Dana K. Dahl, Las Vegas, Nevada – Rear View Mirror

Rear View Mirror

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda seem to be a pretty good mantra for my views into the past of being LDS. It all seems so surreal in the rearview mirror that now, eight years later it feels a little strange to think I EVER belonged. (Do the Wayne’s World dream move…. dooodooodooodoo, dooodooodoodoo)

When you’re born in the LDS church you are in essence drafted. Basic survival, family approval, support all depend on ones ability to get along, keep the machine going, and keeping peace. I was the seventh of eight kids, born to a truely cruel and abusive schitzophrenic chain smoking Jack Mormon father, and the third generation devout hard working sweet, long suffering and very devoted LDS mother. You don’t grow up in all that without plenty of hangups and I had plenty that I’m still working through. I went along because we weren’t given any other options. It’s what you do so therefore, what you “Believe”.

We went to church in a small branch in Sandy, Oregon back when the meetings were split up throughout the week even more than now. Church was our only escape from our father’s wrath and a social setting that was very warm and loving. As a little girl I never even questioned that I belonged, would always be a Mormon, and that I’d always do Mormon things. It was actually a great place to find solace from the other harsh things we dealt with and we were supported and cherished by the branch. They truly felt like brothers and sisters.

When we moved to Utah when I was 12 yrs. old I saw a different side of Mormonism. The little Utah town was very isolated, a bit backward, and cliqueish in the way they accepted anyone, especially the children of a smoking cussing Jack Mormon father and a family even more economically disadvantaged than most of them. We were not their cousins, not known, even spoke differently than the locals. I remember telling them that I was from Oregon and they corrected me by telling me it was pronounced, “Ogden”. I don’t think it occurred to most of the small town LDS that the world outside of Utah was even real. This sets one up for a lot of frustrations and I started butting heads early on.

It wasn’t just Utah Mormons that grated on me even as young as Jr. High. I craved science, anthropology, literature, history and travel more than anything and many of the things I’d find in National Geographic, Scientific American and other publications contradicted the things I was taught from a biblical and Book of Mormon standpoint. I was often chastized for even looking, but especially when I questioned things like the age of the earth, origin of the races, even LDS historical events that contradicted each other.

By the time I was about 14 I had been called into the bishop’s office on more than one occasion and told very directly to “Leave it alone”, or the ever useful, “We don’t need to know that stuff”. For me, that was like putting a red button with a sign that said, “Don’t push this button” below it. I couldn’t help but look deeper, especially into the things they told me I had no business or right to understand.

I went along all those years because that’s what you do. My huge family is deeply cemented and connected in the church. Even my fathers Jack Mormon relatives still claim that someday they’ll stop their carrousing and come back to the church. Leaving just wasn’t considered, even for me. Maybe it’s like a tightly woven tapestry. We all held each other together and completed the picture. I began to unravel early, but even as I sort of wiggled my way out of the fibres of my connected family, I felt a lot of the same things everyone on these boards feels, alone and vulnerable.

That feeling keeps one stuck for a long time, even when the cognitive dissonance starts to make your mind twist and manifest itself in very physical ways. I would have headaches in church early in my teens until the year I left. I did typical rebellious teen stuff but nothing so bad or dangerous to get me more than reprimanded by my bishop. No one expected much of the trailer trash and so I rode under the radar most of the time.

My first year in college I got engaged to a very nice young man from a prominant LDS family. We were like a sculpture made from a nice tidy kit where all the pieces fit, and something welded together from scrap metal, hard edged, ragged, and very strange. His family pressured him to break it off and he finally did after eight months. I really thought I wanted all that they represented, but they for sure didn’t want what I represented. We were genuinely mismatched. I was heartbroken and my self esteem really damaged. I saw the elite LDS in an ugly light that I’d never seen before.

I believed I was trailer trash and destined to live a life befitting my past. It sounds so cliche, but I went for what I figured would never leave me. I think a lot of LDS girls are conditioned to believe this and succumb to marrying one they don’t understand or really love. We were taught that marriage and children would fill in all those holes. I met a young man from California that decided to join the church to win my heart and approval from my family. He asked me to marry him a month after we met.

Some sick twisted part of me must have resigned myself to the LDS illusion and I threw away a scholarship and my college education and fooled around. I got pregnant the first time. (Isn’t abstinenence education marvelous?) I convinced myself that conception of our child must equal love, so I went through with the marriage even though all my senses were screaming at me to run. I know this isn’t unusual for LDS women.

We went to the temple a year after we got married and that experience horrified me. The social pressure to go along with it was overwhelming but all my senses were screaming at how wrong it was. I came away from it sick to my stomach and angry that I’d been tricked into such a bizarre ritual. The seeds of doubt were allready growing, but that one experience sent the roots very deep indeed. I never enjoyed the temple and always came away with that sense of dread and anger at it’s twisted messages and rituals. Even with all I was questioning, I didn’t even consider that my questions had validity and I even suspected that I was evil or wrong to have such questions.

After the first time in the temple I made an appointment with the bishop to discuss my fears and frustrations and he had me meet with a scholarly High Priest who tried to put a very airy spin on the whole thing and finally suggested that I was a child in the understanding of the church and not ready for the more complex gifts that I could learn in the temple. He in essence gave me the ol’ Milk before Meat speech and patted me on the hand and told me to focus on my marriage, home, new baby and becoming a better wife and leave the heavy lifting up to the Priesthood holders. This worked much like the red button and I wanted to dig even deeper to make sense of what I was told was none of my business.

I still knew that I had to make my marriage work for the sake of my son. I had my mothers shining example as a beacon of perfection, long suffering, and feigned joy to live up to and no matter how mismatched my husband and I were, I felt compelled to stick it out. I’d tell myself as each ugly fight would boil up, “Well, mom put up with far worse, so I can do this.”. It was the ol’ pioneer spirit and a sense of duty and denial that held most families together.

My husband was a new convert and so in some weird sense of heroic missionary duty, I felt it my responsibility to re-raise him from the infancy of church understanding to the leader I wanted him to become. I come from a long line of such women and they’ve perfected those skills to very twisted degrees. Homes, food, children, jobs, school, men, all were “Projects” that with enough work, love, revamping and decorating would someday reflect the perfection our benevolent talented gifted souls could shape them into. If they didn’t turn out, it was because we didn’t try hard enough, give enough, sacrifice or suffer or pray enough.The only reason there isn’t world peace is because LDS women just haven’t tried hard enough. Lazy slackers!!

My mother gave my father 25 yrs. and in those years he beat, abused, neglected, dominated, and hurt her and his family, and still she believes if she’d just tried a little harder, she could have FIXED him. Maybe this is the quintessential LDS woman’s mentality, the manifest destiny of other peoples’ souls.

No one ever taught me that I had no right, nor the futility of such things. I spent 18 years trying to FIX the father of my children and never saw him as acceptable as the man he was, only as my “hair shirt” of a project. It was a doomed relationship from the start but I recognize how the LDS culture and the things my mother and other LDS women emulated influenced the sickness that was rampant in our marriage. Even when he or I would actually achieve a goal or overcome a small problem, the church taught us that we could always do better, more, faster, higher, … You know the drill.

I pushed myself really hard to be a perfect mom and in my pursuit actually damaged my children and husband. On Sundays we were the picture perfect family, with matching outfits, tidy hair, clean shoes, gorgeous happy quiet book and everything on the surface was lovely and of good report. Our kids gave the best talks, knew their scriptures inside and out, and held leadership positions in all their classes. They were model students at school as well. We held parties and were the koolaid house where all the kids came to play. I moved up through the ranks of all the various church callings in Primary, RS, and even Stake womens leadership positions.

When we’d been married about six years we had our third baby. She was born with severe genetic defects and went through three months of various intensive care and operations but finally on Easter Sunday 1989, she went into cardiac arrest and was put on life support. We had to go before a hospital board and get permission to have her removed from the respirator and tubes and then hold her in our arms as she gasped and finally died.

A year later our second son was stillborn in the 6th month of my pregnancy and we were told that he didn’t need to be put on the family rolls because he had never taken a breath, therefore was not legitimate. He did not exist as far as the church was concerned. Everything sort of changed after that.

I realized that most of the frothy stupid busy things I’d been doing all those years were just that, busy work. I had filled our weeks and lives with senseless things devoted to the church and our ward. I began to examine my motives for all the busy things the church asked of us and few of the demands made sense any more. My husband had been called as Elders Quorum President and that’s when the mantle of “Priesthood Power” sort of took hold of him and he began to believe he was destined to be all I’d been grooming him for.

He’d been given a Patriarchial Blessing that promised he’d become a Bishop, Stake President, even walk on the right hand of Christ in the second coming, which he’d live to see in this dispensation. He took all that literally and was sure that his “Calling had been made sure” so anything he did after that was sanctioned by God, even if it was illegal. Ironically, that’s also when I started going in a different direction.

He insisted on even more devotion and scripture study and I was trying to go for things that broadened our perspective rather than limited it. We conflicted on the movies, activities, and other interests our family participated in. Even though he was publically embracing a very devout LDS persona, he was living a dark secret in his business dealings but justifying it by insisting we go to the temple more and more to balance the illegal things he was doing behind the scenes. He got fired from job after job for embezzlement, and would embrace the church even deeper with each job loss. The financial pressures were really ripping us apart as well.

I went back to school when our youngest was four and in some of my world history classes, geology, and even architecture courses I began to put some dots together that had always floated in space.

The LDS doctrine requires absolute belief in its history and doctrine which forces some to suspend logic and reason or the ability to triangulate information and proof in many instances. Now I was seeing things that were not overtly anti Mormon, but were certainly leading me to question the sketchy history of the church or even the bible.

The little points of light sort of sat there and puzzled me during those years. I was still very much LDS and did all the LDS things and even agreed to all the doctrine and practices, but I found myself asking almost daily, “If this is so, then this CAN’T be so”. One piece after another started to reveal that what I’d been taught, and what had been historically recorded or logically concluded did not coincide. I came to a point where I had to actually choose between my education and my religion. I can look back and see why many leaders believe it’s unnecessary and dangerous for some to seek a liberal education outside of a controlled enviornment like BYU.

The more open my mind became, the more my husband tried to reign me in and impose restrictive rules in the home. We were rising at 5:00 am to study scriptures and he was insisting on attending the temple three or four times a month. We had church activities at least five times a week. When he couldn’t coerce his Elders to do their home teaching, he’d drag me along and we’d visit 8-10 families a week.

He really got off on being the ward hero and I had to be the pretty smiling wife that made it all look so easy. If we went out anywhere, he insisted we find a missionary opportunity at McDonalds, the park, wherever we were. He took unrighteous dominion very seriously and demanded church attendence and devotion in everything

Church became grueling for me. I’d hear and see stuff that grated on my internal sense of right and wrong. Gospel Doctrine and RS were so frustrating that I’d get visibly angry at the false doctrine and bizarre interpretations of the various teachers. The tedium drove me nuts and I’d find every kind of diversion to avoid church from feigning a period two or three times a month to severe headaches that would miraculously stop when church was over. I went late, left early, snuck books in the diaper bag and drawing paper and doodled during Sacrament meeting to wile away the tedious hours.

Sometimes I found the information being shoved down our throats so offensive to my intellect and conscience that I’d actually get panic attacks in anticipation of having to attend church. If we were going to the temple I’d spend two or three hours beforehand in the bathroom trying to psyche myself out for the intense anger and anxiety I felt at being forced to participate in something I didn’t believe or want. I often wanted to peel my skin off from the anxiety I felt. I contemplated suicide almost daily in hopes that it would finally end the frustration I felt. I started to self medicate a mixture of cold pills and diet pills to numb my head and heart so I could do it one more day, and one more day. I did this for five years.

In the background were the dark secrets of a seriously messed up and unhappy marriage, financial nightmares, illegal activities, and sexual dysfunction. I tried to arrange things to leave for years but finally after we’d been married 18 years, I was able to file for divorce. Even my own family couldn’t believe this PERFECT family was splitting up. Still I tried to stay with the church I’d given so much to for 37 years.

My husband did everything to force me to stay, took away the car, forced me to close my business, tried to take the little run down house I’d moved into, humiliated me in front of the kids, had our friends and family love bomb me, and finally decided that the only way to make me stay was to actually threaten to take my children away. I think this happens to lots of families, not just the LDS.

In spite of all my time, talents and service to the church for the previous years, my choice to end my marriage marked me as a fallen woman in the eyes of my ward and the church. I was shunned and ostracized by the very people I’d given so much to. They were quick to believe the most outrageous things about me spread by my ex and even to share and expand those ridiculous rumors. This too happens in many cultures and towns but it stung to have my LDS ‘Sisters” treat me so shamelessly. My family was similar and it was a very dark and lonely time. I withdrew and spent a lot of days under my desk crying myself to sleep or walking furiously swinging my arms and cursing all my frustrations out.

I was called into the bishop’s office about a year after my divorce and six men who didn’t know me, had never even visited my home sat in judgement of me. They wanted all the sordid details of my exploits and seemed almost charged with excitement in anticipation of what they hoped would be a good show. At one point I took my shoe off and placed it on the table and said, “If any of you would like to walk in my shoes the 1/2 block from this church to my home, then be my guest. Till then, you have no right to judge me.”. Not one took up the offer so I took my shoe and left. A week later I was officially disfellowshipped.

It was actually then that I realized what a favor they’d done for me. All those years I’d repressed the need to understand things from a broader perspective were finally behind me. I began to read books that surely weren’t on the forbidden LDS list, but that opened my mind to many ideas and experiences that people outside the dark box of Mormonism had experienced.

I didn’t go looking for the church to be wrong, it just became more and more wrong as I learned things about the world outside of Mormonism and Utah. I didn’t know anything about Joseph Smith’s other wives or the seer stone or even the dark history of Brigham Young. I didn’t know the sinister things the heirarchy had done or the financial dealings and twisted things the leaders were involved in. I just knew that what I saw and learned after I left contradicted what I’d been taught all those years.

I started to call myself an Emancipated Mormon a year after my divorce. In some ways I still felt Mormon and even now find myself having typical Mormon attitudes and hangups. Many of the things I learned in the church are useful and practical, but many are dark and twisted and mess ones psyche up seriously.

It’s taken years to deprogram some of those messages. I no longer feel suicidal or have panic attacks unless I am going to a family or social gathering or compelled to participate in a church activity. I’ve not been allowed to go to my childrens weddings. I’ve been excluded from almost every event in their church lives, but even after all that, I still am so much happier now that I’ve left the church. I lost my home, my business, my friends, my self respect in some ways, and so much more, but I’m still happier now than I ever was in the church. I almost lost my children and extended family. Even now, I have to be very careful with all those relationships because every person in my family is still devout LDS. I am the ONLY one in my family that has left.

The price we all pay for freedom can be enormous. To be self emancipated is a glorious achievement. I lost so much, but I’ve gained even more. The years have passed and my children and I have mended some things and have sweet and good relationships. I can even be cordial to my ex, while I secretly revel in his self imposed misery and the Karma of his messed up life. I love my new husband, my new life, my new discoveries.

I’ve made far more deep and worthwhile friendships since I left the church than all those years in the middle of it. I’m not kidding, food tastes better, sex is way better, I read better books, go to better movies, have better vacations, and sleep better since leaving the church. It’s been the most healthy thing I’ve ever done. If I coulda left earlier, I shoulda, and in retrospect, I woulda. I just had to get there in my own time and my own way. I don’t regret my choice one bit. I am free.

There comes a point when one must move from the comfort of the middle of the road on an issue and I’ve sat too long without officially resigning. The rejection of my fellow true brothers and sisters from the church of their birth and the involvement of that church in denying them basic civil rights that should be afforded every adult citizen in the U.S. has compelled me to finally take a stand. I offer my resignation in solidarity with the many others who are participating in the exodus from the oppressive Mormon church and I stand proud with the GLBT community in fighting for their rights. I’m not tired yet. There’s plenty of fight left for the distance.

Someday my grandchildren will be able to look back on this issue as some shameful part of America’s past, much like I do on the way blacks were treated in the 60’s. Shame on the Mormon Church. Shame on so called Christians or anyone who cannot see their fellow man with an eye of love and compassion. Our collective shame for them will make a difference.