So it isn’t a topic I reflect on too much these days because it doesn’t bring with it anything much more than sadness. It becomes even more difficult to share to a Mormon-centric audience where one is almost constantly being assessed and judged in different forms whether internal and/or more commonly external ways within the church structure.
But I think this is a helpful forum where we can all get vulnerable and share our collective voices on spiritual abuse and unrighteousness dominion. I hope someday enough voices will matter to leadership so that those still within can have a much healthier experience within Mormonism.
As a young 18 year old who converted on my own, I came into the church a shy, naive and trusting person but who was already rather fragile and struggling in my own ways, especially in Mormon terms, but sincerely felt I had found my spiritual and religious home. Once within the church I had hoped God would provide me with strength in areas I felt I needed to overcome but it didn’t quite work that way.
Soon after my baptism, literally within a couple months, my Bishop called me in and told me he felt I was to be called on a mission. I now faced the prospect of serving a mission even as it felt like I had just joined. It felt over-whelming but I had a hint of confidence from the fact that the Bishop and his spirit of discernment had deemed me worthy enough to go out and teach the gospel. So within 15 months of my baptism I left for the MTC and then it was on to Southern California for my mission.
I really thought God would strengthen me and I’d overcome my continued weaknesses by giving sincere diligent service to the Lord. Once again it didn’t quite work out that way and it was devastating to me. I saw it as more confirmation of how broken I was. So around a year into my mission I went to my Mission President in agony and confided in him. And although he tried to offer options to stay, I was convinced I was not worthy to be out there teaching people especially if I ruin the chance of an investigator feeling the spirit because of my shortcomings. I knew I had already in multiple instances tried to rely on the Lord for strength to overcome and didn’t want to continue on that same cycle.
So after confessing, in extremely exact detail, to my Mission President and going home I then learned I had to now re-confess to my Bishop and after that I was sent to my Stake President who was the third to want every detail. And after that my Stake President sent me to a church therapist for multiple visits rehashing again the same things. It became completely demoralizing and I felt no forgiveness or relief or spirit involved but rather even worse self image, shame and depression even while following their every instruction.
Having grown up outside Mormonism but within the Christian faith I was always taught that working out sin is between an individual and their God and no one else. That always felt hard enough as a kid. So for me interviews in the Mormon church from day one felt extremely uncomfortable on even rather benign inquiries. So when I finally did pour it all out to the Mission President, without any knowledge or frame of reference as a convert of how invasive and layered and specific the repentance process would be it devastated me. In this same time frame my dad passed away unexpectedly at 53 years old which was devastating on its own but it was exacerbated because I immediately felt like it was a direct consequence of my unworthiness and having dishonorably come home from my mission. The stakes were raised and I felt doomed to more tragedy if I didn’t become the perfect Mormon.
The spiritual abuse I received ultimately got so ingrained in me and created a dark cloud of sexual and personal shame that had effects on so many proceeding events in my life including the eventual demise of my marriage.
I was never able to turn that switch on once I was married that tells someone, “Ok, sex and sexuality is now permitted and no longer dirty and shameful”. I was never able to connect on that physically intimate level that is such an important component in a committed relationship. Eventually it made for a sad and unhappy marriage for both of us which ended in divorce even though we were best friends.
This cloud of shame and inability to connect with a partner has lived on past the end of my marriage. I am still unable to engage in sexually intimate connection that isn’t immediately and consistently damaging to myself or a partner due to my complicated relationship with sexual shame. I’ve since decided that at least for now I’m going to forgo pursuing relationships for the protection of myself and others. I’ll be 41 soon and that decision to not pursue any romantic relationships was made almost 7 years ago at 34 years old. I don’t see an end to that in sight. Even though I’ve done so much work over those 7 years with therapists, psychologists, DBT, mindfulness, medications and also discontinuing any religious affiliations there’s been no substantial progression in my subconscious and conscious reactions when it comes to having a healthy sexual outlook or connection.
I stopped participating in church generally by the time I was about 26 but sadly like a kicked puppy always still thought I’d return once I got my life together all the way until just a few years ago. I finally had my name removed from the church in March of this year.
I will continue to chip away at this from as many angles as I can until hopefully I find a meaningful bit of healing in this area. I remind myself of the friends I made, the many different meaningful service opportunities I was able to give and receive benefits from and even miss and still long for a decent amount of the Mormon culture, but I will always regret joining the church. I stayed too long, believed too hard, put trust in the wrong institution and leaders and almost like an abused spouse I felt like I had to go back to it after each instance of abuse long enough for it to have severely warped my perceptions on some key components of relationships.
Thanks for letting me share.