I was sexualized when I was 14 by an adult female, “Helen”. She was in her mid-20s. At the same time I was also given drugs——not a soft drug, like marijuana, but “acid”, or LSD. (This is a long story and I won’t go into it here, only to say that this is what basically happened.) First came the drug, then the sex (i.e., I was high, really just stoned, while the sexualization took place). This happened not once but many times over the course of a month or so, and afterwards I fell headlong into drug abuse: an addict was born in a day, even though I was only 14-15.
Because of the leadership position my father held in the church at the time I was old enough to serve a mission, I was able to serve a mission——but not before having to see my bishop. I frankly confessed to this bishop certain violations of the law of chastity. “Helen” had opened up a door (so to speak) and several girls my own age had walked through that door from the age of 14 to when I was about to go on my mission. Anyway, I frankly confessed all of this to the bishop (and my drug use), and he told me that I disgusted him and that I was not worthy to be in the company of young men who’d kept themselves pure, etc., etc., but that because of who my dad was he had no choice but to let me go on a mission anyway. I have remembered this visit with this bishop for all these years (I’m 60 now)——this shaming, shaming for something that really was not my fault (i.e., my sexualization at age 14). Why didn’t I tell this bishop about “Helen”? (Would it have made any difference if I had?) Because I was ashamed of that also.
Fast forward a decade later, and I am 30 and married. I have been diagnosed as bi-polar. And I have started using drugs again (self-medicating my bi-polar). I try desperately to stay on the wagon, to keep my “appetites within the bounds the Lord has set,” but fail again and again. Could I have tried harder? I tried so hard my eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head. I literally cannot imagine trying any harder than I did. All of this was of course exacerbated by my untreated bi-polar disorder and an addiction to prescription pain killers (which is what I used to treat my bi-polar)——and of course my sexualization and introduction to drugs at age 14.
Hoping to somehow be able to find a reset button for my life, I went in to see my bishop. I felt such guilt, such self-loathing, that, in my confession, I exaggerated everything. Some people (people with sociopathic tendencies, for example) downplay their guilt, but I overplayed mine. I was a scumbag, a loser. I had committed the “sin next to murder”. In short, I was consumed with shame.
At this time, I was barely active in the church. (My wife wasn’t active at all.) I tried to get my children to church on Sunday, and most of the time I went too, although I had no calling and I had no temple recommend. But still, the bishop sent me to the stake president and a high council court was convened (this was in the mid-1990s). The court was a surreal experience: the high council, the stake presidency, and an odd assortment of other men were there for reasons that were never clear to me. I spilled my guts, told everything——including my sexualization and introduction to drugs at age 14. I even mentioned I was bi-polar. I think the high council would’ve liked to excommunicate me, but the stake president, a good man, elected to disfellowship me only. But still, on my way outside to my car around noon when the court ended, my hands were shaking so bad I couldn’t get the key into the lock to open my car door. After getting in, I sat quietly for several minutes, trying to stop shaking, then I drove to the nearest liquor store, bought a bottle of something, and I drove out into the desert, as far away as I could get, and drank until I passed out.
In the years since, I have often wondered when church leaders will learn that shaming people is counterproductive, and there is a difference between, say, a 45 year old husband and father who is doing his damnedest to stay on the wagon but keeps falling off anyway, a 45 year old father and priesthood holder who desperately wants to repent and be reconciled to God again but somehow can’t find the means to do so——there is a difference between this kind of sinner and the other kind, the deliberate, intentional sinner who “smiles at a lie and seeks deep to hide his counsels from the Lord.”
All of these years later, my heart quickens whenever I am in the company of high priests in white shirts (I remember that high council court!), and I have had great difficulty maintaining conventional church activity, although my testimony of the Gospel and the Restoration has never wavered. I have made headway in maintaining sobriety (still no treatment for my bi-polar), however I still struggle with conventional church activity. The point I wish to make is this——
Over 40 years of encounters with church leaders have not helped me in my quest for sobriety, wholeness and reconciliation to God, rather these encounters have hindered me, primarily due to one thing: shaming.
I hope this story, my personal witness, helps someone else. Thank you for listening.