Are you happy?

This is one of the most absurd questions that we who leave the church get asked. You'd think the answer would be obvious to they who ask it. If they simply asked it, honestly, of themselves they'd come up with the right answer: It depends - on when you are being asked and what you are being asked about.

For example - I am not happy about the progress of my career and my financial situation. I had expected to be in a much better place by now on both counts. Then again, I'm also doing quite well and have a great deal to be grateful for on both counts, considering that we are in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak (June 2020), and the fact that, unlike many other people, I still have a job and one that doesn't pay too badly either. So, in that sense - at this moment I am pretty happy with my career and financial situation.

Most of my life is like that - a rollercoaster ride full of ups and downs. Just like everyone else's. Drifting from happiness to sadness to anger, depending on the topic and current state of affairs.

Of course, what's behind this question is the myth spread within the church that "it's all down hill from here" for those who leave.

Here is one example of this message from a talk by N. Eldon Tanner:

“There is a sad ending to nearly every story I have heard about those who drift away from the straight and narrow path. Such a tragedy ended the life of the young man to whom I refer. Under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and motorcycling with his companions late one night, he plunged through the rails of a bridge over a murky river and was killed. In agreement with some facetious pact he had supposedly made with his friends, they, without consulting his parents, conducted his funeral service, cremated the body, and strewed the ashes over the spot where he died.

... Punishment and remorse, one way or another, will come to all who wander from the path of truth and righteousness, while obedience to God’s laws brings blessings and happiness. It is that simple: as we sow, so shall we reap. (See Gal. 6:7.)"(N. Eldon Tanner, "Why Is My Boy Wandering Tonight?", October 1974 General Conference)

That narrative has been drilled into member's heads from the time they were babes in arms (for most of them). Consequently, when they encounter a person who has left the church, they often pull out this question as though it were some silver-bullet way of revealing the apostates "true" state. It would be just funny if it weren't so pernicious and annoying.

Of course, their perception, though severely misguided, isn't entirely baseless. The simplistic version of the pattern that many of them encounter is that of a person who they formerly knew to be generally happy, seemingly out of the blue becomes depressed and angry.

What they fail to do is grasp what the person leaving the church is actually going through - a complete upturning of their entire world view, coupled with the feeling that they've been lied to their entire lives, that sacrifices that they had made for their faith had all been for naught, and so much more. The feelings of betrayal and injustice that afflict the person who is in the midst of leaving the church, or has recently done so are quite sharp. They are exactly the sort of thing that would make anyone angry. And the believer's in their lives usually make things worse with their ignorance and insensitivity.

In time, most people who leave the church begin to heal and find their peace again. I will end with part of my answer to a question on quora, "How has stopping being a Mormon bettered your life (for ex-Mormons)?", which speaks to that point and the question I am answering here:

"I now continue to face challenges on account of unbroken ties to the church through friends and family, but when I'm able to just be by myself with my new set of beliefs, if I reflect on that change, the predominant feeling is one of RELIEF. For me, the primary benefit of leaving the church has been a general rolling away of tensions that have bound me up for most of my life. This, combined with the sort of spiritual-like science-oriented view of the universe - its grandeur and immensity, my actual, much more humble, place within it, the precious gift that my fleeting life is, my view of the road before me on my "spiritual" journey, and the simple fact that I am now FREE to be HONEST - with myself most of all - about what really makes sense to me - all of this settles on my mind and heart like the gentle rays of a setting sun, imbuing me with a feeling of real peace and happiness.

Like many others, I am so excited to be able to learn new things without having to engage in the mental gymnastics that are so often necessary to fit new information into the little box of ideas, trains of thought, and conclusions that do not pose a threat to the church's claims to authority. The freedom to just follow a line of inquiry to its natural conclusion, to accept or reject ideas purely on the basis of their merits as I personally see them, is a balm to my soul.

I have also felt much more free to be myself socially. This has especially benefited my ability to engage with non-Mormon's (it might be worth pointing out that I still don't drink alcohol, so this difference is not due to such things), but not only with non-Mormons - with active Mormon's too I am, in many ways, more authentic and at ease. Though there are the new tensions related to my apostate status that sometimes get in the way, when those aren't in play I now feel better equipped to build genuine relationships, because I am being the more genuine me."

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