Date: May 04, 2017 01:44PM
I am so glad I found this site, thank you to the wonderful people who put this together! I am a 44 year old female ex-Mormon. I left at age 22-23 after attending BYU and seeing the Mormon church up close and personal. I was raised in Maryland as one of maybe 10 other Mormons in our high school of 4000 students. Being a minority my whole life strengthened my convictions and Mormon identity, as I was always put on the defensive, being made fun of much of the time. Still, I had mostly non-member friends and was unfamiliar with Mormon majority situations and living. Moving to Utah in 1990 was a wake up call. I also at 18 didn't yet really know anything about the LDS doctrine, since that is really kept a secret until adulthood and esp. until temple ceremonies.
First thing I noticed was a severe curtail of my freedoms at BYU. Apparently their laws operated outside of the laws of the United States government being a 'private institution' they could 'make me wear yellow underwear if they wanted' as my parents would say, actually in their defense of BYU's policies, and in anger towards me for questioning them at all. I was a Mormon but an artist so out of the 7 kids in our family I was the one that tended to ask questions. I was in the design school studying photography and of course I made friends with the other artists and one by one I saw them get reported to the Standards office for not being 'dressed appropriately' The Standards laws left for a lot of interpretation. What was 'appropriate?' Apparently in the early 90s in Provo, Utah it meant floral printed dresses with puffy sleeves! What we quickly learned was that Big Brother was watching us in the form of all of our 'well intentioned' room mates and teachers and class mates who were 'looking out for our well being.'
On campus life was the hardest. I nearly left BYU that year. But moving off campus helped a lot. I wasn't as much under that watchful eye, esp. after choosing my own house mates. One of my house mates at that point already dropped out of BYU as she couldn't take the harassment anymore. I met others like her and soon was involved with volunteering for the Student Review, BYU's 'unofficial' magazine. I helped distribute it on campus. You should have seen the dirty looks I got and the out right refusals to leave them in different offices on campus. I didn't get it, we were just exercising our freedom of speech. But I found out that was one of the things we didn't have on the BYU campus. A few teachers had even been fired for expressing views that the church authorities didn't like. I had a big issue with this, my parents didn't seem to have any.
In those first years when home for the summer I would complain to them, I would try to get them listen, to read the Student Review. But they reacted in a very hostile way towards me. They didn't want to hear it. And they grew more and more concerned about me and my 'salvation.' They would sigh and roll their eyes and shake their heads and mutter things like 'I sent my daughter to BYU and this is what happens?' (Meaning 'what she learned to think??') That's not supposed to happen in college according to them. Though in my mind I thought that's what the point was. But I learned that they saw BYU as a place to further indoctrinate their children. And being female it was a place for their daughter to get her 'MRS', find a good RM and get married and start 'replenishing' the earth with more brain washed Mormon members. I grew increasingly frustrated and started to question the own course of my life, which up to that point I had assumed would be like my parents. I would meet my 'soul mate' at BYU and have a lot of kids and be a 'home maker.' But that was always a distant abstraction. I had thought I would just want that when it was time for it.
But in my early 20s (When Mormon women are supposed to marry) I still felt like myself and I still didn't want marriage or kids. Well I may have wanted a mate. I dated a lot and fell in love a couple of times and got my heart broken enough during those years. But I couldn't see myself in the role the church wanted for me. I wanted to be a photographer and an artist. I wanted to travel and learn languages. I wasn't being taken seriously by my art teachers because they didn't expect me to even graduate let alone work in the world. But I kept on with my studies and I dealt with sexual harassment by one of my teachers and then emotional sexual abuse by one of my bishops (another story). And I stayed at that school because the design department was a good college and I had a full scholarship. I wasn't going to be able to afford art school any other way.
I survived BYU by finding others like me. Some of them had already left the church, others were questioning like me and for the last 2 years of school I was able to get away with not attending church more than a few times a year without getting kicked out. A friend and I had found out about a 'cool bishop' who would sign anyone's 'ecclesiastical endorsement' (required to stay in school based on your church attendance!) at the end of the year if you said hi to him a couple of times during the year and he then knew you by sight. This worked well for us and I was spared the relentless long meetings that I was less and less tolerant of. I avoided 'callings' and other drains on my time and patience.
My last year of school I did my internship in New York City. What a breath of 'fresh' (not literally it was very garbage stinky) air after Provo. I felt so free there, anonymous and free to be who I wanted. I had already also traveled abroad at this point. I got a nanny position with a family in the south of France a couple of years before. That experience also broadened by horizons quite a bit. But in NYC I really felt liberated. I then met an ex-Jewish boy. He had actually converted to orthodox Judaism at one point and even gone on a Hasidic mission proselytizing to other Jews (only). But he had become disillusioned with it and began to question his religion and religions in general. We fell in love and he helped me intellectually question the Mormon church. And this was the final push I needed to really leaving the church. What did it for me was finding out about 'View of the Hebrews' the book that Joseph Smith plagiarized when writing the Book of Mormon. He had found out about it and at first I was skeptical, not wanting to believe something like that. It was one thing to be disgruntled with how the church was run and how I had been treated at BYU, but to question the origins of it was another matter.
Still I wanted to know the real truth. Not just what I had been told was true by all of the authorities who had controlled my life up to that point. So we found out there were only 2 copies left of that book in print in the world. And one of the was in the locked cases at the BYU library. (I think the other copy was also in the hands of the church, but in another location.). So when I returned to school after my internship (I had another semester left) I asked to see the book. They wouldn't just let anyone handle it of course so I made up a story about needing to see it for a religion class I was taking. I went into detail about how I was writing a paper refuting that it had anything to do with the Book of Mormon. They still only wanted to make copies for me but I insisted. I still remember how intensely nervous I was, worried about getting caught out. But they actually gave it to me. I sat with it in a private room, with this over 100 year old book. I read some of it and made copies of parts of it. The similarities with the stories in that book and the book of Mormon were astounding.
That was it for, enough evidence that Joseph Smith was not a prophet but a fraud. It still shattered my world even after my years of doubts. But I was happy to know. I somehow made it through those final months and it took me 3 years more to graduate via a few correspondence classes I still needed for my last credits. I just couldn't bare staying there any longer to finish school. I went back to NYC and struggled for 3 years trying to earn a living as a photographer. I ended up in studio and office management and assistant and intern positions for other photographers mainly. A lot of it was still because of sexism, which wasn't, as it turned out, confined to BYU and the Mormon church.
I stayed with my Jewish boyfriend for a couple of years until he started to miss his religion and wanted to get more involved again, but on a less fanatic level. Even knowing how much of it was BS he just felt the need for that group identity. I tried it with him for awhile and other churches but everything reminded me of the LDS church and now I understand I had a lot of PTSD I was and am still dealing with that makes it impossible for me to be involved in any group religion or spiritual group. I have been more comfortable exploring spirituality on an individual level. So when I realized that if I married him (which was our original plan) that I would be the non-Jew in the Jewish family and I wouldn't belong in my own family (just as I already didn't in my own). I knew it wouldn't work for me. So we broke up on good terms and I went abroad to live in other countries for a while. (But I won't go into all of that here.)
What I want to tell about it how I finally told my family. I had somehow managed to keep it a secret from them during my 3 years in NYC. That I wasn't attending church. In my family when people sense something is going on they may not want to know about we sort of have this 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. So that made it easy on me. But when I was back home again after over a year abroad and had to take refuge for a few months till I got on my feet again and figured out my next move (literally and figuratively).. I was expected to attend church on Sundays with my family. I tried it. I think either once or twice. Having been away from it for so many years I found those 3 hours to be intensely unbearable. So I knew I'd have to tell them. I don't remember the details of how I brought it up. But I do remember feeling like it shouldn't be such a big deal an that secretly they must have already suspected, esp. after my non-Mormon boyfriends the one in NYC who would come down on some weekends with me to visit and the one in Ireland that I was living with (though maybe I never really spelled it out for them that we were living together)..
Anyway I knew it might be hard to tell them, that's why I had avoided it, but nothing prepared me for how they actually reacted. I just remember the tears and yelling and high emotions. It was days of it. Just this whole upheaval. And after my parents freaking out on me and once they recovered enough, they started in on different tactics to win me back. First it was sicking my older brothers on me for private 'counseling' sessions. It was so uncomfortable being cornered by them, using different arguments and approaches on me. And then having to talk on the phone with my bossy sister in law who really laid into me in a very accusing way. As I said the details are blurry but I still remember the emotions of it and how it made me feel so awful. They wanted to say and think that some members had offended me and didn't want to hear that really what I had a problem with was the doctrine. I soon learned that they all viewed me as an 'intellectual' (though I hardly ever thought of myself as one and still don't probably because I know what that really means and they don't) and so they tried to also reach me on that level saying that all philosophy has it's holes but that the church's gospel was 'true' and that they knew of other 'intellectuals' who had read 'all' of the books against and for Mormonism and they had chosen Mormonism.
They assumed that once I 'had all of the facts' and dove down a bit further I would learn the 'truth' something they didn't need to investigate personally since they felt their emotions were enough of a guide for them. But that's how we were taught to understand spirituality and our religion. It was all emotional reactions that we were instilled with at a young age. We were trained to respond emotionally to the testimonies born at testimony meetings. They even had us go up there as little kids when we couldn't possible 'know' what we believed in as far as gospel and doctrine were concerned. And say things like 'I KNOW this church is TRUE. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet.' And the whole congregation is so moved by this manipulative display and they think 'out of the mouth of babes' as if that's really what the scripture was referring to. But getting that kind of positive feedback at such young ages was very powerful. I can still feel that kind of emotional reaction in me to hearing that statement.
But now I have some distance and know better. I can at least watch these emotions in me the way I do with TV commercials and know that I am vein manipulated. that way I can sort of laugh it off and not take it seriously. But it still annoys me that the emotional triggers are there because the indoctrination was so effective. I resent being manipulated. My family eventually calmed down. and I was fortunate (?) that they didn't shun me completely as I have heard other Mormon families do. But they decided they still loved me anyway. however it's taken many years since then to win more independence and emotional freedom.
It took me marrying and having them try to convert my husband (in their sneaky ways that are actually very transparent though they think they are being clever.. inviting us, well him, not telling me about it, to 'see the Christmas lights' at the temple in DC. While we were visiting for Christmas and he a guest in their home and being asked in secret he was put on the spot and had to say yes. I forgave him for that and hoped that maybe the outing would prove harmless. But then I had forgotten what Mormons are really like, esp. in numbers and at Temple grounds and visiting centers. The centers are packed with missionaries ready to pounce! So of course we were accosted and it was all very awkward and awful. I later, fed up at this point, called my father out on his underhanded tactics to convert my husband (thereby bringing me back to the fold as well). I told him he was to NEVER try anything like that again. and I guess I was scary enough that he stopped. But they never really do stop completely. Esp. not my father (who has a god complex and I could write books about my trials being his daughter).
So then I went through divorce (my partner turned out to be alcoholic and abusive as were a number of men before and after him, because though I left the LDS church and it's patriarchy I had never had any really good examples of healthy partnerships in my life or men who were not emotionally abusive and sexist.) My whole family supported me in it, to my surprise. But my father didn't and he was not only not supportive but blaming. I saw then the pattern of my whole life of his blaming me and the extent of the sexism I had endured feeling like I was worth nothing as a woman except in my role serving men (and God through men) and family. But any attempts I made in my career(s) and other endeavors even when successful were just not recognized as my brothers' endeavors and successes. Mine did not matter. Nothing I did mattered outside of the church.
But at least I had finally gotten married even if to a 'non-member'. My family, at my 'ripe old age' of 29 had given up all hope of me ever marrying. So now I guess I had broken my father's heart. And he understood nothing of the abuse I had put up with. Those arguments and the ordeal he put me through when I had already been through enough in my marriage of 4 years, were the final straw for me. I started to really distance myself from my father and from my family. But not my younger sisters, they have always been allies, probably because of the big age gap. But from my brothers (except one, though practicing and very involved he's still kind and warm with me and gave up long ago trying to tell me how to live my life, so there is some peace there now, though some censorship still esp. on how I live my life)..
Years later and more failed relationships.
I finally went to therapy and talked about my childhood in the church. I actually had my therapist read this excellent book by an ex member called 'Secret Ceremonies' before starting sessions as I realized that it would take me way too long to explain my Mormon background and how it affected me as a female and be very costly to me in therapy bills! So she agreed and enjoyed the read and understood why I needed her to read it first. I went for 2 years almost weekly. And that helped me a lot. That and Al Anon.
My parents were not alcoholics but many of my partners had been and I finally understood that religious fanaticism is the same as drug or alcohol addiction and so the behaviors of my parents really fell in with the behaviors of alcoholics and explained my attraction to those types of people. I was always so careful not to get involved with religious followers but it still didn't save me from reliving the same old dynamics. I still took the subservient position in all of my relationships. I struggled with my own resentments and passive aggressive behavior and attraction 'unavailable' men and even in my friendships with women, women who behaved this way.
After therapy and Al Anon I had a better understanding but I still had difficulty in practice. I had to go through one more heartbreak, this time it felt like the worst. I actually felt suicidal. I even called the suicide hotline. This was 5 years ago.
After that darkness, where I really felt I hit rock bottom emotionally things started to change for me. I finally felt ready to care for myself and didn't feel the need to loose myself in a relationship. I got involved in things I liked to do and cared about. It was in this way that I met my current mate. We have been together almost 4 years and I can happily say that we have a very stable healthy relationship and an equal partnership. He really is my best friend and does all he can to take care of me and look out for me. He even moved cross country with me to a remote desert location when I got so ill with MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity) and EHS (electromagnetic hyper sensitivity) that a drastic change in location was the only thing that was going to help me get better.
I can see now how the years before of emotional suffering and related chronic illness finally had caught up with me and taken its toll. Two years later I can report very good progress in my recovery. I've had to take a holistic approach and part of that is understanding the emotional component.
After I found that book back in 1995 I had not wanted to read anything about the Mormon church. I didn't want to think about it, I wanted it behind me. But really what happened is I buried it. And buried it deep. Those few years ago in therapy was the first time I was willing to do any digging and the first time I was okay with reading something about the church by an ex member. But that's all I was able to handle at the time. Now that I am in a safe supportive relationship and environment I feel stronger and more able to confront the truths of my past and religion. I think being out West again too makes me feel closer to that and to the church's past. I have started to journal about my experiences to really get them out in the open.
What hurts us most is the secrets. Living with them. That haunting. Mormons are so great at keeping secrets too, that training we get in re. to all of the 'sacred covenants.' Our parents keeping these incredible secrets from us about covenants they have made and doctrine they believe in that they expect us to one day believe in too. It's still hard for me to fully accept that this religion has all the markings of a cult and has it's origins in Free Masonry and I recently have been looking into the Blood Atonement doctrine that was actually practiced for decades in the early church. I am reading 'Blood of the Prophets' all 400 pages. (I am on page 120, but in for the long haul.)
There is so much I didn't know about the church that is still shocking to me. Intellectually I am not really that surprised. But on an emotional level I can see how it still affects me. And how difficult this confrontation really is. It hurts too because most of my family (and now I have 25 nieces and nephews!) are still heavily involved. It hurts that I can never tell them about anything I've learned because I know how thick their shields of denial and so how impossible the conversations I'd love to have actually are. They can never be. I cut off communication with my father after a particularly disturbing letter I got from him a few years ago. When I didn't respond, when I refused to play that game anymore with him, he didn't know what to do. He backed off completely and it was liberating.
However he's snuck his way back in slowly in the last couple of years (though I still manage to keep him at more than arms length now). Esp. after learning about and finally meeting my boyfriend. My whole family now knows we are 'living in sin'.. but they don't say anything. I know they still secretly judge me for it and pray for my soul but they do acknowledge him and even ask after him. But I know they still hope for our marriage and of course a temple one. My dad found another back handed way to try to get my partner involved in the LDS church. It was so silly and childish and transparent. But it didn't affect me as it would have in the past. I have more of a live and let live, hand's off, view of things now. But I have to maintain this sense of serenity with diligent meditation practice and also via journal writing and writing as I am here. No longer hiding.
My partner is now learning about the LDS church along with me and is understanding just how serious of an impact it's had on me. He can now see that his going to a Unitarian church irregularly through his childhood is nothing compared to my experience with Mormonism. And he and I are both seeing how it's a kin to have survived a cult. And what that really means. I think now that I may never be fully free of the influence of this cult religion. But at least I am finding ways to cope with the aftermath. I am bringing everything out of the dark hiding places into the light where it can be dealt with and examined. Where in the light it can lose it's grip on me. That's my hope and I do have hope and support and that's really what counts the most. And part of my support is finding this forum and other survivors to share stories with. We are not alone and we are not 'wrong.' We are not to blame. Thank you for reading this and a making it possible for me to share my story.