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Monday, December 1, 2008

Learning Curve

Posted on December 1st, 2008 in Northern Lights

I hesitated to post this because I want to be certain everyone who visits sees this post. I’ve been reading Brother Gladstone’s blog for awhile now. I follow a few blogs which have authors who are HIV positive. Some are LDS, some are not. In each blog I’ve found something pertinent to my current journey, and because of that I am grateful for those who have the courage to share their lives with others. And so, before I begin my current tirade, I remind each reader to take a moment to remember those who are living with HIV and AIDS throughout the world, and do what you can to help ease their lives–even if it’s something as simple as offering a prayer in their behalf.

Now, on with the tirade…

In a month I will mark my third year of continuous therapy. When I began, I planned that I would need approximately three months. I’m infamous for overestimating my ability to be omnipotent. For those unfamiliar with my story, I began therapy because in November 2005, my cousin’s wife committed suicide. I was overwhelmed with feelings I could not manage–grief, anger, and frustration mixed with elation, triumph, and vindictiveness. These feelings came about because the husband of the deceased, my cousin, was also the person who spent a summer raping me when I was not quite twelve. The death of his wife caused me to, finally, confess what had happened to my father (who, in turn, spent some time in counseling), and to allow him to seek help for me. Notice the wording of the last part of that sentence. I was too stressed to seek help on my own. My father found a counselor for me, and I received a phone call from her the next week, at which point I scheduled my first appointment.

My first counselor was not a good fit for me, but still, I learned from her. We met for about four months before I realized I needed someone new. But in that time, I began talking–something I had not done before. And that “talking” has not stopped for three years. And though I still wish I’d been able to learn what I needed to learn in three months, I also understand that there has been a valuable lesson which I continue to learn repeatedly. Perhaps one day, I’ll finally get it.

Counselor 1 got the “nice” story of what happened to me. In a nutshell, I told her that I had been a sexually abused–just a little. It was all I could manage at that point in time. Full disclosure was too scary and too horrible for me to allow the words to pass from me. So I can’t blame her for what happened next. No doubt she had my best interests at heart, for she is a lovely person. We talked each week for about two months. I say “we” because after the initial meeting, she mostly talked about herself. I would add just enough to reassure her that everything was going swimmingly, and I did all the homework assigned…to a degree. But she was satisfied with my progress enough to say one day, “It looks to me as though you’ve done all the difficult work. Now you just need to hand everything to the Savior and allow the Atonement to work for you, to finish healing you.” I left that session, went home and thought, What a good idea. I wonder how I do that. I pondered for days. I prayed, and studied, and prayed some more. Each week we talked about letting the Savior do his job. Each week I left feeling that I must not have enough faith, I must be a failure, I must not know what everyone else knew.

Tension began to arise between us. I stopped talking. She began focusing on my eating disorder. Eventually I went to my father and said, “Dad, I know you think a lot of Counselor 1. And I appreciate all you’ve done for me. But I think I need to go elsewhere.” He asked a few questions, then arranged for me to see a different counselor (New counselor = Therapist, who I will love forever, for those who follow my blog). As a side-note, my father has insisted on paying for all my therapy. He has been in agony that the person who raped me was invited by him to stay in our home. He asked me, as he has no other way to help, to allow him to help in this way. Therapist, who has also counseled my father, told me it’s good for me to accept this help from my father–so I have, reluctantly. But Therapist is always right–it has been good for both my father and for me.

As I began a new journey with Therapist, a number of things began to happen. Within six months I had met two people who have been key in helping me heal, and Therapist presented new ideas to me. Not only that, he allowed me to have my own ideas, to conduct my own research, to guide my own journey. And as this happened, I began to see the hand of God in ways I had not recognized before. One day I experienced the “Ahah!!” moment that changed my life forever. I was speaking with Jason (author of Gay, Mormon, and Married) and our conversation went something like this:

Jason (speaking of some subject I can no longer remember):  I would imagine that would be upsetting for you, as you listen from the perspective of one who has been raped.

me: Ummm, I wasn’t raped.

Jason: Ummm…yes, you were.

me: No, I wasn’t. I’m not a rape victim.

Jason: Sorry, Sam, but what you’ve described happening to you–that’s called rape.

me: No. Rape happens to other people, not to me.

Jason: You need to say it.

me: I wasn’t raped.

Jason: You were.

Me: I don’t want to say it. I don’t want to be someone who was raped.

Jason: And raped more than once.

Me: No.

Jason: I’m going to keep talking to you until you can say it.

And so the conversation continued until, finally, I allowed myself to say the words. Then I think I cried for days.  But I learned something in that conversation and in subsequent ones which has been invaluable as I worked toward learning to apply the Atonement in my life: I wasn’t ready. When Counselor 1 suggested I had only one step left, nothing could have been further from the truth. In order for me to apply the Atonement, I had to understand exactly what I was using it for. I had to be able to accept the truth of what had happened to me. And more than that, I had to pass through all the emotions and anger I had suppressed for many years–most of it directed at God, Himself.

As I admitted the truth, as I spoke the words that horrified me, I realized that more than anything, I had wanted someone to save me. To understand that my Heavenly Father had allowed me to be harmed in such a way, made me feel deep feelings of anger and hatred toward Him. I didn’t care if there was a lesson to be learned. It didn’t matter that sometimes the innocent are harmed as a testimony against the guilty. To be left with the memories, the nightmares, the flashbacks, made me livid. Add to that the stories I seemed to hear daily, of people who received Heavenly help with their budgets, finding a family pet, being warned not to invest in a certain stock, or being nudged to deliver a casserole or loaf of bread to a sister or brother who just needed to be loved…I began to wonder if God only helps those with small needs, but my aching body, bleeding on the cold floor of the bathroom, wrapped only in a towel as I was too shocked and horrified to do anything but shake, was too much for Him…

And I continued to learn. I asked constantly why He had let this happen to me. I don’t believe He wasn’t answering me–I just had to wait until I was ready to hear what He was saying. Eventually, when the anger subsided, I began to recognize that my life was not special. Each person has trials and problems that bring them to their knees. Some, like me, experience those things when still children, and often throughout the rest of their lives. Others might not feel the testing until late in life–but no one leaves without walking through some test of faith.

As I allowed myself to work through the feelings, there were days of depression and overwhelming sadness. In those moments, someone tangible and loving was always sent to my aid. As I tried desperately to rise above anger and resentment, I felt constantly the sweet love my Heavenly Father had for me–and I knew it was okay for me to feel angry at him–it was part of learning to grieve. And one day I found a blog where a woman told the story of how she was lying in bed as a young girl, and her father paused in her doorway. This was a man who had molested his daughters (there were three) almost from birth. But the narrator of this story had escaped his attacks. As he paused, she spoke of feeling the Spirit protecting her, and in that moment, her father left her alone. Three months previous to this day, had I read this story it would have triggered an onslaught of anger and self-pity that would have left me confused and frustrated for weeks. On this occasion, I felt incredible joy. I wept and offered a prayer to my Heavenly Father, thanking Him for sparing this young girl. Knowing that she didn’t have to feel the things I had felt brought overwhelming gratitude–and suddenly I understood.

For me, applying the Atonement was not a matter of kneeling down and simply asking. It was a process. I had to go through each step, learn each lesson, and move beyond each obstacle. Being healed could not happen, for me, in a word. It was necessary for me to work a bit, grow a bit, and recognize my fallibility. But as I attempted this task, I was never left alone–not for one moment. Help came from unexpected and unlikely sources. I learned to cry (not something I’m always grateful for). And I learned how to listen to the answers my Father had been giving me for many years.

When unthinking people tell me that I should be grateful for the experiences in my life–because of the growth and learning I have gained–I look them in the eye and I tell them that I will never be thankful that I went through such horrific treatment as a preteen. It should not have happened. It should never happen. And I refuse to honor that act in any way. However, I am grateful that I was granted the strength to endure that which should not have happened. I am grateful that I was able to find my way through the sadness and fear. I am grateful for a Father who loved me then and who loves me now.

I was asked recently, if I ever received my answer as to why I was not “saved” from the trauma I experienced. I believe I have. My answer is my own and it came in the form of a dream. I was in the Pre-earth life, surrounded by people who have been key during the past three years, in helping me work through all that has daunted me. I was sitting next to my Heavenly Father and I could feel His love mixed with deep concern. His arm was around me and He said, “You don’t have to accept this task. I think it’s the way that you will learn the best, but you don’t have to do it. You can say no.” But because I am who I am–I just don’t know how to take the easy way out–I said, “I’ll do it.” He told me it would be a frightening and horrible experience. And He wept as he told me how I would be hurt. Then He said again, “You don’t have to do this.” I looked up at the Father I loved with all my heart and I said, “I’ll be all right. You’ll make sure I am. You’ll send the people I need. And if I get lost, they’ll help me find my way back. I can do this.”

The cynic in me believes that perhaps this was my subconscious finding ways to assuage the pain I’ve been feeling. Perhaps is was me indulging in my inner romantic. Perhaps my poor brain just had to have an answer now. I don’t know, nor do I care. In my dream I knew my Father loves me. And for now, it is enough.


  1. I'd place my money on the veil was pulled back a little and you were privileged to see a moment from your pre-mortal life---because I never feel the Spirit like I did just now when people relate self-satisfied delusions. And is that so hard to believe about yourself---that you willingly signed up for something you knew would be difficult, but that you felt you could handle? As likely as not, you did it to protect somebody else you loved. The Father knew that your slimy cousin would rape somebody, and you offered yourself in her place so she wouldn't have to live that Hell. No doubt she is one of those people that you hear of that were "protected," and some day she will remember what you did and she will shower you with love and gratitude for bearing what she could not. And I think in that moment, your understanding of the Atonement will increase more than a little.

  2. i have no idea who you are, i randomly came across your blog. but i just wanted to comment and tell you that i really appreciated this post. i don't know how else to express it, it'd be disturbing to say i "loved" it or "liked" it based on the content, but i learned some things from it. thanks for sharing.

  3. I just want to tell you thank you. I've been struggling with why I have to have challenges not completely unlike yours, and your story of your dream touched me. I have asked for my struggles to be removed from me- and they have not been. I take comfort and hope in thinking that perhaps I accepted these challenges in the pre-mortal life with faith and hope that He would bring me through. Thank you. You have strengthened me and helped me to make today better.