My name is Rebecca (Becca) Barton DeGrizio. I am a 33 (almost 34) year old woman, married with a one year old daughter. I am currently stationed in Germany and I am a Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force. I was Active Duty Air Force for 6 years before transiting into the Air National Guard for about another 6, and then joined the Air Reserves so that I could work in Germany with my active duty husband. I have worked full time for the Air Force the entire time, the majority of the time on Active Duty orders (so don’t let the guard/reserve aspect fool you). We have been in Germany for a year and a half and will be here for at least 1.5 more years. I was born into the church on my parents 6th wedding anniversary. My dad was in the Navy and my mom was a stay at home mom. I am number 5 of 7 kids. I lived in California, Washington, Connecticut, and Idaho before joining the Air Force (much to my father’s dismay). Since joining I have lived in Alaska, Illinois, Washington, Germany plus a 7 month deployment in Qatar. I have been divorced once. I unofficially left the church when I was 23, but didn’t have my name removed from the records until February 2020.
What parts of the Mormon experience were most important or useful to you?
- Sense of community. We moved around a lot as a military family and no matter where we went I knew there was something familiar that I could count on.
- Strong family commitment. My parents were still together when most of my friends’ parents had split up.
- I was ok being different. Before age 12 I was in the minority being a Mormon and I was used to people not understanding. When I was 12 we moved to Idaho where almost everybody was a Mormon and it was a strange albeit welcome change.
- My parents had 7 kids because they believed in multiplying and replenishing the earth and while I won’t have 7 kids myself, I am happy to have all my siblings.
What doctrinal or theological parts of Mormonism did you believe that were most important to you.
- The Joseph Smith story. I couldn’t see how someone would willingly put themselves through so much agony (for example tarred and feathered) for something that was false.
- I believed that being gay was not natural because only a man and a woman can reproduce and that was God’s intention (I don’t believe this anymore).
- I believed that the Book of Mormon must be true because there’s no way Joseph Smith could have made it up since I was taught he was fairly uneducated and not incredibly bright (a simple farm boy).
- Families can be together forever.
What spiritual experiences did you have as a Mormon that sealed your orthodox commitment to the church?
- When I was in high school my parents took us on a “magical Mormon history tour” and we visited every major Mormon history site in the US. This was significant.
- When we visited Carthage jail I wouldn’t smile for any photos because I thought it was inappropriate to smile where the prophet was murdered.
- Saw the Hill Cumorah pageant twice.
- I thought baptisms for the dead was a super cool thing.
- When I was deployed we had a very small group of Mormons and I felt like we were a part of something special out there. I played the “piano” (keyboard) every week for Sacrament meeting.
- I was always active in church with callings. I was Laurel’s president (aka Young Woman’s President), Mia Maids President and I’m pretty sure I was Beehive President at one point too.
How did you lose your faith in Mormonism?
My first duty station was Eielson AFB, AK. All my friends were not fellow Air Force members, but members of the local singles ward that I attended. I was already struggling with never feeling like I was good enough because I had “messed up” aka had sex before marriage more than once. After repenting and deploying I went through the temple to get my endowments and the ceremony was creepy to me and I remember thinking we were all ridiculous.
When I was 23 I met and married a non-member who was in the Army. After I did so, the entire singles ward turned their backs on me. False friends. When I was transferred to Scott AFB, IL I decided to not tell anybody I was Mormon and see what happened mostly because I was angry at how I was treated my last little bit in Alaska.
While stationed at Scott I met a girl (who later transitioned into male) that at the time I believed was a lesbian (she was transgender but couldn’t say) who came out after “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed.” I picked her brain on many nightshifts and my view about gay people started to shift.
My brother came out as gay in a letter that made me cry because I felt such sorrow for his experience trying to hide it.
I realized I was 10x happier not associating with the Mormon Church.
What parts of Mormonism were harmful to you?
My self-esteem suffered a lot. I never felt good enough or that I was trying to achieve a standard I could never quite reach. Having to explain to a random man (the bishop) about my sexual sins was extremely uncomfortable. More than harm to me, I didn’t realize the harm I was doing to others with my beliefs (gays, being the “only true church”, eternal families only existing within Mormonism, etc).
How do you now explain the spiritual experiences that you had as an Orthodox Mormon?
Groupthink! Desire to fit in.
I never had a super strong testimony. My feeling was that so many people can’t be wrong, but that’s because the people around me believed. Once I was around people that didn’t believe my views started to shift.I don’t deny there is a God (I also don’t claim there is one), but if there is I highly doubt he is only blessing Mormons and at the same time not withholding blessings from Mormons. It’s very possible I’ve had as well as other Mormon’s have had spiritual experiences that were very real.
My mother is super super super devout and I always admired her growing up. I didn’t think she could be wrong and in a way her testimony was my testimony.
What was transitioning out of Mormonism like for you? What was the most painful about it?
I had just transferred to a new location where I knew absolutely nobody. It was a fresh start for me in every single way. In a way this helped because there was nobody “watching” me in my day to day life.
My military scenario made my transition a bit unique to those that are in the Mormon bubble still. For a long time I felt like I couldn’t be myself on Facebook or with my family because I was trying to hide that I was inactive and had serious issues with some of the beliefs.
Knowing people pitied me or talked behind my back was painful.
I didn’t have any resources that I knew of for transitioning (I found Mormon stories only this past year, 10 years after I left the church).
None of my new friends could really sympathize or understand how losing your faith can be a traumatic experience and I couldn’t talk to my family about it (aside from my brother, but his experience was a bit different).
I got divorced during this period which is not specifically related to my transition, but it was an all-around painful time.
Realizing that my “friends” from the singles branch weren’t really my friends was one of the most painful parts. I spent 3 years in Alaska and I hardly speak to anybody that I met there anymore.
What was the most healing or joyful about the transition?
Finding real friends. When I started to find more friends in the military, I found a family unlike that I had never experienced. My friends from Scott AFB are still my dearest and most devout/sincere friends.
I learned to stand up for myself in a different way. I started to come into my own and be ok with it and what others thought about me.
I became a little less concerned with always pleasing others (although I still have a lot of that trait in me).
In a way I carved the way for my brother to leave the church. Since I already had it wasn’t as much of a shock to my mom since he wasn’t the first.
I became outspoken about gay rights. I wanted to be part of the solution after being part of the problem for so long.
In what ways did church leaders or members make your transition more difficult?
Constantly asking me to come back to church.
Telling me the reason why I had “fallen away” was because I wasn’t reading my scriptures, praying and going to church.
My mother was the worst offender and said all the typical things like I just want to sin, etc etc etc. My mom still argues with me about the church if it gets brought up and tells me I’m wrong for leaving.
Friends sometimes try to rationalize things for the church (like non official apologetics) on my Facebook posts or comments. It’s annoying at best, infuriating at worst.
Were there church leaders or members who were helpful to you? If so, how?
The church leaders and members who left me alone were the most helpful. They let me know the door was open if I wanted to come in but otherwise they didn’t pressure me.
The only time I even considered going back to church is when the branch president of the singles ward near Scott Air Force base saw me at work, recognized my name and introduced himself. He was a super nice man and actually helped me get my job in Washington State.
What resources were most helpful in your transition out of Mormonism?
Honestly I had no resources for a long time. I knew nothing of Mormon Stories, Post Mormon Facebook groups, ex-Mormon Reddit, etc.
I thought about starting my own podcast last year where I would interview people who had left the church which is when I discovered Mormon Stories and the Facebook communities. Since I discovered Mormon Stories it’s been an amazing resource.
What significant mistakes did you make in your transition?
I don’t feel like I made major mistakes in relation to my transition necessarily, but I definitely made major mistakes in life.
I did get a little “wild” in the first year or so after I left the church as I gave into some social pressures.
I know I made some angry Facebook posts about the church that hurt some of my believing friends and family.
How has your leaving Mormonism affected your family relationships, friendships, job, neighbor relationships, social life, etc?
Thankfully, as devout as my mom is, she has never turned her back on me or encouraged anybody else to (same for my brother).
My still believing siblings suffer with feelings that I think less of them or are angry with them for still believing.
Since I left the church, my brother and a brother in law have left, and two of my sisters are inactive.
I lost a lot of false friends, but I gained a lot of real friends.
Since I move around so much and was able to leave some stuff behind in a literal sense, my neighbor, job, and social relationships have suffered a great degree.
How have you navigated communication and relationships with believing family and friends? Any tips to keeping those people in your life?
I essentially “came out” on Facebook which is kind of weird but mostly had to do with my geographic location
I have to separate my feelings about the church with my feelings about the people in it. For the most part I have zero problem, but there seems to be a lot of assumptions that I and other post Mormons can’t separate the two.
I have to assure my family that I am not angry that they still believe.
I have been open about the fact that I have left the church but I have not brought up specific problematic things (as noted in places like the CES letter) because I have not wanted to cause a faith crisis in someone else.
You have to decide who is worth keeping in your life and who is not. I cut off contact with a lot of “friends” who were damaging to my mental health.
Which (if any) of your former Mormon beliefs/behaviors have you retained after your faith crisis?
I’m still really big into service for others. I still like to play hymns on the piano. When I am home I sometimes go to church with my mom (mostly for the social aspect). I still pray sometimes.
In what ways have your beliefs/behaviors changed after your faith crisis?
I consider myself Agnostic. I socially drink. I am now married but I didn’t obey the law of chastity after leaving.
I don’t believe in any organized religion. I believe that if there is life after death, that we’re all going to the same place as long as you were at least a semi-decent human being. I don’t believe God would have so many conditions as the Mormon Church claims
What aspects of your life are better after Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?
I feel like I am actually myself. I know who my real friends are. I don’t feel like I’m playing one big game of pretend. I don’t have to wear ugly uncomfortable temple garments. I don’t feel restricted. I am more self-confident
What is your life still missing? In what ways could your life still be improved without Mormonism?
The only thing I am missing is more understanding from my immediate family (mostly my mom). In a way I wish she’d wake up and see the truth, but on the other hand I don’t want her to because then she’d see her whole life was a lie and that would be incredibly painful for her.
What final advice would you give folks who are transitioning?
Put your shoulder to the wheel, push along. ;)
It gets better.
Reach out to communities of fellow post Mormons and I would let them know where those communities were if they didn’t know.
Note: This post is part of the THRIVING after Mormonism project. See here to browse other profiles. To submit your own THRIVE profile, see this link.