Many years ago during a family trip to San Francisco where we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, 11-year-old me stopped and peered down into the still, gently swirling water and tried to talk myself out of throwing my body into the soothing void. It seemed such an easy way to release the suffering that others called life.
That was over 25 years ago, and while I am much more whole now than I was then, if I’m honest I still have days where I wish I would have had the courage to jump. You see, I am a victim not only of childhood sexual abuse by an older, priesthood-holding family member, I am a victim of a system created by the LDS church to silence my voice, ignore my pain, and coerce me into premature forgiveness. And truthfully that kind of secondary trauma, given to me by my church community wrapped and packaged in the name of a loving God, is heavier and harder to heal than the actual abuse.
The responsibility to continue a loving and kind relationship with my abuser as if nothing had happened was placed on my shoulders – the shoulders of an 11-year-old child- because he was “a good man who is trying his best.” They expected a child to bury that kind of abuse, never talk about it again, and also sit through 6 years of monthly lessons where I was taught in YW that letting a boy touch me was my responsibility to prevent because boys don’t know how to control themselves.
Do they hear themselves speak? I do not have to words to describe how deep and pervasive this damage has been. It has weaved itself into every part of who I am; I literally am not capable of carrying this weight – God knows I have tried for decades, – this hour by hour noose around my neck, because keeping the leadership of the church on the authority pedestal was more important than my very life. I’m supremely angry at the church for not being accountable for its own sins while teaching me to be accountable for the sins of others. That is false doctrine.
Thank goodness I have since learned what good boundaries are and I’ve found some very profound healing. Thank goodness that I found people as an adult who believe me and will sit with me as I travel through time and pick up fractured pieces of myself and learn how to surgically put them back into my heart. Thank goodness that I married a man who never called me mentally ill for acting out in trauma or demanded that my body was his right to use (unlike some of the horror stories of my temple married to a return missionary friends), who patiently sat with me and a therapist for years, while we together learned how to heal this trauma so I could participate in sex without shaking, crying, or feeling attacked. I’m deeply grateful that today my life is as normal as it can be and that I am thriving no more or less than a person who hasn’t been victimized for years.
However, I will never get those decades back. They are gone forever, sealed in a kind of time warp because most priesthood leaders are too uncomfortable or too naive to help defend a helpless child. I am jealous of my peers who have not had their lives destroyed by misleading leaders. My friends have created masterpieces, lived life on their own terms, explored and dreamed and done what they wanted to do. They have also silently judged me for being “too emotional” and “kind of rude to the church for no reason,” because the first rule of Mormonism is All is Well in Zion.
All is not well! We as a community have chained skeletons in the basement, crying to us for healing and salvation and we must make some changes before more people die. People are dying! People would rather kill themselves than live with the pain of being a part of this community. What does that say about us? It is quite difficult for me to admit I was almost one of them. I don’t want to be. I want to be the RS teacher who soothes the class with a powerful testimony of just how much the LDS church is God’s kingdom on the earth.
But I will never say those words because the God I know would never build a kingdom that does this to children. I have spent 25 years sitting in a metaphoric black hole and have just started coming out since I started questioning how healthy the church is for me. This institution preaches with scripture and prophets that following their rules would bring me closer to god, but it did, in fact, tear me away from God.
Praise the heavens that I am the kind of person who was able to retain some parts of spirituality and find the God who protects children and heals adults from this kind of spiritually violent filth. So very very many are not, through no fault of their own. The LDS church holds their tears and their misery in their hands. What will they do?