Saturday, April 28, 2012

Loaded Words: Forgiveness

Recently, I was asked the question, "What does forgiveness mean to you?"
So, I'm writing about it.
Bad news: I'm a little bit all over the place in my writing.
Good news: I like what I wrote, so I'm leaving all of it...

There was a time, I would hear the words, "Forgive them," and I would hear, "Take their abuse. Let them hurt you." So I'd do that... Only the peace I was hoping for, never came. Instead I only felt used and abused and crazy.

I chose to forget the word "forgive", because it had too much extra baggage associated with it. And then, in January, a friend of mine posted this on facebook.
"Lately I hear of so many people ignoring or being rude to their own family members or close friends because of choices that person has made. It's so sad to me that in our society, people are so selfish and unforgiving and judgmental. They hold grudges and don't talk to siblings, parents, cousins, friends, etc. because they are sad, mad, angry, or whatever toward that person. For some reason, they feel like they are entitled to hold a grudge because they are choosing to do so. I wish people would learn to take the advice "Be QUICK to forgive" seriously."

I wrote this in my journal that night:
"For me, two things happened at once.
1. I love it. I agree wholeheartedly. YES. Stop holding grudges. Stop letting the pain of unmet expectations stop you from having the relationships you want. Love people as they are, and not just when they do what you want. It's not love if you only love them when they fit your expectations. That's just manipulation. I hope she reads what she wrote... I hope she gets it...

2. I hate it. "Be quick to forgive" was used over and over and over to get me to go back to very harmful situations. He raped me. He beat me. He assaulted me. He called me names. He said things that made me go crazy. He tried to manipulate me. He pushed every boundary until I thought I would rather die than to have to be around him. But none of that mattered, because it was MY job to forgive. My job to love him and give him another chance... My job to accept the apologies over and over and over, even when he kept on hurting me...

In my world, "Why can't you just forgive?" meant, "You have no right to choose what you want.You have to spend time with him, you have to give him what he wants, you have to... That is what God wants you to do."

A mere mention of the word forgiveness, and I felt incredible guilt, because I was angry and hurt when he hurt me. I'd start beating myself up in my head. And in the past, I'd vow to be better at taking the crap. To not care if he hurt me, but instead to be nicer. Kinder. Quieter.

Forgiveness meant to forget myself. 

I recognize that she was not talking to victims of abuse. I recognize that most people at church would never tell a person to stay in an abusive relationship. (I say most, because I know of a few bishops and members who WOULD and they DID.)  I recognize that who she was talking to might just benefit from some awareness that parents getting divorced or someone leaving the church isn't worth losing family over.

I recognize that what I think and feel about the word forgiveness isn't what the word is intended to mean. It's a "Loaded Word". Because of my experiences and the beliefs I formed about myself and those experiences, forgiveness has taken on a meaning that I don't like.

I don't like that when someone talks about forgiveness, I feel anger and pain and guilt. I feel violated. I don't like that THAT is my internal reaction. I don't like that what I hear is, "Forget yourself completely and only think of what THEY want." I would like the word to come to mean something else to me.

I shared my thoughts with BJ, and he gave me this quote:
"Forgiveness is love's toughest work, and love's biggest risk. If you twist it into something it was never meant to be, it can make you a doormat or an insufferable manipulator."

I'm very aware of what forgiveness is NOT meant to be: It's not meant to make me forget myself. It's not meant to make me sacrifice ME, so that other people don't have to make sacrifices. It is not meant to keep me in situations that are harmful, or even keep me in places that I don't want to be in.

Forgiveness is not supposed to be used to manipulate and abuse... What IS forgiveness meant to be?"

I haven't thought about it much since then... Until the question, "What does forgiveness mean to you?"

The only answer I could come up with that really meant something to me was, "Making peace with the stuff that hurts me." It's an individual thing. There are things that really hurt me, but they won't bother someone else. There are things that don't even hit my radar, but are life shattering to someone else.

Husband having an affair, not a big deal to me. End the marriage, go our separate ways. Easy.
Bishop telling me it was my fault that he had an affair, and I couldn't end the marriage but instead had to work harder to serve my husband and make him happy, HUGE deal. I'm still working to make peace with that. (I read in a book once that you'll know you've forgiven when you no longer have an emotional reaction when you hear the person's name, or in this case when I am reminded of the situation. I still feel anger and disgust at the bishop for saying that, and anger and disgust at myself for believing him and trying to do what he said. Why didn't I just say, "Fuck you. You're an idiot!" and walk away? Eventually, I'll make peace with that.)

ME being raped... painful, and I worked through it, I dealt with it. I'm at peace with it. A friend being raped... I don't know how to make peace with that. I feel anger at their abusers that I have never felt towards my own. (Which in some ways has been healing. Getting really angry and yelling, swearing, and crying, at what happened to them has somehow helped me make peace and move past my own stuff. In that, I guess I am grateful for the things they went through and their willingness to share their painful journeys with me.)

In the book Forgive for Good, he says, 
"there are really only two steps in the process: grieving and letting go. Grieving, after you have been wronged, means letting yourself feel the anger, hurt, and trauma in all its original pain—but not indefinitely. After about two years, most people have had plenty of time to process, then they're ready to move on."  
It was impossible to forgive or make peace with a situation when I kept saying, "It's okay. It doesn't hurt that much. It's no big deal." I had to acknowledge the depth and severity of the emotional wounds. (Ummm... Are there emotional wounds to knowing that a friend was raped? Are there emotional wounds to learning of a friend's abuse? How do I feel the hurt and trauma of the original pain if the pain wasn't mine to feel? I don't know the answers...)

I'd also add to his thoughts that as long as I allowed myself to continue to be abused by other people, I couldn't even begin to start the grieving process... My therapist repeated to me over and over, "As long as you allow yourself to be abused, you will never heal from past abuse." Sometimes I felt resentment, because I didn't set up boundaries. He (pick a him, any him) violated me, and my resentment came because I let him. Once I started standing up for myself and taking care of myself, the anger and resentment just fell away. I wasn't afraid anymore. Once I knew I would not sacrifice myself or my body just to make someone else happy, I experienced a lot of healing.

My friend explained forgiveness this way:
"I totally believe in forgiveness... the kind that says, "I don't give a fuck what you do, I'm going to be happy." I don't believe in the kind that says, "I don't give a fuck what you do, I'm going to let you be in my life and fuck me over..." There's a big difference between the two."
I believe I can forgive without allowing someone back into my life. I have very few hard feelings for Larry, but I don't ever want to see him again. Seeing him, and allowing him in my life would take a lot more work... For me AND for him. Luckily, he seems perfectly content to never talk again.

And maybe the quote that seems to fit my definition the best is this:

"Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past can be changed."

Forgiveness means:
I no longer wish that I had never been raped, or that I had never gotten divorced, or that my parents had been different, or.... I no longer wish that I could change the past for my friends. I no longer wish that I had learned all of this stuff when I was nineteen, so somehow I could have prevented all of the pain. I no longer wish that I could have done it differently.
It means I'm at peace with my past and with my present.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Would you please stop smiling, so I can know what narcotics to prescribe

I have another infection that has gone into my kidney.
If I had gone to the doctor at the first sign of symptoms, I might have prevented it from getting this bad. There are a few reasons why I didn't go.

I hate doctors... Well... I don't hate doctors, I hate going to the doctor's office. I don't like people touching me, and doctors always want to touch me.

I hate spending money...

The biggest reason I didn't go: I was doubting myself.

I wasn't sure if what I was experiencing was pain from a urinary tract infection, or if it was body memory pain. It's normal for me to feel pain and discomfort "down there" all the time. The best way to describe it is it the physical memory of rape. I feel the same pain that I did then. There was a time when it felt EXACTLY like rape: I felt like I was being ripped apart. It was excruciating. Now, it's not like that. It has dulled considerably, but it's still always there. (The most common search term that leads people to my blog is body memories. People want to know how to make the pain stop. What causes the pain? Is it real, or imagined? etc. I wish that coming to my blog could answer those questions, but I don't know the answers. As soon as I figure out how to stop it, I'll let you all know. I do know that it is getting better. It's like the volume is being turned down. A little tiny bit everyday.)

I write about this, because when I was talking to a couple of friends who have also been through sexual abuse and dealt with body memory pain, and I told them about how I didn't feel the symptoms or at least I couldn't tell the difference... Joy said she couldn't tell the difference, and she waited until she was flat out with a serious infection. Tef just nodded knowingly, and I knew she completely understood what I was saying. It felt nice to know I wasn't alone. I HATE that they have dealt with the pain and the confusion, and I appreciate knowing I am not the only one.

My emotions were all over the place: Feeling broken and damaged. Feeling ashamed that I still can't tell the difference between somatic pain and infection pain. Feeling confused. Trying to figure out what normal is. Beating myself up for being weak (because I got sick) or lazy (because I don't feel like moving off my couch). Once the infection reached my kidney, I had no doubt what was causing my pain, and I went to the doctor as soon as I could.

The doctor was amazing. At one point she told me, "Would you please stop smiling, so I can know what narcotics to prescribe. With the infection you have, you shouldn't be smiling." At which point, I broke into tears. She wrote me a prescription for something to take care of nauseousness, and something for the pain, and then told me to rest way more than I think is necessary. She said exactly what I needed to hear.

I'm on antibiotics. I'm taking cranberry supplements. Avoiding the stuff she said to avoid.
Eventually, I'll learn how to take care of this body I live in.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Saddled: Defining Recovery

I just finished the book Saddled by Susan Richards.
I LOVED the first book she wrote (Chosen by a Horse), and the second (Chosen Forever). This one was touching and beautiful, and harder to read.

She talks about her abusive relationship with her (now ex) husband. She talks about her alcoholism and trying to free herself from her addictions. She talks about wanting to die and feeling helpless and hopeless and not knowing why. I think my favorite part was her description of AA.
"I didn't know that becoming sober meant really changing. Not drinking was the least of it. It was the rest of me that was the problem, the part that wanted to stay numb. The men and women in that room (AA) didn't sound numb anymore. They were angry and scared and depressed. They were also hopeful and funny and grateful. They were all over the place. The word that came to mind was whole. After years of shutting down all or parts of themselves with alcohol, they were finally whole human beings.
I sat in a corner with my arms crossed and my mouth shut and listened to what whole human beings sounded like. Evidently being human was a messy business. Not a single person said Everything's fine - my stock response since I was a child to any question about my state of mind. It had never been true, but that didn't keep from repeating it for the next twenty years. I thought that's what you were supposed to say. I thought that's what you were supposed to feel. Anything else meant you were a complainer or worse - a bad person, a wrong person, and wrong was just a code word for crazy. I didn't want to be crazy, because I was already on shaky ground in the wantable department. So the sweet smiley girl became the sweet smiley woman who drank liquor to help keep the lid on anything that didn't reflect how fine she felt one hundred percent of the time. Never mind the on-and-off suicide fantasies going back to fourth grade. Doesn't everybody have those? I was fine."
I think I could have written those two paragraphs myself, just substitute alcohol and liquor with eating disorder and eating disorder behaviors.

When I went to treatment the first time, I defined recovery as "eating my dinner".
I also think I defined it as being happy all the time: No matter what was happening around me, I was supposed to be happy... Do what I was supposed to do, no matter how I felt. It is no wonder I got depressed and tired and gave up trying to recover. I was doing the opposite of recovering... I was still trying to find a way to make the "bad" parts of myself go away. To-do lists, service, church callings, work, were all ways to 'shut down all or parts of myself', and it was exhausting and miserable.

When I went the second time eleven years later, I defined recovery as "loving myself more than I hate myself". It SOUNDED better but, I think there was still some belief  that I would change myself so much that I would love myself.

In May 2010. BJ and I were walking and talking about the afterlife and being gay. (I don't remember why we were talking about it... We just were.) I realized that if I were gay, I wouldn't want that very important part of myself different in the eternities. How insulting! There's nothing wrong with them: They are perfect just the way they are. And then... I started to cry, and I said, "There's nothing wrong with ME. I am perfect just the way I am." And then he started to cry, and gave me a big hug, and my life stopped being so painful after that. I stopped trying to change me, and started to accept me.

My new definition of recovery (with the help of Susan Richards' book) is:
It's becoming whole. Accepting all the parts of myself. Loving myself just as I am.

"Unconditional love is not to love you despite the way you are. 
Unconditional love is to love every aspect of you and to send love into every aspect of who you are."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I know I'm one of the lucky ones.

Reading Single Dad Laughing's blog. I'm reminded again how lucky I am to have the family I have.

I'm SO grateful my family "never once have insisted that I should be doing things differently or that I am wrong in my new beliefs. They don’t cast judgments on me. They don’t place themselves on some pedestal. They don’t leave the room if I talk about my current life or lifestyle. They don’t roll their eyes. They don’t grunt and groan. They don’t “bite their lip” and “put up with me” until I’m gone. They don’t gossip about me. They don’t do any of that.

They don’t need to. They understand that to do any of that would go against what they are working to achieve within their religions. They understand that happiness doesn’t come from such things. And they understand that love will always prevail." (quoting SDL)

I don't have much to add to what he said. Just feeling overwhelmed with gratitude.

Friday, April 6, 2012

...but my wife would never let me.

I went to a fly-fishing banquet tonight. I sat at a table of men (except BJ) I had never met until last night. There was an auction. At some point during the night, I heard every single one  of them (except BJ) say, "I would LOVE to buy that, but my wife would never let me..."

One was a painting... His wife would never let him hang it in the house that they share. He thought about putting it in his office, because at least he had some place that was his...

It made me sad.
Sad for the men that can't buy or have a painting that they like, because their wife doesn't. Sad for the women that don't even know what their husbands like, because their own likes are so important. Sad, because the way the men talked it was like they were getting a break from prison by being at this banquet without their wives there... Which sucks for ALL of them.

I have no more thoughts on the subject. Just felt sad, and felt like writing about it.

On a different note...
I won a hat and a sweatshirt. Not as cool as the guided trip, but cool enough.

Monday, April 2, 2012

No one has more authority in my brain than I do

Something amazing happened this weekend... or I guess... something amazing has been happening for a long time, and I got to SEE it this weekend.

I mentioned in my last post that I forgot about LDS general conference. That in itself is amazing. However, there's more.

They tell you to listen to conference and think about yourself. Apply it all to YOU. I used to do that. I didn't listen and think about what someone else needed to hear... or if I did, I beat myself up big.

"Jen, how dare you think that someone ELSE needs to hear this... that someone ELSE needs to change?? Just the fact that you THOUGHT that says that you are not a good human being. YOU need to change! Conference is for YOU. Change YOU!"

So, I'd try to apply every single word to ME. Which meant, if they said "give more to the poor" it didn't matter if I gave everything I could give, I needed to give more. If they said, "be less selfish and more forgiving," I looked for ways to be less selfish and more giving.

I tried so hard to do everything they said to do, and then felt horrible that I couldn't be and do everything.

I remember conference three years ago... My friend Amanda heard that it was going on, and called me from across the country. She was concerned. She was not the first to tell me that the speakers (both at conference and at church) aren't talking to ME, but she said it in a way that made sense to me. "Most of the people in the world need to hear that they could give more, serve more, and think of themselves less, but that is not YOU. Most of the people need a good reminder every six months to think about someone else, because they only do it once every six months. You spend most of your time thinking about everyone else."

She went on to compare general conference to a presentation she was giving on eating disorders to RA's at the college: Knowing that she was talking to people who liked to help others, and were college students, she figured there would be about five people in the audience with disordered eating. She was worried about giving certain suggestions or saying certain things, because she didn't want to say something that would hurt those five. She came to the conclusion that the sixty-five needed to hear what she had to say, and she had to hope that the five would be okay. Her analogy made sense. The leaders talked to the majority... The healthy thing to do would be to recognize that what they are saying is harmful to me, and stay away.

For the past three years, I've known that their words didn't apply to me... I've known that I am self-sacrificing to a fault... I've understood that I would sacrifice myself, my wants, my happiness, my life to make others happy... And that wasn't good... but still, every time I heard someone talk about forgiveness and selfishness and selflessness and service, I went crazy inside my head.

I didn't listen to conference, and it's quite possible that had I listened, it would have made me just as crazy as it always has... but when I heard what Uchdorf talked about, and what he said about forgiveness and holding grudges and loving, it didn't make me crazy.

It made me think, "Am I holding grudges? Are there changes I want to make? Are there people I am not forgiving that it would benefit me to do so?" I thought about it. I decided that there were a few places I'd like to make changes. Small adjustments that will make my life more full. I also thought about BJ's kids and BJ's ex, and I wondered what they would get out of it... Would they think about the way they are treating him? Would they think that HE needed to change? Would any of it cross their minds? I wondered how it would effect others who were super self-sacrificing... would they keep trying to sacrifice themselves in order to make other people feel good... I wondered about some of the abusive people who were listening... Would they use this talk to invalidate and hurt more people?

For the first time, I didn't let some stranger tell me what I should be thinking, feeling, doing. For the first time, I didn't give him authority in my brain. It didn't go in and take over so fast that I was left helpless... I thought about it, made a choice about what was important to ME. I got to choose. It feels amazing... I also got to wonder about the rest of the world without beating myself up. Words affect the people who listen and believe, and it's okay to wonder how the words will affect others.

Sunday night, I went to dinner at my parents and I was happy. Connected to myself and to them. On general conference Sunday. Today I feel peaceful and... happy. On the Monday after conference weekend. This is BIG. And awesome.

(And just to clarify, that doesn't mean I'm going back... It just means it doesn't all trigger the hell out of me. I'm pretty sure my brother said it best when he invented a new drinking game. He doesn't drink, but he decided a good game would be, "Everyone takes a shot whenever they say something that would make Jen cranky." EVERYONE would get pretty drunk off that.)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A little bit closer to where I want to be

LDS General Conference weekend. It has made me crazy ever six months for several years. Maybe my whole life, since I don't remember my whole life, it's hard to say.

This weekend came, and I forgot about it. I didn't know it was coming. They ended rehearsal early (so those that wanted to, could get home to watch), and that was the first I'd paid attention to it.

Last year, I went camping at Great Basin National Park... It was cold and snowy, but at least there was no TV available. Six months ago, I went to visit my mom, "Don't worry. We'll turn it off while you're here." (yes. she said that. She wanted me to come visit. She's awesome.) And then Sunday, I sat at home feeling sorry for myself.

Today, I'm feeling good. I didn't think about it. I don't feel crazy. I'm sure I'll hear if anything really cool or really outlandish is said. It's finally getting to where I have changed myself enough that I don't care. It feels really good.