Friday, May 6, 2016

Forgiving the Man Who Raped Me, Part I

NOTE: Here I talk about my rape story. I do not mean to imply anywhere herein that men/boys cannot be victims of rape, nor do I mean to imply that the rapes of boys and men are not as important as the rapes of women and girls. That said, the data I will discuss has to do with female victims, but please don't take that as an implication that I believe males are exempt from rape and its horrible effects.

I didn't know it was rape. I thought that in order for it to be rape, it had to be uninvited, and I reasoned that since I'd somewhat-voluntarily had sex with him before, I had invited it that time, even though I was begging him to stop, "no, Thomas, please, no!" through desperate sobs, even though I couldn't move from under him, even though he promised no sex.

There are a few reasons I'm talking about this now. I have been meaning to for over a year because rape is something we don't talk about. I believe we need to talk about it. There are several reasons those of us who have been victims don't talk about it, including:
We're not believed
The stigma is heavy
We are emotionally dismissed
No one knows what to say, so they often say nothing, which is often worse than saying the wrong thing.
 Do you know anyone who's been raped? I can almost guarantee that you know several women who've been raped, as it has happened to 1 in 6 women. Mind you, that's 1 in 6 women have reported their rapes (I should guess), but I personally know several women who never reported their rapes, myself included, so the actual number is likely higher. But 1 in 6 women do not talk about it, because, in my opinion, despite the fact that we are not alone, we are made to feel alone. I have a lot of weird stories, tragic stories, wonderful stories, devastating stories, but the story that upsets the hearer most of all my stories is the story of my rapes. In fact, if you know me, this is most likely the first you've even heard of it. I don't talk about it because of the points above, and other points, like the fact that someone usually starts talking about the women who falsely cry rape, and when I'm telling you about my rape, I do not want to be compared to those comparatively few women. (I'd wager that far more are the women who never report than the women who falsely report. This is not to say that those false reports are not a problem, because certainly they are, but when I'm talking about rape, I am not talking about not rape, thank you very much.)

Of all crimes, it seems like rape is the easiest one to blame the victim. I see too many news articles that even now in this "enlightened" age, mention where the victim was (like maybe at a bar, for example), what she'd had to drink, and even what she was wearing. Just as I can expect a man to not steal my car even if he's been in it, I should also expect someone to not rape me, even if he can see some extra skin. Men are not default rapists. Oh, when will we stop expecting them to be? When will we stop saying "boys will be boys" as if to excuse domineering and disrespectful behaviors?

The first time I told someone I had been raped- several months later- she said, "so? who hasn't?" Oh, what pain must have been in both of our souls, pain that remained un-felt.

I was 20. It had been 3 weeks since my boyfriend and I had last had sex, and I was determined to continue abstinence until we got married. We were planning to get married in about six months. I don't need to discuss the details of the event here, but it was awful, traumatic, terrifying, and soul-obliterating. It permanently changed me. I wrote in my journal that night, "he hates me." And later, "I'm nothing. If I'm going to be nothing, I may as well be his nothing." And so I became. He left me sobbing in my bed that night. All but one of my roommates had gone away for Labor Day weekend, so I had the room to myself. I dumped him by voicemail a few hours later, but in the morning he stopped by and offered me a ride to the bank. He gave me a package of Chips Ahoy cookies and said, "I'm sorry."

When someone rapes you and then the next day comes over with cookies as a token of apology, what do you do? I, unfortunately, ignored the figurative slap-to-my-face and simply said, "You can't be sorry enough," and he said, "I know."

I accepted his offer and let him drive me to the bank, reasoning that I had no car, but I needed to get to the bank, and also believing I deserved nothing better than him anyway. Even though I had verbally dumped him a few hours earlier, I didn't separate myself from him for another four months. I did move away a few weeks later, but during those few weeks of staying, I submitted to the worthlessness I believed about myself, and I just didn't care anymore. I didn't care what he did to my body. It was easier that way. It was easier to let him do whatever he wanted because if I didn't fight him, then it was mutual. If I didn't fight him, then he'd be finished with me soon enough and I could go on with the day. If I didn't fight him, then Labor Day Weekend doesn't repeat itself. It was easier to pretend like I wanted it because then it didn't feel like what the actual truth was: he was using me for my body, and to him, I was my body and nothing more. Instead of acknowledging that, I just, essentially, held my breath till he was done.

That went on for about two weeks before I allowed God to rescue me, and He gave me the courage to move. I dropped all my classes and left the college I loved so much to get away from being constantly used. I didn't break up with him right away, though. I still believed I would marry him, until I allowed God to grant me the courage to totally break it off the following December. To date, that's one of the most difficult things I've ever done.

At my disciplinary council two months later, I was asked, "did he ever force himself on you?" Well, I had slept with him before. On the day of the rape, we were in my bed together. My bed. He didn't drag me there kicking and screaming; I went with him. Also, it wasn't a movie-scene rape; I hadn't been hit or drugged or blindfolded, and so I figured it wasn't as bad as most rapes and so what right had I to feel crappy about it? Because of all that, and because I didn't want to be the reason he wasn't allowed to serve a mission, I said, "no." But the answer was "yes, a few times." Labor Day weekend, for one (but I believed it was my fault because I had agreed to be in my bed with him, and because I'd slept with him before). A few other times, I woke in the middle of the night to being raped (but I felt it was my fault because I was the one who fell asleep with him in his bed).

There are two important and significant problems with this story:
1. I believed his sin of rape against me was my fault
2. I believed I was destined to Hell because of my own sins

You and I can understand now that it wasn't my fault. Permission one time does not grant unlimited permission. Having a house guest for a night does not give them permission to move in, or to ever stay again at any point, without express permission. Lending a neighbor a garden tool one time does not give her permission to use it every time she wants it going forward.  People are ever more important than garden tools or guest bedrooms. I wish I could go back and tell myself I was not to blame. My sins did not grant him future, exclusive pardon. I wish I could go back and tell myself that sharing a bed with him, though unwise as a faithful Latter-day Saint, is not the same thing as agreeing to sex. I wish I could go back to tell myself that having sex before I was married did not make me hopeless and worthless, as I then completely believed. I wish I could go back and convince myself to call the police on that guy, and even if the cops didn't believe me (which was my greatest fear when I considered calling the police), the report would be there. I wish I could go back to my disciplinary council and say "yes, yes he did force himself on me," and even if they didn't believe me, the truth would have been in my report. I wish I could go back and convince myself, "telling the truth about him raping you does not look like you excusing yourself from your bad choices. Stop worrying about that," and "it's his fault he can't serve a mission."

But I just didn't understand. I thought I was doing the right, noble, righteous thing by withholding information about his coercion. I didn't understand that my worth was never changed, not for a moment, by my sins and choices, nor by Thomas's estimation of me. I didn't understand grace or the Atonement of Jesus at all. I didn't understand that I was truly eligible for complete forgiveness, and that God loved me every moment of that time, in the exact same way He loved me before I had made those very poor choices. I didn't understand that He was there with open arms, ready and eager to love me back to spiritual health.

It took years to fully believe that I was not responsible for being raped. Once I recognized that I had been wronged, I also recognized that I needed to forgive.

I'm going to tell you something. I have been through a moderate amount of life's crap. My ex husband's adultery. Extreme emotional abuse. Divorce. Poverty. Single parenthood. Mothering a darling son who has autism. Unemployment. Homelessness. None of that compares to being raped. All of that stuff combined doesn't compare to being raped. It's still sad to me, 14.5 years later. After all this time, it still causes me some pain and suffering; it still skews my perspective, even though I have finally reached the point where I do not hold it against him.

So how do you forgive someone for doing something he never could be sorry enough for? And why are we expected to forgive people who do unforgivable things?

More on that to come. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Still an Addict

My, it's been a long time!

I have been busy getting engaged and stuff. DUDE! I'M ENGAGED TO BE MARRIED!

Nine years ago this month, my ex husband left. Finally I have found someone. I thought it'd take two years tops, and almost a decade later, I get a 2nd chance. He was more than worth the wait.

I've been dating this fellow for about a year and I always hoped that meeting a guy would cure me. I knew it could never be that way, but I hoped it would be anyway. Well, I can tell you with certainty that having a man in my life does not erase my addiction. I know, then, that marriage will also not "cure" me, and I'm more motivated than ever to let it go to God.

I'm making progress, as my bishop consistently reminds me. I'm the facilitator now at my local ARP meeting, which baffles me. When I was asked by the Stake high-counilman, I told him I was most definitely still in recovery, still slipping, and was he sure? He said yes and I said alright. Last Friday was March 11, and we did Step 2. Funny thing, March 11 was my first ARP meeting EVER, five years ago, and we also did step 2 that day! I thought that was noteworthy.

Five years.I have been attempting to recover for five years. Okay, let's be self-fair. I have been in recovery for five years, and I have made remarkable progress. Five years ago, going 11 days without pornography or masturbation was a feat worth posting about. Five years ago, my clothing was shame and my supper was fear. Five years ago, I was too ashamed to use my real name on this blog. I would go to ARP and hope no one would drive by the local seminary building and see my car. What would they think?! Oh, I worried so much someone I knew would see my car and call me and ask, simply in genuine curiosity, "why were you at the seminary building Friday night?" What could I say to them? Five years ago, I believed that if people knew I was an addict- a pornography addict no less- they would want nothing to do with me. I felt like a dirty diaper. Five years ago, I didn't understand that the Atonement was for me. In some ways, I still don't understand. Five years seems like a very long time to my inner-critic. It seems irresponsible and pathetic of me that I'm still a freaking addict after five years of ARP-assisted recovery. My inner-critic shakes her head and dismisses any progress I've made because, what does it matter? it shouldn't have taken this long. I should have had this licked years ago. I should be done with this by now.

But my inner cheerleader has mighty good things to say. Like, for example, the fact that I haven't sought out visual pornography in 13 months!!! Say what? Five years ago, I couldn't have seen a day where I'd ever be able to say that! A year ago last month was the last time I watched a porn video. It feels amazing. Dude. A whole year. I didn't do a year at a time; that's impossible. I did a year one day at a time.

Don't be misled; I have still sought out pornography; I have simply managed to raise the bar of what I find acceptable, even in my darkest, most desperate moments. In the recent past (for my own reference: I think six weeks ago this weekend), I have found written pornography and read it. That's where I am now. That's where my slips are: textual porn and stuff. It's sometimes difficult to celebrate success when I'm still a prisoner to my flesh. I'm still an addict, through and through. I still mentally turn to sex or something sexual at signs of stress or sorrow or anxiety. It's still my go-to! Several times daily, I have to kick out the invading thoughts which threaten my sobriety and worthiness. And when will I get to stop fighting so hard, so constantly? Is this how recovery goes? Raising the bar bit by bit till it's too high to break? If I accept written porn now, will it be limited to mere ideas later? If it's every six weeks now, will I gain strength to go 10 weeks, then 12, then 50? Is it just a constant progression, or can I hope for an end?

It's weird to abhor something so completely while still feeling an attraction to it. I don't feel "done" with pornography. I mean, I still find the idea appealing. I still fight out the idea all the time. I still feel so weak.

God is trying to teach me to stop hurrying everything. I'm learning so slowly. Patience, Stephanie.

Something sorta amazing happened the other day. I was driving home from a stressful day at work, and my mind was blank, but then I realized I was thinking about something inappropriate, and even making plans to participate in something inappropriate. As usual, I kicked that thought out my brain with great annoyance, but I went a step further. "Hold on," I whispered to myself. "What's wrong?" I asked myself what's wrong. If my default thought to find comfort is something sexual, then what am I seeking comfort about? I thought about it, and validated all the things that were making me sad or worried. I let myself feel it and tried very hard to not judge myself for feeling it.

You guys, I feel like this is groundbreaking. If I can do this every time I have an idea or a thought that threatens my worthiness, I will love myself back to health. "Stephanie, what's wrong?" Addiction is coping gone bad. Asking myself what's going on when I recognize those thoughts will help me cope well, and I'm excited about that.

God is so good. How He loves us! How He teaches us! Truly, He gives us gifts and enlightenment line upon line, as we are ready. How I love my Savior, my Redeemer, my advocate, Who comes to get me every time I stray, Whose arms are ever-open toward me.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

How Pornography has Affected the way I View Women

Whenever I'd hear people (men) say that pornography made them think of women, in general, as objects, I'd basically ignore the comment or judge it as ridiculous. As if I have room to judge, EVER! It made no sense to me that men would allow anything to turn women in general into objects, please! I thought they were pretty low for thinking that. I figured that I had done an excellent job of separating women and objects, though readily admitted that while I was viewing pornography, the women and men were objects for me. Also, on occasion, I would make an object of a man I was making out with. However, outside of porn or lust? No. Humans. Men and women were humans, souls, and I never objectified them when I wasn't in the addiction zone. I shook my head at such comments, when I'd hear how pornography actually changed how these men saw women in general. Oh, they were repentant, and they didn't like it about themselves, and that was pretty good, but I just couldn't see how they didn't see face to face women immediately and only as human beings.

You guys, this is a pretty heavy confession I'm about to make. This has been on my mind a few days and I feel I need to write about it here. So, here, I write about it.

I was driving the other day, through my neighborhood. I saw a woman. She was jogging, and she was wearing jogging clothing- tight and form revealing. My first impulse, as it always is, was to notice her body, and by "notice-" let's get real, here- I mean objectify. My first impulse, as it always is, was to find something on her that would ignite something in me, something inappropriate, something lustful. And, as I almost always do, I immediately looked away, reminded myself she is a beautiful daughter of God with a soul. and a life, and I reminded myself to love her. This part of the event is normal for me. This part happens several times a week if not several times a day. I notice a woman, I seek to lust, I change my thoughts, I seek to love, I go on. The part I'm about to tell you, however, is new. The new part is the part where I realized that my first impulse upon seeing that woman jogging the other day was to lust. Immediately following that realization was the understanding that I almost always react in that exact same way.

There is something I want to clear up at this point. When I say my impulse was lust, I do not mean to say that I had any sexual desires toward these women. This feels very difficult to explain, but I'm going to try. I'm trying to talk myself into just saying it like it is because even though I will be judged, I also may be able to help someone. So. Here we go- open and real and explanatory. I have never thought of myself as having Same Sex Attraction. I haven't wanted to romantically be with a woman emotionally or spiritually or permanently, ever. I'm grateful that SSA hasn't been among my trials of this life, and I've often said that our brothers and sisters who do so struggle are the strongest and best among us, but I never considered myself one of them. Indeed, I am not. So, why, then, was I having to use reason and prayer and extra love to dismiss the lust I felt when looking at women jogging, or women with revealed cleavage, or women with short skirts?

I wasn't having any sort of sexual identity crisis here, but I recognized then that what I was feeling about these women, initially, was lust. Well, perhaps "lustful" is a better term. I was seeking to be aroused.

When I look at men, I do not seek to be aroused. I'll come back to that later.

Recently, I read this excellent article about lust. It's by Andrew over at Rowboats and Marbles, and I encourage you to click here to read the article. I didn't agree with everything, but it sure opened my eyes to what lust really is, and I related quite well with his assertions about how women participate in pornography vs how men do. At first, I was insulted that he was separating men and women like that, but, for me, he's actually right. Women, he says, are more likely to seek to be lusted after, while men seek to lust. This is why women are more likely to find pornography in text- like romance novels- while men are more likely to find it in pictures and videos. It's easier to put yourself in the position of someone being lusted after while you're reading, and easier to lust while you're viewing. Now, I get bored by reading because it's not fast enough, but I can tell you that when I view pornography, I'm following that model of vicariously being lusted after. And that's what I was doing all the years I was looking at pornography.

I do not think one is any better than the other. It is no better to seek to be lusted after than it is to lust. It's all objectifying, it's all sinful, it's all dangerous, it's all disrespectful.

When I look at women lustfully, it's another extension of the place I put myself into when viewing pornography. It's almost like I'm lusting in order to be vicariously lusted after. (If you can make sense of that, good for you.) It's almost like I'm putting myself in a position to be lusted after, by me. And that's insane. I'm turning women in general into objects, and so I'm an object too, because I'm a woman, and I am an object unto my own self.

Before pornography, I'm nearly certain that I didn't see a jogging woman and instantly become lustful. Pornography has most assuredly changed how I view women. Pornography has most assuredly affected my ability to love all humans, women, myself. Pornography has reinforced to me that women are only good for sex, and so I want to be lusted after, so that I can fulfill my role. Pornography has taught me that women are worth more when they are more willing to do deviant things with their partner(s). Pornography has destroyed my mind so much that the first thing I think of when I see a woman with few or tight clothes is sex or something sexual. I am the people I complain about! I am the people I shake my head at when I say, "women should be able to wear whatever they want and not be objectified!" I am the people I condemn when I say "if someone has inappropriate thoughts when they see a woman in a bikini, that's not the woman's fault- that's theirs." I believe all those things. I believe that a woman ought to be able to walk around in a miniskirt and a halter top and be safe from horny, impulsive, disrespectful men, and not be held responsible if a man assaults her physically or verbally. But, I am the one who thinks those lustful thoughts. What is this?! How has this truth about myself escaped me for so long?! I know the antidote, though. It's love. When I love someone, I cannot have any feelings of lust toward them. Therefore, my wonderful friends who are reading this, rest assured that I do not think of you lustfully, because I love you. Besides, when I am near women, speaking to them, I do a good job of seeing them as actual women. Rarely, during a face to face conversation with anyone, do my thoughts turn to lust.

Pornography has broken my mind so that I have to reason with myself in order to view women appropriately. Pornography has reinforced to me that I am only good for sex. And, no wonder, then. No wonder I felt perfectly comfortable making out with perfect strangers during perfect storms of loneliness and self-loathing. No wonder I participated in so many online lust-filled conversations with men I never met. I believed what porn reinforced: that my purpose was sex.

Right now, I see myself at my computer desk, five years ago, my eyes giddily waiting for Mark's response. Mark was intelligent, attractive, rich, sexy, and he was lusting after me, and I was lapping it up like a kitten at catnip-flavored milk. Suddenly, his reply appears in the chat box. It was exactly what I'd hoped for, and I lustfully respond. Back and forth we go, till it crosses a boundary, and I get angry at him and tell him off-- till the next time. I want to go to that lost, sad woman. I want to tell her she is worth more than anything Mark could ever offer, and that Mark was worth more than everything I was offering him. I want to hold her and rock her and give her the love she was missing, the love she was actually seeking, and tell her that Mark's conversation with her would only leave her empty and wanting. I want to go to her now, and turn off the computer, delete Mark's contact info, block him and all the other men I stored on my computer screen, and tell her it's all a lie, that she's worth far, far more than merely sex, that her purpose is grander, and her identity infinitely more majestic. 

Pornography hasn't only affected my view of women, but also of men. Part of me believes the lie that men, in general, are sexually aggressive and abusive. Oh, I hope you haven't seen what I have seen in pornography, but the men are aggressive and abusive, for the most part. They are not the ones being lusted after.They are the ones for whom I must be lustworthy. Because of pornography, I assume that most men are looking around at most women lustfully, undressing us with their eyes basically all the time. Oh, how untrue this is, how unfair it is for me to hold men to this level of crudeness. I don't feel lustful toward men because they're the ones that are "supposed" to lust. I don't seek to be aroused when I look at men, because pornography taught me that women are supposed to be doing the arousing.

I'm not saying pornography is to blame, because I'm the one who chose pornography. I am saying that I have a broken view of men and women- a view that I can intellectually dispute any day, any hour, but I have a lot of heart-unlearning to do- because of my participation in pornography, and I really really really really hate that. Pornography is powerful, evil, and Satan's biggest game piece right now. Pornography is the greatest counterfeit of all time.

Oh, but because of Jesus, we can always, always hope. Step 2 of the Addiction Recovery Program is Hope: "Come to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health." I believe this with my whole heart, and I believe He can and will restore me to a proper and righteous view of men and women, and that someday, I will see a jogging woman and see nothing else but a beautiful woman who is jogging. I feel like the more I learn about addiction and pornography, and about myself, my God, and Satan, the more I realize I don't know. I have a lot of learning and un-learning to do, but I have a God Who is willing to help me learn and un-learn it, and who wants to restore me to complete spiritual health.

God help me. God, heal this broken mind!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Addiction Recovery Program Conference

I had the great privilege of attending an addiction recovery program mini-conference in my area today. It was from 9-1, and the presenters were so great- the ones I attended anyway. Also, I had the pretty great opportunity to be a presenter!

When I was asked, I thought it was a pretty crazy idea because after 4.5 years in the Addiction Recovery Program, I haven't even finished the 12 steps. I'm on step 11. Also, I thought it was pretty crazy because I'm not recovered. I mean, my last slip was just a few weeks ago (although, guess what- have I said this recently?- the last time I looked at visual pornography was in February, YEAH!). What could I possibly offer to a bunch of addicts and their families when I wasn't any better than any of them?

Not much, to be frank. All I could offer was my story. And that's what I offered. And it was enough.

As I was practicing, I realized that my story is very long and very complicated, and all of it is important, but I couldn't fit all of it in 40 minutes. I asked Heavenly Father for help to choose which elements were most important to share for today, and I trusted the Spirit as I omitted and added and evolved what I would share. I wanted to focus my remarks on The Rescue- how my Savior has invested so much in my rescue, and how He is always out to rescue me, at any given moment. Oh how deep is my gratitude! I still forget how important I am to Him, but those moments of forgetting are becoming fewer and farther between. Progress, and progress is the name of the game.

Because I feel like I should, I want to share something one of the presenters shared. His name is Jason Hunt, and he's a professor at BYU-Idaho as I understand it, and he has studied and researched addiction from a scientific standpoint, so he has a lot of knowledge about it. Anyway, his entire presentation was amazing and taught me so much, but what I wish to share is this: He talked about the difference between recovering from an addiction to pornography and an addiction to cigarettes. He said that we aren't as encouraging in the Church, culturally, to pornography addicts. He gave an example of a cigarette addict who goes from smoking four cigarettes a day down to three, and how encouraging we would be for that addict, and we'd be like "way to go! Keep it up!" and then maybe the addict might smoke only two the next day, and everyone would celebrate. AND, if that addict smoked 3 again after only smoking 2 for a few consecutive days, we might be like, "hey, that's alright, keep trying, you'll get there." On the other hand, if a pornography addict who normally looks at porn for 4 hours a day says "I only looked at porn for 3 hours today," we ask what is wrong with them, how horrible, and we are not as encouraging at the progress.

I am so blessed to have a bishop who always always always looks at my progress, and when I'm discouraged with how long it's taken me to become free (because I'm trying to free myself rather than surrendering my heart to Jesus), he reminds me, with so much love, that I've come so far, and that I'm doing great things. What a blessing it is to have an advocate like that. I have many friends who are advocates like that, and I thank you all. Let us all be advocates like that!

What a blessing it is to know recovery, to know Jesus, and to have full access to the most joy and truth that can be found in this world. What a blessing it was to have attended this wonderful workshop, and to have been a part of it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Power of Hope

Tonight, I attended my weekly ARP meeting. I wanted to stay home and sleep, as I haven't slept well in several weeks. However, I recalled that sleeplessness had been a contributor to my last several slips, and maybe the meeting would give me that extra spiritual boost.

There was no maybe about it.

I had planned to complain when it was my turn to share. I had planned to speak my fears and sorrows. But, when it was my turn, I could do no such thing, because the Spirit took that time to remind me of where I'd been, where I am, and where I'm going. My God, through the Spirit, reminded me that, even though I feel like recovery is taking me way too long, it really wasn't all that long ago when I was in a place so dark and hopeless that I mostly believed I could never recover; that I was stuck forever in sin and despair; that I would never make it Home. I remembered a poem I'd written several years ago, and I remembered it verbatim. I have posted it on my blog before, but this is the one I'm talking about:

God, O God, my Father,
Can't You feel my inside screams
Bursting outward, upward, forward
Through a megaphone of sin?
Can't You see my face discolored
By my heart's unending tears
Do You not hear the desperation
of my crumbling, wearied soul?
I'm tired of this! Tired
of the constant, blunt reminders
Uninvited invitations
to my chosen mortal vice
God, O God, my Father
Is there more hopeful a conclusion
Than -- Why give to Thee this day
When tomorrow I must fail?

Now, it's been several years since I wrote that. Seven years, actually. But I felt just that way for years. I felt like failure was inevitable, that I wasn't good enough to ever be free, that my efforts toward healing would never be sufficient, and so how could my efforts of today matter at all when tomorrow I was just going to act out again? I felt totally and eternally trapped. Tonight, as I recalled the poem, I also recalled very vividly the feeling. And the truth is, I'm not there anymore. Even when I take some steps backward, I cannot stay in a place of misery and hopelessness, because I know too much. I know my Savior too well. I cannot know Him and love Him like I do and stay down! No! Because of Him, I can rise each time I fall, and I can rise immediately each time I fall. He will pick me up the moment I reach for His hand, every time. And so, I cannot stay down anymore, and my stumbles are ever becoming less frequent and less drastic. I am His miracle! My pride and unwillingness have slowed my progress, to be sure, but I have most certainly progressed, which is evident by my hope, I believe, which hope comes through my Jesus. My progress is a miracle.

I am in a much different place than I was then. The difference is enormous. Then, hope was a light through a pinhole way in the distance. Now, hope is as "bright as the noonday sun," and constant. Oh, sweet hope, Oh, sweet Jesus! I cannot lie in despair when I know such hope.

When it was my turn to share, I did not speak my fears and sorrows, as I'd previously planned. I spoke my hope and gratitude. I spoke my testimony of His love and His healing. As I remembered how far I've come - even if it has taken a long while - I couldn't talk about the negative pieces of my life. The miracle of the Atonement is far more important than the day's irritants.

I'm so thankful I attended tonight. I'm so grateful that the Lord has provided His children with so many tools of recovery, of help, of repentance, of hope. How He loves us! How He loves me.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Reconciliation and Separation

I don't know everything about addiction, but I know a lot about it. I have studied it for years, both from an LDS/spiritual perspective and a psychological perspective. Addiction sucks. Having addictions sucks.

God made our brains this way. He made our brains susceptible to addiction. Addiction isn't a sin; it's a weakness. The things we choose to do in our addictions, well, those are certainly sins, of course. But, addiction itself isn't a sin, and being an addict is nothing to be ashamed of anymore than having multiple sclerosis is something to be ashamed of. It's just not a sin.

The thoughts in my head this morning are these: As addicts, we must both separate our addictive behaviors from our worth, and reconcile our addictive behaviors with ourselves. And that's weird to me. Separation and reconciliation are basically opposites, but aren't paradoxes kind of a thing of the Gospel? The last shall be first and the first shall be last shall be first; become as a child but put off childish things; commandments seem restrictive but they are actually liberating, etc.

I have a hard time reconciling this addiction with myself. I have had sexual addictions for twenty years!!!, I ought to be able to understand that it's a part of me by now! But I hate it. I feel to be above this smut. I feel to be too righteous for it. I feel like it's beyond me even while I'm seeking it out! Pornography has been a destructive and defining part of my addiction for 8 years, and it still feels like something I would never do. I can't make sense of that and I recognize I must sound like a crazy person. But that's what I mean. This is what I have to reconcile: that pornography (using humans, degrading humans, supporting sex slavery, supporting sex trafficking, mocking sex) is not beyond me. This is what I have to reconcile: that I. AM. an ADDICT. This is what I must reconcile: that the behaviors I choose when I am in that zone of addiction are the behaviors I am choosing. This is what I have chosen! This is what I have chosen. This is what I have chosen. I have to reconcile that, I have to believe that about myself, I have to believe that I would do these things that destroy me, that I would choose something so deplorable, so repulsive, so damaging, so despicable! Yes, me! I am not beyond this.

At the same time, it's equally important to separate all those admissions and reconciliations from my worth. It's equally important to separate what I've done and who I am. It's important to separate my addiction from my potential.

That's hard to do. It's hard to both reconcile and separate. I'm better at separating than I used to be. When I slip, I don't mope around for days behaving as though I have no worth because I feel like I have no worth. I don't do that anymore. I get off my rear, dust it, fall to my knees, express my genuine sorrow (which comes more readily and sincerely when I'm not beating the crap out of myself), and move forward. I've gotten pretty good at separating my sins from my worth. However, I still struggle with reconciling that this is a part of me. This is an error of pride.

Step 1: Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions. Admit. Reconcile. Shed denial.

It's fundamental in addiction recovery, and I have yet to fully achieve it. There's still a huge lying part of me that so desperately wants it to not be true about myself, that I cannot fully reconcile that this is a part of who I am.

I slipped last night. I'm struggling the most with these types of thoughts: I'm better than that. I knew better. I have no room for this in my life. This is not the kind of life I'm living right now. I'm above this!

But, clearly, I am not above this. And if I really break that down, then what it means is I am still struggling to admit that I need help. If I really think I'm too good for this sin, then I really think that I'm too good for a Savior, and if I really think that I'm too good for this sin (the very one I've been committing for most my life), then I also somewhere believe that I'm in no danger of committing it, and that is a perilous lie.

I don't know the mechanics of yesterday's slip. It's always complicated; always complex. I do believe, however, that it had much to do with thinking I was beyond the sin that tempted me. I will say that I could feel the attack from Satan from early in the day. I knew it was coming. I predicted more temptations. I went to the temple. Even in the temple, sinful thoughts invaded and I swiftly kicked them out as soon as I was aware of them. I'd been doing it all day. I listened to two conference talks and read scriptures and participated in good things, in effort to protect me from the crave. But, Friends, it was intense. As I was lying in bed, trying desperately to sleep, the thoughts I'd been trying to escape all day swarmed my mind, and I prayed. And I began listening to scriptures from my phone. Jacob 5 to be exact. And while I was listening to Jacob 5, the thoughts I'd been fighting all day basically shut down my brain and I shut off the scriptures.

It was like pirates in the darkness. Like I was a ninja in a great field at midnight, and I knew I was coming up to a scary place like maybe a beach or something, so I was doing all the things I knew to do, and I was gripping my nunchucks in anticipation of battle. And then this pirate jumped out of the shadows and I fought him off! And then two pirates jumped out of the shadows, and with a little more effort, I took care of them, too. But then 15 of them came, so I turned on Jacob 5, hoping to shine them away, but they encroached steadily, and they were all around me, and I thought I'd be okay, but then another 100 of them surrounded me and with equal speed and fervor they ran upon me, and I was totally, helplessly overcome. And then they drowned me in the ocean.

That's what it felt like. I can't win 115 pirates! I gave up. I exited my LDS Library app, and on the very same device I was using to try to invite the Spirit into my heart, I tried to bypass my filters to find something pleasurably appealing. I succeeded. And the Spirit fled, as I should have done.

You know what I bet? I bet if I'd just held out a little longer, if I'd just offered up one more prayer, if I'd reached out to just one friend- if I'd given one more sincere effort, that's all it would have taken. I bet I was just at the very last moment before Grace would have swept me up in safety. And I wish I would have held out.

Here's another thing. If I confess the bad, let me also rejoice in the good. I haven't viewed pornography in 7 months! This is some sort of awesome record! Last night I found some really awful reading material, which, if pornography has been involved in my slips since February, it's been in text. I'm not saying that's an acceptable form of pornography, no way. It's still very much pornography! But if porn has degrees, text porn is not as bad as visual porn, and I promise I'm not justifying. It's . . . something like progress. It means what I tolerate is becoming less graphic, which means I'm getting better. Slowly!! Ever so slowly, but ever so surely, and I'm counting it as progress.

As I passed up the Sacrament today, I wept. I can't wait for a day (in the near future, dang it!) when I will be able to take the Sacrament every week, for more than six consecutive weeks. Oh, how I wish to be healed of this. Oh, how I wish to be free.

I'm so inexplicably grateful that I have a Savior, Who has taken upon Him my every last sin, and because of Whom my chances to repent never run out while I live and breathe.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Living Converted

Well hi there!

I know it's been an unusually long time since last I posted. I have been buys falling in love and dreaming of a wedding, etc. Pretty crazy stuff.

I wanted to post something about my awful week. Last week was the most emotionally challenging week I've had since David Ridley (that crazy awful therapist I had who lost his license over the type of "therapy" he provided me and about 2 dozen other women) and before that, since my ex husband moved his girlfriend into our apartment. It was a hard week. I keep thinking of all these adverbs I could use to explain the pain of this week, but they all fall drastically short. As I later lamented to a dear friend the details of what had happened, and how I felt like I lost my boyfriend/fiance and my family all in the same weekend, she remarked, "you're like Job." I certainly am not like Job, but the feeling of loss did feel significant. But, I did still have the love of my darling children.

Sunday is when it started. I was crying much of the afternoon and I decided to attend a local mid-singles fireside. Actually, a few weeks ago, I had made a promise to my ward's singles representative that I would be there, otherwise, I would have skipped it. I'll have to thank her for asking me to promise to attend.

The speaker was an area authority, and he spoke of the Atonement. I was in tears of sorrow before the introduction was completed. I was just so sad. I sat alone because I was so emotional, and I would have been mighty embarrassed if someone witnessed my tears. I had made some poor choices one family relationship, in response to some of their poor choices, and I wanted to repair, but I felt my efforts would be insufficient or rejected. As I wept over my loved one, both of sorrow for myself and for them, I listened to the speaker talk about how the Atonement is an enabling force, how it enables us to do good. And I wondered if I could use the Atonement to help me with my family. I took the following notes:

The Atonement enables me to do good. It gives me strength to do good things, the good things for others, for my children, for myself. My strength is not sufficient!! His is!! Ask Him. Seek His strength. I was given weakness. I'm not created to handle it on my own. It's impossible to handle it on my own. I wasn't meant to do it on my own. I can use His strength, His love, His forgiveness, His creativity, His perseverance, His energy, His chastity, His charity.

After the fireside, I called my boyfriend to tell him about it, and to tell him about what had happened with my family member, and he offered comfort and wisdom. I decided I would do what I could to fix it.

The next day, Monday, I sought reconciliation, but in doing so, gained unintentional access to some extremely hurtful information which made me feel misunderstood, unappreciated, somewhat hated, and like I completely didn't matter to not only one member of my family, but to most. In the moment of discovery, indeed it felt like my whole family hated me. I had no idea they saw me that way.

Also that Monday, though the details I will keep to myself at this point, my relationship with my boyfriend was abruptly and completely severed, at least temporarily (like, maybe a few months, or maybe a few years, I have no idea- this would make sense if I could explain the reasoning, but I'm not able to at this time).

Everyone. I felt to have lost everyone I loved the most, all at once, except, again, my kids.

Monday, I cried basically all the day. I buried myself in my bedroom and let the kids fend for themselves, which they did.
Tuesday, I cried basically all the day. I spent some time out of my bedroom, but not much.
Wednesday, I cried much of the day. The pain of my situation was also physical. I could feel it in my gut, twisting it up, implanting a thousand tiny acid-laced, double-edged swords into my innards. It hurt.

But something reminded me about the talk I'd heard Sunday night. I could borrow the strength of the Savior, and His forgiveness. I wasn't going to be okay with sobbing in my bedroom every night! No! I am a mother, and an employee, and I am needed. I thought I needed to call my therapist and see if she had any openings this week so she could help me hash this out. But, Soni, my therapist, is super popular because she's super good, and she's all the time booked for like two weeks out. I called anyway. I also knew she is off Fridays, and because of my work and life schedule, the only time I would be able to see her last week would have been Thursday at 3. So I asked the office manager, "Is there any chance Soni has an opening tomorrow at 3?" and she said it wasn't likely, knowing how Soni is all the time booked, and I said I know. She checked anyway and confirmed that there was, in fact, nothing open this week at all. Or next week. So I said, "if you happen to get a cancellation for tomorrow at 3, will you call me?" and she said, doubtingly, that she would.

For reals, I offered this prayer: "Heavenly Father, please bless that Soni's 3:00 will cancel tomorrow. I'm serious about that. Thy will be done, of course."

Wouldn't you know it, not an hour later, the office manager called me. "You won't believe what just happened." and I said, "Did Soni's 3:00 cancel? God loves me, is that what you're telling me?" and she said, "yep."

I was soaring. What an incredible tender mercy of the Lord! I got home and decided to immerse myself in the Word of God, for I was most certainly in need of comfort. And comfort is exactly what I found. Comfort from God comes with bonuses, like clarity of mind, strength of heart, and priceless perspective. That night, I made dinner, did some laundry, and washed the dishes, and that had been the most I'd been able to muster up energy for all week, besides work.

Thursday was similar to Wednesday night. I felt amazing! I understood that my worth did not come from my family. I understood that I love them anyway. Soni helped me with objectivity and perspective, and helped me understand the differences between dysfunctional and functional communication, and gave me comfort and wisdom. My family doesn't hate me. They just suck at communication, and none of us are perfect, aye? The whole day, I felt light and powerful, like I could conquer the world if I was so required. I could feel the Atonement of my Jesus enlightening me. I could feel His power empowering me. I knew the Source of my Strength, and I could not deny it. I was happy and hopeful.

I am still happy and hopeful. I am at the foot of an enormous mountain of a trial, and it's going to be a long climb. But it will end. And, because of this week, I know, without a smidgen of doubt, that my God will help me through it.

Another significant trial this whole last week was that Marsha, my addict, had been doing cartwheels. Oh, what emotional triggers roused her! Every day was a struggle of extreme temptation. I didn't know how much more temptation I could withstand. I wasn't doing anything to invite the temptation other than having a crappy week, and it was so unfair! But, I was remembering to pray, and getting reminders to pray, and I was praying very specifically that I wouldn't "enter into temptation." The temptation was dancing before me, holding all these doors wide open, but I didn't enter. I haven't experienced that much wild, demanding need for my addictions in months, if not years. I'm grateful and somewhat surprised to say that I made it through safe.

In other but spiritually related news, today I was sustained as Beehive Advisor in my ward. I'm very excited about this calling, and feel humbled by it as well. I haven't ever served in the YW before, but I'm feeling up to the challenge. I intend to put my whole heart in it.

I felt like this calling came at an excellent time in my life. I need the distraction from missing my boyfriend. Also, I have been growing spiritually over the months, and it feels like I'm almost ready, now more than ever, to be a leader to impressionable and wonderful young women. I am taking this as an enormous responsibility, one that I will take seriously, and one that I feel ready to take seriously because of my recent spiritual growth. I know that I will learn so much more being their teacher, and I'm excited about that! In my blessing when I was set apart, I was told that this calling came at the right time.

And here's the thing. God's timing is everything. This whole mess with my boyfriend is about God's timing. Perhaps this whole mess with my family is about God's timing. This calling is about God's timing. I am impatient and impulsive, and my Father has been working hard to teach me to trust His timing, and I'm finally paying attention. He gets it right. Every. Time. His timing is perfect, every time! And it's not even just that His timing is the righteous timing so I should wait and obey, but it's also that by trusting His timing, my life turns out way better than I ever imagined it could. I mean, I get all these blessings, all these treats and tender mercies, dotting the path of my feet constantly when I trust and adhere to His timing, His will.

I feel like I am finally starting to really live like I'm converted to the Gospel of Christ. I feel like I'm finally starting to understand that He really does have a plan for my life, and that His plan for my life is spectacular. Ima trust it, y'all.