After spending nearly fifty years of my life as a Mormon woman, I find myself trying to figure out who I am now. So much of my identity was swallowed up in my Mormonness. I look back and wonder what other choices I might have made if I had not been Mormon. The movie Sliding Doors is about a completely insignificant moment of a sliding door that closed and the two different lives for the same woman that might have happened as a result of the two outcomes. I can think of a thousand different moments in my life that might have changed as I look back at the last fifty years, and a thousand different versions of me that might have emerged. Which one is the right one?
1. What if I had followed my heart when it asked me why girls were treated differently than boys when I was nine years old and spent a year in school masquerading as a boy?
2. What if I had gone to Amherst, my dream school, instead of taking the easier path as a Benson scholar at BYU?
3. What if I had not decided to get pregnant while I was still in graduate school?
4. What if I had asked my younger sister about the reasons she was leaving Mormonism when she did so, twenty-five years ago?
5. What if I had gone on, as I had planned, to put my children in daycare full-time while I worked at my career as a university professor?
6. What if I had not five children in eight years?
7. What if I had not felt so overwhelmed by mothering that I felt grateful to the church for the scraps that were offered to me?
8. What if I had left after the stillbirth of my daughter, my first big faith crisis, and had not looked back — where would I be today?
9. What if I had gone back to work full-time at that point, when my youngest was in school full-time?
10. What if I had tried harder to get proper therapy and medication after hitting suicidal depression instead of believing the Mormon voices around me who insisted that I just needed to become more devout?
11. What if I had asked my oldest sister ten years ago why she was leaving Mormonism after she had spent years working on research about Mormon history and publishing it in academic journals?
12. What if I had believed that the problem was with the church and its doctrine and not with myself and my lack of faithfulness?
13. What if I had left when The Bishop’s Wife came out and I was marked in my own ward as a dissident and was never really part of the community again?
14. What if I had had the courage to tell my father that I was no longer a believing member of his church before he died?
These are the most obvious moments when I might have taken a different path. But I tried so hard and for so long to stay on the “covenant path.” I suppose you can argue I did not, in fact, endure to the end, because here I am, having stepped off the path. But it can be very difficult to not grieve all the things that I lost by staying for so long. Yes, it can be unfair to make up such calculations, because I do still value my children and my relationship with them, even if I question whether that relationship demanded so much sacrifice of self on my part.
So what am I left with? Or rather — who am I left with? Who am I, once I have rejected so much of the past that made me who I am? How do you come to terms with all these losses, choices that now don’t seem real choices? I’m not the only ex-Mormon woman who is dealing with this problem of trying to figure out what is left for me in life, when I’m thirty years behind everyone else, or so it seems? The skills I learned in Mormonism are not easily portable to a job that pays money, and even with the PhD I have from Princeton, I’m old and without scholarship and experience, not likely to be able to compete with newer PhD’s.
I’m a writer. That is the one thing that I kept, when I was almost swallowed whole by Mormonism. Even when I was a mother of five young children, I kept telling other women around me that it was important for my children to know that two hours a day belonged to me and they were not to enter my office during that time, whether they were taking a nap or not. “Mommy” was also a writer and my girls needed to know that motherhood would not swallow them up and my boys needed to see that they could not expect the women around them to disappear in their service.
Mormonism didn’t encourage me to be a writer, though I told myself many times that God had “called” me to do this. So perhaps this rebellion is a sign that I was still there, all that time. The career I built (though I have reinvented myself at least once since then) is all mine. I scrabbled for it against social expectations and the need for sleep. I’m trying to find any other parts of my life that are truly mine, and sadly, it seems to me that mostly the strongest parts of me are the parts of me that Mormonism hated. This is the path to finding my true self. Wherever I was told I was wrong, there I am.