Not too long ago I was in a serious relationship. This wasn’t any relationship. It was beautiful. It was deep. It made promises that I would experience true joy and I would be forever happy as long as I could stay true to it. It was one of those high school innocent, adolescently naive, puppy dog love types of love. It was one of those relationships where you felt you had something no one else had experienced. Romeo and Juliet who? Sure, others have been in love before. But not like this. This was “real” love. The type of love you’d die for. I relied on it heavily for my happiness and my self worth. It gave me a reason to breath. It gave me purpose. Every single day I woke up with a desire to be a better person because of this relationship and for this relationship. Every decision I made in life, from the irrelevant and infinitesimal to the most consequential and most monumental, was made with my relationship’s well-being in mind.
Now, I can’t say I was perfect in this relationship. I made mistakes. I made decisions that were never in the best interest of the relationship. I abandoned it a few times in various ways and on separate occasions. At other times, I wasn’t even fully true to this relationship. But I tried to do my best. I loved it with all my heart though I knew I was imperfect in showing it. I always came back. I knew we were meant to be. I had served in this relationship for as long as I could remember. And when you serve someone or something, your bond and your love for that person or thing grows stronger and stronger. Genuine. Almost dependent. Almost a one-sided affair if the other party isn’t reciprocating that level of service and love, back.
Like any relationship, it had its ups and downs. I saw its weaknesses, but I accepted and even embraced them with the hope that one day they would become strengths. I even had my doubts and subtle reserves about this joint companionship. But, like any smitten kid who thinks with his heart over his brain, I’d brush those doubts off so fast. There was no way this thing I worshiped had any true flaws (or at least flaws which would compromise who they were) or would ever let me down. You never want to ever admit that that one thing you loved so much, that one thing you served, could ever hurt you or let you down. There is a certain amount of personal hubris involved. The funny thing about love and serving the thing you love; even when everyone else around you can see those flaws about the other party, you can’t. Even if you truly tried to entertain their claims and see where they were coming from, you can’t. It’s called confirmation bias. Even when mistakes, lies, cover ups, etc, are presented to you as fact, you don’t want to ever consider they are true. Your “love” would never do that to you. They would never manipulate you or lie to you. They just wouldn’t. Love is blind. It’s one of the purest forms of cognitive dissonance at its finest. But then, little by little, you start to notice things. You start to notice that while you were genuinely serving them to make the bond and relationship stronger and more lasting, all they really provided in return was lip service. And only enough to keep you clinging on to the minuscule (and later, insulting) hope that things will get better.
What’s even worse about coming to the realization that your fairy tale relationship was a one sided affair, is the day you come to terms with it. You never once previously even entertained the all describing, yet forbidden word, “betrayal”. But now you find yourself saying it to yourself if, at first, only in a whisper. That moment you were able admit to yourself and others that you were betrayed, there is a plethora of so many different emotions unlocked that overwhelm you. Also, there are so many variables that happen when you find out the one you loved was lying to you the whole time. Lying about who they really were, lying about what their true intentions were, that they weren’t even close to what they claimed to be. At first, you experience white hot denial or, another dose of cognitive dissonance. They would never do this to you! And, more importantly, you would never fall for such blatant lies. But once you realize you did, and the whole relationship was a fraud, you pass from denial to pure embarrassment. Embarrassed you ever served so vigorously in this relationship. That you gave so much. That you gave so much of your emotions, of your energy, of your time and even of your money. Then you acutely remember all the times you racked yourself for feeling inadequate and unworthy of such a perfect relationship. All the nights you cried yourself to sleep with ignominy or inner guilt. And then you realize the other party was a hoax. All along. That they were the one undeserving of you. That all those sleepless nights of self inflicted emotional abuse was all for nothing. Your embarrassment turns to anger. Turns to hate. You become vindictive and want to do something to hurt it them. But realize there is nothing you could do independently that would really hurt them. That they were conning you from the beginning. That they were sucking the lifeblood out of you. Chances are they could never care about what you could do to them, they never truly cared about you anyway. Then depression sets it. There were so many promises made in that relationship that weren’t going to happen now. And you expected them to. You held on to those promises because they were beautiful and they filled you with so much hope for the future. Now, learning the relationship was a hoax means that those promises were too. Your world begins to completely unravel. You realize you have to recreate yourself and even conjure up new hopes and dreams. You have to completely start over. And to make matters worse, you feel you are going to have to do it alone. The depression this new reality breeds is almost unavoidable. But you push through.
The lip service they offered made you feel they cared. Though you never fully felt comfortable with that, you’re mind was blinded by your heart. Whenever you started to think, those thoughts were immediately ambushed and obliterated by what you felt. And it was just enough. Just enough to keep you opening your wallet to pay for dinner. Just enough to show up at every beckoned call to serve. Just enough to keep you busy enough to never truly explore the underlying doubts you had about the relationship in general. So now you’re angry. That vitriol in your being is a mixture of the love and betrayal you now feel for that person after it’s clear they were lying and manipulating you the entire time.
What made this betrayal worse was the actual break up. Unfortunately, the wool wasn’t just covering your eyes. The other party has had the majority of your friends and family thinking this person is perfect too. That everything this person touched was gold. Almost to the point that your friends and family would side with the other person over you. Because they know your flaws, so it must be your fault this break up is taking place. It’s a helpless feeling. You now know how rotten this person is, and yet, family and friends are still eating up their flowery lies and misrepresentations. And now you’re the bad guy. And alone. You’re the one who is demonized. But with every breakup, with every emotion that is part of the package deal of betrayal, is light at the end of the tunnel. And that light is time. For example; It doesn’t matter if you had the absolute, irrefutable, tangible facts thrown in your face that your lover was a serial killer at night while you were sleeping, you would still love them. You would despise and hate them, but you would still love them. Because you gave so much of yourself to them. The only thing that heals a broken heart is time. Even then, something or somone that has always had such an impact in your life, will always be with you. You’ll learn to syphon out or ignore the bad memories and cling to the good. In that way, you could never fully leave it alone. On the other end, if that person is still heavily involved with your friends and family because they can never see how horrible this person truly is, then unfortunately it looks like this person will always be there in some form. Though time allowed you to lose your feelings for this person, you can’t leave it alone if family is still involved. If you feel they could hurt or harm your family, you do everything you can to either bring down that person, or continue working on your family until the wool is taken from their eyes as well. You can’t just leave it alone. The break up isn’t just an event, it becomes the rest of your life.
I was in this relationship with the LDS Church. I learned about the manipulation, lies and deceit back in 2008, but was in a huge state of denial. I even publicly defended and rationalized my love’s behavior and past. I eventually had to come to terms and face facts. I emotionally shut down over 3 years ago, but stayed in the relationship for friends and family. It wasn’t until the last 6 months that I’ve officially cut ties and ended the relationship. All the feelings expressed above are the feelings I have felt and continue to feel. I remember being on the other side of the fence and hearing people say in a seemingly scoffing tone, “why can’t ex-Mormons leave the Church alone?”. Well, now I know why. And hopefully you, as a reader, can walk away a little more empathetic towards your friends and brothers and sister who are feeling all those feelings mentioned. Their title may now be “ex-Mormon” or “apostate”, both words with the undertone of demonization, but those words don’t define them in the all-encompassing sphere of their lives. They are so much more than an apostate. They are the same person you have always known, but perhaps, even better. More clear and enlightened. More honest with themselves, which in turn would mean to everyone else. More loving and less judgemental.
There are still a claimed 15 million members who are still currently in this relationship. A third are currently cultivating and nurturing that relationship, while another two-thirds have assumingly, emotionally checked out. Thousands of members leave each year and are experiencing what I have felt or am currently feeling. There will be thousands next year, and the year after that, and they will inevitably feel this way too. For it is and was a very real relationship. And the pain and heartache associated is just as real. We need to be there for them when their shelves break.
So please, next time you feel to judge or demonize someone who leaves the Church, please understand that this is and may be the hardest transition of their life. Demonetization is not only unacceptable, it is the furthest thing from LDS teachings. Just as you would be there for and console a friend or family member during heartache and a breakup (or divorce), you should exhibit that sort of love and compassion to those who leave the Church. It IS a Break Up.
Like any deep heartbreak laced with betrayal, natural confidence levels plummet. Your low self esteem is at an all-time high. But the good news after all of these events and stages is this: there is light at the end of the tunnel. Because you have to recreate yourself and your beliefs, you can create the you you’ve always wanted to be. You can explore new believes and philosophies without restriction. You will get your confidence back. You will snap out of your depression. You will more or less stop caring about your heart-breaker. You will make new friends who will embrace you for you. You have a support system. Like any good break up; you can chose to let it destroy you, or you can come out of it with new experience, new resolve, and a stronger, better you. The choice is yours!