Strange Tics of an Ex-Mormon

One of the reasons that I think Mormonism resembles a cult is because it 100% envelops your life.  Your weekly plans, your friends, your free time, it all links back to the Church.  In many ways, this can be positive (no ways come to mind immediately, but I’m sure they exist).  It also means that when you leave the Church, whole aspects of your life disappear.  And some little habits… they linger.  Here are a few.

 

Church services.  I’ve gone to a couple Christian services with family.  It always astounds me.  What do you mean it’s only an hour?  Why are these women wearing pants?  You can do that? And what the hell is this music?  This doesn’t sound like a hymn.  It sounds like a garage band rendition of a Dave Matthews song with dramatic lyrics.  And where are the screaming children?  In Nursery? What is that?  Like, I could fill a book with all the nuanced differences between a Mormon service and a non-denominational service: it still confuses me.

Early modern English (AKA “thee” and “thou”): I might be reading Beowulf or teaching Shakespeare.  One of those early modern words pops up and I expect to see bowed heads and crossed arms or Books of Mormon.

A group of young men in white collared shirts.  I always expect them to start singing or bring me torn bread on a tray.  Or wearing those black badges.  Usually, it turns out that it’s a group of students doing a band concert.  But that initial glance, it brings on a flashback.

That first tank top of summer.  This happens every damn year.  The thermostat hits 80, I put on a tank top and go to the store.  And the whooooooooole way, I feel like I am wearing lingerie at an Amish gathering.  My damn shoulders are showing!  Cover those babies, quick, before someone knows your shame!  Lucky for me, this passes after a few days of anxiety.  It re-surfaces every time I am trying to impress someone.  I am still nervous to wear something without sleeves to work.

That first bikini.  Oh man.  I borrowed it from my sister.  I wore it on the beach in Florida.  I felt like everyone was looking at me.  No one was looking at me.

Short-shorts.  I still don’t wear these.  Not only because I can’t pull them off, but what if someone knows I’m not wearing my garments!

Going into the liquor store.  I am twenty-five and going into a liquor store still feels like something naughty and forbidden.  I literally shake.  Try to act cool, Molly.  Act cool! You can imagine what I looked like visiting a pot store in Colorado.

“It’s Sunday, so such-and-such is closed.”  This brings on Idaho-flashbacks, when the entire town shut down on Sunday.  Except for Wal-Mart.  But if you risked going to the Wal-Mart, the odds were high that you would run into someone else who “shouldn’t” be at Wal-Mart (AKA someone from your ward).  That was my weekly walk of shame.  Not to mention, we smuggled those Wal-Mart bags into our apartment building like they were drugs and all of our neighbors were DEA agents.

Ring-checking.  I still ring-check people.  I was in a singles ward for SIX MONTHS, I have been married for over six years, but the ring-check skills I learned at the YSA: it’s Jason Bourne-level.  I can’t help my training!

Coffee.  Waking up to that sweet, sweet sin in the morning.  It took me several months to learn to use a coffee pot.  And to resist the urge to hide it.

Guilt.  This one is common for us “ex-mo’s”.  We don’t feel guilt for leaving the Church necessarily, but we find other ways to be guilty.  Mormonism basically teaches that if you do something right, it’s secretly God working through you, and it you do something wrong then it’s you, you filthy heathen.  As a result, we find ourselves on the constant quest to second-guess ourselves and feel guilty over stupid shit. Seriously, ask an ex-mo.  This next one doesn’t help…

Feeling like everyone is talking about you.  Mormons are seriously the most gossipy/judgey people I’ve met.  They judge your family, your fashion choices, your extended family, your family-history, your praying, your public speaking, your testimony-bearing skills, your parenting choices, your scripture read-out-loud, your decorating style, craft skills, cooking abilities, gospel knowledge, calling, occupation, and whether your undergarments can be seen through your clothes.  It’s no wonder that I tend to think everyone is judging me.

Celebrating the little things.  I get to sleep in on Sunday.  I can wear appropriate clothes during the summer.  I don’t have to worry about my pronoun usage if I choose to communicate with a higher power.  Exmormonism is the best. *Fist pump*

 

The Universe (AKA My God)

Leaving Mormonism left a sour taste in my mouth, spiritually. Because I had been so inundated with religious nonsense during my college years, I graduated from BYU-Idaho on the verge of atheism.

Some time following my exodus from the Church, I found myself talking to a fellow ex-Mormon about spirituality.  Leaving the Church had left this particular friend a spiritual husk, completely adverse to anything within the hue of religion.  Driving down the street on a beautiful summer day, I found myself telling him, “I believe in a God. Not because I ‘know’ there’s a God [a term Mormons are really fond of using] but because… I just like the idea. And that’s enough for me.”

That idea, just wanting there to be a God, choosing to believe it for no other reason than that, restarted my spiritual engine.

When I felt ready, I attended a couple basic Christian services. But they weren’t… right, not for me.  I found too many things in common with the LDS God, and I knew I really didn’t like that guy.  It felt like leaving one abusive relationship for another.

Of course, “my” God could not have the same face as the Mormon God, or basically anything resembling it.  That’s the thing about leaving the Mormon Church.  It scars you like that.

Yeah, this guy.

My true spiritual quest started small and accidentally, like most good things.  It started with yoga.  Looking to get in shape in a kind of lazy way, I joined fitness-focused yoga studio.  If you’ve ever attended a few yoga classes, you know how teachers vary.  I found myself intensely drawn to the more spiritual teachers, who led their class with intention and poetry.

Then my personal reading choices shifted.  First was Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Something in it touched me.  Then I read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, which left me literary satisfied and spiritually hungry. I read a series of spiritual texts, including the Bhagavad Gita.  I started regularly visiting a Stupa, a Buddhist temple, several hours drive outside of my city.  The stupa, called Shambahla, quickly became a sort of “happy place.”  There, I felt free to calm my heart and mind.  I began to explore spiritual matters in a way that was deeply personal, in an environment where I felt no pressure or judgement (two things I felt heavily during my time as a Mormon).

The Great Stupa, Shambahla, AKA “Happy Place”

I began to practice meditation, I learned what mindfulness meant.  I bought several strings of malas and said “Om” out loud during personal meditation.  I burned incense.  I found myself in yoga classes with lots of arm pit and leg hair and body odor and natural light.

Mostly, I explored and I wondered.

I began to seek my own God.  Screw trying to find the “right” answer, what did want in a spiritual higher being?  I drew on concepts from all my experiences and I named it:

The Universe.

The closest defined thing I could compare the Universe to would be the Collective Unconscious.  The Universe doesn’t have a face.  It has no judgement, no demands, no hate.  It is love.  The Universe is an energy that runs through and connects all of us, and it nestles and thrives deep within us.  It is a divine within and without.  The Universe is energy at its most pure and beautiful.  It strives for peace, carefully nudging our lives this way and that to get us closer to our own and others’ happiness.  It’s the reason behind “coincidences.”  The Universe is the force creating the great tapestry we call life, and it surrounds us and lives within us.

This is the visual image that comes to mind for me. The great infinite that is a clear night sky.

I think that the Universe will continue to adapt in my mind, as I grow spiritually and as I encounter various challenges.  I also think that the Universe manifests itself differently to different people.  What a human concept, to put a single face on so great an entity.  I think all religions (even Mormonism) are venerating different masks of the same universal truths, and none have a cornered market on it.

There’s no special club for the Universe.  No secret words, no requirements.  It is inside of us.  To seek it is to seek ourselves and our fellow man, to quiet our mind and to be.  The Universe is the sound underneath all the silence.

And that is more than enough for me.

How the Musical Healed my Ex Mormon Anger

I first heard of the Book of Mormon the Musical while I was a devout Mormon.  A friend sent me the soundtrack.  I thoroughly enjoyed the music, laughed out loud, and then I called that friend to correct the misinformation that I heard in some of the lyrics.  I felt very righteous about doing so.

In 2012, after attending a Mormon school for six months, my mother bought my husband and me tickets for the first tour.  While still extremely devout, my husband and I were very fed up with the ultra-strict nature of BYU, and we found the musical to be a great release.  We laughed until we cried, many of the jokes soaring over the heads of the poor theatre patrons next to us, who looked at us like we were crazy.  I was somewhat offended by “Joseph Smith American Moses,” where the story of Joseph Smith is horribly (and accidentally) butchered by some well-meaning characters, but otherwise I enjoyed myself.  I went home still Mormon and still content.

When I left the Mormon church in 2014, I felt a great deal of emotion.  This is fairly normal, as anyone who has left a beloved religion will tell you.  There’s a sort of grieving process to any life change: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance.

I found myself in each stage for several months.  But the anger stage lasted a while; about a full year, really, maybe more.  I was so mad.  I felt betrayed and lied to, I felt tricked.  To deal with this intense amount of emotion, I developed some weird coping skills: I lashed out verbally and in writing, I joined dramatic ex-Mormon message boards, I silently simmered, I got into strange political arguments, and my husband experienced some fairly intense and cuss word-laden rants about the LDS church.

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Me, in the rage stage

I stayed in this stage for so long in part because (for various reasons I am not willing to divulge) every day I had to pretend I was Mormon.  So every day I would put on my happy face, act like the Molly Mormon I wasn’t, and shove my rage deep inside of me.  It became a part of me, this rage.  It was a friend.  The rage was comforting, the rage “got me,” the rage allowed me to be me.

And it was so unhealthy.

To be defined by rage is to let yourself be consumed, with difficulty finding where the rage ends and you begin.

Strangely enough, this silly and prolific and profound musical, The Book of Mormon the Musical, helped me find my way out of the rage.

I mean, seriously, have you listened to ‘Hello,’ the opening number? I challenge you to listen to this and not smile a little bit.  Or a lot.  It’s just… happy.

So goddamn happy.  It makes me want to dance.

And what’s awesome about this?  It’s so accurate.  The happy, innocent, convicted faces: those are the faces I lived with.  The upbeat attitude, bordering on cult-like drink-the-kool-aid insanity: oh yeah, that’s the Mormon church.  ‘Hello’ is… honest, in a way that I never found the Church to be honest.

Want more honesty about the Mormon church?  Listen to ‘Turn it off“.  Here are the lyrics:

When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head, Don’t feel those feelings! Hold them in instead. Turn it off, like a light switch just go click! It’s a cool little Mormon trick! We do it all the time. When you’re feeling certain feelings that just don’t feel right, treat those pesky feelings like a reading light and turn em off. Like a light switch just go bap! Really whats so hard about that? Turn it off!

Newsflash!  If these lyrics ring true for you, you might be a part of a repressive cult.  Okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but this rang SO TRUE for my experience in the Mormon church.

Oh. You don’t believe some of this stuff.  Well just try believing!  You’re uncomfortable with some of our teachings?  Pray to have understanding!

Literally, the amount of times I was basically told to pretend to believe until I did believe…. it’s astounding.  That shit is dangerous and manipulative and here was a WHOLE DAMN SONG explaining and mocking the concept.  It felt good to mock and it felt good to laugh about it.  Some of the anger dribbled away.

The whole musical does this: it captures the concept, then laughs, then it moves forward.  Which allowed me to do the same.

Listen to “I Believe” and you’ll get a quick run down of LDS beliefs, both normal and strange as can be.  I love this song.  I belt this song randomly.  My son will probably know the lyrics to this song before he knows “Old MacDonald” (sorry, son).  In belting this song, I can acknowledge the crazy, bask in the mockery, and move on.

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So to recap, the happy music gave light to my boiling rage monster.  This allowed me to hear the music and feel understood while simultaneously mocking the thing that consumed so much energy.  But here’s what really sealed the deal and provided the catharsis to release my anger….

The ending.

[SPOILERS AHEAD. But it’s worth it.  I mean, who goes to a musical to see the ending?  No.  You go to listen to music and laugh and feel a part of something.  So just read on, okay?]

At the end of the musical, after this insane journey with the church, these two missionaries basically go and start their own church.  And it’s an ABSURD church, mostly comprised of fan-fiction from Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and the Book of Mormon.  It’s a bizarre mismatch and obviously the doctrine is false and the followers are bizarre.

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Um, what?

BUT…

They’re happy.  Like, really happy.  And they are good people, with this silly and mostly harmless attempt at doing something good.

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So happy

Which made me realize….

Who gives a shit if the Mormon church is ridiculous?  Yeah, I’ve got some strange programming from them, and yeah, my lens of reality can be warped.  But overall, the Mormon church is a bunch of good-hearted people with misguided attempts at doing something good.

Being angry at them affords me nothing.  It was an important step in my grieving process, I will give it that, but to give it more is to hurt myself.

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And that is how a silly musical about serious things helped my debilitating anger.

Why a Blog?

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I lovehate our social media age.

I love that Facebook keeps me semi-connected to people who I have at one point been close to.  Or met that one time.  I hate that I seem to spend all my goddamn time on it.  Seriously, the other day my son was pulling on my pants leg, because my face was zeroed in on the tiny screen in my hand reading a political hate article.  How is that nonsense remotely more important than the rapidly growing baby tugging on my yoga pants?  And yet, I find myself clicking that icon before I even realize what’s happening.

I love how I can put a visual to dear ones on Instagram.  It’s like Facebook, without the political clutter: oh look, a baby.  Oh look, a pretty sunset.  Oh look, a clever hashtag.  I hate how eventually I start comparing my life to those photos.  Oh look, she must have the most perfect baby ever.  Why isn’t my baby perfect?  Oh look, a sunset that I’m too lazy to get up and look at.  Frick, I’m lazy.  Oh look, a hashtag far too clever for me to come up with.  Seriously, who can explain the hashtag to me?  I feel like a grandma.

I love that Twitter can give us news the instant it happens.  I hate that people have taken it to be so reliable.  And I hate most of Twitter, let’s be honest.

I love that Snapchat helps me stay connected to my younger friends.  Seriously, would I know ANYTHING about my little adopted sisters without it? I hate that I can never seem to get a good angle, or remember to snap that cool thing I did yesterday.

As you can see, I’m fairly plugged in.  If you look slightly to your right, you’ll see I even have social media for my books.  Oh yeah.  So why the hell would I need to add to all of that?

Recently, a friend posted a controversial article about sexism in the Mormon church  on Facebook and the comments section turned into a scene from Sparta.

Seriously, it was nasty and hate-filled.  As a former member of the Mormon church, and someone who felt very strongly about the content in the article, I was angered and revved and saddened, and I found this intense desire to share my story.  So I did.  Not in the comments (because that would be stupid), but in my own separate post.  For the first time, I shared with the entirety of Facebook that I am no longer Mormon.

I braced for war.

Instead, I got love.  Perhaps something about my phrasing?  Perhaps because I don’t really tolerate intolerable individuals as Facebook friends?  It doesn’t matter, that’s not the point.  The love I received is not even the point.

It was the private messages.

In the space of twenty-four hours, three individuals reached out to me to tell me that their story was similar.  They reached out to share in their pain, to express excitement at finding a like-minded person, to express sorrow that given their individual circumstances, they had to hide their lack of belief.

I felt… connected.  I had this intense knowledge that I wasn’t alone, that my words actually MEANT something.  And, in almost the exact instant, I realized that I have so much more I want to say.

I want to talk about Mormonism.  I want to talk (REAL talk, none of that fake shit) about being a Mom, being a teacher, being a feminist.  About spirituality and friendship and… I don’t know.  The important stuff.  And Facebook and Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat are really not the best platforms for that.

And thus, I, Molly Marie, created a blog.

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