Exit Strategy

1: Should I tell anyone ahead of time?

I’ve been able to discuss this issue at length with people who love, support, and respect me — my friends. I cannot have this conversation with anyone in my family because the topic will only result in them feeling very angry toward me. It’s a good sign that your religious beliefs are unhealthy when in theory you are the first person your family members should turn to for advice, but in reality it results in chaos and anger.

My father would be furious if I told my mother directly. He guards her with the sort of patriarchal, patronising attitude that keeps my mum in a chronic state of neurosis. (Sound familiar?) However, my mother will be upset by the news no matter what. I have wondered if, in this case, I could be honest with her that my dad’s overprotective nature has kept me from confiding in her about my struggles. I don’t want to put a wedge in their marriage, but a big part of what keeps my mom repressed, festering, and unstable at times is the narrow, confining pedestal she’s required to stand on. Would it be selfish for me to potentially put a thorn between my parents, if it means that I can really talk to my mum for the first time? Especially considering that my dad may very well disown me when it’s all said and done?

Next up: Should I tell my dad? He knows my general objections, and periodically makes attempts to interrogate/shame/coerce me back into the fold. He’s my dad, and I love him, and I’m thankful for the many ways that he’s made my life better. But all of that comes at a pretty steep price, and I don’t think my debt to him requires me to allow him to hurt me unlimited times. If I tell him ahead of time, he’ll just try to make me change my mind. My first guess is that it may be best to inform him privately after receiving confirmation of my resignation. This way I can spare him false hope.

I have two siblings who seem likely to follow my path out of the Church. I believe that working with them ahead of time will be a good course of action. The possible downside is that they may be mistreated by my TBM relatives if they find out that they knew ahead of time what I was going to do and didn’t rat me out to the Thought Police. However, I think they’ll be good at keeping a secret. The disadvantage is that both of these siblings are still at home. It may be very difficult for me to see them in the future, until they are out of the house and self-sufficient. I will not bother consulting with my TBM siblings. They will most definitely send the dogs after me.

I want my one remaining grandparent to stay unaware of the whole thing. Regardless of what happens, I will lie through my teeth to preserve her ignorance. She is very elderly, beginning to get frail, and is a good, loving woman who has given her all to this Church. She has seen all of her children grow up, marry in the temple, never divorce, and raise faithful Mormon broods. She deserves the satisfaction of leaving this earth believing that no chicks have fallen from the nest.

(Writing this last bit has made me imagine what it would sound like to hear “Families Can Be Together Forever” sung by Judas Priest. That would make an excellent metaphor for how fucked-up LDS family dynamics get once someone decides to switch off Gospel Auto Pilot.)

2: Is doing this going into the holidays a good idea?

If I do this now, it means that my family could find out about it just before the holiday season. This offers two possibilities. First, I could be seen as “ruining” the season by doing this at a time when families are supposed to be together. If I become unwelcome in my parents’ home, I would be conspicuously absent and family events will be soured by the constant reminder that I’m a dirty traitor apostate. Second, if everyone realises the consequences of option one, they may decide to play nice and try to all get along. This means that although I’m still a dirty traitor apostate, I have the chance to smooth things over through family time and activities that build positive memories. My apostasy may be able to disappear into the background, only resurfacing during events such as temple weddings. Unlike a male apostate, I won’t have extra ways to shame my family by not participating in baby blessings or priesthood rituals.

3: How much should I worry about how my extended family will respond?

I have virtually no day-to-day contact with aunts, uncles, and cousins. We see one another at family gatherings and have a nice time stuffing our gobs and keeping the little ones from murdering each other. You know, what all large families do. I expect nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction from my extended family if they find out what I have done.

4: Should I attempt to broker a deal to minimise damage?

I have considered offering a truce to my father; out of our shared interest in protecting my Gran from this information, we can simply avoid telling anyone outside the immediate family. My family gossips like, well, like a large Mormon family. Mormons gossip. A lot. As a child I knew a lot more about everyone in my ward than was remotely appropriate. I knew whose marriage was on the rocks. I knew who had been disfellowshiped. It’s pretty alarming how bad Mormons are at respecting privacy. If something needs to stay a secret, the worst thing to do is follow the normal chain of command and tell the Bishop about it.

But if there is one thing Mormons do better than gossip, it’s keep up appearances. I don’t really care what my aunts and uncles think of me. They’re lovely people but if they cut me off I would only be disappointed, not devastated. I had a dry run for this during Prop 8, when my father’s sister left a psychotic rant on my Facebook page and promptly de-friended me after seeing me comment that I didn’t support the idea of mixing religion and politics. We have never spoken since. I have never met her two youngest children. I regret the loss, but it didn’t ruin me, as it only means that I’ll never see someone whom I barely saw anyway. (She lives in Utah, and I avoid Utah like the plague since leaving BYU.)

Due to the semi-immigrated state of my extended family (they’re spread out across the Mormon Belt, with a few holdouts back in Britain) I believe I can make an attractive pitch that there is no sense upsetting an applecart that only gets wheeled out once or twice a year when we all get together. I don’t care if they know, and I don’t care if they don’t know. But they need to not know if my Gran is to be protected. And really, now that I think of it, it isn’t any of their business. We’re relatives, not friends. They have too little context of my life to understand my reasons for making such a big decision.

In a deal I would also agree to never discuss my apostasy with family members. I’d likely be lying a bit, as I intend to help my two youngest siblings if they need it when they have to make their own break with LDS, Inc. But I can agree not to proselytise to them or present them with any troubling information about Mormonism. That’s rather generous of me, if I say so myself, since I won’t be extended the same courtesy. After all, I was taught in Primary to turn the other cheek and do my best live with higher standards than the world around me.

5: What am I missing?

Ideally I’d like this to be a coup de grâce. I want to end my schizophrenia that comes from not wanting to be a Mormon but feeling like I have to stay because it’s holding my family hostage. I want to kill the fear I feel over wondering if the church will find out what a horrible evil sinner I am and call me to a disciplinary council, forcing me to resign my membership before I’m ready to do it on my terms. But I want to do this so that, for once in my bloody life, I’m looking out for myself first. I’ve been a doormat for too long. I’ve cut myself down to size and tried to fit in the box, but it doesn’t work and I’m sick of forcing it. I just want to make sure that when I do this, I do this so that it has the best possible outcome for me, and the best possible outcome for my family that I’m willing to accommodate.

15 thoughts on “Exit Strategy

  1. 1#: Tell your mother, tell your father. Together or separately, whatever works best for you. It’s tempting to assume that being honest with your mother will drive a wedge between them; I made the same mistake in my own situation. What I discovered was, she was far, far more aware of his problems than I’d realized–and her only response was to defend him. It got me to thinking: often, when people we love are making terrible choices, or allowing themselves to be treated poorly, we assume they’re unwilling partners to the exchange. Because, well, that’d be healthy. But the fact is, they often are extremely, extremely willing.

    And, as for your father, don’t give him power over you. You’re right: it’s perfectly OK to set boundaries. By fearing to tell him, on account of his getting angry, trying to change your mind, etc, you’re giving him an unhealthy degree of power. Who cares what he says? You do, ’cause he’s your dad, but setting boundaries is something you’ll have to start practicing. You can’t control his reaction.

    How do you plan on forcing the rest of your family to keep your secret for you, in regards to your ailing grandmother? Secrets are very, very difficult to keep. I understand the motivation, here, I really do, but I’m not sure it’s a healthy one. You want to spare her pain–but, realistically, she’s going to find out, anyway, and then it’ll be more hurtful because you weren’t honest. At the risk of getting preachy, here–but you did ask for advice–dishonesty/lying for the lord is part of what brought you to this juncture in the first place.

    The whole Mormon ethos is, “if the truth hurts, change it”, and, “if the truth hurts, bury it”. Don’t do it! Break the mold!

  2. Ah Molly, I’m in the same spot, except I am even terrified to tell them I am considering leaving at all. They don’t know anything about how I feel, or why I would want to leave. I just know the consequences…thanks for sharing. Love and Light.

  3. 2#: Back to my original point: you can’t control people’s reactions. It’s very tempting, when people are irrational or controlling, to second guess every single choice, every single sentence, in the hopes of mitigating their unhealthy responses. You can’t. Don’t try; it’ll only drive you crazy. Trust me, on this, I speak from years’ worth of personal experience.

    If they decide you’ve ruined Christmas, that’s *their* decision. When, or how you tell them won’t matter. It’s the information itself that’s going to cause their reaction–whatever reaction they *choose* to have. It’s not as though they’ll say, “gosh, she’s a dirty apostate now, but she thoughtfully told us in this certain way, so we’re OK with it”. Likewise, they’re not going to think, “well, we would’ve been totally OK with this news, except she said this one sentence wrong, so screw her”.

    Tell them before the holidays. Let them make up their own minds as to how they’re going to react. And keep reminding yourself: how they choose to respond isn’t your responsibility, and it’s outside of your control.

  4. 3#: You shouldn’t *worry* about how anyone’s going to respond. Worry is non-productive. Concentrate on doing what’s right for you, and deal with people’s reactions–as honestly, non-judgmentally, and kindly as possible–when they happen.

  5. 4#: You’re either leaving or you’re not. Isn’t the whole point of leaving to be honest with yourself, and live your life with integrity? Nobody ever said doing the right thing was going to be easy, or pain-free. It often sucks.

    Others may disagree with me, but I just don’t see how the “wheeling and dealing” mentality is compatible with leaving. You’re either asking your family, your church, and, most importantly, YOU to respect who you really are, or you’re not. You say, “I’d likely be lying a bit”…so if that’s the case, and that’s something you’re willing to consider, why are you leaving the church at all? That’s the very attitude that makes membership in the church possible–and so difficult.

  6. 5#: I spent most of my teens and 20’s feeling like this, although for different reasons. Therapy helped. I highly recommend it. It took years, but I learned a few valuable things. One was, you can’t take responsibility inappropriately. This “it’s holding my family hostage” attitude comes from your own fear; you’re not responsible for, or able to affect, their disfunction. Nothing you do, or don’t do, will change them.

    Two, my old therapist always had a phrase: “going down the rabbit hole”. When we’re in a dysfunctional environment, surrounded by people feeding us dysfunctional ideas about how the world works–e.g. “honesty is bad, anything to keep up a united front”–it’s almost impossible to keep from buying into it. It’s like that old fable about the king who drank from the poisoned well: all of his subjects went crazy, so he drank the water that’d poisoned them, so he’d be crazy too. That way, he was finally able to understand them.

    Another consideration is, are you sure you’re ready to do this? It sounds like you want to, philosophically, but really don’t want to deal with the consequences. And that’s OK. Most of the people who read this blog, like yourself, have grown up in an extremely judgmental, totalitarian culture. Everything’s supposedly “black and white”, despite the fact that, hey, it’s OK to lie about things if it keeps the veneer of peace crack-free. Real life is the opposite: honesty is what matters, but, truly, there are no white hats and black hats. Everyone’s searching for truth in their own way.

    It might be a good idea to wait awhile, until you’re more comfortable with the possible consequences, and with being completely honest. There’s no rule that, having decided to resign, you have to do it right away. This is a huge deal, and nobody’s saying it should be simple. We’ve both grown up with this attitude that right = easy, and painful = influenced by Satan. It’s hard to break free from that. From what you’ve written here, it sounds like you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself, which I completely understand–but, at the same time, I also think that, maybe, you need to give yourself a break.

    I hope something in here helped.

  7. Hey Molly. This may sound harsh, but it seems to me the best way to handle this is to just tear off the “band-aid” fast. It’s going to hurt more the more careful you are about it, and there’s going to be pain involved any way. Those who truly love you will always love and accept you. Everyone else will get over it in time. It may be a LONG time. But the shock will fade.

    • It’s true. I’ve considered dropping the bomb many times, but generally in moments of anger. That’s why I’ve always held off. But if anything, in real life I have the fault of not acting to protect myself because I swallowed so much cultural conditioning to be a sweet spirit and never cause strife. It’s an option I need to consider.

  8. I don’t think it’s selfish to be open about what you perceive as abusive controlling behavior that’s getting in the way of your relationship with your mother. Maybe she’s waiting for someone to confide in too.

    Do you think it would help to put all this in a letter to your father (even if you tell your mother in person) – keeping it within the immediate family, etc? You are obviously an excellent writer, and it might be easiest to take your time making your thoughts and feelings clear in a letter rather than trying to rehearse everything.

    I don’t know if it’s common or if it happens at all, but is it possible your parents will be notified by the local leadership of your resignation? If so, it’s probably best for you to tell them yourself – especially if you intend to keep your grandmother from finding out about it. And if you’re worried about your father trying to stop you, tell him only after you send the letter to SLC.

    I can’t imagine how painful this must be for you. Joe basically sent his letter thinking, whoever wants to disown me for this, let them. But only his parents and brothers are Mormon – his parents are both converts – so it was much easier for him. Good luck with everything, I hope it turns out well. If it doesn’t, I know you don’t know me well or anything, but I certainly am here to talk if you want. 😀

    @CJ – wonderful advice.

    @Mindy – I hope you find a way to open up to your family and tell them how you feel. 🙂

    • Thank you for the compliment. A letter might be the best way to do it — that way I could avoid feeling outnumbered as I certainly would in a face-to-face conversation. It may also enable me to “rip off the band-aid” as eric put it.

  9. An interesting set of questions. My assumptions are a bit different going in, but for what it’s worth… Do remember that although Mormonism if the backdrop against which your play has come forth, plenty of families are dysfunctional, and the family religion and traditions are a big, big deal in many families. In a bit of irony, the angst of separating from your childhood faith is not much different from the angst of new converts to Mormonism separating from their own childhood faiths, often to the disapproval and consternation of their parents, family members and friends. Your challenge is finding what works for yu.

    1# Spirituality is a personal matter, you are under no obligation to tell anyone before, during or afterward. Certainly I’d not lie and hide as if you have anything to be ashamed of but I’d not make a point to announce and I’d not make a big deal of it. You are leaving (or have left) the Church, it’s a done deal, next topic. There’s nothing to argue about – you are managing your life, and have established appropriate boundaries.

    At the same time there’s no reason to not discuss it in the course of normal conversation as it comes up, especially with siblings, etc. And at family gatherings there are going to be some inevitable religious trappings like blessings on the food, Christmas story Xmas Eve, etc., and everyone smiles and lives with it as part of the family doings and to humor the senior members.

    #2 – there’s no such things as a good time. There will always be reasons to not do it now. Do it when it works for you and don’t worry about it.

    #3 – I wouldn’t worry about extended family at all, and you might be surprised how many of your extended family is less than devoted to their respective faiths as well.

    #4 – Yes, people gossip, people talk. That doesn’t mean they can’t see the greater good. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I’d appreciate it if you’d be a bit circumspect, I know grandma would be bothered by it and I want to respect her feelings.” Most people will cooperate. As for young children, I think common sense is sufficient. Responsible grown ups don’t give other people’s little kids grief and don’t mess with their heads. Much…I’ve had to issue a few correctives not so much on matters of religion but on racism, sexism and homophobia. Eventually they either learn to think better or to keep their mouths shut when you’re around. Based on the teenagers most of them have become I have reason to suspect the former.

    #5 – don’t over think it. Trust in your heart and your mind. It’s not about them, it’s about you and what you need to be happy. Don’t lose track of that.

  10. You’ve got a lot of issues there!

    I’ve never been in the same circumstances. I left the Catholic church over 40 years ago but all I did — or had to do — was walk away. No one to discuss it with. No one to justify it to. Lots of family had opinions but that was for them to deal with.

    With that disclaimed, my advice would be that you’ve obviously given all of this a lot of thought already. Why not step away from it for a little bit? Go on with other every day aspects of your life and let this ruminate. When the time comes, your intuition will guide you to do the thing that fits all the various circumstances of your and your family’s lives.

    That’s not to say it will be pretty. Doesn’t sound like that’s going to be possible given the number of people who will be reacting to a break that could be traumatic — in their estimation, not necessarily yours.

    Personally, I believe that people have bodies, minds, spirits and an intuition to process and assimilate all of them. If you inform it with information and solid ethics and compassion you can trust it to insulate you from over thinking, on the one hand, and needless guilt and paralyzing second guessing, on the other.

    Others’ feelings are important, of course, but yours are equally important and YOU are the one who really lives with the consequences of your decisions. They live with OPINIONS about the consequences. Different animal!

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