Many of you have asked how did we get out of polygamy, who helped us, who were the heroes and angels in our journeys? Then further ask, how can I help someone that I know who is in polygamy or has a history in a polygamous group? The answers to these questions are complicated as you learn more about the journey leaving polygamy, you will see how complex and layered this experience is. There isn’t a one size fits all answer as everyone’s journey is unique. So if you know someone in polygamy or from polygamy and want to know how you can help then just extend human connection, care about them, be genuine and show them what unconditional love looks like. The following is a brief account of the “angels” who helped empower us toward our independence along our individual journeys out of polygamy. These are also the experiences that are helping us shape the services of Hope After Polygamy. Leaving polygamy is a lonely process, so the support of others anywhere along the journey can go a long way for someone, even if it’s just reminding them that the “outsiders” of polygamy aren’t the evil people of the world that many were programmed to believe.
Leaving polygamy is a significant life change and I am so grateful to the "angels" along the way. It's the small moments that made a difference, going the extra mile, reminding me to believe in myself and trust my own instincts. I manged to escape polygamy at 12 years old through the juvenile court system. As I moved between kinship and foster care placements, the professionals in my life became my surrogate family. I especially looked up to the attorney, Kristin Brewer. I was still a child, trying to navigate the outside world, and figure out who I could trust. Kristin patiently reassured me and made me feel safe, even while talking about the abuse. She helped connect me to a local private school on a full ride scholarship, and when I had to switch foster homes she drove about 200 miles a day to personally take me to and from that school. She showed me that I mattered, my future mattered, and she advocated to the court for my safety. She believed in me, and I began to believe in myself. I started seeing a future where I was not stuck in a system of polygamy, a future where I did not have to be abused, where I could truly choose my own path.
Eventually, the dependency case closed and I moved away. We stayed connected through the occasional holiday card, and toward the end of high school I needed somebody to go with me to tour colleges. Kristin stepped in. During one visit the college felt too religious for me, so we ditched the tour group and grabbed lunch instead. It was another reminder from Kristin that I get to choose my own life. During college she opened her home to me. When other students "went home" for the weekend, I went to Kristin's. She became my family and, a month before I graduated college, she adopted me. Kristin was my inspiration to become an attorney, and she continues to encourage me to live life to the fullest.
I was lucky enough to come from a family that refused to disown me for leaving the Kingston Polygamous group. They didn’t always agree with my decision to leave but they remained a solid support system and help. They still believed in the teachings enough to worry about my salvation but they never stopped loving me. I remember a time when my six-year old sister asked me if I was still her sister because I had left the Order. I reassured her, through tears streaming down my face, that me leaving didn’t change that. I was still her sister and would always be. She felt much better after that, but that is because my parents still allowed that sibling relationship.
Towards the end of my first year out Lu Ann joined me in the “outside” world. She was a huge emotional support and so was the family that “took” her and her girls in. This family welcomed all of us with open arms into their own family. They treated us as their own and were there for us anytime we needed. Whether it was to talk or to help Lu Ann and I with her young girls. I have just as many memories of being in their home and with that family as I do of the time I spent in the apartment where Lu Ann and I lived that year.
Two years after I left, I got married and moved to Alabama. This move was hard for me, even though I desperately wanted to leave everything polygamy behind. This move felt like my second major loss in such a short time. I left thousands of people behind when I left polygamy. Then I left my family and all of my close friends behind when I got married. I didn’t form a lot of close relationships during my time in Alabama but I knew my stay there wouldn’t be long and I didn’t want to have to leave more people behind and feel that loss again. There were a handful of people that I let in enough, and they motivated and encouraged me to get to the point where I am today. I appreciate their confidence, friendship, and encouragement and held onto it until I was building this nonprofit and fighting for the rights of others in polygamy, as they knew I one day would. I still remember their words and their friendship as I continue in this endeavor.
Eight years after I left polygamy, I moved to Texas where I would eventually meet my Texas Family. I will forever hold these people in my hearts. I grew more emotionally in the seven years that I had them in my life than I had up to that point. This family came into my life and immediately began to break down all the walls that I had spent a lifetime building. They were there through good times and bad and they let me be there through theirs. They forced help on a stubborn woman that refused to ask for help when she desperately needed it and they never left my side. They helped me grow more comfortable with expressing my emotions. They never judged me for the way I grew up. They were my rock. They were my fun. They were my safe place. I hope they know the impact they had on my life because I will never forget it.
Most that leave polygamy find their “outside” family at some point along the way. I am lucky to have my biological family (who left the group right after I got married) and my Texas family. Not all of you reading this will have the opportunity to meet someone from polygamy or to welcome them into your home as one of your own, but your donations can help our scholars progress through their lives and give them opportunities to find people along their journey that will impact their lives in the way that each of us founders have had along our journeys.
This week we wanted to focus on someone who helped us when we left. I for sure couldn’t have left on my own. I needed Julie to even bring it to my attention that I even could leave and she played a huge part in helping me leave. There were also random strangers in my new neighborhood that helped me get my stuff out and then held on to it for me until I had a place to move into. Among those random strangers was a woman called Cindy. Cindy was there when I left and saw the strain it put on my life to leave my family and everything I ever knew. She visited me often after I left and developed a friendship with me that eventually evolved into a relationship that I could never have imagined. I now call her my new mom. I was never officially adopted but Cindy and her kids took me into their family and I now call them my sisters and brothers. They are my family so much that my girls only knew them as family. My daughter’s memories growing up only consist of spending birthday’s and holiday’s with Cindy and her kids. Only when my girls got older did they even realize that Cindy’s family wasn’t blood related but the relationship we have with them is unbreakable and I know we will always have them. Holidays are hard when you lose everyone you know and love and those first few years were hard but not as hard as they would have been if I didn’t have this family there for me every step of the way. My girls and I haven’t had a Christmas without them in the last 18 years. I couldn’t have asked for a better blessing in my life then this new family of mine.
Humans being humans and caring for other humans has been my saving grace, with people in my life being that key difference for me. Focusing this week on people who have helped me on my journey has been difficult for me to say that there was one key person. The truth is sooo many people were “angels” in my life, making anywhere from a small difference with a simple smile to a big difference becoming my family. Each chapter of my life has had different “angels” with people coming and going throughout my life journey.
In polygamy, there were people in the world who had a lifetime impact on me in a positive way from the time I was very little. There are people who helped me leave, people from polygamy and people who were never part of a polygamous group. I had some good foster homes that all had a positive influence for me, but I also had some negative foster homes. The difference between a good foster home and some of the not so good ones was going to be the difference in me staying in polygamy or not. Some of the not so good homes I was in left me feeling like I may as well go back to polygamy. If this is life out of polygamy, then the outside world really might be as horrible as I was taught to believe. I also knew how to survive in polygamy and would at least have my family. I would be with what was familiar, even though it was harmful to me.
However, by the grace of humanity, I was fortunate enough to have people in my professional team who went the extra mile for me. They showed up after hours and worked beyond what their salary covered. It’s those people who went beyond the bare minimum that made a key difference in my life. The AG investigator on my case is one of those very people. She was the first person who I felt saw past all my barriers and walls I built up; she saw the real me under what polygamy tattered. She believed in me so much so that I began to believe in me. She was a strong woman that I could look up to and know that life was going to be ok. She is one of the ones who went beyond the scope of her job description and found me a family to call my forever family! She is one of the literal heroes (“angels”) in my life!
Then this beautiful family opened up their hearts and home to make room for a new daughter, niece, cousin, granddaughter, and big sister. This family is my family now and I am their family! Having a family made a huge difference for my psyche and helped me through the hard times and lonely times out of polygamy. Having a family gave me a new sense of belonging in this world when I thought I had lost my entire salvation. You can read more on my personal blog about meeting my family for the first time by clicking here, but your outside family is whoever you create it to be.
I met my 2 best friends in high school. This was my first time having genuine friends that were not related to me and accepted me as a whole. They knew I had a weird polygamy upbringing. They saw me be socially awkward. They were patient on days I wasn’t interested in socializing. They allowed me to find my social self and gave me unconditional acceptance in the process. Over 10 years later, they still love and accept my awkward self.
Then I met my husband through one of my friends and he too is one of the “angels” in my life. No, he did not save me, but he loved me unconditionally and I instantly felt safe with him. His family is another great blessing in my life. There are so many genuine people in his family whom I love and feel blessed to call them family now too. His mother has been a great example to me in how I want to mother and show love to my children.
My current chapter in my life is with my children being my literal heaven sent angels! I left polygamy with the intent that I would never have children in polygamy and raise them in abuse. My first daughter was a pleasant surprise in my life, but she filled my heart in ways I didn’t even know could be healed. Being a mother outside of polygamy is the greatest blessing I have received in my entire life.
Being a mother out of polygamy is not something I could have done on my own. I have relied so much on the many people in my life at different points while I have been on life’s roller coaster. I could not have attended school without the help of so many watching my girls and stepping in for me when I had finals and projects due. I have had so much support from my family, my in-law family, my friends, and my bio-family that I reconnected with, that I would not be where I am today without it. I’d like to say I am an independent strong woman that could have figured it out on my own, but what I know is that we as humans need that connection with others, and in this fast paced life we need the support of others, whether we can always identify it or not. I know that if it wasn’t this family, these friends, these in-laws, and this husband, it would have been others; I know that I could not have made it in this life alone. I know that I needed others even though I had to be vulnerable in the process, and now I want to be that person for others leaving polygamy. I want them to know that it’s ok to receive help and support and that none of us made it alone.
When I started the process of leaving the polygamous group, I had four young children ages 4, 3, 2 and 6 months. Something I get asked a lot is ‘how did you do it? How did you leave?’ I would say I had angels help me along the way. I used to think of angels as invisible white beings with wings that watch over us. Maybe that is still true. Now I know human beings act as angels for each other without being aware of it. I could tell so many stories of people I have come into contact with who were my angels. A gas company phone agent offering words of encouragement when I was sad, an apartment owner taking a chance on someone with no credit when I needed a place to live, a stranger gathering a crew to help me move when I realized I couldn’t do it on my own, an unknown family-member paying forward a good deed by asking me to please take 100.00 when she didn’t know I couldn’t afford Christmas that year, a real estate agent who became a fiercely loyal friend when I needed one, and my friend Tom who taught me it’s ok to act out of love when I felt I needed to stop trusting people in order to make the best decisions.
Tom used to work at my place of employment and has since become a life coach. I was put in contact with him by a co-worker since I said I would love to become a counselor. The best teachers we have teach us how to learn from ourselves. Tom and I built a friendship and discussed our goals. He has since become a mentor for me and asked me to mentor him at different times throughout the years. We’ve discussed why people do the things they do and I asked him why my ex-husband did certain things. Tom explained to me that when a person who acts out of love cannot understand the actions of another, the other person is not acting out of love. Since then, when someone is acting in a negative way, I take a moment and remind myself they may be acting out of fear. Even if I get frustrated, it is easier to feel empathy for that person and be kind. Tom has been one of my angels that reminded me to act out of love when I doubted a decision I was about to make.