Anyone Can be Recycled
by Alice Waters
I know the gospel is true. I know it comes from God and not from men. And I know that God is a real person with a real body. He has ears to hear you and eyes to see you and a heart to feel compassion for your sufferings. You are his child and he loves you very much. Even though you may feel all alone, he has never abandoned you or refused to help you. You may have turned away from him and refused to listen to him, or perhaps you never knew about him at all. But it doesn't matter. He is still there waiting for you. All you have to do is reach out and he will take your hand and guide you back to him. It doesn't matter what you may have done or what your lifestyle may be. He will still take your hand if you will just reach out to him. For anyone can be recycled. It doesn't matter how sinful you are or how degraded you have become. You can be recycled and made into a whole new person"”if you want to be. Because if you want something badly enough, you will do whatever is necessary to get it. You will even repent and change your life for it. But you must make the first move. You must show God that you want his help, for he will never step in where he is not wanted.
Repentance is real. It is so meaningful that it is a matter of eternal life and death. Having the principle of repentance gives me the courage to go on facing life, knowing that when I fall or lose ground in my struggle to conquer myself I can repent and start over again. Knowing also that when my repentance is sincere, the Lord just as sincerely forgets my error and remembers it no more. He erases the repented-of item from my book of life and waits to enter something better in its place. He will do the same for you, and he bases it entirely on the sincerity of your repentance. Though your sins be as scarlet, he will erase them from your book of life the very instant you repent of them, making the pages again pure white, waiting to enter a better history than what went before. Repentance gives you the opportunity to begin your life over again, and this time to live it as you wish you had done the first time.
This promise was once given to me; and if it is given to me, it is given to you: "You have suffered much and yet you have much to enjoy. Blessing upon blessing is given to the repentant." You can have happiness to the same degree that you had unhappiness. What-ever your degree of sorrow is, you can have joy to the same degree. When Alma the Younger repented of his sins he said, "And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain" (Alma 36:20).
The purpose of this book is to tell you that what I have done you can do also.
The Early Years
All my life I had carried an oppressive burden of guilt that I could never get free of. It was always there like a dark cloud overshadowing me. It distorted my perspective and interfered with my ability to feel real guilt for the sins I committed. Instead, I felt guilty for existing, as though I had no right to live. For years, I pushed it away from me and wouldn't let myself think about it. As I gained deeper understanding of myself, my awareness of that guilt became more acute. Finally I knew I couldn't run away from it any longer; I had to turn around and face it. Where did it come from and why did I have it? Eventually I figured out that I felt guilty for having been born.
I was two years old, and Mom and I were in the kitchen. She was leaning sideways against the sink and I was standing in front of her, looking up at her face. It was so far above me that I could hardly see it in the dimly lighted room. All I could see well was the fold of her skirt, which was almost touching my face. Suddenly she said, "I don't love you when you act like that!" Her words sent a terrible shock plunging straight down through the center of my body. It was actual physical pain, like I was being split in half. For a long moment the pain was my only reality. Then I turned to my right in an effort to move away from it.
The floor immediately in front of my feet disappeared, and I found myself standing on the edge of a silent, purplish-black sky. Way off in the distance, golden rays of light gently glowed in the darkness. They would slowly fade, then appear some place else; they never held still. I wanted to walk out toward them but they were surrounded by a vast loneliness. I instinctively felt that if I went out to them I would become as isolated as they were. Yet it looked invitingly peaceful out there.
I looked down, searching for solidity to step out onto. All I could see was darkness reaching unendingly downward. I sensed that there were people dressed in white, moving around at the very bottom of the darkness, who were unaware of me. I wished for them to look up, to see me, but they paid no attention. I wanted to jump down and join them, in the hope that they would accept me and love me. Afraid to fall such a long, long way but not knowing how else to reach them, I teetered on the edge of the inviting darkness, desperate to escape from the pain-filled kitchen. Just as I started to tilt forward, I heard Mom's voice talking to me. Reality returned and I was back in the kitchen, still standing in front of her.
Act like what? I didn't know. I tried to remember what I had been doing just before she said that, but I couldn't. I had been completely unaware of myself or of what I had been doing. I had simply taken it for granted that she loved me. I didn't know love could be withdrawn. The very thought panicked me. If she didn't love me would she send me away? She had sent away my beloved cat. Maybe she would do the same thing to me. From my two-year-old point of view I thought the cat and I were of equal value to her. I loved Cat-Cat and hadn't wanted him to leave, but she got rid of him anyway. If I were next where would I go? Maybe I could live with the nice lady next door. She always smiled at me as if she liked me"”which was more than Mom ever did.
When I was a little older, Mom took me with her on a visit to a neighbor. There were several women and small children present. A toddler staggered up to a woman, who leaned towards the child, smiling in delight, and started cooing at him. As we left, I asked Mom if the toddler was that woman's child, and she said no. I was amazed. The woman had smiled at a child she didn't even know! With the deepest sense of longing, I wished Mom would smile at me the way that woman had smiled at the child. But Mom only smiled at adults, never at me.
One Sunday, Mom took me to church for the first time. A little boy sitting in front of us leaned over the back of his pew and swung his arms at me. I promptly swung back and for a few minutes we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Then Mom grabbed me, shoved me down in the pew, and ordered me to sit still. "Can't you see everyone is looking at you? I'm ashamed of you! You know better than that." Embarrassed, I looked around the crowded and noisy chapel. No one was looking at me at all. I saw several children playing as vigorously as I had been and two children ran noisily down the aisle, but no one got mad at them. As far as I could see, I was the only child who was sitting quietly. Silently, I watched the other children behave like typical children, as they bounced, wiggled, and occasionally yelled out while their parents ignored them. I couldn't understand why it was wrong for me to act like them.
We had begun the pattern of my entire childhood. Other children got away with being children. It was wrong for me to be one. Other children were allowed to act their age; I would get scolded and be told to "grow up and act your age." I had to behave like a little old lady because Mom was always being ashamed of me. On growing older, I figured out that Mom didn't want me to be me, she wanted me to be her. She had assumed that I would be her clone merely because I was her daughter, and my differentness made her feel insecure. But our personalities were almost completely opposite and we never agreed on anything. When she realized I was not her clone, she was so deeply disappointed that she couldn't bring herself to forgive me. As a result, I grew up thinking that being myself was something to be ashamed of. If I tried to express my own personality, she saw it as rejection. When I resisted her efforts to force me to be her, she saw it as rebellion. She never understood my need to be me.
Within a few more years, I had acquired a sister and a brother to help me make Mom unhappy. Her resentment grew as we grew. We made so much work for her; we spent all our days tracking dirt into the house; she was always having to clean up after us. Because of us, she couldn't afford to have her hair done or buy nice clothes. Why couldn't we just go away and leave her alone? Why did we always have to follow her around? Couldn't we see that she was busy? "Get out of here." "Leave me alone." "Go some place else to play." If it weren't for us, she could be happy. We learned to feel guilty for even existing.
When I was four and a half years old, I learned that I was embarrassingly different. While visiting my maternal grandmother, I fell face down on an upturned footstool, knocking out three front teeth. My mouth was bleeding heavily. Mom and Grandma were plying me with ice, towels, and worry; I was hurt, scared, and crying. Mom's two younger brothers, ages 17 and 24, saw this as their golden opportunity. With great relish, they began to make fun of me, mocking my tears, calling me toothless, and telling me I would stay that way for the rest of my life. I believed them and cried all the harder. When they saw how I was reacting, they jeered even more. My emotional pain quickly became greater than my physical pain. Mom made no effort to defend me or shut them up. Instead she scolded me for crying. By the time they were done, I was convinced that being toothless was the epitome of ugliness, and that I could never hope to be pretty"”ever. I was so embarrassed that for the next three years I put my hands in front of my mouth whenever I thought people were looking at me. I was already well on my way towards chronic self-consciousness because of Mom's constant sarcasm and complaints. Now I had become self-conscious about my looks as well.
Right after that, I had my first experience with peer rejection. Upon moving into a new house, Mom pressed me to start making friends with the neighboring children. I quickly discovered that the girl across the street had long, blonde curls. She was so pretty. I thought if I could just become her friend, somehow her prettiness would magically rub off onto me and I would become pretty, too. Only she had already formed a clique with the dark-haired girl around the corner, and they didn't want to include me. Thanks to the teasing of my two uncles, I now believed that friendship was based solely on beauty and nothing else. I didn't think the dark-haired girl was any better looking than I was and couldn't understand why Pretty Blonde Curls would choose her over me. But they already knew each other and I was an outsider. Not realizing that, I decided there must be something wrong with me, something that repelled others. They confirmed my opinion when we all started kindergarten. The first day of school, I saw them walk past the house with two other girls I didn't know. "Run after them," Mom urged. "You can walk to school with them." But Pretty Blonde Curls had a different idea. "Let's run from her," I heard her say. "Don't let her walk with us." And they ran away laughing. Devastated, I ran back home crying. When I told Mom why, she showed no sympathy or understanding of my feelings. She forced me to go to school anyway, scolding me for making myself late. Without knowing how I did it, I drove people away. Why else would they avoid me?
My father had a nervous breakdown when I was seven. We moved from our small town to a rapidly growing city 90 miles away so he could be near his psychiatrist. Mom quickly crumbled under the new pressure. Now she not only resented her dirt-tracking, quarreling children, she resented her weak husband. That's when she began saying, "I have four children, you three and your father." Our move was the first time she had ever been away from her own family. She felt very isolated and her anger became irrational. She became convinced that we deliberately did things just to upset her. She would be cheerful, smiling, sometimes singing, when my sister and I started off to school in the morning. Arriving back home at three in the afternoon, we would find her very angry.
She was usually waiting for us in the kitchen, rigid with fury. Sometimes she threw a tantrum, smashing crockery on the floor and threatening to kill us. Sometimes she refused to speak to us, then pretended she couldn't hear when we tried to talk to her. We would beg her to tell us why she was angry; most of the time she refused to answer. Occasionally, she would snarl through tightly-clenched teeth, "You know what you did!" Then she wouldn't speak to us for hours or days or even, one time, a full week. Then abruptly she would be normal again and act as though nothing had happened. We never found out what we had done to make her so angry.
I used to walk home from school each afternoon wondering if today she would kill one of us, and which one it would be. When she started sewing at home, her tantrums got worse. Interrupting her, as my sister often did, was sure to cause a screaming rage that was more frightening than her kitchen tantrums. Before we had moved to the city, she would ask me every day how I did in school. Now she exploded with fury if I tried to tell her. For a few weeks after she bought the sewing machine, I held onto the hope that she would quit using it. But she didn't. The constant disappointment became too hard to live with. I finally told myself I didn't care. If she didn't want to talk to me, then I didn't want to talk to her. And I hardened my heart against her.
Her behavior didn't make sense to me. How could she be cheerful when seeing us off to school in the morning and be angry after we had been gone all day? I was old enough to recognize her inconsistency but not old enough to figure out why it was happening. I put my own interpretation on the matter. She did it because she hated us. I tried to convince my sister of this, but she refused to believe me. She said Mom had to love us"”she was our mother. In my seven-year-old wisdom, I knew better. Mom was being very unfair to us and I resented it. In fact, I resented it so much that I determined to hate her right back every time she "hated" us.
Thereafter, I watched for every little sign of hatred from her and found many of them: in her near-sighted frowns, her afternoon tantrums, her constant criticism and sarcasm, and finally in everything she did or did not do. I disbelieved her early morning cheerfulness and rejected her smiles. I was blind to her good moods and couldn't tell them from her bad moods. In short, I saw only the bad side of her"”never the good side. I found my greatest proof of her hate every time she compared me to my paternal grandmother"”her mother-in-law. I was too young to realize the two women were jealous of each other. I took Mom's sarcastic gibes about Grandma as evidence of hatred. When she started saying, "You're just like your grandmother," I concluded that she must hate me the way she hated Grandma. Soon she was pointing out in detail the ways I was like Grandma. "You're as selfish as your grandmother," she would accuse. Then she would tell me the many ways I was selfish.
One Christmas, she gave my sister and me one dollar apiece, then took us to a clothing store and ordered us to buy each other underwear as Christmas gifts. I wandered through the store, looking for something pretty that cost less than one dollar. There wasn't much. I especially wanted to buy something pretty, but pretty underclothes cost so much more than the plain white cotton that Mom always bought for us. Christmas was supposed to be special and there was nothing special about plain white cotton. Eventually, I decided on pink rayon panties; the price was low enough that I could buy two. But I had forgotten about the sales tax. When the saleswoman added on the tax I didn't have enough money.
I didn't know what to do. If I bought two pairs I would have to ask Mom for more money, she would get mad, and maybe refuse to give it to me. If I bought only one pair, she would get mad and tell me how selfish I was. I agonized over which was worse, being embarrassed now by a public scolding or enduring hours-long complaining on Christmas Day about my selfishness. Finally, I opted for the one pair. I couldn't face the humiliation of a public scolding. When I went looking for Mom, I found her publicly scolding my sister for not having enough money to pay the sales tax on her purchase. My sister was miserably embarrassed. On Christmas morning, we discovered that we had picked identical gifts for each other. But I had given her only one pair of pink rayon panties, whereas she had given me two. As I had anticipated, Mom spent the entire day accusing me of selfishness. It was well over a year before she allowed me to forget that particular Christmas.
Grandma died when I was not quite nine. I was so relieved; now Mom would stop comparing me to her. And for almost a year she did. Then one evening we started arguing in the kitchen. Stirring food on the stove she looked up angrily and exclaimed, "You're just like your grandmother!" Somehow being compared to a hated dead woman was far worse than being compared to a hated living woman. I felt a sharp pain in my heart, as though she had turned the words into a knife and stabbed me with them. In anguish, I cried, "You hate me! You hate Grandma and you hate me like you hate her." I ran into my bedroom crying. As I rushed past her, I saw, just for an instant, a startled look on Mom's face. She had been unaware that she was hurting me.
The pain was so bad that I thought my heart was tearing in half. I was sure that when it tore completely through, I would die, and waited for it to happen. After what seemed like a long time, Mom called me to come out to the kitchen and eat dinner, but I was afraid to move. I thought that sudden movement would finish tearing my heart in half. Mom called again, angrily. I cautiously moved and felt surprised that I was still alive. The pain had not gone away and I began to worry that I might have it for the rest of my life. By the time I finished dinner, the pain had been replaced by a deep feeling of sorrow and loneliness, which did not subside even though Mom never again compared me to Grandma.
The Christmas before my eleventh birthday, Mom and Daddy carefully explained to us that their financial situation was very tight. They wouldn't be able to spend very much on our presents. Yet it turned out to be the best Christmas of my entire childhood. They went to a used book store and bought me ten books for one dollar. Each book had a large orange "ten cents" crayoned on the inside back cover. Mom appeared embarrassed over the price mark in the books and kept apologizing about it, but I didn't care. I was ecstatic at the sight of so many books all at one time. For me the number of books I got was far more important than how much she paid for them, but for Mom how much she spent was more important than what she bought. The following year, she asked what I wanted for Christmas and I answered, "The same like last year." She protested that she spent only one dollar last year; she could afford more this time. Because she asked what I wanted, I assumed she would give me at least one book (although I hoped mightily for ten). Instead, she gave me school clothes and then was angry at my disappointment: "you can't always have what you want." So why ask if she had no intention of giving me what I wanted? Yet she continued to ask what I wanted for Christmas. My answer was always the same"”books; but she resented them so much she would never give them to me. I learned to hate Christmas.
Mom's constant criticism was wearing me down and I began to wonder if there really was something wrong with me that only she could see. Then my teachers started to see it, too. I couldn't seem to please anyone. I felt as though all the adults in my world were demanding higher standards of me than of any other child. A teacher even scolded me in front of the entire class for getting an A- instead of an A. They weren't being fair to me, and the more I thought about it, the more I resented it. I turned increasingly resentful and angry; I disliked everyone and everything. I spent much of my time complaining and taking my feelings out on everyone at home. I felt peaceful only when I was immersed in a day dream or a book. I must have been pretty awful to live with, but I was totally unaware of that. All I could see was my own unhappiness.
Finally, Mom started hauling me around from one child psychologist to another. For the next two years, I went through the same experience over and over; it never varied. Each time we walked into a starched white office, I felt the helping atmosphere in the air. I instinctively felt that the people who worked there could help me if they only would, for I wanted someone to tell me how to cope with Mom. I would be ushered into a playroom filled with toys out of a child's dream, while Mom was ushered into the doctor's private office. Sometimes my visit with the toys was quite short; sometimes it was longer. Yet the results were always the same. Eventually the nurse came for me and my hopes would immediately rise. Now the doctor would want to talk with me and I would get the chance to tell my side of the story. Instead, Mom was waiting for me in the foyer. My hopes crashed to the ground and we left, never to return. She was always grimly silent on the long streetcar ride home. I was afraid to ask what she and the psychologist had discussed, yet I was consumed with curiosity. I kept hoping she would bring the subject up after we got home, but it never happened. It was as though we hadn't even gone. Months went by before we went to another psychologist, for we never went to the same one twice.
In the very last office we visited, the helping atmosphere was especially strong, and our visit was the longest of all. I felt the firm impression that the people there would help me, and by now I badly wanted them to. I was getting desperate. I sat on the floor in the playroom and wished with all my might that the doctor would ask to see me when he finished with Mom. But it didn't happen. Our leave-taking was exactly like all the others. I went home in despair, feeling that I had lost my last chance for help. Many years later, I learned that all the psychologists had said essentially the same thing to Mom: "If you don't like the way she behaves, why do you treat her the way you do?" She felt so threatened she could never bring herself to go back. Thus, neither of us received the help we needed.
All during my childhood, I had been steadily building a thick plastic wall around myself. I meant it to be protection from the unbearable pain of having love withdrawn from me; I didn't realize it could also prevent me from feeling loved. I badly wanted Mom to love me, but didn't know how to tell her. Whenever she criticized me, I took it as further proof of her hatred and added another layer to my wall. I was careful, however, to leave a door in it, hoping she would magically change and start loving me. If she had balanced the anger with affection, I would have opened the door. But she didn't do that. Instead, she changed so slowly, over so many years (and most of the change happened long after I left home), that I never saw it happen. For a short while, I tried to communicate with her, then quickly gave up, stubbornly refusing to try even one more time. I slammed my door shut and sealed it so tightly that I never found it again.
Unfortunately, the wall didn't work the way I wanted it to. It couldn't block out all of the pain I felt from her angry words, so I retaliated by hating her. If I argued with her, she always won, so eventually I pretended to give in. Inwardly, though, I vowed I would never forgive her for whatever she said or did this time. A couple of times, she actually thanked me for making an effort to get along with her. I just smiled and hugged my hatred more tightly to myself. I found it to be very satisfying. Every time she lashed out with her sarcastic jeering, I hated her more. The hatred gave me energy and made me feel good. I came to enjoy it"”it gave me a sense of power over her.
Between my 12th and 13th birthdays, Mom discovered that I was as tall as she was. Maybe she thought that made us equals; at any rate she started being nicer to me. I figured it was now safe to open my door, only I couldn't find it. For several days, I frantically searched around for it, then realized I hadn't seen it for a long time. I had become a prisoner locked inside an invisible prison and didn't know how to get out. At first I was scared and wanted to run to Mom and ask for help; I wanted her to unlock the door for me. (I think the Spirit was urging me to do it because the desire to turn to her was very strong.) This was my first real opportunity to communicate with her and draw close, something I wanted very badly. However, I was so convinced that she wouldn't understand"”for she hadn't so far"”that I didn't even try. After a few weeks, I adjusted to being locked inside my wall and decided that I may as well continue to live as I had done all along. I felt distanced from everyone around me, but I got used to it. And finally, it felt normal.
Two months before my 15th birthday, my father was stricken ill and died ten days later. By that time, I had spent years wishing Mom would die. It seemed to be the only way I would ever get free of her. When Daddy died instead I was appalled. I thought my wish had gone horribly awry and killed the wrong person. Through his death, he abandoned me and left me at the mercy of my worst enemy. I didn't know how I would survive without him, yet I was expected to carry on with my life as though nothing had happened. I could do that only by pretending that he had never existed. It was easier to have never had a father than for him to leave me behind like that. The anguish I felt at his death was far greater than any pain Mom had inflicted on me. From that point on, I felt that she had defeated me. Without Daddy to stand between us how could I escape from her?
I had no way of knowing that Mom was doing the best she knew how. As a child, she had been physically and emotionally abused by older siblings. She was simply copying what had been done to her. She had been a victim of incest, and that heavily influenced both the way she reacted to men and the way she taught me to see them. She had many irrational attitudes and fears, one of which was a fear of failure. It was so great that she wouldn't let me think for myself or try anything new. "What if you fail?" she'd worry each time, until I finally quit trying. She saw herself as a successful mother only if she got instant and total obedience from us. Yet often her demands were illogical. She also feared rejection so greatly that she rejected others"”including her own children"”before they got the chance to reject her.
Two months before I turned 18, my sister and I were baptized members of the Church. Four months later, I moved to the nearest large city, got a job, and became "independent." As soon as I got away from Mom, I began to get a strong desire to stop hating her. I know now that the Spirit was beginning to work with me and that this desire came from the Lord. At the time, however, I felt only a great weariness with my hatred; I just wanted to let go of it but didn't know how. I called my sister and told her how I felt. She suggested that I try to see Mom as an older sister who had gone astray. After all, in pre-earth life she really had been my sister. It helped tremendously. I couldn't see her as my mother without also feeling my childhood pain; the two went together. But by thinking of her as an older sister, I was able to detach from her. Then I struggled to forgive her and asked Heavenly Father to help me do it. Yet, I didn't feel any better about myself. I still felt guilty for existing.
What I didn't know when I left home was the amount of hidden baggage I was taking with me. Without knowing she was doing so, Mom had been teaching me certain standards of manhood and womanhood as I was growing up. Her ideal man was coarse, vulgar, and dirty-minded"”in fact, remarkably like her favorite brother. Her ideal man was also weak and helpless like Daddy. Mom constantly said, "I have four children, you three and your father." She ridiculed men who went to church, who had good manners, who didn't drink or smoke, who were educated, or who had high moral standards. She only felt comfortable with low, vulgar types. All others she labeled as "a fairy, and he probably wears lace on his undershorts."
Mom's ideal woman was a tough, strong, macho female who had no feelings and never cried, something I did in abundance. Whenever I cried, she jeered at my weakness. Only babies cried. Women were supposed to be strong, not weak like men. Mom was proud of the fact that she never cried, not even at Daddy's funeral"”even though her favorite brother did.
The warped attitudes I learned from Mom were reinforced through visits with our relatives during my childhood. All the women ever talked about was the terrible pain they suffered from having operations and babies. They repelled me; I didn't want to grow up to be like them. My uncles, on the other hand, talked about boring things like hunting, fishing, and traffic tickets. But while the men were merely boring, the women turned my stomach. Out of revulsion for the woman's role, I started identifying with my uncles. And I started to copy them.
I started looking at the pornography that was openly strewn around some of their homes. I listened to the vulgar way they talked about women, and learned to admire a woman's breasts and the way her hips swayed when she walked. More than once, Mom caught me looking at the magazines and never said a word against it. I was so accustomed to her sarcastically or angrily cutting down everything I did, that I took her silence for approval. Deep inside, I felt it was wrong to look at the pictures in the magazines. But her lack of disapproval helped me convince myself that it was all right to lust after the female body. I hadn't yet discovered that Mom had a knack for condemning harmless things, while keeping quiet over the harmful ones. Her inability to speak out against the pornography was typical of the victim mentality of incest victims.
At the same time, I was learning from Mom that boys were nasty, dirty creatures who only wanted to get girls pregnant. Because she was an adult, I assumed she was right. After all, for proof there was Mom's favorite brother, who was nauseatingly dirty-minded. There were also the family reunions, where some of my uncles pawed each others' wives. And there were Mom's complaints against Daddy. She pushed me to date before I was 12 years old, but I felt intimidated by the boys' pressure to be sexual. When I complained about it, Daddy laughed and told me to enjoy it, and Mom warned me to not get pregnant. All I did was grow increasingly afraid of boys.
Wanting to experiment, yet being too afraid of boys to let them know that, I turned to a neighbor girl when I was 12. It lasted only a few months, until she decided she preferred a blonde girl who lived in the next block. I hadn't really felt comfortable with her (she was feminine) and I was glad when it ended. After that, I was attracted to two girls in junior high school, both of whom were tough macho types, though I never let them know how I felt. By the time I was 16, I wanted boys to like me, then refused to believe them when they did. Something inside me insisted they had to be lying. I also was embarrassed by the kind of boy who was attracted to me: nice-boy types, not noticeably masculine, not good at sports. But they didn't fit Mom's ideal male image. They were the kind she ridiculed, so I drove them away and became the kind of lonely teenager who got high grades and never dated.
As soon as I got away from home, I was nearly overwhelmed by two simultaneous compulsions. Almost every time I walked down the street alone I had a powerful urge to become a prostitute. And every time I saw any woman who was not distinctly feminine in appearance, I longed for her to put her arms around me and hold me close. The only thing that prevented me from turning to prostitution at the age of 18 was my fear of pregnancy. According to Mom, the worst thing an unmarried girl could do was get pregnant. It took more than a year for the compulsion to fade. However, the idea remained appealing for years afterward. The allure of macho women didn't go away. I was just too shy to approach them. Instead, I started dating men and discovered that I was popular. Men really did like me"”yet I longed to be seduced by a woman.
One evening while dancing with a man nine years older than myself, I thought, "I can get him to marry me if I want to." My wall was still wrapped so tightly around me that I didn't feel love for anyone. Certainly not for him. In fact, I looked down on him. I felt a sense of power over him, like I was stronger than he was and therefore could get him to do whatever I wanted. I had no idea I was imitating Mom. But I had her same opinion of men and her same desire to be in control"”and her same victim attitude. I had been taking some of my dates to meet her, to see if she liked them. She didn't. She ridiculed all of them except the one I looked down on. He was the only man she never said one word against. I decided again that silence must mean approval. Deep inside I was disappointed. I had hoped she would criticize him so I could have an excuse to reject him as I had all the others, for once she ridiculed them I never went out with them again. I really didn't want to marry him, but now thought I had to. I didn't realize that I had unconsciously sought out Mom's ideal man"”low, vulgar, dirty-minded, and uneducated. He was everything that disgusted me in a man, yet I felt obligated to marry him. I had to gain Mom's love somehow.
The marriage, of course, was a disaster. I wanted out of it almost as soon as I got into it. I felt duty bound to keep it going only because Mom disapproved so strongly of divorce. In a last ditch effort to avoid splitting up I suggested that we go into counseling. He said, "Maybe you need it but I don't. Go by yourself." So I did. My longing for women had died down when I first got married, then came back strongly several months before we broke up. After the divorce, it was overwhelming. When I told this to the counselor he roared with laughter, "You'll never do anything like that!" He no more took me seriously than my parents had. I was furious at his refusal to believe me. I stormed out of his office determined to come out as quickly as possible.
I moved into an apartment in a different neighborhood where no one knew me. For the first time in my life I didn't have to answer to anyone for where I went or what I did. Yet, I kept expecting the sky to fall on me. Mom had warned me that disaster would mysteriously happen the minute I became independent. But nothing happened at all. I started living my life my way, picked my own friends, became gay. And the sky stayed where it was. I was triumphant. I wanted to shout, "Look, Mom, the sky isn't falling! You were wrong!" Then I met Ann and the sky did fall.
It had not taken me long to discover how lonely gay life can be, and I was very lonely the evening I met Ann in a gay bar. I saw her laughing, apparently enjoying herself. So many of my gay acquaintances had a down attitude toward life and were depressing to be around. Her laughter was such a contrast to their gloom; I thought she would be someone to have fun with. Then I looked in her eyes and saw Mom's eyes looking back at me. I became intensely confused. I couldn't tell if I was looking at Ann or my mother. The two seemed to merge into one person. Suddenly, I wanted Mom to hold me and love me, as she had never done when I was a child. I thought that if I let Ann love me, she would somehow, magically, change into Mom, and my mother would love me at last. I encouraged Ann's advances, thereby beginning the mistake of a lifetime. She quickly decided she was in love and moved in with me. Immediately, everything changed. Alone, away from public view, she was angry, depressed, and domineering"”very domineering. Within a few weeks, we were quarreling violently, as she tried to impose her will on me (just as Mom had done) and I tried to resist.
One such quarrel began while we were driving toward our apartment. Ann slammed the car to a stop in front of the building and ran upstairs to pack and move out. I stayed angrily in the car, glad to be rid of her. Then, abruptly, I decided I should go up and be a peacemaker (as I had done for so many years between Mom and my siblings), calm her down, and talk her into staying. Instantly, multiple voices started shouting very loudly, "Let her go! Let her go! Let her go!" They were intense and desperate and seemed to be all around me. I sat there marveling at what I was hearing. Nothing like this had ever happened before, and I didn't know what to make of it. I was so wonder-struck at hearing the voices shout at me that I ignored what they were saying. As long as I sat still the voices continued rapidly, "Let her go! Let her go! Let her go!" But the urge"”and the habit"”of being a peacemaker was too strong. Impulsively, I jumped out of the car and the voices stopped. I never heard them again. I ran quickly upstairs and pacified Ann. She stayed and ultimately nearly destroyed me.
She turned out to be worse than Mom"”with twice as much anger and sarcasm, and even less capable of seeing me as a separate person. Her efforts to force me to be her were ruthless. Sensing that she would not let me go easily, I became more afraid of her than I had been of Mom. After two years, I tried to leave her"”and succeeded for three whole weeks. Then she materialized at my door one evening and begged to stay the night. She spent the entire time crying and imploring me to return. She had been so sick while I was gone. She had almost died of pneumonia. She didn't know if she could survive another attack. By going back to her I would save her life. As she went on and on, I began to feel sorry for her. Finally at four o'clock in the morning, out of pity and exhaustion, I agreed to move back in with her"”and felt my spirit die inside me. For a long time after that I felt like a zombie, a walking corpse. My body moved automatically but I felt no life inside me at all. Nor did I have any hope for the future. She had defeated me.
About a year later, I got an unexpected afternoon off from work. I arrived home about noon and felt strongly aware of being alone, of Ann not being there to dominate me. I stepped into the apartment and was immediately overpowered by an impulse that was waiting for me, like a living presence, just inside the door. It ordered me to commit suicide. It took over my body and propelled me down the hall to the bathroom. I opened the door of the medicine cabinet and reached upward for a full bottle of sleeping pills on the top shelf. As my hand closed around it, I suddenly felt the presence of someone behind me, reaching for it, too. I knew that if I turned around I would see no one; the apartment was empty. Yet I felt someone not quite touching my back, trying frantically to take the pills out of my hand. I could feel the person's agitation. Why would anyone want to stop me from killing myself? In all my life, I never thought anyone cared for me. So who cared so much that he/she was desperately trying to take the bottle out of my hand? Finally I put the bottle back on the shelf and turned around. I was alone. No one was there. Why was it important to stay alive? Was there something in my future to make it worth my while? I began to hope so and decided to go on living in order to find out.
I stayed with Ann one more year. Even though our relationship was similar to that of keeper and prisoner, she seemed not to notice. Once she commented, "You don't laugh any more," but that was all. Finally, as I was approaching our apartment one day, I felt a strong impression from the Spirit that if I didn't leave her I would soon wind up in a mental asylum. That scared me into action. My physical health had deteriorated along with our relationship; I didn't want that to happen to my mind. I told her I was moving out. Until I actually did, she alternated between ordering me to get out and begging me to stay. With my sister's help I moved to a city about 100 miles away and tried to begin my life over. It was very difficult. In the four years with Ann I had turned into a bundle of fear. I spent the following three years in psychotherapy.
Straightening Out My Life
When I left Ann I left gay life. The neuroticism that goes with it had become unbearable. I couldn't take the chance of winding up with someone as bad or possibly worse. But I wasn't able to just jump into straight life"”there was too much about it I disliked or distrusted. I had to settle for being neither/nor for awhile. After a year of therapy, I was able to face beginning the transition from gay to straight. I decided to start with Church. I would go every Sunday and even learn the doctrine"”something I had never done. I called the nearest chapel, got the meeting times, and then panicked. The very thought of going back to church scared me sick. I wasn't like all those Mormons who hadn't had anything go wrong with their lives. I felt so different. I wouldn't know anyone. Would they be friendly? Or snub me?
That Saturday evening, I was visited by two women from my ward. They spent 30 minutes yammering, "Why haven't you been going to church?" I went into high anxiety: what do I tell them?"”certainly not the truth. But they didn't shut up long enough to listen to anything and I didn't have to answer them. By the time they left, I thoroughly disliked them for their nosy questions, their insincerity, and their lack of caring. I lost all willingness to go to church the next day. But Sunday morning, a different woman telephoned to offer me a ride. She was the very opposite of the first two. She was friendly, thoughtful, and kind, and spent months fellowshipping me. She introduced me to everyone she knew in the ward and saw to it that I was fully accepted. I couldn't have gone back to church without her help.
For the next several months I did all the right (outward) things. I went to church every Sunday, paid a full tithing, kept the word of wisdom, and kept the Sabbath day holy. I even started reading scriptures. None of it did any good. I was steadily feeling worse about myself and didn't know why. Invisible walls were closing in on me from all sides and were slowly suffocating me. I began to think I would have to die in order to get free of them. So I very seriously considered suicide and made an amazing discovery; I liked being alive. I really did not want to die. But what else could I do to get rid of the walls? I tried hard to think of something else. Only prayer came into my mind.
I had never tried praying before and didn't know what I might be letting myself in for. Mom had insisted that only weak people believe in God and praying was useless. There was nobody Up There to hear you anyway. Because of her contempt, I felt ashamed to even think of praying, but decided to give it a try. The instant I started to pray, I felt like some invisible person tore off the ceiling of my apartment and leaned in over the top of the wall, jeering at me. Many people joined him, crowding around the walls, pointing, mocking, laughing. I cringed from their ridicule and felt acutely self-conscious and embarrassed. But I was determined not to stop praying. When I finished, I looked up to see if the ceiling was in its proper place, and it was. Still embarrassed, I felt a mild sense of relief, as though I had done the right thing. But I felt nothing else.
Now that I had made my first attempt to pray, I resolved to keep it up. I never again encountered the mockery, but for the next two weeks there was a stiff, unyielding wall sitting in front of me every time I prayed. It stood between me and God. As I continued to pray every day, it slowly faded away, and I began to sense that a vague someone Up There was listening to me. Finally, I could tell it was God. Only then did he become real for me.
After I had been praying regularly for a year, I heard a talk in Sacrament Service that gave me a strong urge to go to the temple. It stayed with me, shouted at me, for a couple of weeks, until I finally talked to the bishop. During the interview, he asked searching, even explicit, questions about my past sexual behavior. I felt obligated to answer him truthfully, only to see him become far more interested in the dead past than in the living present. He was shocked and exclaimed, "Do you know I can excommunicate you for this? I'm going to call the stake president right now!" Then he ordered me to go home and repent. I already had"”over a year ago. His reaction shattered me. He ignored the entire time after I repented, and carried on as though I were still gay. Yet I had spent the past year learning how to live the gospel and I was finally finding purpose to my life. Now he was threatening to take away the only thing that had any meaning for me. If he did, I would have nothing left to live for. I felt blank despair and left his office feeling suicidal.
What I had not known was that the Lord requires confession as part of the repentance process. He forgave my sins the very instant I repented of them, but I still needed to confess them. The stake president turned out to be far more understanding, far kinder than the bishop. He told me to put it all behind me, to not think about it anymore, and to wait until I got married to go to the temple. He radiated gentleness and kindness and Christlike love. I left his interview feeling cleansed.
My transition from thinking gay to thinking straight was a slow process and took several years. Even though I wasn't capable of immediate change, I was capable of making an honest effort to obey God. I prayed about each principle of the gospel as I learned it. When I ran into a principle that didn't make sense, I tried to learn why I should observe it, and prayed about it until I got an answer. Sometimes I gained understanding and insight. Sometimes I felt a strong peacefulness without understanding. When that happened, I lived the principle on faith alone. Eventually the understanding came to me"”months or even years later. There were many things I needed to learn that I didn't know I needed to learn. There were also many blessings the Lord wanted to give me, but he had to wait until I was ready to listen to him.
As a child, I had been programmed to believe that a girl's ambitions should stop with marriage. I used to hear Mom and my aunts jeer, "What do girls need to go to college for? They're only going to get married and stay home anyway." I wound up thinking that I was supposed to get married as soon as I finished high school or I would be a failure. When I got divorced, I was convinced I was a failure. Then, a few months after my divorce, I began to get a strong feeling that I should go to college, but I had no idea why. Yet the feeling persisted through the years I lived with Ann and through the years I was recovering from living with Ann. Finally, in my late twenties, I decided to take it seriously. Going to college would be a drastic change for me because I would be going against Mom's opinion of how I should live my life. I felt like I was planning to betray her. I had to know if I was making the right decision. I didn't know yet that a strong, persistent desire to do something good comes from the Spirit. I needed reassurance from the Lord before I could face such a change. Over a weekend I fasted and prayed for an answer.
On Monday, when I went to work (in a very conservative office), I was startled to see a hippie girl sitting at one of the desks. As I approached her desk she said, "What are you doing here? You don't belong here." I felt an electric shock go straight down through the center of my body. She told me she could see an aura around me that separated me from all the other people in the office. "These people are dead, empty. Get away from them," she told me. "Go where you belong." I had received my answer. I applied for admission to a university and started my freshman year at the age of 31.
During the years before I started college, I had felt hemmed in by my limited existence. My world was so small. It was surrounded by walls of ignorance and "not good enough" that had been built during my childhood. Once I started school, I was awed at the many new things I was learning all at one time. For the first time in my life I was being encouraged to think and analyze and ask questions, instead of being jeered at for doing so. A whole new world was opening up before me, and I felt as though I had come home. Most of all, I stopped feeling low-class and dumb.
In my very first semester, right in the middle of a class, the Lord showed me why I was in college. Like watching a movie, I saw the inside of my mind. It was like a pitch dark room, with a narrow closet enclosed by very high walls in the center of it. Inside the closet a light was burning very brightly. Suddenly, one of the walls flew back several feet. Each of the other walls in quick succession flew back also. Now the closet was larger; the light could shine more brightly. The walls darted back again. The closet grew even larger, and the light shone more brightly than before. Then the walls rushed further and further away from each other until they had gone entirely out of sight. The brilliant light rapidly expanded and completely filled my mind. It shone so far in all directions that I couldn't see where it ended. Then this impression of the Spirit came to me: There is no limit to the horizons of my mind. There is no limit to what I can learn or what I can do. I felt my mind expand in that moment to the edge of the universe. The universe is endless. So is my mind.
Almost from the day I started going to church again it seemed as though everything I read in the scriptures and heard at Church stressed the idea that we must love our families, our neighbors, our fellowman. But I felt no love inside me for anyone. What does it feel like, when you love someone? I didn't know, for I had never felt loved by anyone, and thus didn't know how to give love to others. I prayed about it for three years, but didn't get an answer until I had been in school about a year.
I came home from church one Sunday, walked into my apartment, and felt the Spirit of the Lord abruptly leave me. I was left alone and helpless, unable to resist temptation. Satan gave an order and I obeyed. I had no will to resist. After I obeyed, the Spirit of the Lord returned. I felt ashamed that I had made no effort to resist temptation"”that I had obeyed Satan so willingly. The following Sunday, exactly the same thing happened again. And again the Spirit returned afterward, and I felt shame. The third Sunday, it all happened once more. But this time I was desperate. Why was the Spirit leaving me like that? Each time it happened, I was helplessly enslaved to Satan, even though I didn't want to be. This time I fell to my knees, begging forgiveness of the Lord and asking that it not happen again.
As I prayed, I could see in my mind a heavenly stream of light pouring down through the ceiling directly over my head. It flowed softly down and filled my whole body. It then wrapped itself around me until I was both completely filled and completely surrounded by a warm, comfortable, secure feeling of love. At the same time, I sensed the presence of the Lord standing directly behind me. I knew this love was coming from him. I had no desire to turn around and see him; it was enough to know that he was there. He didn't just give me love so I could know what it feels like. He loved me when I sinned so I would know he loves me all the time, no matter what I do"”not just when I am good. The feeling of being loved filled an aching emptiness inside me. I have felt loved ever since.
Some two years later, I took over the family genealogy from my sister. I discovered that Daddy had never been sealed to his parents, even though all their endowments had been done ten years previously. But did they want to be together forever? Everything I could remember about them indicated that they had disliked each other. As a child, I had witnessed angry shouting matches between Daddy and Grandpa. I had also been aware of the resentment that flowed between him and both his parents. I just assumed they all hated each other. If I had them sealed together, would they be happy or sorry? I almost decided to let the sealing go when a strong desire to be Grandma's proxy began to well up in me. The Spirit urged me to get my own endowments, and I decided to do the sealing, too. June would be a good month, I thought, to ask for a temple recommend. But in February, I began to have the strangest, most glorious experience.
I would be walking down the street when suddenly wild feelings of joyfulness would swoop down on me. I would feel like breaking into an exuberant dance in the middle of the sidewalk. At the same time, I could feel my spirit dancing vigorously away inside my body. The happiness was so strong that I thought I was floating. I had to look down to see if my feet were still on the sidewalk; I fully expected to find them dancing in midair. The glorious joyfulness would last for several minutes and then fade away. Accompanying it was the thought that something wonderful was going to happen in June. The only plan I had for June was getting my endowment, but I didn't see how that could cause such happiness.
As June drew closer, I wanted more and more to know if my father and his parents would accept the sealing. I wasn't even sure they had accepted the gospel. It became very important to know for sure. I got my endowment as planned, then had the sealing done a few days later. I acted as Grandma's proxy. As we started the sealing ceremony, the Spirit of the Lord began to fill the room, becoming more and more concentrated, making the room very bright. The Spirit was above and around me so intensely that I felt almost suffocated by it. The room felt so crowded. After the sealing, as we all left the room, everyone remarked about how powerful the Spirit had been. They all said they had never felt it so strongly before.
I wasn't able to think clearly about what happened until after I got home. Only then did I realize that Daddy and his parents, plus many other deceased relatives, had been present at the sealing. They had accepted the gospel. They had wanted to be sealed to each other. Finally it dawned on me. It was their anticipation of the sealing that had danced so jubilantly inside me the past four months. That was their happiness I had been feeling.
After I had been going to the temple for a year or more, I began considering how I still felt about myself, which was none too good. I still felt guilty for having been gay and I still hated myself for existing. Then I started thinking about all the blessings and spiritual help I had been receiving the past several years. The Lord must have forgiven me or he wouldn't be blessing me so much; therefore I must be worthy of his help. I concluded that it was all right to stop hating myself. While the Lord's forgiveness is instantaneous, self-forgiveness takes longer"”sometimes a lot longer. But it is equally important. What good is his forgiveness if I don't accept it and forgive myself? I started repeating several times a day that it really was all right to forgive myself. After two weeks of effort, I began to feel much better, then realized that forgiving myself had given me peace of conscience.
For the next year after that, at odd moments I would suddenly get a pleasant feeling of anticipation"”a feeling that I was standing on the threshold of a whole new way of life. I kept looking for something unusual to happen that would bring the new life to pass. But without my being aware of it, the change of direction was already going on. Instead of being abrupt, it was a gradual change in purpose, thinking, and desire to serve the Lord. Knowledge and insight were being given to me, but so slowly and easily and in such small doses, that I mostly took it for granted. I was being recycled into a whole new person without even knowing it.
The Last Step
At the end of that year, I learned one more thing I still needed to know. Through the whole of my childhood Mom had tried hard to force me to live my life her way. After I left home, I met other people who tried to do the same thing. But I wanted to think my thoughts instead of their thoughts and look at the world from my point of view instead of their point of view. Why did people object because I wanted to be me instead of them? I prayed about it on and off for years before I found my answer. One evening as I was reading D&C 59, verse 21 brought itself to my attention by rising up off the page and floating about Â¼ inch above the paper. It reads, "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments." Not one word about having to be like everyone else. Not one word about having to conform to someone else's expectations. It was the Lord's way of telling me that it doesn't matter to him how I look or what I do, as long as I am willing to recognize that he is in charge of life itself and as long as I make an honest effort to obey him. That verse said I have the right to be me.
Now there was only one thing left that I needed to do. As part of the recycling process, the Lord had helped me resolve, one by one, the emotional problems that had held over from childhood. But that oppressive feeling of guilt continued to stay with me until it was the only problem left"”guilt over having been born and thereby ruining my mother's life. I didn't know how to get rid of it. I prayed about it through all the years I was being recycled, yet could never find an answer. Then our Stake Special Interest leader announced that there would be a singles retreat during the final weekend of April. As I heard the announcement, I felt a quiet, positive assurance from the Spirit that at the retreat I would solve my final problem.
On a Friday evening a few weeks later, I attended the opening meeting. The retreat director asked us all to fill in a card, stating the most important thing we wanted to gain from being there. Seventy five percent of the participants wanted to know how they could be forgiven. I wrote, "How can I get my mother to love me?" Saturday morning, the director began the general meeting by talking about how guilt hurts us. Then the director's wife spoke about her relationship with her mother. While she was speaking, the inspiration came to me that I should go to Mom and tell her how I had felt when she told me, so long ago, that she didn't love me. As of that moment, I no longer needed to be in the meeting; I had gained what I came there for. I decided to use the remainder of the morning to pray about going to visit Mom.
My intent was to pray about forgiving her for the pain she had caused me as a child. Instead, I heard myself say, "...and I shall ask her to forgive me." The words so surprised me that I stopped in the middle of the prayer to think about them, then realized they were right. The Spirit was telling me what I really needed to do. I had to ask her to forgive me for hating her when I was a child, just because I had thought she hated me. In truth, she had always loved me; she just had not known how to express it. She herself had never felt loved; her own needs had never been met. Therefore she didn't know how to meet mine. In not knowing what to do, she had made many mistakes. And I had hated her for them. Her angry criticism and sarcasm stemmed from disappointment because I had not lived up to her false expectations. But she didn't know they were false. I never had the right to hate her for making mistakes"”no matter how harmful those mistakes had been.
The thought of what I must do scared me. But I resolved to do it anyway. As the resolution settled firmly within me, I felt the burden of guilt lifting from me. Within half an hour it was gone and I was free from guilt for the first time in my life. It has never come back. A month later, on a three-day weekend, I visited Mom. I told her about what happened when I was two, how I had learned to hate her through the ensuing years, and I asked her to forgive me. I had expected her to be stiff, reserved, and wanting to discuss past events. Instead she said, "Oh you poor kid." We wrapped our arms around each other and wept. And with that it was over.
My Recycling Process
The following nine steps summarize the recycling process that I went through in order to heal completely and permanently.
I let God fully into my life and learned to trust him.
I learned to pray meaningfully"”which means that I held personal conversations with Heavenly Father rather than merely reciting words at him.
I allowed God to show me what I needed to work on right now.
I learned what the doctrine of the church had to do with me personally.
I gained knowledge and understanding of myself.
I agreed to obey God (keep his commandments) while I waited for the understanding. This takes patience!
I decided that if God loves me and is helping me and blessing me while I am in the recycling process, then I cannot be as bad as I think I am, and I decided to like myself.
I learned to think straight (like an adult) instead of gay (like a child). It entirely reversed my point of view on just about everything.
I became a spiritual Mormon instead of a cultural Mormon, which I could not do until I had completed step 1 and let God fully into my life.
Copyright © 2003 by Century Publishing. All rights reserved. This article may be photocopied and distributed electronically for non-commercial, educational use.