May is Mental Health Month

Recently I noticed that many of my posts are kind of dark, deep dives into heartbreak. I was like, 

“Beth, you sound depressed. Why all the big feelings? Are you always this sad?” 

Maybe I am depressed. I definitely have very large feelings. Please know that I am not always this sad. Yet, if I were “this sad,” I think that is ok too. Regarding my often pain-filled blog posts, I simply think I write when I have something I am working through (or most likely have been triggered). Writing helps. I have also come to believe that telling our stories is crucial to healing. Selfishly, I also recognize that a big part of my healing is having a platform. Honestly, at this point I am not sure who reads my words. Nevertheless, I am grateful I have a place to put them. I am grateful I am able to write them down. I am grateful for the opportunity to process and heal. Even better, I am grateful for those who do speak up, who do stand by me, validate and show me that I am worthy and I am seen. You are a gift. You have saved me more times than I can count. Seriously! Thank you! 

I only hope I can do that for you. 

Earlier I was watching Oprah’s new show on mental health called, “The Me You Can’t See,” when I heard the following quote,

“Therapeutic change is about healthy relationships. It’s about feeling like you belong and like feeling like you are connected.”

I love this quote and I agree. About the show, sure I cried all the way through and no, I am not going to review it except to say that it is vulnerable and it is good. I hope it reaches those who need to hear its message. 

Now onto my story:

The stars collided in such a way that I could not refuse their message. My mind is racing to connect all the dots that have brought me to this place. I see the intersection of my family and our relationship with the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints). I hear my best friend Marianne say, 

“Mormons are just like everyone else. They make mistakes. They care about social status, prosperity, power and popularity. They cheat on their spouses and talk behind your back. The problem is because they have Jesus, they think they are better. I would argue using your belief in God to justify your ‘Christlike’ behavior is even worse.”

I do not disagree. 

As I think about Marianne’s words I solidly hear my non-Mormon therapist say,

“You know, Beth, many people love being Mormon and do not blame the Mormon church for their problems.” Then I see her pause long enough to make sure that I am really paying attention. She continues, “I also think many of these same people grew up with families who gave them healthy tools to navigate such an intense religion. These were the families that also provided their children with a healthy sense of self.”

Immediately I feel inadequate. I want to throw up. I feel deep pain. I feel weird. As a young girl, I know I did not have the tools. I know I did not possess a healthy sense of self.

As I try to piece this rush of feelings together, I am thrust back in time. I see my trigger. I feel the pain and insecurity as I remember how I perceived the women at church treat my mom. Though not everyone was like this, the ones who were, were terrible. I let my mind remember. I see my mom’s good friend dropping her upon being accepted into a more prominent social circle. I remember perceiving like my mom felt inadequate and rejected. I remember all the phone calls from those same women, including the “good” friend. They always wanted to make sure my mom knew how bad my sisters were. I remember the rage and frustration I felt knowing that the kids of these same women were doing the same or worse. I felt powerless as I watched my mom appear to feel like it was all her fault. It was not her fault. Those women were cruel, exclusive and self-righteous. Many of my peers remember these women differently. I think that is ok. I imagine we can hold space for all of us.

Most of these women live in Utah now. So does my mom. It is my memory that they never have included my mom, or invited her to their Minnesota get togethers. I imagine they would tell her the same thing the local LDS moms tell me,

“We just didn’t think you would want to come.”

I imagine my mom feels less than, confused and rejected. I wonder if she thinks it’s her fault. Maybe she moved on long ago. 

Abruptly I move from these feelings of sorrow to the moments I needed my mom’s empathy and compassion. Instead, I hear her words every single time I shared my pain,

“They are such good people. Beth, are you sure there wasn’t something you did?”

What I have learned through hours of therapy and mistakes I have made myself is that what I needed is for my mom to believe my story (as it was). I needed her to stand by my side and to protect me.

Of course, we can always do better. I can do better. Regardless, what I keep thinking about is this: why do we live in a world where my mom or a person of color, or the whistleblower, the rape victim, the poor kid, or the family who no longer attends church has to shoulder the burden and constantly prove they are valid or that they have worth? Why does the burden of proof fall solely on the disadvantaged or marginalized? Why is the outsider required to carry the relationship? It makes no sense. Victim Shaming or shunning the outsider or whatever you want to call it, drives me absolutely bonkers! Unjustified rejection is my trigger. It is also my trauma.

I am certain this trauma goes right back to the moment my family walked into the doors of the LDS church. My parents were recently married. Both of them were on their second marriage. They were young. And somehow in my mom’s upbringing, I believe she was taught that everything was also her fault. I believe she wanted to have healthy relationships. I believe she wanted to fit in and to connect. As a young mom, who was raising a blended family with six children, I believe she did her best. What I remember is that her best was taking the blame, asking me to take the blame, and consequently, reinforcing our cultural belief that the burden falls on the disadvantaged. By the way, it is also my memory that the women at church had no problem letting my mom take the hits. I always thought it was so cruel. I don’t know if she realizes what I see. I am sure my truth would embarrass her and break her heart.

Honestly, how on earth could one expect her to give us a strong sense of self while she was reconciling her own past trauma? How on earth could one expect her to stand with confidence as a new member and within the confines of such a rigorous belief system and religion?  How could I expect her to navigate the nuance of prosperity doctrine, social status, the generational cliques, while at the same time incorporating Christ’s teachings of inclusion and love? I truly believe she did her best. I also believe many of these women grew to love my mom. She is kind and openhearted.

Nevertheless, as many times as my mom has owned these moments, the trauma is still deeply embedded. It is what it is. I also fear I have perpetuated this pattern. For me to heal, I recognize that need to be honest regarding my complicity.

As a result of this learned behavior, within these dynamics, I always felt like it was me, not them. I felt like if I could shove myself into their world, everything would be fantastic. I have come to believe that feeling like I am less than and unworthy is damaging. I cannot fix them, or better, I cannot heal their own damage, the damage that causes them to be mean. I can only surround myself with people who love me for who I am.

As a result of these experiences, I was determined to help my kids feel a healthy sense of self. I was determined that they would always feel worthy. I encouraged their dreams, their fashion sense, their interests. I look them in the eyes. I make sure to connect with them each time they leave. I tell them I love them. I tell them I believe in them. I tell them these things often. Regardless of these positive behaviors, I also feel as though I have failed my sons. See, I could have done better. I am heartbroken. Now, when I know they are actively being ostracized and excluded I have never said and then asked them,

“Kyle and Eli, they are such good people. Are you sure there wasn’t something you did?”

However, what I did do is when they were actively being ostracized I stridently tried to negotiate with the parents. For years, I worked on these parental connections as I tried to prove our worth. I bargained over and over and over again. I allowed my boys to needlessly suffer because somewhere inside of me I felt like it was my fault. Thinking about the moments my children were rejected, condemned, and excluded fills me with suffocating pain and shame. I see the damage I enabled. Instead of encouraging them to walk away from people who do not treat them well, I encouraged them to stay. I am so sorry. I think I really still believed that I was the bad one. I was the one who was unworthy.

I have apologized privately to my sons. I have actively held boundaries with those who have been so unkind, intentionally or neglectfully. Now I straight up call these folks assholes. My brain also breaks each time I hear someone say, 

“well, I mean, it was so and so’s plans. I did not want to step on toes.” 

I scream inside at those who know what is right and do nothing. I think they are lame. After repeatedly placing my sons in harm’s way, and allowing them to stay in a situation they were ill prepared to navigate, I finally see that there is nothing I could have done to change who these people are. Sure, these folks also exist in a belief system where I believe they think they did what was right (in spite of our sons feel less than). From my lens, this behavior is still not ok. Regardless, it was my job to protect them. I could have done a much better.

That is why regardless of where I am tempted to place blame, at the end of the day, the buck stops with me. (Accountability)

I should have encouraged better boundaries. I should have kept Kyle and Eli from this harm. For my failings, I will always be sorry. I pray for Kyle and Eli’s forgiveness. I hope they see that because I know better I am trying to do better. I hope they know that I always stand by their side. I have their back. I like them and I love them. They are good and they are worthy. Ultimately, I hope they are able to surround themselves with people who love them just the way they are, (and not people who are not determined to dictate who they should be). I hope they always have places and spaces where they feel connected and where they know they belong. I hope they know they are loved — because they are loved — always.

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