Everyone that leaves the church has an exit story. There’s always something that made them doubt, something that made them question, or something similar. This one is my exit story.
I've always been a very individualistic person; I live life more by my own rules, and less by the whims of others. I found church boring, so I’d sleep through it. And when you have Mormon-sized families, your parents can't keep track of all of you. So I was allowed to sleep, as long as I did so discreetly. It didn't matter so much whether my parents disapproved of this action or not; I was bored, so I would sleep. With the constant sleeping through the first hour of church, I probably missed out on a lot of the indoctrination that many mormons go through. As a result, you could perhaps say that I already had a foot out to begin with. However, being the individualistic person I am, I only study something if it interests me personally. So even when I had mostly left the church, I never actually sat down and studied it, and came across many of the very real issues that exist there. So while I might have started with half a foot out, I also ended up keeping a partial foot in for far longer than I should have.
While I never really studied the scriptures or any of that (too boring), I was still raised in the church, so my default mode of thinking was still mormon, and my default setting was to believe. As a youngster and a young teenager, confirmation bias would also ‘present’ just enough evidence to keep me from seriously questioning. In retrospect, it was all little things; I’d lose my glasses, and couldn't find them after searching and searching. I’d spend enough time not being able to find them that I’d start to panic a little, and would finally pray to god to help me find my glasses. I’d eventually find them, and viola!, supporting evidence of god. Good old confirmation bias, it never steers you wrong. This continued until I was maybe 16 or so, when the first big step occurred on my Stairway to Apostasy.
It should be noted that there were several little steps before this. Like several people, I never felt anything special when I was baptized, or when I received the priesthood at 12. And while I noticed these things, and wondered a little bit why I had never felt anything special, I was able to suppress any tendency to seriously question. As an individualistic person, I never found it quite interesting enough to really delve into seriously. And since this was all I had ever known since birth, it wasn't really very different; I had no normal to compare it to, and thus no sense of just how abnormal things were.
When I was 16 or 17, there was a large tri-stake youth conference being held in my corner of the church. I lived in a part of the US that had a sparse mormon population, so involving 3 stakes meant that it included the youth across 3 states. This was billed as a Very Big Event, and was going to be Very Special.
Included in this youth conference were two events in particular that (according to the mormon belief) would be particularly special. The first one was having all of the youth perform the Joseph Smith experiment. The event took place near some undeveloped, lightly wooded land. They walked us all out into the “forest”, and at appropriate intervals (far enough not to disturb the other kids), they would have individuals pick spots out in the trees in order to repeat for themselves the events of Joseph Smith, and pray to god to ask which church was true. This might not sound particularly special to someone who has not been a mormon, but to those in the know, this was a Big Deal. The so-called founder of mormonism, Joseph Smith, is a very canonized figure in mormon culture, almost as much as Jesus himself. Everything he said was special, everything he did was special, and filled with importance, he was almost completely sinless, etc. Members of the mormon church are taught to revere Joseph Smith, and are even taught that his place in heaven is secondary only to Jesus.
In accordance with this status, specific events in his life are taught to be very special and full of meaning. So it was when he claimed to have prayed to god as a young boy, asking which church he should join, and god supposedly answered him by telling him not to join any of the existing churches, for they were all false. (Funny how he never told anyone this story, not even family, until well over a decade after it supposedly happened. But that’s for another day…) To this day, church leaders insist that you can know of the truth of the church by repeating this experiment, and praying to god about whether the church is true.
A chance to perform this under the original conditions (JS supposedly went out into the woods to do this bit of praying) was a special event, in mormon thinking. It’s something where one would surely feel the spirit, and gain a powerful testimony. So when jack shit ended up happening, that served as one of the first real seeds of doubt that I couldn't easily explain away. For once in my life, I had been sincere; instead of dicking around or taking a nap, I actually did what I was supposed to. I got down on my knees, and with all sincerity prayed for an answer. I had never really prayed seriously before; everything up to that point was mostly either "please help me find my glasses" or the robotic, going-through-the-motions prayer I told when going to bed. But this time was different. This time, I had really put forth effort. And nothing had responded.
That wasn't the only thing in this conference to cause me to doubt, however. The second Big Event of the conference was that the prophet himself came to speak to us. It should be noted here that mormons elevate their leader to an even higher pedestal than catholics do to the pope. Most mormons consider their leader to be infallible, but also consider him to be a prophet in every biblical sense of the word. This is a person that communicates with god, reveals god’s word, and can perform miracles just like the prophets of old. TBM's believe that the modern prophet can move mountains if he commands them to, or part the waters of the sea, should he choose to command it.
Surely such a powerful and righteous man has a veritable aura of righteousness about him! To be in his presence, how could someone not feel the spirit? This is the sort of vision that the youth are given about the leader of the mormon church. And this person was coming just to speak with us. Just the youth, and the prophet; no adults. We were important enough for this powerful and righteous figure to travel a considerable distance, just to speak with us. Yes, this was going to be a Really Big Deal, and meeting the prophet would surely strengthen all of our testimonies!
They place their leader upon such a high pedestal that any reality will surely fail to live up to the hype. And so it was with me. they had built up my expectations for this event, and the actual event didn't live up to my expectations. I felt nothing special by being in the same room as the prophet, or seeing him physically with my own two eyes. His talk wasn't anything special either, it was just the same boring crap that you get in general conference, which was just a polished up version of what I tried to sleep through on Sundays. Not only did the event fail to live up to the expectations, but even worse it ended up being downright boring. Whatever part of me that had ever wanted to believe was partially shattered by this event. If the mormon prophet doesn't move you, then what possibly could? Two of the most faith-promoting events my teen-aged brain could conceive of had both occurred, and both had come up empty. Combined, these two events served as my first major step towards leaving the church.