It’s been three years since I left the LDS Church, and sometimes I feel so far removed from it that I forget how hard the whole process was. Leaving any religion can be traumatic when you have to legitimately grieve the loss of an entire worldview, which may include the loss of your god, your community, and your sense of security/feeling like you have the answers to life’s biggest, scariest questions.
If you’re currently going through a faith crisis, there’s only so much comfort my words can give you. You’ll have to experience a lot of stuff for yourself, because like I said, you have to go through a grieving process after leaving a high-demand religion like Mormonism. However, I want to tell you what I wish I had known three years ago, when everything felt terrifying and awful.
I know it’s almost impossible to fathom right now, because you’ve likely been conditioned your entire life to find happiness in Mormonism and to believe that it’s the greatest source of happiness in the known universe (and perhaps it has been the greatest source of happiness in your life thus far), but it’s true—you don’t need to be Mormon to be happy. I know you sort of know this, because Mormons don’t believe happiness is ONLY found in Mormonism, but there’s definitely a prevalent belief that the MOST happiness is found inside the church. It might seem impossible right now, but there is greater happiness available to you in life than you’ve ever felt before. Our happiness is limited by our beliefs about how happy we can be, so I want you to know how much of it you can experience.
Here are some resources I recommend for understanding happiness:
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (give the mystic language a chance—this book changed my life)
Your brain can adjust to any situation, I promise. We were built to fall apart and fall back together. (A great Taylor Swift lyric.) A study talked about in Dan Gilbert’s TED talk, The Surprising Science of Happiness (linked above) showed that paraplegics and lottery winners have roughly the same happiness levels three months after becoming paraplegic/winning the lottery—so don’t think that the pain and depression you might feel right now will be forever.
You will have new experiences in life that bring you new types of joy you’ve never felt before. You’ll meet new people and try new things and learn new things and expand your mind in ways that Mormonism never allowed you to, and will hopefully love yourself more than you ever have before, because your worth will no longer feel dependent on you meeting insanely arbitrary standards for morality. You can become stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate because of your experiences leaving Mormonism, and you have an opportunity to become more authentically “you” than you ever have before. Plus, there’s nothing like the experience of having your entire worldview shattered to improve your critical thinking skills for the rest of your life!
Again—you will probably need to grieve the loss of your faith. That takes time, and even the strongest person can’t just will themselves to heal faster than their brain is capable of healing. It’s ok to still have a bunch of questions about Mormonism, and to not have all the answers. It’s also ok if you don’t feel ready to talk to your loved ones about your decision to leave yet—give yourself the time you need to feel comfortable doing so (even though there’s probably never going to be an ideal time), and don’t feel pressured into sharing any more than you’re ready to share. Telling your friends and family that you’re leaving the tribe can be a harrowing experience, and you deserve the time to prepare and think about how you want to go about it. It can also be a good idea to build up your strength and heal a bit first. (Or you can just pull the band-aid off and get it over with—whatever feels right for you.)
It’s ok that you don’t know what the future looks like for you right now. No one really does—some people just fool themselves into thinking they do. It’s ok not to have your shit together. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed by what feels like a really daunting task—living life without a rule book.
I didn’t grow up in the LDS Church, so I didn’t question my decision to leave once I’d made it. But most people who grew up Mormon (I.E. were taught that Mormonism is The Only Way since birth) will have moments where they’re like, “Shoot, what if it’s true?” Even if you know that The Book of Mormon is demonstrably false and Joseph Smith was a narcissistic, lying hebephile and Brigham Young was like the worst person ever, your brain may still relapse into old thought/belief patterns from time to time, because it’s up against decades of conditioning. “What if somehow, against all logic, it’s true?” is a pretty normal thing to think when you’re recovering from losing your faith, so don’t get freaked out—just observe those thoughts and feelings as they happen and know that they’re really normal for someone leaving a high-demand religion.
I mean, there might be. You might have a totally open-minded family who genuinely accepts you no matter what, or the most tolerant, non-judgmental friends in the world. But chances are, telling people you’re leaving the tribe is going to be pretty sucky. You’re likely to face attacks on your character and motives, annoying questions that aren’t rooted in critical thinking, and total denial of facts and evidence. Be prepared for that, and don’t try to argue with people. Staying calm and not letting your emotions take over is crucial. (I did a really bad job with that when I left!) State your case clearly and don’t be apologetic—you’ve done nothing wrong in examining your beliefs and discovering that they aren’t true. Also, don’t feel like you have to convince your parents of how terrible Joseph Smith was, or how ludicrous it is to believe that The Book of Mormon is historical—it’s probably only going to make them double down harder in their beliefs, because their brains are wired to protect and defend them no matter what.
I think it’s important not to put off telling people any longer than is necessary, because you don’t want to have it hanging over your head while you’re trying to move on with your life. So by all means take the time you need, but know that there will never be a perfect time to do it. It’s probably going to be hard no matter what, and there’s a not a lot you can do to change the harsh reality of the situation—you now believe differently to people you love, and those people have been taught that your beliefs are the work of Satan. There’s a decent chance they’ll accept you more as time goes on and they get used to the situation (so don’t freak out if everything is really catastrophic at first), but you have to accept that they may always view you as an outsider from now on, despite your best efforts. I don’t want to scare you, because that might not happen, but it’s common enough that I think you should be prepared to face it.
Everything is going to be ok. Especially if you tell yourself that everything is going to be ok. 😉 The world is much, much bigger than Mormonism and you’re going to learn that. One day you’ll look back at the religion that was once your entire world with as much indifference as I usually do (*prepares for barrage of comments from Mormons about how I’m obviously not indifferent because I still blog/speak out about it*), and you’ll wish you could go back and give your current, scared self a big hug! (Maybe. We’re all different.)
Seasoned ex-Mormons: leave your advice for people leaving in the comments below!