This is another piece “Sandy” writes -who was willing to give an interview to Mormon Mental Health about her experience of childhood sexual assault in the context of worthiness interviews (protectldschildren.org). She can use this blog as a platform for as many writings as she would like to post. Here she writes about leaning into pain… which is actually a very effective way to alleviate suffering.
A month ago, I was sick for two weeks straight with the dreaded flu that everyone is rightly so afraid of. Last weekend, I spent three days with a dear friend, supporting her through a pretty scary crisis. I’m grateful to have been able to offer her some calm, cook a couple of meals, and I hope that it was helpful. The weekend before that, (dear God, has it *really* only been two weeks? Yup, I just triple-checked.) I cracked my soul open in order to shine a light on my story in the form of the podcast interview with the wonderful Natasha. That weekend was pretty brutal. One friend got news of a death in the family while another realized that she/we needed to significantly change the dynamics of our friendship. I took a single day that weekend to eat ice cream and watch Netflix. But then, as it does, the world continued to spin, and so I had to keep moving too. Gotta work to pay the bills.
This past Tuesday, I watched the press conference in Houston, read my own words on Natasha’s blog, and I felt the tears well up. A few of them slipped out, but I swallowed the rest down and kept going. Wednesday night, late, I was able to be supportive for a couple of hours through the miracle of technology, to another friend having a PTSD moment in her world, 2,000 miles away. Thursday morning threw a wrench in my relative calm when my sister sent me the pictures taken on my baptism day, that I had asked her for back in December when I was debating whether or not I had it in me to write my experiences for Sam’s website. Seeing those pictures brought up a world of grief in me, but I wasn’t prepared to let it out. Instead, I kept moving.
This morning, I was trying to get myself and my dog out the door to spend the weekend in my hometown (about two hours away) for an old friend’s baby shower, and my niece’s birthday party. These are both things I wanted to do, to be present for. I gathered the gifts, my bags were by the door, I was ready. I took a quick shower, and afterward, as I was sitting at my kitchen table, dripping, wrapped in a towel, trying to ignore my anxiety, my frayed nervous system finally said “ENOUGH!” and threw up a brick wall in the form of a panic attack, and hysterical crying. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I just kept thinking “I need to calm down, I have to go, I’m going to be late.”
This time, it was me reaching out for support in a moment of crisis, and as usual, I was held up by someone who loves me. She said to me “You don’t have to go anywhere, or do anything, or talk to anyone unless you want to. You can stay home all weekend in your towel if you want.” She called me on the phone, so that I could hear her voice, and encouraged me, instead of trying to force myself to calm down, to let myself cry. She reminded me that I haven’t had a moment like this in awhile, and it was then that I really started to allow myself to feel how long I’d been swallowing those tears. Some had been held in for weeks, but others were decades old. So I cried. And my dear friend sat with me, on the phone across miles, telling me as I sobbed that “I knows it hurts like hell, but you’re okay, and I’m right here with you. You’re not alone in this anymore.”
I’ve been feeling like…there’s something in me, some piece of me, a voice that I almost always keep silent, who is hurt. I’ve occasionally thought of her as my inner child. Sometimes if I look at a photograph of the little girl I was, the little girl that I don’t remember being, a child separate from the woman I am now, I can find it in myself to show her some compassion. And I think…maybe today is the day that I need to stop pretending that that voice isn’t a part of ME.
Today is the day I start acknowledging the pain she feels. The pain I feel. The grief. The loneliness. The betrayal. Today… I’m not okay. My heart hurts. It’s broken, if I’m honest with myself. But nothing broken has ever been mended by ignoring the fact that there has been damage done. Pain is a message. Pain tells us where care is required, to allow for healing. So today, I’m honoring that pain. I’m sitting in it, and allowing myself to feel it. Today I’m applying self-compassion like a salve and sitting still. Licking my wounds. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day I’ll have the strength again to be able to move forward. I know it will be soon. But not today. I did eventually put on pants. But this weekend, I’m staying home.
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST runs an online practice, Symmetry Solutions, which focuses on helping families and individuals with faith concerns, sexuality and mental health. She hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex Info Podcasts, writes a regular column for Sunstone Magazine, is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association and runs a sex education program, Sex Talk with Natasha. She has over 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.