Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In Memory Of A Friend


         My friend Billy* was a year younger than I was, a sweet kid with brown hair that curled into ringlets and enormous blue eyes.  He came from a very poor family; he was also a non-conformist who wore chains on his Sunday dress-pants and listened to Linkin Park.  The opinion of the ward was stacked against my friend, as adults and teenagers alike whispered about him.  There were rumors that he skipped school, that he smoked cigarettes, that he had “bad” friends.  I never knew the truth of these rumors - we attended different high schools - but I do know that he loved his little sister dearly.  Her face lit up when she saw her older brother and he always gave her a hug.  My junior year of high school - my final year of church attendance - we were both prone to skipping sacrament meetings.  Sometimes we would cross paths as we wandered the empty church halls.  Our discussions were always topical - school, life, jokes.  The elephant in the room - our personal reasons for skipping sacrament meeting - was never addressed.  I was too afraid of the possibility of condemnation to confide in my friend.  
         Billy committed suicide my freshman year of college; he jumped off a bridge to meet the jagged rocks below.  I never mustered the courage to tell him about my shattered belief; now I am left with the empty feeling of having failed him in some crucial way.  I reached my limit at the start of my senior year of high school; I quit attending church and withdrew into a shell as I struggled to cope with my father’s anger, my mother’s heart-break, and the various gossip surrounding my exit.  We lost touch as I sorted out the aftermath of my exit; dealing with any Mormon, no matter how sweet or atypical, was just too painful.  And then he was dead and there was no second chance for reconciliation, no way of letting him know that he wasn’t alone.  I suspect he may have been going through the same struggles I was.  But I will never know the truth.  
          But what I do know is that being a non-conformist or a non-believer among Mormons is a very stressful and isolating experience.  A year after Billy committed suicide, I attempted to take my own life.  My father was making petty judgmental comments about my character while my mother was interrogating me about my “sinful” lifestyle.  The idea that my parents - the two people in the world that were supposed to love me unconditionally - had turned against their apostate daughter was too heavy a burden to bear.  The prospect of the impending years seemed bleak; I thought I would never regain what I lost when I left.  That was a very, very low point in my life and one that I never wish to return to.  And so I am compelled to write, in order to describe the warp and weft of a life spent traveling a different path in life.  A life that, in the years since my suicide attempt, has grown deep and rich from a curiosity about the world at large.  
         And so this brings me to the issue of why I write this blog.  Why I am going public with my story.  I grapple with the issue of sharing my story in a public venue; I worry that I am self-centered, that I will hurt my family, that my story is not relevant.  But then I am reminded of Billy and of why I need to write.  I want faithful Mormons to know that people who choose to leave the Church are not bad people.  We exist and are fellow human beings, with all the hopes and dreams and aspirations that make humanity so wonderful.  We deserve respect, to have our choices and beliefs honored.  I want the people who have never been involved with the Mormon Church to have a deeper understanding of what it means to be associated with this peculiar American faith.  And most of all, I write because I want others who are struggling with their faith to know that they are not alone.  I want them to know that their doubts do not make them a bad person and that life will get better, as they find the courage to shape their own destiny.
          Billy deserved better; he deserved to know that he wasn’t alone.  I have failed one person by my silence; I will not fail another.   


*Name has been changed

20 comments:

  1. You are a woman of strength and conviction, and I am proud to call you my friend.

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    1. Thanks Julia - now concentrate on you and getting well!

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  2. Wonderful post. Keep up the writing because it is great therapy, but also because you have talent. I write a funny blog because I was depressed for so many years within Mormonism. I hope I can make a few of them laugh and see the silliness of so much of it. Like you, I want them to understand that those who leave are good and happy people. However, I know many believers who wander onto our blogs just think we were offended and want to sin. It's what they've been taught. But then, maybe in some small part of their brains, we're letting in a little light. :)

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  3. Your stories have been very helpful to me in understanding Mormon culture. Even though they most often involve you in one way or another, I do not find them self-centered. Rather, your involvement gives them immediacy and impact. You write with talent and insight.

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    1. Thank you so much Paul. My hope is to use my personal experiences as a ways of opening up conversations and getting people to walk in other people's shoes for a little bit.

      For some reason, I thought you were also a former Mormon?

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  4. I wouldnt feel too guilty. There are two kinds of people who try suicide. Those who atempted it but at their core dont really want to die, and those that really do whether it be to a chemical depression or life circumstances. The odds that a converstion or two with you would have changed him are pretty much zero.

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    1. Unfortunately, some people end up being successful at suicide and so never get a second chance. And I do think that if I had known someone else in a similar situation my transition out of the Church would have been a lot less painful. When I left, I didn't know anything about online support groups or know of anyone in a similar position. So I did feel really alone. And my hope is to let others out there know that it's okay to adopt a different belief system, whatever it is that works best for them.

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  5. Ashley Seil SmithJuly 18, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    Postmormongirl - I'm very interested in keeping up with your blog. I'm actually a practicing Mormon living in NYC and would never assume that those who leave the church are awful people. I have good friends who left the church but remain close. I hope you know, and other knows, that there are practicing Mormons out there who get all of the "awfullness" you refer to in many an article.

    This is not to pursuade, but to explain - at the end of the day, for me, I've felt more communal love in this organization than elsewhere, though I will say my perspective is having experienced the church outside of the western United States - in India, in NYC, etc. I read the Bible, BOM and Bhagavad Gita in tandem. I find inspiration everywhere and feel many have been inspired. I hope you know that there are definitely Mormons out there that just love and don't worry about the rest.

    Best of luck to you with your blogging endeavors!

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    1. Ashley,

      Thank you so much for your very kind words. And I must admit, the community feeling within the Mormon Church is a strong and incredible force. I grew up in upstate New York, where Mormons stuck together because they were in the minority. Unfortunately, I do think the community feeling has a drawback - I always felt out-of-step within the church, as if I were trying to force myself into a box that didn't fit. I was liberal, opinionated, felt ambivalent about marriage and children (even today, although I am happily married, I still feel ambivalent about the thought of being married to anyone other than the one guy I was lucky enough to meet. And the thought of kids, although it is growing on me, still scares the hell out of me.) And I asked so many questions and just couldn't be satisfied with the answer of "God works in mysterious ways" or "all be made known in time". In short, I just couldn't fit myself into the mold that was expected of me and I also felt that some of the beliefs/expectations were arbitrary and illogical.

      But lest this turn into too long-winded of a speech, I would like to say that if something works for you and makes you happy, you should keep with it. And since the Mormon Church makes you happy, that is something you should keep.

      I am really glad to hear you are still friend with people who left - that really makes me smile and gives me hope.

      Thank you,
      Rachel

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    2. Ashley Seil SmithJuly 19, 2012 at 4:42 PM

      I'm so happy you replied - I don't think I've ever had a reply when I comment (which, I guess, is not very often). And I want to say that I feel like I understand a lot of what you write and feel. I grew up in the south and when I go back to congregations there, and others in Utah, I feel that same thing, that things aren't quite right. I guess it's the exclusiveness vibe that a lot of congregations tend to give off that is just really icky. I think it's a little bit of ignorance and poor use of language. But I don't meant to be judgmental of anyone else's spirituality, either. I dunno. I often say to my husband that I believe in the future of the church, if that makes sense - even when I struggle with the day to day of it, I feel like something good is going to come of all this. And I guess the beauty of it for me is that I feel like I can make all of this my own.

      Also, of course, that communal feeling is something I can feel in other parts of the world/with other organizations. God is everywhere. My husband and I are actually going up to Farm Sanctuary (maybe you've heard of it?) in Ithaca next month so that we can be a part of a different kind of community which we also love and feel at home in. All in all, it's true, you have to do what works for you and makes you happy.

      And not to beat a dead horse, but I'm really glad for conversations like these. I feel sad when I read about the disconnect and alienation that a lot of people feel after leaving the church. It seems like I see it a lot. We're all just trying to get by and I think so often we make it harder for each other and ourselves by forgetting to just love each other. And now I've left a long-winded reply for you!

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    3. Hi Ashley! I have heard of the Farm Sanctuary in Ithaca - I have a friend who works there! (E-mail me and I can give you her name - address is on the right-hand side!)

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    4. I guess your reply/attitude reminds me of Joanna Brooks book "Book of Mormon Girl" - I struggled to understand why she chose to stay but I also do think she plays an important role.

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  6. This is good to read. I don't think it is your fault that your friend killed himself, but I do think it is important to be friends with people who seem alone or like they need friends.

    I know it isn't the same, but there are three people I know of who changed my life by being my friends when I moved until too places. I wish I had found someone like that in high school. I don't know if I could be that kind of friend to someone, but maybe I should.

    I always was just glad Julia was my friend. I didn't think that I could be a friend someone else need. Maybe you and Julia can teach me to be that brave.

    I liked the post about your cat. Sometimes I feel like your cat, and I am glad that my mom, friends and husband gave me those chances.

    Tina

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    1. Hi Tina - so nice to hear from you again. I'm glad Julia's surgery went well - hopefully she'll be up walking again in no time. :-) People really do have the power to change your life. I am trying to remember that - I can be very forgetful sometimes and I don't always stop to thank the people that have helped me along the way.

      Toby is great - so sweet! He interrupted me half-way through this response to sit on my lap and purr like a little mad-man. It's amazing how he connects the family together; we may disagree on many things but we never disagree on the cat. If you don't have a kitty, I would recommend going and adopting a sweet older cat, as they give so much affection.

      Brave is about doing something even if you are scared. So I think that you are brave.

      All the best,
      Rachel

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  7. Another moving post. I hope those who feel the internal conflict you once felt from leaving the church find your blog and know they aren't alone, and there is a community out there who supports them.

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  8. Great post. Yes, your story and voice are important and need to be heard.

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  9. "A stressful and isolating experience ..." yes yes yes yes.

    My dad cornered me after a family dinner to warn me about my apostate spirit. I try not to act defensive, but he uses my current bought of anxiety /depression as proof to my "korihor like philosophy". I married in the temple last year, and was pregnant not too long after....it was obvious to myself that I was committed to the "path," so imagine the soul shattering shock when I wake up one mormon day and my belief has evaporated, and my personal trust in the church had become dust. My sweet husband is grieving, my family is praying, and I feel like I can never ever really leave without their endless pressing and wrangling. I want to break free!

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    1. I am so, so very sorry dolly anna. And I have been the recipient of many similar comments like that from my father, so I know how awful it feels. I really hope you find a way to balance your convictions with the beliefs of the people you love. In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out some ex-mormon support groups, like exmormon.org or Further Light And Knowledge or Latter-Day MainStreet Plaza - there is an entire community of people that know exactly what you are going through.

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  10. As a heads up, I used this particular post and discussion as a reference in a post on Main Street Plaza. :-)

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I love hearing comments and I welcome all viewpoints; however, I request that if you do choose to comment, please do so in a manner that is constructive and respectful of others.