Saturday, September 02, 2006

Recovery, Self-Discovery, Community

I won't grow up. So what if I'm going to be thirty-five in two weeks and have taken on adult responsibilities? (job, committed relationship, kids, mortgage...)

I don't ever want to stop reinventing myself. And reinventing myself requires knowing the raw me that I'm starting from; constantly reassessing who I am, what I've done, who I've been.

That's why I'm never been partial to the recovery model in which "recovering" means getting to the point of never thinking about or speaking about Mormonism again. I don't feel like I need to forget my past in order to move forward.

Changing your world-view always entails some difficulty, pain, and disorientation. If you're in a state where Mormonism is haunting you against your will -- in your home, in your family, in your mind -- then "recovery" is the best word for what you need. And a support network of fellow exmormons is a good place to turn for help. But for former Mormons to continue to contemplate Mormonism on their own terms is normal and healthy. To believe otherwise is to grant that those who leave the church must leave it alone and have no right to their own past.

I think that recovery is only one part of why exmos befriend each other online. To me it's one of three main facets of exmormonism on the Internet: recovery, self-discovery, and community.

JLO's fun new "Know your blogger" feature is a great illustration of how these three aspects of Internet exmormonism work together: by sharing feelings and experiences related to recovery, we build friendships and community. Check out his first three installments: Fiddley Gomme, The Sinister Porpoise, and A New Eric.

(And while you're at it, don't forget to check out the last few installments of "Carnival of the Veil": here and here.)

Making positive social connections with interesting people is a big part of what blogging and forums are about for me. So it always surprises me to see how many people see the word "exmormon" as a negative way to identify yourself (as JLO discovered here -- not to pick on that one blogger or anything, I hope she'll join our community).

It's true that the first part -- "ex" -- is a negative, but the second part -- "Mormon" -- isn't. Many people who have been Mormon refuse to identify as anything that has anything to do with the word Mormon. So to identify as "exmormon" (or "exmo") is as much a way of saying "Mormonism has been a part of my life" as it is a way of saying "I am not Mormon". It means admitting to be a type of cultural Mormon along with active Mormons, jack-Mormons, etc.

Another reason that "exmo" is seen as a negative term is because a lot of exmo bonding looks like bonding over griping. But I think it's typical for friends to bond over griping when they have shared gripes. It's a way to share sympathy and solutions.

If you follow my blog, it should be pretty obvious by now how self-serving this three-pillar model is. I never had much to recover from -- Mormonism has caused me very little grief compared to the exmo average. Yet Mormonism has been an important part of my life, my formative years, my family, and my family history. And I love navel-gazing (I mean, y'know, self-discovery ;-) ), and loooooove making friends and exchanging ideas on the Internet.

Particularly with people I have something in common with, such as fellow cultural Mormons.


Anonymous said...

I'm with you on this. There are some endearing qualities about Mormons in general that I have been thinking about affectionately lately.

Two days ago my mom called and wanted to ask me about my beliefs again. She couldn't understand why I wouldn't let my daughter have a priesthood because, according to my atheistic beliefs, it wouldn't hurt anything. She wanted to know why I don't believe in God.

But when I tried to explain it to her (and I am very mild and cautious with her) she saw it as me being so negative against her beliefs and it hurt her feelings.

Well, mom, if you're going to ask me why I don't believe the same thing you do. . .

I got to explain to her, though, that I have no regrets about growing up in Mormonism. That there are many things about the Mormon culture that I do appreciate. I just don't believe it. And I can't fake it.

Stephen said...

You've managed to capture the cultural Jewish experience very well and translate it to being culturally LDS.

Not a bad step at all.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Noell!!!

It's such a hard thing in families to accept that people can believe differently and still love each other.

It's wonderful that you made the effort to tell her that you aren't angry or resentful about the way she brought you up. If she's like a lot of moms with grown kids, I'm sure that meant a lot.

Hey Stephen!!!


Even though the Jewish situation is very different from the Mormon situation, I think there are a lot of parallels. I admit that I usually have the Jewish example in mind when I talk about cultural Mormons. :D

Stephen said...

BTW, you've convinced me to widen out my links, and I've linked back to you.

I don't feel like I need to forget my past in order to move forward.

I'm still thinking on that, but I think I agree.

I'm glad I hit it with the culturally Jewish reference. I've a fair number of Jewish friends, and as one's son was getting ready for his Bar Mitzvah, she remarked that the biggest prep class section was the one for athiests.

I think it is important to have a sense of history and place to be happy.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Stephen!!!

I'm linking to you too. :D

It doesn't surprise me at all that Jewish atheists would want to have Bar Mitzvahs like other Jewish kids...

AnnM said...

I always thought of "recovering Mormon" in the sense of a "recovering alcoholic": it's something that will always be a part of you. And it was funny. But I see that the analogy is imperfect, and suggests that it is something I continue to struggle with, which is not true. I probably won't use it anymore.

Lately I've started to say, "I was raised Mormon." Also imperfect, because if someone doesn't know any Mormons, they might not understand the difference from "I'm Mormon."

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sam-I-am!!!

You can still call yourself a "recovering Mormon"!!!

I don't want to discourage you from using a clever line. ;-)

Personally, I usually go with your other suggestion: "I was raised Mormon."

Anonymous said...

In my attempts to leave everything Mormon behind me I have realized that I cannot as being Mormon is a central element of who I am today as an exmormon with a TBM wife and daughter. Great post.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks AZ Expositor!!!

John said...

Yes, yes, yes!

This post so speaks to me (even more so because I'm a fellow thirty-fiver).

Making positive social connections with interesting people is a big part of what blogging and forums are about for me.

This is primarily why I blog, thought the self-discovery and reinvention is in there as well. There's one additional reason for me: the pursuit of integrity.

I started blogging when I realized I was living a dual-life: my true self and the false front I presented to the world, especially at church. On my blog I wrote things that were true to my innermost self. I then started to bring my day-to-day self in line with my blogging self. I think that they're pretty close now.

But I still like to experiment, examine and reinvent.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks John!!!

Your comment about blogging separating your true self from your false front reminds me of the discussion of your Sunstone panel over on ZD.

I haven't really had this same experience of feeling like I can't present the real me in real life, yet blogging has definitely brought out aspects of my personality that I wasn't aware of.