Close

EMDR

EMDR.jpg

“Chad, listen, I’m thinking of becoming certified in EMDR therapy. What do you think about that?”

I looked out across the room full of new social workers I was supervising and nodded, thoughtfully. “I think it’s a great idea. Why do you want to?”

“Well, it’s new and people seem excited about it. It seems to be getting good results for a lot of people.” Several of the others agreed, showing new interest in a potential certification. “What do you think about it?”

I felt a bit nostalgic, remembering when EMDR had first been introduced in a class I was taking back at Boise State University in 2003. My teacher back then, an eccentric woman named Alberta, had sung its praises.

“EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing,” she’d explained as I’d taken notes. “It was developed by Francine Shapiro. Basically, after a human undergoes trauma, there are altered memories and pathways in the brain that form, and the trauma memories then cause symptoms to show forth generally in the form of PTSD, which can include anxiety, depression, flashbacks, depersonalization and derealization, anger, unhealthy relationships, and on and on. EMDR is designed to alter and heal the pathways in the brain that were negatively impacted by the trauma.”

She went into much more detail before describing how EMDR itself would work. Basically, in a period of therapy sessions, the survivor of trauma would sit before a trained therapist and discuss specific trauma memories and events in a safe environment. Then, wearing headphones that pulsed soothing sounds from left ear to right ear, or left brain to right brain, the therapist would do trauma recovery work while tapping the left and right sides of the survivor’s body, and have them alter the disturbing memories to more safe spaces, allowing the trauma symptoms and triggers to diminish over time. While the therapy itself was highly controversial in some spaces, it had proven extremely effective among those who had utilized EMDR for healing, with long term healing results reported and great reductions in their PTSD symptoms.

I turned back to the group. “What do I think about it? I think it can be very helpful. There are lots of studies that show it’s valid.”

One of the group members smiled. “I sense a but coming.”

“But… I think it is like any kind of therapy. It’s going to be super-effective with those who utilize it well and who are ready for it. It’s like the gym or nutrition analogy. You can develop the knowledge on how to work out and eat right, and even show up at the gym, but that doesn’t mean you are working out effectively to achieve results. I think EMDR can be very effective for those who are ready for healing and put it into practice. But it isn’t the miracle cure that people often think it is.”

The group had heard my philosophies on therapy many times over and they were familiar with my approach toward healing. I’d seen people viewing EMDR as something magical, but I knew from personal experience that it didn’t always work.

The room grew silent as I formed my thoughts. “I’ve shared a lot of my personal story with you guys in the past. When I was married and Mormon, after the birth of my first son, I got really fat and really depressed. I was working more than full-time as a therapist helping people solve their life problems, but I felt broken inside. This was just a few years before I came out. I had come to think that my being gay was something that was broken inside me, and I had given up on trying to find a cure spiritually because there just wasn’t a cure.

“So I figured it must be something emotionally wrong with me. I read a few books that backed that up. I read in some texts (books that I later learned have absolutely no scientific basis) that homosexuality was caused by unmet emotional needs, and that through therapy and effort ‘heterosexuality could be restored’, as one book put it.

“And I remembered what my teacher had said about EMDR being a healthy treatment for trauma. So I found an EMDR therapist, a really nice woman named Jenelle. She spent the first few sessions (I was paying 100 dollars per session, by the way, and I wasn’t telling my wife about them) taking down my history. I told her pretty much everything, except that I was gay. I simply couldn’t admit it. I told her about stuff from childhood, like abandonment and abuse, but I didn’t tell her the real reason that I was there, to stop being gay.

“So after that, we did six separate sessions of EMDR. In total, I spent almost a thousand dollars on the process, but it didn’t do anything for me. I mean, it was nice to talk to someone, but I wasn’t prepared to discuss my real traumas, and EMDR couldn’t possibly do anything for me. You can’t cure something that can’t be cured.”

There was silence in the room as everyone digested the information, and I smiled. “So learn EMDR. And be prepared to use it. It helps a lot of people who have been through terrible things. Combat veterans, sexual assault survivors, people who have lost loved ones to suicide. But know that any kind of therapy has to be individualized for the person. There is no wonder drug out there, and there is no wonder therapy, that magically will cure all ails.”

Soon, the group ended and everyone walked out. For a moment, I closed my eyes, and I pictured being back there with Jenelle. I had headphones on and the sounds of ocean waves were rushing into my ears through head phones, alternating right and left, right and left, and she sat close and tapped my knees, right and left, right and left. She’d told me to talk about a particular trauma, and I’d chosen a memory from childhood where I’d felt isolated and alone. She’d had me observe the trauma from afar as I talked about it, picturing myself on a train that was rushing by so I could observe the events and leave them behind as the train slowly sped by. Right and left, right and left. Somewhere inside me, the old prayer had still been alive, the one begging God to make me whole. Right and left, right and left, right and left.

Advertisements

Pill-Popper

pills

“So it’s chronic pain that brings you in?”

Dr. Mary looked up from her clipboard, a smile on her face. She tapped a pen against her chin as she listened.

“Yeah, I think that’s the problem. The pain levels are worst in the mornings. And then I sit for my job most of the day, so the pain just kind of intensifies throughout the day. It gets better a little bit when I move around. But definitely worse in the mornings.”

“Hm. And where do you tend to notice the pain most? And rate it on a scale from 1 to 10.”

I shifted my weight, hearing the rustle of the paper that lined the raised seat in the doctor’s office. “In the mornings, I’m stiff and sore from the scoliosis. I get back head aches and neck aches, and my back is really rigid and achy. More like a 6 to 8. Then after I eat and shower, it gets a little bit better, closer to like a 4.”

Dr. Mary jotted a few notes down. “And what helps to relieve the pain?”

“I usually take a few Ibuprofen in the morning, and a few more in the afternoon. That helps. And food and eating seem to help for some reason. Sometimes I use a heating pad on it.”

“What are your food habits?”

I clicked meals off on my fingers. “On a typical day, I’ll eat two bowls of cereal for breakfast plus a few slices of toast with peanut butter and a glass of orange juice. For lunch, maybe a hamburger and French fries, with maybe chips and a cookie. I’ll snack on a bag of microwave popcorn and a liter of Pepsi at work, and the caffeine helps the headache. And then dinner is variable. Maybe Little Caesers, or my wife might cook roast and potatoes and chocolate cake, it just depends on the night.”

Dr. Mary had me step up on the scale. I was 30 years old, I was 5 feet 11 inches tall, and I weighed 245 pounds.

“You’re a little overweight,” she said, when the truth was I was obese. “I think you might also be struggling with some depression. Between your job doing therapy for others, your Church callings, and your responsibilities at home with your wife and baby boy, I could understand that.”

As she tapped the pen against her chin a few more times, thinking through ideas, I wondered if there was anything she could do to help me. I felt like a shell of myself. I wasn’t sleeping, I didn’t like myself, and my marriage was beginning to feel a bit empty, a routine of church service and watching the DVR. Because of my weight, I was constantly out of breath and sweating all the time. I didn’t have any close friends, and I had just become accustomed to pretending I wasn’t attracted to men. Depression was definitely part of the picture.

“Okay, Chad, here’s what I think we are going to do,” she muttered while scrawling down a few things on a prescription pad. She was silent until she finished, then Dr. Mary looked up at me, the smile back on her face. “Trust me, I think this is going to help.”

Over the next few minutes, Dr. described the regiment of pills she was going to put me on. “I want you to start taking Cymbalta. It’s an anti-depressant. It should help your mood and your sleep. There can be weird side effects at first, some people feel electric buzzes in their brain at the beginning but it goes away, and it can result in more weight gain, but I think it will help.

“I’d also like you to begin a regimen of painkillers every two hours throughout the day. We’re going to go up to the maximum dose on those. Now, the warning labels scare some people off, but you can actually take a bit over that dose when necessary. But we are going to tackle this from two different directions. You can take up to 500 milligrams of Tylenol every four hours, and up to 800 milligrams of Ibuprofen every four hours. So I figure if you take the Ibuprofen with food and water when you wake up, say at 6, then at 8 you can take the Tylenol, and at 10 you can take more Ibuprofen, and you can alternate that schedule throughout the day. You don’t have to do this every day, but it will help on the difficult days.”

My eyes widened as she presented me with three prescriptions, for Cymbalta, for Ibuprofen, and for Tylenol, all prescription level doses that would have to picked up through a pharmacist. She told me that I might expect some digestion issues based on the high doses of Ibuprofen, and that the meds could cause long term liver and kidney problems, but that those weren’t things I needed to worry about for now.

And then Dr. Mary left, and I sat in the room for a moment, stunned. Pills. Lots of pills. An anti-depressant, multiple painkillers, and multiple anti-inflammatories every day. Would that help my headaches? Although I hadn’t had a clear agenda going in, I was a therapist by trade. My doctor had just diagnosed me with depression in a swift paragraph, yet she hadn’t recommended going to a counselor, and hadn’t asked me any questions. She’d noted that I was overweight, but she hadn’t recommended a diet or even limiting food, or exercise, or more regular physical activity.

Just… pills.

A few hours later, I had a new bag of pill bottles in my car. I sat outside the pharmacist and I placed my first Cymbalta pill on my tongue, swallowing it with a swig of Pepsi, then I did the same with the large chalky Ibuprofen. A few days later, the electric zaps in my brain that she’d mentioned would start, and the stomach issues would follow. My head aches and body aches grew numb with the pills, but they never went away. Within a few weeks, I needed the pills to feel normal, the pain intensifying without them. And within a few months, I gained another 10 pounds.

Before I quit the pills cold turkey, just three months later, I felt my depression get worse. The decision to quit the pills and replace them with nutrition, exercise, and therapy came suddenly.

But for that time before that change, I was just a typical American, as fat on the outside as I felt on the inside, and using pills to numb the pain.

IMG_0879

Speed bumps

speedbumps

I have a bad habit of seeing small setbacks as major crises. In the moment that they happen, they feel that way, they feel like permanent barriers, insurmountable and impenetrable. Like any other human, I can then spiral downward for a bit, wondering if I have what it takes and contemplating whether I’m doomed to fail.

Within a few hours, I generally gain perspective again, and I’m able to get a clearer picture. Generally, with a bit of clarity, what seemed like a mountain soon stands clear as a speed bump, a small upset in the road that required me to slow down and check my pace, roll over it slowly and carefully. It is only once the speed bump is carefully cleared that I can resume my previous speed.

And there are times when speed bumps are placed strategically one after the next to keep me going slow. During those times, I grow more accustomed to them and I get used to the feeling of their inconvenience and frustration under my feet. The momentary devastation tends to come only when the speed bump is unexpected, when I’ve been cruising along for a period of time and looking toward the horizon, and then I have to hit the brakes in order to move safely forward.

The day after a speed bump, I get sad and quiet, I withdraw a bit and do a bit of self-assessment. I stop myself from the downward spiral, the one where I grieve my lost years in the closet and feel like I have to hit life at full speed. I remind myself of my progress and my positive changes, I remind myself of the things that bring me truth and light and peace, and I breathe deeply. Then I get angry for a bit, at the event or person or circumstance that placed the speed bump in my way. After the anger simmers for a bit, I exercise, and I let my heart pound toxins right out of my system. And after the workout, my focus sharpens. I look ahead with renewed focus and scan the road ahead for further barriers even as I sharply focus back on the horizon again.

And sometimes that horizon doesn’t look quite like what I had originally envisioned it to be, and that is just fine.

The last few days hit me with a few setbacks, one small and one large. A personal project I’ve put a tremendous amount of effort into seemingly came to a screeching halt with an unexpected Email, and I had to do a lot of self-inventory to revisit my focus. At the same time, I realized a recent developing friendship may not be quite what I thought it was, and that required a bit of focus and processing as well. After an evening of bad dreams, I had to rise, breathe, stretch, exercise, and then chart the path ahead once again with new light.

A few weeks ago, I was processing with a client her tendency to be really rough on herself when things don’t go right. Like me, she grew up in a very religious family as part of a church that taught merit-based salvation. She was born into the philosophy that she came to Earth a sinner based on the choices of Adam and Eve thousands of years ago, and that she had to be saved through a sacrifice by the son of god, and that she then had to prove her worthiness to that god through her choices and actions. Like me, she left this religion years before, but like me she also finds old thinking patterns returning, surrendering subconsciously to the idea that she must earn her happiness, and that happiness can only look one particular way.

After we dissected these thinking patterns, my client and I were able to put down on paper the actual definitions of happiness, of worth, of merit: healthy human relationships, inner peace, adventure, service to others, laughter. We made a list of things to be grateful for, of things that were going right, and of beautiful things in the world. We then set goals for the immediate future.

With new light, this brave woman stepped back into her life and saw the struggles in her life as exactly what they were: temporary, momentary, fleeting. Progress is measured in small increments over time, and speed bumps are a natural part of the landscape along the way.

And so today, I will take a bit of time to survey the land ahead, and then I will look ahead to see where I should place my feet next, working my way ever forward to the goals I have set, and I will do all of this with kindness toward myself and laser sharp focus.

A Good Person

single white cloud on blue sky

All right, let’s talk about the word ‘good’ for a moment.
Okay, what about it?
I just googled the word ‘good’ and there are several different definitions.
Okay.
I am going to read each definition out loud and I want you to tell me which of the definitions are merit-based, which ones are based in measurements of values and morals.
Okay.
Okay, definition 1. ‘Good: to be desired or approved of.’
That’s merit-based.
2. ‘Good: Having the qualities required for a particular role.’
That’s merit-based, too.
3. ‘Good: Possessing or displaying moral virtue.’
Merit-based.
4. ‘Good: Giving pleasure; enjoyable or satisfying.’
That, too.
5. ‘Good: that which is morally right; righteousness.’
Merit-based.
6. ‘Good: benefit or advantage of someone or something.’
That, too. Are any of these not merit-based?
Almost done. 7. ‘Good: merchandise or possessions.’
Merit-based.

Okay, awesome. Now what does that teach us?
I’m not sure what you wanted me to get out of that.
Seven different definitions of good, all based on merits, values, and morals.
Yeah, I got that part.
So let me ask you a basic question. Are you a good person?
I try hard. I work hard. I care about the people around me. I try to do good things, but it never seems to be enough. I still get my heart broken. I’m not sure I’m good.
But that didn’t answer the question. Are you a good person?
Sometimes.
Nope, try again. It’s a yes or no question.
I’m either good or I’m not? It’s not that simple!
It is that simple. Are you a good person? If you answer yes, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have struggles or heartbreaks or challenges. It just means at your essence, at your core, you are a good person. You have value. Are you a good person?
Yes?
That sounded like a question.
Well, I think that is the answer you wanted, isn’t it? For me to say I’m a good person, even if I don’t believe it?
It’s not about what you think I want to hear, it’s about what you believe. Do you believe you are a good person?
I’m honestly not sure if I can answer that right now.
You and I are both parents, let’s start there. You know what it feels like to hold a brand new child in your hands and see the ultimate innocence and potential there. Can you remember what it feels like to do that?
Yes, with both of my children. It’s a wonderful feeling.
Are your children good people?
Yes, of course! They are kids!
Do they make poor decisions sometimes? Do they challenge your patience sometimes? Are they difficult sometimes?
Yes.
So does that mean they are only good people when they are making good choices? When they listen? When they aren’t being difficult?
No. They are good always, even when they have struggles.
Okay, there we go. And I believe the same thing about you, and about me. I have struggles. I make bad decisions sometimes. I get sad and angry and grumpy and tired and disconnected. And at the same time, I am a good person. I’m not better or worse than anyone around me, I’m just me. I’m just human. And at my core, I’m a human who tries hard and does my very best and who is consistently trying to better myself.
I see it in my children. I see it in you. I just have a harder time seeing it in me.
Well, you’ve had a lot of years with a lot of pain. You’ve had people who have hurt you, who have taught you that you only have value if you follow the teachings of the Mormon Church or if you are never sad or if you do as you’re told. People have told you over and over at times that you are ugly or unworthy or difficult or not worth it. And somewhere along the way, you started to believe that.
But what if they were right?
Would you ever love your children with those conditions? Would you ever tell them they they are only good, that they are only worthy of your love if they are always well-behaved?
Of course not. I could never do that to them.
Okay, so the big goal we need to be working on is helping you believe those things about yourself that you believe about your children.
That… sounds nice. To be able to do that sounds nice.
I know you don’t believe in God anymore, neither do I, and I know being a Mormon was hard for you. But beneath all of the struggles you had in that Church, there is one truth that is the most beautiful that is at the essence of all of their doctrine. That core belief is that you were created as a perfect daughter of God and that He loves you unconditionally and sees you as a being of ultimate potential. He sees you as you see your children. It isn’t based on how happy your marriage is or how many hours you serve in Church callings or how strong your testimony is. It is infinite and unconditional love.
I remember feeling that once.
Can you still feel that now? Can you still see that part, that version of yourself? The part of you that exists, that sees you as good, with potential, the way you see your children as good, with potential?
Yes. I can feel that.
So tap into that, and that is where we begin to heal. We have a lot of work ahead, but that is where we begin.
Okay. I can feel it, it’s there.
Let’s try one more time then. Are you a good person?
Yes. I am. I’m a good person.
Okay. Hold tight to that. Now, now is when the healing starts.

 

the Deep End

Deepend1

I hurt someone recently.

It wasn’t intentional. I just wasn’t ready for something that he was ready for. Relationships are complicated, and, given my work as a therapist, I am sometimes a bit too therapeutic for my own good.

I take things in careful measure, careful balance. When things feel out of balance, for me they feel unsafe. I spend a lot of time helping my clients get their lives in balance, so for me to be out of balance, well, not only does it feel unsafe, it feels hypocritical, like a person teaching others how not to smoke while he has a bad drinking habit, or a preacher espousing family values from the pulpit while cheating on his wife on the side.

I’ve referenced this in my writing before, but I have come up with a rubric for helping clients measure satisfaction in their primary romantic relationships. I will have clients take a close look at their satisfaction levels in relationships in six different categories. I’ll have them take a look at the present, not the past or future, not how things could be or how they used to be, but how they are right now (a key component to living for today, something I strive to do). I’ll have them rank each category with an A+ down to an F-, a standard grading scale. An A+ indicates that things are perfect for today, they couldn’t possibly get any better. An F- means things are so bad they couldn’t possibly get any worse. A C indicates an average grade, something securely in the middle.

Here are the six categories, with a brief description after each:

COMMUNICATION: feeling heard and validated, able to talk about difficult issues, able to resolve conflicts successfully without extreme measures (silent treatments, yelling, violence, storming out)

BEST FRIENDS: enjoy each other’s company, lots of mutual interests, ability to spend time together laughing and having fun and dating on a regular basis

INTIMACY: high levels of attraction on both sides, sexual compatibility and diversity and interest, emotional attraction and safety

CO-PARENTING (if applicable): mutual goals and good communication regarding raising, rearing, and discipline of children

FINANCES: adequate money to cover needs, compatibility in spending and budgeting

and, last, FUTURE PLANNING: moving in the same direction in life, compatible plans for big life plans (schooling, job, location, home-buying, family planning, retirement, etc)

While the individual applications for couples are unique to each situation, there are common trends for many couples. Joe and Sally have incredible sex and love spending time together, but money is causing so much stress that they can’t stop fighting. Mark and John have good sexual chemistry and really love each other, but their careers are taking them in different directions. Jan and Susan are best friends who feel secure together, but they are having sex less and less and are growing distant. Amy and Adam have good attraction and communication, but he really doesn’t want children and now they fight a lot.

Relationships are complicated. It can be so easy to fall into a space where one compromises parts of self in order to make something work. And I see it happen over and over again in human experiences, where we quiet parts of ourselves in an effort to be happy even while we deny ourselves happiness. Ultimately, this proves to be one of the greatest errors that humans make. We make excuses for ourselves, compromise ourselves, and then spend years wondering what happened.

Simply put, we all deserve happiness. We all deserve the right to have high grades in all six of the categories. Sex shouldn’t be sacrificed for financial security, laughter shouldn’t be compromised for good communication, a desire for children shouldn’t be set aside for emotional safety.

We all need love and fulfillment in not just some of the areas, but in all of them. We all need to love and be loved in ways that are ultimate for us.

This person that I hurt, he was in the deep end of the pool, treading water to the point of exhaustion, hoping that I would jump in and join him. Yet I stood on the steps of the pool, getting my toes wet and warm, then my ankles, then my knees. The water felt tenuous, confusing, out of balance. When I asked for patience and time, he hoped that I would be able to just dive in.

And there is nothing wrong with a leap of faith, a compromise, a grand move toward happiness. And there is nothing wrong with slow and careful measures, a strong sense of self and taking time. Ultimately both of us deserve happiness and love and fulfillment in not one, but all categories. All of us deserve these things. To feel desirable, to be cherished, to have laughter and light and love.

The best relationships, in my therapeutic and personal opinion, come from two separate individuals who are both on firm solid balanced ground, with brilliant foundations, who then choose to join those foundations together. Relationships can never be used to fill a void in self, to stave off loneliness, or to give a sense of security, not when there wasn’t a strong foundation to begin with.

And so these final words are for anyone reading this, for anyone I care about, for the man I hurt, and for myself:

I hope you can love yourself, can measure out the places that need love and attention and time and balance, that you can find happiness and security and love inwardly and then outwardly. Life must be lived day by day, in the present, with peace and strength, and it must begin within before we can ever find it without.

To every one who has ever broken a heart or who has had their heart broken, may you be able to take the plunge into the deep end of the pool. But dive in for yourself before you begin to look for others there. Once you are used to the water, then you may find someone who is there to swim at your side.

Deepend2

 

Sleeping naked

Moonandstars

I’m still getting used to the space, depth, and sound of my new bedroom. The way the air fills these four walls, the darker depths of the closet doors, the worn path between the door and the desk and the bed. It’s a new bed, too. My bed is different, too. I’m higher up off the floor, the mattress is softer, and there is a set of shelves on the headboard behind me. The shelves are empty, except for  a lamp.

My laptop is laying on the mattress behind my head, the surest evidence that I am single. It’s so easy to flip it open and turn on some mindless brainless fluff to fall asleep to. I always choose things I’m interested in learning about, but sleep comes within seconds of my laying down in the night. I fall asleep soundly, quickly, heavily.

And then, almost without fail, about four hours later I wake. A sore muscle, an errant thought, a full bladder, something to disturb the slumber, and then I’m generally awake for an hour or two. I can try various tricks to get me back to sleep–a few bites of some food and a couple of Tylenol tend to do the trick sometimes, soft music others. But if I can’t fall back to sleep within thirty minutes or so, I’ll often just get up. I’ll surrender to the wakefulness and get things done. I always have things to do.

I scan my body, surveying myself. My toes are cold. I’m on my right side, a pillow tucked between my knees, another pillow clutched in my arms. My right shoulder is sore from being suspended up underneath my head, where a third pillow is wedged and folded. My right arm is straight out, hanging off the bed. My chest and shoulders are aching, sore from last night’s push-ups, and my glutes are sore from last night’s stair-climbing cardio. I’m warm and snug, in between sheets with two big blankets on top, one of them made by my grandmother before she died, and one of them knitted for me by my mother twenty years ago when I was in high school. I’m nude, and warm, and snug, and the air outside my bed feels chilly on my exposed ear and cheek.

It’s been a long time since someone shared my bed, since I could hear familiar and even breathing behind me as I lay awake, since I felt the weight and heat of another body, since I had my arms around a body instead of a pillow. I could move my cold toes over beneath his feet to warm them. I could convince myself to stay there until I fell back asleep because I wouldn’t want to disturb him. But there is no one there.

And so I rise. And stretch. My vertebrae gratefully expand and pop. My back is always sorest in the mornings. I stretch my hips, turn my neck back and forth, touch my toes, press my shoulder blades together, raise my arms in the air. My body shivers in the cold as I slide on a pair of sweatpants. The room is dark, but my eyes are adjusted and I can make out the hamper full of clothes, the stack of books on the floor, the desk and chair, the unfinished paperwork, the charging cell phone, the lamp, the laptop cords.

I stand there for a bit, my feet cold against the carpet, and I listen. I hear the gentle hiss of the air vent, but all else is silent, heavy, dark and chilled. I expand my awareness to outside, to the trees and concrete outside, and I can make out the crunchy sounds of a garbage truck down the road. It must be 3 AM.

On occasion, I do therapy sessions with my clients about the science of sleep, helping them realize how much goes in to their sleep cycles. Some sleep too long. Some, like me, fall asleep quickly but can’t stay asleep, waking quickly and abruptly. Some stay awake for hours, lying there as sleep eludes them, until they fall heavily out until the alarm blares and then they can’t wake. Some are lonely, some are stressed, some are anxious or frightened or sad or in pain or horny or numb or grieving or empty. Some struggle with weight and can’t breathe well, some with blood sugar and they keep a snack nearby.

We discuss the psychology of sleep in these sessions. The temperature of the room, how many blankets are on the bed, what is worn, when they last ate or exercised or showered or washed their sheets, what sounds are in the room, how dark it is, when they last had alcohol or caffeine, what methods they use to wind down. We discuss how they trick their brains into letting rest come. Some, like me, expect insomnia the majority of the time, and when a good night’s sleep comes, it is like heaven on a pillow. (And it is only on these nights of rest that I dream.) I do my best to help them find answers.

I don’t always practice what I preach.

I turn on the lamp and close my eyes tightly, letting them gently adjust to the garish ugly light that is now interrupting the darkness of the room. I look at my empty bed. I see the unfolded laundry and unsubmitted bills, shrug, and think why not. I use the restroom, get a glass of water, turn on a podcast, and get to work, cold toes and all.

 

 

Resolute

Resolute

Seven hours remain in 2015, and I sit, engaged in my favorite pass-time: writing. And I realize at this moment, I am resolute (defined as admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering).

I began 2015 in Seattle, Washington, where I had moved in a grand gesture to find myself. I had been there since September the year before, three months of intense personal growth where I dated, found new employment, and explored every corner of a new city. Now far away from my children, I found new ways to stay connected to them, through drawn comic strips, nightly webcam calls, monthly visits, and little mailed gifts and postcards.

In January and February, I found myself with new friends and new support systems, yet working in a difficult job with high stress and low satisfaction. I spread my exploration of Washington to varying corners, looking at rainforests, islands, mountains, and beaches, and I grew to love the climate, the people and the area, and to hate the traffic, the parking, and the cost of living.

As March approached, I came to a few powerful realizations. 1. That in Seattle, I was the same me that I had been in Utah, just a lot farther away from my children. That sounds like such a simple realization now, but it was a powerful one toward my journey. 2. That I was losing all interest in dating, and that I no longer wanted to put my energy toward it. I learned to spend time with myself, and had dinners, saw independent films, and went to plays and movies on my own. 3. That I had all the building blocks for a powerful life already in place: a love of history and books, a kind and strong heart, a curious and careful spirit, a great smile, talents for helping and understanding others, and a consistently developing skill of writing.

And once I knew all of those things about myself, I was able to return to Utah, stronger than before, and ready for the change. I left the difficult job behind, and seized a new life in an old place. I moved into a downtown apartment, renewed old friendships, and started brand new life initiatives.

In June, I opened up an Airbnb in my home, welcoming guests from around the world, and had some great and some not-so-great experiences. I began doing therapy part-time, and crisis work on the side, and I made the decision to work only for myself from now on, for as long as possible, so that I can love what I do and give it my all. I taught a few college classes again, and realized that I didn’t enjoy it like I used to, and I was peaceful with the change in myself.

I spent every waking moment with my sons. We drew, we played, we swam, we explored, we read and wrote, we laughed and screamed, we wrestled and snuggled and lived, and one night, one of my sons looked up at me and said “I’m so glad your back” and tears came to my eyes, and I knew that even though I had had to leave, I also had to return. I began volunteering in their school classrooms, and I learned how to be friends with their mom again.

I stayed in Utah for several months without leaving, and I tried my hand at dating a few times, though I didn’t really mean to. And against my better judgment, I fell just a little bit in love a few times, and I had my heart broken just a little bit a few times. And I learned that I was stronger than ever, better at taking care of myself, and independent, all qualities I had wanted for myself for so long.

In September, I made a surprise connection with someone from far away, forming a new and binding friendship, and it gave me foundation, hope, and strength, and I realized my own potential as a writer, a father, a counselor, and a man once loneliness was gone from my heart. I learned how wonderful it was to have someone care about my day-to-day life.

I went to my family reunion and found peace. I attended my sister’s wedding to her lovely wife in Massachusetts. I went on a wonderful weekend trip to New Orleans and awakened my wanderlust. I spent Thanksgiving with my mother and sister. And I ended the year with a surprise trip to Palm Springs. I realized again that my world is more full when I travel.

When gay marriage passed, I celebrated. When reparative therapy was shut down in courts, I rejoiced. And when the Mormon church put policies in place that called gay couples ‘apostates’ and turned children against their gay parents, I grieved.

I discovered more than ever my love of expressing myself through writing. I wrote about social justice, politics, zombies, dating, and my children. I wrote my observations on the world, on people around me, on ego, on courage, on the social work profession, on parenting, and on provocative and titillating professions and mindsets. I began a daily post on LGBT history that quickly became a personal quest with future potential.

I joined a Men’s Choir and began singing again.

More than ever, I began dreaming of the future, and realized that at 37, I am now just beginning to realize my potential.

In 2015, I danced, drank coffee, laughed until I cried, cried until I slept, and slept until I awoke with new hope. I set boundaries, made new friends, and grew closer than ever to some of the most important people in my life. I learned to say I’m sorry when I need it, and to ask for an apology when I need it. I learned to forgive. I learned how strong I am, and how things that I once perceived as weak are really just parts of my overall strength. I learned to relax, to work hard, to put myself first. I learned that the world has a long history, and I am only part of it for a brief time, and that I want to live that part as powerfully and authentically as I can.

And as I approach 2016, I vow to take care of myself in every category: physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I vow to feed and foster the important relationships in my life. I vow to get out of debt. I vow to push my limits professionally and to learn just what it is I’m capable of. I vow to travel. I vow to let myself believe that love is possible so long as I love myself. I vow to embrace every emotion in its entirety, in safe and healthy ways: gratitude, fear, anger, sadness, peace, security, guilt, happiness. I vow to live, more than I ever have before, with my life and the lives of my sons as my primary priority.

And thus I enter the New Year not with resolutions, instead I enter the New Year… Resolute.

Save Yourself

danger-river

When the storm is raging or the river is wild,
When you scream hysterics (damn that inner child),
When your hidden desires stack too high on your shelf,
Grab an oar, daughter. Save yourself.

Mujeres Tristes 12

If you need his love or you just might die,
If you look in the mirror and have to cry,
If your unfinished list inspires a yell,
Pick up a pail, son, and save yourself.

planking2

Life has a way of laying you prone.
Life may strip you of all you own.
Life makes you question your own mental health.
Use a pen, dad, and save yourself.

lAvqNPEaTtmjEKpCRqnr_39253856_7619b56323_z.jpg

Ever the weight stacks up on your shoulders.
Ever you dodge insurmountable boulders.
Ever the day comes that feels like hell.
Dial that phone, mother. Save yourself.

iceland-baby-stroller
Too often you forget it’s not meant to be easy.
Too often you leave home your coat when it’s freezing.
Too often you need me to open your cell.
Here is the key, child. Save yourself.

The Mormon Church is a bully

963b27f73fec3bd8128f1243bfbb4f45-d3fm0oi

“It doesn’t matter if I told you to bring in wood or not. You should have looked and seen that it needed to be done. So yes, no matter how much whining and crying you do, you’re grounded, Chad.”

My stepfather, Kent, bald and in his late fifties, didn’t even look at me as he punished me for something I hadn’t done. He sat on the living room sofa watching a football game on the television that I wasn’t allowed to use; it was his TV, not to be used by children.

I stood there, feeling helpless. “But–but, dad, I–rehearsals start tonight.” I called him Dad, since mine wasn’t around, although Kent never acted like much of a father. My voice sounded weak, unsure. Talking back had never worked well for me in the past. Usually when he got like this, I knew that my job was to remain silent and quietly accept my punishment. Talking back would only make it worse.

But if he grounded me tonight, I would miss the first rehearsal for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My parents had allowed me to try out for the show and I had a lead in it, and I had been excited for weeks about the chance to begin rehearsals. If he grounded me now, I would miss rehearsals and then be kicked out of the play.

Kent still didn’t look over, but he raised his voice, exerting his authority. “I said you are grounded!”

“What if I carry in some wood now? I could do it really quick before I have to leave.”

“You’ll be doing that anyway. But you are still grounded. Now go get to work.”

My insides clenched up. I knew if I pushed him much farther he would get violent. “I–can I at least call to let them know I can’t make it?”

And now he turned toward me, still sitting, but his hands balling into fists. He was yelling now. “I said you were god-damned grounded! If you wanted to join your little fairy play, then you should have done your little fairy chores! You don’t get to use the god-damned phone! Now get out there and stack the wood, Chad!”

families-are-forever-free-blogger-button.png

I fled from the room and put on my coat, boots, and gloves. We had a wood stove in the basement that needed to be regularly stocked with wood to keep it burning. Our family had a large wood pile in the back yard, covered in snow. Once a week, it was my job to bring in armfuls of wood, which had to be dug out of the snow pile, and stack them in the garage, where they could dry and be ready for the fire. I checked the garage and found there was a full stack there already; I had just restocked the wood two days before, but I knew it was pointless to bring this up to Kent. When he got in a mood like this, he would find something, anything to rage at until his rage passed.

I spent the next hour chipping ice and snow off of the wood pile using a hammer and a shovel, then I loaded my arms up with one load of wood at a time. I stacked the pile in the garage until there wasn’t anymore room, then went inside, shedding my wet coat and gloves, my skin dry and red from the cold. I put my winter gear away and went silently to my room, not bothering to ask for any dinner or to use the phone again. Rehearsal would be starting in ten minutes and I couldn’t be there, and I couldn’t tell anyone why.

A few minutes later, Kent walked into my room without knocking. He stood over me, his voice stern but a bit kinder. “You worked hard tonight, so I’m going to give you a choice. You can stay here and be grounded. Or you can go to rehearsal tonight. You will still be grounded for the week, but I’ll let you go just to the rehearsals. If you choose this, though, there will be additional consequences.” I had no idea what he meant by that, but I had to go to the rehearsals, I just had to. I told him my choice, and he responded with a “so be it.”

“Thanks, dad,” I said, grateful and relieved. “It starts in five minutes. Can you give me a ride?”

“I most certainly can not.”

“Can I call someone for a ride?”

“Absolutely not. You’ll have to walk.”

The high school was three miles away. I would never make it in time. “But I’ll be late!”

He started me down, eyes furious. “That isn’t my problem.”

Three hours later, I got a ride home from friends. Rehearsal had gone well, even though I’d been late, and we’d read our parts out loud for the first time. A few friends asked me what was wrong, but I couldn’t tell anyone. I was invited out for milkshakes, but I said I couldn’t, I had to be home immediately.

When I walked in the front door, the house was deathly quiet. I walked up the stairs, where Kent was still sitting on the couch, but in the dark this time.

“I’m home,” I said softly.

He didn’t look at me. “Go talk to your sister.”

I walked down the hall to Sheri’s room, nervous. I knocked on the door, softly. “Can I come in?” Sheri didn’t answer, but I opened the door. Sheri, age 12, my only younger sibling, sat on her bed, tears streaming down her face. I could tell Kent had been screaming at her. When he got like that, he would call her such terrible names.

“Are you okay?” I asked, and Sheri wouldn’t look at me.

“Kent told me I’m grounded for a month because I should have been helping you with the wood. He’s been yelling the whole time you were gone.”

I looked behind me and saw Kent standing over me in the hallway. “I told you there would be additional consequences, Chad. You made your choice.”

handcarts

Kent stayed in my life for five years, from ages 13 to 17. Toward the end I started fighting back, which only made him more violent. At the end, he put my mom in the hospital and we got a restraining order against him. The divorce happened quickly and he was out of our lives. I didn’t see him after that, and got the news of his death years later. But those are stories for another time.

Kent was a bully, in the truest sense of the word. He would rage around in storms. He would be calm and happy for days, even weeks at a time, and then he would be emotionally manipulative, verbally abusive, and sometimes physically violent. We never knew when the storm would hit. He had this ability to make you believe the abuse was your fault, that you should have been able to anticipate his needs and understand the consequences before they had been laid out.

While Kent was in my life, I walked around believing that I was flawed, broken, and incapable of doing anything right. And I truly believed it was my fault and that he was innocent. He was the father figure, there to be obeyed. He was the Priesthood holder, holding God’s authority to make decisions in the household, and our place was to obey.

 

I have lived in Salt Lake City as an out, gay man for just under five years now, and it struck me this morning, with breaking news from the Mormon church, that the leaders of the LDS church treat the gay population the way that Kent treated me growing up. Every few months, for the entire time that I have lived here, there is some new subtle, passive information from the church, delivered in such a way that it indirectly attacks gay people. Painful and direct public statements and initiatives that cause turmoil, emotional pain, relationship stress, and thoughts of suicide in believing gay members. (While I myself am no longer Mormon, my family still is, as are many of my friends and many of my clients).

Yesterday, the Mormon church publicly stated that God, through revelation, has publicly backed church policies that state gay couples are apostates and that children of gay parents may not join their church without disavowing their parents. A few months ago, the church responded to the policy change, saying they were only doing it to protect families not hurt them. A few months before that, they showed their public support of groups in Utah that are vitriolic in their hatred of gay people. A few months before that, they called gay families ‘counterfeit’ in comparison to heterosexual families. A few months before that, they released a public statement of their disappointment over the passage of gay marriage. A few months before that, the church put their public support into initiatives fighting gay marriage. And on and on, going back to Proposition 8 and opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and the support of reparative therapy initiatives and the teaching that homosexuality is curable and to the usage of shock therapy in attempts to cure gayness.

And all the while with the message that “we are the prophets, we are the authority, we speak for God and your place is to agree and support us. If you are gay, you aren’t trying hard enough not to be. And while we continue to wound you, abuse you, and hurt you with our agendas and initiatives, we expect you to love us and know that we are right.” The message remains consistent, every few months a new statement or action to put gay people in their place.

For those that read this post, there will be many reactions. Some, those who are hurting, will nod and agree, perhaps shed a few tears. Some will be angry, and wonder why I have to criticize the church that they love. Some will dig their heels in, believe that the church is good and that eventually it will come around. Some will read in disgust and agree fully that the church is wrong. And some will stay where they are, hurting, not knowing how to reconcile their feelings of pain with their deep belief that the church is true and that its leaders speak truth.

5fa4bcb9aed01df9ea895f19a6ba2d74

I remember well those feelings. And so I close this blog post with one final story. After living with Kent for years, and suffering his abuse, I was pulled in by the school counselor to discuss what was happening in the home. It was the first time I opened up about the abuse.

“My stepfather yells a lot, and he gets violent sometimes, but that’s okay, it just means I need to keep trying harder. It’s not his fault, he is doing the best that he can. It’s not so bad, he’s gonna get better and see what a good family we are someday. I just have to stick with it and be strong.”

And the counselor had looked back at me and compassionately told me, “Chad, your stepfather is abusive. He’s hurting you and your sister and your mother with words and actions. You don’t deserve it, you aren’t causing it, and it isn’t  your fault. There is nothing wrong with you. Never, never allow yourself to be abused.”

And I realized, quickly and with clarity, that my stepfather was an abusive bully.  And I realize now, with quickness and clarity…

So is the Mormon church.

 

 

Back to top