A very significant relationship in my life has recently come to a close. This relationship has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It impacted every aspect of my upbringing and guided me in all the major decisions of my life up to this point. It was a relationship that has been both loving and hurtful at times. At times it made me feel special and valued, and it motivated me to try and improve myself.
As a child this relationship encompassed everything I knew. I was taught it would be critical to my happiness and that without it I would feel lost and alone. That it provided purpose and meaning for my existence and that I should stay close to it. My parents and extended family fully embraced this relationship and encouraged it. They were so happy that I valued it and wanted it. When I expressed how much I loved having this relationship I received lots of positive feedback, encouragement and support.
As I got a little bit older I found at times it became more difficult to maintain this relationship as it often asked for more than I felt I could give. Sometimes it seemed it would never be satisfied with my efforts. It could be quite demanding, and let me know that to feel its love I had to abide by strict rules or it would withdraw. I had been told my whole life that without this relationship I could not be truly happy so I felt guilty when I ignored or turned away from it. When I made choices that I knew it felt were wrong I felt shame. All of my decisions had been mapped out by this relationship and I hadn’t learned how to navigate some life choices without it. When I made mistakes and was unhappy I was told this was because I had pulled back. I felt confused, unprepared and alone without it since it was all I had ever known. Â When I was 18 I made the decision to come back to it and commit myself to developing the relationship fully. With it I had a very structured road-map on how to make significant choices and what my life should look like. It felt easier and I received lots of positive feedback from family and community for this decision. I felt loved and accepted.
It supported and encouraged my decision to get married at age 19 and drop out of school so my husband could complete his education. It remained a significant part of my life as I struggled to understand my role as a woman. I turned to it to try and understand my role as a wife. It provided a community filled with people similar to me and a blueprint for how to raise my four children. I worked very hard to maintain this relationship and keep it healthy. I tried to listen to it when I felt overwhelmed, discouraged and struggled to find fulfillment as a full-time stay at home mom. I spent a significant amount of time involving it in my day-to-day life as well as encouraging and teaching my children how important it was for them to grow and maintain this relationship for themselves. As they got older and struggled to make their own decisions I tried to love and encourage them to stay close to it. Many of the things we did as a family involved this relationship and it impacted all aspects of our life. I taught my children all the things that I had been taught about how this relationship worked. I taught them why this relationship was important and special. I expressed my belief that this relationship would help them be happy. I taught them they could always trust it.
Years went by and periodically I would find aspects of the relationship that were puzzling to me or made me uncomfortable but I tried to focus on the positive things. I reasoned with myself that every relationship has positives and negatives and sometimes you had to just not worry too much about the areas that don’t feel good. Overall it continued to be a positive thing in my life but periodically the very black/white demands it made on me were hard. I tried not to question the explanations it gave me even though at times they didn’t make sense or feel right. I tried to let the hurtful things go because I remembered how wonderful it felt when we were close. Sometimes I noticed this relationship put a lot of pressure on my children and expected a lot from them. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable when I noticed they suffered from this relationship. I tried to trust and believe this was the most important relationship we would have and the way that we would all truly find happiness.
Years continued to pass and our relationship became more and more strained. I found it was not quite as loving and supportive as I thought when changes happened in my life that were different from the typical pattern it had said my life should take. I noticed how strongly it influenced people in their relationship, and when those relationships weren’t within the rules (it said they had to follow), it viewed them negatively. It even tried to influence laws to legislate some of its rules so that everyone would have to follow them. I watched people get hurt by this relationship. I continued each week to try and spend time on it hoping that I could find the love, acceptance, direction and support I had felt earlier in my life. At times I would feel the love and acceptance and it was wonderful but those times grew further and further apart. I found I spent a lot of time crying over this relationship and trying to figure out how I could still enjoy it.
I had spent years on this. There had to be a way to hold onto it despite my new perspectives. I lost the sense of community that it gave me and I became more and more isolated. When I tried to talk to others about the difficulty I was having in the relationship, I was told I had to just accept its definitions, rules and claims as truth. I had to accept that any loved ones who no longer wanted this relationship were wrong; they had been deceived and would not ultimately be happy. I tried to explain that if I took this view (that I was right and they were wrong) it would make it very difficult to have a healthy relationship with my loved ones; I was told that if I loved the relationship enough I would choose it over everything else. They said this relationship was the way to ultimate truth and had all the answers. I was told the reason I was struggling was that I was fighting against that truth and if I would just accepted and follow it I would be happy again.
Time continued to pass and the hurt increased. I struggled each week to try and manage the relationship and find fulfillment in it. I felt guilty as I realized pulling back was actually a relief. I gave myself permission to go back to the beginning and see if I still believed it had the truth. I wanted and needed to know if the relationship was worth it. Was it the only way to happiness as I had been taught? Would my decision to pull away from this relationship really impact my eternal existence? Would I be lost without it? I spent months studying it. It was a roller coaster of emotions. I discovered there were aspects about this relationship I had been completely unaware of. It was a lot more complicated than I had realized. There had been falsehoods and things hidden from me. Understanding and learning this new information allowed me to admit that I no longer believed the relationship was what it claimed to be. All of the unanswered questions and concerns that I had been trying to ignore could be looked at, analyzed and I could choose for myself. The reality was this relationship had become unhealthy and damaging for me. I knew pulling back would result in pain for some of my loved ones and would impact our interactions and yet I was ready to live authentically. There were too many aspects of it that just didn’t work for me anymore. I felt an enormous range of emotions recognizing and accepting this.
Fall 2013 : I open my mailbox and there is the envelope. I’m surprised at the multitude of emotions that sweep over me as I read the letter: sadness, disappointment, hurt, nostalgia, pain, relief and acceptance. Even though I knew the letter was coming because I had requested it I didn’t anticipate this reaction, but then again this has been a 46 year relationship, and one of the most significant in my life. I’m going to give myself time to feel the emotions and move through them. I’m stepping into the next part of my life and it’s OK. I’m ready to let go.
Really poignant, Alison.
Thanks Holly…it felt like a release to get it out on paper. So much emotion and effort. It’s a complicated thing isn’t it!
Excellent. It’s painful, but worth it. No one owns you. The “Matrix” can no longer tell you who you are.
Well written. Very thought provoking. There is SO much guilt associated w/ this relationship. So much pressure to pursue perfection. So much justification for questionable doctrine, historical events, and leadership. Despite this, here on the fence I sit. Frightened to move forward, but not wanting to return.
We love you. We wish we lived closer so we could hang out more. We speak highly of you and your awesome husband. Ya’ll are good people. 🙂
We love you guys back Steve and wish you were closer too. It’s OK to sit on the fence until you are ready to decide which way you want to go. Hugs from me as I know sitting there takes a lot of balancing and can be exhausting at times!
You guys will figure out what works for you and will bring you happiness and contentment. Whatever that is I support and love you.
The hardest thing we do is take on the task of shrugging off old values to replace them with new. This is desperation work. Our first set of values are like pulling porous, brittle bones out of our bodies and replacing them with new healthy bones. The structure of our experiencing is challenged. It is not easy. The old values will re-loop and re-loop. Life will get different fast. Confusion at first. Over the long haul it gets better. Important to interact with others going through the same experiences. You family feels threatened and will “never”–until they make there own egress from disadvantaged values–understand. I was my father’s greatest disappointment and now my son’s not to mention my true blue Mormon grandchildren. Eventually you will feel the power of being self-actuated and having a foundation under you that is liberating. This experience — rebuilding an existing person — will allow happier and broader choices in life. You who are experiencing this metamophosis have my profound respect. And yes, it is worth the struggle to become your own person.
Nice essay Alison. Take a deep breath and enjoy your new found freedom. It’s such a great thing to take back your power. What a great gift you are giving to your children as you teach them to choose for themselves.
Thanks for sharing.
I think a lot of us can relate to this. It seems surprising to have all of these mixed emotions about Mormonism — but when you think about it, it would be even more surprising to leave such a significant relationship without a second thought.
Alison, I could have written the same words. Although our reasons for this experience have been different, the result has been the same.
I have felt like I have had my head in the clouds and those clouds have been lifted. At first it was frightening, then it was enlightening and then complete release. I feel now that I am free to be the person I was meant to be. I am closer to ‘God’ than I’ve ever been. I feel like the ‘relationship’ was interfering with me having my own feelings and understandings of life and relationships. I was brain washed… if that’s how you want to put it… and now I am free to truly use my ‘agency’ that the ‘relationship’ spoke so highly of, but never truly allowed. Agency! Ha… free to choose what you’re told to choose… that isn’t agency…
I am more fully aware of life around me, no longer walking around in a closed off bubble. No longer closing myself off to the possibilities of life just because they don’t fit inside the parameters given.
Thank you for sharing and being brave enough to let us into your private thoughts.
I really appreciate all of your comments. Sometimes you feel quite alone going through this since you aren’t able to talk about it with people that are still in the church. You realize they really don’t want to know what’s happened and why because they are afraid and you don’t want to ruin your relationships. It can be so isolating.
I was not aware of the online communities until I was mostly through it! It sure is nice to feel like others understand you.