Forgive this for being on the long side.
When I first moved to New York City over five years ago, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I had never been to the center of the universe, and I felt the excitement swelling inside me as we approached this grand metropolis during that blizzard in February 2003.
I remember wandering very aimlessly on several occasions those first few months, getting lost, maneuvering the subway system, virtually learning by touch. All my senses came alive, and I broke out the journals and started taking some notes.
This is not a new story. Millions of people pass through here. They write of their experiences as a way to deal with being overwhelmed. They write to sort out their thoughts, then to brag, then to mourn the idea of leaving. They write to relive their experiences.
Some experiences I wouldn’t want to have again.
In the beginning, here, my church attendance was very spotty. Membership was increasing and the stake was implementing some major changes in organization, and for a while the situation was crazy. Multiple wards were meeting at the building near Lincoln Center at the same time, and somehow we had to find where we “belonged,” which I did. I felt pretty good, because at least 1,000 people surrounded me who believed the same things I did.
I wondered, though. I let myself wonder: what if I got lost? How easy would that be? This city is definitely big enough; would they look for me? Making friends is tricky in a city like this, especially since I’m a bit introverted and easily intimidated. And while I wanted to reach out, I also wanted to be accepted. I didn’t think I would have to reach out in order to be accepted. At that point, I was feeling pretty self-conscious about my college dropout status, the nice people at church, they were all achievers and accomplishers. I wondered if I could hold my own.
Making friends at work was easier for me. Since I was new, and since I was eager and willing to do anything to keep my job, I took a lot of initiative. I started hanging out with some coworkers. And since my roommate situation was escalating, I made myself busy. I got more acquainted with the city and wandered the (well-lit, heavily peopled) streets until it was time for bed, so that I wouldn’t have to be in that apartment feeling a whole lot more anxiety about him.
So the friends I had did hang out with went to live music or comedy gigs. We had picnics in Central Park. My church attendance became really spotty. And when I moved out of that apartment on the Upper East Side to a studio in Washington Heights, I further separated myself from the church. I actually started going to other churches. The folks at Redeemer Presbyterian are super nice. Their evening service is at 7PM at the Baptist church on 79th Street and Broadway.
That’s when all the sinning really got started. That’s when I gave in to some temptations, mostly concerning the Word of Wisdom. Mormons have a “health code,” stipulating no coffee, non-herbal tea, alcohol, drugs. We’re supposed to eat meat sparingly. Now, I didn’t go out to a farm in New Jersey and devour entire cows. I’ve never done illegal drugs, but the first time someone offered me pot was here in NYC. The first few months – maybe the first year – of living here certainly was trying.
I became a social drinker. That’s really easy to do, especially when I am at a party where everyone drinks, no one (but God!) knows I’m Mormon, and if they do, they don’t know what that “means.” And life is so much more comfortable with a drink in my hand when I’m talking to strangers. And boy, could I chat it up.
My journal over the past few years vaguely references my experience with alcohol. I knew right off considering my size, I couldn’t throw back drink after drink. I never abused alcohol. One time I was out and had two sweet drinks on an empty stomach, then I went home to vomit and I noted-to-self to stay away from the strawberry kamikazes. I didn’t go out every night, because alcohol is expensive. I knew what I was doing was wrong, and sometimes, when I decided to go to church after a “social” evening, I’d let the sacrament pass right by me, and then the guilt would wash over me, and I’d wonder to myself what in the world I was doing. If anyone has wondered, guilt is a great antidote for a hangover, though I’ve never been really hung over, but that’s beside the point, and I’m sure all of you know what I mean.
Nothing is inherently wrong with alcohol. I could easily go overboard with mini-powdered donuts and put my health in similar jeopardy. It’s the principle of obedience I was willfully defying. The Lord was asking a very simple thing of me, and my careful and sensible social activity was essentially telling him I did not care about his commandments, and because I did not care, the distance between us increased, and one day – if you’ve ever had “that day,” you know which day it is and won’t ever forget it — I really needed him, and I felt that distance, and I never felt more alone.
I went through a depression. This was not a high point in my life. I had some issues to work through. This involved so much more than alcohol. Generally, not drinking alcohol is easy – I had spent the previous 26 years of my life of it not being an issue. But my life was not easy, and justifying drinking only added layers to my life that I would only have to peel off later.
So, I started with the peeling.
I have been through three therapists in the past 5 years, the third being the most helpful. We discussed my issues with drinking. I was able to tell them [sic] how alcohol made me feel. They let me talk about my favorite drinks, they let me realize I knew (know) more about mixing drinks than your typical Mormon, which was kind of fun, and for once I didn’t feel like I was going to hell “just” for drinking. I had some perspective and developed the desire to be more obedient. I was grateful to be able to move past that and onto other, deeper issues. About my childhood; about other issues only my therapist and bishop know about. And so continued the next 20 months. We discussed at great length a particular incident of abuse that happened when I was 8 years old.
So sometimes I write, maybe not to relive an experience, but to forget it.
More than 20 years later, this is how I remember that event. I have replayed this particular moment in my mind numerous times; I’ve wondered if it could have happened any other way. I wish I could say for sure it was an isolated incident. I have to admit it hurt more emotionally as an adult than it did as a child, insofar as my awareness was greater. More than 20 years of life are between that part of my childhood and today. I have looked back and seen how my life has played out since. I have analyzed my perceptions of relationships, the blurred boundaries of intimacy and closeness, my inability to trust people as quickly as I would like. Often I have asked myself, instead of reliving the hurt, rekindling the anger, wondering if I’ve truly forgiven, wouldn’t it be better to forget it ever happened?
Memories can be unrelenting. Their power as a consequence of action is just as palpable as my stinging welts from being spanked. Memory’s influence was the basis of my confusion about what is acceptable affection between father and daughter. This was the same man who baptized me. When I was 8 years old.
I remember social workers interviewing me in 5th grade, asking me about my dad. What were they talking about? Why were they looking for him? Yes, he spanked us kids from time to time, and yes, he yelled, but as far as I was concerned he was no monster; he was my dad.
Yet, I was scared of him. A lot.
My heart has been broken, and I have hurt people who were close to me because I didn’t know how (much) to love them.
What should I remember instead? The scriptures constantly remind us to remember Christ. Remember the Atonement. Remember his sacrifice and suffering and triumph over affliction. What does that have to do with me? How does it work? Would it even work for me?
Is forgetting my childhood abuse part of the Atonement? It took a while for me to understand how broadly and deeply the Atonement works. Most apparently, the Atonement is for sinners. Was I a sinner? Was this why I felt guilty so often? How could I fix what I’ve done wrong? Was I not a good enough daughter? I didn’t realize until well into adulthood that in this respect I was not the sinner but the one sinned against.
I suffered the consequences of abuse. I bore the pain of memory. I was unknowingly angry. My own forged relationships crumbled before me because I didn’t know how not to cross physical boundaries. I had no true sense of individual worth. I received numerous priesthood blessings reminding me of how much Heavenly Father loves me, but I began to believe it only within the past few years.
Because of this growing belief, I have been able to acknowledge the different ways sin and its consequences have marred my life. That they have come to my awareness with such clarity is an aspect of the Atonement. And this has allowed room for forgiveness, another aspect. The process didn’t stop. The Atonement was working for me, in me, through me. Christ was taking away my pain. I was healing! I remembered God’s love.
I am still healing. Drinking, once again, has become a non-issue. Over a couple of years of therapy I was able to overcome much of the emotional damage from my childhood. I am no longer scared of my dad. It seems the effects of sin from all those years ago have been remedied. I have put the resulting sorrow behind me, and I have turned forward. Essentially, I have forgotten. I am healthier, friendlier, more confident. And, I know how to love.
He is risen, and I rejoice. I recall the events of more than 20 years ago only to remind myself that remembering Christ is the only and true way to forget. My spirit has been cured. The pain, the anger, and the fear that used to emerge when these memories persisted are gone.