By Freda Canary (alias)
I went through a Gethsemane of a narcissistic, abusive marriage for too many years, and finally, the dreaded and horrific DIVORCE. I had friends for many years who had gone through divorce in the church and they complained about how they were treated by church leaders and members from then on. I had a hard time understanding why, but believed them. One friend 28 years ago said that she was released from her ward calling and was immediately put into the nursery. Then they assigned her the oldest man in the ward as her home teacher. He was too old to be of any support. Her visiting teachers stopped coming over. Later I was assigned to visit teach her and I learned a lot from this experience.
Little did I know then, though I was already miserable in my marriage, that I would experience the identical scenario many years later, down to the old home teacher. Mine was in his eighties and he gave me the same lesson every month… “A woman should never leave a man for any reason.”
My ward gossiped about me and treated me like I was the elephant in the room at church. There were those who were my friends who saved me a seat so that I would not sit alone. My visiting teachers took me to lunch every month to show their support. The bishop did believe me about the abuse, but asked me not to talk to anyone. This opened up the way for the ex to spread false rumors about me, thus isolating me once again from those who should have given me support at the lowest time of my life.
I do not hold animosity for my ward members for their being fooled by a con-artist like my ex-husband. I felt bad that they did not consider speaking with me to find out the truth. I lost many friends in the divorce process. I lost a ward family. Again.
I could see clearly now WHY so many post-divorce singles would leave the safety of the church. Had I not had a testimony of the Gospel, and a firm knowledge that my Savior loved me, it would have been more than easy to do the same. It appeared that the church was only for perfect families. I was in that “appearing to be perfect” family category for many years, but it was a lie. I guess people prefer the facade, but I could no longer live a lie.
Even through the pain of loss, surviving the chaos of divorce and coming out the other side was amazing! I remember walking on the beach of my new residence and feeling like I had escaped prison. My cage door had been opened and I was free! The waves of the ocean crashed at my feet as I walked along the shoreline. I was home.
I had grown up in Huntington Beach, California. I was part of that sand and water and air that permeated my weather torn soul. I longed to go back to those beach days where I was a young adult and make some very different choices. Especially the decision about that certain young man.
I went back further in my mind and could see my eight-year-old self swimming in that ocean. I was surrounded by younger brothers who were also enjoying the waves, and a sister, who preferred to make castles on the safety of the sand. I smiled as tears fell down my cheeks. As much as I believed that my life was hard being the eldest child, with all the assistance to my mother that this position required, I had no idea what hell awaited me in my future. My 51 year old feet sank into the wet sand as the waves crashed around my warm ankles. I was home. I had made it. I was bruised of soul, but I was alive and free from the monster.
For ten years I worried about the process of divorcing my husband, the top attorney of a large firm. I knew I would be smeared all over the Wasatch Front, the United States, and China. There is no way to leave a narcissistic sociopath without quite a bit of character assassination. I could have been more forthright about the information of his infidelities and abuse. I already knew what it was like to try to open people’s eyes to his true identity. He was too charming (once he left the home). He appeared to be the model husband and father (once he left the home).
“He is the most Christ-like person I have ever known.” I was tired of hearing it. “Really? Why don’t you come home with us and see if you still think so?” I would want to reply. Instead I just smiled. “He will be our next stake president, I just know it!” Another friendly soul at church. He did always get the high positions in the ward and stake. He knew just exactly whom he needed to sidle up to when we moved to a new area. Then once he was in, and had everyone wrapped around his finger, he would “confide” in them his troubles of his “abusive” wife.
I never could figure out why people in new wards would love me one day, and hate me the next. I realize now that he was putting more securities on my cage. He wanted to make sure I never had any support in case I wanted to leave him. My bishops all believed that I was crazy and abusive. Even the stake presidents were brought into this confidence.
He was rich, he had commercials on television. It was always a great honor to have such a person as he confiding such intimate troubles with them. It made them feel important and needed. Then he would saunter on home to the family who hated and despised him, sit on his king throne, and tell every member of his family why they are pathetic.
My children turned out wonderful, amazingly enough. I put a buffer between him and the children. I took the abuse and raised the girls on my own. Luckily he was gone on business a lot. I now realize that he didn’t really travel for business, he just had other arms to go to instead of ours.
All the signs were there. I just never would believe that he could be THAT bad. I just thought he was family-disabled (that’s like socially-disabled only with family instead). I figured he had a bad example and was just plain selfish. I did finally catch him a year before my baby turned 18. I held on for that last year so that she would not be fought over and made to choose. She was finally in college. Not that it is ever easy for children of any age, but they were solid in the church. They had strong testimonies. I knew that once the dust settled they would land on their feet.
Of course, they still do not know about his secret life. He convinced them that I was the one cheating on him, so they were very angry at me for breaking up our family. I knew I would rather die than to live another day with this evil man. I have no respect for men who hide behind the church to further their evil. He is a fire-breathing dragon in sheep’s clothing.
He thought he had me so tight in his cage that I could never escape. I started saving money 10 years earlier. I wanted to get the best attorney there was when the time came. I went through quite a few lousy attorneys first. I started the discovery process to find out how much he had hidden from me about 6 months before my leave date. I found out that he was a multi-millionaire and that he had it all hidden from me. I smiled. I was going to be just fine.
When the day finally came and I invited him to leave (and he did, shockingly enough), I found quite a bit of money hidden in the house. Under the laundry basket, in the bottom of the buffet drawer, in the back cupboard of my sewing supplies. I took it from the house and stashed it away. I would never have slept if I had known that much money was hidden in the house.
I hated being in that house all by myself once the divorce was finally over. So I got on a plane, flew to Newport Beach, and purchased myself a beach house. I wasn’t alone though, he had sent men to follow me where-ever I went. It was November of 2011 and I had the whole beach to myself. Me, and the life-guard who occasionally drove by in his jeep and nodded to me, and my stalker who stayed on the boardwalk a distance from wherever I happened to be.
I wore my shorts and a t-shirt, let my long hair fly in the breeze, and I started walking. There were footprints in the sand behind me. Mine. They were the only ones. Little did I know that within a week I would meet a guy, and that I would never walk that beach alone again.
He was at the Single’s Ward Family Home Evening. It was instant attraction on both sides. He got my phone number, and although I had determined to not date for a year, we went out two days later. And then were never apart until we were married 9 months later.
Yes, I am happily married now. I finally know what it feels like to have that romantic love, that adoring husband who loves to serve me, who watches out for me and protects me. We have been together for almost 2 years now. I have never been so happy.
I just wish that as I was surviving those 32 years of hell, and the ultimate test of my personal Gethsemane of the divorce, that I could have known how wonderful it was going to be someday. I wish I had even a glimmer of hope. Hope was a word I was not acquainted with. I could see darkness for miles with not even a pin-prick of light. And now all I see is sun-light.
Yes, he still stalks and harasses me. I am constantly in court with him over some dumb thing or another. The last one was over lawn equipment. He wanted the judge to tell me that he should be able to come over any time he wanted a shovel or tool. I told him to go buy it and that he had more money than me. He took me to court. I won.
I was not single for very long, about a year. In that short time I entered the world of the church “outcasts.” I mingled with the victims of broken homes for every reason under the sun. They clung together with the one group who understood. We leaned on each other. We did activities together. My heart will be forever with them. I cannot move back into the world of appearing to be perfect families while leaving my friends behind. I cannot just saunter off into the sunset with my happy life while so many broken lives are left unnoticed.
I feel like they are embarrassed for being where they are, though it was no fault of theirs. They do not want to draw attention to themselves or ask for special favors. They just hobble along hoping tomorrow will be better than yesterday. Alone. I am just one person who has dipped into that life for a moment, but I will be a voice to try to narrow the gap between them and the other members of our church society.
Am I saying that the church members are a bunch of selfish jerks who just don’t care? No. I am saying that there is a stigma attached to the word “divorce.” It means “broken, needy, did it all wrong, made wrong choices, you probably want my husband, loser, mis-fit.” That stigma needs to change. It needs to end.
I bore my testimony in my new family ward about the trials of divorce and how the atonement helped me in my healing process. Afterwards, a few couples came over and introduced themselves. They said that they were also second marriages. One woman said “I can’t believe that you were brave enough to use the ‘D’ word over the pulpit.”
I have heard that sentence run through my mind a hundred times since. “The ‘D’ word.” It was like a brand. Just don’t say it, don’t let people know you have been thus polluted. Keep your failures a secret. Hide who you are from the world.
I remembered the book The Scarlet Letter and thought about that poor woman wearing the letter ‘A’ on her for her whole life. She was branded as the adulterous, while the guilty father of the child slipped around hidden in his preacher’s clothing. It didn’t matter to anyone that we were the victims of abuse, infidelity, etc. We were branded with the letter “D.” Period. That is now who you are. As if we have leprosy or something. “Unclean, unclean,” we must speak as we wander the halls at church so that no one accidentally touches us and also becomes “unclean.”
There is no sympathy given for failure in the home. When a family is damaged by a death, or an accident, or fire to the house, ward members come running with their casseroles and sympathy cards, and babysitting service. When a family is totally demolished by divorce, they are shunned, gossiped about, treated like the plague.
Why is that I ask? I have wondered about this phenomenon. I take myself back to the pre-divorce days. Did I also treat divorced people differently? Maybe. I might have. I hate to admit that I may have also ignored them. I may have believed that they didn’t fit in any longer. I am hoping that I did not, and was kind and loving. But I am not sure I was any better.
I think that married people are afraid of divorce. I wonder if they don’t think it is contagious, and that if they don’t pick a side and place blame somewhere, it could happen to them as well. “Well, they obviously did this or that wrong, THAT is why ….bla bla bla….” There, done. It is put into a nice little cupboard where it will no longer be a threat to us personally.
I do things differently now. I keep in touch with any who are in my circle of friendship or family while they are going through their divorces. I send them notes on Facebook. I text them words of hope. I pray for them and let them know it. I help pay for it. I give them a big hug when I see them. I ask how they are. I don’t listen to idle gossip. If I don’t hear it directly from them, I don’t believe it. And I remember that there is two sides to every story. Sometimes there is only one true one. Then I go by the past history of their character.
I have a cause. I am the type of person who always has to have a cause. I don’t know why, I was that way as a child. I was always rescuing the underdog. I was always trying to save the dying bird, or the broken legged horny toad. If I wasn’t being beat up myself. There needs to be a voice in behalf of the victims of divorce. There needs to be more understanding of that world. We are reaching out for understanding for so many different life-styles, why can’t we open our arms a little further and include divorcees into our loving arms as well?
I created a survey to hear from other LDS Divorced folks like myself. I wanted to know if my experience was isolated or common. After a year of doing my pitch at the end of Single’s Ward’s Relief Society and Priesthood meetings (after the closing prayer since it was not official church business), dances, Facebook, and passing my card around to any who fit that description, the results were heart-breaking, hopeful, insightful.
At the same time there was much to learn from those whose leaders handled it perfectly. There were some insights into how it can be done, and how little effort it would take to make a divorcee feel welcome in a family ward. I learned a lot about my fellow-divorced-friends around the world. One thing I do know, it is a lonely ordeal. It is not fun. It will try you to the utmost of your ability. And you will lose much in the process.
I also know that it is easier to keep people in the church, than to chase them out and then try to bring them back. This church is for everyone, not just for perfect families. God loves all of his children. This is a message I long to portray in my efforts. I want to be a voice of hope. I want my dear friends to realize that God is still there. He loves you more than ever. I know that people do not understand, but HE does. I know that the situation can be made better or worse, depending upon what kind of support you receive in your ward.
I always think of the church institution as a hospital. That’s why I laugh when members are harsh on those victims that come in on a gurney. It’s almost as if the more injured the victim, the bigger chance of being thrown out of the hospital. It is silly. Everyone is sick or injured to one degree or another. Why does someone who only has a flunking son in math and hates to go to Priesthood have any right to mock the Mother whose daughter wears short-shorts and a bikini?
Why do we have any right to put our noses in the air to a sinner? Why do we think that Christian folks can whisper about a young lady who just got pregnant out of wedlock?
The church is like a hospital, all who attend are sick or broken to some extent. It’s like the guy with the broken leg laughing at the woman with the head injury. And the heart surgery patient pointing fingers at the knee surgery patient. And when someone is in a car accident, we just plain throw him out the back door.
Christ’s church is for all. Even for those who suffer from broken-family-itis. We need to make room in our hearts for those struggling through the devastating process of divorce. We need to be there for each other. We need to stop thinking they are going to want our spouse. I always had the attitude, “if you can take him from me, you can have him.” I am not interested in a cheater. Quit associating divorcees as whore-mongers. They are not diseased. They are not contagious. They are the same person they were before, and just like any other human being, they need to be loved.