It’s difficult to describe the emotions a person experiences when going through a traumatic loss of identity. I chose the LDS Church because I found its teachings to be true. Since my baptism I’ve been active, thriving, busy with callings and feeling like my efforts were furthering a good cause. I never expected to have the rug pulled out from under me so callously. I’ve always been a sensitive and caring person. As a mother I’ve worked hard to instill gospel ideals in my children, teaching them how to be respectful and love the people around them. Church reinforced these principles, and as someone who was raised in a less-than-ideal home environment, I felt proud that I was pulling away from toxic patterns and teaching my children to do the same. Then things began to unravel. Something was wrong in my family life, and I felt but couldn’t explain it – even to myself. I was serving as Young Women’s President at the time. When I asked to be released, I was told to “delegate more.” The stress and pressure made me crack, and I ended up in the emergency room. We moved to a new ward and I told my bishop I wasn’t in a good position to accept a calling, because my family needed me right now. A few weeks later, he “invited” me to accept a very large responsibility in the ward – the kind of responsibility I had just moved to avoid! I felt invalidated; it was as if I hadn’t even spoken. The pressure to accept was so strong that I found myself unable to refuse. Who can say no to a man who speaks for God? I was nearing another breaking point when things erupted in my marriage. My husband, who had never been physically abusive before, pushed me down in front of my children. I felt powerless and ashamed, but I found the courage to ask my husband to leave our home while I sorted out my thoughts. Nothing made sense anymore, and I needed help. I turned to my bishop, talking openly with him about the abusive incident, and was told to pay my tithing, read scriptures and pray with my family, as if that could somehow fix everything. A few hours later, I received a call from the bishop telling me that he had met with my husband and discovered that I was abusing him. He informed me that he was required by law to report the abuse. What?! My husband later told me he had lied to the bishop to cover up a pornography addiction (another surprise), and the bishop immediately believed him. The shattering of my faith that began when my husband pushed me down was completed the day I received that accusing phone call from my bishop. A man of God – one who supposedly possessed the gift of discernment and was called to righteously tend the sheep of his fold – had ignored my requests for help and turned on me with swift retribution. I’d never felt as vulnerable as I did the day I sought his counsel, and never needed help more. Instead I was hurt. Now, several months later, I’m stuck in a kind of no-man’s-land (or perhaps no-woman’s-land would be a better term). It hurts to attend Church, and I feel very judged and exposed there. Even kind inquiries about how I’m doing are hard to answer, because the real truth can’t be spoken there. Yet if I leave the Church – even if it’s just for a short time to collect myself – I’ll be condemned by friends and family. Having never been through something like this before, I don’t know how to proceed. I know what it’s like to be offended. There were many times in the past when I forgave the mistakes of someone who should have known better. This time is different, though. I’m not offended but traumatized. I don’t know which way is up anymore. I’m hurt and confused and struggling with both my marriage and my church attendance. I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life, and it seems there is no mortal I can trust to walk with me through this wilderness. Some things are still intact. I still believe many of the truths I was taught. But I don’t know how to fit them all back together. I don’t even know where to start. I once gave my whole heart to my callings, and to the gospel. This mistreatment was the thanks I received. I don’t know how to feel safe at church anymore. I don’t even feel like I have a voice.
How can we help those who are struggling in their marriages know they are not alone? How can we be better at validating women? In what ways can we right our wrongs when they are presented to us? How can we make church a safer place for those struggling?