*Image credit: Gardner Edmunds
It’s December 17th today, I am sitting in my office (the Panera Bread location) and enjoying the high of just mailing the last of my christmas gifts. It’s a short-lived high. My to do list, is still a thick, itchy, wool scarf… wrapped entirely too tightly around my neck.
I don’t have time to be writing this. But, if you are a follower of mine, you might recognize that I seem to NEVER have time for this anymore. And there, my dears, is a dilemma. Because much to my dismay, I have a lot of complicated needs to keep me from diving into a pit of despair and self-flagellation.
Two most important: I must exercise regularly. And I must write things…to download these emotions that pile up like the mountain of mail order catalogues that are swallowing my kitchen table.
The real thing I should be doing right NOW, is writing a paper. A six page reflective essay relating to a book about development of the western mind since Zeus ruled the heavens. An essay, due today, on “the identification and interpretation of personal beliefs that influence the creation of meaning in your life.”
Can’t I just turn in a link to my blog instead? It is ridiculous that this assignment has me hand-wringing, since I have thought of little else in my life over the last ten years. In addition to grocery lists and christmas cards and the fact that I am still wearing toenail polish put on my toes in August, my brain is mostly occupied with huge, all-encompassing things like GOD. And Guilt. And Spirit. And Shame. And Worthiness. And Judgement. And Redemption. And Soul-Crushing Inadequacy.
Here is the thing, about my personal beliefs. And how they affect my daily life… This mess, that I need to neatly roll into a beautiful, personal, reflective, six page, double spaced essay:
First, an internal audit of my beliefs. And, I find an overwhelming recognition that the toxic, corrosive, divisive, emotionally blackmailing, schizophrenic, mainstream religious cult that me and five generations of people I love have been marinating in… is still offering me plentiful chances to learn forgiveness and acceptance and self compassion.
It has been ten years of really hard work, to unravel so much of the control the religious training had over my life. Like a comically long and preposterous to do list, I have taken care of obvious ones, like wearing the kind of underwear I want to, and the not so obvious ones, like redefining my feelings about sex and morality. Throwing out the devastating metaphors of girls being a “licked cupcake” or “Already Chewed Gum” when they decide to become sexual beings has been a serious chore.
It has been almost ten years of liberation and excavation. Now, I am free to have a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, wear a tank top, drop the F bomb, watch a rated R movie, buy a bag of apples on sunday or read a book about anything I wish. And I can do those things without guilt! I now know that strong families and sincere love and limitless joy and unfathomable generosity exist outside of mormon life.
I can watch clips like this one, and see men I was taught were infallible prophets to revere and to digest their words as God’s words, and finally hear the controlling patriarchal rhetoric and the dark stream of damage that runs through the doctrines and teachings of the faith I was born in, those things I had once taught and defended as Truth. I have ferociously fought off ingrained belief that my only purpose in this life is to be a support for my husband, and bear children and be obedient to men who know better than I. I have had to challenge myself to rethink what it means to love someone, what the difference is between faith and magic, how to draw appropriate boundaries for myself and my children.
Much of the DOING is DONE. There is not much left to DO, when it comes to creating concrete distance between myself and the LDS religion. So imagine the rude awakening I have had, when I came to the end of that to do list and unwrapped that itchy scarf, ready to breathe freely and be done with the Deprogram the Mormonism Program, and find that the really painful damage, the deepest, darkest wounds… were underneath the all that doing. The unwrapping has revealed what is left…. raw and dangerous emotion.
Over the past ten years, I have also been busy discovering and declaring what it is I believe. It has been exhilarating and freeing and I have felt relief and unimaginable joy in the self discovery.
Every human being has inherent worth. Worthiness is implicit.
There is nothing to prove.
There is nothing to earn.
What happens after this life is NONE OF MY BUSINESS.
The purpose of my life is to practice living each moment in the present.
I am adequate.
Every person longs to be seen and heard.
Good and evil are judgments. There is only fear and love.
Staying OPEN is the only goal.
Being CLOSED is part of the process. I will be open to that too.
There is no need to define the Divine.
These things I can comfortably and passionately declare as my belief system. My list has been scrubbed free from the doctrine I was immersed in since birth. The trouble is, now that the doing has been done, when I look at myself in the mirror, there is still the mormon girl staring back.
The doing has not created the being.
The act of writing those words sends pain rushing up to my throat like hot bile. It threatens to expose me. It is the recognition that the actions taken over the last decade, as terrifying and disorienting and inspiring as they have been, have not healed the anguishing canyon that exists in my soul. On one side, the powerful, complete woman who embodies that list of beliefs, and on the other, a weeping girl who will never be worthy or adequate or whole.
I have come to the very edge of that abyss.
Maybe the only thing I really believe right now, is that I am not alone here, on this edge. I know my story is not unique. We are all good at the doing. The doing, no matter what is on that list, or how tightly it threatens to strangle us, is a matter of overcoming inertia.
But to be in alignment with our true beliefs, to begin to stitch up the giant chasm within us…requires the being.
Being is where things get real.
There is no doing left for me here. Not when it comes to healing my spirit. And the being is the excruciating part. The part where the emotions must be felt. The part where the feelings must be allowed to exist. The part where true compassion is discovered. The part where I simply exist.
I don’t really know how. But I know there is no try… that is a doing word.
So for now, I will just breathe.
Excellent post, Megan. The video clip you shared really puts it in relief, the absurdity of old white men pontificating about a woman’s “divine role.” There is one level of pulling back the curtain and calling out the shriveled old man for being a fraud. Painful, but with a fairly defined end-point, i.e. I don’t believe anymore. But then there is painful process of carving out a new spiritual identity that is comfortable and natural. This is a process that seems organic, open-ended, sometimes maddeningly, necessarily unintentional. Does the caterpillar shape itself into a butterfly, or does it just become one? For what it’s worth, for all our striving, and our yearning to stop doing and just to be, we are already there. Always have been. Instead of becoming something else, it may be a matter of simply acknowledging, celebrating, loving, what we already are in this moment, and then the next, and the next.
Beautiful & True.
Beautifully written, thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I think all who were once true believers in the church and discovered the painful reality that it isn’t what we once thought it to be share much in common, and I’m so thankful for those among us, such as yourself, who have the gift of being able to describe the experience of the journey so poignantly.
wow. you are amazing. your post is so powerful. i did not grow up mormon, but i relate simply because i am a woman living in the same century. i hope you can steer clear of that abyss because as far as i can tell, you have beautiful and luminous clarity. and go ahead and break that mirror! *** gail
How’d you do it? How the hell did you get out of the clutches of legalistic fundamentalism? I grew up a pretty liberal Catholic. I was happy with my faith. I’m only turning 14 on Tuesday so I’m still trying to figure out my life. Here’s my story:
It all started the morning of Sunday, April 6th last year. The day that I unknowingly fucked myself over (pardon my French). I had a baseball tournament that day. Long story short, it was my first year playing travel baseball. Let me tell you this: travel baseball is one of the hardest (and also most rewarding) things I’ve ever done. I has definitely struggled the whole year. Up until April 6th. I had a great game. I was on Cloud 9. After struggling through months of travel baseball and working hard, I had finally succeeded!
Maybe it was my OCD, but I soon started to get feelings of guilt. I hadn’t gone to church that day. Now, I didn’t really go to church real often, but I still felt that owed something to the big guy in the sky. So I asked myself: how can I make it up to God?
My answer: read the Bible. Every. Day. And if I miss church on a Sunday, I have to read it for 2 hours. 2 hours seemed like a lot to me, but I am a very 1) Guilty and 2) Self-confident person. So I said, “Why not?” Big blunder.
I followed my rules to a T for about 8 months. Then I started getting more and more lax until I finally gave up Bible reading on January 13th of this year. During this time, I not only opened myself to the legalism of the Bible, but I also looked at many Bible commentary websites (ie. gotquestions.org). These sites are the fucking epitome of fundamentalist legalism.
This experience changed me as a person. I became extremely judge mental of myself and others, I was always worried about sinning, and I regarded normal things like sex as sinful. I hated thinking about my atheist friends because I believed that God would torture them endlessly in hell. I thought I was “close to God”. If that’s the case, I don’t ever want to be close to God again.
Fortunately, this was all of my own choosing. These believes weren’t being forced on my by a cult, so about a month and a half ago, I started to seperate myself from those toxic beliefs. Not to sound arrogant, but I am a very smart and mindful guy, so I was able to pinpoint the origins of my toxic beliefs and thoughts. This definitely helped.
While I am gradually separating myself from these beliefs that I racked up over the course of 9 months, I am an impatient guy. I don’t know how this is going to turn out, so I came to ask you: how did you do it? I have made some decent progress though; I listen to Eminem, I cuss frequently in my head, I take liberal positions on topics like same-sex marriage and I don’t kick myself every time I think about sex (which is a lot, thanks to puberty’s hormones)
Thanks for listening to my story.