On Betrayal

The card Aimee sent me last year. It’s been on my desk where I work on Exponent II since then.

At the end of September 2017, I was feeling broken-hearted and worthless. The discovery that Exponent II’s treasurer had been engaging in systematic theft for years had caused the board to meet to discuss whether the organization had to shut its doors. The complicated deceit had left a wake of invoices and no money to pay them. After donating over 3,000 hours of my time over the previous eight years, I was staring failure in the face. As hard as I had tried, I had not done enough to keep Exponent II alive. In addition, I was grieving the death of an important friendship. This woman had been to my house many times. She had shared vulnerable moments with me. We had worked together on big projects and she had told me many times how much she loved and admired me. I felt like I could never trust my own feelings or intuition ever again.

At one of my darkest moments, I got a call from my sister-in-law, a woman whose wisdom has often set me right. Although it was late at night, she felt inspired to call me at that moment. “I know you’re feeling like you’re stupid and naive for not seeing the red flags,” she said, “But you weren’t.” When I protested, she reminded me of her own experience of betrayal: her husband had had an affair and walked away from their marriage and children after using her money to pay off his debts. She told me that she had spent many hours wondering how she ever could have trusted him, how she could have been dumb enough to put her faith in someone who was capable of such deceit. She wondered whether their marriage had ever been real, how he could have loved her and then chosen to hurt her so terribly. Such a breach of trust made her suspicious of everyone and doubting whether she had any ability of discernment whatsoever.

I have asked all of those questions in the past year. Showing up to continue to edit Exponent II when I was processing so many feelings of regret and rage was one of the hardest slogs of my life. The geographical distance of the board members and the silence we had to maintain for legal reasons meant that I felt alone in my grief, a grief that didn’t merit a casserole. But along with the burden of the organizational work, I was regularly reviewing all of my interactions with my former friend in my mind. Had our friendship been real? Did she care about me at all or was it all a sham, designed to get as much money as possible? What about the spiritual experiences we had shared together? Were those real?

As is often the case for me, the answer isn’t clear or easy. It has been about simultaneously holding conflicting truths in my head at one time. Luckily, my lifetime as a Mormon feminist heavily prepared me for that kind of work. Complexity, ambiguity, unanswered questions, sitting with discomfort–I’m really good at all of that! Years of experience! I am basically a professional at living with cognitive dissonance, so bring it on.

My resting place for these difficult questions, at least for today, is both/and. I believe that she cared about me in some way, even if that doesn’t in any way resemble the way I understand caring about people. I also believe that she deliberately manipulated intimacy to get what she wanted. I believe that we were friends who shared a serious commitment to a community. I simultaneously believe that community was purely functional for her–a vehicle to help in criminal behavior. I am ambivalent. I used to think of ambivalence as feeling in between two points, stuck somewhere in between. It was actually at an Exponent II retreat that someone told me that ambivalence means feeling two contradictory things at the same time–not a space in the middle, but in two different places at once. As has been the case again and again in my faith journey, there are many truths and I don’t have to pick just one.

For right now, I’m walking away from the questions of Did she love me? and Was our friendship real? They’re not helpful questions to me. The question I’m asking now is What do I want to do? And the answer is: I want to trust people. I want to practice self care. I want to have healthy boundaries. I want to work for a community that will continue to thrive for generations.

If any of that makes it sounds like I’ve forgiven her, I want to make clear that I haven’t. I believe forgiveness will come someday, but I’m not rushing myself. The effects of a betrayal of someone close are much greater than whatever material loss is on the surface. Even the most basic of boundary maintenance and self care means that I will never have a relationship with her again. But for this moment, I want to give myself the gift of accepting ambivalence. The relationship we had was real. It was also not real. She was who I thought she was and she also was not. For today, I can sit with that.

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35 Responses

  1. Maureen Edgerly says:

    Well said.
    These are universal questions we all ask while processing betrayal.
    I’ve been there too. It hurts at the deepest level. It can take years to process.

    At some point in the distant future you will wake up one day and realize that you didn’t think about this situation once the day before! That is a day of joy and gladness! From there it gets better and better.

    Right now is the time to sit in the ambivalence and experience the choas of conflicting emotions and thoughts. You are grieving a complicated relationship. The more complicated the relationship the more complicated the grief. We are with you.

    As a fan of The Exponent II, thank you and the staff for the work you do in providing this space and place for women to share and care about each other.
    For me, it’s like a new ward where I can participate authentically, joining in conversations that are thoughtful and heartfelt.
    I love what The Exponent II offers.
    Thank You.

  2. Heather says:

    Thank you for this. You’ve beautifully articulated much of my own thoughts and feelings (your writing often does) and given me a helpful framework for the messy, dichotomous space in which I find myself. “I am basically a professional at living with cognitive dissonance, so bring it on.” This line made me laugh & say amen. Bless you. And bless Exponent. We will emerge stronger from this. I have to believe that.

  3. Kevin Clawson says:

    “Nevertheless, she persisted.” I love this inspiring thought. And I love that you are putting it into action, however difficult it is. I am grateful to be able to share your journey with the glimpses you make possible. It helps me on my journey. Thank you for your strength and persistence in adversity!

  4. K says:

    I can’t imagine what you have been through. I’m so sorry. And your sil is right. I hope you continue to listen to her counsel. I had an experience in the last year, where I realized very sharply that she had emotionally manipulated me and then tried to form a financial partnership. At the time, I knew about the theft of course, but assumed it was a much smaller scale. I’m grateful you all went public with the facts. The Mormon feminist community is not large—I feel like the board really helped prevent a similar situation in the future, either with her or someone else.

  5. Kirsten says:

    Margaret— your post is basically how I feel about this whole ordeal. Thank you helping me gain a deeper understanding of my own emotions. This level of betrayal has been particularly difficult and I will be forever grateful for our board and how we supported and sustained each other— remember, we never lost trust in one another, even though that could have been part of the fallout.
    If I lived closer there would have been casseroles on your doorstep❤️

  6. Linda says:

    Thanks you for articulating your grief and conflicted feelings so articulately. They certainly resonate with my reactions, too. Thank you for having a wise mind and a huge and compassionate – and persevering – heart. Much love to you.

  7. EmilyCC says:

    Thank you for sharing this…it is a gift to see the reflection and thoughtfulness you went through over the course of months distilled into this powerful post. I keep thinking of the story of Esther as all this comes to light. The board had shouldered this burden privately throughout a long investigation; you were questioned and you were questioning yourselves about what the right thing to do would be. There wasn’t much by way of guidance or modelling for you, but as I think of you and each member of the board, I am grateful and believe that God prepared each of you “for such a time as this.”

    • MargaretOH says:

      This is a beautiful image, Emily. I’ve always admired Esther but this makes her much more real for me. Thank you.

  8. anon says:

    As a family member of the betrayer, let me tell you that the hurt, questioning, betrayal, and loss of trust go way beyond the Exponent family. There are many unseen layers and impacts to her actions. When trust is violated in one area it spreads quickly and deeply across so many other areas of our lives. All along the way I think the Exponent board has done the right thing. Your transparency, communication, dedication, and resolve are admired.

    One other thing I hesitantly share with you. The betrayer was hurt and offended when Exponent decided to move forward with legal action against her. This left me flabbergasted, as if she had any right to feel hurt. The reason I share this is to point out how prolific our tendencies can be to blame the victim. We normally couch that term “blame the victim” in the context of sexual abuse, but I see very clearly how expansive it can be.

    Again – you did the right thing.

    • Libby says:

      You’re quite right–she had no right to feel hurt. What she did wasn’t just borrowing money from friends; it was a federal crime that hurt an established not-for-profit organization that serves thousands of women.

    • Bworkman says:

      This is Betina Workman. I am a cousin in law of Suzette. Whoever made this comment is a coward for not leaving your name. You make your position as a “family insider” known and publically seem to speak for everyone who may be related in some way. At least say your name.

    • Brandon Anderson says:

      I’m sorry but I have to disagree with you on the above comment. I think all of us are “flabbergasted” and “hurt” when confronted with the law whether it is legal action or a parking ticket, at least I know I am. So I don’t believe Suzette’s feelings were any different than how you or I would feel.

      I know Suzette personally, and this is all very sad, but I also know that Suzette is fully committed to restitution, which she has already started to do.

      She has acknowledged her guilt, is in the process of making full amends and working to make things right financially with Exponent. I agree it doesn’t replace the hurt people feel – but I believe everyone (Suzette and Exponent – as shown by this blog post is moving in the right direction).

      • MargaretOH says:

        The last thing I want is for this post to become an intra-family fight over how SS feels or whether the board did the right thing. I recognize there are strong feelings on either side and I understand those feelings. I hope everyone here can find peace.

  9. Melody says:

    This is beautiful and so are you. Thank you always for your voice.

  10. Evangelina Voz says:

    Oh my, thank you for this post. I have extremely recently suffered my own betrayal, I haven’t had the slightest clue how to cope with it because it came so out of the blue, from a sacred relationship of trust. It was vicious, deliberate, well planned and extremely well executed, involving (behind my back) 2/3 of my support system of friends who is my only family. It is not remotely the first time I have suffered such horrific betrayal, and I would think the impact would be less devastating; but it is always like the shock of being thrown from a warm boat into frozen waters that suck away your breath, constrict your chest, paralyze you, and honestly make you question if this is the end of your mortal journey…this is how you die…or if you can somehow hang on until another ship sees you flailing, about to drown.

    Your expressive, tender, raw, and honest portrayal of the unimaginable grief and betrayal this community is suffering has pulled me out of those frozen waters. Not for the first time, this community has saved my life, peace and sanity. I share the Exponent II with everyone who has ears to hear. I can begin to process and cope now. I know it will take a long time to heal, but thank you for starting me on this journey…again…as you have with so very many other bewildering, devastating subjects…you have given me the tools to hang on to my faith AND speak my truth…a gift without measure.

    Thank you all for your dedication and hard work, for your courage and conviction, for your sacrifice and love. I am so very, very, sorry you are suffering so excruciatingly. I have no doubt in my mind the Lord will bless you one hundred fold, but that doesn’t help in the midst of agony and bewilderment. This work you do quite literally saves souls. I love you all!

    • MargaretOH says:

      Thank you so much for this comment. My hope was that my story would be useful for anyone suffering from betrayal. I’m sad to hear what you’re going through, but hopeful that this helped in some tiny way. I wish all the best to you.

  11. Heather HANS says:

    I too know Suzette, and will be standing next to her when she faces court. I won’t argue her worth with you, because of course her worth is infinite. She is precious. And she’s worth standing with. But I too feel ambivalence, not for Suzette but for this organization’s repeatedly readdressing the issue and taking it to the SLC press and rehashing at every opportunity. Although I’ve never been a fan of this type of “casserole feminism”, I am a Mormon, I am a feminist, I am a woman, I know the pains that go with all of those. I’ve struggled with what the most Christlike action could be here, when faced with a repenting sister. I choose to believe that Christ would stand with Suzette while she faces her judge. Solemnly, reverently, with a heart full of judgement and mercy. I don’t know any of you well except Suzette, but while you’re busy processing your feelings, like we all are here, hopefully scheudenfrude isn’t one of them.

    Heather Hans

    • MargaretOH says:

      Heather,
      Thank you for your response. I also believe that every soul is of infinite worth. My experience over the last 14 months with SS has been very different from the one you described, but it’s so good to hear your perspective. As I was attempting to say in this post, people are complex and I don’t believe this is a black and white issue. I believe that the board was right in their decision to go to law enforcement, but I’m also happy that SS will have someone to stand with her.

      I don’t want to argue with you, but just for the record: we handed over evidence to the FBI and had no control over what they did with it. The Tribune writes stories they decide are news and we have no control over that. That leaves us with the announcement post, which was necessary, and this one, which went out of its way to not name anyone so it wasn’t name searchable. We’re doing the best we can.

  12. rhstayRebecca Stay says:

    Thank you for your vulnerability in this post.
    So, does Exponent II need some financial donations from us, your readers and supporters? Should we set up a GoFundMe?

    • MargaretOH says:

      Thank you so much. The very best thing you can do is subscribe to the magazine, which I promise will be your favorite thing in your mailbox 4x a year.

  13. Joy M Buhler says:

    As Suzette’s roommate and someone is honored to call her a dear friend, I just want to drop a few lines. Remember, this is an ongoing case everyone.
    I just wanted to say as a feminist and a Christian that I donated to Exponent. Much love to you all and I just hope that my Exponent friends can shake my hand or give me a hug for me in February. I’ve never learned more about justice, mercy, and grace in my life than in this last year. I send my love to all of you and even anonymous, whoever you are. 😉

    • amelia says:

      Thank you, Joy. I am with Heather and MargaretOH in acknowledging that every soul is of infinite worth. I fully support the actions of the board (going to law enforcement; making public statements about the extent and facts of the crime after those things became publicly available). I am also glad that there are friends and family that continue to support Suzette.

      Every one of us makes mistakes. They are of course of different kinds, but we all do. Many of us make mistakes that have significant harmful affects on others, even if those mistakes are not classifiable as crimes. I would hope that we all have those who call us friend and family and love us enough to stand by us in spite of our mistakes. I won’t be there in February, but if I were I would certainly shake your hand and offer a hug.

    • Risa says:

      How is this case ongoing if she pled guilty?

      • Joy Buhler says:

        She will be sentenced in February.

      • debo says:

        Sentencing won’t happen until February.

      • Risa says:

        Yes, I know that. But she pleaded guilty, meaning the case is not on-going. It has been adjudicated. And continuing to defend your friend, and Bill Reel’s defense of her, and all of y’all acting like she is somehow a victim in this, shows that she has no remorse and it isn’t going to reflect well at sentencing.

        Too bad that Piper Kerman already wrote “Orange is the New Black.”

  14. Melanee Evans says:

    My heart goes out to your grieving heart, and I appreciate your real, human, and considerate response to this trying plight. Giving yourself space to feel all of your emotions without pressing expectation is a beautiful gift for yourself, and an example to me of honest humanity while holding a candle of hope for eventual peace.

    I thought of this post last night before bed, and how when we feel betrayed or disillusioned, we often question ourselves and the veracity or “realness” of our lives and relationships. This past summer, I had an experience of betrayal that shocked me to my core, and I questioned whether my entire life was a farce. As I slowly felt the earth under my feet, the question came to me, “but have you been true to your life?”

    In other words, if your honest and generous offering of soulful friendship to her was true and real, no deception on her part can take that from you. Just because some aspects of my life weren’t presented by others in a truthful manner, doesn’t take away the insights, beauty, light, and genuine love shared along the way. 💛 Cheering and support from the Pacific Northwest to the whole Exponent Team!

    • MargaretOH says:

      Melanee, this comment is so beautiful. I’m sorry to hear about your betrayal. The truth you learned from it speaks to me–I LOVE the question that came to you. I think that’s absolutely the right frame to understand what happened and so useful for any experience of betrayal. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and for cheering us on.

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