Hurting Relationships: Sophia L. Stone’s “Mormon Diaries”
In 2005 (at my little sisterâ€™s bridal shower) my mother rebuked me for purchasing my own â€œtrashy lingerieâ€ for my honeymoon instead of using the beautiful and elegant nightgowns sheâ€™d given me for the occasion.
â€œYou didnâ€™t know I knew about that, did you?â€ she asked with a resentful edge in her voice, her eyes gleaming with the bitter triumph of announcing a secret betrayal.
I was mortified. This night wasnâ€™t about me. Iâ€™d come to support my sister as she prepared to marry her sweetheart. But every person in the room was looking at me, the weight of their eyes making me self-conscious. Color drained from my face.
â€œI uh . . . how?â€ I stammered.
â€œI did your laundry, remember? Just a few years back, when I helped you clean the house after youâ€™d returned from your honeymoon.â€ She clenched her fists in her lap, and my mouth went dry. I remembered the incident well.
In Mormon Diaries Sophia L. Stone tells a story of growing up Mormon, getting married in the temple, having kids with her Mormon husband, and then leaving the church. Her story is similar to Ingrid Ricks’s “Hippie Boy” in that Mormonism isn’t the root cause of the author’s problems — the root problem is poisonous, dysfunctional relationships, as illustrated by the quote above — but Mormonism doesn’t help. Indeed, quite the opposite.
Stone describes growing up in a codependent relationship with her mother (“Iâ€™d appointed myself the keeper of her moods”) and later feeling powerless when caught in the middle of a power struggle between her husband and her mother. Her attempt to write an article to prove that Mormon women aren’t oppressed ended up being the catalyst that started her questioning (and eventually rejecting) the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This happened shortly after she realized that she needed to “break up” with her mother, and the self-confidence she found through her disaffection from the church helped her to build the necessary boundaries in her relationships.
Stone’s description of growing up focused on pleasing others is fascinating and poignant. The scene that really stood out for me was the following:
And so, when the prayer ended and I felt nothing but the air around me, I convinced myself Iâ€™d felt something the same way a child who believes in Santa runs through the house on Christmas Eve announcing theyâ€™ve seen flying reindeer.
I stood andÂ said, â€œI feel it!â€
But in the moments that followed, when people were shaking my hand and there was no time for confession, regret washed over me.
I had lied.
So on the day after my baptism and confirmation, I sat in Fast & Testimony Meeting while people got up one by one and said, â€œIâ€™d like to bear my testimony that I know the church is true. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet and that we have the one pure Gospel of Jesus Christ.â€
Many of them told stories about their family, some recounted experiences when theyâ€™d felt the spirit. But when one man in particular spoke about my baptism and confirmation, saying how my countenance had glowed when I stood and said, â€œI feel it!â€Â my stomach twisted with guilt.
â€œI didnâ€™t really feel anything,â€ I whispered to my dad. â€œShould I go up and tell everyone the truth?â€
Iâ€™d been taught all my life to be honest, and my impulse to go up to the pulpit and confess my sin was almost unbearable. I could, in fact, think of nothing more important than correcting the lie Iâ€™d told.
My father, however, knew people better than I did. He knew perfectly well what was appropriate in a Sunday service. He knew what I did not, that thereâ€™d been conflict amongst some in the congregation over what kinds of stories were appropriate to tell in church. So while I had no idea what was going through his mind at that moment, Iâ€™m sure what he said next was his way of looking out for me.
â€œDonâ€™t do that, sweetheart. You wouldnâ€™t want to hurt anyoneâ€™s testimony.â€
The core of Sophia Stone’s story is her deconversion and how it affected her relationships — themes that are familiar to many of us. However, her book is an engaging and well-crafted narrative, not just a diatribe against the CoJCoL-dS. I recommend it as an enjoyable read for anyone who interested in how religion affects life.
Love, love, love this review! 🙂
Good review! Sounds like a great read.
Thanks!! definitely check the book out!
On the recommendation of this review, I read Stone’s memoir. Overall, I thought it was a worthwhile contribution to existing first-person accounts of the Mormon experience. The author writes well, and I enjoyed reading what she had to say.
However, as I read, I was frustrated at the gaps in the story. I wish there were fewer of them. How did the author’s husband evolve in his thinking? We read about his very hostile initial reception to Stone’s loss of belief in LDS truth claims. Then, we fast forward and find that this same orthodox Mormon husband is willing to give his now-apostate wife a necklace with a crucifix as a Christmas present. There’s a lot of ground between those two moments that we just skip over. Similarly, Stone goes from “breaking up with her mother” to reconciliation in a blink of an eye. These and other abrupt transitions induce vertigo in a reader and need to be smoothed out.
The theme of this book is dysfunction and unhealthy power dynamics. Which came first? The family dysfunction or the inflexible, iron-rod form of Mormonism that we encounter throughout Stone’s memoir? I find these two impossible to disentangle. They stem from identical authoritarian impulses. The authoritarian urge is one of the main things that distinguishes progressive Mormons from their more conservative coreligionists.
One of the most poignant moments in the story comes when the narrator realizes that she, as an orthodox Mormon, once treated an unorthodox friend in the same judgmental way as she is treated by her own family after she loses her faith.
Anyway, thanks for the review! I enjoyed the book.
@4 — That’s a good point. There were a lot of hints that her husband was exercising problematic, controlling behavior, but no explanation of how/whether he started to change. Similarly, the improvement in her relationship with her mother could have been fleshed-out better.
Maybe this is a problem inherent in writing a memoir where the main conflict is with living members of your immediate family — people you’re going to have to continue living with for many decades to come… 😉
The LDS’s biggest cover-up dates back to the 1857 massacre of 150 emigrants from Arkansas at Mountain Meadows in Utah Territory. I wrote a book informed by this event titled A Mormon Massacre. I’d like to present it to ex-Mormons. It’s available on Amazon, and I’ll send anyone who wants to read or review it a free copy. Thanks, Joe.
@6 Sounds good. In fact, my pile of books to review is currently empty. (I was planning to compile a new list of books to review while preparing my nominations for the Brodie Awards.)
Please email me at chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com to arrange for a review copy.
Uh oh… this looks like a book I need to read! Thanks for bringing it to my attention!