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Post-Mormon Mette: Do I Deserve Happiness?

I’ve been one of those loud voices over the last year or so, whenever I hear other post-Mormons loudly proclaim how much “happier” they are now that they’ve left Mormonism. I keep saying the truth I’m living: I’m not happier. I might be more authentic. I might feel like I’m more in touch with reality. I might even feel like I’m healing old wounds I was ignoring before. But happier? No. I think being Mormon made me happy for a lot of reasons. Community. Safety. Distraction. Answers. Being human is really hard and now that I’m a post-Mormon, I find myself being human a lot more than I used to be. I used to aim for perfection, and even if I didn’t land in the stars every day, the rooftops, as they say, were better than a cow pie.

Last night, though, I had a weird experience in my prayer/meditation space. I often have these now, whereas in my old days as a Mormon, I honestly felt like my answers to prayer were real. Maybe it’s because I dare to ask more and deeper questions now. Maybe it’s because I’ve accepted that most of the time, the answers are coming from deep within me, and not from outside source. Maybe it’s because I’m not assuming that the answers would be within a certain, given set. In any case, last night, the goddess I visit in my prayer/meditation asked me a very interesting, deep, and startling question: Why aren’t you happy? Are you not allowing yourself to be happy?

And this broke something open in me. Something that I knew was there, but that I sometimes still shove down because I don’t like to look at it. I like to tell myself that I’m someone who has never been happy with easy answers. And that’s been true for most of my adult life. I push and push and push. When my daughter died in 2005, a lot of people around me were eager to offer me easy answers for her death.

God needed her and now our whole family had an angel in heaven.

She had some disability and I should be glad we weren’t burdened with her. It was a blessing.

There was an important lesson for me to learn from her death, and once I learned that, I could move on.

I would never know the answer to why. I just had to have faith and keep on the “right” path.

We couldn’t save her and she was always destined to die, but she was a celestial spirit and is waiting for us.

On and on. I know that many family members find/found comfort in these teachings. But I didn’t. Why didn’t I? I’ve spent fifteen years poking at the wound and I’ve never really found the answer to that question. It’s just who I am. I’m someone who pokes at things. I want answers. I want deep answers, not the superficial stuff. I don’t want to be comforted. I want to see all the connections everywhere. And yes, that led me down the proverbial “rabbit hole” of giving up my faith in Mormonism.

But why am I still not happy? Didn’t I leave Mormonism because I was so unhappy every time I went to church and felt like I had to say things I didn’t believe or at least be silent while other people said them? Didn’t I leave Mormonism because I could no longer say that I sustained the leaders, whom I had lost all faith in as good men? So why am I not at peace? Why do I find myself poking at post-Mormonism in the same way that I poked at Mormonism, complaining about sexism and misogyny outside of Mormonism and pointing out how post-Mormons are just as likely to set up new prophets and new scriptures to hold on to (even if those are now largely white dudes who are atheists and “scientists”)?

Last night, it seemed that the goddess asked me if there’s a reason that I’m not allowing myself to be happy. In fact, if I still believed I don’t deserve to be happy.

After my daughter’s death, I spent years dealing with my sense of guilt over her death. For a couple of years, I kept trying to avoid my guilt, building up many layers of excuses for it not being my fault. I’d gone overdue, but me running those last two weeks didn’t cause my daughter to die. How could it be my fault when everyone told me things were fine? Lots of people use lay midwives. Lots of doctors wouldn’t induce until after two weeks over, when my daughter was already dead.

Then came the period when I threw myself into my guilt. I stopped trying to avoid it and let myself accept that maybe it was my fault. I hadn’t wanted her to die. At least, not most of the time. I admitted the darkest truths of all, that sometimes when I was pregnant, I hadn’t wanted to be pregnant anymore. In the early stages especially, I had even wished that the baby would be lost and then I could go back to my life before I’d gotten pregnant. I had five other children and a very busy life of responsibilities. I admitted that I cared more about running and my triathlons sometimes than I did about my family. I admitted that I had had happy moments after my daughter’s death that would never have happened if she had lived.

I sank into my sense of selfishness and I let myself sit there for a while. I had been human. I hadn’t been perfect. I hadn’t been anywhere near perfect. But on the other side, I found myself questioning the idea of perfection in this framework. If perfection is always selfless, is that real? Is it ever real? What does it lead to if it is real? Is it always women who are expected to do this? Why? Who benefits? (Qui bono? As they ask in mystery novels)

I thought that I had given up the ideal of the selfless mother when I left Mormonism. I thought that I had given up the idea that being unhappy means that you’re doing the hard work of looking at your sins and repenting. I thought that I had given myself permission to take pleasure in things Mormonism had deemed sinful. I thought I had taken my own body back and decided it was for my use and not for other people’s judgment. I thought that I was learning to love myself, in all my parts, and not to judge myself for what parts were good and bad.

But clearly, I’ve still got a lot of work to do on this front. I’m not happy as a post-Mormon. This isn’t because I left Mormonism to sin and “wickedness never was happiness,” though I absolutely understand why many post-Mormons loudly proclaim publicly that they are very, very happy to avoid hearing the smug responses of those who stayed Mormon instead. But I’m being real here, friends, like I always am. One of the difficulties of leaving Mormonism is that it takes so long to figure out who you are and what you want and to let go of all the old ideas of what is good and bad and what is happiness that you spend this time in limbo and maybe you’re still punishing yourself like I am because it is a reflex and because you think it makes you good?

Or maybe not.

Written by

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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