I always told myself that if I ever stopped going to Church, I wouldn't linger. I wouldn't haunt any of the spaces of my former life. I would leave, simply and suddenly, like a face melting into a crowd.

It happened with so little fanfare, even I barely noticed it. And despite every life experience that told me disappearing from the Church would be difficult, it was remarkably easy. No one followed me. No one chased after me. They just let me go and eventually forgot about me. That may sound harsh. I don't mean it to be. Of all the possible reactions I could have received, that was the best one I could've gotten. The last thing on earth I need right now is to feel like I'm being pursued by anyone or anything else.

Don't ask me how I ended up at the ward Christmas party. I'm chalking it up to morbid curiosity on my part. It was my first time confronting "the new normal," as I've started calling it in my head. It was also the first time I would see what other people's reactions would be.

I walked into a room where I didn't recognize two thirds of the people in it. I should've expected that. Of the third I knew, I was hoping to avoid any kind of real conversation with most of them. People who don't notice when you disappear usually don't deserve an explanation as to why. 

And despite having spoken to almost no one, and having avoided or cut short most conversations I did have, it never ceases to amaze me how Mormons can fit in a good cajoling into almost any conversation. 

"You should be in the choir." How, sir, would you know?

I sought out and spoke with the one person I needed to speak to. He wept when he saw me. He was the only person I told where I'd been and why. He was also the only person I told that despite everything, I still want to come back.

The Christmas party had been a stark reminder of two things: how little the Church felt like my home anymore, and how desperately I wanted it to be again. How badly I needed it, and how incomplete I would always feel without it.

I need Church to be a place where I can simply exist and reconnect with God, without expecting anything from me. I have absolutely nothing left to give to anyone. And I feel like I could say that until I'm blue in the face, and no one would hear it. I would be at Church tomorrow if it weren't for the endless ways we take advantage of each other. The ways we measure people not in terms of how much we love them, or even what they need most, but what jobs they can do for us.

My idea of a perfect church experience right now would be if I could show up and be completely and totally invisible. No one can ask you for anything if they don't see you. The thought occurs to me that I could achieve something remarkably close if I hung out in the bathroom. I know that has to sound really unusual. It's not if you know something about PTSD. I need a church experience that is way less people-y than anyone is ever going to allow it to be, unless I'm brutally and forcefully honest with them about what my life looks like.

When I first joined the Church at 16, I showed up every week to sacrament meeting, took everything in, and outwardly bawled my eyes out. The sacrament was the highlight of my week. And people just left me alone. They didn't expect me to act less broken entirely for their benefit.

I can't imagine that happening now. I don't want tissues. I don't want sympathetic expressions. I don't want people coming to my house to see if I need help. I don't want small talk. I don't want a calling. I want nothing from anyone, and I want them to want nothing from me. It took me a long time to realize it, but my relationship with God has slowly, but surely been replaced with people and what they expect from me. I got to a miserable place where I could no longer separate God from the exhausting interactions I was having with his people.

But to call it quits and walk away? I see now, with perfect clarity, that I can't do that. Too much of who I am, what I genuinely believe in the very best places of my heart and soul, is connected to being a believer. I couldn't stop or walk away from that if I tried. 

Having PTSD means that my brain hijacks my attention at unexpected moments and forces me to confront what I fear most. My worst nightmares have become a measurement for how much stress I'm under. And no matter how well I think I'm doing, I'm realizing I have no control over it. What I've also seen, in my conscious and unconscious responses to that fear, is that God is constantly who I instinctively reach for. It's not a habit that I can break. It's an expression of who I am and what I genuinely believe. It's real, no matter how much I try to ignore it.

So I have the difficult experience ahead of me of untangling God from the messes that my relationships with other people have become. I have to figure out what that looks like, and learn how to say "No" to endless numbers of things that don't serve me anymore.

For twelve years, my convert's heart couldn't understand why anyone would want to walk away from the Church. I was one of those well-intentioned, but very mistaken people that thought the right thing to do was to chase people, that love could always bring them back and make them belong. I've seen, through my own experience, that walking away is the best choice many people will ever make. It's a valid choice. Especially when the Church and your own health and happiness become incompatible with each other. That choice belongs to them, not to me or anyone else. 

It's not my place to decide for others whether they stay in the Church. I can only decide that for myself. And from being inactive for the first time, I've learned the only thing harder for me than being in the Church is staying away. 

Now I have to find a way to live with that.

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