Post-Mormon Mette: The Stages of Your Post-Mormon Life
I’m not going to pretend that I can predict when or if anyone will leave Mormonism. There are too many factors involved in that choice. And yes, I think it’s a choice. I don’t believe in the idea that “the truth” about Mormon history means that people have to leave. You choose to leave. You may not choose all the parts of the leaving, but I believe you do choose that. However, it’s pretty clear that there’s a predictable path after you leave Mormonism and I hope that it’s helpful for me to lay it out for you here, if you’re just starting or maybe even if you haven’t begun yet and you want to decide if you really want to do it and if it’s worth the cost once you get to the end point.
Almost everyone goes through an extreme anger phase. I call this the rage fest. Unfortunately, most people write their “letter” to the family during this phase. My anger phase was a little quieter, but only because I went through a lot of the anger before I left. This anger phase is what makes a lot of Mormons talk about how you lost the “light in your eyes” or how sorry they are for you because you’ve chosen wickedness over happiness. There’s little point in trying to repress your anger. On the other hand, I recommend doing it through anger-writing (which you keep to yourself) and a therapist. You may lose some relationships during this phase, but I’d also say, don’t despair. They may come back, too. In general, I’d say the anger phase lasts about six months, but it can last for six years, too. The honest truth is that different people have more anger to process. People who were happier in Mormonism (as I also was) may be less angry for less time.
2. Fuck It
It can be difficult to explain to non-Mormons just how important this phase is. You have to learn how to swear like a normal person. Many ex-Mormons overdo this (I’m still working on this one) and they often sound ridiculous because we have no training in this and have no idea who to ask. All we’ve got is watching HBO shows like The Wire to teach us, and it takes a while for us to figure out which words to use when and in what company. We especially will be tempted to use “fuck” in Mormon situations just to see the reaction of the Mormons around us. Sometimes it’s funny to us. Sometimes it’s a way to test out who still cares about us. Please stick around. This is a phase. It will past in a few months. Mostly.
Again, this is hard to explain to people who have never understood why an entire religious group would decide something as innocuous as coffee or tea is a moral choice, but ex-Mormons spend at least a few weeks trying to figure out what kind of coffee they like (or tea) and it’s different for summer and winter. You’ve already figured this all out and you didn’t even notice it. Some of you may have even decided you think coffee is disgusting. A very few number of ex-Mormons will make this choice, too, but not many, trust me. There’s a huge peer pressure system to make ex-Mormons agree that everything Mormonism taught is wrong. It’s just the embarrassment that is temporary. The coffee drinking will be forever, and most of us will probably always put in a lot of sugar and cream, because we’re still Mormon in that way, even if we don’t admit it.
Most (but not all) ex-Mormons are going to experiment with alcohol. Most of us are also going to be like babies about this. We’ll get drunk easily and be stupid about it because we never learned how to hold our liquor nor how to make sure to have a designated driver. For those of us who grew up outside of Utah, we probably were the designated driver for a long time. A LOT of talk in the ex-Mormon world is about what’s good and what’s nasty and you will get recommendations from almost everyone if you express any qualms about alcohol. It is difficult to be open about saying that alcohol is nasty (as I do sometimes), but you can learn to stick to your guns on this. After all, Mormonism did teach you how to do that extremely well. You know how to be unpopular, right?
5. New Clothes
Another thing non-Mormons will not get is that you’re going to have to throw out almost all your old clothes, not because they don’t fit you anymore, though you may lose or gain weight as you exit Mormonism (I’ve seen both). It’s because of the Mormon underwear (temple garments) you’ve been wearing all your adult life. Now you don’t have to worry about those showing anymore, and you’re going to flaunt it at the same time that you are acutely conscious of how much scrutiny you think Mormons will show you in a tank top and shorts. I’m still figuring out what I’m comfortable in and it turns out I also get cold a lot (despite menopause), so I have a wide variety. I haven’t gotten rid of my old church dresses yet, but I admit, I have to find a use for them. Also, what to do with garments and the ritual temple clothes from the ceremonies is tricky. I recommend keeping them until you’re ready to just throw them out. I don’t feel comfortable giving them to other people.
This is the most painful part of leaving Mormonism. It’s one reason that a lot of people keep hold of the anger for so long, because anger feels more powerful, and mourning doesn’t. Mourning can also last for six months or so. During this stage, it will be acutely painful to engage with other Mormons in your life. Everything they talk about will feel like someone digging a finger into your eye or poking at a wound that hasn’t healed yet. This often results in getting a whole new set of friends, which isn’t a bad thing. But if at some point, you realize that your new friends only have ex-Mormonism in common with you, that is also very normal. I’m still figuring this one out, so don’t have much advice for the future.
7. Considering Divorce (If Married — If Not — Reconsidering Every Other Relationship, and also possibly Your Job and Life Purpose)
Also very common, surprisingly whether or not your spouse remains attached to Mormonism. Leaving Mormonism is a huge life change, and it comes with a bunch of other reconsiderations. Everything looks different suddenly and you wonder how you became the person that you are. Some people throw out everything. Some people throw out very little. All of us reconsider our life choices and where they’ve taken us.
OK, now we get to the beginning of the good part. You will, I hope, eventually come to some kind of reconciliation. I’ve watched my kids go through this, and the ones who left earlier find this more quickly. They just shrug over Mormonism and admit it seems to work for some people, but not for them. They don’t spend a lot of time focusing their life work on hating Mormonism or deconverting other Mormons. They just move on with their life, and they may or may not mention growing up Mormon to others. For me, it’s more complicated because I didn’t leave until I was nearly 50 and had staked everything in my life on Mormonism, including my career writing about Mormonism for a national audience. I don’t know that I’ll ever give up writing about Mormonism, or thinking of myself as Mormon in some way, but there are times I shrug now. And think about some of the good things.
This is such a useful part of moving forward with your life. Figuring out how to laugh about Mormonism and yourself is so helpful. Not mean laughter (though you can laugh as loud as you want in my world), but like you’re laughing about your old haircuts or your clothes in the 70s or the shows you thought were good as a kid. It’s part of growing up. It’s normal, if you let it be. It’s just part of this ridiculous human experience.
10. Post-traumatic Growth
I won’t force anyone to say things about their experience leaving Mormonism as something that you value. I left kicking and screaming. I didn’t want to leave, but I also couldn’t stay. It was a matter of my own mental health. So I don’t give credit to God for leading me on this path or to Mormonism for teaching me some truths that I’ve used against the church (Choose the right, the consequence will follow, etc.), but I’m just starting to be able to say things like, I’m glad I’m here. I’ve become a better person. I think, anyway. I’m more mature. I’m more clear about who I am, with all my faults. I value this journey. Eventually, two or three years down the line, I suspect you will, too.