Monday, April 8, 2019

Self-Critical Grip of Perfectionism

I think that it’s really important to take the time to make sure that we are all aware that
nobody is a perfectionist because they are an idiot. We don’t get caught in these patterns of
thinking because we are just too stupid to figure something else out. Patterns of belief and
thinking such as these are formed and grow and solidify because at one point they worked for
us. Sometimes they worked because we lived in an abusive or chaotic home that rewarded self-critical thinking because it kept you from being too difficult, or annoying, or it kept you out of the
way. In less traumatic circumstances, self-critical/perfectionistic beliefs and thought patterns
simply were a way of making sure that you were generally liked, that you performed well in
school, or that you could avoid feeling guilty when you went to church.

I am a firm believer that as humans, we don’t and won’t do the same thing over and over
again, unless some part of us (whether conscious or subconscious) believes that there is some
payoff. We don’t make the same choices, engage in the same behavior, or indulge the same
beliefs unless there is some form of benefit. This benefit or payoff is not always healthy or even
objectively positive, but it’s important to understand that we don’t do things for no reason. Even
a small shift in my seat has a reason (the reason may not be all that meaningful, but still…it’s
there). This perspective is very easily applied when understanding the role of self-criticism, and
it is essential to understand its functional role in order to overcome it.

The perfectionist walks around all day every day with a self-critical/negative grip on their
brain. Think of the most sinister and strong hand you can imagine, literally clutching onto and
gripping your brain in its strength. Everything the perfectionist thinks, says, and does, is filtered
through this grip of self-criticism so that even positive things are distorted so that the person
questions their own motives and intentions. I have talked to so many people living with this grip
on their brain who frequently and regularly devalue their own acts of kindness or goodness by
convincing themselves when it’s over, “I only did it because it was easy,” or even “I just did it
because I wanted to feel good about myself.”

When a person is stuck in the grip of perfectionism every glance at a mirror is a cringe
about being the wrong size. Every Sunday School lesson is a lecture about what a slacker you
are. Every success of those around you is a reminder of how poorly you are performing and that
you’ll never be good enough.

When a person recognizes the need for a change, often times that change comes in the
form of trying to strengthen another grip. Because the perfectionist is accustomed to living in
extremes, the obvious answer to deal with this negative grip on the brain, would be to work at
strengthening positivity until it is strong enough to unravel and beat away the self-critical grip. A
perfectionist will see going to therapy, posting positive thoughts in their bathroom, and repeating
complimentary affirmations to themselves as a sort of positive thinking “workout” that will get
stronger and stronger until it can beat out that negative grip and hold our brains in a grip of
happiness and sunshine! The task is to fight hard enough and long enough to strengthen
positive thinking to the point that I finally believe these things are true.

There are a few things that I dislike about this concept of positive thinking. First, it seems
to support a pattern of only being comfortable living in extremes. If the answer to my extreme self-
criticism is to work hard at getting myself to believe the exact opposite is true all of the time, I’ve
 exchanged one extreme for the other and with it established the same potential of a different, but
equal crash. Secondly, I dislike this view of strengthening positive thoughts to beat out the negative
ones because it is knowingly and actively creating more reasons for a fight in your head. This, is
not ideal as the perfectionist already has plenty of internal fighting going on and won’t be served
by additional fights, even fights disguised as cute quotes about being awesome. Finally, the third reason I’m not a fan of this perspective has to do with the hard realities of being a perfectionist. Day to day living and existing in a brain that is gripped by self-criticism is exhausting. Things that objectively don’t require that much energy become draining because the uphill battle against that inner-voice makes each step of the process heavier and more important than it needs to be. It can be draining to the point that getting out of bed seems like a giant task. I have had several conversations with people who feel like they are drained from “trying” all day but a review of the day’s activity reveals that not much was physically done, but the battle being fought in their head was raging all day.

This was certainly the case for me as a young Missionary in Taiwan. From the moment I woke up
until the moment I laid my head down on the pillow at night I was fighting with myself. I did my best to be friendly and come across as easy going and put together, and saved moments like biking behind my companion or sitting in the bathroom to cry angry tears to myself, insisting that I wasn’t trying hard enough and to “pull it together! You’re supposed to be sharing happiness for crying out loud!” Through the hardest parts of my struggle with this self-critical grip, whenever there was some sort of suggestion that implied putting an effort into strengthening positivity, I wanted to say, “with what energy are you suggesting I do that? Because it’s taking pretty much all I have just to be awake and alive right now.” 

A perfectionist’s energy is robbed by that critical grip. It drains all day into wishing they
were someone else, longing for the day when they finally figure things out, regretting decisions
made years ago, and worrying about not ever being good enough. This being the case, a
suggestion that relief will only come by exuding more energy often feels hopeless and

The task required in order for a perfectionist to find peace then is not a matter of fighting,
but a matter of realizing that the formidable grip holding the brain captive is, in fact, of their own
creation and under their own power and one needs to, essentially, let go. In letting go of that grip, a
person gives themselves permission to exist exactly as they are in this moment. This deliberate
letting go of criticism, of wishing, longing, regretting, and worrying allows a person to be present
with themselves, accepting the reality: “I am who I am. I am where I’m at. It is what it is.”

The perfectionist has a complicated relationship with the word “acceptance.” The
complication most often stemming from a lack of understanding of what it means. Frequently,
acceptance is used synonymously with words like “approval” or “support.” A perfectionist both
longs for and fears self-approval. Theoretically it would be so relieving to believe that oneself
was good enough and deserving of approval, but in practice, a perfectionist is certain that there
is no difference between self-acceptance and giving up, settling, or being totally complacent.
Perfectionism has established safety for itself by convincing the Perfectionist that it is doing an
important job. It settles in comfortably behind the lie that it is the only thing motivating the
person to do good, to try hard, or accomplish anything.

When we discuss self-acceptance (at least the kind of acceptance required for “letting
go” of self-criticism) we are not talking about approval. We are talking about acceptance in the
most simple terms possible. Most often, when I have had this discussion with clients I will refer
to some piece of furniture in the room, like the chair I’m sitting in. I will state, “I accept the reality
of this chair’s presence in this room right now…it’s here. It is what it is. I haven’t said anything
about this chair being awesome or awful, I’m just being present with it here as it is.”
This type of self-acceptance: “I am who I am. I am where I’m at. It is what it is,” is so
simple that our complex human brains, particularly a perfectionist brain, will initially refuse to sit
with it for any length of time, disregarding the practice as a useless waste of time and
demanding that a person immediately jump to judgements and then, just as quickly, jump to “…
and what are you going to do about it?!” This was, admittedly, my difficulty with the concept of
mindfulness as a whole when I was first introduced to it. This paying attention and being present
with oneself sounded like a bunch hippy nonsense and I disregarded it as useful to anyone that
didn’t already enjoy yoga or already have some formal practice of deep breathing (a suggestion
many people bring up to cope with anxiety, but few people ever actually do because the source
of anxiety is complex and deep breathing is just too easy). I was impatient with the idea of sitting
with oneself or sitting with the reality of how things are and was anxious to start moving into
problem solving. Convinced, that if a person is unhappy with the way things are, the only useful
application of acceptance is to identify what you hate so that it can be changed.

For a person really struggling with self-acceptance, it might be helpful to start with what
could be termed “self-acknowledgement.” In the way that a person, walking up to a pool might
first identify and acknowledge the existence of the pool before getting in, it might be easier to
approach self-acceptance from a clearly observational point of view. One can figuratively step
outside of themselves and looking back at themselves identify: “He/she is who she is. He/she is
where they are.” As this acknowledgement becomes easier to access, it might feel like less
intimidating of a jump to start being present with, “I am who I am.”

After some discussion and practice, it usually doesn’t take too long before a person is
able to feel the relief that comes from letting go of that self-critical grip, allowing themselves to
just exist as they are without it. Initially, that feeling of relief literally only lasts a few seconds.
The perfectionist has been so well conditioned to respond to any situation with self-critical
thinking that letting go of it feels awkward and scary, like letting go of the side of the rink the first
time a person goes ice-skating. It feels exciting and one gets the sense that they want more and
more of it, but because it’s unlike any sensation they’ve experienced before, the moment a
thought, feeling, or interaction comes along that sparks a reflex to judge, that grip has latched
back on as fast as a new skater would put out a hand to catch themselves when falling. It is an
interesting phenomenon to observe in a clinical setting. There is literally a different feeling in the
room when a person is able to let go of that grip. They are observably lighter and more hopeful.
The weight of their own critical voice being dismissed is a very real and obvious transformation.
However, without fail, it returns, latches on, and grips as tight as it ever did before. So often
there comes a point when a client will ask the ironic question, “how do I hold onto that feeling?!”

“Letting go” to a perfectionist is as Chinese is to an English speaker. There is almost
nothing familiar about it and first attempts are choppy and awkward. In the same way that an
English speaker just learning Chinese will often ignore the tonal quality of the language and just
use typical English inflections with Chinese words, a perfectionist will most likely start to try to
accomplish the feeling of letting go with perfectionist methods. Thus, questions like “How do I
hold onto that feeling?” or “What are the steps to make that happen?” Most frequently what
happens is that the quick return of the self-critical grip is deemed a failure of a person’s attempt
to let go, and it is met with more self-criticism: “I can’t even not hate myself!” “It’s so simple! Why
can’t I just get it?!”

An essential part of the process of learning to let go of self-criticism has to do with the
response to self-criticism once it has inevitably returned. The task of letting go is made much
easier when one can respond to that grip in a loving, forgiving, perhaps even endearing or
nostalgic way. This is only accomplished by taking the time to appreciate the reason for its
existence in the first place.

The perfectionist must understand and recognize the simple truth that despite the
difficulty and fatigue self-criticism has caused for them, the size, strength, and intensity of that
self-criticism is directly related to how desperately they really just want to be a good person.
They fervently want to be a good mother/father, son/daughter, employee, church member,
neighbor, student, etc., and somewhere along the way they were convinced that the way to be a
good anything is to be very aware of where there are shortcomings and to criticize and be
dissatisfied with themselves until they reach “good.” In other words, they learned to fuel
motivation for self-improvement with critical self-talk. To “kick themselves in the butt” to work
hard at becoming what they need to become, certain that self-acceptance will only stop
progression. The problem with utilizing self-criticism as motivation fuel, is that it is one of the
most inefficient fuels out there and often burns out before any real progress is made. However,
because the perfectionist is convinced that this is how one becomes what they should and want
to become, they pour tons of energy and focus into that self-criticism, into strengthening that

Through understanding the origin of that grip, one can have a loving response to its
reflexive return by understanding that this grip, though painful and menacing, is only trying to
help. It has been trying to help the perfectionist accomplish the desired goal to be good. After
some moments with the relief of letting go, one might respond to the conditioned return of the
self-critical grip with some version of the following internal dialogue:
“Well, hello there self-criticism. I see you’ve returned as I’ve trained you to do. I appreciate your
quick response, you’ve always been willing to jump in and help. However, I’m learning that I
have to allow myself to just exist exactly as I am…without you. I understand that you are trying
to help, but I’m learning that you don’t serve me how I intended you to serve me, and I have to
let you go again.”

It is difficult for a person who has been utilizing this pattern of self-criticism as motivational fuel to trust and believe that letting go of this practice is a good idea. Sure, at first it is a nice feeling, but like was said before, letting go sounds a lot like giving up.  In reality, however, the difference in feeling between “giving up” and “letting go” is really very different. A person can learn to know the difference by trying it out. Even if for just 5 or 10 minutes at a time. Often times I will encourage a person to look at the clock and decide that for the next 15 minutes they are going to try to allow themselves permission to exist exactly as they are, without any negative judgements. For 15 minutes there is nothing to become or something else they need to be, and when the self-critical ideas up they are going to intentionally and deliberately set them aside just for these 15 minutes. It doesn’t take much of this kind of practice to learn that the feeling being nurtured is not encouragement to just give up.

It is an interesting conversation to have to point out to a person the reality of some of the things that they have accomplished in their lives and to bring to the awareness the truth that what has been accomplished has been in spite of the fact that they are so self-critical, not because they are so self-critical. The perfectionist has had to swim upstream against their own harsh judgements and constant picking apart to get anything done. If that criticism stopped, would that person just stop progressing and growing and learning and developing? No! Of course not! As a person learns to let go of that self-critical grip, the energy being used to fuel that grip gets resourced into progressing, growing, learning, and developing motivated by simply desiring to do so.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

An Answer to an Interview Question

I recently had a Social Work student ask to interview me for a project in her Diversity class (you didn't think of me as diverse did you?!). She was doing a project/paper on LGBTQ individuals who have chosen to stay active in the LDS Church. She sent me several questions and I spent some time typing out my answers (actually during an graveyard shift in the ER...the Ogden area didn't have too many crazy people tonight so I had plenty of time) and when I got done typing out my super long answer to one of the questions I decided that I wanted to post it here because I feel like it accurately describes a lot of feelings I have on the subject.

The question was "How do you balance your sexuality and your religion?"

This was my answer:

I’m assuming that the reason for this question is because the religion I am a member of has been so outspoken about its teachings related to homosexuality. I think this question is kind of difficult to answer without having a lot of context but I will try.
 I feel like, first, it is important for me to acknowledge that I am lucky. From the moment I started being open about my sexuality, I had very important, key people that were supportive of me, and I know that things could have been much different if they had responded differently. My parents and my church leaders never made me feel like there was something wrong with me, or that my feelings were something evil. They never suggested that I created these feelings somehow or that I was less of a person or less worthy of a person because I am gay. I know that others have not experienced this. I know there are many whose families disown them, whose church leaders belittle them or make them feel wrong, and so I am empathetic to and understanding of people who feel like the church and its followers are judgemental, closed-minded, and ignorant. I am lucky because the response of family and church leaders helped me to form an understanding and belief about what God thinks about my being gay. In terms of God’s involvement and feelings about it, I believe that my being gay was intentional, that it is on purpose, and that there is a purpose to it, not just something to “deal with,” and it isn’t something that I should be ashamed of or scared of.
 I believe that historically the church’s position on homosexuality and the things that church leaders said were wrong and damaging. But I also believe that it was because they didn’t know better and that I can’t expect church leaders to always have known everything about everything because we can’t have that expectation of anyone, even religious leaders. The tone in which homosexuality is spoken about by church leaders now, is SO much different than it was 20 or even 10 years ago. I think that is because more and more people are open about their experiences with sexuality and so it has required that these things be looked at, prayed about, and questions answered. I admit that there are times when church leaders will speak about the issue and they will use a term or a phrase or something that hits me the wrong way, but I can still appreciate how much different it is now than it was even just 15 years ago when I was a teenager and I feel like progress is being made toward more full understanding.
That being said, the church continues to hold to the teachings of marriage being only between a man and a woman, and that isn’t a very popular thing to believe, and is understandably upsetting to most everyone outside of a few religious settings. I say “understandably upsetting” because I feel like my experience as a gay person helps me to understand why it seems so wrong to limit marriage between a man and a woman. I didn’t ask to be gay. I didn’t create these feelings. They didn’t just accidently happen as a mishap in development, they are part of me like my skin color, or my height, or my birthmark on my left foot. Why would a church, or more importantly, God not allow me happiness with someone I love and want to create a good, moral life with just because we are the same sex?  I think that question is really important: If you believe that God has an issue with homosexuality, what is his problem with it?  I think the answer to that question is kind of involved and is actually pretty different from what many Mormons would say is the answer.
I think most Mormons would immediately respond with, “Gay people can’t have kids and God wants us to have kids.” But there are so many arguments that can be brought against this like, “what about heterosexual couples who can’t have kids?” or “what about people who just stay single?” Ultimately, I think if someone responds with simply “gay people can’t have kids,” then they are a jerk and you probably shouldn’t ask them any more questions. I think that unfortunately, there are a lot of religious people who take their own feelings about homosexuality (that its uncomfortable and “icky” or weird) and project those feelings onto God, holding a kind of assumed belief that God is against homosexuality because he thinks it’s icky and it makes him uncomfortable. I know and have enough interaction with gay people and gay couples and have witnessed love and genuine affection they have for each other to feel certain that God doesn’t think that its gross. I don’t believe that his direction regarding homosexuality is because he’s uncomfy. God is a much more mature, dynamic, and all knowing being. I believe that he sees beauty and goodness in these relationships and doesn’t categorize everything about them as evil and wrong. God’s great like that…because he knows everything…he doesn’t have to slap a label on something and put it in a designated box and keep it there. He can dissect things, understand them, and appreciate and love what is good about them.
The more complicated answer is that Mormons believe in eternal progression. This is, in fact, the whole purpose of life and the whole point of being born and coming to earth. We existed before we came here, we are here to learn and progress and grow, and we will continue learning and progressing and growing after we die. The church puts A TON of focus on the family, so much focus that sometimes as members we talk about getting married and having kids and creating a family as being the purpose of life on earth. This isn’t true, not entirely. Its not, not about having families, but it is only about creating families in that it is a part of progression on earth for many if not most people. That distinction I think is important, the actual purpose is progression, for many their progression involves getting married and having kids in this life, but it doesn’t require that…not here. For some, marriage and having kids doesn’t happen in this life. Mormon’s believe that, if they want it, everyone will have the opportunity for marriage and children at some point in the great expanse of eternity.
I have to kind of take a side-step here and explain something about eternal progression and perfection. Mormons believe that God is perfect. But Mormons also believe that progression is eternal. Which, if you think about it, seem to come into conflict with one another. If God is perfect now, he wouldn’t need to progress anymore because he’s already perfect. There is a popular scripture in Matthew 5:48 that says “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” In LDS scripture, there is a footnote to the word “perfect” to the greek translation which is “complete.”  I think in so many ways Mormons would do so much better if we focused on working to become complete rather than becoming perfect. The difference in the words, for me, change so many things that make more sense to me. But again, if God is complete than how is eternal progression a thing? If he is complete? How does he keep progressing?  There is another Mormon favorite scripture that says that God’s glory (or purpose) is to “bring to pass the immortality and the eternal life of men.” Meaning that all of his efforts are about helping further our progression. So, how is God complete and yet still progressing? His progression is now through his children, us. As we progress toward completeness, we add to his progression or “glory.”
Let me give a hypothetical example that simplifies things a whole ton, but hopefully helps make sense of what I’m trying to say. Let’s say that two couples, a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple die in a car crash. They move into the next life and for what would maybe be like, millions of years earth time, they work and learn and grow and become and experience. They do all of these things to the point that now we have 4 perfect/complete individuals that know and are everything (this is super simplifying likely very complicated things that in my simple mortality I can’t totally understand…but stay with me). At this point, the heterosexual couple could continue to progress through their posterity and the homosexual couple would reach the end of their progression. Not because God thought they were icky, or not because they are selfish, and not because they are inherently evil but because natural law (which Mormons believe there are unchangeable natural laws) causes their progression to come to a stand-still.
This is why the church focuses on marriage between a man and a woman. Because Mormons believe that with homosexuality, whether now, or in 50 years, or in billions of years into eternity, at some point will cause a halt or block in progression for a person.
Why did I do all of this explaining about beliefs? It probably has gotten annoying to read and you are wondering when I’m going to just stop and move on, but I often feel a need to make this explanation because I feel like knowing the context can help people to understand why the church teaches what it does and why I feel like I can align myself to a religion that seemingly is so harsh about these things.  Because if a religion, or a church believes these things are true, like, really believes these things are true and actual facts, then teaching what it believes to be true is the merciful thing to do. Teaching these things that fit importantly into an eternal perspective is what, as a church, they really have to do, otherwise a million years into my progression I would be like, “Hey…why didn’t you tell me this was so important! I was looking to you for guidance!” Current church leaders teach, for what a lot of people are difficult and often determined to be emotionally damaging things to hear, but if they believe its true are they supposed to not teach it? I am hopeful that they will continue to get better at teaching these things in a tone and language that expresses their truth, but gets better at trying not to dishearten or offend.
All of these things are matters of faith. I believe that these things are true, but I understand and appreciate that not everyone believes these things are true. Some people don’t believe that there is a God. Some people would read this and say, “I think you’re wrong, I think that God is totally cool with homosexuality without any reservations.” Some people would say “you’re wrong, gay people are gross and God thinks they are too!” And to all of those I say, “congratulations! You are a person. And as a person you get to believe what you want to believe about faith, God, and religion.”
I believe that it is VERY possible to believe something different than someone else, even about things as emotionally charged as religion and homosexuality and still love each other, respect each other, enjoy each other’s company, and desire good things for them. Some of the most important relationships in my life are with people who I know don’t believe these things are true. We disagree, but our disagreement doesn’t supersede how much we love each other!
Again, I'm lucky. My open-minded parents, my understanding church leaders, my opportunity to meet and marry someone who understands and works with me, my career as a therapist that allows me opportunities to understand myself... all of this combined to create a scenario in which I am gay, but have the luxury of mostly fitting into a hetero-normative environment that abounds in LDS church culture. There are so many that aren't as lucky. I can't say with certainty that if things had been different, if even just one of those circumstances had changed, that I wouldn't have left the church feeling upset, judged, and left out. I see and understand why people do, and I work in my own life to try to help others have positive experiences like I have had with all of these things.

I went on for a very long time just now… but if you ask a complicated question you’re going to get a complicated answer! 

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Reward of Happiness

Isn't culture such a weird concept? Its weird to think about the fact that depending on where you are born and the environment that you live in you can conceptualize very basic aspects of life in really different ways. Like...time, for example. Different cultures look at and value time in so many different ways. Even from family to family within a culture it can be extremely varied. Or money. I remember in an Intro to Sociology class learning about how different socio-economic groups understand and conceptualize money and wealth and it was so interesting to me how different they were.

These kinds of differences in the understanding of what might seem like simple concepts is really important in my line of work. It's interesting to see what changes can happen in a person's life when they are able to make just a small tweak to their conceptualization of simple ideas. 

One such simple idea is the concept of happiness. If you aren't reading this in the middle of a crosswalk, stop for a second and think of what you believe is the definition of happiness. What is it? Where does it come from? Why do we feel happy? I'll wait for a minute and give you some time to think it over...

You done? Good. 

I'm guessing that people who typically read this blog are of a western culture in one form or another, so I think we could probably all agree that happiness is an emotion or feeling. But what are the first things you think about when answering questions like "where does happiness come from?" or "How does someone feel happy?" I would not be the least bit surprised if somewhere in your answers about the origin of happiness for a person that you would attach words like "positive" or "right" or "achieve" or "good." It would probably be common to say something like, "Happiness is a positive feeling. The kind of feeling that things are going right." It might make sense to say "Someone achieve's happiness when they work hard and accomplish their goals." 

Something that I hear ALL OF THE TIME in my community of western, largely religious culture is something to the effect of "Happiness comes when you do the right thing." 

If you ask me (and since you are reading are implicitly asking if you don't want to hear my opinion then what, pray tell, what are you doing here?) this concept of happiness is extremely problematic. 

Too often we think about happiness as being the reward for doing the right thing, being righteous, or making the best choices. Our level of happiness at any given point is often used simultaneously as the level at which we are successful. Happiness seen as a reward concludes that happiness and success go hand in hand. Which, makes sense, right? If I have a goal to make a million dollars and I make a million dollars...that would make me pretty happy. I feel happy when I can see myself being productive and accomplishing things. It does make sense...except for when it doesn't. 

The problem that quickly arises as we view happiness as synonymous with things like being right, good, correct, or successful is that we too easily conclude that the inverse is true. That the lack of happiness must be synonymous with being wrong, bad, incorrect, or failure. We Mormons often take the teaching in Alma that "wickedness never was happiness" and incorrectly conclude that "righteousness always is happiness" or "unhappiness always is wickedness." 

Too often when happiness is a reward, sadness is a punishment. 

But wait a second...that makes sense too! If I lose my million dollars in the stock market, that would make me sad. And I certainly don't feel happy when I see myself slacking off or falling short on my goals. It does make sense...except for when it doesn't. 

Something that has been particularly helpful to me is discussing feelings and emotions as being pleasant or unpleasant as opposed to positive or negative and especially as opposed to right or wrong. An example I often use is a root canal. As a root canal regular at my dentist's office (its genetics people...don't go thinking that I'm disgusting and don't brush my teeth) I can tell you without hesitation that root canals are definitely unpleasant. However, I can't say that they are bad because they certainly solve a problem. When its over, a problem with my tooth is now fixed, the ache goes away, and I didn't have to have it removed. 

I also like discussing the appropriateness or understandable-ness of emotions rather than attaching value to them as being right/wrong or good/bad. For example: feeling sad at a funeral...appropriate and understandable. Feeling aroused at funeral...not so understandable, there may be an issue there. But even arousal at a funeral (as confusing as that would be) cannot be deemed as inherently wrong. Life experience creates all kinds of weird emotional responses that are understandable given the circumstances. Most non-smokers are not a fan of the smell of casinos. I love the smell of casinos! I've never been in a casino for a sad reason, casinos mean vacation! 

The more experience I gain as therapist, the more I realize that much of the intense difficulty that a person experiences has a great deal to do with a person judging their unpleasant feelings as wrong, bad, or failure.  So many people jump to the conclusion that if they aren't happy, then it means that they are doing something wrong, that they have made a bad choice, and often they conclude that they are not in favor with God. But the reality reveals quite frequently that a good choice can bring difficult challenges, the right thing can cause a lot of pain, that sometimes feeling sad is the appropriate thing to feel. 

Whenever we feel pain of any kind, it is often a knee-jerk reaction to assume that there must be a culprit. Somebody, somewhere has done something wrong! When there isn't an obvious enemy, we assume it was ourselves who made a mistake somewhere and decide that our pain is a sure sign of failure and we better fix it or else the pain won't ever go away! 

What about when a loved one dies? It is often extremely painful, sad, and upsetting. Whose the enemy? Who failed? What did I do wrong to feel this sad? 

What if I'm lonely? Does it automatically follow that I've done something wrong? Is there always an enemy? Or might it make sense and even be appropriate to feel loneliness? 

As it is with so many other issues, the solution to this "happiness as a reward" issue as I see it is acceptance (not to be confused with approval). We have to start by accepting the fact that this idea is deeply rooted into our understanding of emotions. By acknowledging the existence of this misunderstanding, we can start to be aware of where we are applying it and start making adjustments were we can. 

We then have to start accepting emotions as neither good or bad, right or wrong, positive or negative...that they are what they are...they exist not necessarily as a result of success or failure. When we get efficient at accepting emotions in this way, we start to recognize that some unpleasantness doesn't require requires understanding and room to do its job. 

A fun example of this is found in the movie Inside Out. In the movie, a little girl's emotions are personified into little characters in her head that regulate her behavior and guide her decision making. Throughout the movie, Joy anxiously runs around trying to keep Sadness from ruining everything by touching it. Joy concludes that when Sadness touches something, she screws it up and ruins it forever. Slowly, Joy finds out that Sadness has a job to do. Sadness isn't just there to indicate failure or something bad, she brings growth and understanding. Sadness slowly becomes a working member of the team of emotions, rather than something to be avoided at all costs. 

Some of the best and most important things in my life were born out of some of the most difficult and emotionally challenging things. There have been some questions that I have avoided asking because I had determined that I shouldn't be experiencing the difficulty I was experiencing. Over time, I've come to realize that I am allowed to feel all the feelings and they don't determine my value as a person, my success in the roles I have, or my worthiness before God. 

As a Christian, I am taught to align my life with Christ's. Well guess what? Christ experienced things throughout his life that led him to feel sad. He felt angry, he felt lonely, he felt scared, and not one of these emotions came as a sign that he was a failure. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Scarlet Pimpernel and Facing My Demons

Reader Beware: The following is a story filled with intense emotion, suffering, and pain. If you proceed, I cannot be held responsible for the amount of trauma you may experience. I am however, a counselor, and looking to expand my private practice, so...we could schedule an appointment if you needed to. The following is the true to life, never before published story of how I, Blaine Hickman, survived...

not getting the lead in my high school musical. 

I are already amazed...

Right about now you are saying things to yourself like, "Impossible! How on earth did you survive such treachery?" or perhaps, "Surely no man could do such things!" 

But it's true I tell you! 

Ok...for realsies though, up to this 16 year old point in my life, I had experienced some very unhappy and disappointing things, but not getting the lead in my high school musical was probably the first extreme disappointment I had had in my life. Lame? Sure. But think about what was super important to you when you were 16 years old...I'm sure there was an element of lame in there somewhere. This experience, however lame it might have been, literally changed my life. It has become one of those sucky life experiences that I am truly grateful for. 

I was a pretty involved kid in high school. I did choir and student government, I had several friends and got pretty good grades. But for me, what I imagined to be the pinnacle of my high school career and what I worked on up until that point was to be the lead in the musical. And truth be known...the odds were working in my favor, if I do say so myself. I mean, I don't want to brag or anything, but I was one of only two sophomores that made the Productions team (please, hold your applause until the end) and the other sophomore was Nick...and everybody knew he was a weirdo.
Head Waiter...and his Hello Dolly

My junior year I was a bit miffed when The Weirdo got "head waiter" and I got "assistant head-waiter" in Hello Dolly, and his part in the dinner theater was slightly better than mine but these were easily justified away. "I'm glad I don't have to have the part where I have an accent." "I wanted the fun-loving part instead of the romantic guy anyway." You know, that kind of stuff.  At the end of our Junior year it was announced that the main-stage musical being done the next year was "The Scarlet Pimpernel."

Everything was primed. I was going to be a senior, and the title role of the musical was a male character. I was charged and ready to fight for that title role, but I also had a safety net: there was a villain lead that was male as well. (By now, The Weirdo had been upgraded to...lets say...quirky frenemy) So if Quirky Frenemy came with his A-game, I'd be disappointed but not totally desolated. Everyone loves an amazing villain, right?

I may or may not have practiced this pose in the mirror.
I worked for a shocking amount of months on my audition song and monologue. The teacher/director, Mr. Ferrin, told us that he wanted us to go against decorum and prepare stuff from the actual show for our audition songs (for those of you who may not be "in the know," typically you wouldn't audition for a show singing a song from that show. I'm sure there are lot of reasons for that, but...just don't question it). So, with this permission, I of course went straight for the Pimpernel's songs. In fact, my voice teacher (who, fun fact, is now my mother-in-law) fashioned a little medley of several of his songs so I could really sell it.

The time for auditions had arrived. I put on my specially bought outfit for the occasion (classy charcoal gray pants, and a maroon turtle-neck sweater...doesn't that just scream "artsy person in the early 2000s?"). I sang through my song, performed my monologue, and was requested to come to call-backs. Some time later I joined the 30 or so other kids on the stage for the call-backs.

Call-backs were a tumultuous mix of excitement and anxiety. We were all asked to read different parts and sing different excerpts from the show. After awhile, the group of 30 was narrowed down to 15, then more reading and singing. Eventually it was shaved down to 10,  and it was slowly becoming clearer who the director was thinking of for which parts. Its funny, but I actually remember everyone that was left when it was narrowed down to 6. There were 3 boys and 3 girls being evaluated for the 2 male and 1 female leads. The moment of truth came when he told the girls to leave and we were left with just the three of us boys. My nerves were increasing...they were clearly having a difficult time with this decision, and in the end, one of us would not be getting a lead. I was prepared to be up against Quirky McFrenemy, but this third guy was unexpected! After yet more singing and reading the three of us started to get prepared to leave when the director started giving the speech about when the cast list would be posted. I was shocked when after his speech, he told the other two to go, and asked me to stay!

He had me sing through songs for both the Pimpernel and the villain, and then read through some lines for both characters as well. Whatever nerves I had before about not getting one of the two main parts slowly started to fade away. Clearly they LOVED everything about me and were just so torn on which of the two parts would feature my very best qualities! I went home that afternoon nervous, but pretty much sure that I had locked in a lead role.

It was later than night that they posted the cast list. I was there about 20 minutes before they said they were going to post it...but I had to be sneaky because I knew that they weren't going to post it with people waiting there. So me and my two friends (who, fun fact, are now my wife and my brother-in-law) smartly waited in the bushes next to the door. The second the list was posted I sprung out of the bushes and feverishly started scanning from the top:

Percy (The Scarlet Pimpernel).....................Nick Balaich 
Marguerite....................................................Meghan Stettler
Chauvelin (the villain)..................................Brad Anderson
Armand........................................................Blaine Hickman

Wait...wait a second....what?

Something had to be wrong. Panicked, I looked at my friends, then frantically back at the list. My eyes starting to well up with tears, my heart beating faster and faster. The list went on from there of course, but I looked again and again at those top 4 names. The tears had gone from welling to falling and my panic was no longer being held inside. I could feel an audible cry ready to come out and I had to get out of there. With my two friends trailing behind me, I ran to the car, got in, closed the door, and cried so hard and intensely that my friends later told me that they couldn't tell if I was crying or laughing like a crazed lunatic. 

You would think that a kid with all of the confusion and frustration I had felt spiritually up to this point in my life that I would have had lots of reasons to feel a little angry at God (please see previous posts for wondrous tales of sexual orientation shenanigans), but I actually didn't really ever experience that...until now. I. Was. Pissed. I remember that night actually punching my bed while scream-whispering a prayer, "HOW COULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN?! WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME?!" (and the academy award for most seriously angsty and dramatic teen goes to...). I didn't sleep at all and after awhile, my pillow wet from constantly streaming tears, I decided to just get up and go for a walk alone to nowhere (you know, just for that extra dramatic flare).

Wow. Telling that story took a really long time. And I'm sure you're probably wondering at what point I might actually get to the reason for telling this story. Well, lets get to it...and jump ahead several months. 

"Don't go to Paris Armand! Or do go...who cares?!"
By now I had accepted the fact that I didn't get the lead. I got Armand. I was Marguerite's lame little brother, that for all intents and purposes could have been removed from the plot line...and you weren't missing much. I pulled myself together however, and outwardly I tried really hard to have a good attitude. My mom had given me some good advice to just try really hard to find opportunities for random acts of kindness during rehearsals and get to know more of the kids in the show. 

I was doing...ok. But I was constantly being torn apart inside by a demon I hadn't yet identified, but that had plagued me through the whole process. A demon that I never really put a name to, but had been my constant companion all through elementary school and junior high. A demon that, I'm sad to say, continues to haunt me on an annoyingly regular basis. 

The demon? Compare-inator!...No...that sounds dumb, how about, Sir Compares-a-lot!, that sounds like a Care Bear...Compare-a-... Whatever, I can't think of a cool name for it...Comparison, I compared myself constantly everyday, that's the demon I'm talking about. 

I was in an eternal tennis match of "Seriously, they picked him over me?!" and "I suck so bad, of course they picked him!" One minute I'd be feeling so smug, "I bet Mr. Ferrin is sooo regretting this decision." Then minutes later, "I'm so girly and chubby, look at them, they look amazing." As rehearsals continued and the opening night got closer, the smug and pompous comparisons were dying down to a murmur and the self-deprecating ones pretty much took over and ran the show. This was especially true because the rehearsal process gave me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with and observing Nick and Brad, and I was liking them as people more and more and wanted to be better friends with them. As time drew on, I slowly began to see myself as unable to measure up in any way. This is the state of comparison that I was most used to. It is actually surprising to myself, even now, that there was a significant length of time in which I saw myself as on the winning end of a comparison because my life was full of comparing myself, especially to other boys, and coming up short. That's not to suggest, however, that being on the winning end of comparisons about this was pleasant, because it wasn't. I was just as miserable with that. 

It was about this time that we had a Seminary lesson about Ezra Taft Benson's conference talk on Pride. We were given a copy of the talk and went over it as a class, talking about various parts of it and why the concepts and ideas were important. There was SO much about that talk that was applicable to me at that time, but there was one line that hit me so hard, I read it over and over again. He said: 

Pride is ugly. It says, "If you succeed, I'm a failure."

What a miserable way to live. Always so concerned about where you rank compared with others. If the statement "if you succeed, I'm a failure" is true, then there is no feeling at peace at all. If that is true then I can't be happy for anyone doing well, because I will automatically equate their doing well as me having failed somehow. Even if it was reversed: "if you fail, I succeed" is seeing life as a competition in which my goal is to see others fail, and my success is just some kind of bonus. That isn't happy either.

Nick and me as adults in Mexico
I took that talk and decided that I was going to try to make a change in myself. I was going to try everything that I could to just be happy for Nick and Brad. To not see their being really good as a statement about how awful I was. Because the reality was that they were both really good. I kept seeing the only option as "Nick and Brad are good, so I must really suck." I wanted to try really hard to adopt the possible reality that "Nick and Brad are really good. Also, I am good." Why was my brain so determined to make their being good mean I'm really bad?! I worked really hard at it...and it was in fact, a lot of work. I had been conditioning my brain to accept this reality for so long that training it to do something else, to just be happy for others' success and not see life as a competition I was losing, was extremely challenging. 

And lets be honest...It is still extremely challenging in many ways. 

Over the years I have improved my confidence (the real confidence, the kind that sees my worth and value being unchanged or hindered by someone else doing well) in some pretty profound ways in my life. I no longer walk into a group of men and immediately feel like a loser. I feel like I'm a good friend for the most part, and its not too hard to just be glad when I see my friends and family accomplishing great things in their personal, professional, and spiritual lives. But, if I'm honest, that old demon, Compare-i-tron (yeah, that doesn't work either), comes back far too often when say, I'm at the gym and he tells me that I'm a fat slob compared to the David statues walking around everywhere Or when I'm sitting in church and everyone is moving in and out of leadership positions, and I'm over here like, "for the love of Pete, will you men just come to choir practice for the Christmas program already?! Its been 4 years!" (note to anyone in my ward that might read this...this should not indicate to anyone that I'm dying to be in a leadership position, on the contrary I'm glad to have my low key calling, I say this strictly to illustrate the whole issue of Comparinor the Terrible). 

The point is, over the years comparing myself to others has robbed me of being happy in otherwise completely satisfactory situations, and I'm tired of it. 

I want to change, and I know that the first step in changing is stepping out of hiding places. To stop using other people's success as a hiding place for my insecurities to fester and grow. I have to own the demon of comparison as my responsibility to change, and to start recognizing when it is engaging with me. When I hear and recognize its whispering I have to stop, calmly face it, and say "no thanks. I appreciate what you are trying to do, you're trying to make sense of this situation, but I've learned by now that you don't really know what you are talking about," and then make a deliberate decision to be satisfied with my efforts and value. 

I know that just like every other demon that exists in my life, if I just calmly stop feeding it what it wants, it eventually gets bored and walks away. 

Please note that the previously mentioned story is the emotional account of a 16 year old. My account of the situation might have painted a picture of Mr. Ferrin that makes him seem like a jerk or something but let me assure you, he is not. He was SO gracious and good to me that year. In fact, if any of you have known me long enough to remember having seen The Scarlet Pimpernel, you might remember that Armand kept showing up in strange places and singing lines of songs that were not his to sing. Mr. Ferrin and the production staff gave my character lines and songs that weren't written in the script. I'm sure that was because he recognized my dismay and did what he could to help my poor fragile ego. Later in the year single cast me as the only one single cast in a show where the other parts were triple cast! He really was and is a wonderful guy and I'm so happy to occasionally get to still have association with him. 
Also, Nick and Brad have become a couple of the most important friendships of my life. Brad is such a truly good and talented person and Nick and I laugh today about how I thought he was a weirdo when I first knew him. In reality, I was competing with myself during those years because Nick was, and continues to be, such a kind and generous friend, helping me in more ways than I know he even recognizes.

Monday, July 20, 2015

"I'm Scared of Your God:" Some Thoughts About What Mormons Call "The Plan of Salvation"

My little sister hates when people talk about their dreams. She very hilariously informed us of this, when a group of our close friends were hanging out together. Josh had just finished telling us about a funny dream he had when the conversation paused for a second, and she chimed in,

"Guys, I've been meaning to tell you...I really hate it when people talk about dreams they've had..."

Smooth Beth, Smooth.
(We all laughed hysterically)

So, despite the fact that Beth will likely roll her eyes, I'm going to tell you about one of the most vivid and traumatizing dreams I've ever had in my life.

It happened when I was a sophomore in high school. At this time (you might recall from previous posts) I was struggling secretly with issues of pornography and worrying a lot about being attracted to men. I was very active in church, and valued that experience a great deal, but my understanding of the gospel at that time combined with my drive to always be seen as a "good kid" most often created a sense of not ever really feeling good enough.

In the dream there was all sorts of calamity. Earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, and all manner of riots everywhere. My family and I were trying hard to get from point A to point B (it escapes me where we were going or what was motivating us) but we were in the middle of all of this, and trying desperately to make sure that we all stayed together. After some time, the turmoil settled, and in the quiet you could hear sobs of sadness while everyone surveyed the carnage. Happily, however, my family remained all alive and together. Suddenly, we saw in the sky what appeared to be three giant planets. After standing in awe for some time, someone in my family stated "it's the three kingdoms!" (A reference that I will explain in more detail later for those of you not familiar with Mormon doctrine...essentially the 3 Kingdoms are three degrees of glory, sort of like three "levels" of heaven, to which God's children go to after judgement...again....more on that later).  At that moment, everyone started floating. Just up at first, and then in the direction of the planets. To my horror, my entire family started floating toward the Celestial Kingdom (the highest degree of glory), and I started being pulled to the Telestial Kingdom (the lowest of the three). We reached for each other, frantically. Screaming and crying we slowly drifted farther and farther away, them together and heading toward happiness and God, and me alone.

It was awful. I woke up sobbing, and couldn't stop thinking about it for several days. Its crazy how even writing about it now gives me a nervous feeling because it just seemed so real and terrifying.

This was a reflection on what I thought about myself and my fate at the time. I was trying really hard to do what I was supposed to do, but despite any effort, I was pretty certain that I would never be good enough, that I had failed the test, and that God was not happy with me. In theory he loved everyone, but in practice...I just pissed him off.

I want to take a minute now to explain the Plan of Salvation to those who may not know what I'm talking about, and to do that, I want to show you a picture:
This picture, or something very similar to this picture, is quite familiar to someone who has grown up in the LDS Faith. It is a concept that puts our mortal life into perspective, and answers for many people the questions related to "who am I?" "Where did we come from?" "Where are we going?" You know, the big ones.

Basically, we were created by God and lived with him in the Preexistence. Somewhere along the way there was a great debate about how we should progress, learn, and gain experience. Satan offered a plan in which he would make everyone obey and do what they were "supposed" to do so that God wouldn't lose anyone due to their own idiocy. Christ, however, offered to fulfill God's plan in which everyone would have the ability to choose (thus, actually learning something) and as far as mistakes that would separate them from God, he said basically, "I'll take care of it." and offered himself as a sacrifice to pay for everyone's mistakes. Those who fought for Satan's plan were upset when they didn't win and they were cast out of heaven, making a choice that left them unable to progress any further, and the rest of us put our trust in Christ to pick up the bill and set out to begin learning. Yes, I say "us" because we Mormons are brazen enough to state that if you are here on Earth, you chose to follow Christ and ultimately God. "Good job!"

We leave the Preexistence, and are born. This changes us from strictly spirit beings, to gaining and learning to manage a physical body. We pass through a veil so we cannot remember our pre-earth life (creating the need for faith). We grow up, we make mistakes and fall, we learn, we study, we experience, and eventually...we die. At this point our body and spirit separate and we go to the Spirit World, more specifically (and not pictured here) to Spirit Paradise or Spirit Prison. We are taught that those who didn't have the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel will be taught here, and after this comes the Judgement and Resurrection. Christ, the only one who has a perfect understanding of each human's experience (remember...that "he suffered for everyone's mistakes" part I mentioned earlier), is the judge. He determines which kingdom each person goes to. (I recognize that to someone who didn't grow up with all of this stuff it might seem very Dora The Explorer: 'go over crocodile bridge, around volcano mountain, and through the magical forest!' But taught and understood through spiritual eyes and feelings, it starts to make more sense. Its actually very poetic and beautiful). 

What isn't clear on this picture (but is often explained in Sunday School) is that the Terrestrial and Telestial Kingdoms, while having a substantial degree of happiness and joy (they are a 'degree' of glory, after all) indicate an end of progression. You are here for your existence (which again...not a bad place to be for eternity, but certainly not ideal). Ideal for Mormon's is the Celestial Kingdom. This is not just because it is the highest degree of glory, or just because this is where God is present, but because it is here in which progression continues. We can continue to learn, study, grow, experience, and create.

This is where the whole idea that "Mormon's believe they become Gods after they die" comes in. If we continue to progress, and grow, and learn, over the course of eternity we will eventually become like God and have the knowledge and abilities he has. It's a lot to learn,'s eternity folks. We don't get zapped with lightening and suddenly we are Zeus. We learn, grow, create, experience, etc. and eventually we get there.

So...Why have I taken you on this crash course of Mormon Beliefs: 101?  Because I want to point out something I believe to be very true, and something that I believe is a problem for many people in the church, which has implications on how we see, treat, and interact with those outside of the church.

Take a second and go back up to the picture. Depending on what kind of screen you are reading this on, the measurements will be different, but I want you to take a quick measurement of the distance between the line that says "death" and the line that says "judgement and resurrection." Go ahead...go look...I'll wait.

Hi, welcome back.

So what did you get? An inch or two? Three? If it's bigger than three then your computer screen is insane and I bet you paid too much for it. The point is, when putting this plan on to one paper those two lines are deceivingly close together, and I think that sets in our primary, "Popcorn-popping-on-the-apricot-tree-minds" that the time between death and judgement is very limited, and I want to tell you why I believe that it just isn't, and why that's important.

I truly, and wholeheartedly believe that anyone who truly wants the Celestial Kingdom will get it, and I don't say that to mean that "people who really want the Celestial Kingdom will live Celestial lives." I mean, that if after all of your experience, even if you have made a gabillion mistakes, if your heart truly wants, and is willing to put in the work (work that is done both here and in the Spirit World) for the Celestial Kingdom you will get it. We are working with eternal time here. Isn't it possible that the space between death and judgement might be millions of what we measure as years? Don't you think that if what we truly desire is to be with God, that God is going to provide the time to allow that to happen? This is not to say that we earn our salvation, because without Christ...ain't nobody gettin' in there. But we certainly will be granted the opportunity to learn what we need to in order to prepare us for Celestial Glory, right? I can't imagine a God that would see anyone working hard to be with him who would say "Welp, Judgement Day is here and you didn't make the cut." When people talk about seeing God in that way, I usually say something like, "I'm scared of your God."

"WELL..."you might say emphatically, "are you saying that it doesn't really matter what you do in this life, so we should just 'eat, drink, and be merry' and then we can take the time to correct things after we die and before judgement?!" You are such a little perfectionist, aren't you?

The answer to that is, of course, "no." We need to keep trying and strive to live the commandments and be good people, but not because we are scared of dying and not making it, but because we love God, we love Christ, and we want to do as they would have us do. I know too many people who walk through life absolutely sure that they will never be good enough for God and that they are doomed to some lesser glory because they just can't get things figured out...and that's just nonsense to me. If you want it, you will be able to get it, and that is the true mercy and grace of God and his son Jesus. We can't constrict God to our concept of time. If you are trying and you want it, you will have all the time you need.

"WELL..." you might stubbornly retort again, "that would pretty much just mean that everyone makes it to the Celestial Kingdom because who isn't going to want that?!"  And, you my friend, are right...and stop talking to me in that tone.

Despite what might be popular belief, the Celestial Kingdom is not going to be an exclusive resort/club for Mormons. I'm convinced that it will be full of all kinds of people who led all kinds of different lives on Earth. They made mistakes and walked various paths, but through faith and being taught by the spirit, with a subsequent decision to become more than what they were, they choose God, they choose Christ, and choose service.

Yes, service. I believe the other kingdoms exist because there will be people who honestly don't want Celestial Glory. Maybe it will be pride that will keep them from those blessings, but lets be honest folks, Celestial Glory will be hard work! It will be a lot of learning and experiencing and ultimately creating and serving others. I imagine that God is a pretty busy guy. My guess is that not everyone is going to want to sign up for an eternity of that. "Entering into his rest" I think probably is more about entering into his peace, not entering into his land of chaise lounges and platters of grapes.

I have one more related point (are you still reading?!)

Mormons often refer to this life as a "test." Meaning that God sent us to earth and gave us the opportunity to learn and grow and we are being "tested" to see if we will be true to his commandments in this life, proving our worthiness to enter into His presence in the next life.

I REALLY dislike this metaphor and decided to stop using it a long time ago. What an awful test! We went through a veil that made us forget everything before we could take it, and then if you think about all the people that have ever lived or will live on Earth the only people who have had access to what we believe is the fullness of truth...its microscopic! It seems like a horribly unfair test.

It makes more sense to me to see this life as a grand opportunity. With a mortal body and the need for faith, we have the opportunity to do a whole lot of progressing in a short amount of time. When you combine that opportunity with having the knowledge of the Gospel, our ability to progress can be astounding! By the time we hit that "death" bar on the diagram, people like President Hinckley, Mother Theresa, and Lindsay Hickman will be a lot more advanced than me in this whole progression thing...but again...its not a race, and if I want it, I can get it.

This "opportunity instead of a test" perspective also helps me to really appreciate my own unique experience here on Earth. Because while Gordon, Ms. Theresa, and Lindsay have become such good people in their lifetime, none of them have experienced being a 6 foot, near-sighted, occasionally neurotic, gay male with genetically awful teeth. And if we are to become like God, who knows everything, they are going to have to learn something about those things. A friend of mine, and fellow member of the LDS Church once asked me, " you think that as you go through eternity, you will become more and more straight?" I thought about it for a minute and answered, "maybe, but I think you will become more and more gay. We all have to learn everything!" If I have taken the opportunity to progress as much as I can with my unique circumstances, I will be good and ready to help others learn what I learned, and they can help me. Again, perhaps this is more of the service we may be called on to do in eternity.

Once again, to those with not a lot of exposure to this stuff, I can see that these might all seem confusing and mystical, but I just want to take the opportunity to say that my faith and belief is that all of this crazy stuff is true. I know that God lives.We don't need to be scared of him! I know that he loves all of us. ALL of us. What evidence do I have that he does? Well...a lot. But the biggest evidence by far is the offering of his Son so that I could have the experiences that I need to experience, to learn what I need to learn, without the pressure of needing to be perfect.