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?
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!