I have started noticing a new feeling sprouting up inside of me. It isn’t compelled by moral coaxing or willed into being, it has just appeared in my heart. I am quite happy to see it again. It has been a while.
Today I am forty-one years old. It was 107 years ago today that my Grandma Eva was born, so happy birthday to her and to me. I am grateful. I’m grateful to be her granddaughter, I’m grateful for my life, I’m grateful for my parents and the childhood I had. I’m grateful for my experiences, good and bad, and they way they have shaped my life. I feel gratitude.
Today I sat in my backyard hammock with my ten year old son and we watched the blue jays dance around in the Crepe Myrtle trees. He’s a beautiful boy and I am so blessed. Today he made a special effort to do many nice things for me for my birthday. He got a special cube of ice that he had frozen into a sphere. He put it in a cup with some water and gave it to me while I was in the garden working.
I decided today that instead of hoping that my boys would read my mind and do things for me, I told them several ways they could show me today that they love me. I still had to clean up messes and break up fights, but I noticed when my boys and Ben did things to please me and I nurtured those feelings of gratitude until I felt like a warm fire was glowing inside.
I have a good life. It isn’t the life that I wish I had. It is the life God chose for me because I needed to experience the things I did to shape me into who I am. Once I became conscious of how broken I am and how broken my family is, I became very discouraged. All the narcissistic ideas I had constructed about my own superiority and my family’s superiority were in shambles and I felt so exposed and horrid. That consciousness is what I’ve been defending myself against for so long. The reality of my own fallen state is so humiliating and embarrassing! But after a while I’ve gotten used to looking at myself in the mirror and seeing reality looking back at me. It isn’t so hard to do anymore.
This spring Ben and I started a worm farm. The worms are doing pretty well and we were able to make our first batch of compost tea this weekend. Compost is a great metaphor for recovery. You start out with a whole load of crap. It’s stinky garbage that you would normally throw out with the trash; carrot peelings, rotten fruit, cantaloupe seeds, moldy bread, leftover baked potato, rotting leaves, shredded paper. You add some bedding material, add some worms, and a few months later you have worm poop.
The inexperienced gardener may not appreciate worm poop, or castings as they call them. The other day I opened up my worm bin and I saw that the cantaloupe seeds I had added a couple of days before had sprouted in the castings. I put some worm castings in my garden not knowing that there were marigold seeds in the soil. A week later I had hundreds of seedlings. Worm castings are the magic sauce of gardening. You can use them in your garden strait, or you can soak a cup in a five gallon bucket of water and aerate for 24 hours. The liquid fertilizer that results will transform your soil with beneficial microbes and nutrients. Put it on your plants and watch the magic happen!
In recovery you take all the crappy feelings you have and everything bad that’s ever happened to you. You look at it, you cut it into little pieces, you process it, and then you put it in the worm bin. You understand that it’s yucky, it’s stinky, and most people would put it far away from them and try to forget about it. But after a while, all that awful stinky stuff is digested by the worms and broken down into earthy, beautiful castings that you can use to reach your goals.
When the seeds of hope and gratitude start sprouting in your castings, you know you’re on the right track. The stink of anger and resentment fade and are replaced with the fragrant smell of flowers and fresh fruit and vegetables as you begin to harvest the fruits of your emotional processing.
And some people will never understand it. They look at mental health and worm bins with the same ignorant suspicion. That’s okay. Their choice to stay stuck doesn’t have to be yours. And you can still love them and you can still live with gratitude knowing that the potential for growing all the good things of life is within you.
So, I’m still sick, and the kids are still home from school, and I’m still estranged from my parents, but I’m full of hope for a bright and happy future. It will be a future that I choose, guided by the spirit that lives and grows inside me, nurtured by the fruits of my emotional health. Blessed be the name of the Lord!
I was supposed to be completing my work. Pages of numbers scrawled in careless handwriting stared at me like a ravenous beast. Every day I would labor over the numbers, but it was never enough. I was behind again. I had my notebook and my textbook in my lap, my back slouched against the wall of the school hallway. It was awkward, but less because of practice. Day in and day out, recess after recess I would work on my missing assignments. Day in and day out, I would be sent out to the hallway while the class graded papers that I had yet to complete. Classes of students would file past, single file. If I thought about it, my cheeks would burn with shame, but I didn’t think about it. That just made it harder to handle. If everyone in Sugar City didn’t know I was a loser, they didn’t have their eyes open. I was in the hall more than anyone else in the fifth grade. I was in study hall so much that even when I went out to recess, the other kids already had their groups of friends. I was a loser and everyone knew it. Even when I walked across the stage to get my diploma wearing my high honors tassel on my square hat. Even when I graduated from college. I’ve worked my whole life to try and overcome that gnawing feeling of inadequacy that haunts me from those early days sitting in the halls, wishing I could disappear.
I read the book, Lord of the Flies, with my teenage son this week. He was assigned to read the book for school. It’s an incredibly disturbing book and I’m glad that I was able to help my son to process the horror of it. I wish someone had helped me to deal with the book when I had to read it as a teen. The level of savagery that the author portrayed has burned itself into my brain. It teaches important things about cruelty and the capacity of good people to do terrible things; the beast that lives within each of us is real and we need to understand it, even if it’s uncomfortable. As a mother of boys, the book is particularly disturbing because it is perceptive. It is unsurprising that the author was a teacher of boys. He knows them well, like I do. There have been many times when I have seen the savage instincts of my sons flare up and I have thought, “They wouldn’t survive a week on their own. They would murder each other within days.” They aren’t bad boys, but they are never too far from doing some very bad things. It takes constant nurturing and guidance to keep the flame of empathy and compassion alive. Like the boys in the book keep the fire alive, I have to constantly tend it. Hopefully they will learn to light their own inner fires of compassion and empathy. In a world where the lights of compassion are being snuffed out, I hope I am successful. For some boys, compassion comes easily. For them, a culture of cruelty too often encouraged and tolerated by adults can be the most damaging. That boy was Simon in the book.
I relate to Ralph, and his struggle to bare the burden of responsible leadership. I relate to Piggy and his asthma that keeps him from contributing in traditional ways. But most of all, I relate to Simon. Simon, the awkward introvert who keeps trying to say the thing that everyone most needs to hear, but he can’t quite get the words out. Simon, who craves the approval and love of Ralph so he tries to hide what everyone can see; that he is different and wrong and broken. Simon, the bravest and best of the boys on the island who was also the most vulnerable and lonely. Simon, the betrayed and abandoned, who loved the survivors enough to face the beast alone. He was the only one who knew the real danger that the camp faced and he died trying to tell them. The beast is not what you think it is. The monster you fear is within you. Within us.
In a culture of cruelty, I don’t want to be popular and cool. I don’t want to fit in. I would rather be Simon. I know what suffering feels like and I want a world where we have less of it. None of it. The beast is not in the other party. It isn’t in another country. It isn’t in another faith community. It isn’t in another generation. The beast is in you. It is in me. We can choose to climb the mountain. We can face the fear and discomfort of self-discovery. We can face our friends and share what we have learned whether they are in a place to hear it or not. I believe in the power of planting seeds. I like to think that before Simon was murdered by the boys he loved that he was gathering seeds on the island and planting them. He was the kind of person who plants seeds.
It’s interesting to think of how the Lord of the Flies might have been different if Ralph had valued Simon. What if he had listened to him? What if he had relied on him instead of on Jack? Perhaps a group of young boys would inevitably create chaos and cruelty. Perhaps a group of fallen adult people are doomed to do only marginally better on this island cut off from our God. Still, I think it is possible for the Simons in our society to speak out more often, even when we do it imperfectly. I think the Ralphs in our society can listen to us more. If we do, we could change the story of the world.
Motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. No one wants me to get it right more than I do, but the reality is, there is no social consensus about what good mothering looks like in the real world. I do the best I can, but I know I fall short each day.
Today after I took my three year old in for a doctor’s appointment, I decided to take him shopping with me at Sam’s Club. Usually I don’t go shopping with my kids. I spend too much and it’s exhausting! Today it just had to be done, so I lugged him along. Leaving the store, I pushed the cart while calling for him to stay nearby in the busy parking lot. When I got the cart settled so it wouldn’t roll away, I tried to get him into his carseat. He cried and arched his back. He wanted a drink. I told him I would get him one after I buckled him in. He continued to fight me, so I gave in and handed him the cup. He looked at me murderously. He wanted to get it HIMSELF. I walked away in frustration to return the cart. I jogged through the parking lot, hoping that he had stayed in his seat. When I got back, I buckled him in listening to him lecture me about how frustrated he was at me. I asked him what he wanted and he said, “A drink.” I gave him the cup and insisted he say thank you.
I finally got him down for his nap and after I left he turned over the bookcase and the changing table in his room. He does this frequently when he is overtired. I was mad, but relieved he wasn’t hurt. I want the behavior to stop. It’s dangerous makes a huge mess. What do I do?
I stayed in the doorway seething, and I said, “Austin, when you do this, I feel angry. It makes me want to hit you. I want you to take a rest and when you wake up we will talk about it.” I shut the door and sat down exhausted. I still have a kitchen stuffed with groceries from Sam’s Club. I’ve got to try to get the ambition to put them away.
I found out my sister-in-law sent an email to my husband a year ago. For a long time, she and I were allies and confidants against the predatory system. After the predator died a couple of years ago, she switched sides. She went on the attack in the email. She tried to make a case to Ben that I am an abuser with a serious gaming addiction. She knows that I have depression and that I’m trying to manage it. She’s had depression herself, but her criticism showed no empathy for my situation. Words stand out to me that cut like knives. She said all the things my inner critic says about me; that I’m no good, selfish, and a bad mother. I know in my mind that she’s a narcissist and that what she said is about her and not me, but it still hurts. She’s a part of the abusive system of his family. I’m the scapegoat and the truth teller. I’m the empathetic depressed person who is vulnerable enough to try to get help. That makes me weak to her and an easy target to criticize. I blocked her on my phone and unfriended her on Facebook. I don’t need people like that in my life. I listen to my counselor not the flying monkeys of an abusive system of narcissists.
Ben wouldn’t share the details with me about the email all this time because he was worried about the effect it would have on my depression. I understand why he did what he did, but I wish I had known how toxic she was. I let her have dinner at my house last month. I have a really hard time with feelings of betrayal, and I’m trying to process that. It also makes me wonder what other family members have been saying to him about me behind my back.
Tomorrow morning I can go talk to my counselor about all this, but in the meantime, I’m just trying to make it through the day. I prayed to the Lord to give me comfort and help me know what I can do to be a better mom. He comforted me saying that men and women in this world look on the outward appearance, but that his gaze penetrates into the heart and soul of a person. His judgement is just and he says my heart is pure before him.
So I can take comfort in that. The self that I am learning to love and accept doesn’t have the polish of a narcissistic projection. That’s okay because she is real and God sees her heart. There are some that look at me and judge me as flawed and unworthy. That’s okay. What they think of me is on them. It’s their business. I’m working to surround myself with people who will love and value me, especially my Savior. His love and acceptance is all I need.
For more info on flying monkeys in narcissistic abuse, here are some links.
I just finished watching, “Abducted in Plain Sight,” the documentary about Jan Broberg’s abuse by Robert Berchtold, the pedophile who kidnapped and brainwashed her as a teenage girl. The Broberg’s and the Berchtold’s were families actively involved in their LDS ward. Berchtold’s predatory behavior, as documented in the show, was enabled on many levels within the community. Social structures such as parents, church leadership, and law enforcement were ill equipped to confront Berchtold’s behavior. Although I believe we are much better now at protecting our children from pedophiles, this documentary is an important glimpse at our vulnerabilities and how a predator was able to exploit them. If you haven’t watched it, it’s currently on Netflix.
There are a few things that stood out to me. First, the total honesty of the Brobergs in their interviews was remarkable. The honest account of everything that happened, including their shockingly bad judgement, had the ring of truth to it even though it was incredibly bizarre. So bizarre, it defies rational comprehension, and yet who would make it up? The homosexual blackmail, the seduction of the mom, the multiple abductions of the girl, the bribing of the Mexican guard, the abysmal failure of the justice system to protect the public and this poor girl from her abuser, combine to make an unforgettable story. If it were fiction, I would think it too improbable to gain a wide audience.
I want to explore the ways that Robert Berchtold was able to manipulate the social structure of the membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints to enable him in his crimes. He was a master manipulator who, as most predators do, was able to create a culture of silence through shaming his victims, hide behind a convincing facade of charisma, and finally twist the sympathies of victims and authority figures in his favor by casting himself as a victim.
First, he used shame as a tool to create a culture of silence. He seduced both of Jan’s parents and in doing so, he was able to blackmail them and dull their moral sensibilities. He had them so concerned about their own sins that they couldn’t see that he was orchestrating it all for his own ends. If they did see it, they felt powerless to fight it because he had fooled so many other people. He felt no guilt or remorse. He walked into the church building each week, took the sacrament, looked other members in the eye, while committing the blackest of sins. Predators sin with no remorse. They shame others while being themselves free of it. They entrap others in sin and then control them with guilt and threats. These are good people and often children who are manipulated, shamed, and lied to. They are kept in a haze of emotional exhaustion that keeps them from seeing what should be obvious. The problem is, it isn’t obvious, because predators are often incredibly skilled at living a double life and putting up a convincing facade that often includes societal status and money. That leads me to the second point.
Second, Robert Berchtold was able to use a facade of charm and financial success to mask the demon within. Members of the church are vulnerable to manipulation from flattering men who appear successful at business. There is something about the LDS culture that my seminary teacher observed many years ago. He mentioned it in class and I’ve never forgotten it. He said that many people see riches as evidence of God’s favor. We see someone who is wealthy and charismatic as righteous because he has success in the world. He said that you hear people in church mention that their money is a blessing from God. He argued that riches are no more a mark of righteousness now than they were at the time of the Savior. The reason I remember this point was because I was raised in the church and had never questioned that idea. “Of course,” I thought, “If you’re righteous God is going to give you money and success.” The dissonance of that seminary lesson has stayed with me, but over time I have found myself in firm agreement with my seminary teacher. In fact, I have often seen men who have power and influence, money and status, who have shown themselves to be predators both inside and outside of the church.
For anyone who is in doubt about the tendency of LDS culture to be vulnerable to the “money equals righteousness” fallacy, look at the fraud statistics. We are far more prone to involve ourselves in get rich quick schemes like network marketing, real estate schemes, ponzi schemes, or other high risk investments. Summer sales jobs are extremely common within our membership where promises of easy money are tossed out casually when the reality is often quite different. The Brobergs were good, simple, naive people who were vulnerable to the charismatic manipulations of a man who was nothing like them. Robert Berchtold was suave, seductive, an accomplished liar, and had most, if not all, of the church congregation and surrounding community convinced he was a good guy. Even after he abducted Jan and took her to Mexico, the church community was supportive of him. Why? Because they were victimized too. If a member of the church comes to us with a charismatic smile, a high profile calling, a good job, and a few flattering words, we are like putty in their hands. They victimize us and we are unprepared to defend ourselves. That is part of the reason Utah has the highest rate of financial fraud in the United States.
There was an article published in the Deseret News last April called, “Does Utah deserve the title of ‘fraud capital of the United States’?” It explains the reasons we as members are vulnerable to financial predators, but I suspect the same things could be said about our vulnerability to sexual predators. Thankfully, there is now a dedicated regional U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission office for Utah to combat fraud. It is the only state that has one. Hopefully that will help curb the trend. The state lawmakers have also stepped up creating a white collar crime offender registry similar to a sex offender registry to help inform and protect potential victims. As members, we can’t afford to be so naive as we have been in the past. It is time we started being as wise as serpents and not just harmless as doves.
The third point I wanted to make was how Robert Berchtold was able to manipulate the sympathy of those around him. He convinced Jan’s parents that part of his therapy for his pedophilia was to lay next to their daughter in bed alone with her. They thought by giving him access to their child that they were helping him recover. They were so consumed with fear and guilt that they felt obligated to sacrifice and do the “right thing.” Like Abraham offering up his son as a sacrifice, they were offering up their daughter to atone for their mistakes. I am convinced that the Brobergs not only allowed Berchtold’s abuse out of coercion, I believe they thought they were redeeming themselves. They were being charitable by allowing him to do this. This was AFTER he had abducted her and taken her to Mexico. I would find such manipulation to be unbelievable if I had not witnessed it with a predator and his victims in my own life. Skilled manipulators are able to convince their victims that they are the victims and that by enabling the abuse, you are doing a noble thing. If you call out their lies, you become the bad guy.
The manipulation of Jan was horrifyingly fantastic. He used the conditioning that we use with our children in the church to his advantage. He convinced her to believe a religious-like narrative in which her obedience to her omniscient alien parents would secure the safety of humanity. Her disobedience would bring calamity and destruction to her family. Children have an exaggerated view of their own power and are vulnerable to this kind of ego-centric narrative. By convincing her of this religious narrative, he made her into something of a cult member. Now, her parents were not only battling their own shame and their own sexual attractions, they were also battling their daughter who was as obsessed with being with Berchtold as he was with being with her. I can’t be certain, but I don’t think any of the Brobergs were aware of how other members of the family were being victimized until Jan was much older and no longer the object of Berchtold’s obsession. A culture of silence ensured that Berchtold was able to continue his abuse by isolating his victims.
So how can we, as members of the church, guard ourselves against these kinds of predators? First, we can say no to shame. There is no sin that is worth hiding. Christ has suffered for all of it. Confess it, forsake it, and give it over to Christ. The Savior can’t save us from the sins we hide. The scriptures say, “There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man.” We all sin. Let’s be real about it and deal with it rather than obsess about what other people will think if they know. Predators take the mistakes people make, sometimes mistakes that they set them up to make, and use them as blackmail. If enough church members say no to shame and embrace the reality of the Savior’s atonement, those threats lose their power. The forgiveness of the Savior is empowering to victims. It allows us to regain our confidence and emotional strength which we can use to fight the abuse.
Second, we can learn the lesson my seminary teacher taught me all those years ago. Money and charm do not equal righteousness. Yes, most members with high callings have good jobs and nice stuff. It’s easy to think that the trappings of Earthly success are the mark of God’s favor. This becomes a kind of materialist faith in which God is a banker doling out material blessings to the faithful. The truth is, callings, money, jobs, and all the rest are what people see. God looks on the heart. None of that means anything to the Lord. There are plenty of our members hiding in high places in the church community who have black hearts. They can be doctor’s, lawyers, judges, church officials, and politicians. Sometimes they are brought to justice in this life and sometimes they aren’t. As disciples of Christ we need to start seeing one another as He does and not as the world does. If we do, we won’t be as easily deceived.
Third, we can talk to our kids about predators. We can tell them that it is never okay for an adult or anyone to touch them sexually. We can warn them of people who might use the church or other religious ideas to manipulate and victimize them. Before we can talk to our kids about predators, we have to be willing to accept their existence ourselves. The Brobergs seem like stupid people for believing the lies they were told. In truth, the only reason they believed Berchtold’s lies was because they wanted to believe them so badly. They wanted to believe that LDS men who go to church and have wives and families are good people who can be trusted with children. We cling to the illusions we want to have about the world and the dangers we are surrounded with. We don’t want to believe that evil exists and that it can take the shape of something that appears harmless and wholesome on the outside. We want to believe the false reality we believed before the evidence showed something else. If that means ignoring, minimizing, or denying that evidence, we will do it. Anyone can be a victim.
I’ve seen people manipulated by predators. I’ve seen entire family systems under the control of predators. It happens. I’ve been manipulated by them too. I’ve felt the guilt and shame of being a part of an enabling system; trapped in a false reality where good is evil and evil is good. Speaking lies is required; speaking truth is blaspheme. A culture of secrecy and silence keeps us from being agents of change to make our society better. As the world becomes more wicked and our national social fabric unravels, abuse will become more widespread. The internet makes the whole world a stalking ground for the predators of the world. We need to arm ourselves against the evils of our time. We need to say no to shame, no to materialistic religion, and no to a culture of silence that feeds the illusion that it doesn’t happen in our church.
When I was being manipulated by a predatory system, I knowingly put my children at risk. I allowed the predator access to my little boys because I was shamed into thinking that if I put up boundaries to protect them, that I would be hurting the predator’s recovery from depression. It was hard to open up about the situation. I felt like I couldn’t even write the truth in a private journal. I couldn’t even pray about it out loud. I wished I could just forget the things I had seen, heard and been told, but they kept intruding into my thoughts. The truth would not be denied. I broke the culture of silence. I talked to my bishop and my therapist. I prayed and pleaded to know what to do. The answer was unanimous. I was to protect my children. I did. I put up boundaries. When questioned by enabling family members, I was rejected. They denied telling me things I knew they had told me. It was implied that I was fabricating stories I would have never made up and wanted to forget. Even then, I desperately wanted to preserve a relationship with them. I stuck to the boundaries I had set, and to my knowledge, my boys were not harmed. I and they were lucky. I’ve overcome the need I felt to keep the secrets of the predatory system I was a part of. I don’t need to protect their secrets anymore. If any members of it read this, I suspect they will have no doubt of the identity of the predator. If they choose to read my next post in the series, there will be no doubt. They may be angry at me for tarnishing his memory, and that’s okay. I am done with playing this part.
He was a lifelong active member of the church who held many callings. He taught elementary school in two different states. He married in the temple and had six children. He also sexually victimized women and girls for decades. I don’t think anyone outside his immediate family knew the truth, and we were all shamed and manipulated into silence. We were told he was not responsible for his acts and that he had repented, and yet the behavior continued. If we did not forgive and forget each new offense, we were hurting his recovery from depression. We were judgmental and unforgiving. He wasn’t on any sex offender registries and had no criminal record. He was smart and careful and was the most manipulative person I have ever met. They are out there. We need to be honest with ourselves and others about the reality of their existence. We need to be aware of the grooming behaviors that predators use. We need to be vigilant and refuse to ignore the warning signs. It can happen and it does happen in our churches and in our families.
I bring my personal story of a family predator into the discussion, not to speak ill of the dead-he is deceased- or pass judgement on him. I leave that in the capable hands of my Savior. I bring my personal experience in to show empathy to those who are victimized by predators. Some watched this movie and had disdain and revulsion toward Jan’s parents. I don’t. I disagree with the choices they made, but I understand why they made them because I lived in a social system that was controlled by a manipulative narcissist. I’ve seen first hand how it works and why it works. We rely on the people around us to give us a sense of what truth is. If what we see is drastically different than what those around us seem to see, we question our own perception. It is only as I have cultivated a relationship with my Savior and consulted with mental health professionals that I have found the confidence to challenge the social systems around me. Even then, it takes tremendous courage. Even as I write this, I have to remind myself that I am not obligated to keep the family secrets. The denial is still strong with many members of the family and they can choose to live in it, but they don’t get to write my story or keep me from telling it.
As I live my life, I am amazed when I find victims who are strong enough to tell their stories for the benefit of others. Jan’s resilience and strength is incredible to witness. My favorite part is at the end when she confronts her abuser in court. He tries to imply that she is motivated by book sales and fame. She tells him coldly that she is motivated by the desire to expose predators like him to the world. She has become a powerful advocate for child victims because she and her family had the courage to face the truth about themselves and what happened to them. In some ways, her parents have had to have even more courage because their experience is less likely to elicit sympathy and more likely to elicit judgement and condemnation. Their willingness to submit to that judgement rather than lie to themselves and others about what they did has made Jan’s recovery and the family’s recovery much more complete. Secrets and lies destroy. The truth, even when it is uncomfortable, sets us free.
The only way we can destroy the evil among us is if we talk about it. I hope my words help to shine a light on a problem that we face within our membership. As we confront evil with courage and honesty, as the Brobergs did, the Savior can heal us and those we love. His grace is sufficient for us! His angels stand ready to assist us as we take the steps necessary to purge the church of the evils of abuse. A culture of silence polishes and shines the outside of the cup while allowing filth to grow and fester within. Christ wants us to be better. Let us roll up our sleeves and commit ourselves to battling the abusers in our midst and purge their behavior from among us. Let us clean and sterilize the cup on the inside. That is what the Savior would have us do.
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)
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!!
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.
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.
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.
“I’m so sorry!!” I looked at the clock behind the receptionist. Late again. How many times today had I had to apologize for being late? Car seat in tow along with another child running around somewhere, I looked back on the day thinking of how I could have possibly done things differently. I had made Herculean efforts just to show up! Yet still, I felt the need to apologize because I had made one mistake, misplaced one thing, had a diaper change come up that I hadn’t planned for, or whatever. My inner critic would insist, “You can’t keep being late for everything!! It’s so rude.” Cold wash of shame.
I’ve started challenging the shaming messages that come with having ADHD. Shame can become a habit, and mine is pretty ingrained. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t totally comfortable with this video from Jessica McCabe. I had never considered how apologizing for my inability to be neurotypical impacts my feelings about myself. “I’m sorry,” implies that I’ve done something wrong. I didn’t care enough. I didn’t try hard enough. Truth is, I try so hard. It isn’t enough, but that doesn’t mean that I’m to blame. I deserve credit for my efforts just like everyone else. Just because I start the game with two strikes against me doesn’t mean I’m not worth having on the team.
With ADHD, and a mother of children with ADHD, I’m not going to manage my symptoms and my children’s symptoms perfectly. Even neurotypical moms of young kids have trouble keeping a schedule. Shame is not a healthy way to manage symptoms. At the same time I know how much my ADHD impacts the people I love and the relationships I care about. In fact, my inabilility to manage my ADHD perfectly causes me to socially isolate myself to avoid damaging those relationships.
“Oh, there’s a babyshower next week,” or “My son has a birthday party tomorrow,” or “maybe I should set up some playdates,” or “I should sign up to bring cupcakes to the ward party next week.” Those all turn into another list of things for me to fail at; presents I forgot to buy or wrap, another appointment to put on the calendar that I will probably show up late for, another group of people to apologize to. I’ve thought about quitting the choir I love because I’m worried about being late. I don’t want to take risks because I know I’m most likely going to fail. Those failures don’t just impact me. They impact everyone who is depending on me. That makes me feel awful!
As I’ve thought more about the ways that the shame around my ADHD has drained my life of the joy and happiness, the more I think Jessica McCabe is right. I need to stop apologizing for being ADHD. Instead, I’m going to start thanking my friends and family for their patience and love in spite of my disability. To all those who have seen the value in me in spite of my ADHD, I say, thank you! Thank you for seeing me for who I am and loving me anyway.
I started a bullet journal last week. Jessica McCabe has a whole ton of Youtube tutorial videos on why this style of planner is great for ADHD. You can access them here. It has really helped me so far. I can’t believe how much I have been able to get done! I’ve started thinking, “Wow! I could start looking like that Mom (fill-in-the-blank) that has it all together!” Then I have to remind myself that I’m me, and that’s the best. I don’t have to be together and organized to have value. If this planner helps me to be more productive, that’s awesome, but it doesn’t define me.
I find myself grappling with the structure of the planner. My perfectionism starts rearing up. In fact, my daily schedule today doesn’t include my blog post I’m writing right now. I’m cheating on my schedule! I have to give myself permission to color outside the lines because that’s what I do. That’s who I am, and I’m giving myself permission to be who I am, just maybe with a couple of extra tools to help out.
Jessica McCabe’s videos have done so much to help me and my kids. I suspect Devin thinks she’s hot. He seems especially keen to watch her videos. All three boys resonate with what she has to say. We watched this video on Sunday. It’s about using a glitter bottle to calm the brain down during an ADHD meltdown. They all want one now.
So if you hear fewer apologizes and more thank yous from me, know that its intentional. I’m choosing to have more compassion for myself and choose self-love and gratitude instead of shame! Hopefully I can pass on this habit of positive self-image to my boys. I’m way too hard on them most of the time. They struggle with the same stuff I do, but the habit of self-flagellation is the only strategy that I’ve consistently used to manage my symptoms. When I think about it, its not that surprising that they have self-esteem problems. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Fortunately, its never to late to start being a good example to them! I’m so grateful for my Savior who is guiding my recovery. I know that together, we are unstoppable. Salvation is real. Hope is not in vain.
I found a new series of videos on ADHD. A woman named Jessica McCabe made them after struggling to reach her potential for many years. She gave a TED talk where she explains her journey. It sounds so much like mine! You start out so hopeful and full of promise, and then ADHD just gets in the way and you end up lonely, ashamed, and frustrated. The biggest thing that Jessica figured out was that speaking out was the key to overcoming shame and loneliness.
I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, after my second child was found to have a severe case of it. Having ADHD is challenging, but then you are also likely to have children who also have it. Parenting ADHD children as an ADHD parent is extra challenging.
Being atypical is always hard. Ask any left handed person. Being neutrally atypical is maddening. I’m always comparing my own perceptions with
everyone else as a frame of reference.
As a result, I am getting conflicting and confusing messages about who I
am and how I’m supposed to behave.
Jessica says it is like being both the smartest person and the dumbest
person in the room; and being the most motivated and most lazy person in the
room. That really sums up how I feel
about myself and my kids. There is so
much potential there; we are so close to success we can almost taste it. But like King Tantalus, it is constantly and
maddenly out of reach.
It’s brutal on my self esteem to feel like no matter how
hard I try to be on-time, stay on-task, manage a schedule, or even pay attention
to my husband when he wants to talk to me, I just can’t do it. ADHD impacts every aspect of my life in ways
that even I don’t totally understand. I
function fairly well when it really matters, but what a lot of people on the
outside don’t see is the coping strategies I use to make it all work. I’ll use one example.
When I was a new mom, I went to a store with my newborn in a
carseat. I got distracted with the
shopping and forgot my baby sitting on the floor sleeping peacefully. I left him as I completed my shopping, went
through the checkout, and left the store.
At some point before I drove off, I was overcome with panic remembering
that I was a mom and I didn’t have my baby.
I will never forget that wash of shame, the panicked dash back into the
store, and the mumbled excuse I gave to the cashier without meeting her gaze. Some people might just see this as the typical
behavior of a sleep deprived new mother.
I knew it was more than that. It
was the beginning of eighteen long years of responsibility for another person
that would acquire attention and focus that I knew I was incapable of. I knew that this was only the first of what
would be countless episodes of danger that my child would experience because of
my brain problems. How could I make myself
pay attention? How could I ensure that I
would be a good mom and keep my baby safe?
I would regularly subject myself to shaming sessions where I
would rehearse the fear, panic, and devastating grief that would happen if I
didn’t focus my attention with my child and something horrible happened. I knew that forgetting my child that day at
the store was not that big of a deal. He
was sleeping, and I remembered him within a few moments. What if I forgot him in the car in the heat
of a Texas summer day? I would vividly
imagine my baby screaming in pain as he slowly died of heat because I forgot
about him. That was the way I motivated
myself. It has worked. I have a very ingrained process of opening
the back door when I stop the car, even when my kids aren’t in the car. I have coped, but at what cost to
myself? And whenever I slip up, I’m
reminded of the truth; I will never be a good mom. My children will never be safe with me taking
care of them.
It’s no wonder that I’ve avoided social interactions as a
mom. I’m convinced there is no more
judgmental and critical group of people in the universe than mothers of young
children. Except for maybe their
grandmothers. Being with a group of young
moms at a playgroup is torture for me. I’m
sure that they will see the truth, that I am a mess and their children are not
safe with me no matter how good of an image I try to project.
Emotional and psychological torment along with social isolation, are two coping strategies that have traded ADHD problems for problems with anxiety and depression. I’m so afraid that I will leave my child in a hot car, I don’t want to go anywhere during the summers. I’m so afraid of being judged by other moms, I avoid playgroups and close relationships with other moms. I’m lonely and ashamed of myself. My kids, who are also ADHD, learn from me that the way to handle their problems is avoidance and shame.
I still don’t have all the answers for how to deal with
these issues. All I know is that I can’t
bare them alone anymore. It makes the
people around me feel better to think that I’m a great mom who has it all together,
but the truth is, that’s just a projection.
The real me knows that I’m not the mom my boys deserve. My medication helps in the morning, but by
mid afternoon, it starts to wear off. I
have a mid afternoon slump just as my kids come home from school, which makes
it difficult to keep track of everyone and keep everybody safe and on task.
Last week I was in one of my crashes. I was in my room watching crime shows on Amazon Prime. Wesley and his friend were at the school playground that is just down the street. Austin was upstairs with Layne. Until he wasn’t. He walked out the front door in nothing but a pair of shorts and walked over to the school playground to play. It isn’t the first time he’s done this. I knew it was only a matter of time before someone called the police. Wesley came to get me to tell me that Austin was at the school playground and that the afterschool care lady wouldn’t let him leave without a parent. The officer was there to meet me.
I don’t need any pity.
I know I screwed up. Yes, I’m
grateful he’s okay and I understand why people are concerned. It still hurts like hell because there are no
easy answers. And that’s what I felt as
I considered all the ways I was incurably flawed and how I would never be able
to be the mom my children need me to be.
Shame. Burning hot and painful as
hell. Hell that never ends.
Except that I have a Redeemer. He knows my heart. He knows the effort I put in that no one
sees. He knows that even though I am
flawed, that He is enough! And He loves
me; and my boys. He has paid the price. The police officers, the judges, and the
critical mothers of this world fade in importance, their power dimming as I
ponder on this truth. He is all that
matters. I am not enough. I was never expected to be. That’s why I need Him. That’s why I love Him.
I need Thee every
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine,
Can peace afford.
I need Thee, O I need Thee,
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, Savior,
I come to Thee.
I need Thee every
Stay Thou near by;
Temptations lose their power,
When Thou art nigh.
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.
I need Thee every
In joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide,
Or life is vain.
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.
The Master taught the Pharisee that the person who is forgiven a few pennies worth of debt isn’t as grateful as the one forgiven a fortune. I need Him. Not a few pennies worth of Him, but a fortune. I need Him like I need the air to breathe. And so I love Him. I come to him as she did, with oil in my hands and tears to wash his feet. I beg for his mercy and plead for his forgiveness. He says, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much……Thy faith hath saved thee. Go in peace.”
I have been singing with the Dallas Millennial Choirs and Orchestras for several years now. Sometimes I forget how very fortunate I am to sing with this incredible organization. I’ve been thinking some time that I needed to write a letter of gratitude to my conductor and the choir’s founder, Brett Stewart.
Expressing gratitude does wonders for my mental wellness. I don’t do it enough, and today I’m committing to be better. An attitude of gratitude can change my day today. I choose gratitude. I choose to lift someone else who has blessed my life. He doesn’t know me, but he has blessed my life, and it’s time to say thank you. I plan to give this letter to him after rehearsal tomorrow:
Dear Brett Stewart,
You probably don’t know me by name, but most likely you
would recognize my face. I’m an alto 2,
and I’ve stood front and center, right in front of you since the first day of
DMCO practice. I’m nobody important,
just one of the many alto voices and I kind of like it that way. I don’t complain or kick up a fuss. I blend well.
I just come and rehearse and perform every semester. Last week you mentioned that you get emails
from people complaining about stuff pretty regularly, and I thought, that isn’t
right. It’s not right I have been coming
and benefiting from this program in such profound ways, and through my silence,
I allow cynical complainers to speak for me.
I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many
years. When I became a Mom to my son,
who is now a fourteen year old, I thought I would be happy, but I found that I
lost myself in motherhood. The more
children I had, the worse it seemed to get.
At one point I became suicidal and was admitted to the hospital. Part of my treatment plan was to rediscover
myself and cultivate my interests. I
started looking for a choir. I had
prided myself on my singing voice, and had even sung in an audition choir in
junior college, but like so much about myself, my singing had been
neglected. It is one of God’s tender
mercies that I found out that MCO was coming to Dallas. My friend who had been supporting me through it
all, took me to the audition. It has been
a near perfect fit for me, even though I have to travel an hour to get to
Each rehearsal, each semester, each performance I think, “I
can’t do this! It’s too much work,” but
my husband pushes me out the door and once I reach the hall and I see you, it
all changes. You have a rare gift to bring
the best out in me musically. Sometimes
I feel like that old church video and that I am that old dusty violin. You found me, dusted me off, took the time to
tune and train me, and now I can sing the way God intended for me to sing.
It’s a small thing to the world, what you do. You gather a rabble of amateur church choir
singers, complete with a horde of rowdy children, and you teach us to sing
beautifully. In spite of your skill and
training, Meyerson Concert Hall has closed its doors to you. We both know why. The world doesn’t value me, and those like
me. They like to define talent narrowly
and invest only in a small fraction of the world that they deem worthy of their
time and training. That’s the world’s
way. It isn’t the Stewart way. You give freely to everyone. You take the time for everyone, or nearly
everyone, that’s willing to try. Like
the sower, you sow musical knowledge to all of us, and we take it like the soil
and multiply it. It’s beautiful!
This letter is already getting long winded, so I won’t go into great detail about the way DMCO has changed my life. It is a vital part of my mental wellness. My voice was always nice to listen to, but after years of MCO training I sound polished and professional. I read music much better, I control my vibrato, and sing with phrasing, dynamics, and diction. I always try to sing as though you or one of the other conductors were there in front of me reminding me to put “ih” in my Ai’s, lips around my vowels, and marshmallows in the back of my throat. I can imagine your angry eyes glaring at me under your eyebrows, hand stretched out, daring me to breathe in the wrong place. There are times in sacrament meeting when someone sitting in front of me will turn around to comment on my voice. Sometimes they are quite moved. To the world, a beautifully trained alto voice singing praises to God in a small chapel is nothing noteworthy; but I know that God hears me. I matter to him and what you do has more impact than you or I can possibly understand. I know that every week you give me what I don’t deserve and haven’t paid for; a treasure of musical knowledge and training. I am humbled and grateful for the incredible opportunity to sing in this choir.
More than anything, I am grateful for the energy you bring
to choir each week. You must tire of
repeating the same instructions over and over.
It must be frustrating to have to whip us to MCO standard when we
predictably fall short. Still, you seem
to always come with a spring in your step, ready to sweat a bucket as your pour
your heart into your work. I don’t know
where you get your faith and tenacity, but thank you. A million times, thank you. Thank you for having the courage to start
this organization. Thank you for
believing in me and thousands like me.
At first, I was quite cynical about the idea that we were going to be
the choir that sings for the second coming of the Lord. Then I started doubting my cynicism. Now I don’t doubt anymore. We will
sing for Him. We are preparing our
voices for that great and dreadful day; the ultimate concert of praise and
welcome for our God and Savior!
Dropping off Austin at preschool today felt so amazing. There is nothing better than to walk with your head up, not having to wrestle with a little ball of energy that tries to dart into the path of every passing car. With my brain free to focus for a few hours on whatever I choose, I decided to write for a while.
I’ve been doing a lot of pondering on transgenerational trauma, which is a growing area of scientific research. Check out an excellent article from Psychology Today called “How Trauma is Carried Across Generations.” One of the groups of people most often cited in studies of transgenerational trauma is children of holocaust survivors. The idea is, that the holocaust was so horrific and the trauma so great that one generation could not absorb it all. Holocaust survivors had to pass their trauma on to their children and grandchildren. Some studies even indicate that our genetic makeup can change in response to trauma. This article explores some of those ideas.
I wrote a blog post some time ago about my parents’ families and the trauma that has been suffered and the ways I have seen that trauma effect me, my siblings, and my cousins. In my scripture study, my internet research, and pondering on the experiences of my own life, I am coming to a greater understanding of the crucial role that family, and particularly our ancestors, play in our lives.
Parenting is so hard. This weekend was particularly crazy. Breaking up fights, taking sharp objects from the three year old, helping a child work through a melt down……all of those things are commonplace in our home. I have depression, we pretty much all have ADHD, and we have a toddler, which is like having a blender with no lid spewing chaos in his wake. We threw Austin’s shredded pacifier in the trash two weeks ago. He is still not sleeping well. I have resorted to driving him around in the van so he will take a short nap. If he doesn’t nap, he will scream constantly. A couple of days ago he was screaming at me, for twenty minutes non-stop. You try to tune it out, but it wears on your nerves. Eventually, I tried offering him some hot chocolate. He likes to eat the whipping cream that I put on the top. I tried giving him a spoonful of the white fluffy goodness half melted in chocolate. He turned his face away. I ate it myself and he was clearly offended and screamed even louder. I got him another spoonful. He was starting to get red in the face. Finally, after a loud game of toddler charades, I figured out that he wanted to spray the cream into the cup himself. I let him do it once and he was happy. Of course, he was furious again when I wouldn’t let him endlessly spray cream into the cup. So he was back to screaming.
If he is not screaming at me, he is finding scissors, knifes, paint, or breakable things. Sunday I thought it would be fun to have him play with some playdough on the kitchen table. A few minutes after starting the activity, there were playdough toys scattered in a twenty-foot radius. Pieces of playdough littered the floor in a ten foot radius. In the middle of this cyclone of stickiness, there was Austin, his church clothes embedded with orange and green splotches, standing on the table. With an expression of maniacal glee, he stomped and threw stuff.
“No, no,” Momma patiently insists. I take him off the table. “You sit in your chair.” I start sweeping playdough and picking up toys. Austin sits for less than a minute before trying to climb back on top of the table. “Austin, you need to sit and think about it?” He seems to ignore me, but my voice triggers a response in him. It seems as though the threat of consequences switches the chaos into high gear. With a swift gesture, he sweeps all the remaining playdough supplies onto the floor; a dramatic climax to an ill fated adventure. No more playdough.
I’m not even going to go into Devin and the adventures of teenager angst. The glazed expression of annoyance, the condescending tone, the irritation that we don’t understand his terms or care sufficiently about how cool or uncool we are. Sigh.
Parenting is so hard. We tried to gather the kids together on Sunday for our weekly gospel study. Austin sits for no one. The other kids are wandering around looking for scriptures and journals. Then they get distracted and need redirection. By the time everyone is sitting and ready to start, the tension is already high, and inevitably one of them needs to go use the bathroom. Mom and Dad start firing questions to get brains engaged. “Who remembers who John the Baptist was?” Stunned silence and vacant expressions. “Wesley, who was John the Baptist?” After a pause, “He was a baptist??” And so we work like house elves to draw their thinking out and get them to put something in their study journals. Yesterday at family dinner we talked about the importance of personal scripture study and prayer in developing strong testimonies. I asked them how they felt like they were doing in developing their testimony. Crickets.
Every day the impossible expectations of parenting weigh me down. The patient attentiveness, the alert awareness, the interactive presentness of good parenting is so hard to maintain for any significant length of time. With four children, the individual attention and love each child requires to function optimally seems eternally out of reach. If only I could clone myself!
I share these things with you, not just for you to laugh at, but also to consider the magnitude of the task each parent faces. We as parents stand in the place of God himself to our children. We are the all powerful creators of their reality. I feel much more like the Wizard of Oz with plenty of smoke and mirrors as I threaten my children with “serious consequences” for their disobedience, than I do a wise and judicious God who is in control of all things.
When my children become parents, perhaps they will understand me better. Perhaps they will find some empathy for what I was doing and have mercy on me for the multitude of ways I have fallen short in my parenting. One thing I will never do is hold myself up as the one who had it all figured out, with a set of rigid expectations for how they need to parent their own children. I plan to explore this issue in future posts, but I’m going to go in a different direction today.
Our parents shape us. There is no question about that. I have observed that the default human tendency is to exalt our parents. If we have superior parents, that follows that we are superior. That can feel pretty good. It’s also easy because we can parent just like our parent’s did, and all will be well. When we find fault with our parents and the way they did things, we are by extension, finding fault with ourselves. In addition, if our parents messed up, that means we have to work hard to do something different. This is so much more than just blaming parents, it is setting aside the illusions reinforced in the family narrative that is driving dysfunctional thinking and depressive symptoms.
Therapy is, at its core, intense and rigorous introspection. Like a cancer screening, you must enter each psychic cellular crack and crevice to find the places where unhealthy thoughts and behaviors take root. Sometimes those poisonous plants have seeds sown in previous generations. More problematic still, the prior generations are not likely to take kindly to suggestions that their methods were hurtful and wrong.
Ideally, we can split off from our parents, make our own paths, take the good that they gave us and go a different direction. Unfortunately, in dysfunctional families, that is almost impossible to do. Like crabs in a bucket, a dysfunctional family will pull one another back into the bucket each time one the members tries to escape. Scapegoating, gaslighting, and projecting are all too common in these families. The therapy patient can be overwhelmed with the reality of the awful state of things as they confront the larger systemic problems in their family.
Looking on from the outside, is recovery even worth it? Isn’t it better to follow the family narrative, make everyone happy, and live depressed? I’ve often wondered the same thing. Why confront the family illusions? Why rock the boat? The answer is in the faces of my children. They deserve better.
They deserve a mom that is not depressed. They deserve a family narrative that is honest and holds up to scrutiny. They deserve better and I am going to give it to them. I have a dream of a family unencumbered by the cancer of shame and the demons of depression; a large and prosperous posterity that can realize the potential that lies in each individual member. I pray to my Savior that I can have the courage and wisdom to depart from the sins and errors of the past and bring my family onto a better path, a more perfect way. My Savior is the Father of my destiny, the pilot of my tomorrow. He will guide me and my little ones to lie down in green pastures. I put my trust in him and no one else.