Hannah Comeau

John Dehlin Mental Health, THRIVE, Women Stories 3 Comments

Hello! My name is Hannah Comeau. I am 24 years old and currently live in Charlottesville, Virginia where I am attending my first year of law school at UVA. My husband of four years, Jon, is also living with me in C’ville and works in the computer programming industry. Both of us graduated from BYU-Idaho—myself in 2018 and him in 2019 (a mere week before we moved out of Rexburg to start our lives in Virginia!). I grew up in Rexburg, Idaho for the greater part of my childhood and adolescence. One aspect of Rexburg that I absolutely cherish is the pertinent focus on music and the arts. My husband and I met through ballroom dancing and participated in high school marching band together; nearly all of my friends played an instrument or were involved in dance in some way. I am the oldest of three children in my family and grew up in a very traditional Mormon home. My parents are wonderful people who both have extensive pioneer ancestry.

After high school, Jon left on an LDS mission to Baltimore, Maryland; I waited for him and started college. He was released honorably after 9 months of service due to anxiety and depression brought to surface, consequent to the rigors of missionary life. His early return, unfortunately, resulted in a long period of separation between my family and I, as they had trouble accepting the fact that I chose to continue dating him. My family told me that they had taught me to “want better for myself.” Jon and I were married in December, 2015 and now have a great relationship with my family. We do not have any children…unless you count our cat? Upon starting college I quickly became a progressive Mormon, but didn’t start truly questioning my faith until my last semester at BYU-Idaho—my husband still fully believing at the time. I finally gained the courage to stop attending church meetings in January, 2019. While I have chosen, for now, not to officially resign from the church, I no longer consider myself a member of the LDS faith. My husband and I are now both on the same page, living our happiest lives.

What parts of the Mormon experience were most important or useful to you?

As a child, I was extremely shy. Participation in church gave me the opportunity to break out of my shell in a comfortable environment and allowed me to develop valuable social and public speaking skills that I am sincerely grateful for to this day. I loved feeling as though I was a part of God’s plan to bring forth the truthfulness of the gospel to others. It provided such a sense of belonging and comfort during my childhood and early teenage years. Additionally, I was profoundly moved by the fact that, as a member of the church, I could travel anywhere in the world and get a very similar church experience. As a member of the church, I traveled a lot and always attended Sunday meetings while away. I felt at peace when I would hear the same familiar messages being taught while navigating an unfamiliar place. I also need to put a plug in for the church’s youth program—I always had such wonderful experiences at girl’s camp, EFY, youth conference, and pioneer trek. Now I look back on them a little differently, but they were meaningful to me at the time.

What doctrinal or theological parts of Mormonism did you believe that were most important to you?

I absolutely loved the Plan of Salvation. As a teenager struggling with severe anxiety, OCD, and depression, this prospect gave me the hope I needed to navigate through difficult experiences. Holding the perspective of life as a “test” helped me to develop semi-healthy perspectives on negative or unfavorable circumstances. I built up a strong resiliency for life’s hardships and was empowered by the analogy of the atonement as a “refiner’s fire.” Active participation in the church also introduced me to the concept of charity and Christ-like love. I clung to this principle and sought for ways to make the world a better place in my own sphere of influence. This part of my life, of course, has not gone away since leaving Mormonism, but I owe the church for introducing me to the concept and teaching me the value of service.

What spiritual experiences did you have as a Mormon that sealed your orthodox commitment to the church?

I always had profound feelings while participating in temple work as a teenager. Performing baptisms for the dead helped me to feel close to my ancestors. Participating in pioneer trek, girls camp testimony meetings, and EFY also aided in strengthening my testimony. However, the overwhelming reason for my orthodoxy was the fear I developed from OCD.

How did you lose your faith in Mormonism?

I would say that there are three main phases of my faith transition. Just two years ago, I received a diagnosis of OCD. As a child and young adult, this manifested most clearly through scrupulosity. While I did have a strong testimony of the church, I never felt what other people around me called “the joy of forgiveness.” I could write pages and pages on how living with this condition impacted my relationship with the church. However, the bottom line is that I became quickly conflicted with my conviction for the truthfulness of the church and my own sense of “not fitting” the mold. It was hard to hear that the church had a place for “everyone” yet feeling that I was excluded. This realization led me into progressive Mormonism (my second phase) as I began to comprehend that the church truly is not inclusive of everyone. The leaders preach messages of love but exclude individuals for simply being who they are as people—as God created them. I began to become aware of many hypocritical practices of the church.

As I realized I was the “f” word (a feminist), I became extremely interested in the church’s unequal treatment of women and began to research the history of polygamy. I finally found the CES letter (enter phase 3!). I read the letter slowly, looking up as many additional resources as possible. As a person who was scrupulously honest, I was shocked at how dishonest the church had been. Ultimately, my research led me to the ultimate understanding and relief that maybe I wasn’t the problem—maybe it was the church as an institution.

What parts of Mormonism were harmful to you?

The two most harmful parts of Mormonism for me were its emphasis on perfectionism and its rhetoric on traditional gender roles.  I felt so much shame for my “mistakes,” that it led to many nights of tears and fear, up into my early adulthood. Experiences such as baptism and going through the temple were traumatic for me; I felt as though I was taking on covenants with God that I was not yet fully ready or able to live up to. In fact, during my engagement leading up to the time where I would enter the temple to receive my endowments, I experienced multiple panic attacks every week. The anxiety stemmed from the uncertainty of my own “worthiness” to enter “the Lord’s House.” Many meetings with church leaders ensued. I regret the perfectionistic culture of the church as I feel like it distracted me from some of the good things that it otherwise brought into my life. It also distracted me from my education and other hobbies. Looking back, I realize that I spent so much time conflicted about my own worthiness before God when I could have been using that time in more productive and positive ways.

The emphasis on traditional gender roles became more problematic for me during my late teenage and early adulthood years. As an active, believing member, I remember my frustration that women were not allowed to provide service in church leadership or carry out priesthood duties. I would think to myself, “man, God would get so much more done if He’d only let women help out a little.” Growing up, I was never taught that I could pursue a career. My brother was encouraged to get all the education he could, pursue his goals and ambitions and become a strong leader. Meanwhile, I was taught how to “look for a guy like that.” I was appalled at the sexist overtones of the temple ceremony and had a difficult time ever going back after my marriage.

It was not until just three years ago that I came to the realization that I could pursue a career. I had always had law school in the back of my mind but did not think that it was a possibility for me, as my sole duty was to be toward the home and family. My husband, Jon, bless him dearly, encouraged me to “go for it!” I got accepted to UVA Law School, and have almost completed my first year of studies. Can I just say—Oh my god. We are so, insanely happy. Words can’t even describe this feeling. Both of us are now out of the church and can’t believe how beautiful our lives have been.

How do you now explain the spiritual experiences that you had as an Orthodox Mormon?

Being completely honest, I still find those spiritual experiences to be valid as formative and meaningful experiences in my life. What I’ve learned since leaving Mormonism is that I can get those same good feelings in so many other ways—it is not limited to church activity or membership. Whether these feelings come from God or through physiology (or both?), I continue to seek out meaningful experiences through my passions, education, and relationships with others.

What was transitioning out of Mormonism like for you? What was most painful about it? What was most healing or joyful about the transition?

Are there even words to adequately describe this process? It is truly something that you cannot comprehend until you experience it for yourself. This fact alone made it especially difficult to explain it to my believing family members and friends. Especially since when you’re in this spot, you know what others are probably thinking about you—because that’s how you thought at one point too!

However—for the first time in my life, I feel like myself. I finally felt free to embrace my beliefs, productively advocate for social issues, and…well…breathe. I’ve found myself able to connect with a broader range of individuals and gained strong empathy for people in all situations. This is something I never let myself do as a Mormon. I am a happier person. I am healthier. I have more motivation for life.

In what ways did church leaders or members make your transition more difficult?

This is an interesting question. I feel that when I started questioning the church, there was no place in which I felt safe to ask my questions or discuss issues in a way that I could get real answers. I couldn’t ask these questions at church meetings because that, apparently, was not the “time or place” for such discussion. I found that my bishops were ill-informed of the issues (by no fault of their own as the church does not provide adequate training for its leadership), and could offer no help. This is all to say that the most difficult part in relation to church leaders and members was the unwillingness to create an open dialogue about valid issues.
I’ve heard many stories of people whose wards and church leaders wouldn’t leave them alone after they stopped going to church—my experience was quite the opposite. I didn’t tell anyone that I was not going to church anymore (I did not have a calling at the time) and quietly stopped attending meetings. I have not heard a single word from anyone in that ward since I left over a year ago. Truly made me realize how much my presence was valued there…

Were there church leaders or members who were helpful to you? If so, how?

Again, I never heard from anyone in my ward after leaving. I would say, however, that most of my family members (all active, believing members) treated me very kindly and respected my decision. (So grateful for this—I recognize that not everyone has the same experience in this regard).

What resources were most helpful in your transition out of Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?

My most valuable resource during this time in my life was found in hearing other people’s stories. I listened to Mormon Stories podcast frequently and found a local group in Rexburg that got together every-so-often at a coffee shop. I reconnected with some old friends from high school who had also left the church. It is tremendously healing to find others who have gone through faith transitions out of Mormonism—while everyone’s experience is going to be different, we all share the common thread of questioning and transitioning from a high-demand religion. I decided to post briefly on social media about my decision to leave the church. Never had I done anything more intimidating in my life—however, I received an outpouring of messages from others going through similar experiences. Many of these people I had not spoken to in years—I feel grateful that I was able to play a part (at least in a small way) in helping others feel that they weren’t alone on such an unsettling journey.

What significant mistakes did you make in your transition?

I went through the natural stages of the grieving process, including anger. I will not go as far as to say, however, that my angry feelings were a mistake. It’s healthy to feel your feelings. Overall, I think I did a pretty good job with my transition. As I left the church a good six months or so before my husband, I do wish that I had approached church history conversations with him a little bit differently. Initially, I would dump information on him as I found it. However, I could tell that this was causing him a great deal of anxiety—he was not ready. At the time, after all, he was in his last year at BYU-Idaho and employed full-time at the university. Leaving could have cost him his education and employment. He came around on his own time, and we were able to have constructive conversations when both of us were ready.

In regard to my immediate family, I would say that my biggest mistake was in the ambiguity with which I announced that I was leaving. I put them through several months of uncertainty in where I was in relation to the church. In reality, however, this was completely unnecessary as I had made up my mind already. If I could go back, I probably would have “ripped the band-aid” off all at once.

How has your leaving Mormonism affected your family relationships, friendships, job, neighbor relationships, social life, etc.?

I have a good relationship with my family. However, I want to be completely honest; sometimes its still hard knowing that my entire family shares a common belief system in which I no longer take part. It still makes me feel “othered” when family members openly talk about the church but aren’t fully open to hearing about my beliefs in return. I know that no one creates this dynamic on purpose. In fact, I feel extremely blessed that my family reacted as positively as they did. However, it does feel like I am quite a bit more on the outside now.

I will say that I think there is a very specific reason for my family’s relatively positive reaction. In answer to one of the earlier questions, I had mentioned my husband coming home early from his mission. Circumstances surrounding this event led to a major falling out with my parents and I due to a difference in application of church values. In the following years, we have put forth a lot of work to reconcile these differences and created a strong relationship. Consequently, I believe that relationship was strong enough to endure my departure from the church.

I maintain a few strong friendships with those I know from back in Rexburg. Since moving to Virginia, however, my social life has flourished more than I ever could have imagined. I have created so many lasting friendships and genuine connections with people that I never thought possible. Accepting the part of myself that didn’t believe in the church gave me freedom to love and accept myself as a person. In turn, I am happier and more willing to connect with those around me. In fact, as it turns out, one of my best friends at law school has also left the church. It’s been a blast! See guys? Blessings/good things can still come to those who leave the church.

How have you navigated communication and relationships with believing family and friends? Any tips to keeping those people in your life?

Bottom line—if feasible, put the relationship first. Trust me, it’s natural to feel frustrated that your family “won’t listen” or does not know or care about the same issues that you do. Remember that on the other side, they are experiencing disappointment, confusion and possible frustration as they watch you leave the church. Since most of us have had similar feelings to those of our current believing friends and family members, it is easier for us to empathize with them than it is for them to truly empathize with us. As I’ve said many times: A Mormon faith crisis is something you cannot comprehend until you experience it for yourself.

Which (if any) of your former Mormon beliefs/behaviors have you retained after your faith crisis?

I still maintain a believe in God. At this point, I do not know exactly what that looks like, but I have found a place for that belief to fit into my life. I like to hope for an afterlife where I can be with those I care about forever, but I am not too worried about figuring that out right now. Instead, I have been focusing on the positive values I learned in the church such as service, love, and charity. I do believe that if there is an afterlife, God is much more accepting and open to who “gets in” than I was led to believe as a Mormon.

In what ways have your beliefs/behaviors changed after your faith crisis?

Overall, I am much more open to goodness in the world, both inside and outside of Mormonism. If anything, my focus has shifted to living in the moment instead of obsessively contemplating the “what-ifs” of my afterlife. I believe in the genuine goodness of people and am constantly in awe of the kind community in which I live.

What are your thoughts/beliefs now about God and Jesus?

I like to focus on the positive lessons that I have learned from stories of God and Jesus. While I still do believe in God, I no longer think that he/she cares that individuals follow a specific religious tradition. Personally, I think there are more important things to focus on such as loving other people, giving service, and trying to genuinely make the world a better place.

How do you now make sense of death and the afterlife?

I’m happy to share my thoughts on this question but the short answer is simple: I don’t know. No longer do I have a definite answer to that question, which is absolutely okay! Not having the answer to this question, however, has led me to focus more on the present. I’ve found that I now put more thought and care into the choices I make, the actions I take, and the relationships I foster. Looking back, I now realize that while in the church, I often used my belief in a definite afterlife plan to avoid making the most of my life on earth. I had the perspective that “it will all be fixed in the next life.”

Currently, here is what I like to believe about the afterlife. I may be among a slim minority of post-mormons on this theory, but regardless—here is what I like to think:

I still hope for an afterlife in which I can remain with my loved ones and continue to progress in my talents, abilities, and knowledge. If this is the case, and God has truly sent us here as part of a “plan of salvation,” I do not believe that there is a singular path to “get back.” I believe that the purpose of this life is for individuals not to follow the rules of a particular religious tradition, but rather to find courage to discover and live was their authentic selves. Once they’ve made this discovery and started living their life in tune with whatever that may be, they are on the “correct path” for them. For some, this might be in the LDS church. For the large majority of people, however, the path will look much different.

While active in the church, I always struggled with the idea of a “one true church.” Even from the time I was a young teenager, I questioned the idea that every single person must hear and accept the gospel in order to be “saved” in the celestial kingdom. If God really did create all of his/her children as unique and special beings—with different talents, interests, and perspectives—why would he/she create just one path for each of them to return? Especially when that path openly rejects certain individuals for traits that they cannot change about themselves.

Without the church telling you what is “right” and “wrong,” how do you establish your own sense of morality/right/wrong?

As silly as it may sound, I was a little bit surprised to find myself out of the church and not in prison or an alcoholic! In the church, I developed a black and white mindset—I could only be “good” or “moral” if I aligned myself with the gospel. To my amazement, I remained the same person after leaving.

In fact, I would even go as far as to say that it was my innate sense of right/wrong and morality that helped lead me away from the church. I had a hard time reconciling God’s great commandment to “love thy neighbor” and excluding certain people from joining the church. None of this is to say that those who stay in the church are not living a good moral life—most people I love and care about are wonderful individuals who are active believing members.

Do you still value “spirituality” in your life (spirituality defined as “connection to something bigger than yourself”), and if so, what are your main sources of spiritual fulfillment?

I do consider myself a spiritual person. In fact, I now feel more connected to my spiritual side than I ever was while religious. I find peace and meaning mainly through spending quiet time in nature. Additionally, I still find myself praying, mainly as a form of personal reflection and meditation. Spirituality is still an area in which I am exploring. I am always open to new ideas.

To what extent have you found healthy and meaningful community to replace the role of the ward/stake in your life?

I have found excellent community with my peers and classmates in law school. Ironically, I’ve actually had a much easier time forming friendships and genuine connections with people since leaving the church. That being said, I was fortunate enough to be able to leave Rexburg and start a new life elsewhere. I know, however, that this is not always a possibility for people. My first suggestion is to find other ex-mormons that you can talk with…you’re going to need someone who can fully empathize with your journey. With time comes healing, comfort in forming new relationships, and courage in striving to maintain old friendships and relationships with church members.

What meaning and purpose does life have to you now that you no longer believe in Mormonism?

I’ve touched on this in my answers to other questions, but to sum up, I now try to live in the moment and enjoy life as it happens. We do not know what will happen after this life, if anything at all. All we know for sure is that we have this time right now. Why waste it? The world is filled with endless opportunities—why limit yourself to what others think you should do! I feel as though I value relationships more, take more pride in the decisions I make, and engage more deeply in the endeavors I undertake.

If you are a parent, how has losing your faith in Mormonism affected how you parent?

I am the proud parent of a very cute cat named “kitty.” 😉 He doesn’t seem to care much that we’ve left.

If you are married or have a significant other, how has leaving Mormonism affected this relationship?

I feel fortunate that my husband Jon and I are both on the same page about many things. Both of us have now left the church and are finding joy in new ways together. The main changes I’ve seen are that we are more open with each other, and exponentially more understanding of each other’s perspectives and ideas. Conquering a faith crisis together has made us stronger than ever.

In terms of “power dynamics,” I would say that Jon and I have always had an egalitarian relationship, for which I feel extremely lucky. I know that a lot of Mormon marriages are not like this. HOWEVER, we did have an interesting perspective change in regard to our prescribed gender roles after leaving the church. Perhaps this bleeds into the next question concerning mental health, but I find it fitting for this question as well. Both Jon and I grew up feeling uncomfortable in the roles we were supposed to fulfill as worthy, active adults in the church. Jon, for instance, wanted to pursue a career but also hoped for the opportunity to one day be a stay-at-home dad. He felt as though he was fighting against his nature if he “took the lead” as the “head of the household.” As I’ve mentioned in previous answers, I felt uncomfortable with the idea that my role in the family and church was to stay home and raise children. I wanted to pursue a career. Leaving the church gave us the freedom to make the life choices and take on the various roles that felt most conducive to our individual natures.

How has leaving Mormonism affected your mental health?

Do I still deal with anxiety and depression? Sure. Those don’t just magically disappear. However, since leaving the church, I have been able to cope with them so much more effectively.

Earlier today, Jon and I went for a walk; we began to talk about our faith journey and I expressed to him that I finally feel like a whole person. That is probably the best way in which I can describe the change in my mental health. While it’s hard to fully articulate in just a few words, I feel as though leaving the church allowed me to finally pick up and heal many perpetually broken pieces that I’d been carrying around with me from a very young age.

I am a new and improved version of myself—the balance has finally tipped to where I now feel proportionally more joy in my life than I ever did in the church. This came with the realization that I didn’t have to be perfect or live a set of pre-set standards to be worthy as a human.

Jon and I have had an interesting journey with mental health in our relationship—him dealing with anxiety, depression, and ADHD and myself dealing with anxiety, depression, and OCD. We have both found tremendous healing through our faith transitions and while we still deal with these issues, they seem to have levelled off beyond recognition.

As a note: The reason I am so open about my struggle with mental health is to normalize the subject and play my part in destigmatizing a very real ailment that so many people face. If you struggle with mental health—you are not alone! You are still worthy and successful!

How has leaving Mormonism affected your sexuality?

This is quite a fascinating question….for so many reasons. My view of sexuality as a member of the church living with scrupulosity was interesting to say the least. Looking back now, objectively speaking I never actually broke the law of chastity in any sort of way. However, as an active member, my brain reasoned many times that I had done something wrong and needed to confess to my bishop. I think I was so frightened by breaking a commandment that I set the bar unrealistically high for myself. Consequently, I never questioned my sexual orientation growing up. In fact—the only person I had actually dated, I ended up marrying! But I mean hey, it’s worked out great.

If I could go back, I would tell myself to open myself up to these questions earlier. While I would not change anything about my life where it is now, I have recently come to terms with the fact that I do identify best as bisexual (wow—first time I’ve actually had the courage to publicly share this fact). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look back and wish I had allowed myself to explore that part of my identity earlier—I would have enjoyed the experience of dating multiple people, both men and women. But again, I am happy in my marriage and am ultimately grateful for where I’ve ended up.

What aspects of your life are better after Mormonism?

I have received help for my depression and anxiety where previously I hadn’t been as motivated to do so. I always had the perspective that it will be “fixed in the next life” and was therefore resigned to living a miserable life. Since allowing myself to embrace ambiguity, I realized that my happiness didn’t have to wait until the “second coming.” My social life and educational experiences carry so much more depth. I no longer feel guilt for pursuing my career instead of giving that up to raise children. I allow myself to enjoy living in the moment.

What is your life still missing? In what ways could your life still be improved without Mormonism?

In all honesty, I feel completely content with where I am at. There are times when I am still triggered by things in the church—that does not just go away. I think my goals looking forward are to work on making these occurrences less frequent. Another thing I had to realize is that there are always going to be ups and downs in life, whether you are in or out of the church.

What final advice would you give folks who are transitioning?

No matter who you are, there are parts of transitioning out of Mormonism that will be difficult and painful. If you are reading these stories thinking you will never have a happy ending, please hang on. Find people to talk with! Give therapy a try. Take time to breathe. Be patient with your believing friends and family members. Most importantly, make the best decision for YOURSELF and no one else. Don’t feel pressured to stay in the church just because your family and friends want you to. Alternatively, don’t feel as though you have to leave the church just because others who have had similar experiences ended up leaving. This is YOUR journey. You’ll only have the confidence to reach for that happy ending if you make the choice that is most authentic to yourself. Finally, there is no time limit on your journey. I questioned the church for years; I hopped on and off the fence many times before coming to my own conclusions. Most importantly, don’t believe the myth that true joy does not exist outside of the church. It does.

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Note: This post is part of the THRIVING after Mormonism project.  See here to browse other profilesTo submit your own THRIVE profile, see this link.

Comments 3

  1. I’ve never met Hannah, but I feel like I’ve known her for many years after reading her answers to all those questions! 🙂 THANK YOU so much for sharing! Your self-awareness and ability to articulate your experiences, thoughts, and feelings is a gift to all of us reading. I can relate to so much of what you shared. I’m sure many other people can, too! I appreciate yet another opportunity to hear someone else’s experience of transitioning out of Mormonism, as it leads to further reflection and self-inquiry, which is very beneficial for me. I am grateful for this mode of communicating and sharing and for John’s creative efforts to get this project going. May you all be well and continue to find joy in your journey. Thank you!

  2. Thank you, for courage and authenticity. It is all an elemental journey, and very little of it is a waste of our life’s energy, as we learn valuable lessons from each step along the way. I am out of the church after a 43 year convert-sojourn, and when I reflect on courageous young people, like you and my adult kids, I ask myself if I am envious? The answer is not at all; my time in the Church was filled with meaningful connections and relationships, and my family benefited from being part of a cohesive and supportive tribe. My excommunication came through a series of family hardships and impossible-to-reconcile circumstances. And the blessing of my own faith journey/transition has been the awakening of my heart to so many people who do not fit, and for whom Mormonism has been damaging. And Hannah, your description of being able to love more fully a broadly inclusive part of humanity is so real for me. When the “shoulds” and “should nots” slough off, we are each allowed to thrive within our authentic selves. And that simple permission to self, to just be who we are, is a gift that every human deserves; even with all of the vicissitudes and flaws found within our species. Perhaps that is what Christ was really trying to teach us, all along.

  3. There’s a typo in your write-up that you’ll want to fix: you need to replace the word “not” with “now” (it’s the last sentence before the question about your spiritual experiences as a Mormon).

    As a BYU and UVA grad, I was excited to read your story. Good luck

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