Thursday, October 23, 2014

Teach and Preach and Work Like Missionaries Do

I had visit tonight from the missionaries. Bless their hearts. Living in my mom and dad's guest house has some funny side effects - like living in their ward boundaries and eating dinner with them most nights. They used to feed the missionaries (and me and my kids) every Tuesday night, but over the last several weeks, they've been busy and haven't been able to do that. In that time, the two missionaries I knew and liked were both transferred. So when two missionaries came knocking on the door asking for Mr. or Mrs. [my married name], I was dubious. I recently got a call from some missionaries in the last ward that Randal lived in that were looking for him so I kind of wondered if these guys were looking for him too. Turns out, they were looking for me. Trying to seek out inactive members or something.

They were nice - like most missionaries are. They asked me if I was a member of the Church. I told them I was, technically. They asked what I meant by that. "Well, clearly because you are here and know where to find me my name is still on some record out there. But [gestures to my not-garment appropriate clothing and pierced and tattooed body] I am not practicing." They politely asked where I was with my faith and whatever. They even asked if I minded that they asked me - I don't. I'm an open book. They asked what my background was. I explained my background - you know, established some credibility. They wondered if I felt like God had abandoned me or wronged me in some way. I don't - at all. I'm very happy and "blessed" and have everything I need and many things I want, I just don't believe in the church or God. One of them asked if he could bear his testimony. "Sure!" I responded. Afterwards, I told him that it is wonderful he has that belief and I remembered when I did too. And as long as that belief leads him to be a better, kinder person, then I applaud it! Then he asked if he could give me a challenge. Why?!? That is where it always breaks down.
He asked if I knew who Alma was.
"Yep, I know who he is."
"You know he talks about the faith of a mustard seed?"
"I do know that."
"Have you studied the scriptures and asked God if He is there and if the Church is true and if the Book of Mormon is true?"
So I schooled him. "I have read and studied the scriptures intensely and probably more than either one of you have. I am very familiar with Alma and every other prophet in all of the scriptures and many more scriptures you have probably never read or heard of. I have prayed and asked God questions and even felt I had received answers in the past. I don't anymore. I don't believe in God and I don't want to believe in God and even if I did believe in the Abrahamic God (I'm not just prejudiced against Mormons), I wouldn't follow him because he's a dick. Thank you so much for stopping by and asking about me and listening politely to everything I have said. I know you boys are trying to do good and you want to help and serve people and I appreciate and respect that."
.......
......
.....
"Is there anything we can do for you?"
"No, I am really am very happy and well taken care of."
"Do you know anyone who might like to hear about.... er, or might need service?"
"I don't, but if I hear of anyone who needs service, I will let you know. I know how important service is to missionaries. And I'm sure I'll be seeing you around, my parents love to feed the missionaries and they usually feed me when they feed you."
And then they left. Bless their hearts.

I really do have a soft spot for missionaries. My dad was a missionary, my brother was a missionary, Randal was a missionary. I've had many friends and family members serve missions. I even considered serving one myself (that's a good story). Since I've stopped attending church, I've continued to interact with members. Anytime a church member wants to stop by and visit, I welcome them. Because of where I live, most of these people I've known for years. I didn't stop liking them when I stopped believing. And I love missionaries! I've heard the stories of how hard and depressing it can be on a mission, I don't want to add to that! By why oh why oh WHY do people assume that when you leave the church or stop attending that you haven't really read and studied "God's words," or that you haven't really prayed to God to know the truth? It is incredibly frustrating! So to any and all who have wondered about friends or family who have left ANY religion: please know this, chances are, they have given it much thought, study, and EVEN prayer! It's a wonderful thing when someone asks me WHY I left... and then listens without trying to persuade me differently. These missionaries, actually did a fantastic job (right up until the very end). They were respectful and polite and didn't try to argue with me. Then he asked if I minded if he bore his testimony! After being so polite to me, of course I don't mind! Hearing someone else's beliefs can be beautiful a thing. Now that I don't hear the same thing week in and week out, I don't mind it every once in awhile. So props to them! And also... bless their hearts.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Things Hidden, Part 4 (or Ignorance Was Bliss)

I t's hard to pinpoint the moment my religious journey shifted. Perhaps I was always on this path. Perhaps me leaving religion and putting aside faith was inevitable and always going to happen. Who knows? I can definitely point to some paradigm shifts and "Aha!" moments though. But it would naive of me to discard the many years of religious and spiritual experiences as disingenuous. So I won't.

I think the first big paradigm shift for me, began when Randal was finishing his Masters degree at Midwestern University. It was probably 2006 or 2007. In a class about learning styles, he was introduced to personality psychology. The book that started it all was Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey (a clinical psychologist and former department chair at UC Fullerton). Randal taught me what he learned from this book and finally in 2010, I read the book for myself. And then I read several more books on the subject all written by clinical psychologists. And now I'm going to school to learn more about psychology (and get some credibility). As I learned about psychology - and specifically personalities - I began to see psychologically harmful things that I had been taught growing up in Mormonism. One thing that stood out at the beginning, was that the greatest accomplishment and satisfaction that women would ever have, would be that of mother. But I'll come back to that.

In 2009 or 2010, the next paradigm shift began. This one was also prompted by a book. I read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. The subject matter of the book and Ms. Rand's philosophy are irrelevant. Reading this book did a funny thing. It didn't change what I thought; rather, it changed how I thought. Ms. Rand introduced me to critical thinking, logic, and reason (I know some of you are laughing at that). Suddenly, I began questioning things. It started with political leaders and laws. When I started researching laws and the histories behind them, I discovered some astounding things. I think the first thing I looked into was marijuana use. It seems like it was around that time that the first states were voting on medical marijuana use and I wanted to be educated. Turns out, the history behind its criminalization is full of misleading propaganda and out-right lies. The ridiculousness of it could be the plot for a B movie (and was in 1936). The interesting thing about me questioning authority figures is that one, it didn't start then, and two, it didn't stop with political leaders and history teachers. It was an easy transition to question spiritual and religious leaders and discover that they're wrong more often than they're right.

But all that began several years before I decided was really done with religion. My transition was a slow one. Church was still an overall net positive. I felt better when I went to church and the temple. I felt better when I read the scriptures and prayed. I lived in amazing wards and felt the love of people through their service to me and mine to them. 

When I went back to school in 2011, I was studying to become a yoga teacher. Ever since my first yoga class in 1999 or 2000, I've always loved yoga and have felt better when I was able to have regular yoga practice. So deepening my study in a teacher training program was amazing. I had to take philosophy of yoga classes which is intertwined with Hindu philosophy. During that time, the questions I had about Mormonism were getting harder to reconcile. I had reached a point where I was separating "eternal doctrines" from "policies and practices." I still felt a connection and appreciation for the uniquely Mormon teachings of eternal growth and the potentiality of godhood. New Testament teachings of love God and love your neighbor found greater importance to me. But the rules and regulations that, over the years, had become the litmus test of "sainthood" repelled me. Things like the "Word of Wisdom" and "Law of Tithing" seemed like ridiculous rules that excluded otherwise Christlike people from church membership and full participation in the church. The whole thing looked very pharisaical to me - the very thing Jesus spoke against! It was no wonder that yogic philosophy felt so right to me. Particularly the teaching of divinity. My first tattoo was "नमस्ते" which is "Namaste." Put simply, it means "the light in me recognizes the light in you and that they are the same." I found comfort and peace in thinking of divinity in everyone and everything. 

Around the same time I was studying yoga, I was asked to be a teacher in the women's class (Relief Society) at church. It was a calling I had always wanted and never had. It's a funny thing that during this time, my questioning of the religion got serious and I stopped believing. One lesson that I had to teach stands out. The title of the lesson was, "The Scriptures, the Most Valuable Library in the World." Just the title had me questioning whether or I could teach the lesson from an ethical standpoint. I certainly did not believe that the scriptures were the most valuable library in the world. I had read and studied the scriptures. During my early college years, I was a Religious Studies major and had studied Biblical Hebrew. I read the Hebrew Bible (the "Old Testament") in Hebrew. I had studied all of the books that Mormons consider scriptures through decades of Sunday School, Seminary, Institute classes, and personal study. And I had an extensive library that included every kind of book. I could not reconcile that the Scriptures to which my lesson referred, by themselves, were more valuable in any way than the rest of my library was without them - let alone other great libraries that have existed or do exist without those books. I taught the lesson anyway, and I was able to do so in a way that didn't compromise how I truly felt. And the lesson turned out pretty well, but it was becoming clear, that I was no longer a traditional believer.

After the separation and divorce, I really began to see things differently. It was an interesting thing to see teachings and council from leaders - especially general leaders who were supposed to be the closest to God - from the perspective of a single mother, happily divorced, intellectual, socially progressive, feminist woman. Which brings me back to the first big teaching I remember being dubious about: The greatest accomplishment and satisfaction that women would ever have, would be that of mother. This is absolutely false. And it kills me that women are being taught this. Some women will feel their greatest accomplishment and satisfaction through being a mother, but definitely not all women. Some women will never feel satisfaction through motherhood - either because they never become a mother, or because their brain is not wired for motherhood. And so there are, undoubtably, Mormon women who feel they are failing because they don't have children, or they are miserable being a mother. The psychological abuse that these women face in the Mormon church is heartbreaking. Granted, not all women are going to feel this way. I recognize that. But general Mormon leaders do not. Men who are supposed to be led by God do not understand this aspect of human physiology. My conclusion was that either these men were not led by God, or this God was not one I wanted to follow.

It was crystal clear, I no longer fit the mold I always had. Church was painful and people were surprisingly hateful - and it wasn't just your everyday members - local and general leaders were judgmental, exclusive, and even misogynistic. I hadn't been to the temple in nearly two years and I was afraid to go. The temple had always been a place of peace and comfort - even from the very first time I went. If was going to end my relationship with Mormonism, I wanted to end it on a good note, and was afraid that going back to the temple might jeopardize that. But I went. Mid-March 2013, my divorce was final, I was not longer a literal believer in Mormonism, I wasn't sure I believed in God, my temple recommend was about to expire, and my older son was about to turn 8 (the age Mormon children get baptized). Going to the temple needed to happen now or it was never going to happen. So I went. And I knew that if I were asked to make those same promises and commitments today, I would unequivocally say, "No." I ended up in a session with a girl who was going to the temple for the first time. She was there with her family and I could see the love and joy they were all experiencing. I remembered feeling that way also. But I no longer felt that. I left the temple that day with the closure that I needed. The next day, I told my family that I was done with church. I would not be in attendance at temple weddings. Israel and Elijah were not going to be baptized. I still supported all of them in their religious endeavors, and would participate where appropriate, but I and my family were not longer going to attend church or participate in ceremonies or ordinances ourselves.

As I've said in past posts, this has been a hard transition - but I think it has been harder on my family. Ignorance was bliss - for me, but mostly, for everyone around me.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Things Hidden, Part 3

S o Randal and I began therapy in April of 2011. It was absolutely necessary. Most (if not all) people will benefit from therapy of some kind. I was not well equipped enough or trained to deal with the hardships that had occurred up to that point. I think we attended therapy for a little less than a year. Randal was still in serious amounts of pain and his pain was still getting worse, but now he had tools to deal with it in a more emotionally healthy way. Interestingly (and unplanned), his therapist suffered from a debilitating physical illness of her own (I think it was MS, but I'm not positive). The understanding and tools she gave him were invaluable. I too had new tools to help me. We began to rebuild our relationship with healthier attitudes, actions, and communication. We still use the things we learned in our relationship today! But it was still really hard. Codependency is ugly and moving away from it felt impossible.

During this time, our mental health was improving, but Randal's physical health was deteriorating. It had gotten so bad that he was almost entirely bed ridden. Many days, I would have to physically help him to go to the bathroom or take a shower. Every once in awhile, we would have a night out, we would get together with friends, or we'd try to do an activity as a family, after these outings, Randal would have to recover for days. Even with our new tools and healthier attitudes and help from licensed professionals, it was still physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting.

Finally, at the end of August 2011, one of Randal's doctors ordered a CT scan of his back and hip. That CT scan showed a bone tumor. In September, we met with Dr. Little at Barrrow Neurological Institute. In October, Randal had a laminectomy to remove the tumor. He woke up pain free. Over the next 4 months, Randal weaned himself off the narcotic painkillers that were being prescribed for the previous 4 years. When he went in for his surgery he was taking 14 pills a day. By February 2012, he was off of everything. I am still amazed at Randal's ability to do that. It is a testament to his mental fortitude.

2012 was a good year. Randal and I had been going to therapy and our relationship marriage was the strongest and healthiest it had ever been. We had two beautiful boys who were healthy and happy. (I haven't even mentioned the hell that our younger son went through - and put me through - from the time he was born in 2008 to the summer of 2011 when we finally discovered his chronic ear infections and he got tubes put in. He didn't sleep through the night until the tubes.) I had gone back to school and was loving what I was learning. Randal was enjoying his education and most of his pain was gone. And with as great as everything was, our marriage was still falling apart. In July, we decided to get a divorce and two weeks later, Randal moved out.

That first month, post separation, was the hardest. Elijah was rushed to the hospital twice. Randal and I were not cordial to each other. There was yelling and threats and name calling. It's weird how someone you trusted for nearly a decade suddenly becomes the enemy. That's really what it was like for us - well, me anyway. Randal started dating during that month. I was pretty ticked about that. I asked the boys about "Papa's new friends" and they were excited about them! We hadn't even filed for our divorce, but he was introducing new people to our kids. Turns out, the kids were oblivious. Randal actually did a really good job of making sure that new people could only be seen as friends to our boys. And the boys liked the new friends! I had to swallow my pride a little and remember that Randal had good taste in women and that I could trust him. It was hard, but I got there. The first night I was without my kids, I cried myself to sleep. I had nightmares about losing my kids or them dying. It was traumatic. And then it got easier and everyone was happier.

And while all of this was going on, my faith and religiosity was evolving too. My political belief system changed. My moral compass was rebuilt. There were paradigm shifts - several! I have often wondered if I hadn't married Randal, if I would still be faithful and religious. Would I still be politically conservative? Would I still be ignorant and naive? Would I still be happy and fulfilled? Perhaps. I don't know. But like I said last time: Ignorance was bliss - for me and everyone around me.

To be continued...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Things Hidden, Part 2

D uring the years of our marriage, Randal suffered from back pain. When we first got married, it wasn't so bad. Every once in awhile he would ask me to rub his back or pop it before bed time. He exercised a lot and was active walking to and from classes at school. When we moved from Salt Lake City to Peoria, AZ, Randal was holding a box and turned funny which caused something in his back to tweak. It was probably a pulled muscle, but the pain didn't go away. He went to physical therapy and tried to strengthen his core muscles to make up for the weakness in his back. That was at the end of 2004. In 2006, he was in medical school and had to have emergency surgery on an abscess in his neck that had developed an infection and 6 weeks later, it happened on his leg also. During that time, he decided to put off med school for a year and finished up his Masters degree. When he finished that, he decided he didn't want to go back to med school. I couldn't blame him! He would leave at 6am and not get back until 11pm. To say it was stressful, is an understatement. So for a year between 2007 and 2008, he took a break from school to decide what to do. During that year, he was much more sedentary. He was no longer walking all over campus with a backpack and his back pain got significantly worse.

Over the next 3 years, his pain would continue to get worse and worse. He saw several doctors who couldn't pinpoint a reason for the pain. He had a dozen different imaging procedures done; the x-rays and MRIs all turned up nothing. He had dozens of procedures done from steroid injections to burning and killing the nerves in back and hip to stop the pain. Nothing worked. I witnessed all this happen and unless you have been sole caregiver for a person with a chronic illness, you cannot begin to imagine how lonely and hard it is. I felt a loneliness during that time that is hard to put into words, but that still haunts me. The other side of this was what Randal was going through. I can't express the despair I saw in him and that he expressed to me. I won't begin to try to describe his experience during this time, as I know I would not do it justice. Suffice it to say, I do not wish this kind of pain and hardship on anyone. And if you are in this situation - either side of it - please reach out to somebody! If you know anybody in this situation, reach out to them! I used to yearn for somebody to ask me how I was doing. The rare occasions that somebody did, I usually broke down in tears so intense that I couldn't talk. But just being asked was enough.

Randal's pain and the disfunction of our relationship came to a head in March 2011 (which I described in the previous post). Luckily, Randal and I both reached out for help before something tragic happened that couldn't be undone. (There are so many resources out there, and I will post several resources we used, some I wish I knew about then, and others that I didn't need, but maybe someone else will. Look for these at the end of my post.)

Everything started to turn around when therapy began. Randal and I each had a personal therapist and we had a third therapist that we visited together. My therapy included time with a counselor and an "Empowerment Group" (codependency workshop). I read some amazing books (and selections from books) like I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better by Gary and Joy Lundberg (a book I think EVERYONE would benefit from reading), The High Conflict Couple by Alan and Marsha Linehan, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne, and Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. I learned a lot about myself during this time.

Crisis had this interesting side effect of clarifying what was really important and what didn't matter. I was forced to spend all of time and attention on my family during the last of years leading up to the big crisis. I no longer feel bad telling people, "No," when I am overdrawn emotionally or physically. I care so much less about being friends with everyone and making sure everyone likes me. I strive to show kindness and respect to everyone with which I interact. But when someone doesn't like me, I don't care! I learned that there are people out there with whom I am not going to enjoy spending time - and that's ok! It's a marvelous place to come to. And therapy is great because it just reinforces this (along with a lot of other really great things).

Crisis and therapy have another interesting side effect. They bring up EVERYTHING that needs addressed. There were some things addressed in therapy that I never would have addressed if it weren't for that crisis. I may have even been happy in my ignorance. Ignorance absolutely is bliss. It was for me... and it was for everyone around me also.

To be continued...

------

Crisis Resources:
Call 911
This is a great start if you can't think of anything else. In Arizona, they can send out a crisis response team at anytime - day or night. Crisis response teams usually always include a social worker or other trained counselor/therapist. Police, EMT, firefighters and other emergency response members may also come, depending on the crisis.

1-800-273-TALK (8255)
This is a suicide hotline. When you call this number, you will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7. This is an awesome resource that friends and family members have used and I am so incredibly grateful they did.

Free or Reduced Fee Counseling in Arizona and elsewhere
Magellan Health Services
If you are an Arizonan receiving medicaid health insurance (AHCCCS), then you are eligible for free counseling through Magellan Health Services. This is their website: http://www.magellanofaz.com/
I am sure that other states and countries offer similar services. Talk to you health care provider.
Arizona Department of Health Services
If you are in Arizona, DHS has a website to help find counselors and clinics where you can receive counseling or therapy for a reduced fee. http://www.azdhs.gov/hsd/sliding-fees/locations.htm
Religious Congregations
If you are religious, talk to the leader of your congregation. Many churches offer counseling or help paying for a counselor and some pastors/priests/rabbis are also trained in counseling.
Catholic Charities
Catholic Charities is a wonderful organization that I cannot say enough good things about. Some of their services include reduced fee counseling and low-income/homeless housing (and much more). The best part is, you don't have to be Catholic to benefit from their services. Here is a link to their Arizona website: https://www.catholiccharitiesaz.org/

{Please feel free to comment with any other crisis resources that I left out.}

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Things Hidden, Part 1

M y last post talked about the humanity that was missing from my "Mormon-Mommy-Blogger" years. I think I'd like to rectify that. At least Erin's listening. (Hi Erin!)

I need to preface this by talking about my ex-husband. Randal and I are great friends. We are happily divorced and still consider ourselves a family. We celebrate our anniversary with the boys and Randal's partner, Mikaela, as a "family birthday." I still love and care about him and we still support each other in every possible way. I'm really lucky to have him as an ex-husband and co-parent, and I'm also really lucky to have Mikaela as a partner in parenting. I can't say enough good things about Mikaela and the huge help she has been to me with my boys. She loves them and cares about them and they love her. What more could I want for my kids?

I need to preface this post with that, because I'm going to talk about my marriage. It was an ugly part of a lot of those years. Randal and I got married pretty young (we were both 22) and my idea of what marriage was supposed to be like - and what I was supposed to be like as a wife - was not the healthiest. We fought a lot. And when we fought, we fought passionately and loudly and dirty. At my worst, I threw kitchen utensils, shoes, and epic tantrums. He yelled and intimidated me and I wondered a couple of times if our fight would come to blows. It never did, thank goodness. But there was name calling and hateful words and threats on both sides.

Outwardly, we went to church, held callings, always sat next to each other at church and enjoyed showing love and affection toward each other. We had a lot of friends and we loved to spend time with them. I don't mean to say that any of this was a lie - we were sincere in our belief and practice of religion. Randal served a 2 year mission, we were married in the Temple, we were ordinance workers in the LDS Salt Lake Temple before we started having kids, we prayed, read scriptures, had Family Home Evening, fasted once a month, went to the Temple as often as we could, and did all the checklist items that good Mormon families do. And we had beautiful and amazing experiences during our decade of marriage that I will always cherish. And underneath that beautiful and pristine lake was a monster. My blog and outward life to most people was a boat ride on that lake. It was awesome. The few people that got out of the boat to swim in the lake knew otherwise.

Finally, in 2011, that monster became too big to ignore anymore and over the course of 48 hours in March, we hit rock bottom. The details of those 48 hours involve a lot of things that I am unwillingly to share publicly. I wish that the kind of stigma that accompanies these things didn't affect future jobs and employers, but they do. In person and in private conversations, I am an open book and willing to talk about it. So if you must know what went on, feel free to contact me or ask me sometime. Suffice it to say, it was 48 hours of hell. It was the hardest and most traumatic 48 hours that I had ever experienced. And for our relationship to survive after that weekend, we both needed outside help. So we sought out therapists for us individually and together. Therapy turned everything around. It saved our relationship and I think it saved us personally also.

To be continued...

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

From Mormon Mommy Blogger to... Something Else

A
friend sent me an article about "Mormon Mommy Bloggers" this morning. He's read through all my past posts about bridal and baby showers, gardening, baking, cooking, and crafts. But the funny thing is, he met me post-Mormon. I don't do any of those things now. I'm a single mom in school. I rarely cook, turns out my green-thumb was less me and more Iowa's nutrient-rich top-soil, I don't have time to throw parties anymore, and I was only ever "ok" at crafting. And while I did enjoy all those things, they just aren't as much a part of my life anymore. I'm really only a Mormon by default - although technically there is a still record out there in the Mormon archives with my name on it - but I don't believe nor do I practice. I'm happily divorced. Instead of ribbons and bows and homemade jewelry, I sport short hair, extra piercings, tattoos, and uncovered shoulders and knees. I know those old posts seemed like my life was awesome and happy - especially compared to now and my more recent posts - but the truth is, I was hiding the most important part of my life: the humanity. I don't do that anymore, and it turns out, I'm happier. Not that I wasn't then, because I was. I'm one of those lucky people who is just naturally happy. I've pretty much been happy my entire adult life. But those old posts hide the most important and hardest things I've ever done. And that's incredibly sad. You know what else is incredibly sad? That I don't have more posts during my transition from there to here. Perhaps I'll tell some of those stories. I wanted to tell those stories when they were happening, but I didn't. I was afraid of hurting my family and friends. Turns out, it happened anyway. And I really wanted to talk about all the really hard and traumatic things that happened during the "good" years, but I didn't. They're important to tell, I think. Perhaps they're still important tell.