Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Worst Two Years

The following is what Adam wrote in response to a question on an AMA (ask me anything): Former Mormon feature I did elsewhere on the web. He apologizes for rambling.


Why was my mission the worst two years of my life? Well, the answer is going to be really big, really personal, and really hard to explain because I'm going to have to give background info at every step. I honestly don't know if this even scratches the surface. Looking back at everything I've written I'm realizing it would take an entire book to get the full message across.
 I'm also going to be talking a lot about masturbation, so you can go ahead and skip the whole post if that makes you uncomfortable.
First of all, you need to understand the social expectation of every "worthy" young man of 19 years to serve a mission. Young women are taught their whole lives to stay pure so they can meet that special RM (Returned Missionary) and get married in the temple. In a lot of ways, your mission is your breeding license, indicating to all the ladies that you're good enough material in God's eyes to be the father of their children. After that it's just a matter of them picking which one they like the best. I guess girls are naturally pure and lovely, and don't need to do anything to prove their worth. A mission becomes your plumage for attracting a mate. Without it you're kind of hooped.
So what does being "worthy" to serve a mission mean? Well, you need to be keeping the commandments, especially the Law of Chastity. There are conflicting reports, but I've heard of guys who had sex in high school, repented, and were not allowed to serve because of their prior transgressions. In mormon theology, breaking the Law of Chastity is second in severity only to murder: God decides who comes and goes, and those who take those powers into their own hands are in big trouble.
Now imagine you're a fourteen year old boy. Everybody knows what fourteen year old boys do. Now imagine you're in your sunday school lesson and your teacher points out that the law of chastity can be broken BY YOURSELF. Just stop and think about the terror and internal turmoil of a fourteen year old who realizes that what they've been doing in private is the second worst thing they could possibly do in God's eyes. Thus begins the shame spiral.
Now I don't know about everybody else, but I don't see how people (especially teenage boys) can just turn off the desire to masturbate unless they've got some sort of asexual medical condition. Each time you "relapse," you feel disgusting, unworthy, and hopeless. Each time, you promise that it will NEVER happen again. After going through this process for weeks, months, and years on end, a person's self worth becomes permanently damaged. They cannot help but view themselves as broken somehow. Imagine raising someone to think that food is sinful, and they must never partake. It's like Alcoholics Anonymous, but for breathing. It's just not healthy.
Every week in sacrament meeting the young men prepare and bless the sacrament. Each week you are acutely aware of your unworthiness and inadequacy.
Then suddenly you're 18 1/2. There is a rather explicit expectation for every worth young man to serve a mission when he's 19. It's time to get ready for a mission. You know that they have "raised the bar" on the worthiness standards. They expect you to be abstinent of all sexuality. People as when you're putting your papers in. What do you tell them? Do you delay? Do you decline? Every ward (congregation) has "that person" who didn't serve a mission. They're the weird 35 year old with no family, no prospects. Sometimes they go inactive (stop coming to church). The time came and they didn't step up to the plate.
So you tell yourself that you've got it all under control, that despite your shortcomings you are worthy enough to serve. I never even had the opportunity to stop and decide if this was something I wanted to do: it was expected of me, and nobody says no to the Lord.

This topic is so big, and I've just scratched the surface, yet I don't even know if I'm getting the idea across.

So anyway, you end up on your mission. Everyone tries their best to project the outward model of what you are supposed to be, and you feel like you are the only on who is struggling on the inside to even WANT to be that. But you don't stop trying. It's like the woman in an abusive relationship who takes her beating and then frets over what she must have done to deserve it. The mission is two years completely dedicated to the Lord's work: anyone who doesn't love selflessly giving themselves to their Heavenly Father must not be living the Gospel right. For two years you lose your first name. You are given a new identity: "Elder/Sister So-and-so." You are supposed to lose yourself in the work, and really you do. You start to lose all sense of who you are as a person, you see yourself only as a missionary, as a tool in God's hands. Except that only makes it worse, doesn't it? Because people aren't meant to be perfect. People are meant to have flaws. But a flawed tool in God's hands? You're shortchanging God. After all He's given you, he just asks for two years and you can't even do that properly.
And the work itself is grueling, vapid, and depressing. Each day you wake up at 6:00. You have one hour for personal preparation (breakfast, exercise, shower, dressing), and then it's study time. For three hours every morning you study the scriptures, the lesson manuals, various teaching aids. You are expected to be a scriptorian. And Mormons have a lot more scriptures! On top of the Old and New Testament, there is the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
At 10:00, you hit the streets. Door-to door tracting, street contacting, anyone, anywhere. Nobody wants to listen to you. You spend from 10am to 8pm being rejected by every person you see. The only people who ever let us in to talk to them were those with obvious social or mental problems, who we referred to as "less accountable." We preyed on the weak, the lonely, the ignorant, while being constantly foiled and frustrated by the intelligent and well informed. Although in hindsight I can see why nobody wanted to listen to the batshit crazy nonsense we were spouting, at the time we knew that the message was perfect: the fault must therefore lie in the messenger.
Each evening we would return to our apartments and call in our numbers to our supervisor: how many hours we had spent doing what. How many people had actually let us speak to them. How many return visits we had scheduled. Our teaching sessions were called "discussions" rather than "lessons," but they really weren't anything of the sort. We were explicitly instructed to tell them our message, but that we were not supposed to hear their contradicting view in return.
The people I had to put up with made me want to kill myself. Those who achieved leadership roles in the mission organization tended to be horrendously arrogant and self-righteous. Authority in a theocracy comes down from God, through other people above you, so you can't really complain against them without complaining against God. Each person for each position is chosen by revelation, and they are entitled to receive revelation to guide those under their stewardship. That means that if you have an asshole for a Zone Leader who says everyone who doesn't baptize someone this month isn't dedicated enough to the Lord's work, that is the divinely revealed truth. Then when you work your ass off all month and nobody gets baptized, it lands on your shoulders. When they accuse you of things you didn't do, it turns out you're wrong. When they're assholes and steal your personal belongings that they don't think are in line with being a missionary, you can't complain.
For two years the mission decided what music I was allowed to listen to (only things with the church's logo, or classical music pre-1900's), when I was allowed to call home (on Christmas and Mother's Day, 30 minutes each), and who I could write emails to (only family members). They decided how many hours I had per week to buy groceries and do my laundry. I had no recreation to speak of (I started gluing popsicle sticks together out of boredom). Missionaries are paired with a "companion" who lives, eats, studies, and works with you. Literally the only time that they are not at arm's length is when you are in the bathroom. These are assigned as well.
I don't really know how to get this across. It was two years of the most mentally and emotionally damaging abuse I've experienced in my life. I vividly recall one morning, sometime early in my second year, when I realized how much longer I had left to go. I was standing in the kitchen, holding the largest knife I could find. I was trying to figure out how exactly to drop it on my foot to injure me enough to be sent home honorably without making me permanently disabled for life. I was literally weighing which appendages I could stand to lose to get out. If none of the particulars of what it was like get the message across, maybe that will at least let you know how it impacted me. I came very very close to dropping the knife.

So I spent two years being a horrible person, dedicating my soul to being better at it, and feeling like a failure for not loving it.