Tuesday, March 6, 2018

My Return and Report: "How do we interact with loved ones or associates who once embraced the gospel, but have become less active?"

For anyone interested, my mom gave me a report on the RS meeting. (From my post a few days ago.)
The president started by reading part of my email to her and then asked the women how we can love people.

The comments were more concerned with bringing me (they didn't know it was me, but the sister who wrote the email) back. Then it turned to women talking about how ALL of their family were still active and temple worthy and if we just stick to our convictions no matter what...
My mom raised her hand at that point, and she said the RS Pres looked relieved, and called on my mom. She talked about how she has a child that has left the church, and in the process, she has learned how important it is to just love unconditionally. She doesn't love me, SO that I will go back. She just loves me. She talked about knowing the eternal nature of progression. She trusts a loving Heavenly Father to work things out. She knows He just wants us to be happy, which is all she wants for her loved ones. Shunning or loving conditionally will only hurt people, and that can't be what Heavenly Father would want.

When they broke off into small groups, people thanked her and commented that I seem truly happy, so that makes them really happy.

The RS Pres also told my mom my email has really made her think, and she plans to have future lessons/discussions on the topic, so that they can do a better job of loving those who need our love the most. She also told my mom that I seem really happy, and my mom said, "happier than I have ever seen her. What more could I want?"

I am still impressed with my mom (and the rest of my family) who has (have) somehow figured out how to hold both her (their) love of the church and her (their) love of me at the same time.

I also keep thinking about those who told me I couldn't make a difference if I left, because no one would listen to an "ex-Mormon". I feel pretty empowered by the whole thing, and also really grateful.

I also feel like all of this comes at a pretty amazing moment for me.
In therapy (EMDR with horses), the thing I have been doing most recently is confronting the feeling of being treated poorly by the people that were supposed to help and also having nowhere else to go. I kept going to bishop after bishop, because who else could I turn to? Some of that has linked to feeling let down by parents and grandparents - the adults in my life who didn't know what to do, couldn't do what I needed, weren't aware, caught up in their own grief, thought they were doing the right thing, etc. - I am aware everyone was doing the best they could, and somehow that hasn't taken away the emotion all stored up inside. (which sucks, by the way. If only it was as simple as understanding everyone is doing their best. No one meant harm, and who cares about the ones who did mean harm? It doesn't work like that.)

I haven't wanted to write about any of that, because I feel bad. I feel bad that I needed more from my parents when I was a kid. I don't want to hurt them by putting that out there (anymore than I already have). At the same time, I have been pretty committed to talk about this whole PTSD-recovery-journey here. Just in case it might help someone else, I wanted to put it all out there.

I'll admit, it's incredibly painful to do that kind of work in therapy. Emotions are intense and I feel sad and angry and I do a lot of shaking, crying, curling up in a ball, and then being comforted by horses and therapist.

Today, I just feel amazed. My parents may not have done what I needed earlier, but they have done everything right in the last ten years. That helps me at least have good perspective when I go down into the trauma that seems locked in my body.

It just feels so perfectly timed just for me.
For that, I feel very lucky and very grateful.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

My thoughts on "How do we interact with loved ones or associates who once embraced the gospel, but have become less active?"

Because I am a still a member of the LDS Church on their records, and my membership is still in a ward, I get emails from the Relief Society of that ward. I suppose I could ask to be removed, but most of the time I like reading the updates on the people that are in the ward. (They send out a prayer list that talks about what is going on for some of the people in the ward. I've known these people most of my life, so I like knowing what's going on. When one of my best friend's from high school's mother was really sick, I knew about it and could reach out to my friend.)

This week's email was about the upcoming lesson/council/discussion. I haven't been to a relief society meeting in nearly ten years, but I read the email just because I was bored... and then I had a lot of strong feelings about it.

Here's the email:
Agenda for Sunday Relief Society Council Meeting, 03/04/2018
Reading Assignment: “Apart, But Still One” by Elder Joni L. Koch, of the Seventy (November 2017 Ensign, P.110)
Sharing: Last month our action item was to look around us and to become aware of the needs that were around us, and to seek ways that we could help with those needs. I want to give you an opportunity to share any thoughts or experiences you have had this past week on this topic.
Today's Council: How do we interact with loved ones or associates who once embraced the gospel, but have become less active?
  • As we talk today about this topic, think about someone who was once active in the gospel, but has now become less active, or think of those who were less active and have returned (this could even be yourself). I want you to make comments that you feel prompted to share. This council should invite the spirit to give each of us personal revelation as we share information and experiences.
  • Iceberg Example from Sister __
Possible Discussion Questions:
  • Our reading assignment of Elder Koch's talk, “Apart but Still One,” pointed out a few possible events that can occur among members of the church that can contribute to disunity among members. Did you find any insight from the article that relates to our topic that you would like to share?
  • What experiences have you had or observed that have brought loved ones back to the faith?
  • Read messages of hope from our living prophets (taken from quotes page that will be passed out at Relief Society)
  • Action Item: What is one thing you can do this week to help or accept a loved one or associate who has become less active?
 I called my mom to see if she would be in this meeting. (She's the stake primary president, so she is often not in Relief Society, because she is taking care of stake business.) She will be in this one, so I asked her to say something. My family did a great job of helping me know I was loved when I left the church. (You can read about it here.) I like what I wrote, but I love what my mom wrote in the comments even more,
"I had some preconceived notions about what a family looked and felt like and that's what I tried to bring about, but eventually I figured out that what a family looked like, didn't matter. What a family felt like did.
I know you think we aren't normal, but I think there are a lot of people like us, who just love their family no matter what they look like to the rest of the world.
Thank you for being so patient with us while we grew up as parents. Love you tons!"
She has some wisdom she could share, but I know how hard it is for her to speak up in a group. (She struggles with it even more than I do, and that's saying something!)

My mom suggested sending an email to the Relief Society President. I don't know what to say, so I thought I would start with just writing here and see what comes out.

The Letter

Dear Sister __
I know I am not the target audience of the emails to the relief society. I haven't been to a relief society meeting in more than ten years, and have no intention of changing that. I know many people think it is sad that I have distanced myself from the church I was raised in, and I know many people want me to come back - for my own good they say - because they don't understand why I left and how a different path could be good for someone. I understand that. I was once a member who believed there was only one path and one true way to happiness. I was wrong.

I am happy for the members who are happy being members. I am so glad the church and its teachings bring my family so much happiness and peace. I would never want to take that away from them. I also want to say many of those same doctrines and teachings brought me misery. You've known me since I was a teenager, and probably remember how I didn't fit in even when I was 14. I tried. After my teenage years, I gave it a really good try. In the end, for my own health and well-being, I have left the church behind me.

Many members (including the gentleman who gave the conference talk that was the assigned reading for this week) give reasons for people leaving that aren't complete. I am sure there are people who stop going to church for the reasons listed in that talk, but there are so many more reasons why people stop attending and/or resign their membership. For the purpose of this email, I don't think it's important to list those reasons... In fact, I think it is really important to ask people who no longer attend what their individual reasons are. Most probably won't talk about it, or they will try to protect you from knowing what they have learned. Many won't trust that you REALLY want to know. My family has had to work really hard for me to trust them with my own thoughts and reasons for leaving, because I didn't trust them in the beginning. I'm grateful for the work they have put in. I'm grateful they have asked me why I chose to stop attending instead of assuming they knew. I am grateful for their unconditional love and acceptance of who I am.

I'm really glad you are having a lesson on how to interact with and love people who no longer attend. I know way too many people who have been completely shunned by their family because they have left the church. Last week, I spent hours listening to three different men who are facing the possibility of divorce because their wives don't know how to be married to (men) who don't believe the church is what it claims to be. They are losing everything, because they are being honest about what they believe. It's heartbreaking. I have witnessed other men and women who have children, parents, siblings, and friends who will not spend time with them because they have left the church. They have been disowned by their families completely. It is beyond heartbreaking to know that your family can't love you and doesn't want you, no matter how old you are.

I sincerely considered coming to the meeting on Sunday, just so that I could say one thing:
"PLEASE, please don't love people so that they will come back to church. Just love people. Don't try to manipulate them or coerce them. Just love them. Trust them in their journey. They might come back. They might not. In the meantime, your love could be a lifesaver.

I honestly believed my family would prefer I was dead than that I left the church. I almost made that happen for them. Luckily, I decided to give them a chance first. Luckily, they took that chance and supported me and loved me wholeheartedly. I am alive today because of that choice.

I told my mom she could just stand up and tell the whole room to be like her, but that's not really her style. But seriously, be like her and my dad."
I also don't know if I would be heard. I am an outsider now, and I know it. I also feel nervous sending this email, because I enjoy coming back to accompany (my brother and sister) in their musical numbers at church. I would hate to be excluded from that in the future, because I tell you what I really think and who I really am. (If I actually send this message), I guess I have decided it is worth the risk. 

I know part of the goal of the relief society meeting is to bring relief to those sitting there. Offering people a way to bring their loved ones back may bring a lot of relief. I have found love, friendship, community, compassion, and relief from outside that space, so I understand it's asking a lot to think about me while sitting in that room and in that meeting. It might be selfish of me to ask, and I guess I'm doing it anyway.

Please think about me and others like me as you have this discussion on Sunday.
Much love and gratitude,


(I did not send the following, but I thought about it. I just decided it wasn't the message I wanted to send right now.)

P.S. In case the above wasn't enough, here are a few other thoughts I had:
This blog post was written a while ago, and it might help you understand how to be helpful.
It's not a Mormon perspective, but it fit with what I needed (and probably still need) from "church people".

Some things church members can do:
  • Talk to us with no goal of trying to get us to do anything. 
  • Invite us to social events (especially the kind where there won't be lessons)
  • Ask us how you can be a good friend to us.
  • Acknowledge how hard it is to leave what we have known all our lives. We are pioneers, and it is hard to be a pioneer. 
  • Tell us you don't know what to say, but you also don't want to say nothing.
  • Listen.

Things not to do:
  • Don't send us scriptures, ensign articles, or links to why we should do something different. 
  • Don't call us to repentance or tell us how to live our lives. Even if you really, really want to.
  • Don't tell us what to do.   

An hour after I sent the message, she had responded with the following:
"Dear Jen,
Thank you so much for your absolutely honest and sweet email. I love you whether you are in the church or out of the church. And I know many others would do the same. 
Yes, we will respect your journey. You are correct in understanding that families are heartbroken when their children leave the church. But, it is because they do strongly believe the doctrine of eternal families. 
Sunday our discussion will include how to love and accept the decisions of those who have chosen to step away from activity. And, yes, we do plan to discuss how that talk illustrates just a few of the many many reasons that people do not want to be a part of the church. 
I always enjoy seeing you when you come to play your beautiful music or when I see you at other activities. I hope we will always be friends. 
You would be so welcome at our meeting on Sunday. And I hope that your mom will be there and share her thoughts, if you are not there.
Love you lots,

Also, if it seems OK with you and it seems good as I proceed through the council, may I use A few of your statements in your email, if I don’t give names?"
I am happy with the exchange. My mom says she'll report back on how she feels about the whole discussion. I thought about going, but would rather get together with our Uncorrelated Mormons group (which meets at the same time).

Thursday, February 22, 2018

I won't apologize if it's not my responsibility, except, I'm really sorry you're late.

I'm not exactly sure where or when this thought process came from. It's one of those things that just seems like it's always been a part of me, but I also know people aren't born believing they have to take responsibility for everything all the time.

Here's my example:
Todd had an appointment today at 10:30. It's thirty minutes away, so to be on time, he had to leave at 10. At 10:08, I looked at the clock and said, "You have to leave. Like, now!"

He thanked me for paying attention, and I apologized for not noticing it sooner and for making him late.

As he rushed out the door, he said again, "Thank you. I wasn't paying attention. The proper response to that is, 'you're welcome.' Love you."

I cried. I cried, because I really deep down believed it was my fault he was running late. I really deep down believed it was my responsibility to pay attention to the clock and make sure that he left on time. I really deep down believed, I deserved to be yelled at for not doing what I was supposed to. I really deep down believed that I was not good enough. I didn't anticipate his needs (without being naggy or controlling, because that is even worse than making him late...)

If I go deeper, I was afraid of being hurt for not doing what I was supposed to be doing. My failure creates intense fear. I know that wasn't there when I was a kid. As a kid, my failure might result in someone else getting hurt, but I wasn't afraid for my safety.

My safety became a fear by being in a marriage with someone who couldn't take responsibility for himself. He couldn't handle his own emotions, and I paid for that. I still cower in fear while also being unable to explain the fear.

I don't think this is who I am.
This is not who I am, which means that with time, work, self-awareness, and whatever else it takes, I won't be afraid, and I won't feel like I have to apologize for something that isn't mine to apologize for.

Monday, January 22, 2018

It's not just toddlers who have meltdowns.

Protect LDS Children has a petition going around that has recently gained traction among my believing friends. I didn't really feel like I had a dog in the fight - I don't have children, I no longer have anything to do with bishop's interviews, and I don't feel like it's my place to try to change a church I don't believe in.

Then this morning, I was reading my friend's comments about it. She is a strong, believing, active member of the church. She has told her bishop that he can't be alone with her children, and the bishop has told her it isn't possible for her (or any adult) to be in the interview with him and her child.

I suddenly felt sick inside. (Can I blame that I've been doing EMDR therapy, and it makes things seem bigger and stronger emotionally than they use to?)
I distinctly remember my mom begging me to go to a temple recommend interview when I was fifteen. The Mount Timpanogos temple dedication was coming up, and I needed a recommend. I couldn't explain to her why I couldn't go, but I just could not go into that room alone with the bishop. It seemed stupid to me, since I'd been in interviews my whole life. I'd been walking in those rooms alone since I was seven years old.
As I thought about it this morning, I also remembered feeling anxious and afraid going in the bishop's office when I was seven. I didn't want to be there alone, but I wanted to be good. I don't know if I said anything to my parents or not. I do remember the fear sitting in the room alone with Bishop K and eventually getting over the fear because he was nice.
At fifteen, I was going through puberty, which was bringing up all kinds of shit and generalized anxiety over men most likely because of past sexual abuse. It could also be the fear I had of my own father. Whatever it was, I was terrified of men. The thought of going in there and having him ask me questions made me want to die. (I was already very self-destructive, deep in an eating disorder, deep in shame and self-loathing, and deeply hated who I was. Worthiness questions could have also added to my fear. It's hard to say since I was fifteen and confused as hell about what was going on for me. It was a lot easier to starve myself, cut a little, and just flat out refuse to go to the temple dedication with my family.)

I started talking to Todd about it, and my strongest objection to bishop's interviews was the way it grooms little kids into trusting men of authority and ignoring their own discomfort.

I think it is pretty rare that a bishop abuses a child. VERY RARE. I think damage is more likely to come by sending a child into the room where an adult man that is almost a stranger asks them questions about themselves, and the kids are just supposed to answer because he's the bishop. It's teaching a child a lack of boundaries that isn't healthy to learn.

As an adult, I went to the bishops for help. I trusted that they were the ones that could help me. They couldn't. Most didn't. Most caused me more harm than anything. One fought for my life like no one ever has before or since. One listened to me and tried to do right and help me. Every single other one made things worse for me, because I thought they knew what they were talking about. They had no fucking clue. They didn't mean to cause harm, but they did.

I shared some of this with Todd, and I said it was just so upsetting, and he responsed, "because it taught you who you were in relation to men in authority," (or something like that. I wish I could remember exactly, because it was perfect.)

I sobbed. Hard. For a good thirty minutes.
Then I went and signed the petition on Protect LDS Children. I wrote about it here. I commented on my friend's post. For my own sanity, I have to do something. I want to change things for other little kids.

I didn't have a good relationship with my parents, so as a teen, I would not have wanted them to come with me. (Though actually, I remember the bishop coming to the house, and I felt more comfortable with him there when my parents were there than when I thought about going to an interview... so maybe I would have been better off.) I love the idea of the child choosing an advocate. I would have chosen one of my young women leaders. I had several that I felt comfortable with, and I would have been totally fine with them sitting there in the room. Even if they didn't say a word, I could have handled an interview if I wasn't alone. (I think.)

I don't know if that would have made a difference in my life - my life is pretty fraught with a lot of shitty things - but maybe?

Anyway, I don't have time to go back and edit this or make it sound smart... I just needed to get it all out of my head.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

EMDR Therapy (with horses) works

I had my second session of EMDR this week. We started by talking about a moment in the present:

I realized recently when Todd is around, I ask him how to do things I am perfectly capable of doing. As I thought about it and tried to source that behavior, I came to the conclusion that it was about doing things the way he wanted. It was important to me to anticipate his needs, wants, etc. before he told me. At first, I thought it was out of fear of being hurt. In session with my therapist, I felt like it was more about being who and what I was supposed to be. 

In the discussion, I felt shame. I wanted to curl up, hide, disappear. I also pictured being in the kitchen with Larry on one specific night. 

He had forced me to have sex when I didn't want to from day one of marriage. On this night, I fought back. I don't remember what made it so different, but I kicked and screamed and then curled up into a ball trying to keep him from getting my pants off, climbing on top of me, and forcing himself inside of me. Eventually, he won the fight. Then he got up and yelled at me. He was upset because I had fought and forced him to do that to me. All the fight was gone out of me, and I stood in my kitchen and apologized to him. I promised I would never do that to him again. I knew it was my fault, and there was something wrong with me for not letting him do what he wanted. 

That moment has always been emotionally charged for me. I feel deeply ashamed for both fighting him and for apologizing. I felt sad and angry and hurt and scared when I thought about it. At the same time, I had a hard time recalling it. I saw it as if I was outside my own body watching myself. (The picture was of me standing in my Mickey Mouse pajamas in the doorway of the kitchen with the living room behind me.)

In session, my therapist holds my hands and taps on the back of them, alternating back and forth between the hands. I also do therapy in the roundpen with a horse. In this session, she was wandering freely around us. 

As I described the moment in the kitchen, Wendy (therapist) had me focus on how the shame felt. I felt like curling into a ball, so I did. She followed me down to the ground, and Violet (the horse) stood guard while I cried. 

I cry often, but not in therapy. I am usually too self-conscious and hyper aware of everything around me to let myself cry. This time, I wasn't self conscious, and I was completely unaware of everything except Wendy and Violet. I have no idea how long I cried - just until I was done. Then we stood up and Violet nuzzled my face while Wendy and I talked. 

(This is when I learned that Violet had started licking Wendy's butt and legs - yet she didn't lose it. She didn't even laugh or flinch. She's got rockstar focus.)

Wendy asked me what I would do if put in the same situation now as I was that night. 

"I'd get up. Put clothes on. Leave and go to the police. There's no reason to take that kind of shit ever again."

It has NEVER occurred to me that I could have gone to the police; that I would have been believed; that THAT is what you can do when your husband is physically and sexually violent. 

Since my session, I recall the kitchen, and I can picture what it looks like. Instead of seeing it as if i was outside myself, I see it from my own perspective. I no longer feel sad, or ashamed, or scared when I picture the kitchen. I feel strong, which is weird and cool. 

I have spent a lot of time in therapy talking about that day. I've expressed anger about it, I've talked about how the shame isn't mine, there's nothing for me to be ashamed of, but nothing has been as effective as EMDR (with horses) at changing me. It's kind of amazing, and I keep wondering if it's real... but if it's not real, it feels real enough that I don't even care. 

I just wrote about all of this, and still, all I feel is strong. That is very different from any experience I have ever had before. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Day After EMDR Therapy

My first EMDR therapy session was yesterday morning. I left the session not sure how it helped or didn't help. By the end of the day, I felt emotionally fragile and tired. I wanted to cry, but couldn't say why... so I just let the tears flow for no reason. (This is one of those moments where I feel very grateful for the relationship I have with Todd. There is zero pressure to not cry, or to talk about it, or to explain the tears, or to do anything but cry if I want. He sat next to me and held my hand. That's all.)

This morning, I woke up with every muscle in my body sore. At first I thought maybe I was coming down with a cold or flu-ish something, but then I realized: My muscles aren't achy like I'm sick, they are sore like I worked out really hard. I didn't work out really hard yesterday. I just went to therapy, where every muscle in my body shook for at least a half hour (and maybe longer, it's hard to tell when I was going through it).

It makes sense to be sore.
And I would just like to say, our bodies and our brains are amazing. To both hold emotion and trauma, so that I don't have to experience, and then to process it using every single muscle, it's amazing.

I still don't know if it was helpful. It's kind of hard to say, but if pain is gain, then it was helpful.

P.S. If you want to read about the actual session, it's here. If you want to read about anything else I've written about EMDR, check out these posts. C-PTSD means no EMDR, and Moving Forward

I'm thinking after reading these posts, it might be good to do a post about what EMDR actually is. If I get to it, you'll get to read it, otherwise there are some good books and posts about it.

Check them out here:
EMDR: The Breakthrough Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma 

The EMDR Coloring Book: A Calming Resource for Adults - Featuring 200 Works of Fine Art Paired with 200 Positive Affirmations


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Equine Assisted EMDR

I've been working with a human therapist and her two horses (and whatever barn cats come by) for theee years now. Working with horses has been helpful - it gets my whole body involved in processing - which seems to work a lot better than sitting on a couch talking.

Because of my chronic pain, I've been looking at EMDR.  My pain has all sorts of visible and diagnosable causes, but I've still wondered what connections there are to trauma. I've got a lot of years emotions that were held in while going through some kind of intense trauma. It makes sense to me that it would add to a pain feedback loop. Besides all that, PTSD and trauma emotions and memories are still a part of everyday of my life. I've learned to cope, and I've learned to manage, and I function really well. I'm overall happy and healthy, and I also recognize it could be better if I'm willing to put in more work.

Insurance refused to pay for EMDR therapy. They said because they cover therapists who treat trauma, they don't need to cover that therapy. I don't have the cash available to pay 100% out of pocket, so I hadn't thought much more about it until my therapist told me she was getting trained in it.   I figured, "What the hell? Let's give it a go."

Today was my first session.
First, I am glad she didn't get offended when I couldn't help but laugh as she moved her hand back and forth. It's a little weird, so let's laugh about it.
Second, I couldn't keep my eyes focusing on her. When I dissociate, I get lightheaded and there seems to be a block between the rest of my body and my head. So she used tapping on my hands. That helped me stay more grounded, feel more connected, and made me feel safer on an emotional level.

Since I have learned that sitting in an office is less effective for me, I chose to go out with the horses while also giving EMDR a try. Having two horses tuned in to me, and one licking my hand and resting her nose on my cheek, arm, or leg, was calming and grounding for me. I know some people don't feel calmer standing in a pen with two horses, but I do.

There really wasn't much to it. Talk about a memory - or a cluster of memories with similar emotions.  Wendy (therapist) tapping my hands while Daisy and Violet (horses) do their thing, and I stand there and shake until I'm done shaking.

Since I can recall memories without pain or intense emotions, it's hard to tell if it was helpful. I can disconnect and dissociate while still staying present and look connected. (It's a helpful skill to have if I'm being totally honest, but it's not necessarily how I want to live my life if that makes sense...) l will see how it goes and how I feel between today and my next session in two weeks.

It's really hard to describe what it does and how it works. Equine assisted therapy is like that too. Somehow, it just works for me. I am able to process things on an emotional and body level that gets me farther than just talking. I'm smart. I can say and do what needs to be done, but sometimes it actually works better to NOT work that way, and let emotions take control and lead the way. Like I said, hard to explain.