A Momon Woman and Spousal Abuse

My story is not all that unique among former Mormon women. I grew up in the Church., fifth generation, ancestors crossed the plains in handcarts. They sacrificed everything for the faith which bound them for eternity. That very bond is the one which I have broken, causing me to reject the Mormon view of eternal family, shifting my place in that family from one of 'them' to 'how could she?'

How does one recover from Mormonism? How does one separate the cultural life as a Mormon from the noxious belief system? What happens when you learn that 'there is no Santa Claus' and everything you have ever known, felt, or believed is a fraud? What happens when you have raised your children in this belief system and reach a point where you can no longer do that? After teaching and living Mormonism with your family, how do you put the brakes on and say, 'Hey kids, I was wrong?' What happens to you emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically when you discover that your life has been based on a lie?

Those are some of the things which I have faced for the past seven years. I grew up in a very Mormon family. My ancestors crossed the plains and settled near Manti, Utah only to be sent to Southern Colorado to establish a Mormon colony there. I came from a long line of stake presidents, bishops, patriarchs, mission presidents, relief society presidents, and musicians. When I was born, my grandfather was the stake president, hosting general authorities for conference. I was comfortable in the faith. I grew up attending Primary, MIA, and four years of early morning Seminary. I had wonderful experiences, attending youth conferences, performing in road shows, talent shows, going to dances and performing in dance festivals. These wonderful experiences probably saved me from the problems so many of my friends had - experimenting with drugs, alcohol, etc. Growing up in an area where the church was a minority, the kids in my ward and stake had a strong bond.

After a year of BYU, I was married in the temple to a returned missionary. He seemed like such a catch! I was living the Mormon dream. Children began to join us - again and again and again until there were seven of them. But there were severe problems. Sometimes that dream was a horrible nightmare. Sometimes that knight in shining armor was a monster. Sometimes he hit, kicked, punched and spat on me. But he was the Priesthood holder. I must have deserved it.

There must have been some horrible things wrong with me. The church was true and yet I wasn't happy. Weren't we promised that if we followed the teachings of the church and did everything they required that we would be happy? I tried. I decided to read the scriptures more. I had always had trouble reading the Book of Mormon. It just didn't make sense to me. Of course, that must have been because somehow I wasn't 'worthy' to understand. But I could read and devour books on many topics and I could understand them! What was wrong with me? I would sit in classes and hear what one general authority said, and then what others said and wonder about the contradictions and think, 'Hey wait a minute!' But it must have been because I wasn't worthy to understand these things. Of course, the church was true. I asked for blessings. I paid my tithing, I went to the temple. I did everything I could think of. I prayed and prayed and prayed.

The marriage became worse. No matter what I did, it got worse. I prayed that I would make him happy, that I could save the marriage. I didn't realize that I was trying to play God. I didn't realize that this was a serious problem and that we needed professional help. I did what I had been conditioned to do. I talked to the bishop. I had talked to other bishops before and it had always been the same thing - 'it's up to the woman to save the marriage.' 'You need to pray more', 'you need to try harder', and 'well, I would never treat MY wife like that.' So for years, that's just what I had done.

There was a point in my life that I was teaching 40 piano students, delivering newspapers, sewing for other people, sewing all the kids and my own clothes, teaching the kids at home, holding down 3 or 4 church jobs, making whole wheat bread 2 or 3 times a week, nursing a baby and was pregnant with another. My former husband kept telling me that I wasn't working hard enough and that I was lazy. The crazy thing was that I believed him. One thing about being so busy - I didn't have time to think or feel. I shut down feeling anything. The cycle of abuse continued to escalate. Of course it was my fault. I would sit in church and my stomach would churn. If I was trying so hard, why wasn't anything helping? Why would I sit in classes and have trouble believing what was said? I must really be awful. Why doesn't God love me? How could I ever hope to make it to the celestial kingdom? And I didn't dare even acknowledge my worst thoughts - if I have to be there with the FSU (former spousal unit)I don't want to go there! He would talk about how we would go on a mission together after the kids were raised. I couldn't stand the thought. Two years stuck together constantly. I told him he'd be going alone - if I had to do that, then I would die first. I began to think a lot about dying.

There were a couple of things which began to happen. I had been doing the music for a small Episcopal church in the community. These people had something that I was missing. Their God wasn't a god of condemnation and punishment. The women were treated well. They weren't stuck in the dogma which was all I'd ever known. I enjoyed going to church there. I enjoyed the love that was shared. Going to St. David's each Sunday seemed to give me a sense of hope and peace.

Another thing that happened was that the abuse became worse. It became worse for the kids, too. I had always tried to ignore it. I was too weak to do anything about it at that time. But one hot summer day in 1990, my former spousal unit (FSU) got into an argument with Child #2. He took that boy to the garage and beat him relentlessly. He kicked him with steeltoed boots, punched his face, spat at him, screamed at him, beat his head against the wall of the garage. I stood there screaming, trying to make it stop. It just kept going. I called the police. (My FSU was on the town council and was part of the 'good old boys' system in the town) The police chief told me that I was just being neurotic and that FSU was just trying to discipline the kid and that he needed it. Somewhere inside me, the thought occurred, "If you aren't going to do something about what he does to you, then at least do something about these kids." That day, I couldn't comfort that son. He hated me for not protecting him.

Of course, I turned to the church. I talked to the bishop. His advise was 'Go home and make FSU a cherry pie. That will fix everything.' He told me to pray more and try harder. He asked 'What do you do to make him have to beat you? My wife would never do that?' Just what I needed, more guilt and shame. So I tried harder. I started going to the temple more. Things didn't get better. After one particularly nasty fight, I packed up and left for a few days, taking a couple of kids and hiding the rest. The bishop and FSU decided that I needed counseling. How right they were!

I began doing things I didn't understand. I found myself getting my own post office box. I got my own checking account. (FSU had total control of all the money - even what I earned) I began collecting some of my own piano money. I had little stashes lying around. I began making photocopies of important documents and hiding them. I talked to an advocate for the Sexual Assault and Family Violence program. I began to read about family violence, cycles of violence, learned helplessness, and other issues. I discovered that I was not alone. I asked FSU to get help. Of course, he didn't need any. So the bishop and FSU arranged for me to get help. Funny, during my reading, I could see parallels between the church and control and oppression and my own marriage. Hmmmm...

I had an intake appointment with an LDS Social Services counselor. I was one of the lucky ones. I had a counselor who asked, "Is this what you think marriage is about?" I said NO. He said, "Good. This may very well be a divorce situation." I felt validated and like there was hope. This man referred me to a counselor in my area. This was a key in helping me to understand myself and my situation. Unknowingly, the bishop and FSU had tossed me a lifeline. For the first time in my life, I began to realize that I was okay. I realized I had choices and options. This counseling was great! FSU agreed to go see the counselor. FSU spent the time telling the counselor what was wrong with me. Of course, FSU was okay. The counselor never tried to talk me into divorcing FSU. However, after I made that decision, he was very supportive.

Bishop reported the counselor to Salt Lake because he wasn't 'saving marriages.' Bishop told me that he wanted me to sign a release so that the counselor could tell him what we talked about. Bishop was conducting an 'investigation' of my life. The counselor wrote the bishop a letter advising him to leave me alone. I was beginning to have some real doubts about the church.

FSU went to Idaho and he and his family had a meeting to decide what to do about me. They decided that I should quit my part time job (I was accompanist for the local school district) and stay at home and be a good mother. I should quit counseling because I was getting 'funny ideas' and I should become more 'submissive.' Whoops. It was too late. At one point, FSU's father said that if I were his wife, he would be forced to kill me. Hmm. Strong words. FSU decided he was going to make me love him again. Whoops. Again it was too late. They also decided that I should not be going to St. David's because I was getting 'funny ideas' from them. Whoops. Too late for that, too.

About this time, I was playing for Stake Conference. Boyd K Packer was the visiting authority, reorganizing our stake. A man of God was coming to visit our community! His talk was so oppressive towards women and demeaning in general. More guilt and shame, only this time I wasn't buying. I remember his cold, unfeeling gaze. I was playing some Bach prelude and Brother Packer sent someone to the organ telling me to play only 'hymns of the restoration' and play them 'very quietly.' Well, that's just what I did. I played VERY softly, but I played 'We Thank Thee O God For a Prophet' in a minor key. I don't think anyone knew what was happening, but BKP looked over at me and I looked at him. They weren't loving looks. I thought, 'And this is a man of God?' Cold chills went down my spine and I realized that I was headed out of the church. Maybe there was something wrong with the Church!!!

The cycle of abuse escalated further. Our family was living a nightmare on an emotional roller coaster. I was walking about 6 miles a day for my sanity. I would also go to the playground and swing on the swings. One night, FSU wanted to go with me because he didn't 'trust' me. We walked toward the park and he asked me if I was happy. I told him that there were things which caused me unhappiness but that I was basically happy. He told me that he didn't approve of the ways in which I was changing. He added, 'You aren't making me happy.' I turned toward him and said ,'I can't make you be happy. You have to do that for yourself.' I realized that the marriage was over. Soon after that, he offered to take me out for lunch. I couldn't stand the idea of even being around him when he was trying to be nice. I went to the cemetery to pray. I had kneeholes at a bench where I used to spend much time.

My prayer had changed. I was no longer asking God to help me save the marriage or to be a good Mormon anymore. That day, I shouted out "God, is this what you want for me? If it is, then let me die! I don't want to be around him. I can't fix him. I can't even fix myself. I know it's a temple marriage, but I don't care. I want to be released from this. Help me figure out if I even believe in the church anymore. Why is it that I feel so angry when I am at church?" I screamed, I cried, I poured out my heart. For the first time in my life, I was honest in my prayers. I felt peaceful when I finished. I realized that I was going to divorce FSU, that I would be okay and that I wouldn't be alone. I felt a strength I'd never known. I went home and went to lunch with FSU. I saw him through new eyes. I saw him as a pathetic victim of his family and of the church. But I knew that my job was not to fix him or accept any more of the abuse and pain. I realized that deep within, I had known what I was going to do. That's why I had my own post office box, my own checking account, and why I had been copying papers. I had been getting my ducks in a row, so to speak. Things were falling into place.

I began to go to Church less and to look forward to attending St. David's more. FSU began to follow me wherever I went, including St. David's. He'd sit outside lurking while I was in there, then follow me home. I became more afraid. My SAFV advocate and I discussed what was involved in getting a protection order. I decided to get my tubes tied because FSU was thinking that another baby might save the marriage and keep me in the home where I should be. I thought that it would take a year to get everything over with.

I saw an attorney in early December 1990. She was very helpful and I got everything gathered up and in her office. I informed FSU that I would be divorcing him and things got worse. On January 2, 1991, I got a protection order. Divorce papers were served at the hearing.

I began seeing friends from my growing up years. One couple had left the church and gave me articles and books to read. Other people popped into my life who had left the church. I noticed that they were all happy. I quit wearing my garments. I quit attending church. When the bishop began calling my friends in to question them about me, I stood up to him. He informed me that I was being investigated for my membership. I told him, fine, take it. At that point he refused, saying that I needed my membership. I told him it was funny how he would excommunicate me if he could, but that if I requested to leave, he wouldn't do it.

I left the area and went to school since I had no real marketable skills. I got a five year degree in three years. I continued counseling, dealing with issues of anger, religious abuse, domestic violence, PostTraumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and in creating an identity where none had existed. My identity for the first 36 years of my life was as a Mormon girl, wife, mother, as FSUs wife. I didn't know who I was and I am thrilled at finding out just who I am. I attended 12 step groups. I was baptized at St. David's in May 1991,shortly before I moved away from the small town I left. I really didn't think my mormon baptism was worth much. I was excommunicated from the church in June 1997.

I have come to accept the cultural heritage as a Mormon child. There were many wonderful people and wonderful times in my childhood and I can now look back on them with a smile. I can laugh at the culture. I can embrace the good things I learned and the parts from that system that I choose accept and leave the rest.

I don't know when recovery is finished because it happens like layers of an onion, but I like to think that I am over the difficult parts. I have grown to love myself and to become more loving with others. I see a spark of divinity in each and every soul. That hollow shell of a woman I used to be has died and reborn in her place is the person I am now. Very much alive and happy about it. No longer do I sleep with my fists clenched or in fear. I am no longer afraid of church authorities. The woman I am has an identity and a soul and is full of the fire of life.

I realize that I am responsible for my life and for the choices I make. I will not become a victim of any type of abuse again. I no longer hate the FSU. He no longer controls me because I have chosen to be in control of my own life. No longer am I in fear of church leaders.

One of the most important parts of my healing has been in becoming part of the Exmormon group. I have found people who can understand what it is like to leave a religion, who have been hurt by the Church. I have raged and ranted and cried and laughed with these people, and many of the people have become very important to me. The outpouring of love and understanding is truly remarkable.

As far as my religious beliefs, I have found that spirituality and religion are not necessarily the same thing. I feel that I have become a very spiritual person, although no longer espouse any formal religion. I am making choices and finding what fits and what doesn't. I believe there is a Divine Presence and acknowledge that in my life. I have been amazed at the miracles that occur in my life on a daily basis. I don't know if it gets any better than that. My God is one of love and acceptance. That has been a leap from the old one.

I am a product of the choices I make. I realize that I am responsible for them. I have found a gift in all of the pain I have seen and endured. Not that I care to repeat any of it, but I embrace and accept it for what it has been. I treasure my life and the experiences and people who are now part of my life. I love myself and the journey I'm on. No, I don't think it could be any better than that.

CLICK HERE to write to the author

Back to Recovery from Mormonism