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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Pre-Therapy Samantha

I will not go into details here about my religious conversion process. This is something I share with few people, and then only if it serves some purpose. I've found that if I discuss this topic, which is extremely important to me, it opens up unwanted debate from various commentors, and truly, my beliefs are no longer debatable, so any dialogue about them is pointless. I have also discussed in various posts what brought me to marry Darrin, and what has kept me by his side for more than half of my life. I will not talk about that topic in this post either. Although the two topics I have mentioned are monumental, they are not pertinent to this particular therapy assignment.

In my new found independence I was befriended by a young man I will call Jacob. For the first time I found myself loving a man and not wishing to hurt him. He was gentle and sweet and treated me with respect. He had a delightful sense of humor. He was 21 and preparing to serve a mission. As we became friends I asked him why he was serving a mission, and why he had delayed it. He simply replied that at age 19 he had not been prepared to serve, nor did he want to. Now he did. He was not embarrassed nor uncomfortable. He simply stated his case and closed the subject. Having grown up in a community where not serving a mission at 19 usually indicated some heinous sin (at least, that's what everyone said), I was impressed by his dignity and calm as he answered me.

Jacob and I became fast friends. We were, in the eyes of the other young adults, a "couple". We went on dates. We went camping with our friends. We made sure our days off coincided so we could spend time together. Jacob made me feel calm. We spent hours together, but we didn't always talk. We worked in the National Forests and sometimes we simply walked in the beauty surrounding us, or sat together watching a wild animal or a sunset. Because he was completely non-threatening to me, I allowed him to hold my hand, to cuddle me, even to kiss me occasionally. It didn't feel sexual to me, and he was planning to go on a mission in a few months, so I had no reason to believe he would try to make more of our physical contact than I did. In truth, touching him made me feel calm and quiet inside. For the first time I could remember, I felt safe with another person.

Jacob took me home on weekends to meet his family--I took him to meet mine. When I left for school I was deeply saddened that he would no longer be with me. We continued to connect through phone calls and letters until the week of his departure. I visited him at home the week before he left, at which time he told me he hoped I would still be around when he came home from his mission, and talked about marriage. I was astounded. I had just turned 18. He was 22. He seemed thousands of years older than I. Marriage had never entered my mind--it never did, actually.

I think I told Jacob something about feeling that "waiting" for a missionary had never seemed a good idea to me. I said that he would be learning and growing, and I needed to do the same. I mentioned our age difference, commenting that he had a four-year head start when it came to dating and pairing off. Then I said I wanted him to serve his mission without even thinking of me--completely committed to the Lord. He listened calmly. He said, "You're not in love with me, are you?" I told him I didn't think so. He nodded. Then he held me close to him for a long time. When he let me go he said, "I have three requests: 1. Please write to me while I'm gone. 2. Promise me that if you're still around when I get back that we can have at least one date. 3. If you get married while I'm gone, please send me an invitation." Then he kissed me and I realized I could never love him as he wished to be loved. It made me horribly sad.

I wrote to Jacob religiously. I sent care packages and funny cards. In the meantime, I was enjoying my first year of college. I ended up, after an unfortunate shuffle, in a room with five incredibly wonderful girls. Two were odd, brainy, and lovable. Two were apostate, wildly fun, and lovable. The fifth was my room roommate. She was adorable and appalling. Adorable because she was very cute, had a lovely body, and a delightful giggle. Appalling because she was clueless about life, danced in her bra, panties, and legwarmers before our picture window facing the men's dorms, and because she was spoiled and charming at once. The other five of us vacillated between amusement and exasperation when dealing with her.

My year with those roommates was the most joyful time I had yet experienced in my life. My mother no longer abused me, I felt absolutely safe with five other people, and my Home Evening brothers were wonderful. They teased, played, and protected us. I had never had brothers before. It felt amazing.

My roommates decided I needed to start dating. I told them I was fine being alone. One roommate said she insisted. Another roommate said I must. A third roommate said I was missing out. A fourth roommate said I was being selfish--that I needed to share my fabulous self with the men (I'm not kidding, she really said that). My room roommate--the dancer--said I had lovely eyes and did it look cool when she stood in this dance pose?

So I began dating, against my better judgment. And dating at BYU, at least for me, meant that I encountered more men than I wished, and three of them had revelations that I was "The One." I laughed. I couldn't help it. I don't believe in "The One", and really, two dates will not allow any couple to get to know one another. I also let them know that I had no plans to ever marry--EVER. At BYU those are fighting words. Suddenly, I found myself being proselyted by return missionaries who knew the institution of eternal marriage was true. Normally I would have been irritated by them. At that point in my life I was happy enough that I just giggled and told them to go away--which was ineffective, of course.

I felt attracted to my room roommate, which was awkward for me, but at the same time I was repelled by her utter lack of logic and self-absorption, which made things much easier. My two heathen roommates were fascinated by lesbianism and had posters of famous lesbians on their walls. I sometimes wondered what they would do if they realized they lived with one. No doubt they would think it the "...coolest thing EVER!!" Somehow, knowing that they would accept me in any instance was incredibly affirming. My two odd, but brainy roommates were so much fun. One of them mothered me incessantly, making certain I was eating, waking me up for church, asking if I was doing well in my classes...I adored her. The other spent time with me dreaming up unusual pastimes, like sculpting with roasted marshmallows or rearranging the furniture in awkward formations (she was an art major). I adored her, as well.

My second year of college brought me to a new off-campus apartment, and four new roommates. I had a huge wake-up call that year. One of my new roommates was an anorexic/bulimic in the advanced stages of the disorder. She was 5 feet 10 inches tall, and weighed 98 pounds. I weighed 95 pounds, and was eight inches shorter. She had difficulty framing sentences, she walked slowly to conserve energy, her breakfast consisted of half a banana, lunch was a glass of water and a bite of lunch meat, dinner was a bowl of cereal--which she would puke up when she was finished eating it. I recognized in her what I could become.

Not willing to get counseling, I began reading everything I could find about eating disorders. I began planning meals, exercising in healthy amounts, and trying to get adequate nutrition. At that time in my life my own breakfast was an apple, lunch was an apple, and dinner was usually a bowl of cereal, unless I went out with my friends and we ate somewhere--then I would have a salad. Trying to make my body eat again was grueling, but six months later I was weighing in at 107 pounds and I felt more energetic and healthy. Overall, as long as I stayed away from my family, I felt wonderful.

I met Darrin during my first year of college. I married him a year later.

Married life was a huge challenge for me. Darrin was so much fun, and I loved him more than I had ever loved anyone, but it was still difficult to navigate the sexual parts of marriage. I believe I concentrated on that more than anything else at that time, because my grades began to drop. Darrin's did, as well. We left BYU when he was put on academic probation and went to live and work in California for a while.

The move to California was not good for me. There were too many people. I was too insecure. Marriage was still difficult. Darrin got a job immediately, but I hopped through about four before finding some I enjoyed. I was an in-home tutor, a substitute teacher (grades k-12), and I taught spoken English to Japanese students. I would substitute in the schools during the day, tutor in the afternoons and evenings, and work with the Japanese students in the summer months. During that time I learned to work with people of all ages without fear. I learned how to establish safe boundaries (although my "safe" boundaries meant not allowing any person to connect with me emotionally). I began to enjoy my time in California as I became a confident person I liked.

My parents contacted Darrin and I sporadically. From the day I left home, my contact with my family had been fairly sparse. I heard from them every three or four months if I called, or a couple of times each year if I left it up to them. My father had been diagnosed with a terminal illness when I was 16. His health had continued to fail. My family had moved to live near a state university so that my mother could get her degree in order to support the family in the event of my father's death. After nearly five years away from them, I had decided it was time for me to make peace with my parents. Darrin agreed that we could move closer to them and go to school once again.

Darrin and my father became very close friends, and my relationship with my dad deepened. I rarely saw my mother, who was in classes most of the time--and neither did my younger siblings. Darrin and I spent lots of time with my sisters and brothers, as well as with my father. They became the complete social focus of our lives. Darrin had never enjoyed a relationship with his own father--mine became his surrogate. During this time my father found a doctor who identified his illness correctly, let us know it was not terminal, and put my dad on a path to help him cope with the pain and physical ailments of his chronic condition.

As time passed, I developed a new persona. I was funny and cordial. I entertained. I smiled. I wrapped myself in layer after layer of denial and numbness. I convinced everyone around me that my life was trouble free and absolutely joyful. I found ways to connect with my mother and develop a friendship with her. I bore three children, finished three college degrees, and trained to become a financial advisor. I started three businesses--all successful. I was, to all intents and purposes, perfectly content.

I was also perfectly isolated. I allowed no one to be close to me except for Darrin. I avoided one-on-one social contacts with women. I had many "medium" friends, but none of them knew anything about me because I would never talk about myself or share my feelings about things. But still, I felt happy. I had no desire for anything more. I thought my life was complete.

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