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To Boldly Go

Sometimes going boldly, means just going.

If you’ve ever been somewhere where you didn’t feel like you quite fit in, you’ll know the feeling. It takes guts to go anyway.  You might have struggles you don’t feel like anyone else is dealing with. You might have questions. You might be annoyed. Maybe you, like me, just occasionally feel smothered.

In the past, I’ve hidden in the church mothers’ lounge with my baby even if it wasn’t strictly necessary for the baby. Right now I don’t have a baby to excuse myself with. I was alone with my three kids at church last week. I felt like I couldn’t keep them under control and consequently I lost control of myself. Every time someone spoke to me, my eyes would start to leak, and then they would start to cry because I trigger that in people, and then we’d both be crying and it was a mess. I was so obviously not okay, that people felt compelled to come ask me if I was okay.

So last week, I retreated to my car for 2 of the 3 hours of church. It was the best I could manage that day.

Maybe for you it is church, school, or the grocery store. It could be something you planned yourself and you all of a sudden feel like you’d rather curl up in your comforter like a burrito.

You might not walk in feeling like a rock star. But I’m here to tell you that is just what you are.

Thank you for being there. And going. And doing. Even if you are just in your car. I know that took a lot for you to do.

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Me too.

Today, I’ve seen so many people reach out to others through the #metoo campaign. It is so sad that so many have suffered these injustices. It is so wrong to violate and abuse  another person, and it breaks my heart that so many suffer in silence because they fear they won’t be believed – or that the harassment or abuse or assault is somehow their fault.

I don’t think anyone ever comes out of a situation like this feeling like there isn’t something they might have done differently to have kept it from happening. It’s human nature to analyze the things that happen to us. I spent a good deal of time thinking of what I could have done differently. In my case, I was abused by a boyfriend. He a very flawed individual with a lot of emotional trauma of his own, and me a naive and compassionate individual who wanted to make it all better. (In hindsight I can see that I was groomed over several months, the control and manipulation from his side disguised as love and concern.)

I won’t go into details of what the actual abuse was, it certainly isn’t something that many would even consider to be “so bad”. Nevertheless, I was left feeling like a worthless and empty shell. I felt so ashamed, and so guilty for all the things I hadn’t done to keep this terrible thing from happening to me. I felt so hurt that someone I loved could use me in this way. Not knowing what else to do I went to my bishop.

I’ve heard countless stories of people who have been raked over the coals in recalling their emotional trauma. It made me afraid of what would happen. Would I lose my place at my university? Would I still be allowed to take the sacrament? I felt so unclean and dirty that I decided I was willing to do anything I could to not feel that way, even if I lost everything I had worked for.

I scheduled my appointment and saw my bishop within 48 hours of the incident. I thank God every day that this was a man who understood abuse, and its effect on a person’s ability to defend themselves. After listening to me, he assured me that there was nothing here for me to repent of. That I was a victim. And that what was done was NOT my fault. No, there was no need for me to do anything differently at church. I could still pray, and speak, and take the sacrament. And no, there was no need to have any disciplinary action from the school. I was to go, and have fun with my friends, and stay as far away from this boy as humanly possible to avoid being hurt again. He gave me some scriptures to read to aid in comforting my wounded spirit, and on later occasions as I remembered more details that concerned me, he would patiently listen and assure me again, that nothing I had to say, would change the mind and will of the Lord, who had pronounced me guiltless.

I had to remind myself of this many times over the years. Through the grapevine, I still knew that the boy had not had to suffer in the same way as I had. Though my bishop communicated with his bishop, he still attended BYU and still served a mission. I continued to suffer in small ways over the years.

I didn’t feel safe going anywhere alone, because I was afraid I would run into him on campus. He liked to make small talk as if nothing had happened. He’d spy on me through mutual friends, who I had to block on social media to protect myself. One poignant moment, was having to state in my mission papers in excruciating detail why I would not be willing to serve in the country that this boy was serving. Multiple times in my early marriage, I questioned my dear husband’s motives from innocent comments about housework to his desires for intimacy. I looked out our Wymount apartment and saw a lookalike, and I had a panic attack, and told my husband we would have to move. I could not be in a ward with this boy. My abuser continued to hurt me even though he wasn’t there anymore.

When we moved to Pittsburgh, I saw a friend of his in the hall at church and had another panic attack. I feel like wherever I go, he will always follow me. If not in person, in memory. After nightmares, and constant reminders over a course of nearly 10 years, I finally went to therapy at Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR). I had to write my story and learn grounding techniques, and reason to myself why my fears were unfounded. I had to work. Somehow, I doubt that my abuser was putting the same amount of work into some kind of recovery for his addictions and habits. I’d snap at my husband on the way to and from therapy. I’d be a mess for the whole day. But it was worth it, because through therapy, I was able to finally see and accept what my bishop knew all those years before. That I truly was a victim, and once I knew that I didn’t have to continue to be a victim anymore.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse.

And that is why I say, #metoo.

I will never name a name. Because I never want this boy to have any attention or power to hurt me ever again. That is what is right for me. But if you feel you need to speak out, and name names, #ibelieveyou.

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The Pink Snowsuit

When I was in my teens, I dreamed of my future family. I really really wanted a huge family. Twelve kids, I said. My husband felt the same when we got married.

After the difficulty of bringing our first child into the world, our second being born 21 months after the first, a loss, and our third son, that number dropped to 8.

Right now, the ideal number hovers around 6 for me. Husband is okay with things the way they are, but wouldn’t mind a couple more either.

I’ve been dreaming of a little girl for years. (I was sure my oldest was a girl and finished a beautiful pink and yellow knitted blanket the day before the ultrasound. He’s 6 now.)

I actually knew my second was a boy from the day I found out I was pregnant. I heard his name in my mind clear as day.

When second son was about a year old, I chose to go with my husband to England for one conference rather than New Zealand in December, as we were planning for a third baby and I felt sure I’d be expecting and quite pregnant by then. Not only did I lose a baby while in England, but I was also NOT pregnant by the time New Zealand rolled around. I’m still a little bitter about missing that trip. But my heart hurt more for the baby I lost.

Fortunately, we were blessed to have our third son the next year.

Afterwards, my body felt like it was acting up again. I don’t have periods for a long time after giving birth. So that part was expected, but when they did come back, the pain was severe. (I’ve mentioned in a previous post about my experience with my second laparoscopy for my endometriosis.) Since then, I have carefully tracked my cycles. Hoping that we would be able to try for another baby with success.

For the past six months, I’ve been surprisingly regular. 28 days on one side. 31 on the other. Ovulation kits, etc. Things have been looking okay. Pain is significantly decreased.

This past month, I did a test and it was negative. I waited a few more days and having more symptoms consistent with pregnancy, I was pretty sure I was pregnant and over the moon excited. I had vivid dreams about a baby girl, and continued to track the multitude of other symptoms I was experiencing. I was so happy to be sick.

It meant my body wasn’t broken beyond child-bearing. That my husband and I weren’t as subfertile as we previously thought (yes, I understand we are very blessed to have 3 children and people have had it harder, but it wasn’t easy for us as it might look to an outsider). I was so filled with hope and gratitude and joy. I relaxed.

Over a week after my expected period, it was over. I don’t know if there was a baby or if my cycle was just thrown out of whack. But my dream baby vanished. She was real to me.

In my house I have things that I have had set aside for my baby girl. The blanket, my baby dresses, a little lovey with a doll attached, a pink snowsuit we found in the summer on clearance. They wait in my cedar chest.

The day after my latest disappointment, a friend was given an emergency foster placement. A newborn baby girl. I packed up our crib and took it over that night so that little one would have a place to sleep.

This morning, it snowed in Colorado.

This morning, I unpacked a pink snowsuit. The Spirit whispered to me that I needed to give it to this little baby. The Lord loves her, and had provided that snowsuit for her. It was hard to do, because I felt almost like I was giving up my dreams of a baby girl.

I was reassured, however, that this wasn’t an act of giving up. This was a giving to God, and trusting in his timing. I might be able to have another baby. I might not. I might be able to have my baby girl. I might not.

Even though my heart is broken, and perhaps my body, too, the Lord can make me whole. A little piece came back to me as I hung a pink snowsuit on my friend’s door.

 

 

 

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Stars, Homesickness, and Cookies

Over the summer, we moved to a new state. I can’t begin to describe the crushing homesickness I feel. I almost cried when I had to look up the address to our old pediatrician’s office in Pittsburgh today on Google Maps and saw all the little stars on every place I loved near our old home.

The stars represent people and memories and love and inclusion and belonging. Here I feel like a star without a constellation of friends.

Last weekend, I watched a the General Women’s Session (#LDSconf check it out here). It was nice to sit and recharge and listen to the messages, but I missed sitting in someone’s home watching with other sisters. I’d asked if that was a thing here, too, but was told there wasn’t anything planned.

Social media is a gift and a curse, while I feel connected to a lot of people I love, it is also a great way to feel left out. Yes, there were likely people who got together to watch. I just wasn’t invited. (Yes, I understand everyone can’t be invited to everything, but there has to be a better way to deal with situations like this.)

Now this has happened to me before, and it never gets any easier. I find myself analyzing what it is about me that leads to being excluded. I have my theories, none of them particularly happy or anything I can do something about.

In that conference session I was talking about, President Uchtdorf told a story about three sisters named Sad, Mad, and Glad (read it). I don’t want to be like Sad or Mad. I want to be Glad. There are people who have it so much harder, and I know that this is definitely in the category of suburban mom problems. Nevertheless…

I want to make sure other people are never made to feel the way I have felt.

So I’ll try to invite and include, rather than worrying about fitting in or being liked.

I want to spend my life “singing [my] song with all [my] might and a confident smile on [my] face.  One of my favorite songs is making sugar cookies.

Yes, cookie parties are going to be in full swing again. Because the only way I know how to deal with loneliness is to let small children run wild in my house with sprinkles and frosting.

Everyone’s invited.

 

 

 

 

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Reaching Out for Help

On the 9th of this month, I had a second laparoscopy for my endometriosis. In the week leading up to it, I found my anxiety mounting and felt that I should listen to some uplifting music. In the 90s Kenneth Cope produced a musical program called “Woman at the Well”, devoted to stories of women in the scriptures and their testimonies of Jesus Christ.

Through the years, I have been particularly drawn to the story of a woman found in Luke 8 (this is the most detailed account of the incident in the gospels, but other details are added in the accounts in Matthew 9 and Mark 5).

As Jesus is on the way to the home of Jairus, whose daughter is dying, he and his disciples are caught in a throng of people. In that crowd came a woman that had had an issue of blood for twelve years. She had spent everything she had seeking medical care from physicians, but nothing could be done to heal her issue. From behind him, she reached and touched the hem of his clothes. “For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.” Immediately, her bleeding stopped. She was whole. Jesus, feeling the power that had flown from him, asks who has touched him. She had attempted to hide, but trembling, came and fell before him, and told him everything. Why she had touched him, and how she had been healed instantly. To this he answers, “Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.”

This account resonates with me for, perhaps, obvious reasons. I am a woman that has an “issue” of blood (though I haven’t been outwardly bleeding for twelve years, I have suffered excessive bleeding and pain associated with my menstrual cycles since they began for me at age 13 – namely, endometriosis). However, this is not just a story for women. This is a story for all of us.

It was in this light, that I found myself being prompted to perform a special musical number, featuring the song “Close Enough to Touch” from the previously mentioned musical program by Kenneth Cope. No mental protestation of mine could bear the overwhelming feeling that I needed to sing this song. This was in the back of my mind as I made arrangements for my family so I could have my surgery.

Many friends helped make getting this surgery possible. They were gracious and accommodating as plans changed and changed again. The night before my procedure, my baby had a fever. The childcare I had arranged for him would no longer be prudent, as those dear ladies have new babies at home. A wonderful surrogate mother of mine in the ward was willing to take my sick baby, and care for him until my husband could come for him.

On the day of surgery, Pittsburgh was blanketed with thick snow. My two older children, would not be having school as expected. Another dear friend, who had texted me to let me know that school was cancelled, offered to take them for the day. She took them to the Children’s Museum with yet another dear friend, and my children had a wonderful day.

Since we didn’t know what time I would be going in until the night before, I felt blessed that my visiting teacher was ready and willing to come sit with my children in the evening when it would be time for Dave to come and meet me in recovery and take me home from the hospital. The same sweet lady who took my sick baby, watched him again (much happier with antibiotics) the following day. She also cleaned my kitchen stove and put the downstairs in order while he (and I) napped. We received meals, notes of encouragement, and assistance with our children. I was allowed the time I needed to make adequate recovery by these wonderful people.

Today, with a dear friend as my pianist, I did that musical number.

Today, I couldn’t stop crying as I sang about someone who reached for the Savior.

We all have hidden sufferings that we might be tempted to try to bear alone. We could spend all our effort trying to resolve or relieve them ourselves. But like this woman, we must learn that wholeness, comes through faith in Jesus Christ. It is no shame to have weaknesses. It is no shame to need help. Reach out to the Savior, so he can heal you.

I reached out to the Savior, and he reached back with my friends.

He is always close enough to touch.

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My First Narcissist

In the past few years, I have come to realize that the people in my life that have hurt me the most, have almost universally exhibited many of the characteristics common to narcissism. While it won’t do for me to dwell on the hurt, I think it is valuable to analyze my past experiences to make sense of present ones. By writing my thoughts down, I hope I can help others as well.

In a nutshell (because I’d categorize your average narcissist as a true “nut”), narcissists are severely lacking in empathetic skills. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. So, a narcissist can’t understand what or why you might feel a certain way. It is sometimes completely off their radar, and other times, willfully ignored or manipulated as suits their needs and desires. In my experience, it is exacerbated by their tendency to spend so very much time thinking about themselves and how to make themselves look better than you.

Story Time

A boy I dated in my late teens, was very charming and funny. Before we dated, the boy was grieving the loss of an unrequited love in a tragic accident. After a disappointment of my own, I felt compelled to help heal his broken heart and find healing for myself as well. As a loyal and pretty hopeless romantic, I was pretty set on spending the rest of my life with this nerd.

Almost as soon as we were “dating” things changed. To begin with, I dismissed a lot of his behaviors as grieving. This was a sensitive soul. He was just so hurt that this girl he liked had died. But then, he began to openly reminisce about all the perfect girls that he’d met at a camp and tell me he’d dump me and date one of them in a second if the opportunity came. So much for his devotion to that dead girl.

He would start volatile discussions on hot topics and issues (one that comes to mind is, accusing my family of euthanasia when they decided to take my dying grandfather off of life support), and when I finally was wound up sufficiently, he would tell me he’d only been talking in hypotheticals and I should calm down. I should have known he was only kidding, right? I was being absolutely irrational in my “rage”.

He came for a visit and after tearful goodbyes, he’d call me a few hours later and start up a fight with me about something I said or did that bothered him during the visit. In one case, I dared to paint my fingernails after he’d left. Why couldn’t I put myself together while he was there? He hung up the phone on me in a rage.

Eventually he confessed that he had an addiction to pornography, and blamed me for it because I wasn’t good enough to keep his mind on holy things (wut?). Or I was ten minutes late from class (to a prearranged instant messaging date with him) and he fell into temptation, because I wasn’t there when he needed me.

This boy literally had an excuse or a way to place blame on anyone else but himself for every poor decision he ever made. The abuse built in the last couple of months we dated, until one day I couldn’t take it anymore and went to my bishop (congregational leader in the church I attend) for help. I couldn’t get out alone at that point.

Apart from a word or two when we would cross paths at the university he followed me to and attempted to stalk me at, I have never spoken to that boy again. The only time he ever seemed truly contrite, was when he realized I was gone and not coming back. He then, I have reason to believe, used this tragic love story to reel in others and feed his ego.

I suffered for years from this short-lived “romance”. I had PTSD from the trauma of the abuse I received at his hand. It caused me to question my husband’s motives unfairly. In short, it was ruining my life. Things were so bad, that I had to seek special therapy for victims of trauma. I had to learn grounding techniques to reassure myself, and all the while, I felt the injustice of this boy still being out there, doing this to someone else.

Narcissists seldom change.

I successfully completed a 12-week therapy program with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR). They are the best of the best at helping people who have been victims of various forms of assault. If you’ve suffered relationship trauma, I’d highly recommend them or similar services.

It was there that I started to realize what establishing healthy boundaries and developing stronger empathy could mean for me.

Posted in Essay

Years Later

Depression. I have that. Anxiety. I have that too. When you have those two things, one of the best things you can do is talk about it. But when you have those two things, one of the things you are most afraid to do is talk about it.

Generally, I have made apologies for neglecting to update this blog and previous blogs. This time, I make no such apologies. This blog is my gift to myself. A place to write what I am thinking about, and what I am up to.

This week I have been reading a book called “Big Magic” by the same author as “Eat Pray Love”. Don’t let that influence you. I haven’t read or seen “Eat Pray Love”. “Big Magic” is really resonating with me. I’ve felt an absence of creativity in my life since I’ve been hiding out in my little world. Not that I don’t create things, because I do. For instance, I made a new human while I was away. So now I am up to three boys. I grew those little little lovelies in my body.

I also have done lots of DIY projects. I love them. I love what I have created. But I don’t need to show them to you to proclaim my enjoyment of them. I just may from time to time. But then, I may not.

I am a good cook. A good baker. An eater of the things I make. I am a painter. A repairer of torn pages in children’s books. I wash dishes. I take my children out to play. I am a reader of books. I am a thinker. A planner. I want to help others feel like they have a place to belong. Because I know what it is like to feel like you don’t. And I don’t want anyone to feel that way.

I once took a creative writing class. I am not especially gifted at unique story generation. I was fairly good at formulaic poems. But I have to say that I rocked my own socks off with my personal essay skills. So that’s what I’m going to try to write here now. Essays. Essays on things I care about. Or things that I’m thinking about. Mundane things. Or big earth-shattering things. Consider it a work in progress though.

Thanks for reading.