Growing Up Mormon: Religious Addiction

building.gif When I was very young my parents drank, smoked and rarely went to any church. My father had been raised Mormon, but had left the religion to sow wild oats or something. My mother was a Norwegian Lutheran from North Dakota. She was the responsible one, never doing anything to the extreme. My father, from stories I’ve gathered, had quite the alcohol problem – carousing and going on three-day binges. He struggled with excess, characteristic of addictive personalities.

After his last Vietnam duty tour, he came home with a new addiction. While over there he traded all the others in on religion. Specifically Mormonism. It superseded alcohol, tobacco, and sex (I’m speculating on that one, based on clues I’ve heard during family gatherings).

As with all addicts, it’s only good if everyone around you approves, participates, aids and abets. He came back from the war with demands. My mother was required to receive the missionary discussions. She was polite, as Norwegians are. She sat through them with the missionaries, read the Book of Mormon, and said, “No, thank you.” I’d just turned six. I really didn’t understand all this stuff, but I knew that I was now going to church a lot. I mean A LOT.

Despite her refusal, my father required my mother to attend all the services, socialize and participate completely.

Meanwhile, he immersed himself. He accepted callings and requested more. He went to every ward function, he helped every member move, he worked at the building, printed the weekly bulletin, volunteered to drive elderly members on errands. Everything he volunteered for included his family. Even when he’d be working in the office of the ward building and no one would be around, we’d have to sit in the foyer and wait for him to get done. With every assignment, he’d be sure to tell everyone around us how I’d been eager to volunteer, regardless the threats or whippings it’d taken to get me to come. It was important for him to have a good, righteous son.

What I really remember was that we were always in a hurry, rushing from one activity to another. He’d get home from work and we’d have to be standing in the living room, ready to go wherever it might be. Every day and all weekend. One memory dominates my childhood – I’m in a suit and tie watching all the neighbor kids play in their yards from the rear window of our station wagon as we drive away.

In all scheduling conflicts, church won out. We never went to school activities, my parents weren’t part of the PTA or anything else, we never attended neighborhood gatherings as a family – and there were a lot of them on military bases. We were the family that never participated.

In this religious addiction, my father didn’t notice that he lost something – his family. He believes that the church is the source of all things that strengthen families, but the truth is that unhealthy addictions, no matter what the object of the addictive fervor, are destructive.

I’ll bring this up again in later posts, but I was really into sports. I was good at them. I played baseball, basketball, football. I wrestled and I ran track. In track I went to state two years in a row. We went to state in basketball and I was all conference. In baseball I was twice named to the American Legion all-star teams.

Anyone with kids knows what kind of time commitments and expenditures sports require of families. My father was an addict however, so he made his choice and his choice was his religion. He never went to a single game in any sport that I played. He never saw me wrestle. He never attended an awards banquet. He never asked me about my scholarship offers – he didn’t care because it wasn’t about the church. I was the kid who had to beg rides with other families to out of town tournaments. I was the boy without any money for the stop at McDonald’s or for the hotel at the state tournament.

But I digress. My mother underwent the missionary discussions three times over a two year period, and after hundreds of arguments, after hour-long prayer after hour-long prayer, after begging, pleading, cajoling and bullying, she relented. We were baptized together on my eighth birthday and she’s been trying to get out of going to meetings ever since, but like the rest of us they dominated her life. Sometimes I see a simpler desire in her eyes, a life without the pressure of expectations and without the punishment of eternal purgatory for the unrighteous.

It wasn’t until twenty-eight years later, when her last child left the house that my mother got to join a bowling league – the one pre-LDS activity that she really enjoyed, that she really missed. Now she bowls on Monday nights and I’m sure it’s more enjoyable than any family home evening we ever had.

Hi, I’m Rick and my father is an addict.

This and other stories from my life are over on my blog.

CV Rick

I was raised both Mormon and as a military brat (Air Force). We moved all over the world and I got to experience these two very unique worlds together, which gives one a unique perspective on the church and on the Utah/Idaho Mormons. My father retired and moved to Blackfoot, Idaho where I went to high school as something of an outsider. Then after dropping out of college I went into the Air Force myself where I eventually ended up serving both Combat and Combat Support roles in Desert Storm and other theaters.

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5 Responses

  1. SML says:

    From one child-of-an-addict to another, this post is awesome in pinpointing the hazards of addiction to religion that can be so prevalent within the LDS church.

    Very well done.

  2. exmoron says:

    Wow! That’s horrible and amazing at the same time. It’s also enlightening. I had never really thought to consider looking at religion as an addiction. That’s an intriguing insight that I’ll have to pay attention to in the future.

    Also, I can empathize with the missed games and such; I, too, was very active (in academic groups and sports) and my father wasn’t always able to make it – though he did try. The reasons were mixed – both work and church, but I’m sure that if church wasn’t in the mix he would have made it to a lot more of them.

    Thanks for sharing…

  3. Hellmut says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Rick. My father was an alcoholic. He had a pretty hard life and made life hard for us. And yet I think that Mormonism messed more with me than my dad.

    Anyways, it’s important to keep in mind that one can never know if another person really has a choice. I am pretty sure that my father did not have much choice. May be, your father did not have that much choice either.

  4. CV Rick says:

    For all his talk about Free Agency, it’s interesting to think that my father didn’t have a choice. No, he claimed to have choice in everything, so his choices were his own.

    exmoron, it’s nice that your dad at least tried . . . mine would volunteer for church stuff intentionally to busy himself on nights he could’ve attended my non-church activities.

    SML . . . Our dads might have been twins separated by fate.

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