Monday, January 18, 2016

My Confession

Let me begin this post by stating that this is not intended to be a spring-board for people who have a gripe against my religion. If they want to jump into a discussion somewhere else, good for them. I just don’t want this blog entry to be a catalyst for it. This is merely my personal trial, a situation so difficult that I’m not even sure Abby and Ann could help.

Here’s a little history:

I seem to be a magnet for accidents and catastrophes. I’ve had a history of splitting my head open, landing noggin first into a tree from my horse, diving off a sod-hill onto my neck resulting in snapping my collar bone. . .and that’s only the surface of the iceberg. My first car accident happened when I was only three years old, before mandatory car-seats for toddlers. I was jumping up and down in the backseat when the car my family was in got struck from behind in a low-speed fender bender.

In my grade-school years, I liked to plunge into everything, reckless and energetic like most kids. I rode hard, played hard, swam with fury and ran everywhere, usually in bare feet, all summer. Autumn-time, I’d bound through piles of red and gold leaves, rake them up and start all over again. . .and again. In the winter I’d scramble through the snow until dusk, reluctantly going home, red-faced, half frozen and exhausted.

As a teen, I’d go hiking or camping. Sometimes I’d be tick-bit.

In young married life, I had huge babies (nine and ten pounders) and postpartum depression bordering on psychosis. My body was overwhelmed. I didn’t have the opportunity to heal properly and still had to tend to my babies. At the time, my husband was going to tech school, also working full time, and my parents had retired to the sunny southwest.

Over the decades I’ve been in about a half dozen car accidents. Thankfully I was never the cause of those accidents. One was a multi-vehicular wreck in January of 1998. At a two way stop a man dialing his clunky cell phone ran into a large Chevrolet Suburban creating a domino effect. I had the good sense not to “ride” the bumper of the car in front of me, so when I was struck by the Suburban, I didn’t hit the vehicle in front, and she didn’t run into the auto in front of her.

Witnesses setting up a sign at the corner saw my head shatter the back window of the single cab pickup truck that I was operating. I thought my skull had been struck by a baseball bat. I remember the next moment going forward, full force. My safety belt caught me preventing my body from being flung through the windshield. One broken window was enough for one day.

Weeks later I still had an ‘L’ shaped burn mark across my chest and belly! My neck and back were bent but not broken. I was numb at first, sore later, in pain after that. For many weeks, I couldn’t remember my children’s names. I couldn’t lift my kids up. Instead I had to sit down and gather the youngsters into my arms.

Additionally, doctors said my brain had bounced back and forth like a bug in a jar the moment of the collision. I had to teach myself how to do division and math all over again. For a couple months I’d lost my grip on words. I had to learn how to spell some things over again, relearn the meaning of other terms. A simple thing like “hyena” had me stymied. “Stymie” had me stymied!

As a result of my jaws snapping together in the impact, occasionally shards and splinters of broken mandible would work their way to just above my teeth, protrude through my upper gums and descend between my cheeks, into my mouth. I lived with that for nearly two years after the collision. To this day I live with sensitive molars that disintegrate sometimes.

I won’t even go into the legal mess here, but a therapist had to work with me a couple years later to try to get me to not be so hyper-vigilant. Every time I was stopped in traffic, I thought I’d get bashed from behind. He had his work cut out for him; trying to convince me that it was unlikely that I’d be involved in a similar accident. I had a hard time believing him at first because a year after the multi-vehicular collision, a driver behind me kept going even though I’d stopped for traffic, bumping my fender. Another time, I was at a stop sign, when a woman ran into my automobile. If I hadn’t been stopped, she would have gone right into the cross traffic. She explained that she'd turned around to talk to her three-year-old and didn’t realize there was a stop sign. After all that, my psychotherapist tried to convince me that it was unlikely I’d get killed in a similar accident.

He was right. It’s been decades since my last vehicular collision, but if you look several posts down, you’ll read about my train wreck. My PTSD is so enormous it should have its very own zip code.

I still live with body aches every day and many I can tune out – except one. Since the train collision, I have a nerve in a place next to my spine, a part of my back that I cannot easily reach. Several times a day that nerve will go into an itching, fluttering, burning electrical frenzy. I try to ignore it, but just before I fall asleep, or while sitting down to watch a movie, or in church, the little lightning storm starts up again. If I don’t have a back scratcher close by, I do my little dance to try to reach the spot. I am just grateful there is no pain associated with that particular nerve.

Decades ago, I used to sleep soundly. Nothing would disturb or rouse me. Now, many times I awake in fear. Just three short weeks before the train accident, I’d had major surgery, a hysterectomy and a tummy tuck. (It was less a vanity issue and more of what to do with all that extra hide from carrying enormous babies. The doctor suggested the procedure and I gratefully accepted.) The skin over my belly was still raw. I think sitting in the Nevada desert, watching the train that my family had just been on go up in flames, burn and melt, imbedded a fear into my abdominal cells. Their receptors seem to be highly sensitive to adrenalin. I say this because when I have that fleeting terror that casts me out of my elusive slumber, I feel like I am at the top of a roller coaster, just beginning my descent. Maybe it’s a descent into madness. Only time will tell.

I'm narrating this not to gain sympathy but to set the scene for my present situation.

My problem today is that I am too fearful to sleep at night. Consequently I am so tired after a night of trying to escape my dreams that I’m too exhausted to get out of bed. Some family members also have issues and if they are visiting and we argue, it can take hours, sometimes days for me to settle down to some sort of normalcy. Many mornings I awake to music in my head. (The thrumming and drumming have been there most of the night, I know, because I wake up to it sometimes hours before my alarm blares.) I listen to Christian music or the golden-oldies during the day, then relaxation music just before I go to sleep, but sure enough the inner-march is there again with the sunrise. If it’s a day that I don’t have to go to work, I roll back over and cry, trying to catch a few more winks, but the song remains.

One evening, after an especially horrific argument, my skull was throbbing. No pain thankfully, but I thought I was going to have an aneurism. My cousin, who is not an active member of the “Mormons” as she calls the Church, has excruciating headaches when the barometric pressure drops, just before severe weather sets in. The spells are so bad, she cannot think or see. No matter what her family doctor recommends, it doesn’t work, so she takes a few sips of wine cooler and can sleep soundly. She and I have similar issues with thick blood and dehydration issues. I was given some pain pills about ten years ago and the darned things made me stop breathing. Some other ones designed to stop my heart from racing lowered my heart rate drastically, enough to cause me to come near to fainting. Some other anti-seizure samples that a doctor (a friend of my family) prescribed, made me loopy for three days afterwards. Reticent, I took a cue from my cousin. I was coughing anyway, so I purchased some Drambuie, my dad’s old stand-by for coughs and colds. I drank half a glass. The throbbing subsided and I slept better than I had in years! (Incidentally, the rest of my family had that cough for a whole week. I didn’t.)

I still don’t believe in social drinking, but medicinally, once every several weeks, a drink has helped me. I didn’t go to the temple during this period, but it was soon time to renew my temple recommend. One of the requirements is the observance of the Word of Wisdom, a tenet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Introduced in the 1830s, you could say the “W of W” was before its time. It cautioned against the use of tobacco when smoking was believed to be healthful for the lungs. Before caffeine was even identified, hot drinks such as coffee were proscribed. Hard liquor was also against church policy and specifically named in the W of W. Grains and plants in their time and season are recommended. (That verse sounds similar to the new-age thinking of grow your own or shop locally.) Yes, the Word of Wisdom was well before its time and just as much a blessing now as it was then. If you want more information, you may look it up online. It may be found in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 89.

I‘d like to point out, the excessive use of meat is likewise cautioned against. The W of W says to eat meat sparingly, in thankfulness, because the lives of those animals that God has created are precious to Him. We are advised to consume meat in times of famine or winter when there is no harvest. Yet, many Mormons can down a steak so fast it will make your head spin.

The faithful also eat boundless amounts of candies, cookies and baked goods. They drink gallons of sweet beverages, enough to drown a moose. When my non-Mormon niece and her boyfriend visited Utah a few years ago, they were in awe of the large families they saw everywhere, eating ice-cream or hanging out at places like “Swigs” known for its syrupy confections. I explained that with the Word of Wisdom in place the only fun for us Mormons was sex and sugar. They got a chuckle out of that.

Recently my friend and old neighbor Devin* went back to college. His kids were grown and the down-turn in the economy led him to a place where finishing his degree was necessary. Aside from being tired, he also seemed more edgy than usual. His wife Marlow* confided that he was consuming several cans of caffeine-laden energy drinks a day! He was getting maybe three to four hours of sleep per night at this point. Here I was striving unsuccessfully for seven to eight hours of sleep and getting out of bed in the morning, feeling like a depressed slug. I was working two jobs, writing and managing several Facebook groups and pages.

One day, caving in to my weaknesses, I got an iced coffee so I wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel. My morning got better. In fact, I felt happy all day! The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. (No, to answer your thoughts, this is not a daily routine. I’ve only had one more since.)

So, as I said before, it was time for me to renew my temple recommend. I confessed all to my bishop, a requirement during the interview. At that meeting, I didn’t bring up my cousin and I didn’t bring up my friend, or even the countless others that I know who are members in good standing that drink coffee (for their slow-beating heart conditions) or alcohol that doctors have prescribed them. This was between me and my bishop. I told him everything I stated here. He asked me why I just didn’t take a prescription (because we all know big pharma isn’t named in the W of W so tranquilizing is okay. Massive amounts of energy drinks are not hot drinks -- so also okay.) I told him about the pills I’d been prescribed in the past decades and how they nearly killed me. I also told him that I awake refreshed after a small occasional drink at night of Drambuie or Irish cream. The man truly is kind and concerned, but never-the-less his face got a little red. I did not get my recommend that afternoon, but instead was prescribed counselling. That did not help. We even did a little family therapy so that my troublesome family members and I could get along, but that didn’t help with the anxiety and PTSD.

Still wanting to feel the peace that attending the temple brings, I met again with my bishop a couple months later. At that visit I told him I knew of people who have “prescriptions” from their doctors for over the counter remedies such as wine, coffee . . .and cannabis oil for their seizures. He wished me luck trying to get a doctor to write a script for me. (All but one of the doctors near my winter home in the west is Mormon.) Consequently, I am without a recommend and I still have my issues.

I live with guilt. It’s there riding my PTSD like a cowboy rides a wild bronco, digging its heels into my psyche with cold, sharp spurs.

There’s nobody I can talk to. If I speak to family, all but one of them gives me a shunning look of condemnation, no love, no compassion. If I talk to other members of my church, they may question their faith and I’m told questioning is dangerous for them. I’m also afraid that they may avoid me like I’m a porn star or a Democrat. Likewise it’s a reasonable concern that the value of my youngest daughter as a possible marriage partner for a good man will go down several notches. (Sorry, Honey, it’s out there now.) So until now I remained in silence – alone.

I did talk to some homosexual friends. I only see these guys once a year, so I really do not have a consistent sounding board. They wanted to know when the Church will lift its ban on gay marriage. I contended that I felt the Word of Wisdom is a bigger issue, explaining that many more church members are having problems with new substances that were not widely used centuries ago. Some didn’t even exist when the W of W was revealed to Church membership by Joseph Smith. The world now has marijuana, high-fructose corn syrup, GMOs and energy drinks to name a few. I asked my friends if they imbibed in coffee or alcohol. They said they did, agreeing that the Word of Wisdom, despite its healthful benefits was a greater issue for a greater number of individuals.

Despite the guilt and isolation, I will not go back to the insanity of sampling prescriptions. With my pharmaceutical history, it could be deadly. I think back to Betty* a Relief Society president from the next town over. One weekend, she made sure all the ladies under her watch were cared for. The mothers with newborns had meals set up for them for the next two weeks. Some neighborhood women whether at the hospital or home recuperating from surgery were also covered. Betty talked to her best friends, made sure their lives were going smoothly. She met with her counselors. That Sunday morning Betty was found cold and stiff, dead from prescription pills. The lady that told my group was the deceased’s best friend. She said her pal had not intentionally overdosed. There weren’t many missing capsules from the new Rx. Betty’s good heart was just so focused on the needs of others that she required something to calm her nerves. Those pills worked so well that she died in her sleep, calm. Serene.

I think I know what Abby and Ann would do. Maybe they’d suggest I sit down for more therapy. I will try more analysis. They’d suggest that I discuss my problems further with my “ecclesiastical” leader or even recommend another church. Well, I intend to stay in my church (and I will discuss why in a future entry).

Oh, Abby! Ann! Help!!!

*Names have been changed.

A Sideshow Journey by Liesa Swejkoski

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