While Friends Sleep

Today’s guest post comes from Leslie Nelson. A dog, five kids, and a husband keep Leslie very busy.  To keep her sanity she also reads, plays chess, and blogs at http://lesliesillusions.blogspot.com

One Sunday, I decided to go to Relief Society. Yes, decided; it was a measured decision I made weekly whether or not to go. Being the ward librarian gave me a bit of leeway. I thought about it carefully each week, considered the lesson title and wondered if going would cause me more pain.

I know pain is not a word that most sisters would associate with Relief Society, at least I hope not, but so it is for me. I am working with a therapist to heal from years of childhood sexual abuse. I wish I could just forget it and move on, but the healing process doesn’t work that way. One cannot just let go the pain of abuse any more than one could just let go of cancer.

Quite often at church seemingly innocent things hurt me. For example, once in Relief Society I was given a quote to read. It was something about the importance of family, how it is something we all long for. My husband and children are wonderful, and yet I am still haunted by the pain of the past. I am only now allowing myself to grieve for the lack of love I felt as a child. I held that quote in my hands and looked at it as the urge to crumple it up grew within me. When the tears were too close, I handed it to the sister next to me and fled to the bathroom to cry.

I’ve spent many Sundays crying in the bathroom. That last Sunday in Relief Society turned out to be another. The Presidency lesson was on Christ and becoming more Christ-like. This is a lesson that I would have loved in the past. I agreed with Pres. Spencer W. Kimball who said, “No matter how much we speak of Him, it is never enough.” Now though, I cringed. I feel such shame because of what happened to me as a child. My mind tells me it is completely illogical, but my heart does not care. We are counseled not to watch R-rated movies, and yet I have X-rated memories. How can I not feel shame?

I sat there listening to the lesson and becoming more and more uncomfortable. There was a musical number, “If the Savior Stood Beside Me”. I could not fathom the Savior standing beside me because of the shame that I feel. I hoped that perhaps He understood and could bless me in some other way. The tears came as I wondered, if that were the case, would I feel so alone in His church?
I managed to wait until the end of the song, but then I fled. I went to the bathroom and sobbed. Desperately not wanting to be alone, I returned to Relief Society. Afterwards, I walked across the room and asked my friend in the Relief Society presidency to give me a hug. Then I went to find my family.

All those sisters listened to a lesson about being more Christ-like. Most of them know I am going through a hard time. Most of them saw me crying as I left (from the front row) and returned. Most of them saw me give a tearful hug to my friend. And yet, none offered a hug or asked “Are you ok?” No one called me during the week. No one emailed. No one visited.

The two years I have been in therapy have been the loneliest of my life. My ward members know I am struggling. Often members see my husband at his job and ask him how I am doing. But they never ask me. I suppose they all think someone else will do something. Someone else will say something.

I don’t go to Relief Society any more. I dread Sundays, but through it all, I find some comfort in the Savior’s experience in Gethsemane. While He suffered pain far greater than my own, His friends slept too.

27 thoughts on “While Friends Sleep

  1. Leslie: Oh, I am sorry that you are trying to manage so much pain. I have some childhood trauma, but not to the degree that you describe admittedly, in vague terms (appropriate for this venue). I pray that you can find some peace and comfort as you walk that difficult path towards healing. I pray that divine forces will seek you out and comfort you. May tender mercies appear. They may show up in unexpected places, but I plead with heaven that these mercies will reveal themselves.

    I have seen women with cancer or with unemployment or with psychological struggles receive the wrong (or no) response from their fellow sisters. It’s totally crappy, but I get a sense that the community needs to be trained on how to respond.

    A woman I know who had stage 2 breast cancer had to train her ward how to serve her, how to ask the right questions, how to view her as in need but not as a victim. She was trying to manage so much as a cancer patient and as a wife/mother having to renegotiate her roles, it was another burden to “train” her RS sisters, too. But they had never had the experience of being close to someone that young & with that degree of cancer (in her mid 30s!), and they were doing nothing or the wrong thing from lack of experience and maybe a little bit of fear.

    I pray that even just one woman in your ward will make an inquiry, even if subtle, even if it’s just to look you in the eye and smile. Then maybe she can be your advocate and direct others’ attention to how to best address your pain. Just one or two sisters offering comfort now and then, even in small ways, would be a blessing.

    If I were a musician, I’d come play something hopeful and calming for you. May the music of the spheres whisper peace and comfort to you this Sabbath day.

  2. Relief Society is often a great source of pain for me as well, though for completely different reasons. I never think to look around and see if I can comfort others. Thank you for the insight and reminder.

  3. There have been many moments of RS being a source of pain for me. I am on the opposite side of the fence, I prefer women and friends to NOT talk about it. To NOT ask me how I’m doing it, I can manage the pain much easier without constant awkward reminders.

    I wonder if they are trying to help you avoid more pain. Thank you for the reminder that people hurting need different things . . .

  4. I have struggled with depression over half of my life and have had several days I had been crying. I never want someone to come talk to me. It always embarrasses me more when I have to verbalize to someone else what is causing me pain. I appreciate the distance to grieve. I wonder if they are trying to offer you the same distance. I would certainly hope they are not that unfeeling.

  5. Hoping others will show concern and compassion for our pain can be a double-edged sword. I always thought I wanted sisters to ask how I was doing when I was obviously in distress, but then I had two miscarriages and I realized that some of the sisters who approached me to try and “comfort” me actually needed to process grief of their own and were asking me how I was doing, only to turn it around and make it about them–which just offended me and gave me greater pain than before.

    In my experience, if we are are ready to talk about our pain and start processing it, I think it’s a huge step toward better emotional health to ask for what we need, to find a sister we trust and say, “Can I talk to you, will you listen without judging, without giving advice? I just need someone to listen.” When we ask for what we need, we validate ourselves, rather than seeking for outside validation. Waiting for others to notice our pain keeps us in a place of weakness, actually, where we are expecting others to intuit our needs rather than taking responsibility and asking for help when we need it.

  6. P.S. I hope I didn’t put my foot in my mouth or sound condescending–that wasn’t my intent. I think it’s a good idea to wait to attend church meetings when you’re just not ready to be around lessons or people that bring up painful feelings. In dealing with my own pain, I’ve found that the Lord is merciful and meets us where we’re at, so if we’re not ready to deal with RS, he companionship will manifest in our lives in other ways.

  7. Many people think it’s rude or intrusive to approach people who are crying. They are not without sympathy, but they see things differently. I pretty much always speak out and approach others, but I’ve been scolded for it. I don’t resent the scolders; nor do I chastise myself. We simply see it differently.

    It’s possible that your friends are giving you space to deal with what you’re going through and respecting what they perceive as a need for privacy.

    I’ve had struggles and experiences similar to yours and I have come to believe that those of us who have suffered need to also forgive those in our present who are clueless, but well-meaning.

    And it’s possible that some feel “enough, already.” In this, we who have endured more than others, need to cut them some slack.

  8. I think one of our greatest challenges, as saints, is to learn how to truly help one another bear our burdens, to mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.

    I am more sorry than I can even say that you have suffered through so much trauma and are living through painful memories which are horrifying.

    I do believe that we don’t talk enough about the Savior’s atonement. I have come to believe that the only way God is a just and merciful God is that the atonement not only allows us to be cleansed from our sins, but that when we are victims of others evil actions and sins, that the atonement does offer total and complete healing. This I believe. But in saying so, please don’t think that I think that it is a simple matter. I don’t pretend to know how it happens, but I have faith and hope that it does.

    May God grant you that healing and peace. And may we all learn to be more loving, compassionate, and kind to our fellow Relief Society sisters.

  9. I am so sorry for your loneliness and difficulty. This kind of thing can be so hard for people–approaching someone else in pain. After a sad miscarriage in which I felt very alone, one of the few who approached me was one of the counselors in the bishopric. He just sat down and asked how I was doing–not intrusively, not to unload his problems, but (I sensed) to allow me to share or talk (if I wanted). I felt such love and kindness from him. I didn’t blame the others who knew but didn’t say anything–I think they just didn’t know how to approach me but it made me consider about how I deal with and approach others in crises. I think it is better when you know someone is struggling to make a gesture or an approach that shows you care and then allow them to dictate how much (if any) they share. I did not expect anybody to do or say or solve anything for me (they couldn’t anyway) but I really appreciated the care I felt from those who did try and extend a comforting hand.

  10. Your friends aren’t sleeping; they’re watching helplessly, unsure of what to do. It sounds as if you are still in the victim stage and at that point about all anyone can do is watch you cry and feel sorry for yourself. You have been through a horrible thing that no child should ever even be on the periphery of, let alone experience. But thank God you lived through it and will someday be in the position to help someone else in pain.
    You now have the opportunity in your life to teach your children that while we don’t have control over the hard things that happen to us, we don’t have to let them control us. We deal with it the best we can, keep a positive attitude, and keep moving forward. Everyone has hard things in their life. Who else was sitting in your RS room with a broken heart while you were crying and wanting comfort? Did you notice? It’s a two-way street. I think you’ll find that if you are giving and comforting to others, it will also be returned to you.
    If you truly have needs that aren’t being met, you need to do your part in addressing them instead of hoping someone will notice and figure it out. You have two visiting teachers. Their job is to help you. Tell them what you need. If it goes beyond their capacity, the RS is equipped to deal with that.
    You have the power to change the direction of your thoughts when they rest on a bad memory. When something in RS makes you cry, you have the ability to stop that thought and think instead of your blessings. You can’t change your past but you can change how it affects your future.
    I have no idea what you’ve gone through, but I do know what I’ve gone through. I, also, have been abused. I buried my first child as an infant, and I am now raising my two remaining children without their father as he was killed two years ago. Somethings make me cry but I am too grateful for what I’ve had and currently have in my life to dwell on the hurts. That’s why Christ was in Gethsemane.
    I hope you are able to help yourself through your pain, that you can give to others what you need for yourself, that your children are able to benefit from your loss, and that you experience the emotional healing that is available through Christ.

  11. Curious, what did you say when friends asked “Are you okay?” Because your response did not result in the mid-week care your heart so desperately needed, I would suggest a different reply: “I’m not doing okay, in fact, I’d love to have someone to talk to. Are you free [specific]day to come over for lunch?” I’d have said “go grab coffee” but that doesn’t work in this particular religion. ;)

  12. I want to share my testimony that I know the Savior feels only love toward those who are victims of abuse.

    You said: ““If the Savior Stood Beside Me”. I could not fathom the Savior standing beside me because of the shame that I feel.”

    If He were beside you you would be embraced completely in His peace and love.

  13. Leslie, my heart goes out to you. I cannot imagine the pain you are experiencing. My daughter suffered horrific abuse at the
    I do know that the Lord loves His daughters. Please remember that you are a divine creation, and that your abuse does not define or lessen your infinite worth. Here is a hug across the miles from someone who does not know you but wishes she did :)

  14. I think (hope) that maybe people just don’t know what to say, or don’t want to say the wrong thing or they’re occupied with their own problems.

    I’m sorry something so horrific happened in your childhood, and I’m glad you’re getting therapy. I hope the people around you can be inspired to offer comfort.

  15. This broke my heart. I’m sorry you haven’t yet found the friends you can trust to hold your heart carefully for you, but I believe you will find them. They are prepared for you. I hope that you will find them quickly.

  16. If the Savior stood beside you, you would feel the most overwhelming, indescribable peace,comfort, and love because He is the only one who knows EXACTLY what you’ve gone through and felt because He felt it all too in Gethsemane when he suffered the pains, sicknesses, and sins of the world. He knows exactly what every victim has felt; He felt it too. THAT is why the Atonement is so important to understand. It is not just about sinners being able to be forgiven, but it is about victims understanding that there IS someone who knows exactly all the horrid feelings they’ve felt and that He is the One who can take away all that poison and make you new again. Grab hold of that thought, and rely on the power of the Atonement to carry you through and heal you.

    People are giving you the space they think you want. Seek out one or two sisters whom you think you can talk to, and ask them, as others have suggested, to come over or go to lunch with you, so that you can have people that you can lean on to help you through, and those women, in return, can know that they can ask you how you’re doing, or follow you out to the bathroom then next time you leave Relief Society.

    I’ve read way too many blog postings about women telling about all the rude/insensitive/nosy things that people have asked/said to them to ever say anything to anyone unless I feel that I am in their inner circle and have the right to ask about their personal life.

    Blessings to you!

  17. Leslie,

    This really resonated.

    I have been actively healing from childhood sexual abuse for eleven years.

    Sometimes in the healing process the people around you will help recreate the situation that enables you to fully purge the memory.

    As a child no doubt you were screaming with symptoms, but nobody, especiall thise closest to you, noticed or said anything.

    As you are healing this recreation of similar responses from those around you, as cruel as it may feel, actually can help you realize how truly alone and overlooked you are.

    Whenever I have had these seemingly irrational responses to the loving people around me, including therapists, I quietly remind myself that it makes sense that I am remembering things that happened to me while an infant or child and I revert to childlike responses and behavior to those around me.

    Hope this helps you to understand yourself better. When I found myself in this state of mind, especially when I was around my five children I would quietly excuse myself for an hour or so and hide away up in my room and just allow myself to feel what I was feeling.

    I like to believe I am through the worst of this, but it has been quite a ride.

    Praying for you and all who suffer.

    Jenny Hatch

  18. I wouldn’t know what to say or how to comfort someone in this situation. When I need to cry, I go do it in private. I don’t want anyone asking me about how I’m feeling. Part of that stems from when my mom died, if I broke down and cried my dad fell apart, my brothers couldn’t deal, and my daughter struggles to handle it and comfort me. So I feel like I have to hold it together to be the strong one.

    My heart aches for you.

  19. Thank you so much for sharing your story here and in your blog. I felt so sad, heart broken and angry after reading it. Thank you for writing. I like this quote by John Donne. It reminds me about our interconnectedness: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
    I want to know how you are doing, because your suffering concerns me too. I hope one day you will be healed and feel better. I wish you will not have to feel lonely again. EVER. I wish you might find people who will be willing to share your burden and make it lighter for you to carry.

  20. I keep a lot of my struggles to myself because I am afraid of well meaning people saying something they hope will be helpful that will actually twist the dagger in my soul a little more. But at the same time I know that they are just doing what they think will be helpful.

    In our limited life experiences we often do not know how to succor those that stand in need of succor. But the Savior does. There are some truly Christ-like people in my life who have been inspired about how to reach out. And the Savior has softened my heart enough to let them.

  21. Thank you so much for this post. I am so grateful for my angel brothers and sisters who’ve helped me in my recovery from childhood sexual abuse. Some really helpful resources I’ve found include conference talks from Richard G. Scott (God bless him) and a remarkable address on childhood sexual abuse from Chieko Okazaki. Prayers for you Leslie. God bless Linda Garner for writing children’s books to educate families about this important topic. My heart goes out to you. I pray that God will bless me with a husband and family… my big sister too. I know God will judge us and our abusers with perfect understanding and that He makes healing so available to us through His atonement. He knows. He loves us. He gives us so much to be happy about. lisahigbee.blogspot.com

  22. I wish you were in my ward. We would go to lunch and sit on my porch swing and talk for hours. I can feel your hurting heart and my heart wants to tell you how beloved you are, how wrapped in grace and tenderness. You will feel that peace someday and it will so sweet to you because it will have come after so much hurt. And when you feel it, you will look around and see who else needs to feel it and you will be the one who gives that gift to someone else. Your fight it worth all of the work you are putting into it. I’m so proud of you.

    You are in my prayers.

  23. Leslie,
    Thank you so much for sharing something so deeply personal. I too have been fighting my way through the long dark tunnel of healing for years. I had so many repressed memories. Your courage and grace are truly remarkable. The truth is that while there are “angels” of healing in our lives there is only so much comfort that they can offer. The only way out of that tunnel of pain and shame is to keep walking through it. Know that Christ walks with you arm in arm every step and he will NEVER leave you alone. My suicide attempts failed because he spoke to me in that still small voice, my attempts to heal work because he trumpets my worth to me in my heart and soul. He sends me a beautiful sunrise or the smile and hug of my grandchild when I am at my lowest to strengthen my heart. He will send those people to you who will know just what you need. The sisters in your ward are all stumbling through this dimly lit landscape of human existence in faith too. Be patient with them, they will come through as soon as they know what you need from them. My prayers are with you for strength and courage dear sister, keep fighting, keep praying; this too shall pass.

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