Sunday, June 25, 2017

A review of Jessica Bradshaw's You're Not Alone: Exit Journeys of Former Mormons

As many regular blog readers know, I frequently hang out on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard, although I have never myself been a Mormon.  I started hanging out on that site because my husband, Bill, used to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  He and his ex wife were converts at the end of their disastrous marriage.

Bill was once a fairly enthusiastic Mormon; when I met him, he still claimed to believe.  I think he had high hopes that the church would help him save his first marriage.  But over time, it became clear that the church would not save his family and, in fact, made his situation much worse than it might have been.  Unfortunately, Bill's two daughters became devout members of the LDS church and he pretty much lost them when he divorced their mother and later decided to resign from the church.

It is certainly no secret that I despise my husband's ex wife for many reasons-- many of which have nothing to do with the LDS church.  The truth is, what happened to Bill would have happened whether or not they had been Mormon converts.  My husband's ex wife delivered the same despicable treatment to her first ex husband.  She effectively influenced her eldest son to reject his father.  She did the same to Bill's daughters.  She will likely engage the same method if and when she leaves her third husband, with whom she has another son and daughter.  That is simply what she does because she's an abusive person who thinks her children are extensions of herself and uses them as weapons.

However, although I don't believe the church was the main cause of my husband's split from his now adult daughters, it's been my observation that the LDS church is an excellent parental alienation tool.  The importance of the church and its ridiculous lifestyle tenets-- its insistence on being privy to the most private aspects of a person's life and focus on perfect families-- made it much easier for my husband's young, impressionable daughters to reject their perfectly good dad as "unsuitable" and "undeserving" of them.  To be honest, I agree that Bill doesn't deserve his daughters.  In my opinion, they aren't good enough for HIM.  Fortunately for them, Bill is a lot more forgiving about his daughters' decision to reject him than I am.  He once had a very close relationship with them.  He is their father and will always love them, while I have only met them in person once.  I have no connection to them and I think their behavior is unreasonable and just plain stupid.

Perhaps my brief rundown of my personal experiences with the church will offer some insight as to why I read so much about Mormonism-- particularly about those who choose to abandon it.  Since I've been with Bill, I have come to know a number of impressive ex-Mormons.  It takes a lot of strength of character to go against the grain and reject one's family religion, especially when it's a very demanding belief system like Mormonism.  I have found that many ex-Mormons are very intelligent, sensitive, and open-minded.  I truly like them as a group of people.  For that, as well as for her decision to divorce Bill, I will always be grateful to Bill's ex wife.  Her decision to go LDS and Bill's decision to leave the church indirectly influenced my life in many positive ways.  Of course, had she not divorced Bill, I might not have gotten to be his wife.

It's indirectly because of my husband's ex wife that I "met" Jessica Bradshaw, who just published You're Not Alone: Exit Journeys of Former Mormons.  I read her first book, I'm (No Longer) a Mormon: A Confessional, which she wrote under the pseudonym Regina Samuelson.  I enjoyed the book and reviewed it and Bradshaw and I became Facebook friends.  I was delighted when Bradshaw announced her second book, which would be published under her real name.  She also solicited stories from her ex-Mormon friends and acquaintances.  I wanted to get Bill to submit his story, but he never got around to writing it.

Over the past almost fifteen years of marriage, I have seen firsthand what can happen when a person decides to leave a high commitment religion like Mormonism.  Some Mormon families truly believe in "free agency" and are okay with family members deciding for themselves what to believe.  There are many more families that can make leaving the church extremely difficult.  Some ex-Mormons wind up getting divorced, being shunned by family members and friends, and even losing their jobs or getting kicked out of college over deciding that Mormonism doesn't work for them.  Deciding to leave Mormonism was a huge decision for many past members; it can be overwhelming and terrifying.  Many ex members feel that they are alone as they make this monumental decision for their own lives.

Bradshaw's latest book is a compilation of stories by former church members who left.  Each story is very well edited and offers valuable insight into what makes a person decide to leave Mormonism.  I was amazed as I read about how each person's eyes were opened to the world beyond the church.  It was gratifying to read how many of these ex church members began to develop insight, empathy, and an expanded perspective of the world around them, even as many of them found themselves ostracized from their families and friends.

One contributor wrote about how, as a Mormon missionary in Japan, he experienced extreme cognitive dissonance.  He observed how happy, moral, and loyal the Japanese people were to their families and employers.  They were able to be this way even without the direction and interference of a church's oppressive lifestyle restrictions or strict "moral" code.  As the years passed, the contributor experienced a series of life events that led him from being an "acting Bishop" of a huge ward in Salt Lake City to a convicted felon who temporarily lost his license to practice optometry.  This was a decent person-- a good guy who was having a crisis of faith and could not talk to his wife, other family members, or friends about his feelings.  He started playing racquetball, took his new passion too far, eventually got seriously hurt, and was put on opium based painkillers.  He developed an addiction to the painkillers, started calling in his own prescriptions, and soon lost everything.

Many church members would look at that story and determine that it was the man's decision to abandon the church that led him to such disastrous consequences.  Indeed, when church members resign, a lot of active members think it's because they want to sin, are too lazy or weak to live by the church's rules, or were somehow offended.  Active members tend to avoid those with weak testimonies because they fear they will lose their own testimonies.  It occurs to me that active members who fear those who are losing their testimonies must also have weak testimonies, because if their testimonies were strong, someone else's doubts would not be a threat.

A person leaving the church often feels very much alone and may turn to habits that can turn out to be destructive.  In the case of the contributor I just wrote about, he turned to racquetball.  Racquetball is not a destructive habit in and of itself, but if one plays to the point of becoming seriously injured and needs pain pills, that can lead to a serious disruption of one's life.  Perhaps if the man could have talked honestly to his wife or church leaders about his doubts, he might not have experienced such a calamity.  Maybe he would have eased up on the racquetball and not gotten seriously hurt.  Or maybe the positive feelings he got from the drugs would not have been as seductive, since he might have been able to get a sense of normalcy and calm without needing medication.

Unfortunately, for many people, the church does not lend itself to open discussion or honesty.  Married couples must cope with less intimacy because the church is a not so silent partner in their relationships.  Important decisions about things like religious beliefs are not left up to the married couple.  The church must be involved.  And the church's involvement means there will be less privacy, pressure, and the potential for punishment and humiliation.  Many people who have doubts about the church don't speak about them openly.  Instead, they simply fake it.  They lead lifestyles that are not authentic.  They miss out on a lot of wonderful life experiences and freedom due to fear of disaster and abandonment.  Being "fake" is also psychologically unhealthy and can ultimately lead to unhappiness.

I have only described one story in You're Not Alone, but rest assured that the book is full of enlightenment about why people leave the LDS church and encouragement that there is life after Mormonism.  While the immediate consequences of leaving the church can be heartbreaking and devastating, most people are able to pick up the pieces and live better, more authentic lifestyles.  They make their own decisions and can accept their successes and failures as their own.

I've seen firsthand how liberating leaving the LDS church can be as I've watched Bill.  When I met him, he was living on $600 a month and thought his life was ruined.  He thought God hated him.  What a blessing it's been to have watched him blossom into a self-confident man who loves freely and enjoys his life.  He has plenty of money (not paying 10% gross to the church is a great thing), gets to travel, wears whatever underwear he prefers, and drinks whatever he pleases.  He is not afraid of being exposed to other people's experiences and no longer has a testimony that must be protected at all costs.  And although he was abandoned by his daughters, Bill has found out that his life is still very much worth living and he is free to do it on his own terms.  I'm pretty sure that is what Jessica Bradshaw's contributors have also discovered.

Naturally, I recommend You're Not Alone, especially to anyone who has been thinking about leaving the LDS church, but also to those who are in any belief system that has them in metaphorical chains.  I also think You're Not Alone is a great read even if you aren't LDS, although it probably does help to know something about the church before you read it.  I also recommend Jessica's first book, I'm (No Longer) a Mormon.  Five stars from me.



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