A Souvenir of Sobriety

This past week has been difficult for me and for most of the people I love, including my family and friends who do not necessarily identify as “left leaning,” “feminist,” or any other label that I tend to wear as a badge of honor. Like many others, my family is personally affected by the policy on children of same-sex couples. Two of my brothers are gay and joined our family in their late teens and early twenties because they were rejected by their biological families, in part, because they are gay. They have been in our family for over 20 years and to say that they have blessed the lives of our family would be a gross understatement; we have learned to love more and widen our hearts.

News of the policy, and subsequent articles, blog posts and interviews, has left me feeling sad, challenged and angry. Yet, I find myself able to attend church services and perform my calling. Yesterday I started to wonder how these two disparate ways of engaging could coexist within myself? I realized that I was employing a skill I was taught over twenty years ago when I began my road to recovery.

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Anxiety in Speaking in Sacrament Meeting

Years ago, in preparing for a Young Women “Values” themed sacrament meeting, I mentioned to a member of the Young Women presidency that I was not sure what to speak about. “It doesn’t really matter,” she assured me. You know what the value is that you’ve been assigned to present, so just tell us a story about it. You’ll do great anyway. We start children giving talks in primary, so by the time you are a (14 year old) Mia Maid, you’ve been speaking in public for a decade! This is why Mormons are great public speakers. You’ll do fine!”


At the time, her words did calm me. I thought, “I can do this! I’ve been giving talks for 10 years!” I had not been afraid of giving speeches on the debate team or in English class, and as a rule, wasn’t nervous but for that last burst of excited anticipwoman-podiumation that strikes me just before the words came out. But church talks were and are different. To be clear, I could do them. But they made me more nervous than addressing almost every other kind of audience.


As the years passed, and even to this day, when I speak in public- (the thing that is listed as the greatest fear, even over death)  I remind myself that I can do this because “I learned to not be afraid of speaking when I was in primary.” I’ve presented at conferences and meetings and even been disappointed at the smallness of the audience upon occasion; I am a good public speaker and I know it. But. When church speaking assignments came…. the butterflies and anxiety started. I became cranky and argue with my family. I fret and fast and pray for calm. No matter the topic, no matter how well I know it or how many hours I spent in preparation, I became anxiety-ridden. So why is that?

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Where None shall Come to Hurt or Make Afraid

Last month, my family was in Nauvoo for a family reunion. One night we watched the Nauvoo pageant. As Joseph Smith is headed to Carthage, we are told that he goes there on “trumped up” and “false” charges. This was not entirely true; he was there for his connection to the Nauvoo Council’s decision to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor’s printing press. The few days we were in Nauvoo, we also went to Carthage and heard the story of the martyrdom multiple times at various historical sites. And I looked at my kids and thought, “Please, please, please, do not absorb the Mormon persecution complex. Please, please, pStatue of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Nauvoo Illinois lease.” I know what it does and it is not good.

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Where is the outrage?

Where is the outrage?


Earlier this week, the Mormon Newsroom released a statement regarding the potential end to the long-standing Boy Scouts of America (BSA)-LDS Church partnership, citing the recent decision to allow openly gay men to serve in leadership positions. As discussions popped up across social media, individuals in favour of the split reasoned that those who are attracted to the sex of the minors should not be in isolated situations with them. Many assured me their concerns were not due to prejudice and bigotry. In fact, they would be the same if men were to oversee and be in isolated situations with young women.

The problem with this assertion is, of course, that LDS men are frequently in isolated situations with young women and hardly anyone bats an eye.

It has been a little over 11 years since, as a teenager, my single’s ward bishop asked to meet with me after church. I obliged. Once behind closed doors, he asked if he could give me a worthiness interview. Confused at the timing (I was not in need of a temple recommend renewal, nor was I to receive a new calling), I again obliged. As he went through the temple recommend questions, special emphasis was placed on the question regarding the Law of Chastity. I responded that I did, indeed, keep the law of chastity. As a never-been-kissed, always-careful-to-double-date young woman, there was little doubt in my mind that I was chaste and pure before God.

Unfortunately, my answer was not sufficient for my bishop, even after pointing out my very limited physical contact with the young men I had dated. He asked if he could clarify the question and then became more specific. “Had I touched anyone in their sacred or private parts?” “Had anyone else touched me in my sacred or private parts?” “Had I touched myself in my sacred or private parts?” To each, the response was “no” because I knew I had not broken any commandments regarding chastity, but behind every no was a heap of questions. Why was he asking me these questions? What did all of this even mean? Did he mean hygienic touching? Gynecological exams? Changing my baby brother’s diaper?

I know some readers may believe me to have been naive and they are right–as a young woman with very little sexual exposure and even less dialogue around sex, I was very naive. And innocent. And so very much like my other uber-concerned-about-being-righteous church mates. Unfortunately, I was also in the presence of a man and sexual talk with men was verboten. Unfortunately, he was also my priesthood leader so he was given official sanction to have this conversation. Unfortunately, I believed that since God had called him to this position, called him to conduct this interview and called him to go off-book, God and my bishop must know something that I don’t know about my sexual purity.

As I left church that day, I felt Dirty. Shameful. Unclean. Unchaste. Unworthy. But I didn’t know why.

In the days and weeks following that interview, symptoms of an anxiety disorder began to appear–unexplained stomach aches, night sweats, night terrors, loss of appetite and an overall fixation on ridding myself of this horrible, icky feeling inside of me. Week after week I would dread going to church, but would do so because I so desperately wanted to feel clean. Week after week I would head into my bishop’s office to try to find out what I had done wrong, confessing every inkling of an impure thought in hopes that it would make me feel better. Every week he turned me out of his office again, having heard my mildly lurid confession, just to see me again the next week. Every week I felt more and more trapped and more and more unworthy.

It wasn’t until a decade following this incident that I realized what happened and the guilt and shame finally subsided–that interview was inappropriate. Taking girls and women behind closed doors with middle-aged men, asking about sex and masturbation, is perverse. It’s abusive. And it’s upheld, even required, by the Church I trusted to keep me safe.

There is a big conversation to be had about keeping our young men safe and I can understand parents are concerned about the perceived threat to their sons. What I can’t understand is the lack of outrage about the threat of abuse right under our noses. As the Newsroom releases statements about our young men with the overtone that it is for their safety, I wonder, “where are the releases about protecting our girls?” “Where is the acknowledgement that this abuse happens every. single. week under the guise of righteousness?” “Why are the same people who are concerned about the possibility of the abuse of their sons so dismissive when I mention the very real abuse of their daughters?” “Why am I told that I should have known better and taken measures to protect my young, innocent self?” “Why does no one seem to notice or even care about our girls?”

I wish my answers didn’t always dead end with the fear that we don’t notice or care about our girls because we don’t actually notice or care about our girls.

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Anger is something I don’t do well. When I get angry, one of two things happens. I get emotional and cry, and no one takes me seriously; or I swallow it, and no one even knows I’m mad, and I wallow in it for days. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because later this week I will have to see someone who I used to be very angry with, for the first time since they hurt me. I’m very nervous about how I am going to react.

I learned a lot of my non-coping strategies from the culture of the LDS church; as a woman, but especially as a Mormon woman, I’ve been taught my whole life to avoid conflict, to be nice, to deffer to authority especially when I disagree, and to swallow my negative emotions. In writing this post I looked up as many references to anger by general authorities as I could find. Unsurprisingly, they were all either about how we need to choose not to be angry, or warnings about the evils of anger. For example:

“Anger is the mother of a whole brood of evil actions” (Gordon B. Hinckley, 2007)

“If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry” (Thomas S. Monson, 2009)

I absolutely agree that anger can be damaging, and in many instances, dangerous. However, I feel that simply telling people that anger is bad and they should try not to feel it is not the answer. Emotions happen. They are a reality. Even when we are at our best, they run away with us. What we should be teaching people is that Anger is part of the human experience, and giving them tools to cope with it when it does inevitably come up.

Besides, anger can be positive when it can be channeled in to productive directions. For example, my neighbor with a special-needs child has been able to turn her anger at a system that disadvantages her child in to advocacy for many families in similar situations. It can be a great source of motivation for change.

What do you do when you get angry? Have you ever turned the experience in to a positive?

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Introducing our Heavenly Mother’s Day Series

CW: Suicidal thoughts

I moved to Oakland five years ago. One of my first outings in the Bay Area was a gathering at Carol Lynn Pearson’s house where she gave each of us copies of her play, Mother Wove the Morning. It sat on my shelf for months because I didn’t want to open up Heavenly Mother-less wound I had.

When I finally read it, half a year later, I discovered that I was right in that it was an intense experience. I loved reading it and yet I ached. I wanted a relationship with Heavenly Mother, but I didn’t know how. Unfortunately the bigger question for me was “why.” Why should I have a relationship with Her?

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