My name is Heidi Darling. I am 51 years old, living in Temecula, CA. I was raised in the church, in San Jose, CA, with a convert father (at age 18) and mother with pioneer stock. I have 3 sisters. All of my family are still active Mormon. Both parents and 2 sisters served missions. I was married in the Temple at age 19, divorced and left the church at age 40. I have 4 kids, my oldest came out as transgender female 5 years ago, my youngest is bisexual. I am re-married to an never-been Mormon and have a blended family of 7 children.
What parts of the Mormon experience were most important or useful to you?
I loved the youth activities growing up, EFY at BYU, Youth Conference, Girls Camp in the Sierras, Dances. As an adult it was the community and sense of purpose, knowing I was working toward a larger goal. I miss singing the most…hymns in church, ward choir, stake choir, leading primary music, and stake you conferences. I miss having an excuse to dress up each week, interact with good friends, and the opportunities to teach. Sometimes the busy-ness was nice, but other times overwhelming.
What doctrinal or theological parts of Mormonism did you believe that were most important to you?
It’s hard to identify now that I have “seen the light,” but I think it would have to be the “truthfulness” of the Book of Mormon, the “One True Church” [teaching], and the theology of eternal life with family. I grew up in the church in Northern California, with two Mormon parents, so all the theology was indoctrinated at such a young age it is difficult to separate what was important to me and what was just ingrained in my upbringing. At this point in my life I find it very hard to fathom that I ever believed ANY of it.
What spiritual experiences did you have as a Mormon that sealed your orthodox commitment to the church?
Probably the most profound spiritual experiences I can remember happened at girls camp. We had a fantastic stake girl’s camp location — Camp Richie — up in the Sierras. They had the most inspirational leaders called to serve that made the spiritual moments stand out right alongside all the fun and music. But the week-long girl’s camp with early morning testimony meetings were very impactful on me. I never was one to really want to bear my testimony, but in this setting I almost always did.
How did you lose your faith in Mormonism?
I always struggled with my faith. I was kind of “the party girl” in high school, but then when I went away to school in Provo and was around so many “good” Mormon kids, it was much easier to get back “on the right path.” So, I went back to church activity, got married in the Salt Lake Temple, had four kids, was a stay at home mom, participated in all sorts of callings (the music/theater ones were my favorite), and mostly thrived. But through it all there was an undercurrent of not feeling good enough. I wasn’t good at prayer and scripture study, I wasn’t good at wanting to do temple work, I wasn’t good at family home evening, but mostly I realized I had married too young and too fast to a narcissistic, priesthood man, who wanted me to be the perfect Mormon wife, and I never felt like I could reach the “bar.” I felt guilt constantly for the things I wasn’t achieving.
So at 40, I finally found the courage to leave my unhappy marriage, and leaving the church just was an aftereffect of that choice at first. The first night I was on my own, I slept like I never had in 30 years. didn’t move or wake up one time the whole night! What I realized when I woke up and realized this, it was such a strong epiphany that I was OK, I was enough, I was a good person. Mormonism had made me feel not good enough and I was DONE feeling that way! It was over 10 years later that a friend of mine from church (now -ex-Mormon) introduced me to Mormon Stories and I started listening. I ate it up! I finally had confirmation that I wasn’t crazy. All my misgivings about the church were finally confirmed! I had an immediate group of people supporting me!
What parts of Mormonism were harmful to you?
I would say the most harmful thing was the guilt I felt for being a NORMAL teenager. I struggled with morality as a teen, as most do, but Mormonism made me feel dirty and unworthy. The other harmful experience was when I left the church and my marriage, my family were all SO judgmental! I felt very alone and unsupported.
How do you now explain the spiritual experiences that you had as an Orthodox Mormon?
I think music, mood and environment create “spiritual” experiences. Mormonism is very skilled at creating those moments. I have had many since leaving, out in nature or listening to good music, watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics, etc., so I don’t put much stock in the idea that these experiences are solely for believing Mormons. I loved the YouTube video about people all over the world in all different religions who have experienced “the spirit” testifying to them the truthfulness of what they believe. Definitely not uniquely Mormon!
What was transitioning out of Mormonism like for you? What was most painful about it?
I would say it was my family that made the transition most difficult. I didn’t interact with them for several years after I left because I felt they could only judge me instead of love me. I stood my ground and told them I was not going to defend my choices to them or anyone. The choices were mine to make. I had to tell one sister — after she sent me a message on Facebook asking me to tell her why I was making the choices I was — to unfriend me if she was uncomfortable looking at my page. I explained that it was strange that she would be spending ANY time worry about my choices. I told her I didn’t spend even one second of my time thinking about her choices, because they are HERS to make.
The most painful part was how my family treated me for sure!
What was most healing or joyful about the transition?
But the transition out, other than that, was the most freeing experience of my life! I could finally live true to myself. I had one year of “crazy.” I was out drinking and partying nightly. It was such a fun time that I think I really needed after trying to “toe the line” for so many years (from the age of 19). I have a lot I could say on this topic to describe this time in my life, but to keep it short here, I feel like the “crazy” was necessary to get to where I am now for sure.
A year after I left the church and my marriage, I met an amazing man and fell in love. I feel happy and content most of the time, even though we have been through some very difficult challenges (my husband fighting 4th stage cancer, and hard times dealing with a blended family). But we have had the BEST time over the last 10 years. I’ve tried things I never could have imagined before. I am able to love completely and live each day to it’s fullest. Life is GOOD!
Also, feeling like I am ok as I am, that I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not. Finding true love and friendship based on something that is real.
In what ways did church leaders or members make your transition more difficult?
When I left the church, I didn’t do it officially through my leaders; I just stopped going, so luckily, I didn’t have any negative experience with the leaders. I did have to finally tell the missionaries to stop coming by and that we are not now, nor will ever be interested in coming back to church.
I’ve never had a negative experience when crossing paths with people from my old ward and stake, but I sometimes sense that condescending tone as if they feel bad for me for “losing the faith.” When my kids were still young, I was even asked to choreograph and direct a road show in my ex’s/kids’ ward. Everyone was very nice to me, but I have no doubt they were hoping to use this as a missionary experience.
Were there church leaders or members who were helpful to you? If so, how?
I had some close friends at church that still socialized with me at first, but after awhile faded away even with me continuing to reach out.
What resources were most helpful in your transition out of Mormonism?
I wish I had known about all the available podcasts at that time. Now that I have learned about them, I feel buoyed up in my decision all those years ago. Mormon stories has been especially helpful over the last year to helping me feel like I’m not an anomaly.
What significant mistakes did you make in your transition?
The thing I regret the most was how my sudden departure from the church affected my children. I tried continuing to take them to church for a while, but I always felt out of place because my ex and I were still in the same ward. The members were uncomfortable too, so that petered out before too long. None of my kids have chosen to stay in the church, but my ex is still active.
I think that the excessive partying could have been pared down a bit only because it took time away from my kids in retrospect, but I really don’t regret any of the lifestyle choices I made. I had a blast and still do! I drink now occasionally, socially and sex is WAY better now that I’m more free to express my true self.
How has your leaving Mormonism affected your family relationships, friendships, job, neighbor relationships, social life, etc.?
Things are better with my family now that I am married again and not “living in sin.” I don’t think we will ever completely repair our relationship back to what is was though. I still maintain friendships with my Mormon friends on Facebook but that’s about it. I definitely miss the social aspect of Mormonism!
How have you navigated communication and relationships with believing family and friends? Any tips to keeping those people in your life?
I could use tips! 😊 Mostly I keep these relationships on a surface level. I can’t communicate my truth to them because they are still wearing their Mormon glasses. Makes it hard to have a close relationship. I am always trying to think of a way to introduce them to Mormon Stories so that we can have REAL discussions, but because I’ve been out so long, I think they would be resistant to my suggestions. I’m also torn about opening the “rabbit hole” for them because, as I’m sure you understand, some people are happy in their “Mormon bubble,” I want to show them the truth, but don’t want to destroy their lives.
Which (if any) of your former Mormon beliefs/behaviors have you retained after your faith crisis?
Be good. Be honest. I want to still be Christian, but I’m even finding belief in the Bible to be difficult. After listening to so many Mormon Stories podcast episodes over the last year, I found Christmas to be sort of silly and meaningless this year. But I love Christmas music so much that I had to re-formulate my thoughts about it. I decided that I can love the story of Jesus birth just like I love a good fairy tale. This way I can still enjoy the music!
In what ways have your beliefs/behaviors changed after your faith crisis?
I feel like I am more of an agnostic now. I want to believe there is an higher power but I am happy to just live a good life and not anticipate what may or may not come after.
What are your thoughts/beliefs now about God and Jesus?
I would like to believe there is a higher power, but I just really don’t know. As a nurse, I am able to put a lot of confidence in science and like that it can prove how things are created and work. But on the other side of that, it is hard not to see life as a miracle. I am constantly amazed at how the human body works. It’s almost unfathomable! Nerve endings in the skin that make you feel touch, the pumping of blood and oxygen through the body to keep us alive is AMAZING! But that doesn’t explain why. And nature…mountains, forests, valleys, rock formations, streams, oceans…I could go on and on about its beauty and how miraculous it feels! Science definitely explains how but not really why.
I feel like believing in God might answer those questions for our temporal minds, but the idea that there is something bigger out there, some master plan, there is no way to prove that. I WANT to believe there is, but belief can only be based on hope rather than faith. For me faith is way too wrapped up in religions created by men. The bible has great faith inspiring stories, but that’s all they are…stories. Most can even be disproved by scientists. So for now, I have to put God and Jesus in the category of good stories — tales told for generations to raise up good and moral people. But not absolute TRUTH.
How do you now make sense of death and the afterlife?
I would love to believe there is more to it all, that there is something after this life to look forward to — something we are working toward. But I think all the ideas of the afterlife are too intertwined in religion rather than spirituality. Religion seems like it is there more to control people, not to uplift and enlighten. Religion is way too wrapped up in lies and manipulation. So, I can only hope there is something more, but live today as if there isn’t.
Without the church telling you what is “right” and “wrong,” how do you establish your own sense of morality/right/wrong?
Mormonism has definitely screwed up my feelings about right & wrong! In Mormonism, right is equal to good and wrong means bad. So that wraps all choices into guilt and shame, and being right or good creates way too much judgement and superiority. I really HATE all of that!
I think as humans we are born with both good and bad, yin and yang, and we instinctively know the difference. We don’t need religion to recognize the difference. I know so many good people who are not religious. And I now know that I am a good person, even without religion in my life. It was religion, and specifically Mormonism, that made me feel like I was bad. So my guide to right and wrong are now led by, “How does my decision or choice affect others?” I make choices based on being good to myself and good to everyone else. That’s how simple it is.
Do you still value “spirituality” in your life (spirituality defined as “connection to something bigger than yourself”), and if so, what are your main sources of spiritual fulfillment?
I would have to say my main connection to spirituality is in nature. It always feels miraculous. I don’t feel like I need much more than that.
To what extent have you found healthy and meaningful community to replace the role of the ward/stake in your life?
I think finding community outside of Mormonism has probably been the most difficult. It’s harder to find people with a common goal or interest outside of a structured organization for sure. But I have cultivated some great friendships and relationships outside the church, and to me, they are more honest and real than those I had inside Mormonism. Clearly my friendships inside the church were not very deep as most of them have faded away since being out. None of my so called “good” friends in the church even reach out anymore just to say “Hi,” so I have stopped reaching out as well. I have a small circle of friends that are my new support system.
What meaning and purpose does life have to you now that you no longer believe in Mormonism?
My purpose in life now revolves around daily happiness and contentment in my close relationships. I try not to delve too deeply into the meaning of life because, the reality is, I don’t know and really no one else does either. I can’t spend my life in constant fear of what may or may not come after this life. I can only enjoy each day to its fullest.
If you are a parent, how has losing your faith in Mormonism affected how you parent?
I think leaving Mormonism made me more emotionally accessible to my children. They know they can confide in me pretty much anything and I will not judge them, and it will not decrease my love for them.
If you are married or have a significant other, how has leaving Mormonism affected this relationship?
I am divorced from my Mormon husband of 20 years and am now married to the most amazing man! He did not grow up with any religion but is the most giving man I know. He has such an awesome heart, he is always thinking of others before himself. And I adore him!! In my first marriage, I was never good enough. Now my husband and I are equals; we work through trials together with respect. It feels so much more real. . . I have a hard time describing how opposite it is, and so many times, I find myself in awe that I’m even allowed to be this happy every day. If that’s not a blessing, I don’t know what is!
How has leaving Mormonism affected your mental health?
I think my mental health is the thing that is most improved since leaving the church. When I left the church I immediately felt the weight of inadequacy and guilt leave me. In one night, I went from feeling not good enough to being happy and content in my own skin. This is probably the most significant change I have felt from leaving Mormonism, no doubt!
How has leaving Mormonism affected your sexuality?
So, I think this topic opens a whole can of worms for me. I was always, as far back as I can remember, a sexual being. And I don’t know how, but I always “knew” it was bad. I was bad. I began masturbating (wow, feels WAY out of my comfort zone to even type that word . . . Mormon brainwashing at its best!) around age 12 and was always wracked with guilt. And even though I can’t specifically identify being told directly that it was bad, I somehow knew it was. I was definitely fixated on sex as a teen and struggled with (Mormon) morality, failing often. I struggled and fought against my natural urges all thru high school, finally having sex my senior year. That year I made a conscience decision to stop trying to “be good.” I was so tired of trying and failing! And looking back, that was the best year of my youth; I let go of guilt and just lived!
I find it fascinating now that with all the confessing I did as a youth, I never once mentioned my issues with masturbation. It was such a shameful thing I never talked about it all, with anyone, until after I was 40 and began my faith crisis. As soon as I left the church, the shame left with it. I think its so confusing to be told that sex and sexuality is bad & sinful, and then in the blink of an eye, you get married and suddenly it’s “good in the sight of God.” It should be talked about! As a Mormon female are you even allowed to have an orgasm? You can’t have one by yourself but someone else can give you one? SO does not make sense!!
So outside of Mormonism, I finally feel like I have come to peace with my sexuality. I still have some after effects of the Mormon brainwashing that I’m constantly fighting past, but I feel like since we are born sexual beings, we should not be made to feel guilty when we use that “gift.” Sex is now enjoyable, fulfilling, and freeing. I feel sexually healthy, FINALLY!
What aspects of your life are better after Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?
Every aspect of my life is better. You could not pay me enough to go back to that life! I am finally good in my own skin! Life is so GOOD!
What is your life still missing? In what ways could your life still be improved without Mormonism?
Probably the thing I feel is missing is the sense of purpose. Why am I here living this life? What is the point of it all if there is no afterlife? I try not to dwell on these thoughts too often because I know there are no answers.
What final advice would you give folks who are transitioning?
Be true to yourself. Don’t feel like you are required to make everyone understand. Don’t hold up your life waiting for approval from others. Live your truth and enjoy it! Find a new community for support.