Bottoms up, Sister Poulin

Freedom – Our True Essence.

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After the decision to leave was made, after we let our intentions be known to our bishop, after I began an honest and open investigation of the place I had centered my life around…

Rick and I stood together, muddling through day-to-day life. But it was a life that had lost it’s definition, and our marriage had lost it’s boundaries, and our parenting had lost the written manual.  We were still hiding from most of our loved ones.  We lived in California at the time, and my family lived in Colorado, Rick’s in Vermont.  We did not need to tell them quite yet, about our radical decision.  The ability to secretly flounder our way through those first terrifying months was a factor so gratifying I was both weak with relief and completely wild with the task of hiding the chaos that we had unleashed in our lives.

 

We had to redefine everything.  The names we go by (Brother and Sister Poulin), what we ate (I still love green jello and funeral potatoes) what we drank, and where to charitably contribute now that 10% of our income was not being poured into building more churches.  We had to take a look at the kind of art we hung on the walls, the kind of cheap summer t-shirts I filled my cart with at Target (hello tank tops!!!) and even the kind of underwear we wore.  (It took me 8 years to buy ANYTHING white again).*

Most importantly, we had to discover what we would tell our children about God and their divine nature, what life is all about, what happens when we die, and who they really are… after all, my stories had just turned to ash in my hands. Luckily, they were still so little, just twenty months old and five months old. They had no idea what was happening to us as a family, though they surely felt the shaky trepidation that filled me countless times a day when the question “what if I am WRONG?” rose in my throat like a bubble and burst in my brain, sending waves of panic and visions of outer darkness (mormon hell).

As babies, they surely sensed my rage and deep sense of betrayal as I explored my entire past, my heritage, the doctrine … with freedom and a more open mind, and found things that made me question every conclusion and idea I had ever had about the nature of Heavenly Father, the prophet Joseph Smith, and all of those Book of Mormon stories.  I thought I was just leaving our religion, but mormonism is a culture.  A way of life.  Of thinking.  Of filtering the world.

To lose one’s cultural roots and orientation along with one’s definition of God and the purpose of life was a process, not a simple matter of walking away.

Several months into our life outside of the chapel doors, I was aching to share my fears with someone, but Rick remained adamantly opposed to talking about my research.  We did talk a lot about the rules that had been governing our lives.  Mormons live by a very long list of rules. They undergo interviews to determine how compliant they are, and whether they are worthy enough to enjoy certain blessings that are tied directly to eternal salvation. Chastity, paying 10% of your income as tithing, and following the Word of Wisdom are crucial for earning entrance to the celestial kingdom (the highest degree of heaven).  Additionally,  there are a more complex list of cultural rules that are tiptoed around and wrestled with in mormon life.  Rules about tattoos, body piercings, the color of shirt the men wear to pass the sacrament, length of hair and facial hair for men, dress codes, the kind of t.v., movies, books, music and magazines you enjoy, the language you use, the activities you engage in on Sundays…. it goes on, and on.

Together, we began to pick through this pile, sorting what stays and what goes like a giant garage sale.  It was tedious, and the discussions left us squirming and scared.  After a several months, drinking alcohol was brought up.

I had very little experience with drinking in my past, before we had met.

My parents told me my whole life that alcohol was sinful, it would destroy my entire life, and if I took one sip I would certainly be an alcoholic, since I had a few in my family tree. I would unleash a demon that could not be tamed if I broke the Word of Wisdom (the code of rules that includes a forbidding of coffee, tea and alcoholic beverages).  Mormon people can not marry in the temple if they do not diligently follow the word of wisdom.  It is a strictly enforced rule, and people follow it because it is an easy choice… go to heaven, or have a latte.  I was absolutely terrified of alcohol.

Being the stalwart rule follower, I had not had a drink of any kind until my 21st birthday.  My boyfriend at the time slid it across the bar table at me.  A Killian’s Red.  On that same afternoon, Salt Lake City was hit with a destructive tornado, right in the heart of the city. A tornado in the Salt Lake valley surrounded by enormous mountains was an unheard of weather phenomenon, and the mormon girl in me shuddered as I sipped that first beer. It was a sign.

 

Rick on the other hand, was a seasoned pot head back in the day.  As a devotee of the law, this knowledge always shocked my innocent mind.

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His stories of graduating from college and moving to Lake Tahoe with his buddies in order to engage in a year submerged in skiing, video games and surrounded in an ever-present cloud of skunky smoke made my head spin in confusion.  When Rick would talk about his past, it always left me completely mystified.  I had only known the mormon version of Rick, the return missionary. His “before the church” Rick stories did not merge with the man I knew. At all.  I felt like he was making it up entirely.  The disconnect seemed so distinct, I simply could not understand how a pot smoking ski bum could also be my straight laced math-geek husband who wrote me hand written love letters, went to four hours of additional church meetings on sundays (regular church service is three hours long) with a smile on his face, and made sure we never watched a rated R movie.

Rick grew up with beer in the fridge and did not think twice about it. He probably had the same perception of it as I did with caffeinated sodas…a can of pepsi was an adult beverage in my childhood home. (A lot of mormons will extend the Word of Wisdom to caffeinated beverages of any kind, but this delineation is left for personal interpretation).

Rick never really liked drinking either, which is why weed had been his choice activity in those pre-mormon days.   But Rick had given up his pot, alcohol, and coffee, to be a mormon man (amongst other things not related to the word of wisdom). He did it happily, and enjoyed the changes it brought into his life. He told me he never missed it, longed for it, or felt tempted by his past.  It is obviously a more healthy way of life, to be free from addictive substances, and it was no problem for him to leave it behind.

 

Our long discussion ended one night, when Rick put a six pack of Killian’s Red down on the couch between us, and we stared at it silently.

Do we dare?

Fear made my heart pulse in my throat as he handed me one.  It felt necessary.  Like swinging an axe uncomfortably close to an appendage in order to break the chains.  A shedding of controlling beliefs, an opening towards our own ability to choose. The most recent material I had read in my research of the church fueled my boldness.  I would not let a church sitting on that newly unveiled foundation control me. We each picked up a cold bottle from the cardboard carrier, clinked them together in the world’s most awkward toast, and headed into purgatory with a few cool gulps…

 

A Killian’s Red. (Ew).

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We each drank one.  It felt scary to put the unopened bottles in the fridge next to the bottles of breast milk and applesauce.  It felt like we were already raging alcoholics, as I buried the empty bottles in the garage with the dirty diapers.  We went to bed, Rick still wearing his garment top as we lay together.  He leaned over and kissed me, and I tasted it in his mouth…the Killians Red lurked there, under the toothpaste.

What have I done?

My brain screamed…I have unleashed an unpredictable monster!

Mayday!

Mayday!  It’s Pandora’s Box!  Evil!

Danger!

 I know mormon Rick.  He was a guy I chose to marry.  I did not know the Rick that existed before the mormoness.  And I had asked him to strip away those mormon pieces. The armor will come off, the rules and regulations will be chipped away…but I did not know what I would find there.

What if he becomes someone completely unrecognizable to me?  A stranger?  A stranger I can’t love?

What if I became a woman unbearable to Rick? If I lost control of myself entirely and was unable to make these choices for myself?

We kissed, and he tasted cryptic.  I pulled off his mormon garment top to touch the real man beneath that cotton barrier, a part of me vowed to pour that evil beer down the sink first thing in the morning. The other part of me, only a tiny bit stronger, softened into the fear and the mystery and freedom of becoming something new. Or perhaps, we would not become something new, but simply discover what we were underneath… once the fear was shed.

*Active, devoted mormon adults wear unique underwear.  You must gain a temple recommend, be deemed “worthy,” and go through a secret ritual in a temple before wearing the underwear.  The underwear is referred to as garments.  It is always white, and considered sacred.  Both men and women wear garments, and by design restricts certain kinds of fashion, including sleeveless tops. You must be worthy and wear the garments at all times except to shower, be intimate with a spouse, or swim. in order to enter the highest degree of heaven.

11 thoughts on “Bottoms up, Sister Poulin

  1. My husband and I just left the church over similar reasons you left. It has been quite the whirlwind and I am finding myself feel many of the raw emotions that you describe. I still feel like the Mormon girl who lives in fear and am still struggling to break the shackles and the anger. Thanks for your blog (I found the link on Mormons Building Bridges). Any advice as you look down the road to when you first left would be much welcomed, by the way.

    • Oh, Pamela… my heart goes out to you right now. I understand how hard the path out of the mormon church is. I actually left the church with my husband in 2005, after the birth of our second daughter. While my parents were motivated to leave by my brother’s story, I left for other reasons. I think I relate to the whole idea of needing authenticity and the scariness of “coming out” because that is what you must do when you leave something as all-encompassing as the mormon church. A lot of my blog posts are written about this painful time for me. Read them, and seek out others… there is a huge community of people who are all trying to reinvent themselves and find healing after leaving. Find support groups on Facebook. There are meet-ups all over the country. There are tons of blogs out there. And, me. If you need someone to talk to, email me. I would be happy to talk. megpoulinindeed@gmail.com Good luck on your journey… and know that all the pain and difficulty and fear is worth being AUTHENTICALLY YOU.

      • Thanks so much for the advice. I’ll have to look more into support groups. I went to BYU-Idaho and grew up in Utah. Most of my friends and family are Mormon which makes it hard for my husband and I to find our own niche without feeling judged. We watched one of our first rated R movies a few weeks ago and laughed the whole thing through. It has been a relief in so may ways to be who we want to be and do what we want to do…to be authentic. We left after delving through the muddy church history and deciding we didn’t want to be a part of the constant prejudices against homosexuals. Anyways, thanks for your blog. 🙂

  2. I just wanted to offer my love and support. I grew up in Utah Valley in a Mormon family, and although I started questioning the faith when I was fourteen, it has taken years and a moving out of Utah for me to climb out of the craziness that had been engrained in my brain since I was little. It’s a big step, but you’re not alone.

  3. Thank you so much for bravely telling your story. I’m so glad to hear you’re on the other side now. It took me nearly 40 years to leave the church and it feels as though I escaped something very toxic. It took all of my five children rejecting the church for me to take a look at how it was running my life and a big part of my struggle with depression. It’s been almost 10 years since I last went to church or any sort of dreadful bishops interview. What a huge weight off of my soul. Now I indulge myself in crazy behavior like, drinking coffee and occasional cocktails with girlfriends and I am happier now than I’ve ever been. There is an entire world of wonderful people who don’t judge each other based on their religious associations and how they perform within those restrictive parameters. My non-mormon friends have saved my soul.

    • You are so brave Cheryl! It takes courage after 40 years to take those steps forward and see how much beauty there is in the world. Always working to shed the fear that encapsulates us all as human beings… it makes it so much easier to feel the sun.

    • This gives me hope that my brothers and sisters and parents, even after years and years of believing, may still escape. It’s been hard to be ex-mormon in such a orthodox Mormon family who has told me, “I’ll come visit you in the terrestrial kingdom.” Glad to know 10 years later you still feel happy too.

      • Aw, Pamela, Thanks! Lucky for me I have two siblings who are out of the church. Of the three still active members only one is really over-the-top devoted. Yeah, I’ve heard that same sort of comment from my most hard-line Mormon sister. It wasn’t said with as much love as it was said in judgement. She can’t have a conversation without bringing up some aspect of the gospel as she knows it. She sounds like a complete fanatical crazy person.
        When I think about going back to church (don’t ask why I even entertain that idea) I practically shudder. It really is like getting out of an abusive relationship. One in which the abuser is constantly expecting you to perform absolutely impossible tasks and holding this reward over your head, forever out of reach.
        One idea that has helped me is to keep in mind that a teeny, tiny percentage of people on the earth are Mormon and the larger percentage of mankind have never even heard of Jesus Christ. There are a lot of Christians, including Catholics, but even they are in the minority worldwide compared to all the other religions combined. One of my ex-mormon friends will say, “I don’t know how any intelligent, well educated, independent thinking person can actually believe all the crazy sh@# that the Mormon’s say they believe.”
        Anyway, I am rambling. Hang in there! You’ll find your niche of friends and you’ll find heaven right here on earth.
        Cheryl

      • Thanks so much for the encouragement. I agree, it’s a total wolf in sheep’s clothing. The expectations and rigidness that go along with the constant judgmental culture is toxic. My niece is going on a mission in May and giving a talk in church in April and the thought alone of attending the farewell gives me anxiety. Especially with the rest of my family there. My mother is quite the scholar and his read every argument for and against the church that is out there, and she is still a very devout Mormon, even more convicted to her beliefs. I concur, I don’t understand how she could read all of the evidence and still believe in the crazy sh@#. I hope to find some friends soon. I moved into a more liberal area in Utah for that very reason. My best friend isn’t mormon, so that helps a lot. In fact, she is the one that has helped me get through all of these years of doubt.

  4. I just found your blog about an hour ago but I’ve been reading through your posts and finally felt the urge to comment. I’m 17, and have been raised in the LDS church my entire life. Last year, I found out I was pregnant. Now, I have an absolutely perfect 5 month old son. And with the permission of our parents, my boyfriend and I plan on getting married this month because it’s legal in our state for 17 year olds to get married, with parent permission. My boyfriend and his family are catholic. All throughout highschool I struggled with some of the Mormon church’s teachings. I was always the “happy” one. I was the one giving everyone in our ward a hug on Sunday. I was the one who the other young women came to when they were troubled because they knew I wouldn’t judge them. My life philosophy has simply been “love.” But I watched so many other youth around me almost the opposite.
    At school, I was friends with all kinds of people. At school, all the Mormons were friends with each other, and maybe the occasional band student. I remember the first time I heard one of the other Mormon kids talking bad about one of my best friends. It was shocking to hear, as the gossip was painful and I knew was very much over exaggerated and almost untrue. I watched one of my Mormon girl friends fall in love with a girl. It was sweet, it was innocent and new to her. But when others found out, it became gossip. They told our bishop. He told her family. She was shamed and shunned and forced to deny her feelings for her girlfriend, and she lost a friend that year because of the pressures of others.
    When the church found out I was pregnant, everyone was shocked. They knew I was different. They knew I didn’t wear the standard Mormon clothes like all the other girls. I found great joy in bright tights and ugly sweaters and dresses that were inches above my knees (oh the horror!). The young women’s leaders who I had loved, who I thought felt the same love for me, instantly pushed me away. My bishop told me I couldn’t attend young women’s anymore because I was a “bad example” and he didn’t want the beehives to look at someone as “popular” as me and think that if they became pregnant they too would be happy with their lives. Suddenly, this church which taught us to love and not judge one another, was doing so with me. And even more painfully, to my boyfriend. They called him the sin. The reason for my “fall”. They were offensive in the way they talked to him and for the longest time he refused to go to church with me. Even my own family was so judgemental of him untill after spending more time with him they too fell in love like I did.
    My parents think I love the Mormon religion. They think my goal is to convert my fiancé. They think we’re going to raise our son in the gospel. But that’s exactly what I plan to get away from as soon as I love out.
    I know our situations and reasons for leaving the church may be different, but I wanted to ask your advice on how I address this to family members once I do officially leave the church. I love them, and I know they will all continue to love me, but I don’t want their focus to be converting me back to church like I’ve seen them do to other family members who have left. I’ve heard the gossip and know this is something that’ll be even harder to deal with than my pregnancy. I was wondering if you had any advice? Thank you so much 🙂

    • Hi there… It sounds like you have been dealing with a lot! Getting married at 17 and having a son to raise will be a huge challenge. Leaving the mormon church and being honest with your family will be a whole other layer of complexity. But, in my own experience, the real pain and burden in life is living inauthentically. Living to please other people. Giving your life over to someone else’s idea of what happiness and fulfillment and love “should” look like. My advice… go slow. Your pregnancy and impending marriage has already began your journey. It is so tricky to remain respectful of your family and their hurt…they will be hurt and scared and sad. It will be important for you to set firm but loving limits with them, and try really, really hard to keep those boundaries. Be clear and direct about what you want/and find unacceptable. If they make attempts to re-convert your or your son and husband, gently but firmly let them know that they are crossing a line. It is really tempting to allow their pain and fear invade you, make you feel guilty or shame for the hurt your change of faith will cause them. Just hold to the idea that you deserve to be fulfilled, and their pain is their own to work through. Have as much compassion for them as possible, while maintaining your truth. To begin to address it, writing a letter may be a good place to start. It will give you a chance to choose your words very carefully, and them a chance to digest your plans before reacting.
      There is so much self discovery in your teens and twenties. You will be doing this all within a very confined space as wife and mother. So be gentle with yourself. And with your new, precious baby and husband. You get to reinvent what the world will hold for you. How to see the world. And righteousness. And God. And forgiveness. Step into it, and enjoy the freedom from needing to walk the tightrope the church strings out for you. Once you climb off the “straight and narrow” rope, you can finally dance. And… remember that your family will love you as perfectly as they are capable of. The holes that are left over you will get to fill with the family members you chose yourself. So find amazing, inspiring, loving, connected people to fill your life with and be your family too. Xoxox Megan

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