When it comes to my faith life, there are a handful of key events that have slowly turned my head until a single, catastrophic snap of the neck ended the Me that was.
I could mention the missionary service to a Spanish-speaking community in southern California that shifted my beliefs about undocumented immigrants.
I could mention the coming out of my college BFF (I’m looking at you, Brock) a month or two before I returned home from the aforementioned mission that shifted my paradigm about LGBTQ+ people.
I could mention declining a marriage proposal at the age of 31, believing I would remain single my whole life, contrary to what I’d been taught about the eternal marriage requirement.
I could mention falling in love with and marrying a once-divorced English teacher whose world views were a little more open than mine. I could mention the heavy and inexplicable burden of being Wife #2 in a tradition that allowed my husband to be eternally sealed to two women without the men in charge even consulting me or obtaining my consent in the process.
And I could mention how incredible it felt to have that burden lifted when his ex-wife requested and was granted a cancellation of their sealing. How that feeling of finally being free from the threat of eternal polygamy gave me and my husband a whole new sense of power and privacy.
I could mention the fight against depression and anxiety that we endured as a married couple struggling through infertility. I could mention how it changed my paradigm to love someone so deeply who didn’t often go to church with me.
I could mention how losing five pregnancies before seven weeks introduced an entire new perspective on a woman’s bodily autonomy and her right to govern her own body.
I could mention how adopting a daughter allowed my inner feminist to rage against the patriarchy.
I could mention how becoming a stay-at-home mom drove me to seek an ADHD diagnosis and caused me to reframe my entire mortal existence.
I could mention how that ADHD hyperfocus led me to keep pulling at the threads of cognitive dissonance I was experiencing with scripture, prayer, church history, modern apologetics, and lived experience until nothing but a pile of tattered string was left.
And until this next moment, I was still committed to staying.
In December 2023, I responded to a general request by Richard Ostler (for his latest book) for the stories of members of the church whose lived experiences with parenting did not match the ideal. My husband and I each wrote about 600 words describing our experiences with infertility and adoption, and how it impacted our engagement in the church.
Shortly after we submitted our stories, Richard contacted me and asked me to be a guest on his podcast. I reluctantly agreed, and spent the next several weeks writing out my experience being single from ages 18-38, and then experiencing five miscarriages, one disrupted adoption, and one completed adoption. And then we got together to record.
It was the first time I had written everything down and the first time I had expressed out loud how monumentally painful that journey was in a faith tradition that focused on the role of a woman as a wife and mother being the highest and holiest calling. It was the first time I allowed myself to admit that I experienced excruciating pain every time I went to the temple and heard the words, “a queen and a priestess to your husband”.
And then Richard asked me this:
“One of the chapters of this book that’s coming out is sort of healing from church-generated pain. And you’ve had a fair dose of that… Why do you stay? Because you’ve had some really difficult experiences in the church.”
The idea that *I* had experienced “church-generated pain” had never hit me. OTHER people experienced church-generated pain. I believed that my pain had always been MY fault. But something happened in that moment when someone else’s voice gave me permission to take a different view. I instinctively knew in that moment that my self-blame was misplaced. That I did not deserve nor cause the pain I experienced. That I had been told over and over again by people who were authority figures in my life to view myself a certain way. Instead of following my own compass, I was to follow the men who designed my destiny for me. And despite every effort to shave off parts of myself to fit into this impossibly perfect box that I was told was my destiny, I did not fit.
That is the moment it snapped. In the next few weeks, I was diagnosed with depression and complex PTSD, and if I wanted to have any kind of happiness in the future, I had to allow the old me, the people-pleasing me, the codependent me, the obedient me… to die.
I told myself I was taking a sabbatical. I told myself I would check in again at 6 months and again in a year. I told myself I could maybe come back. I think I was trying to soften it for myself and for my family of origin.
But contrary to the doctrines of the faith tradition I was leaving, death is permanent. And this was a fiery, painful, disfiguring kind of death. I knew in my heart there was no going back.
Mormon Valerie was gone. She would not be resurrected…
But she would be reincarnated.