The Light Has Gone Out

I thought the word “countenance” was a word that only LDS people used. Apparently, it’s a real word, in the dictionary and everything. The reads:

coun·te·nance/ˈkaʊntnəns/ noun
1. appearance, esp. the
look or
expression of the face: a sad countenance.
2. the face; visage.
3. calm
facial expression; composure.
4. approval or favor;
encouragement; moral support.

To me it seems that a countenance is simply the look on a person’s face. Usually the look on a person’s face reflects how they are feeling. Sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s the rare sociopath person that can smile while insulting you or hurting a bug.

When I left the Mormon church 12 years ago, I lived with my mother and dad. I was being terrorized by my then-husband because I had left him and planned to divorce him, I had been betrayed by men in my ward, and all the while I was fighting depression and a weird phantom goiter in my neck. When I say ‘phantom’, it’s because literally nothing was there, but I couldn’t swallow without copious amounts of liquid, One time, I nearly choked on a candy Hot Tamale.

In terms of the betrayal, it went down like this:

I went to the bishop of my ward who was also my father in law’s bishop AND coincidentally his business partner. The bish told me that I would lose my children in eternity because they were sealed through J, my husband, not me. He then asked me “Do you know how difficult it is for a woman with two children to get remarried?” He told me to go into counseling with J, to the Sunday School teacher in the same ward,Stewart S, a LCSW.

I went to counseling and Stewart didn’t validate or acknowledge that I had been physically or emotionally abused. He actually made light of it. I told him how unhappy I was; he pronounced me ‘depressed’. Then this LCSW non-doctor gave me samples of Prozac to take one week out of the month because apparently all of our marital problems were due to my PMS. (this is no joke by the way).

That night, my FIL called my mother and told her that I was “a very disturbed young woman” and “depressed” and proceeded to tell her the things that had been said in confidence in the counselor’s office. It seems that ol’ Stewie called the bishop who called my FIL and they “returned and reported” like good little boys.

I had turned to these men for help, and they used everything I said to make me out as a crazy person, when I was, in fact, being abused by J. The only person that kept me sane was my sister. She was the only rope that anchored me to Earth, kept me from dissolving into madness and a doormat to be trampled by those who felt they had that right. The last session with Stewart, I reiterated the physical abuse (which J heartily denied, despite a documented doctor visit). Stewart said in his nasally, whiny voice: “So did he ever trip you, or flick you with his finger? Let me ask you this: what is it you said to him before he hit you?”

I had anger, rage, and indignation well up in me so strongly that I actually stood and placed my face as close to Stewart’s ugly, red, broken-blood vesseled nose as I could and said: “I don’t know Stewart; what would I have to say to you to make you hit me?”

I walked out and never looked back. Then I went to my dear friend K’s house. She was in massage therapy school, a good Mormon and a very open-minded and non-judgmental woman. I told her about my swallowing issue, and proceeded to tell her about my beliefs and Mormonism. She finally said, “Juls, is it possible you can’t swallow because you simply can’t swallow the Church anymore?” That statement hit me right in the solar plexus. It resonated with me like a gong.

Shortly thereafter I made a list. The list was two columns. What I believed to be true, and what I didn’t, about Mormonism. One of the things on the list under “not true”: coffee drinking is bad. Tea is bad. I listed everything the Church taught and put them in one or the other column. Then I counted. The “nays” had it. I made a cognizant decision then and there to leave the Mormon church for good. Then I went out and had the best cup of coffee I had ever tasted.

Back to my original word: countenance. During all of this, my mother told me that my ‘countenance’ had darkened. She ascribed this to me leaving the church. Let that sink in for a minute. I had been abused for four years under the noses of my Mormon in-laws; I was betrayed by men who were supposed to help me, I was going through a divorce with two small children, leaving my religion of origin, dealing with my mother calling me a slut on many occasions when I didn’t come home to listen to her degrade me…and my COUNTENANCE was dark?

Any time a person goes through grief, mourning, disruption and change, you can see it on their faces, in their eyes. Yes, even Mormons who have “trials” lose that bright quality in their faces when they are stressed, saddened or worried. Yet the card that is played by many Mormons when a person leaves is: “Your countenance has changed.” Well, no shit Sherlock! When anything ends, it isn’t simple. No one has all-bad memories of being Mormon or they would never have joined, or stayed long. Mormonism has plenty of good things for many people. Even though I left, I still am grateful for the many experienced that I consider positive in the Church. You aren’t just leaving a church; you are leaving security, community, a sense of knowing and safety.

But to tell someone that their ‘countenance’ is no longer ‘light’ is an insult on top of an injury! It’s playing the God card; there’s no refuting it, unless you go to the store and buy some bronzer. There’s no way to appear ‘glowy’ when you’re in upheaval. And when someone calls you on it, it causes you to stop and say, ‘Oh God, everyone can tell, they can see that I’m not happy. Is it really because I no longer have the Hobie Ghost?’ (misspelling on purpose here). It is a manipulation and a violation of a boundary to tell someone that they are no longer happy in the guise of a perceived observation. ‘The light has gone out of her eyes.’ Well of course it has! When we leave, our whole world, our whole existence is turned upside down. Do you think I wanted to leave? I didn’t! I wanted to stay in my comfort zone; I wanted to rest assured that I knew the answers to everything. But I could not deny what the spirit–MY spirit– was telling me: It was time… for an upgrade.

My mom would shake her head when I’d come into the room. Every time I came home late she murmured under her breath about what she thought I was doing. I continued to see a counselor to try and deal with the abuse in my marriage, and he informed me that since I had not been to church for a while, the ward had stopped paying for my counseling and I owed him $3000. My ‘countenance’ was quite dark when I learned that information. I had no money, no job, no housing, a psycho-violent soon to be ex, in-laws that were slandering my name to the whole ward, no family support (except my sister, God bless her)…and two young children who needed me and who were hearing all sorts of awful things from their daddy about mommy. And my countenance was dark. Tsk tsk. See? See what happens when you leave the One and Only True Restored Gospel?

My friend who is leaving the Church sees and feels the difference in herself, and her family remarks on her loss of that “peaceful, happy glow”. I wonder how much she glowed during her marriage stresses when she was on the brink of divorce? Or when she had financial stresses or serious health problems with her child? Did anyone mention how dark her countenance was then? No, because she still went to church; she was still a believer, and allowances are made for people going through ‘trials.’ But when they leave, tsk tsk, no wonder the countenance is so ‘dark’.

Let me assure you, all of you who feel a ‘darkened countenance’. The light will return, but before it does, you must mourn. Mourn your loss. Accept that there is beauty in the dark, for that is the language of the inner-sanctum of the soul, the unconscious mind that connects you to All. There is beauty in sadness, solace in isolation and grief. Like the Earth’s early spring that begrudges us any hope of green, if you look closely enough and be patient, buds will appear, new life awaits, and the light is sure to follow once you allow yourself to go through your winter.

Or there’s always the cosmetic counter at Macy’s with some really good bronzer.


*not actual photos of men, except FIL.

Repost from Ravings of a Mad Woman blog


My name is JulieAnn Henneman. I am an author living in Draper, Utah. My first novel, 2000 dollar loan online. Always Listen to the Ravings of a Mad Woman: a Story of Sex, Porn and Postum in the Land of Zion, is a fictional story about a suburban Mormon housewife who discovers that her husband of 17 years is a sex and pornography addict. I am also a poet and enjoy writing short stories with an erotic bent. You can find my poetry online, and probably some erotic shorts. I will be performing my poetry in the Utah Arts Festival this year, among other venues. I was born and raised in the LDS faith and left several times throughout my life; however, I left for good in 1995. Currently, I am a full-time writer and parent. Beginning next month, I will reprise my role as a creative writing workshop facilitator for Art Access of Utah. Through Art Access, I teach creative writing workshops to adults and teens with disabilities and addiction issues. Oh, and I really, really love coffee.

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10 Responses

  1. My exit from the church hasn’t been nearly as traumatic as yours, but I am sad sometimes. Leaving the church isn’t red roses and blue skies, but that’s not the point. I left the church because I was seeking out the truth. Sometimes the truth isn’t pleasant. George Bernard Shaw said “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”

  2. Well said. I wrote a post because of this story. Thank you for sharing.


  3. SML says:


    This post is very touching. I enjoyed it immensely, because of how honest and raw it is.

    Those men who “helped” you your husband should be ashamed of themselves, but it’s likely they will never be. They are too busy enjoying the benefits of the patriarchal system that upholds them in all their misguided glory.

  4. SML says:

    Sorry, I meant to strikethrough the word “you” above just before the words “your husband”…

  5. JulieAnn says:

    Thanks for all of the comments. This chapter of my life was one of the lonliest and most difficult to navigate. I’m so glad to have it OVER! I believe in karma, and I believe these men are getting theirs in ways we can’t even imagine. They’re probably just too stupid to notice.

  6. Hellmut says:

    Great analysis, great story telling, Julie Ann. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. Merry Prankster says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I have often wondered why, if countenance is so important, church leaders like Marion G. Romney, Harold B. Lee, Russell Ballard and others all look so unhappy.

  8. markii says:

    Let me assure you, all of you who feel a ‘darkened countenance’. The light will return, but before it does, you must mourn. Mourn your loss. Accept that there is beauty in the dark, for that is the language of the inner-sanctum of the soul, the unconscious mind that connects you to All. There is beauty in sadness, solace in isolation and grief. Like the Earth’s early spring that begrudges us any hope of green, if you look closely enough and be patient, buds will appear, new life awaits, and the light is sure to follow once you allow yourself to go through your winter.

    I really liked that. And I think you’re right. if one has a glowing countenance, it may be that they’re truly happy, atheist, mormon, whoever. many mormons may have this (and i know many who certainly do not) but this may be from the whole “ignorance is bliss” idea. when your in La-La land skipping around your garden, not worrying about tomorrow or the after-life cuz you’re “taken care of”, this can definitely give u a false sense of security/ hope/ bliss. As for me, though, i took the red pill [The Matrix] and am happy to work out whatever difficulties that may await me in this choice- for i’d rather be smart and bitter rather than dumb and happy although I agree with you, that “new life waits”, and “the light will return”. i think there’s a happy wholeness to finding joy in knowledge instead of finding joy in wishful thinking. great post!

  9. INTJ Mom says:

    I can relate to your story, JulieAnn. I had an abusive first husband as well and I got the same responses from ward leaders when I would try to get help. They wouldn’t believe me, M. seemed like a good priesthood holder to them, what was I doing to provoke him? Everything had to somehow be my fault. It was crazy. I had 2 small children as well. I do find it kind of funny that the bishop told you it would be hard to get remarried. I didn’t find that to be the case at all, neither have a lot of other divorced women with kids I’ve known. But I will say that my mom did say to me that she didn’t think I’d ever find a really good guy because I was “damaged goods”, and really good guys don’t want a woman someone else has already had. Fortunately, I found this statement to be completely untrue, but it did do some damage to me at the time and it took me a while to overcome the effects of that comment from my own mother.