Why I Don’t “Move On”

I sometimes think I suffer from a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder related to my 40 years of activity in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For many years I had vivid nightmares in which I was a missionary again; in the dreams I knew I had a life and a family, but I was back in the mission and I couldn’t go home. I would wake up sweating and shaking, so relieved it was just a dream. These dreams finally faded away after I spent 5 weeks writing down everything I could remember about my missionary experience (this was the raw material that formed the basis of my book, Heaven Up Here).

As I noted in the last post, I watched part of “Going Clear” on HBO on Sunday night and the rest on my lunch hour yesterday. I can’t quite describe the feelings it has dredged up, sort of a horrified, outraged sorrow that I can’t shake. It took me a long time to get to sleep last night, even though I took my night-time medication at the usual time.

Why did it affect me like this? Because I know what it is to be used and manipulated and controlled. The worst thing about it is that I allowed it to happen to me. I let other people tell me I was no good and that the only way I could hope to be better was to dedicate myself entirely to the program they prescribed for me. I gave up my life to follow someone else’s script for me. I tried so hard to be what I was supposed to be that I almost scrubbed away every trace of who I really am inside.

It’s been 9 years since I acknowledged to myself that I knew Mormonism wasn’t right or true or good or whatever you want to call it. Mormons keep telling me I should be “over” it. I should leave it alone, stop being so negative, stop obsessing, whatever. It’s not healthy for me to continue thinking about it. I need to forgive and forget and “move on.”

Fuck that.

What “Going Clear” reminded me of is that there are organizations and people out there who do real damage to people. Scientology is a good example, and I applaud people like Paul Haggis and Mike Rinder for having the courage to speak out and continue to fight the good fight. Mormonism is–to me, anyway–not nearly as extreme as Scientology, but it too is a controlling, manipulative organization that hurts people. It hurt me, but more importantly, it’s still hurting other people. A lot of them. I think of the pain that one of my cousins went through when he told his family he didn’t believe in Mormonism. He felt, rightly, that he was being condemned and ostracized simply for expressing his beliefs. Family and friends and church leaders told him to shut up and keep his thoughts to himself, just as family and friends insisted that Paul Haggis destroy his letter of resignation from Scientology and “leave quietly.” That happened to me, too. I was told over and over that it was OK to believe whatever I wanted, as long as I never told anyone else about it.

I think of the families who have been broken up, the lives destroyed, because the LDS church cannot tolerate or respect those who lose faith. The church teaches that people like me and my cousin are apostates who are bitter and evil. Our loved ones grieve over us because we are supposed to be lost and angry, kicking against the pricks. I’ve been told I have stolen my family’s exaltation, broken my wife and children’s hearts, rejected God and Jesus and everything that is good in this life. Even when someone in the LDS church has tried to understand and maintain a relationship, there’s always been a wide gulf between us, and it’s extremely awkward.

Obviously, it’s not all on them. But I have made a concerted effort not to make religion a point of division with my family and friends. I don’t talk about my beliefs or why I hold them with those around me. Even when I’m asked, I only share things if I think there is a possibility for a good conversation and a positive outcome. In short, in my personal relationships, I follow a strict “live and let live” philosophy where religion is concerned, and I never bring it up.

That brings me to my blog. Despite my best efforts to stop thinking about Mormonism, it is part of just about every day of my life. Just three days ago, the missionaries dropped by unannounced to try to get me to “commit” to attending church on Sunday. The LDS church inserts itself into my life all the time. My well-meaning LDS friends and relatives send me stuff all the time. My mom tells me every week about the wonderful experiences she has at church. One of my children attends an LDS-owned university.

So, I write about Mormonism as it comes up. And because it comes up all the time, I tend to write about it more often than not. Because of that, I have had a steady stream of commenters who tell me how wrong it is for me to write about Mormonism, how I will never “heal” as long as I can’t just forgive the LDS church, walk away from it, and “leave it alone.” They are, they tell me, simply concerned with my mental and emotional well-being.

No, they are not. They are protecting their church from perceived harm. They know what the church is and what it does to people, but they have decided that the organization is far more important than the well-being of anyone who is harmed by it. As long as they get what they want from the church, to hell with everyone else.

And that’s why I still care about Mormonism and what it does to people. As long as it continues to hurt people, I will continue to speak out.

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17 Responses to Why I Don’t “Move On”

  1. zim365 says:

    A friend of mine told me once, “If I felt like you do, I would never look back. I wouldn’t want one thing to do with the church anymore.” I said, “You think that because you aren’t where I am. I thought that too, but it’s not as easy as you make it sound.” That guy would have an even harder time since he lives in Utah and every member of his family is LDS. I only have my immediate family, but that still makes it incredibly hard to “leave it alone.”

    • runtu says:

      A Mormon once told me that leaving the church is like getting a divorce. You wouldn’t keep talking about your ex-spouse; you’d try to move on and forget about the marriage. I replied that it would be different if my friends and family were constantly telling me how great my ex-spouse is, how the divorce was my fault, and how I really need to get back with her. If that were the case, I’d be crazy not to talk about my ex-spouse.

  2. yaanufs says:

    Amen Brother Runtu, Amen!

  3. Steelhead says:

    I am currently getting fb blitzed by pre conference faith affirmations, that will be eclipsed by the post conference sound bytes, and pithy faith promoting drek. Your analogy about the ex wife is spot on Runtu. I will leave Mormonism alone, when it leaves me alone.

  4. cl2 says:

    I agree 100%.

  5. zuort says:

    I’ve often thought the LDS church should be more proactive about removing names from the rolls so as not to bother people and to reduce the burden on church members as well. One of my companions’ father did that as a bishop in Placerville before the church went to retention of names unless a request is made in writing. So, have you had your name removed? If so, and they still bother you, then there’s probably a way to stop it for a few years at least, unless your own family is instigating it. I don’t think anyone in our unit bothers a guy who had his name removed a couple of years ago. I see him at the grocery store sometimes, and he’s the one who stupidly brings up church stuff. I just leave it alone.

    We live next door to some JWs. My wife told me we were immune from visits, but apparently not. She told the last ones who came by that she would talk to her neighbors, since they are good friends, if she had any questions. Still, the ones we don’t know come by.

    Unfortunately, family members trouble you. It may or may not be something the family can figure out together. I take it there’s been no resolution for you. Too bad. Yes, it’s a Mormon thing for them to try to bring you back into the fold. You know that, of course. Still, it’s an annoying challenge. But it’s also a personality thing. I assert this because those with my personality aren’t interested in bothering people about such personal things, and don’t bother people. For instance, there was a branch president where I currently live who went inactive ten years ago while serving in that capacity. In this situation, I don’t feel a strong need to go visit that guy. I’ll leave it to ex-family members who may have leanings that way, but I don’t think extreme efforts to see him are warranted. But you have a mom, and I have a mom, that feel a need (from time to time, in my mom’s case) to make an effort in that direction. In the case of my mom, she wouldn’t feel like she was doing the right thing unless she made an effort to express churchy things to those who have no interest in it. I think it’s her “trustee”-type character.

    I’ve got a niece who’s on the rolls but out and uninterested. Her father can be passive-aggessive about it. That’s a drag, but I can’t stop it. All I can do is have my non-Mormon wife, brought up by atheists, commiserate with her. My wife has an interesting and valuable perspective. I don’t ever bother my niece about church, but neither do I t avoid mentioning something related if it’s part of a story I’m telling her. We have her over whenever we can. She and I only feel slightly awkward when she drinks in front of me. We’ll both get over it in the next few years, I think. She married someone with a similar Mormon background. The church wasn’t a good fit for them. I get it, and I care for them, without wanting them to change. But again, it’s probably my personality.

    If venting about Mormon things is helpful, then I certainly see the benefit for you. If there’s negative energy behind it, then I personally try to avoid it. So when I get frustrated over work I’m doing, and I yell out, and my wife hears it, I apologize, which reduces the negative flow, and I move on in a slightly better frame of mind. Sometimes I have to talk to her for a while before it gets better. Maybe writing things out really helps. If so, great.

    I remember having a distinct nightmare that I was back in Bolivia serving out 6 more months. For me, that was in early 1983. So I can relate to what you experienced in that regard directly. After I had it two or three times, however, it stopped. Maybe that was when I went to school and did not go back to BYU. So in that way it was different for me. Enjoying your book. Thanks.

  6. Bruce Hanks says:

    Very well said (and done) my friend. Touched a real strong cord with this one!

  7. Craig Paxton says:

    Thanks for writing this John. It really resonated with me. Despite being out of the church now for 12+ years…”The Church” remains in every sense of the word part of my life. It permeates my life in so many unwanted ways, whether it’s my Mormon neighbor glaring at me as I enter a Starbucks or being asked when I would like to meet with the SP in his office despite not being a member of the church or my wife’s HTers testifying of the truthfulness of Mormonism in my own freaking house…you can leave the church but it will never leave you alone.

  8. CAB says:

    Thanks for this post. And than you to everyone for the comments. I have long felt that I suffered PTSD from the church. I have been out for 18 years and I still can’t really “leave it alone.” It is in my DNA, dammit.
    I hope that I can eventually read the book, which has been sitting by my bed for a while now, or watch the documentary. But I’m not ready yet. After listening to the interview with the people in the documentary on NPR I know that it will bring up a lot of post-Mormon pain.

  9. ramsamania says:

    I struggled with parts of the church my whole life. As I got older more struggles piled on. I saw your book suggested to me somewhere and since my husband and I both served in Bolivia I was curious to read it. Reading your book was one of my first solid steps in walking away. I cried seeing how nothing has changed. Between my husband and myself, we could have written your book word for word. The stories never change. I don’t know if Bolivia was my first step out or your book was because it showed me that my experience wasn’t unique. I wasn’t alone in my pain. My husband (semi) joked that the book was giving him PTSD and he wasn’t sure he could finish it. To wrap up my jumbled thoughts, never stop writing. You never know who you will help, touch, and send on the path to healing.

  10. sean says:

    I gave everything to the church,a mission, temple marriage, almost $200K in tithing, thousands of hours of service, including 19 summers at scout camp, five years as bishop. But most importantly, I gave away three decades of my life and vigor and dreams and talent to become a middle manager with a house in suburbia because that is what good Mormons do in order to serve.

    Now in my late fifties I have questioned the wisdom of exact obedience to old scared men, and suggested to my wife that perhaps we make some decisions on our own(I still attend church, i still pay tithing, I still serve in callings).

    Because I have questioned even so carefully, I have lost friends, lost contact with my mother and my marriage is in trouble. Mormonism stole the first fifty years of my life and is now robbing me of the quartile I have left.

    Mormonism is a plague and an abomination.

    • CAB says:

      “Mormonism is a plague and an abomination.” Yes, indeed.

      The people I dislike the most are not the leaders of the church, evil though they are, but the supporters who say, “Yeah, ok, the church isn’t TRUE, but look how much good it does.” The “good” is mostly self-serving, and is far outweighed by the harm it does.

  11. Zach says:

    The story, or stories, of ex-Mormons do seem to have that copy-and-pastability; they’re so eerily similar. The part that struck me, as a former Mormon who served a two-year mission, was that recurring dream of being a missionary and never being allowed to return home. I would just work in limbo perpetually and watch the calendar stand still. Mine persisted for years. I hope yours dissolves soon!

    I haven’t watched “Going Clear” but I know how manipulating the upper clergymen or “henchmen,” as I call them, can be. They are a scary, powerful cult that really has more power than I am comfortable even thinking about. We are talking a multi-billion dollar a year (with a capital B) organization that seeks the higher seats of power. Watch out!

  12. A good friend of mine in the Army has PTSD from his two tours in Afghanistan. He’s pretty messed up, and because his wife left him and the children while he was gone and now he is a single father with kids and a serious mental condition. I moved in with him for 6 months to take care of him, at his girlfriend’s bequest. My wife, being a Saint in every sense, encouraged me to do it.

    He had a few annoying habits. One was he slept with a loaded gun under his pillow, girlfriend did not like that one when she slept over. The other was that he loved to play Call of Duty (Call to Duty?, I am not a video game person, so I am not sure what the exact title was, so…) with some sort of Afghanistan modification or gameplay. He would play it for hours, sometimes with his teenage son. I kept telling him to stop, that this was bad for his PTSD, but he said it settled him. He played day after day, hour after hour, and he kept dying. It was some sort of melee play, online, and he spent months dying over and over every day.

    And it was literally killing him. He was messed up.

    Eventually we got him out of the game, into therapy, and believe it or not, a soldier with PTSD should NOT be dying over and over in a simulated fashion on the simulated hills of Afghanistan. Everyone saw this, but my friend.

    He also had real PTSD. He saw friends killed, sent people off on duties that got them killed and felt responsible, and so on…. Real PTSD. Not deciding that you no longer believe in your former Church and then complain about it. If you want to know the difference Walter Reed is right down the road from you, you could volunteer some time there, they always need help.

    What he was doing, in playing the game, was immersing himself in the world he was traumatized by, and doing so continuing to harm himself. This was apparent to everyone, but he insisted it was not. You are doing the same.

    You no longer want to be Mormon, but you cannot escape being Mormon, and surround yourself with all of the negative aspects of your decision. You obsess on Mormonism, and particularly on how bad and negative Mormonism is. And you do this while having suicidal ideations, having your depression medication continually updated, and having a fragile mental state, but like my friend, you insist that you are ok, that this is therapy for you, and you’re not killing yourself. You’re completely wrong.

    The stark reality is that you have to move on. You can whine “it would be different if my friends and family were constantly telling me how great my ex-spouse is, how the divorce was my fault, and how I really need to get back with her”, but it does not matter. And it is whining. Do you think you are the first person on Earth who has problems with an ex-? That has problems with an ex- and family? Sometimes family likes the ex- more than they like you. That is life. I have seen it with friends before. I think that was a routine gag on Seinfeld; Jerry’s parents liked his ex-, why couldn’t he get back with his ex-? Given the angry, sarcastic attitude, it might be because the ex- is nicer than you are.

    But that is their decision. It is their choice, just like making the ex- and ex- is your choice. But obsessing over her/it…you’re dying here. If you want to do this, you can, I’m not going to live on your couch for six months to get you through it, but it is a clear as the glasses on the nose on your face.

    If you want to get better, you should shut down your blog, not even think about Mormonism for a good 5 years, and try to find some other focus for your life that is positive. Like I said, Walter Reed needs volunteers. If you put the same amount of time into that sort of service, instead of here, you might start getting better.

    But I am sure plenty will disagree.

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