Faith and Loss: What the recent policy changes of LDS church have meant for me…

Like many others around me, I was left dismayed and hurt by the policy changes made by the LDS church this past weekend.  I can’t claim to have been shocked, though I sincerely wish that I could.

I was raised in the LDS church in Utah, though shortly after my confirmation my family became inactive. Knowing that I was part of the LGBTQIA community and feeling largely unwelcome and unwanted by the church, I stayed away for over two decades.

Then almost five years ago, I decided to try again.  The church had stopped being quite so vehemently and almost violently anti-LGBTQIA, and I thought that perhaps I could find a place for myself within the church once more.  Maybe my presence (and the presence of those like me) now being treated more kindly within the church would help make it easier for the youth growing up in the church who were realizing they were different, wondering where they fit in, and scared of being rejected by their church and by their families.  With not a small amount of fear, but a great deal of support from my LDS friends and family, I walked through the doors of my local ward on an Easter Sunday, and returned to being an active member.

My ward surprised me in all the best of ways.  They showed me kindness and acceptance; not just to me, but also to my partner, though she isn’t Christian.  People reached out to me, extended a hand of friendship, and helped me to feel comfortable and welcome.  I really thought things were changing — albeit slowly — but they were changing.  I had hope that I could embrace my faith and the church without the fear, intolerance and even hate that I’d known when I was young.

After the policy changes were confirmed by church leadership on Saturday morning, I spent most of the day and evening listening and watching as pain unfolded among friends and loved ones all around me.

I spent hours throughout Saturday and Sunday, and even today, comforting many. First, it was trying to convince a young friend not to take her own life amidst her overwhelming pain and fear, who is now terrified someone will find out she identifies as LGBTQIA, and wonders what will happen to her when they do.  So far, I’m very thankful to say, she hasn’t taken her life.  Then, I read about a friend who was kicked out of her home by her parents because of the policy changes, even though she might be losing her job in a few days.

My heterosexual family, friends, and loved ones are struggling through what I can only describe as a crisis of faith. They have said, “This can’t be right…,” or “This has to be a bad joke.  Surely something will be done to reverse this…,” and even “It makes no sense… it goes against all the progress that has been made…”  as they wrestle with what their conscience tells them is right versus what the policy changes say.   While they pray, they are trying to figure out where their place is now, feeling torn between their church and their loved ones who are LGBTQIA.

I thought very long and hard about what the changes meant for me and my future within the church, and I grieved the loss that I knew was inevitable.

This last Sunday, I went to church with my pagan wife at my side. I gave hugs to friends, and tried to console one sweet friend in particular  who attends my ward. She has a gay daughter, and seemed to perceive my presence in the ward these past five years as hope that her child might find peace in the church.  When she found out why I was there, she burst into tears.

Turning in my letter of resignation was my decision to save us all the trouble, hassle and stress of a now mandatory disciplinary council. You see, my partner of 12 years and I finally got legally married just over a week ago, on our anniversary of Halloween. We were celebrating that I would now have health insurance, among other things. For wanting the safety and recognition of legal marriage, I have been branded apostate by my church.

To his credit, the Bishop was very kind about the whole matter. He accepted my letter without argument and with tears in his eyes, all the while telling me that he hoped I would still feel welcome to come and listen any time. He told me that I am loved by the ward, and that they still want to be there for me. Finally, he conveyed his hope that I didn’t feel judged.

I replied that it was rather hard not to feel judged, but that I wasn’t taking it personally – at least not from the ward. I told him that I am still living my beliefs and my faith, and still wish to be there and be of service for the many friends I’ve made in the ward. They have always been very kind to my wife and myself, and I will always be grateful for that.

On the whole, it went about as well as it could.

For my own part, I could shrug it off, as I’m sadly accustomed to this type of treatment from growing up in Utah. But, my heart is grieving for the lives that have been and will be lost over this policy change, and for the families that are and will be torn apart. That is what has me gutted; what I find to be not only cruel but unconscionable actions against innocent minors, families of LGBTQIA Mormons, and LGBTQIA members.

In the end, I still have my faith and beliefs; I’m not resigning those. I am keeping what is of God. I am only resigning the parts that are of man, and my belief is that man is fallible.

To those of you that might take issue with that last statement of belief, Mormons and the Church of Latter Day Saints strenuously reject any official doctrine of infallibility as papish, idolatrous nonsense. As the old adage goes: “Catholics say the Pope is infallible, but don’t really believe it; Mormons say the prophet is fallible, but don’t really believe it.”  On Saturday, I think many of us began to believe it, or at the very least allow for the possibility, once more.

In Which I Break My Own Rule…

Given the admittedly volatile nature of the internet, I have a rule that I have tried to keep – whether in my blog or on various social media.  That rule is that I will NOT discuss politics.  I have so many friends from so many different and varied paths in life and respect them all and the diversity they bring to my life.  Even when I disagree with them, I pretty much just let it go.  They have every right to their opinion as I do.  And I respect them enough to remember that every experience a person goes through molds and shapes them into who they are today.  I can’t say that if I had lived their life, I wouldn’t view the world around me the same way.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve heard a lot of arguments from a lot of sources over Marriage Equality.  And I just can’t take it anymore.  So if you want to know what I think..read on – and pay attention because I’m only going to say this once!  If you’d be just as happy not knowing… here’s a cute picture of a kitten to squee over:  adorable kittens in 3..2..1…

I’ve heard two main arguments against Marriage Equality:

1.  “But it oppresses my religious rights because the Bible and my ‘insert religious leader’ told me all the gays are evil!”

2. “Marriage is ONLY for procreation.”

Ok, so lets go with the second argument first shall we?  Marriage is not solely for the purposes of procreation.  If it were, then couples where one or both parties are infertile (due to age, medical condition, result of injury, happenstance of genetics, whatever the cause) would not be granted a marriage license.  Also, couples who have exceeded the age of being able to reproduce (or lost the ability to any number of causes) would see their marriages dissolved immediately.  We don’t do that.  So can we please finally leave this argument in the dust of it’s hollow grave?

Now onto the questionably trickier argument.  Allowing LGBTQI individuals the right to a civil(LEGAL) marriage, is NOT going to oppress your religious freedoms.  No one is going to force any church or religious entity to perform or even recognize such a marriage.  After all, there are plenty of religions that already DO perform such unions happily – no one has to force those who don’t want to, to do so.

There is not a single “holy book” that has come handed intact directly from the hands of whatever Diety that you choose to worship that has not passed through the hands of hundreds and even thousands of very human, very fallible, human beings!  By that very progress – got news for you, it’s flawed!  There are mistakes.  Anything produced by human hands will have them.  It’s a fact of life.

But the fact remains, that even if there WERE such a miraculous book, the point is moot.  You see in the USA we have this lovely document called the Constitution of the United States of America.  The first 10 amendments to this document are called the Bill of Rights.  The First Amendment ratified in 1791 reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

For anyone that needs a refresher – this means that there is no official religion of the United States of America.  We allow the free exercise of every religion with none held above another.  That means that EVERY religion – whether it is yours or not, whether you agree with it or not – is allowed to be practiced without interference.  That means that if your religion doesn’t perform gay marriages – guess what?  That’s OK!  BUT… it also means that if another church, of another religion down the road DOES – guess what?  That’s also OK!

Marriage Equality is not a battle to force churches to perform gay marriages.  Really, folks, it’s not.  It’s about a civil, legal, document that allows two people to enter into a contract to spend the rest of their lives together – that gives rights of survivorship to the one who outlives the other, grants the rights and abilities to visit each other in the hospital and make decisions for each other.

Marriage is not a SOLELY religious rite.  It isn’t!  If it were, then Athiests would not be allowed to marry.  And guess what folks – they do!

The LGBTQI community that is asking for Marriage Equality doesn’t want to storm your church.  They want to be granted the same rights and responsibilities under the recognition of the government of the land separate from the control of any one specific religion.  That’s it.

And for those who may see me in church and feel conflicted about what I’ve said here… I’d like to remind you of a few things that might help you work your way around it:

The 11th Article of Faith states:  We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

(in other words – you don’t get to claim that what you believe has more legal rights than what anyone else believes – no matter how differently they believe)

The 12th Article of Faith states: We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

(Please see the First Amendment of the US Constitution contained in the Bill of Rights – the US has no official state religion – all religions are granted equal rights to practice – LDS and Pagan and Muslim and even Pastafarian!)

The 9th Article of Faith states: We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

(never make the mistake of thinking  you know absolutely everything there is to know about everything – I can promise you, if you do, you’ll be wrong)

D&C 134:9 states: We do not believe it just to  mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

(Please don’t forget in your passion to see your beliefs put into law, that in doing so you may step on the rights and beliefs of your neighbors who do not believe as you do.  Religious law and Civil laws should remain separate.)

So the next time you consider the arguments about Marriage Equality, I challenge you to view the issues with compassion.  Compassion for those who simply want to protect a love that means more to them than life itself.  Ultimately folks, it’s about love.  Not religion.  Just… LOVE.

Can You Find The Silver Lining?

I haven’t posted here in a while.  There’s been a lot going on, birthdays, graduations, travels, school concerts and soon dance recitals – mixed in with the other multitudes of minutia that make up life (VA appointments, errands, paying bills – you know what I mean).    And I do have things to share about some of those experiences – but they’re still….taking form and finding the right words to write.

So while that continues to gel, I’m going to take a risk.  I’m going to be blunt about something I almost never talk about, not unless you’re part of a very treasured handful of people.  But maybe my sharing it can help give some solid strength to my shaky legs as I travel this path of healing.  And maybe, just maybe, it can help someone else if I share it.  Even if it’s only to know they’re not the only out there – because in the depth of the dark night when you’re battling against your darkest self – you feel very much alone.  Even when you’re not.

For a longer time than I care to admit to, I’ve dealt with various forms of self-harm and self-abuse.  From purposefully starving myself and denying food until even my body gave up and no longer recognized what ‘hungry’ meant.  To actively seeking to cause myself pain.  In very specific and purposeful ways, with the sole intention being to punish myself.  I still fight with it.

Sometimes the punishment was for things I could point at and say ‘I said this’ or ‘I did that’ or ‘I thought “x.”‘  And I’d use those reasons to justify why I deserved it.  Why I deserved not just the pain I was inflicting on myself, but every bad thing that had or ever could happen to me.  I deserved every last bit of it – and none of the good.  A lot of times, I didn’t even need a reason.  My existence was reason enough that I deserved every bit of pain and punishment I could inflict.

No, I’m not a cutter.  I don’t do anything that leaves marks or scars that can be seen (not past a handful of hours).  And chances are – even if you saw me just seconds after I finished  – you still wouldn’t see anything.  I choose the most sensitive and secret parts to inflict the greatest amounts of pain and punishment on.  Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?  I’m not going to go into any details on what I do, that’s not the point here, and I don’t want to give anyone else who is struggling any ideas on things they have or haven’t tried.

Here’s the thing, if you’ve never experience the need – yes, need – to self-harm, you can’t understand the compulsion, drive, urge, very nearly obsession that takes over your brain until you follow through.  And often times, it’s an escalation thing.  One outlet might work for a while, but you get used to it, so you have to find a new way to inflict pain, or a way to intensify it, to get the same, if very temporary, relief.  And it’s an insidious thing.  It sneaks up on you, even when you think you’re strong and doing well.  It attacks when you’re alone, when you’re vulnerable, when you’re not looking.  This graphic below gives a little insight into the cyclic nature of it:

self_harm_diagram

 

I’m very lucky and very blessed.  I have a wonderful inner circle of supportive and loving people who do everything they can to support me, as I battle to end this cycle.  It’s beyond difficult for me to fathom why they do this.  Why they care so much, why they love me so much, why it matters what happens if it’s happening to me.

When I’m at my strongest and healthiest, I may not understand or think I deserve all they give me, but I accept it and am grateful for it.  When I’m at my most vulnerable and sincerely fighting the urge to inflict very real physical pain on myself almost on a heartbeat by heartbeat basis…I have trouble even accepting it.  I don’t deserve it (in my perception of reality – a flawed perception, I understand that on a strictly logical basis, but there it is – logic has no hand in this reality).  I don’t deserve the love, the concern, the support, the tremendous generosity of these so very loving people.   I want to hide from them.  I want to disappear.  I want to become the nothing that I feel like I am.

I’m trying to help you understand the very warped reality, the darkness that my mind lives in during these times, even while I realize that if you haven’t been there – you’ll never fully comprehend the starkness and desperation of it.

Despite all of this, those special few have never abandoned me to my inner demons.  Despite not always understanding.  Despite the heartache that I know I have caused them at the thought of some of what I’ve done.  They have stood by me, and forgiven me time and again – even when I couldn’t forgive myself.  Even as I’ve stumbled and tripped along my way to fixing what is broken within me, to finding a healthy me under it all.   And because of this, I’ve come lightyears from where I once was.

I stumbled again last night.  I was cruel to myself, and I caused myself physical pain.  Not nearly as cruel, not nearly as much pain as I’ve been known to do at my worst.  After  fighting and fighting I gave in, because I was exhausted.  I was tired, and tired of the fight and wanted so badly for the quiet and the relief that usually comes from surrendering.  And after it was all over I was in tears, because that relief never came.  I’d lost that battle.  And for nothing.

But today, with a clearer head, something occurred to me that I need to try to remember more often than I do.  Often times we’re told ‘don’t look back, you’re not going that way’.  And for a good deal of situations, that’s true.  BUT…but…sometimes we do need to look back.  Not to wallow in our past, but to remind ourself just how far we’ve come already – when it feels like we still have so very far to go and don’t have the strength to keep going.  There was a time that I inflicted pain on myself on a daily basis – sometimes multiple times a day or for entire days without rest.

Even counting last night’s stumble, in the past year I’ve only given in maybe a handful of times – in an entire year!  Put into that kind of perspective – I’ve come so very far!!  I may not be where I want to be yet.  But it truly makes me take another look at how far is left to the goal of health, versus how far I’ve already come just to get where I am now.

Now, I know what a healthy mindset is, and can maintain one for long periods of time.  I know the mindset I want to have, who I want to be and am working to become.  And I realized something else.  In not gaining the relief, even temporary as it would have been, the cycle is breaking down.  I may have given in, but it doesn’t mean I’ve failed.  Rather it showed me how far I’ve come, and that my work to fix myself is not for nothing.  I may not be fixed – yet – but the changes are taking effect.  Some of it is beginning to sink in – if slowly and only subconsciously – that maybe I do have a small bit of value.  It has to be, or the relief would have come.

I have no trouble seeing the body as sacred and to be honored and treated gently – for others.  The idea of anyone I love and care about harming themselves as I have done, is horrifying to me.  And yet…that horror is not there when I look at myself.  Someday, I hope it will be.  I’m working to try and see and honor the sacred within myself.  To see my existence as something to be celebrated, not punished.  To see value and worth in myself.  And when I can’t, I try to remember what those I love and trust have said that they see in me.  I rely on their faith and belief in me, when my own faith and belief in myself falters.

It’s been said that you can’t ‘live on borrowed light.’  And you can’t.  But sometimes you need someone else to light your candle when you can’t find that first spark yourself.  Sometimes you need someone else to believe in you and see value and worth in you, before you can see it in yourself.  Sometimes, before you can love yourself, you need someone else to love you even in your broken and flawed self, to know that even you deserve love.  I’ve been so very lucky to have not just one, but a handful of dear people, that have been willing to do just that for me.  Even when I stumble and fall, they still love me, they still support me, and they remind me that it’s not the end of the world.

Losing one battle, does not lose the war, as long as you regroup and fight again.  So, a reminder to myself, and a reminder to anyone else out there fighting their own battles, don’t give up.  Rest, if you need to.  Heal, if you need to.  And then pick up your sword and fight again.  Remind yourself how far you’ve already come, to give you the strength to keep going.

MB-MA123_LRG

Too See Yourself Through the Eyes of Another

For about a year or so now, I’ve been following quite a few blogs.  Very notably I’ve been following the blog of Jennifer Pastiloff.  A remarkable woman of profound courage and honesty, a brilliant talent with words, a manifestation yogi, and an inspiration.

In one of her blogs, posted February 23, on Positively Positive, she ended her blog with a request of her readers, her Tribe.  The request seemed an easy one, yet I’ve been unable to face it and actually put words to the page for almost a month now.  Even though the idea of it has haunted my brain on a near daily basis.  Today though, I did.  The request was this:  Please post below a description of yourself or a letter to yourself written in the voice of someone who loves you.

One of the first challenges was to pick which voice to write it in.  My lovely wife would seem an obvious choice, however, I’ve often discounted her words as being biased.  I knew I’d have to write it in the voice of someone that I know I can’t argue with.  Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I haven’t tried.  I am me, after all.  But this is the one person, besides my darling wife, who knows ALL of my secrets – good and bad – and who still found worth in me.  How, I still don’t know, but she did.  The voice of someone who’s helped me on many profound levels and to whom I owe an immense debt of gratitude and love. And while I know I can never fully repay her for all she’s done and does, I still try.

I know she doesn’t follow the same blogs I do, so the chances that she would see the letter I wrote to myself in her voice were beyond microscopic.  So…to thank her, and to let her know that for all my quarrelsome nature, I have indeed been paying attention, and I have been listening…here’s the letter…

Dear Doll,

There have been those in your life who’ve abused and misused you. And instead of getting angry with them, you tried to figure out what you did wrong and took on the blame yourself. It wasn’t your fault, the horrors you endured. If I could wrap you in a quilt and hold you until the memories went away and your self-worth was restored to you I would. One day, you’ll remember your worth and value are infinite. You are enough just the way you are. You are good enough, strong enough, smart enough, kind enough – you are enough – more than enough. You are a lion that’s been told for so long that it’s a sheep, that you’ve forgotten how to roar. Your faith is a beautiful thing to witness, and when it falters, I have faith enough in you to carry you until you find your way again. I will do anything I can to help you remember your worth and who you are, and I will celebrate with you when that day comes. You’ve come so far this past year. Lightyears from where anyone could have ever predicted. And you have so much still ahead of you.

I’ve told you these things before, but I’m not sure they’re sinking in. I think you are a beautiful young woman who is facing many very hard challenges, and I want to help if I can. You are my hero, and you will want to know why…Because of all you have endured and yet you still believe that you matter (even if it’s just a fledgling belief). Because you care about people in the world that you don’t even know – you pay for their groceries behind you in line, you send money to help the kids of a stranger without a second thought just because you found out that they were struggling, you write love letters of encouragement to people you’ve never met and never will. Because you have undying love for your family that you barely know but would do anything for. Because you have a knowledge and insight at age 35 that I am still trying to attain. Because of your ability to see people’s shortcomings and still be nonjudgmental and loving towards them. Because you put everyone before yourself.

You give me strength. You spoil me and at times I don’t know what to do with you! You are exceptionally kind and exceptionally good – even if you don’t see it. I am very thankful to have you in my life. You are too good to be true – at times I’m convinced you’re an angel. And as much as you tell me I don’t have to thank you, the gratitude that swells in me for you and all you’ve done and do – is so immense that I have no words to express it properly. So please, don’t argue with me when I thank you. I’m grateful you’re my family AND my friend. I love you for who you are, for your heart and your immense spirit. Nothing you do can ever change that, and you can’t disappoint me – so stop worrying about that and chase your dreams. I’m proud of you.

I love you as big as the sky.

Fight or Flight….Which Shall It Be…

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

I don’t know about most of you, but I take comfort in my daily routines. I don’t cling to them. I can change around the order in which I do things – or even skip some things for a day here or there. But most of the things that are my “daily’s” are things that help me feel more calm and balanced and ready to take on the world – regardless of what my current challenges are. Lately though, I’ve been avoiding them. Massively. And the kicker of it is – I don’t fully know why.

I started my routine about a year or so ago. It grew as new elements got added in until it reached the form it has today – that I’m currently avoiding in it’s near entirety. It would start with some affirmations, proceed to writing three pages of long hand, stream of consciousness type of journaling. The pages were for many purposes. To give me a safe place to vent, to help me be more aware and tuned in to my inner thoughtscape, to help me learn to turn off my inner editor to aid in the other types of writing that I do. And at the end of my day, I would list the things I was grateful for, for that day in one journal, and in another, I’d place an image of something/someone I was grateful for, and roughly three reasons that image invoked feelings of gratitude that day. Those were the nuts and bolts of my routine.

Interspersed in all this was also lots of reading: leisure reading, slush pile reading, beta reading, and self-help and/or spiritual reading. (add in there research for writing topics or other tasks as needed). Then add in trying to make progress on or finish various WIP’s (works – in – progress)  – novels and short stories. And of course, a loving wife to look after (if you know my wife, you know that alone is a full time job with never a dull moment!), furkids to take care of, and the sacred inner circle that I connect with daily. Sprinkle liberally with friends, any attempts at a social life, the more love letters monthly campaign, and various other fun/interesting/stressful challenges that life sees fit to throw my way.

It sounds like a lot, when listed out like this – but it was something that I handled without a second thought. But of late – I’m avoiding it. I’m paying a price for this avoidance. My headspace is less well behaved, my sleep is not as restful, I’m more moody. I know returning to my routine would solve the greater majority of it all. And yet…and, yet… I don’t.

So, what changed? Nothing, and everything. I got hit with an emotional curveball that skyrocketed my stress levels. I caught the latest version of the plague, that had me unconscious more often than not, and led to a lapse in my routine. I got over the plague, but never got back to my routine. Not really. A day here or there, but not the steady daily work that had so marked my last year. A year that was filled with the most growth, the most challenges, and was the most remarkable year I’ve lived yet. Filled with blessings and turns in the road I’d never have anticipated in my wildest daydreams or what-if’s. So why did I stop?

About the best I can figure it out is this. I got scared and I got tired. The final stress curveball that hit me, was the straw that broke this camel’s back. It’s made me scared to hope. Scared to count my blessings for fear that it’ll make it easier to steal them away from me. And as for facing myself in the pages? I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. Because what I’d have to face is pain and raw and fear. After facing pain and raw and fear for a year, I’m tired. Even knowing all the growth and good that‘s come from it, hasn’t been enough to make me go back. The raw has been too large. The fear has been to entrenched. The pain has been both too old and too new all at the same time. I’ve even avoided this blog – which I’d been doing better about updating on a regular basis.

I have been forcing myself to face and deal with the curveball – with all the new knowledge and wisdom and strength the past year has given me. But it’s taken everything I’ve had and left me feeling like a husk each time. Only to start the process over again a few days later. And I’ve been afraid to look in the mirror that pages provide. Afraid I’d find all that I thought I’d learned about myself were just so many pretty lies. Afraid I’d find the old wreck of a girl I used to be. That I’d only watch myself deteriorate back to that lost little girl. If I didn’t look, then maybe it wouldn’t happen. I could keep up the facade of “ok”, the lie of “fine.”

But I’m not ok, and I’m not fine. I’m scared and scarred. I’m trying to protect myself and yet at the same time lay down my sword and shield. Never before has my old motto of “hope for the best, expect the worst” been more true or harder to bear. I’m scared to hope, and even more scared of what the worst could be. And while I know that this time things are different in very profound ways, memories are wicked and cruel beasts that will cut you to the quick at your most vulnerable and unexpected moments. I know that I’m not alone, that friends, loved ones, and that sacred inner circle are all around me – if I but reach out. And yet….and, yet….my hands are tied.

Others can listen and support and cheer me on, but ultimately only I can walk this road. For good or bad, in some very real ways I have to go through this alone. While it’s nice to know that others think I’m capable. That they believe I’m stronger than I was, and that I’ve “got this.” I don’t have their same confidence. I want to. I’m trying to live up to the vision they have of who I am…and clinging to it, when I can’t see myself at all.

You’d be surprised how often I can’t. I’ve avoided the mirror, scared I’d look and find no one there at all. Worse than a reflection of all the worst that’s in me, I’d find no reflection at all. I haven’t dared hope to see a reflection of the good – to see the reflection those who care about me have assured me is really there. Afraid to find the confirmation that I’ve just had them all fooled all along. And with the confirmation all the good in my life would evaporate along with the reflection until nothing remained in the mirror at all.

But I can’t keep it up. Something’s gotta give. And the truth of it is, I can’t bear to go back to the black pit of depression and all that it brings with it. I’ve never really counted myself a coward, and I’m not going to start now. So foolish at may feel to take the risk of seeing hopes dashed, I’m taking a deep breath, closing my eyes, swallowing hard and believing in the hope and faith and love and good that those I love and trust have told me is there.

Tomorrow I go back to my routine, and face what pains are waiting for me. I’ll patch and bandage my cuts and bruises, and return to fight the good fight. I’ve avoided and avoided and gotten nowhere. Let the blows fall where they may. Better battered and bruised and true – authentic and alive – than to return to being little more than a wisp of a ghost, vanishing in the morning’s light. I’m going to avoid avoiding. Sew up these last few stitches, pick back up my sword and shield, and then, dear friends, once more into the breach. Pray for me?

The Emperor(Empress) Has no….Skin?!

Vulnerability.  There it is.  A word that can, at it’s very utterance, strike terror into the hearts of thousands of adult, teens, preteens and maybe even some kids.  But why?  Well, there are lots of reasons.  We’re taught that being vulnerable is synonymous with being weak.  That it means you’re a push over, or alone, or easily trampled.  And yes, it can be these things, when misused.  However, vulnerability – when wisely and judiciously applied – can be a source of great strength and insurmountable power.

Yes, yes, I see you over there in the corner raising an eyebrow and saying ‘yeah, right!’  Let me explain how I’ve come to this…remembrance, you might call it…and the effect I’ve seen as I’ve applied it in my life.

When I was a child, I would often forget to wear my skin.  What do I mean by this?  Well, I was transparent.  I wasn’t just the emperor who forgot to wear his clothes, proudly strutting through town.  No, I was the kid that forgot that you weren’t supposed to let people see your heart, or maybe even your soul.  That didn’t know, instinctively – as so many seem to, that there is a price to loving people.  That never thought of protecting themselves first, but rather of how they could help whoever was around them (even if I didn’t like them).  I really didn’t see the reason for wearing a skin, though through many painful lessons, I did learn some reasons.  Even for seeking out the thickest skin it was possible to achieve.

You could say I went from walking around skinless, to being wrapped in my own version of blubber.  To insulate me from all the pain and heartache and cruelty I saw around me.  And for a very long time, I stayed that way.  It seemed the safest.  Rather to experience life a little dulled through senses that couldn’t quite fully penetrate out of my cocoon of safety, than to risk the sharp prick of unkindness or the stab of betrayal.  Better to be numb, than to feel.  Better to be a zombie, than to risk the “slings and arrows” of being alive.  Better to be the cause of my pain, myself, before others could even try to hurt me.

What’s that?  You say that’s messed up?  You’re right.  It is.  But for many on many years, it’s precisely how I lived.  This doesn’t mean I didn’t have any friends, or that I was completely isolated, locked in an attic somewhere.  Of course I wasn’t.  I had friends – but I kept them at arms length.  Some of them knew this and were fine with it.  Some tried to get closer – and I’d mentally yelp and run and hide in my safe corner.  The patient ones recognized something in me worth sticking around and seeing if – with enough love and no pressure – I might, like some skittish animal, eventually crawl out of my deep dark whole and let them near.  For those folks, I am and will always be, eternally grateful.  Their patience was tried time and again, and it couldn’t have been easy.  But it worked.  In spurts and starts, it worked.

One of the last painful lessons I’d learned caused me to insulate myself to the point of being near agoraphobic.  It wasn’t the most painful lesson, but it was on the heels of it.  It was the proverbial straw you might say, that caused me to just give up – or give in.  Give in to fear, give up my power.  I secluded myself in my home.  I didn’t want to see anyone, I barely would answer emails or talk to people even via chat.  I wanted nothing to do with people anymore.  My faith in people on a whole was completely obliterated.  I loved and trusted my dear wife – but I was even starting to push her away.  So slowly, that she didn’t realize I was doing it – but I did.  And my very old nemesis of depression and anorexia and self-harming not only came back to visit, but moved in and set up home in my mind again.

Now, mind you,  I am many many thing – but a fool is not one of them.  I didn’t wear my depression on my sleeve.  I ate as little as possible and only when I knew I was being watched, and since I couldn’t completely starve myself, I starved other appetites as well.  I wouldn’t allow myself to do the things that brought me joy, for example. And all my self-harming activities were such that however much pain I might inflict – there were no tell tale marks to give me away.  Allowing any of it to be seen, to be known, would mean letting someone in.  And that was dangerous.  That was painful.  That was the last thing I wanted.  It was also the only thing I really wanted – if I’d allowed myself to admit it.  It hurts to be that alone.  Especially when even you aren’t a safe place for yourself.

Eventually things spiraled down until I hit bottom.  I was heading back to bed one night after a whopping two hours awake for the day and I thought “everyone would just be better off if I never woke up.”  In that moment, I knew just how bad I’d let things get.  I hadn’t had a suicidal thought since I’d recovered from my attempts when I was 17.  But I still remembered clearly enough the slippery slope from thought to action.  I was terrified.  I didn’t truly want to die, yet…but I knew if I didn’t change something drastically and fast – it was only a matter of time.

I can honestly say at that point, I wasn’t sure any more if I believed in God or a higher power anymore.  If I believed in anything at all, any more.  But I was desperate, in a way only those who have faced that kind of darkness can know.  Desperate enough to pray, even if I didn’t know if it would do any good.  And that’s exactly what I did.  I lit a candle alone in a quiet room, and I prayed – begged – any God that might exist, the universe, any higher power that might be inclined to look on me with sympathy, for help.  For guidance, to find my way, to find me, to find the joy I used to feel, to find a way back to being alive again.  That was two years ago – this month.  Though I couldn’t tell you right down to the day.

Slowly, oh so very slowly, I started to come back up the other side.  I’d found a forum online within days of my appeal that led me to a group of very kind hearted people from around the world – who allowed me to simply be.  They didn’t know me from Eve.  They let me question – everything.  They let me be authentic, for maybe the first time in I couldn’t tell you how long.  Anything that I was exploring, questioning, trying to figure out – they withheld any judgments and were amazingly supportive.  But they were also safe.  None of them were local, none of them knew me, none of them could – in any real and tangible way – hurt me.  Still, it was a start.

Slowly I began to peek out just a little, began to feel – just a little.  I can’t say I began to trust, but I did begin to be just a bit less afraid.  Nine months later, that little bit of fledgling courage would start being put to the test.

Having grasped onto that forum like the life line it was, forcing myself to interact with others and look for anything that might help me be ME again, I took small risks and reinforced a small sense that maybe, just maybe, it might be ok.  About this time, my life went through another upheaval – as life will.  While I didn’t land down in the pit again, I was shaken up pretty good.

You see, I didn’t think I had any worth.  I didn’t have any value.  I believed that I deserved every bad thing that ever came my way, but none of the good.  I thought my very audacity of existing, something to be punished with extreme prejudice, and apologized for.  That any act of reaching out was being a burden – rather than a way to share joy.  This time though, instead of withdrawing and seeking solace in sleep and solitude, I did the thing that is hardest for me to do.  I reached out.

You remember those very patient few I mentioned earlier?  Yeah, they were still there.  They may not have known how deep a whole they were waiting for me to crawl out of, but they were still there, bless them.  And when I did reach out, even tentatively, I was received with sympathetic ears, commiseration, and from some – enveloped in bear hugs before I could know what was happening to me!   Some bear hugs were real, some metaphorical, but they were all very strong and not a little overwhelming.  I am forever grateful to them, family and friends, for being there – even when I didn’t know how badly I needed them.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t divulging the secrets of the universe, or ever the secrets of my heart – not yet.  I was however, willing to take the risk of making a connection – to another person, to another heart – if only very timidly.  It was another, more important, start.

The year forward from that has been very possibly one of the most profound, if not THE most profound year yet, of my entire life.  I have been challenged on every front, on a daily – if not at times hourly – basis, to live my life with courage.  To shed the layers and layers of skin.  To endure newly exposed nerves to the air of life, without shrinking back.    To live authentically, to live in truth – whatever my definition of that may be (it’s different for everyone), to BE.

To be open.  To be honest.  To be brave.  To be emotional.  To be daring.  To dream.  To pursue those dreams.  To open my heart.  To open my soul.  To connect.  To be VULNERABLE.

Ah-hah!  You thought I forgot didn’t you?  Nope.  To be vulnerable.  Let’s take a closer look at that word.  It’s synonyms are: exposed, open, sensitive, subject (to), susceptible.    So to make one’s self vulnerable to another person, is to make yourself open, sensitive, exposed, susceptible and even sometimes subject to that other person.  Is this a wholly bad thing?  No.  Without vulnerability, we can never be truly close to another person or really know them.  Is it without risk?  NEVER.  Is it worth the risk?  Always.

Yes, being vulnerable, willingly and knowingly to another person is always a risk.  You do give that person power to hurt you.  But you also give that person the ability to love you, and to be vulnerable to you as well.  It means trust.  It means love.  It means respect and honesty.  And it can be the most rewarding thing you ever do – even as it is simultaneously the most exhilarating and terrifying thing you ever do.

By being vulnerable to those that love and support you, you gain not only their love and support, but your own strength and self-confidence has a safe place to grow and expand.  By taking the calculated risk of making yourself vulnerable to a stranger, you can gain a life long friend.  By taking the bigger risk of walking and talking your truth, and going out into the world skinless – but not blind – you not only gain the strength and power to be found in a life lived authentically, but you can lend that same strength to others fighting similar battles and who think they are alone.

By being vulnerable to some very special people in my life, I’m no longer not only not suicidal, I’m actually hungry and enjoying meals with those I love rather than trying to starve myself as punishment for existing.  I’m even winning the battle on not self-harming.

Even those not cursed to be English Majors as I was, oft know the line from Meditation XVII by John Donne “Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”  A more complete though lesser recognized version of that same quote reads thus:  “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

“No man is an island.” No one is alone.  I thought I was and I was so very wrong.  I’m not alone.  Neither are you.  Isn’t that something worth being vulnerable for?

I Desire.

I desire.  Two very simple, very loaded words.  The Oxford Dictionary defines desire as: a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.  Desire is more than just a sexual or sensual longing – though that’s how we most commonly see it used anymore.  It is want.  Multiplied.  It is a dream. Pursued.  It is passion. Burning.  It is quite simply that flame that burns longest and deepest within our soul.  That directs our every goal, path, pursuit.  It manipulates our relationships with others.  It enhances.  It torments.  It is that which lets you know you’re alive.  Painfully, exquisitely, breathlessly – alive.

So what/who/how/why do you desire?  I’m not asking who your latest crush is, or who you’re in love with.  I’m not asking what home you want to own, what car you want to have in your garage, or the latest greatest gadget you’re lusting after.  No, the kind of desire I’m speaking of is far deeper.  It is the desire of the very self, the soul.  The who, that you long to be.  The what that gives you purpose.  The how that you alone, unique in all the universe, can express.  The why that fuels it all.

I’ve had these two words rattling around in my head for days now.  I desire.  And the terrifying and simultaneously grand thing is, that it’s not an incomplete sentence.  There’s no missing fill in the blank.  Rather, it is a statement of being.

I. Desire.

As someone who has spent half of their life fighting depression, eating disorders, and various issues of self-worth and self-esteem – that realization, that declaration, is a profound experience.

Going through some old papers, I stumbled across a poem that the adolescent me had written about this tiny flame:

The Flame

I sit there as the candle burns low

Seeing the past and future in the flame

As my feelings of hate recede and sadness grow

The need for me to my ancestors lay claim

But time passes on, my mother calls

And I must run to see what’s wrong

I run and run as my faith in god falls

I must run and run to see what’s wrong

Soon the candles flame goes out

I am left alone in the darkness

With the pressure on my lungs I shout

Feeling overwhelmed by the starkness

And so I fall into that sleep

Into which the premonitions creep

To look back and read those words now, with eyes and a heart now grown a little wiser, a little kinder, a little more gentle – I wept.  I wept for the pain the young girl that I had been had poured onto the page, and the suicide attempt that had followed that poem and so many like it, less than a year later.  I also felt a profound gratitude for the single greatest failure of my life.  Had I been successful nearly two decades ago, at wiping myself from existence, I would have missed out on so many amazing experiences that I couldn’t even dream of or imagine at that young, tender and tormented age.

There’s been a lot of work this past year to find my purpose, my desire.  To find that small flame or spark that lit-up my entire being.  And to be honest – I didn’t really believe I would find it.  A part of me was sure that when all the heavy lifting was done, I’d find a scorch mark or maybe ashes, of a flame.  A flame that long since had burned out.  Whether from suffocation, starvation or neglect – I would find only the ruins of what once was.  If I was lucky, I might see a burnt out shell of the potential that had been.  A shell that if I didn’t breath too hard or accidentally touch, might not crumble and blow away in the wind before I could try to memorize what it had looked like.

To my astonishment, I found that beneath all the crap, the scars, the pain and the joys, the memories and the questions – buried under the shame and guilt and sadness and anger and fear – there is still a small but determined fire that has somehow managed to persist and persevere through it all.  That I am both Prometheus and the sacred flame.  Suffering the torments of being picked apart daily by all my insecurities and fears, and at the same time, deep within, burns a divine, unquenchable, sacred fire.

I may not have all the answers to the questions that I’ve asked you here, but I have a start at answering them.  Just by virtue of recognizing that quality within myself.  And as any fire does, when you give it fuel and you give it room to breathe, it grows.  With the right mix of blood, sweat and tears – of courage, vulnerability and faith – I can step into that fire, into that flame, and become it.  My divinely unique gift, my flame, my desire – my self.  Wonderfully, authentically, utterly ALIVE.  Perfectly imperfect.

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