Thinking Out Loud

I’m thinking out loud here, trying to puzzle out my feelings on a somewhat complex subject for me, so bear with me please. 

As some of you may know, last year I participated in No Shave November for the first time.  Most women can do this rather innocuously – after all, it’s rare to wear sleeveless tops or shorts in November, so who’s to see your hairy armpits or legs?  For me there’s a bit more risk involved. Not shaving turns me into the bearded lady. It was a difficult month, to say the least, but in some ways also very rewarding, helping me to become a little more comfortable in my own skin. Something I haven’t really been since I was nine years old, when puberty was well underway. 

So when November rolled around this year, I decided to participate in No Shave November again, this time with a bit more self confidence in NY ability to navigate its challenges, with the support of those nearest and dearest to me. And it went well. Despite the election preliminary results proclaiming a president-elect Trump and the victory of his platform of fearmongering and hate. Despite the niggling voices in the back of my head, from my childhood and popular culture and media, shaming me for my body being made differently – more hairy than socially acceptable. It went well. Until just over a week ago. 

Out shopping with close friends, I didn’t think much of it when an older, rotund, man sporting a red “Make America Great Again” gave me a nasty look. I just smiled politely and kept going. But then I ran into him again. And again. Each time his scowl at me being more disapproving and disgusted. I kept running into him during the hour or more in this store, until it seemed I couldn’t turn around without running into him. I was so uncomfortable, self-conscious and even started to feel unsafe – that I found myself responding in ways I haven’t since high school. If I saw him approaching I turned and went the other way to avoid him, or even hid behind those I was with. Not just because he obviously didn’t like or approve of my natural unshaven appearance…but because in this frightening political climate – his disapproval made me feel like my very safety was at stake… 

I didn’t tell my friends why I was acting so strangely, they just thought I was feeling a touch claustrophobic from the crowds. 

The next few days saw unbidden returns of memories of prior shamings. And I tried hard to shake off the memories and their accompanying emotions. I didn’t always succeed – like when I was trying to dodge having my picture taken over thanksgiving, even though celebrating with friends and loved ones. 

Tomorrow is the end of November. By Thursday, I could shave again. And I find myself of two minds about it. On the one hand, part of me is desperate to shave again, to “pass” as acceptable again out in public. On the other hand….On the other hand it’s been 30 years of hating myself for something I can’t help. 
I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted from hating myself. From feeling ashamed of myself for how I naturally exist. From worrying if I’ve shaved before I go out or people come over. From the expense of razors, pills, waxing, sugaring, electrolysis- all things I have tried and still the hair persists. I’m tired of it all – and that part of me says screw it, just let it be. Especially when, on the moments that I can look in the mirror without all the weight of societal dictates about how a woman should look, I can even begin to see where my facial hair even complements my features – that it looks good on me. Something I never thought I’d be able to see. Even with the quasi compliment from a young child calling me Justin Timberlake! 

It would be so nice to simply exist. To not give a crap. Will I shave it all off December 1st? I don’t know. Will I shave it off December 1st to grow it out again after the holidays are passed, to not feel self conscious when people want to take pics? Will I say screw it and keep it, and just keep it trimmed nicely? Honestly, I don’t know. 

I don’t like feeling like a coward, hiding from other people, but neither do I like feeling unsafe for existing. Although, with this new political climate, I already do for plenty of other reasons: I’m female, I’m in an interracial relationship, I’m part of the LGBTQIA community. I’m already hated simply for existing, what’s one more reason? 

Will I, or won’t I? Even I don’t know for certain. 

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

And in my copious spare time I….wait what?!

So, a short while back, a good friend challenged many of us to blog about what we do in our “spare” time, with a link back to her blog:

http://accordingtohoyt.com/2013/05/01/in-my-copious-spare-time/

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get different answers to “What do you do?”

Some answers include:

  1. Keep Micki alive
  2. Writer
  3. Slush Editor
  4. Beta Reader
  5. Jill of all trades
  6. Household CEO/CFO

The other fun hiccup to all of this, is that I am both a daysleeper (which means I don’t keep anything close to resembling normal hours) and that between Rheumatoid Arthritis and some other health quirks – I have some limitations that most people don’t have, and that even I don’t like to admit to.

Some of you might have heard of  “Spoon Theory”.  In a nutshell, it’s that:  everyday, each of us is given a set number of spoons to complete all of our tasks for the day.  A typical healthy person has a lot of spoons, and can accomplish a lot of things per spoon.  A not so healthy person like me, has not only fewer spoons, but it costs more spoons to do even the simple tasks.  There are some days – getting out of bed and interacting with people – maxes me out.  There are some days just getting out of bed maxes me out.  And on better days, I get more done.  (Don’t we all?!).

In any typical day for me, I get up in the mid-late afternoon/early evening, depending on how late in the morning I finally crawled into my bed, and start with three daily journals.  Two are of some affirmations I’m working on.  I’m not the kind of person that can look themselves in a mirror and repeat a chant 20-25 times in a day without feeling like an utter idiot.  I admire the people who can, but it’s not me.  So instead, I write them out – once a day, every day – to try to begin my day on a positive note.  I also write “daily pages” longhand, stream of consciousness.  I used to write hard and fast 3 pages.  Day in, day out.  Lately, I’ve been allowing myself to be a bit more lax on that after managing to maintain the habit for a bit over a year – so on busy days, if it’s half a page or a page, that’s ok…another day might be four pages or even seven…and that’s ok too.  From there it’s processing my way through the blogs I keep up with, emails waiting on answers, social media, taking care of any items Micki needs handled, processing the mail and bills and budget – all that kind of fun stuff.  I try to blog once a week (yes, I’ve been remiss recently, I’m trying to fix that). Thanks to 24 hr markets – I usually do my shopping at about 3am or so.  It’s lovely and quiet and no people to annoy you – bliss!

On VA days – I have to be up during the daytime…and sometimes have my entire day spent at the VA Hospital.  If you’ve ever been to the VA Hospital in Detroit – you understand why.  VA days, Sundays, and any other day where there’s an appointment that requires me to be up and active during “normal business hours”…are days I know in advance I’m going to be looking at 36-48 hours awake, as a given.  They’re long days.  And I usually crash when I’m finally able to crawl into my bed after that.

Some days and weeks are full of this kind of activity and eventually it all catches up with me and I get….cranky.  Which is when all the cats hide, the dogs sleep and Micki if she must talk to me usually prefaces it with an offer of either a slurpee or chocolate.  And asking if I’ve had any aleve that day, or do I need to go back to sleep?

One exception to all this, is traveling.  When I go on a trip I know I need to alter my daysleeper ways, and I plan appropriately to shift my sleep schedule as best I can.  If I’m lucky, time zones conspire in my favor so that I don’t have to shift my schedule very much at all.

This month, I have a lot going on.  In this past week, I’ve had birthday, two school concerts, VA appts, my own dental appointment, and various errands that required me up and about while the evil daystar was high in the sky.  Next week is a brief lull in the storm – but deceiving – VA appts begin again on Thursday, Plotmongers on Saturday, Mother’s Day, the VA again on Monday, and then I leave for California a week from Thursday – to watch my cousin graduate from college!  (The best excuse yet, for shifting around my schedule!).  Once I return, there’s more birthdays, more VA appts, Memorial Day and a Dance Concert – all before June 1st!

Add to those highlights the usual – keeping up the house, taking care of the furkids (2 dogs, 3 cats, and the “not-our-cats” who come by for a meal), making sure Micki took her meds, remembered her appointments, and any other “as needed”, catching up with family, friends and co-workers (other writers – who else would keep us sane?!?).  Oh…and yes…reading the slush, reading the beta pieces (which I still owe some folks), working on one or both of two novels in progress and a third piece that hasn’t decided how long it wants to be yet.  Doing crits for Plotmongers.  And the general detritus of life.

Because all the many hats I wear are rather “invisible” jobs – it’s easy for people to think I’m not busy and ask for a favor or two.  After all, I’m…”only a homemaker/housewife”…to some.  And a writer – who “always has nothing but time – after all how hard is it to write”.  And I try to accommodate people where I can.  But sometimes, I have to say “no, sorry.  can’t help you.”  You’d be amazed how many people get upset at that.  “But you do nothing all day!”  No, I do nothing you SEE.  You don’t live with me and you don’t talk to me on even a close to daily basis – so you have nothing to judge what I do and don’t do all day by!  Even a list like this blog – there’s stuff I’m going to leave out, because it’s personal.

On top of this, is the stuff I want to do..you know…in my spare time:

  •  The ever growing to-read pile of books – from books on philosophy to novels
  • the window I’m supposed to etch and turn into a mirror
  • the various honey-do tasks like sorting and boxing the library, Micki’s media room, and the kitchen (just for a start).
  • Begin to teach myself violin.
  • Eventually get the piano keyboard replaced and the piano tuned so that I actually play more often.
  •  Catch up on the shows I want to see and have recorded, but missed because the TV hasn’t been physically turned on in weeks – TV what’s that?

Oh yeah…can’t forget:

  • the learning how to format ebooks in different styles that I HAVE to do – even if I want to strangle the author of a certain style guide that shall remain nameless.
  • Working on making some more pieces of jewelry.
  • Penning down any number of other story/novel/book ideas that fly into and out of my head.
  • Finish the “Letters” book – no, I didn’t forget – I’m just behind as usual (you know who you are).

And then there’s….:

  • Learn all the formats for ebooks.
  • Put out the roughly half a dozen completed shorts before the year is over
  • And if I’m feeling really ambitious – maybe even put them into a kind of omnibus type of thing, so that people can buy all of them in one – rather than individually

It doesn’t sound like much, I know.  It doesn’t even sound like much to me.  But the spoons, they just haven’t been there.  There’s been too much heartache and grief for those I care about, where offering them comfort was more important than whatever to-do item fell on my desk that day.  And there’s been my own heart sludge that gummed up the works as well (emotional here, not physical).  And emotions, stuff of the heart – it eats spoons like nothing else ever does.  I can’t be the only one to have discovered that.

But, that’s life, it’s up and downs and spoon feasts and famines.  And one day I’ll be entirely caught up…or not.  And one of these years I’ll get everything on my wish list done…or not.  And all of that’s just fine!

An Open Love Letter…

Some of the folks close to me know about a special work that I participate in every month.  I don’t talk about it a great deal.  A few months ago I learned about More Love Letters.  It’s a project to send more love letters out into the world.  Not the sappy kind you wrote to your first crush back in grade school, but the uplifting, encouraging kind.  Written anonymously and left either for a person to find in some public venue, or gathered for love letter bundles to be mailed to a person that such letters have been requested for.  I’ve been participating since I first learned about it.  And an interesting thing has happened…I’ve found that writing these letters has helped make me a more compassionate, thoughtful.  It’s helped to make me a better person.

At times like now, it’s hard not to walk around with a feeling of melancholy.  Maybe to even fight not to lose your faith that humanity has value.  I know I certainly do.  But being negative – doesn’t help anyone.  One cliché that I have found proven true time and again in my life…is that if you want to feel better…help someone else.  And while I certainly try my best to help those I know, and a fair number of people I don’t know, I thought that right now might be a good time to try and stretch that a little more…by writing an open love letter to anyone who might need one right now.  And so, if you’re reading this…this is for YOU.

 

Dear Darling One,

I can’t begin to imagine what you might be going through right now.  The trials and struggles that we all have to face that are utterly unique to each one of us.  One thing I do know, and want you to know – is that what ever you may be facing…you are not alone.  It feels like it sometimes.  It can be hard to reach out.  But I can promise you.  You are not alone.  There are people around you who love you.  Who want you to succeed.  Who would love a chance to support and help you conquer whatever you are facing.

It’s easy to feel alone.  To cut yourself off thinking that others would never, could never understand.  But I promise, there are those that do.  You are never alone, but your thinking makes it so.  It’s ok if you’re scared.  It’s ok if you’re confused.  It’s ok if you’re hurting.  You don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t have to have it all together.  All you have to do, is take a deep breath and reach out.  You can do it.  I can’t promise it’ll be easy – it probably won’t.  I can’t promise it won’t terrify you – it might.  I can promise, it’ll be worth it.  I can promise this, because I’ve been there.  Sometimes I still am.  But I have learned that it is ALWAYS worth it.  Go through the pain, through the fear, through all of it…and connect.  It’s always worth it.

You are a beautiful person.  You have so much going for you – more that you can even realize.  And we need you.  This whole crazy messed up world, needs YOU.  There is only one person who can be the unique mix of crazy, beautiful, talented, wonderful being that you are.  You can not and will not ever be duplicated.  So please, share your talent with us. Share your crazy, your beautiful.  Share the uniqueness that only you can give.  We’re all waiting just to cheer you on.

Love,

C

 

Who’d Have Ever Believed?!

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, marked exactly one year, since I began re-attending church.  I’ve kept my return very quiet, even among my friends, because even I have been unsure where it might lead or even if it would last.  After a year, I guess it’s time to be a bit more open.  Since sharing this story does identify some of my family, and I haven’t asked their permission to do so, I’ll only identify them by an initial – our of respect for their privacy.

I was born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the LDS or Mormon church – as many know it.  My mother came over from Scotland to Los Angeles on a green card, and converted to LDS.  I don’t know her exact conversion story, only the rough time period and where.  We attended church fairly regularly through my Primary years.  I do know that when we were struggling a great deal, when I was just a toddler, the church helped us a great deal.  Those struggles ended when we rented a home with my godmother (the rent on our apartment and my godmothers apartment had gone up at the same time, and it was thought a handy way to save money if we could make it work.)

I can remember once waiting for her in a kind of lobby with a kind woman while she was in the temple (I couldn’t have been more than four years old – if that).  Although I only have the one memory.  I’m not sure when she stopped attending the temple or why.

Near the time of my baptism, I found out that a friend of mine, the daughter of the then bishop of our ward, had been molested by the husband of one the primary teachers.  I told my mother, as I’d been taught to do.  She talked to the Bishop.  The man was kept under watch by two other elders during church services.  To my mother’s knowledge that was the extent of anything being done.  The man in question had a long record with the local police for …troubles.  My mother did not feel that she could trust me to be safe while she was away from me, and after my confirmation we stopped attending.  (This is the official reason, though in a moment of unusual bluntness a few years later, she also admitted to “not liking who you were becoming” – meaning me.  I’m not sure if it was because of her vehement feminist views, or that my behavior smacked to much of indoctrination – she’d call it brain washing.)

You might imagine that life in Utah, as inactive members is not exactly…easy.  Couple this with my changing schools the next year to a private Catholic school.  The only Mormon in a school filled with kids that felt they were discriminated against daily.  I was the “whipping boy.”  Fortunately for me, my godmother is Catholic.  She was the Mother Superior of her convent before she left.  This meant that in the majority of cases, I understood their beliefs better than they themselves did.  I never pulled less than an A in religion class, and even read in the mass that was held every thursday.  My final solution was to tell any of my taunters that when they could understand their own religion as well as I understood theirs, then, maybe I would discuss mine with them.

Two years at a Catholic private school, and a year at a Lutheran private school, and many….difficulties later, I was back in public school.  The friends I’d once had, no longer had the time of day for me.  I’d been gone to long – and besides, we weren’t active – so we were horrible people, they didn’t want to associate with me.  My friends became the other misfits and the wedge between myself and the church widened.  I chastised a girl who was saying how bad another girl was for skipping seminary one day, by exclaiming that by that rule I must be the devil himself – I hadn’t been to church since my confirmation and leaving the lunch room.  I’m told she shut up pretty quickly after I left.

By the time I graduated high school, I was also no longer identifying myself as Mormon.  It was a gradual thing.  At first, in middle school,  I only claimed to be Christian and would not identify which denomination.  By the end of high school I no longer even claimed that.  If asked, I self identified as Pagan.  I was sick of the discrimination, the double standards and the hypocrisy that had run rampant through my life.  I wanted nothing to do with the Mormon church as I knew it.  You couldn’t pay me to admit to being Mormon.  Mind you, my beliefs on Christ himself, never left…but I wanted nothing to do with any man made construct around him.

I was able to blend my beliefs about Christ quite easily with what I learned about paganism in all it’s various forms.  I did not jump directly to paganism.  I explored and learned about every religion I could get my hands on.  Attending Catholic mass with my godmother, attending the Protestant church, learning of the BaHai, Buddism, Hindu, Judaism, Islam – you name it…if I could find information, I read it.

Understandably, my self cobbled belief system set me apart as an outsider, never mind being lesbian or bi.  I joined the LDS sorority in University, because the majority of my friends were there, and you were not required to be LDS to join.  Lambda Delta Sigma, Delta Omega Chapter.  I was even an officer in my chapter, and received an award for best exemplifying the ideal of Scholarship.  I enjoyed my time with them.

I removed myself from the the chapter however, when I was appointed an officer of the campus lesbian/gay/bi/transgendered/straight student alliance.  I had already experienced prejudice in high school because I’d identified as Bi, when asked.  My reasoning being I hadn’t dated anyone, so wasn’t going to rule anything out until I had reason to.  I didn’t want to make my sorority sisters uncomfortable and chose to leave before they could reject me.  At this time it was not uncommon to send gays to reprogramming camps.  I was all too familiar with those horror stories and would do anything to avoid having to experience them.

I left Utah and moved to Michigan, in October of 1998.  Shortly after moving there, my Aunt R, who I’d managed to get back in touch with (a far longer story), told me that I had family in California and put me in touch with a cousin I hadn’t known I had – L.  Life being what it is, our correspondence would continue in sporadic bursts for the next 13 years.  L knew of my, unconventional beliefs.  Yet, despite what I would come to realize her beliefs and understanding were of what I believed (far different from my actual beliefs) she was always kind to me and treated me with compassion and acceptance.  Never asking me to change or pressing the church on me in any way.

Circumstances conspired in such a way that in the fall of 2011, we wound up talking a great deal more than was usual.  Among other things, I explained better just what it was that I believed at the time.  In a discussion one night of one of the novels I’m working on, I was discussing some of the behind-the-scenes information on the book – what the setting was, what the rules of the universe the book was set in were, how I envisioned things playing out in the story in an overarching sense.  L commented that a part of the of what I was describing was remarkably akin to Mormon doctrine.  Her comment caught me up short.

I was not completely oblivious to Mormon beliefs.  But I had reason to question the validity of some of what I’d been told about doctrine.  However, I’d had no one I trusted to be able to discuss it with.  For one, no one around me was Mormon.  And trying to have such a discussion with anyone who wasn’t – by the time you finished explaining Mormonism 101, you were too tired to launch into your own questionings and likely had even lost the thread of what your original thought had been at the beginning of the discussion.  In short, if you didn’t already understand mormonism, there was no point in even trying to have the conversation.

I had never had reason not to trust L, but the circumstances that lent themselves to our getting to know one another on a far deeper than surface level, had increased my sense of safety.  I tentatively explained that I knew the correlation to mormon doctrine that I thought was veiled in the story.  Certainly no one before her had caughtened on to it.  I asked if she would mind if I occasionally discussed the church and my frustrations and confusions with her.  That I meant no disrespect to the church or her beliefs, but there were things I was unsure about – and I had no one else I felt safe to discuss them with.  She very kindly agreed.

My cousin is a dear woman, one of the kindest I’ve ever known.  She gave me a new way of being able to see the church.  Not only that, she gave me a new way to view being a member of the church.  She redeemed it for me, made it safe again, and even helped me heal and reconcile many of my differences with the church.  This was not a quick process.

A few months of many discussions later, I had not only confessed my secret (that I had still hidden deep within, a small but scared and scarred belief in the church that had not been beaten out of me) but had also started to reread scriptures on my ipad.  A few chapters a day.  The inevitability of these many discussions, that I can not begin to do justice to the otherworldly essence of, culminated in my watching General Conference, and steeling all of my courage to walk back in the doors of my assigned ward on Easter Sunday of last year.

I had never requested my name to be removed from the books.  It took the church a long time to find me after I moved to Michigan – over ten years – but they did.  And when they had, I was assigned a ward and received a handful of mailings from them.  I knew where I was assigned.

Even though I felt at the time, that I was literally risking everything, I felt the need to return to church.  If I felt unwelcome there, so be it, I could choose not to return again.  I prayed that my wife would not leave me for it – a serious fear at the time – and I returned.

The conversations with my cousin didn’t stop with my going back to church.  Heck, even now, while they’ve tapered down a great deal, they haven’t stopped. She’s been one of my biggest supporters and advocates through this journey, and always with the unasked for reassurance that if I couldn’t continue down this path – she would still support and love me 100%.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express just how grateful I am to her for that, among so many other things.

I wasn’t alone in my fears when I returned.  My cousin was very protective and terrified for me, the day I walked back through church doors.  Afraid that someone might be unkind or openly homophobic towards me.  My wife was terrified that my return would lead me to leave her.

All our fears, it turns out, were for naught.  I was more than blessed in the ward I was assigned to.  They have been nothing but accepting and welcoming of me – even of my wife the handful of times she’s attended sacrament meeting or an activity with me.  My wife has not left me, and there is no danger of her leaving me either, nor I leaving her.  Rather, we have in some ways grown even closer, even as we have made some sacrifices for my beliefs.  This Easter Sunday, marked a year from my return to being an active member, and my life has changed in some ways I could never have foreseen and would never have believed.

Indeed, even a year and a half ago I never would have believed any  of the above would have ever happened.  And if you’d told me I’d return to church – I’d have laughed at you.  What a difference a year can make!  It’s been a year of risks, of fear, of courage and of blessings.  And while it’s been far from easy, it’s definitely been worth it.  I’ve become a better person, a more authentic person, for it.  And yes, even though I still get scared, I still push through the fear and more often than not – find the fears were unfounded.

That is the short version of the story, anyway. 🙂

 

 

Has it really been a year?!

This week, I’m facing a rather remarkable and personal milestone.  One that even a year and a half ago, I never would have believed I’d be facing.  This has my mind distracted and thoughts a bit sporadic, as I contemplate all the changes that I’ve gone through in the past year.

I’m not quite ready to talk about it though.  And since I’m trying to do a bit better at keeping up with regular updates to this blog, I don’t want to leave you with nothing!  Some of you know that I’m a writer.  To some of you this may be new information.  So, to give you something to read, and in the process give me a spur to force me to finish one of my current works-in-progress (WIP’s)…here’s a snippit of one of my short stories.

I hope you enjoy it!

 

THE VOLUNTEER

by Courtney Galloway

“We need to begin testing on human subjects.  You can only go so far with lower mammals,” said the man in the steel blue suit.  He was seated at the head of a large mahogany table.  Around the conference room the other members of the board all squirmed uncomfortably.

A smallish woman with nut brown hair spoke up. “It’ll never get approval, Mark.  This level on testing on humans…”

“Is not illegal,” Mark interrupted

“Only because no one knows it’s even possible, ” protested an older man with a ragged mop of white hair falling everywhere, as though it had never seen a comb.

“Irrelevant, Charles.  It’s not illegal.   It’ll take them years to push through the legislation if someone does figure it out.  If we start now, we can have the research done before the ink is dry on any future laws,” Mark stared down any person around the table who would dare to meet his eye.  Satisfied, he continued.  “If we pick a sufficiently economically depressed area, we’ll have volunteers queueing up without even asking what they’re volunteering for.”

“There’s…well, there’s always Detroit,” said the small woman reluctantly.

“What about Detroit?” Mark asked.

“Well, since the crash of the automotive industry, lots of people are out of work and losing their homes.  There’s a lot of desperate people there.  But, really Mark, what about the moral implications of this?”

“Morals don’t apply until after you’ve proven the good you can do Claudia.  Don’t bother me with morals.  Find me more information on Detroit.  And get someone from marketing to meet me in an hour.  We’ll tailor an ad to run in all the major papers to attract the test subject that would best suit us.”

#

The advertisement in the paper was simple:

 Volunteers needed for research study.  Qualified participants will be well compensated.  Must be available for two months – all living and research related expenses covered. Serious enquiries only.

Apply in person at:

4524 West Jefferson Ave

Detroit, MI

 Chris put down the paper and took another sip of his coffee.  Helen had already left for work, giving him a kiss on the cheek and wishing him luck in the job hunt on her way out.   That’s down by the harbor terminal.  Slowly he circled the ad in red.  Jobs of any kind were hard to come by these days.  He couldn’t afford not to check out every option.  Helen was already picking up every shift she could, and it was beginning to show.  And then there was the baby to think of.  A research study.  Doesn’t sound like terribly hard work.  And if I can get some decent money from it, I can be a guinea pig for two months. 

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