I can’t trace it back to its origins, nor can I recall a time without it: Church-related socializing created a wellspring of anxiety inside me. Any gathering, activity, or simply mingling after meetings would kick off the panic. I was an exposed nerve ending with all the wrong coping mechanisms in full force (read: sarcasm, cynicism, RBF).
These mechanisms really came into their own during high school: look and act like you’re too cynical to be bothered by anything, too removed to feel something as trivial as shyness, embarrassment, fear.
And I was scared. Terrified, even. Can I adequately put into words the fear of standing alone in a room (or hallway or backyard) full of people engaging effortlessly with those around them? Or rather, of being noticed as being alone in a place full of people. It is the perfect recipe for feeling pathetic, a failure. More often than not, I left Church events mentally berating myself every step of the way home, red-faced and teary-eyed, chronicling how I failed yet again, was a coward yet again, beating a prayer into the pavement with each step, I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.
But even when I did manage to socialize with those around me, it didn’t feel much better: Mormonism had this way of not just smoothing out one’s rough edges, but obliterating one’s originality. Every social engagement felt like a casting audition for a Mary Sue character. An audition for a part I knew I would never get. The messed up bit, really, is that over the years of struggling to make it work with the Church, I’d forgotten that I’d never even wanted this part in the first place. My name may be Molly but I would never be a Molly Mormon, and I was damn proud of that.