Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Own Confusion

This is only my second post, but just a heads up. I'm not posting my story chronologically. As I discuss different topics of thought, contemplation, study, and reading I've experienced over the last few years, they're not necessarily posted in the order of when I experienced them.

My own shift of the last year had seeds planted at a young age. I think that's why I see the changes of the last few years as simply a continuation of a path I've always been on. Different vistas, different perspectives, same path. I remember being about 9-11, and I was out running errands with my mom. She was telling me a story about someone who didn't have the Mormon church standards to protect them, and was now suffering. From my perspective the story was being explained and then attempted to be used as a point to illustrate how the Church keeps us "safe" from doing and experiencing bad things, and so is evidence why the Church is true. As she was tying the story into proof for the truth of the Church I began to feel hot and aggitated inside. A thought arose, something like, "It seems like that doesn't have anything to do with the church. There are "good," happy, people outside of the church, and "bad," unhappy people in the church, so that doesn't make any sense."

Rather than mentioning my disagreement or discomfort. I nodded and pretended to agree. I think the reason I remember this particular incident when there were many of these kinds of moments growing up is that my mom followed up by saying..."you're such a good girl, so teachable." She even asked if I knew what that meant and explained the difference between being "prideful" and being "teachable." Being teachable had something to do with listening and accepting without getting defensive. I remember at this point feeling like a pressure cooker inside. She was "complimenting" me on something that I was currently angry at myself about, that I couldn't speak up...that I didn't dare to share my hurt and anger and confusion. It was in this moment, like many others, that the hurt and anger and shame was enough for me to shut down. I would withdraw emotionally. At one point in my late twenties my mom shared something to the effect, "of all the children, you're the one I feel I know the least." Strange, being that I'm the oldest, and have been around about 10 years longer than my youngest sibling, and yet am the least known. And no wonder, I've always been so afraid to speak up.

It was never my mom's fault that I did this. I still don't connect with connections she was making as proof that the Church was true, but I was the one who chose to pretend I agreed, to not share my opinion. I was the one who was afraid of being seen as "rebellious" or "wrong" or "bad" or "lost." My mom never forced me to agree, and though I can offer my child-self compassion and understanding of why I believed I had to agree to be safe & loved, it was my own confusion that affected me. Later on, I watched my younger sisters being more open and vocal than I, and I realize now that I was the one always cautious of being hurt, or being misunderstood. I was also afraid of hurting someone else. I didn't want my mom to feel that her efforts at mothering weren't good enough. And so, as I focused my energy into "protecting" her and "protecting" me, I learned to shut down.

My grandmother passed away about a month ago, and I have thought much of her since then. I knew she was an orphan and had lived with a foster family, but that's all I knew. During her funeral I learned that she was three years old when her mother gave her up, due to mental and emotional struggles that kept her from being able to care for my grandmother. My heart broke when I learned this. I'd always assumed she'd never known her mother, but to think of being a three year old child and having your mother give you up...whew...I had no idea. From there, my grandmother lived with over over 10 different foster families, never being adopted into any one family.

In my research I have come upon theories that we carry genetic memory in our cells. If so, this may explain my unexplainable fear of abandonment. Whether or not that's why I feel the way I do, hearing this story made it more clear that a child deep inside me believes that if I do something wrong or I'm not perfect I'll be given up, I'll be unwanted. And so, I've never learned to speak up. I am practicing awareness of this fear and how it affects me, and am learning to trust that I am lovable, that it's okay for me to not be perfect, and that when someone says something that doesn't fit for me, I have the right to express a difference of opinion or experience, and can do so with love and without having to be afraid, defensive, or angry. I feel I've got a ways to go with this practice, and while I still tremor with fear (literally) when I do make efforts, what a cool feeling to be sharing my voice, and ME with those I love.

Sundays...becoming a difficult day

Sundays have been the more difficult day of the week for some time now. It started about seven years ago. I had left a ward I loved...I was well known, admired, in leadership positions, felt I was able to use my Church positions as a channel for offering love and support. I had lived in the area and been in the ward for so long that the many of the relationships there were long standing, deep connections with people I knew well. During this time, Sundays felt full, social and joyful.

When I went to graduate school I found Sundays feeling very lonely. Where they had been a day to revel in being with friends and family, they were now a day where I went to a ward where I knew no one (at least in the my roommates were not members of the Church), and where it was difficult to develop the deeper connections I had in the ward before. Mostly because I simply didn't have the years to back up the new relationships.

Also, with graduate school and simply lack of desire, I made little time in this new ward for extra activities (Family Home Evenings, other ward activities, etc.). Being in a singles ward and not knowing people is a strange experience. Often people (myself included) would say things like, "well, you get what you put into it." "It's your own fault if you're not getting to know people." While I still acknowledge there's some truth to both of those statements, I also have an experience that offers understanding that putting a certain amount of energy into seeking friends and acceptance in a space where you know NO ONE can be extremely overwhelming. It can be rewarding and wonderful some days, and draining and awful on others. It's like going on a blind date every time you venture out to an activity or meeting. Rather than being with known people where there's some predictability to how you'll relate with them and how the moment will go, it's such an unknown. Some days I simply didn't have or want to risk all the energy of a "blind date" experience, even though it could have turned out well. I've noticed that even having ONE person you trust be present to support the experience and the risk can make a big difference, but going alone has both advantages and disadvantages. And, being in Mormon singles ward where you initially know no one, it isn't that you take a risk every once in's weekly, multi-weekly even. It became too much for me, too draining.

Plus, you have the piece of managing all of that with the fact that you're all near the same age, and single. There can be a feeling of needing to "make an impression." Esp. as it is part of the purpose of singles get single people together and married. It can feel pressuring & competative, while at the same time, nice to connect with others in a similar life experience. So this mixed-bag experience was interesting. Even though a difficult transition, I decided that I was going to Church to go to Church, not just for social reasons.

I had always loved the Gospel growing up. It felt like a place of protection & safety. A place where people knew and loved me. A place where I knew I was special. Where I had something others didn't, and that I could find joy in getting those "others" to see true what I saw to be true. That I'd been especially strong and valiant before this life. It was a place that included the "fulness," all the answers to life's most challenging questions (and up to this point it really did serve that for me, except for the places it didn't which were stuffed away). A place where if I followed the principles of the Gospel I could not be led astray, which to me meant...I would not be harmed or hurt (at least not badly) or marry the "wrong" person, or end up in hell (okay, Mormons don't use the word hell, but the tellestial kingdom, which sounded like hell to me. "It's really beautiful there, but you cannot progess and you cannot be with your family." At least that was the gist I got, whether or not that's really the truth of the teaching.

Sometimes I think of how I felt during those most wonderful times in my Church experience and, in a way, it was like living in Hawaii. It was beautiful, warm, mellow & calm. During difficult moments of my faith transition there was a longing to go back. Times I've attempted to pull the blissful naivety of what I felt in the past in the Church into the present (to pretend I hadn't become aware of what I had, to pretend I hadn't asked the questions I had) and damn it...denial of what I was learning just didn't work. And so, then I'd work to readjust. To fit the "new" information and the "new" perspectives within the faith, but it still didn't feel like Hawaii felt like Antarctica. It's like the weather patterns of the whole earth had changed. No offense to any lovers of the winter, but for a thin-framed woman the cold is a tricky thing to work with. What once was warm and mild, was now cold, painful, cloudy, and numbing.

Now, nearly 7 years after that first experience with painful Sundays, I find Sundays to still be more difficult days, but in different ways. Since deciding to step back from Church a year ago, I am now working to maintain a space where Sundays are a day in which I can feel connected to the highest space of love within me, and therefore feel connected to the highest space of love all around me. For so much of my life, Church was a helpful aid for this, and when it changed...that was difficult. and yet, I wouldn't change it, I wouldn't go back...I'm opening to new experiences, to different ways of creating space for the experience of love, and there I find God on Sundays...for now.

Thomas Merton's words:

"Yesterday, in Louisville, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were, or, could be totally alien to me. As if waking from a dream — the dream of separateness, of the “special” vocation to be different. My vocation does not really make me different from the rest of men or put me is a special category except artificially, juridically. I am still a member of the human race — and what more glorious destiny is there for man, since the Word was made flesh and became, too, a member of the Human Race!

Thank God! Thank God! I am only another member of the human race, like all the rest of them. I have the immense joy of being a man! As if the sorrows of our condition could really matter, once we begin to realize who and what we are — as if we could ever begin to realize it on earth."

"Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other."

tags: religious confusion, new order mormon, post-mormon, ex-mormon, life after religion, addiction