Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Heavenly Codependency


There's been a blog post waiting to happen for a long time. Dane at Agitating Faithfully asked for submissions two years ago. I told him I would love to write something. I haven't yet. I don't know if he is even still looking. Today I was reading a post at Surely You're Not Serious, and now I'm writing. Warning, it's not a happy post. It's not positive about the church. And I need to share this.



In 2007, every couple of weeks, I'd get a call asking me to come in to talk to the bishop. He'd ask how I was doing, and for the first six months or so, I wouldn't answer him... The first time I opened up to him, I shared something about how I felt worth less because I was a girl... He asked me to write him an email to tell him why I thought that.
"Hi. So, here goes. I don't know what I'm going to write... I can't remember a time when I didn't feel like I was worth less because I was a female. Its hard to say where that came from. I can't imagine not feeling this way."
I then went on to list my history. How I felt about watching my parents together. How I felt when I started dating. About the EQ President in the back of the car... I couldn't tell him no, because I didn't have the right. Then about Larry. It amazes me how aware I was without being aware at all...
"My next boyfriend eventually became my first husband. We were married in the temple, but he never went back to the temple after we were married. Our wedding night was the worst night of my life, and the rest of the marriage wasn't much better. I was the wife, and I didn't have much choice when he wanted sex. I could not stop him, although I tried many times.
I wanted to do a lot of great things with my life. I was in school, working two jobs, and I was also doing public speaking. Larry informed me he was having an affair, and the bishop said it was my fault. A good wife would be home making her husband happy. I couldn't quit work, because someone had to make money, but I did pull back and quit a lot of the other things that I loved. The bishop congratulated me on being a good woman, and said I should be willing to do what Larry asked. He was the leader of the home, and I should let him lead and never question him."
I wrote about how relieved I was and how I finally felt happy after Larry left... but I was supposed to get married again... So I did.

I wrote about how I felt like I was wrong if my thoughts didn't match my husband's. I wrote about how I wanted to be a good woman, but I also hated the way that felt. I wrote about how hard I tried to be good and righteous, but the harder I tried, the darker I felt inside. I wrote about what it felt like to ask for priesthood blessings, but be told I wasn't worthy... That the healing power was there, but I had to ask a man for that power. And that man decided when or if he would share. I wrote about the temple and how although I made the commitment to "hearken to my husband", sometimes I just couldn't make myself do that. I wrote about being called to be a Sunday School teacher by his first counselor.
"I couldn't take on one more thing, but I had no choice. The (counselor in the bishopric) refused to accept my, "thank you, but no," because the calling came from God. It didn't matter what I wanted, what I desperately needed, or what I thought. A man I barely knew got more say in my life than I did."
I got released the next week, but even that... I had to write a really long and painful email to a man I barely knew, and HE still got to decide that it was okay if I didn't want to teach Sunday School.

I felt desperate. I wanted so badly to be a healthy human being. I met with the bishop and just kept asking questions. He helped me start therapy.

I KNEW that the church would have the answers to my questions. I searched and searched and searched. There was nothing. NOTHING that answered my questions. Pretty much everything I found just created more questions. More feelings of worthlessness. More confusion.

In therapy, we were talking about rights... so I searched "women's rights" on lds.org.
I found information on the Equal Rights Amendment.  They fought AGAINST equal rights for women. They said that women being treated as  equals in this country would destroy families: it would be the downfall of society. How could men of God say that? How could God let them stand up in conference and fight against what was good for me? How could what was good for women be bad for families? Where was God in all this??

One night I read an article in the Ensign. This quote threw me into one of the deepest funks I've ever had,
"When it comes to sexuality, some wives become very concerned about their “rights,” often speaking of their “right” to say no and yes. But marriage is also a relationship of responsibility and opportunity. In marriage, both partners have the opportunity to give. I believe few wives sense the degree of frustration and alienation husbands feel when a wife ignores his needs. I believe a wise and loving Heavenly Father has given a wife the ability to achieve oneness with her husband. The key is unselfishness."

I lived with a husband who raped me every night, although at the time I couldn't use that word. When I tried to use that word (rape) with my Stake President, and the Stake Relief Society President, they gave the same response. "A man can't rape his wife. They're MARRIED. She was his, and it was her responsibility to give him what he wanted when he wanted it." I knew why they thought what they thought... They read it in the Ensign.

Boyd K. Packer had the worst to say. He quoted a letter from a woman,
"I'm upset that I was always advised to go back and try harder only to get abused more. I need some comfort, I need solace, need hope, need to know Heavenly Father sees all that I have endured. What hope do I have for a chance to live with Heavenly Father? If temple marriage is the key to the celestial [kingdom], where am I? Outside gnashing my teeth for eternity? Help me." 
When I read her words, I felt some relief. There was another woman asking the same questions. Feeling the same pain. Making the same desperate pleas that I felt. And she had a listening ear. He would answer her questions and I would get my answers.
"The woman pleading for help needs to see the eternal nature of things and to know that her trials -- however hard to bear -- in the eternal scheme of things may be compared to a very, very bad experience in the second semester of the first grade. She will find no enduring peace in the feminist movement. There she will have no hope. If she knows the plan of redemption, she can be filled with hope."
It wasn't the answer I was praying for... but I guess I learned how to feel anger, and I learned that I could not look to the church for the help I needed. Packer was WRONG. and to tell a woman to go back to abuse, because no matter how much it hurts it's just a childish pain... that man has no idea what he is talking about... or if he does, then he is just plain evil. I HOPE he is just ignorant, or hasn't thought about the things he says, and that is why he says such devastatingly harmful things.

The feminist movement is nothing but women asking for rights... women asking to be treated as equals... women asking to stop being abused... If the church's only answer for abuse is to endure, then the ONLY hope for everyone will be found somewhere else...

I'm going to stop now... I thought about researching... going back and reading all of the things I read back then, but it is STILL so maddening, I can't do it. I don't want that stuff taking space in my life anymore. So... feel free to go to lds.org and research the terms I researched back then. "women's rights", "gender roles", "saying no", "healthy relationships", "abuse", "young women lessons", and a bunch more that I can't remember.

Back to my story.
Time passed. I'd dealt with a lot of stuff in therapy, and on my own. I'd faced PTSD flashbacks and nightmares and months without sleep. I couldn't stand being in my home, because I had a husband there. Husband represented abuse. I couldn't relax with him near. I was miserable trying to force myself to stay with him. I stayed with BJ and looked for my own apartment... Bishop C didn't want me to get comfortable away from my husband, because it was more important that I stay married. He was worried if I felt safe and comfortable without a husband, I would get a divorce... Bishop C thought I should only move into an apartment that wouldn't be comfortable. BJ talked to him. I talked to him. BJ pleaded with him. I called him on the phone while wandering the streets and sobbing while curled up underneath a trailer. Finally, he gave his okay that I live in an apartment where I felt safe. He actually volunteered to have the church help pay my rent for a few months. I lived in my own place for the next year before I finally decided I needed a divorce. It was the only way I was going to recover. I couldn't go back to being a wife, because wife symbolized something I never wanted to be again.

Everyone was okay with my divorce... they let me say that I didn't want to EVER be a wife again... until the divorce was finalized. In therapy one day, my therapist was talking about future relationships, possibly marriage... I told him I didn't believe in marriage. He told me that was because I hadn't known a healthy marriage.
In exasperation I cried, "ALL marriages are codependent, and I refuse to be in a codependent relationship... Can you show me ONE marriage that is not codependent?"

"Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother."

Me: Really? You have to go all the way to the top?
And really? You want Heavenly Mother to be my example of how I should live my life? Her children don't even know she exists. They aren't allowed to even know her name, or to speak to her. And some have been cut off from the church for speaking too much of her.

Him: Its for her protection.

Me: If I said I needed that kind of protection from a man, you'd freak out... You'd tell me how strong I am, and how I can take care of myself, and... so WHY does a Goddess need that kind of protection?

Him: Maybe she doesn't need or want to be mentioned.

Me: How is THAT healthy? I'm pretty sure you pushed me to be different than that. In fact when I tried to suggest that I didn't need or want people to know me... you told me I needed to find a new therapist, because you wouldn't help me to be that "indiscriminately self-sacrificing".

Him: Yes. Well. Umm. Maybe you just need to pray about that...

Me: Maybe I do, or maybe... You're wrong. And the "proper" example of marriage IS a very codependent one. Maybe I have been right all along about what women are supposed to be, or at least what it says in the scriptures about how a woman should be...
And then I went off.
And what kind of a mother doesn't want to be mentioned to her children? What kind of a mother is okay sitting back and watching Dad do everything? What kind of a mother watches her daughters suffer and question so much, but is okay with Dad being the only one they can talk to? What kind of a mother sits back while Dad writes scriptures about powerful men, but nothing about powerful women? What kind of a mother allows her daughters to go through this world without her? What kind of a mother is okay with the idea that the only purpose for her daughters' lives is to have children? What kind of a mother or a father would EVER perpetuate so much of these crazy gender roles and unhealthy relationships? I don't believe in that kind of a God or Goddess. I can't. I don't know what I do believe anymore, but I know I think this is a bunch of shit.
I started referencing all of the articles I'd read. I started showing him all of the things I'd learned about women and rights from the church. I showed him what the church said about abuse. The things they say to victims of spousal abuse... nothing... except "repent and forgive". I realized how DEEP these issues go. To my very core... I had written an email four years earlier talking about how I felt worth less because I was born a girl, but I couldn't put my finger on WHY... It's what I was taught... And I could finally see things clearly... I could see ME clearly....

I have to stop writing again. There's just SO MUCH that I could write about. All of the things that bishops and stake presidents and teachers and leaders and books and lessons said... I feel overwhelmed with the sadness and the anger. I can't put it all in words. I could write pages and pages and still... people would dismiss my experiences and the things I've felt... BJ says I think about things more than most. I try to live what I hear more than most. I believe what people say more than most. I don't know if that's true... I just know that I tried to live what I learned, and what I learned broke me.

I may come back and try to edit this post at a later date... add more to it... until then, your thoughts are always appreciated.

29 comments:

  1. Wow! You are an amazing, resilient woman. While I have never experiences these types of things in the church, I know they exist. My heart aches for you and the suffering you had to endure. I think that it's okay to be angry and upset. I think that you have the right to speak your mind and express your feelings. Then again, I am only a wife and mother, so I don't really know all that much. Thank you for sharing. I love your writing style, and I thought you were able to express your feelings in a completely understandable way. I will follow you and your journey.

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    1. Thank you. And... please don't think that you are "only a wife and mother". Your words mean a lot to me. I appreciate them.

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    2. I am impressed with your ability to express your thoughts and feelings so clearly. I started a blog with the idea that I would also express my thoughts and feelings but didn't get very far. I think we have some similar views and I look forward to following your journey. I left the church, my husband and my mom about 10 years ago and have been on an exciting self discovery journey ever since. Your strength and courage is inspiring. My blog, well as far as I got anyway, is In Good Company.

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    3. Tieranny, Thank you! I love what you've written so far. For my sake, I hope you keep writing.

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  2. This is fantastic! Thank you for being able to put it so well into words. I think your last indented paragraph, "what kind of a mother..." should be made into a song and the words need to be very clearly articulated.
    The entire blog should be sent to a psychological journal, esp.with the scrutiny so many Mormons go through feeling compelled to tell even your thoughts to a bishop.
    Your style of writing is crystal clear.

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    1. I've never thought of sharing my thoughts in song, or with a psychological journal... maybe someday I will.
      And yes, I didn't realize how much I needed the bishop's approval back then until I started writing. Over and over, I kept going back to hear that my life was okay... I was an adult, but still felt like a little child.

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  3. I hope you send it to the Ensign. It needs a dose of the reality of the counsel the bishops have been doling out for generations.

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    1. It's funny. Once I started sharing all of the articles and quotes and stuff I'd found with my therapist, he suggested I write an article for the Ensign. At the time, I just wanted to get away from the church and everything in it. I can't imagine them ever publishing anything so negative, but I would love to be a part of educating people... if I ever get published, I'll let you know. :)

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  4. I've been thinking about what exactly makes a good marriage over the past few months and I'm wondering a lot about this codependency idea you have going.

    I think a good marriage is when both partners respect the others independence yet they can still work together however I do think most marriages are codependent though. Perhaps the best marriages are those where the couple enters as codependents and learn together how to develop the independence in each other and still stay together. I'm sure marriages where each couple starts independent also work, but like you said, I don't know that those exist (from the beginning).

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    1. I agree that a healthy marriage is when both partners respect the others' independence. Its hard though... since so many people get married long before they know themselves... and they don't even realize all of the expectations they have of what marriage is supposed to be.

      The most healthy examples I have seen are: a gay couple. Those that got married later in life. And those that started out unhealthy, but then went through the process of learning and growing and getting to know themselves. I'm an example of how that last one didn't work though. As we individually started learning about ourselves and healthy relationships, we realized it wasn't going to work for us to stay together.

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  5. Wow, jen, just wow. I haven't gone through nearly what you have but I completely relate to that insidious idea the church feeds us that we, as women, are not as good. Beautifully put.

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    1. I think some of my life experiences are extreme, but my experiences are a result of the basic teachings... I believed what was sad. I internalized it. As one friend put it, "We grew up not realizing our value, then marry men that confirm we are only there to serve them. Knowlege is key, knowing you are wonderful means that you never have to put up with it again!"

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  6. Wow. Yes. What you said. Thank-you for putting those words. Of course, not being Mormon, we didn't even have a heavenly mother and to put feminine adjectives or personas onto god was sacrilegious in our patriarchal world. But we were told the same things: woman, submit and if you submit enough then you will be safe.
    Lies lies lies.
    We are working towards a healthy marriage but it wouldn't be possible if we were still in our old church.

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    1. Yay! You can comment again. :)
      I kind of go crazy inside my head when I hear the idea "submit, and you'll be safe," because it is SO the opposite... If you have a man that isn't abusive, you won't get hurt even if you're submissive, but if you have a man that IS abusive, submission can mean death.

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  7. Well Jen, I'm awfully happy you found my little blog so that I could in turn find yours.

    You and I are of different faiths but there is one thing I know to be true....each person on this Earth is here for a purpose and of value. This to me means that there is never a reason for one to be abused, or overlooked.

    PERIOD

    No matter the faith, no matter the reason.

    I applaud you for exploring yourself, for stepping out of what you're taught is the "norm" enough to learn. Thank you for sharing your heart.

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    1. Thank you. And agreed. No reason for abuse.
      It feels good to be learning how to take care of myself.

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  8. This is a great posting I have read. I like your article...
    busana muslim

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    1. Thank you! I wish I could read Arabic, so I could read some of your blog. :)

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  9. Jen, I can't believe it took me this long to discover this post! Very well said.... I'm sorry that you have had to endure so much crap. But thanks for sharing pieces of your journey. I've been married to my husband for 23 years, and while it hasn't been perfect by any definition, he is able to give me room to explore all the sides of me that the church discourages, and I hope he feels that I do the same for him. I think my marriage to such a guy is one of the main reasons I refused to acknowledge the patriarchal nature of the church for so long, because it wasn't slapping me in the face on a daily basis. But now I can't go back and pretend that I don't see what I see, and that is that to the church, we are less-than, simply because we are female. And that is unacceptable to me. Seeing the patriarchy for what it is was one more nail in the coffin that held my testimony. I'm glad that you were able to share this. I think we'd be friends IRL!

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    1. :) I'm pretty sure we'd be good friends in real life. Thank you for inspiring me to finally write about it... It had been bouncing around in my head for a long time before I read your post... and then BAM! it wanted out of my head.

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  10. Hi. I followed you through SDL, then started reading... I didnt know which post to respond to. I guess any response to any of them is better than no response to all of them. As an ex-Mormon, I understand where you are coming from. I am not a woman, but I did have to watch my mother go through hell because of the church. It changed me. It helped shape who I am today. I wish you the best, and if you ever need someone to talk to, or just to be friends with let me know. I have an open heart and an open mind. And if you havent figured from my posts on SDL I try my best to be as judgment free as possible. Big hug, best wishes.

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    1. Thank you! I've come a long way in the past few years, and it sure feels good. I REALLY appreciate comments, so thanks again!

      I have a hard time keeping up with the comments on SDL. But I'll watch for you now. :)

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    2. I am in Utah! If you want to hang out before I finish visiting my sister let me know.

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    3. Bummer! I'm in Yellowstone until Friday (July 13th). How long are you in Utah for?

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  11. My sister is trying to convince me to get a job here... and finish college. It will take a while to see if anything pans out. No worries either way. I hope you are having a blast. If you need to contact me more directly follow my profile through SDL.

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  12. Very well written! I love that you are very matter of fact in your articles as to not slant the readers opinion of your experiences. You lay down the facts and allow the reader to interpret your journey on their own. Being that my scripture reading has been my escape and saved my life from my pain and struggles, I see the circumstances a little differently than they way you interpreted them. Don't get me wrong, I have witnessed for myself the degradation of women in the church and even an emphases in submission. I just see and interpret the scriptures and the teachings of the mormon church very different than what most members do. I see where the scriptures are a handbook to overcome abusive cycles in our lives and how to show ourselves the compassion and charity that we need. From Moses to even Jesus Christ they show us how to escape bondage and to be a better person. Unfortunately, sometimes our own bondage comes from well meaning leaders that do not know us or our hearts. I am so grateful that my Savior is perfect and knows us perfectly. (By the way, the word "Elohim" means a husband and wife unit of God. I think in the history of religion, we once did pray to our mom.) I do believe that our leaders make great mistakes. I think it hurts us if we stop trusting our own revelation. The one Counselor could have gotten revelation to extend the calling, but he did NOT get revelation about making you feel inadequate or controlled. I am so sad that all of this was going on in your life. I wish I had known. I would have given you much advice so different than that of your well meaning Bishop. My heart goes out to you. I am glad that you are getting your feelings out. I know of you other than this post, so I can say without hesitation, you definitely live what you believe. You have a pure and generous heart and you are amazing. I love your journey you are going on but do not be surprised if it takes you in a full circle and back to the church. It's what happened with me.

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