Part Three: Silent No More

It was a beautiful day in September 2001. The sun beat down on the fragrant gardens of temple square, and I looked and felt radiant in my wedding dress. There had never been a finer looking man by my side. He was tall, handsome, strong, and righteous. We had made it to the temple having kept the law of chastity and we had a bright future ahead. It would be our happily ever after. As my face scanned the crowd, I saw him. My smile faded a little. Why did he have to be here? Why was this dark cloud of dread on the horizon of my day in the sun?

My father-in-law looked handsome. My sister even commented at how nice looking he was with his graying beard and sunglasses. Fit and trim in his tuxedo, he looked dashing even for a man in his late fifties. With elegant features and natural good looks, he blended nicely with the gathered crowd. His speech and manner seemed more refined than his brothers and sisters and other family who tended to be boisterous and rough around the edges. I knew he had been the only one of his many siblings to graduate from college. He had taught middle school for many years. Still, I much preferred his unpolished relatives to this man. I knew who he was.

Months before I had lain on a couch frozen with fear as I heard him verbally abusing his wife. He sounded like a monster. When I confronted my husband-to-be about the terrible things I had witnessed, he confided his family’s secrets to me. Some of them. His dad had a dark side. As he explained his dad to me, I felt a revulsion combined with heartrending sympathy. I wished I could unhear the jarring things that I had heard.

He said his father had been sexually victimized as a child. He had depression. He was unemployed and abusive to his wife. He had walked down the highway naked in an attempt to end his life. He had struggled with an addiction to masterbation on his mission that had caused self-esteem problems. It was later that I became aware of his more troubling history.

He had been caught peeping on his bishop’s daughter when his family lived in Vernal. Ben was just a baby then. They had left Vernal. Later he was found using mirrors to peep on women in the J.C. Penny dressing room in Logan. Peeping was something of an addiction with him, I was told. I marveled at the planning and premeditation that must have gone into such a plan. This was a dangerous man. But Ben insisted that all that was in the past and that his dad would never hurt me.

In the first year of our marriage, we went up to Cub River to visit Ben’s family almost every week. It began to interfere with my schooling because I didn’t have enough time to study. Ben’s mom and sisters were fun and kind and eager to build a good relationship with me. And then there was Ben’s dad, always on the periphery. He said very little, but his presence was large. I didn’t like him, and I made little secret about it. Mostly I ignored him.

When we got back from our honeymoon after the September 11th attacks, Ben’s dad gave us an impassioned speech in which he said that the United States deserved the attack because of the legalization of abortion. He insisted that Ben enlist in the army as soon as possible. He knew that this was the beginning of world war three and that enlisting was the only way to avoid the draft and being sent to the front lines, “where the stupid people are sent.” I felt a mixture of terror and dread and rage. My father-in-law was insane. Would my husband enlist? He had blamed my country for horrible terror attack and then implied that the only reason someone might fight on the front lines in war was because they were too stupid to game the system.  Who says stuff like that? When we got into the car to leave the house, I said to Ben, “You aren’t going to enlist are you?” Ben said, “My dad doesn’t make my decisions for me. We will look into it. That’s what I told him I would do.” Ben eventually joined the ROTC.

At a family function, we were all seated at a large table. Ben’s extended family were all around and we were discussing something. I had a great love and respect for Ben’s dad’s mother and I asked her a question. Ben’s dad interrupted and answered it. I interrupted him and said, “Yes, but I asked her.” There was a very awkward silence. Later, Ben’s sister confronted me about the way I had treated her dad. I can’t remember what I said, but something about that I didn’t like the way he treats her mom. That set her off. She was livid at the disrespect. I was not allowed to have negative opinions about her dad. After discussing the situation with Ben and enduring many awkward hours, I finally decided to apologize to Ben’s dad and make nice. He apologized as well, and everything was okay again. Except I started getting sick whenever I went up to Cub River to visit.

It wasn’t intentional, although I’m sure it seemed like it was. We would make the drive up the canyon, turn onto the winding dirt roads, and park in front of the beautiful cabin with the fantastic mountain view, and I would find a bedroom to lie down while everyone socialized. Sometimes it was a headache. Many times I was sick to my stomach. I would sometimes vomit.

I tried to pretend that everything was okay, that everyone didn’t treat Ben’s mom like crap, that his dad wasn’t creepy and that this family wasn’t all wrong. Sometimes it would get easier. Then we would get a phone call from Ben’s mom.

She would call every couple of weeks and talk to Ben about what his dad had been doing. She and his dad seemed to have a weird connection. It seemed like she would know when he had been messing around sexually, and he would tell her what he had done. Sometimes she would tell the bishop, or she would have him tell the bishop; I’m not sure which. It was always a big crisis and then when she decided that he had repented, we were told to forgive and forget. I told Ben that was what abusers want you to do.  Then they can keep hurting you.

One day Ben was on the phone with his mom. He was white and clearly devastated. He said, “How can we know that our wives are safe? What about our children?” I knew this was big. Ben told me that his youngest sister, who was fourteen, had her best friend over to spend the night. Ben’s dad had groped her. For a while, I just sat there in shock. I thought of that poor girl and her parents who had trusted the wrong family. I thought of the betrayal of a young girl by her father. This was her best friend. What else was this man capable of? I felt the shame of being in his family. I knew that what he had done was criminal, but I had no proof. I had heard the story from someone who heard the story from someone else. I knew I was supposed to forget what I had been told, but I never did.  Later, when the sister got married, her best friend was in the wedding line. It was jarring to think that this was the girl my father-in-law had abused. She was so beautiful. One of the prettiest girls I had ever seen and she was standing in the wedding line only a stone’s throw from the man who groped her in her sleep. I wondered how he had managed to get away with it. The girl must not have known what happened. For a moment I wondered if I had remembered correctly. I checked back in my journal where I recorded what I had been told. The girl’s name was the same.

One of the most disturbing things I witnessed was at a birthday party for Ben’s dad. Ben’s mother had bought her husband a high powered telescope. I was appalled. I looked at Ben and there didn’t seem to be any concern in his eyes. Was I crazy? I knew they had said he had an addiction to peeping on women and no one bats an eye when he gets a high powered telescope for his birthday? To watch deer? I wanted to run down the mountain and tell every woman in the valley to pull her shutters. I felt so helpless.

When Ben and I moved to Texas, that meant that we had some good distance from Ben’s dad. It was only occasionally that we had to see them and gradually his hold over Ben receded. I was a little relieved that our first child was a son. Our second son came soon after. Even though they were boys, I still couldn’t quell my anxiety. I remember preparing for a trip to visit Ben’s family and I gathered my two toddler boys close and talked to them about appropriate and inappropriate touching. Ben saw what I was doing and became enraged at me. We both knew why I was doing it. He said, “You give them those talks every time we go and see my family and they are going to put it together!” I was hurt and angry. Did my children not matter? I didn’t even want to think about me. I didn’t matter either. What if I woke to find his hand in my shirt? What would happen? I knew that I would be expected to forgive and move on. If my children were victimized, I would be expected to do the same. I felt so unloved and afraid.

Eventually, after my third son was born and I was in therapy, I talked to my bishop about my anxiety about Ben’s dad and my children. I told him that my father-in-law had a sex addiction and a diagnosis of NPD. I suspected that he had victimized children in the past and was concerned that he would hurt my children or me. I told him that he was going through a second set of church authorized sex addiction recovery sessions, but that I had doubts they would be successful. He assured me that my concerns were valid. I also talked to my counselor and he encouraged me to take measures to protect my children. Still, I didn’t have the courage to do it until I prayed and knew it was the right thing to do.

First, I had to talk to Ben. It started out really badly. I told him that I no longer felt comfortable spending the night at his parent’s house or allowing his dad to have any time with our children without direct supervision from one of us. He was angry. He told me he should never have told me about his dad. He should have known that I wouldn’t understand. That hurt. I remember asking him some hard questions. What would he do if his dad victimized me? Did I matter to him? What would happen if he hurt one of our children? At first he denied that possibility, but I persisted. Did he think his dad was capable of sleeping with a prostitute, visiting strip clubs, or groping a teenager in his home? Did he really know I was safe? I’ll never forget the tortured expression on his face. He knew I was right to be concerned. There was a risk, and he knew, maybe better than I did, that no one mattered in his family except his dad. If one of us was hurt, his dad would not be held accountable. He agreed to the boundaries.

Second, I had to tell my mother-in-law we would not be staying with them. I insisted that we just loved Ben’s sister and wanted to stay with her. She insisted that Ben’s dad would be so disappointed if we didn’t stay. She lovingly asked if there was anything that was making me feel like not staying at their house. I knew that she knew why. I decided to tell her the sexual addiction was a problem. I wanted to prevent a bad situation. She insisted that if I didn’t stay with them, that his depression would get worse. I held my ground and she did too. Finally I said that the three incidents that caused me concern were, the peeping on the girl in Vernal, the J.C. Penny peeping, and the groping of the fourteen year old friend. Her tone changed instantly. “How did you hear about those things?!?” Then she pivoted, “Those things never happened,” she said emphatically. I said, “I would never make those things up. You told Ben those things and he told me. Do you think Ben made them up?” She changed tack. “I know that (he) would NEVER hurt you. I can promise you that! I have received revelation and I know that he would never hurt you or your boys.” I guess I was supposed to take comfort in her supernatural ability to know what her husband was capable of, but I knew she didn’t protect Joann’s friend, and I knew she couldn’t protect me or my boys.

I was at my parent’s house at the time of this conversation. I was devastated by how my valid concerns and efforts to protect my family had been received by someone I thought cared about me. Ben’s mom announced to everyone that Ben and I would no longer stay with Ben’s dad because of me. Ben’s dad called Ben and said, “Just let me know if I need to go away for a while so that you can stay at the house.” Some family members were very angry with me, but others were surprisingly sympathetic. I found out later that another sister-in-law had expressed similar concerns and set similar boundaries.

Ben went up to visit his family first, and I drove down to meet him later. His family seemed to go out of their way to be nice to him and treat him special. He assured me that everything was going to be fine and that no one was going to be mean to me. We ended up staying in a hotel which made everything a lot easier. It was awkward, but our new boundaries were respected and although they were challenged regularly in our yearly visits, we maintained them and our children were safe. I would have talks with the boys about sexual abuse before each visit and check with them after. 

Ben’s dad would toy with me. He would go out and mingle with the grandkids when he knew I was visiting with other family members. I had to stay vigilant and always be aware of where he was. I would feel a jolt of panic if I saw him with the children. I would approach them and watch from a distance. Once he locked eyes with me and then took my son around a hill to where I couldn’t see them. I didn’t know if I should panic and make a scene. I was sure he was hurting my boy, but then a moment later, they were back. He did that with two of my boys that day ages 10 and 9. The first chance I got I asked both of the children directly, “Did your grandpa touch you?” They both said no. It was just a game for him. He wanted me to know that it didn’t matter how hard I tried to protect myself, that he was in control. He could have hurt them. He didn’t. My concerns were invalid.

He was a cunning abuser.  His abuse of his wife was obvious, but he was subtle with everyone else.  He was condescending and cruel to his wife, but she played her part so well that it almost seemed like she deserved it.  It was almost impossible not to despise her. Aside from the victims of his sexual abuse, he was very indirect. He never said an unkind thing to me in all the years I was married to Ben.  He used his enablers to keep me in line. The sister who dressed me down for disrespect, his wife who pressured me to put my children at risk; they were his flying monkeys doing his dirty work for him and all the while he could sit back and look like the innocent victim of my judgemental cruelty.  He was very subtle and shrewd.

One day I overheard Ben and his mom discussing his dad’s latest plan to make money by making some kind of investment in Thailand.  I knew that Thailand was the pedophile capital of the world and my stomach dropped. He was going to go there to victimize vulnerable children in a third world country!  I decided to call his bishop and express my concerns. His bishop was aware of his plans and knew exactly why he wanted to go to that particular country. It was a relief to talk to someone who seemed to be as concerned about his behavior as I was.  That bishop, as well as many others and a family counselor, tried to help his family and hold him accountable, but that was difficult to do. He had a superhuman ability to justify his behavior. Nothing was ever his fault and his web of enablers constantly fed his need to feel superior.  

Still, I could tell his power over the family was fading over time. His two sons had encouraged their mother to leave him. When Ben’s grandpa died, his mom made the trip to be with her family for her father’s funeral. Ben’s dad was angry that he wasn’t getting her attention and he took his revenge by going to a strip club instead of being there to support his wife of over forty years bury her father. Her family was livid. Even her children were angry. He had been unworthy to attend the temple for years even missing the weddings of his children. He still tried to command religious authority, even insisting on making a speech before a baby blessing in which he was unworthy to take part in, but such displays only seemed to make him seem more pathetic. He still had a hold on several family members. Ben’s brother had joined the army after his mission. He didn’t go to college, choosing a career in sales instead. These things were in line with the values of his father. Ben’s sisters were likewise influenced, but they were putting time and energy into their own families. Ben’s dad’s constant demands on the time and energy of his wife made things difficult for them too. His assurances that this month he was going to start making his fortune in his network marketing business, started ringing hollow as grinding years of poverty passed. I saw several healthy signs that perhaps the iron grip of the abuser would not crush the family after all. There seemed to be more acceptance and empathy for me and other family members who stepped outside of the controlling grip of the web the abuser had woven.

Then Ben’s dad was diagnosed with stage four liver and colon cancer. I felt a wave of relief. He would be gone, and I could enjoy family gatherings without the stress of making sure he wasn’t going to hurt my kids! Everything was going to be okay. How wrong I was.

The cancer re-established his complete dominance over his family. He was no longer a weak and tantrum prone narcissist, he was now a cancer victim.  This rapid transformation from abuser to victim was a frightening thing to observe. A narcissist is at his best when he is seen as a victim, so he relished his new role. He was intoxicated by the idea of beating the odds and overcoming the cancer. His family was elated when he told them he would repent and get his recommend renewed.  He was going to be a new man, but first, he had chosen the most unconventional and expensive treatment plan available which would involve an extended stay at a health spa in Mexico. Ben’s siblings immediately began taking out loans to make it happen. He gave stirring speeches, and brought my own teenage son to tears. I was terrified at the power of his manipulations. I suddenly understood cult leaders and the power they had over their congregations.  I was sure that Ben would fall for it and we would be sucked in financially. Fortunately, Ben and I agreed to limit our support to what we could handle in spite of incredible pressure from family members. They did make it happen. He had everything he wanted, but even so, he was going to die. He came back from Mexico, he “repented” of his sins (which sins he repented of are unclear) and had his temple recommend restored before he passed away. Now everything is forgiven and forgotten for good…….except no one is allowed to talk about what happened and the ways it has impacted our lives. At least not openly.

For a while, I hoped that now that he was gone, that we could talk about what he had done to us and how we could move forward and heal, but such openness about the past is not allowed with most family members. I have talked to Ben’s mom who has admitted that her husband was abusive. Unfortunately, she wants to think that the abuse was not that bad. Sometimes she assures me that she plans to have some family counseling sessions. Nothing comes of it. I suspect she is telling me what I want to hear. I sent a letter to one sister that I felt a close connection with.  The letter was an explanation of my feelings about her dad and how I would never see him the way she does and if that is something we can agree to disagree about. I didn’t hear back from her. When I brought it up weeks later, it was really awkward. I broke the one rule in the family that is not forgivable; I refused the family narrative.  

In a narcissistic family system, appearances are the only thing that matter.  Looking good is essential. In order to feed the insatiable ego of the narcissist, even in death, he must be praised and felt sorry for and his perfect family must live out his narcissistic fantasies.  The family narrative is that he lived a tragic and flawed life, but he has been redeemed. His spirit apparently appears in the temple from time to time according to some family members. The family narrative is that everyone has healed, except Ben and me.  We were told that we project our own dysfunction onto them (My dysfunction in particular since I am the outsider). In spite of that, there is ample evidence of serious psychological dysfunction in almost every family member. The carnage is undeniable, but the victims are unable to see it and unwilling to confront the awful truth about the abuse that they suffered.  As always, the victims don’t matter in a narcissistic system. They need to forgive and forget as soon as possible and then go back to playing their assigned roles. And the cycle of abuse repeats itself within the family. New abusers and new victims, but the same abusive patterns modeled and practiced for generations.

A year ago in therapy, I spent hours and hours writing letters to different members of Ben’s family. I was convinced that if I said the right things, that they would love and accept me, that they would understand that I was not to blame for the situation that their father created. If I just wrote convincingly enough, they would heal and we could be an eternal family. Eventually, after literally hundreds of type-written pages, I wept. I wept and wept and wept as I said goodbye to my husband’s family. I still love them, but they don’t love me and they probably never will. I can’t change them and I’ve finally accepted that.  They want me to do the one thing I can’t do; deny my reality and trade it for theirs.

Last summer we visited Idaho. We didn’t see any members of Ben’s family. I don’t know when or if we will see them again. Even the thought of it makes me physically ill. The only people I allow into my life now are people who respect my boundaries. The only relationships I invest in are those that feel good and allow me to speak openly when they don’t. Life is too short to cultivate the other kind.

I still love them. They were a part of my life and my husband’s life and our shared history. They are valuable children of God who were abused by someone who should have loved and nurtured them. They were betrayed, manipulated, exploited, and lied to. The wounds in my relationship with them are just a fraction of the sad consequences of his terrible choices. I don’t blame them, but they aren’t safe for me.  I love them too much and I feel too sorry for them, and I’m too eager to save them when it isn’t within my power to do so. In the end, God is the only one who can sort it out. They have their path and I have mine and those paths diverged. Thankfully, my husband continues to walk the path with me. We have plenty of problems in our little family, but we are honest and authentic and strive to meet the needs of our children rather than exploit them for our narcissistic supply.

Some may question why I call my husband’s father a predator. To me, a predator is a complex part of an ecosystem that is cunning and exploitative and I feel that word encapsulates my observations of him and the web of enablers that surrounded him in life. I don’t use the word predator to dehumanize him.  On the contrary, I hope my account reveals the man behind the epithet. He was not a monster, he was human, but he was as dangerous as a monster. He was clever and manipulative and I indirectly enabled his behavior with my silence. I know that because I was never completely under the control of the family system, I was not privy to most of their secrets. In the beginning, they let me in on a few things, but I had a troubling habit of remembering them. I don’t think they ever really trusted me. I’ve always seen his abuse as an iceberg in which what I saw was a small fraction of the whole.

Once, Ben’s sister was in a custody dispute with an ex-husband over their two daughters. She called Ben in a very angry and defensive tone and demanded to know what he had told her ex. He confronted her with the fact that their dad had groped a teenager in their home. She said dismissively, “That is nothing. What do you know? What have you told him?” Ben said he had no idea what she was talking about and that he had said nothing. I have often thought about what we don’t know that would make the sexual assault of a minor child “nothing” in comparison? What was Ben’s sister so desperate to keep a secret from her ex-husband that would endanger her custody bid? How many victims did this man have? What is the shape of the iceberg beneath the surface?

I may never know. I was never meant to know. I was only meant to supply. I supplied my children, my facade of normalcy, my smiling face in family photos, and my silence. Until now. I am silent no more. All predators and their enablers have been given warning to stay away from me and everyone I love. I will expose you. I have no sympathy for you. I will not be manipulated or made to serve you. I will set boundaries with you, I will call law enforcement on you when you break the law, and I will report you to the church authorities. Enablers slander my reputation, but they know the truth even if they don’t want to look at it.  The truth has a habit of resurfacing no matter how hard you want to deny it. I will never again be made to stay silent.

Points and Lines; Seeing People Through God’s Eyes

I went to linger longer today.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, linger longer is a ward activity that involves staying after church for a potluck meal.  Potluck meals are a pain when you have young children. You have to make sure they get something healthy to eat, that they are playing nicely, and that they don’t decide to go eat off other people’s plates…..or tip over the buffet table.  As you socialize with people, you have to have part of your brain always monitoring your kiddos. Is that kid screaming mine? Or did he cause some other kid to scream? Is that my kid with the mountain of dessert on his plate? Then I’m always worried I’m going to zone out in the middle of a conversation and embarrass myself.  With a big family, there is the problem of where to sit. We have large round tables that seat about ten people. With a family of six, we usually share a table with another family, but it can be tricky to make sure you don’t take too many seats or wind up with a couple of kids with no where to sit. That’s just awkward!  

Anyway, when my depression/anxiety got bad a year ago, I told Ben absolutely not.  Even when my sons would beg and cry, I said no way. Then when things deteriorated with the Relief Society, I didn’t know if I would ever go to a linger longer again.  The smell of the food in the church house would make me feel ill. The fact that we actually made food and stayed the whole time and I didn’t panic and run to a classroom to breathe into a paper sack, is remarkable.  I actually had a good time. I introduced myself to a family that moved in recently. I mingled. It was good! There was anxiety. I didn’t eat much. There were moments of awkward wandering, but it was overall a pleasant social gathering.  

So I’ve done some hard things lately.  I’ve started the school year. I’ve been tackling my procrastination list.  I’ve been socializing more. I went to a pool party, helped clean a sister’s house twice, and went to a friend’s birthday lunch.  Being more present with my ward family and more socially conscious has been a growing experience that has moments of discomfort, but overall it has been good.

I was thinking today about my last post about sisters posturing.  Honestly, I’m not sure I didn’t participate in the posturing. As the sacrament was going around, I did some serious introspection.  My mind was exploring the idea of female posturing and whether or not if I had participated in it. If I had, was it a sin. I decided that I didn’t think it was.  Then I had a thought come into my mind that I think was inspiration. I’m going to try to explain it using a math metaphor.  

So I was concerned about the possibility that I had engaged in the posturing I had observed at the cleaning activity.  Then, if I had ignored my own participation in it and yet written about others engaging in it, that would have been quite rude and dishonest.  But upon introspection, I couldn’t remember for sure whether I had or not. I know I didn’t engage with the sisters with authenticity. Instead, I kind of detached and tried to focus on the tile grout.  The epiphany came when I realized that it didn’t matter whether I had postured or not. The fact that I was moving toward authenticity was what God cared about. This idea of movement or trajectory is what caught my mind and then I began to put the pieces together.

I stayed up late reading the scriptures.  I can’t remember which chapter it was but it was Paul writing about the adoption of the Gentiles and how the Jews were the covenant people and that they were blessed and favored of the Lord, but then they lost that position and it was given to the gentiles.  Paul’s style is very complex and analytical, but the spirit was with me and the meaning that the spirit was revealing to me was very clear. God doesn’t care where you are. He cares about your trajectory. Because he sees us not as a point in space, to use my mathematical metaphor, but from an eternal perspective, it is more like a line.  Our past is one point on the line. Our present is another point. Our future, is the third point. God cares about what our trajectory is. Are we on a negative slope? If so, the Lord is not pleased. We need to repent. If our trajectory is positive, the Lord is pleased. Of course, we want to try to make the slope as steep as we can, but the crucial thing is, as God, he sees the slope; while as mortals we only see the present.  We see the dot on grid. He sees the line.

Lines can communicate a lot more than points. If we see where a person is coming from and where they’re going, we can understand and love them more.

When I look at the scriptural history through this metaphor, that chapter I read is very clear.  Consider the Jews at the time of the Savior. They occupied a privileged place. They obeyed the law of Moses as they interpreted it.  They looked forward to a Savior to deliver them from Rome and other political oppressors. They were imperfect, but compared to the gentiles, they were high on the graph.  Then the Savior came to give them a higher law, to show them a better way, to invite them to change the trajectory of their spiritual growth. Instead of accepting this invitation, they rejected him and then killed him.  This put their trajectory severely negative. The Savior put them beneath even Sodom and Gomorrah because although the Jews were superficially righteous, they were unwilling to change their trajectory. They insisted on rejecting the opportunity to repent and usher in new truth into their system.  It is recorded in several places where the Savior marvels at the faith and obedience of certain gentiles he comes into contact with. Although he never taught in gentile cities or ministered outside of Judea, he understood that the time would come after he was rejected and murdered, that his gospel would be given to the gentiles where it would spread and grow, changing the spiritual landscape of the world.  

As a personal application, I see myself having my emotional and spiritual ups and downs.  I know where my dot is on the graph, but I also see my trajectory. I’m on a solidly positive slope.  Did I posture in my interactions with the other women? Perhaps. Was I dishonest with myself and with them, hiding behind a mask of deception?  Perhaps. It doesn’t really matter as long as my dot is moving toward authenticity. If it is, that is all that matters. I’m not going to attain perfection in a day.  I’m going to fall short of the ideal that I am working toward, but I need not become discouraged or ashamed.  

This is a big breakthrough for me in having compassion toward myself and others.  It also helps me to understand the Savior’s interactions on this Earth. He didn’t see the harlot, the publican, the fisherman, the leper, the pharisee, etc; he saw their past, present, and future.  The harlot’s dot was low on the graph and that was all the pharisee could see.  The Savior saw her humility, her willingness to repent, her desire to improve her spiritual and emotional condition.  He was impressed not by her position on the graph, but on the trajectory of her line. In contrast, the pharisee’s dot was high on the graph, but his pride and his treatment of the Savior put his trajectory in the negative, prompting the Savior to correct him.  

I’ll use another example that has some political overtones, just to keep things interesting.  Let’s consider those who come to our Southern border seeking asylum. They are low on the graph.  Most of them have little to nothing in the way of personal possessions. As our President has so cruelly observed, they come from “sh*thole countries.”  Still, the wise investor doesn’t look at companies that look sucessfulsuccessful in the present.  The wise investors look to the future to see what the company’s potential is given a place in   sufficient support and investment.  When America is at her finest, she welcomes the refugee and the immigrant knowing that those who have the fortitude and determination to come to this land usually have the potential needed to be successful here. Their success has made America the greatest country in the world.  By closing our doors to them, we deprive ourselves of their potential while also earning ourselves a rebuke from the Savior.

When the Savior teaches that the last shall be first and the first shall be last it always makes me think.  He is perfectly fair and just. He is no respecter of persons. He sees me as a line, not a point. I hope that I can learn to see others that way as well.  I hope that as I live my life that I can be the person who is a friend when the chips are down, a confidant when the truth is hard to share, a comfort to the one who is sitting in a dark place.  If I can do those things, perhaps my Master will be pleased with me.

Waiting

Today I helped a new sister clean her house before she moved in.  I usually never do stuff like this, but I decided to today for several reasons.  For one thing, this lady was assigned as one of my ministering sisters. Another thing, is I am trying to be supportive of the new Relief Society presidency.  Another thing is, it’s good for me to serve and socialize even though it isn’t my favorite thing to do.

When I arrived, I saw familiar faces from church standing in a circle and chatting.  I had just dropped off my baby with the sitter and was eager to get started, but I engaged a little in the small talk about the house.  I thought it interesting to see how each sister chose a different part of the house to clean. I chose the tile grout. Why?

I like getting deep into the dirty parts in the foundation.  A clean floor is a clean house to me. Other sisters wiped out cupboards or did other stuff.  I didn’t really pay attention to them. I just focused on my job. As I listened to the other sisters talk, I thought about all the reasons I don’t fit in.  I remember long ago my counselor talked to me about women and the way we compete with one another for status. Being thin, pretty, a good housekeeper, a devoted mother, having a wealthy husband, having a successful career…..these are all values that we compete in.  Inevitably, I find myself feeling inadequate as others jockey for position within the female social framework. Why? I am reasonably thin, well educated, and otherwise successful. What makes me ashamed? It is self-knowledge.

Self-esteem has always been a tricky thing for me.  You can’t esteem what you don’t understand and I don’t really know myself.  This depressive episode has charted more territory in my self-discovery than ever before, but I don’t always like what I find.  Self-discovery can be painful when I confront my own illusions, my motivations, my fears, and everything else that I prefer not to look at.  Also, as I discover more about myself, I realize that who I am is not under my control nearly as much as I wanted to think it was. I am a product of forces like my community, my family, my genetics, my habits.  These things are like concrete. At one time, they may have been flexible and moldable, but over the course of the forty years I have been alive, they have hardened into the shape of me. This shape I am still discovering, but one thing I am certain of:  no amount of working out at the gym, reading to enrich my mind, or self-improvement effort is going to make me over into the person who can, with authenticity, present myself to others as anything but a deeply flawed person. I am convinced that the only way I want to live is with authenticity, so I don’t have much to say in superficial conversations that seem to involve posturing.  

This is tricky territory I am wandering into.  I don’t want to imply that I am judging and condemning other women for their posturing.  I would just as soon condemn my dog for licking her bottom. It is what dogs do. As women, we posture and compete and jockey for position.  It’s what we do. I just don’t do it and I never really understood why before, but today I think I made some progress. Sometimes I thought something was wrong with me and that was why I seemed disinterested, discouraged, or even annoyed during these social interactions.  Now I see that what is right with me is what is wrong with me. My own self-knowledge of my flaws, coupled with my determination to live with authenticity, result in my overall disenchantment with superficial human interaction in general.

So what I thought in the past was social anxiety, seems to be to be something else.  It is a tendency toward self preservation; a need to live authentically and be accepted for who I truly am, not for a projection I’d like others to think I am.  So as I scrubbed the stains from the tile floor, I considered myself, in that space, being me, observing the other sisters around me, and seeing everything from this new perspective.

And then, I started thinking about the people who were not there–the previous owners of the home.  Of course, they had foreclosed the house and left it in a sorry state, so no one was very complimentary of them.  We were engaged in cleaning the grime of years that had accumulated in what had been their home. Then the thought occurred to me, that these faceless, nameless people had been in our ward.  They were not members of the church, but they had lived in my ward boundaries and as such, they were technically in my ward family. They had struggled and suffered and lived out their days in my neighborhood and only now did I spare a thought for them.  Why was I cleaning their house now, and not months or years before? Why was this family worthy of my help and the other wasn’t? Were they not just as loved by their Heavenly Father? At this moment, that family is probably moving into another home somewhere, but surely God is aware of them and loves them just as much as he loves me.  Seeing myself within this picture of other divine children both on the covenant path and off it, helps me to understand my own place in this world and what he would have me do. I’m not the woman I wish I were, but perhaps I am who he needs me to be.

That is where grace comes in.  I am not the woman I wish I were.  Still, the Savior died for me. He loves me that much, so I can give myself a little grace.  I can look into my dark places and give myself some forgiveness that I fall short. I can restrain the inner critic and unleash the inner nurturer and allow myself to be; to exist without judgement.  There is no greater gift one person can give another; suspended judgement.  

When something imperfect is allowed to exist, it reminds me of the plan of salvation and the wisdom of my God.  He created this world, an anomaly within the cosmos, a temporal vaccuume in the fabric of eternity, a place where justice and perfection are suspended and sin and death are allowed to exist.  This place, the training and testing place of the spirit sons and daughters of God, is a crucible of pain and growth. One of the hardest things to learn in life is to do as God has done. To suspend judgement.  To allow our fellow men to make their choices and love them regardless of what those choices are and how they affect us is to approach the throne of God himself. That is what he has done. He suspends his judgment until the end.  He has given us the hope of salvation through the sacrifice of his son. And he waits. He waits for us to find ourselves and one another in the mess that is this world. He waits for us to feel after him and remember ourselves; not the shallow images of our vain imaginations, but the God that lives within us.  He waits. He waits for me.

Triggers of Awful

Sometimes the pain is so deep it takes the breath from my body.  It seems that whatever small event has happened has set off a chain reaction inside me, like the small squeeze of a hand, a single finger moving less than an inch, the small piece of metal on a gun giving way.  And then my whole world changes. Everything that was light is darkness. Everything that was happy is misery. I assume this is what they mean when they say a person has been “triggered.” 

I lay in bed this morning sincerely panicked.  My three year old said, “Momma, you get me some breakfast.”  How could I manage to get him cereal? I couldn’t even pull back the blankets on my bed!  Worse, I didn’t know what to do to make myself feel better. Then the feelings of shame and despair compounded my problem sinking me ever deeper into my mattress.  

I was able to convince myself to come and write.  That gave me the glimmer of hope I needed to fuel my marathon journey out of the bed, to the kitchen to take my medicine, and then up the stairs.  My thirteen year old was on his phone. When he saw me he expected a lecture, but he knew right away that I was not in a state to be that kind of parent.  With a pleading in my voice I asked him to get some cereal for his baby brother. To my pleasant surprise, he jumped out of his chair and went downstairs immediately.  God’s tender mercies!  

So here I am at the computer desk, hoping to sort through why I have been triggered.  Whenever this happens, my initial reaction is to denigrate myself and invalidate my feelings.  My inner critic says, “This is no big deal. Stop being so sensitive! Stuff like this happens all the time.  Let it roll off.” Behind these words is the primal fear of the loss of control that comes with the depth of emotion I am being subjected to.  That terrified, bossy, controlling voice in my head cannot bare the fact that at my core, I am not in control of these emotions. They simply exist and I can no more control them than I can the weather or the shape of my nose.

So this is me giving a speech to my inner critic:

“Leave her alone.  Let her feel her feelings.  You have no right to decide whether she has a right to feel them.  Calm your fear. The feelings will pass, as they always do. Surrender your need to control what doesn’t belong to you; the instrument that God has given you, the divine ability to feel emotion.  This instrument does not belong to this world and cannot be suppressed by mortal will. Your fear clouds your understanding. She is in travail and will soon give birth to new insights and ideas. The process cannot be rushed or arrested.”

My trigger for today’s feelings of despair is betrayal.  Betrayal triggers a complex set of memories that I have walled off from my consciousness.  If my brain circuitry approaches those memories, it recoils in horror and veers away like a frightened animal.  It is what might be called a “complex”; the memories and experiences I am unable to process because they are too painful.  To cope, I avoid and deny their existence. Unfortunately, these memories are part of me and because they fester like a buried sliver causing pain and inflammation, they impact my emotional health even if I don’t know they are there.

I wish I knew how to heal myself– A pill, a bottle of oil, an internet article about the phases of the moon, or a hundred other coping strategies that seem to help others.  The first step is understanding and I think that will be enough today. I have been triggered. Betrayal. That is enough. I have calmed my fearful inner critic and now I have freed enough emotional energy to get out of what I like to call “the vortex.”  The vortex is the feedback loop that my brain gets caught in. Fear, shame, desperation, and paralysis swirl like water down a drain of misery.  

So now I will ask for help, give myself compassion, eat, and continue to claw my way out of the pit.  For those of you who read these words and see yourself in them, bless you! Keep fighting. You aren’t alone in struggling through the labyrinth of your mind and heart.  Take my torch and use it to refresh yours. Together we can find our way through the darkness. Eventually, when I get out of crisis mode, I will work on processing the painful memories of betrayal that I stumbled upon this morning.  Not now. The dog is scratching at the door. My boys need their mom. There are flowers in the garden, boo-boos to kiss, books to read, and life to be lived. There is joy as well as pain and I can and will go out and find it.

Winged Messengers

I found several black swallowtail caterpillars in my garden a few weeks ago. I raised them on rue until they were big and fat, then they made their chrysalises. The last three days they have been emerging. We had one on Sunday, one yesterday, and two today. We are waiting on one little chrysalis which will probably not last more than another day.

We released this sweet girl yesterday.
Wesley, my butterfly wisperer, got to hold her on his hand for a minute.
Pepper has been really good with the caterpillars and the butterflies. She doesn’t know what all the excitement is about, but she is always good for a celebration and a Popsicle.
Two black swallowtails, ready to fly away.

As I was getting my three year old ready to go to YMCA camp, I was rushing around the backyard when I saw a giant swallowtail. The black swallowtails are gorgeous and almost as big as your hand. The giant swallowtail makes them look small. They are as big as a bird. I drove to the YMCA musing on the significance of two black swallowtail butterflies AND the giant swallowtail. Could it be that God is/was sending me a message?

I was fortunate enough to get my phone out and take a few pictures before this gorgeous butterfly took off.
This butterfly’s wings don’t look as impressive in the picture. This one had a wingspan of about five inches.

As though insect messengers were not enough, I turned onto my street on my way home, and there was a striking red Cardinal under my rose bush! I parked my car and went to investigate. The bird flew away, but I thought I saw another bird. Curious, I walked around the corner of my house and there were TWO Cardinals! A male and a female. In total, I had three cardinals visit my garden at the same time. I don’t even have any bird feeders to attract them!

The male and female sat side by side on my fence. It was a powerful sight!

This experience today reminded me of my first counselling session after I left the Sundance mental hospital. It was October 2012. I was reeling from the trauma I had experienced there, but also treasuring the sacred and beautiful bonds I had made with the other patients. It had taken all the courage I possessed to trust another counselor with my story. As I sat there trying to explain the unique twists and turns of my depression journey, she kept looking out the window behind me. She said, “There is a dove that has just landed on the fence outside. Doves are a symbol of hope and divine intervention.” That she would notice such a coincidence was not surprising to me. Her entire aura and her home where we were meeting spoke of a hippy, new-age, eclectic, artistic personality. I did find it unusual that she kept commenting on the birds.

After a few minutes, she said, “There’s another dove! It’s landed next to the first.” In total, I think there were four doves that came to her backyard that day during that first session. It never happened again that I know of. If it did, she didn’t mention it and I think she would have.

These are mourning doves. I’m not sure what kind of doves my counselor saw that day.

I have seen God’s hand working in my recovery. Small, quiet, little things that would be easily missed if I weren’t deliberately taking the time to see them and express gratitude. He is mindful of me and my pain. He understands it when no one else does. Every day I face the challenges, beat back the depression, and press forward.

I am growing. There is no stopping it now. It is as though I am a mighty oak sprouting from a sidewalk crack. The cement cannot encase me any longer. It is strong and exerts tremendous pressure, but I am getting stronger than the pressure. I can be patient. It is inevitable. The concrete will break. It must retreat because I must grow.

I won’t mourn the sidewalk. It isn’t bad, it’s just in the wrong place. For so long I’ve thought that it was I that was in the wrong place. Now I see that it was for his purposes that I sprouted where I did and faced the opposition I have faced.

What I have learned most this week on a deeper level than ever before, is that religious dogmatism and spirituality exist in opposition. Dogma is the human mind’s way of coping with God without spirituality. It is the lazy path. Dogma says, “I don’t have to know God personally, I can just listen to what someone else says about him, do what they say, and then I’ll be saved.” When you push dogma aside and approach the throne of God yourself, what will happen? Nothing? That would be devastating, but it gets worse. What if he did tell you something? What if he told you to leave your parents and your home, journey off into the wilderness, and spend a nomadic life searching for him? He said that to Abraham. What if he told you that everything you’d been taught was wrong? What if he told you to sell everything you have and follow Him? At different times in the scriptures God has said those very things to various people. Some obeyed like Peter and Paul. Some rebelled like Jonah and then repented afterward. Some walked away sorrowing, like the rich young man. There have been so many people who have lived on the Earth that have never asked God; never sought that intimate connection with him. No wonder! The dogmatic way is easier. So predictable. So tame and popular with everyone. You can even make money at it!

I have decided to take a different path. I want to know God myself. I want my questions answered, not just by a conference talk or even an ancient record of scripture. I want direct knowledge and understanding. I want spiritual gifts. I want things of value that the world doesn’t see and can’t understand, and won’t value. I don’t want position or honors of men or money, I want to please my God. In doing this, I will naturally have conflict with those who walk a more dogmatic path. That’s okay. I’m coming to expect that opposition and understand it better.

Along with resistance, I am also finding support. Support can come from unexpected places like the cardinals and the butterflies. I’ve found myself overwhelmed by gratitude when I get human angels who send me a card, give me a hug, or shoot me a message. The depression is still hard, and I still have burdens I carry, but I’m getting so much stronger.

I’m filled with gratitude today for the help my Savior has sent me from heavenly messages spoken and unspoken, winged and without wings. He lives! He loves us! He has not left us to live in this fallen world alone and without comfort. May His blessings and peace find you as well.

Embracing Uncertainty

These last few days have had their ups and downs. It’s hard to see the views on my blog go from almost 200 on Tuesday to 9 yesterday, but I know that it isn’t the quantity of viewers that matter. I don’t need hundreds of people to give me support, just a few good friends.

First, I want to share a few more details about Mother’s Day than I shared before. I was trying to protect the woman who hurt me by not using her title. She was and is my Relief Society President. This isn’t the first time she has hurt me. The fact that she is the Relief Society President makes the whole thing all the more difficult emotionally and spiritually. My counselor and I see a clear pattern of behavior from her that is not likely to stop if it is not confronted. She is well meaning, but extremely certain that she knows what is wrong with me and what I need. She is very suspicious and at times hostile to mental health and any concepts that sound mental health related. She is the only church leader I have ever had that told me not to contact my counselor after a depressive incident. Her ignorance, and her determination to preserve it, makes her particularly dangerous to me and my recovery.

Rather than admit her mistake on Mother’s Day and try to make things right with the Relief Society sisters and me, it looks to me like she has chosen to take the victim role. This complicates things. Sisters are taking sides and because she has a powerful position in the social structure, she has an advantage over me. At first I wanted to have a meeting with the Bishop and the Relief Society President, but after discussing it with the Bishop, it seems that he wants to try to reconcile rather than address what she did to me and why it was so hurtful. I don’t think it would be helpful to meet with her until she is willing to accept responsibility for what she did.

Yesterday I had a panic attack as I was considering the very real possibility that she would continue to target me and treat me this way. I considered petitioning the Stake President for a change of wards. This would disrupt our lives considerably, but it might be worth it. Perhaps in a new ward I could build a more solid social support structure with church leaders who respect and understand mental health a little better and are willing to confront the mental health stigma that is so strong in our church. But I would likely encounter similar problems in a different ward.

It is hard for me to keep forgiving my church leaders for their ignorance about mental health. They are not paid. Their work is completely volunteer. They receive no mental health training except for a few websites and pamphlets they are supposed to read. Sometimes I think they get burned out with all the drama they have to put up with with no compensation. Still, as the cycle continues and I have to try to teach each new Bishop and Relief Society President that is called, I can’t help but think that I have the more difficult job. I have no degree in mental health. I have no calling for this, no authority to speak to it, and often no respect for what I say regardless of how seemingly intuitive the concept. My only qualification is that I have a emotional disorder; which also serves to paradoxically discredit me.

My explanations are often met with questions I don’t know the answers to. “How much longer will you be in counselling? When will your recovery be over?” My personal favorite is, “Are you listening to your counselor? Are you telling them everything?” As though I am paying and spending an hour every week just to sabotage my own treatment! At best members and leaders are sympathetic but sometimes bungling. At worst they are hurtful. It is the equivalent of a diabetic person going to church and having someone steal her insulin and force feed her an entire plate of brownies. Studio C did a skit on this kind of situation. I relate with Matt!

I tell myself it isn’t their fault. They don’t have the experience or the training to understand what I am experiencing. If I were in their place and hadn’t experienced what I have experienced, I would probably see it the same way they do. I would probably think, “Why is she so sensitive? Why is she still in therapy? Why can’t she just move on from stuff? What a bunch of crackpot non-sense words are ‘recovery’ ‘healing path’ ‘my truth’ and ‘inner child’?” I get that people don’t get it. I get that most people probably don’t possess true mental wellness and never will. I get it, but that doesn’t stop them from hurting me.

God has given me a very powerful vision of a future where people like me can have understanding and compassion, love and acceptance, and most of all respect for the incredibly strong survivors that we are. My pain has given me empathy, and I wouldn’t trade that for all the gold in the world. It doesn’t matter that others often don’t suffer from the same problems or have the same scars; all pain is remarkably the same. It always benefits from compassion. Even when you can’t fix it, you can feel it and give love.

Love is like ice on a burn. It doesn’t make the problem go away, it just helps it not sting so much. Love is a positive and productive force that leads to healing. Shame is the opposite. It can produce short term results that look like healing, but it makes the sting worse and delays real healing. Too often at church I have felt shame instead of love. The depression makes it worse for me, but shaming messages aren’t good for anyone. Transitioning from a shame culture to a love culture takes knowledge, modeling, and instruction of members.

I say that like I know how to do it. I don’t. I still use shaming messages with my boys far too often. “Why aren’t you working on your chores? You’re supposed to be sweeping the floor! Why is there a candy wrapper in the living room? AGHHH! You guys are such slobs! Why can’t you clean up after yourselves!?!” They internalize those shaming messages. Thankfully, a good chore chart and some consistent device management is making our house run a little more smoothly. I feel less frustrated and they are getting more high fives and fewer scoldings from me.

My counselor talked to me about reframing my problems with the Relief Society President to gradually decrease their importance in my life. She isn’t in my inner circle. It doesn’t matter what she and her friends think of me. I can be okay and live a happy life without her love and approval. I don’t have to change her or the ward or anyone.

Most of all I can have faith in my Savior and myself. He didn’t give me these trials without giving me what I need to overcome them. He has a path forward from this place even if I don’t see it right now. My anxiety leads to me to catastrophize the situation, but I need to remember the Lord can soften hearts. He can change people if they let him. Whatever happens will be according to his will, and I can live with that.

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!!

Miracles

I’ve had a really hard time this week with worrying about what other people think of me. It’s hard when you live your whole life trying to please everyone, to make the kind of shift I am trying to make. There is only one person I have the power to control, and that is me. There is only one person whose opinion of me matters, and that is my Savior. I know that, but teaching my brain to think differently takes time.

Last night I had a session with my counselor. She is pretty amazing. She was very sympathetic and encouraging, which I always need. She had a lot of good questions for me about why the opinions of the Relief Society sisters in my ward are so important to me. My whole life I have allowed them to shape my behavior. I’ve felt driven to be the person they think I should be. She encouraged me to work on developing a support network outside of the Relief Society. She suggested a hobby or something. I need to be with people who can give me permission to be myself, color outside the lines, and be okay with messy.

The thought of reaching out to people outside my faith and trying to find acceptance and love is daunting to say the least. Still, sometimes the Lord’s path leads me out of my comfort zone. Maybe its time to venture a little and cast my net on the other side of the ship like Peter did.

I fell asleep early last night, but then awoke upset at about 3:30. I couldn’t go back to sleep and ended up waking Ben. He talked to me for a while, and gave me a blessing. In the blessing he encouraged me to seek for the Savior in the scriptures and to find his peace. I opened my phone to the Come Follow Me manual and I read the lesson.

Reading scriptures and conference talks can be tricky when I’m struggling with depressive symptoms. It’s like my brain is on high alert for any judgement from anyone. I even find it when it isn’t there. It’s kind of like after you watch a scary movie. Every shadow hides danger, every noise indicates a threat, every innocent looking person is a serial killer. It isn’t reality, but telling your brain that doesn’t change much.

Part of the reason I have a hard time when people tell me to read my scriptures when I’m depressed is that they don’t understand that sometimes the scriptures help, and sometimes they hurt. Same with going to church. The depressed mind takes well intentioned correction like a knife to the heart. Even the most gentle reproof can be excruciating when you feel you are at the emotional breaking point.

Anyway, I was anxious to read the lesson for fear it would send me over the edge, but on the contrary, it was just what I needed. It helped me to clear my mind and see the hand of the Lord in my suffering.

Here’s Pepper in the exam room. Love her to bits!

Saturday night Pepper came down with a bad case of diarrhea. Overnight she started vomiting as well. Her poop looked like piles of melted chocolate all over her pen mixed with what might have been vomit. It was awful. I was planning to go to church. Devin was giving a talk and I wanted to be there, but Pepper wasn’t getting any better. She was clearly miserable, so I took her to the Animal Emergency Room. I had a black dress on for church, and I put a paper towel on her bottom to try and keep the filth off of me. It didn’t help much.

After tests and X-rays, we still weren’t sure what the problem was. They prescribed her a bunch of medications and gave us some special food to give her. I brought her home with the understanding that I was risking her life. Taking the more economical and conservative treatment path might result in her death by bowel perforation. The more aggressive treatments and tests would cost up to $2,000. I took that decision onto myself and decided to bring her home.

As I sat with her on my lap, so weak and helpless, I thought of how badly I would feel if she did die. She reminds me of the sheep in “Mary had a Little Lamb.” She follows me around everywhere. She loves me so much. She has helped me learn what the Savior’s metaphors about shepherds and sheep mean. She hears my voice and she follows me. I love her as she is and she trusts me. Even when I have veterinarians poke and stick her, she still comes to me for comfort and love. Just like I trust the Savior, that whatever happens in this life, it is part of his plan for me, and that he will help me through it. Unlike my children, she will never grow up to be my equal. Our relationship will always be of master and pet. Because of that, I don’t completely understand why I love her so much. In the scriptures it says that the good shepherd would lay down his life for his sheep. He would, as a human, give his life for animals? Yes. Just as the Savior was God, he gave his life for us lowly humans. Such love for something less than has a sacred quality about it.

As I pondered on these things, I felt the love I had for Pepper swell inside me. I wished I had the Priesthood, so that I could lay my hands on her tiny head and bless her. I thought of the power of the Savior; that perhaps through my faith, I could bless her, not with a Priesthood blessing, but with my own faith and humble prayer.

I stretched out my hand and laid it between her big furry ears, and said a prayer. I prayed that God would have mercy on my little sheep. That she would recover. That she would be healthy again.

The kids and Ben came home from church and the chaos of Sunday afternoon swept all of us up in its wake. Pepper started eating and drinking and peeing. By bedtime, she was playing and running. It wasn’t until this morning as I pondered on Pepper’s rapid recovery that I realized that she had been healed. My prayer was answered!

I also noticed that Ben had woken up to help me. For anyone who knows how soundly that man can sleep, that is surely a miracle. Also, the words I read in my scriptures were exactly what I needed to read.

The Come Follow Me lesson for this week is all about hypocrisy, Pharisaical worship patterns, and the ability of the Savior to see the hearts of men and judge righteous judgement. Whether the widow who cast in her mite, or Zaccheus the righteous chief publican, the Savior was able to see his sheep. They also know him.

https://www.lds.org/study/manual/come-follow-me-for-individuals-and-families-new-testament-2019/20?lang=eng

In Matthew 23, the Savior has some serious shade to throw at the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. I imagine it was shocking for the people to hear their leaders criticized so sharply by the Master. This man who was so gentle and forgiving to the harlots, sinners, and publicans, was filled with rage at the hypocrisy of the Jewish leadership. They appeared so righteous on the outside! I don’t think we have any idea how much respect they commanded from the people, and yet the Savior was not impressed. The lesson warns us about focusing on the outward appearance in our religious practice. We each have the capacity to become Pharisees.

It occurred to me how much I have changed in the past year. I can’t say that I am completely stripped of pride, envy, and vanity; but I feel like I am more honest about myself. This talk, On Being Genuine, by Elder Uctdorf was linked to the lesson. I felt like it was especially powerful. He said:

We come to church not to hide our problems but to heal them.

Elder Uchtdorf

In the past, I have done everything possible to hide my mental health problems from my ward. I have put up my Potemkin village, hoping I would not be found out. No more. In being open and honest about my struggles, I can more authentically testify of my love for my Savior. I don’t need to hide.

With patience and persistence, even the smallest act of discipleship or the tiniest ember of belief can become a blazing bonfire of a consecrated life. In fact, that’s how most bonfires begin—as a simple spark…… And if we continue to embrace and live true principles in our personal circumstances and in our families, we will ultimately arrive at a point where we “hunger no more, neither thirst any more. … For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed [us], and shall lead [us] unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes.”

Elder Uchtdorf

The whole talk is really good. It was exactly what I needed to hear to give me the courage to continue on a path of authenticity. Miracles have come into my life as I have earnestly sought after my Savior. As I learn to be kinder to myself, surround myself with supportive friends, and continue on my path to recovery, I hope that I can see those miracles and remember that my Savior doesn’t judge my outward actions. He sees my heart. And it is His.

The Sun Rises in the Morning

Laying in bed at 12:30 AM last night. Can’t sleep. Mind turning over all the perceived judgments of the universe staring me down in my bed. It’s like I’m a warrior, and I’ve been beating back the demons all day. I’m battered and bruised and tired and then, on my bedroom ceiling, is the worst of them all. The darkness, the silence, the empty space looming above me. I just can’t fight anymore.

“You could take a plastic bag, put it over your head, put a belt around your neck. Then by morning, its all over,” my exhausted brain reasons.

“That is a stupid idea,” my more rational brain retorts. “That would not work. You would end up a vegetable and how would that help anything. If you’re going to kill yourself it will be the last thing you do, at least do it right. A better idea would just be to go to sleep. Your brain will process this and you’ll wake up feeling better.”

“Maybe I should search Google for insomnia and suicide. I bet suicides are way more common at night,” I think to myself.

“That’s a stupid plan. You need to go to sleep.”

Silence. Darkness.

“Ben!” I call weakly. “Ben, I’m in trouble and I need you.” His snoring stops for a few minutes and then resumes softly.

Prayer. Silence. Darkness.

“I just want to die! I just want to die! Let this be over!” by brain is shouting at me now, pounding out any rational thought.

More prayers. More darkness. More judgement. More shame. Then God sent me an angel in my weakness. Of course he did. She was my mom. It isn’t the first time the Lord has sent her to me at just the right time when I needed a hand. She doesn’t get the depression, but last night, she said just the right things to calm my mind and help me. How did that happen? I don’t know. It just did.

And this morning I got to feel Austin climb into my bed and snuggle into my arms. I got to feel Pepper’s puppy tongue lick my face in an enthusiastic morning greeting. (I swear, God created dogs to let us know what unconditional love looks like. She runs to me every day like she hasn’t seen me in years and I’m the only thing she has ever wanted in her life.) I got to talk to my husband about the reality that I am a good person, that my doubts and my fears are normal, that my efforts help him to be better.

Then I got to walk in the misty rain to see my flowers. The hydrangea blossoms are just starting to turn pink. The coleus is the brightest yellow I’ve ever seen. They give the sun competition. I got to listen to my boys fight because Layne had thrown a dog toy and it fell into Wesley’s cereal bowl. I got to teach them about earning trust.

Hydrangea has bloomed late this year. It is worth waiting for.

I’m so grateful for another day! I’m so grateful for a God who knows where my limits are and won’t let me be tempted more than my power to resist. Depression isn’t going to kill me because I’m stronger than it is. I can do this and I won’t give up.

No one’s opinion of me is worth my life. No one’s. Jesus is my judge. No one gets to take His place. He knows my heart and he knows that this world is a better place because I’m here today. Even with all the uncomfortable things I have to say, the world is better because I am here to say them. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Coleus and blanket flowers in my butterfly garden.
Pepper explores the flowers.

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.