Religion, guilt, & my father. It’s the trifecta that has driven my actions & thoughts since I can remember. I’m currently reading “The 19th Wife,” & so much of it feels eerily familiar to me. Not the plural marriage, obviously, but the complete trust & belief that children place in what their parents/leaders/mentors tell them. There was so much fear in my childhood, & I didn’t even realize it because it was the norm. I followed rules so that I wouldn’t go to hell, so that The Church would approve of me, & so that my father would love me. When I try to put words to it, I feel anxious, overwhelmed, inadequate, frightened. As I read the words written by Ann Eliza Young (the 19th wife of Brigham Young), I’m enthralled & horrified.. not because what she writes is foreign & disturbing to me, but because I know the deprogramming that was necessary for her to write that book. And I know the hatred that Mormons probably felt & feel toward her.

I want to write about how I was raised. I want to tell my story & the story of the children I grew up with. But I’m scared. I scared of my father’s anger, & the anger of the other men in The Church. I’m scared of the anger & betrayal that my family who are still in The Church would feel. And I’m scared because there’s still a voice in my head telling me that every word of unbelief & disrespect about The Church is yet another stone paving my road to hell. I don’t want to go to hell. But is there really even a hell? Or is hell — the image of the fiery pit of anguish that has provided the “or else” in everything I’ve believed  & done — is that hell a result of Dante’s imagination & creative license?

One of the catch-phrases in The Church I grew up in was “You don’t have to understand it. Just believe it.” How can this be what God wants?

Several times in the last few weeks, people who I love & respect have said disrespectful things about The Man behind The Church. And when I hear it, something inside me shrivels. I jokingly tell them that they’re going to hell, & the little voice in my head means it. The little voice tells me that speaking against The Man is a failproof way to bust hell wide open, & I’m responsible for the blasphemy of these other people because I told them stories that made them think unfavorably of The Man & The Church. It’s my fault if they go to hell… I’ve told them things that have made them “accountable.”

Ahhh yes, accountability. That’s a word that played a huge role in my childhood. The “age of accountability” was approximately 11-13 years old. Up until that time, you could ride into heaven on your parents’ coattails. There was a fear that came with my 11th, 12th, & 13th birthdays. Was THIS the year that I would no longer be able to depend on my parents for salvation? Just exactly how many times did I need to repent & cry at the altar to ensure that I wouldn’t go to hell, while my mother went to heaven & left me alone? So much fear, & most of it irrational. But as a child, you believe what you’re told. And we were told this from the pulpit regularly… so how could I NOT believe it?

I wonder if the voice in my head will ever go away.