Too often in Mormonism, I saw people who were unhappy pretending to be happy. And why wouldn’t they? Nobody wants to feel like the Great Plan of Happiness isn’t working for them. Nobody wants to feel like an Eeyore in a congregation of Tiggers. So, people pretend to have it all together, even when on the inside they’re falling apart. The result is a “Happy Valley” full of anti-depressants and prescription drug abuse.
I sometimes see the same cultural tendency toward pretended happiness carrying into my life as an ex-Mormon. I lost the white shirt and tie but still feel the need to put on the same plastic smile I wore to church every Sunday.
The reasons are different, of course. It’s no longer about trying to conform to a system where righteousness is equated with prosperity and contentment. Now, at least for me, it’s about proving something.
I want to prove to my LDS friends and family that I can be fulfilled without the church. I want to prove to those questioning their faith that there is hope and happiness after Mormonism.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I really do think greater happiness is found outside the narrow confines of the church. But the reality is that it’s not always easy to find.
Last winter, I went through a period of deep depression. Though, I’m in a better place now, I still experience a lot of sadness and anxiety in what appears to be an ongoing existential crisis. A lost job, lost friends, and a world full of suffering and complex ambiguity frequently leaves me feeling alone, helpless, and hopeless.
I see other ex-Mormons who seem to have successfully “moved on,” and who have their life together. Sometimes I wonder why it doesn’t always feel like that for me. I wonder why, even after more than a year out of the church, I sometimes feel so ungrounded, directionless, and passionless. Why is it still so hard to function?
Living in Utah, maintaining LDS relationships, and even participating in the post-Mormon community often makes me feel like I’m living in a graveyard where my old life is interred. As a writer for Zelph, I try to comfort those who have likewise come to lay an old life to rest. But in doing so, I find myself in a state of perpetual mourning.
I have occasionally written about feeling reborn after leaving the church. The part I don’t always mention is that being reborn after your brain is already fully developed can be really really difficult.
Most of us spent our entire lives trying to become perfect Mormons. Everything we thought we knew about life, love, happiness, and learning was built on the foundation of the gospel. And now that the foundation is gone, we have to learn it all over again, this time without the direction of a know-it-all representative of God. Meanwhile, our peers continue on with the lives they’ve been building all along.
Sure, I am reborn, but I’m still just a toddler. Ironically it’s just at the point in time when I’m supposed to feel like an adult. As a toddler, I’m still learning how to walk and talk and eat and drink and reason and build relationships and develop my interests and build my identity. And as a toddler, the feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, and terror of the unknown occasionally make me cry… a lot.
And while, as a toddler, I’m metaphorically shitting my pants I feel like I have to pretend to have my shit together because I don’t want to give anyone an excuse to comment about “the light leaving my eyes” or about how “wickedness never was happiness.”
I feel like my life needs to be the best it’s ever been so that people can know I made the right decision to leave the church.
I guess this post is just about being done with that. I’m done pretending that ex-Mormonism is all eating, and drinking, and being merry. Things don’t HAVE to be okay all the time forever and forever amen and amen. Sometimes being an ex-Mormon can just really suck.
And I guess that’s what this post is about. I want to acknowledge that the prolonged negative feelings are normal. It’s okay to not feel okay. Yeah, it’s important to be optimistic, but there are times when we won’t feel it at all.
If you feel incomplete, lost, or broken during or after your transition out of the church, no matter how long it’s been since you left, IT’S OKAY. You don’t need to have your life all together right now. You don’t need to be the perfect ex-Mormon mom, the perfect ex-Mormon employee, or the perfect ex-Mormon friend. In fact, you don’t need to be the perfect anything. You just need to BE. And sometimes just BEING means being depressed, being angry, or being nihilistic.
You might not know exactly how to be happy outside Mormonism yet. But cut yourself some slack and realize that it’s going to take some time. Remember, most of of us are still just infants (now without thrones) trying to figure life out again. Completely rewiring our brains and restructuring our life isn’t something we should expect to do overnight or even in a year or 10 years. Usually it’s a long, ongoing process. So we shouldn’t feel too discouraged when it hurts harder and longer than we anticipated.
I do want transitioning members to have hope in happiness ahead. But I don’t ever want my energy or optimism to paint an unrealistic picture of the process. Because it’s really hard. We don’t have to pretend it’s not, even when TBMs try to say, “I told you so.”
If you’re struggling, know you’re not alone. There are a lot of us in the same boat. And the sooner we stop pretending we’re not, the sooner we can help each other out.