your life or even avoid. I’ve tried everything I can think of to restore peace, but minds are made up, and I see no way to restore positivity to the relationships. Is it time to give up? What would giving up even mean if we still have to interact?

I want to be myself again. I want to see light and goodness in every person that I meet. I want to breathe fresh air outside and fall in love with the trees, the earth, and everything. I want to marvel at the beauty that surrounds me every day. I want to hum and whistle and sing with nature.

I put up walls to protect myself from the abuses of others, but those walls prevent me from really living any kind of life. How can I come outside those defensive barriers without being destroyed in the process? I am weak. I am sensitive. Living within my protective walls, I have become afraid and lonely. I don’t want my life to be this way, but where do I go from here?

I know that there is still a lot of good in the world and in my life. I’m trying to shift my attention away from the negative and toward the positive. Perhaps I can’t fix the negative; there’s nothing I can do at this point, but at least my conscience is still clear. I have been completely honest in all of my interactions and have consistently striven to maintain the moral high ground at every juncture. I can be falsely accused and judged, and even persecuted, but at least I’m still me inside. And inside? I’m a positive person. I’m friendly and optimistic. I’m open and honest and never judgmental. I’m definitely also soft and sensitive which makes it difficult to live in this world sometimes, but maybe this isn’t such a bad thing.

Is it safe to come out yet? I want to live!

Young Again

Sometimes, I like to daydream about what my life would be like if I could go back in time and attend high school. In reality, I only had one year of high school. My mom decided to take me and my siblings out of school for a year to experiment with homeschooling. I remember that year consisting mostly of my going to the public library and checking out and reading books on various academic topics. After that year, I started to attend the community college and never returned to finish high school.

Although I enjoyed the freedom of that year to study whatever I was interested in, I sometimes regretted in later years the time I lost to be a teenager and experience what others of that age experience in public school. If I could go back though, I wouldn’t want to be as I was then. I rather like the person I have become and would prefer to stay myself.

I think, if I could go back, my friends and peers would be a lot more important to me. I would be more interested in joining and participating in clubs and other extracurricular activities. I was liked well enough by people that knew me then. I would take more advantage of that. During my public school years, I was flirted with and asked out by several girls. I remember being flattered by the attention, but I always turned them down, citing family and religious rules as my excuse.

If I could go back, I imagine that it would come out quickly that I was gay. Instead of using religion or family rules as an excuse to not date, I would tell the truth. I wonder how that would have changed my growing up experience. I imagine it would have had both positive and negative consequences. Still, even if there were some negative consequences, I think I would be okay. I’m okay with who I am, and I think that if I could show and maintain that confidence, I would be able to overcome the challenges.

But if a guy I liked asked me out, what would I say? I know my parents would be against it, but I think I wouldn’t let that stop me. I’d just tell my parents I was hanging out with a friend, and I doubt they would ask many questions.

Or maybe they would ask questions. One of the first interactions with my parents would probably be regarding church. I think that if I could go back, I would still choose to go to church. I would go out of respect for my parents and in order to keep the peace. I would be honest about my feelings and beliefs though. I would be as polite and kind as possible, but I would not lie or make people think that I believed what I did not. No matter how respectful I would try to be though, I know this would cause a lot of stress at home. I wonder if my parents would still grant me the freedom to roam as they did my first time around, or would they want to control me more? Would I actually be permitted to hang out with friends if my parents were overly worried about my faith? And then, if they were to find out that I was gay, how would that affect my family life.

I’ve never really had that conversation with my parents, so I’m not sure how things might have gone. I remember them casually mentioning to me once, before they knew that I was gay, that they had gone door to door in California to encourage people to vote in favor of traditional marriage and against gay marriage. The church certainly taught against homosexuality, so I imagine that if my parents found out about me back in the 90’s when I was a high school student, things might have gotten interesting. In reality, they knew nothing about me or how I felt. If I could go back, I wouldn’t leave them in the dark. I don’t know if that would be better or worse for our relationship though.

It’s rather hard to see things being very comfortable for me at home, so I imagine I would want to spend as much time away from home as allowed by my parents. I hope they would at least allow me the freedom to join a club or get a part-time job. 

I wonder how the friend I spent the most time with as a teenager would react to my being gay and a non-believer. About a year ago, in early March 2019, I finally told him that I was gay. He had been quite distressed about my lack of belief in the Christian god, and when he found out I was gay too, he stopped talking to me altogether. If I could go back, would we be able to keep our friendship, or would I need to look elsewhere?

If I did look elsewhere, I would try and find friends that could accept me the way I am and be non judgemental. I would look for friends that were honest and true to themselves. I wouldn’t mind if they had different habits and inclinations from me, but if I were invited to take drugs, smoke, or drink alcohol, I would say no. But this time, it wouldn’t be because of the Word of Wisdom. Some actions just make more sense, and I could use basic logic to explain my choices. There would be no need to invoke a god to rationalize wise behavior. I have found that most people are willing to accept these reasons more than claims to rest behavior on commandments from a god. Others are also more willing to join a person in a positive behavior when it makes logical sense. 

I remember as a teen hearing songs played by peers that my parents would not have approved of. I remember trying not to listen. I felt dirty and less worthy as a result of hearing that music because of how I’d been taught. In more recent years, however, I have learned that I actually like a lot of the music that I used to try and avoid. If I could go back, I would listen to and enjoy listening to songs by Nirvana, Eminem, Madonna, Duran Duran, Guns N’ Roses, Boyz II Men, and on and on. I wouldn’t feel guilty for liking what I like. Still, I would try and show respect for my family and those around me and only listen in private or with friends with similar tastes, but the guilt would be gone.

If I could go back, would I be a good student? I don’t know. I think it’s a lot easier to learn things now. I used to be so focused on the big picture, meaning God and the eternities taught in Mormondom, that I had difficulty focusing on smaller details of reality. Geography, History, and Social Studies were especially difficult as I saw Earth as transitory. Now, the Earth, how things are now, and how they came to be that way matter much more to me. I think it would be easier to learn and understand if I could go back as I am now.

Despite learning being easier, I could still have difficulties doing well in school because I think I would be more focused on friends and less willing to waste my time on homework when it seems unhelpful. Good assignments should help students to master the relevant material, but I know too well how many tasks are assigned without much forethought. Teachers want their students to trust them and to do the work, but I would struggle with this. Still, my competitive nature when it comes to academics might propel me forward regardless of the trust issues I may have.

Oh, and one last thing that comes to mind. With my own money, I would go out and buy my own underwear and never let anyone dictate for me ever again what I should or shouldn’t wear beneath my clothing. As a teenager, my mom bought white briefs for me that I absolutely hated. When I turned 19, I went through the Mormon temple and was required to wear the temple garments. One of the greatest joys of my life has been giving those up. If I could go back, I would enjoy my life a lot more, living it in my own way, not feeling guilty for things that don’t matter, and being more honest in every way.

At the Center of the Universe

A few years ago, I was witness to a negative interaction between two family members, an older adult and a child. Later, in expressing feelings about the interaction, the older individual said something to the effect that the child needed to learn that they were not the center of the universe and that the universe didn’t revolve around them. I couldn’t help commenting at that point that in at least some ways, we are each at the center of our universe. The glare I received shut me up quickly, and I went on my way.

I wish I could better remember the interaction between the adult and the child. At this point, I only remember feeling that the older adult had overreacted to a child being a child. Seeing as I can’t remember what happened though, the adult may have been completely justified in their reaction and I am in no position to judge.

What has stuck in my mind though is the interaction between myself and this individual. Is it wrong for a person to feel that they are at the center of the universe and that it revolves around them? I mean, as far as I can tell, I am at the center. If the center is not here where I sit, then where is it? Can anyone point to a more accurate location? If I dug to the center of the Earth, would I be closer? What if I could handle the heat of the sun and make my way to its center? Or perhaps to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy? Is there anything, anywhere, that suggests that one place is better than any other for this center?

Or perhaps there really is a creator god somewhere. Would that god’s location be the center then? Where would that god live? Kolob? Or does it exist everywhere as some believe? In which case, I’m stuck with there being no clear center again.

Because we have no way to detect the farthest reaches of our universe, if any kind of end even exists, the universe might as well be infinite. As far as I can tell, we are each, in our own way, at the center of the universe. Is it wrong to think this way?

And as the center of my own universe, and not just someone that revolves around others, I feel it is okay to consider my own needs and wants. To be clear, I’m not saying that the desires of family members, communities, nations, etc. don’t matter. Of course they do. But they often matter the most because I matter. I’m happier when those around me are happier. Likewise, the wellbeing of my community and beyond influence me in meaningful ways. It is generally in my own best interest to want those around me to thrive as well.

I think that as a child there was so much emphasis placed on not being selfish and caring for others that spending time to think about myself and my own needs and wants felt like a sin. Self sacrifice was considered to be so noble, and I was only too good at it. For most of my life, I have sacrificed my own desires for the will of friends, family members, and the church. I’m not saying that some sacrifice isn’t appropriate at times, but it can go too far.

One question I almost never asked myself until after I left the church was “What do I really want?” Before that time, my life was always about what I should want instead of what I actually did want. The whims and desires of others superseded any possible needs of my own. And then, when I finally came to know that the church wasn’t really true, I felt so incredibly lost. My whole life up until that point had been based on the will of others and not myself.

So, now I have to ask myself what I want for my life and future. Even after seven years outside the church, it’s still a novel experience, and as a result, I make mistakes – a lot of them. But they’re my mistakes, and I own them. I just wish I could have made them earlier in life. I wish I could have recognized earlier on that my life was my own to do with whatever I wanted. No matter. I know this now. 

I am at the center of the universe with regard to myself. I think that as long as I remember that every person is equally validated in considering themself at the center of the universe, this is not a problem. To me, the consequence of this viewpoint is that I feel more justified in valuing myself as a person that matters in the universe. I can have my own self-determined goals and pursue them at will to the best of my ability. This life that I’m experiencing is my own. I can attempt freely to make of it what I will. 

Important to recognize is that each other person is also the center of their universe. We should not become offended if others make choices for themselves that are different from the choices we would have made in their shoes. For children, I think it’s important to teach them that actions have consequences, and we should let them know what those consequences are and, if we know, why they exist. But ultimately, we are each at the center of the universe. The universe revolves around us, and that’s okay.

Vile Spirits

A number of years ago, I decided to try alcohol for the first time. Out of curiosity and a belief that a small amount wouldn’t cause any lasting harm, I bought a small fruit-flavored beer. The alcohol content was actually quite low, but as it was my first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My first impression of the beer was that someone had poured paint thinner or other toxic chemical into some fruit juice. I had difficulty swallowing as I am, I think understandably, quite averse to ingesting poison. After finishing the small drink, I rinsed the vile taste out of my mouth with water and felt none of the purported positive effects of drinking alcohol.

Still, despite that first experience, my curiosity was not sated. Maybe I just needed to try greater amounts or drinks with a higher concentration of alcohol. Over the next few months and on a weekly basis, I tried varying amounts of other types of beer, wine, champagne, vodka, and whiskey. As I tried more, I was able to experience some of the other effects that I’d heard about. I never felt like I lost any clarity of thought, but I did lose some motor control, vomit, and get a terrible headache. I really felt like I was just killing myself with poison. In the end, I decided that if I was going to experiment again, it would have to be small amounts and only socially. I get absolutely nothing good out of drinking on my own.

This experience really made me wonder about all the alcoholics out there and others that actually enjoy the taste of wine or champagne with a meal. I just don’t get it. To me, the taste of alcohol is absolutely vile without a single redeeming feature. However, it is clear to me that not everyone has the same experience. Some drink and enjoy the experience. Some get hooked. And some, like me, don’t. [The rest of this post is published on the M.O.R.E site.]

Stepping on Others to Get Ahead … and M.O.R.E.

In recent days, I have been feeling like my personality has been changing in some big ways, so I took another MBTI personality test on the 16 Personalities website to see if I was still typed the same way. I felt like I answered all the questions differently this time, but it seems like no matter how I answer the questions, I always get the same result – INFP. Over a period of decades, I’ve taken MBTI tests on various websites with completely different questions, but the results have been consistent without exception. This time, the only difference was the percentages in each category showed me to be even more strongly INFP than previous tests (81% introverted, 69% intuitive, 82% feeling, and 83% perceiving). In the past, my introversion, feeling, and perceiving percentages have all been lower – nothing in the 80s.

Truth be told, I was kind of hopeful I’d get something different this time. I couldn’t lie though, even to myself. I had to put what I felt. For example, I had to rate the following statement with regard to how true it felt for me: “In your opinion, it is sometimes OK to step on others to get ahead in life.” How could I choose anything but the strongest possible NO. Maybe others felt differently, but this was not me. 

When I thought more about the question though, I thought about my wife. Nearly fifteen years ago, I married her because I wanted something that I couldn’t have on my own. I wanted a family. I wanted kids. I didn’t really want a wife at all, though if I had to be married to a woman, she seemed pretty great. I learned to respect and admire her for her many talents and positive personality traits. I have often felt guilty over the years though because I believed she deserved better than me. She deserved someone that would marry her for her and not for what she could give.

Over the years, I’ve tried to ease my guilt by reminding myself, and her, that I did tell her from the beginning that I was gay. She chose to marry me anyway. Basically, I placed the blame on her where none belonged. It was my mistake, an unfortunate result of social, family, and religious pressure. I further tried to make myself feel better by being extra nice to her all the time. Again and again, I gave her what I thought she wanted, sacrificing my own desires at every juncture.

Eventually though, the guilt caught up with me. I realized that I had stepped on her to get ahead, to get what I wanted. I used her. It’s no wonder that she doesn’t want to be with me any longer. I may not have made the mistakes she accuses me of, but I certainly made a big mistake. I married her under false pretenses. I told her I was gay, but she thought I was over that. It was something I used to be but was no longer the case. I think she believed I loved her the way a straight man loves a woman. After all, that was how I tried to act. I tried to be what I thought she wanted, even if it wasn’t how I felt. I never lied with my words, but I certainly tried to deceive her with my actions.

And so… is it “sometimes OK to step on others to get ahead in life?” It may be hypocritical, but I still say no, absolutely not. I would not do it again. No way. My wife and I will probably not stay married much longer, and if I ever get married again, it will be for all the right reasons. It will be because I want to be with him, not because I need him for something. It will be for love.

On another topic, I’ve recently started another blog site with a couple other people. It’s a unique experience for me as I’ve never worked collaboratively before. I’m planning to post some of my more religious and philosophical posts over there while this site will be for the more personal ones. Feel free to take a look – M.O.R.E..