I don’t pretend that my story is as bad as many others however it may be more common. The worst part about my story is that it wasn’t my bishop or councilors that caused me pain but rather an ex-bishop and ex-stake president. This man happened to be my father. I love my father and I know he never meant me any harm but as a result of his training and experience in his callings he learned that sexual sin including masturbation is second only to murder in seriousness.
In our home we started having ‘priesthood interviews’ from a very young age. My dad would open these meetings with a prayer and then after some initial discussion he would ask the standard priesthood interview questions including: Have you ever thought sexual thoughts? Have you ever masturbated? Have you ever viewed pornography? Have you ever touched yourself or anyone else inappropriately (including necking and petting). I didn’t know what many of these terms meant before my Dad asked if I had done them but let’s just say that when the sexual thoughts came followed by the temptation to masturbate i felt extreme shame. One night the temptation was greater than I could withstand and I masturbated. I knew, the moment I came, that I had sinned greatly and needed to confess immediately. I rushed up to my parents room. I can see it in my mind’s eye still to this day. My mom was asleep but I’m sure I heard her stir when I entered the room. I went straight to my Dad’s side of the bed and knelt beside it. I told him I had been struggling with masturbation and begged for forgiveness. He was kind but confirmed I had done the right thing by coming to him. He told me the first step was to go without the sacrament for 4 weeks and then to start keeping a calendar on which I was to mark each day that I did not masturbate with an X and then report back to him on a monthly basis.
Shame. Shame. Shame. I felt absolutely worthless. I had friend’s pass the sacrament to me and had to pass it on to my mother (who I know overheard the conversation I had with my dad). I had to tell my teachers quorum leaders that I wasn’t able to pass the sacrament (of course they know why).
This experience and many after it along the same lines ingrained in me a deep sense of shame and inadequacy which I concealed and hid even from myself. I carried this guilt and shame with me for many years and it caused and/or exasperated many problems in my marriage. Luckily I have a very understanding wife who has helped me to open up and feel comfortable in my own sexual skin and I have had a fantastic therapist who has helped me to view my shame through a compassionate and understanding lens which has helped me to largely overcome it but the road has been messy and painful. From my vantage point now it all feels unnecessary. I find it hard to blame my Dad. He is a pretty good guy and had the church informed him of the damage he could do by taking this approach I know he wouldn’t have done it. That’s why I’ve decided to tell my story. As benign as this was compared to many it still caused a lot of unnecessary pain and if I experienced that level of pain from my experience think of all the pain felt by those who went through much worse.
Sam’s recent interview with John Dehlin brought me to tears. Although it has been some time since I have felt healed from these issues, hearing Sam talk about it brought it all back. I appreciate you’re work Sam. Feeling my shame and pain again makes me feel more empathy for those who have experienced similar things many of which I know have been much much worse. I hope therefore that this can go some small way towards helping anyone in pain and if at all possible to help prevent further pain of a similar nature either by helping the church to change their policies or at least to make one bishop or father aware of the harm they could cause if they’re not more understanding and caring.