Step 1: Admit that you are powerless to stop yourself from thinking and saying incendiary things. The demon seed throws out out a tiny rootlet the evening you ask your stepfather if the Law of Consecration is the same thing as Communism. He stares like you’ve grown horns. Later you hear him talking to your mother about how short your hair is.
Step 2: Believe that pop culture can restore your sanity. The Adversary will try to tempt you with something–R-rated movies, or heavy metal music. Indulge. Repent. Indulge. Repent. Be extremely moved by something Bad (The Godfather Part II, probably, or “Memento Mori” performed live), to the point where you begin to feel that perhaps this isn’t Bad after all. Repent ye, tearfully and at length. Give up trying to avoid that Bad (?) Thing, because it is beautiful and important and powerful and you want it in your life.
Step 3: Turn your will over to the caffeine idols. Arnold Palmers are Satan’s brew. This drink will lead you down the primrose path of sin.
Step 4: Make a searching inventory of your vocabulary. The first time you say “fuck” aloud, the friend you’re talking with busts a gut. “You’re blushing!” she cries, pointing at your face. It’s true, but you like the way the word feels, spat out. Like you could be tough; like you could maybe not care.
Step 5: Admit to another human the nature of your so-wrong-it’s-rightness. What’s this, a person of the gender you are interested in is interested in you? And has conversations with you? And listens to your opinions? And is generous and kind and smart and super hot? And wants to kiss you? You are only human. You kiss.
Step 6: Become entirely ready to have the defects of your education rectifed. There’s a reason Florida public schools left evolutionary theory out of the 9th grade bio book: they knew it would blow your mind. You feel like someone has cracked your big ol’ sapiens skull open and poured in a cocktail of fossils, baby bonobos, and sweet, sweet scientific method. You’re pretty sure your biology professor is a mouthpiece for the Holy Spirit.
Step 7: Humble yourself with meltdown. Look, it’s you, crying in the courtyard outside the campus Subway! Tears add much-needed savor to a six-inch Black Forest ham on whole wheat.
Step 8: Make a list of people to avoid. Radio silence isn’t the greatest policy for break-ups of any kind, but the thought of discussing your doubts and fears with anyone close to you is unthinkable. You don’t even admit to your LiveJournal what you’re considering. You let your work schedule you on Sundays and you just…stop showing up to church. You ignore phone calls from your visiting teachers, home teachers, bishop, and assorted missionaries. You sidestep questions from your mother about how your Sunday school calling is going. You walk the long way across campus to avoid seeing students from your YSA ward. You try to come up with some ethical way of getting rid of your scriptures.
Step 9: Make amends to yourself. During a class discussion of The Awakening your eleventh-grade English teacher told you to stop being such a feminist; at the time you were aghast, but now the Doc Marten fits comfortably. The flip side is that you begin to sense that you left the Church for the wrong reasons, for petty reasons–love, science, Al Pacino. Those are peanuts compared to what you went through as a woman in that establishment. The burgeoning stridency in you knows this, and the girl raised to smooth quarrels pushes it aside.
Step 10: Continue research and knowledge inventory. Oh look, what’s this? Websites and blogs devoted to leaving the Church? Where were your Google skills last year? You do a little reading–ok, a lot–and realize that your experience wasn’t so terrible. Your parents didn’t disown you; you didn’t have a mental breakdown (mostly). You type up an official resignation letter and send it in. You serenely ignore the fall-out from that action, pitch all “you need to stay and here’s why” literature into the recycling bin, and shamelessly recycle your copy of Mormon Doctrine.
Step 11: Seek understanding of your true feelings and inclinations. You read Under the Banner of Heaven and think, Hmmm but he missed all the really juicy bits. You overhear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir playing on someone’s laptop at the airport around Christmas and have to duck into a bathroom to cry. You long to be able to regard the church as a curio in a cabinet, not a black dog on your shoulder.
Step 12: Apply your new principles to daily life. Six years later, your mother is relating, with many heavy sighs, how they’re doing everything wrong in her ward this month, and you are chuckling. Chuckling: not uncomfortably silent, not crying, not hanging up the phone. Congratulations! The Church has left you, too.