The mission and stories of this website have validated my pain and my experience. This validation has brought about so much healing in my heart. This validation has empowered me to finally stand up to my shame and to stand up to the beliefs, people, and experiences which generated and nurtured my shame and say “No more!”. This is an invaluable gift for me. Thank you to all who have shared their stories and a special thank you to Sam.
My story: I was molested when I was 8. The abuse was introduced to me by another boy in my 2nd grade class. My life up to that point provided me with no frame of reference, understanding, or ability to cope with or even describe what happened. Like most 8 year-olds, I was a blank page, an empty vessel. Innocent.
Growing up, I developed a keen sense that the two most important things in my life, in the universe, were my family and the LDS Church. My parents were converts to the LDS Church and their faith was tangible. I saw through their actions and heard through their testimonies how much they cherished and loved the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, the sacred doctrines of the Church, the holy temple, and our divinely appointed leaders. Their love for the LDS Church was and is unconditional and to this day I know that in their eyes, the LDS Church and its leaders can do no wrong. Naturally, I matched my testimony and fervor to theirs.
Given the sexual abuse that occurred when I was eight, and frankly, given normal human sexual development generally, I discovered masturbation around the age of 10. I don’t recall feeling guilty or shameful. I do recall being scared that I had broken, medically, something about my body. That fear quickly dissipated when I woke up the next morning alive.
At some point during the next year, my mother discovered me masturbating in my room. Her response was dramatic. I remember her running to her room crying. It appeared to me that I had completely devastated her. I could tell that my actions deeply hurt her.
Later that day, when we discussed the incident, my mother informed me that what I had done was serious and that I would be required to meet with our Bishop to confess. The idea that what I had done was so serious that it required the involvement of the Bishop caused me to feel a great deal of shame. Clearly, my mother and the Church (the two things that mattered most) were ashamed of me.
My mother set up the appointment with the Bishop and drove me to the chapel. I was anxious about how the meeting would go and what exactly what would occur. I was embarrassed and I was terrified.
I do not recall many details about my meeting with the Bishop. The anxiety and terror of the situation was too much for me and I mentally disconnected. At the end of the meeting I was instructed that in order to repent I would be required to abstain from taking the sacrament for a couple weeks. I was shocked. First my mom, then the Bishop, and now my siblings, friends, and the whole ward would know what an awful person I was. It was humiliating.
My Bishop also gave me a pamphlet entitled “To Young Men Only”. I was to read the pamphlet and return on another occasion to discuss it. Most of the pamphlet was confusing to me, but I read it and at a minimum I understood that I had tampered with God’s sacred powers and because of that I was unworthy.
Over the next few weeks I jumped through the church’s procedural hoops. I guess I was forgiven, however, I felt debased and broken.
Eventually, I would masturbate again. I knew what the Church taught, which is that all my previous sins would be returned to me as if I had never really repented in the first place. The shame, therefore, was doubled. Over the next years, I would return to the Bishop’s office and confess again and again. Penalties were imposed each time and I believed that I deserved them. I was miserable.
Through the Bishop’s interviews, priesthood lessons, and my own study of the words of the Prophets, both ancient and modern day, I gained a firm testimony, one that stood for decades, of the following Gospel Truths:
1. That the Bishop’s words were the Lord’s words. Everything a Bishop said in the Bishop’s office was inspired of the Spirit. He had the Spirit of Discernment. He held Priesthood Keys. He was my Steward. My Leader. He was selected by the Lord through inspiration and revelation. When he condemned me, the Lord was condemning me. When he yelled at me, the Lord was yelling at me. When he debased, humiliated and shamed me, the Lord was debasing, humiliating, and shaming me; and,
2. That sexual sins, including lust, pornography, and masturbation, were more serious than any other sin save murder and denying the Holy Ghost. Ergo, I was guilty of sins next to murder. Murderers were the vilest sinners I could imagine.
Interviews with Bishops usually included a fact intensive interrogation. I had various Bishops insist that I share intimate details about masturbation and pornography. How many times? When? Where? How? What were you looking at? What were you thinking about? Some Bishops went completely out of bounds and asked disturbing questions about niche sexual topics which had never even entered my mind. These interrogations always evoked an intense and unhealthy level of stress and shame in the childhood me.
In one interview before my mission, with a Stake President, I was thoroughly yelled at. Although my confessions were voluntary and always accompanied with great remorse and a sincere desire to reform, this man knew my heart better than I did. He informed me that the reason I was not overcoming my problem was because I was prideful and unrepentant. He seemed determined to humble me himself. If bitter tears are any measure of humility, he was overwhelmingly successful.
My leaders thought I wasn’t serious about quitting or repenting. They had no idea. I thought about cutting off my genitalia or gauging my eyes out. For years, I contemplated killing myself. Paradoxically, I think the Church’s teachings on the afterlife spared me from making a serious attempt. I knew I would just end up in spirit prison feeling equally shameful there. I didn’t want death. I wanted annihilation.
These were dark emotions for a youth to suffer with, and they frequently became unbearable.
How is a sensitive child supposed to cope with such despair? I certainly didn’t need public shaming. I didn’t need religious fear-mongering. I didn’t need humiliating and debasing interviews. I didn’t need a neighborhood volunteer minister to assume that somehow his spirituality would compensate for his complete lack of education, training, or licensure in childhood sex counseling. I didn’t need a Church which encouraged and enabled this bizarre and absurd practice.
Decades of pain later, I finally found the courage to question the propriety of my leaders’ actions. This led me to consider the effect that those actions and the LDS Church’s practices and teachings had on me and my childhood development. This seems to be the beginning of a new chapter for me; one where I am empowered to reject shame and all of its various and sundry sources.