Eminem and Addicts

I read an article about Eminem online. I never liked him before today. I guess I judged him because of his foul language and some of the stuff in the headlines about him many years ago. Like so many things about my past self, I am starting to question my old judgement, look closer at others that I have dismissed in the past.

I will never be a regular listener of Eminem’s music. That’s okay. But I can see him, and I can see those who find solace and support in his words. He released an album called “Recovery” after battling with a severe addiction to various pills. I listened to the song, “Not Afraid.” I made a conscious effort to ignore the profanity (warning, it’s explicit) and focus instead on the message of the song. By the end, I was able to see a man, very rough around the edges, determined to improve his life for this children; to become his best self.

I can understand why, for many people, this song would feed their spirit and give them courage to fight their own addictions. It is inspiring to me. Ideally, the addict would be able to come to church and get that support from people they know and love who could lead them to the Savior and their healing path. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, they don’t feel comfortable coming. Look at Eminem in this video. Imagine him walking in and sitting on your row in sacrament meeting. Imagine him getting up in fast and testimony meeting and saying the things he says in this video. And yet, for an addict, Eminem’s rough message of hope and redemption and support is just what many of our members who struggle with these issues need to hear and don’t hear at church. “I’ll walk this path with you, come take my hand, you’re not alone,” he says. The foul language and angry tone are messy and ugly, but so is addiction and the damage it causes to individuals and families. His expression of that ugly through foul language is cathartic for him and for others who struggle including me. It is paradoxical. Through expressing the ugly, we release it and it ceases to control us.

When I was admitted to the Sundance Mental Inpatient facility six years ago, I had an experience with a young man. He was barely twenty or so. I was in my mid thirties. We were in group therapy and he shared his story. He had been addicted to various drugs since he was in gradeschool. He went to the doctor because he was having some health problems. He was told that if he didn’t make drastic changes to his lifestyle that he would die. His liver, heart, and kidneys were in terrible shape. He was just a kid, but his organs were like an old man. He cried as he revealed the desperation he felt. He wanted to live. He said his recovery wasn’t even a choice because if he didn’t overcome his addiction he would die. My heart went out to this boy.

I wanted to connect with him and some of the other group members who had shown some vulnerability. I told about my story of my perfectionism and how my best efforts were never enough even though I got good grades and graduated from college. I was trying to communicate that in my own way, I was as desperate as this young man to escape the demons that brought me to that hospital. Unfortunately, he judged me.

With hatred in his eyes he said, “I don’t know why we have to have these classes with the “depression people.” I still don’t know exactly how he saw me or why exactly he was so hostile, but I was confused and desperate to clarify myself. I apologized for talking about my good grades. I said, I don’t think I’m any better than anyone in this room. I have my demons and you have yours. The therapist tried to salvage the situation. She explained that the underlying reasons people become addicted and stay addicted to substances is because they are often trying to cope with emotional problems. That the “addiction people,” and the “depression people,” are really the same. I tried to talk to this boy at different times, but he actively avoided me. At times I saw him talking to another “addiction person” and glaring at me menacingly. Everyone else at the center loved me. I loved them right back. I listened to their stories and I told them about the Savior and his healing power. I found myself wishing that church felt more like that hospital. It was truly a healing place.

I count myself fortunate that I haven’t become ensnared with substance addiction. I have my coping strategies that are unhealthy and harmful, but none that have destroyed my mind or body for which I am grateful. The Word of Wisdom, which is a chapter in our book of scripture that was written by the Prophet Joseph Smith, teaches about harmful addictive substances and some basic principles for healthy living. Because of this chapter in the Doctrine and Covenants and our willingness to live it, me, my parents, my siblings, and my grandparents have all avoided addictions to drugs and alcohol in spite of serious emotional trauma in their lives that easily could have led to it.

For those who have not been so fortunate, I reach out to you. We are not so different. I don’t completely understand the challenges you face. I won’t assume that I know what you are going through, or dish out a whole bunch of advice. I just want you to know that not everyone like me is judging you. You aren’t alone in your struggles. I’ve had a couple of friends who have gone through rehab and 12 step programs. I celebrate with them in their successes. I want them to know that even if they don’t trust me to confide in me when they relapse, that I am there for them at those times too.

I’ve been studying Carl Jung for a while. He was actually instrumental in founding Alcoholics Anonymous. He worked with many addicts, but found that there was little he could do for them. He met with a man named William Wilson about his severe alcohol addiction. He basically told him that his ailment was spiritual and that the only healing path for him was going to take the shape of a religious conversion. He and his drinking buddy who was in the process of undergoing such a religious conversion to treat his own alcoholism, founded Alcoholics Anonymous. Their twelve step program is designed to guide alcoholics on a spiritual recovery journey. They credit the insights of Carl Jung as a major influence on their program. It is difficult to fathom the good that AA has done for millions of addicts and their families around the world.

“His craving for alcohol was the equivalent of … the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed … as the union with God……….the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted by a real religious insight (involving a personal and meaningful relationship with God)……
Alcohol in Latin is “spiritus” and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.” (Fight spirit with spirit)

Carl Jung

I have a dream of a day when people can speak openly in church about their struggles with addiction or the addictions of a loved one; that as Christians, we can suspend judgement, mourn with those that mourn, and help addicts and their families bare these crushing burdens. Families are warped and disfigured by addictions that are hidden. When addictions are seen and appropriate support given, healing is inevitable. When addictions are hidden and support withheld, the addiction cycle will continue to poison families for generations. I sense, as Jung did, that some of our most spiritually gifted people are chained by addictions; that if they were set free, we would see His power greatly magnified in them.

I send a prayer up for my young friend at Sundance. His hatred and hostility were born of his pain. I hope his rehab was successful. I hope that whatever his healing path looks like, that it leads to the Savior. I know that the Savior understands as I never will, the suffering that he has experienced in his life. I know that the Savior knows how to help him to find peace and happiness and a life he can be proud of. Blessed be the name of Him who is Mighty to Save!!

Dear Heather, I hope you read this…

After my last post, a woman named Heather posted a comment on my post “Giving Grace; Have a Tutu.” She said this:


You chose the wrong place to spout your “beliefs” you should talk to your Bishop. Poorly done.

Heather

This woman’s comment is classic Mormon woman aggression. Mormon women can and do shut each other down, shame each other, and make life hell for people like me who struggle with mental health issues. Heather is unusual because she is so direct. Usually we are much more subtle in our aggressions, usually couching them in many “concerns” and assurances of our “love.” Heather was able to capture in a mere two sentences, the essence of Mormon woman aggression and the problems it poses. At first I dismissed her comment as a troll remark, but now I see it as a gift. I’ve sent this post to her email in hopes that she will read it and perhaps she can learn from her post as well.

I’m going to start by looking at the first thing she takes issue with, my temerity to actually put my thoughts and feelings on a blog. According to Heather, that is my first mistake. I’ve heard this sentiment from others. They are basically uncomfortable with feelings being shown at all. In their minds, if feelings are to be shared, it should be with a trusted friend or group of friends, not the whole world on a public blog. It isn’t something they would feel comfortable doing, and they aren’t comfortable with me doing it either. The big question is……why?

We all have thoughts. We all have feelings? Did God make us to experience life in a personal vacuum, grappling with issues alone and without the tools to solve them? I don’t think so. You are free to disagree of course, but why are you so upset that I choose to post? It is me that is taking the risk, not you. You are free to ignore my posts and go play Candy Crush. Why does my choice to speak bother you? Maybe its because you are afraid of the truths I might reveal to you that might challenge some of your own beliefs? But if your faith is so strong, why is it so threatened?

The next thing to analyse is the word belief, which she puts in quotations. The assumption is that my thoughts are unworthy of the word beliefs, which would indicate something good and wholesome. My thoughts are nothing of that sort to Heather, so she chose to put the word in quotations.

She admonishes me to talk to my bishop, which title she capitalizes. This shows that she values church authority, is clearly a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, probably card carrying. She neglects to mention what sin I should confess, assuming that I must already know. My words are the devil’s spawn. She has no empathy or compassion for me or my bisexual friend. She knows little to nothing about me, and yet feels totally comfortable discounting my views and shaming me.

Lastly, she posts two words, “Poorly done.” This is interesting. It is like Heather has decided to be a fifth grade writing teacher judging my writing to be sub-par. It isn’t just my ideas, but the presentation of them that offends her. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but even a fifth grade writing teacher would surely have something more constructive to say. Heather can’t be troubled with constructive criticism.

All of my views came from Facebook referrals, so I have to assume that Heather is either a Facebook contact or the contact of the two friends who shared my post. Regardless, it isn’t Heather’s feelings that I take issue with. It is her failure to own her feelings.

In my blog post, I engaged with vulnerability. I shared personal information about myself and my experience in Relief Society, with my bisexual friend, with my own changing views of gender and sexuality in light of the experiences I’ve had. Heather is uncomfortable with my experiences. Guess what? I am too! This hasn’t been a fun easy path for me. I wish I had all the answers! I wish simple and easy solutions worked. This life is messy and complicated and confusing. Can we be real about that? Because for every five or so members of our church sitting in a Sunday School class with a Family Proclamation handout in their lap, there is one thinking, “My son told me he is gay. He will never be accepted by these people. No one can ever know.” Or maybe its, “My sister told me she wants to get a sex change. She wants me to think of her as my brother now. I wish I could tell my ward family and have them understand how hard this is. Instead I’ll just nod along and pretend this isn’t hard for me.” Can we listen to what they have to say? Can we resist the urge to judge? Can we choose to show love first? Some can’t do that. In fact, they are so afraid and so insecure in their faith, that they feel compelled to lash out. They pour acid into the wound. This makes church an excruciating experience for those who most need to feel the love of the Savior.

The truth is, Heather’s comment has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with her. She feels uncomfortable, and she wants to blame someone. Its me. I must be evil. I must be apostate. I need to repent. I need to learn to write better. She read my post and now she feels bad inside. It must be my fault.

The only thing is, I didn’t do anything wrong. I even prayed and begged the Lord, “Show me my sin.” And He said, “You said what I wanted you to say. Be at peace.” Even after his assurances, and the assurances of friends, I still felt tortured with grief last night. Ripple effects from what happened Sunday have continued to cause conflict in the ward. I laid awake sobbing, struggling with suicidal thoughts after a day of being nearly incapacitated with depressive symptoms. This morning I’m angry. This is not my fault! I didn’t create this mess. Someone crapped in the Relief Society room. I didn’t do it and I’m not going to sit there and pretend it doesn’t stink. I’m going to express my feelings. I’m going to be real about my experiences. That’s what HE wants me to do.

So if I’m saying what he wants me to say, why do card carrying members of our church, like Heather, have such a visceral negative reaction to it? Because the truth is real and its uncomfortable, and sometimes it reveals things that are hard to deal with. But that is reality. Members of the church need to grapple with that reality and their feelings, not blame the messenger.

So my message to Heather, or any others who find themselves feeling like her, I encourage you to engage with your feelings. Explore them. Why is this so uncomfortable for you? I’m going to make a few assumptions. There is a lot of confusion, a lot of Satan’s lies, a lot of anger, a lot of societal upheaval around sexual issues. You feel that the Family Proclamation is an anchor in the storm. You take comfort in the unchanging principles that the prophets have revealed in a world of changing social moors. You feel that there is safety in following the prophet and that if people are righteous, they will be able to live as straight, happy, married people. That makes sense. If people can’t do that, they are the ones living in sin. They are to blame and deserve to be shunned and excluded.

So if that is the whole truth, why do my words cut you? You hear my sincerity. You know in your heart that shunning and excluding someone because of inner struggles with gender and sexual attraction is wrong. You know that the Savior you claim to worship would show empathy and love. You know it, but that makes it hard doesn’t it? How do you love and associate with someone when you disagree with their choices? How do you help a depressed sister when you can’t fix it? It’s hard. It’s okay to admit it. Own your feelings. Own your doubts. Don’t blame me because I showed you that life is complicated and hard.

The Savior said that he was the physician, and that the sick are the ones that need him. If the Savior is the physician, then that makes the church a kind of hospital. If the hospital is full of healthy people, that makes things really easy, right? No late nights, no stinky bandages, no gaping wounds, no testing to do, no vague symptoms to diagnose. The shifts are short with lots of time to chat and sit around.

Are our church congregations safe for the injured? Do they get the help and support they need? Are we like our Master, the great physician? How can we do better?

Except under those nursing scrubs there are festering injuries, debilitating diseases, torturous rashes-all of them treatable, if only people could just have the courage to tell someone they are there. If someone does have the tremendous courage to take off part of a bandage, what will the reaction be? Will the staff jump up to assist with competent treatments at hand? If not, you can guarantee there will be no more healing in that hospital. Not only can the staff not get healthy themselves, how are they going to help any patients who come through the door?

And yet that’s what I see too often in my fellow sisters. Under our well set hair, carefully planned lessons, and clean dresses, we have wounds. We have doubts. We have fears. We have struggles. We hide them and expect others to do the same. I’ve seen very positive trends lately of sisters in my ward who have had the courage to talk honestly about their personal struggles particularly with mental wellness. Unfortunately, I have seen a corresponding backlash against mental health treatments, sometimes even from the leaders. This backlash is against mainstream mental health treatments; not fringe scam treatments, but medically approved, insurance paid treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of these treatments are even at LDS Services! Really?

I try to be patient. I try to explain and resist being easily offended. I try to take it in the teeth when my hard earned knowledge is scoffed at, cut off, and dismissed as “the evil philosophies of men.” I’ve done it for twenty years. No more. Mormon women, stop the hate. Stop it. I have mental health problems. No you don’t understand them. That’s okay, but just STOP the stigmatizing!! Each time you do it, you make it harder for someone else to get the treatment they need. If you are in church leadership, take the time to listen. Don’t think you know more than the therapist that is treating your friend. You don’t. Listen. Learn. Take the time to really tap into what the LORD is telling you about what this person needs. Have the humility to know that you weren’t called because you know what people need. It is because HE does and he trusts you enough to do what HE wants.

I have had too many church leaders tell me things that totally contradict my therapy plan. Not just a little bit. Totally contradicting. As in, my therapist tells me to explore my relationship with my parents. My leaders tell me to be grateful and forget negative past experiences. My therapist tells me to stand up for myself and confront an abuser. My church leaders tell me to forgive and forget. I am having a mental health crisis and my Relief Society President criticizes how I handled the situation. Rather than take steps to solve the systemic problems with mental health stigma among the sisters, she tells me not to talk to my counselor. In each of these situations, my leaders did not take the time to hear everything. They assumed. They minimized. They said to put the bandages back on. I looked just fine to them.

Heather, if you are still reading, I know you and those like you will be saying, “Now she’s criticizing her leaders! This is apostasy!” No it isn’t, because these leaders are me and you. We are the body of Christ. If one hand reaches out to help the other, that isn’t apostasy. That’s healthy behavior. Your words hurt me. But I forgive you! I forgive every church leader who has sabotaged my recovery. But can we talk about what I’m forgiving? Can we figure out how to stop hurting people like me who are trying hard to stay alive, stay functioning, and be there for our kids? If that’s apostasy, please excommunicate me. I’ll go gladly. I think we can get through this.

I have faith in YOU Heather. That’s why I’m taking the time to write this. I wasn’t so different from you twenty years ago. I can see myself writing something like what you wrote on a blog like mine. I hope you don’t have to suffer for twenty years before you come to see that what you did was wrong. I have faith that we are better than this. I have faith that we CAN and we WILL meet the challenges we face in our congregations. So I will continue to write, continue to speak, continue to shine a light on these problems. I will not put the bandages back on. This is not okay.

I’m grateful for the voice I have. God gave me this voice. Its a gift and a privilege to be able to write something that people actually take the time to read. I pray that I will be able to use this voice responsibly. I’m angry and hurt, but I feel calm right now. Anger and pain can be powerful to motivate. They drive me to my keyboard. I pray that my words will help and heal and not wound.

Learning Not to Say “I’m Sorry”

“I’m so sorry!!” I looked at the clock behind the receptionist. Late again. How many times today had I had to apologize for being late? Car seat in tow along with another child running around somewhere, I looked back on the day thinking of how I could have possibly done things differently.  I had made Herculean efforts just to show up!  Yet still, I felt the need to apologize because I had made one mistake, misplaced one thing, had a diaper change come up that I hadn’t planned for, or whatever.  My inner critic would insist, “You can’t keep being late for everything!!  It’s so rude.”  Cold wash of shame.

I’ve started challenging the shaming messages that come with having ADHD.  Shame can become a habit, and mine is pretty ingrained.  Maybe that’s why I wasn’t totally comfortable with this video from Jessica McCabe.  I had never considered how apologizing for my inability to be neurotypical impacts my feelings about myself.  “I’m sorry,” implies that I’ve done something wrong.  I didn’t care enough.  I didn’t try hard enough.  Truth is, I try so hard.  It isn’t enough, but that doesn’t mean that I’m to blame.  I deserve credit for my efforts just like everyone else.  Just because I start the game with two strikes against me doesn’t mean I’m not worth having on the team.

With ADHD, and a mother of children with ADHD, I’m not going to manage my symptoms and my children’s symptoms perfectly.  Even neurotypical moms of young kids have trouble keeping a schedule.  Shame is not a healthy way to manage symptoms.  At the same time I know how much my ADHD impacts the people I love and the relationships I care about.  In fact, my inabilility to manage my ADHD perfectly causes me to socially isolate myself to avoid damaging those relationships.

“Oh, there’s a babyshower next week,” or “My son has a birthday party tomorrow,” or “maybe I should set up some playdates,” or “I should sign up to bring cupcakes to the ward party next week.” Those all turn into another list of things for me to fail at; presents I forgot to buy or wrap, another appointment to put on the calendar that I will probably show up late for, another group of people to apologize to.  I’ve thought about quitting the choir I love because I’m worried about being late.  I don’t want to take risks because I know I’m most likely going to fail.  Those failures don’t just impact me.  They impact everyone who is depending on me.  That makes me feel awful!

As I’ve thought more about the ways that the shame around my ADHD has drained my life of the joy and happiness, the more I think Jessica McCabe is right.  I need to stop apologizing for being ADHD.  Instead, I’m going to start thanking my friends and family for their patience and love in spite of my disability.  To all those who have seen the value in me in spite of my ADHD, I say, thank you!  Thank you for seeing me for who I am and loving me anyway.  

I started a bullet journal last week.  Jessica McCabe has a whole ton of Youtube tutorial videos on why this style of planner is great for ADHD.  You can access them here.  It has really helped me so far.  I can’t believe how much I have been able to get done!  I’ve started thinking, “Wow!  I could start looking like that Mom (fill-in-the-blank) that has it all together!”  Then I have to remind myself that I’m me, and that’s the best.  I don’t have to be together and organized to have value.  If this planner helps me to be more productive, that’s awesome, but it doesn’t define me.  

I find myself grappling with the structure of the planner.  My perfectionism starts rearing up.  In fact, my daily schedule today doesn’t include my blog post I’m writing right now.  I’m cheating on my schedule!  I have to give myself permission to color outside the lines because that’s what I do.  That’s who I am, and I’m giving myself permission to be who I am, just maybe with a couple of extra tools to help out.

Jessica McCabe’s videos have done so much to help me and my kids.  I suspect Devin thinks she’s hot.  He seems especially keen to watch her videos.  All three boys resonate with what she has to say.  We watched this video on Sunday.  It’s about using a glitter bottle to calm the brain down during an ADHD meltdown.  They all want one now.  

So if you hear fewer apologizes and more thank yous from me, know that its intentional.  I’m choosing to have more compassion for myself and choose self-love and gratitude instead of shame!  Hopefully I can pass on this habit of positive self-image to my boys.  I’m way too hard on them most of the time.  They struggle with the same stuff I do, but the habit of self-flagellation is the only strategy that I’ve consistently used to manage my symptoms.  When I think about it, its not that surprising that they have self-esteem problems.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Fortunately, its never to late to start being a good example to them!  I’m so grateful for my Savior who is guiding my recovery.  I know that together, we are unstoppable.  Salvation is real.  Hope is not in vain.  

 

This is the calendar page for this month. It is soon to be filled with all the end of school activities!!
I’m redoing my chore chart, and this is going to be the tool that’s going to make sure that I get everything on it! Am I going to have a clean house??? Anything is possible!
All ADHDers know that keeping track of the many projects we start can get overwhelming….This section is going to help me get them all done!
Daily planning can get a little too structured for me. Still, I’m caught up on my laundry in the first time in forever. I’ll take it.
This is the page I did yesterday for one of my boys with ADHD. I plan to do one for all my boys.
This section is where I write about what has worked and what hasn’t.

Go in Peace; Confessions of a Mom with ADHD

I found a new series of videos on ADHD.  A woman named Jessica McCabe made them after struggling to reach her potential for many years.  She gave a TED talk where she explains her journey.  It sounds so much like mine!  You start out so hopeful and full of promise, and then ADHD just gets in the way and you end up lonely, ashamed, and frustrated.  The biggest thing that Jessica figured out was that speaking out was the key to overcoming shame and loneliness. 

I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, after my second child was found to have a severe case of it. Having ADHD is challenging, but then you are also likely to have children who also have it. Parenting ADHD children as an ADHD parent is extra challenging.

King Tantalus was punished by being eternally tormented with hunger and thirst while surrounded by food and water.

Being atypical is always hard.  Ask any left handed person.  Being neutrally atypical is maddening.  I’m always comparing my own perceptions with everyone else as a frame of reference.  As a result, I am getting conflicting and confusing messages about who I am and how I’m supposed to behave.  Jessica says it is like being both the smartest person and the dumbest person in the room; and being the most motivated and most lazy person in the room.  That really sums up how I feel about myself and my kids.  There is so much potential there; we are so close to success we can almost taste it.  But like King Tantalus, it is constantly and maddenly out of reach.

It’s brutal on my self esteem to feel like no matter how hard I try to be on-time, stay on-task, manage a schedule, or even pay attention to my husband when he wants to talk to me, I just can’t do it.  ADHD impacts every aspect of my life in ways that even I don’t totally understand.  I function fairly well when it really matters, but what a lot of people on the outside don’t see is the coping strategies I use to make it all work.  I’ll use one example.

When I was a new mom, I went to a store with my newborn in a carseat.  I got distracted with the shopping and forgot my baby sitting on the floor sleeping peacefully.  I left him as I completed my shopping, went through the checkout, and left the store.  At some point before I drove off, I was overcome with panic remembering that I was a mom and I didn’t have my baby.  I will never forget that wash of shame, the panicked dash back into the store, and the mumbled excuse I gave to the cashier without meeting her gaze.  Some people might just see this as the typical behavior of a sleep deprived new mother.  I knew it was more than that.  It was the beginning of eighteen long years of responsibility for another person that would acquire attention and focus that I knew I was incapable of.  I knew that this was only the first of what would be countless episodes of danger that my child would experience because of my brain problems.  How could I make myself pay attention?  How could I ensure that I would be a good mom and keep my baby safe? 

Me holding my newborn baby. Nothing is more important to me than my four boys, but I know that with ADHD I face unique challenges as a mother.

I would regularly subject myself to shaming sessions where I would rehearse the fear, panic, and devastating grief that would happen if I didn’t focus my attention with my child and something horrible happened.  I knew that forgetting my child that day at the store was not that big of a deal.  He was sleeping, and I remembered him within a few moments.  What if I forgot him in the car in the heat of a Texas summer day?  I would vividly imagine my baby screaming in pain as he slowly died of heat because I forgot about him.  That was the way I motivated myself.  It has worked.  I have a very ingrained process of opening the back door when I stop the car, even when my kids aren’t in the car.  I have coped, but at what cost to myself?  And whenever I slip up, I’m reminded of the truth; I will never be a good mom.  My children will never be safe with me taking care of them.

It’s no wonder that I’ve avoided social interactions as a mom.  I’m convinced there is no more judgmental and critical group of people in the universe than mothers of young children.  Except for maybe their grandmothers.  Being with a group of young moms at a playgroup is torture for me.  I’m sure that they will see the truth, that I am a mess and their children are not safe with me no matter how good of an image I try to project.

Emotional and psychological torment along with social isolation, are two coping strategies that have traded ADHD problems for problems with anxiety and depression.  I’m so afraid that I will leave my child in a hot car, I don’t want to go anywhere during the summers.  I’m so afraid of being judged by other moms, I avoid playgroups and close relationships with other moms.  I’m lonely and ashamed of myself.  My kids, who are also ADHD, learn from me that the way to handle their problems is avoidance and shame.

I still don’t have all the answers for how to deal with these issues.  All I know is that I can’t bare them alone anymore.  It makes the people around me feel better to think that I’m a great mom who has it all together, but the truth is, that’s just a projection.  The real me knows that I’m not the mom my boys deserve.  My medication helps in the morning, but by mid afternoon, it starts to wear off.  I have a mid afternoon slump just as my kids come home from school, which makes it difficult to keep track of everyone and keep everybody safe and on task.

Last week I was in one of my crashes.  I was in my room watching crime shows on Amazon Prime.  Wesley and his friend were at the school playground that is just down the street.  Austin was upstairs with Layne.  Until he wasn’t.  He walked out the front door in nothing but a pair of shorts and walked over to the school playground to play.  It isn’t the first time he’s done this.  I knew it was only a matter of time before someone called the police.  Wesley came to get me to tell me that Austin was at the school playground and that the afterschool care lady wouldn’t let him leave without a parent.  The officer was there to meet me.

I don’t need any pity.  I know I screwed up.  Yes, I’m grateful he’s okay and I understand why people are concerned.  It still hurts like hell because there are no easy answers.  And that’s what I felt as I considered all the ways I was incurably flawed and how I would never be able to be the mom my children need me to be.  Shame.  Burning hot and painful as hell.  Hell that never ends.

Except that I have a Redeemer.  He knows my heart.  He knows the effort I put in that no one sees.  He knows that even though I am flawed, that He is enough!  And He loves me; and my boys.  He has paid the price.  The police officers, the judges, and the critical mothers of this world fade in importance, their power dimming as I ponder on this truth.  He is all that matters.  I am not enough.  I was never expected to be.  That’s why I need Him.  That’s why I love Him.

I need Thee every hour,
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine,
Can peace afford.
I need Thee, O I need Thee,
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour,
Stay Thou near by;
Temptations lose their power,
When Thou art nigh.
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour,
In joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide,
Or life is vain.
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

The Master taught the Pharisee that the person who is forgiven a few pennies worth of debt isn’t as grateful as the one forgiven a fortune.  I need Him.  Not a few pennies worth of Him, but a fortune.  I need Him like I need the air to breathe.  And so I love Him.  I come to him as she did, with oil in my hands and tears to wash his feet.  I beg for his mercy and plead for his forgiveness.  He says, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much……Thy faith hath saved thee.  Go in peace.”

Transgenerational Trauma; Examining Psychological Roots

Dropping off Austin at preschool today felt so amazing. There is nothing better than to walk with your head up, not having to wrestle with a little ball of energy that tries to dart into the path of every passing car. With my brain free to focus for a few hours on whatever I choose, I decided to write for a while.

I’ve been doing a lot of pondering on transgenerational trauma, which is a growing area of scientific research. Check out an excellent article from Psychology Today called “How Trauma is Carried Across Generations.” One of the groups of people most often cited in studies of transgenerational trauma is children of holocaust survivors. The idea is, that the holocaust was so horrific and the trauma so great that one generation could not absorb it all. Holocaust survivors had to pass their trauma on to their children and grandchildren. Some studies even indicate that our genetic makeup can change in response to trauma. This article explores some of those ideas.

I wrote a blog post some time ago about my parents’ families and the trauma that has been suffered and the ways I have seen that trauma effect me, my siblings, and my cousins. In my scripture study, my internet research, and pondering on the experiences of my own life, I am coming to a greater understanding of the crucial role that family, and particularly our ancestors, play in our lives.

Like the roots of a tree are unseen, so the roots of our psychological makeup are unseen; given to us by generations long past.

Parenting is so hard. This weekend was particularly crazy. Breaking up fights, taking sharp objects from the three year old, helping a child work through a melt down……all of those things are commonplace in our home. I have depression, we pretty much all have ADHD, and we have a toddler, which is like having a blender with no lid spewing chaos in his wake. We threw Austin’s shredded pacifier in the trash two weeks ago. He is still not sleeping well. I have resorted to driving him around in the van so he will take a short nap. If he doesn’t nap, he will scream constantly. A couple of days ago he was screaming at me, for twenty minutes non-stop. You try to tune it out, but it wears on your nerves. Eventually, I tried offering him some hot chocolate. He likes to eat the whipping cream that I put on the top. I tried giving him a spoonful of the white fluffy goodness half melted in chocolate. He turned his face away. I ate it myself and he was clearly offended and screamed even louder. I got him another spoonful. He was starting to get red in the face. Finally, after a loud game of toddler charades, I figured out that he wanted to spray the cream into the cup himself. I let him do it once and he was happy. Of course, he was furious again when I wouldn’t let him endlessly spray cream into the cup. So he was back to screaming.

If he is not screaming at me, he is finding scissors, knifes, paint, or breakable things. Sunday I thought it would be fun to have him play with some playdough on the kitchen table. A few minutes after starting the activity, there were playdough toys scattered in a twenty-foot radius. Pieces of playdough littered the floor in a ten foot radius. In the middle of this cyclone of stickiness, there was Austin, his church clothes embedded with orange and green splotches, standing on the table. With an expression of maniacal glee, he stomped and threw stuff.

“No, no,” Momma patiently insists. I take him off the table. “You sit in your chair.” I start sweeping playdough and picking up toys. Austin sits for less than a minute before trying to climb back on top of the table. “Austin, you need to sit and think about it?” He seems to ignore me, but my voice triggers a response in him. It seems as though the threat of consequences switches the chaos into high gear. With a swift gesture, he sweeps all the remaining playdough supplies onto the floor; a dramatic climax to an ill fated adventure. No more playdough.

I’m not even going to go into Devin and the adventures of teenager angst. The glazed expression of annoyance, the condescending tone, the irritation that we don’t understand his terms or care sufficiently about how cool or uncool we are. Sigh.

Parenting is so hard. We tried to gather the kids together on Sunday for our weekly gospel study. Austin sits for no one. The other kids are wandering around looking for scriptures and journals. Then they get distracted and need redirection. By the time everyone is sitting and ready to start, the tension is already high, and inevitably one of them needs to go use the bathroom. Mom and Dad start firing questions to get brains engaged. “Who remembers who John the Baptist was?” Stunned silence and vacant expressions. “Wesley, who was John the Baptist?” After a pause, “He was a baptist??” And so we work like house elves to draw their thinking out and get them to put something in their study journals. Yesterday at family dinner we talked about the importance of personal scripture study and prayer in developing strong testimonies. I asked them how they felt like they were doing in developing their testimony. Crickets.

Every day the impossible expectations of parenting weigh me down. The patient attentiveness, the alert awareness, the interactive presentness of good parenting is so hard to maintain for any significant length of time. With four children, the individual attention and love each child requires to function optimally seems eternally out of reach. If only I could clone myself!

I share these things with you, not just for you to laugh at, but also to consider the magnitude of the task each parent faces. We as parents stand in the place of God himself to our children. We are the all powerful creators of their reality. I feel much more like the Wizard of Oz with plenty of smoke and mirrors as I threaten my children with “serious consequences” for their disobedience, than I do a wise and judicious God who is in control of all things.

When my children become parents, perhaps they will understand me better. Perhaps they will find some empathy for what I was doing and have mercy on me for the multitude of ways I have fallen short in my parenting. One thing I will never do is hold myself up as the one who had it all figured out, with a set of rigid expectations for how they need to parent their own children. I plan to explore this issue in future posts, but I’m going to go in a different direction today.

Our parents shape us. There is no question about that. I have observed that the default human tendency is to exalt our parents. If we have superior parents, that follows that we are superior. That can feel pretty good. It’s also easy because we can parent just like our parent’s did, and all will be well. When we find fault with our parents and the way they did things, we are by extension, finding fault with ourselves. In addition, if our parents messed up, that means we have to work hard to do something different. This is so much more than just blaming parents, it is setting aside the illusions reinforced in the family narrative that is driving dysfunctional thinking and depressive symptoms.

Therapy is, at its core, intense and rigorous introspection. Like a cancer screening, you must enter each psychic cellular crack and crevice to find the places where unhealthy thoughts and behaviors take root. Sometimes those poisonous plants have seeds sown in previous generations. More problematic still, the prior generations are not likely to take kindly to suggestions that their methods were hurtful and wrong.

Ideally, we can split off from our parents, make our own paths, take the good that they gave us and go a different direction. Unfortunately, in dysfunctional families, that is almost impossible to do. Like crabs in a bucket, a dysfunctional family will pull one another back into the bucket each time one the members tries to escape. Scapegoating, gaslighting, and projecting are all too common in these families. The therapy patient can be overwhelmed with the reality of the awful state of things as they confront the larger systemic problems in their family.

Looking on from the outside, is recovery even worth it? Isn’t it better to follow the family narrative, make everyone happy, and live depressed? I’ve often wondered the same thing. Why confront the family illusions? Why rock the boat? The answer is in the faces of my children. They deserve better.

They deserve a mom that is not depressed. They deserve a family narrative that is honest and holds up to scrutiny. They deserve better and I am going to give it to them. I have a dream of a family unencumbered by the cancer of shame and the demons of depression; a large and prosperous posterity that can realize the potential that lies in each individual member. I pray to my Savior that I can have the courage and wisdom to depart from the sins and errors of the past and bring my family onto a better path, a more perfect way. My Savior is the Father of my destiny, the pilot of my tomorrow. He will guide me and my little ones to lie down in green pastures. I put my trust in him and no one else.

Finding a Safe Place

Speaking out on political subjects can be dangerous to your social life. Still, I have been remarkably vocal about political things on Facebook, and especially since the rise of Trump and Trumpism.

Trump has been a polarizing figure among my friends and acquaintances. He has become something of the elephant in the room in many of our wards, families, and other social circles in the U.S. He is a symbol of many things to many different people, for extremely personal reasons. I want to show some vulnerability here on this post about what my feelings are.

Early in the Republican primaries, I had a dream. I was on a very fancy yacht. I’ve never been on a yacht in my life, but that was what I was in. There was a Jacuzzi, flowers, beautiful furnishings, and a bed. Donald Trump came in and we talked for a while. I knew why he was there and what he wanted from me. I was dressed in some kind of lingerie and a silky robe. His voice was so gentle and fatherly. He promised me that he would take care of me. He said that he would give me everything I ever wanted. He told me that I was important and special and that all the mean things that all the mean things people had said or done to me in my life, that he would make sure they were sorry and would never to it again. His words melted my resistance because it was exactly what I always wanted. To be special. To be heard. To be safe. I let him kiss me and take off my clothes. Then I woke up.

I have thought back to that dream many times. The entire dream had a terrible feeling about it. I knew what I was doing was wrong. I knew that I was married and had kids and that this man was not my husband and that in having sex with him, I would be sacrificing my soul and my character. In that strange moment on that yacht, it was like I was under some strange spell. He knew what to say to me and how to say it. I couldn’t say no. I couldn’t say anything. I was on the ocean. There was no one around. He was powerful and I was alone. The longer I was with him, the better it felt, the more I could rationalize the decision to go through with it. I could push the uncomfortable realities away and look at the flowers, the beautiful furnishings, and listen to the flattery. I told myself he was not so bad and that what I was going to do wasn’t so wrong.

In some ways I have seen this dream play out on the national stage as Trump has seduced the American electorate into giving him an increasing amount of influence. Powerful men and women have been overcome by the strange spell that he has cast over so many. Flattering words, vain promises, and compromised principles litter the stages of his rallies and speeches. And like in the dream, I am alone. I am powerless to stop it.

My dream self was silent, but my conscious self has spoken out in warning to everyone within the sound of my voice. This man is poison. He is dangerous. He can’t be trusted. He tells you what you want to hear, but he will destroy you if you don’t get away from him. Leave the yacht. Keep your principles. He will use you and destroy you just as I was used and destroyed in my dream.

As I have spoken out, many people have accused me of bad faith motives, hatred, or even mental instability. Still, I speak out. I search my soul and I see nothing but love and concern. God will judge me. My heart and hands are clean before him. I love my country. I love my friends and family. I see danger and I will raise the alarm until I can no longer speak.

Political opinions are cheap, and the talking points of the major political parties are easy to cut and paste and retweet and forward. People do it all the time. My posts are different. They come from my heart and my soul. Trump is not a politician or a President to me, he is a dangerous threat to my country. I feel I would be a traitor and a coward if I did not do everything I could to stop him.

The last couple of days, I have been criticized for judging Trump’s defenders. Some friends have been deeply hurt by things I have said questioning the basic character of people who choose to defend this man. Those criticisms have infuriated me. It was never my intent to hurt, to belittle, or to condemn Trump supporters, but at times they put me in nearly impossible positions because there is no self-reflection, no vulnerability, no willingness to engage with the root issues. At what point in the Trump seduction process are Trump supporters accountable for the damage he is doing to this country and the world? At what point do they have to stop turning their fury and anger on me, and start asking themselves the hard questions? At what point am I allowed to say, “You’ve been warned and now you can go to hell. I wash my hands.”

From the outside, it is easy to judge me. I should be long suffering forever. I should withhold judgement forever. Friends, I am not Jesus Christ. Honestly, I’m not omniscient. I love you, but I can’t understand the psychological need people have to defend Donald Trump. Sometimes I do think that people are just evil, racist, money worshiping, idiots for electing this man. I’m human, and that is honestly what it looks like from where I sit, and Trump supporters have done very little to persuade me otherwise. Every single person who supports and defends this President after everything he has said and done, is diminished in my eyes. Is that my fault? I don’t think so. Does that make me a judgmental jerk? I don’t think so. I think it makes me human, and folks, I’m sorry to break it to you; I’m human.

So last night at 2:30 in the morning, I couldn’t sleep. I was angry at how unfair the criticisms of me were, and then I was angry at myself because I let them upset me. Then I was angry at myself for being myself and speaking out and then being hurt and knowing that I would just do it again, because that is what I do. Then wanting to blow my head off so that I could stop the pain. Then I would erupt into a coughing fit and remember that I have kids to care for in a few short hours. Eventually, Ben came and sat next to me in the bathroom. He reminded me that sometimes we have to put people in the right circles. Some people don’t deserve to be in the intimate parts of your life. They don’t have any skin in the game. They don’t care that you are hurting and struggling to keep your head above the water. They just want to let off some steam and make themselves feel better. It’s not fair to let them do it at my expense.

The online world is hard with the circle thing. Some people are not safe to have in your inner circle, but you are friends with them on Facebook. So does that mean you can’t be vulnerable on Facebook? No. I do it all the time and I think it’s good and healthy. Vulnerability is courage and without it, real connections between people are impossible. There is always a risk.

Last session, my counselor and I talked about expecting opposition. My ideas are powerful. My words evoke emotion and thought. That is a gift, but also comes with opposition as people react to their thoughts and emotions my words revealed to them. Sometimes, especially online, things can get out of hand quickly. I invite everyone to come and read what I have to say, but this is my inner circle. You are here at my invitation, and if your words are calloused and unfeeling, lack vulnerable self-reflection, or show willful ignorance, that’s not okay with me. If my words evoke strong emotions in you, that’s okay. They are supposed to do that. I have told some of my friends not to read my blog because it upsets them so much. If you do want to continue reading, I encourage you to look deeply into yourself and try to understand the reasons for your feelings. Every person is infinitely valuable and has extremely complex reasons for the feelings they have. Feelings are always okay and sharing feelings is always welcome on my comment boards.

I will show you an example of a comment that I would love to see either on Facebook or below from one of my friends who is a Trump supporter.

“I used to hate Trump. I thought he would loose to Hillary Clinton and I didn’t like how rude he was. After he got the nomination, I knew that it was either him or Hillary Clinton. I’ve been waiting for eight long years to have a Republican in office. President Obama seemed so popular with the media. They loved him and nobody seemed to care that while he was President, I felt like I wasn’t heard. I watched Planned Parenthood videos of people cutting up little babies and selling them, and then the journalists who broke the story were put in jail. I saw Christian bakers whose business was destroyed because they wouldn’t make a cake for a gay wedding. That could have been me and my wife. I saw Ferguson, Missouri burn because of racial unrest, and the President and his administration seemed to side with the rioters and blame the police. I see religious freedom and freedom of speech under attack as I am told I can’t say or do certain things that I feel are okay, or at least they were ten years ago. I decided to vote for him, and I’m happy with a lot of the things he has done. I’m glad Hillary Clinton is not President. On the other hand, I wish he wasn’t so mean. I wish he would spend more time and effort trying to understand other people and cooperate with them instead of lashing out at everybody on Twitter. Sometimes its so confusing because no one agrees about what is happening with the Russia thing. I hope the Mueller investigation wraps up soon. If he did conspire with Russia during the election, that was wrong and he should go. In the end, sometimes I wish I hadn’t voted for Trump, but I just didn’t feel there were any better options.”

Or a comment like this:

“I knew as soon as the primaries started that Trump was my kind of candidate. He reminds me so much of my Uncle that died of cancer ten years ago. He had such a way of just speaking his mind and doing what he thought was right. Sometimes he was a little crazy, but he meant what he said and he had the guts to follow through with it. I thought we needed people like that leading America. Our country is so bogged down with large bureaucratic systems that no one is leading and actually making the tough unpopular decisions. I love my country, and I love all the citizens in it, right, left, and center. Looking at all the hatred and division going on right now, makes me frustrated and upset. Trump has said some awful things, and I can see why people are upset. I noticed that with my uncle, you either loved him or you hated him. I guess that makes sense that people are that way about Trump. Still, I wish I didn’t feel like everybody thinks they know everything about me when they hear I voted for him. Like I’m stupid. It makes me feel like defending my decision even more.”

Those two comments are completely fabricated. The reason I like them is because they show honest, vulnerable insight into the reasons they support or supported Trump. The second comment shows the emotional projection of her uncle onto the person Donald Trump. That tells me that attacks on Donald Trump might feel personal to her because she associates him with her Uncle. That’s good to know. I can empathize with the feeling of a large and impersonal government being distasteful to her, and the thought of a person like her uncle in charge would be appealing. She doesn’t like the hatred and animosity in the country right now. She acknowledges that Trump’s behavior is responsible for much of that. The last few sentences are key to understanding this person. She wants respect, but she feels marginalized and judged for supporting Trump. There is a lot of common ground to build on from this comment. I can see her humanity and respect her vulnerability.

In the first comment, there isn’t a personal connection with Trump, it is a transactional relationship that he feels ambivalent about. He feels like he was trapped on the yacht and didn’t have any good options. He needs to know that people understand him and the difficult position he is in. He wants a way to save face while not being shamed. His willingness to admit to his own lack of certainty about Trump is honest and vulnerable. He shows that his motivation for supporting Trump is mostly out of fear that another eight years of progressive/liberal presidential leadership would further alienate him from his country and erode his liberties. He felt he did the right thing, but is not entirely pleased with the results.

Both of those comments show some willingness to engage with the obvious realities of the Trump Presidency like the Russia probe and his bullying behavior. They accept their decision to vote for Trump and the difficulties that decision has created for them and the country without deflecting to Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, the media, or the FBI. In short, they accept their fair share of responsibility for the mess we are in because of the candidate they voted for. Owning up and taking responsibility is not too much to ask. Unfortunately, I have yet to see such an honest and vulnerable expression from a Trump supporter in three years. Instead they like to blame and shame the messenger which causes all kinds of havoc for my mental health.

To sum up, if you read my blog, I do post some political stuff. Some of the stuff I write might make you angry, especially if you are a Trump supporter. Do some self-reflection, share your feelings with me with at least the amount of vulnerability I have shown, and hopefully we can learn from one another. You don’t get to throw the hammer down on me when you aren’t willing to get a little vulnerable too. I am drawing a circle of protection for myself and my family. Be worthy of the privilege of being there.

ADHD; Embracing the Alien Brain

It was a fourth grade classroom and my mentor, the fourth grade team lead was sitting in front of me with a stern expression telling me some difficult things.  It was her job to tell me the concerns that parents had about a first year teacher, but I loved this woman!  She would take a bullet for me and I needed her to like me.  I had done everything I could do to be the person she would accept and here was the inevitable unfolding before my eyes.  Rejection.  I knew it would happen because it always does.  Eventually, no matter how hard I try, I would be rejected because I am all wrong and I can never hide it forever.  The familiar tidal wave of emotion came over me.  “Don’t do this…..” she said.  I couldn’t help myself.  I slipped into a meltdown.  An ADHD emotional meltdown.  

Think ADHD is only about attention and hyper little boys?  It’s not.  It is a biological reality that you never grow out of.  It is slippery disorder that is often confused for something else.  My son Layne is one of the most extreme cases of ADHD I have ever seen.  He has been very tricky to diagnose.  I took him in to a speech pathologist when he was three and she suspected severe developmental delays.  I took him into the district for an evaluation and they gave him much higher scores.  The difference was that they engaged with him and observed him much better than the other diagnostician who only asked questions which he disregarded, behaving much like a young autistic child.  Even so, the district found him to be autistic.  I took him to the Child Study Center in Ft. Worth to see a child psychiatrist that works extensively with autistic children, and she said it was clearly ADHD.  After observing Layne and learning as much as I can about the disorder, he is a classic case.

We started treating him with stimulant medication starting at age four just before he started a special preschool class for language delayed children.  The medication made a huge impact on his ability to perform in the classroom.  He made enormous strides that surprised everyone.  years passed and he was showing himself to be an excellent student.  Unfortunately, he had a hair trigger temper and was extremely sensitive to criticism and teasing.  He would regularly, almost daily, have major meltdowns that would end up with both of us sitting on his bed while I spoke softly and soothingly, trying patiently to keep his mind from endlessly ruminating on his painful emotions by distracting him.  Sometimes it would take him hours to calm down.  His distress was so great, that he starting having suicidal thoughts.  At school he never had a single meltdown.  He was six.

My Momma heart was in tatters.  My baby was having the same problems I had and there was nothing I could do for him.  All my life, for as long as I can remember, I have had an explosive temper that has eluded every effort to manage.  Telling me to control my temper is like telling someone not to pull their hand back when they touch a hot stove.  You don’t decide, it just happens.  I knew that Layne would need more than just lectures about self control.

Thanks to God’s intervention, I happened upon an incredibly competent pediatrician for my boys.  He is stooped and gray and full of an indomitable energy.  He never tires of playing silly games with his little patients and they adore him.  Austin calls him Dr. Strange.  “Very fierce!”  He knew just what to do when I called him about Layne’s tantrums.  He prescribed guanfacine.  How did he know?  Perhaps because he is unusually perceptive about treating ADHD patients because he has it himself.  How he managed to become a doctor with his ADHD, I don’t know.  I’m just glad he did.  He told me that his treatment was black coffee and a leather strap when he was a boy.  (Winking and smiling with a twinkle in his eye)  

Last night I came across a new theory about the emotional component of ADHD.  It is called RSD or rejection sensitivity dismorphia.  It literally means you can’t bare rejection.  The very thought that maybe somehow some way someone you care about is rejecting you, is so acutely painful, it can result in suicidal ideation in those whose anger is directed at themselves, or impressively explosive rage at another person if it is externalized.  This pain is so much greater than what is called the “neurotypical brain” that people that have never experienced it, can’t really understand it.  It comes on very suddenly and can be gone just as quickly.  It is like a supercell Texas thunderstorm.  Wait an hour and its gone.  The roof might be gone as well, but the storm is over.  Like it never happened.  This RSD is highly correlated with ADHD.  Some people, like Layne and me, it can be one of the most problematic aspects of the condition.  It is extremely difficult to manage as it is difficult to anticipate a trigger.  It can wreak havok on relationships and jobs.

Layne now takes Clonadine which is helpful to control the RSD aspect of his condition as well as helps him to sleep.  The ADHD brain continues to surprise me as new information about the many facets of this remarkable subset of the population are revealed.  Of course, viewing ADHD as only a disorder is insultingly simplistic.  ADHD brains are no better or worse than other brains, just different.  As we  understand and learn to treat ADHD, we can have more compassion for those who are neurologically atypical.  I dream of a day when the human environment can be adapted to embrace these differences in our brains and accommodate them rather than medicate them.  In the meantime, we will soldier on with our stimulant in one hand, our mood medications in the other.  We will speak out.  We will learn from one another.  And together we can find ways to survive and thrive in an alien world full of “normal” people.

Missing Mothers; Broken Hearted Families

Dark clouds linger over my mind like the stormy Texas morning outside. My thoughts have tumbled thunderously through my brain like a wind shear rotating into a supercell thunderstorm.

The soldiers of Halla are preparing for battle, and their commander is pouring over the battle plans deciding the best course of action for them. I have written copiously, but nothing I can share on this blog. The feelings are too raw and personal, the messages written only for the eyes of the people they were written for. My family members have been the subject of my letters. Those sacred, and personal relationships packed with emotional dynamite that must be handled with care. It is like trying to do a tumbling routine on a balance beam suspended a hundred feet in the air.

Today I have written two letters to two mothers; my biological mother, and the mother of my husband. The love of a mother is uniquely beautiful. I’m not Catholic, but I have always adored the images of Catholicism of the Virgin with her child. No one appreciates and respects Mary and her sacred role quite like a Catholic, and I admire that. DSC_4445 She was a fallen mortal and I have no desire to convert to Catholicism. Why do those images of her in Cathedrals across the world stir something in me? It is, I think, because Mary symbolizes every mother who has ever held her baby, a child of God innocent and fresh from God’s embrace. There is no image more sacred to me. She was fallen, she was mortal, she probably made many of the same mistakes I made with my first baby, and yet she was just who Jesus Christ needed to nurture him. He became the Savior for all of us, and it couldn’t have happened without her. I don’t worship her, but I have appropriated her self appointed title, that of the handmaid of the Lord. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so there you go!

No one understands the value of a Mother’s love more than those whose mother is gone. A mother’s love is irreplaceable. When a mother is missing from the life of a child, that child suffers. I have seen it in my own children, when I shut myself away from them because of the pain of depression. It is chaotic, it is fearful, and there is no peace. I pray fiercely every day that my pain and my illness will somehow be turned to good in their lives. Statistical evidence is bleak. Children of depressed mothers are at a substantially higher risk of suicide, incarceration, substance abuse, and a host of mental disorders. I fight desperately to make sure that my children’s needs are met. No effort is spared to overcome this disease and make a good life for them. When suicidal ideation begins, it is thoughts of my children that are the best thing to pull me out. What would they do, and where would they be without me?

Yesterday I took Devin to the orthodontist. It has been four years since he ended treatment, but I take him every six months for preventative care. He opened his mouth and even the orthodontist was impressed with his perfect smile, not a single tooth out of place. His bite is perfect too. He smiled at me and said, “That’s what happens when you get early intervention!” I am healthy enough to give myself a pat on the back. I took Devin in when he was seven years old because he was developing a bite problem. An expander and head gear, only worn at night, along with a few thousand dollars corrected the problem and prevented a long and painful stint of braces. I made an appointment for Wesley to get his preventative care. Layne is also in treatment, and his teeth are looking good too.

Monday I took my Wesley to his last therapy session with his current counselor. His happy face and positive attitude are so different now than a year ago when he would punch himself and talk about how he hated himself. We are going to continue counseling with a new therapist because he is especially sensitive, and my depression is hardest on him. Monday, Layne was punished for disrespecting me. He was so angry that he threw one of his tantrums in the other room. He often has to take timeouts. He is blessed with dynamite emotions that he is learning to manage. After talking to his dad, he came to me and told me he was sorry. I threw my arms around him and we both cried. I told him, “I love you! You know I would give you the whole world if I could, right? There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you. You are everything to me.”

This morning Austin and I had our “snuggle time.” Ben gets the big boys up for school, and Austin comes down and climbs in my bed. We lay together, I tuck his cold little feet into my warm legs, and he digs his little nose into my neck, and we savor this sacred time. I remember having insomnia as a child. I was always cold and the snakes and monsters were always under the bed and in the closet. Some nights when it was so bad, I would go upstairs to my mom’s room and she would let me lay beside her. It was so warm and safe. After a few minutes, I would save up a little of that warmth, hurry down to my bed and snuggle into the covers before it was gone. Better than Ambien! I don’t share these stories to brag, or incite comparison or guilt in other moms, but to show that even a broken mom with depression can love her kids. I could list out all the mistakes I have made as a mom, but I’m trying to silence my inner critic and be kind to myself, so I’ll just say, I’m a broken mom. Still, no one can love quite like a mom can love, even imperfect, broken moms.

Nothing can hurt a mom quite as badly as the criticism, from within or without that we have failed at motherhood. A big part of my recovery journey has been to embrace my imperfection and my children’s imperfection. The house is messy, the laundry is never done, the homework often late or incomplete, the constant bickering and bantering of brothers is always in the air, and often I can be found in my room, writing or drawing to survive until Ben gets home. It is messy and it is ugly, it is beautiful and it is real. It is perfectly imperfect.

I was born on my Dad’s mother’s birthday. Her name was Eva Cutler and when she was about my age, she lay in the hospital, knowing she was slowing dying. She had an appendicitis attack and living in a rural area, preoccupied with caring for her seven children, she did not get treatment in time. The appendix ruptured and there was peritonitis and then sepsis. She would never recover. She had seven children from a young adult son to a new baby daughter. Before she died, she said, “I am most worried about Jimmy. He is so sensitive.” eva briggs Jimmy, I know him as Dad, was only six years old. He remembers being told his mother was dead and “welcome to the real world.” He huddled in a closet and cried in the lonely darkness. He cherished every moment he had with his mother and committed it to memory. He says he can even remember his mother from infancy.

His father did his best to care for seven children. His oldest sister was sixteen and she tried her best to be a surrogate mother. Baby Ruth, the youngest child was given to an Aunt and Uncle to care for. They survived, but life was never the same as it was. One of the saddest things my dad told me about was memories of his front porch. At one time, he said, it must have been beautiful. Someone had loved it and planted beautiful flowers and climbing vines. Without Eva to tend to it, it fell into disrepair. I imagine the vine overgrown and disheveled, neglected and bereft like the motherless children inside. The delicious meals that Eva used to make were gone, and a young sixteen year old girl learning to cook just couldn’t compete. A proud father, determined not to become the ward project, turned away any help from his neighbors. Eva’s old friends, desperate to help alleviate the suffering of the children, were kept away.

As the years passed, his father remarried. His new wife, Beth, removed all the photographs of Eva from the home. She brought her own children to add to Rex’s seven children and it was a tiny house. I’m sure she was often overwhelmed, and motherhood is difficult even when the children are your own. Beth had overwhelming obstacles to overcome in order to be the nurturer both families needed. She had little love or patience for little Jimmy. This sensitive boy suffered terribly because of his mother’s passing, just as his mother knew he would. Emily Judd Henrie and Francis Henrie My mother’s father’s name was Eldon Dee Henrie. He was born to a wonderful mother named Emily, Emmer for short. By all accounts Emily was a delightful woman who brought sunshine everywhere she went. Her marriage to his father Francis was good, and they had eight children aged 18 to 1. She suffered a stroke while bathing her three little boys in a big tub. My grandpa, who was two, was sleeping in her arms at the time, having been washed and dried. He and his mother fell into the tub. His older brothers, Aure nine years old, and Thomas four, managed to pull him out of the water and likely saved his life. They couldn’t pull their mother out of the tub. When they got help, she was revived, but paralyzed on one side. She passed away a few years later after treatments were unsuccessful. That left my grandpa, her youngest son, at only four years old with no mother.

After a few years, his father remarried, but Victoria was physically abusive to both her biological children from a previous marriage, and Francis’s children. Veryl, Emily’s first child and oldest son, found her beating Elden Dee Henrie his baby sister Violet and became very upset. He had promised his dying mother that he would ensure that his siblings were cared for. Eventually the children were given to relatives and Francis and Victoria moved away. I assume the home became so toxic that Francis thought it was his best option.

Eldon Dee at ten years old had lost both his parents and lived with his oldest brother, helping out on the Ranch. The brothers became very close and worked at the Ranch together for many years. Eldon Dee survived. I’m not sure how. He became a loving father to my mother, but his wife Martha, my mother’s mother, was more like a visiting Aunt to her family. She would work all week in the city, and then return to the family home only on weekends. I watched my mother try my whole life to develop a meaningful relationship with her mother.

Martha was particularly taken with me as a baby, so my mom tried to cultivate that bond. Grandpa passed away when I was small and Grandma Martha lived alone in a small apartment. Mom bought me a red toy suitcase that said, “I’m Going to Grandma’s House.” I loved to go swim at Grandma’s apartment swimming pool and at first everything seemed good. I always looked forward to our visits. SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA When I was about nine years old, I stayed at Grandma’s house for a week without my family. After a few days of being constantly scolded, criticized, and ignored by turns, I realized Grandma’s house was overrated. I remember looking in a mirror at the house and wondering why my Grandma couldn’t see anything good about me. I didn’t think I was such a bad girl. The harder I tried to please her, the more her fault finding hurt me. I learned over the years that it wasn’t me that was the problem. Martha could see little good in anyone. My Mom was undeterred by my distinct change of attitude toward Grandma’s house. We still visited her regularly. I tried to be polite.

Mom called Martha every week and listened to her prattle on and on about her daytime television shows, her friend Delma, and her trips to Hawaii. She would send me gifts on my birthday, but never anything I liked. My sister moved to Utah after college and she made a valiant effort to show Martha love visiting her every week. Tiffany said that all she would do was complain including about the frequency of her visits insisting that, “You never come see me.” Later, when she became unable to live on her own, she moved into my parent’s house. I was off at college, but when I came home to visit, I was amazed at how well my mom cared for her. As a career nurse, she was in her element.

Martha was always complaining about Idaho and how cold it was and how dull it was. Mom just listened and tried to make her feel better. My sweet mother was treated like a servant. I resented Martha all the more because of how ungrateful she was to my mom. We all did. Dad couldn’t stand her. It wasn’t until she started spreading horrible sexual lies about our family to my aunt that Dad insisted that she leave. I remember my mom hurting so badly. Not only had her mother spread horrible lies about her family, she had also rejected her efforts to build a meaningful relationship. She was forced to accept that a loving, warm, rewarding relationship would never be realized with Martha in this life. My mother’s mother was missing.

My father didn’t have a mother, but at least he could imagine her spirit smiling down lovingly upon him, the hope of a warm reunion someday. My poor mom had to live a life alongside a mother that was not capable of nurturing her. She was physically present, but emotionally missing. If I had a choice, I think I would rather have been my dad. It is impossible to know what forces created Martha. Why was she so difficult to please? Why did she lie about my family, and by extension, her family? Why was the motherly instinct to love and nurture so blighted in this woman?

A few years before she died she told us that her father, a respected captain of the Salt Lake Police, had sexually abused her. She said that she had kept quiet all these years because she wanted to protect him, but decided in the end she didn’t owe him that anymore. Whether this was just another one of her lies, or the explanation for her inability to love and receive love, I don’t know. Either alternative is bad. Sexual abuse is a horrible stain on a family. False accusations of it are hardly any better. One way or the other, that line of my family has serious problems. I’ll post more about this later.

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Myrtle E. Thorne Cutler Back to missing mothers. There are more. My dad’s father Rex’s mother Myrtle died of breast cancer when he was fifteen. My dad’s mother Eva’s mother Eva died when she was just twenty-three. Of my six grandmothers and great grandmothers, four of them died untimely deaths. Two of them left children less than six years old. What kind of damage is done to a family that experiences that kind of loss! The pain seems to reverberate through the generations, as if it cannot be contained by time and space. The suffering ripples in waves through the lives of my cousins. On Eldon Dee and Martha’s line, there are problems with substance abuse and spousal abuse. My sister married a severely abusive husband who almost killed her. One cousin was married to a man who cheated on her. One cousin, a male, was married to an abusive woman. Another cousin was badly physically abused by her husband before her divorce. My Aunt married an abusive husband. So much pain. My overall impression of my Henrie relatives is that they are very kind and generous people who tend to marry abusive people. Our challenge is to love, protect, and value ourselves. My Cutler relatives have the dynamite emotions. We struggle with pride and personality disorders. We tend think we are right and we want to excel. We can be cliquish and overprotective of ourselves. Our challenge is to enjoy the journey, value the contributions of others, and have the courage to be vulnerable.

This post has taken several days to write and took considerably more research than my other posts. I have gathered my information from Family Search records and tried to make it as accurate as possible. Please comment or message me if you have concerns about the accuracy of anything I have written. Researching my ancestors and seeing the trends and events that have shaped my family and my life has been very enlightening. I highly recommend the exercise even if you are uncomfortable sharing the information publicly. I considered for some time if I should include some things like Martha’s allegations against her father. It is extremely sensitive information, but I heard it from her own mouth. The fact is, she said it to me and it is now a part of my story. She is no longer here, so I can’t ask her permission to repeat it publicly. Her father is not alive either and it would be impossible to investigate the allegation against him.

I choose to speak the truth about my family as I see it. My view of history is that we cannot fairly judge those who came before us. They lived in their time and with their crosses to bare. It is for me to learn from their lives and experiences. It is difficult to think that the handsome policeman in his uniform, wearing his prestigious badge could have done such a heinous thing, but it does happen. We live in a fallen world and sometimes people are not what they seem. When they are our flesh and blood, denial is a potent and addictive drug. It would be too easy to blame Martha and keep Walter on his lofty pedestal. There are not many people who achieved high position in my family. I don’t want to believe him guilty. Better to blame the woman that disappointed and hurt me and my family. I can’t.

Martha’s allegations fit too well with what I know of trauma to dismiss it out of hand. Her lies about sexual abuse in my family were likely a projection of her own sexual abuse experiences. Rather than discredit her allegations against Walter, they validate them. Perhaps in watching her morning talk shows she watched one about sexual abuse and heard that talking about it is a good idea. Perhaps in finding her voice at the end, her act of courage and honesty will help others heal. There are no perfect victims and no perpetrators so high in societal esteem to be incapable of this wickedness.

Who was Martha? My mom says that she had a charming side to her that was funny and came out from time to time. I never saw it, but trust that if my mom saw it, it was there. She was pretty as a girl and probably had a better nature when she was young and healthy. Perhaps I would have liked her better if I had known her then. She seemed to have an okay relationship with her husband Eldon Dee. Perhaps if I had known them together she would have seemed warmer in the sunshine of Eldon Dee’s bright light. Her emotional relationships with her children appeared sterile and superficial to me, but perhaps there was more there than I saw. Perhaps she was able to bond with other grandchildren. I adore old people, and she was my only living grandparent I remember, but I could not connect with her. There is a sad emptiness when I think of a relationship that should have been, but wasn’t.

Being open and honest about our families deep dark secrets can have many benefits. If Walter victimized his daughter, it is possible there are other victims. By coming forward with her story, Martha could be empowering other of Walter’s victims and their families to understand and heal from their trauma. That healing could benefit Walter and Martha as they come to terms with their relationship. I think Martha would want this told so that we can learn from her life and the person she was; a beautiful, lovable, broken daughter of God. Not so different from me, really. Can the Savior heal Martha? Of course he can! It may be, in his divine design, that I will meet a healed and whole woman someday who can return the love I have for her. It waits for that day. My sister. My future friend.

As for Walter, I have looked for stories about him and found none so far. I read his diary that gives an account of his hunting and fishing. His career was exemplary, of course. He served in the National Guard in Connecticut and moved to Utah when he was twenty. He was a prison guard and retired a captain in the Salt Lake Police. He had three wives, consecutively, not simultaneously. His first wife died from a seizure. He married again, but divorced eight years later. He was baptized a member of the church at forty-four, and married Martha’s mother, Zelnora just over a year later. They married when Walter was forty-five and Zelnora was twenty-nine. Their sealing in the Salt Lake temple took place a little over three years later.

Zelnora was actively involved in the church and seems to have been a good mother to the five children she had with Walter. Walter had nine biological children, three step-children, and one adopted child. Two children died in infancy. Martha was his youngest daughter. Walter had two other daughters, Isabell who was thirty-three when Martha was born, and Marion who was twenty seven. Martha was born when Walter was fifty-five years old. Her mother was thirty-nine. He died when Martha was only seventeen. That is all I know of Walter and his story. I can’t find any records that give me any indication of the kind of father or step-father he was.

When we allow that each and every person has their story, and that judgement is the Lord’s, we can let go of the secrets, illusions, and false narratives in our families. We can be real about who we are and who our family members are. They are God’s gift to us. We do not own them. We don’t get to define them or distort them to suit our vanity. They simply exist, and we can be honest with ourselves and others about who they are, or lie to ourselves. Let us keep Jehovah’s edict and resist the urge to bare false witness. No lies are more seductive than the ones we tell ourselves. Let us be grateful for the family God has given us; real and broken and perfectly imperfect, rather than covet the one we imagine we have. Living honestly has rich rewards.

I add a few words to my original post. I know that the Lord lives. He is Mighty to Save, the living and the dead. His power is over all the Earth and miracles come when we exercise faith over fear. I imagine in my mind that my willingness to post these things openly will relieve Walter of some of his suffering, that the healing grace of the Master might find him in the hell his sins have trapped him in these many years. I pray that Martha, his daughter might also fully heal from the effects of his sins through the sacrifice of the Son. I pray that all my Henrie and Jukes relatives within the sound of my voice might know that He is mindful of us. He loves us and would that the stain of the past might follow us no longer. Blessed be the name of the Lord!