Tuesday, November 27, 2012

You are good. (or why I care so much about LGBT issues)

I get really passionate about LGBT issues.
A lot of people have thought I am gay/lesbian because I get so passionate. (I'm not.)
The question always comes next, "Then WHY do you get so worked up about it?"

Because I know what it's like to go through life feeling "less than". I know what it feels like to feel like I am unacceptable, bad, different, etc. I also know what it feels like to accept and love myself, and I want that for EVERYONE.

Everyone deserves to feel loved and accepted for who they are.

Today, Dan at Single Dad Laughing came out. His prayer, "Please God, don't let me be anything but straight," brought me to tears. Please read it. He describes the pain, fear, and confusion so well.

I thought of all the prayers I said, "Please God. Just make me different. Make me GOOD."
I also thought of the answer that finally came, "Jen, you don't have to change a thing. You are good just the way you are."

I want everyone to know, "You don't have to change a thing. You are good just the way you are."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Check the facts... and then believe them

One of the skills I learned in therapy was "Check the facts".
Basically, although the emotions we feel are very real, sometimes the stories we tell ourselves that create those emotions aren't real.

A very simple example: No one has called me on my birthday, they don't love me, they don't care about me... Check the facts and find out your phone was off. Several people tried to call, but couldn't get through. They left voice messages. Suddenly the emotions are gone, because the story wasn't accurate.

One of the stories I believed came from another person. Lolly has said that my presence made people uncomfortable, everyone hated having me around, and I was hurting other people by being.

I believed her. I didn't question it. It didn't even cross my mind to use my skill of "checking the facts", because I really believed what she said was fact. BJ didn't believe her... He told me to talk to the people that supposedly hated me...

I was anxious. I was scared. I wanted to crawl in a hole. I didn't. The conversation went like this.
Me: I don't want to cause problems, or make things difficult for you and I know you care about Lolly, and I don't want to change that either... What I'm trying to get at is.... She said that you hate having me around, and that you don't want me here, but you are too nice to say anything. I want you to know if that's the case, I don't need you to be nice for nice sake, you can tell me to never come around again. You can be completely honest with me.

Claire: To be completely honest, before I met you, and I'd only heard Lolly's side, I didn't like you. I wouldn't have chosen to have you in my life... but... then I listened to more of the story, I met you, I spent time with you, and that is not how I feel at all. You're a sweetheart, and I'm glad I know you.

That conversation was several months ago. That should have been the end of it, but I still didn't believe her. It was easier to believe that I was hated, and Claire was just too nice to say so. Two months ago, she called to invite me to dinner in her home, and also said I was welcome ANY time. I still wouldn't believe her. Logically, I know that trusting Lolly to tell me what Claire thinks and feels, and NOT trusting Claire is irrational and silly... but it's hard to let go of the belief that people don't want me.

The truth is, it has nothing to do with Lolly or any of the stories she tells. I BELIEVE that I am not wanted. Deep down, I still play the same message that I have always played, "The world would be better off if you didn't exist." So, every time someone else agrees with that message, it breaks me apart. I believe the false story over the real story. I cling to it. (Like a fucking crazy person!) For whatever reason, it is scary to let go of that old belief... don't know why... I might figure that out later, but for now... I'd just like to let go.

I'm tired of believing the old shit. I'm tired of that old message. It wasn't true when I started believing it (whenever the hell that was), and it isn't true now. (I'm not saying that everyone loves me, that would be just as ridiculous, but I know I am loved. I also know that the people who tell me they love me now, can mean it, because I have let them get to know me.)

And... on top of it all, the one thing I know for sure: There is a lot of peace in knowing what IS, instead of pretending to know and believing what is NOT.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Living IS the point.

I got this in an email from a friend. He's been depressed lately, and he's trying to figure out why (and how to get over it.)
"I think the root of the whole problem is that I don't have a good answer to the question, "What's the point?" It seems to me that we're born, and then we live and then we die. It seems so unfair. Makes me want to cry.

So, I'm wondering if you've answered that question. If so, what's your answer? More importantly, what has been your process to answer that question? I know my answer will be different than yours, so while I'm interested in your answer, I'm much, much more interested in your process (assuming you've taken the time to answer that question since leaving the church)."
What's the point?

My only thought: LIVING is the point. We're born. We LIVE.

And the process I followed to get that answer?
I really didn't have to answer the question AFTER I left the church, because leaving was just part of the process.

As a member of the church, I was told what the point and purpose to my life should be. I was told "the plan", and I was told that plan was the ONLY plan that would bring happiness in this life and the next. I was told I was lucky to know "the plan", because most people on the planet don't know.

I didn't feel lucky... I felt like a square peg trying to force myself into a round hole. I felt depressed and anxious and miserable. So many things that I'd been taught just didn't make sense to me. The reality I saw didn't fit the ideals that I'd heard. I spent my life doing a list of things TRYING to make my life happy, but the list just made me more and more miserable.

Much of "the plan" left me feeling miserable and hopeless in this life, but there was always the idea that if I just "endured", then at least the next life wouldn't be so bad. For a while, I dreamed of dying, because at least death would mean "going home" to a place where I felt safe and loved and happy.

One of the most important moments in my life was when I realized that if I was miserable trying to be in the church today, what would make me think I would be happy living this plan for all eternity? Everything I'd been taught about the Celestial Kingdom just made me believe it would be MORE of the temple. MORE church. MORE of the worst kinds of members. (I actually said, "If that's who is going to be in heaven, send me to HELL!") More of the things that made this life feel barely bearable.

The day I realized that death wouldn't bring me to the happiness I wanted, I started taking responsibility for finding happiness today. I stopped dreaming of death, because I wanted to find a way to live.

One of my therapy assignments was to list my passions and values. (They asked for the top three... but since it's my blog, I don't have to follow their rules.)
Exploring. Learning new things. Discovering new places.
Love. Loving myself. Loving others. Loving the world around me. Loving what I do. Finding things, people, places that I love.
Nature/Spirituality. Being in the places that I feel most at peace (mountains). Finding the connection that I have to the world I live in. Following the deepest part of myself.
Leadership and Integrity. Being ME. Showing others that it is okay to be themselves through my willingness to be me. Facing my fears, so others will know they can too. Being open and honest, so others won't feel as alone, and so I won't feel so alone.
Change. Making the world a better place. Using my voice and my talents to improve the world. NOT for some grand reward in the next life, but just because I CAN.

So, what's the point?

Talk to friends. Watch TV. Play the violin. Ride a horse. Eat salmon tacos. Count the blades of grass. Watch the clouds in the sky. Go fishing. Drive. Write a book. Read a book. Play a game. Kiss someone you love. Watch a child grow. Decorate your house. Buy new furniture. Watch an ant carry a crumb. Work. Make a living. Find a way to contribute to the world around you. Smile. Cry. Laugh. Hate. Love. Think. Play the piano. Sing. Dance. Go scuba diving. Feel the rain on your cheeks. Splash in the puddles. Go rock climbing. Sit on the porch. Take a nap in the hammock. Watch a lightening storm. Go for a walk. Play with a goat. Train a dog. Pet a cat. Grow out your hair. Cut it short. Go to school. Family. Talk to someone older than you. Talk to someone younger than you. Watch a child learn. Listen to music. Paint a picture. Create a sculpture. Go on a cruise. Write letters. Invent something that has never been invented. Sleep. Memorize a poem. Share ideas. Catch a snake. Try new foods. Watch the snow fall. Study each flake. Smell the clean clothes when you take them out of the dryer. Smell the sweat when you work hard. Feed the horses. Fix the fences. Get hurt. Heal. Sit by the fireplace. Take pictures. Listen to the birds. Watch ice form and melt. Play chess. Write a program. Plant a garden. Learn to play the guitar. Think about learning to play the guitar, but never take the dang thing out of it's case. Disagree. Hug. Feel. Just BE.

See what you can see. Learn what you can learn. Live as much as you can live.
And one day, die... and then find out whatever it is that comes next.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Underwater Breathing

I started my scuba diving class.
I loved it. Water is a whole new world of exploration... I haven't even spent much time playing in a pool, and the thought of exploring lakes, rivers, and the oceans UNDER water sounds amazing.

Just think of all of the cool things I can see!

We went through a few of the things for certification:

I tried to smile for the picture.
That was less effective:
I lost the snorkel.
I had to swim. I had to use a snorkel, fill it with water, then blow it out, so I could keep breathing.

The fins caused me issue, because I got stepped on by a horse this week, so I finally took them off. It's hard to swim with a big tank on your back.

I had to breath underwater with and without the mask on. (First breath was SO weird!)

We learned how to clear the regulator. (It fills with water when you take it out of your mouth underwater. If you just put it back in and start breathing, you'll breath water.) We had to do that several times, and show we knew the different methods to clear it.

Then we had to flood our masks and clear our masks underwater. Having water in the mask made it so I couldn't see, and that caused me anxiety. I had a hard time thinking when I couldn't open my eyes... The instructor worked with me for about five minutes before I could (somewhat calmly) fill the mask with water, and then clear it.

Before class, I was a little bit worried that PTSD/anxiety/panic would make diving miserable (for me, and anyone with me). I'm not worried anymore. Before I go on a real dive, I'm going to have to get more comfortable with water in the mask, but I am confident with just a little more time and practice, I'll be past the anxiety.

I'm going to have to invest in a wetsuit or something. (I hate spending money, but I have learned that spending money on the right gear makes experiences so much more enjoyable. Something about freezing makes it hard to enjoy anything.) The pool was 80 degrees, and by the end of class I was shivering so bad I couldn't turn the knobs on the oxygen tank.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Moving forward

Most of my current friends are from "support groups".
Some people I met while I was in treatment for an eating disorder.
Some I met at a CALM (Community After Leaving Mormonism) support group.

The nice thing about meeting friends there, is that you can get right down to talking about the stuff that is bothering you. No one balks if you talk about trauma or abuse in an eating disorder support group. Pretty much everyone there has their own intense story, and they are trying to figure out how to survive hell just like I was. It was very helpful to have people who understood and who I could talk to.

Leaving the church was incredibly painful, difficult, crazy, and very lonely. I am so glad I found the support group. Again - no one balked when I expressed anger, sadness, and frustration at the things I learned in church (or that I learned about the church). Nobody tried to persuade me to feel differently - because we were all going through pretty much the same thing.

The thing I have started to realize recently is that I don't NEED either of these support groups anymore. (Which is AWESOME!) But now I want to find friends that share more common interests, instead of common pains. (Just to clarify - the friends I've made in those places are still very important to me... It's just that I want to expand my life to include new people.)

This summer, I joined an organization that helps train Mustangs.
Last month, I joined a club called Trout Unlimited. They get together once a month and talk about fishing. Then they go out fishing and camping together. Freaking awesome!
Tonight, I start a scuba diving class.

I will still be very involved in educating others about abuse vs. healthy relationships. (It is very important to me to be here in case there is anyone else who needs support.)
I will never be able to completely get away from the church, because everyone in my family is still a part. So, I will probably always write about and be involved with issues. (I also still have a desire to be there for anyone who was like me. I want them to know there are more options than what the church teaches.)

I'm also ready to move forward into LIFE. I don't know how that will go as far as blogging... There's not much to say after a great ride, or a good fishing trip, or even a scuba diving class. How many times do I say, "Today's ride was AWESOME!" before everyone gets tired of reading??

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Trying to convince a horse to drag a tree... not as easy as it sounds.

In my last post, I talked about our desire to train the horses to drag a tree behind it.
We want to ride the horses in, find a tree, cut it down ourselves, and have a horse drag it out behind him. I've never done anything like that with Sunny. BJ once tied a sled behind Bo the horse, and it didn't go very well. Bo was fine with the rope being tied to the saddle. He was NOT fine with that piece of plastic following him.

We decided we'd start with Sunny... Generally, he spooks less than Bo. (Unless there's an elk. Sunny doesn't like elk.) I tied a plank of wood to a rope, then tied that to his saddle. We walked all over the pasture. No problem. (Bo freaked out. He didn't like that piece of wood following Sunny around. We spent most of the time trying to get Bo to get close to the wood and the rope.)

I am not going near that thing, and you can't make me!
Bo eventually got to a point where he would walk next to Sunny while Sunny was dragging the wood. I decided it was time to move to something bigger, so I tied a log on. He did great with that. (He was a little uneasy, until I had him stop and look at it. I don't think he understands English, but I have found if I just explain things to him, he calms down. So I explained it to him.)

This is what Sunny and I were doing while Bo and BJ were moving closer and closer to the rope tied to Sunny's saddle.
This is the part of the story that shows how silly I am... What made me think this was a good "next step"?

There was a tree in the yard that had been knocked over by the wind. It wasn't TOO heavy - I could have dragged it myself, but I decided I could use Sunny's new skill to move the tree out.

I tied the rope to the tree. Made sure it was no longer attached to the ground at all...
And then I started leading Sunny. He was great, until the tree got caught on the gate. He kept pulling at it, but when it wouldn't budge, he started dancing... and rearing up... and I was standing at his head.

BJ videoed the whole thing... You can't see Sunny step on/kick my ankle, but you can see when I start hopping (and swearing, but softly enough that only I could hear it.) I can't get the video to upload... you'll just have to trust me...

We got the tree loose, and then Sunny pulled it the rest of the way, no problem.
Tonight, I'm hanging out on the couch: foot up with ice on it. It doesn't hurt too bad, but it is swollen and bruised looking.  A friend of mine shared this on Facebook (so fitting):

BEWARE: I ride horses, which means I own pitchforks, have the strength to haul hay, and have to guts to (work with) half ton animal after being kicked... you will not be a problem!

I'm feeling tough tonight. (Although I also just went to Cowboy Poetry, where one of the poets shared a poem about "Healthy Living". I wish I had a copy of the whole thing... basically it poked fun at the irony that Cowboys live outside in the fresh air, and think they are living healthy, because they don't live in the city. BUT they've all lost fingers, broken bones, and various other injuries. It's just part of being a "horse person". I've never broken a bone or lost a finger. I broke my nose once and now I've bruised my ankle... I'm not really tough at all.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My magnificently Boring Life

I was talking to a friend a couple weeks ago... She asked me how I was doing... what was new... all the usual questions.

She and I have both been through HELL. Abuse. (and a lot of it). PTSD. Depression. Craziness. And we both felt like we would never be 'normal'.

When she asked me all the usual questions, I laughed/cried and said, "I'm so normal and boring. It's awesome!"

And then WE laughed/cried as I told her about my very boring (and wonderful) life:

I woke up and ate breakfast with BJ. We talked about horses. We want to train them to drag a tree behind them, so we can cut down our own Christmas tree this year and have the horses drag it out. I don't know how to train my horse to drag a tree behind him. We tried to come up with a plan that would be helpful AND not result in injury of us or the horses.

I showered and got ready for the day. He went to work.
I work from home, so it's pretty easy going. I have two co-workers that come in for a couple hours every week. They came and we worked and chatted.

I fed the horses, and ate my lunch in the pasture with them.
I replied to a few personal emails and played on Facebook, then I went back to work. I shipped 108 pounds of ties that day. That's a lot of orders!

Dann called and we talked. (Like I said before, we're friends.)

BJ came home and we made dinner together. We talked about our day. His work. My work. The conversations he had with Jim at work. (Jim likes to talk about the same things that BJ likes to talk about. They get each other thinking.)

BJ made banana bread, and then we watched TV (Gold Rush. I hope Parker makes it big!) My friend called. BJ tied flies (for fly fishing) while I talked to her, and then we read. Together, but not together... Sitting in the same room reading our own books. I love reading my own book, but still sitting together and sharing what we're reading. Sometimes I only read one paragraph before we spend the next few hours talking about stuff.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Eating Disorder questions

A friend of mine recently taught a class on eating disorders. He asked me a bunch of questions, so he could share some of my story. I figured I'd share my answers here...

How did I view my body?
I hated it. Everything about it. The way it looked. The way it felt pain, hunger, thirst, or tired. I hated myself... hating my body was just an extension of that.

What were the reasons for restricting?

I didn't really "restrict" like most people. As a very little girl, I was a super picky eater. If told I had to eat the hot dog, or go hungry, I chose to go hungry.
When I was 10ish, I heard my parents stressing about money. In my mind, if I went without food, that would help them.

At 14, my dad punched my brother. He spent two weeks in the hospital with a ruptured spleen. I blamed myself, because I didn't do anything to protect Jeff. I got really depressed and lost my appetite. I found that not eating numbed my anger and my sadness. It made life more bearable.
At 17, when I went into treatment, my therapist would ask me why I didn't want to eat, and all I could come up with then was that I was crazy. I really didn't know.

I got a lot better from 18-29. I felt like I owed it to everyone else to be recovered. So I ate like I was supposed to. At 29, I just decided I was done... done living, done trying, done pleasing everyone else. Which took me right back to starving myself.

I went back to therapy, and this time talked about sexual abuse that I wasn't willing to talk about the first time. Talking about the abuse caused horrible flashbacks, nightmares, and intense painful "body memories". I felt like the only way to find relief from the flashbacks and body memories was to walk. I walked and walked and walked.

I went back into treatment mostly because I knew I could make myself eat, but I didn't know if I could make myself eat AND deal with all of the abuse and trauma that I needed to deal with.

How did religion play into your thought processes?
Religion was HUGE.
First, not eating was a very acceptable way to deal with problems. Alcohol and drugs were not an option, but not eating was not only NOT looked down upon, but thought to be a good thing. People (in general and in the church) still see my ability to fast for a long time and to exercise as a show of self-discipline. (I have heard several people say they wish they could be anorexic for a while, just so they could lose weight.)

There are many lessons about the spirit having power over the body. I can push my body to extremes that most people won't ever even try. (That's a good thing, by the way.) Being able to push my body meant I was more spiritual.

I was rewarded for not being selfish... for being aware of what everyone else needed and letting them have it. This played out in food. I (still) won't take the last piece of cake, because that feels selfish.

Fasting is a sacrifice that we make to God, so that he will answer our prayers. I fully believed that my not eating could help the people I love...

The LDS religion preaches perfection as the goal. It created very black and white thinking. The goal might be to BE perfect, but if you can't be perfect, at least LOOK perfect. Hide all imperfections, weaknesses, flaws, and make them go away. (Not eating was a way to make all the human flaws seem less... I had super human strength... It also made all human emotions go away. I didn't' feel angry, jealous, sad, or wanting. I didn't have strong opinions about anything (It's hard to feel passionate about anything when you're starving.)

Forgiveness in church means forgetting. Killing brain cells by starving MAKES you forget.
What was effective and what was not. Was there anything that wasn't effective the first time through but was the second? What had changed in you between the first and second time?
The first time I went, I was seventeen.
I was in the ER, and the Dr. gave me the choice of going into the hospital or going to Center for Change. I chose Center for Change (CFC). I thought I would be there for two weeks... just long enough to get some food in me.
I ended up staying almost three months. It was very helpful, but...
I wasn't ready to talk about a lot of things, so I shut down. I started doing a lot of eating disorder behaviors and hiding it even before I left.

There's also a sort of competition with eating disorders. It's like you have to be really REALLY sick to deserve any kind of help. Every time a new admit would come in, everyone would obsess about her body, and relapse in a way. They also made fun of the people that were working. (If someone took an extra helping of food, the other girls were AWFUL with their comments.) The staff was awesome, but the other patients made it really hard to do the work.

Being in the environment with the other patients is a big reason I didn't want to go back eleven years later.
My experience was SO different the second time.

CFC made a lot more rules to protect against people doing exactly what I had done. When I went the first time, they were only six months old. They learned a lot in that time.
I also REALLY wanted to be better. I was willing to do anything to feel good, so I was a SUPER stickler for all the rules. (I had a therapist tell me to stop following all the rules... Learn to trust myself and stop trying to be perfect. BEST advice ever.)

The other patients were amazing. I had told Paul (my therapist) that if the other patients were anything like they were my first time, I wouldn't stay. I was watching for the competition and the sabotaging each other.
I had been there about two weeks when a new girl came in. She was very sick - heart problems and seizures from detoxing off the diet pills she had been taking. Several of the girls sat in a circle, prayed for her, and then pinky promised to be done with the eating disorder. There have been many days when I felt too tired to keep going, and I remember that pinky promise. It's hard to describe how amazing that experience was if you have never seen what some treatment centers can be like.

Since I already knew how to make myself eat, my big focus was on dealing with the abuse. I worked HARD. I talked about things that I didn't want to talk about. I shared. I was open and honest. I gave therapy my ALL.

I knew what it was like to "just eat" and I wanted more than that. I was not (am still not) willing to live the way I had been: trying to please others, letting other people use and abuse me, and feeling helpless in my own life.

I stayed inpatient for three months, and then did day patient (going from 8 am - 8 pm) for another few months. The transition time of day patient was really helpful. I went back to work a few days a week, but still had a place to go to process everything.

I was really lucky. The church paid for my entire inpatient stay, and then family and friends helped pay for day patient. CFC also gave me a price break and two free weeks. Most people don't get to stay as long as I did or get the kind of transition time that I did. It's really REALLY sad to me that most people just have to figure out how to survive on their own, because there isn't insurance or other funding to help.

As far as food and weight gain, the second time, the focus was on intuitive eating. Learning to trust your body. Eat what you want, and know you'll be okay. That was really helpful too... Especially since I had been so focused on making everyone else happy and "proving" I was recovered for so long. With intuitive eating, you eat what YOU want... no more, no less.