Saturday, May 8, 2010

Metaphors for the Process

Losing one's testimony is a long process.

I can point to that night in November as the defining moment, the epiphany, the moment my mind fully accepted that the church wasn't true. And, in one sense, that moment was it, because after it happened nothing was the same. Before it happened, I was clinging to remnants of sanity/insanity in the face of massive cognitive dissonance. The human brain can only handle so much cog dis for so long before it has to re-frame its paradigm.

It wasn't really that simple, though.

In the weeks leading up to my heretical epiphany, I vacillated between two states of mind. The first was stubbornness. I knew the church was true, and any information to the contrary was just misguided, or propaganda, or the wiles of Satan. I had a testimony and by golly, I wasn't letting it go! This was my state of mind most of the time.

But there were moments . . . you might call them weak moments, or you might call them strong moments. It all depends on your point of view. I remember one moment in particular. I had just gotten out of a class and was walking back to my apartment. I remember meditatively watching my feet as I walked, my hands in my coat pocket. I thought, "what if the church isn't true?" I thought about the implications of that. The world looked so different through that pair of glasses. I couldn't even comprehend what it might be like to not believe, but I remember feeling fear and, simultaneously, fascination. I had never allowed myself to entertain that possibility before, even hypothetically.

As the weeks went on and my thoughts about the church evolved, I got closer and closer to my "moment of truth." Sometimes I just wasn't sure. At times I felt very depressed. One thought that constantly played in my head was, "I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me." That is what doubting felt like for me. Or, to use another image-- in a Loony Toons cartoon, a character runs off a cliff and screeches to a halt in midair. They look down and feel for the ground-- they only fall once they come to the realization that they are no longer on solid ground. I was trying to metaphorically keep from falling when there was nothing but air in all directions.

One of my favorite novels is Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Near the end of the novel, the character Javert is forced to come to terms with the idea that the thing that he has placed his entire trust, his entire identity on-- namely, the law-- is fallible. The realization is too much for him, and he throws himself into the Seine. The lyrics from his soliloquy in the musical adaptation capture this emotion:

"And must I now begin to doubt,

Who never doubted all these years?
My heart is stone and still it trembles
The world I have known is lost in shadow.
Is he from heaven or from hell?
And does he know
That granting me my life today
This man has killed me even so.

I am reaching, but I fall
And the stars are black and cold
As I stare into the void
Of a world that cannot hold
I'll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean.
There is nowhere I can turn
There is no way to go on...."

All through the process, both before and after my epiphany, these thoughts and similar ones bounced around in my head as I walked to classes and waited for sleep at night.

Besides the online support community I had found, music became my main solace. I listened to a lot of Norah Jones's music. One of my favorite songs was "Nightingale":

Sing us a song
Of a love that once belonged
Tell me your tale
Was your journey far too long?

Does it seem like I'm looking for an answer
To a question I can't ask?
I don't know which way the feather falls
Or if i should blow it to the left

Sing us a song
Of a love that once belonged
Tell me your tale
Was your journey far too long?

All the voices that are spinnin' around me
Trying to tell me what to say
Can I fly right behind you
And you can take me away

You can take me away

Losing my testimony was-- and is-- a long process. For those first few months, I was grieving. It was like losing a loved one. Only, I could not ask my friends and family for support as I grieved. They would not, could not, understand. It was not that they did not love me. I don't know if this is a Mormon thing, or a human thing, but people have a hard time with people who don't believe the way they do. It's frightening for a Mormon when somebody stops believing. It's safer to compartmentalize them as lazy or sinners. When a loved one loses faith, Mormons are faced with the choice of compartmentalizing that loved one or accepting them. Nobody wants to make that choice about somebody they love, so most people will try to convince the heretic to recant. They want the other person to get back into the safe box, where the believer can understand them and relate to them. This was the reason I could not turn to friends and family for support. I didn't want to argue. I didn't want to compromise my personal integrity by recanting. So I remained silent.

Grief is hard; grieving alone is even harder.

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