Tuesday, June 20, 2017

For shame....

Remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. (Margaret Mead.)

There’s a post making the rounds this week addressing that ridiculous adage we post-Mormons often hear (and hate) about leaving the church but not leaving it alone. The intended audience of the post is the believing family and friends left behind, those most apt to utter the aforementioned words. The author eloquently describes the place our belief had in our lives, and the difficulty we face when we come to the realization that we no longer hold those beliefs to be true, and attempt to navigate the rocky post-Mormon road.

I’m hopeful that the author's words will reach those of my family members and friends who have struggled to understand why I can’t leave the church alone, and will perhaps understand me a little better.

However, in my life, the people who most often lob that accusation my way are those who are traveling this post-Mormon road alongside me.

As a newbie on this journey, several years ago, I found a community of like-minded souls through Facebook, and they quickly became my tribe. We found solace in one another’s stories, and looked for opportunities to gather together and vent our grievances.

On one such occasion, I had brought along a new friend, who had also recently left the church. She in turn brought one of her friends, who had been out of the church for a few years by this time. We met up in a bar, and the topic of the majority of the conversations that took place that night centered on the discoveries we had each made of the untruths and deceptions of the church we had left behind. Anyone who has been down this path understands the solidarity of hearing one’s own experiences echoed in the stories of others in similar circumstances. It was camaraderie in the truest sense of the word.

As we left that night, my two friends turned to me and expressed their dismay that the entire evening had been about Mormonism. Didn’t we have anything else to talk about? Why couldn’t we leave it alone now that we had left it?

Sound familiar?

I’ve been in many Facebook groups over the years, a few of which have been formed based on our common past as Mormons, whether as feminist Mormons, or former believers married to believers, or women of a certain age who have found themselves attempting to navigate the minefield of post-Mormonism in middle-age. Almost invariably, someone will post a request that Mormon-themed posts be limited, as we have much better things to talk about than our post-Mormon angst. We need to leave it behind us, not drag it into our present and continue to hash and rehash our experiences. Why can’t we leave it alone now that we have left it?

Again, very familiar verbage.

I read a post recently on Reddit about navigating the anger phase of post-Mormon recovery. One responder commented on his wife’s ease with which she left the church, once she discovered that it wasn’t true. He had been out of the church himself for several years by this time, and had been gently attempting to introduce her to some of the whitewashing in the church’s history, with limited success. She stumbled across the CES letter, and for her, that was it. The church wasn’t true, and she was done. No angry phase, no mourning what she had lost. She was just done, and she moved on. He said of her that “she is the mentally healthiest ex-Mormon I know.”

Maybe this isn’t so much good mental health as it is a personality trait. Maybe she isn’t a person who feels the need to process difficult emotions verbally, including those that generally surface when leaving an all-encompassing religion such as Mormonism.

I have no idea how she came to her “mentally healthy” state, but I resent the implication that those of us who have had to wade through a lot of post-Mormon angsty shit are mentally unhealthy.

The past few years have taught me many things about myself, one of which is that I have a slow burn, but once my tipping point is reached, I grieve hard. When I realized the church wasn’t true, I didn’t think anything in my life would change. I figured that I would keep attending church as I had for most of my 50+ years, that I would continue wearing garments, that I would continue paying tithing, that I would continue to abide by the Word of Wisdom (as understood in the temple recommend interview). I couldn’t envision a different life for myself at that time.

However, as I began a closer study of this religion I’d been following, and discovered the many obfuscations and outright deceptions, I started to feel angry. As I said, it was a slow burn. But once I acknowledged my anger, and allowed myself to look deeper at the reasons for it, there was much fuel for this fire. And I couldn’t contain it.

I found myself seeking out like-minded souls with whom to process my feelings of grief and rage. Leaving Mormonism is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and had I tried to keep it all inside, I imagine it would have consumed me.

I feel very fortunate to have found people who were also attempting to navigate this path, and to have had opportunities to share what I was thinking and feeling with them.

My husband’s uncle, who had been excommunicated in the 1980s for heresy, was the first person I encountered as I started down this rocky path who I knew would understand the difficult position I was in. He gave me the space to verbalize, for the first time, that I didn’t believe the church was true. And he welcomed my questions and concerns, and acknowledged my anger. He will always by one of my heroes for his ability to help me process my own anger without going up in flames alongside me. I am incredibly grateful that he didn’t shame me for my anger, nor tell me it was inappropriate or unhealthy. He helped me direct it toward its rightful target, and pointed me toward useful information as I sought answers to my many questions. Thank you, Uncle Denny.

Next came John Dehlin, of Mormonstories fame. Back in 2010, before Facebook had really taken off, John was heavily involved in such internet sites as staylds.com and newordermormon.net. I first discovered him through an article, ironically, in the Deseret News, talking about his work helping people who had come to the realization that the church wasn't true, but for various reasons needed to figure out how to stay in and be healthy. Through John, I joined an online ‘ward’, where I found the support I needed as I attempted to figure out the healthiest path for me. I wasn’t sure how to stay, but because of my believing husband (and other family members), I wasn’t sure I could go. John provided the perfect venue at the perfect time where I found others who ‘got’ it. I got to be as angry as I needed to be, and no one in that group ever shamed me for it. Thank you, John.

Facebook groups became a thing sometime around 2010-11, and I joined several that were Mormon-themed, such as Feminist Mormon Housewives, and Mormonstories, which led to other groups targeted more to those who had decided to leave the church behind. I cannot express fervently enough my gratitude for these groups, and the people I met there. I was given the opportunity to express my anger, rage, frustration, grief, disappointment, outrage, disillusionment, resentment,  and every other negative emotion that arose as I walked away from the religion of my birth. Anger is a natural reaction to pain, and leaving Mormonism was fraught with painful experiences. Having a space to navigate all those emotions proved invaluable on my journey away from religion. Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg.

Expressing anger isn’t inherently unhealthy. Getting stuck in the anger phase, maybe. But talking about it with others who understood, and could relate, helped move me through the stages of grief. My journey hasn’t proceeded in a linear fashion, and I’ve cycled in and out of grief, rage, and even depression, multiple times. But as time has gone on, and I’ve hashed and rehashed my experiences with my new-found friends and soul-mates, I’ve come to acceptance, and a measure of peace.

My post-Mormon journey hasn’t been smooth sailing, but I am better for having walked this path. And I’m grateful for those who have walked with and beside me, holding space for my anger, without an added measure of shame.

I am Myrtlejoy, and, with a little help from my friends, I am the mentally healthiest ex-Mormon I know!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Cognitive Dissonance

It’s been almost eight years since I left the church. I’ve processed a lot of emotions in those years, cycling in and out of grief, anger, sadness, and even, as unbelievable as it may seem, elation. That’s life, I guess.

Through it all, my husband has maintained his rock solid belief that this church is true. More specifically, that the gospel at its core is true, and that the church is the imperfect chosen vehicle to carry that gospel to all the earth. He believes that he has been “given to know”, and there is nothing, according to him, that can shake his testimony.

I’ve come to accept this about him, mostly, and have never attempted to sway his opinion. He knows that I know more than he does about the founding days of the church, and the prophet of the restoration. We’ve had many conversations about old Joe, and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my husband will never see him as anything but a divinely chosen prophet, seer, and revelator. He isn’t interested in hearing the more salacious details of Joe’s polygamous ways in Nauvoo, and we’ve managed to make peace over the issue.

Most days, I’m okay with this. It is what it is.

Every now and then, though, I find myself circling back around to anger.

One evening last week, after a busy weekend at work, I was perusing the interwebz looking for a podcast to occupy my time. I have enjoyed Lindsay Hansen Park’s “Year of Polygamy” series, but I haven’t listened to all 100+ episodes. I know enough of the history that I am able to keep up without the necessity of listening to each and every episode in order. I find the history she covers fascinating, and most of the time, I am able to absorb the details without getting enmeshed in the emotions.

Last Sunday night, I selected a 2-parter on Emma Smith, Joe’s publicly acknowledged wife. I know this stuff; I read “Mormon Enigma” when it was first published back in the 1980s. I’ve read Todd Compton’s “In Sacred Loneliness”, more than once. I’ve read Bushman’s tome, “Rough Stone Rolling”, and Richard S. Van Wagoner’s “Mormon Polygamy: A History”. I don’t think there is anything I haven’t read or heard on the subject. I had probably already listened to this particular podcast. I know this stuff.

However, for some reason, listening again triggered something in me, and I felt the anger flare up, and a burning, irrational (or not) hatred of all things polygamous and Mormon.

I looked across the room at my oblivious husband, blissfully unaware that his spouse was in that moment attempting to destroy him with her eyes.

He wasn’t ever in any real danger. I know I can’t destroy people with my eyes. Yet.

But, oh my god. If he could have read my mind, he would probably have run. Or at least ducked.

How can a person hold two completely opposing beliefs in their brain and maintain sanity?

How can my husband believe Joseph Smith to be a divinely appointed prophet of the restoration, worthy of reverent worship, while also knowing that he was a lying, cheating, husband to Emma?

The story that triggered this emotion detailed the marriage of Joseph to the Partridge sisters, Emily and Eliza. They were young women who had been living in the Smith’s home for a couple of years as helpers to Emma. Unbeknownst to Emma, they had agreed to become celestial, plural wives to Joseph early in 1943. They were living with Emma, presumably helping care for her children and assisting with the housework, and sleeping with her husband. Under her watchful, though oblivious, eye.

By all accounts, Emily and Eliza believed celestial marriage to be a commandment from God, and they had agreed to join Joseph in holy matrimony as his wives in name and deed. At the time of the first marriage ceremony, Emma was unaware of the arrangement.

Within a couple of months of the secret marriage, Joseph had managed to convince Emma that celestial marriage was a divine principle, and she agreed to get on board, with the condition that she choose Joseph’s future wives. She chose the Partridge sisters, unaware that they had already been joined to her husband as his spiritual wives.

This second marriage was performed with Emma as a witness.

Emma, beloved wife of Joseph, stood by and watched as he took the two young sisters as brides, for time and eternity. I cannot imagine the heartache she must have felt in that moment.

Rumors had been swirling around Nauvoo for some time about Joe’s spiritual wifery. Emma countered the rumors whenever and wherever she could, insisting that her husband was not involved in such debauchery as plural marriage. Coming to understand the full extent of his involvement, as the author of the principle and an eager participant, must have rent her heart in two. And to be a witness herself? She has earned for herself an exalted place in the eternities. If such a place exists.

As I contemplated this story, and my husband’s unwavering testimony of Joseph Smith the prophet, I felt a distinct sense of cognitive dissonance on his behalf. And rage. And sorrow. I can’t believe he didn’t feel the force of my glare across the room and wither under its heat. But he didn’t. He was engrossed in the Sunday afternoon NASCAR race with our son, and remained unmindful of my distress.

I mulled this over for the next few days, and considered how the conversation might have gone had I confronted him in the heat of the moment. Not well, I imagine. Much like other conversations we’ve had about old Joe. “This isn’t just church history, it’s family history (he is a direct descendent of Hyrum Smith), and there isn’t anything you can tell me that I don’t already know.” Yeah, we’ve been down this particular road before, without resolution.  And I really can leave it alone, letting him believe what he believes. He affords me the same respect, and our truce has been, for the most part, peaceful.

But I really don’t get it. I don’t.

A few days later, I ran into an old friend from my church-going days. She has remained a faithful friend, unafraid to be infected by my apostasy, and I feel comfortable having almost any conversation with her. Our meeting seemed providential, and I took advantage of the opportunity to question a true believer about Joe’s divine calling as prophet, and his penchant for plural marriage.

My friend is so awesome. She truly is. She listened thoughtfully as I explained my dilemma, and considered her response carefully. I could tell she took my question seriously, but didn’t take it as an opportunity to bear her testimony. I appreciate this more than she can know.

My friend responded first by telling me that while she is aware of the complicated history of the church, and Joseph Smith, she has chosen to err on the side of believing in his prophetic calling because she sees the fruits of her belief as overwhelmingly positive. (I am paraphrasing, as I didn’t record our conversation, and I don’t have a photographic memory! My apologies if I got anything wrong.)

She then referenced the founding fathers of our nation. She is a history buff, and knows the salacious details of their very flawed stories, but finds much to revere and respect in the fruits of their actions, so she is able to look past their character flaws and appreciate their accomplishments. She does the same with Joseph Smith. She sees the good that comes to her life by believing in the church, and living the principles of the gospel, and is able to put the rest aside. It isn’t so much that she sees the issues as inconsequential, but that her testimony of Joseph Smith and the church he founded is a net positive for herself and her family.

I respect the position she has chosen to take, and I admire her ability to see the good while acknowledging the negative aspects of church history. I don’t understand it, but I respect it. And I’m very grateful that she would freely share her feelings with me without being threatened by my questions. She is an exemplary Mormon, and I love her, in spite of her religious leanings…. (insert smiley face emoticon….:)

Still, I don’t get it. I look over at my husband, choosing to believe in Joseph Smith the prophet, in spite of Joseph Smith the polygamist (and cheating liar), and I don’t get it.

Which I guess explains why I’m out, and he stays in. He doesn’t need it to make sense. He doesn’t require his prophet to be without flaws. And I don’t either, necessarily. I just don’t consider marrying multiple women without his wife’s consent to be a character flaw. It’s a flaming red flag, and all the evidence I need that Joseph Smith was not a prophet. In my humble opinion, his deeds were not godly, and could not possibly be sanctioned by any supreme being worthy of worship.

In conclusion, DH and I will have to continue to agree to disagree. But, for the record, he’s wrong, and I’m right.

Just don’t try to tell him that. He won’t get it.